Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Adventures in Home-Owning: Home-Owning!

It's official! We finally own our apartment! Well, technically, we own shares in a cooperative corporation, and those shares are represented by our apartment. And actually, the bank owns those until 2034. But why quibble? We're homeowners!

So I promised that when we closed I'd tell the whole story. I already told a good chunk of it, but I skipped some of the legal details before. I'll be brief, but it's kind of interesting, especially if you're going through this process too.

So back in May we saw this perfect apartment and made an offer. The broker we'd been working with was also the broker for the seller, so we were actually the first and only people to see it, 'cause we'd had several appointments fall through at the last minute, and seen some real crap, and Broker felt she owed us and is good at looking out for us like that. Broker also looked out for us in the negotiating process. We of course gave her a number slightly below what we were actually willing to pay, expecting a negotiation to follow. Broker had us sign an offering form for that, as well as another one even lower; that way, we could start low just to see what would happen, and she could counter-offer immediately without having to consult us or wait for us to sign another form. So, our low-ball offer went in, Seller countered with something perfectly reasonable, Broker counter-countered with our "real" offer (which was right in between the two), and Seller accepted it. Woohoo!

Then Boy left town for three weeks.

A few days later, I got a call from Broker. We'd seen the apartment before any renovations had been done. Seller had been planning to redo the kitchen, and we made it a condition of our offer just to be safe. Seller didn't expect to have a buyer so soon, so she figured since she did she might as well get our input on the changes. Well that was awfully nice! So I went to Home Depot and picked out some really cool dark grey tile. I really have no idea what these things cost, so I picked out second, third, and fourth choices too, in case I'd overstepped Seller's budget. I gave several options for simple cabinet door and drawer designs too.

Weeks passed. Three or four of them. We still hadn't received a contract from Seller, but since Boy was out of town and couldn't sign it, and the kitchen thing had seemed like a sign of good faith, we didn't worry.

Then we got a call from Broker. She was very upset (yay, professionalism!). It seemed the super (whom I had met, and who knew that we were buying the apartment and had been very nice to me) had been showing the apartment in the weeks we were without a contract, and someone else had made an offer that matched Seller's original counter offer. She was willing to honor her verbal agreement with us, but at this higher price. Now, this price was a) still fair (and actually probably still a deal), b) not much money in the grand scheme of things, with a negligible effect on our mortgage payments, and c) what we'd been willing to pay in the first place. If Seller had been a better negotiator, or Broker a worse one, she'd have had this price with no fuss. I say all this with hindsight and logic, but at the time we were super pissed off on principle!

Broker told us that the kitchen was done, and insisted that we go look at it (and the rest of the apartment) before even considering the new deal. So the next morning we went and looked. The place looked fabulous, and the kitchen was...not at all what I had asked for! Now, I've posted pictures here, so you know that the kitchen is beautiful. You also know that the floor is not dark grey. Seller had actually purchased the style of tile I'd asked for, but in a vastly different color. And countertops that leave quite a bit to be desired.

Seller had us (and Broker too, since if the place went to a buyer that Broker didn't find Broker loses her fee) over a barrel. We certainly didn't want to start the whole process over again, and the fact is that we were still madly in love with the apartment, and the new price, like I said, wasn't really a big deal. So, clearly, we agreed to the new deal. But it was the principle of the thing. We were very unhappy about the way we'd been taken advantage of. Most importantly, any semblance of trust was gone for both Seller and Super. We got the contract pretty quickly after that, but of course it had to go back and forth from lawyer to lawyer with revisions and riders, and we were terrified and on Seller's ass for six weeks until that thing was fully executed.

Meanwhile, the appliances hadn't been purchased yet. One of Seller's excuses for raising the price had been that the kitchen renovation cost more than she expected it to. Considering that buying and reselling apartments is pretty much what Seller does with her money, and that she agreed to the kitchen stuff when she accepted our offer, this is pretty much bullshit. But okay, if that was her logic, we wanted some pretty spiffy appliances! So I asked Broker to find out what she was planning to get. She emailed back and told me she was getting a standard 30 inch stove and a 14 cubic inch fridge, both in "almond," from Kenmore, for $X00.00. I, of course, immediately went to Sears.com and saw that you can get a 30 inch stove and a 16 cubic inch fridge in white for $X00.00. Maybe the stove had fewer bells and whistles. Maybe white is cheaper than almond. I don't know. All I know is that a 14-inch fridge is small, and Boy and I both like to eat (and I like to organize). So I email Broker back, complete with links, and tell her what we want.

The next morning Broker calls and tells me that Seller is over it, and she's just going to give us a $X00 credit and we can go and buy whatever we want ourselves. So we splurged a bit, combining her money with our own and went for the 18-incher, and a stove with a window in the door and a light inside, and we're very happy with the way that turned out.

As soon as we moved our stuff in, we changed the locks on the apartment to allay our fears about the dishonest super.

Then came the nonsense with the management company, and the even more nonsensical nonsense with the board.

And here, finally, we are. I've since gotten to know the super pretty well, and he has earned my trust again. One day while he was fixing the sink, he told me, unprompted, how lucky we were to have this apartment because there'd been a lot of demand for it. He told me someone else in the building had his eye on it, and someone else had told a friend or relative about it. This friend or relative had access to the building through the resident who'd told him about it, and apparently kept harassing Super about it, demanding to see it, and eventually was put in touch with Seller, at which point he made his higher offer. So it's not like Seller and Super were actively seeking out another buyer. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle of the two versions.

Now that everything is finished, and I doubt anyone will Google this anyway, I have to mention that the super's name is Dionisio. As in the Greek god of drama.

At the closing this morning, we met Seller. She looked exactly liked I imagined she would, minus the snakes where her hair should be. She arrived an hour late, in stained jeans and a sweater, with a baseball cap on her head. Okay, so I imagined she'd be a little better dressed. But the disorganized sheaf of papers, including a checkbook that looked like it had had a fight with a wet dog, was just right. She was pleasant enough, but barely looked us in the eye, never officially introduced herself or showed any particular interest in who we are, even as I handed her a check for five figures.

Of course it couldn't go completely smoothly. At the last minute, after everything was signed and everyone's checks had been passed around, there was an issue. The tenant who had been renting the apartment from Seller before had some kind of senior citizen's discount on her maintenance. There was some uncertainty over whether or not the City had paid this credit to the management company (or the board, or whatever), and if they hadn't it would mean that Seller owed them money in back maintenance. Yeah, I'm confused too. None of this really ought to have affected us, but without all her accounts in order, Seller couldn't unload her shares. No one understood why this was coming up now, and why the paperwork from the City (that Seller miraculously pulled out of her bizarre file) didn't settle the matter. Of course, if Seller had been on time, we would have been done and gone before this came up.

It got taken care of, of course, or this would be a very different post, but the whole thing took three hours.

Now, in hindsight, a lot of this has turned out very well. As annoying as the six month wait has been, if we were bidding on this apartment today, we'd almost certainly be paying quite a bit more. We couldn't lock in our mortgage rate too early, and it's actually gone down since we did our pre-approval. Having all this time to work and set stuff up without living there was kind of a luxury, especially when we discovered a leak in the bathroom (just normal old building stuff and covered by the building, since it's in the walls) that involved messy plastering and stuff that would have been a huge pain in the ass if we'd been living there. We were supposed to pay the maintenance in exchange for our access to the place in September and October, but when we made that deal with Seller she'd assumed the board would let us live there, and when that turned into drama she graciously waived the whole thing, so while our stuff has been stored here and we've been painting and stuff, we haven't paid a dime. We were alerted to the problems with management before moving in, and the board is well aware of them as well. As a result, the board seemed to take pity on us (not that we plan to take advantage of that, but you never know when it might come in handy later).

And while we had our share of problems, we had hardly any typical problems that befall co-op buyers (anyone thinking about this process must click that link and buy that book). No insane negotiations, no big bidding war (a little one, I guess), no groveling before the board as they go over our financial information with a fine-toothed comb and try to understand why my having seven jobs in one year is a good thing, no tragic delays of the closing.

And y'know what? As I sit here on my couch on the Internet wirelessly, reunited with my big TV, watching the kitten explore the apartment that we own, I find I don't really care much about any of what came before. My boyfriend and I own gorgeous apartment! It's ours! We're done!

Needless to say, I don't plan on ever moving again.

(I'll post photos in a few days as we get more settled in.)

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