Cindy - Column for 1/11

How we bought our first house:

Before December 6th: We put together a down payment. We scrimp, we save, we say "no, we don't really want to go on that skiing trip", and "have a fun time in Vegas!" to all our far, far cooler friends. We talk to accountants and mortgage brokers to figure out how much we have to save and how much house we can afford. Oh, and Grandma dies. It's very sad, and I miss her dearly. But it speeds up our timetable by about a year.

We also get a realtor, and begin looking at a number of houses. SCARY houses. Blair Witch houses. Some looked like they didn't really have plumbing. Others we couldn't even find.

December 6th, 11:59am : I receive an automated email from my realtor, letting me know that a house has just entered the market, fitting our rough desires for square footage, number of bedrooms, and of course, how much money we might be willing to spend. It's Thursday, and my wife is home sick from work, but she decides she isn't too sick to swing by this place.

December 6th, 1:00pm: Armed with mapquest directions, we turn off a wide, well paved rural road onto a dirt road leading into the hills. We drive up and around, following street signs written on paper plates and nailed to redwood trees. After nearly 25 minutes of this, we emerge back on the original well-paved road 200 yards from where we left it. Thirty seconds later, we reach the correct house. Note to self: If we buy this place, tell our friends TO NOT USE MAPQUEST. And we head up The Driveway.

(The Driveway needs to be capitalized, because it was immediately clear that it was a defining factor of the property. It's almost roller-coaster-like. Like the part of the Giant Dipper where it goes "click, click, click..." and everyone becomes very excited because they're about to rush down that first hill. Only unlike the Giant Dipper, it winds back and forth a bit. After having driven it a dozen times now, it's not a real problem, but it's quite intimidating at first.)

We look at the house, and it strikes us as odd. Odd because despite being up in the mountains, it's on flat ground. On a classic concrete slab foundation instead of waving back and forth on post and pier stilts like so many other homes in our price range. It has a real kitchen, with counter space and plenty of cupboards. It has space for a living room and a dining room. The small tool shed next to the house is not advertised as an "artist's studio" or a "guest house". The house feels like, well, a house.

And it has a view. An incredible breathtaking view of the surrounding valley. We decide we like it a lot, but we should really get our realtor up to look at the place and tell us what's secretly wrong with it that we're missing.

December 9th: I return to the property with the realtor. She points to a place or two where the drainage could be improved, but thinks it's a solid house with good qualities, and thinks it's being offered for a remarkably reasonable price.

December 12th: We drag two experienced house-owning friends out to the place, in hopes that they'll be able to tell us what's so horribly wrong with the place. They like it. They start snapping pictures and telling us where we should put the fence. We're still waiting for the realtor to join us so we can show them the inside, and figuring out the appropriate low-ball offer we're going to make to encourage the sellers to drop the price even lower. December's the slowest time of the year, see, and only the most motivated of sellers even bother.

Whoops. There's already been an offer made on the place. The offer was less than the asking price, though, and our realtor tells us that if we really want the house, we should put an offer in the sellers' hands by 9:00 AM the next morning. And it had better be for the full amount. Panic ensues. We retire to the house's bedroom for a spirited conversation. It occurs to us that this could be OUR bedroom someday. We decide to go for it.

And thus began our first of several two-hour sessions with obscure legal disclaimers. Sign here. And here. And initial here. Sign and date here. Initial. And sign. I think the object is you keep signing until your fingers bleed. Once the blood mingles with your signature, you are officially In the System.

December 13th: Our offer is rejected. We're told that they didn't mean to offer the washer and dryer as part of the property. We're being dicked around. We're being played against other potential buyers, to smoke out who's willing to pay more money. Cold capitalist bastards! Tempers rise, doors slam, property is damaged. (It is immediately apparent why both sides in this process are represented by realtors. You have to kill two other people before you get to the ones who really deserve it.) We grumble and meet their minimum demands, without offering them any more of their filthy lucre.

December 14th: Our offer is accepted. Guess they really did just want the washer and dryer. Probably shouldn't have put that hole in our wall.

December 15th-January 8th: We receive a quick education in a thousand things that we never knew existed. Apparently, we're required by law to pay for insurance against the possibility that someone might decide whoever owned the land in 1890 owed their great-great-grandpa money, and that somehow this debt would transfer onto us. The insurance isn't a lot of money, but it's one of about 40 such fees. The good news is they're all lovingly put together into a single sum by someone who knows what they're for, the bad news is we have to pay them all no matter how stupid they are.

But hey, we have pictures to show to the relatives at Christmas. For the first time since we were all under nine, I have something in common with my cousins.

January 9th: The ultimate paperwork marathon. I show recent financial statements to our mortgage broker, our realtor flirts shamelessly with the Escrow agent, and we sign and initial no fewer than 110 documents. No, we weren't discriminated against, sign. Yes, we have been made aware of all hazardous waste on the property, initial. Yes, we'll pay this every month. Yes, we'll pay this twice a year. Yes, in the event that we're unable to produce a male heir for ritual sacrifice we do agree to forfeit the remaining 49% of our eternal souls, sign, initial, thumbprint.

January 15th: One month and nine days after learning of the property's existence: We pick up the keys.


Columns by Cindy