All other annoyances this week have been superseded by this one:
Waiting for the last minute.
I understand selling a house is a complicated business. It’s not a mission to Mars or anything, but it’s complicated enough. At the same time it happens millions of times every year from one corner of the country to the other, so it’s not exactly like we’re trying to figure out how to do it for the first time. There’s no creative financing involved. There are no issues with the title. There is really not anything remarkable about this transaction in any way… except that putting together the final HUD-1, the document that lays out the dollars and cents of the transaction, is apparently the hardest thing to do in the world. Ever. I started writing this post 19 hours before closing and they still can’t seem to tell me exactly how big a bag of cash I need to bring to the table to get the deal done. I started asking for this document a week in advance specifically because I am going to review and understand where every penny is going. I’d hoped I would be able to do that on my own time, but if I have to sit in a room with the lawyer, the seller, and both our agents wasting half a day of their time tomorrow going over every item line by line until I’m satisfied it’s correct and my questions are answered, I guess we can do it that way too.
Note: In the interest of fair and balanced blogging I should tell you that I received the paperwork about 30 seconds after finishing the above paragraph. I’ve opted to let it stand alone because I still find it pretty damned annoying.
Since I’m in between moving estimate appointments it feels like a good time to jam a blog post into the day. It’s been a big one here at the Rental Casa de Jeff. After the requisite dose of coffee I spent the better part of three hours extracting boxes from their long term storage spot in the crawl space. At least half of them were still full – and taped shut – from the move back to Maryland from Memphis. I’ll be curious to see what it was I paid to haul a 3rd of the way across the country yet haven’t touched for almost five years. Personally I’m rooting for pirate treasure, but I have a terrible feeling it’s going to be a dozen boxes of plain junk. At least the crawl space is empty and the basement is 2/3 the way along towards being packed out.
In the last two weeks I’ve been making an effort to cut down in all the extraneous spaces – the office, basement, guest bedroom. If I pushed I could have all three finished in an afternoon. That leaves the living spaces we occupy as the next items on the hit list. My bedroom is a spartan affair. No more than an hour or two of work there. The living room is the same story. Two or three medium boxes and all the rest is furniture. That leaves the kitchen as the last redoubt. It’ll go into boxes as late in the process as possible. By the end of the week, I should even have several estimated costs of having someone show up and haul it all a few miles down the road. On the packing front at least I feel like I’m running ahead of the curve.
The documentation is even coming together. My mortgage approval came through this afternoon. The appraisal came in better than expected and more importantly with no lender-required repairs. I’m throwing electronic reams of paper back and forth with the closing attorney. I’m just trying to stay on top of Mount Paperwork in hopes that we can get to settlement at the end of the month as smoothly as possible. It’s one of those rare times that being a natural born worrier seems to be paying off. No one has asked for anything I can’t dredge out of Ye Olde Electronic Files. Being an electronic pack rat does have an occasional upside.
There are still 1,276,384 details to be worked out between now and the closing table, but on the whole it’s feeling less intimidating today. It’s entered the realm of the possible.
The last great negotiating feat of House Hunt 2015 appears to be at an end, with the seller agreeing to complete a list of minor and a few not so minor repair items prior to going to the closing table. As the hunting and gathering portion of this exercise draws to a close, I feel like I’ve extracted nearly every concession I could reasonably expect. As I mentioned to a friend this morning, if everything goes through closing as written I’ll be able to offset the loss from selling in Memphis and still have equity to spare in the new house. Home buying can be a significant emotional experience, but from start to finish I’ve been doing my best to think of this one as a business venture where the key motive is to capture every nickel of extra value I can lay my sticky little fingers on. There will be plenty of time to get emotionally attached once the paperwork is done.
With the meat of the negotiations wrapped up that leaves financing as the last hurdle to clear. I don’t anticipate any issues on that front, but I’m always a little nervous and jerky when someone starts poking around with years’ worth of tax returns, pay stubs, account statements, and a veritable laundry list of questions about what money came from which source. I know well enough from hard experience that it’s always the unanticipated issues that end up eating your lunch and that’s what’ll tend towards making for restless nights. Now that I’ve handed off every shred of documentation the mortgage company requested, I’m in hover mode until either they finish the job or they come back asking for more paperwork. I’m in a purely reactive holding pattern. Being a planner by both profession and temperament that leaves me hanging in a very uncomfortable spot. As much as I want to think I’ve accounted for the unexpected, I know very well that’s a happy fiction. After all, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
For now, closing is just a mark on the way a little more than a month away. We’re well down the homestretch, but it’s still a hell of lot of distance to cover between here and there.
Having gotten the final call from my realtor a few minutes ago I can state for the record that as of 5PM EDT today I am no longer a property owner in Memphis, Tennessee. I send the new owners good tidings and best wishes and hope that they have better luck with the place than I did over the last four years… but I’m super glad they didn’t call from the closing table wondering what I was going to do about a dripping gutter on the patio roof. Honest to God after the concessions I gave those two already I would have torpedoed the deal at closing just as a matter of principle. I’m glad that between their relator, mine, and the closing attorney they were able to talk them out of that particular course of action.
What I can tell you tonight with certainty is if there’s anything harder than selling a house long distance, it’s probably being an absentee landlord. Like grad school, though, I suppose it’s only a lot of work if you actually do it. God knows I did the work… an entirely new driveway, rerun sewer pipe from the house to the street, every painted surface inside and out redone, tile, backsplashes, tripled the size of the patio and roofed over the whole thing, and more work on the interior than I want to mention or even think about at this point. It’s all their egg to suck now.
Although I’m not quite out of the landlord business, the one that kept me awake at night is now a thing of the past. Let it stay there, ending the longest running and most expensive error of my life to date. Consider that lesson well learned.
I’m sure there are harder things than closing on a house sale from 900 miles away, but just now, in the middle of it, I’d be hard pressed to think of what those harder things might be. Everything that needs signed hurtles across the country via FedEx overnight, questions always take three days to answer, and you’re never entirely sure if what people say they’re doing is what’s getting done. It’s infuriating. It’s like trying to do business by telegram. Sure, it works in theory, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
At this point, I’m utterly convinced I would have ended this process a more sane human being if I had shackled a briefcase full of money to by wrist, flown to Memphis, dumped it on the closing table, signed my name in blood, and then flown back to Maryland for a good night’s sleep. I’m not kidding. Not even a little bit.
I’m beyond caring about costs. I just want this master class in asshattery to be over and done with. So there’s tonight’s helpful tip from your kindly Uncle Jeff – if you’re planning on engaging in any cross-continental real estate transactions, don’t. Just don’t. Take a day and a bucket full of cash and go handle things yourself. By the time it’s over maybe you’ll emerge with at least some of your sanity left.