Closing time…

The good news, I suppose, is that after months of screwing around, I’ll be closing on the new mortgage for the homestead on Friday morning. The new rate, 1.26% less than the original note, will save me several hundred dollars a month. 

As far as I can tell, all the paperwork is in good order and there theoretically shouldn’t be any problems getting to the closing table. The team I’ve been working with to get this work done have been spectacular – as johnny on the spot as any bunch of paper pushers I’ve ever dealt with. Color me cautiously optimistic.

I looked into a lot of options this time around – and strongly considered going with a 15 or 20-year mortgage to slice years off the life of the loan. Ultimately, though, reducing the overall cost of housing was the more important consideration. I can certainly allocate the savings to more entertaining or remunerative uses than keeping a roof over our heads. At rates under 3%, there’s very little incentive not to use other people’s money for as long as possible while seeking out a better ROI for my own dollars.

The only catch in this otherwise good news story was the moment I read over the estimated pay off date – sometime in 2051. As a child of the middle-to-late 20th century, 2051 doesn’t even feel like a real year. It’s some Jetson’s, deep space, basically unimaginably distant point in the future. Although I’ve spent nearly as much time in the 21st century as I did the 20th, I don’t think I’ll ever be entirely settled with it.

Under other circumstances, I’d be concerned about having a mortgage sticking that far out into the future – well past the date I expect to throw off the yoke of working for a living. As much as I like this house, though, staying here forever has never been the endgame. I think I’ve got one more big move left in me, hopefully to something built to suit my own undoubtedly quirky specifications. With this latest refinance, I won’t be paying off a hell of a lot of principle over the next 15 years, but I’ll make a modest dent. Throw in a decade and a half of (presumed) appreciation and there should still be a respectable nest egg to throw at building the last and final Fortress Jeff. 

We’ll just have to see how well that particular plan holds up to the intervening years… but again, on this point I’m choosing to be cautiously optimistic. 

Take it where you find it…

After ten months of watching interest rates plummet through previously unimaginable record lows, I’ve finally stuck out my hand in an effort to catch the falling knife. Almost six years ago, I was thrilled to lock in 4.25% for 30 years. I’d taken 7.5% back in 2001when I bought my St. Mary’s County condo. At the time, that was a steal – especially for a 23-year-old with no significant credit history. I refinanced that one a few times over the years and the shopped around for financing for the Tennessee house in 2007. I closed on that one about three months before the bottom fell out of the housing market in 2008. Good timing, that.

I’d gotten used to being able to move through the mortgage process pretty effortlessly. I have every conceivable piece of electronic paperwork the underwriters may need at my fingertips – often sending it off before the call asking for it even ended. I’m still good for that, but the mortgage business itself is having a bit of a struggle at the moment. Just getting a broker to call me back proved to be more of a challenge than you might think. I suppose it’s a case of having an embarrassment of riches as everyone is racing to their favorite banker to take advantage of the unprecedentedly low rates. I was warned that getting through to closing, usually a 30-day affair, could take up to 90 days because of how much of a backlog they already have in the pipeline. The rate is locked in, with an option to go lower if they should continue to fall, but now that I’ve started the process, I’m impatient to start getting my monthly savings.

Plague, famine, sedition are all loose upon the world. Maybe we’re all going to hell in a handbag. It’s important to take your happiness where you can find it in strange times, so damned if I’m not going to appreciate a blisteringly low interest rate with no points on the way to the collapse of civilization.

Like a half-assed grail quest…

I’ve been reaching out to potential mortgage servicers for the last week or so to see if anyone’s interested in underwriting a refinance for Fortress Jeff. With interest rates stupidly low, I can only assume every other American home owner is doing the same thing right now. That’s a net good overall for homeowners, but has driven the whole process towards being even more of an absolute pain in the ass than it would be under normal circumstances.

If nothing else, you’d think I could get my current mortgage servicer to pick up the damned phone. And yet here we are, with all my calls for the last four days kicked over to voicemail and emails left without response. 

I’m sure they’re busy. I know my mortgage is in no way even remotely close to “big business” for a national bank. But, hey, a quick email letting a long-term customer know they’re in the queue and someone will eventually get back to them – or gods forbid giving an actual estimate of when they may get in touch – would go a long way towards making me feel like they should keep my business and fending off the increasing likelihood that I’ll just slam a request for quotes through one of those online aggregators and go with the absolute low bidder.

Under normal circumstances, I’d just walk into the credit union and ask for their best offer and move along, but it seems that since they’re still operating under COVID procedures, requiring advanced appointments, and also getting flooded with work, adding them to the list would just make for one more outfit that doesn’t seem interested in calling back. They may get added to the mix yet, but life would be altogether easier if the current lender would just get on the stick and work a streamlined loan for me versus starting over as a new customer. 

Yes, it’s a first world problem… and yet since I’m living in the first world, that really just makes it a problem… and one that you wouldn’t think should take so much time and effort to work through, but, of course, here we are. It’s like some kind of half-assed grail quest. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Handholding. If you’re a “professional” well into middle age and need constant hand holding and reassurance, perhaps you’ve got into the wrong career field. I don’t have the time or inclination to sooth your forehead with a cool rag and assure you that everything really will be alright. You might be the most important player in your own drama, but I can promise you’re not carrying enough rank or influence to convince me to give much of a shit before I write you off as a whiny sonofabitch and consign your future efforts to the ever growing file of received, but unread email.

2. $15 an hour. Want $15 an hour, you can start by doing a good job to begin with. The last three times I’ve been through a particular fast food joint they’ve gotten the order wrong – wrong size, wrong item, and then the last time, the whole order, fries included, dumped loose into the bag. I went in to complain about that last one. The manager looked like she couldn’t be bothered, her blank stare clearly not comprehending why I wasn’t satisfied. Pay rates should, in part, reflect the level of difficulty of the job and the quality with which it is performed. Why anyone expects a 100% raise for what seems to be an increasingly abysmal level of service is well and truly beyond me. Maybe think about earning that raise, you’d be amazed how good it feels to have a little self respect instead of getting something for nothing.

3. Interest rates. Mortgage interest rates are bumping along towards or at historic lows. They currently make the first mortgage I got 20+ years ago look almost usurious by comparison. The problem is mostly that the rates are low enough now that it’s starting to tempt me towards refinancing the mortgage on the ol’ homestead. Without fully running the numbers, I’ve got to think there are a few dollars to be saved if I can drop my rate a couple quarters of a percent. And that’s when I start to remember the absolute rage-inducing process that accompanies mortgage refinancing… and I’m left wondering if any kind of savings is really worth going through it unnecessarily. I’ll be off to the next place well before I pay off the note on the current house. The less crazy making course of action may well be keeping what’s already a respectably low interest rate and just ignoring the promise of a few less dollars flowing out every month, tempting though it is.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Tax reform. This country needs real reform of the tax code. Whether you fall into the “tax the rich in oblivion” camp or find yourself in the “Why the hell do 50% of Americans not pay a penny of income tax” team, the need for reform is the one thing we all seem to have in common. The terms of the current Republican tax plan are still largely shrouded in secrecy, but I’ve already seen two items kicked around that will be will mean I can’t support it as long as they’re in play. I’ll be writing my representative this weekend to let him know that the home mortgage deduction and state/local tax deduction are non-negotiable points for me. Those are two big pots of available cash and I know how tempting that must be for the average politician to put their filthy hands all over… but still, going after two of the most popular deductions around feels like just about the most tone deaf way to get the process started.

2. Temptation. There was beer at work today. Sort of. It was the start of this year’s Oktoberfest celebration – an event that my employer has a tremendous amount of love for, which I can only assume comes from the number of employees who have spent some part of their career in Germany since 1945. Look, if the option is to go sit around listening to oom-pah bands and knocking back cold beer or stay at my desk and pretend to be interested in email, well, there’s not really much of a competition. The problem comes when you’re a few drinks in and everyone is starting to get a little lubricated and entertaining. That’s when the little voice in my head trips an alarm to remind me that it’s probably time to go before I say something that’s both funny and true, but wholly unprofessional. The real temptation, though, was to stick around just out of curiosity to see what offensive or inappropriate sound bite might come flying out of my pie hole.

3. Jared Kushner. Having spent a good portion of 2016 being hot and bothered by Secretary Clinton and her email server, it’s only fair that I call out Jared Kushner in his capacity as Senior Advisor to the President. His use of private email to conduct official business should be investigated by Congress. His files and records should be subpoenaed. If there is evidence indicating he has broken the law, he should be charged criminally and tried. While I’m on the subject, I’ll remind those on the left screaming for Kushner’s head, that there is a world of difference between official email and classified message traffic. That being said, it’s apparently impossible to keep either one on non-government servers. Asshats.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Refinance. I’ve had two deals blow up in the last 45 days. One because of obscure federal regulations governing how many condo units have to be owner occupied and one because the appraiser used a nearly-unrelated set of comps and low-balled the house value. So now basically I’m out $850 with nothing to show for it but a shit ton of paperwork and the exact same rates with which I started the process. Some days it’s not at all hard to imagine why people don’t trust, like, or particularly want to do business with large financial institutions.

2. Party Planning. I’ve once again assumed my mantle as supreme party planner. Feel free to talk to me about event registration, catering, party tent reservations, name badges, parking, shuttle bus service, cash bar socials, menu planning, and all of your party, wedding, or other event needs. When I walked out if the gym at dear old Frostburg State with a shiny new social science degree in hand this is not at all the future I had in mind. Let my life experience serve as a reminder to you all that just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you’ll have any interest in doing it. But don’t take my word for it, go ahead and spend a few months each year doing something you loath. It’s sure it’s character building or something.

3. All the other things. Perhaps capping off the list of annoyances this week are all the small things. That’s what life is made up of, really. The day-to-day, moment-to-moment instances. Usually they pass by unnoticed and unremarked… until they all start fraying at the same time. This has been one of those kind of weeks, where even the easy somehow makes itself hard to do. If I make it through Friday afternoon without verbally expelling what’s really on my mind at anyone I’ll consider it one of my greatest personal and professional accomplishments to date.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Refinancing. At the moment I’m trying like hell to refinance the condo since interest rates can’t conceivably go much further down. This week, I’m playing an interminable game of “send this, then send that, then send some other thing, send something else, resend the first thing.” While I can understand that not everyone share’s my obsession with order and neatness, it seems to me that just sending one list of the documents I need to provide might go a long way towards streamlining this process.

2. Don’t ask. If you ask if I’m busy and the answer is anything close to “yes, I’m going to lunch,” that should not be a signal to you to then drag me into a 30 minute conversation about something I couldn’t possibly care less about. Instead, you should consider it a signal to STFU so I can go get lunch. #TheMoreYouKnow

3. Nothing original. If you really are going to hold me to a third thing this week, let’s just go with the fact that, occasionally there isn’t a third thing. it’s not that the week has been any less stupid than the others, just that most of the grievances I noticed this week are a little too familiar. They’re the same ones that came up last week and a few weeks before that and maybe even months ago. Being a dedicated creature of habit it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that the same things come up over time. I’d be more concerned if they didn’t. There’s just so many times I can create a new and interesting spin on “meetings are stupid,” “people are a pain in the ass,” and why leader is a verb rather than a title.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

Clear…

As far as I can tell, there are about 3,572 different and distinct approvals needed in order to get a mortgage. There’s the pre-qualification, the pre-approval, and the tentative approval through the loan officer. From what I’ve gathered in the last thirty days, none of those three types of approval mean a damned thing to anyone. The only kind of approval that matters when it comes time for a six-figure loan is the one from the mortgage underwriter stating all conditions are cleared and the loan is well and truly approved.

The “clear to close” approval is the one I finally got this morning – a whole three days in advance. I feel like it’s a major accomplishment.

The final walk through is scheduled. The seller is preparing to produce receipts for all requested repair work. Closing is set for noon… and my inner paranoid pessimist is screaming out his familiar warning that someone, somewhere will find some way to send this thing hurtling wildly off the rails at the last moment.

I’ll feel infinitely better once I’ve signed away the next 30 years in exchange for a set of keys… or some magic beans. Either way.

I’m dreamy…

The last week or so I’ve been working pretty closely with my mortgage underwriter. The volume of paperwork involved in this transaction is impressive… and that’s saying someone who’s spent most of his adult life as a professional bureaucrat. Late Friday afternoon I got a very apologetic email asking for updated bank statements. It seems my state and federal tax refunds dropped into my account and set off all kind of mortgage lender bells and sirens warning about unexpectedly large deposits. Within minutes I sorted out what they needed and punted everything back to them so they’d have it on Monday morning.

A few minutes later I got a very kind message calling me a “dream borrower to work with,” presumably because I actually keep reasonably good records and can access them on demand. That sort of surprised me. I had always assumed that most people would be able to dive into their files and find whatever bit of paperwork they needed. Getting a mortgage lined up can be an exercise in frustration – and can feel like you’ve sent every bit of required documentation a few dozen times. Having the paperwork you need on hand shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.

All that being said, I have to think if you’re asking someone to lend you a few hundred thousand dollars or more, actually having your shit together and not causing them a bunch of headache is probably a good idea, no? Or maybe I’m just not approaching this endeavor with the requisite amount of douchebaggery entitled attitude. All things being equal, until we reach the closing table I’m going to err on the side of being as helpful to these people as humanly possible. It’s one of those happy convergences of self interest and the right thing to do.