Home Buying Ain’t What It Used To Be

by Catherine Breese

fOR sALE WONT BE EASY copyIn 2007, right before the sub-prime mortgage fiasco and economic recession, we bought a house.  We think fondly of those days.  referring to that mortgage as the last sketchy loan made in America. Ahhh, those were the days.  Basically, we picked out a house–Bryan alone qualified for the loan as I had not yet procured a job–signed a few papers and…voila! We were homeowners.  Could we borrow an extra 10,000 dollars above the purchase price to have some foundation work done?  Can we get some cash back at closing? Why yes, of course we could.  Could we lend you more, the bank politely inquired?

This past week we completed, finally, the purchase of a new home, and we are, to say the least, exhausted.  Getting a mortgage today can only be described as a crucible, one designed to push even the most creditworthy, deserving American citizen to the limits of their patience and endurance.

To begin with, we shopped for a mortgage the modern way–on the Internet.  Once we had determined the best interest rate for what we had in mind we proceeded under the foolish notion that our stellar credit, healthy dual income, and modest down payment would carry us over the threshold of our 3-bedroom dream house with ease.  It played out a little differently, though. Of course we pre-qualified easily, getting that useful letter that allows the potential buyer make an offer with only one evening spent scanning and emailing documents.  But that one evening quickly turned into evening after evening of digging up bank statements, scanning contracts and pay stubs, and writing letters of explanation.

Yes, the dreaded letter of explanation.  I had to write two.  The first letter required by our chosen lender was to explain the one—yes, uno—late payment I have ever made to a creditor.  (This isn’t bragging, but we have exemplary credit scores.  Bryan scores in the mid-800s and I’m above 760. Why is his score higher than mine?  Good question. Especially since I pay all the bills and have paid all the bills for the last ten years.  But let’s just say Bryan is a credit score god and I am only a minor deity.)  In point of fact, I did make a car payment 31 days Key in doorlate.  I don’t have a witty story to go with it—I just blew it.  When I figured it out, I called and paid by phone.   But seriously, it is the only late payment I have made as an adult. That is to say, in the last thirty years, I have made ONE late payment. I think you get my point here.

So, when I was asked to write a letter explaining it, I was, well, indignant.  What the hell was the letter supposed to say, anyway?  The dog ate my car payment?  My checkbook was lost in a fire?  My annoyingly incurable honesty kept me from working up something false.  So I wrote the worst explanation ever, a circular little inversion that went something like my payment was late because late was my payment.  It ended with the  line, “Kiss my ass, Bernice!”  but Bryan deleted that part. Apparently my letter satisfied the mortgage broker, who shall remain nameless in this article, except for a shout out to Randell, (Hey! Randell!) our salesperson, who texted Bryan pretty much every day for 45 days.  He really wanted to get paid, and I don’t fault him for it.  

Just a few days before our closing date, came another demand to write a letter explaining my being a co-signer on a student loan.  We had included this loan in our debt disclosure on our application and it also appears on our credit report, and the bank suddenly wanted a letter about it.  Uh, yes, I am a co-borrower on a loan that we disclosed to you weeks ago and that was on our credit report.  Yes, yes, yes.  (For the love of Pete, doesn’t just about everybody have to borrow money for college?) Of course, I wrote the stupid letter. They’re the ones with the big dough and I still wanted to buy my slice of the American pie.  

Some other differences between then and now: before the housing bust, almost all of the extra costs associated with the purchase came out at closing.  Many of them could even be financed.  Those days are over.  Now the appraiser, the surveyor, the inspector, well, just about everybody wants a check long before the names are signed on the closing documents.  Additionally, we were specifically told not to move money around, take money out of savings, or make any major purchase between the contract and the closing.  Then everybody and his brother asked us for money.  We paid them all, enjoying dinners of Ramen noodles and planning our weekend’s entertainment around the question “What can we do that’s free?”

Bottom line–buying this house was not fun. It was complicated and stressful and involved hours of finding, scanning, emailing, e-signing, texting, and calling.  I think we were “Conditionally Approved” at least three different times. I wonder how people who don’t own a scanner and a computer even get a mortgage.  

doggies 1No, buying a house this time around was not fun.  It was so unfun, in fact, that it almost spoiled that obvious fact that we were getting our dream home in a nice neighborhood, something we both, for some strange reason, felt we deserved and had earned.

But it didn’t spoil it. We have named our new home Terra Alta and we are having lots of fun picking out furniture and emptying poorly packed boxes.  We had a minor kerfuffle with our homeowner’s insurance underwriter, but we solved that easily enough by going with another company. Suck it, Drema.  Sassy plays for keeps.