Friday, December 15, 2006

Flashback Friday - It never hurts to ask

"Brevity is the key," a TV anchorperson once advised me... but after re-reading some of my posts one might think that I was too busy writing a run on sentence to hear that sage counsel. So lets see if I can get this all out in just a couple paragraphs.

I didn’t want to buy a condo. I was happy renting. I liked renting. I LOVED having only to make a phone call when my AC broke down, or the dishwasher started leaking. “Hey, my shit is busted, send somebody to fix it and pick up the tab too!” That lack of responsibility was and is right up my alley! The renting I loved, the rent… not so much. I still have no understanding about how rents work. Why reward a long time tenant with ever increasing rent? Why charge someone exorbitant amounts in fees if their rent is late? If I had the money I would have paid you, where do you think I am going to come up with MORE!? The complex I was living in at the time also left a lot to be desired. One of the few “non-gated” communities still around I think. That led to strange cars with strange people in them listening to loud music at all hours. I think there was even a guy who LIVED in his car in my parking lot some nights. My apartment itself wasn’t too bad. It had a nice view of some woods, lots of storage (more storage than I have now), a deck and even a fireplace. I didn’t hate it, but I was embarrassed enough to avoid having friends over too often. In fact I think a total of like 10 people MAY have come over the entire time I lived there, nearly 5 years.

I had done a LITTLE research on the possibility of buying a unit in the building where I now live. This included buying my mortgage broker friend coffee a couple of times over which we talked about how feasible a purchase like this might be for a person like me. I was glad that I had a friend in the biz, and was happy that IF I did buy she would be my mortgage broker. She had run my “numbers” a couple of times and other than some minor discrepancies, she assured me that I would qualify for a loan that would allow me to buy a unit. Great news! She also told me how much the payments would be. Shitty news. One or two more coffee meetings and she had me committed to at least going to the office and meeting with someone. “If it turns out that there are no pre-construction deals or other specials going on,” she counseled, “then we can consider other properties.”

I didn’t want to look at other properties. I was only interested in buying something IF it was a unit on my tragic lot (now with a picture!).

Building was already well under way by the time I made my first visit to the sales office. When I entered a very fit, very saavy, very Lucille Ball redheaded, 50ish woman with a big smile came into the waiting room and introduced herself. I don’t want to reveal her identity so I am just going to call her Evil Liar (for reasons that will become clear in future posts), or EL for short. It turns out her smile was less sincere than it appeared. I got the feeling that she sized me up immediately as someone who was shopping out of his league and then proceeded to treat me as such. EL brought me into a conference room, sat me down across from her and asked how she could help. This is when I made mistake #1. I admitted that I was a first time home buyer, that I had never been through this process, that I was clueless about the process and WORST of all that I was petrified. She started to write me off almost immediately. She went from smiles to an expression that I can only describe as the kind of look a cat gets when it realizes that the mouse it’s caught is no more fun to play with because it’s dead. Clearly she did not want to hold my hand through this process.

During that first meeting we just talked about the building, how many units, how would the parking work, what the HOA dues would be (very low), what kind of amenities the building would offer… stuff like that. I didn't ask about upgrades because I thought stuff like that would be spread out banquet style for me to choose from, but it wasn't. And I was too nervous to ask EL about things like that. But you have to ask!

Finally it was time to talk specifics. She showed me on a blueprint of the entire building which units were still available. There were still three one bedrooms, "but they're going fast," she assured me. We talked about one in particular that was priced about 5 grand more than my top limit even WITH the pre-construction discount she would generously offer despite the fact they'd already broken ground. "Would you like to put down some earnest money today," she asked, KNOWING that I could not. I told her no but that I really appreciated her time and that I would get back to her. As I took my first step to leave she Colombo'd me, "Oh, one more thing... we are going to be setting aside some units for city employees which will sell at a reduced cost... It's possible that we may open that program up to non-city employees as well. The city wants to make sure all walks of life can live here so we may have units reserved for people who's income is below $70,000 a year." First time I was ever happy to be considered "low income." It turns out these types of programs are fairly common. Developers make these deals with municipalities in order to get variances and other concessions that reduce their building costs. So IF you think you can't afford it, ASK about stuff like that. There are WAY more deals out there than you suspect.

Ultimately it was the program she offered at the last minute that allowed me to buy here... but that didn't happen until our next meeting when I would write a very bad check, and by bad I mean solid rubber.

Next Friday: The big checks and the long wait.

ps: I just learned that for my entire life I have been saying "exorbinant" when the word is actually "exorbitant."

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