The SMITH Diaries Project

Do You Really Want to Leave for This?

Monday, August 21st, 2006

By Brad Wieners

Earlier, I mentioned that things were accelerating in our home owning adventure. Well, they were — so fast, in fact, that it seemed to us there was hardly even time to write out lists of all the things that needed doing before Closing Day arrived. By now we had staked our financial future and at least a piece of our hearts on this 100-year-old colonial in Nyack, but unless we quickly bought a car, we’d be all-but-marooned in our new home, and our fear of sudden suburban isolation was growing as rapidly as the speed at which it was all becoming inevitable.

Talking with others I was reassured that rushing towards something you have decided you want but wish you could somehow forestall is the natural state of the prospective home buyer. Even so, our timetable was swift. We had committed to completing the transaction within 60 days, and that meant we had two months to tackle everything from repairs that we wanted the seller to complete as a condition of the sale to telling the woman who was caring for Gus (while M went back to work) that we didn’t think we could keep her on to M giving notice at her job (we couldn’t both commute and figure out how to care for G) to finding and purchasing a car reliable enough to convince M that when I went to work each morning in Manhattan, she wouldn’t be stranded with our baby…

And did I mention I was two short months into an incredibly demanding new position myself? Or that my kid sister, Megann, a 25-year-old hottie, had moved to Brooklyn and was staying with M and G and I (as she had while caring for G part-time last fall) and that she needed to find a new place to live, too, before we moved to Nyack?

So it was all happening at once. Gus was getting in on the act, too, taking his first ever steps along the side of our sofa, “cruising” as the child development people call it, and there M and I would be later, pillow-talking our way through one minor crisis after another in the Greenpoint bedroom we couldn’t wait to leave. Each day there was another tedious micro-debacle: What to do about the leak in the chimney that was compromising the upstairs roof? The lead content in the house pipes being 3x the FDA approved limit? The dead lawn? The debris in the arbor vitae? Each day one of us (usually me) didn’t get the issue quite resolved.

Thankfully, there was some comedy in this, even if it took a long pillow-talk or two to appreciate it.

For example, M and I drew each other into ridiculous who-knows-better debates about proper water filtration, the life expectancy of a water heater, and how to re-point a brick chimney. To hear us speak on any of these issues you might think we knew what we were talking about. Really, we were merely walking, talking, dueling search results from Google. I mean, without the Web, what exactly do you know about parge coating?

Meanwhile, I was developing a long list of questions that were unhelpful (but impossible to ignore) about the process.

For instance, why did we need an attorney, exactly? In California, the only other state where I’d been close enough to a real estate deal to have a clue about how they proceeded, buyers’ lawyers are optional, so why must we have one in New York? (The short answer is that in the state of New York, the bar has a cartel that makes it so).

Our attorney, David, recommended to us by our friend Thia as a “tiger,” was capable enough but a bit of an autodidact, and wasted no time alienating the seller’s attorney. Or maybe it was the other way around? In any event, we lost two weeks (14 of our precious 60 days) while David and the seller’s attorney, Rob, refused to speak to one another because both were of the opinion that the other had failed to promptly and politely return the others’ call… And, no, this was not the last moment where, if we were being followed by a reality TV crew, I might have deadpanned Jack Ritter-style into the camera: can you believe this shit?

Another unhelpful question: Why is it that realtors, of all the trades and professions, are in the habit of printing tiny headshots on their business cards? Previously, I had seen realtors’ mugs on billboards, but hadn’t given them much notice. You see these billboards, usually, in smallish burgs where they feel like Chamber of Commerce-y greetings, as if to say: Hey, passing motorist, did you know warm, friendly people live here and one like this mustachioed fellow would happily sell you a home? But in the Home Depot spec kitchen cabinets of what we hoped would become our new house we found two rather large stacks of realtors’ business cards, and I’d put the percentage of cards with high school yearbook quality headshots in the high 70s/ low 80s. And, really, has there ever been a self-selecting group other than realtors who so consistently appear like they are trying (but failing) to pull off a particular look?

Fortunately, our realtor, Bill, was not one of these, and was doing his best to help us navigate a somewhat tricky purchase. In brief, we were buying from a classic renovate-and-flip contractor who, as I mentioned previously, had subdivided “our” lot and built a big new home next door. This boded well for the potential appreciation of “our” home, and, M and I assured ourselves, it was no doubt the construction next door that accounted for the house we wanted staying on the market for over a year; that, and a too-high initial list price. Still, when Closing Day finally arrived on a slushy day in February, I kept wondering if those stacks of business cards with cheesy portraits weren’t a warning. What had we overlooked?

“Closing Day.” The way our attorney said it, it sounded both cursory and experimental, somewhere between a baptism and major surgery. In reality, it was one very long afternoon in a windowless office with several bored people (Bill completed two crosswords), but still there was one moment of high drama when M and I stood our ground on — yes! — the parge coat to fix the leaky chimney, and almost had the whole deal collapse. Ushering us from the airless conference room, David checked our resolve in a cramped corridor stuffed with files boxes and a water dispenser.

“Do you really want to leave for this?” He asked.

M and I shot each other a pained look. If either of us cracked, the other might, too, but the fear of being duped overcame the fear of losing the house. We had to be willing to walk away, that’s what we’d vowed. We had to be willing to walk away … M is better at being direct, and yet somehow I persist in believing I’m a better negotiator. I drew a breath. She spoke.

“We need this done. He said he’d do it, but he hasn’t done it.” Her voice was filled to near-cracking with emotion.

“Yes,” I said. “She’s right.”

The seller’s attorney bore the news poorly — like a migraine, really — but I guessed more at having to call and deal with the hot-tempered seller than because he himself found us that unreasonable. After an anxious ten minutes, he came back in and said, ok.

We left the offices at dusk, relieved, but depleted, and didn’t even get a look at the place we had just bought — we were catching a ride with our attorney David back to the city. While leaving town without marveling at our new home had a certain advantage (no chance of buyer’s remorse), it had a distinct disadvantage, too. For next few days, our new home remained an abstraction. We’d have to borrow a car the following weekend just to see it again.

Up Next: "Do you smell that, too? I think it's coming from the basement — where the furnace is... I'm taking Gus out of here right now."

One response

  1. Bill Compton says:

    Hi Jim. Photos i received. Thanks

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