Wednesday, July 28, 2010

COLUMN: Closing Table

The deed is done. I woke up today fully in charge of my life, my finances, my rent, and my world. Twelve hours later, I find myself fully in charge of $84,500 in newfound debt, a lawn I have no idea how to mow, appliances I have no idea how to repair, and what might very well be the onset symptoms of my very first ulcer.

The papers are signed. The keys are in my hand. I am a homeowner.

Moving day is next week, but I'm jumping the gun tonight. I sit here now, bathed in the warm glow of my laptop, typing cross-legged on the empty floor of the living room that is now mine. Hands have been shook, documents have been shuffled, hugs have been hugged -- and now I sit alone in the dark, surrounded on every side by the biggest impulse buy I have ever made and will ever make in my life. And man, it's quiet. Without the friendly, steadfast hum of my apartment's window air conditioner, I feel like I can hear my own thoughts. There's a window halfway across the living room and there's a bug outside recklessly flying into the pane of glass and I can hear it like it's inches away. This is weird.

Just a few hours ago I was sitting at the title company over what's affectionately known as "the closing table." This, for the uninitiated, is where all parties concerned with the buying and selling of a piece of property meet -- and stare at you silently and creepily while you sign a non-stop barrage of documents that, for all intents and purposes, are written in Martian. For all I know, I could have signed my girlfriend away to slave labor and not known it (in which case, umm, sorry, Amy.)

Putting the full weird on the event was a mid-afternoon Midwest monsoon, so every new person who came to the table was soaked with rain, like some kind of demented Buffy rerun where the Scooby Gang was faced with a clan of dripping water monsters intent on robbing an honest, hard-working newspaper columnist of his entire life savings. Well, not exactly -- because I took care of that for them. Let me explain.

The centerpiece of the paperwork barrage is the HUD form. This is the sheet that breaks down all of the buyer's expenses and credits and bottom-lines the necessary down-payment in order for the title company to hand you the keys. Included in the breakdown is the fun of property taxes. Now, buying a house smack in the middle of the year complicates things a bit, because half the taxes of the year have already come due.

Since the taxes owed in 2010 are, in fact, the taxes of 2009, it's not my responsibility to pony up the cash for them. It's the seller who lived there during the 2009 tax season who's stuck with the bill. The taxes are paid in 4 quarterly installments throughout the year, and in my case, they're automatically paid out of the funds in my loan's escrow account. But since the year is half done, the seller's already paid the city for 2 of those 4 quarters. For the remaining two quarters, the seller pays ME that money and then it's pulled from my escrow. Follow? (Don't worry, I only barely do myself.)

So I'm looking at this HUD form, and it shows what I owe, and then it shows my credits, and then it shows the bottom line figure I needed to have for the downpayment (in this case, a lump sum of around $1100.) But as I look at the credits, I notice something odd. There's a line that says "Credit for 2009 property tax" and it indicates a sum of $2700. Well, the property taxes for my house are $2700 for the whole year, but like I explained above, the seller's already paid for two of those four quarters, right?

Ergo, I say something.

"Let me take a look..." says the friendly title company rep.

"Hmm..." says my realtor.

"Hmm..." says the seller's realtor.

"Hmm..." says my loan officer.

"Hmm..." says the seller's attorney.

"YOU'RE RIGHT!" announces the title company rep. "This number IS wrong!"

Suddenly a wave of triumph sweeps over me. I found a math error. Me, who is pretty much legally math-tarded. Me, who scraped by Algebra II in high school with a D average and promptly took "Intro to Computers" for my remaining math credits. Me, who chose Augustana as my alma mater for the primary reason of no required math classes. Me, who still counts on my fingers when doing math in my head. I found a math error that escaped accountants and loan officers combined. "YOU ROCK!" said my brain to myself.

"Thank you SO much for noticing that," said the title company rep. I deserved a cookie.

"With that error cleared up, your credit is only $1350. So instead of owing us $1100 right now, we'll be needing $2500. Go get another cashier's check."

That's right, folks. I'm the only person on Earth bone-headed enough to discover an error saving me $1350 and promptly report it to the whole room. "Umm, excuse me, but I don't believe that I'm paying you enough. Please oh please charge me more."

Still, I've got mild warm fuzzies because I am now a documented do-gooder. And when I one day reach the pearly gates and St. Peter reminds me of the cassette single (or in 80's terms, "cassingle") that I stole when I was 12, I can at least come back with, "Oh, yeah? Well, I think I made up for it when I charged myself an extra $1350 for my house."

And my loan officer told me later that the error probably would have been found somewhere down the road and they would have made me come in and pay the difference at a later date. But still, part of me wonders if I just put the kibash on an accidental $1350 buyer bonus. Even though I felt kinda foolish pointing out a 1-line error that cost me $1350, I did the right thing, and I won't be losing sleep over it.

No, not when there's such a wide menu of OTHER things to lose sleep over. Now that there's no going back, reality's starting to creep in. Like, there's NO good place in my living room for both a wide-screen television AND my sectional. And simply due to the wall setup, there's no way to evenly hang surround sound speakers, so at best I will be enjoying my future cinema in 5.1 slightly-off-center-and-diagonal-sound. And don't get me started on the bad wiring job on the light switches - the living room overhead light appears to only work if the kitchen and living room switches are in the "OFF" position while the upstairs switch is "ON" - my house is like a bad game of Myst.

But the point is, it's MY house. Officially. Mine. I kinda like the sound of that...

(p.s. I'm taking next week off while I spend another fortune moving all of my possessions ten blocks to their new home. Say a prayer and I'll see you all soon.)

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