Monday, September 28, 2009

Things I will not miss about the city

1.) Cubs traffic - there are hundreds of roads other than Lake Shore Drive, so why do you have to add 20 minutes to my commute?

2.) Street parking - Especially if you own a larger vehicle. One of the plusses to our old neighborhood was plenty of street parking, unless it was a Friday or Saturday night.

3.) Rush hour on the El - Once a month, I'd melt down after being packed into a noisy metal box and wonder why I didn't move someplace nicer.

4.) Crappy little restaurants - While the burbs are trashed for their chain-friendly attitudes when it comes to dining, the city's dark side contains awful little restaurants that are only kept in business by adventurous diners hoping to find a diamond in the rough. Many times it's just an awful restaurant that no one goes to more than once.

5.) The smell of urine on the bus.

6.) Random traffic at any hour of the day or night - When you hit a jam at 11:30 p.m. on a Sunday for no real reason, it can be a bit much.

7.) Bike theft.

8.) The assumption that because you live in the city, you've heard of cool, edgy restaurants (work only) - No, I haven't eaten at the Hawaiian/French Canadian/Peruvian fusion restaurant. I eat burgers at the corner bar, just like you would if you lived here.

9.) Richard M. Daley - There was a saying that as long as the trash got picked up and the streets got cleared, he'd be mayor for life. The streets stopped being cleared last winter.

10.) The rats - Man, do I hate the rats.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The trouble with Randy (How I learned to stop worrying and love the short sale)

The months of waiting are over and my wife and I closed on our first home this afternoon. None of this (big picture wise) is possible without my wife, who thoroughly rehabbed my credit score (that's another story), spearheaded a house hunt while caring for a newborn and quarterbacked the network of agents, mortgage brokers and lawyers from start to finish.

The story ends well, with us in a new home and with plenty of reasons to buy new and dangerous tools. This is all any red-blooded American boy wants. It's the middle that makes things more interesting than any of us wanted it to be.

While my son is too little to remember any of this, I smile when I think about buying the home where he'll take his first steps, hunt for Easter Eggs and probably learn to ride his first bike (hopefully because he wants to be just like his dad.)

Not that it matters much, as the only concrete memories that I have of my parents' first true home is that the sweet older couple that was moving out gave us a cake shaped like a lamb. My folks remember meetings, home viewings and endless worry (and hope) - I remember cake. It's all about perspective, I guess.

First, a little background - our real estate agent warned us gently that people only did short sales once. The waiting and headaches are worth it if you're looking for a break on a house when you're first getting started, but no one really wants to repeat the process. On the other side of this divide, we can say that, no, we will not be volunteering for this again in the future.

(Short sales are those in which the seller is about to go under on payments and approach the bank with a proposition - they will try to get the best offer possible for the house, if the bank agrees to take less than the full amount that is owed. In short, no one on the seller's side is happy with the situation. This is generally the step before the bank forecloses on the property.)

In our case, we found a pre-approved short sale (same rules, but the bank has a magic number in mind that they will agree to if a buyer offers it), offered said magic number and waited. We did that "waiting" step for a while. Then, we sent e-mails to move things along and waited a bit more. Purgatory doesn't have a more apt twin on the mortal plane than a short sale.

In the midst of all this, we had our seller, Randy, who most definitely did not want to leave, but had little choice in the matter. In speaking with his parents, the legal owners of the home, we found out that they had taken over the house in name only and that they were totally shocked at the condition of the house as a whole. When you are apologizing for the actions of your grown son, it probably makes for a downer of a day, just saying.

Coming into the home stretch last week, we had a sneaking suspicion that today would not be easy. For one, every rock we overturned seemed to reveal a new, unpaid bill. From utilities to taxes to homeowners association dues, something was unpaid. We were hell bent on not paying a dime on this, but had very little wiggle room, as the house was sold "as is" with the bank being able to shrug and tell us to take it or leave it. As a buyer, this is a very interesting position to be in. It also makes you very nervous and more attentive to every line item on a contract. Our lawyer loved this - instead of sitting with eyes glazed over, we tore into the contracts and came loaded for bear. In the end, the seller's legal team ended up eating a few bills they'd missed.

We quietly did victory dances in our minds.

After closing this afternoon - and learning all sorts of gossip from pretty much every party on the seller's side, my wife and I were faced with a decision about whether or not to call in the authorities and halt the move or extend a few more hours to let the seller finally leave.

Seeing as they had already tried to leave with the washer and dryer, had refused to fix a gas leak we noticed and reported since our first viewing in July and smashed into the top of the framing on the garage (someone forgot to close the tailgate on their SUV before backing in), we were really in no mood to do them any favors. Additionally, as the house was sold "as is," anything in it at the time of close was technically ours.

With a son in the picture, we were more inclined to take the high road and give them a few extra hours to finish moving out. The high road sucks, campers.

Suffice to say the highlights of the afternoon included the Randy telling me with a straight face that there were no keys to the house (none whatsover), throwing a shoulder at me as I stripped the door hardware to install new deadbolts and referring to me as "rude" for having the stones to use my own bathroom after he tried to body block me from entering my on home so he could eat.

Other highlights include:

* No garage door opener turned over. It either spontaneously combusted, fell in the trash or was eaten by a half dead goldfish. The simple fix for this was to unplug the garage door before we left.

* Noticing that the rear patio door had been left unlocked and unbarred after I had shut it down earlier in the evening. Shady business.

* We now own a Pop-a-shot machine (score) with no basketballs (no score), a copier (full-sized office grade), a stash of temporary tattoos (no idea), a collection of zoning maps for every town in Illinois (?), various paperwork for his business (including bank statements and credit card mailings and a giant vase that sits atop the entryway, like an offering to Ikea, the goddess of questionable decorating decisions.

* Instead of moving full bags of trash to the garage or curb, they were thrown in the space where the washer and dryer were just hours before. Additional overflow seating for trash was moved to the guest bathtub. I failed to check if the plate of nachos, dog bed and coffee cups still reside under the sink in there. I can update any interested parties tomorrow.

* If you think the trash would go in the trash bins, you'd be wrong. This is because you don't have a Randy at your house, packing full trash cans onto a trailer. As this wasn't in our contract, we couldn't do anything about it.

At the end of the day, my brother-in-law, Jeff, and I saw everyone out and I was quietly pleased that this was done without incident. There was at least a 50/50 chance of the situation escalating over something as stupid as taking the washer/dryer, further damaged to a mildly mule kicked home or my losing my cool after having my wife, father and mother-in-law treated as interlopers in my own home.

On recapping the evening, my wife and I couldn't be happier. We have a wonderful home to raise our son in, closer to family and friends and with a big enough floor plan to grow. While the Randy's of the world have their days, we're confident that we'll be telling the story of our family in the years to come with only a slight flourish of the craziness of the day.

With that in mind, I really doubt we'll be getting that lamb cake.

(Image from: