As I was following the mower around the yard, it occurred to me that I closed on my house five years ago today. As I continued, it also occurred to me how serendipitous the whole process was. It all started when Bank of Boston bought out my bank, Rhode Island Hospital Trust. I'd had my checking account at RIHT for a very long time, but I never had a savings account there, mostly because it would've involved actually taking the time to sit down and talk to someone at the bank. Eventually BoB decided to merge the operations of the two banks, and in the process, my old checking account was switched over to a combination BoB checking/savings account. BoB also had an excellent web-based on-line banking site. The upshot was that I suddenly had a savings account, and was able to make deposits just by logging in and transferring money from my checking account, all without having to talk to another human being. Even better, I got a big discount on my monthly fee if used atms and the web site exclusively. Now that's my kind of bank. I started moving money into the savings account, with a set goal for every paycheck. After two years or so I had quite a bit on money in the account. This turned out to be a good thing.
Meanwhile, my landlady met a boy, and they decided to get married, and oh, by the way, they also needed to assimilate my apartment so there'd be room for his kids. She told me the night before Y2K that I had six months to find a new place. I wasn't quite sure what to do. I had my newly loaded savings account, and a good bit in my 401K thanks to the dot com boom, so I figured I could finally buy a place. The problem was that I wanted to stay pretty much in the same, more expensive, corner of town, and I couldn't afford all that big a mortgage payment. There were very few houses in my price range at all, much less for sale in the area. I spent a month going through on-line listings, and driving through different neighborhoods on the weekends. Then, about a week into February, I drove through a little development that occasionally rode my bike through, and noticed a for sale sign in front of a small Cape. I went home and checked the listings, but it wasn't listed yet, at least not on-line. Finally, I went back and jotted down the phone number off the sign. Called and left a message. The following Sunday morning the agent called me back to show me the house.
Apart from location, I really only had one absolute requirement going in. I needed a full basement for my tools. A decent yard would be nice. Decent cabinets in the kitchen. That was about it, except that knowing there was a full dormer on the Cape, I hoped it would have an unfinished second floor. (I obviously wasn't thinking on all cylinders at the time...). Turns out it had everything on my list. (Okay, later I discovered the cabinets weren't great. The cabinets were actually in good shape, just really badly sized, which I didn't actually notice til I moved in. It wouldn't have been a deal breaker if I had noticed.) I was sold. The agent explained that it was an estate sale, and that he and the seller worked together on their day jobs. They were both cops in a neighboring town. He didn't usually sell in my town, and wanted rid of the whole deal. Also, the seller was willing to take $3K off the listed price, which was already below market (true, I checked), because the carpets were cigarette burned and pretty badly stained. Took me all of two seconds to agree to the deal.
There was some concern when we started filling out the papers because I wasn't yet pre-approved for a mortgage. I'd gotten pre-qualified, which I'd assumed would be enough, but turns out it wasn't. (What did I know? I was flying blind here.) Turned out to be no big deal. The pre-qualify was for considerably more than the house cost, the agent really didn't feel like traipsing over to my town to show the house anymore, and it was still going to be held up in probate for a little while anyway. Also, I'd just handed him a 5% deposit. We filled out the forms, and I went home, fired up the computer, applied for a mortgage on-line (InstaMortgage.com, a tradition since November '99...), and was approved a couple days later. Go me!
(Five days later, my 100 year-old grandmother died in her sleep, and I spent a miserable Friday night driving through a snow storm to New Jersey in a car with a newly broken heater/defroster. I had one of those automobile combination back massager/warming things plugged in and laid out across the dashboard as a makeshift defroster. But that's another story...)
We missed one closing date because probate hadn't gone through, and they only did probate once a month. I waited for word. Finally, I got a call a month later. Probate passed, we're closing tomorrow. Nothing like a little warning. I spent the rest of that day going nuts arranging for insurance and a bunch of the other little details. The next day, April 20, 2000, I became a homeowner.
I was very lucky. Thanks to my bank getting bought, I had a good chunk of money in savings, plus I was able to borrow more from my 401K just before the dot com bubble burst. Thus, while everything else in my account was going into the tank during the next couple of years, the money I borrowed was making a nice steady 8.5% as I paid it back. My perfect house became available in the neighborhood of my choice on the day I just happened to drive down the street. Not only was it exactly what I wanted, it was priced well below market. (I paid $7k less than the original owner had 11 years earlier.) And I did this all myself, with no agent or lawyer of my own (mostly because I didn't know any better).
Man, I started writing this early in the morning, but the combination of the sunshine baking my office at work and a lousy night of sleep last night, and I was barely able to keep my eyes open all afternoon. I was a complete lump.