Adventures in Home Buying: The Agony

The end (and the pee) is in sight

Photo of the Falls Bridge via  Fourth Floor  at Flickr.

Photo of the Falls Bridge via Fourth Floor at Flickr.

I was refreshing and reloading my Gmail with each new wave of anxiety. I had not regarded my inbox with this much agitation since I was single. Of course the appraisal we had been waiting on appeared around 4 p.m. on a Friday. That’s when all good news arrives, right?

The figure came in $7,000 less than the sales price we had agreed on weeks ago. You could be forgiven for assuming this might be good news to us as buyers. The onus, after all, is on the sellers when the appraised value is less than the sales price. Since the banks won’t approve a mortgage for more than the value of the home, the sellers are left to reconsider. But what usually happens is the difference is somehow split between seller and buyer – usually at the cost of the seller’s assist. We were already putting as much cash as we possibly could into closing, so for us, another round of fractious negotiations didn’t hold much promise.

For a moment I considered living the rest of my days in our small, one-bedroom Center City apartment. We could finally get around to hanging those prints. And another 50 years there would probably help us get used to a kitchen big enough for one cook at a time. I had heard they were going to renovate the lobby anyway.

I started reading the 28-page PDF. It was a government-issue form, with all the pomp and circumstance of a driver’s license renewal. Sentences like the following ([sic] throughout) are standard:

The estimates of adjustments used by the appraiser, while may be subjective, they are in many
instances the only available method. Therefore, when an estimated adjustment is used by the
appraiser that is considered minimal, no clear explanation is given. Written comments are given
(added in the appraisal) to those estimates that are deemed large in nature.

My rational self was aware that the appraiser’s figure was nearly inviolable – and that he was merely doing his job. An appeal was possible but was not likely to result in an appreciable difference. So my irrational self focused on whatever else it could: my name, the comps, and one photo.

There it was, at the top of 28 pages: Sharon Rooney. My misanthropy was a supernova. It is an ongoing joke with my closest friends that people sometimes mistake my name for Sharon. The corollary to this joke is that the people who do so almost uniformly turn out to be my personal nemeses. This goes back somehow to a third-grade substitute teacher, wends through various baristas and a weirdo college roommate and now includes one appraiser.

Next up, comps. Sales of similar homes nearby contribute to the method by which the appraiser calculates the value of the home in question. Which also meant – upon my further reading – that the home we had lost the previous month did not just sting us once. It haunted us twice. The absolute steal we had coveted in February was now back to drag down our current appraisal, according to the report.

Finally, there was the photo. Along with their written comments, appraisers must attach pictures of the property. Observe:


Photo via unnamed appraiser from our report.

The home was vacant when C. and I last left it following our inspection. Now, the home inspector returned once to check the radon levels (thankfully, they were negligible). Other than that, our appraiser was the only other person scheduled to be in the building. Regardless of who left the seat up, the appraiser photodocumented the sin of someone putting the p in our powder room. (Upside: now we can joke about more than just the weird skirt the sellers left behind in the half bath.)

For not the first time, I was grateful to know our realtor personally. When he called to discuss the appraisal within a few moments of receiving it, I made my disgust plain. Having the luxury of an office door to close, I was free to use the language of my antipathy. Knowing me well, he let me wear myself out on repeated references to the word “ridiculous” before suggesting we see what the sellers had to say. Communicating with C. via iChat (again: how in the world did these deals get done without email and Gchat?), we limply consented to that plan.

Before I could put my phone down and open my door again, our lender called. He sounded remarkably chipper for a guy whom we were convinced was about to lose a deal. He started talking about “wiggle room” and “lender’s assists” and I felt slightly buoyed. He was driving and said he wouldn’t be home until later on Friday night but promised we’d talk then.

The seller’s agent’s email (via our realtor) came next. The sellers were willing to accept the slashed sales price but were shaving off some of their assist as well. The lender promised to run the numbers and said he felt sure the difference would not be insurmountably great.

It was now past 5 p.m. on a Friday so we did what reasonable people would do in this situation: we repaired immediately to happy hour.

Something you should know about me (apart from the fact that I make neurotic lists, swear a lot and despise folks who call me Sharon) is that I am perhaps the most prolific klutz in Philadelphia. If there is a sidewalk crack, I will stumble over it. If there is a glass to be dropped spectacularly in a crowd, I will make a scene. And so, Friday afternoon in the glorious sunshine that barely hinted at spring, when the sidewalks on every Center City intersection were positively crawling with work-released revelers, I bit it. Hard.

I wish I had a better excuse for falling down at 11th and Chestnut, but the truth is I quite literally fell over my own two feet. I feel compelled to say here that I was wearing sensible, flat shoes (that has not stopped me from falling before, and it will likely not stop me from falling again). My moment of impact resulted in actual stopped traffic and too many horrified gazes from strangers for me to count. Luckily I was just on the sidewalk, so no traffic incidents added injury to my injury, but people seemed concerned enough to ask for help. It was not my finest moment.

I took my absolutely ruined knee into the bar, availed myself of the company of dear friends, an ice pack and a cheap beer (in that order), and we waited for the call.

And so, when our lender called at 8:30 that night with amended figures for cash needed at closing and our monthly payments, I felt like I had already been through more than one kind of battle. It also felt infinitely appropriate that we were still at a bar.

The news was good. We made it work. And we’re settling two weeks from today.