We've bought several houses over the years. We'd look in the big, fat MLS book, find something we liked, then we'd contact the agent and have a look. If we liked it, we made an offer. We'd negotiate with the Seller a bit, agree on a price, then go sit down with our bank or mortgage lender to arrange the mortgage and the details. We met the banker/mortgage lender in person. We signed contracts and submitted official paperwork. We set a date for the closing where we sat down around a big table with the Sellers, the agents and the bankers and signed the final papers. Money in the form of checks was disbursed, hands were shaken, keys were exchanged and we had a new house.
In today's electronic world, none of what I described above occurs and I resent it. Some aspects are certainly easier. We didn't thumb through a huge book to find houses we liked. Instead, we input our buying criteria, scrolled through various sites, looked at videos and photos and searched comparable housing prices in the neighborhood. Easy-peasy. When we found a few that met our criteria, our agent set up times to look at them. That part was pretty convenient.
In the meantime, we contacted a local bank, but we didn't know anyone there and they didn't know us. We bank electronically, of course. The bank was not competitive on mortgage rates, so we ended up working with all the body-less voices at Quicken Loans/Rocket Mortgage. We provided a host of people we didn't know with every bit of information about our lives (only our sexual habits excluded) and then some. Explaining that we had no debt, no mortgages and lived on a sailboat for the past 15 years was difficult. It's not something they deal with regularly. They set up a “MyQL” file for each of us to which they sent endless questions and attachments. We “Docu-signed” everything electronically. We didn't get to keep the pens. All the initial work with Quicken earned us our first merit badge … a Qualifying Letter, followed soon thereafter (after we mastered another skill) by our second merit badge, an Approval Letter.
When we (the buyers) finally found the house we wanted to buy, our agent filled out an electronic form with our offer which we signed electronically and he sent electronically to the seller's agent. The seller's agent in turn forwarded our offer to the sellers. The sellers weren't satisfied with our offer, so they had their agent draw up a counter offer form which they signed electronically and in the reverse order, it was forwarded to us via various agents. We weren't satisfied with the counter-offer, so we countered the counter-offer … you get my drift. Though this was supposed to be a streamlined process, it took days and days. Had we sat down at a table with the Sellers, we could have probably ironed out the minor differences in an hour or two.
Then followed several weeks of limbo. The lenders were working on all the paperwork, dissecting our lives, snooping in all the nooks and crannies of our financial lives in order to coax any skeletons out of the closets. None found, they created 134 pages of loan disclosures and loan paperwork which they forced us to read in one sitting without blinking our eyes or falling asleep.
Inspections and appraisals took place which necessitated more electronic negotiations with the sellers via the agents. The “other” agent (depending on whether the seller or buyer's agent was talking) was the cause of all delays, mistakes and misunderstandings. That part of the process reminded us of the old days.
Finally, the big day came … closing day. We arrived promptly at 8am. We met with a notary public whom we didn't know, signed a huge ream of papers … but got to use a real ballpoint pen and our own illegible signatures. We signed early in the morning so that our east coast time mortgage lender could still wire funds to our west coast time escrow agent and they could process the purchase and record the transaction with the county clerk. We walked out of the building with no keys and a big, new mortgage. The sellers had appeared the day before and signed. We never met them nor anyone else.
What was supposed to happen next ….
All the paperwork was duly recorded. Our agent showed up in the late afternoon with the keys, more paperwork, and a word of congratulations. What was missing? I guess the personal aspects of the whole procedure. Buying a house is a big life event. Knowing the people you're working with is part of the “feel good” aspect. We also missed out on the pieces of information about the house that only the sellers would know and could have shared with us; all that's now lost. We didn't even get to shake hands with them. Totally unsatisfactory!
What actually happened … and it's probably against the rules
The sellers were still cleaning out the house when we stopped by for a final inspection the night before closing. They were warm, friendly and wonderful and certainly not the impersonal, demanding sellers that caused us angst during the negotiations. They allowed us to wander through the house, gave us some history on the house, improvements they'd made, tips on how to care for the wood floors, etc. They had an extra queen size bed that was nearly new, but they didn't have a place for it. Did we want it? (Yes!) The whole experience was wonderful. We left with mutual hugs (never mind shaking hands) and an exchange of contact information. That's how it's supposed to be!