Diary of a First-Time Buyer

To pick up the pieces, shut off your Trulia alerts and go on the rebound

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Finding, securing and losing an apartment, I decided, was a lot like running. It takes forever to build up to a five-mile run, and it takes one week of inactivity to lose all you've gained.  

And so, once I quit running—running after financing, co-op approvals, titles … after agents, lawyers and appraisers—the denouement of my Brooklyn apartment purchase went down pretty quickly. 

It was mid-December, a full one year and one week after I went to contract on the Ashland Place co-op. I sent an email to Mary, my loan coordinator at Wells Fargo, letting her know the seller was unable to deliver the title. She responded politely, noting that since the commitment and all documents and services had expired, they would cancel the loan application.  

“When they are ready to sell you may re-apply,” she wrote.

I responded: 

“Thanks. I hate the seller. I think they've just lied all along and strung me along for months and months. I need to clear my head and then look for another place to buy. At this point, I just feel sort of sick about the whole thing. :( ”

Within an hour, a response back from Mary:

I’m so very sorry. I think they are terrible too. It's not supposed to take this long on a purchase. When this loan is declined, I will send you the decline letter via email to get the [downpayment] money back. They need to. You signed the contract under false pretense that they were able to close. Your attorney needs to do that for you.

Let us (me) know when you find another place …and know there is probably a reason this didn’t work out.

- Mary

Mary’s Midwestern karma soothed my raw nerves. I sent her a box of Jacques Torres truffles as a small thanks for her help. And, in truth, to secure her loyalty for the next round.

Within a week of withdrawing from the tainted contract, I had my down payment back. It felt like a kick in the pants. 

“Don't let the door hit you on the way out,” I thought, as I slit open the envelope containing the check. They issued the check for the exact amount—no interest for the year they held my money hostage.

I had told Darren, my attorney, that I wanted all my expenses back—fees paid for the application, his services, two appraisals and every piece of documentation for which I had to write a check over the past year—about $4,000 and that is if Darren didn’t bill for extra time. 

A note slipped out with the check.

“There's still a fight to be had with your costs. They are checking to see how much they even have in the estate account. Best regards, Darren."

Was this adding insult to injury or salt to a wound? Geesh, I, a writer, was thinking in clichés.  

I reflected on my state of mind, which fluctuated between relief and dejection. 

Throughout the process, friends kept telling me the purchase was full of negativity. I understood their concern—maybe even believed it a little—but I couldn’t get out of a contract based on bad vibes. To me, it was always like I was waiting at the bus stop for 20 minutes—slightly longer than I should, but also with the fear that the minute I hopped a cab, the bus would arrive. 

It also was a little bit like that bad boyfriend you’d hope would change, but deep down, knew probably wouldn’t. I decided there was one more thing I had to do to break up completely.

At my computer, I disabled my Trulia alerts for Ashland Place. I didn’t even want to know the area comparables. I just wanted to close the chapter titled “My Almost Life in Brooklyn,” and figure out where to start the next. Stay in Astoria? Renew my Manhattan search?

I entered the URL for the agency where Sidney, my original agent, worked. He was still there—reliable, kind, patient Sidney. He had changed his picture in the past year—had a new haircut, shaved his Van Dyke beard.

But would he take me back after I had strayed?  

The agency still had listings in my price range. Most were in the upper Manhattan neighborhood I had searched more than a year ago. But they looked more accessible this time around: were the apartments larger? Lighter? The prices lower? I bookmarked a few listings and turned off my computer. Maybe call Sidney in the morning. For now, I would sleep on it with the great karmic knowledge that when one door closes, another must open.

Next: First-time buyer will take a one-month hiatus as Elle Bee gears up for a new round of open houses. 


Elle Bee is a lifelong renter determined to buy an apartment in NYC.  She is documenting her experience for this column, Diary of a First-Time Buyer

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