Diary of a First-Time Buyer

After the board interview, a title search bombshell

By Elle Bee  | February 11, 2013 - 2:12PM

Once I recovered from the co-op board interview and the gamut of feelings following it—shock and awe, and then indignation—Darren, my attorney, and I came up with an exit plan.

He believed that failure to disclose the financials and the escrow requirement was enough to ditch the contract and demand return of my deposit. I agreed, and he got to work on a withdrawal letter.

To be honest, I was relieved.

Though I hated the thought of trudging through a new carousel of open houses, hated losing the wall of windows with northwestern light, hated tossing out yet another kitchen design … but given all the troubles so far to close the deal, I had the uneasy feeling that I was inheriting a persistent problem—something that looked okay on the surface, but that, like a patched-over leak, hid greater troubles. 

But just when I was getting used to sweet relief, I received a notice from the co-op board accepting my application.

What? I was in? They liked me? It wasn’t exactly a Sally Field moment—more like disbelief after the interview from hell.

I didn’t want to think how they treated people they didn’t like. And to complicate things, Darren called with a counteroffer from the seller. After receiving my letter of withdrawal, they offered to front the $8,940 required for escrow directly to me. That brought the price down to $237,060.

Suddenly, relief had a new price tag, and it was cheap.

So, feeling a little like the abused dog that comes home anyway because he can’t get a good meal elsewhere, I consented. We signed an escrow agreement and ordered the title search.  

That was September. Throughout October I nudged Darren for an update on the title search, prompted by various inquiries from my bank as my rate extensions expired and renewed. Without a title we couldn't schedule a closing date and Mary, my loan coordinator, was getting heat from her team to finish the deal by year’s end. 

Then Darren dropped a bomb: the title search revealed the possible existence of an estranged husband who died in Georgia 10 years ago, and whose name was still on the stock certificate at the co-op. Both estates—that of the husband and the late wife —would have to prove that he had no heirs who might claim a right to the property.

Her surviving kids were in Brooklyn. His—if they existed—might be in Georgia or the Carolinas or parts unknown.I closed my eyes, tried to visualize this messed-up map. It was too wacky for me.  

“I’m out,” I told Darren. Again. He agreed. Again.  

That was Friday. On Monday, my legal eagle told me the seller assured us he’d have title clearance in 30 days. I told him it was like the movie, “Groundhog Day”—a repeating fuzzy spiral of the same bad event.

“You’ve been in it this long, let’s give them the 30 days, because I think it’s a good apartment,” Darren said.

And, he added, we were nearing the holidays—was I really going to disrupt my holidays with all this gloom and doom?

My attorney was obviously oblivious to the G&D I had been living with the past eight months: the stress of applying for three mortgages, preparing a co-op board package, undergoing a 7 a.m. private investigation—to say nothing of dealing with a ditzy broker who could not manage any kind of technology whether it was a cell phone, a photocopier or a manual hole-punch.

“Thirty days,” I said, and hung up the phone. It was October 29. I could hear the bank’s clock ticking.

The day after Thanksgiving, Darren called. “They can’t do it.” 

“Who can’t do what?” I asked. Though I already knew, I was like the about-to-be jilted girlfriend intent on making her boyfriend admit he was cheating: “Just say it.”

Darren cleared his throat.“They can’t deliver the title. Someone in the building told the co-op board that they are pretty sure the ex-husband has a family.” He paused, as if he himself were trying to untangle the foolish details. 

“Now," he continued, "they might be able to come up with it, but who knows when that will be? It  could be next month or in six months … maybe never.”

Darren’s voice ratcheted up a few notches, took on a sing-song-y nasality. I imagined him feet up on his desk watching Seinfeld reruns, shrugging his shoulders.

I tucked the phone under my ear and parted the kitchen curtains. My neighbors across the way were half-clad in their kitchen, spooning something from a jar into each other’s mouths. Above me, my long-time stompers stampeded—another nail-polish emergency or some such made-up nonsense, I supposed. 

My mind drifted, flew out the window and across the Pulaski Bridge, across Williamsburg and Fort Greene Park to an empty northwest-facing apartment with huge windows overlooking the tree tops. It was no longer mine.

From upstairs: THUMP! CRASH! I jerked back to Astoria.

“I’m out,” I told Darren. “For real.”

Next up: Bye, bye Brooklyn



Elle Bee is a lifelong renter currently in the process of buying a Brooklyn apartment, recounted in her bi-weekly column, Diary of a First-Time Buyer.

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