Diary of a First-Time Buyer

Another co-op board package, and a commitment letter countdown

By Elle Bee  | May 29, 2013 - 8:58AM

Like any girl with a new beau, after my “second date” with my new lender I decided to spiffy myself up. In this case, that meant ensuring that my co-op board package looked perfect.

The co-op board’s 35-page application was in read-only PDF format, so I printed out a hard copy, filled it out with a new extra-fine Sharpie and reviewed it with Sidney, my broker. He recommended we type it.

Type?  Who had a working typewriter? My circa 1962 Royal was definitely not up to the task.

I decided to recreate the entire document--forms, tables and columns--in a Word document. In that way, I would have the ability to update or edit as my circumstances (or my mood) changed.

The painstaking recreation took a full evening, but I was pleased with the results. Instead of scrunching my handwriting in the too-small boxes, I could key in my information to fit the columns, align data perfectly and use the formula function for the math.

It was also useful for changing the “about me” sections, which at times were too jolly (“I enjoy all aspects of living in the city”) or too earnest “(“More than a vocation, I believe journalism is my calling”). I finally settled on a nice balance of responsibility, independence and good citizenship.

The letter of introduction was a fuller version of “about me,” detailing some of my interests (play down the piano and accentuating my reading habit), and giving the impression--so I hope--of a well-rounded person who would be quiet yet interesting, engaged in her community yet respectful of privacy, and a law-abiding recycler who will cover 80 percent of her floors with carpet.

The rest of the package was document-oriented: financial and bank statements, demonstration of income, 12 months of cancelled rent checks. I provided six letters of employment verification supporting up my freelancer status, and another six letters of business and personal recommendations. Plus letters from all my financial institutions verifying my good standing; ditto from the landlord.

On May 2, my two-inch-thick, 18-tabbed co-op package was completely gorgeous and nearly complete:  All I needed was the full commitment letter from my lender.  The contract deadline was May 10th.

But on Friday, May 3, the lender gave me two final tasks before it could issue a letter: a profit & statement loss for my business and completion of a six-hour online course for first-time buyers required by SONYMA, the first-time buyer loan program I was using.

My brain shut down. I was exhausted from a month of heroic efforts--personally and professionally. I was already in the weeds with deadlines, I owed my infirm mother in New England a visit, and I, myself had been under the weather for nearly three weeks. I was fighting a possible eviction with my landlord, my extremely patient boyfriend was looking at yet another weekend of me with my nose to the grindstone … even the dog seemed petulant.

But, like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play. So, I filled one more weekend with excuses to friends, two 12-hour shifts at the computer, one more go-around with the numbers.

By Sunday night I completed the homebuyer’s online course, passed the knowledge assessment and obtained the confirmation I needed for my lender. I created a P&L spreadsheet, and on Monday morning submitted all.

Once SONYMA had the paperwork, we all started watching the clock. For three days, my attorney peppered me with status requests, which I forwarded on to my loan officer, hoping he wouldn’t think I was a pest—or desperate.

On Thursday, my landlord, who had been threatening to evict me over visits by my boyfriend’s dog, called to talk about “our problem.” Lacking any written clauses in the lease or policies on the grounds—and the fact that one-quarter of the residents actually owned dogs—I knew I had legal grounds to fight him. But did I really need one more project? I assured him I was on a 30-day time clock to exit my lease peaceably.  He seemed satisfied and promised to back off. I hoped I had told the truth.

I sat at my desk and looked around my apartment, which reflected a life in limbo.

Sections of my apartment have been cordoned off for more than a year as storage for stacks of boxes and bubble wrap. Other sections were devoted to holding various donations. My new kitchen appliances were bought and paid for—waiting in Home Depot’s warehouse for June delivery.  Other than canceling that order, I didn’t have a Plan B if my loan didn’t come through.  

My email pinged. My lender’s name popped up.

“Congrats, your loan was approved.  Attached is your commitment!”

We made the deadline by 24 hours. A wave of relief rushed over me, then a tug of panic. I was going to be a homeowner. Within a matter of weeks, I would enter the world of clogged sinks, broken fridges and leaky ceilings--all potential problem children I was about to inherit.

Next up: Co-op board hell, redux

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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