Camellia George was in the process of buying a three-bedroom townhouse in Crown Heights when New York was put on "pause," and real estate transactions ground to a halt. George, who is a product manager with a software company, originally had no intention of leaving her two-bedroom condo in Park Slope, but she wanted a place that could accommodate her elderly mother and provide middle school options for her son. In order to make her move date and her post-closing refinancing, she needed to do a virtual closing—a relatively new way of closing in NYC ushered in by pandemic. Here is her story.
We were quite far along in the buying process with our broker Elizabeth Kee of CORE when things shut down. We stayed home and kept our son home from school on Friday, March 13th, and ended up closing on March 27th. We had movers booked for the last two days of the month. I thought, 'If we don’t move right now, who knows? We’ll be paying the mortgage on the property but not living there.' Plus we are very much city mice—my husband and I both take the subway into the city every day, our son goes to school every day, and we’d been home in our two-bedroom condo for two weeks and we were really looking forward to the idea of a backyard and an extra bedroom, so we really wanted to get the move done.
The movers confirmed it was still going forward, but if the date was pushed out it was unclear whether that would still be true. We pushed really hard for our closing so we could make that move date.
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The closing itself stretched out over a couple of days. My husband and I did a Zoom call with our attorney to go through the paperwork. We then added in the title person, did some remote notarizing—which was funny and interesting—as funny as notarizing can be. There was a lot of holding up a piece of paper to the webcam and then pointing the webcam to show you signing it in real-time. It was another couple of days while the seller did the paperwork, then everyone closed to the title company and then they distributed the funds.
It was very different from the last time we bought in Brooklyn but my husband and I both grew up in the Bay Area and it's honestly very similar to the Californian way of doing a closing so it didn't feel that crazy to us. From my perspective, the biggest hitch of the whole thing was figuring out what the order of operations so we could get on all our required video calls and everything like that.
We closed two weeks later than planned—some of that may be related to Covid-19 but the sellers weren’t very well organized. We made a cash offer and we were prepared to do an all-cash deal but planned to immediately refinance into a mortgage. So if the closing day had come and the loan hadn't been ready we would have paid all cash so there was a little bit of a degree where we were playing chicken. Part of the delay is that we had a lot of back and forth about work that hadn't been done.
The sellers had promised to hook up the gas, so there were some appliance hookups to redo, as well as making sure the gas meters were in. There was a door to be upgraded and replaced and a few of the normal punch list items; a shower head was leaking; the latch on the outside gate wasn’t right, and a fence not built on the property line—fairly normal stuff if you are buying a townhouse as opposed to a condo.
A big part of our decision to buy this townhouse was that it has a garden unit that my mother in her 70s is going to move into. [Editor's note: Her elderly mother's move has been put on hold.] She lives in California and has decided she’s done living by herself. My sister and I decided she would come to live with me. In fact, I just got the calendar notification of my sister’s original flight where she was going to help my mother pack up her things. If you are buying a place so your elderly mother doesn’t have to be by herself in a crazy time and suddenly you are in a crazy time and she can't be with you—it’s an odd turn of events.
If it shakes out in a month and New York is not over the virus but neither is California then the risk is about equivalent. If we end up deciding we need to delay her move significantly, that will be a different story. We’ve been trying to offer up the apartment to a healthcare worker because it is semi-furnished but we haven’t had a lot of luck with that. We are still working on it, because it has a separate entrance and it would be great to give it to a doctor or nurse, especially someone who has come to New York City to help out.
It has definitely been tricky to get work done in our new place. We got someone to come out but we are trying to keep safe, and everyone is doing their best to stay away from each other.
In terms of the decision to buy right now—it’s a little bit freaky to worry if my job is going to go away. I don’t think my job as a product manager or my husband’s job as an employment attorney is uncertain, so we are really lucky in that regard. It is what it is, maybe one day we’ll regret it but we are ok with it for now. We needed to have a place where my mother could live, and we had some sense of our middle school options for our ever-growing son so the uncertainty I feel around the financial part of the puzzle is still outweighed by the confidence I have that it is the right choice for our family.
Before all this happened we had some concern about how my son was going to get to Park Slope for the last few months of elementary school. We don’t have that problem anymore.
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