Avoiding Scams: The Importance of Multiple Quotes

When I bought this townhouse, I knew I wanted to replace the air conditioner. It worked, but it just didn’t seem very strong. It was on my list of many projects to tackle, but since it was the most expensive and it was still working okay, it kept dropping further down the list.

On Wednesday afternoon, my air conditioner broke. I turned it on, but no rooms were getting cooler. I put my hand up by the vent and I could feel cool air around the vent, but it wasn’t blowing into the room and there was very little of it. I went outside to look at the unit and, while the unit was humming quietly, the fan wasn’t spinning.

Okay.

I googled AC repair companies. I didn’t pick the first one I came across, but I clicked through a few and found one with a nice website and some positive reviews. Gave ‘em a call. $69 service fee to come out and look at it but since we’re coming up on 5pm, it’s going to be after hours charges of $120. It can wait till morning, put me on the schedule.

(And it can wait till morning. It was getting warm, but I sleep under a pretty strong fan. It really wasn’t that bad.)

The tech came by the house on Thursday early afternoon and made his assessment. He speculated that it’s probably X and Y, but since the fan isn’t working, he’d have to fix something else just to get it to work for him to troubleshoot the other problems. The price of just fixing the something else to run more diagnostics?  $1,500.

If I just wanted to replace the outside unit because it’s super old and he can’t believe it hasn’t failed on me yet because it was installed in 2008 and it’s almost 10 years old - it’s ancient! - $14,505. Oh, but wait, he can come down on that to $11,991. So, $12,000 or $200/mo for 60 months.

If I wanted to replace everything inside and out? $15,798, but he could come down to $14,224.

I was like, “That’s… a lot of money. That’s a car note.” (And it was. My first car was like $12,500 and I paid $210/mo for 60 months.) I eventually told him I’d have to think about it. Thanks for coming by. I paid the $69 service fee.

I texted my mom the price of $12,000 for a new one and my mom was like NO WAY! That’s absurd. You can buy one at Home Depot for $4,000 and pay someone to install it. I emailed everyone I knew who owned a home asking for a referral of someone they trusted. I got a few replies.

The second guy I called was a friend of a coworker who works with my mom. I called him and set up a time for him to come by later on Thursday.

I called a third guy, a coworker’s referral, but he said he didn’t service my area. That’s all right.

I called a fourth guy, a friend’s referral who said he was a long time family friend of hers. Totally trustworthy. He also lived a little far away (my friend’s family lives far away) but he asked me a few questions and talked me through a few things over the phone. He said it sounded like an X and Y problem and he’d charge about $750-850 to fix it. I had mentioned early on when he paused when I said where I lived that I totally understood if I lived too far (I’d already run into that earlier) and I had other recommendations to call, so it’s fine. He said if someone else closer to me can help me out, great, but if not, give him a call back and he’ll come out on Friday and take a look. I said thanks and I’d let him know.

I called a fifth company on the referral of a friend who raved about them. I scheduled a guy to come out later in the day.

I called a sixth company which happens to be owned by a coworker/friend’s husband. I had no idea he owned an AC company. They were booked up. I couldn’t get on their schedule until Monday. I went ahead and got on it just in case though. 

By now, the second guy I called (the friend of a coworker of my mom) has come by. He’s checking everything. I showed him what the first guy wrote up. The second guy says exactly what the fourth guy told me over the phone and even quoted the same price! And he said it’ll totally work, no problem. Sold! He fixed it within an hour and the bill came to $800.

I was so happy. Oh my God. 

I cancelled all the pending appointments I still had. My AC was now working! Glorious!

I kind of can’t believe that first company I called. He wanted to charge me $1,500 to maybe see what he could fix or $12,000 to replace it? That’s a scam. Everyone I quoted that price to laughed. There’s just no way my little 1,500 square foot townhouse needs an AC unit that’s $12-14,000!

Also, I was chatting with a friend who said 2008 is not old. The compressor in her townhouse is the original from 1988, the only thing that’s been replaced is the blower. With proper maintenance, quality products should have a long shelf life. 

So that’s that. My first scam as a homeowner. 

Also a lesson in preventative maintenance. If I’d gotten an AC check up a the time I purchased the house, this could’ve been caught much sooner and for cheaper, probably. 

The best AC repair guy ever!

The best AC repair guy ever!

New Couch

I sat on the living room floor for weeks. First the carpet. Then the hardwood floors. I really wanted a couch but I couldn't find one that would fit without feeling - or being - too big. I carried a tape measurer with me everywhere. Everything was either just too big or tiny, for a small apartment. They just don't make a lot of furniture for medium sized homes!

And then I saw it. The Ainsley sectional on Macys.com. It was perfect. It was simple. Playing around with the sectional layout, I could make it fit. The only problem was... this sofa wasn't on any showroom in the state of Texas. Or even on the showroom near any of my friends in the states they lived in (I would've had them go sit on it and report back).

Did I really want to spend thousands of dollars - hundreds of which would be non-refundable if I had to return the couch - for a couch sight unseen, essentially? No. I didn't. But I couldn't find a couch anywhere else that met my standard criteria: it fits, not too ornate, quality made, and comfy - a couch you could flop down on, a couch you could sink into.

I didn't want to buy it without sitting on it first, but I had to. Unfortunately, the sale Macy's was having ended hours after I decided - for sure - I wanted this couch. So I waited. And waited. There would be another sale soon. There's one for every holiday. Three weeks later, after checking the site every other day to see if it was on sale again, I called customer service and ordered it. The website said it would be weeks for it be delivered, but the customer service girl said they had it in stock and I could get it the following Wednesday. Yes!

Macy's customer service and white glove delivery is top notch. They literally roll out the red carpet.

New Floors

Before I moved in, I really wanted to repaint the whole place and have new floors installed. In the end, I could only afford to do one. I figured painting would be easier to do myself, later, so I opted to have the floors professionally done. I think they came out great. They look beautiful. I get so many compliments on them.

The old carpet was so bad. I think it was the original carpet the builders put in. It was well worn, ripped up on the stairs, and there were holes in one of the bedrooms. You can't really tell from quick photos I snapped and the bad lighting upstairs, but it really is so much brighter now. 

I want to stain the banister so that it matches the floor downstairs. One day.

Buying A Pre-Foreclosure House

That beautiful home with the cosmetic problems I wrote about previously? I bought it. After seeing it and dismissing it and then thinking about it over a weekend, I took a second look and, ultimately, bought it.

Turns out, it was a pre-foreclosure house. The bank was thisclose to taking the home back. I had my realtor find out what the seller’s floor price was. It was about $10,000 less than the original list price. And it was more in line with what I wanted to spend on a house. I wondered why no one else wanted the house though. Was it really just the cosmetic stuff? I know I dismissed it because of the cosmetics, but is everyone as shallow as me?

I put in an offer for their floor price. They accepted it. The selling agent contacted the bank to put a hold on the foreclosure, etc.. That’s when the frustration set in. 

Because it was pre-foreclosure and the seller was over it and not getting anything out of it, the seller refused to do anything. I extended my option period twice because I had to wait for them to turn the power and water on so I could get it inspected. After the second extension, when they went into breach of contract, I said this is ridiculous. One Monday morning, I called the power company and had the power turned on, the city and had the water turned on, and an inspection scheduled for Wednesday. I emailed my realtor and said, “I just did x, y, and z. The inspector will be sending out a confirmation email shortly. I want anyone who needs to be there for the inspection there on Wednesday at noon.” All of that took 20 minutes.

The inspection went just fine. Nothing major. Great. Let’s move forward. Appraisal went fine. It appraised for more than I’m paying. Fab.

Then, a few days later, the title company sent me a bunch of documents and among them was a document showing a $17,000 bill. A lien. My jaw hit the floor. What is this for? What is this? Do I have to pay this? Is this the seller’s responsibility? I called the number on the bill and the woman I spoke to couldn’t tell me a lot because I wasn’t the owner of the house. I wrote an email to my realtor and CC’d my lender and basically told them all, “If I’m responsible for this $17,000, we can pull the plug on this right now.”

My lender called me immediately to talk me off a ledge. I was so upset. I just spent all this money on the inspection and appraisal and getting the utilities turned on. This house is a great deal. I don’t want to lose it. And I feel like I’m about to because of this lien. My lender explained to me that it’s fine. The lien is going to be paid by the seller, it has to be paid them, they can’t sell the house with a lien on it, so don’t worry. It’s going to be fine. I still had my doubts. The seller had been doing nothing to make the process easier. How do I know this person is going to deal with this lien? They haven’t dealt with anything else. “Stop. Worrying. About it. It’s going to be fine,” he said.

Alright. Fine. I won’t worry about it anymore. 

I’d submitted all of my documents, pay stubs, W2s, tax returns, bank account statements, liquid assets. I closed a week early. 

I’m officially a homeowner now!

Aside from the frustrating seller, the process was pretty painless. As soon as the contract was signed and my realtor sent it to the lender, my lender called me immediately and said he was taking care of everything. And he did. There were never any real problems, just minor frustrations with the seller.

I love this house. I didn’t at first. I passed when I first saw it. No thanks, not for me. It wasn’t in the location I wanted to live, it was bigger than what I’d been looking at previously, but it had all of my limited number of must-haves and a lot of great little would-like-to-haves. The location has its cons (distance), but it has better pros (much nicer area). The cosmetic issues are just that - cosmetic. They’re for things I’d want to redo to be my own anyway (the walls, the floors). I call it my faux fixer-upper. 

Second Offer Accepted

When we last left off, I was scheduled to view two homes that recently went on the market. Both of these homes are outside the geographic location I really have my heart set on living in, but not too far outside.

The first home we looked at I liked a lot, but there are all of these little things that, when combined with its location and the slightly high HOA, make it easy to pass. It really is a beautiful home, I love the kitchen. But it was as if a family moved into a beautiful brand new home and then treated it like garbage. You could tell they tried a little - very little - to get it ready to be sold, but there are still a lot of problems with it. All cosmetic though, nothing that can't be fixed. I just don't want to spend the money to fix it all when it's not even in a location I want to live anyway. A broken pantry door, torn up carpet with holes in it, a poorly done paint job, holes in the walls as if they’d just ripped the TV off the wall, among other things. If it was move-in ready, I would’ve put in an offer for sure. The price is right at the max I can afford. I can't afford it AND still have enough left over to fix up even the basics.

The second home we looked at was just a no. The pictures of the interior look nice, but it lacks major curb appeal and the location is even further out than I want to be. A quick no from me.

Three days later, the first house we looked at is still on the market (a market where houses are under contract the day they go on the market) and I’m looking at it again, trying to see if I could see myself living there. I asked for more information from my realtor and found out that the house is pre-foreclosure. He finds out seller wants to sell it ASAP. Their floor price - or so they say - is more in line with what I’d like to a buy house for. This is when I start getting excited. I mentally go through all of the pros. It’s really a pretty house. The living room has windows all around it (natural light!). The kitchen and bathrooms have beautiful tile work. It’s really not in the worst location (for me and where I work). And with their floor price, I have a little left over to do some of the repairs. It’s actually a pretty sweet deal. I'm falling in love.

I put in an offer.

They accepted it.

It hasn't sunk in yet.

!!!

First Offer Rejected

I put in an offer on what really was the perfect home. Initially, I submitted an offer for asking price. When my realtor inquired what other types of offers they were receiving, he was told they had a lot of really strong offers. This is, it seems, code for offers over asking price. Ouch. I went back to my lender and ran some new numbers with him. I resubmitted an offer 3.5% over asking price. I thought it was a really strong offer and my realtor thought so too.

It still wasn’t enough. How crazy. I don’t know what offer they accepted, if it was higher or the same or lower and included some compelling, heart string tugging note. I just don’t know. But they said no to me. And they said no to having a back up offer. That’s alright. I didn’t want that perfect house anyway! 

If I’m being honest, really, 2% of me was kinda hoping they’d say no. My second offer was just completely maxing out my budget. I didn’t want to live above my means or end up in a house I’d “grow into.” If they’d said yes, I would’ve managed, but they didn’t. 

I’ve since found two other homes that may be promising, so we’ll see. Fingers crossed.

carnival

First Offer

I’ll get my hopes up, I don’t care. I put it an offer on a house. It’s perfect for me. It hits all of my “must haves” and an extensive list of “nice to haves.” And it’s in my price range, albeit my max price range. 

I’ve spoken to my realtor and my lender and they’ve both assured me they’re going to do everything they can to get my offer accepted. So we’ll see what happens. I’m just waiting now.

Approved

My initial experience securing a home loan was atypical, according to all of my homeowner friends who’ve gone through the process. The first lender I spoke with, via email, was incredibly condescending and, frankly, rude. I can overlook a level of curtness in emails because I understand it’s hard to convey tone, but the things he was writing and then not explaining when I would ask pointed follow ups baffled even my realtor and subsequent lenders I spoke with.

Over four days, we emailed back and forth and I was trying to give him an idea of where I’m at financially (in addition to sending him all of my personal financial documents) and explaining to him how fluid my financial situation is since I will have a sizable gift from my mother toward the downpayment. Depending on the cost of the house, my mom may give me a bigger or smaller gift. The lender emails me to say, “I can’t approve you with hypotheticals, I need exact figures.”

How can I give you exact figures for a house that isn’t even on the market yet? The whole point of getting pre-approved is so that I know what I can afford and I can go find a house based on that. He was incredibly frustrating to work with. “You can only buy a house you’re approved for.” I mean, I know I can only buy a house I can afford, but if I have to give you an address… ? I requested three times that he refer me to another loan officer. The referral was equally annoying and, in the end, I withdrew my application. 

Meanwhile, in those four days sending frustrating emails back and forth with my preferred banking institution that I would’ve really liked to have had a 30 year mortgage with (this one irritating employee aside), I spoke with five other lenders. Every single one of them picked up the phone to call me. They were all very nice, would offer up suggestions, and would run different numbers through to give me an idea of what payments would be like at different home values. I have three pre-approval letters that I have forwarded to my realtor and I am ready to buy the next house I fall in love with.

While I wait, I’m packing, picking out wall paint and furniture, and considering if I should cut the cord and ditch cable.

Unrelated: I continue not to understand aisle people.

Mortgage Approval Prep

Spent the evening collecting and printing out documents to take to the bank tomorrow. I've filled out loan applications with two recommended lenders and they're in pending status now. I need to get a pre-approval for a mortgage, like, yesterday. I've got a stack of of tax returns, W-2s, bank account print outs, stock and liquid asset whatnots. (Edit: Turns out, all of this can be done online once a lender gets back to you. I just turned everything into a PDF and emailed it in. Decision pending.)

I have a few days off this week to go look at some homes that are on the market. I left a message with my realtor, but it's late, so I probably won't speak to him until tomorrow. 

I'm so nervous. Excited nervous. Buying a house is a big deal and it's kinda scary to think, oh my god, I'm going to have a 30 year mortgage; but it's also exciting because I'll get to do whatever I want to it - freedom.

Here's a picture from this weekend in Vancouver - birds flying over Coal Harbor:

birdscoalharbor.jpg