Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Scenes from a Closing
January 23, 2009
Late breakfast in our home town, hoping it will tide us over until dinner as the closing is at 1:30 and The Boy's nap time is usually noon. Weigh him down with carbs, the thinking goes, and maybe he’ll sleep on the way up. The last thing we want is an over-tired toddler creating chaos in the midst of dignified legal proceedings. The place is new to us, but recommended. Unfortunately, we know we’re in trouble the minute we walk in: It’s got one of those long breakfast counters.
The LSW and I have a history of being ignored at these places for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom; we usually sit patiently, trying to make eye contact with the staff, but they work around us as if we’re invisible. They also tend to be wily, avoiding coming close enough to us to hear our pleas for service.
True to form, I practically have to chase the waitress to get her to give us menus, and then she seats herself next to a customer and proceeds to tuck into friendly conversation and a plate of her own breakfast. The other waitress must be new – she accidentally glances in my directly long enough for me to give her the ‘get over here now’ signal. The food is nothing special, and I expect we won’t be back.
We jump off the highway early to take back roads to the attorney’s office. I’ve chosen a route we’ve not traveled before though the two ‘large’ towns closest to the property. On paper our property is 2 hours from home, but we’ve never been able to verify it because we always find a reason to take the long way there as soon as we cross the Vermont border. The LSW points this out, but I defend myself by arguing that I’m still exploring the neighborhood. The boy hasn’t slept a wink, but he’s in the pre-sleep mode of talking a mile a minute. Great. He should conk out just as we pull in.
The towns, by the way: ‘Large’ is generous by half, but we do find the diner friends have gushed about for their supposedly sublime pies.
Of course the attorney’s office is in an antique home at the center of a Norman Rockwell painting. I feel like I’m going to visit grandma. And, lo and behold, the attorney is a grandma, and the office is very ‘homey’. Within minutes our realtor turns up with the seller and her lawyer. The property was in probate, and the seller is the estate’s executrix. She was also the late owner’s sister, so there is a sort of gravity to the closing that discourages casual conversation. Thankfully, the boy plants himself in a corner and becomes engrossed in figuring out how the randomly shaped pieces he has comes together to form a picture of Mickey an Minnie.
With visions of closings we’ve experienced in the past, I feel like my pen is just getting warmed up when suddenly it’s over. We’ve signed a total of 5 documents and watched checks get handed to everyone except us. (Next time I’m going to overpay so we get one, too.) I’m stunned to realize that this means the other 30 pieces of paper we inked at our last closing were all related to the mortgage, and it becomes clear: The economy has collapsed because of all of the filing that needed to take place after the tsunami of home buying! Bank employees are too busy filing to make new loans, and no one can find anything anymore – it all makes sense.
Less than a half hour after we entered, we step back into to sunshine as newly minted ‘vacation property’ owners. I’d finally feel like a yuppie if I owned a BMW, but fortunately I drive a pickup. It doesn’t feel real, somehow, and I keep looking at the copy of the deed and the septic site plan blueprints to convince myself it is.
Intermission: The astute reader would ask if perhaps it didn’t feel real because I didn’t really own the property. After all, didn’t I say a few posts back that I was borrowing the money from my generous father to avoid cashing money out of my 401(k) while the market is in free-fall? Well, I do, and I didn’t. My father came through with the check, but I couldn’t bring myself to cash it. Part of The Dream, after all, was to own the property outright, and, in the end, I believed enough in The Dream to take the hit. Besides, who knows? Maybe we’re in this economic funk for the long run, and it could be years before my per share price stops bouncing around at 60% of its prior value. If you defer The Dream long enough, after all, you’re dead.
We pull into the parking lot of a 201-year-old 18-room Saxtons River Inn and check ourselves in. The place has a family air to it, but not so much that you feel like you’re in someone’s house. We love it, and the woman who welcomes us loves the boy, so she wins us over instantly. We have the place largely to ourselves, so I spend a little time exploring the open rooms while the LSW and the boy attempt a nap. My intention is to sit downstairs at the bar with a pint of something locally brewed and my blueprints, but somehow I end up in the car heading to the property.
I’m walking the length of the property on the two sides bordered by roads, taking a fresh look at my new domain. I have fantasies of walking the property, but the 4 foot snow bank standing guard is unforgivingly uniform. Undaunted, I pick a spot at random spot venture in. Everything goes well with foot number one, but it all goes to hell when I lift the other foot to join it. 3 feet deep, turns out, and I’m up to my waist and clearly not going any further. I spend some time looking for a better spot, and the land stares back at me silently, wrapped everywhere in the same white sheet. It occurs to me that I finally have a practical application for snowshoes.
I end up standing in the road like an idiot, reveling in the sound of the light breeze through the stark treescape and imagining what we'll build, and do, come spring. If the market goes up. And maybe even if it doesn’t.
Then I get in the car, take a wrong turn, and am reminded afresh of how far you can go on a Vermont road without a cross street or even a place to turn around.
We go back downstairs for an early dinner, planning on sitting in the emptier of the two dining rooms in hopes that we won’t bother anyone if the boy has a meltdown. The small bar has taken on the festive atmosphere of an English pub in the last hour however, with guests and townspeople sitting around chatting amicably and Counting Crows playing in the background. We take a table by the wood stove and order up a celebratory dinner: Clams for an appetizer, a burger plate for the LSW, fish and chips for me, and a grilled cheese for the boy. Everything – including the wine this time – is delicious. We toast the big occasion, and I bask in one of those rare ‘everything is right with the world’ glows until the boy decides he can’t sit still any longer and we head up to bed.
Postlude: The following day.
Before heading home, we swing by the Jamaica Cottage Shop to take a look at their 16x20 cabin that is on sale as a kit for $9,000. This is one of a number of kits I’ve been eyeing for a small cabin, but I’ve been anxious to see what 240 square feet with a loft really feels like. We stand inside for a few minutes, the feelings of victory from the prior day rapidly dissipating. The LSW and I are in immediate agreement that it is way too small, and this throws our current plans for a cabin in disarray. I spend the rest of the trip home reviewing our options, and slowly conclude that I’m going to have to build the place myself.