Tuesday, December 8, 2009


YES. Today at 8am, our lawyer-in-law (wonderful Margaret's coinage) came over and we signed the documents. She pushed the send button on the wire transfer to pay the seller, so the deal is d-o-n-e.

We're looking for homeowner's insurance, and we're going to grieve the taxes. Right now, it's over $8,000 a year. Inconceivable.

Also, did you know you have to TIP the title person at closing?!?! I think it's only a New York thing, but that's another $100-$200 they surprise you with. Luckily, we didn't pay that because our lawyer did most of the legwork and we didn't have a traditional closing.

We're leaving on vacation on the 14th for about a month, so we can't start work right away. I'll be thinking obsessively of the house while trying to enjoy...Hawaii. It won't be all sun and surf, though, because...

...we got ENGAGED! Our wedding is in Hawaii, next April. We'll be spending a good chunk of our vacation on wedding planning. I immediately got a dress, but my mother's making me return it because she won't allow me to wear green on her big day. That's fine...I'll keep it for the second reception in New York.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

No closing, yet

I promised myself I would not prematurely celebrate, so I'm waiting until our lawyer confirms that we've finally closed. It's taking so long because there were issues with the contract, then the seller's attorney had to push back the closing date because of back taxes, and now, we're waiting for the title company to pay the back taxes and to get the deed, and to execute affidavits...I have no idea what's going on.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We Signed!

The contract is signed...we're supposed to close in two weeks. I have no idea what happens between signing and closing, so I hope we do. The last thing we need is another deal falling through.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tracer Antics

So...for those who know my cat...we made spaghetti and meatballs last night for dinner. Eddie made the meatballs from scratch. I carefully browned them, then we made the sauce from almost-scratch. We combined the sauce and meatballs in a big cast iron pot and let it simmer on the stove, uncovered, while we read on the sofa. Tracer, meanwhile, was roaming around, sniffing the ground for dropped food.

After reading a few chapters, it was eerily quiet, which gave me a start. I listened for Tracer, but couldn't place him. Then we heard a clang, short and punctuated. I ran to the kitchen, but the cat was already gone. Nothing looked amiss. The trashcan wasn't overturned. There were no dishes in the sink for him to lick.

I decided to check on our dinner. There, I saw a trail of spaghetti sauce that lead to a meatball with two little divots eaten out.

The m*f*er had somehow taken out a meatball from a boiling pot of sauce. He had probably nibbled away at the exposed top, then decided to try for the whole thing. His fatal flaw - the meatball dropped right on top of the neighboring saucepan. The lid of the saucepan clanged once before the meatball rolled off.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Credit problems

So...we tried to get a mortgage for Courtney Avenue, but it turns out that Eddie's credit score dropped 100 points since June. It was shocking! Well, I think the most harmful factor was that a lot of the credit cards dropped his credit limit by half or more, and so whatever balance he had in his credit card accounts went from being 20% of the available credit amount to 100%.

Then the most recent payments we made to lower his credit card balance hadn't shown up, yet.

From now on we're going to be vigilant about credit scores and asking for corrections on credit reports.

Anyway, we can't get a mortgage for the amount we had wanted to offer. So...it looks like we're going to focus on Liberty Street, which is in fact back on the market.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mortgage Complications

I'm learning more and more about mortgages each time we can't get one. After looking at those houses last weekend, we decided we liked the latter one, on Courtney Avenue. It's an AMAZINGLY well maintained house with original floors, moldings, fireplaces... We loved it! The basement was clean and usable. Nobody had painted over the stair banister. The copper was still in place. As Eddie joked to our wonderfully wonderful realtor, Chris, it had us at "you-don't-need-a-drill-to-get-in" and "you-can-walk-around-without-flashlights."

Then...the mortgage. We talked to three new banks (not Wells Fargo, the one that approved us for our loan that we ended up not taking). All of them said that it looks like we would not qualify for a loan (although we would need to actually apply for pre-qualification before they could reject us officially).

This house costs $15,500
less than the other house and we are going to lay down 20% for this house rather than just 3% for the other house. So, technically, if we had gotten a loan for the other house, getting this one should be a piece of cake. The most informative person in the whole process was Keith at HVFCU. He kept plugging in numbers for me so we could troubleshoot our loan-worthiness.

It turns out that Wells Fargo was possibly very forgiving and allowed us a higher debt-to-income ratio than other banks would have because they assessed and took into consideration the increased value of the house after our renovations. Those few percentages of allowed ratio make a big difference. The difference, for us, between a 45% debt-to-income ratio ($45 per $100 of income we could spend on mortgage) and a 50% dti ratio is about $90,000.

The higher down payment you're willing to lay out and the better your credit score also bumps up those percentage points. If you have a credit score less than 720, you automatically have to pay an origination fee of .5% of your mortgage. So, it makes sense for us to take some money that we had saved to pay down our debt, and hopefully increase our credit score and lower our monthly debt expenses.

Well, the point of all this, is, I think the property (pictured in this post) we were all set to buy in June, and had a mortgage for, is now back on the market. I just saw it relisted on the CitiMortgage website, but that could be a glitch in their machinery. I hope not. If we can, we're going to buy it. With a straight mortgage and renovation loan and cross our fingers that the magic of its numbers still work.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Ah, fall. When the slate is clean, again. Well, we pressed the rewind button, and we're where we were exactly a year ago. Eddie just found a job and we're attempting to buy a house. The only difference is that I'm in a social work program and now I have an internship on weekends, so I don't have any time to spend on a fixer-upper. We'll have to look at houses that are move-in ready. In many ways, this makes the prospect of buying a house less exciting.

One of the two properties we're going to look at tomorrow:

Unfortunately, it's not move-in ready, as our realtor revealed to us only after we decided it's perfect for us. It needs new plumbing and electrical wiring, but we're going to take a look anyway since it's in a great location (river views!!!).

Then the second place is only a few blocks away:

Anyhow, we're back in the market!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Price Decrease

So...I'm still tracking the property on realtor.com and the price went down by $10,000! It all doesn't matter until Eddie finds a job, of course. On that front, he's had two interviews but no job offers.

Our apartment in Ditmas Park is pretty awesome, so maybe it's all a sign we need to stay in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mount Saint Mary/Saint Luke's Hospital Grant

Here's more information on applying for the Homeownership Incentive Grant from Mt. St. Mary and St. Luke's Hospital.

The grant is for $10,000 towards the downpayment/closing cost/renovation of your prospective home, if it is located within a certain radius of the college and hospital. It is basically within the boundaries of Robinson, North, Liberty and Broadway. Grants are first distributed to employees of either institutions, but the grant becomes available to community members in July (2009).

The grant is administered through Pathstone/Rural Opportunities. In order to be eligible, you have to meet the income requirements ($43,050 for a one-person household, $49,200 for a two-person, $55,350 for a three-person, $61,500 for four-person, etc.) and then attend the first-time homebuyer's course.

The next information session for the homebuyer's course is Monday, June 29, 2009. It takes place in Newburgh on 36 Chambers Street at 5pm.

The number for Pathstone/ROI is (845) 569-0770. For more information, there is a recorded message on ext.1.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Plan B

Our new timeline:

Eddie finds a job *right now*!

Receive grant from Mt. Saint Mary College/St. Luke's Hospital ($10,000)
Receive RECAP grant ($24,000)

Apply for mortgage. This time, if we get the grants (to cover the 20% downpayment), we'll try for a traditional mortgage and renovation loan. Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union offered a great rate for that combined loan (less than 5.5%) and the closing costs were half what it is for an FHA loan. Plus, no mortgage insurance.

Close on the house. Maybe. Hopefully.

Monday, June 8, 2009

In the Meantime...

While Eddie is looking for a new job, I'm thinking of how to fill up blog posts until we finally get our house. I'm not qualified to write about much...maybe post pictures of my stamp collection or my japanese pen collection. I'm obsessed with these Hi-Tec-C Pilot pens:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Everytime I think we're going to get the house, something happens and I have to backpedal. Well, Eddie lost his job and now we have to postpone buying the house - once more. Hopefully something will turn up soon before it gets vandalized, again. There is already an emaciated pit bull chained to the backyard and signs of squatters in the carriage house.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The face of indignance

This is my handsome kitty, Tracer. He's upset that we're going to move to NEWBURGH!!!

That's right. We got the loan today, and our contractors are submitting paperwork to be validated. And with luck they will be.

Don't worry about Tracer. He's moved at least 12 times.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A new day...

Two amazing things happened this weekend:

1) My first Woody Allen sighting!!! I have lived in New York for six years, plotted to stalk him for at least four of those years, and then magically, he sits one row in front of me at the Martha Graham Dance Company performance Friday night. Soon-yi was there as well as two children, both of whom did not look like his. Plus, he carried his floppy hat in his back pocket.

2) Less importantly, we met a new contractor over the weekend, he looked over the house, and said he could rehab it in our budget! We have to check his references, but he was very professional, knowledgeable, and extremely optimistic.

We also had lunch with Door Sixteen blogger Anna, and her husband, Evan. They've been living in Newburgh for four years, three in their amazing house. They gave us a little tour of their home and it looks more amazing in person than in the photos on her blog (which are still amazing). They also gave us a lot of great tips, so hopefully, we'll be able to speed up this process.

So...off to email the contractors our FHA 203K work write-up, documents the bank needs them to fill out, and some inspirational photos/clippings.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Still looking for a contractor

We are hopefully done with submitting information to the bank for the mortgage loan. We haven't been officially approved, but the bank finally stopped asking for more proof of funds/proof of where those funds come from.

This weekend we're going to meet more contractors and see if any will take the job (a lot of work for little money), and if so, will the bank accept them? The last two contractors didn't pass inspection because of credit histories - too poor or not enough of one.

We're only pursuing half-heartedly now. It seems impossible to find good contractors willing to jump through FHA hoops.

Monday, April 20, 2009

On the precipice of dashed dreams

So, bad news. Our bank has yet to give us a commitment, and we are supposed to close in less than two weeks. We're not going to make the deadline and the sellers won't give us an extension.

The only compromise is if we pay a per diem of $100 a day after the scheduled closing day until the actual date we close. Eddie is fed up and just wants to kill the deal, while I feel like we're so close, we should just keep at it. Keep your fingers crossed!

Thursday, April 9, 2009


We have the cutest house on the block. Srsly.

The bedroom:

Close-up of the fireplace:

One of the three fireplaces on the first floor (coal burning):

The living room - these windows face the front of the house:

French doors opening to the hallway. The light on the left is coming from the front door:

The bank is supposed to give an unconditional commitment by April 15th. After that, there is a pretty high chance of closing. Whoo-hoo!

Work-arounds and Free Money

Mortgage crisis update: we figured out that we can use the first-time homebuyer tax incentive to cover the additional funds that we need. Luckily, Eddie hadn't filed his taxes yet, so once that money gets direct-deposited, we just need to send our bank a copy of his bank statement showing the additional funds. Crisis averted!

Contractor crisis update: the contractor that we originally planned on using is going to use a partner's company to get validated. Maybe it will work...?

Additional info for home buyers: we're applying for a grant from St. Luke's Hospital and Mount Saint Mary's College - the two biggest employers in Newburgh. It's a homeownership incentive program to revitalize the neighborhood around them.

If we had been smarter, before even looking for a house, we would have enrolled in the Rural Opportunities Inc. Homeownership Assistance Program for First Time Homebuyers. After attending a three- session Homebuyer Education Course, we would have been eligible for a slew of grants that would have assisted in downpayments, closing costs and for half the cost of the mortgage. They recently merged with Pathstone, for those interested. But, since we are already in the process of buying a home, we don't qualify for the program or the grants.

And finally, since the house is in a historic preservation district, we qualify for NY State and Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credits. This means we get back 20 to 30% of the renovation cost as state or federal tax credit.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I have a disease

In the last two weeks I purchased 9 purses on ebay. Mail services sent me a personal correspondence stating that employees are not allowed to receive mail at work. Here is a sample of what I've bought. I'm still waiting for two purses.

Monday, March 23, 2009

More obstacles

We just got a letter asking us for MORE documentation. Now the bank needs 1) proof of an additional $700 cash in hand for closing costs; 2) evidence of reserve funds amounting to 3 months' PITI (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance) in liquid assets; 3) a detailed budget of how we plan make our mortgage payments every month; and 4) an explanation why Eddie's license address is different from the correspondence address (uh, because we moved, bank robomaton).

Jumping this hurdle will be impossible because they won't accept "gifts" as a source for these additional funds. Previously, I funneled my money into Eddie's account as a "gift" to cover the closing costs. If we had known about these additional funds, say, two months earlier, we could have transferred all the cash needed from my account into Eddie's and they would not have detected it because they only look at the last two months' bank statements.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lesson #2: Don't trust anyone

Later the same day...

On my lunch break I stopped to help a man in a tweed suit with an old-fashioned fedora who was asking for directions.

"I need to find PIL International," he says, holding a checkbook-size red leather pouch with a lock at the end of the zipper.

"Do you have an address?" I ask.

"No, I just know it's PIL International."

"Sorry," I say, about to walk away.

"Are you agent?" he asks.


"Agent. Maybe you can read this." He points to a label affixed to the pouch. There is a line of Arabic scribbled on top, and on the bottom it reads PIL International.

"Do you need help?" A lady interrupts us. She is wearing a plaid wool trench coat with black boots.

"It's in Arabic," I point out to the man, ready to walk away, again.

"I found this on the ground and I'm trying to return it to its owner. It looks important," he says.

"Well, what's inside?" the lady asks. She is taking over, invading the man's space and touching the pouch, looking at its different angles.

"It's locked," he says.

"No it's not," she replies, taking the pouch from his hands and unzipping it. I gasp audibly, maybe even jump, when she opens the pouch and reveals a thick stack of bills. He takes the pouch back and thumbs through. They look like all 100 dollar bills. He finds a note. We all read it.
"Dear Brother: We have hit it big this time. The boys in blue have all been paid off..."

That is all I read, and I also see the figure $100,000 later in the note, before the lady says, "You should keep it" to the man. The man looks nervous, and takes out the wad of cash.

"I'll split it with you. Three ways," he says. He grips the corner of the bills, ready to split it in thirds. The lady looks eager and her hands are open in anticipation. I take a step back, reeling with giddiness and disbelief.

"No, you should take that to the police," I say. "They could come back looking for the money." It was all so obvious to me. If we took the money, we would be hunted down by the Arab mob and in the worst case scenario they would force us to work for them as hired guns.

Both of them are quiet.

"You know what," the man says, "I work right around the corner. I'll take the money there and see if anyone looks for it."

"What?" I ask, incredulous. "We have to call the police right now and figure this out. This is crazy!"

"I work at Chase, just down the block. We'll hold on to it."

"Don't give it to the police," the woman says, "they'll just keep it. It'll disappear."

The man nods in agreement. Before I can pursue this mystery further, they part ways.

I walk away too, totally shocked that I just turned down a three-way split of $100,000.

I cut lunch short and run back to the office. I gather Alicia, Tameka and Margaret to my office and begin the story of my strange encounter. As soon as I utter my first sentence, Alicia and Tameka both start nodding their heads knowingly, "Yep, we've heard this before."

Apparently, it was a SCAM! I'm not clear on the details, but if things had gone another way, they would have somehow got me to put in my money, done a switcheroo, and given me a bag of nothing. WHAT? New York, you are crazy.

*UPDATE: I found a description of the scam online. It's called the Pigeon Drop. If a scam is just a way to part a fool and his/her money, I indict you, McDonald's two-for-one apple pie; free shipping over $150, JCrew; and Amazon's Gold Box of deals.

Lesson #1: Don't trust anyone

SO, after some high-heaven praising of our general contractors to everyone we know, I am officially entering a retraction.

Wells Fargo looked into their history as part of the bank's due diligence for our 203K loan, and then promptly called us to let us know that they will not give us the loan unless we dump these guys. The bank couldn't disclose what they found out, but it must have been some serious sh*t.

It took us weeks and weeks to even find contractors willing to work on our house, and these guys were professional, courteous and enthusiastic. They were also willing to work at almost no profit. Of course they wouldn't pass the background check.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Adventures in googling

I was looking for a lunch place near work that served tacos.

New York Tacos: I will not be having one.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Movin' on up

We are in the process of buying our first home. It is located in Newburgh, New York, along the Hudson River and about 60 miles north of New York City.

The Process:

First, we had an awesome realtor. He went into great detail about the new developments in Newburgh and which neighborhoods would benefit when.

Secondly, we got an informative mortgage broker who was experienced in a special government loan, the FHA 203K, that would allow us to buy the property and rehabilitate it all in one mortgage.

Thirdly, we found wonderful contractors - general, electric and plumbing/heating - who were invested in the community and wanted to help us renovate this house to bring more own-occupied homes to Newburgh.

And fourthly, we had help from Eddie's sister-in-law, since she is a real estate lawyer and gives great advice. Our real estate lawyer proper was also very communicative and got things done quickly.

The hard part was getting everything together to get the loan. If you're interested in the 203K loan, here is what you need to know:
  • BEFORE you start the whole process for any mortgage, make sure that you have your financials in good shape. Outside of good credit, you also need to make sure your bank statements reflect an adequate amount of money to cover the closing costs and all the other fees. Since most banks look at the past two months' bank statements, it's good to have all the money in the bank before those two months. It's also a good idea to locate your W2's for the last two years and the last two months' worth of pay stubs. You'll have to account for any deposits over $200 in your bank statements. Make sure you have a good income-to-debt ratio and that you're saving a lot of your paycheck during those two months of bank statements.
  • Not all banks offer the 203K loan, but on the FHA website, you can look up which banks offer it.
  • The closing costs for FHA is higher than other loans and you must pay insurance on the mortgage (MIP), but the downpayment amount is only 3.5% and the interest rate on the renovation portion is the same as the mortgage making it more reasonable than other renovation loans. Also, you can finance the closing costs in a 203K, if you qualify.
  • If, like us, you are buying a foreclosure that needs a lot of rehab, it is wise to get a jump start since the selling bank is usually less understanding than real-people sellers.
  • Get pre-qualified, find a house you like, win the bid. Within a week or two of winning the bid, your real estate lawyer will meet with you to sign the final contract and you must put down a deposit.
  • Find a home inspector (who is also a 203K consultant, if possible) and get an inspection (usually around $500).
  • Have a 203K consultant inspect the home for a work write-up. This work write-up outlines what needs to be done to bring the house up to code and the cost. If you're not buying a foreclosure that has been badly vandalised (like ours), and your house is perfectly livable, then the renovation portion of the loan may be used for cosmetic, repair or improvement work, such as installing new lights, fixing the tread on the stairs, or adding a new bathroom. The renovation must be at least $5,000 to qualify for the 203K.
  • Next, you must find contractors willing to do the work outlined in the work write-up for the cost the 203K inspector indicated. They will have to write up their own estimate that matches the scope of work and price of the consultant's work write-up. They will also have to sign an agreement that the mortgage broker sends to them.
  • In the meantime, your real estate lawyer will have sent the fully executed contract and title seach to your mortgage broker, and he will have a municipal search listing any code violations that need to be addressed. Those should not be a surprise if you have a good home inspector and 203K consultant.
  • At this point, you should have everything needed for your mortgaging bank to go into underwriting: 203K work write-up, contractor's estimate and signed documents, fully executed contract of sale, as well as, a photo ID, most recent pay stubs, two months' bank statements, last two w2s, and finally, a check or credit card for the bank to pay for an appraisal of the property, a credit check and a deposit for the lock-in rate ($500, $25 and $500, respectively).
  • Underwriting takes anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. During this time, the bank is conducting its due diligence and determining the risk involved in the loan.
  • The closing cost breakdown for a 203K loan:
  1. Interest rate: 6.5% with .375 discount. We eventially bought it down to 5.5% for around $3,000.
  2. Appraisal fee: $500
  3. Commitment fee: $700
  4. Flood Life of Loan fee: $24
  5. Suppl. Orig. (Reno): $500
  6. FHA Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium: $3,526
  7. 203K Consultant fee: $1,000 (this is based on the size of the renovation loan and the fee is set by FHA)
  8. Abstract or title search: $1,947
  9. Attorney's fee: $700
  10. Municipal lien search: $500
  11. Recording fee - deed: $150
  12. Recording fee - mrtg/DOT: $150
  13. State tax stamps: $1,640
  14. Fire and Hazard insurance premium for 1 year: $960
  15. Hazard Insurance escrow (9 months): $720
  16. City property taxes (7 months): $933.31
  17. School taxes (10 months): $2,500
  18. Downpayment: 3.5% of combined mortgage and renovation loan

The cost for items with months in parentheses change depending on the time of year you close.