It's not about the house.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Tramp's Story

I’ve been hesitant to mention this because I’m scared to jinx it. I was told I’d have an answer in two days, and as I type these words there are eight or nine hours left before that's up. But it will probably take me at least that long to pinch this post out, so I might as well go ahead and plunge in. I'll just keep dragging it out if I have to, until the fateful final phone call comes. I'm good at dragging things out, don't you think? So here goes -- but, for extra-special jinx-protection, I hope you won’t mind if I speak in code:

I’m schmeschminancing my schmortgage. At least, I schmink I schmam.

See, I’m one of those idiots you've read about who overpaid for a house she could only tenuously afford, lied about her income on the loan papers to get it, and was fast-talked by a shady broker into an adjustable rate. Yep. I’m a regular housing-bubble hat trick, that's for sure. But you can’t blame the big KAPOW on me, oh no you can't. I'm still making monthly payments like a good girl, yes I am. Because my loan hasn’t adjusted yet, and since we had the foresight to buy this crumbling shitpile instead of an actual house (what I meant when I said "I overpaid" was "I shouldn't have paid anything at all") our monthlies don't bleed us quite as hard as some.

So, last year or so, when the news cycle was all aflutter with bailouts and homeowner assistance programs that were supposed to turn bad loans into good ones, I perked up for a second before tuning it all out. Honestly, I tune out the news a lot. It's so depressing. But this time I had a reason. I'd blipped in long enough to realize we wouldn’t qualify for any help. We had been stupid, yes, but apparently not quite stupid enough.

We only paid $245K for the AssVac, for example, a not-astronomical number we could just about afford. Put 20% down, too, just like in the olden days. And she's still worth $238K on paper, thanks to the buckets of sweat-soaked money we've flung at her since moving in. Our interest rate is fixed at 5% for ten years -- instead of a piddly, stupid, one or two -- and when it does adjust (in 2014) it will only go to market rate plus one percent. Plus, like I said, we've always paid our schmortgage bills on time. Not just on time, for that matter: I have a habit of sending checks almost a whole month in advance.

In an alternate universe, those would all be good things. Not as good as having gotten a fixed-rate mortgage in the first place, but darn close. But when everything's gone all topsy-turvy they help the hardest cases first, which means you had to be in arrears or underwater just to get a place in line. Plus there was that whole underwritten-by-Fannie-Mae-in-the-first-place requirement, which we didn't have. And presumably a little thing called income, too, which ditto.

Ever since our schmortgage-chicken's retarded cousins all came home to roost and started laying rotten eggs, Johnny hasn’t had a lick of work. We’ve been raiding our retirement funds for a year now just to keep on sending in those monthly checks. We made the decision to do it because (A) we couldn’t rent for cheaper, so there isn’t any sense trying to sell, and (B) as much as we hate Townville (a.k.a. Southie With Trees) here, the AssVac herself has (kind of sort of maybe) started to (yack, yack) grow on us a little bit (who said that? What?). If we were going to have to sell our stock to pay a landlord anyway, we might as well avoid the move and do our best to see the old girl through.

Schmeschimnancing sure would have been nice, though. The rate we have for five more years is low enough that in the short term our payments would probably go up, but it would have at least gotten that adjustable-rate-monkey off our backs. Ah, well.

So anyway, that brings us to about three weeks ago. And then...

Remember how I said I pay my schmortgage in advance? I mailed my November 1st payment, for example, on October 2. I started doing it the day we closed -- that first month's payment was included with the closing, but I went ahead and sent it anyway. Because I haven’t always been the best at paying bills on time, and one of the few things I knew about owning a house before I did it was that schmortgage bills are not like paying rent. If you’re late, you don’t just get a reminder phone call from some pain in the ass you can yell back at because your toilet's overflowing or your front door doesn’t close. No. If you forget to pay your schmortage you get a black mark next to your name in the Big Book for all time. And if you accumulate too many marks, they take your house and send you back to the Old Country. So I got in the habit of mailing checks in early, just to give myself a 28-day leeway to forget.

It never happened, though. Not really. Once it got lost in the mail (honest to god, I'm not just saying that; I mailed that fucking thing, I did, I know) and I called and yelled at a customer service rep until I cried. That Countrywide was no help whatsoever, but I managed to stop payment on the check and send another one in time. (Two years later, when we re-did the kitchen, that lost-in-the-mail envelope turned up behind a bookcase -- so maybe I didn't mail the fucking thing. What d'you know?)

But last month I almost missed it. We were trying to put off raiding our retirement again as long as possible, and we thought we could afford to wait because Johnny had actually lined up a job. The carpenter on the job was dicking around, though, wasting time, and the carpenter has to finish before the painter can get in. Weeks went by while the schmortgage check sat – forlornly written, sealed, and stamped – waiting in my office to be mailed. Finally, on the 16th, I broke down. But it takes ten days to get a check mailed from Fidelity. And then I had to wait till Monday before I could get it in the bank. So I didn’t mail October’s payment until September 28th.

On October 2nd, I got a notice reminding me I had a payment due. I was pretty sure they’d crossed in the mail, but my check hadn't been cashed yet, so I called because I wanted to be sure. Yes indeedy, the Very Nice Customer Service Rep assured me, they certainly had received my payment and everything was set -- but, since she had me on the telephone anyway, would I like to talk to someone about possibly scheschminancing and bringing my monthly payments down?

Now, say what you will about Bank of America. I don’t know what they’ve got going on with Merill Lynch, and I don’t care. What I do know is that ever since Countrywide went under and BoA bought our stank-ass loan, I have felt much more like I’m in an actual business relationship and much less like I’m standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, tossing fluttery fistfuls of cash into the void. And I appreciate that feeling. The new one, I mean. I didn’t realize how much I'd missed it when it wasn’t there.

Still, though, this latest offer was a little much.

“Oh, no!” I said. “I mean, I’d love to, but -- I don’t think your schmeschminance folks would want to talk to me. My husband’s been out of work a while, see, and we just don’t make enough these days to get approved for any sort of loan.”

“It never hurts to try,” the Nice BoA Lady replied. “Would you like me to go ahead and patch you through?”

"Oh, sure, what the hell," I said, reaching into the refrigerator for a beer. "There's no way it's going to happen, I assure you. But the conversation ought to be good for a laugh."

To be continued tomorrow – really, I mean it this time. I’ve actually already posted it on a time-delay. I just think the whole story is too long to expect you to read it all at once and besides, it’s a rainy weekend. What the hell else am I going to do?


Anonymous said...

Wow, you pay by cheque in the mail?

Can't you use electronic banking? I just transfer my money online.

Sashimi said...

yeah..AND in is auto debited from your bank account 8-)

ege said...

I could, but I'm old-fashioned. I do for other things, sometimes. I don't know, I guess I'm weird. But I never, never set it up to auto-debit, because what if there's no money in the bank!?