Too Much Drama

Over dinner and a bottle of wine at the lovely restaurant attached to the Staten Island Hilton Garden Inn, Mr. NYer and I reminisced about the last 26 years and 11 months we spent in one house.  We smiled, laughed and got teary remembering the ghastly decor when we moved in, the collection of neighbors, the contractors, the happy occasions and, mostly, the memories of raising our son in this house.

It was a good ending to an exhausting and unnecessarily dramatic week.

Let’s go back to late last Friday afternoon, around 4 pm, when Mr. NYer hears from our old friend and attorney, Mr. J, that the buyer wants to close on February 25 — six days hence.  The alternative is to wait until Mr. J gets back from his St. Croix vacation, and close on March 9.  Oh, and by the way, the buyer wants a credit for “thousands of dollars” for the attic, which they fear is not legal.

A side note on our attic:  It’s about 300 square feet of floor space, has full-size windows on three sides, and a conventional stairway leading to it.  It’s got high ceilings with some dormers.  We refinished the attic over ten years ago, replacing hideous cheap paneling with sheet rock.  When we pulled the paneling down, we could see the lath marks on the studs for the plaster walls that had preceded the paneling.  In other words, this attic had been a finished living space since dinosaurs walked the earth.

A Staten Island attorney would not have given the finished attic a second thought, but our buyers turned to an attorney who practices in Nassau County and is young enough to be Lifelongnewyorker’s daughter.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  This attorney, a sorority sister of the female half of the buyers, is used to dealing with tiny Long Island towns, and couldn’t understand why there was no C of O (our house was built in 1919, and houses in NYC  built back then don’t have them); she worried that the attic was “illegal.”

On Friday, Mr. J told us that the buyers wanted a substantial credit to make the attic legal, and also wanted to close as early as possible, so they could move in this weekend.  Figuring that the demand for a credit was leverage for the early closing date, and tired of being apart, Mr. NYer and I decided to try to accommodate the date.

What this entailed:  moving heaven and earth to get the mover lined up to pack on Tuesday and load on Wednesday; finding and arranging for storage of all our earthly goods in Montgomery; booking air travel from Atlanta, where Lifelongnewyork was on business, home to NY within 24 hours; hustling from a session that ended at 5 pm in Atlanta to get to the airport in time for a 6:40 flight.  And instructing Mr. J to accept the early closing date but refuse to negotiate the contracted price.

Two hours after getting the call, all that had been arranged.

Home on Staten Island, Mr. NYer and I worked for two days to empty the house, sort the belongings, and get ready for the movers.  Lifelongnewyorker kept the computer connected and the Blackberry attached so she could also attend to business.  At the end of each night, we fell into bed exhausted.  Exhausted in a way that people in their 50s should just not have to feel.

Tuesday the packers show up and the house is tossed into orderly chaos.  Lifelongnewyorker is the ultimate authority on what stays, what goes, and is consulted at every turn–for some reason, Mr. NYer seems to dread making a decision without her.  Meanwhile, she has at least one conference call scheduled, which she takes in the empty attic, accompanied only by the cats who have been sent there in exile.  Only one item is broken during the packing.

Towards the end of the day Tuesday our attorney calls with the news that the buyers’ attorney wants to postpone the closing, pending inspection of the space by an architect.  We will not dwell here on the theories put forth by the various parties, but we briefly despaired.  Our attorney suggested they bring the architect along for the walk-through, scheduled for Wednesday evening.  We breathed a tentative sigh of relief.

Wednesday the movers come again, this time to load the truck.  Oh, did I mention the truck and the parking dilemma.  Few homes on our block have off-street parking. Many residents take their cars to work, but the spaces are filled almost immediately by the teachers who work at the middle school down the block.  So, on Monday, Lifelongnewyorker printed neighborly notes on neon-colored paper asking folks to refrain from parking on about 110 feet of prime street real estate on both Tuesday and Wednesday.  She carefully tucked these under wipers and into mailboxes.  Mr. NYer, believing more direct means were necessary, conspired with our neighbors to park three cars in such a way as to use up five spaces,  placed garbage cans strategically, and stood watch during the half hour before school started.

The movers load the truck.  Lifelongnewyorker takes another conference call while huddled in the attic.  By 3 pm, when the movers leave, we are again exhausted, but we have more work to do.  Sweep and vacuum.  Because we are who we are, we also clean the bathroom and the kitchen.  Lifelongnewyorker gets on her hands and knees and cleans the hardwood floors in the living and dining rooms because the movers have been tracking wet feet in and out for two days.  We fill up move garbage bags.  And then we have to sedate the cats, capture them, and put them into their accommodations for the next four days, a lovely cage.  Eventually we do get the cats.  We carry them, cage and all, down to the car.

Barely able to focus, we drive to the aforementioned lovely Hilton Garden Inn and check in.  Lifelongnewyorker takes a much-needed hot shower.  While Mr. NYer is in the shower, the phone rings.  It’s Mr. J with the news that the buyer’s attorney has cancelled the next day’s closing.  Yes, cancelled.  Told the bank’s attorneys to forget about it.  After all, she tells Mr. J, it will take several days for the architect to file his report.

Frankly it feels like extortion to us, and Mr. NYer and I are competing to see who is angrier.  It’s 5 pm, and we have the walk-through in about an hour.  Our legal counsel advises us to be nice, which is going to be really hard.

But then we remember that we are actors.  We rehearse our lines and come up with our strategy.

We arrive early at the house and rush in to grab the 20 pounds of cat food we left, and remove the bottle of prosecco we left in the refrigerator.  We deliberately leave the bottle of champagne.  We turn on all the lights and make sure the house is cozy.  We run our lines.

First onstage is our realtor, who is also fit to be tied and enters under a dark cloud, convinced the closing will never happen.  Next are the buyers with a young man who alleges to be an architect.  I ask for his card and, well, he has one.  Before going upstairs we set the scene:  “We’re confused,” I explain.  “We moved heaven and earth to make this closing happen and you cancel it–we just don’t understand.”

These guys are first-time homebuyers and they’re terrified by the word “illegal,” which has been thrown around in reference to the attic a lot, first by their attorney and secondly by — get this — the house inspector.  This is the personage, loyal readers might remember, who brazenly poked at my sills, extolled the house, and never bothered to measure a single thing.  Turns out when questioned, he reported that the attic did not have the height or space to “ever be made legal.”  Even though it was large enough to hold his hot air for a good half hour one evening.

The heart-to-heart out of the way, we head upstairs to the attic, so the architect can have a look-see.  He looks.  He sees that this is a very large and airy attic.  He explains that the minimum floor space for a bedroom is 85 square feet — the attic has nearly three times that.  He observes that the ceiling is over 8 feet tall, and that two of the windows alone meet the air and light requirement.  He ends by saying, “This attic is fine — there’s no problem with it.”

At which point, Mr. NYer and I act out our the dual strategy.  I proceed to show the buyers all the wonderful things they’ve bought, talking about their new closets, their air conditioning and, in the kitchen, the bottle of champagne we hope they will be enjoying as new homeowners tomorrow night.  Mr. NYer tells them, “Our lawyer is ready to close tomorrow.  So are we.  If yours is willing, let’s do it.”  It’s late, but phone calls are made.  We’re all willing, but the big question remains:  Is the bank?  They’ve been told to cancel — can that be undone?

We return to the hotel feeling that, at least, the deal will close sometime, if not tomorrow.  It hasn’t fallen through.  The cats — remember them? — are freaked out, but haven’t clawed their way out of the cage or chewed off their own feet.  We go to bed, awakening every 15 minutes or so wondering what the next day will bring.

More drama.  It’s snowing.  Hard.  And the forecast is for anywhere from 8 to 16 inches.  And remember, the sorority sister attorney has to drive in from Nassau County.

We eat breakfast and return to the room just in time to hear from Mr. J — the closing is on at high noon.  Mr. NYer, who has a soft side for the cats and a charming belief in illusions, erects a barricade of pillows around the bottom of the bed and allows the cats out of their cage.  The Lunatic takes about 5 minutes to dash beneath the king bed and park himself in the middle of the floor under the mattress.

We spend the next 40 minutes or so enticing him with yarn, with catnip, with toys and with food.  None of this works.  We move the bed; he moves with it.  We plead.  I find birdsong on the Web and play cardinals, bluejays and finches.  None of these entice him.  Finally, I flop on top of the bed, he rushes out, and we capture him.

We are the first to arrive at the office, but eventually the other parties arrive.  And, lo and behold, after Way Too Much Drama, we close the deal.

We’ve  been far too busy the last four days to dwell on sentiment, but while the buyers were signing their documents (many more than ours) images of my son growing up in the house played in my mind: playing ball in the backyard, climbing the stairs before he could walk, blowing out birthday candles at the kitchen table.  I teared up, briefly.

Tonight at dinner, I asked Mr. NYer: “Shall we talk about our memories in the house, or about the future?”

“The house,” he said.

And we did, laughing mostly.  It was good.

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7 Responses

  1. Way too much drama certainly, but you pulled it off against all odds! And guess what. I laughed at the end along with you.

  2. Your mother would be very proud of your “hands and knees” cleaning of the floors!

    The drama is over…relax in the hotel…enjoy the party and keep the cats in the cage!

  3. Just so… moving, that is. Selling a house (or buying one: I remember what a know it all pain I was buying our first house). BUT, try doing it about 10 times in 31 years, back and forth across the Atlantic and around the Middle East (and once only a mile away to a new house which took just as much effort), moving company thieves, cultural clashes (don’t ask), and all… And you NEVER get it “down to a science.” Oh, and our cat: escaped from the hotel room in The Hague on arrival, lost for two days with national radio programs broadcasting her loss (the Dutch are insane about house pets); she turned up in the underground garage… And, then got cat-napped a year later by neighbors who claimed we were not feeding her sufficiently because she wandered in the linked back yards and for some strange reason was attracted to prime raw beef put out for her on their back stoop! Ah, the joys of moving… and cats. We’ll have an interesting dinner whenever…;-)

  4. That was the 2nd most extreme house closing drama I’ve heard of. A few years before we first met them, a couple here in Deming were about to close on a house. The day before closing the owner was doing some last minute painting or some such and left some rags soaked in paint thinner (I think) in the house. He then decided to turn the furnace on so that the house would be nice and warm for them when they moved in. You can imagine the rest. At least it was before the closing.

    When we sold our house in Albuq., we had our rental moving truck in the driveway while we scoured the closets for the last of the pesky coat hangers, waiting until it was time to go to the closing. Our phone was packed and our phone service canceled. Our realtor then shows up to inform us that the bankers were too busy to make it to closing today and were postponing for two days (we weren’t answering our phone, duh). We told them no way, make the time. And they did.

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