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the story

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yesterday,  i was at brunch with my friend lisa, filling her in on the status of the apartment, complaining about all the red tape surrounding renovation, when she asked me a seemingly simple question.

“what made you decide to do this now?”

the implied subtext of the above, of course (whether she meant this or not), being “why do this now, when it’s just you, alone?” why not wait until i was married, or at least, in a serious relationship? that’s when most people make big real estate purchases, right?

there are a myriad of reasons why i bought the grand apartment now: i came into a small inheritance. my parents were willing to help me with a down payment. i finally admitted to myself that i wasn’t leaving new york anytime soon. i am lucky enough to have a good job where i make good money. i was sick of throwing thousands of dollars a year in rent down the drain. i wanted to own a piece of manhattan. i wanted an investment.

but the number one reason? in my heart of hearts, it’s very much connected to the “just you” subtext of lisa’s question.

see, i turned 30 about six months ago, and suffice it to say that relationship-wise, i’m not where i thought i’d be at this point in my life. all around me, people are getting engaged, getting married, settling down with the loves of their lives, even starting to pop out little humans. and then there’s me. still alone, still single, still unwed.

all throughout this process, i’ve had a certain sex and the city episode in the back of my mind. in it, miranda decides to set out on her own and buy a place. touring an apartment with a middle aged broker, miranda marvels at the pre-war charm.

“just you?” the broker asks her.

“just me,” miranda replies.

the broker proceeds to try and set miranda up with her (also single) son.

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later on in the episode, when miranda applies for her mortgage, the broker asks her again, “just you?” he wrongly assumes the down payment is coming from her father (it’s not). begrudgingly, he tells her to check the “single woman” box.

now, this is television, not real life. i don’t recall checking any boxes marked “single woman” over the past few months, and i have completed mounds upon mounds of paperwork. but i’d be lying if i haven’t wondered, ever since i started this, if the men guiding me through this process have been biting their tongues, secretly asking themselves, “what’s wrong with her? why is she doing this alone?”

it’s like every time i take a step forward in this process, cartoon versions of the question pop up around me, clouding my vision. just you? just you? JUST YOU? really, it’s just you?

towards the end of the sex and the city episode i’m referencing, we see miranda, all moved in to her new apartment, surrounded by mounds of boxes. she feeds the cat, turns on some shitty television, and pops a bite of chinese takeout into her mouth. almost immediately, miranda starts choking on the food, and runs around the apartment, grasping her throat while the cat looks on.

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her cat can’t help her. there’s no one there to help her. she is alone in the new apartment that she bought, just her. eventually, she runs into a cardboard box stomach first, performing her very own heimlich. the offending piece of food pops out, and miranda calls carrie, panicking. what if she dies alone? what if she dies alone, and when the paramedics come to find her, she’s been eating shitty chinese food, and the only one there is her cat? 

i can’t lie. i’ve never choked on my chinese food, but i’ve spent many a night on my couch consuming it while watching endless episodes of law and order: svu with my cat by my side. and i’ve had that very same thought: what if i die here, alone, and there’s no one to find me but my cat, who, despite her undying love for me, will eventually be so overcome by hunger than she decides to eat the human who has loved and cared for her for the past 10 years.

i’m being overly dramatic, of course, but you catch my drift: it is a scary thing to be “just you” in the world. all around me, i see happiness, i see partnership, i see marriage, and babies, and people “moving on” with their lives and becoming real grownups. and then there’s me, moving on in so many ways but still so stagnant in this one department.

that’s why i bought this apartment. because no one can have it all, but i can have this – this one thing, this one place, this one corner of the universe that is mine, and mine alone – just me.

when i was home for july 4th, my parents told me they’d recently spoken with a financial planner. that planner had set aside a decent chunk of money for both my sister’s wedding, and my own. i can’t speak for my sister, but speaking for myself, the news crushed me. a tiny little bit of my heart snapped off and disappated into thin air. my parents, ever the optimists, planning for a wedding that may never come to fruition. my parents, seeing the good in me, believing that someday, someone else will see it too. my parents, planning for a future that could never come.

it hurt. because as much as i want marriage and kids and the white picket fence for myself, i really, really want it for them. i want them to live long enough to walk me down the aisle, two moms flanking their daughter. i want them to bounce baby grandchildren on either side of their hips, to hear them sing lullabies to my babies, to hear my mom say, just like my grandma did, “aw aw bay-by, aw aw bay-by” over and over until their tiny little eyes close and their breathing slows.

i want that so bad it hurts. some days, i wake up and i think, holy shit, i’m thirty fucking years old and i have nothing to show for it. and i just see myself as a ticking time bomb, like before i know it i’ll wake up and be 50 and my parents will be dead and gone and they’ll never have gotten the chance to see me twirl around in a white dress or waddle around as an enormous pregnant lady.

but those are the bad days. on the good days, i am able to remind myself of a few things:

first, just because i am alone now does not mean i will be alone forever.

second, there is no timeline. there are wants, there are wishes, but i am on no one’s track but my own.

third, alone does not have to mean lonely. because 99% of the time, i am NOT lonely. sure, i want someone to stand behind me while i flip pancakes on a sunday morning, but i do not lack for much in my life. i have incredible friends. i have an amazing family. i have a job i quite like, coworkers i adore. i have a city that is so alive it literally vibrates with energy at all hours of the day. i have oh so much to be thankful for.

at the top of that list? this little home i bought. the little home i am going to make my own. and on my good days, i’m not just not upset that it’s just me. i am really fucking PROUD that it’s just me. that i have this opportunity, that i took this opportunity, that i am doing this, really doing it, on my own.

just me.

 

 

 

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lots of work to be done here. hence, the need for an architect.

when i first started this process, i figured i’d have to deal with an asshole or two. this is new york, this process is complicated, the industry is filled (mostly) with me. assholes were bound to be a part of the puzzle.

still, i hoped to be wrong. and for the initial six months, i was. my broker, eric, is nothing short of an angel. my lawyer andy thinks i’m the most obnoxious person ever placed on this earth, but he has yet to yell at me. and doug, the mortgage broker eric referred me to, is a man with a never-ending supply of patience. he has answered approximately 5,000 questions, assured me that i’m capable and smart, and promised me that not only will he not let me fall flat on my face, he’ll see me through all the way to closing.

those are the good men. but the bad ones–well, let’s just say they’ve made me question my faith in dudes. one of these bad ones is an “architect” (quotes are necessary, i will explain why in a bit) we’ll call B. B was referred to me by my contractor, Shmulik, who has, thus far, also placed himself firmly in the “wonderful and helpful and very much not an asshole” category.

but let’s back up a bit. why, you might be wondering, do i even need an architect? that’s a good question. it’s one i had myself. turns out, when you want to renovate an apartment in new york city, you can’t just bust down walls and go all peter paul and mary “if i had a hammmmmmmer” on this bitch. quite the opposite, actually. first, you have to get approval from the management company in charge of your building, and by virtue, their engineer and architect. then, once management has approved, they can (and usually, will) dictate that your plans are submitted to (and approved by) the new york city department of buildings. you know those permits you see pasted on the windows of construction zones? if you want to renovate your teeny little totally not important to anyone apartment, you’ll need some of the babies below.

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and guess what? you can’t do any of that on your own. first, you have to hire an architect, who will draw up the plans for renovation, and help you prepare what you need to submit to the management company. then, you’ll also need an expeditor, a person whose sole purpose is to go down to the DOB and wait on line for you, moving your shit along so that you don’t have to wait 6-8 weeks for DOB approval. your expeditor usually comes from your architect, as does an asbestos inspector (also needed for DOB approval).

{for more on this process, see this nytimes article – which nearly gave me a heart attack}

in short, an architect is pretty important. you can’t do it without them. so it’s important you find one that you a) like, and b) can do the job and do it right.

now that we’ve got the basics covered, back to B. B was, i was told, a guy who could draw up the plans and help me submit to the board. he was fast, and he was cheap. those two things alone should have been a giant flaring WARNING WARNING symbol to me, but as a girl who knows she likes pretty things, anywhere i can save money and reallocate it to, say, a lighting fixture, i’m inclined to do so.

i first spoke to him on a friday morning. he was the epitome of a fast talking new yorker, a guy that seemed determined to “educate” me on the phone about all i didn’t know. i wanted to work with him, so i kept my mouth shut when he talked down to me like a stupid child who didn’t know her ass from her elbow. he said he had plans of my unit in his files, and he’d send me something by the afternoon.

the afternoon rolled around, and guess what? nothing came. he’d asked me to email him some info; i’d done it first thing. no response to the email either. i waited until monday to follow up, at which point he made an excuse about being busy and said i’d have it first thing tuesday.

by friday, i still didn’t have anything. that was week 1. the same thing happened in week 2. i’d follow up, he’d promise to get the plans to me, i’d receive nothing. by memorial day, i was fed up. so when i got him on the phone that morning, two weeks after his initial promise to get something out to me same day, i told him if he couldn’t get it to me when he said he was going to, i would find someone who could.

i meant it to come out as a firm but respectful missive. just because i was a woman didn’t mean he could walk all over me. i might be new to this process, but i know when i’m being jerked around.

to say that B did not respond well to being threatened is an understatement. he inhaled deeply, and then said, practically vibrating with anger, “GIVE THE JOB TO SOMEONE ELSE. I DO NOT WANT IT.”

and then he hung up on me. HUNG UP ON ME! what is this, kindergarten?! the only person who ever hangs up on me is my mother, and she’s allowed because, well, you know, she birthed and raised me.

i was so shocked that i literally stood on the street with my phone in my hand, staring at the screen, wondering if that had actually just happened. i waited a few minutes for him to call back and apologize. he did not. so i called my contractor, and told him that if he didn’t mind, i’d need another recommendation for an architect.

lucky for me, he had another name. to read part 2 (and to see the renovation plans!), come back tomorrow. 

unnamed-4above: my friends sara and martha, who i took to see the grand apartment over memorial day weekend. i thought i would close a few days afterwards.

you know what i’ve heard a lot of lately? this:

“so, what’s going on with the apartment?!”

it’s my own fault, of course. because i’ve been, you know, chronicling it on this here blog, and on instagram, and also telling all of my friends and some of my acquaintances and basically anyone else who will listen that I AM BUYING AN APARTMENT.

except that right now, i’m not. right now, i’m doing a whole lot of nothing, because i’m waiting on other people, who appear to be doing just that: a whole lot of nothing.

unnamedme, explaining to sara and martha how i intended to bust out that wall and create a breakfast bar

see, everyone told me that as soon as the co-op said yes, i was good to go. that was the final frontier, the last hurdle. after that, the closing would happen “asap” or in real life terms, “within 7-10 days.”

guess what, folks? it’s been 7-10 days. and AIN’T NOTHING BEEN SCHEDULED. ZILCH. NADA. 

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what am i waiting on? just another lawyer. specifically, the co-op lawyer, who apparently has to sign off on the “estate paperwork” from the sellers before closing can officially be scheduled. did anyone think to tell me this, i don’t know, at any point in the process?

of course not. all they said was, “board approval is the last step! then you’re golden and everything starts moving.”

meanwhile, the only thing moving is my heart, which is beating exceptionally fast because it’s trying to keep up with all of my (slightly misplaced) aggression. sorry, heart.

suffice it to say, i am frustrated. and that word barely covers it. i’m angry that no one thought to mention, way back in january when i put in an offer, that buying from an estate would be INFINITELY MORE COMPLICATED and take WAY LONGER THAN AVERAGE. instead, all they said was, “oh, but the potential!”

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is the potential there? sure. i mean, can you see it in the above photo? not really. but i could see it in my imagination. and i know that someday, when this is all said and done, the grand apartment won’t just be grand. it will be great. but i am oh so sick of waiting around for everyone else to get their shit together. where is the urgency? these are NEW YORKERS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. 

and yet, things are moving like molasses. like turtles wading through molasses. like the slowest turtles you’ve ever seen, DROWNING IN MOLASSES. and all i can do, beyond bitching and moaning on the internet, is wait. wait, and preemptively meet with my architect tomorrow (which will hopefully bring about some actual motion in this process, and maybe even a real blog post!). stay tuned, friends. hopefully soon i will have some actual news to report. until then, i leave you with this gem, of me in the kitchen, thinking about just how much work there is to be done, and how much time is a wastin’ every minute that i am not doing anything.

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stephanie march interviewing a witness on SVU//how i felt last night at my co-op interview

my thinking around the co-op board application process went a little something like this. i was all, PLEASE LIKE ME. PLEASE, PLEASE LIKE ME. TELL ME I AM A GROWNUP AND THAT I CAN DO THIS AND THAT YOU THINK I’M FINANCIALLY STABLE AND EMOTIONALLY CAPABLE OF BUYING A HOME.

and they were all, sell us your soul, give us your first born child, oh and while you’re at it, can you please do a full audit of all of your financials, and tell us how much is in your 401k (you haven’t been saving enough…), show us your tax returns (geez, you lose a lot to taxes each year!), and tell us where, exactly, the money for your down payment is coming from, because it’s CERTAINLY NOT COMING FROM YOU, YOU 30 YEAR OLD FAILURE OF A HUMAN.

okay, so that’s not exactly what they said. what they actually said was nothing – not to me, at least. they communicated through my broker, a post-modern game of telephone that was NOT AT ALL FUN. through him, they told me to fill out a boatload of paperwork, and also, to get four references: two personal, two professional. i think these were to rule out that i wasn’t a) party animal, b) a lowlife with no job,  c) an axe murderer and d) a crazy cat lady who’d let her addiction to all things four legged and furry get out of control.

thankfully, i am none of the above. i gave up whatever sort of partying i used to do years ago, i am gainfully employed (#fridaynightjustgotpaid), i’m DEFINITELY not an axe murderer, and i currently only have ONE cat (key word here being currently).

despite the fact that i’m a relatively responsible, relatively normal 30-year old with a good job and a steady income, i was terrified, and i mean TERRIFIED that this part of the process would go horribly wrong. if i’m being honest, i’ve been terrified every step of the way. see, rejection is, in emo therapy terms, my button. it’s my biggest “thing”. hearing i’m not good enough – for anyone or anything – can easily send me on a downward spiral towards dejection and the sense that i am 100% meaningless on this earth and will never succeed at anything, ever.

i’m exaggerating.

sort of. the point is, at every point in this process, from the offer to the mortgage to the coop board, there has been a chance for someone older, wiser, and manlier than me (did i mention this process has been ALL MEN?!) to shut me down. to point a finger at me and laugh in my face and tell me they’re shocked that i ever thought that little old me, she of previous credit card debt and bad saving skills, would be able to buy an apartment in new york city.

incredibly, amazingly, no one has done that yet. at every milestone, i’ve held my breath until the moment my face turns blue, and then, magically, i’ve exhaled. because instead of hearing “no” at every turn, i have heard “yes.”

last night’s interview the co-op board was the last chance for someone (9 someones, actually) to reject me. to crush my dreams and my burgeoning social media stardom (HA) and tell me no. but this morning, instead, i got this text from my broker:

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sure, it’s not 100% official. i’m waiting on an email. but impressing a group of people who had every reason to look at their sarah dossier and say, you know what, we can do better? that feels pretty damn good.

the next step, from here, following official official approval, is to close. i’ve been told that once i’m approved, i can close in 7-10 business days, which will put me in early/mid june. the board told me they’d love to me close as soon as possible ($$$), to which i said, GURL, ME TOO. DUH. the sooner i close, the sooner i can draw up my renovation plans, and get them approved by the board. from there, it’s on to get approval from the city. only at that point (more chances for rejection, BUT OF COURSE) can i start knocking shit down and making it new again.

to my two or three dedicated readers (hi, friends!), thanks for sticking around. i promise the good stuff is coming soon.

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the awkwardest, and apparently, crankiest kid at summer camp. i’m second row, fourth from the left. I HATE CAMPING.

the first time i left home, i was eight years old, and en route from a T station outside boston to belgrade, maine, where i was to spend the next four weeks at a jewish summer camp called modin. i went on to spend 9 summers there, long enough to learn how to share a space with 15 girls, to clean a toilet and scrub a shower, to have my first kiss (and my first few other things, too – thanks, wolves hideaway), to have my heart broken by mean girls and to learn how to stand up for myself.

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me and my friend hannah, the night we graduated from high school

the second time i left home, i was 18, and en route from my hometown in western mass to upstate new york, where i was to spend the next four years in saratoga springs at a college called skidmore. there, i took my camp skills and applied them to sharing a dorm room with a woman who would go on to become one of my closest friends post college. i learned how to write a short story, how to survive on a dining hall food plan, how to exist amongst people with more money and privilege than i’d ever imagined, how to roll a proper joint, how to go out on tuesdays, thursdays, fridays AND saturdays, and how to sleep in.

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me and my oldest friend kim, our first summer in new york city

 the third time i left home, i was 22, and en route from saratoga to new york city, where i was to spend my first year in a teeny tiny bedroom on 13th and 1st. i have the most vivid memory of this moment, of speeding down the interstate in my little toyota corolla, packed to gils with clothes and tchotchkes and 4 years of college life. i was blasting the fray’s “over my head” (#college), one foot up on the dashboard and the other on the gas, and i had this terrifying feeling that i was leaving behind perhaps the best four years of my life, that things were, from here on out, going to be totally, completely, irrevocably different.

oh, how right i was (the story of how i moved from my third to my fourth apartment, is, well, a mouthful. the story, if you’re curious, can be found here).

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my current bedroom

this will be the fifth time i will leave home–but the first that i will leave a home that is mine, not my parents. a home that i have spent seven years making my own.

this week, i have my co-op board interview, also known as the second to last step in this process. if they approve me, closing will be scheduled, and the grand apartment will officially be mine. i’ll embark on the crazy process of renovation, tearing out the old and building back up with the new. and at the end of it, i’ll move into a new home – a home  i OWN – and i’ll start again, at another address, in another apartment, on another city street.

the thought is both magical and terrifying. so many people think of new york apartments as “a place to sleep” and nothing else – they do their living out in the world. but i’ve always ascribed to the belief that your home should be your sanctuary, and have worked to make mine so. and soon, i’ll be starting that process from scratch. godspeed, self.

 

 

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this probably goes without saying, but the part of this process that i am MOST excited about is the decorating. it has long been my dream to design a place from scratch (though i’m learning that doing a place truly from scratch is actually quite stressful and, well, REALLY HARD. i commend you, designers), and the grand apartment is my first chance to design a home that really feels like me.

i’ve lived in my current apartment for six years now (an eternity in new york), so i guess you could say that it “feels like me.” as much as i love it, and as good as it’s been to me, it holds a lot of memories, and not all of them are good.

let’s back up a bit. a few months prior to moving into my current place, i went through a traumatic breakup with my college friends. in an instant, they cut the cord on me and our years together, and as a result, the cord on the apartment which we had all shared. they gave me a choice: move out and leave us, or we will leave you. what followed is a long, complicated, emotional story, but suffice it to say, the experience broke my heart. i’ve never had my heart broken in a romantic sense, but i think, in some ways, this experience was much, much worse. it was like 5 breakups in one. it was akin to someone stabbing a knife into my chest, tugging it down the breast bone and then yanking out my bloodied, still beating heart. and then stomping on it, repeatedly, on the sidewalks of new york city, while curious passerby watched, but did nothing.

the experience sent me home to massachusetts, into the sweltering humidity of mid-summertime new england and to a childhood bedroom in which i hadn’t spent longer than a few weeks since high school. for the first two weeks, i didn’t leave my bed. each morning, my mother would come into the room, wake me, and offer me breakfast. and each morning, i’d tell her i’d never felt so empty, that i didn’t believe i could ever get out of bed again, that life wasn’t worth living without my friends. i was 24, alone, and untethered, spinning aimlessly in the universe. or so i felt.

after a few weeks, i made it out of bed, and into a therapist’s office (god bless talk therapy, amirite?). after a few more, i made it to main street, where i sat at a coffee shop with an old high school friend and attempted to carry on a “normal” conversation.

after two months, it was decided that i should go back to new york. a good part of me, probably close to 95%, was convinced i could never set foot in the city again. new york was ruined for me. i had failed. it wasn’t meant to be. i was small town, small time, not the brave big city girl i’d thought myself to be.

but my parents said no, that wasn’t true. my friends could take everything from me – but they couldn’t take new york.

and so back to the city i went. this time, i saw apartments on my own, not with the safety net of three best friends. i saw “one bedrooms” in the west village with bathtubs in the kitchen, and tiny roach infested studios in gramercy. i saw spaces so tiny i wasn’t sure i could fit my bed in them, let alone my entire life. the pickings were BEYOND slim.

so when my broker told me, gently, that in my price range, looking on my own, i wasn’t going to find even close to what i would get with a roommate, and suggested i look at a place in the very property i’d been kicked out of, i told her no. no way. i couldn’t live anywhere near those people. what if i ran into them on the street? what if i saw them in the supermarket, casually browsing cereal boxes in aisle 4?

so we saw more tiny places. and more five floor walkups. and eventually, i relented, and agreed to sign a lease just six blocks north of my old home.

it’s a funny place, new york city. you can live literally on someone’s doorstep, and never ever see them. we always assume that our ghosts will trail us, that we’ll find ourselves following their footsteps on the street, ducking into alleyways to avoid awkward confrontations. the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. most of the time, we don’t run into our ghosts; we see them once in a blue moon, if at all.

my particular ghosts moved out and moved on after just a year, and somehow, someway, i stayed. for six years.

i remember move-in day like it was yesterday. i’d convinced my friend caroline to live with me, and the apartment, a converted one bedroom, was supposed to have a wall dividing the living room and the newly created “2nd bedroom.” key phrase here being “supposed to.” because when we walked in, it was not there. no wall. just a giant, empty, open living room that echoed my cries of frustration, sending my tears bouncing off the walls and the cheap parquet floors.

it was raining (and by raining, i mean pouring) as my mother and i attempted to shuffle my life in boxes from a uhaul into the elevator, while hired “moving men” lifted my sofa and bed from truck to sidewalk.

i remember thinking, of course, of COURSE it has to rain today. of course there is no wall. of course nothing in my entire fucking life is going right, because WHAT ELSE COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? my life had already been torn apart at the seams. here i was, trying to rebuild, to start over all on my own, and here was the man upstairs, sending me a big fat fuck you.

i remember screaming into the empty room, at the management company on the phone, at my poor, beleaguered mother, who was trying oh so hard to keep it (and me) together. never let it be said that she is anything less than a saint.

all i had wanted, all i had asked for, was a goddamn wall. ONE wall. ONE thing to go right. one thing to signify that i wasn’t making the biggest mistake of my life in coming back to new york. one thing to signify that i was still worthy of happiness, of deserving anything good at all.

and i couldn’t even get a wall.

here’s what i could (and did) get: a mother who didn’t throw me out on the street. a mother who didn’t, despite my complete and total meltdown, disown me. a mother who took the phone out of my hand, and calmly arranged for the wall to be built the very next day.a mother who continued to move my boxes. a mother who helped me unpack every single one of those boxes until i felt some semblance of a life, what used to be my life, building itself back up around me.

it took months for me to walk around the streets near my apartment and not check my peripheral vision for my former friends. it took over a year for my newly developed severe anxiety to wane. and it took years – years – for the apartment i started over in to feel like home. to feel like a place that was mine, and not just a place where i’d sought shelter following the worst months of my life.

six years later, i can finally say that i am almost over it, if one can ever be over such a thing. slowly but surely, i rebuilt my life. i reconnected with old friends. i made new ones. i put time and effort into cultivating the relationships around me, and into making sense of the role i played in my dismissal from my friend group. i have, as they like to say in therapy, done the work.

somehow, i’ve come out the other side. i’m not the same girl i was six years ago, not even close. i’m stronger. braver. more independent. a little harder, even. and the apartment i live in now? parts of it – okay, a lot of it – feel like they belong to the old sarah. t0 24 year old sarah, a girl who was trying, and often, failing, to find her way in the world.

the sarah i am now…well, let’s just say mama deserves a new media console. i want this home, my grand apartment, my very own little corner of the sky, to feel like it’s mine. really, truly mine. and not the kind of mine i’ve been forced into, not the kind of mine i’ve created out of a sheer need to feel safe in the world. but the kind of mine that i’ve created out of the realization that i am, finally, pretty damn close to where i need to be. and that i got there all on my own.

 

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you know what has amazed me the MOST about this process? not how much money i’m forking over. not that i’m signing my name on 9 million pieces of paper.

that this process is so. effing. complicated. no one really reads this blog right now except a few of my (very dedicated) friends (hi guys! you’re the best), but maybe someday, someone will stumble upon this post, knee deep in the mortgage application process, and think, OMIGOD, I’M NOT ALONE.

so, without further adieu, here are 5 things no one tells you about the mortgage process.

  1. not all banks are created equal. this sounds like a “no duh” situation, so let me elaborate. when you initially set out on your mortgage journey, you’re likely working with a) a bank recommended to you by your broker (my situation) or b) a bank recommended to you by a friend who has been through this process before. here’s the thing, though. those two options are all well and good, but they’re not necessarily the options that will get you the very best rate. see, all banks set their own rates. and those rates change not just daily, but sometimes hourly. so at any given time, you may find yourself asking: am i going with the right bank? could i find a better deal somewhere else? banks are businesses, and just like any other business, they need to make money. so they want you to sign with them, because it means you’ll be paying them your quoted mortgage amount (principal) and THEN all the interest on top of it, over the next 30-odd years. in short: they can make some serious money off of you, so they’re going to talk up their services, and their rates, as much as they possibly can. that’s not to say they don’t have your best interests at heart – sometimes, they do – but for the most part, you need to do what you’d do in any other important situation: do your research, and trust your gut. and then ask a shit ton of questions.
  2. not all paperwork applies to you. as soon as you officially start the loan application process, banks are required by law to send a TON of forms your way. these are called “mortgage disclosures” and almost all of them are legal documents filled with completely confusing legal jargon. reading them, and trying to decipher their meaning, is like attempting to read a book in another language, and then being asked to write a book report on it. and here’s the kicker: though the government requires that the banks send you all this info, not all of it applies to you. as in, your set of loan disclosures might include 30 forms that say “sign and date and send back ASAP” – and yet, you may only ACTUALLY need to sign and date 4 of those 30. nowhere will it say this, you won’t know until you ask. my advice? as soon as you receive your loan disclosure forms, ask your mortgage broker for a list of which documents you MUST review, which ones you MUST sign, date and return, and which ones are purely for, you know, “pleasure” (because who doesn’t like to read legal documents in their space time?). 
  3. your pre-approval is not a guarantee. your pre-approval letter, which you’ll need to submit an offer on a home, is based on a few things, but mostly, the income you tell the bank you have, your monthly expenses, and your credit score. what no one tells you is that your pre-approval is just that: a PRE-approval. meaning, it does not dictate that you’ll ACTUALLY be approved. that will come later, once you’re bared your financial soul, had to account for every single late payment you’ve ever made, and basically promised the bank your first born child. it’s some epically biblical shit, you guys. i swear, i have never felt so self-conscious in my life. i feel like a fraud, like any minute now, someone’s going to tug the rug out from under me, i’m going to go flying, banana peel style, onto my butt, and they’re going to yell, “PSYCHE! YOU’RE NOT CUT OUT FOR THIS! YOU LOSE! NA NA NA POO POO!” your best path forward? to make sure you have all your ducks in a row, financially, before you apply. that means checking your retirement accounts, checking and savings accounts, paying off any remaining student loan debt and credit card debt (within reason, if possible), and basically, making sure you’re as financially sexy as possible so that the bank is all, WE WANT HER!
  4. you’re going to be terrified. this is sort of a continuation of the above, and also, sort of goes without saying, but all anyone has asked me since they heard the news has been, “are you SO EXCITED?!” and yes, i am SO EXCITED. i am also SO FUCKING TERRIFIED. maybe it’s buying in new york, maybe it’s buying a co-op, but there are still so many stages of this process that need to happen before i can even BEGIN to truly feel the excitement and the gravitas of what i’m doing. that’s not to say i’m not happy, but just that i feel, in equal measure, totally terrified. i’m scared what it could fall through. i’m scared of being rejected. i’m scared that it’ll be more money than i anticipate, and that i won’t be accurately prepared. i’m scared that i’ll do something wrong, or misunderstand a piece of paperwork (or, even worse, not understand it at ALL). while my parents (and in particular, my uncle, who is a business whiz) have been completely supportive and insanely helpful, they’re not here, sitting by my side, as i sift through all this paperwork and make big decisions that directly impact my future (and the future of my potential offspring, if i have them). i’m doing this, little old me, all on my own. and that is some scary shit.
  5. you’re not alone – and yet, you are. when i first started this process, i didn’t really realize just how many people i’d have on my team. there’s my real estate broker, eric, who went with me to open houses, sent me listings, helped me submit my offer and then a counter offer, is helping me put together my board package, and has generally been available to answer questions. then there’s andy, my lawyer, who worked with the seller’s attorney to review the draft contract, make revisions in my favor, and then walk me through the final version (which i signed to put the place in contract). then there’s doug, my mortgage broker (not to be confused with my real estate broker) at wells fargo, who has walked me through every single step of the loan application process, churned out dozens of pre-approval letters for me in record time, and has also been around to answer the 9 million seemingly innocuous questions that have been keeping me up at night. and that’s not all. there’s also doug’s assistant, amy, who, well, i’m not sure what she does. then there’s teresa, also at wells fargo, who works as a liaison between doug, who “sold” me the mortgage, and the unnamed underwriter, who is reviewing my application and will ultimately decide my destiny. and that’s just BUYING the place. there’s a whole other set of people assisting with the renovation. and yet, despite having all these people to talk to, and all these people to listen to, at the end of the day, it’s my decision. it’s my decision what type of loan i apply for. my decision that kind of tile i put in the bathroom. it’s my decision whether i pay to bust down a wall and open the place up, or save money and keep it as is. and that’s, you know, kind of a BFG (big fucking deal, for those not familiar). i wish someone had told me this: that despite all the help you’ll have, you’ll still be alone, at the end of the day, in your own head, just like you always are, trying to decide what’s right. since no one told me, i’m telling you. LEARN FROM ME, FRIENDS. SAVE YOURSELF. 

and there you have it: a long, rambling account of all the things i wish i’d known before i started this process.

the funny thing? despite how complicated this is, despite how stressed it has made me, despite how worried i am that something will fall through, i feel this underlying current of peace. this underlying sense that i can do this, no matter how hard it is. this underlying sense that at the end of the day, it’ll all be worth it. and that’s all anyone really needs, right? an underlying sense of peace?

now, if only i could apply that peace to, you know, the rest of my life.

last week, when i first received the draft contract for the grand apartment, my lawyer sent a list of “key takeaways” (his assumption being, of course, that i wouldn’t read the entire contract myself. BUT I DID. not that i understood it, but i tried!). the list looked a little something like this (key areas removed for privacy’s sake):

  1. Purchaser – Sarah Jacobson
  2. Apartment – Apt X, Grand Street, New York, NY 10002
  3. Apartment to be vacant and in broom clean condition at time of closing with the standard items listed in 1.11. Anything else they told you they would include in terms of personal property or furniture? this one made me laugh. pretty please, could they leave behind the ugly dorm light and random bookshelf in the bedroom?
  4. Purchase Price – keeping this under wraps for obvious reasons
  5. Contract Deposit – 10% of total purchase price (YIKES) (Due at the time the Contract is signed by you)
  6. Closing Date – On or about May 2, 2016 (this changed)
  7. Maintenance –keeping this under wraps for obvious reasons
  8. Assessment – None.
  9. Loan Amount – keeping this under wraps for obvious reasons
  10. Occupants – Sarah Jacobson
  11. Pets – None. this had to be corrected to include the queen of my life, my cat, penny lane
  12. Seller’s Rider 42 – Please Review and confirm that all is true.
  13. Appliances – Seller is not making any representation that any of the appliances are in working order. Are you replacing them all anyway? this also made me laugh. i kid you not, i asked my lawyer to write “please remove the fridge” into the rider to ensure that whatever dead body is hiding inside there will NOT be in my apartment when the keys are turned over to me. 

following this list, my lawyer had another one. this one was made up of “everything he could find out about the Corporation (apparently, that’s what the co-op is called) and the building.”

and in that list was this SNEAKY LITTLE ITEM:

Flip Tax – 25% of the net of any first sale of a unit and after the first sale its 15% of the net sale price or $5,000.00, whichever is greater.

i’m sorry, SAY WHAT? i read it multiple times, then read it again. after i handed over all of my savings, a good chunk of my inheritance, my first born, an exhaustive list of my financials and also my soul, THE CO-OP WAS GOING TO TAKE 25% OF THE APARTMENT WHEN I SOLD IT?

oh HELL no.

i called my broker. he told me he’d mentioned this to me, that flip tax was a common thing in the new york real estate world.

look: i know i tend to have selective memory. that and i smoked too much weed in college and so sometimes my memory just isn’t that great. but i swear to god, NO ONE had mentioned this tax. and CERTAINLY, no one had mentioned it in the context of my making an offer on the grand apartment.

my broker tried again. he explained that while i had correctly understood the concept of flip tax, i hadn’t interpreted the ruling above quite right. the “first sale,” he told me, refers to, well, just that. as in, the first people to sell the apartment following its conversion from a rental unit to a co-op unit would pay 25% of the profitbasically, it works like this:

seller A: the lucky person who was living in the unit when the building went co-op in the 1980s. likely got the apartment for a steal (seriously, i don’t even want to know what they paid, it’ll make me cry), and then made a BOATLOAD of money the first time they sold it. let’s just say, for shits and giggles, they bought the apartment for 80k.

seller A’s flip tax situation went a little something like this:

purchase price: 80,000

selling price (the first time the apartment was sold by seller A, the original owner): 500,000

profit made on the unit = 500,000 (selling price) – 80,000 (purchase price) = 420,000

flip tax = 420,000 x .25 = 105,000.

INSANITY, RIGHT? basically, seller A had to hand over 100 grand of their profit to the co-op. you know, because life makes no sense.

i thought this was the situation i was in.

while i wasn’t exactly right, i wasn’t exactly wrong, either. because the “first sale” already happened, my piece of the pie is “only” 15%, not 25%. that softened the blow, a little bit. and that 15% only applies, remember, to the profit i make – not to the gross selling price.

a little research, along with more discussion with my broker, revealed that flip taxes are pretty standard in new york city co-ops. they allow the co-op to make money without having to jack up the maintenance (which, i should add, is quite low in this building).

in other words, as frustrating as that 15% is, there’s no way around it. though it may not be the LOWEST in all the land, it’s also not the worst case scenario (that would be a flip tax percentage that applies to the gross selling price. OUCH).

all parties involved in the transaction (broker, lawyer, mortgage broker, and a few other smart people i talked to) agreed that while 15% wasn’t, you know, great, it also wasn’t the end of the world, nor was it a reason to walk away.

so, i signed. but may this be a lesson for all future apartment hunters: ask about the flip tax, and ask about it early. preferably before you fall in love with a future home and imagine raising your little four legged friends (and maybe even some two legged ones) there.

hindsight’s 20/20, right?

 

 

 

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today, march 23rd, 2016, i signed the contract papers for the apartment at 504 grand street, where i will (hopefully, if all goes smoothly with my mortgage and the coop board) reside for the foreseeable future (following months of renovation).

this is, without a doubt, the scariest, most exciting, most HOLY SHIT moment of my entire life. i just took the first real step to becoming a HOMEOWNER. i am going to OWN A PIECE OF NEW YORK CITY!

(cue the violins and insert a quote from virginia woolf’s a room of one’s own)

when i first got word, late last week, that the contract would be coming our way in the next few days, i asked my broker where we’d meet.

i had this idea in my head that the contract signing would be some big, exciting, miraculous moment. we’d all gather in some giant boardroom somewhere, and the papers would be handed down the line for me to sign. the clouds would part, and the angels would sing, and i’d sign my john hancock oh so expertly four times over. there would be hand shaking, and “congratulations” and “thank you so much” and i’d walk out the room feeling like i’d just done something huge.

i’m sad to report that the actual state of the union is much less exciting than i’d imagined. in reality, what happened was that my lawyer emailed me the contract, told me to print out four copies, sign where appropriate, write the check, and stick it all in an envelope, which his messenger would come and collect from me at my office.

the clouds didn’t part, and the angels didn’t sing, and this BIG HUGE GIGANTIC thing i’m doing…well, it was rather anticlimactic. it’s not at all how they say it is on HGTV. in real life,  i’m just a girl, sitting at her desk, signing a contract and asking an apartment to love her.

but anticlimactic or not, a messenger just came to my office, and picked up a package filled with 16 pages of my signature, along with the biggest check i’ve ever held in my hands, let alone written.

and it appears, ladies and gentlemen, that i am well on my way to actually doing this thing. 

wish me luck, and HERE WE GO!

 

 

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you guys, waiting is HARD. i’ve been waiting around to sign a contract for the grand apartment for over a month now, and you know what? i don’t like it, not even close, not even a little bit, not at all. bonus points if you got the 10 things i hate about you reference above. though i totally gave it away with that photo, but whatever. when a girl has an excuse to post a picture of heath ledger, she has to take it.

but back to my rant: waiting IS NO FUN. when i put in an offer on the grand apartment, two days before leaving for a week in colombia, my broker was all, i need ALL OF THE THINGS FROM YOU RIGHT NOW and so i scrambled to assemble my financials and sign all of these scary papers (#adulting) while simultaneously trying to pack for a week in south america. i was running around like a blonde chicken with her head cut off. basically, if you can picture me, but with really frizzy hair and no makeup and a crazed expression on my face, you’ll get the idea.

i was frazzled. i was overwhelmed. i was terrified that in gathering all of my financials, and filling out the forms, i’d do the math wrong, or write something incorrect, or just generally, screw it up in some/any way shape or form.

but i did it. i hurried, and i made it happen, and i submitted not just an offer but a counter offer, driving my lovely mortgage broker, doug, crazy in the process (the man shot off about 10 different pre-approval letters in the span of 24 hours).

and then i boarded a plane to cartagena, and in my head, i was all, i totally have this adulting thing under control. I’M A REAL PERSON! i just turned THIRTY, and now i’m buying an APARTMENT, and i’m going to be ON THE BEACH IN COLOMBIA when i get the news that my offer is accepted, and i’m basically just killing life on all levels.

suffice it to say, i got a little ahead of myself. okay, a lot ahead of myself. the week in cartagena went by with no word from eric, my broker. and then i came home, and another week went by, and still, we had no word.

i was definitely, definitively not killing life on all levels. 

then, finally, word came, in what was basically the emotional equivalent of a howler. we had what my broker called “verbal confirmation” of an accepted offer, but as it turned out, no contract could be drawn up, and nothing could be signed, because the sellers were an estate, and they hadn’t done any.of.their.paperwork. as in, legally, they couldn’t even sell the place. they didn’t have ANY of their ducks in a row. THEIR DUCKS WERE ALL OVER THE PLACE.

make way for UNORGANIZED DUCKLINGS!

my broker assured me that this was just “a few weeks” away. it was a “relatively painless process” and we just “needed to be patient.”

you know the phrase hurry up and wait? well, that epitomizes this process. i basically drove myself insane putting in an offer right before i left for vacation because the seller was pretty much threatening to give the apartment away to someone else if i didn’t a) come up 30k and b) come up 30k RIGHT NOW.

so then i did just that, and POOF. they weren’t ready. not even a little bit. not at ALL!

to say this part of the process has been frustrating would be the understatement of the century. it’s not even that i’m a particularly impatient person (though i also wouldn’t exactly say patience is my strong suit). it’s that i hate being in limbo. i feel like someone strung me up in a tree by my ankles and told me they’d be back in 30 seconds, and instead, it’s been an excruciating SIX WEEKS. so here i am, dangling, thinking to myself, “are they ever coming back to get me? is anyone going to let me down from here? HELP!”

yes, i know in the above analogy i’d be long dead by now, but you get my point.

the weight of the wait, man. it’s torture! since i haven’t signed anything, none of this is legally binding. which means that technically, someone else could swoop in and take the grand apartment out from under me at any time.

granted, they’ve promised me this won’t happen, but still. LIMBO, you guys.  i am a worst case scenario type of person, and right now, any and all worst case scenarios are up for debate.

as of now, i’ve moved forward as much as i possibly could. i’ve met and vetted three contractors. i’ve done 3 separate walk throughs. i’ve verbally agreed to sign away an obscene amount of money. i’ve collected all the documents that the bank will need to give me a mortgage. i’ve pinned the SHIT out of dream kitchens on pinterest. i even started an instagram account!

but beyond that, all i can do is wait. my mortgage broker emailed me this afternoon to check, and when i lamented that we were still (shocker!) waiting, he had this to say: in a few months when you own the place – you’ll hardly remember the process!

at least someone’s thinking happy thoughts.