Paper Chase

Dear Mortgage Broker: please know that you’ve gotten all from us that you possibly can. I think there’s an old statement savings book from 1974 that I still haven’t sent you, and there’s always our birth and marriage certificates. But the well is dry, Honey. We really haven’t got any more information to send you.

We are heading into the final stages for the purchase of our new home. Like all of you who’ve been through this yourself a few times, I’m rediscovering how it’s never a smooth sailing process. Unless you’re rich, of course. Which we’re not.

Oh, the horrors of being so middle class.

Lest you be concerned, nothing dire or foreboding is occurring thankfully. Rather, it’s all just part and parcel of what one must endure in order to get a mortgage approved. In fact just prior to the revision of this particular post, we were notified that an agreement for a closing date has been cut with the sellers. So apparently the mortgage is actually approved. The end is in sight.

All things being equal, this might even be the easiest home purchase I’ve ever experienced. But the proceedings are so paperwork intensive that it can end up being a soul-crushing experience for the uninitiated. Which is precisely how it’s been for Gorgeous. It’s the first time that she’s ever purchased a home in her own name, and the relentless and repetitive need for documentation is making her weary. If our mortgage broker contacts us for one more financial item, she might curl up into the fetal position.

Not everyone has to suffer through such indignities, of course. Some who walk amongst us are able to pay for a home completely from cash and are immediately relieved from having to come into contact with mortgage issues. With money in hand, they go straight to the title company for closing. To those who grace such rarefied circles, I tip my hat in respectful acknowledgment. You insufferable gits.

For the past several weeks, we have been providing to our broker bank statements, income tax returns, pension annuity stubs, and my 401(k) balance. Basically any and all financial paperwork which the bank and underwriter will then study to determine our credit worthiness.

We’ve also been asked to furnish a snapshot of our current income from my part-time job and Gorgeous’ home business. The latter actually provided some comic relief because it means that we had a conversation with a financial authority figure about her job. Gorgeous is a psychic medium, which can make exchanges kind of interesting with people who are “bottom liners” such as accountants, financial advisors, and mortgage brokers. If you like silence anyway. It’s where the rubber meets the road in terms of value judgments.

Conversationally speaking, what transpires immediately afterwards is usually a long pregnant pause followed by the very succinct response of “Oh.” Or if not that then we’re sometimes treated to the more colorful but still veiled, “Howinteresting!

Until they start to actually pore over our paperwork, I always assume the “DENY” stamp on their desk is within easy reach.

Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Also requested for official review is my divorce decree and the later alimony revision I negotiated with my ex-wife. That’s the other thing about applying for a mortgage — your life comes under scrutiny by complete strangers. They say it’s only about the bottom line, but I have to believe that they’re also making personal judgments about you. Full disclosure: were I in their shoes, I would too.

I took an early distribution from my 401(k) to add to our down payment. Though I’m not yet age 59 1/2, I am avoiding the 10% IRS penalty courtesy of the “Age 55 Rule.” This rule allows for a distribution from a qualified retirement plan to those who were at least 55 years old in the year that they retired (see the specific IRS Rule or this link for a plain language explanation). The distribution is still subject to federal income taxes, though. So I coordinated ahead of time with our accountant to determine how much to request and also how much to hold back for next year’s taxes.

But in spite of all this preparation and transparency, I still have to provide documentary proof to our mortgage broker for where I am presently holding onto the above funds. Unless your last name is Trump, you have to disclose everything. There’s no hiding of your money allowed.

Of course, lost in all of these dry matters is the excitement and anticipation that one is supposed feel when buying a new home. The enthusiasm of new surroundings, sounds, smells, furnishings, routines, etc., has been overtaken by the drudgery of constant calls for more and more paperwork. Where just a few short weeks ago we were sitting on the couch sipping glasses of wine and glancing through Wisteria catalogs together, lately we’ve instead been arguing about the merits of signing in black or blue pen for documents to be scanned and returned. And speaking of scanning, why is it that suddenly only my laptop is the one which works properly for that onerous task ? I smell a conspiracy of matrimonial dimensions here.


I had assumed that all haggling with the sellers was completed after we came to a quick agreement on the purchase price, and then briefly later over a few repairs found during the home inspection.

But it turns out that we each have different dates in mind for closing. This has turned out to be the hardest (and silliest) back and forth yet, mainly because we’ve learned that, sadly, the sellers are getting a divorce. Unbeknownst to us, each negotiation has apparently been fodder for acrimonious exchanges between the two of them. Who knew that the grout we asked to be repaired in the bathroom tub was probably emblematic of matters bigger than, well, the tub itself? Gorgeous decided that the lighting of sage should be commenced immediately after the movers complete their work next month. Note to self: cover the smoke detectors for a few minutes.

Anyway, as this post was being written, we came to an agreement on a closing date for the end of this month.

So, dear mortgage broker lady. It seems our short but intense relationship with you is coming to a close. I’ll miss the 5:00pm cocktail hour interruptions to send you savings account snapshots (designed to ensure that I haven’t transferred the down payment money to an offshore fund still managed by Bernie Madoff). But the well is indeed dry. I’ve only my elementary school attendance record left to share with you if you want it. Let me know.

Until next time…