Closing time

(Part One here.)

My friends, I have joined a secret society. It hides in plain sight. Some of you are members already. Some of you aspire to be. Others remain proudly free of the constant demands, financial obligations, and emotional binds the society exacts from its members. To the latter of you, I say: congratulations. And goodbye. I’m leaving the realm of the renters and casting my lot with the Venerable Order of Homeowners.

The group’s initiation⎯a hazing process that assesses creditworthiness, strains affability, tests negotiation skills, and sorely tries general stability⎯takes weeks, sometimes months. Every hopeful member runs a gauntlet of realtors, bankers, underwriters, inspectors, tradespeople, and insurers, all of whom must be paid for their trouble.

You know you’ve made it, become an insider, when coworkers you know only in passing sidle up to you and utter the equivalent of a secret handshake:

“So, when do you close?”

“Closing,” like “commencement,” means the opposite of what it seems to denote (and it, too, represents a graduation of sorts). It is the day that the mortgage papers appear, a formidable sum of money is exchanged, and, with a flourish of keys, the hopeful homeowner-to-be becomes a homeowner in fact. It is the first time the “buyer” sits across the table from the “seller,” both of them feeling the fight-or-flight adrenaline of a Major Life Choice. It is signing away your freedom for another sort of enfranchisement.

It is this Friday.

When I tell people, their pupils dilate and they show a (toothy, sort of terrifying) smile as they remember their own first time. Then we begin conversing in the society’s secret language, which I am learning as quickly as I can. It entails ideas and vocabulary I literally never considered before a few months ago. Like a recent immigrant, I cram by studying the way people talk on TV (HGTV, that is): Escrow. Structural engineering. Cladding. Sump pump. Double-hung (heh). Tankless. It’s a whole new world, a parallel universe that was overlaid on my own reality the whole time! Now I can see it. If only there were a decoder ring for the things that still mystify me. But belonging to the secret society requires learning the hard way, it seems.

There’s no turning back now. I hope it’s worth it. Do I dare trust my heart? Because I really, really love this house. I’m in love with my partner in this adventure. I’m in love with our vision of the future. And any love requires a leap of faith.

A fable:
Once upon a time there was a girl. She tried to be careful with her money, but ran up very large credit card bills while trying to balance school, city living, and partying like a twentysomething. Truly, the bills were ridiculous⎯they threatened to bury her.

She made it her mission to get out from under the bills. It took years, but she finished her education, found a good job, struggled to live within her means, got a couple of lucky breaks, and finally sent in the last cathartic payment. Zero balance! She was so proud.

One of the credit card companies sent her a letter. Now that she owed nothing, it cheerfully said, she was finally eligible to cash in the thousands and thousands of “points” she had accumulated in more than ten years of virtually uncontrolled spending.

She had never thought about her “points” before, not really being able to envision a life without credit card debt. Suddenly, she began dreaming about all the things the “points” could buy: obscenely expensive shoes, electronics, rare books, even a fancy trip somewhere. Free money, for real! It became a game, planning how to cash in the points. And while she dutifully paid off her monthly balance, the stack of points grew. Soon, she would blow them all on the kind of splurge she had denied herself for years. All that abstemiousness would finally show some dividends in F-U-N.

Then she decided to buy a house. More debt than she had ever taken on before. Thirty years’ worth of debt. Zowee.

Oh, and the points? She exchanged them for a stack of Home Depot gift cards.

What’s the moral? I’ll have to let you know⎯after closing time.

8 responses to “Closing time”

  1. Rogan says:

    interesting. Susan and I are moving in the opposite direction. Having tied ourselves to a home for the last six years, we are now looking to get out of it and back into a rental. We miss the freedom that comes with being unattached to a house, and more specifically, we need to move to a neighborhood where the public schools aren’t terrible.

  2. LP says:

    Congrats, Rachel! RB and I are going down the same road right now, just waiting to hear when we can close because of a few complications beyond our control. But we’ll probably be moving in the same time you are, by the end of next month if all goes well.

  3. swells says:

    Good luck and congrats to all three couples for pursuing positive change in your living situations! Rachel, I really sympathize with your sense of the “alien world” out there; when we were about to buy a house for the first time (a deal I later backed out of in a freakout, by the way, and rented for another year), part of the freakout was that I kept hearing myself using language like “escrow” and “contractor” and “turnkey” for the first time, and feeling very strongly that I didn’t want to be one of those people who says things like “escrow” and “contractor” and “turnkey.” Once we finally took the plunge, “escrow” was stressful and the house was not “turnkey” so we did have to deal with the nightmare of a “contractor”–all things I would much much rather have avoided, but it’s still worth it! (Except for the many times I fantasize about just calling the landlord.)

  4. Tim says:

    Many congratulations, Rachel! It is the sort of situation to bring about a strange kind of freak out. For so long you’ve wanted to and have been told that you should buy a house, and now that it’s happening it seems so very serious. Plus, you don’t really know what all to expect. Best of luck with the closing, and I’m sure that it’s the right move. If you love the place and buying it is how you can get to live there, then do it!

  5. Rachel says:

    Thanks for the kind words, everybody. Yes, there are lots of good reasons to rent, but the house thing is still so compelling, the dream so potent. I’m teaching a postwar American drama class right now, and it’s amazing how many plays, from A Raisin in the Sun to Oleanna, turn on the question of real estate. For better or worse, it sits smack in the center of the nation’s psyche. No wonder we’re in the collective financial mess we’re in.

    Here goes nothing!

  6. Farrell Fawcett says:

    Congratulations Rachel and welcome to the secret society! I imagine the great posts that will emerge from this. On, and may we ask, who’s carrying who over the threshold? Do the kids still do that?

  7. Ivy says:

    Six weeks into my adventure (with a similarly crazed national psyche about home ownership poking me in the back) I can’t say anything other than go for it. (I STILL don’t know what those words mean, but I think things are done differently here. For instance, the buyer doesn’t have an agent, only the vendor.) I still walk about the property, saying MY weeds, MY bricks, MY spiders and cackling a little. I’m being challenged in my supremacy by the stray cat and her three kittens who are colonising my garden shed, but however. It’s a lovely feeling of triumph that has yet to fade, despite the pressing nature of reality. Good for you!

  8. marleyfan says:

    Congrats! Very exciting.