Friday, September 12, 2008

We're Staying

It's official, we're staying in Charlotte. Bought a house, and there's no turning back. It's a beautiful home with an outrageously beautiful yard that will keep us crazy busy. The entire process was surreal and Kevin and I are still sorta waiting for the "home-buying fraud police" to show up and tell us it's all a big mistake. In the meantime, we're absolutely making the most out of it.

Before we left Toronto, Kevin contacted a mortgage broker here in Charlotte and told her we were planning to move, and asked what we needed to do to qualify for another home. Even though we bought a house outright in Canada, mortgage lenders in the U.S. didn't really care, especially since we hadn't had any established credit here for several years. We thought our chances were slim to none. The mortgage broker/fairy gave us a step by step plan to follow, wished us luck and most likely kissed us off as time wasters.

Well our first year in Charlotte was a struggle and financially our plans to buy a home were put on the shelf. We were happy to clear up all of our debts after the sale of our house in Toronto and took the rest of the year to scale back and re-evaluate our situation. It was sobering, humbling and even a little humiliating. Scratch that...just humbling.

After landing a good p/t job here in Charlotte and with other side assignments coming in on a regular basis, we decided to call the mortgage fairy once again. Or, Kevin did anyhow. I just signed papers and handed over pay stubs and continued on my merry(?) way. Kevin's tenacious, well-tempered personality is perfect for wading through the mountain of paperwork that is a mortgage application. He quietly gathered, copied, documented and "batched" our things and couriered them away. We then sat back and waited.

What were we hoping for? Just a reality check and a sense of where we stood. What did we get? "You guys can pre-qualify." For a hut? We were both working several p/t jobs and had established more credit here, but never did we think it would happen so soon. It just so happened the mortgage fairy is married to a fantastic realtor (not going to use the word fairy here; too great a chance for a major misunderstanding) who just happened to be free that very weekend. Whoa!

Now during our first year here we met some wonderful friends, a wife and husband who happen to also be a writer and musician respectively. And fun people too. They live in a quiet, lush neighborhood adjacent to a creek and surrounded by tons of greenery. They also happen to live next door to an amazing modern house that sat on the market for months and months and months. Every Sunday we went over for brunch we would take an extra five minutes and pull into the driveway next door and peek inside the expansive front windows. And sigh.

It was time to set up appts. to look at houses and our friends sadly informed us that the house next door was already under contract. Sigh. Out of curiosity, I had our realtor run a check on the listing to see what it went for and when it was closing. Well the mortgage fairy must have done some talking to her mother superior because the deal had fallen through and the house was back on the market. (Cue a chorus of "Hallelujahs" here) Guess where we went first?

It was everything we'd imagined and more. It was more spacious. More groovy, and more intriguing. Oh, and more stinky. Turns out the previous owners had dogs who took it upon themselves to use the upstairs carpet as their very own backyard. But other than that, it was perfect. Just to be fair, we did see a couple of other houses but every house kept being compared to our wonder house and so we decided we should make an offer.

Turns out the house had gone into foreclosure and the bank was more than happy to have someone take it off their hands. One counter later, we had an agreement. We still had a few hoops to jump through with former tax files to provide, but we were on our way. At that point we went through the motions of a home inspection but in our hearts we knew that despite anything they reported short of it's teetering on absolute destruction, we were game. A good report came back and our closing date was scheduled. Just like that. Whoa, again.

Telling our friends and family we were buying a house was fun. We'd plan who to call and then play "Guess their reaction!" Turns out everyone was equally surprised, especially after spending a year listening to us moan about money woes and debating whether we should stay in Charlotte at all.

Of course the strangest part of all of this was the actual closing. We quietly shuffled into a swanky uptown law office and met the lawyer who was professional yet approachable. She ushered us into the conference room where a stack of papers lay waiting. A side note: Our first closing on our home in New Orleans was a disaster - long, trying and definitely not hospitable despite buying it from our then next door neighbor. We didn't know what to expect.

Instead of waiting for the mortgage fairy and the realtor, we decided to take up our lawyer on her suggestion to get started. Not a sound could be heard except for the shuffling of papers as we signed and signed our life away. Every now and then I would look up and scan the room just to make sure those fraud guys weren't going to show up. In record time, it was a done deal. We now owned our wonder home. We came, we signed, we conquered.

You know that IKEA commercial for their winter sale when the woman shouts "Start the car!" to her husband as she's running out the door? I totally wanted to shout that as we were exiting the lawyer's office. But, the surreal moment was lost when the paralegal called out "Mr and Mrs Clark, wait a minute." S&!* They found us.

Not really. We had forgot to sign a whatever, whatever paper saying we didn't see any signs of termites on the property. We graciously signed our last form, said goodbye to everyone and bolted for the door. Kevin and I both let out a whoop as we unlocked the car door. This time we really did do it!

Buying a home has been satisfying in so many ways, but especially in providing a sense of stability. We now had some definite plans for the future that include Charlotte. We're staying!