Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole, Through a Worm Hole and Out an…

A totally off-topic rant about a recent experience I had refinancing my mortgage.  Way too long but so was the experience.  Grab a nice glass of wine or a cup of tea, settle into your comfy chair and feel my pain.

It began innocently enough
One Friday, late in August I was moved to contact Bank of America (I’ve been a loyal customer for over 15 years) to see if it made any sense to refinance my mortgage. A chipper Loan Officer with an unusual name but a frank demeanor informed me that yes, indeed it did. They could offer me a great rate and I could save significant money. Yay! She did, however, with ominous undertones, warn me that there were many time-sensitive aspects to the process and so beware, I would need to hop to when asked. Being an embarrassingly organized individual and an eternal optimist I thought, Bring It On! And I embarked on a crazy adventure.

As I said, this was a Friday. I happened to be working from home that day and had spent some break time chatting with the bank. Within a few minutes she forwarded to me, via email, a list of documents that I needed to provide her with…by no later than MONDAY! Sheesh! These included an identification document required by the Patriot Act (for what reason I could not fathom), permission to access my credit history, tax returns, pay stubs, all the usual stuff AND a Letter of Explanation (LOE in the vernacular) regarding the nickname I’d happened to mention in conversation, the house I owned and sold before purchasing my current home, and for some reason a job I held at a bank between 1992 and 1996. Okay. I could handle all this.

On Monday I hummed as the fax machine gobbled down the papers I fed it. Later on that day the woman with the unusual name asked me for a document called “Terms of Withdrawal” regarding an IRA I own. Not knowing what that was nor able to find the form online, I contacted my broker, who also had never heard of this document. I panicked until I realized that the document was about tax penalties for early withdrawal, prior to one’s 59½ birthday. Being, ahem, just past that date (love being happy that I’m old) I argued, and I mean argued, that this didn’t make sense since I wouldn’t be eligible for this penalty. The woman said, hmmm, she’ll present it to “Underwriting."

Soon after that my contact at BofA changed to a fast talking, and perpetually frantic Helen. This is when things started going from weird to weirder. First it was the call to explain (in a LOE) cash deposit of $200 to my savings account. Why the hell did I deposit $200 cash in August? From her account, it didn’t really matter what I said as long as it was in a LOE and that I signed it. She’d send it to Underwriting. Underwriting again. Then there was a check for the same amount they saw that I wrote every other week. What was that “encumbrance”? I was told I needed to divest myself of that obligation to make this all work. Did I mention that I have a FICO score of 830, have (according to Zillow) approximately $500,000 in equity in my home, longevity at my current place of employment, a healthy salary, additional sources of income and excellent credit history? My loan to income ratio wasn’t good enough, apparently. And the offending checks? My bi-weekly check to the blessed woman who comes and cleans my house. Do I need to fire her in order to make this deal work? Again, the Underwriter would decide not just the fate of my refi, but apparently my housekeeper’s!

It seems he or she did decide, because I got a closing date for a Friday afternoon in mid-October. A positive note: no need to trudge to the bank, they send someone to your house!

I must digress a tad and say that from the get go I had told anyone who would listen that I had just signed a trust agreement (more evidence of advancing age) and that the title to the house must be put in the trust. Everyone agreed that was fine. I faxed the entire 40 pages of the trust to the bank, wondering who would be privy to one of my most intimate documents. On the Thursday before closing I received the HUD document for review from harried Helen. No instruction. No discussion. Of course, I’d done this before, so it didn’t bother me in particular. I took a look at the document. I immediately noticed that the name of the borrower on the document read my name, and not the trust’s name. I quickly emailed Helen who responded back, not to worry, this document was different from the loan doc. The loan docs would reflect the name of the trust.

On Friday an efficient and experienced notary arrived at my home. An ambassador for the title company, she had little regard for the current state of any bank’s mortgage department. I told her about some of the hoops I needed to jump through and she commiserated, saying that this was true for all of the banks these days.

We breezed through the paperwork until we hit our first snag. Did I know that I was to need to provide a cashier’s check for my first installment of my taxes and prepay a year’s homeowner’s insurance? Well, yes and no. Yes, I knew I needed to pay it but no, no one mentioned a cashier’s check. Not to worry, I could send it via wire transfer. Phew. We continued along quite swimmingly, my hand cramping as I signed document after document until we came to the Deed of Trust…without my trust named as the borrower. Dead stop. I emailed Helen. She called me immediately. She never heard of a trust, despite having assured me that morning that the docs would be in the name of the trust. After about 15 minutes of “yes you did” and “no I didn’t” and objections from Helen that the trust would need to be notarized because it had been signed more than 90 days prior to closing (it hadn’t), we packed it in and I agreed to resend the trust agreement and Helen agreed that this time they’d get the documents right.

Uh, is re-closing a word?
I emailed a copy of the trust that night and asked Helen in two emails and one phone message to please confirm receipt. No response. I would lose my rate if the loan did not close by October 18 and the days were ticking by fast. Feeling desperate, I found an “At Bank of America, our goal is to ensure you are extremely satisfied with the service you receive. If for any reason you are not satisfied, please contact my manager…or by email at…” at the bottom of Helen’s email signature. I shot off to her supervisor an email that I thought might light a fire under Helen. I never heard back from that manager so I guess they’re not all that goal oriented over there. But I did eventually hear back from Helen. She had received the trust and all was well. On October 12 I received a call from the title company and they would be able to send someone out the next day. On Thursday, October 13 I closed. Hallelujah!

Ah, but it wasn’t over, yet
On Tuesday afternoon as I was heading in to grab a bite at a nearby restaurant to eat before an evening work obligation, I received yet another breathless call from Helen (does this woman work on a treadmill?). Could I please provide her with the paperwork I filled out to arrange for the wire transfer to the title company as well as some sort of proof that the funds left my account. I asked, were the funds received? Oh yes, they were received. Well then, why, I asked, why was this necessary? Paper trail, she said. Paper trail. By this time I have created more than a paper trail, I’ve blazed a paper super highway! When did she need this? Immediately, she panted. I told her she’d have to wait until the morning.

First thing in the morning I dutifully complied, as promised. I asked that she confirm receipt. She did. But now she needed all transactions from that account back to August 1. Explanation being that she needed all of the paper work (now historic Route 66) to date back to the first of August. This time I asked if the loan had yet been funded. Helen’s response was terse “I need these to fund.” Hmm, I wondered. Was that a yes or a no? Not quite sure I reluctantly selected the report from the MSSB website to pull transactions back to August 1 and faxed them to Helen. Had this fed the beast? Apparently, no! There were yet more transactions on this report for which they needed yet another LOE!

Why I made you read this
Egad. I had already signed on every dotted line, provided a fingerprint, explained the fact that I have a nickname, have owned a house before, was employed by a bank for four years, revealed that I am lazy enough to require a woman to clean my home, explained every deposit to every account that they have access to, no matter how small the amount, revealed my most intimate requests at the end of life, and all at the drop of a hat. And now this. And what were these transfers? One was to add to my own meager retirement savings. I’m sorry to say that it was a mere $100 to help me in my dotage. The other was the repayment of a loan to my daughter who asked me to front her some money for a plane ticket to visit her boyfriend who currently lives in Kenya.

As I sent over the LOE, I remembered that Patriot Act form I filled out which caused me to wonder. Will his living in Kenya raise a red flag? Will her non-US resident status indicate that I have ill intent and am hence deemed a credit risk? Perhaps they’ll link me to one of those Nigerian email scams.

But more to the point, at every single turn through this mangled process I have complied immediately to every demand. I have been able to drop what I am doing and pull a statement from the Internet. I have been able to put my fingers on a statement or find a deposit receipt from my files to jog my rapidly disappearing gray cells. But what if I hadn’t? What if I didn’t have this desk job? What if I worked at a call center, for let’s say Bank of America? Would I have the luxury of being able to drop everything and comply? What if I didn’t have a computer? What if I worked for a cable company and spent my days in a cherry picker with my hands on a different set of electronic devices? What if I worked two jobs and my down time was to sleep? What if I wasn’t so anally organized? What if I didn’t have a college education or have been down this road a few times before? What if English wasn’t my native language?

What happens to the poor schmucks who are just trying to do the right thing? No wonder there’s a backlog of mortgages being worked out. No wonder people aren’t able to buy a house or refinance their mortgage. Even under the best of circumstances this is hardly a sport for the faint of heart!

Post Script
Every day I think it’s over but I’m afraid it never will be. Six days after signing my loan docs I received another call from the title company. Apparently I forgot to sign the second page of one of their ten zillion documents. They wanted to send somebody over that night? I’m having a little dinner party, I responded. They, at least, were humane in their demand. They’re happy to come by my office first thing the next morning. I said yes. Come on over.

The notary came. We’re best friends now. The document I was told was something that I had forgotten to sign was a document neither the notary nor I had seen before. It was a certification of my trust. For the record, it wasn’t anything my attorney had prepared. It was something for the bank…a paper trail, leading down a rabbit hole.