Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Miami: Buying a House and Then Selling It

During the first two months post, I hinted at some of the problems we had buying a house.  It took us longer than two months to buy a house - we moved into our current place almost a year after moving out of our place in Santa Cruz.  It took us, more or less, a year to buy a house.

It wasn't that there weren't places, either.  There were.  Prices vary quite a bit from neighborhood to neighborhood in ways we did not initially understand, however.  In one neighborhood, say Homestead, in our price range it was legitimate to look for a house with a yard and such.  In another place, say, Cutler Bay, we could afford a townhouse, in others only a small condo . . . and in some neighborhoods, nothing at all.

This, alone, was enough to send us on a merry chase because . . . well, housing practices in Miami are pretty abusive.  Looking for places in Ohio has highlighted the differences, too, even in the ads.  The Ohio houses we have looked at have, almost uniformly, a large number of good, clear, bright pictures.  Most places in Miami are dim and small, often clearly taken with a not particularly good cell phone.

So a house, in Miami, a house that looked good in the pictures, well, when we got there we would find that mushrooms were growing from the ceiling sagging with mold.  One place had been used by squatters and the remnants of their meth use was scattered around.  In another, there was a swimming pool, bright blue in the pictures, that had become a greenish brown pond full of pollywogs.

The good news is that shortly after leaving South Beach, we got a real estate agent who knows his stuff.  I can't sing Albert's praises high enough.  We were also in a studio down in the Design District, at Buena Vista Flats, which was good for what it was.  There was a small but real kitchen, real stove, real oven, real fridge.  The properly was well maintained by the owner-operator of the facility.  The people were mostly great, too.  It was expensive, but all month-to-month stuff in Miami is.

Armed with a talented real estate agent whom we trusted, the biggest problem - outside the condition of the properties, which ranged from okay to awful - was the agents we had to deal with.  When we would go out to look at houses, we would be lucky to be able to get into half of them.  (Recent comparison with Ohio - we tried to look at 11 places and only saw 10 and the real estate agent was really apologetic about not being able to see all 11.)

When we did see places we were interested in, there were always problems.  It was best when the problems manifested themselves early.  So we looked at one place and made a bid based on the comparative market analysis.  Our bid was twenty percent lower than what was asked because that's what the CMA supported.  Our agent talked to the owner and was, in fact, able to convince the owner that the price we gave was a good price . . . at which point he withdrew the house from the market until prices improved.  At least that was over quickly.

We almost managed to buy a place in Cutler Bay - a townhouse.  The problems here seem almost comical.  The owner had done some work to mask the cosmetic damage done by a leaky roof.  And by leaky roof, I mean that there was a foot wide hole in the wood under the ceramic tiles.  Well, we talked the price down to accommodate for having to replace the roof - it was still a pretty good deal.

Here, though, the bank failed us because with a week left in the finance period, they told us we needed to get some papers from the IRS.  Did I mention we had a week left?  The IRS told us it would take between four to six weeks to get the paperwork.  We were days away from closing when we instead had to back out due to the incompetence of the bank.  They'd had months to tell us about that paperwork!  Months!

So, not only did we fail to get the townhouse - which I think would have been better for us, psychologically, though worse for us financially - we spent a thousand dollars getting it appraised and inspected!  That money was totally gone.

Eventually, after looking at many, many duds, we found the place we're in, now.  It has been a cynosure for our time in Miami, certainly, but getting it was a very Miami experience for us.

In particular, we had issues with the title company.  For reasons unknown to us, the seller insisted on using a title company of their choice - which was a little hinky, and our agent said so, but we were pretty desperate.  We expected a fairly straightforward transaction and it should have been.  We had financing, they had a house (well, technically "detached condominium"), what could the hold up be?

Well, in particular, that damn title company.  Part of their duties were getting the house surveyed.  Our financing would fall through without a survey, due to Miami being in the path of so many hurricanes, the lender wanted to know if the place needed flood insurance.  So, a survey needed to be done to determine if we are in a flood plain.

Still, straightforward.  The title company would call up a licensed contractor and they'd come down and survey the house.  It happens all the time in Miami.

After about a week of this failing to occur, I called the title company.  I was assured that the surveyor would be out in a couple of days.  A couple of days passed and no survey.  So, I called again.

I was told, once again, that the surveyor would be by shortly.  I didn't believe this so I asked for the name of the company doing the work so I could confirm the appointment.  I had to threaten the guy with coming down and camping in their office to get the name and number of the company.

Then, figuring there was a really good shot the guy was shining me on, I waited for a couple of hours - thinking that, having heard my resolve, if he hadn't scheduled a survey that he would jump to do so.  Then I called and . . . there was a very helpful woman who confirmed that there was, in fact, no appointment to conduct the survey.  She said that, perhaps, it hasn't gotten through their system.  She called me a couple of hours later and confirmed that, no, no appointment.

Translation - this asshole just flat out lied, repeatedly, about something we absolutely needed to do to buy the house.  Then, when caught in a lie, didn't do anything about it.  Time was getting short and he was failing to do something both required and simple.

I want to emphasize while all of this was going on, I was crazy due to the psych problems I talked about in my previous post.  I was on the wrong medication.  It was making me a zombie with an emotional range between nothing and awful, heavily tilted to the awful.

While this is my story, it clearly intersects with Adrienne's, and she was having a rough time of adjusting to Miami, too.  She was at a new job, returning to physics education research after her time in applied mathematics, which was causing us considerable stress about the future - she would have to slip in research between her admin duties at FIU and she was getting resistance from her boss.  Additionally, any university is a large bureaucracy - at the time, FIU had 45,000 students and now has something like 57,000 - and bureaucracies in Miami seem to be uniformly troubled with bad service and incompetence.  I'm saying this wasn't easy for her, either.

After the business with being lied about the survey, I broke down, to my considerable shame. I passed this ugly business with the title company to Adrienne because I couldn't handle this authority figure (the title company could sink the house deal, after all) who was flat out lying to me and failing to do the basics of his job.

I like to think that I had softened them up, because Adrienne only had to contact them one additional time to get the survey done.

The problems with the title continued after we had the house.  Part of what the title company did was title insurance.  Well, the title search came up clear, but the title company missed that the previous owners had a thousand dollars in unpaid sanitation fees.  The city contacted us, threatened us with a collection agency and the attendant hit to our credit.  The person handling our case - this one guy, Mike - shined Adrienne on about that, too.  He told us, variously, that it was getting done and that the title company didn't have to do it.

After weeks of his lies, Adrienne finally got through to the lawyer who ran the title agency.  We were assured it was all a misunderstanding - which I consider bullshit manipulation, I fully believe that hiring an asshole like Mike was intended to make it so uncomfortable for us to get the insurance we paid for that we would pay the bill ourselves; I believe the lawyer did this intentionally - and it did get done.

I admit this is all a little hazy, because it was around this time that I was diagnosed as being bipolar and was taking valproic acid and then lithium, so I was all over the place.  I was literally suicidal.  I honestly believe the only reason I didn't kill myself is because in addition to making me suicidal, the drug cocktail I was on also stole all of my energy.  I was too mentally and physically exhausted to go through the effort of killing myself with certainty - because I was too mentally wasted to buy a gun, I did not shoot myself, in other words.

Fortunately, that was the last dealing we had with the title company.  Through copious use of recommendations and having learned what businesses it was safe to patronize, after we got the house we didn't need to interact with Miami nearly so much.  Once we had a house, we had a place to hide and we could settle down into a schedule designed to minimize contact with Miami.  So buying the house was a turning point for us.

If we had to do it again?  I don't think we would.  We would have just gotten an apartment and we would live with that.  Sure, it means our place in Ohio will be financed under MUCH better terms than we have in Miami due to the financial sense of buying this house, which will continue to save us money in the future, but the damage that the house search did - from having us stay in studios for a year and the trouble that caused, psychologically, and the treachery of Miami's housing market, which has continuing physical and mental effects - was not worth it.

To be fair, selling the house has been better - or, I think, we are in a better place.  Instead of living in a studio apartment, we have the house, and we own it.  We have had years to learn how to live in Miami without too much trouble.  Adrienne has a job in Ohio and we are moving, regardless of whether the house sells (which, of course, it will).  We are starting out with an agent we trust, which also helps.  We're just in a better spot, all around.

Still . . . it is Miami.  I'm not going to say we got lucky and found a buyer in a couple of weeks.  That happened because we did our research, we knew the value of the house and sold it for its value.  Additionally, I worked to set the presentation of the house to show it in its best light - I provided clear, well-lit pictures showing how cute the house is and they weren't lies, I packed away a lot of stuff to make it appear more open and to allow the buyers to see things clearly.  I made sure everything smelled nice when I showed it to people, and beforehand I practiced what I would say to sell the house.  Additionally, it really is a very, very good deal, given how land prices are likely to continue to soar in this neighborhood as it continues to gentrify due to the expansion of the Wynwood Arts District and Edgewater.  So we got a buyer quickly, I feel, because we worked for it in ways most Miami sellers at this price point simply do not.  We got the sales contract signed at a reasonable price.  It felt win-win to me.

However, like I said, it's still Miami and the buyers and their agent are Miami people.  The first harbinger of incompetence was the inspection.

While the appraiser showed up in a timely fashion, the inspector didn't arrive until the next to last day of the inspection period.  I thought that was odd, but there isn't that much wrong with the house, so whatever.  (There is ALWAYS something wrong with a house, stuff the current owner doesn't even know about, or stuff they live with and barely notice, that will get caught by the inspector.)  The contract was as-is, so we just figured that if there was nothing seriously wrong with the house (there is not) that they would live with the inspection report.

The last day of the inspection period, though, their agent got into a passive-aggressive email discussion with Albert trying to bully him into getting us to lower the price.  He handled this one his own, mostly, because at no point did she make specific requests of us or give an addendum to him - the buyer's agent just kept suggesting that "something needs to be done" about what the inspector found.  Albert agreed that something should be done and the buyers were welcome to do those things when they closed.

The exchange was just weird and incompetent.  We were willing to entertain either doing a little work to fix some problems or lower the price a bit.  All they needed to do was deliver an addendum in the specified time and we would have negotiated.  Instead of that, there was a passive-aggressive email exchange with our agent that went nowhere, because at no time did they make a legitimate request based on the inspection.

Then, the day after the end of the inspection period, we got this letter "to whom it may concern" - not even naming us! - making a number of demands.  And outrageous ones at that.  Things like $300 for replacing a dryer duct.  Every little thing that the inspector had found wrong, they demanded the absolute top dollar that the inspector put on the report.

Except . . . it was too late.  The contract they signed sells the house as-is.  Since they can withdraw during the inspection period, for any reason, and keep their earnest money (the money you have to put up front to show you're serious about buying and not wasting the seller's time) during that time they have some negotiating power.  Sure, they would have to eat the expense of the appraiser and inspector (around a thousand dollars) but they could have cancelled the contract.  After the inspection period?  Well, read the contact, bab-ee!  It says, clearly, that if there is no cancellation or addendum by the end of the inspection period that the buyers have waived all their rights to complain about inspection issues.

So, our agent forwarded the letter, of course.  I wrote him an email saying that we won't do anything because the inspection period is passed and we really hated the hectoring tone of the letter, from the passive-aggressive "to whom it may concern" (when their agent full well knows our names) to the overpriced demands.

Well, they kept at it, kept bugging our agent to have things fixed as per the inspection report.  Eventually, I said to him that we refuse to negotiate outside of the contract, period - that the only things we will accept are proper addendums to the contract issued through regular channels.  That was the end of it, at least insofar as the inspection report went.

Then, on the last day of the finance period (the period of time that the buyers can cancel the contract and keep their earnest money due to failure to secure financing for the house), they send us the appraisal - which they had been sitting on for two and a half weeks, in which the appraised value was lower than the agreed upon terms.  This was incredibly relevant because the bank will not give financing for more than the appraised value of the home.

Because it was a legitimate issue, we agreed to alter the contract to the appraised value.  We are still making a lot of money, so we agreed to the change in order to assist the buyers secure financing.  We are not irrational people!  But it was at the absolute last minute in a way that was totally unnecessary.

(I suspect it was part of the buyer's agent to try to lower the price even more.  I suspect the plan was to get us to agree to fix up a bunch of stuff and/or give credits to lower the cost of the house and then hit us with the appraisal.  Which means she was either trying to scam us or is incompetent, or both, no need to pick just one!)

They also asked for extensions which - with some hesitation - we gave.  Apparently, the buyers had to contact the IRS for paperwork the bank needed and needed more time to insure the IRS could get it to them.  We understood, having lost a place due to similar issues.

Well, the extended finance period was about to come to an end and we had heard nothing.  On the very last day, apparently they got into gear to contact the bank in order to get it done.  We received a letter confirming financing at 3pm on the last day of the extended period.

Except . . . well, the letter we got only has three pages out of five.  It is incomplete.  There is no way for us to know what is on the other two pages.  It is possible - improbable, I know, but possible - that the other pages contain information that voids the contract, such as proof that the buyer has a history of fraud, for instance.  I suspect it doesn't have a lot of legitimacy as proof of financing.

The buyers also threatened to cancel the contract after giving us proof of financing if we didn't extend the finance period.  This was just weird.  They had already given us proof of financing, so they couldn't cancel the contract without losing their earnest money.  We said "no" and it turned out to be a hollow threat, unsurprisingly.

That really should have been it, but there's more!  The buyers haven't gotten mortgage insurance, which they need to get to secure financing for real.  They have had months to get this, to contact the homeowners association to get the documents needed for title insurance.  I can't imagine this is anything other than sheer, unadulterated laziness.

With less than three weeks left before closing, we have no word that they have started a title search (which will come up squeaky clean, fortunately).  It's like they're not taking this seriously, even though if they fuck up now they'll forfeit their earnest money.

I suspect that they'll get everything done at the last minute, but it is just another example of the bullying bullshit and incompetent performance of people in Miami.  This time, it isn't crushing us with depression and anxiety - though there has been some of both - because we're in a better spot, but it reminds us why we want to get the hell out of here.

There are still more to come!  Stay tuned!

PS: Literally as I was posting this, I got an email from my realtor asking me to contact the homeowner's association and management company because the buyer's agent and banker had been unable to get the required insurance information to complete the mortgage insurance.

Mind you, this is their job.  It is up to the buyer to do stuff like get their mortgage insurance.

So I contacted the management company and the HOA board of directors and . . . well, I think that I've got it sorted out, but it's hard to tell because the buyer's agent is so goddamn incompetent!  She has asked for our help and been unclear about who she's spoken to, what she's asked for and other details that will make it easier for me to help her and her clients.

I told Adrienne that all of this is like being in a group project in a class where you're the only person who cares what grade you get.  The vexation is almost constant.


  1. Wow. For you to go through all of this, and even accept some of your buyer's requests, must have been overwhelming for you. I hope you don't end up being disillusioned with the whole home-buying process, at least in Miami. The property market is quite competitive, moreso in South Florida. Some buyers and sellers would have to resort to every trick in the book to get things done. Let's see if things turn out for the better!

    Leonard George @ Remax Crest Realty

  2. The journey of buying a house is never without stress, isn't it? Sorry to hear of your struggles with the meds in addition to the back-and-forth with the HOA and board of directors. Sounds like it's for the best that you got out of there when you did. Best of luck in the new place!