(This Column First Appeared in August of 2004)
Catch a grizzled old Real estate veteran and he might regale you with stories about the good old days when he bought his first house for $19,000 and the whole process consisted of a firm handshake and a contract written on a cocktail napkin at the old Catalyst happy hour.
Catch a glimpse of a “modern” Realtor armed with laptop, PDA, cell phone, pager and 8 different contact numbers and he probably doesn’t have time to talk – much less regale you. Even with all his high-tech “laborsaving” devices he is still fumbling with an armful of escrow files – each thicker than War and Peace and the Urantia Book combined. Tomes of paper so heavy that a new disability syndrome has emerged in our illustrious profession – Realtor’s Elbow – purported to be the leading cause of chronic chiropractic visits in the State of California.
Catch a buyer coming out of an escrow signoff and you’re likely to be met by a hypnogogic stare and unintelligible mumblings about APR’s, Impound Accounts, Supplemental Tax installments and Mello Roos Districts. Perhaps there’s a bit of drool trailing down his chin while he clutches his closing file in one hand like an unwieldy 10 pound dumbbell while his other “writing hand” is frozen into a strange position that can only come from squeezng a cheap plastic pen too tightly for more than an hour.
My how things have changed. I don’t think we’ll be returning to the good old days of napkin methodology any time soon.
I’ve seen it hundreds of times. Buyers arrive for their sign-offs in good spirits, convinced they have already slogged through the hard part of buying a home, ready for the birth-like catharsis of home ownership sealed by their own official John Hancocks.
Ten minutes into the sign-off, as numbing paper after piece of paper is put before them to read, understand and sign in rapid succession, their eyes start to glaze over. Their signatures grow erratic. Their inner guilt starts to assert itself: “Should I actually read all these documents and statements and disclosures and explanations that have to do with one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my life? Am I signing my life away without knowing it?”
Slowly, inexorably, these would-be home buyers succumb to the glacial onslaught of mountains of paperwork, First transformed into the equivalent of a burned-out bureaucrat in an Anton Chekov story and then graduating on to tunnel vision and carpal tunnel syndrome before finally plunging headlong into the puddle-like state of one of Kafka’s crazed characters caught in the labyrinthian hell of a myopic nightmare.
Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. But you get the point. Real estate is one of those strange modern intersections (like medicine, insurance, the law) where well-meaning consumer protection, obsessive litigious tendencies and paranoid cover-your-ass-props all meet in one inglorious orgy of time and paperwork. The ultimate irony of our infinitely less than perfect system is exactly this: The more documents there are to read, the less people actually do read and understand for themselves. The more we try to protect ourselves from ourselves, the more immersed we become inside a dangerous Catch 22.
But don’t give up hope. Call me or e mail and I might be able to give you a few tips on how to get through the sign off process a little more gracefully and discern more of the right stuff from all the written stuff you are going to get inundated with soon.