Light at the End of the Carpal Tunnel?

Catch a grizzled old Real estate veteran on the street 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 millennial Realtor armed with iPhone, Bluetooth, e Fax, Docusign, Zip Forms, Cloud Computing and Apps galore – all available at the touch of a finger and he probably doesn’t have time to talk – much less regale you.

Even with all the  “labor-saving” paperless options tech keeps inventing,  most of us are still fumbling with armfuls of escrow files – thicker than War and Peace and the Urantia Book combined. Tomes of real paper so heavy that a chronic new disability syndrome – Realtor’s Elbow – has become the leading cause of increased chiropractic visits in the State of California.

Catch a buyer coming out of an escrow sign-off and you’ll likely be met by a hypnogogic stare and a few unintelligible mumblings about loan documents, escrow provisions and supplemental tax installments. Perhaps you’ll notice a bit of drool trailing down his chin as he clutches his closing file in one hand like a 10 pound dumbbell while his other “writing hand” looks like it’s frozen into the kind of fetal position that can only be achieved by squeezing a cheap plastic pen too tightly for more than an hour.

I suspect we won’t be returning to the good old days of napkin methodology any time soon. My how things have and haven’t changed.

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 (a.k.a. wet signatures).

Ten minutes into the sign-off, as mind-numbing page-after-page is placed before them to read, understand and sign in rapid succession, their eyes begin to glaze over. Their signatures grow erratic. Their guilty consciences begin to nag them: “Should I actually read all these documents that have to do with one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my life? Am I signing my future away without knowing it? Who comes up with all this stuff – the Center for Cosmic Redundancy?”

Slowly, inexorably, most buyers succumb to the glacial onslaught of paperwork. First they take on the likeness of a burned-out bureaucrat in an Anton Chekov short story. Then they plunge into the puddle-like, helpless state of one of Kafka’s characters – cast in a maze-like, myopic nightmare.  In the end their tunnel vision simply gives up and becomes one with their carpal tunnel syndrome.

Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. But you get the point. Real estate is one of those strange post-post-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 likely it becomes that we’ll catch ourselves inside Joseph Heller’s 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 while you discern more of the right stuff from all the written stuff you are going to get inundated with soon enough.


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