Bureaufrenzy: A Trip to the Embassy in Paris

If you’re wondering why the blog has been so quiet as of late, the last couple of months have been very, very difficult in so many ways, but I’m finally starting to feel de-traumatized and able to process everything Stuart and I have been through. Here’s one story that happened at the end of July…

The sale of my house, which I wrote about in other posts, was set to close on July 28th. Stuart and I had been talking about what to do if anything went wrong and the sale fell through. Since I was in default simply for no longer living in the house, if it didn’t sell, I would be facing foreclosure. We decided that, should that be the case, it would be best for me to return to the states.

Now, I just happened to have a return flight as part of a round-trip ticket…just in case. This flight was for July 31st, about a week before my visa would be up and just enough days after the closing to know whether or not I’d need to use it. Here’s what happened…

With the days ticking away, the Thursday before the closing, I was told that documents were being mailed overnight which would need to be notarized. Hmm…so much for closing Monday. That’s not so good, thinks I. Where will I find an English-speaking notary in the country, let alone someone to translate all the documents so quickly? The good news is that before I left the US, I gave my sister power of attorney. I could just have everything sent to her and signed on my behalf. Easy! Problem solved!

Not so fast. The lawyer then thought to ask if I was married. She informed me that according the  state law, Stuart would then also have to sign the documents. Great. That meant everything would indeed need to be sent to France for us to sign. We should have everything by Friday…or was it Saturday? I can’t remember. So, our next step was to make an appointment at the US Embassy in Paris, a five-hour drive. We learned that they handle notarizations there. Appointments must be made online, and while they had appointments, they were all after the new closing date of the house and the date of my return flight…July 31st. This also happened to be the last date the buyer’s would have funding. Talk about a pressure-cooking experience! I emailed the embassy requesting an emergency notarization wondering whether we’d hear anything before the weekend.

So, while we “waited to see” on that, we tried to find another alternative. We visited the local mairie (like a mayor, basically), but they explained they couldn’t witness our signatures without knowing what we were signing and hence we were back to needing expensive translations.

Fortunately, the consulate came through with an emergency appointment on the following Monday in the morning. In the morning? With a five-hour drive? Thus began the search for relatively inexpensive accommodations in Paris. If we arrived Sunday, we could figure out where we needed to be the following morning and also plot out our journey to the nearest Fed Ex so we could mail everything immediately. We were feeling pretty good until the confirmation email from the embassy arrived stating that anyone not named on the appointment would not be allowed to enter. I had no idea about this and had made the appointment in my name only. My only option was to email the embassy and add Stuart to the appointment crossing our fingers it wasn’t too late, seeing as it was the weekend and the appointment was first thing Monday. If it was too late, we’d be going to Paris for nothing. And boy, would I have fun explaining that to my realtor. Fortunately again, we received confirmation from the embassy. I have to say, I was impressed.

So off we went to Paris. We found a nice AirB&B apartment to stay in. We figured out the metro, found everything, got our papers signed, made copies of everything and had it all in the mail by late afternoon Monday. Time to breathe! I don’t think I’d taken in any oxygen since the preceding Friday.

Now, Stuart and I had been discussing the new closing date and my return ticket July 31st and whether I should still go back or what. If anything happened and the house didn’t close, I’d need to go back anyway. Did we really want to buy another ticket if that happened? Besides, at this point, we’d been talking about all the difficulties we were facing in France and whether or not we really saw ourselves living there long-term. We spent the remaining few days deliberating this very difficult decision. In the end, my bags were packed, and I’d be returning to the states to petition for Stuart’s immigration.

The morning of the new closing date, the same morning of my flight, leaving my beloved behind for an unknown period of separation, going to I didn’t even know where with my five suitcases, I got an email from my realtor. Due to a mathematical error, instead of walking away with $1500, I would actually owe money at the closing. EXCUSE ME? AND YOU’RE TELLING ME THIS NOW??? Needless to say, at this point, I was a nervous wreck with no remaining mental capacity to think straight. I replied with a rather acidic email, and to my realtor’s credit, he did the right thing and gave me a credit. To top it off, it turned out that the bank had miscalculated also, and that I had paid off more than they realized. So I ended up making more than I originally thought.

Can you hear the rattling marbles in my head?

Oh,but the fun didn’t stop there. But I’ll leave the story of leaving France for another time.

 

 

 

Dispelling the Myths about Habitat for Humanity

I finally feel free to write about my unfortunate experiences with one of the most hypocritical and rigid “charitable” organizations with which I have ever had the mixed blessing of doing business. I am quite sure that there are people out there whose lives have been changed by Habitat for Humanity for the better. I also know there are volunteers out there with their hearts in the right place. And I certainly believe that Jimmy Carter, the founder, has his heart in the right place when he created Habitat. But like most patriarchal structures today, even charitable ones are not learning to roll with extraordinary economical changes, creating hardships for those they claim to help instead of staying aligned with their proclaimed mission. So, this is the truth of my experience.

In 2006, when everyone still believed that a home was the best investment one could make, I accidentally looked into the possibility of home ownership. I say accidentally because I didn’t think I would ever qualify. I went to a housing fair where I met a Habitat for Humanity representative. I was under the assumption that Habitat was for people with no income. She explained to me that Habitat homeowners actually have to meet minimum income guidelines. I wasn’t “too rich” for a Habitat home. With my credit rating, I would likely qualify.

So began the long process of applying for a home followed by hours of sweat equity (even with a bout with Mono and later, Shingles), and finally, closing on my home.

The way their lawyer treated me at the signing was a symbol of things to come. I was hearing a lot of information for the first time at the that meeting and doing my best to take it all in. He was abrupt and treated me as if I had no right to question anything since I was “being given a house”. Those were actually his words. I was ready to walk out then and there…wanted to, in fact. But I didn’t think I could. And, legally, I probably couldn’t. But what did I know? The whole day left a bad taste in my mouth.

I certainly didn’t know then that I could have had the home appraised and inspected before buying it. I trusted blindly and completely. Nor did I have the sense to ask questions about my other rights. This was Habitat after all. Surely, they had my best interests at heart and would inform me of anything truly important. And while I was given an interest-free loan (sort of), I still paid way too much for the house blind as I was, as we all were, to the overinflated market and impending real estate collapse of 2008.

Before I go much further, let me explain how Habitat works for those who are either misinformed or simply unaware, as is often the case. It certainly was for me. Habitat does not “give” houses away. Nor does it really offer interest-free houses. The interest is compiled into a 2nd mortgage, one that is forgiven once the house is paid off, but one that becomes due if the house is ever sold before that. Habitat claims they don’t sell their homes for a profit. But really, that is only true if the owner of the house stays in it for the full 30 years of the mortgage. How many people do you know who stay in a house for 30 years…in this economy? In this day and age? And as in my case, a single woman at that?

What I didn’t know is that by signing an agreement with Habitat, I was signing away my freedom. Essentially, I became a renter with all the responsibilities of home ownership and very few of the benefits.

I couldn’t change my yard or exterior without “permission,” and often by the time I got it, I no longer had the money or promised help to follow through. I had to be in the somewhat impotent homeowner’s association (though they were really quite good at sending out notices of “rules and regulations” being ignored). I couldn’t travel for extended periods without “permission.” I wasn’t supposed to rent a room, though I once did to make ends meet. And naturally, I had to pay to fix everything that went wrong, even if it was the result of inferior construction or workmanship, once the warranty ran out. I had to keep up with house payments through 2 layoffs and eventual unemployment. And I did! I lived up to each of my responsibilities.

I should mention in all fairness that my house was beautiful. It was new (obviously), clean, and very, very sweet. It was safe and nurturing, and though it had its faults and often challenged me, it was a huge gift for which I was (and will always be) grateful for.

Now, at the time of buying the house, I had no idea what life would bring 7 years later. In 2013, my life changed quite a bit and in some unexpected ways. It started with the publication of my book and resultant need to travel. That’s when I first became aware of the fact that I wasn’t allowed to be out of the house for more than two weeks out of every month without being “in default”. To be fair, Habitat was willing to work with me on that. As long as I arranged to have the house looked after, they would overlook my extended absence. But I couldn’t just “do it.” I had to grovel. They had to know about my personal life when really, they had no business in it.

On top of that, courses that I was supposed to teach at the college where I worked didn’t fill. Another program there in which I worked was undergoing lots of changes, and I knew my time there was also limited. I needed to find a land more opportune than the one in which I was living. Besides all of this, later in the year, I met and married my husband, who unfortunately for the both of us, lived overseas. I needed to sell!

At least I wasn’t exactly underwater anymore, as so many people have been, but I wouldn’t be making anything after 7 years either. I put my house on the market in October and began making my plans to move to France as soon as possible. Winter came and went. Spring brought a few lookers, but only one offer that didn’t even meet what I needed to pay off the loan. I was getting worried. I didn’t want to foreclose. I had an absolutely perfect…yes,perfect…credit score. I spoke with Habitat about my options. Could I rent the house? No. Could I offer an assumed mortgage? No. Could I find an investor and pay off the first mortgage with the 2nd forgiven? Ha! No! And months later, would they please allow me a forbearance while I resettled? No. Reduced mortgage temporarily while I got situated overseas? No. Short sale? No. Deed in lieu? After all, it’s not like I was upsidedown, and they’d lose money. In fact, they’d be making a pretty nice profit by getting back the “forgiven” 2nd mortgage, wouldn’t they?

NO.NO. NO.

This was the treatment I got from a so-called humanitarian organization that is supposed to care about and help people. I’m just going to say it: really, they are just another bloated corporation with inflexible self-protective rules and inflexible structures that merely serve their own preservation. Okay, to be fair, they don’t want to give their houses to people who are just out to flip them and make a profit. They want to protect their interests too. The problem is, such protections blanket everyone and everything into impossible situations! They have a built-in rigidity to which they can cling regardless of all logic and reasoning.

Now, 7 years after buying my house, the reality of the terms of my deed of trust became fully known to me. If I left, I’d be in default, even if I kept up with my payments. My life would have to wait. I was bought and sold…to a house. Basically, if my house didn’t sell, I was screwed.

But I’m thankfully not the type to keep my life on ice forever. In late April, I finally left for France, come what may. I received my certified letter from the bank two weeks later that they intended to foreclose on me in 120 days…and probably only because of the new laws passed in 2014 that said they had to wait that long. Mind you, I’m totally up to date with all my payments. In fact, I’d been paying ritualistically early every month for 6+ years. I’ve been doing this despite being unemployed twice. So bear in mind, this foreclosure would be solely based on my not living in the house anymore.

So now, I’d not only been a mere glorified renter, losing all equity, but I was also about to have my credit destroyed…for having paid my mortgage (aka: rent) on time for the past 7 years…all because I needed to move for a better opportunity and the love of my life.

I don’t really care that I’ve lost all my equity in the house. It bites, but that’s life. As I see it, I had a pretty affordable ‘rent’ for 6+ years. But I do care about my credit. These so-called charitable Christians couldn’t care less if they destroyed one of their homeowner’s credit. In fact, maybe they want to. When I was doing my sweat equity, I was often witness to attitudes towards partner families that surprised me. For example, one family chose redo their landscape, and one of the construction foreman said sarcastically, “I guess we didn’t do it right,” as if it was some kind of insult and lack of appreciation on the part of the homeowner. I’ve heard of other Habitat horror stories as well. [see http://www.scam.com/showthread.php?t=46670 and http://www.wtsp.com/story/news/local/florida/2014/03/12/2040730/ and http://forum.freeadvice.com/other-real-estate-law-questions-11/i-just-want-give-my-habitat-humanity-house-back-its-very-long-but-please-help-574314.html and http://www.ripoffreport.com/r/Habitat-for-Humanity/Payson-Arizona-85541/Habitat-for-Humanity-Payson-Area-Habitat-For-Humanity-The-Problems-Ive-Encountered-Buyi-677104] Time and time again, the attitude is that Habitat is “good” and “just” and that the homeowner is “lazy” and “unappreciative.” Years ago, I would have held that same attitude. Not anymore!

I myself was never the groveling and overly appreciative, agreeable little lamb they wanted me to be. When they mailed us letters requesting our true thought and feelings over the Habitat process and how it changed our lives, I told them my truth. I said it left a lot to be desired, that I never felt “in control” or informed. I felt that they were all too happy to have me be completely ignorant of the process and my rights in it. The set-up unwittingly put me in the position of not being able to ask for anything or question anything. And when I did, I was made to feel that I was an ungrateful whiner complaining over nothing. After all, as their lawyer had said, they were “giving me a house.” In many of the forum links above, this arrogant attitude is echoed by others who have been completely blinded to the reality. I’m not saying Habitat is evil by any means. But it is no angel either. And it is this misconception, that they can do no wrong, that can and must be corrected. They need to learn to meet people half-way in extraordinary circumstances (such as the housing collapse) and in unforeseeable life changes.

Fortunately, everything worked out and my house sold within one month of the looming deadline saving me from foreclosure. Fortunately for the new owners, they won’t have to deal with Habitat’s silly rules. I share this story now not to bash Habitat (I know they have their side of the story), but because maybe, just maybe someone inside will start to question how they do things and start making some changes. As for me, I feel like my soul and freedom have been unapologetically reclaimed. Woot!

 

Lessons in Selling a House

I haven’t posted in a while. I have a good excuse. I’ve been working my website blog at DielleCiesco.com with a 36 day exploration of Divine Guidance. But I don’t want to neglect International Daze and the progress…or lack thereof…that Stuart and I are making toward my eventual move overseas.

As you may know, I am selling my house here in the states. Once that is sold, the way is clear for me to leave. This past week, with the help of a friend, I realized that I was giving into a lot of negative perceptions. We also determined that I needed to find a new realtor. Without getting into blame, I realized that the energy between my current realtor and myself was off, and I knew that she wasn’t going to be the one to sell this house. Fortunately, we came to the mutual agreement to terminate our contract. I was going to start again and see if I could create something with a lot more heart and a lot less fear…conscious real estate.

So I set out first getting referrals from people I know for other realtors. I also happened to have lunch with a friend who had just completed a psychic intuition training, so I asked her, do you know who I should go with? She said, “No, but I have this. There is a question that when you know what it is will make it clear who to go with.” How very provocative! But how to come up with that question?

When my ex-realtor came to pick up her signage an hour later,  we talked for a while at my door. One of the things she said before she left was, “Well, selling a house all comes down to the money.” When she said that, something in me cringed. In that instant, I knew my special question.

I then interviewed my top several candidates. It was a mixed bag of results. One person told me there was no way I was going to make what I needed to pay off the loan. And when I asked my special question, he looked blank and said, “What do you mean?” I didn’t respond and so he took it in the direction in which he was oriented…giving the answer he thought I wanted. I’m very perceptive when it comes to a person’s underlying motives and wasn’t impressed.

The second realtor told me to get a lawyer. I never bothered to ask her my question because she clearly had no interest in listing for me. I was really thinking at that point that I was going to wind up foreclosing. In hindsight, I realize she may have been operating on some incorrect information. Whatever the case, these options were taking me back into fear. It was a rough couple of days.

When another referred realtor called me to set up an appointment, I was feeling pretty hopeless and didn’t want to even bother meeting him. I decided to persevere and meet with him anyway. His name was Hart after all (I kid you not). He turned out to be the one! As I wrote later that day on Facebook:

I now have a new realtor! He passed my special question test: Do you think selling a house ultimately comes down to money? Without a hitch or a double take came the winning answer, “No…” I know for a lot of realtors out there, that’s exactly what they think it comes down to. It doesn’t leave any room for magic, heart, or love. Sure, money is an aspect. Of course it is. But it isn’t the ONLY aspect. And the person who is selling my house, whether consciously or unconsciously, has to leave space for it.

I don’t know how all this is going to turn out. It’s a bit of an experiment. I want every aspect of it to feel good…for me, for potential buyers, for everybody involved. I certainly hope the house sells fairly quickly and that I can make back at least some of the equity I put into it over the past 7 years. If not, well, I’ll deal with that when the time comes.

At least now, I feel both some hope and more aligned and readier than ever to release myself of my attachments and responsibilities to this house and land, grateful for the challenges and growth and celebratory of the triumphs I experienced here. In fact, I have another friend coming over next week to do some ceremony and energy work with the land.