It’s the end of August, 2012.
This entire summer has been one of waiting in limbo, basically. It’s having its toll on my well being. I would say that this started at the beginning of the year, after our daughter Marlowe was born last summer (July 30, 2011) and Sanna wasn’t working in the fall, by January it was obvious that my $20/hour job at Pandora wasn’t going to cut it for the $1700/month mortgage (with property taxes and home insurance.) So I went to the Bank of America to ask about Mortgage Adjustment, i.e. a principal reduction.
I bought this house in Oakland in November 2001. With no really excellent job situation to back me up, the only way I was able to do so was that my mom had died in the mid-90s, and my brother needed to buy a house—they were about to start having babies—so we sold the house in Davis, CA. that we grew up in for $208k. I got half. Ignored it for several years. After living in Los Angeles working for Danetracks for a couple years, and then touring with Sparklehorse for another year and a half, I was dumped back into Los Angeles with no real direction. I scored a few friends’ films, worked on finishing up my CD “Scissors and Paper” and decided that I needed to go back to school. So I applied for graduate schools in music composition. Mills College in Oakland offered the best deal, but University of Hong Kong looked interesting also, so I spent several months traveling in SouthEast Asia after checking out Hong Kong, and came back to the Bay Area in time to start at Mills in January of 2001.
Around this time, Clinton’s presidency had just ended and the country was doing pretty well. No idea how Bush was gonna fuck us yet, I thought it would be a great idea to finally invest my $100k in a house. So I looked for something reasonable in Oakland. I tried for a few that were pretty nice in Emeryville, but lost out, eventually made a bid on this house on Brookdale Ave in the lower Laurel district, and it was accepted in August: $240k. But the people who were living there didn’t want to move out. So I waited a while and started to wonder what was going on, tried to back out of the deal, but my real estate agent had gone on vacation and left the closing with her mom (!), another agent for the same company, who pressured us into continuing to close the deal. Of course. Finally got the house in November. First thing I did was hire contractors I knew (i.e., musicians I knew) to replace all the knob-and-tube electrical wiring and ground the house better to use as a music studio. Then stripped the carpets out and painted the interior. Finally moved in.
And then, the winter started, and it was a wet one. The roof was fine; what wasn’t was the drainage. So with nowhere for the water to go, the sinks backed up and spilled out whenever it rained really hard. Along with this, there was significant pressure along the side of the house which had cracked the foundation along the south side, something that was hidden to the inspectors when the tenants had been living there and their things covering it in the garage. So when I could, which ended up being a year later or so (maybe two? can’t quite remember, but it was before Sanna and I got married in Dec 2003) I refinanced the house and took out money to fix the foundation and put a french drain along the south yard to the street. Yay!
Well, not so yay. This was an adjustable mortgage. From Countrywide! I was teaching at the College of Marin, and some spring semesters at Ohlone College, and working at a bookstore in San Francisco. Not a great living, but enough to cover the rent and food. When the financial shit hit the fan, it took til the end of that school year for California to stop the colleges from being able to continue to have part time teachers, so they cut back on faculty and I lost my teaching jobs, just as I was about to head to Sweden for the summer. That was another stressful summer, waiting to return to basically no job. But when I got back, I had phone messages waiting to interview at Pandora, which I did, and was employed by mid-August 2009.
Working full time in an office is not really my area of expertise, and while Pandora was ostensibly a music-related company, the longer I was there, the less it was. I will probably write more about this at some point… Nonetheless, one thing that it enabled me to do was be able to negotiate a new mortgage with the Bank of America, who had bought the Countrywide adjustable thing that I had, that was about to adjust out of range. So they kindly moved this purchased mortgage to their side (due to my “qualification” of having such a normal job!) and now I owed, hell, only $220k! Hmm. Somehow the payments were no less than before, but we would be paying off the principle bit by bit now.
Well, like I said, this went fine for a while, with Sanna teaching at the Scandinavian School in SF and me working at Pandora, we managed. To save some money we agreed to a lease for solar panels on the roof, $60 a month, and it offset all of our electricity use.
Until we had a baby. I began trying to get the bank to agree to a mortgage modification, which was happening a bunch all over Oakland. But now, here’s the problem: they had renegotiated our mortgage already, after 2009, so the rules said they couldn’t do it again. We were slowly realizing that we couldn’t afford to continue to pay out 2/3 of our (my, at this point) monthly income to the house, given that on top of that we were paying hundreds more dollars every month for each different utility (gas, the solar panel company, waste removal, water, phone & internet,) plus the car to get to work and gas. We had never managed to actually save any money (I am to blame for that: I have a bunch of guitars. More on these later!)
So we talked with a local real estate agent (coincidentally working for the same company as the agents of the initial house sale, though the new lady didn’t know them) about selling the house. Well, we owed $217k by this time, and apparently there was no way the house would sell for that much. So we talked to a rental agency. We were paying $1650-1700 per month at this point (strangely it went up to $1700 during this period of time…) and the rental folks told us that if we had the entire interior and exterior repainted we might be able to get $1200 a month for it. Ok. So back to the bank, no way to adjust this mortgage?
Then in March, I got fired. (Again, someday I will write about the Pandora experience, but for now let’s just leave it at: I lost the job.) I was able to negotiate an additional month of pay plus my sick leave, but basically we were in the shithouse now. I know that many people will think: dude, you play in Camper Van Beethoven, don’t you make the bucks? Well… check this interview, for one: Digital Audio Insider Interview.
I’d be happy to talk about that some other time, basically I make about $2-5k a year from playing music.
March was a dire month, then. More trying to convince the bank. Hardship now included in the mortgage adjustment rules, but still apparently negated by the fact of recent adjustments. The nice lady at the Bank of America (yes we went in with an infant on hip to plead our case a few times) said, I guess you could either do a short sale or deed-in-lieu. (Deed-in-lieu is where you basically give them the house in exchange for whatever you currently owe.) So we went back to the real estate agent and said, we have to sell. We decided at this point that we were just going to give it all up and move to Sweden, our escape plan. It was actually a plan all along, due to the presence of Marlowe versus the currently piece-of-shit educational system in California… though Marlowe wasn’t yet a year old at this point, so we thought that would be a few years off…
We have a nice real estate agent. She’s been pushed to her very limit by the Bank of America. After the initial cleanings and clearings and showings, we took offers, and shit, they were low. But a few were maybe something that would fly?
During this same period, our real estate agent was going to Sacramento with other agents to try to convince the state to stop banks from “double-tracking”, which is when they are concurrently seeking foreclosure and tracking a short sale. Which they were doing, of course. At the “I can’t legally advise you to” advice of a lawyer, we stopped paying the mortgage. Good thing, as it was gonna cost almost $5000 to ship all our shit to Sweden. Sanna’s ticket was for June, so I got a ticket for June also. When we left, the house was empty (except the fucking piano, I don’t even know if anybody actually got that yet?) and no deals were done.
We had been advised by the real estate agent to agree to a short sale offer from a lady who herself was an agent, and old lady who had a business partner who was a contractor. She wanted to live in house, they would buy it, he had some $300k line of credit to buy it outright, he would fix it up and she would live there. Her offers somehow ignored our statement that the house price would not include the (fairly new) washer and dryer, which we *were* going to sell…but, with so much loss, we decided to just sign and say, fine, you can have these too. But the solar company had this (easily transferrable) lease, that for some reason she was leery of. She didn’t understand the idea, I guess. But the lease put an “encumbrance” (not a lien, mind you) on the title. Uh oh! So the bank refused to pay out the $15k the solar company valued their gear at, the buyer refused to take the lease and then the bank suddenly denied the short sale on the grounds that “the agent did not respond”. In reality, they told our agent that a page of some addenda was missing, though they themselves would not respond to her questions about which page and what the fuck anyway? So, of course, the foreclosure papers were delivered the next day! Double tracking, duh. It’s illegal now! The papers were mailed to me and to Sanna (who is not on the house deed, actually), care of my brother at “Davis, CA.”, no address, he still received them at work! So whatever, the agent said we should try for a short again, and the same buyer this time offered even lower (hey, the pest reports say you need to replace $20k of wood!) of $135k! Well, I wrote to her to explain that I was not only mystified that she was trying to get such an incredible deal but that the solar panels actually help. Yes, old lady, solar energy. What you don’t use, you sell back to PG&E.
So, $135k? Shit. If they had lowered it to that for me, I certainly would never have been in this position.
So this time, she agreed to the solar lease, the bank is all ready to grant this short sale and what? Oh, she’s trying to be her own agent – i.e., she wants a buyer’s commission from the bank on the sale while also being the buyer. Bank says, no way, José. They wanted to see the articles of incorporation for the “company” she was part of that was buying it, which she had sent with no owners’ names on it. When they finally got real articles, with her name, they realized that she was trying to represent herself. So currently we’re waiting for her to either forego the commission or get some other agent, or something. Come the fuck on. Our agent is now giving up. Most difficult deal she’s ever dealt with. If it doesn’t happen this week, I guess I have to call the BoA and try to negotiate the deed-in-lieu, and then try to figure out how to not get sued by the solar company. When I wrote them to say, hey, get your gear off the roof, they were confused… i guess they have always managed to transfer leases instead of dealing with foreclosures… They just spammed me today, by the way, with info about how they are on 10,000 homes now.
So. We’ll see what happens? I have to go back to California next week to play shows. Probably spend the week on the phone, I guess?