Stacy (for that was her name) ate at her desk while Alfred sat opposite, describing our long ordeal and begging her to be a little patient. When he was done, she said (chewing, not looking up), "Everyone's got a sob story, I guess."
Adversity teaches one that no matter how bad things get, they can always get worse. On Sept. 1, Hurricane Gustav hit New Orleans and ripped a hole in our recently repaired garage roof. That meant another $4,000 for a house that might soon be taken out of our hands—or so I learned two weeks later, when a "THIRD PARTY NOTICE OF SEIZURE" was posted on our door (I was copied by mail), informing the curious that a sheriff's sale had been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 20. A veritable blizzard of faxes on my part resulted, a few days later, in what I was firmly told would be my final three-month forbearance plan ($521.33 per month).
Exactly four days later—on Oct. 3, 2008, to be exact—I got a call from Brigitte: A cash offer had been made on our house! Wonderful news … though I detected a kind of Edith Piaf-y tristesse in her voice. I asked how much, and she told me.
"Wow," I said. "Wow. That's really low. Are you sure we should take it?"
She was quite, quite sure. Home prices were in freefall. The lowball offer was actually $2,000 above the current median sale price for houses on our street.
My friend Alfred relayed the news via certified letter to Stacy at Cox & Thibodeau. After a suitably contemptuous interval, she replied that the amount in question was less than 80 percent of the total current payoff figure, which now included $7,319 in legal fees ("a totally bullshit figure," said Alfred). Nevertheless she would confer with her client and get back to us.
A few weeks passed. Finally I called the bank's Homeowner's Assistance Department, whose representative informed me, at length, that a person named Chris was now "handling our file" and would be getting in touch. Meanwhile she suggested I contact the Foreclosure Department (the various departments didn't communicate with one another, but rather gave contradictory information and often affected to deplore each other's methods), and thus I learned that the lawyer Stacy had never bothered to convey our short-sale offer. Given that her fees were accruing daily, it was hardly in her interest to seek a speedy resolution.
The next three months may be summarized as follows: Our latest file-handler, Chris, never did get back to me, ignoring my almost daily faxes (did he even exist at all? if so, I curse him); our potential buyers, an elderly couple, signed monthly extensions on their offer, but strongly hinted they were backing out if the matter wasn't settled by the end of January 2009; the title lawyer who was handling our sale, a pugnacious chain-smoker named Lynne, spent untold hours trying to light a fire under our bank's collectively dead ass with a series of hectoring phone calls, andfinally managed to get our file into the hands of a "closer"—a nervous Asian woman named Tina who spoke spotty English and claimed to have several files in front of ours on her work queue. By then I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, watching the hourglass as Aunt Em's face morphs horribly into the Wicked Witch of the West's.
Our red-letter day was Jan. 14, when I was invited to appear on NPR's Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan. The theme of the program was "What It's Like To Lose Everything" (my fellow guest was a Madoff victim), and toward the end of the program I mentioned that a certain large national bank had been sitting on their hands for more than three months while our potential buyers had cooled their heels, and never mind all the ghastliness we'd gone through already. Neal replied that I could return to his program anytime if I wanted to name names on the air. I thanked him, and afterward sent a fax to Chris, Tina, et al., repeating Neal's offer and providing a link to the episode in question.
The short-sale was completed on Jan. 31, 2009.
Our dream houses in Norfolk have long since been sold, though I occasionally stop by on my bicycle and imagine living in one or the other, or rather in a house very like one or the other. Then, with a newfound lightness of being—only five months to go!—I pedal away to our perfectly adequate rental near the Lafayette River.