Why I’m an Expert Homeowner
By Homer Guthrie, Expert Homeowner
Hello. My name is Home Guthrie and I’m an expert homeowner.
Don’t you think it’s about time we had an expert homeowner? Everybody else has experts. We have expert economy-guessers with batting averages lower than a Little Leaguer and mortgage experts who sold loans that exploded like time bombs or put people in houses they couldn’t afford. We have expert real estate agents who can make any online listing make a house look like a palace with videos, color photos and crafty staging. In Washington, we have expert policy wonks who can send real estate markets soaring or crashing with a single confusing regulation.
So who died and made me an expert homeowner, you want to know? Well, for starters I live in Mirage Mills, a suburb better known as the Chernobyl of American real estate. We’ve experienced everything that’s gone wrong in the past ten years and I’ve had a front row seat for all of it: funny loans that a monkey could get, prices so ridiculously high that futures exchanges created housing contracts so traders could speculate on them, and then the bust came. We live at ground zero. Countrywide and Washington Mutual owned a major chunk of our homes but the foreclosure notices didn’t stopped arriving in our mailboxes after they went under. The government disappointed us with their learning experiences: HAMP, HARP, HEMP, HAFTA, HOFFA and the rest of them. When lenders were using robo machines to sign foreclosure papers for everyone else, in our neighborhood they just made a big X on the signature line and scrawled “his mark” next to it.
In Mirage Mills, we’ve seen the longest short sales and the shortest loan denials in history. Lending officers shudder when they get an application from our Zip plus four. Real estate agents want double their normal commissions to sell our homes. When buyers see homes in our area listed on line, they break into laughter. You get the picture.
So I’ve learned a lot. For instance, I know the exact time every month, the very last hour of the very last day (including leap years) that I can mail my mortgage check without getting a ding on my credit score. They’re not going to make one extra penny from me.
On those automated home valuation doohickeys on the big Internet sites I know how to jack up my home’s value. Believe it not, they invite you to report “improvements” to your property. Recently my home added two new bedrooms, a new kitchen for the wife, a pool, a backyard barbeque pit and a cabana for the pet pooch. The value is up 100k and I’m almost above water, on line at least. I even got a few calls from real estate agents who want to sell my house in spite of my address.
But when tax time comes round, we need to go the other way on the old house valuation thing. So every year I petition to get an onsite visit from an assessor. Before he arrives, I kick in a little dry wall, break a window or two, let the house get filthy for a month or two and spray the place top to bottom with some of that rotten smell spray you can buy at stores that cater to teen-aged boys who love practical jokes. Smells like hell but it clears out in a couple of weeks. Last year they shaved 40K off the top.
What really qualifies me as an expert homeowner, however, is my ability to comprehend and interpret for normal people like you the confused ramblings emanating from politicians, policy makers, economists, real estate big shots and bankers about what they have up their collective sleeves to make a buck off of normal homeowners.
They can get away with murder because they don’t speak the same language as the rest of us. They use words like “risk retention.” I’ve heard of water retention, but I don’t know anyone who retains risk. Another one of my favorites is “strategic default.” For the longest time, I thought that was what Patton did at D-Day. Then there is “REO.” No, that’s not the rock band. We could go on, but you get the picture.
Sometimes deciphering all this gibberish can be very important. Like, if you’re trying to sell your home and you hear on the news one day that prices are up so you kick up the listing ten grand but the next day, Mr. Expert Economist gets on the radio and says prices just went down. What to do?
Sit tight and don’t do a thing. Chances are they’re both wrong. If after three months the wife starts screaming at you because you haven’t had the slightest nibble, here’s a free tip from the ol’ expert homeowner. Call your agent to change your listing to say that Bernie Madoff slept in your house just before he went to jail and allegedly he hid two million worth of bearer bonds below the cement slab basement. No one has found them yet. Works like a charm.
Wait a minute, this isn’t all about me. I’ve got some terrific help. First there’s my lovely wife Felicity who, like her name suggests, is a happy and loving person who keeps me from screwing up too much. She’s also an expert homeowner like me. Then there is my real estate team. Bea Meriwether, my real estate agent. Her web site is uneedaplanb.com. Earnest S. Crowe is my go to mortgage guy who always has answers no matter ridiculous my questions might be.
So join me on House Poor every Monday morning and together we’ll try to make sense out of this mess.