Real Estate

Trust your gut-feeling and work only with people whose abilities you trust…

… not like we did.

A nerve-racking period started after we signed the “compormis” at the beginning of September 2017. We decided to put down the deposit at the end of the 10 days thinking period. Things progressed in slow-motion.

I tried to communicate with our mortgage broker, Edith (that’s not her real name), mostly via email, so that I had evidence and I could always reread what she replied to us. Besides, I have bigger control over my written French compared to my oral.

My business emails are well-organized. If I have multiple questions, I use bullet points and in this case, I even numbered them. Still, I had to ask the very same questions multiple times, because if I asked three questions, listed and numbered, usually she ignored arbitrary two of them. As if her inner software was not capable of handling multiple questions enveloped in the same email.

Still, not knowing the system well enough, we were afraid to get another broker.

The real estate agent kept asking for documents and data confirming that we were already in contact with some banks, but Edith did not want to provide us with any such document. After some point, I decided to put the two of them in contact so that they can figure it out on their own. This might not have been their roles but given that none of them seemed to be an expert, I’m still convinced it was the right thing to do.

At least they figured out together what to write to certain fields of the “compromis” leaving us the liberty to figure out later on how much money we exactly wanted to loan from the bank.

A few weeks later, Edith finally submitted our demand to two banks. What a great achievement after so much time. Since then I learnt that it should have happened in just a couple of days.

When our broker announced that she finally contacted those two banks we could really sense from her words that it was a pain for her. She would have done it only with one bank, but because of contractual reasons, two banks were the minimum.

Amazingly Edith didn’t send the banks’ propositions right away by email, she didn’t even notify me, but she waited till the next week to give them to me in person and printed. Poor trees. She realized on the spot that she forgot to make us sign other mandates…

Edith asked if we already signed a certain paper with her. As she never mentioned that, obviously I had no idea about it… She realised that she completely forgot about something that was mandatory for the employer loan. And instead of having a clear agenda what has to be done and when she asked her clients — us — whether she already showed us some papers. At this point, I thought it was already too late to change… What a huge mistake of mine!

As it was lunch-time, I rushed home right then and made my wife sign everything and of course, we didn’t hesitate, we chose the proposition we preferred while I was quickly chewing some bites of my lunch. One of the banks gave a more understandable, yet not more expensive offer, plus they have two offices close to my workplace. The other one was something like 30 kilometres away in Nice and the terms were much more obscure and complex. Obvious choice.

An hour and a half after that our broker gave us the propositions, we already signed all the papers she needed to move on — we hoped so.

We could see the end of the tunnel. At least for our primary loan.

I have to mention that it was this moment when she gave a few long lists of documents we’d have to provide her. This list was independent of the bank we chose. We realized at this moment that she should give this list to her clients in the very beginning so that we clients have time to prepare everything.

As we have all or official documents digitalized and well-organized, providing dozens of documents didn’t take more than half an hour, but I am sure that for many people this would take a significantly longer time.

My impression is that a commercial bank employs experts or maybe we were just lucky. Though it would make sense. On the one hand, you have a mortgage broker who has clients flowing into her net from a big international company and most of the clients are one-off. On the other hand, you have a commercial bank that relies on the people living around and using banking services “forever”, so banks have a big competition. The difference in the level of service actually makes sense. Always look for someone who has to excel in order to get and keep clients.

Before we would have actually met our agent at the bank, a colleague of her explained to us on the phone that we have to submit some more documents compared to what we already gave to our broker. These additional documents were about our credit cards usage and also regarding an old side hustle.

I sent all the papers scanned as soon as I could, a day or two before we actually met our agent.

When we arrived at the office, I told her that I brought everything printed that her colleague asked for. There was no need for it, everything was already printed and attached to our file. Good news for us, bad news for the environment.

This lady prepared everything as accurately as possible for that Friday afternoon. All the available papers were prepared and printed, ready for action. She knew exactly which papers had to be signed and which ones had to be paraphed, no thinking, no brainstorming, no asking around. Just pure action.

We decided to sign everything right then on Friday afternoon so that she could proceed the next Monday morning and we don’t lose any more time. We spent there one and a half hour, basically signing papers with my wife both of us simultaneously. There was not even a sign of discontent on the face of the agent that she could start her weekend half an hour later than usual. We took off with 1051 grams of signed papers. We left even more on her desk.

Things seemed to be on track. She confirmed in a few days, still before the end of October that our demand had been officially accepted and we’d only have to wait for the bank’s official offer to arrive at our mailbox. And it did, right on time!

I was in contact with our notary who also happened to be a reliable professional whom I would be happy to work anytime again. We fixed the date of the signature. We foresaw to sign two days before the latest possible date planned in the compromis.

In the meanwhile, for the employer loan, our struggles continued. I sent an email to our mortgage broker asking whether we still need something to sign or to do before we sign at the notary’s office. It turned out that she was on vacation and no stand-in was specified, there was only the general number of the company to be called in case of emergency.

Considering that she told us when we first met that she would “hold our hands” throughout the process there seemed to be no case of emergency. In fact, I only sent this mail to be precautious and to reassure ourselves.

The day she came back to the office according to her out of office message, she didn’t reply. So, no emergency, right?

The next day was a bank holiday. The day after she sent me a message with the term “urgence” in the subject. I don’t have to translate that from French to English, I guess.

It turned out that they needed the contract of the other loan that I signed with the bank in order to proceed with the employer loan and she also wrote that we might need to postpone the date of the signature. In reality, she meant that we must postpone it.

I tried to understand why Edith didn’t warn me about this, in fact, she didn’t provide us with any clear agenda including what exactly needs to be done by whom and by when. If this one was actually so urgent, why she did not reply as soon as she returned to the office after vacation. I was seeking an answer to know why she proposed to meet only next week instead of exchanging the papers on the very same day. In the end, we were only 30 kilometres from each other. Then there would have been no need for any delay. Instead, she cried urgency and wanted to almost a week later.

Now you might ask what is wrong with a few days of delay? After all, we would have been flexible. In fact, while I was totally resisting to our broker, I contacted the notary’s office right away to see what is possible in terms of changing the dates.

Still, one has to see that our mortgage broker failed to guide us properly and she never took responsibility when she erred.

The notary’s secretary contacted the sellers, but they claimed that they are not available, but on Mondays. Possibly that’s their weekly day off and they didn’t want to lose even half a day of their paid vacations. To me it seems quite inflexible when you are selling an apartment, but why not.

We were set to sign on a Monday, two days before the final date set in the “compromis”. Passing that date without the act of signature would have meant that anyone could have backed-off from the contract without warning the other. Besides, if my understanding is clear, running out of time because of us would have given the sellers the possibility of demanding some interests and compensation from us.

So, in other words, we would have been forced into a situation which gave us no guarantee that we can actually get the apartment and besides we might have had to pay some fine.

By this time, we already cancelled the rental contract of our actual apartment. Leaving us two and a half weeks to move. A delay of one week wouldn’t have been catastrophic (just a little bit cumbersome). On the other hand, the possibility of losing the apartment we were about to buy would have meant that we needed another one faster than it’s actually possible to buy.

I realised quickly that if I wanted to guarantee that we have a roof over our heads, we must sign. For that we needed money. Fast.

I calculated all we got and I came up with a sum of 8000 Euros. That’s the money we needed. Getting rid of some company stocks or long-term investments might have been an option, but only weeks before. By the time Edith wanted us to postpone the signature or advance the employee’s loan from our pocket, we had no chance to cash in those investments. The processes might take up to three-four weeks.

From our family, we couldn’t expect any money, except for about a thousand Euros from my brother who was barely 18.

No problem, I still had some options. I could have sold one of my kidneys or both, or started drug trafficking. Besides that I prefer legal side hustles, maybe this latter business idea would also have needed a bit more time to run up.

Or actually, I could start asking around among friends. I wanted to avoid such a big favour, but as selling my kidney did not seem to be a viable way and it was unlikely to become the new Scarface in such a short time, I decided to rely on my friends.

Considering whom I should ask, I ended up with Alejandro. who recently came back from an overseas expat position. I thought I hoped that he can lend me money for maximum a couple of weeks. I also asked some other friends, some in Hungary, but money conversion is expensive and international transfer is slower than domestic ones — at least I thought so. Still, I had to take into account all of the available options.

Alejandro was really helpful and understanding. He gave me all the money I needed and a little bit more so that I wouldn’t be late with the yearly housing tax and I could even order our refrigerator on time. Wuhuu, no fine and cold beer! Splendid! I still owe him, not sure if I can ever repay…

… I mean the favour! The money I already gave him back, of course.

But things would have been so easy if they worked out as expected for the first time.

Apparently, Alejandro couldn’t send me money from one of his accounts, as the money there was not liquid. From his other account he could, but it took two days to add me as a beneficiary. That’s the normal process. Two days in 2017 just to be able to initiate a transfer to someone…. Marvellous. Two days later he made two transfers, a couple of thousands of Euros each. Doing it in one was not possible due to bank regulations…

Now you might think, that I don’t even know the banking procedures. How could I even thought about taking a loan if I don’t even know how to make a transfer? The truth is that I am used to totally online French banks because they are practically free and fast at the same time. They provide you high quality, low prices and all of this fast — hard to image in most of the fields. Hence I’m not used to be the client of traditional banks here in France before taking the loan.

Two days later the money arrived. Just to repeat it, it took two days to add me as a beneficiary and two days to for the money to arrive at my account. Four days for that in 2017! Oh, wait! In fact, only one of the transfers were completed. The other one not yet… Let’s wait another day… Still nothing… In the end, Alejandro called his bank to figure out what’s going on. It turned out that the bank blocked the second transfer because they were afraid that it was not him who initiated it, but it was rather an attempt to steal money from him.

Does it make sense? To us, not at all! They blocked only one of the two transfers whereas both were about to send money from the same account to the same person. Besides they forgot to notice anyone or putting back the money on Alejandro’s account. They never paid any interest for those two days…

By the time the second transfer arrived, 6 days before the signature, I already sent the money to the notary, as the rest of our savings, the first transfer from Alejandro and the money I got from my brother and from our remaining Hungarian accounts proved to be just enough. I still had something like 200 Euros. I understand that it would be a fortune for some, but it’s not so much on the Riviera.

As soon as Alejandro’s second transfer arrived I paid the housing tax so that I wouldn’t have to pay a penalty.

In the meanwhile, I sent a few rough mails to the mortgage broker. Needless to say without any result. Edith told me that she didn’t want to speak about the past. It’s a really interesting way to avoid confrontation with clients. I might try it with my boss if I screw something.

Still, finally, everything was in place to sign on next Monday.

The Friday before the signature I received a mail from the agency that they initiated the transfer of the employee loan. When I saw the mail I almost wrote back immediately that I hope that’s not how they handle my data. But in the end, I discarded the draft. There was no point in confronting even more.

You might ask what am I talking about here. Imagine a printed list with all the full names who were taking loans through this agency and received their money that day or around, A list of all the sums, type of loans and file IDs. Next, to our name, there was a small handwritten word: “released”…

Calmness is what I felt that weekend.

On Monday we headed to the notary’s office early. After cruising around for a long time we found a parking place not so far and with my little, but growing family, we walked together to start a new phase in our life. We arrived a few minutes before the buyers did and soon the real estate agents arrived too.

We were all set to sign. Here there were no big surprises. The notary told us that in the morning the employer loan was also transferred so they’d reimburse me the excess in about two days. It happened like that for the pleasure of ours and Alejandro’s.

The scars we got during the months while we were fighting against the negligence of different kind of agents seemed to start healing.

About an hour later, again we were all alone outside the office with the keys in our hands. We were going to our new apartment. But that’s another story for another day.

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