2008/01/13

0002 Indera 21: Holidays

Joyous Athamara to everyone! I know sending out seasons' greetings after the holiday is over is usually a bit tacky, but this year things got so hectic, I totally forgot to say something in advance. I didn't even get to hang up any paper chains, and my gifts for folks really were slapdash at best. I suck as founding holidays. Well, truth is, I'm apparently pretty good at it, so much so that other folks actually did a better job of celebrating it than I did this time around.

Actually, the truth is that things have been really... um... weird. I know I haven't written anything in several months, and I'm not particularly happy with myself about that. The sad truth is that silence is it's own worst feedback mechanism. Say nothing, and no-one replies. No-one replying means nobody's listening, and if no-one is listening then there's no reason to speak, is there? Consciously, I know that's not true, but it's a hard voice to try to override with just words and some attempts at self-pepping.

No, nothing bad has happened between Jessie and I. We continue to grow together, laugh together, love together. Life with her is a bless├Ęd thing, and I continue to treasure every moment I get with her. Most days, I feel like this is entirely too few for anyone's good, but I keep steady with thoughts of retirement and one day having all the time we want to spend together. This may drive us both mad. Time will tell.

Anyway, I suppose I should go into a bit of depth as to why I've been silent for so long. It really isn't good to leave anyone, myself included, hanging, and the story has only gotten more interesting with time. As folks might remember, I mentioned several months ago that my finances were in a state that could best be described as Slow Leak. With both a mortgage payment and a monthly rent bill, I was losing about three hundred a month, then making up about ninety percent of it all on bonus checks and the occasional boost in roommate rent. While not tenable for the long run, we were making do, though constantly in a state of "we really can't afford this," whatever it happened to be.

Now, contracts with realtors usually expire on or around 180-day intervals, and on Pyevera 6 (October 6 Gregorian) my contract with my realtor was set to run out. Fourteen months by any calendar, and no real motion on the house, with no end in sight to the collapse of the housing market. I owed more on the property than any sane investor site said the house was worth, and nobody in zir right mind wanted to move to Pottstown anyway.

On Pyevera 1, we got an offer. It was for USD90,000, far less than I owed, but it was a solid offer, a genuine offer, with earnest money and a contract and everything. My realtor said the buyer was "highly motivated" and wanted to close a deal in two weeks. Jessie and I were elated. Ecstatic. Near-delirious with joy. An end to our ordeal!

Now all we had to do was navigate the precarious waters known in real estate terms as the "short sale." As can be surmised from its name, a short sale happens when the seller of a property goes to the bank and asks to be released from a portion of debt as part of a sale transaction. Banks do not like short sales, but under many conditions they will be glad to accept them, such as, for example, an alternative to foreclosing on a property in default, or as part of a legally-mandated sale as part of a divorce or other legal proceeding, or when the market has so grossly overvalued a house at some point in the past that any attempt to recoup those losses through a legitimate business transaction could only meet in resounding failure.

Yeah, I was dreaming, too. With my father's help, I put together a plan to pay off my second mortgage and offer a short sale to the bank on the first that left a mere twenty-thousand dollars to be forgiven, an amount that I was willing to claim on my taxes if it meant no longer being burdened by a vacant house on the opposite coast. I thought, silly me, that if I presented it to the bank in a rational and lucid manner, they would have no choice but to agree that forgiving twenty grand would be far favorable to keeping such a risky property on the books.

Oh, how wrong I was.

For starters, CitiMortgage, my second mortgage holder, simply refused to discuss short sales. Ever. On each of the first five or six attempts I made to speak with a representative about short sales, all anyone would ever tell me was "fill out the workout packet and fax it to us; someone will call you." No-one ever did. Then, on about the sixth or seventh attempt, when I finally blew my stack at someone, I got a supervisor on the phone who simply told me that Citi categorically refuses to authorize short sales for second mortgages, and explained quite bluntly that by doing so they guaranteed either that they were paid in full or that their clients were forced into foreclosure to prevent the first mortgage company from benefitting. They called this a win-win situation.

Countrywide, my primary mortgage holder, was more lenient, by which I mean they were actually willing to let me submit a short sale plan and a hardship letter. However, after receiving it and running all the numbers through their spreadsheets, they decided that they, too, were going to hold out for full payoff, and insisted that I make a counteroffer.

I explained to the negotiator quite clearly and using multiple phrases that there was no more money on my side of the table with which to make such an offer. I had brought one-hundred-twenty percent of my available resources to bear in the initial plan by securing a guarantee from my father for some help, and that left us completely tapped, financially.

The negotiator said in response to this that we should force Citi to accept the short sale, then, since they were the second mortgage company, and my financial obligations were to Countrywide first and foremost.

I said that Citi had refused to negotiate a short sale under any condition precisely because they were the second mortgage company and it made no financial sense for them to do so.

The negotiator then made the vocal equivalent of a shrug and said she couldn't help me. She offered to leave my file open for a week, but said that she'd have to close it after that and I'd have to go through "a process" to get it opened again. She did not say what that process was.

Now, it's worth noting at this point that Countrywide said they couldn't turn around a short sale in anything less than forty-five days. I tried to explain multiple times that I had a buyer that might walk if the bank took too long. At every point in this process, I warned Countrywide—and Citi, though I had fewer opportunities to do so—that I was rapidly running out of capacity to continue to pay the mortgage, and that I had successfully juggled things this long by racking up credit card debt to keep my mortgage current. This, obviously, could not last forever, and was nearing the cutoff point past which I would have to take drastic measures.

Countrywide's response to this was, and I quote, "We're willing to take that risk."

So, starting with the mid-Fathera payment, I quit paying my mortgage. At first, I was working from an assumption—a valid one, I would later learn—that part of the reason they were so unwilling to work with me on resolving this little financial crisis was that my account with them was in good standing. It seems so backwards, and yet at the same time I can see the twisted logic of it. As long as you pay on time, play by the rules, and do nothing to rock the boat, banks and possibly other large institutions are more prone to look at you as an annuity payment than as a customer. Their assumption about you as a person is that you'll continue to make payments on time and that they don't have to treat you well for you to do the right thing. Their interests are focused instead on the people who rack up huge debts and then don't pay, because it's there that these financial groups stand to actually lose money.

Never mind the fact that if they didn't lend money to people who did that in the first place, they'd have fewer problems. That, dear friends, is an argument for another day.

At any rate, not handing over a lot of money to Countrywide felt really good, and I kept it up for a few weeks, riding pretty high on the emotional lift that giving The Man the finger had given me. Of course, this also added to my stress levels pretty severely, which is one reason I haven't produced a lot of writing lately. Bunnies don't make good anarchists, though I did a pretty good imitation of one for a while.

Now, after a few months of this, I'm sure everyone can imagine just how happy the bank was to talk with me, especially when you consider the fact that I had done this deliberately to yank their short-and-curlies to get their attention. Starting around early Ertera, I started getting the phone calls from their pressure-folks asking when I'd be making a payment and would I like to set one up now while they have me on the phone. This went on for a few weeks, and then I had an epiphany: this wasn't going to get any better.

So, I declared bankruptcy.

Now, I say that like it's a cakewalk. It's actually something that takes some time. You can't just walk into town square and declare yourself to be broke. In this state, you have to go to a lawyer, you have to take a course in responsible finances, you have to submit forms detailing everything you own, you have to find your tax returns for the last two years, and you have to prove that you aren't just doing this to spite someone, even if you are. However, I found a nice lawyer who was very willing to help walk me through the whole process, and together we worked out that, yes, filing for Chapter 13 did actually make a lot of sense, especially if we could beat the bank to the foreclosure.

See, the bankruptcy laws have some interesting rules. One is that if you have a debt backed by an asset—a secured debt—you can choose under bankruptcy to surrender the asset as full payment for the debt, regardless of the relative value of the asset and the debt at the time of surrender. That is, by declaring bankruptcy, I can just give the house back to the bank and they're legally obligated to accept it in full compensation for the money I owe them through the mortgage. They can't actually ask for any more money, since hey, they got the house.

If I'd waited for the bank to foreclose to declare bankruptcy, things would not have gone so smoothly. What happens under this condition is messy, but suffice to say I would have ended up having to pay a lot more money than I wanted. Anthrocon would have been out for about five years, as would a lot of other things.

Now, I do have some other debts besides the house that the bankruptcy court will force me to pay back, since credit card debt is all unsecured and I can't just walk away from it with the money I make. However, even if I'm forced to pay it back at maximum rate, I'm pinching pennies for a year and then I'm completely out of debt with no mortgage to worry about. Under the plan I've submitted, I'm out in a year-and-a-half, with lots of pocket change in the meantime. It's possible the court may force me to pay back faster than I'd like, but that just means less time in the plan.

In fact, the worst thing about this whole situation, really, is that for the next seven years I have a black mark on my aura credit report indicating that I have committed Diablerie declared bankruptcy, which will make it harder for me to avoid a Blood Hunt get loans. However, I can rebuild my actual credit score in about two years, less with some help from friends and family. More on that in another post. Really, given the expanded Blood Pool and increased Disciplines fiscal benefits, consuming my Sire declaring bankruptcy is probably the best thing I could've done in this situation.

The best part is that I signed all the paperwork last Thilya, which means this was an awesome Athamara present to myself and the rest of the Embassy.

Speaking of Athamara, actually, I can't thank enough all the people who actually took me seriously and helped me create this wonderful holiday. Thanks to Cobaltie and Zander for coming out this way to visit. Thanks also to Zander for the rare scarlet emerald! Who only knows what I'll be able to summon with it! Thanks to Tanya for the vintage slang deck; murder but it's the most! Thanks to Orbus and Mufi for the copy of World Tree! Thanks especially to Bard for the signed copy of Marriage of Insects! I very much look forward to reading it!

I got very little for folks. I suck. I did, however, provide a place for people to congregate and hosted Zander's visit to Seattle. I hope that, Grey Sky notwithstanding, we convinced the mad scientist to become "our
resident mad scientist." Too soon to tell, but scheduling a blue sky and a trip to Ivar's Brunch Buffet on the final day may have been a good selling point.

Now, all this may sound like skittles and beer, and not really the cause for radio static, but the truth is it's all been very stressful, and I've been pretty much spending my evenings coming home and vegetating. Plus, the work situation is getting... odd. I dare not say "untenable," because it's still very manageable. However, it's becoming increasingly clear that the new CIO and the people he's hired to help convert T-Mobile from being a small-fast-lean company into being a large-established-conventional industry leader have a very different vision for what a good company is than I do. To illustrate this, I point no further than the fact that when we as a company scored lower-than-expected on our employee satisfaction survey, his response was to buy a copy of Who Moved My Cheese? and to tell us all at our quarterly all-hands meeting that their poor grade was because of our failure to properly embrace the changes they made to the company.

I haven't quit outright, but I did have my first interview outside T-Mobile in almost three years. It hurts, letting go, but at the same time, I'm not so sure I feel like waiting to see if this guy gets fired before he screws up anything else finishes implementing his vision.

Also, somewhere in all of this the Lapinian Embassy celebrated its largest Rocksgiving West Bandaza ever. Rather than try to recollect two months back with crystal clarity, let me just provide a quick rundown:

  • Thirteen people showed up.
  • Two tofurkeys actually made it to the table.
  • Five pounds of potatoes got mashed.
  • Multiple people rocked out with our East Coast counterparts.
  • One fursuiter attended and briefly played drums in-suit.
  • Six pumpkin pies met a timely and delicious fate.
  • One giant spice cake and several other desserts also vanished.
  • Several people stayed multiple days to help with leftovers.
  • The last of the dishes are just now being resolved.
As noted at the time, this almost turned out more like Thanksgivicon Zero than anything else. Next year, we may do conbooks.

Finally, I have been Sick. Now, when I say sick, I don't just mean a sniffle, a cough, or some funky discharges. I'm talking about full-blown lungbutter, technicolor sputum the consistency of semi-set Jell-O, night sweats, and the occasional thirty-eight degree fever. I have, in fact, been in one form of ill health from Rachel's return from MFF through to... um... today. I'm still coughing, still have a sore throat, and still wake up with the occasional bout of nasty throat crap that has to be coughed free. Yes, I've been to a doctor, and she told me that I probably had a really nice case of bronchitis on top of sinusitis, and that from here there's nothing more I can do besides lozenges, pain killers, and cough suppressants when I need them. I'm quite literally sick of being sick at this point.

And that's what's been up. In retrospect, it doesn't sound like a lot, but when you mix it in with everything else that has to happen in the ordinary course of living one's life, it's really quite a lot, or at least it felt like it at the time. I can only hope that I'll be better in the future about keeping people apprised of what's going on in a timely fashion. I know I've said that before, though, and all I can do is say that I'm aware of how poorly I do this. Most of my friends tend to update their diaries on a much more frequent basis, and I tend to save up for larger posts, so I always feel like I'm "the quiet one." That's probably not going to change any time soon.

P.S. I won't be at FC this year, or probably any year, really. If I'm going to take off a week for my own private holiday, it's really hard to get another week less than a month later, no matter how much time in advance I give notice. You guys are just going to have to move the con.

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