Thursday, November 19, 2009

Still No Closing

Yesterday was a rough day. We expected to close at 2:00 Paris time, 8:00 in the morning here. But when we got up at 6:00 and checked our email, we found two problems:

1) The money that had been transferred from our bank to the bank of the Notaire last Thursday still had not arrived, and no one knew where it was. I am leaving dollar amounts out of this account, but it is a lot of money, say 20% of what one might expect to pay for an apartment in Paris.

2) The Notaire let us know that the wrong amount of money was being transferred. He said we had "made a mistake" and 640 more euros were required.

Let's start with (1). We had been through a whole crazy mess last week trying to get enough dollars transferred from our bank account in the US to our bank in France so there would be enough money to transfer to the Notaire for closing. We finally had to do a direct bank transfer at a lousy exchange rate, but it got there, and our French banker, A., assured us that the money would now get to the Notaire on time. My last email to her explicitly said that I was counting on her to transfer the funds early enough to get them there for the closing on Monday.

So where is the money? No one knows. A. tells us it has definitely been transferred out of our account, and should be with the Notaire. Our mortgage broker, L., tells us the same. But on the rare occasions when they will communicate with us, the Notaires assure us that the money is not there. L. does some research, and discovers that the name to which the funds were transferred is actually the name of the first Notaire to whom we were assigned at the firm, a Maitre L., who since left, needless to say with no notice to us. I have to get to the whole story with the Notaire at some point in the future, but like so many other players in this story he simply disappeared, and we didn't find out why until we started asking why our emails weren't getting answered, or were getting answered even less than they usually are. Oh, Matire L., left the firm some time ago, we were told with that infuriating tone that it is foolish of us even to care about such unimportant matters.

For the first time yesterday morning, we started to get scared. Where was our money? Could it have been mistakenly directed to the departed Maitre L., who would now be sunning himself on a beach somewhere? We started to envision what it would be like to have to go to the police or a lawyer to try to recover our money if it really disappeared. Our helpers, A. at the bank and L. the mortgage broker, started to sound worried, for the first time. The Notaires ignored all pleas for help. L. asked for the phone number of their bank, and they replied that they didn't know.

Finally, late in the afternoon, L. managed to speak to the accountant at the Notaire, a Monsieur H. He provided bank details, and it turns out that a new bank transfer system has just been initiated in Europe, and this system takes three days to move funds across the street. The money should be there tomorrow, today as I write this, although it is still not there. But here is the question: Why did no one tell us about this? Again and again, we are locked in interactions with people who are nice and seem competent, who then utterly screw up some routine transaction, always with no apology and no looking back. This time it appears to have been the banker, A. She promised us that the money would be there on time, then sent it by some transfer system that is known to take three days, and to this moment has never said, Oh, sorry about that, it's a new system. In fact, just as with every screw-up we have encountered, there is always a post-hoc suggestion that the whole thing is really our fault, because we did not realize that it would take three days. Well, you know, money transfers take time, there is a new system in Europe. Well then why the f*#& didn't you tell us last week! By then it is too late, everyone has gone to lunch. Here is the system: when something goes wrong, you first blame the person who has been wronged, then disappear for a while, then refuse to talk about it any more, because it is old business, and a new screw up has arisen. Kind of like the Bush administration. The money still isn't there, although right now I at least sort of believe that it is going to make it.

That only brings us back to problem (2). Before everyone realized that the money for the closing wasn't getting there at all, we had the email from A. telling us that the Notaire, Matire P. had informed her that we were sending the incorrect amount of money, we owed 640 additional euros. We have every single email we receive from everyone, and the last email we have from the Notaire, sent November 3, had the lesser amount on it. L. the mortage broker has that amount, she is very detail oriented, and assures us that it must be some kind of mistake.

Well, OK, what is the extra 640 for? No one will tell us. As of this morning we have been begging Maitre P. for a full 24 hours to send us a revised statement of closing costs so we can see what we are being charged for. He has ignored our requests. Either he doesn't respond at all, the usual strategy, or responds about something else and simply doesn't mention the the new costs. L. has spoken to him, and suggest that he insists that he already sent us a new statement. That's BS, but fine, let's say we lost the new statement, and are humbly requesting a new copy. Could they please send us one? So far, nothing.

Our concern is that this new money is some kind of late fee to compensate either the Notaire or the seller for the delay that occurred on Monday when the lending bank "forgot" (the actual word they used) to transfer their funds to the Notaire for the closing. When I spoke to L. that day, I kept insisting that I didn't not want to be charged a late fee for this error, which was clearly not our fault. As usual, L. was appalled that I would even suggest such a thing. A late fee! Why would they charge for a bank error? Why would I worry about such a trivial and outlandish possibility?

Well, still no explanation. What's funny about this, is that we have still not heard from the owner of the apartment, Mr. L. (It will take me months to explain all of the players in this. I am just trying to be patient and keep writing.) Mr. L. has been a pain in the butt at every stage of this process, and has to be in a hurry to get the closing done so he can close on the apartment he is buying. Mr. L is not a patient man. Why isn't he complaining? Our guess is that the 640 is a payment to him to compensate him for the delay in the closing. It would explain why no one wants to explain it to us.

What do we do? By now, L, the broker, has changed her tune. Just pay it, she tells us. You are spending all this money on an apartment, why make an issue out of a relatively small amount of money like 640 euros? They have done this to us again and again. The Notaires are the worst, because unlike the rest of the players, they have no great stake in gettnig the deal done. What do they care? If we don't want to pay the 640 it's no skin off their ass, we can do whatever we want.

So I just emailed A. and told her to go ahead and transfer the money. That doesn't commit us to actually paying it, but if this transfer is going to take another three days we really need to get things rolling. But what do we do if it is a late fee charged to us? There is absolutely no recourse, and when things like this happen all of the people who are supposed to be helping us turn on us, because none of them get paid until we sign on the bottom line. So everyone will tell us the same thing: just pay it. Sure it's unfair, but what can you do, it's the French way. It will be, pay the damn 640 euros, or back out of the deal and lose the considerable, like 10% of the total cost, that we have already put down.

Still no emails from anyone. By the time the day gets rolling, everything in France has already shut down.

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