Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dropping like flies

Once the Promesse de Vente was finally signed, and the closing scheduled for October, there was still a lot to do, and none of it proceeded linearly. We still had to secure a loan, find someone to renovate the apartment and come up with a plan and a budget, and settle on a notaire, the fancy French bureaucrat who plays a role combining a notary, a lawyer, and a million of those mysterious and expensive little jobs that occur in the background of American real estate transactions, like escrow and title search. Then it was still Flathunter's job to tie all this together, to act as our agent in Paris, recommend people for the jobs, and coordinate all the arrangements. C's job was supposed to be done… she was the chasseur, the apartment hunter, and we presumed that the management tasks would revert to H., the British-American supervisor with whom we had signed the original contract.

We soon had a mini-crisis to cope with, pretty much all the players involved. In order to get our mortgage improved, we needed to submit a devis, basically a formal estimate from a contractor. We had two obvious contacts for contractors, the first, C, had been recommended by Flathunter. [This pretentious first-letter system I have been using to anonymize people must have worked better for nineteenth century novelists who had control over their character's initials. Most everyone involved in this story turns out to be a C. I should probably just make up names.] Anyway, this C was a very nice young woman who actually visited the Bellechasse apartment with is, as well as another one I haven't mentioned. I think we pretty much assumed we would use her. The other option was Monsieur P (first initial C), an architect associated with the company that we hope will wind up handling our rentals. We got estimates from both of them. The one from C was 30% lower than the one from Monsieur P. We submitted both to our mortgage broker, assuming we would be going with the cheaper system, but we got a surprise… the broker wrote back that the bank had rejected Mlle. C, because her company had a bad credit rating.

Now what? Turn to Flathunter, they can help us figure it out. But emails to H quickly started to go unanswered, leading to a familiar feeling of being disconnected from any guidance. What exactly were we supposed to do? Finally we sent a sterner email pleading for some kind of response. The response: she was sorry, she had been meaning to tell us, but she had left Flathunter to go to business school in Barcelona. We were upset and worried, but Carol managed to get her on the phone, had a long conversation, and was reassured. H said that she would certainly follow our case through to conclusion, she felt responsible for us and would make sure everything went OK. We never heard from her again.

So with H. gone we turned to Maitre L, our Notaire. We had to arrange to put 10% of the purchase price down in escrow with the Notaire, and to sign papers for power of attorney so we would not have to be there at the closing. At first, everything went fine, if you don't count the endless Fed Ex fees. But then, Maitre L.'s emails started to tail off as well. At first this wasn't unusual, of course, Notaires are never very reliable emailers. But as communication started to get rarer and rarer, we got that familiar feeling: Is anyone home? Then the same pattern occurred, we got anxious, sent a demanding email, and after several days received a reply from Maitre L's firm that Maitre L was no longer employed there. This was a blow. Maitre L had been specifically recommended to us, in fact by H, now of Barcelona. It had been emphasized over and over that we absolutely needed to have a English-speaking Notaire. Now we had no Notaire, and no one at Flathunter to recommend a new one. After several emails to Maitre L's firm, we finally got a brief email back, in French, from some new Notaire who said our case had been assigned to him. He seemed to know nothing at all about us. The power of attorney that we had worked on for weeks would have to be done all over again. As usual, no apologies, no mention of how sorry they were to make us start all over. In fact, the emails had a slightly annoyed tone, like we had neglected to provide him with the power of attorney. Even worse, he said that even with a power of attorney we would have to travel to the French Embassy in Washington to complete the signing. I once spent two days at the French Embassy trying to get a visa for my daughter, so this was a truly horrifying possibility.

More emails ensued, and as turned out to often be the case, our mortgage broker, L., finally stepped in, writing a stern email to Maitre F, the chief of the firm, telling him that we absolutely had to be assigned an English-speaking Notaire. Maitre F speaks a little English himself, so it was up to him and he agreed. It is now late September, the closing was scheduled in something like three weeks. We still had no devis, no loan. I'll take up there next time.

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