I had originally flown back home on September 25, expecting to stay until the following Thursday. The apartment closing was scheduled for Tuesday, and I had thought of spending a few days at my parents’ house, putting in a few hours at work, going to a class at the old dojo and generally relaxing around this transfer of ownership and the official end of my residency in New York City. In terms of the paperwork for the apartment combination, everything was done except for the stamp from the Department of Buildings — the letter of completion (LoC) — which the architect had assured me would be done by Monday at the latest.

Needless to say, it didn’t work out that way. Oh, the pre-closing days were as expected, with relaxation mixed in with calls to the architect on why the hell the paperwork hadn’t been completed yet; he had had a month after the last inspections were done, after all. I was worried, but thought that in the worst case the sellers could accept a large escrow while I made sure the paperwork was completed.

So I went into the closing on Tuesday expecting to finish it that day, with a large sum of money locked up by the lawyers until everything was properly stamped. I informed the lawyers and the buyers of missing LoC at the start of the closing, and the buyers seemed to accept the escrow idea, so we proceeding with signing documents; the lawyers would do the paperwork for this towards the end, when most of the routine signing was done. In the meantime, we kept trying to raise the architect by cell phone, as well as putting calls into the Department of Buildings to see if anyone in the city bureaucracy could help us.

We signed papers for the next hour and half: documents on title transfers, smoke alarms, UCC-1 filings, bank acknowledgements, co-op papers, and so on. The co-op and management company didn’t need the LoC to issue a combined stock certificate for the apartment, just the Alteration Type 2 which we could see was filed months ago on the DoB website. The LoC was needed more quickly by the buyers mainly because they intended to start immediate renovations of, say, kitchen and bathrooms, and needed my job closed out before they could do their own filings.

When it came time for the lawyers to draw up the escrow agreement, they went into relatively detailed explanations of the structure and expectations of the escrow to all parties. I would put a relatively hefty $30K in escrow, of which $10K would cover the buyer’s carrying costs for two months (these were $5K/month). After two months, the buyers were free to take the remaining $20K and go off to hire their own expeditor to close out the DoB paperwork. This probably wouldn’t take more than a month, and an expeditor probably wouldn’t cost that much, so they probably would have received an extra $10-$15K for their troubles, if I couldn’t produce that one final stamp by the end of November.

The buyers actually rejected this, reversing the previous approval to go ahead with it. They basically wanted me to take unlimited liability (in terms of their monthly carrying costs) to produce the paperwork, which was obviously unacceptable to me. Their lawyer did a very poor job of explaining the structure of the escrow to them, going into unhelpful hypotheticals about the nature of investment risk that probably just alarmed the buyers even more. They held a private conference out in the hallway while we tried again to reach the DoB and architect by phone. The architect was AWOL, while “Troy” at the DoB said that the best we could do was call them back after 2PM, and, maybe, maybe, someone could help us then.

At the end of this, around 1PM, the closing was adjourned until the LoC was released by the DoB. Adjournment fees were charged by bank and management company, especially since we had spent a lot of time signing — and thereby invalidating — a lot of documents generated for that day. We would try to reset for later, but the closing agent was sure there was no slot available for later this week, and possibly not for all of next week. The buyers and their lawyer had gotten into a tiff, including the attorney saying that his clients were being unreasonable underneath his breath, and they had left quickly. I went to get a quick, but angry and frustrated lunch of cheap pizza with my real estate broker, and then headed down to the Department of Buildings to look up all the records for the permit on my apartment, and see if the architect had actually been doing anything at all.

The DoB is down near Duane and Broadway, and most of the action (as far as we were concerned) takes place on the third floor. Despite the fluorescent lighting, it was surprisingly not like the municipal dungeon the old DMV was. In fact, there was a large room with a modern “bakery ticket” system for the various service windows, and computers set for the DoB Building Information System website. But as a total newbie from outside the construction industry, it wasn’t obvious which window to go to first. If the DoB is labyrinthine, it is so without physical walls, just a collection of service windows that all look alike. A guard there pointed me at this general intake window, which would give you one of those bakery tickets as a first step.

The person who I spoke to with that bakery ticket didn’t quite understand my question (which was possibly not well articulated, given the frustration level at that point), and told me to go down the hall to the borough commissioner’s office, which would be the one handling the LoCs. Maybe someone there would be able to help me. Down the hall I went to a small waiting area with a short line serviced by a single window. The person at the window there didn’t understand my question either, but pointed to a set of binders off to the side that may contain the LoC submission information from my architect. While waiting to look at the binders, I was bitching about the whole situation (“blown closing… escrow… strangle architect…”) to another guy waiting there. Someone else in a suit, rain coat and DoB badge overheard me and told me to look in such-and-such binder, and that LoC approval stamps were usually issued on the same day the final paperwork is submitted; they’re delayed only if there are problems. This only made more angried and more worried.

As I explained to the man in the suit that I wasn’t sure at that point if my architect had actually done what he was supposed to do, he gave me detailed advice on how to look up information in the DoB (“This place can be intimidating if you don’t know your way around.”) and led me back to the first room to take a look at the job using the computers there. After seeing the job status, we went back to the borough commissioner’s waiting room and looked in the binder for the job paperwork, and saw that the LoC paperwork had been submitted earlier, but that it had been rejected by the commissioner on yesterday. We couldn’t see the reasons for the rejection because the accompanying page had been taken out of the binder, which is apparently standard practice for people retrieving status information to work on. So, my architect had submitted something, and presumably had gotten the rejection notice the day before, possibly for missing a box in the paperwork. The missing sheet suggested that he was working on it now, but there was no way to be sure without actually looking at the full job paperwork.

It was back to the big room to retrive documents from the stacks. My benefactor guided me through printing out such-and-such page from the BIS website and taking it to this other window on the other side of the room from where I had began. He had to leave now — I think the badge indicates that he’s an architect himself, or an expeditor or contractor, someone with regular business at the DoB — but I was just sitting and waiting for the archives to be retrieved anyway. (Thank you, whoever you were!)

I waited for about half an hour. It was about twenty past 2PM now. I had toyed with the idea of calling “Troy”, but there seemed to be little point, as I was at the DoB already, getting direct access to the submitted paperwork. I checked my voicemail at work and found I had a message there: it was my missing architect, saying that the LoC had been stamped and issued fifteen minutes ago; he had seen the status change on the DoB website. I walked over to the computers and waited in line to use them. Waited anxiously. When I was able to log on, I saw that all the status columns had changed from their “inspection passed” states to “signed off”. I guess this happens at 2PM. Shocked, I went back down the hall to the commissioner’s office and saw a freshly printed stack of LoCs in one of the out trays. Further shocked, I was able to reach my architect by phone where I told him that I was going to the DoB to get the LoC myself, and that he shouldn’t bother. The sign off apparently happened perhaps an hour after the adjournment was declared.

Amusingly, the LoC was printed out when it the laser printer was apparently running out of toner, as there was a big blank streak down the middle of the page. Because I didn’t want it to look like I went home and printed an LoC myself, I asked the person behind the window if I could get another copy, off freshly installed toner (though I guess their printer is about the same as my printer, and the authoritative check is on the DoB website). There was some back and forth, as she initially didn’t want to go through the trouble, but the big blank streak on the document persuaded her. She turned around to someone further back in the office who was sweeping something up. “Troy, can you reprint this one?” Troy came up with broom and dustpan in his hands, said I didn’t need it printed again — all the LoC text is the same and everyone knows what it says — but eventually relented after some begging on my part.

I called my lawyer’s office immediately, and asked them to start scheduling the closing again. I got to Flushing about an hour later, around 4PM, and gave a copy of the precious LoC to be faxed to the buyer’s attorney, as well a printout of the DoB website’s updated job status page. At home, I emailed the URL for page off the DoB website to everyone who might care, asking them to pass it on to anyone I might have missed.

Early the next morning, I went to the management company’s office to talk to the closing agent in person to see if I could persuade her to do a fast rescheduling. This was mainly because I had to decide what to do with my airline ticket, and whether I should fly home to Cleveland and come back again, or stay. I also had left my cell phone charger in the conference room during the confusion and disappointment of the closing adjournment, and needed to pick it up. By the time I spoke with the closing agent, she had already spoken with my attorney’s office and had given them two dates on the following week, the Wednesday and the Thursday. My attorney was trying to coordinate with the buyer’s attorney to see which date was acceptable. Relieved that people were doing things, I went off to work.

Later that day, my attorney’s office called to say that the closing was at 1PM the following Thursday, a bit more than a week from then. I checked airline prices and it didn’t seem to be worthwhile using my original ticket to go home and then come back, especially when Independence Air allowed me to change the date on the ticket for a $25 fee, plus the difference in fare prices. So, it was another week of waiting.

During that week, I went to work, was uke for a set of tests at the dojo, said goodbye (again) to the place I had lived in for the past six-and-a-half years and generally hung around and commuted from Bayside for the most part. I used up a lot of time on Vonage talking to Grace that week. She had to mail me the apartment keys, since she had overnight call that Thursday.

A day or two before the rescheduled closing, I got a call from my attorney saying that the time was pushed back to 2:15PM. This was worrisome, since the last Independence Air flight out of JFK for Cleveland was at 6PM that night. On the plus side, the management company is right next to Penn Station, so I could take the train to Jamaica and the AirTrain to get to JFK fairly quickly. There was also a Chase branch at Penn Plaza, so I could deposit my checks right after the closing. On the negative side, everything had to be done by, say, 4PM, which, given the last closing, seemed to be pushing it. I asked my attorney to tell everyone to be on time, that I had a flight that evening. In the worst case, I would fork over another $25 to Independence Air and change my flight for early the following day; I would know what was happening a few hours before the flight time in any case.

Thursday came by, and I dropped off my luggage at the management company in the morning, bought a train ticket to Jamaica, dropped off my half-used Weekly Metrocard with my mom in Midtown, and then did the tourist thing of going up the Empire State Building to take pictures, a place I hadn’t been since grade school. I had take-out lunch from the Chelsea Whole Foods, since a sit down at one of the Korean restaurants would probably take too long. I ate it on the steps at FIT and walked the few blocks up to the management company by 2PM.

My attorney arrived on time and told me all this shouldn’t take that long, even if we have to re-sign a lot of the documents. While we were waiting, he had me sign everything I could sign at that point, before the buyers and the banks arrived. They arrived shortly thereafter, and did their own signing and counter-signing. By 3PM, I had very little to sign myself, and it was a matter of waiting around for everyone else to finish up. My mom came at around 3:20PM, as backup to drop off the checks at the bank in case I had to rush off to catch the train. But this wasn’t necessary, as we all finished at 3:45PM, when the last papers were signed and accepted by the seller’s bank, the proceeds checks were passed to me, and I handed the apartment keys over with a jumbled explanation of which keys worked with which locks on which doors. At that point, I officially was no longer a New Yorker.

There wasn’t time to reflect on that moment. My mom and I went to the Chase branch immediately (all Chase branches are now open to 6PM in Manhattan because of competition from such entities as Commerce Bank), waited in the short line, watched the teller look a little speculatively at the gi-normous checks we got from the buyers’ bank and the buyers themselves, got the Chase deposit receipt and the warning that all funds won’t be immediately available because of Federal rules, and then rushed off to the LIRR tracks. I caught the 4:01PM train to Jamaica and hopped on the AirTrain before 4:30PM. I got to the airport and passed through the light Terminal 4 security checkpoint quickly enough to have the Independence Air person ask if I wanted to try to catch the 5PM flight (couldn’t do it, because of the connection at Dulles). And that was that. I was home in Cleveland a few hours later.

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