We closed on a house last Friday. A lovely four-bedroom, four-bath — that’s two each for both of us — in the foothills town of Conifer, west of Denver. It’s up on Shadow mountain and sits on two acres of sloping pine and aspen and other assorted plants that I don’t know the names of. It’s the very picture of serenity, and the close on Friday couldn’t have gone smoother except for the LAST MINUTE FLIGHT TO AND FROM DALLAS THAT CARA WAS FORCED TO TAKE BECAUSE CAPITAL ONE IS NOT ONLY THE WORST BANK IN THE WORLD BUT IS THE EPITOME OF ALL THAT IS WRONG WITH LATE STAGE CAPITALISM IN THE UNITED STATES.
But more on that later.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We moved to Colorado last fall with the intention of renting for a year, figuring out where we wanted to live, then buying toward the end of our lease — or even after the lease was up.
Then again, it wasn’t originally supposed to be like that either. We’d come to Colorado last spring with the intention of just buying a house and then moving. We checked out the mountain town of Nederland, which was full of hippies, had a semi-functional traffic circle, a few coffee shops and a lot of houses set on dirt roads where murderers, bears, and murderous bears might lurk. It was small is what I’m saying. And we’d just stayed at The Stanley, so maybe we were primed to think Colorado ghosts were out to get us.
We saw an amazing house in Nederland, one we considered out of our price range at the time (if you watch House Hunters, you know what kind of foreshadowing that is), and some not-so-amazing houses. But we learned that we didn’t know a thing about Colorado in general and mountain (or mountain-ish) living in particular. We also didn’t know what our work situations would be, so Nederland — west of Boulder — wasn’t going to be practical if either of us had to take a job in Denver. Also, trying to get a mortgage while living out of state seemed like it was going to be a pain in the ass.
So we found a place in Superior, a bedroom town between Boulder and Denver, and two hundred yards between the target and a massive open space with trails and amazing views of the Flat Irons.
Before moving out here, Cara landed a great job at a company on the west side of Denver. But she still wanted that mountain home. Because of the commute, Nederland would never cut it. I, on the other hand, had managed to maintain my employment doing content work for a small tech company called Google. I can work out of the Boulder office, which is ridiculously amazing like all of its offices are. Or I can work from home. So I was much more flexible about location.
Cara landed on an area just south of Evergreen, Colorado. We started browsing Zillow — window shopping really — for houses in Conifer, Bailey, Pine, and the outskirts of Evergreen. Because they are all over an hour away from Boulder, I kept an eye out west of Golden, which was mountainous, rural and would put us equidistant from my office and her office. But pickings were slim.
And then in January, I had a brilliant idea. It was also a practical one. Two things that don’t often go hand in hand. Despite our lease not ending until September, I suggested we start going to some open houses in the dead of winter to see if two idiots from Louisiana could drive the roads up there.
The second week in January, we got a pretty decent snow fall on a Friday morning. That meant the major roads would be cleared, so we could have a pretty stress-free drive out to the area but still see just how bad things were a full day after a storm. And, lo and behold, there were a handful of open houses.
We liked the very first house we saw. The road up was a little hairy, the driveway not completely plowed out, but nothing the Subaru couldn’t handle. The house had a beautiful living room, a massive rock fire place, and views of its relatively flat two acres. And, as if Colorado was pulling out all the stops, there were deer just hanging out in the yard. It was, and I don’t know how else to put this, a super cute house. The listing realtor, a guy by the name of Louis Moore, was extremely helpful and didn’t pressure us at all.
It was the exact opposite experience of when we set out to find a rental place last October. The first house we saw then was small, nasty, and occupied by a stoner who owned two dogs and a cat, so the whole place smelled of bong water and kitty litter.
We saw three more houses that day. At the last place, a tiny little thing, the realtor holding the open house told us to go check out a place on Rustler’s Road. By the time we got out there, though, the open house was over. Still, from the outside, the Rustler’s Road house was a stunner. A giant of a thing with massive floor to ceiling windows, it screamed “Colorado.” We made a note to see if it had an open house the next weekend.
On Sunday of that weekend, we went to an open house west of Golden. Because of its location, I really wanted this one to work. But alas, the house had some structural issues and needed more work that we were looking to do. It also featured an extremely loud parrot who wasn’t exactly thrilled that people were walking around its territory.
This was the house where we met Carrie Baldwin, a Keller Williams Foothills Realty broker who would end up guiding us through the rest of our house hunt. Not only was she a no-pressure kind of broker and very forthright about the house and what it needed, she had a background in construction, so she and Cara hit it off immediately. She also didn’t do a lot of listings and preferred to work with buyers (that’s us) and liked just looking at other houses.
We weren’t quite ready to pull the trigger and we had more houses to see, but this looked like it was going to be easy!
Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.
By the next weekend, we’d teamed up with Carrie and identified seven houses to check out, including the one on Rustlers Road.
This was the weekend we checked out Dick Mountain Road. Dick Mountain was listed with something like 3,400 square feet, six bedrooms on 12 acres of property, all for under $600,000. Turned out Dick Mountain was at the top of the mountain, alllllll the way at the end of the road, at the very tip, you could say. Upon first walking up, you noticed the exterior needed work. And there was a rail-less, zig-zagging wheel-chair ramp that looked more like a bob-sled run. Two or three sheds for hiding bodies. Upon entering, it had that old carpet smell, closets in weird places with doors hanging just off of level. There was also a framed print of the presidents of the United States that ended with Bill Clinton. And while it was listed as six bedrooms, they were all small and arranged in a warren down a long Shining hall off the back.
In fact, because of the bedroom layout and these massive open spaces with sweeping views, it felt like a cross between something out of The Shining and The Sinner — the sort of place where old white men did secret and unspeakable things. And upstairs, we found about a million dead flies (and wasps) all over the floor. Nothing says, “This is the home of your dreams” like dead flies everywhere. In the middle of winter. … The perfectly rational explanation is that one of the skylights were busted.
The house was previously the home of Eagle’s Nest Group Center, a home that cared for foster kids and adults with developmental disabilities! So it’s got a positive background, not a horrible one.
Oh. And that house on Rustlers Road? It was amazing on the inside. We fell in love with it immediately. It was everything we wanted. Completely throwing out our intention to merely window shop and stay in our current place until the lease was up, we hopped on the phone with a lender to check on pre-approval. And by the time that was done, it already had an offer on it.
This happened one other time, with a house in Pine. It was a massive house on its own 5-acre hill. It had a heated green house and a separate five-car garage and enough room for the tractor I’d have needed to plow the driveway — and for indoor crawfish boils. I’m not going to get into that one, though, because I’d had it on our list for weeks and by the time anyone listened to me to go see it, there was already an offer. We put in a backup, but obviously didn’t get it. We were sad. We were frustrated.
There was a lot of frustration during this process. But looking at houses is something I find fun. Clearly a lot of people do. Otherwise HGTV wouldn’t exist. There were houses with sweeping views. Houses with rotting decks. Houses with crazy layouts. Houses on private roads that had supposedly been plowed but still seemed to be buried under inches of snow and ice.
After spending most of our Saturdays in January, February, and March — and 30-something houses after starting — we walked into this house on Shadow Mountain. Why? Who knows? It was way over our budget. Perhaps it was the mountain spirits. Perhaps it was the zodiac. Perhaps because there was an open house and we happened to already be on Shadow Mountain. We’d seen a few houses already that day, some in Evergreen, some in Conifer. A couple came really close to what we were looking for. In fact, the house — on Warhawk Lane — immediately before the one we ended up purchasing was one that Cara had decided we just might go for. I think that might have turned into an argument. We were pretty much on the same page on all the houses, but this one, while sitting on a pretty three acres, was boxy, with tiny rooms, tiny bathrooms, a tiny living room, and a barely finished basement. I wasn’t feeling it at all and she was ready to put in an offer.
And then we drove up to Thunderbolt Circle. (By the way, aren’t the street names just amazing? Rustlers. Vigilante. Warhawk. Thunderbolt. Marauder. Makes me feel like burning down a village or something.)
We weren’t in the house three minutes and Cara said, “We have to get this house.”
And so we did.
Okay. It wasn’t that easy. We went in over ask. Apparently we were up against three other bidders all around the same price. Including an all cash offer. But the gods — or the homeowner — smiled upon us. She accepted our offer and we were off and running.
It wasn’t a run. It was an excruciating slog of inspections and tests. We’re in the country, so that means well and septic tests, looking for bacteria and, oh, uranium and radon in your water supply. Then there was the home loan process, which involved the sort of overly detailed intrusiveness that would make an IRS auditor blush. I get it. They’re loaning us a ton of money. But once you have W2s going back three years, do you really need every page of every tax return going back three years? Once you have those, do you actually need pay stubs and bank statements going back six months? Once you have bank statements going back six months, do you need actual copies of rent checks? Once you have the rent checks, do you actually need to get on the phone with the landlords to ask if we were paying rent? (Which, by the way, I had to get involved in because an easy-to-anger privacy protecting Brooklynite didn’t take well to some nice young girl from Utah cold calling him and getting up in his business.) Once you’ve got the bank statements, the rent checks, and the landlord phone call, do you really need a letter explaining why this certain amount of money is going out of my checking account every month. BECAUSE IT’S THE RENT I JUST TOLD YOU ABOUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.
Then they screwed up the appraisal.
But that was fixed soon enough. We were off to close. All we needed was a large sum of money for closing costs. Cara and I still have separate accounts for different things. The money we’d each set aside were in those separate accounts. The day before we were set to close, I hopped on the phone with the best bank in the world, USAA, and wired a five-digit sum of money within ten minutes. Cara got on the phone with Capital One, the worst bank in the world, and … everything went off the rails.
I’ll try to keep this short. Cara has had this particular account for 23 years. She opened it at Hibernia Bank in New Iberia when she was still in high school, living with her mom. Every time she’s moved, she’s updated her address, phone number, and contact information. She’s been doing this for two decades. Across multiple locations in Louisiana, New York, and Colorado. Because Capital One doesn’t have branches in Colorado, she conducts all of her banking these days online.
When she tried to wire the money, the phone number didn’t match. And they didn’t have an email on file. Despite her doing all her banking online. Despite her looking at her profile and seeing her number.
Capital One, it turns out, has multiple databases. Whatever they use for wires only had her mom’s phone number. You can’t very well text an authentication code to a landline in Louisiana, can you? Cara was told, for the first time in two decades, that to change this, she’d have to go to a branch. There are no branches in Colorado. There are Capital One Cafes in Boulder and Denver, but these aren’t branches. They’re dumb-ass PR gimmicks for Capital One — which, again, doesn’t have branches in Colorado — to get more of your money without paying for things like tellers and customer service.
What about a cashier’s check? They couldn’t do that with the type of account she had. What about changing the type of account? The funds might get locked for a day or so. Soooo, you mean changing the type of account, which means keeping the same money, in the same bank, would freeze up the funds? Yup. What about closing the account, which is what’s going to happen anyway, because you suck as a bank Capital One? You’d either have to go to a branch or we could mail you a check.
She escalated and escalated again. She was told she could maybe try an ATM — you know, because withdrawing a five-figure sum in cash is doable. She was told she could try writing a personal check at another bank. She was told by a Capital One employee that the bank was fully aware of this issue, that it happens a lot to snowbirds moving from New York to Florida, only to discover they have to fly back to their original branch to make some ridiculous change. She was also told — by a Capital One employee — that she basically should just close the account and switch banks because this sort of frustration wouldn’t end.
She was told once again, after hours and hours on the phone, that the only way to get a wire transfer was to go to an actual branch with government issued ID and her debit card.
So on Friday morning, the day of actual close, we woke up at 2:45, drove to the airport and put Cara on a 5 a.m. flight to Dallas. On arriving at the airport, she took a taxi to the closest Capital One branch and waited 12 minutes for it to open. While she went in, the taxi driver waited for her outside — they don’t get as many fares these days because of Uber, so he was happy for the business and the crazy story. Once inside, it took her all of ten minutes to get the money wired. Back to the airport, where she waited for her return flight. Miracle alert: There were no afternoon delays flying out of DFW!
I picked her up at the airport, we drove to Evergreen, and we closed on the house.
After closing, Carrie, the best real estate agent in the world ever, a woman with the patience of a saint, someone who talked us off the ledge various times, handed us a bottle of champagne, then took us for dinner at wine at Willow Creek Restaurant in Evergreen.
We sat there toasting our success and watching juvenile elk harass the geese in the lake below.