Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Home Sweet Home

This is the story of girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world.

We could discuss the psychological, moral and philosophical aspects of Megan McArdle's latest attempt to make her way through this cold, cruel world, but time is short and we're going straight for the jugular snark.
More Adventures in Home Buying

So, almost three months after we put in an offer on a house, we are still without a home. Without any home, in fact. We moved out of our rental in late July, because there had been a flood, and since we were scheduled to close on August 15th, it seemed to make sense to simply move out and let the landlord make repairs before re-letting it.

The "flood," which was burst pipes and was not actually an act of nature-gone-wild, took place around the 24th or so. McArdle and P. Suderman evidently decided that nothing could possibly go wrong with buying a house but everything would go wrong with getting the pipes fixed. They could have rented one of those monthly hotel suites--short stays in Washington seem to be a way of life for many government workers--but evidently they didn't want to spend the money. It would be so much cheaper to bunk with sis for a few weeks, even though that meant starting married life in less than ideal conditions.

We moved into my sister's basement for a few weeks.

(::smothered giggles::)

Yeah, like that. Naturally everything went as planned for McArdle et al. in this, the best of all possible worlds.


McArdle is nothing if not predictable. But hey, we know that the market must be free to work and it tends to equilibrium and that people are rational actors who take every consideration into account when making economic decisions and that consumers always have all the knowledge that they need to make those informed decisions, so what could have possibly gone wrong?

The property we are supposed to buy had tenants. Though the tenants initially said they would move out by the first of August, that proved impossible.

McArdle says in the comments that she and Mr. McArdle were told the tenant would be gone, that the seller was working on it by offering the tenant money and there would be no problem with the closing, and "[t]here was no way to know this was going to happen until it did." But there was also no way to know that problems wouldn't arise. They usually do in unknown situations. Why McArdle chose to believe that she did not have to think about any negative consequences is beyond us but it is no surprise to see McArdle assume that everyone will do what she wants. She put off inspecting her car and mailing her wedding invitations until the last minute and complained vociferously when she finally realized that she had waited too late. It was the fault of the clerks or the government or liberal policies, never McArdle herself. The elite write the rules, they don't have to follow them.

We moved the closing to late August. Then to September first, because the tenants still weren't out. It wasn't that big a deal, so we didn't think[---]

McArdle could have stopped right there; the rest is just rationalization anyway.

[---]much of it--it can be hard to find a place, and while we certainly wanted to move in, we weren't in such a heroic rush that we couldn't give the tenants a little extra time to find a place. The tenants are recent college grads who'd been living in the place for four months, not long-term tenants who might have real trouble finding a new permanent abode. We had no reason to expect this to turn into a problem.

In other words, McArdle assumed that the seller, who had an ulterior motive to stretch the truth or lie to her, was telling the truth. We know McArdle had the same attitude in her professional work. We saw her marvel at the idea that bankers would lie to make enormous fees. Did McArdle have the same attitude while dating? "Of course I believe you when you say that the bra in the bed belongs to your sister. Why would you lie to me?"

We moved into my mother's spare bedroom, in order to give my sister and her roommate a break.

I think I saw this movie. It starred Hayley Mills and was a gritty slice of British working class life.

We were assured that the tenants would absolutely, without question, be out by the fifteenth, so we scheduled our closing for this past Friday.

For someone who makes a living by lying to the public she sure is gullible.


She says that a lot, doesn't she?

On Thursday morning, our agent, who had driven by the house, informed us of something strange: the tenant seemed to still be living there. We panicked. At 2:30, the worst was confirmed: the tenant was still there. Furthermore, the tenant, who had seemed happy to find another place, suddenly wasn't happy at all. In DC, tenants are entitled to 90 days notice before moving. They had been given that notice on July 1st. That entitled her to stay until the 30th, and on Wednesday night, she suddenly informed the agent that she intended to avail herself of that right.

Note that the tenant is availing herself of her legal rights. That becomes important later on and might be on the quiz.

I'm not going to take issue with the law itself--tenants should get some notice, and while maybe 90 days makes it too difficult to sell in this market, I'm not prepared to get into an argument about the platonically ideal length of tenant notification. Nor am I going to complain when someone makes a basic exercise of their legal rights.

Isn't the whole point of this post to complain about someone making a basic exercise of their legal rights? Yeah, I thought so.

However, it's a big problem for us. Our mortgage commitment expires the 27th. Had we known that she wanted the full 90 days ahead of time, we could have planned around it--finalizing our mortgage on a date that would give us leeway to close after she moved out. Certainly, we wouldn't have given up our old place, which is costing us a fortune in extra moving and storage fees, and has imposed a heavy burden on our relatives. Exercising her option at literally the very last minute has left us wondering whether we're going to be able to close at all.

None of us can predict the future and few of us can afford to learn only through hindsight, as McArdle seems to prefer. Therefore we consider all angles, even the ones we don't like to think about, make plans, and form contingencies. Hmmm, what could have McArdle done to avoid this problem?

We're not willing to close on the house while a tenant is still in it; we're worried that serving her notice that we intend to take occupancy will restart the clock on the notification, leaving us with nowhere to live. I don't really want to have to evict someone. Moreover, even if I did, eviction in DC, while possible, is extraordinarily difficult, including provisions like these: [snipped quote].

As you can see, if this drags out even a little, we could conceivably be forced to wait until spring to take possession; there aren't a lot of guaranteed warm, sunny days in DC in January. We're not eager to make a mortgage payment on a place we're not living in.

So McArdle didn't want to pay for a hotel and she didn't want to pay for storage fees and extra moving feels and doesn't want to pay for another appraisal. She wouldn't have had to but evidently she didn't want to pay for a lawyer to handle the transaction either. Savvy MBAs don't need to waste money on lawyers, do they? And everyone knows that "DC just doesn't seem to do that kind of stuff." In fact, McArdle's entire dilemma comes down to a question a lawyer can answer: Will McArdle have to wait another 90 days for the tenant to leave if she buys the house? Why did she would write this post instead of spend a couple of hundred to go over the contract with a lawyer and get answers to all her questions?

If we can't close, we'll be in a bit of a pickle. While I haven't compiled scientific data to back me up, my experience in going through the listings is that the housing tax credit grossly distorted the market. Almost anyone who wanted to buy, or sell, in the next twelve months, hastened to put their property on the market before April 30th. The market still clears--the few houses that are priced where the market wants to buy get snapped up immediately. But there are precious few of these. Most of the market, at least in the neighborhoods where we can afford to live, is the stuff that's hard to sell-- beautiful fixer-uppers that require more capital than we have, and overpriced places that won't appraise for where they're listed.

Then move to a cheaper neighborhood.

The rental market seems similarly thin, so we really don't know what we're going to do if we don't buy now. And moving in and out means added expense on top of the money we will have lost on the application process.

Do I regret it? Not really; you have to take some chances in life, and I did love that house. Still love it, and hope to live in it. We'll know in the next few days whether owner and tenant were able to come to some sort of agreement, or whether we have to start the process all over again. Wish us luck.

I do wonder what effect things like this are having on the broader housing market--either here, or in the country as a whole. A lot of people who needed to move and were underwater or close to it, ended up having to rent out their houses to help make the mortgage. At least in DC, however, this makes it harder to sell. Certainly, if we have to go back onto the market again, we'll be extremely leery of looking at any house with a tenant in it. That has to make it harder for the markets to clear.

As Megan McArdle goes, so goes the nation!

That's the end of McArdle's post but not the end of her story. In the comments we pick up a little more information, which the commenters slowly extracted bit-by-bit, like a dentist pulling a shattered tooth. It seems that McArdle's perspective house is owned by someone who "is underwater and lives abroad" and that it's a short sale(corrected). Which makes her aversion to hiring a lawyer even stranger. McArdle would find another house but the houses in the neighborhoods she likes are all "overpriced." Again, McArdle could just move farther out but then she'd be stuck commuting from some suburb on the subway like all the other slobs.

But Megan McArdle has learned several very valuable lessons: everything is someone else's fault, never pay for unnecessary services like legal advice, and the liberal government is trying to ruin a poor little gal's dream of owning a home sweet home.


Clever Pseudonym said...

A better writer could have taken the subject of the trials of buying a home and used humor, self-deprecation, and a host of other talents to make a story like this really, really funny. Megan just stomps her feet, screeches "poor me," and blames her own bad planning on everyone but herself.

Susan of Texas said...

I don't understand why she would want to blog about her mistakes at all, unless she does so to analyze her mistake and teach others from her experience. But that assumes that she can analyze, learn and teach.

cynic said...

I think she blogs about her mistakes out of vanity: she is the Queen and is not above some silly mistakes and look how well she is handling it.

It is cruel and spiteful people (like me) who point out the obvious and she expects to be defended by her subjects

In her world, this is self-deprecation. Not 'silly me', but 'see what I have to put up with by way of this silly world.? Well, noblesse oblige and all that'.

Kathy said...

ArgleBargle's defenders blame "Liberal" government laws designed to protect tenants for all Megan's problems.

It seems any efforts to help the not-rich is Liberal and evil.

What's puzzling: ALL her commenters can't be wealthy? Surely some of them are and others once were renters, and know what nasty things landlords will do if not restrained from doing by the law?

So many also advocate using straight-forward Terrorism Tactics towards the tenants who don't wish to, or are unable to, move out.

These are persons who admire her, and she seems to like them a lot, too.

Downpuppy said...

Actually, Megan says that it's not a short sale.

But like everything else in this story, she's probably wrong, or meant that she didn't know it when she made the offer, and can't write. Or she still thinks the seller will pay it off.

Anonymous said...

Not to hijack the thread, but the fact that the NY Times gives space to MMcA to write stuff as vapid as this:

should answer those who question the need to fight her mediocrity.

Susan of Texas said...

Thanks for the correction, Downpuppy!

Anonymous said...

Egads, that the Times let that hack take up space on their site. Someone who is always wrong on the internet as recently as this week!


Anonymous said...

Geez, after reading that pablum at the Times' site again ... it's even worse than I thought. It's nothing but a string of cheap cliches.

"During the Great Depression, the economy recovered between 1933 and 1937, only to plunge again as the fiscal and monetary stimulus which had sustained growth finally had to be withdrawn."

It didn't "have to be" withdrawn. It was withdrawn because FDR listened to Randian overlords like those who fund McMegan's excellent adventures.

"The fact is that recessions driven by financial crises seem to be especially deep and painful."

WTF? "the fact is" "seem to be"?

"The government can alleviate the worst of the pain, but it cannot bring back the sense of confidence about the future that reigns during more normal economic periods."

Pretty rich for someone who loves her some austerity measures.


FMguru said...

This reminds me of when she was doing all of her wedding planning, and kept getting tripped up by the fact the various caterers and decorators conducted their business in ways that were to their benefit, and not hers. Charging extra for a rush job? Upselling you at the last minute? Demanding a deposit ahead of time? The queen was appalled that mere commoners weren't completely deferential to her needs. She thought her custom was a prize above rubies, and was astonished that tradesmen were willing to bypass it in lieu of a bigger score (or one that was less hassle).

This is all quadruply funny because little miss libertarian is being hung by her own petard. Her whole shtick is about how clever she is because she understands the system and how to game it and if you lose, well, it's because you're just not as smart as the Galtian geniuses who have the whole thing wired and maybe you should have made better decisions. Until she ends up holding the short end of the stick - then it's liberals and big government and the unfairness of it all.

That's the thing about making optimizing decisions in free markets, Meg - other people get to do that, too.

How long before Peter Suderman-McArdle trades her in for a younger model?

Anonymous said...

I am just boggling, because I was in a very similar situation in 2002 when I bought my house (2 flat building, existing tenants downstairs). I went in and out of contract 4 times because the seller tried to weasel around with various disclosures, but kept missing deadlines so that by the time he coughed up the problem information, we were already out of contract. The final weasel move was him forgetting to mention--oops!--that the tenants had missed rent payments and were paying partly in yardwork labor.

I am in San Francisco, which has rental laws that make DC's look landlord-friendly by comparison. It is effectively impossible to evict, even for nonpayment of rent (especially if you have accepted reduced rent without starting procedures). So I went back to the seller and said: get them to move out, I will only close on a vacant house. I don't know how much he paid them, but that's what happened.

This is not rocket science. You can't close on a house with an uncertain tenant situation in a city with tenant-friendly laws. I know that, and I don't even have an MBA or write about economics! Jeez.

Downpuppy said...

37 & living with her mother.

This is my nightmare, even after 30 years of independence.

I can't even mock Megan in her comments on this.

Mr. Wonderful said...

ALL her commenters can't be wealthy? Surely some of them are and others once were renters, and know what nasty things landlords will do if not restrained from doing by the law?

This is the conundrum with much of the right, the Tea People, the unemployed screamers, etc. Why ally themselves with the privileged?

Because "the American Dream" is just that--an aspirational fantasy. You hitch your wagon to "a winner" in the hopes that that attitude alone will be what puts you over the top and enables you to join their ranks.

Everyone knows this. The middle and lower class "are against" taxes on the rich because they, themselves, "will one day be rich."

The correlation between that faith, and religious faith--which is, by definition, belief in a situation and an outcome that objective reality does not support--would be interesting.

SamInMpls said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I wonder if that tenant has been pointed out to her thread yet.

Spy Hill said...

If I had a sibling that was an irritating dilettante, and she showed up at my house (with hipster husband and giant, drooling dog in tow) looking for free accomodation, even though they can damn well afford to stay elsewhere, I would quickly discover my inner Libertarian and yell "NO! LOOTER!" while pushing her off my front step.

Batocchio said...

OT, but not really - Mother Theresa McBargle: "How to Survive a Layoff."

Smut Clyde said...

I was under the impression that a housing bubble had burst and house-prices are in free-fall -- an unprecedent buyer's market. And yet MM still cannot find a house that she wants and can afford... just lots of houses that she can afford but doesn't want.

Since the Market Cannot Fail (it can only be failed), it follows that there is some form of legislative hindrance distorting the market and impeding the free flow of commerce.

My eyes glazed over before I could work out precisely what form she reckoned this distortion was taking, but it sounded like she wasn't able to bring herself to blame the house-owner for acting like a rational agent and leasing to a tenant, so instead it had to be something to do with perverse incentives in taxation.

cynic said...

Our McMegan, in a nutshell

Anonymous said...

I'll bet the "point" of her self-involved article (aside from the bonus of being about Megan) is to scrounge up some free advice from one of her pretentious jail-cell lawyer readers.

Or maybe it's to encourage one of her stalkers to visit these tenants and make them an offer they can't refuse.

aimai said...

Batocchio's right, the new thread on "how to survive a layoff" is absolutely on point for revealing how Megan, and her loyal commenters, think. They read an article about a woman who gets laid off from her 80,000 a year job in a market where there are five people applying for every vacancy and where age discrimination is working against her and they attack this poor woman for not "taking any job she can get" including imaginary ones composed of guys walking around with ladders and lightbulbs and offering to change lightbulbs for 5 dollars per at the mall. This gritty real life story of some guys making 150-300 dollars a day (in one mall, before they are thrown out by mall security for the insurance risk they pose) proves that no one need ever be out of work. Also, she should use an "austerity" budget and eat nothing but stale bagels and ramen noodles. Could megan offer them an "austerity" budget? They are turning to a woman who has shown zero ability to live within her very considerable means other than by mooching and they are all convinced its a sign of virtue.

Ayn Rand's austerity budget would look like this "borrow housing, food, and cigarettes from your friends."


Anonymous said...

Did McArdle have the same attitude while dating? "Of course I believe you when you say that the bra in the bed belongs to your sister. Why would you lie to me?"

Hey, Ms. McArdle did not get hitched until she was 37 or 38 and had to do so in a Cougar-ish fashion to a man nearly a decade her junior.

Explains a lot, I think.

sneezy said...

Hi Susan, I'm not commenting on this article in particular (though it's worthy of praise) but rather using it as an opportunity to mention how much I enjoy reading your work.

I'd like to think the need for this blog would be obviated by McArdle being fired for being the incompetent idiot and truly awful writer that she is, but I don't really expect that. So as long as you're able to keep this up, I'll keep reading. You're terrific.