Today (Monday) was to be a day for awakening late, drinking coffee, working a little (at home), a nap, perhaps a nice lunch,
another nap, check emails and E2, a nap, etc.
Perhaps you, too, have spent hours on one or more days leading up to an extra
day off carefully planning for every contingency which might arise to
spoil it. Perhaps you, too, have experienced the glee which accompanies turning
one's alarm to "off" because the following morning it won't be
necessary to get up on time. Follow me here, for a moment then we'll get
back to today...
I expended a lot of time last week trying to coordinate the impossible. It's
damned impossible to get a home inspected if it's owned by the U.S. Government.
Even though the U.S. Government, via the HUD, wants desperately to cut its
losses and sell the house.
The first mistake was expecting that because we are buying via a real estate
agent (who is affiliated with one of the most prestigious, pretentiously
pompous offices in town), every stitch of work would be done by she and her
minions. Oh, how wrong was I.
Normally, when one purchases a home, the seller still has possession of the
house, meaning that the water, gas, and electricity are still
turned on. This also means that getting the home inspected for serious problems
(a given with any home, large or small) is a piece of cake. Now, when a house
has been vacated and winterized, it is usual and customary for the office of
one's agent to arrange to have all the utilities turned on and give the home
inspector his 2 days with the house. The utilities then can either be
transferred to your name at the closing, or should a problem so horrendous so
as to void your contract to buy emerge during the inspection, the utilities are
cut off, the home is then winterized (basically drained of water) at your
expense and you get your contract deposit back.
"Shouldn't Your Agent be Doing That?"
I assembled a stack of utility bills, one each for the restaurant, and one
each for our homes, current and previous. I figured they'd need account numbers
to verify that indeed our credit is good and that in fact we're current with our
bills. The first company I picked was the gas company. After a ten minute wait,
the person on the other end of the phone informed me "oh, no, we can't come out
and put the gas on until the water and the electric is on. We need the electric
on to start the furnace and the water on so nothin' blows up." I guess they
assumed that I'd have them into the house to light an empty water heater which
would then blast through all three floors and the roof, arcing over the
neighborhood like an ICBM gone wrong.
When asked if I could at least have them pencil in a date to avoid my waiting
another ten or more minutes on the phone, I was told there was no way they would
do that. No, they had to be certain that everything was ready for their
qualified technician. Now, I'd been very, very nice and extremely polite with
the lady at the other end of the telephone. And I guess she did have a heart,
because she said to me, "well, I can't talk at length about this but ain't your
real estate agent 'spose to be doin' that?" I told her that in
one sentence she'd probably saved me hours in time, and a little money too.
The realtor told me that I needed to obtain "permission letters" from the 3
utilities in order to have her company go ahead and proceed with the turn-ons.
I've bought a couple of homes, and this I've never heard of. If anything,
the permission letters come from the seller, allowing the utilities to enter the
premises on my behalf. This agent, this catty little woman was going to earn a
rather large commission on this deal with very little effort; the house had
been on the market a month, she'd not spent gasoline nor shoe leather getting my
wife to sign a contract, and everything was hunky-dory. So label me a rat, but
I called her office manager.
The office manager was aghast. I don't blame her for thinking quickly so as
to come up with an excuse on the spot. She said that our agent had never been
involved in the sale of a foreclosed home before, so the extra layer of
paperwork must've confused her. You can imagine my surprise when a day later our
agent called me up and said "have you gotten the utilities turned on yet?"
"No, I haven't. And I'm not getting you any permission letters, either.
You, my dear, will have the utilities turned on, in the correct
order, so I may have the home inspected in a timely fashion."
"Well, you didn't use one of the home inspectors our office recommended, er,
they normally take care of those things..."
"Connecticut State law says I can use any licensed inspector I care to
use. I can use a fucking licensed chimpanzee if I so desire!" With that I threw the handset of the phone at
my office wall, where it made a sizeable dent.
Just then wifey showed up. I told her that her friend the real estate agent
was a meathead, and lazy at that. She nodded her head in agreement, then gave me that 'have a heart' look and said, "Help [insert name of agent here]
out a little bit."
"Sure, if you tell her to give me a portion of the five grand or so she's
getting from this deal." My wife then looked at me with the kind of look that
caused me to fall in love with her; I mean, she really poured it on. "She's my
friend," she said, "can't you help her just a little. Besides, you sit here
doing nothing all day!" That last one really helped her cause. However,
throughout our marriage, she has bragged to others that when she says "jump," I
ask, "how high?" So I'd do a little jumping, and later get compensated for my
It took all of seven minutes to produce an ice bucket, tongs, a sizeable
glass and a litre of Johnnie Walker. Then it was back to the phones. The
"Paul, all these things you just described to me are the duty of the buyer's
agent. Call her office back and make her do it; especially if you're
drinking over it."
"Billy, how did you know I was drinking?"
"You don't put ice in your tea cup." He'd heard me swilling the potent amber
liquid with the tiny icebergs afloat. Remind me to get a tiny, ice-cube-sized
floating model of the Titanic to put in my glass on days like this.
I finished the call with, "The (expletive deleted) is a friend of my wife's.
I have no choice."
The call to the water company was answered promptly by a cheerful, mature
voice. I squealed with delight when she told me "...gee, that's funny, HUD's
paid the water bill and we haven't removed the meters yet, even though I show an
order to have them taken out..." Suffice it to say all I needed to do was turn
on the main valve and West Hartford's sparklingly
pure natural resource would issue from every open faucet.
The power company was going to make me wait, but their telephone robot-voiced
lady assured me that the estimated wait time was 5 minutes. I put the
speakerphone on and sat back, savoring yet another icy glass of some of the Highlands'
finest hooch. Another very pleasant lady got on the phone and asked if she could
"My good woman, people have been telling me I need help for years, so that's
something I don't think you can provide. But can you get the power turned on in
a home for me?"
We exchanged niceties and I gave her all the necessary information. She told
me that indeed, the power would be turned on within two days. Just to make sure,
I told her that there were no meters on the house, and inquired whether or not
I'd have to purchase them. She assured me no, they turn the whole thing on for a
measly $35 connection charge. It couldn't have been easier. Then she begged to
ask me two questions. I agreed to answer whatever it was she needed to know.
"First, you're not drinkin' no diet Pepsi, are you?"
"No, in fact, it's not soda at all."
"It ain't ice water, neither, is it Mr. Lewis..."
"Why no, how could you tell, am I slurring my words?"
"Oh, no. No, not at all. It's just the way you take a sip, I hear them ice
cubes, and then you wait just a bit 'fore you continue talking, like you need to
catch your breath."
"Okay. You got me. It's booze. Did you find that offensive?"
"Oh, no. In fact, 'cuz you're drinkin' is the reason for my next question.
Didn't your real estate broker tell you that their office 'sposed to
handle this stuff?" We both had a good laugh as I told her the story was too
long and convoluted to even go into.
The Gas Company, Part II
After waiting forever, another very nice woman at the gas company answered my
call. In the middle of my request, she asked me the magic question yet again,
that is, did I know my real estate agent was supposed to take care of this. I
laughed out loud and told her that one of her colleagues, as well as her peers
at the other two utilities had told me that.
She explained that they'd charge me $65 in the event the water and/or
electricity weren't turned on by the time of their arrival. I told her that
would be fine, I was certain they were going to be there. Then she read a
document required by law that informed me I could buy gas from a third party if
I wished etc. I said, "duly noted."
"Is that a 'yes' or a 'no?'
"That's a 'yes' to 'do I know I can get gas elsewhere' and a 'no' to 'do I
want to get it elsewhere."
Well, she made an appointment. Timely. Between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on
Monday the gas meters would be installed in the house and the gas turned on, as
well as all of the pilot lights and furnaces.
Then I called the home inspector, who said that he could proceed sometime in
the morning on Monday.
At last! Everything would fall into place just perfectly, and I'd be at home
enjoying a day of rest and relaxation! (And I'd only had three Scotches!)
That Ain't My Job
Now, back to the beginning of our story.
Monday, my day of rest. I'd just finished off my first cup of coffee when my
phone rang. It was the real estate agent. I'd given her number to the gas
company, because she had the keys to the house. Even though it was completely
empty and there wasn't anything of value therein, I couldn't have a key to the
house until the sale had been consummated.
She told me that the man hadn't lit the furnace. I asked to speak with him.
"What you need is a technician out here. When someone calls to have the gas
turned on you gotta call for a meter installer and a technician, too."
The wonderful lady at the gas company had told me no such thing.
"I can't go fussin' with no furnace or stove or electricity or nothing, oh,
no, no, no. That's not my job. What if the house blows up?" (he laughed as
though I, too would find humor in the prospect of my wife's investment
exploding.) It only occurred to me after I hung up that what I'd find
belly-achingly funny was the prospect of the house blowing up with him inside of
The gas company is smart, and crafty. I discovered this when I called the
real estate agent and asked her for the number on the Caller ID that matches
the call she got from the gas company dispatcher. Wouldn't you know it; it's the
same exact number printed in the phone book and available on-line for customer
service at the gas company. How the hell Connecticut Natural Gas got away with
that trick, I'll never know. But they did. So that foiled my attempts at
reaching the dispatcher quickly.
The long and the short of it was that I had a home inspector due to arrive at
the house any moment, and yet the heat hadn't been turned on. The gas company
customer service representative was almost apologetic that the person I'd
previously contacted didn't suggest having a "technician" come out and light the
furnaces and the water heaters. I couldn't wait. I did it myself and asked them
to come over and check my work.
The nice gas company person admonished me that gas can be "harmful or fatal."
Perhaps deep in the back of my mind I was hoping it would, indeed, be fatal. And
an extra point if I got the real estate agent, too.
When I got to the house, the real estate agent added insult to injury by
telling me they had failed to turn the power on in the apartment on the North
side of the house.
An hour and a few hand-tools later, I had the power on (it was a circuit
breaker), the water flowing and one of the two furnaces going. The other one
just wouldn't kick on. A call to my heating contractor would solve that before
the home inspector went on his way.
This afternoon I received a call from our real estate agent's manager.
She said that she'd received the faxes I had sent to her and wondered out loud
why I'd sent her $735 in bills for an electrician, a furnace technician and even
for my own time. I don't know whether this woman was using brilliant humor to
calm me down, or was just dim-witted, but she actually said to me, "what do you
want me to do with these?"
I informed her that my time and expenses were going to come out of her
office's commission at closing because they hadn't practiced due diligence
with regard to expediting the things that they were required to do. My lawyer
backed me up on this one. When she asked me if my lawyer put me up to it, I
said, no, not at all. I suggested she talk to the people at the three utilities
and suggest that perhaps they shouldn't be giving real estate advice to their
"Well, what did they tell you?" she pleaded.
"Basically, all three put it this way: ISN'T YOUR REAL ESTATE AGENT SUPPOSED
TO BE DOING THIS?!" I hung up.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
However, fate brought me back to size. The gas company
called me back just after I called the real estate office. They told me that I
wasn't eligible for any services except for simple gas service to the residence
until I brought my account up to date. (That meant the promised "technician"
visit was a no-go.)
It turns out when we sold the restaurant in the center of town, I'd failed to
have the gas turned off promptly, and therefore owed the gas company $14.85.
Even though they've got my social security number on not one but two commercial
accounts and two residential accounts (now four) which are all paid on time and current, and have always been they couldn't put two and two
together and figure out where to send the closing bill for the $14.85. I had to
pay it on-line via credit card, and now must send them, in writing, a request to
adjust my credit records with them so that they can come out and perform
services other than running gas to the house.
Gee, I wonder what they'd do if I called them and told them I smelled gas?
Would they tell me to leave the house immediately, or would they ask for my
American Express number first?