I am not in jail.

The bank vice president apologized for calling the police on me.

That’s neither the beginning nor the end of the story, but it seems to me that police involvement of any kind is a sign that your real estate deal isn’t going as well as it could.

It all began with a Citibank loan officer named Aaron who promised me a smooth closing. In my view, being questioned by a uniformed police officer has no place in a smooth closing. And that wasn’t even the worst part of it, which troubles me. Aaron seemed to like us just fine at first. He asked us for paperwork, we got it to him quickly, and it seemed pretty smooth. A lot like working with Jeremy, our previous loan officer at Citibank. Jeremy gave us a remarkably smooth closing, but then they laid him off this past fall.

When the time came to buy another house–managing rental property is our family business–I suggested we see if that smooth closing was thanks to Jeremy, or thanks to Citi. So we called the 800 number on our statement, told them we really liked working with Citi the last time, and asked if they could connect us with a loan officer who was as good as Jeremy had been.

It looked like a shrewd move, until Aaron turned things over to his loan processor, a girl named Jamie who works somewhere in Michigan.

Jamie introduced herself by asking us for a pile of documents one Monday, with a Wednesday deadline. My wife busted her tail all day Monday, sent the documents off that afternoon, and e-mailed Jamie that evening to ask if she got them. Silence.

After a second day of silence, she e-mailed Jamie’s manager. She asked me if she was doing the right thing.

“Absolutely,” I said. “She gave you a hard deadline of Wednesday, and now if there’s anything wrong with any of it, you don’t have much time to make it right.”

The e-mail to Jamie’s supervisor made an enemy of Jamie. And Aaron. And pretty much everyone else at Citi, as far as we could tell.

Jamie wrote back with a bunch of excuses, but she had not yet begun to be difficult. First, the initial 20% downpayment wasn’t going to be sufficient. We were going to have to put 25% down. We dipped into the budget for fixing the place up and came up with the extra cash.

Then none of the paperwork was good enough. She’d ask for something, then after fishing around in it, she’d ask for something else. Or she’d find some unimportant detail about what we sent, decide she didn’t like it, and make us get something slightly different. Sometimes she asked for documents that don’t even exist. She hassled us about our tax returns. Citi already had the relevant portions of both of our most recent returns on file, from our previous mortgage with them, but she made us send her new copies. So we spent $20 to send her new, complete copies–everything we had sent the IRS. That was good enough for the IRS, but not for Jamie. Jamie wanted wet signatures on them, and when the returns didn’t include the schedules that the IRS didn’t require us to file, Jamie called our CPA and gave him a piece of her mind. I’m sure he appreciated that. We’ll see just how much when we get our bill for this year’s tax return.

A week before closing, we still didn’t have a letter of commitment. I have a stellar credit score, once paid off a mortgage in seven years, and when Jamie suddenly demanded a few thousand bucks extra, we came up with that few thousand bucks extra the next day. They also have a market analysis of what the place should rent for, which is going to be more than this monthly mortgage payment. There is absolutely nothing in my background that suggests making this $500 per month payment would be any problem. But Jamie wasn’t going to let the facts get in the way of being difficult.

She insisted we get an insurance policy on an occupied dwelling, even though the house is vacant and will be vacant for at least two months. The insurance agent had to explain to her that she couldn’t sell us the kind of policy Jamie was demanding. We’ll switch once it’s occupied–it costs less money and gives better coverage–but we can’t until there’s someone actually living there. Vacant homes are a higher risk. But since Jamie knew more about taxes than my CPA, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that she knew more about insurance than my insurance agent. I’ll bet she knew more about cars than my mechanic and more about dentistry than my dentists (I have more than one, unfortunately) too.

So then Jamie demanded an occupancy permit from the county. Well, there’s a problem with that. The house is being sold as-is and has about a half-dozen issues that will keep it from passing occupancy. That’s one of the reasons it’s cheap. I’ve fixed worse, but only after we actually owned the place. If I go into a house that’s not mine and start changing stuff around, that’s called vandalism and trespassing. Police take a dim view of those things.

Not that I speak from experience. The police got involved a little later.

Eventually, Aaron realized that if we didn’t close he wouldn’t get paid, so he got Jamie to calm down a little. But he still missed the seller’s deadline for a letter of commitments. After our realtor asked several times, Aaron finally produced a letter of commitment.

That’s supposed to be the end, but then Aaron turned around and demanded current bank statements–the two we’d already sent him from our two banks weren’t enough. One of our banks had already issued us a March statement, so we sent that one in. But I wasn’t going to get the other statement until the 28th. Our closing was supposed to be the 27th. I sent him what I could, then asked if it was good enough. When I heard nothing, we both e-mailed him again, asking if there was anything else we could do.

Then Aaron pulled a Jamie and spent a day ignoring us. He called at 5:30 that evening. I answered, in an unpleasant tone.

“I know you’ve about had it with me and with Citi,” he said, pitifully.

“You’re right, I just about have. We sent you stuff this morning. At noon we both asked if there was anything else we could do. You ignored us up until now. Fix this.”

He took his sweet time to fix it. Up until 9 am on the day of closing, he was demanding an ever-changing list of papers, with various indecipherable justifications in long, rambling messages, in lieu of the bank statement that didn’t exist. The previous day, the bank had sent him an account summary, including a balance and the month’s worth of transactions, but that wasn’t good enough for him or Jamie. Finally, I gave in.

“Aaron, tomorrow I will get a bank statement. Would it be easier for me to send it to you first thing in the morning and see if we can put off closing?” I wrote.

At 10:45, Aaron e-mailed back, triumphantly. He’d heroically escalated our case to a manager and gotten the bank statement requirement waived. We could close that day.

But there were still problems. We didn’t know how much money we owed, closing was scheduled for 11, it was 10:45, and I was at work, more than 30 minutes away. The title company helpfully offered to stay open late and let us close at 4. Aaron said he would rush the details to the title company in time to make a 4pm closing.

I rearranged my afternoon meetings so I could leave at 3, to give myself enough time to go to the bank. My wife got a cashier’s check for approximately half the money from one bank; when we got the final numbers, I would pick up the remainder at our other bank, Montgomery Bank. At 3:30, none of us had heard anything. I said I would hang out at Montgomery Bank until I got the final numbers, then I’d get a cashier’s check and come to closing. If I was late, I was late.

Come 4:45, none of us had heard anything, but Montgomery Bank had taken note of a white male in a Honda Civic loitering in the parking lot messing with his phone. That’s what the St. Louis County Police officer who parked next to me told me. I explained what was happening and handed him my driver’s license when he asked for it.

“They made you send in about five million things and now they’re making you wait?” he asked, amused.

“More than that, it seems like,” I said.

“I’ll go tell the bank manager what’s going on,” he said. “You’re good, just stay here and I’ll be back in a minute.”

After going inside, he returned to his car, punched my driver’s license number into his computer, and perhaps my license plate number. Satisfied with what the system pulled up–it’s been 10 years since the last time I was even pulled over–he gave me my driver’s license back and wished me luck.

About five minutes later, the bank vice president came out, introduced herself, and apologized. I told her as a customer, I’m glad she reports suspicious behavior. She told me they don’t normally do cashier’s checks through the drive-through, but if I heard from Citibank by 5:45, they’d cut one for me. I thanked her. She asked my name. I told her, and she said, “Oh, you’re the one who makes a lot of night deposits.”

Yes, we usually deposit our rent checks at night. But now they’ll know me for something else, I’m sure.

“Who’s your lender?” she asked.

“Citibank,” I said.

She rolled her eyes. “I’ve heard stories.”

“I could tell you another one.”

In retrospect, when I arrived at the bank, it would have been a good idea for me to walk in, tell them what I was there for, then either hang out in my car or in the lobby. They got robbed a couple of years ago and they’re still a little skittish, and I forgot about that. Then again, it was supposed to be a five-minute job. I didn’t exactly expect to be hanging out in the bank parking lot for two hours that night.

Yes, I spent two hours in that parking lot. 5:45 came and went, and we never heard a word from Citibank. When he wanted something from us, or had bad news to deliver, Aaron would frequently e-mail us after hours, at 5:45, 6:45, 7:45, or even later. But not once Citi owed us something. Aaron paid lip service to our 4pm deadline, but Aaron and Jamie weren’t going to let us off that easy. They were going to get one last kick in.

At 5:45, I drove around to the drive-through. I introduced myself as the suspicious white male in the suspicious vehicle. The teller laughed. “I never got my final number, so I won’t be getting a check from you tonight,” I said.

“We’ll be ready for you any time tomorrow,” she said. I thanked her and drove off.

Just in case you’re wondering why we don’t get loans from a friendly, helpful, responsible bank like Montgomery, it’s because they don’t offer mortgages at the moment. If they did, they’d be at the top of my list. Citi’s on the opposite end.

The story finally ended the next day. Citi got the numbers to the title company around 9 the next morning, but they were wrong. What was that I said about closing late being one last kick? I was wrong. After the title company spent all morning calling various people at Citi, they got final numbers–correct final numbers–and I rearranged my work schedule so we could close at 1. So, 26 hours late, we finally closed and I got the keys to the house. Thankfully the seller was understanding.

Needless to say, if you’ve been thinking about getting a mortgage from Citi, I recommend you try somebody else. From the stories I’ve found, and their unimpressive rating from the Better Business Bureau, it appears they have a lot more Aarons on staff than Jeremys.

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7 thoughts on “I am not in jail.

  • March 31, 2014 at 8:27 am

    Sounds like they worked very hard to frustrate you. That is not a successful business strategy.

    • March 31, 2014 at 9:07 pm

      I have no idea what their motive was, but yeah, they missed out on a lot of repeat business. I don’t intend for this to be the last house I buy, and in a year or so, after it’s been fixed up, it could make sense to refinance it and cash out some of the equity in order to buy another property.

      Refinances are more profitable than new sales, and investors are about the only people who have the motivation to do it when interest rates are going up, so losing me as a customer wasn’t a very smart move.

  • March 31, 2014 at 9:47 am

    I’m guessing that since Jeremy seemed to have been efficient and effective, they laid him off. I don’t remember learning that rule in my college business management classes, but I guess things change over time…

    • March 31, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      I doubt they looked at efficiency or productivity, just at yearly wages. Jeremy was expensive, because he’s been around a long time.

      But Jeremy could also find people like me, and keep them coming back, which is worth something.

  • March 31, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Blacklisted, they are.

    Authorized agent, Yoda Reality

  • March 31, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    After reading this I think I’ll put my Citi credit card through the shredder.

  • April 3, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I know to never do business with Citibank.

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