A different type of writing exercise, this time in preparation for buying a house


One of my colleagues was overwhelmed by how many times papers need to be signed when you buy a house. A seemingly endless stack of papers. Sign and date here, initial here, initial here, now sign this, and this, and this, and sign and date here, and sign here, and initial here... By the time it's over, your arm is about to fall off.

Some years later, my colleague was about to buy a new house and began to dread the signature-fest that would invariably ensue at the closing. Another ten-foot-tall stack of papers that needed to be signed and initialed.

In preparation, my colleague actually did hand exercises to build up stamina and strength. I'm not sure what the exercises consisted of, but they were probably a mix of strength-building wrist exercises and some stints of extended longhand writing.

Finally closing day came. My colleague walked into the agent's office, sat down, and prepared for the worst, only to be surprised when the stack of papers was only a dozen pages long. What happened to the ten-foot-tall stack of papers that took hours to sign and initial?

The difference is that my colleague paid cash for the new house rather than taking out a loan. That ten-foot-tall stack of papers? Nearly all of them were related to the mortgage, not to the actual sale of the house. The paperwork associated with a house sale proper is comparatively light.

But all was not lost. At least my colleague had pretty strong wrists now.

Comments (30)
  1. Art says:

    As a single programmer who spends most of his spare time on the Internet I have no need for exercises to strengthen my wrists.  I type a lot.

  2. laonianren says:

    Who could be bothered to exercise both wrists?  I’m imagining your colleague with one forearm like Popeye’s and the other like Olive Oyl’s.  Though that might give people the wrong idea.

  3. Adrian says:

    I found that actually reading each document before signing it actually gave my hand and wrist enough time that this didn’t become a physical strain.

    Of course, reading all those documents has its own problems.  For one, your escrow officer and real estate agent get pretty impatient.  Second, you find mistakes (they had to redo the escrow balance sheet three times during my signing meeting).  Third, you discover that they want to you agree to stupid things.

    One of the first documents they asked me to sign was an acknowledgment that I had received, read, and agreed to several of the other notices and documents that were further down in the stack.  I moved that one to the bottom, explaining that I wasn’t going to sign the acknowledgment until I’d actually gotten to the documents it had referred to.  This upset the escrow officer who didn’t like the pages getting out-of-order.

    For your first time, I recommend getting a good book on the entire process, and go into the signing meeting with a reasonable expectation of what all the documents will be.  Then you can just skim them for the important bits and ask questions if you get one that you didn’t expect.

  4. Gabe says:

    I had an experience similar to Adrian’s. Among the inane things I had to sign was a document saying that I couldn’t store hazardous/flammable materials on the property. I asked about gas for the lawnmower, propane for the grill, and so on. My wife and the realtor both said to just sign the damn thing so they could go home!

  5. Jim says:

    We have been graduating more students from Law school than the Engineering. Everything in the normal live is supposedly lawyered up. Every piece of paper there costs something, you just do not want to figure it out.

  6. John says:

    Jim:  I know.  It’s so bad that eventually you will need a lawyer to advise you on whether or not to hire a lawyer.  It’s time to start hoarding sand.

  7. arousedboat says:

    Raymond: Is your mortgage responsible for your withered hand?

  8. Nathan_works says:

    Anyone paying cash for their house should, well, not complain about the signing.

  9. Puckdropper says:

    There was also the line that you signed to signify that you’re initialing the next pages instead of signing them, except for the 5th and 7th pages where you actually sign instead of initial.

  10. porter says:

    If he needed exercise to write a few signatures how did this guy manage to write essays when he was at school?

  11. Illuminator says:

    When I get tired from writing it’s usually the deep base of my thumb that sores up, not the wrist.

  12. sias says:

    porter: Considering the colleague had already bought a house years in the past and could now afford to pay cash for a new one, I think it’s safe to say that his or her days of writing essays in school are long past.  I know I’ve gone from being able to write ~10 pages comfortably to cramping after 2 or so, and it hasn’t been that long for me.

  13. dalek says:

    OFF TOPIC

    I know Raymond probably has no control over this, but the footer of these pages still states 2008…

  14. Tom says:

    @Nathan_works: It’s quite easy to pay cash for your house if you recently sold you old home to buy a new one.  In fact, if you did sell your old home, you should probably be buying a new one quite quickly as the capital gains on the sale of your home won’t be taxed if you plow it right back into another home.

  15. Uh huh says:

    If you want to build up the strength in your wrist I have a Pamela Anderson DVD i can lend you…

  16. Eugene says:

    "I know Raymond probably has no control over this, but the footer of these pages still states 2008…"

    Did you agree to the footer of the page to be changed to 2009, in writing? Yeah, that’s what I thought … there’s a stack of papers to sign coming to your mailbox in the nearest future.

  17. Nathan_works says:

    Not dinging the guy for paying cash. He could have called in rich at MSFT, cashed his stock options, bought early and low in Bellevue, what have you.

    Just saying, if you can pay cash for your house, it takes some nerve to complain about the signing. As in, wish we all had that problem.

  18. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    "Raymond: Is your mortgage responsible for your withered hand?"

    I’m afraid he once unknowingly tried a mystical ring on, and it almost killed him. The ring was later destroyed by a sword.

  19. I can recommend Powerballs (www.powerballs.com) for wrist workout.

    It’s horribly addictive, so most people who get one end up over-using it the first week, but if you just moderate your usage of it (Nothing to do while the application is building? Pull out your Powerball), you’ll both have fun and exercise your wrists.

    This comment was (sadly) not sponsored by Powerball.

  20. Drak says:

    I bought a powerball for that exact reason. I use it on our half-hour lunch break while we walk outside.

    Inside, my esteemed co-workers complain (rightly) about the noise.

    It really does help though, after the 30 minute stint my wrists feel much ‘looser’ and my arms don’t ‘fall asleep’ at night.

  21. uecasm says:

    Eek. Are legal documents really that long over there?

    When I bought my house-with-mortgage, the sale agreement was three pages and the mortgage agreement was four pages.  Sign twice, initial about ten times. That was about it.

    [Your country is clearly underdeveloped in the field of lawyers. -Raymond]
  22. Nawak says:

    All the legal documents I had to sign when I bought my flat were read to me loud by the notary. Seeing how much they make on the transactions, I think it’s the least they can do.

    On the other hand, despite giving them a lot of money (in interests), my bank still didn’t read the loan papers loud…

  23. Ian says:

    Sorry for the length of this. This is a story from Richard Feynman’s "Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman"

    One time a science teacher from the local city college came around and asked me if I’d give a talk there. He offered me fifty dollars, but I told him I wasn’t worried about the money. "That’s the city college, right?"

    "Yes."

    I thought about how much paperwork I usually had to get involved with when I deal with the government, so I laughed and said, "I’ll be glad to give the talk. There’s only one condition on the whole thing" – I pulled a number out of a hat and continued – "that I don’t have to sign my name more than thirteen times, and that includes the check!"

    The guy laughs too. "Thirteen times! No problem."

    So then it starts. First I have to sign something that says I’m loyal to the government, or else I can’t talk in the city college. And I have to sign it double, OK? Then I have to sign some kind of release to the city – I can’t remember what. Pretty soon the numbers are beginning to climb up.

    I have to sign that I was suitably employed as a professor – to ensure, of course, since it’s a city thing, that no jerk at the other end was hiring his wife or a friend to come and not even give the lecture. There were all kinds of things to ensure, and the signatures kept mounting.

    Well, the guy who started out laughing got pretty nervous, but we just made it. I signed exactly twelve times. There was one more left for the check, so I went ahead and gave the talk.

    A few days later the guy came around to give me the check, and he was really sweating. He couldn’t give me the money unless I signed a form saying I really gave the talk.

    I said, "If I sign the form, I can’t sign the check. But you were there. You heard the talk; why don’t you sign it?"

    "Look," he said, "Isn’t this whole thing rather silly?"

    "No. It was an arrangement we made in the beginning. We didn’t think it was really going to get to thirteen, but we agreed on it, and I think we should stick to it to the end."

    He said, "I’ve been working very hard, calling all around. I’ve been trying everything, and they tell me it’s impossible. You simply can’t get your money unless you sign the form."

    "It’s OK," I said. "I’ve only signed twelve times, and I gave the talk. I don’t need the money."

    "But I hate to do this to you."

    "It’s all right. We made a deal; don’t worry."

    The next day he called me up. "They can’t not give you the money! They’ve already earmarked the money and they’ve got it set aside, so they have to give it to you!"

    "OK, if they have to give me the money, let them give me the money."

    "But you have to sign the form."

    "I won’t sign the form!"

    They were stuck. There was no miscellaneous pot which was for money that this man deserves but won’t sign for.

    Finally, it got straightened out. It took a long time, and it was very complicated – but I used the thirteenth signature to cash my check.

  24. ScottR says:

    When we bought our last house, I had to sign a form stating that my signature was illegible.

    /I had to sign it.

  25. Martin says:

    I made a rubber stamp of my signature.

  26. And after all that signing – nobody is really sure who actually owns the mortgage…

  27. Cheong says:

    I understand about the signs, but initials and dates? I thought it would be pre-printed on the papers.

    Afterall, the printers are pretty fast these days. With the exception of the first page where there is "wax stamp" mark, the other pages can just be printed when you prepared to sign the papers.

  28. Jonathan says:

    Martin: I scanned my signature and have it as a also GIF and an EMF (Enhanced Metafile, vector-based format). I use it to sign faxes without printing them.

  29. keith says:

    @Tom:

    "In fact, if you did sell your old home, you should probably be buying a new one quite quickly as the capital gains on the sale of your home won’t be taxed if you plow it right back into another home.

    "

    That may be true in a locality or state; at the federal level it was true until 1997, or if the property in question is an investment property (in which case one should look into a "1031 Exchange": 180 days to execute).  

    Today, there is a 250K (500K if married couple) cap gains exemption if the home was a primary residence for 2 of the past 5 years.  

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