When exactly does a house become a home? For that matter, when exactly does a condo unit become your personal property? We jumped through the hoops of home ownership in June of 2007, and have been sinking mounds of cash into our monthly mortgage since that time. According to Cook County, however, a mortgage payment isn’t the same as home ownership. Go figure.
While I’m pretty sure that we’ve legally owned our home for almost 2 years, it all became official yesterday, in the bowels of 118 N. Clark, with the assistance of four confused people followed by a series of stamps.
We received an email on Sunday from our condo board president about a tax exemption we needed to apply for that would save us all a lot of money when property tax time rolls around this fall. Deadline for filing? April 1. Assured that it could all be completed online in a timely fashion, we scratched what we believed to be the core of the matter but discovered ourselves sitting upon the surface.
As it turns out, before we could file for the exemption we needed to change the name of the property owner from our developer’s to ours - a task that could be done by mail had we been given more time. Each unit is given an individual pin in order to receive the exemption, but in order to receive said exemption the ownership info had to be corrected.
Yesterday afternoon I took time away from work to head down and meet Constance to get it all fixed. I parked in front of her office where there was a too-good-to-be-true street spot for a reasonable $6 per two hours parked. I paid for it, got my receipt to display in my windshield and then looked up to see a sign that said, “No parking Mon-Fri 4pm-6pm.” It was 3:35.
Two minutes later we pulled into a garage that was $20 the first 60 minutes.
“Let’s do this in an hour,” Constance said. “Twenty dollars is insane. What a ripoff.”
Our first stop was room 112 where, in less than five minutes and without being asked for the copious amounts of ID we were told to bring with us, the name of ownership had been transferred to me.
“I love these pens,” I told the woman as I signed the form with her UniBall.
“You look trustworthy. That’s why I gave it to you. I’m lucky to make it through the day without losing it. They used to buy these for us before the recession, but now we only get crappy pens. So I bring my own.”
After checking only my drivers license, which has an address that doesn’t match the address I was claiming on the form, we were off to our second destination. Room 320 - property tax exemption room. I pulled number F06 from the dispenser and waited only 6 minutes - just enough time for Pregstance to urinate and return to the waiting area.
“Here’s my form,” I said. “Is that all you need?”
“Yep,” he said as he stamped the original copy with the word “received” followed by yesterday’s date. “Just let me make you a copy.”
And off we went to room 120 - the recorder’s office.
“This is going eerily fast,” I said. “Who knew it would be so easy?”
Once at the recorder’s office we were sent downstairs to the deed retrieval room. A haggard young man sat behind the counter kneading his forehead.
“What’s your pin?” he mumbled. I rattled off the numbers once, slowly, as he input them. “There’s no property attached to that number. Did you record the deed?”
“Uh, I have no idea,” I said.
“Well there’s nothing here. Did you or did you not record the deed?”
“We had deed documents we signed at our closing,” Constance said. “But I’m not totally sure.”
“What? You don’t know if you had your deed recorded? Well, I don’t see a record.”
“Yes, I get that,” Constance said. “What do we need to do now to remedy this?”
All of the goodwill mustered by our previous experiences was being erased by this sad dude who, day after day, has to sit in the basement of a building looking up deeds. Once upstairs, however, our adventure turned into a sitcom.
“Well, what’s your last name?” the guy asked.
“Miller,” I said.
“OK, then your first name?”
“Man, there must be a 1,000 Matthew Millers in here. What’s your pin number for the property.” I provided the numbers and for the second time in five minutes I was informed that there was no such property in the system. “Are you paying a mortgage?”
“Yes, I’ve got all of my closing documents here. Trust me, I’m paying a mortgage.”
In less than five minutes we were meeting with a frazzled county lawyer in a shiny pink shirt. Had I brought my flask I would have handed it over to her for a couple of swigs.
I found the deed-at-closing document and handed it over to her. As it happens, our developer had only recently divided our units into individual properties following the conversion from rental properties. Our whole building was attached to a single underlying pin, which was quite different from the pin we were given for our home.
“Sometimes it just takes a lawyer to look at the screen for two seconds to figure it out,” she said as the man who led us here stood next to her. “And that’s not saying he’s doing a bad job, he was right to bring you here. Sometimes it just takes someone with a little more managerial experience to figure this out.”
She printed out the new deed with proof of paid taxes, which we had never received and said, “I advise you to spend the $24 to get this certified.”
“You’re smart,” I said as I stood up from my chair. “You must be very tired when you go home every night.”
She smiled and, for the first time, looked away from her computer screen or various papers she was holding and looked me in the eyes. Dark circles wrapped around her heavy, darkened lids.
“I’m very tired,” she said.
By the time we got back to the parking garage, 62 minutes later, our parking rate had increased to $25 thanks to those pesky 120 seconds exceeding the one-hour mark. And while surrendering my afternoon plus $55 to make our home our home in the eyes of the city didn’t fill me with the pride I was bursting with on closing day, it still filled me with something I can only describe as post-broccoli gas mixed with self-satisfaction. Which isn’t so bad considering.