By Jerry Zezima
Today's Ridiculous Banking Question is: What's the faster way to lose your house: don't pay the mortgage or don't pay a traffic ticket?
If you don't know the answer, you are probably living in your car.
That's the lesson my wife, Sue, and I learned during a home refinancing odyssey that took three attempts in as many years and was almost ruined by, of all things, a red-light camera.
The first attempt failed because my credit score was considered more important than my pulse, which before the housing bubble burst was pretty much all you needed to qualify for a loan.
The second attempt failed because Sue and I committed the unpardonable sin of actually paying both our mortgage and our line of credit on time each month. We would have been better off if we had fallen hopelessly behind and blown the money in Atlantic City.
Praying the third time would be the charm, I went back to the bank and spoke with Kim Delman, a senior mortgage loan officer who is so nice, so smart and so good that she ought to run the Federal Reserve System.
Kim, who worked diligently with us in our first two attempts, was determined to see us succeed this time.
In trying to combine our mortgage, which was at another bank, and our line of credit, which was at Kim's bank, I went through the Process From Hell: countless phone calls in which I had to listen carefully because the menu options had changed (restaurants change their menu options less often than the average company); give the last four digits of my Social Security number and my date of birth, just to prove I'm a geezer; and come up with yet another seemingly irrelevant thing the underwriter wanted, which surprisingly did not include my high school transcript or my underwear receipts.
Then came the clincher: After we shelled out $455 for an appraisal, which valued our house at $315,000, Kim informed us that we were in danger of being rejected yet again, this time for a three-year-old unpaid traffic ticket worth a grand total of $75.
"There's a lien on your house," Kim said.
"Nothing's leaning on my house," I replied. "Not even a ladder, because I'm afraid of heights."
"You have to get this cleared up," Kim warned, "or the bank won't let you close."
I was put in touch with Leticia Glenn-Jones, a very pleasant home services specialist ("a fancy title for processor," she explained), who said the underwriter did, indeed, want this black mark off my criminal record.
"Let me get this straight: $75 is worth more than $315,000," I said. "Is this the new math?"
"I'm afraid so," Leticia said sympathetically.
It turned out that a red-light camera caught Sue going through, yes, a red light. She received a notice in the mail in 2013 but forgot about it until the underwriter kindly noted that if we didn't pay up, we couldn't close. Sue sent a check for $75, plus late fees, which brought the total to $105 and, at long last, allowed us to refinance.
"It happens more often than you think," Kim said afterward. "It's those red-light cameras. Since they were installed, there have been tons of cases like this."
In 21 years at the bank, she has seen just about everything.
"You and Sue may have set the record for the longest time it took to refinance," said Kim, adding that her most unusual customer was a guy who applied for a mortgage in 1995 and, under assets, listed a cow.
"He said it was worth $500," Kim said.
"Was he trying to milk the bank for money?" I asked.
"I don't know," said Kim. "But believe it or not, he qualified."
"I guess he didn't have any traffic tickets," I said.
I thanked Kim for all her hard work and promised that Sue and I would keep up on our payments.
"From now on," I said, "we'll pay the mortgage online. After all, we don't want to drive to the bank and risk losing our house by getting another ticket."
Stamford Advocate humor columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of three books. His latest is "Grandfather Knows Best." Visit his blog: www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. Email: JerryZ111@optonline.net.
Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima