Is it possible to buy a house in freedom?
Note: This article was submitted to us via email for publication in the Bulletin. A full-length version of the original is published on Christopher's personal site at: https://u.fsf.org/415
File transfer and digital signatures
I'm not wealthy, so I needed a lender. I couldn't get help from my bank (long story), so I had to go with another in-state lender. Immediately, the lender wanted me to send a boat-load of documents such as paystubs, bank balances, etc. The lender assumed that I would be sending the documents to them over their "secure portal" web app. Additionally, in order just to find out which documents I was supposed to send, I was supposed to download a file from the portal.
Several rounds of emails followed in which I tried to work out some other solution. Finally, the lender called me, rather suspicious, wanting to know why I wasn't sending the documents, and what it was I was trying to hide. I stumbled through a brief explanation of software freedom principles, and eventually he grasped the idea well enough that he was willing to work further with me.
Of course, I still needed to send the documents, and I don't happen to have my own trusted, free-software file transfer system set-up. (Well... I took it as a given that I wouldn't be able to get them to agree to use SFTP.) So, the lender emailed the document list to me as an attachment, and then I mailed the documents via USPS. This introduced some extra delays and expenses, but it worked.
Then there were challenges to signing the documents. The lender, agent, and sellers were expecting every form and contract to be signed via DocuSign, which is a proprietary web app for signing documents. So, I had to explain to three or four different people why I didn't want to use that program. Fortunately, my agent has an office in town, so we worked out a system where all documents would be sent to my agent's assistant, who would print them off, have me sign them in the office, and then scan and send copies to whomever needed them. This kept everyone happy, and it had the added bonus of allowing me to easily ask questions about agreements before signing them.
The main difficulty with this system is time pressure. With a lot of the forms, it doesn't matter if it takes you a day or three to get over to the office. But for things like offers and counter-offers, in our very tight market, it was necessary to get contract forms sent through within a few hours, or the whole deal might fall through. And the agent's office wasn't generally open on the weekend. So, I made a compromise once or twice in using DocuSign for a few time-sensitive documents. But I didn't feel too bad about it, since at least everybody knew that is not what I normally do and the reasons why I felt it important to avoid.
First-time home-buyer course
To get me a rate-discount as a first-time home buyer, the lender is required by some law or regulation to put me through a Freddie Mac home-buying educational course. This is one of those proprietary web apps where you have to spend hours clicking through slides and doing multiple-choice tests.
The only ways that I see to take the test in relative freedom are: 1.) to take the test at a library, which would avoid running the app on one's own computer and 2.) asking for an exception so that the test could be mailed to you, taken, and returned in the mail, but I'm unsure if such an exception would be granted.
It helps if you have a lender and an agent who both have an office nearby. In my case, nobody was opposed to printing out documents and having me sign them with "wet ink" provided that we could meet deadlines.
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