The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

About The Time Money Fell Into My Lap

Last Friday I got a letter from Lawyer’s Title Agency sent to my home address. It was from the ‘dormant funds department’. In a nutshell, the letter said my husband and I had a check written out to us for $5356.45, dated 12/31/08 we hadn’t cashed and they wanted to know why.

My first reaction: HOLY SHIT! They want to give us five thousand dollars? Um, can I come pick it up right now? *I got five thousand dollars happy dance* <- Looks similar to the Cabbage Patch.

My second reaction: Wait, but is this some kind of scam? Why would they want to just randomly give us five thousand dollars? Is this the one where I have to first give them some $50 processing fee and all of my bank account info and they wire it all right over, I should just sit here and hold my breath?

My third reaction: OK, so even if it’s not a scam, this is a mistake. It has to be. There’s no way I ever got a check for five thousand dollars and just forgot to cash it. Plus, this check is for both me and Jason and it’s dated a week after we closed on our current home. Why would we have gotten money back from a home purchase where we had to bring in a large down-payment? It just doesn’t make any sense.

My fourth reaction: What if I did forget to cash or pick up a check that huge? If I did that I must have a brain tumor or something. I couldn’t have possibly just forgotten five thousand dollars. Maybe it’s early onset Alzheimer’s. There has to be something seriously wrong with me if I really did that. I should probably call a medical professional.

I started out by calling the main number at Lawyer’s Title and asking about this dormant funds department to eliminate reaction number two. The secretary confirmed that it’s a real thing and the lady who signed my letter is legitimately employed there. Unfortunately, being that it was 4:45PM on a Friday, the dormant funds lady had gone home for the day and wouldn’t be back until Tuesday. I had the weekend to stew about the entire thing and ask everyone I knew for their opinions on what this could possibly mean. I got a variety of reactions from them as well.

My father said: Tell them to cut you a new check and once you have the money firmly in hand, you can start investigating why they want to give it to you.

My husband said: What are we going to buy with that? We should get something good… (This is his reaction whenever any money comes into the house that he’s aware of. It’s also why I pay the bills and he doesn’t have easy access to our savings account.)

The overwhelming majority of the rest said: I don’t totally understand what you’re talking about, but yay money!

My Realtor girlfriend who knows me far too well said: You’re going to call and ask too many questions, aren’t you? You’re going to talk them out of giving you this money. Keep your mouth shut! I’m going to call you Tuesday morning and tell you this again, shut up and collect the cash!

Tuesday rolled around and before my girlfriend could call me and talk me out of it again I gave the dormant funds lady a call.

Me: Hi, I got a letter in the mail about a check I’m owed.

Dormant Funds Lady: Oh, sure! Do you have a question?

Me: Well… I mean, if you want to give me money, I certainly don’t want to talk you out of it *nervous giggle*, but… I’m a Realtor, and I have the paperwork on that transaction here and I don’t believe I’m owed anything…

Dormant Funds Lady: Oh, well why don’t I just get out that settlement statement so we can look at it together.

Me: Erm… OK. Can I reiterate that I don’t want to talk you out of anything?

DFL: Haha, of course you don’t, Dear. Let’s see here… ok, it’s on line 303… see there? Cash to Borrower $5356.45

Me: Uh, that’s not what my line 303 says.

DFL: What is the date on your settlement statement?

Me: Um, December 23. It’s the day before we closed on the house. I remember because we moved in on Christmas Eve.

DFL: Oh, well that’s the problem. You must be looking at an estimated settlement. Mine is the final statement. It’s stamped ‘final’ in the top corner.

Me: Wait, so they issued a statement a week after we closed? Why would they do that? How often does that happen? And why was it $5,000 different?

DFL: Well… I don’t know… I’d really have to open up the whole file to figure it out…

Me: No! That’s OK. Don’t do that. How about this, can I sign the form to have the check reissued and scan and email it to you? And then when you get it can you reply to my email with a copy of the final settlement statement? Then I can compare them myself.

DFL: Sure! That sounds great.

Half an hour later I had the final settlement statement up on my computer. Sure enough, it showed us getting more than $5,000 back. After comparing all of the numbers and the original paperwork, I had figured out what happened. Apparently whoever worked up the estimated settlement had forgotten to credit us our initial earnest deposit of $5000. It only showed the money we had to put down at ‘colorization’ (because it was a new build and we built from scratch, we had to put down $5k to hold our lot and then more money when we picked all of the specifics of the design of the house). I hadn’t caught the error when I reviewed the statement, but apparently someone had about a week later. At that point a new statement was generated, as was a check and both were mailed to me, but I never received the package. Or at least that’s what the title company was claiming.

That was when I had a fifth reaction. I was pissed.

What, did you think I would revert back to Reaction One? I would do a happy dance because I won the lottery and everything checked out?

Ah, no. The only lottery I won is the one where someone takes money from me, hides it under a rock (or more accurately, their own interest bearing account) for almost THREE YEARS and then says, “Oh wait, I have your money… do you still want it?” That’s the lottery I won. If you would like to win that lottery, I would be happy to facilitate it for you in three years, just give me $5000 right now.

I’m not an asshole, I get that mistakes are made. I’m certainly not above reproach in that area. I should have caught this error. That’s my mistake. I like to think that in most cases, when I’m not working on my own transaction, that’s a new build contract I’m not as familiar with as the standard contract, when it’s not 10 seconds before Christmas and I’m packing up and moving my entire house across town while simultaneous making sure all of the necessary presents are purchased and wrapped, I would have caught that error. This time, however, for whatever reason, I trusted the escrow officer to do her job correctly.

The thing I have a problem with is that fact that I didn’t ever receive a call alerting me to this error or letting me know I should watch for a check. I never even received the package with the check and the new statement. Maybe it got lost in the mail with the switch from one house to the next and the forwarding of the mail, but you know how that could have been averted? Oh, I don’t know, MAYBE IF SOMEONE HAD CALLED ME TO EXPLAIN WHAT HAD HAPPENED. Maybe then I would have been on the watch and could have called to have a new check issued oh 2.5 years ago or so.

Or we could look at this from the perspective of a conspiracy theorist:

Maybe a check was never sent. Maybe the title company sat on the cash and collected the interest off it for the last 2 years and 9 months and now are like, ‘Oh hey there! Do you want this? Oh, ok, I guess you can have it back.’ Maybe they did that to 100 people in 2008 and collected 3 years worth of interest on half a million dollars.

Either way, it’s crap and I’m not happy.

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