The next time you go to a bank or a lawyer for anything, I’d consider wearing an armored turtle-neck sweater if I were you.
It is no coincidence that most of the lawmakers in our civilization are lawyers and that many of laws unduly favor the lawyers with opportunities to sink their fangs into you.
Case in point: have you ever bought a house? Buying a house is a big, complex action that requires inordinate legal expertise and wisdom and mountains of documentation. Does it have to? No. Then why does it? Well, the mountains of incoherent legalese and mumbo-jumbo is like a stun gun: it’s designed to immobilize you until various interested parties can sink their fangs into your neck.
First of all, there is the Real Estate Agent. The Real Estate Agent receives a percentage of the value of your house as his pay. This system is not without its advantages. If the agent doesn’t sell your house, he doesn’t get a penny. But if he does sell your house, he gets 5% of the value. This doesn’t entirely make sense. If your house is worth $50,000, the agent gets a reasonable $2,500. How much time does he invest in selling your house? A week of full-time hours? So he gets about $62.50 an hour. Excessive, but not absurd.
But if your house is worth $150,000, the agent gets three times as much, or $7,500. Does it take three times as much work to sell a $150,000 house? No. It takes about the same amount of time, if not less, because there are buyers for every segment of the market place. Even if it took the agent the equivalent of two weeks full-time work to sell this house, he would earn $93.75 an hour. Not bad. No wonder the lawyers want to get in on the action.
Unlike lawyers, however, Real Estate Agents only get paid if they are successful in helping you sell your house. That’s admirable. But why don’t people sell their own houses and keep that money for themselves? Oddly enough, it might because some people confuse the function of the Real Estate Agent with the function of the lawyer. They trust the Real Estate Agent. They feel the Real Estate Agent will keep them from making a foolish mistake, like accidentally buying a trailer in a swamp, instead of a nice bungalow on a crescent. Or selling your house to one of those crazy people who go around looking at houses and making offers on them but don’t actually have any money with which to buy one. But, actually, it’s the lawyer who makes sure that you don’t make a big mistake. Like sign a professional major league baseball contract instead of a mortgage.
It is pretty outrageous that the Real Estate Agent holds on to the $1,000 deposit on the purchase of your house. What’s he doing with it? It’s your house, not his. Why didn’t he turn it over to you immediately, like he should have? Why not? Because the check was given to another Real Estate Agent by the purchaser. So the two Real Estate Agents get together: “I know—let’s keep the money.”
Just imagine how your boss would react if you went out to deliver one of your company’s products to a customer and decided to keep the payment in your pocket for a few months. You’d be arrested. You’d be fired.
The lawyer handles the legal mumbo jumbo of buying a home. What exactly does he do? Well, a lawyer’s time is very valuable. You don’t want to call up a lawyer and burp on the phone or anything—you’ll get a bill. Lawyers are very good at keeping track of their valuable time. And the first thing a good lawyer does is make sure that he doesn’t have to waste a lot of his valuable time by actually doing any work. He hires a law clerk to do that. And you will probably discover that almost all of the work done on your purchase or sale is actually done by the law clerk, who probably makes about $8.75 an hour. The law clerk is happy to work for $8.75 an hour. You see, one day, a law clerk is going to be a lawyer. But the only way the other lawyers will let him become a lawyer is if he first agrees to work for $8.75 an hour for a lawyer for a few years, gaining valuable “experience”. His function is similar to that of a hospital intern: we can ruthlessly exploit you, so we will. But you will have your turn…
When we sold our house, the lawyer’s fee was $450. Add to that about $45 in “disbursements”, including $12 for photocopying and $9.33 for postage. Then there is $50.00 for the registration of discharge. I think he calls the bank and says, “Is the mortgage discharged?” The bank says “yes”. Done. Kaa-chink. $50.00. The fee for buying the house we moved to was $500. But wait! Would a lawyer be satisfied with a paltry $500, when he’s got his hands on your $173,000? There is the “Title Searcher’s Fee”– $75.00. What’s that? I thought that’s what the law clerk did for the lawyer’s fee? There’s no business like show business: charge people for a particular service and then surcharge them for everything that actually costs you money to provide. See “Shipping and Handling” (Amazon.com).
There is an “executions certificate – $77.00”. What’s that? I have no idea. Do I want to make a fool of myself by asking the lawyer what it is and why I should pay for it? He’s already got my money.
There is “subsearch of title – $5.00”. Why, that seems very reasonable. You charge the client $500 for a service that doesn’t include “subsearch of title”. What am I paying $500 for, then?
There is “paid for letter searches: tax certificate – $20.00, Planning/Zone Certificate: $75.00”. Looks like every city department wants their fangs in you too.
There is “conveyance costs”. Oh please…. What is a “conveyance”? $8.50.
There is Courier, Postage, Fax, Photocopies: about $60.00. Here again we have a smart businessman surcharging a customer for services that should be included in the given price for a specific service. It’s like your mechanic charging you $5 for “rag wipe”.
Then the mysterious “levy surcharge”—another $50.00. We go from a $500 lawyers fee to a total of $931.05. Altogether, selling the old house and buying the new, the lawyer gets about $1600.
And finally, after all those exotic little quaint and mysterious charges: “Paid Registration Costs: $100”. After all the subsearches and conveyances and courier and levy surcharges and executions— what! Still not “registered”? What’s the point of registering it when we’ve already paid a fortune for conveyances and subsearches and levies? After all that, registration still matters?
Then the government, of course, bares its fangs: Land Transfer Tax: $1464.00.
Then there is something called the “Levy Surcharge” for $50. There is no explanation of what a “Levy Surcharge” is. If you look up the words in the dictionary, you have, essentially, a phrase that means “charge extra bill”. Maybe the lawyer just wanted another $50, so he added a bill for the bill.
What is even more infuriating is that if I sold this house tomorrow to somebody else, his lawyer would charge him just as much for all the same services my lawyer just provided, and the city would charge him just as much as well, even though the facts of which these various certificates testify have not changed one whit.
As I check over the other documents associated with selling and buying a home, I notice this one: “Inspection and Appraisal: $187.25”. This little gem is something that the bank does to make sure that you’re not taking a mortgage out on an outhouse instead of a four-room bungalow. Well, why should I pay for them to do that? They are the ones that are in the business of lending money for profit. Why don’t they send one of their clerks out to the house to have a look at it, on the bank’s time? How long does it take to ascertain that a house exists and that it is selling at, roughly, current market values?
About a month after the purchase, I received my bank statement. It showed that $498.78 had been charged to my account as a “check posted by branch”. This was not a check posted by branch. This was piece of paper initialed by several people at Scotia Express that said: “give us some money out of this person’s account”. Did my bank say, “Wait—you can’t take money without permission, or without a signed authorization by the owner of the account.”? Are you kidding? Like the Real Estate Agents and the Lawyers, the bankers know how to scratch each others’ backs. They just said: “you’re a bank? Here. Take it. Take as much as you want.”
This amount is supposedly an “interest adjustment”. They probably thought I’d be so totally confused by now that I would just kind of nod and smile and let this one slip pass me. Well, they’re right. However, I do happen to have a document that says that the “interest adjustment” is $216.46. Do I want to spend all day on the phone trying to get through to people at the bank who can talk coherently about my mortgage? You bet.
This kind of wheeling and dealing is what really bugs me. It was our house that we sold, not the lawyer’s. Why does he take his fee right out of the transaction, instead of sending us a bill and waiting to get paid like everyone else does? Maybe he’s worried that if he screwed up, (as a lawyer on one of our previous home purchases did), he wouldn’t get his money.
What a strange world it would be, in which lawyers don’t get paid if they screw up.