Our offer on the house was accepted. Contracts have been exchanged. Whew! But then the fun of buying a house in another country in a pandemic began. Come. Join me on this journey.
The last week was like pulling out my eyelashes one by one. After I complained of tooth pain Jeff laughed. ‘You’ve been grinding your teeth so loud you woke me up.’
Its true, I have been doing that but its no wonder. It all began on Monday when I first reached out to our large bank in the US to learn about initiating an international wire to a country, and a person, I’ve never wired money to before. It might surprise you to learn I don’t usually do this as we aren’t high rollers on the international real estate purchasing scene, so I needed a little guidance. Turns out, advice was thin on the ground.
They gave me the answer we all hear, all day long now. ‘Just go online or use the app on your phone.’ As though speaking to a real person is sooo 2000. Ugh. So I went online. Funny how their FAQ’s online aren’t so comprehensive. But I followed the steps then fired off the wire. Got up off the couch to make a coffee. Came back. Email arrives telling me they’re processing said wire. I drink my coffee and congratulate myself for figuring it out with no help from a real person. I shower and check one last time. Email ‘Wire is cancelled for security reasons. Please call this number 24/7 for assistance.’ I go online and my account is locked down. Wait, what?
Here is where the fun started and I missed every appointment I had last week. Turns out, the number to call in the email was ‘no longer in service’. And the number on the ‘We’ve locked your account screen’ was now only working reduced hours ‘due to Covid’ and they only take calls starting at 3pm CET. So I sat there for 5 hours trying other numbers but to no avail.
Finally, at 3pm sharp I call. The ‘just go online/use the app’ crowd was now telling me I should ‘go into my local Chase branch ‘where you opened your account. The manager can then call us after he’s validated your identity.’ Wait, what?!
I explained that I’m in Europe buying a house, there is a pandemic raging, and I can’t fly to the US to visit ‘my local branch’ and by the way I checked and that branch has been ‘temporarily closed’ due to the pandemic. However, were it open I haven’t seen that bank manager in the 10 years since we opened the account. (Online banking) He/she doesn’t know me from a hole in the ground. Ugh.
Somehow, after holding for ‘just another 5 minutes’ four subsequent times, they find a way to validate me. They unlock my account. Make furious notes and tell me they ‘see nothing that will stop you from completing the wire.’ So I try again. I get an immediate email telling me its in process. The person on the phone congratulates herself for a job well done. And tells me I’ll get a survey on her excellent service. Where anything less than a 10 is complete failure.
I go put a load of laundry in the washer and come back to see if the wire has completed. Email: ‘For your own protection we have cancelled this wire and locked your account. Please call xyz to speak to ‘Customer Service.’ Wait, what?! I just spoke to them.
So I dial the one good number I have, but now that we are 45 minutes into when the call center opened its a 45 minute wait to speak to an agent. 45 minutes on a US cell phone from Europe. So I wait and wait. Finally 1 hour and 30 minutes later I get an agent. We do the same dance. And I try the wire again. After 45 minute they cancel the wire and lock my account again. Then I have no choice but to call back. This time it quotes me a time ‘greater than 1 hour’. So I put it on speaker and do other things while TMobile racks up my mobile charges. 2+ hours later I get an agent who unlocks my account but now tells me I’m over my daily wire limit and will have to wait until tomorrow to try it again. What?!? I’ve yet to wire one penny. Over my limit? For stress? Yes! For sending € to Portugal? Not even close.
After a restless night, I awake the next day. And try again. Can you guess what happened? I bet you can. Now I have the agent in Portugal calling. Why have we not sent the money? The home owners are asking if we still want the house. Ugh. I explain. He says ‘sometimes this is normal.’ Not a sentence I would ever use.
I wait until 3 pm and start again. The wait times will just get longer so being the first to call is essential. I explain the situation. The person says its because my daily limit for online wires is $25k. The first I’ve heard of this. If I go into the branch I can send as much as I need to after the manager who doesnt know me, at the branch that is now closed, validates my identity and I sign a piece of paper. She says this is the trouble. ‘You must send the money in smaller daily amounts.’ Whatever.
So I call the agent to tell the homeowners the new plan. He promptly gifts me with his usual wisdom ‘sometimes this is completely normal’ and I initiate another, smaller wire. Bet you can guess what happened and how I spent the rest of the day until they closed their call center at 11 pm CET.
Each time I called I learned something new. About my bank and myself. As to the bank – they have no clue what they’re doing. They have agents that work in every timezone. The first agents will be in the Philippines – I call these the ‘front line’. The next, starting at 5pm CET will be in India – these I call ‘the peace makers’. Their voices will calm me down. Finally, after I’m at full 9pm-on-hold-for-2-hours, I’ll get Americans. I have a name for them but we only speak it in el Compartemento. I swear to you that two of them sounded drunk or high. One called me ‘dude’. Yes, these are the American customer service agents that survived the Covid downsizing at a large US bank. Unbelievable.
The Indian agents would usually be more tech savvy in our multiple conversations and would give me more information than their counterparts in the Philippines . And the American agents just sounded pissed off or super chill – aka stoned. Like my problem was no problem at all. Queue glass chewing.
Finally on Wednesday, after maximum teeth grinding and not sleeping, I got a guy in India who told me some semblance of what might be going on. And it made an ounce of sense.
‘It seems you are an ‘orphan record.’ My parents would confirm this if I told them. ‘You need to wait more than 24 hours to let the batch run so the clean up jobs clear your orphan record. Then I think you can complete your first wire,’.
This makes total sense to me. Processing transactions out of sequence is a big problem. I came from tech. I get it. But it was sooo hard. Jeff thought the guy was probably right and he watched me closely. ‘Don’t push the button.’
When the realtor gave me the owner’s son’s phone – because he speaks English – I called to explain it all – not like I understood why it had all happened. But we agreed to talking throughout the day as we inched towards getting them some money. ‘Do not worry, Kelli. We will do this together,’
I had my laptop open when Jeff came into the room. ‘Do not tell me you’re trying to send that wire. I recommend waiting 36 hours. Let two full cleanup jobs run. Who knows what time zone they kick it off in.’ Ugh. More teeth grinding.
Finally, the bell rings. I log in and initiate the wire. I wait. And wait. No rejection. Could it be?They like me!?! They really like me?! I’m afraid to stop looking at the screen. After 5 days I do a little dance in the living room, and some personal care, then call Pedro – The Son. They’ve received nothing. Wait, what?!
I call my bank. It seems the owner’s bank in Portugal rejected it because it wasn’t in a format they are used to. Know what SEPA is? Me neither. But I do now. And so does Pedro.
I asked the bank to try again. ‘Please DO NOT tell me to go online or in that fucking app! Just send it through – AGAIN!’ And surprise! They did and it posted to the correct account. I don’t think the people at NASA were as happy as I was when Apollo 13 landed safely back to earth. I’m very sure of that.
So, now I’ll spend my next week + sending small wires through, and the upside is I’ve made a new friend. ‘I will look forward to meeting you one day. Kelli’ And I’ll look forward to meeting Pedro. We’ll hug and cheer. Because we landed this impossible mission. Together. And I have an appointment on Thursday morning to get my cracked tooth fixed.