01/22/2012 04:31 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2012

Begging to Borrow

The closing location appeared as empty as if the bomb squad had just evacuated the building. What else could explain the choice of parking outside and the absence of people inside?

Usually, stepping into the waiting room at this attorney's office felt like wiggling into too-small jeans. You might get in, but you couldn't get comfortable as you jammed in amidst buyers, sellers, and home equity borrowers all involuntarily breathing each other's anxiety-tinged air, waiting to get their hands on mounds of mortgage money.

When I arrived recently, representing a client selling her home, I didn't need the 10 minutes I allotted to find a parking spot. I didn't have to clear my throat to gain the attention of the perennially disinterested receptionist who'd carelessly flick a hand towards the huddled mortgage masses as she semi-sneered, "We're running a bit behind... you'll have to wait your turn."

The imposing reception desk was empty, so I breezed into the nearest conference room. Surprisingly, the paperwork was prepared and waiting, as was the paralegal conducting the closing. I expressed delight at the express entrance; he set me straight on why there was no longer a lobby logjam.

"We don't have anywhere near the amount of closings we used to," said Mr. Paralegal. "You're the only one today."

He confirmed that the receptionist was history, terminated along with the swarm of secretaries and the colony of closers. I expressed empathy, noting how my real estate transactions had dwindled, too. Obviously lonely and apparently angry, Mr. P. emphatically let me know where he placed the blame for the real estate market's present predicament.

"It's the freakin' banks who are screwing us all up," he seethed. " They don't want to lend. They just won't make deals. They won't give out money!"

Uncomfortably, I looked out the window, but there was still no sign of the others. I warily told Mr. P. that I could certainly relate, as many of my clients' deals fell apart because of lender apathy.

"You can bet they're not suffering," he shouted. "We hear about this lawyer and that real estate agent sending [sorry, can't share the lender] deals and requesting that we get the closing. But do we get the business? No! They don't give us any closings because they won't lend a freakin' dime! They don't care if I can't make my car payments!"

My client arrived, and the tense tête-à-tête terminated. However, when the other attorney arrived, remarking on how quiet the place seemed, Mr. P.'s floodgates bubbled over.

"We can't fix our problems until the banks let the money flow. My boss keeps calling everyone he knows, begging them to let the money flow, but they don't give a damn."

Heads were nodding all around as I reflected on the underlying irony. This place never hesitated to treat mortgage borrowers like beggars when money gushed, but resented it once the banks dammed up the stream.