See anything different? The For Sale sign is gone. My house, my home, is off the market – for at least a while. Welcome to yet another episode in “Maybe I Get To Keep My House”. After two years of trying to sell it, I decided to take my house off the market just as a possible mortgage modification is coming through, and as the local real estate market makes agents busier than they’ve been for years. Things change. Things stay the same. What’s news about that?
- In the summer of 2011 my finances were hit with a Triple Whammy. But hey, I’m an optimist. They’ll come back.
- By spring of 2012 my finances hadn’t come back, despite my optimism. If things didn’t improve quickly and significantly, I wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage. Evidently, it was time to sell my house, my favorite home. I put it on the market at the same price I’d bought it for five years earlier.
- In the fall of 2012 my finances hadn’t recovered. None of my Backup Plans were working at full force. I was paying the mortgage from my IRA, and my IRA was almost empty. I stopped paying my mortgage. The emotional pain was surprisingly intense. The Mortgage Company Tactics didn’t help.
- In the spring of 2013 the mortgage company finally posted a Notice of Default on my door. The next step would be the all-too-common foreclosure notice. Ah, but there was a phone number on the notice. I’d had such bad experiences in previous communications, but this one promised to be with an independent third party, Parkview Services. Their advice steered me into a beneficial delay, and then mediation based on an intimate and experienced knowledge of the foreclosure and mortgage modification process that few homeowners could attain.
- During the summer of 2013 a trusted friend and real estate agent who has seen me through several deals agreed to take over from the previous agent. Kath has seen me in the midst of intense stress before, and knows how to communicate with this somewhat-stubborn ex-engineer.
- Through the summer and fall of mis-scheduled meetings we (the mortgager, Fannie Mae; the mortgage servicer; the mediator, my counselors at Parkview, and me) finally came up with a schedule for a possible mortgage modification.
- Thank my two biggest clients (HCLE and NRM) who readily agreed to double my hours and give me a raise in the fall of 2013. My business income increased enough to at least pay rent, and maybe qualify for a modified mortgage.
- Good news arrived in the late winter of 2014. I was offered an trial payment plan that would possibly qualify me for a modified mortgage. The payments are about the same as rent. Good.
- Here we sit, spring of 2014. The real estate market boom finally crosses the moat from the mainland to the island. My agent friends are busy. The mortgage modification may be offered within the next few weeks. These are dynamic times.
To those of you who skipped past the bullets, I don’t blame you. The details of this history do not make for a simple story. We are comfortable with the simple and the quick. As this situation flows around me I’ve come to realize why less is said about the personal stories behind foreclosure. Take a look at that lineage. That is the simple version, and its latest episode includes a twist.
I took the house off the market because the amount I owe has risen every month that I haven’t paid the mortgage. Even the trial payments I am making do not necessarily keep the penalties from accumulating. As of April the amount that I owe probably couldn’t be covered by a full-price offer. A full price offer a couple of months ago may have left me with some money for the first, last, and deposit for a rental; but the market wasn’t active then. The market is so active now that I’ve had more showings in the last few weeks than I had in the previous year and a half; but selling now would possibly cost me thousands of dollars.
Such stories don’t play well in the press. They don’t fit into a 30 second sound bite. If you skipped the details you can appreciate the time constraints of a reporter trying to compile the best story in the shortest time. And as I said above, my story is simpler than most. A relatively healthy single guy with no dependents, only one mortgage, who lives frugally and responsibly, with advanced education in a key field, whose mortgage wasn’t underwater at the start because he put 20% down. Imagine how complicated such stories get with health issues, divorces, kids, second mortgages, and poor employment prospects. When the news gets complicated the press tends to report the stats rather than the stories.
It is good to get my home off the market. Of course I hope the mortgage modification comes in as suggested by the trial payments. There’s a lot I want to do with the house that only makes sense to tackle if I am going to be here for years. I still haven’t planted this year’s vegetable garden because I don’t know if I’ll be here to tend it.
My house has only marginally been “staged” to appeal to potential buyers; but now I can pull the coat rack out of the closet, put the messier bits of a real kitchen back onto the counters, not worry about strangers having access to my personal stuff, only make the bed (er, futon) when I want, and maybe finally move the standing desk out to where there’s a good view (which happens to be beside the kitchen).
A few conversations with neighbors marked the difference between perception and reality. They both saw me as doing “really well now”, based on – what? I don’t know. We work from illusions. Graciously, each listened to my story, and I appreciate their listening. One couple shared their story too. They too were on the edge, but no one could tell from the way they act, the appearance of their home, or from what they’ve made known. The simple story that all is fine is a fine one to leave their neighbors with, except I guess for neighbors like me who sincerely and honestly answer questions that are usually avoided. Proprieties aside, people appreciate truth.
A dear friend asked where I thought I’d be in thirty years. That is the easy question to answer. I am an optimist. I expect to be in a much better place. I even hope to be somewhere better within the next three years. But the next three months, weeks, or days are less certain – which I guess is no change for any long-term optimist and short-term realist as myself. And possibly also the case for the quiet crowd living through similar circumstances. May you experience the change you wish to see. Now, that would be news.