My So-Called Life

The house situation is coming to a point where a lot of dirty words are getting thrown around. Words I cannot even bring myself to type.

The reason why I haven't been writing is because, quite frankly, I've been too busy gaping in awe at my life right now. How could it possibly be coming to this? That is what Chris and I have spent the last week asking ourselves.

I wrote this last week late one night while I sat hunched and defeated over unpaid bills.
"It's like we have hairy ferocious beasts pacing and growling behind us. I can feel their hot breath on my neck. I can hear their growls building. And with every potential buyer who chooses another property, their growls grow louder. They come closer.

And now I'm starting to feel their claws. I feel them grazing the back of my neck with gentle swipes. I sense their hunger.

And I'm afraid to turn around."
It is SO DIFFICULT to write about this process because it is horribly embarrassing and humiliating. Anyone who knows me know that my whole self-deprecating shtick is a big fat sham and I'm actually very arrogant and self-absorbed and judgmental and proud. (But, I hug my friends and cry a lot and make a mean cosmopolitan, so it all balances out in the end.)

I spent the last few days considering whether I should just take a break from writing until all of this unpleasantness blows over. But, then I realized: this is a blog about my life and, well, life isn't always pretty now is it?

So, I decided that the only way to diffuse the humiliation of it all is to lay it out there - tell the whole story of how we ended up in this nightmare.

In doing so, I hope to help people. I hope to scream from the freaking mountaintop "don't do what we did!". In the end, I hope to get some clarity.

Here is our story:

Five years ago, while living in the Bay Area, Chris and I went from living in an 800 square foot apartment with $30,000 in credit debt to making more money than we ever thought possible. Chris got an executive level position buying land for a Fortune 100 homebuilder and I had just left banking and launched my corporate gift business. My first client was, of course, Chris' employer.

Not only was Chris making a decent salary, but he was also making bonuses that made our heads spin. At the same time I was getting orders by the hundreds for my gift baskets before I had even named my business.

We literally had more money than we knew what to do with. There were so many zeroes in all of our accounts that we were convinced we could spend and spend and still be set for life.

We were so wrong.

Mistake #1: We didn't immediately invest.
While we had big plans for stocks and money market accounts and CD's, in the end we blew our money on furniture and clothes and cars - things that bring zero security to your life.

At the same time we were looking to invest our stash of cash in real estate, the market went completely berserk in northern Calif*rnia. Houses were being sold within 24 hours of being listed. People were camping out for days in front of homebuilders' trailers to buy houses from a sketch (no models were even built). And they were buying them with cash. We had friends who were selling their modest little suburban houses and becoming instant millionaires.

The idea of involving ourselves in a bidding war frightened us into moving to southern Calif*rnia where the competition was less fierce.

Mistake #2 - We bought at the right time, but in the wrong place.
Without giving away too much detail about what city we live in, I'll say that our original plan was to live near the coast once we moved down here. We were priced out of most coastal areas and ended up settling on an inland city that was known for being quaint and charming despite its proximity to a lot of crappy surrounding cities. Plus, we were told it was up and coming!

(Excuse me while I check the front door for that line of buyers again. Oops! Still haven't made their way here yet!)


Now, I'm not blaming anyone - I know that Chris didn't have a crystal ball when he insisted enthusiastically that we should buy a house here. I can only speak for myself. I can tell you that I knew we shouldn't invest here. I knew that we should not sacrifice environment for square footage. But, I was hopeful that it was a good financial move. Even though my gut told me different.

Mistake #3 - We got an adjustable equity line of credit.
Two years after buying this house, we had a nice big juicy amount of equity. Chris and I were both self-employed at that point and work had slowed down. There were no new clients and no more bonuses. Our credit card balances had crept up. We were starting to feel pinched.
But, we have equity! No problem! We won't be like those ignorant people and over extend ourselves. Oh, no. We'll just take a teensy bit out.

Now, that "teensy bit" of a lo*n is what stands in the way of us selling this house. The payment has adjusted in the wake of us not being able to sell and the new payment amount is truly horrifying. I guarantee it is more than what 99% of you are paying right now. Horrifying. Truly.

Mistake #4 - We didn't react fast enough when we saw the market tanking.
Here is the clincher: combined, Chris and I have 20 years experience in real est*te. Twenty years. We saw all the signs, yet we still didn't move fast enough to avoid this downturn in the market that has dropped prices by an unprecedented 25% and is still dropping.

First, homebuilders started coming to the area in droves. They absolutely saturated our city. That was our first sign.

Second, resale houses were starting to sit on the market longer.

Third, our neighborhood started to show signs of distress. That is when we finally listed.

When we moved here, every yard was pristine. Every house was cared for and loved. People washed their cars on the weekends and mowed their lawns and played with their kids in the front yard.

And yet, I step outside my house today and I don't see the neighborhood we bought in three years ago. There are million dollar estates right around the corner and yet weeds are growing in some of their yards. F*reclosure signs adorn two neglected former beauties and our realt*r assures us there will be more to follow.

I drive down our street now and I see dead grass. One house has sheets on the windows. I see a sea of "For Sale" signs. When we bought our house, our neighborhood was one of the most sought after in the city. Houses were snatched up as soon as they went up for sale.

Now, a shopping cart has been abandoned on someone's porch for the last three months.

A part of me is sad to see my neighborhood become so neglected. A part of me fears that our little house filled with so many happy memories will become just another victim of this market's steady decline. That someone will move in who doesn't care. That my bougainvillea will die, that our lawns will go untrimmed, that Savannah's growth chart will be painted over.

Or worse, that no one will move in at all.

But, the larger part of me has been feeling panicky lately. Panicky that we have been listed for so many months without a reasonable offer. Panicky that we have lowered our price to such a point that we will be coming in with a lot of cash. Panicky that Chris started his new job today and has a three hour commute.

Panicky that after years of having stability and money in the bank, we're losing it all at the exact time Savannah needs it most: her first year of school.

That brings me to today.

We're done panicking.

Chris and I have decided that we can't wait on other people anymore to make our decisions. We've decided that what is most important is that Savannah is in a good school close to home and that we live near Chris' source of income. We are done waiting on other people. We are done waiting to be rewarded for doing the right thing. DONE DONE DONE.

So, we're moving out.

This is our life and we've worked so hard to have excellent credit and make good money and have a nice home and we have always been responsible in our lives. Yes, we made a few mistakes in our decision-making. But, how long do we have to go on paying for them??

We visited family last weekend and received some excellent advice from my uncle. He said "You're going to pay for this one way or another. You just need to decide how you want to pay."

Are we going to pay with our marriage? With our sanity? With our emotional and spiritual well-being? Or just our finances?

We picked our poison. And I'll tell you, that poison is a lot sweeter when you're living on the coast five minutes from your husband's work.

Now that we're looking at it this way, we feel empowered again. This is in our hands. We need to move forward with what is best for our family and if the house sells and everything works out perfect, great. But, if it doesn't and we spend years paying for it, fine. At least we have made the damn decision.

We're trying to offer a s*ttlement to the bank now, which I know they won't accept. Ironically, this is what I did in my career in banking and I know for a fact that m*rtgage companies like to see you hurting before they're willing to hurt.

They're supposed to give me an answer tomorrow. If they deny that, then we'll continue to try to sh*rt sell. We're priced so under market now, it's ridiculous. If we can't sell at this price, then I believe our house is haunted.

I don't know how our story is going to end. But, I know that whatever happens Chris and I can look in the mirror and know that we did everything we could to play by the rules, that we did everything we could to protect our good name.

That we did everything we could to protect our family.

I'm turning around and staring down the ferocious beasts ...and I'm giving them the finger.


red scorpion said...

I just want to say I have been praying for you and your family. And I wish you the best of luck with everything. However DO NOT feel embarassed or humiliated if you were the only one who did what you did real estate wouldn't be in the news like it is now!!! We all make mistakes the key is to get back up after you get knocked down.


janet said...

I appreciate you telling this story. and I'm really sorry, it sounds horrible like I can't imagine. But you're right to value the things that don't have the price tags on them even more.

Butrfly4404 said...

That was very brave. You're right...sometimes it just isn't worth the stress.

We used to have so much money, too. Then I got pregnant and we decided our house was unfit so we moved out - my mom sold it (we were renting). We searched and searched and finally picked our house. An hour away from work. The day before we were to close, I lost bella. Everyone told me to just go with it - buy it anyway - we didn't want to lose the house on top of everything else. Now I'm an hour away from work. The Man says that's where all our personal time goes - in the car. I've been planning to quit my job and take a HUGE pay cut (not to mention benefits) to work closer to home. (Right before school starts)...but my boss just gave me a big raise...I think he saw what was coming. I knew we'd be a lot poorer, but I was so looking forward to actually having a couple hours more a day to just DO SOMETHING that I'm almost sad that I got that raise. Now you've got me thinking about it this way...

dad gone mad said...

You are fucking BAD ASS, Lena! Good fo ryou guys! And since I live in the general vicinity of the rough area near where you might want to live, you are cordially invited to put a tent in my backyard and camp there until you've found a more permanent home. It's OK. You don't have to thank me. Just watch out for the dog crap.

Linsey said...

It always feels so good to make your own decision, no matter what it is, rather than the decision being forced on you. I believe that when you take things like that into your own hands they eventually end up working out somehow. Good Luck with everything, I think you are doing a good thing. And your Uncle had excellent advice...I'll take it!!!

Anonymous said...

You are one tough cookie...I am proud of you for flashing those demons the finger....

I send you love and luck...

Mrs. Chicky said...

It's terrifying, but I'm pulling for you guys. You'll make it through!

Anonymous said...

You certainly have the right mindset now. Just look forward and believe that you are doing the best for you and your family.

I'm proud of you. Really.

Kerry said...

well as to the bank you must know some tricks to faciliitate the sale. Not knowing the banking laws in your particular area, you could mention to the bank that the house has overburdened you so much that you may have to start down the road of bankruptcy.

This may steer them to taking a buyout where in. The. Bankruptcy. they would get much less. Either way they get the house so just getting yourself outa there and starting fresh is what counts.

Mrs. Davis said...

Good for you for making a decision and moving ahead. I've been thinking of you lots lately (as we've been buying and kind of enjoying the buyers' market). I hope it all works out for the best.

blog Portland said...

Kudos for doing it on your own terms, in a blaze of glory. Bon Jovi would be proud.

Poppy said...

I'm so sorry you find yourselves in this position.

Making mistakes that kick us in the butt sucks. Been there, done that, got the Tshirt.

Kudos to you for doing what's best for you and the family.

Sending you tons of good vibes for the coming days.

Hang in there~

Nancy said...

Lena, I'm so sorry to hear the full story -- worse than I could have imagined. But it sounds like you've made a choice to save the family and your sanity. I wish you all the best.

myminivanisfasterthanyours said...

This is so extrememly well-written and the honesty just smacked me in the face. Thanks for sharing your story; I feel like I know you. And congrats on your decision!

DianaCLT said...

I agree with what every other person has said. I am absolutely praying for you and pulling for you. I absolutely think your family and your sanity are more important than this damned house and market. If you get out now, you can still take the good memories you've made in the house with you, because YOU decided how to take the next step.

With regard to the comment about how well-written it is: I completely agree. And I was thinking...maybe you could take your experience and submit it to a newspaper, magazine, etc? Others could definitely benefit from you you've gone through, and it might help in your healing process (and there's likely even some $$ in it if you can get a magazine to pick it up!).

Best wishes. You have lots of positive energy and good wishes coming your way from all of your family, friends, and fans!

Bunny said...

Good for you, Lena. You and Chris are taking care of your family. And making some good decisions. I have been following your house woes and have been cringing and aching for you and all the setbacks. And I am so proud of you for taking care of your family. It is not easy to stand up to the beast. But you are doing it and you are doing it with grace. Thank you for sharing so much with us, teh internet.

Frema said...

It's entries like this that make me so excited to hear you speak at BlogHer. I've really missed your entries, and I appreciate your willingness to be so upfront with your readers. Damn right we all make mistakes. Don't feel so embarrassed about yours. At least they're "just" financial and you still have a wonderful family and new opportunities available to you.

Best of luck, Lena. We're all rooting for you!

themikestand said...

Good luck to you. I can only imagine how squeezed you're feeling these days (okay, so I can do a little more than imagine, since you've written so plainly about it) -- but as I was reading this, I thought something similar; something along the lines of "do what you have to do to get out of it and get it behind you". Again, best of luck.

Ash said...


Mandy said...

Delurking to say, I admire you and Chris for making this tough decision. Good luck and have fun packing!

lizinsumner said...

I'm so sorry for all that you've been going through; but - I think you're making the right choice. Six years ago, my husband walked out and left me with all of the his "credit", he did try, through the courts, to get the house (that I had put the down payment on!) and full custody of our only child and kick my dying mother and myself out into the street. Fortunately, the courts saw through him, and the house and our child remained with me...but, so did all of the bills. The divorce took over 1 1/2 years, and I could barely stay afloat with the 1st and 2nd mortgages, and the utilities, mother passed away 2 months after the divorce finally was finished, and I immediately put the house up for sale. The market was okay in western Washington then, but I didn't have ANY extra money to paint, stage, store stuff....etc. I spent every weekend for one month scrubbing down the outside of my house with bleach and water, by myself, just to make it look better. After 3 months and one price lowering, I finally got an offer. One week before closing, the buyers lost their financing due to being dishonest about their, back on the market it went. This is where I believe I received divine intervention - it sold a week later, but while waiting for closing on the sale, I went into foreclosure. Fortunately, the sale closed in time, and I got out with all of my equity intact. My ex had signed a quit-claim, so I took the money and ran. I've been renting ever since - still a little gun-shy, not ready to commit to another house, and can't move my son from his school district anyway. But, I'm debt-free and although my credit is bruised, I've been able to start over. Fortunately, I have a good job with a major aerospace company and now that I don't have a house payment, I've been able to put a lot more into my 401k. So, all this to say that I'm hoping for some divine intervention for you as well, and another happy ending!!!!! You were so brave to share!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. I made a similar post this week about the embarrassing consequences of our own financial decisions, so I feel a little less naked. Especially since you "should have known better", just like me.

I think you're making the right decision. I've mentioned my parents in past comments, and I think that if they would have done what you are doing, they would be much, much happier.

You probably didn't expect people to admire you for this post, but I do. I admire your ability to admit mistakes and move forward, and I admire your strength in dealing with such a difficult situation.

Robyn A. said...

I think you guys have made the best decision. There will be a few consequences, but none of them are permanent or fatal. :)

Besides you are hardly the only family struggling with this same situation: the number of defaults/forclosures/etc in your neck of the woods (I am fairly certain I know whereabouts you live-we came scarily close to doing the same thing you guys did, in the same area!) are becoming increasingly common.

No. Big. Deal. :) Move to the OC. The weather here is much nicer, and I shall make you cocktails and little fancy crackers with cheese. Our kids can play. Yay for drunken playdates!

Mieke said...

Thanks for sharing your story. It definitely helps when you are going through a very similar situation and feel somewhat alone. It is so hard when finances are tough, and it is so good to remember that your family is most important. Your uncle gave some great advice, and I think I will follow them, too! Thanks so much!

Shannon said...

Dang, girl - you brought a tear to my eye! For real! I read your blog often, but have never commented. But now I have. You rock! Snaps to you for making the decision. I used to live in both San Diego and LA. At the height of frenzy. We're gone now, but many a friend is left in a quandry like yours.

I LOVE your "you're going to pay for it" talk. You're right.

You're strong. You're a rockin mom and a rock star person. Hang in there & drink the wine.

Christina said...

You are not alone~been there myself and you know what? The money will take care of itself. I read an article the other day that said the worst is yet to come in regards to the real estate market. The most ARM's were closed in 2006,which means that millions of mortgages are set to adjust next year.
Good for you and Chris for putting your family first. You will be in my prayers.

Christina said...

Sorry-I meant to put in there that the most popular ARM was the 2/28,which is why they anticipate a lot of forclosures in 2008.
Still praying........

Anonymous said...

I'll be saying a prayer tonight that all works out better than you expected. For some reason Savannah's growth chart sticks in my head- my advice- take a picture of it with her standing next to it, and both of you paint over it before you leave. Don't let someone else have the carelessness of doing it.
We went through soemthing similar 1.5 ago- only we were B-R-O-K-E and had NO credit cards to even back up on... (like $11 in the bank account broke!!) I can only tell you that you will get through it. Life has more to offer and it will be better on the flipside!


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry. I'll pray for you guys. Sometimes life hands you more than you think you can handle but you 2 need to stay strong and focused. Remember what's most important is a house is just a "thing" but your marriage is so much more. I'm confident of you two can get through this you can get through anything. Keep your head up things will turn around!!!

Lena said...

Lizinsumner - What a story! *feeling somewhat sheepish*

Lena said...

Robyn A. - You had me at cocktails.

Y said...

You've been through so much and yet, you can laugh with me when I call to tell you that my son broke his friend's FIFTY TWO INCH PLASMA TV.

I just love you.

(And I was thinking, I should come over and help you pack. Even though I'll be pretty useless, as I can not move, but I can totally make you sandwiches!)

Laural Dawn said...

I've been there. Exactly there. It got so bad we went on a television show about debt. It was humiliating - and many people at work saw it. It got very bad.
But, like you, we had to put our family first.
We did sell. Very low. It hurt. We owe money. We now are in a property that isn't ideal for many reasons, but we don't fight all the time. And, we have made the best of it, and we love that we are near family.
it's all in perspective.
I just want you to know that for what it's worth, making a decision like this is so worth it. For you.
Credit repairs itself.
Family doesn't always.
I don't know you, but if I did I'd give you a big hug cause this sucks so much.

Tara said...

Oh, honey. That sucks--but I really think you are making the best choice. You have to move forward to do what's right for you & your family.

Crossing everything I have, hoping that things turn out well for you. . .

gingajoy said...

Lena--although my situation is slightly different, in the important way it;s the same. i.e. this is about Life. Not Money. You know? Right now we are selling our house and trading in our current lives to move to the Uk. I have a job, and Huz does not. It's going to be ok, but tighter than we've known for a while. But we needed a change. We needed to move forward. So you leap.

Good luck!

Melissa said...

I admire you for writing this post.

JSauce said...

I'm so sorry to hear what's happening, and I wish you don't happen to live near Valencia, do you? We're house hunting...

Lena said...

That was where we were moving before Chris got this job in Newport Beach. Weird!

No, we're in the "wine country".

Anonymous said...

Im a first time visitor, and appreciate the candor of your posts. Our family has also been wracked with financial woes from my son's medical treatment bills, and at some point, you just got to say, Oh well. Im glad you have...stay strong, enjoy your family, this will one day be a blip on the screen.

BTW, as a resident of South Orange County, Im busy trying to guess the "inland" community..although it sounds like a lot of places these days.


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