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.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.)
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."
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.