Tuesday, February 22, 2011


If I learned anything out of this nightmare, it’s that Kurt and I have no patience. We don’t have to move. We were only moving because I’m homesick. But now we’re busting to get out of here. Busting I tell you! Yes, not finding out the buyer couldn’t get her mortgage until two days before the closing caused everything to be in an upheaval. It caused financial difficulties, logistical problems, lost opportunities and at the least, it inconvenienced everyone. But that’s not the reason that we suddenly have to get out of here like the place is on fire.

It’s like being in a car crash. You’re going 60 miles per hour; suddenly, you hit a wall. Screech! Boom! The car stops but you keep going. It goes against the forces of nature to stay in your seat like nothing happened and the broker tells your buyer, “Look for another house—it was probably a blessing in disguise,” like you can just turn the station on the radio or readjust your GPS. Like it’s nothing. Like there’s something not great about your house! But you’re already in motion. So what was once going to be a leisurely exercise—we had been planning to hunker down for the winter—has turned into a lesson about patience. I’ve learned we don’t have any. Coming to a screeching halt makes me crazy to find a way around this detour.

And there’s no reason. Jersey is still going to be there when we find another buyer. The winery house might even still be there. Who is going to buy that thing? You can’t get a C.O., you can’t get a mortgage, I just found out right before all this happened that you can’t even insure it. It’s as as-is, as as-is gets, and nothing is hooked up so you can’t test or inspect anything. Who else is going to have the gonads to take a chance that when they buy that house, they don’t get in there and discover that the septic is shot or the well water is polluted? How many Debi-and-Kurts are there out there?

(The seller obviously believes she is going to sell that house because she refused to give us a house-selling contingency.)

Plus, the good part is we don’t have to move in the dead of winter. Can you imagine, moving a whole farm and a business (not to mention the kid) to another state and to a house with no heat in freezing temperatures and then trying to build some sort of horse shelter and fencing in a three-week period while there is snow on the ground? We’re crazy I tell you!

Maybe Bill is right. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. For me. Not my buyers. They won’t find a place that’s better than this, in this price range. Someday, when they look back, they will be kicking themselves that they didn’t try harder to make this deal happen. Me? I’m going to recalculate and turn left at the next sunny day. The riding arena is just waiting out there and if I am patient enough, maybe, just maybe, I’ll hear my mother’s voice again.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The End of the Trail

The people who came to see the house this morning, loved it. Funny, they’re from New Jersey and that’s where we’re going. I don’t know if they’re going to buy it. They’re looking at a dozen other properties while they are down here. No property is perfect. In this price range, I know they won’t find something that has it all so it depends on what’s most important to them. The drawback to this place is we only have one bathroom. For me, even with the irritable bladder, that wasn’t as important to me as having real horse facilities. There were a lot of things that were more important to me. You can always make a bathroom. But I don’t know what they’ll decide. They did say I raised the bar.

Oh, but what a pain getting all ready again! I knew enough not to start packing just in case the deal fell through and I’d have to start showing the place again. I figured I’d pack while Kurt was up at the winery house getting the electric and heat on and all that. But I had to do some things. So I spent the last two days putting it back together—putting the cross-ties back up, stuffing things back into the attic, rehanging pictures, unrolling the sisal rug we keep under the table on the deck and unfolding the chairs… Staging. And cleaning. I’m a clean freak but when you’re selling a house and you only have one chance to make a first impression, it’s got to be flawless. Kurt went out on the trails with the tractor and manicured them. He cleaned up all the things in the garage he had prepared to take with him to New Jersey and he parked the farm truck in the back. We made phone calls to people to let them know we’re still in business and canceled people who were waiting, like the movers, homeowner’s insurance people, etc. I had to call the hay lady to see if she still had that hay she had asked if I wanted. Also, I’ve been reviewing and relisting all our house-selling ads and contacting people who inquired. Stuff like that. Now we start the process all over again.

I don’t have any hopes for my buyer coming through. Though she signed a contract agreeing to make every effort to obtain a mortgage, and though she has a down payment, high income, excellent credit and stable jobs, she says she’s not qualified when I tell her about other loan programs I’ve found out about. I don’t know how hard she has been trying. I don’t know if she has been frantically digging online, researching USDA loans and FHA rules and contacting other mortgage brokers like Kurt and I have. Heck, it seems like my online friends are doing more digging! If she’s scrambling, she’s not telling me about it. It looks like it’s over. I think it’s the end of the trail.

We’ve asked the owner of the winery house to give us a house-selling contingency but it’s been a few days now and no answer.

I know we’ll sell this place sooner or later. Spring is coming and it’s gorgeous here in the spring—flowers blooming everywhere, birds singing… We weren’t expecting to sell it so fast anyway. We’d planned to hunker down for the winter. I was surprised I was getting bites on it to begin with. It was the ugliest time of year and we were getting action! Of course I had to tell everybody that we were under contract. At least two people who were interested have already bought a house. That makes me mad. But I know that sooner or later it will go.

All my friends, all my blog buddies, have been so good. Screaming for me, feeling for me, coming up with ideas. I just wish I had my mother. I do think she spoke to me. It was when I was picking up manure in the field. That’s when I do my best thinking. It’s peaceful. It’s dead quiet except for the occasional horse snort and I put the pitchfork down, stop to look at the mountains behind Pearl and Eldon’s field…

All of a sudden I heard my mother say, “It’s all going to work out even better Debi.” It was like she was standing right next to me, whispering in my ear. Either I’m going crazy because I’ve had one bad thing after another happen since we left New Jersey and I’m so frazzled that I’m hearing things. Or my mother really is on my shoulder. Either way, a sense of peace fell over me.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bad News

Bad news. Our buyer couldn’t get her mortgage. Two days before closing. Not because of her credit. Not because of her income. Not because of the appraisal. All of that was fine. It was because of something totally ridiculous. We’re zoned agricultural. And I guess FHA doesn’t give out loans for property in rural areas.

My buyer can’t get a conventional loan—she’d need a 20% down payment and she doesn’t have it. FHA requires less money down. She’s not selling her house to buy this one, which is what most people to do to come up with that kind of money, in this case, about $52,000. Her house is a doublewide that needs some work and she was going to sell it later, at her leisure. This enabled her to give us thirty days to vacate the premises, a big plus when you’re moving a whole farm to another state and to a fixer-upper. Everyone was happy.

In the beginning of this process, what I was worried about was the house appraising for the proper price. It’s a tricky property because it’s a horse farm and comps are hard to find. I called the buyer’s banker, Bill Reynolds from Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation, to make sure he was aware of this. I asked him to send an appraiser who was familiar with horse properties and who would understand the value of a real horse property and not compare it to a house with ten acres and a shed out back. I stressed this was a turnkey working horse farm. So he was aware of the nature of the property from the beginning.

But he let it go all the way to closing. And now everybody’s lives are in upheaval. I can’t tell you how this has screwed up so many people in time and money. One example is how Bill made us put in electric heaters upstairs, even though it is warmer up there than it is downstairs. That cost us five hundred dollars. It was totally unnecessary but we figured if that’s what they wanted, we would do it. How about how we had to stop work because we’re supposed to be leaving and now we don’t have jobs? What about the seller up in Jersey who is in financial hardship and is counting on us to close on Tuesday? I could give you dozens of examples how this has hurt us and other people. It’s just too long and upsetting to write.

My buyer was so upset she asked me if we could change the zoning. I said I didn’t think so but I would call the zoning department just in case. The zoning officer couldn’t believe it either. She said most of the county is zoned A1—agricultural, and single house dwellings are permitted. In fact, most of the state is zoned agricultural. Agriculture is our number one industry! FHA only gives out loans to people in cities? If that is true, Bill doesn’t know the products he is selling because he knew this was a horse property from the beginning.

And now I may lose the winery house because of all this. I have some other people interested in the farm, and I know that I’ll sell it sooner or later, in fact, I had a drive-by yesterday, and I have somebody coming over on Friday, but to go through this whole process all over again… it just might take too long and the winery house will be gone.

Of course I should have known the bank would screw it up. Just like they screwed up the whole country.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Scary House

We put our house on the market in September, for-sale-by-owner, and sold it in December. This is the fifth house we sold ourselves and I expected this one to take a little longer, due to the economy, but it went about as fast as the last one did. In fact, we were planning to hunker down for the winter because fall is not a good time to start marketing a property, but it flew off the shelf.

Now we had to find something to move to. This was going to be the hard part. We wanted something old; it had to have acreage for the horses; it had to be close to family, work, and barrel racing, which are in all different directions; it couldn’t be on a busy road or near power lines; and it had to be around $200,000. In Jersey. And we only had two days to do it. We had to get back home because of the animals. The animals is one reason why I want to move back to Jersey. It’s too hard leaving them every time we have to go up there for the holidays or a wedding, or like the last time, my mother’s funeral.

This time we went up there for Christmas. And to find a house. In a blizzard. We weren’t expecting a blizzard. We didn’t even know there was going to be snow and I didn’t bring any of my functional farm-wear because I wanted to look good; I didn’t want my family to say, “What the hell happened to Debi down there? She’s a mess!” So I brought clothes that looked good but weren’t good for trudging around in the snow. Jersey clothes. Form over function.

And I can hear my sister’s words if she’s reading this: “What do you mean you’re not a mess? You most certainly are a mess!” See, I told you. You’ll know what a northerner is thinking because she’ll tell you. And somehow I feel comforted by this, even if it’s not what I’d like to hear.

The first house that we looked at was a turn-of-the-century Victorian that had once been a winery. Our hearts started thumping as soon as we saw it. We parked in the street with our flashers on because the house was vacant so no one was there to shovel and we couldn’t see where the driveway was. If there was a driveway. We climbed through knee-deep snow in sneakers to get to the front door, surrounded by yellow clapboards with peeling paint and wires dangling from the ceiling where a porch light once hung.
The cops arrived to investigate why an out-of-state truck was parked out in the street. Someone called. They thought we were casing the joint. Hey, this is Jersey!

We loved the house but it was scary. It wasn’t because of the ghosts. Supposedly there are ghosts in the house. A woman and a girl. But it wasn’t that. It was the work. Talk about a mess. There was no electric, heat, or plumbing. It was colder inside the house than it was outside. We were so cold and it was so dark, we couldn’t really examine anything and when I had to pee, I had to go outside in the snow. My fingers were frozen, my toes were frozen and my butt was frozen. We looked at each other. Heartbroken. It was too much for us. Then we looked at other houses.

But we couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was crazy if we got that house! It was risky! It was reckless! It didn’t even have enough acres. We could squeeze those horses in. The taxes were high. We’ll be making a lot more money in Jersey. It’ll cost an arm and a leg to heat. We’ll get a woodstove. What if the septic is broke? Septic shmeptic. Oh, what we could do if we had a house like that! The possibilities were endless. And so we went back to see it again with the only pair of boots we could find since all the shelves in all the stores in New Jersey were wiped clean and luckily I have big feet because no one wanted the size eleven.

We brought my father back the second time. I could tell he loved it as much as we did. He asked, “Did you see that movie The Money Pit?” But he didn’t actually say, “Don’t buy it.”

In truth, if you really look at the situation, it’s not as bad as it appears.
The worst was over. All the demolition. All the messy and expensive stuff. The owners had gutted it down to the studs and put in all new wiring, plumbing and insulation. They put in new windows and two hundred-and-forty-something sheets of drywall, curving it where it had been originally curved, saving all the molding and salvaging all the architectural details.
They put in new heat. They stripped all the hardwood floors. Then it looked like someone just put his tools down, went out to lunch and never came back. Nothing was done. Wires were hanging out of holes in the walls and ceilings waiting to be hooked up to outlets and switches and lights; the toilets were in the bathrooms with the labels still on the bowls connected to nothing; the cabinets were in boxes on the floor in the kitchen and the sewer pipe went to nowhere.

But, when scrutinizing it and rationalizing why we should have this house, we realized that any house we bought in our price range would need new cabinets and new floors and new electric. They always do. We know that from experience. It can be the cutest house, the most adorable, well-kept thing on the block and we’ll think we lucked out and we don’t have to do anything but paint and move in. Then when we get in there we discover, even though we got an inspection (like the Ferrum house) and even though it’s brand new (like the Oklahoma house), the roof is leaking or it needs a new well or the heat doesn’t work or the septic is on its last legs, usually all of the above. The only thing is, it wouldn’t be scary. You could go in and turn on the lights and it would be deceptively warm and nice because everything would be up and running. But we’d have to fix all the same things we’d have to fix in the winery house. Sooner or later. Besides, we didn’t like any of the other houses. They were 1980’s tract houses, houses on highways, modulars with popcorn ceilings, cracker boxes and shit boxes and houses that didn’t melt my butter.

So we bought the winery house.