Tuesday, March 29, 2022

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Once again, I blogged too soon. (I'm starting to think blogging is the best way to doom everything.)

The bad news is…we’re not moving.

The good news is…just kidding, there isn’t any.

I’m thoroughly convinced the Universe or God or whomever the fuck is running things behind the scenes hates my guts or has it out for my family or is doling out some really severe karma.

After executing almost all the necessary arrangements to uproot a family of (what will now be only) five, and placing thousands of dollars down in various deposits, we took an aggressive dive into the housing market of our soon-to-be hometown.

I should mention that we've never even set foot in this city before, but in doing what I thought was extensive research on the location last year, it seemed like an affordable, family-friendly destination. It even looked like we could afford new construction. I was psyched.

But when we recommenced the housing search this spring following my husband's new job offer, we immediately realized we were fucked. Every property coming up in our search was decrepit or in a crime-riddled neighborhood. Gone was any hope of new construction. In fact, I think I hear the real estate gods cackling at my naivete right now.

We were forced to make some concessions. Though we'd sworn to never live in a dwelling with shared walls, we put townhomes back into the mix. Whereas we had been hoping for a three-bedroom, two bath, we resigned ourselves to two bedrooms and one bath. We made peace (mostly) with the idea of an older home that would likely need a little TLC.

And...we were still fucked. Every day, I'd peruse our (very limited) options. As soon as they arrived in my inbox, I copied and pasted the addresses into Google maps and Spot Crime to weed out the bad ones.

I'd usually have one listing a day left after this vetting process. It would be far from a dream house, but it didn’t look like total nightmare either. Then I'd alert the realtor that we wanted her to schedule a showing and I'd contact the loan officer to work up the numbers.

Inevitably, word would come back from the realtor that the offer deadline had passed or an offer was already accepted.

In one case, a 30-year-old house in an OK neighborhood popped up in the search under "coming soon" status on a Tuesday morning. I told the realtor we'd make a generous offer if she could walk through it and make sure there were no red flags. She called and emailed the listing agent over the course of the day and got no response. In the meantime, she sent me the disclosures, which had a concerning number of "no representation" boxes checked. (The state in question basically offers owners the opportunity to "plead the fifth" when it comes to the condition of almost every part of their homes.)

On Wednesday morning, the house officially went on the market and the listing agent called my realtor back. He said the seller was "overwhelmed" with sight-unseen offers and simply decided not to do showings – for anyone! Did we want to put in an offer?

No, we fucking did not.

This vicious cycle repeated itself, over and over again. In a strategy session with the realtor, she told us the median home price in the area had shot up $100K over the last year. She told us to be prepared to offer $20 - $50K over list price in addition to bending over backwards many other ways to make the offer more enticing for the seller. 

We started to wonder if we could afford to live in this city. We offered to fly down for a day to get a feel for our options, but the realtor basically said, “Don’t bother.” There wouldn’t be anything to see. No one was doing showings anymore. They didn’t have to.

We tried broadening our search criteria. We looked (virtually) at homes in neighborhoods best described as “swampy.” We clicked through pics of townhomes sandwiched together with postage-stamp yards. We debated whether an hour-long commute was too long.

The sacrifices were adding up. All our former deal-breakers were now negotiable. Did we really want to regress in real estate status just to make the move happen? Did we want to risk ending up in a money pit disguised as an opportunity?

Our Minnesota realtor described the market in our wannabe new state as "a dogfight." That didn't sound like something I wanted to participate in. Raising two kids under two-years-old feels like a daily dogfight already.

But we wanted to go. We really wanted to.

“I’m 50 years old,” my husband told me, as he often does. (I think it’s his polite way of saying, “I’m going to die soon. Or at least before you do.”)

“I don’t have many opportunities left to reinvent myself,” he said.

Fair enough, but we also don’t have a bottomless bank account and relocating would gobble up my husband’s entire first year's salary.

We argued about going. About staying. About staying but moving into the city. About him going and me staying. About when “going” actually means “leaving.” Both of us, at different points, suspected that the conversation we were having – and the conflicted feelings that went along with it – was not about where to live but about whether or not we wanted to live with one another anymore.

“Dreams are not stupid!” he yelled at me one night.

OK, maybe not. But they can be impossible.

The older I get, the more often I feel like all the Universe has to offer are what my teens call the “Walmart version” of dreams. Destiny is a cheapskate. Fate is a fucking miser. That's the only way I can explain how my husband got an unlikely job offer in a warm-weather state at what is, historically, the worst time to buy a house.

We tried and tried to solve the real estate riddle. The tension in our house peaked. I stopped sleeping. I lost weight. I cried. I begged doctors for anti-anxiety medications that ultimately didn’t work (or worked so well I was dead to the world at night and had a benzo hangover the next day).

I kept telling myself, “You can't change the weather in Minnesota, so the move would be worth it.” But then I’d look at my credit card balance and think, “Being broke is stressful 365 days a year, whereas winter only lasts four to six months.” (Only! Ha!)

We're already living paycheck-to-paycheck. There are not extra funds to pull from. In the end, the numbers just didn't add up. The risk-to-reward ratio was heavily weighted toward the former. We didn’t so much decide to stay put as we were forced to. (Fuck you, housing market.)

And so began the undoing of all that we had done. Phone calls and emails and customer service chats. We each took turns grieving. We had sad middle-of-the night conversations in the dark. Our house feels like a tomb now, half-empty and devoid of decoration, the moving process aborted.

Forgive the pity party, but: Why can't our family have nice things? All we wanted was a simple home in a safe neighborhood and a temperate climate. Is that too much to ask?

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