Saturday, April 9, 2022

Where There's A Will, There's A WTF Is Happening


Real estate is like gambling. It's financially risky, it's addictive, and the house always wins...by which I mean, we have been desperately trying with all our might to find a home in our wannabe new city and so far, have failed spectacularly.

In my last post, I said we were staying put. Now we’re not. Or are we? For once, I am not responsible for the latest big-life-decision flip-flop. Three times my husband called his new boss to tell him, "I'm not coming." Three times he talked with him about who-knows-what but was ultimately unable to utter those three words.

So we reversed course yet again and threw ourselves at the mercy of the most competitive housing market in the history of humankind with the wayward hope that we would find something, anything, in a safe neighborhood that didn't require an hour-long commute.

Thus far, we've made multiple sight unseen offers, from a tiny urban townhome to a renovated trailer in the backwoods to a stately old home in a third-tier suburb. And, apparently, we keep getting outbid. If I were to compare this house search to dating, we're now doing the equivalent of closing our eyes and swiping right on every profile, praying that someone, anyone, will have pity sex with us. (Somehow, that sounds like more fun.)

Everything moves so fast these days, there’s no time for doubt or contemplation. And it's all digital. We can sign away our entire life savings with a few taps on our phones. We have initialed hundreds of documents we have not read. We have basically promised to make the biggest purchase of our lifetimes without doing any due diligence (but have been willing to pay through the nose on a predatory concept called due diligence money, which is unfortunately unique to the wannabe home state in question).

May I reminisce for a moment about the housing market of yore? I fondly remember my family’s impeccably coiffed realtor picking up 8-year-old me, my little brother, and my parents in her brand-new Jeep with heated leather seats (a true luxury in Minnesota winters), handing my parents a stack of color printouts with info on different abodes, then shuttling us around South Minneapolis to frolic through strangers' houses. If you found something you liked, you would calmly return to the agent's office (eerily empty after hours) and write up an offer. On paper. Which was signed with an old-fashioned, branded pen. (Remember those?) You even got to keep the pen! 

Back then, multiple offers were rare. You didn't have to go over asking price, and if you did, it was a couple thousand, tops. Then, the realtor would whoosh off into the night to present the offer in person. It was all very formal and respectful. And if things didn't go your way, the realtor treated you to Dairy Queen -- and I don't mean a dinky Dilly Bar. I mean a large Blizzard with extra mix-ins. (Or maybe that was just our realtor.)

Now, the market has gone rogue. Buyers are throwing 20 - 30 percent down over list price, even when appraisers value the home far below that and mortgage companies refuse to cover the gap (because it's a bad investment!). Buyers are essentially bribing sellers with things like "rent backs" (i.e. We own the house now and we are paying the mortgage, but sure, you can live there after closing for free!) and foregoing showings, not to mention inspections. And buyers are offering tens of thousands of dollars in earnest money, which is due almost immediately upon acceptance of an offer and they won't recoup if the deal falls through.

To add insult to injury, some aspects of our relocation have been stymied due to the indecisiveness. I currently have no childcare in place and my older teen is no longer planning to relocate with us because at this rate, we’re going to end up in the boondocks and she can’t afford to live on campus and refuses to commute. I have often envisioned me in our new, overpriced but unimpressive home, isolated from everything and everyone, alone all day with two kids under 2 years old, trying to work, even more frazzled and exhausted and emotionally volatile than I am now. (Other times, like when it's been snowing almost every day in Minnesota this month, I just imagine us in the sunshine and that seems worth every imaginable inconvenience.)

We’re down to the wire down now and I’m starting to feel like the only way we’re going to win a bidding war is by offering an insane amount we can’t actually afford. This could be the worst financial decision of our lives (and I made some pretty atrocious ones after my divorce, resulting in an unfinished basement bedroom at my mom's, bankruptcy, and food stamps.) I can't go back to that place. But this move means so much to my husband and after hoisting two squalling children on him in as many years, I guess he deserves it? That's what couples are supposed to do, right? Take turns making each other happy?

The thing is, if the whole baby-making venture taught me anything, it's that ultimately, we will be OK either way. Most decisions are not disastrous, many are reversible (albeit not without consequences or inconveniences or costs), and we are more adaptable and resilient than we think.

On hard parenting days (read: most of them), I often find myself fantasizing about what my life would look like without the littles. We would have a lot more money -- enough to buy primo real estate in the city of choice -- but it's also very possible that I would still feel like something was missing. Maybe I would've finished my thrice-started-and-abandoned Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy degree (ha! Me as a family therapist!). Maybe I would've taken the twice-offered corporate job at a global employer (this was pre-pandemic and they refused to negotiate on telecommuting; I wonder how that's working out for them now).

Maybe life would be easier if I were an empty-nester, as I had originally planned on being at the ripe old age of 40. But I don't know if I would be "happier." In fact, I have sort of resigned myself to the philosophy that I will be mildly to moderately depressed no matter what my circumstances. And I'm working on being OK with that.

But then one of my littles smiles or giggles or sing-songs "I love you" and I think maybe, just maybe, there's some happiness up ahead, no matter where we land.

For now, though, it’s all up in the air…

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