Falling Short

Dear readers, I’ve been struggling to write this post for some time. Amidst all of the holiday commercials and constant reminders that I should be spend, spend, spending right now, money has been a difficult issue for me to escape recently.

I’ve written at length about my family’s real estate issues – and if you’re a longtime reader, you may remember my post about my feelings on our now-rental house. Turns out, being a landlord is incredibly difficult. I think that A and I knew that; he had rented that house out before, so we didn’t go into the situation blind. What we didn’t know was how being landlords would affect us now that we’ve got Baby I and a house that we love to take care of. We’re at a completely different stage of life than we were the first time around.

It’s difficult not to worry constantly about the rental house – if a storm is coming, will the roof be okay? Will the water heater make it through this year? How long before the kitchen floor will really need replacing? How much, exactly, would it take to clear the brush in the backyard? Is the side of the house still a different color than the rest of it? (Answer: yes.)

Naturally, these lines of thinking lead to selling the property. Which has been the plan all along, but we knew we’d have to sit on it a bit and wait for the value to come up high enough for it to make sense for us to sell it. Well, we officially looked into selling the house at the beginning of October, and what we found out was pretty shocking for us. The value of the house has actually fallen to about half of what we owe on the mortgage, even if we did make improvements. There will be no “waiting until the value comes up high enough.” If you know anything about the real estate market, you know that this leaves us with a short sale.

So, for the past couple of months, A and I have been navigating the dark, choppy waters of the short sale market. Dear reader, I went into this pragmatically, with a level head, but it is very difficult to remain that way. One of the things you have to do when you’re asking your mortgage servicer for a short sale is to write a letter explaining why you’ve fallen on difficult times (ours include A losing his job last year and starting a new business, and the fact that we’re pretty clueless landlords). I had been warned that writing a letter like this could get emotional, but I was not prepared for just how emotional.

I’m a pretty positive person, and sometimes I think the reason I’m positive is that I don’t dwell on hardships or difficult issues in my life. When I say “don’t dwell,” please understand that I sometimes mean, “completely ignore.” Writing the hardship letter for our short sale required me to dig every hard thing that’s happened over the past two years up, and Dear Reader, I felt like a total failure. And essentially, that’s what a short sale or foreclosure is: it’s admitting that you’ve failed to fulfill your promise to pay a certain amount of money.

When we first thought about finally getting the house listed, it was very exciting. We could show people who might be interested in investment properties and maybe get some bites! But as I sat at my work computer earlier this week, pondering sending the link to our marketplace listserv, I realized that I am too embarrassed to send out that link. Not because of the house itself, but because of those words – short sale – and how they reflect on me and my choices.

Not that I think we made the wrong choice buying our Midcentury Masterpiece. I still love our house just as much as I did when we bought it. Maybe more, because it really feels like our home now – somewhere we want to stay for the foreseeable future. My heart tells me that buying that house was absolutely the right thing to do. But part of me will always feel guilty for putting us in this situation where we have to go through the short sale with the other house. For asking to get out of our obligation to pay our debts. For falling short.

Until now, I’ve only spoken about these feelings to a few close friends, but like other difficult issues that affect large swaths of the population, I think this is something we could all talk about more. Even as I’m somewhat ashamed of our financial situation, it is cathartic to put this all in writing and send it out into the world.

I hope that if any of you are experiencing financial difficulties, especially in the wake of the burst real estate bubble, you are able to trust that even though money gets us the really important things that we need, it is not all that we need. The one thing I’ve noticed through these difficulties is that those closest to me are there if/when I need them. And Dear Reader, even if I don’t know you, and even if I never meet you in person, I do care about you, and I am here for you. Let’s talk. Leave me a comment and let me know what’s been on your mind lately.

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5 thoughts on “Falling Short

  1. Keep your head up, the house was an investment that when wrong. Warren Buffet lost 3.5 billion dollars on one investment alone. Real estate is no different from investing in the stock market. Sometimes things happen outside of your control. Beating yourself up about it, isn’t going to help. A Short Sale isn’t even possible in other countries. No such thing in Canada, the banks here would come after your first born to recoup the money.

    • Thank you for your kind words! I try to remind myself that it’s just an investment, but real estate is very difficult for me to detach myself from, because as I hinted at, I tend to see my home as a reflection of myself. Definitely something I need to work more on.

      I had no idea Canada doesn’t do short sales. Wild! I am definitely counting it a blessing that this is even an option for us. There are much worse things, for sure.

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