For the past eight months, a “FOR SALE” sign hung from a post buried deep in our front yard. The metallic sheet swayed softly with every breeze, notifying everyone who passed that they could have this abode if they wanted it.
I brushed snow from it to keep the name and phone number of the agent from being blocked out. I dodged it as I rode the riding lawn mower across the front yard, coming back later with a trimmer to make sure it sat neatly on the grass. I watched as the sun faded the green logo and red lettering as each hopeful day turned to another bitter disappointment.
I didn’t notice someone had come to take it, nor did I know for sure if this was the first time I had passed by that spot without it being there.
I just knew now that it was gone. The end had come quietly in the night.
I never expected this to be hard. We bought our first house in a weekend. We sold it five years later in less than a week.
When we bought this home, we were all in a different place. My wife was still finishing school and working in another city. The Midget was only three and school seemed about a million miles away. I had yet to fully embrace my passion for refinishing furniture and working on small motors.
I was also bordering on clinical depression, making almost any choice I made at that time a regrettable one.
Eventually, The Missus finished school and got a job in the same city I did, thus making our “find a place in between our jobs” unnecessary. The Midget ended up in a private school a few blocks away from our workplace, thus making our “small town school” approach to her education, complete with people who actually supported bond referenda and tiny classes also pointless.
Truth be told, I never liked the house. I don’t know why. Perhaps I associated it with a time in life that wasn’t among my greatest. I also knew had the feeling like I was just “stopping by” at this job and that if we bought a house, well, shit, we’d sell it as we were on our way to some place else.
Eventually, though, we began to nestle in here, like we were breaking in a new pair of shoes. Things became more “what they are” and less about what we worried that they “should be.”
We finally figured we should buy a house closer to the city, get something more apportioned to our needs (a workshop for me, a yarn cellar for her) and be done.
After a short period of looking, we found the perfect home. Two story, beautiful floors, great workshop, garage work area as well, man cave, walk-in closets and more. It felt great. It felt like home. It was also about $30K cheaper than what we paid for ours.
We put in an offer contingent upon sale. It was accepted.
Our agent, who happened to also be the agent of the home we found told us, “Well, you’re halfway there!”
I immediately began preparing our house for sale. We sent half of everything we owned to Goodwill (or maybe it just seemed like that). I rented a storage locker and stored everything we didn’t need.
I broke down old bookcases to make rooms look bigger. I thinned out my closet to make it look more spacious. I painted old rooms, I scrubbed old fixtures and I arranges pillows, added shams to things and fluffed a lot of stuff.
I was like the love child of Martha Stewart and Bob Villa, but only if that love child were on meth.
The first day the house was on the market, we had two viewings. This seemed like cake.
And that’s when it started to all fall apart.
The first lady loved the house, complained about the floors and said it was probably going to be something she’d still buy. She had to talk to her live-in boyfriend, who was also the father of a couple of her kids.
The guy refused to show up. He wanted to go fishing. He also said, “A house is a real commitment.”
Y’know, as opposed to siring a brood about one-fourth the size of the Duggars.
The second person didn’t like the flooring either, as the hardwood was too worn near the sliding glass door.
Maybe I’m not that picky, but I never seemed to notice.
Thus, the next weekend, I rented a giant sander and blew away layers of age on the floors and resealed all the hardwood. It practically crippled me and for a while it didn’t look like it would actually work. Still, when my agent saw them, he was pleased.
This began a constructive and destructive pattern of behavior for me: Someone visits the house, makes a comment that X is old or that Y needs to be fixed and the next week, I’d go kill myself to fix it. Someone else would visit and notice something else and the pattern would begin all over again.
“People want to buy the perfect house,” my cousin’s husband told me. “They don’t want to see people’s shit laying around or stuff that they have to fix. Nobody wants a fixer-upper.”
The guy was a mortgage broker and had written a lot of paper over the first four months we had been trying to move this place. His words had a lot of weight.
So did the words from people who would file their “Showing Suite” feedback, which often made The Missus and I crazy.
“Requires too many updates,” one person wrote.
“Has an older feeling to it,” someone else opined.
To be fair, it wasn’t a new house, but in terms of human years, the house wasn’t old enough to vote, let alone to drink. It wasn’t a 1950s or 1970s nightmare.
Still, we painted in neutrals and hoped for the best.
The bigger problem was that we couldn’t stay neutral. Everything was bugging us.
I was constantly on a seek-and-destroy mission against anything and everything that might bother someone.
Why is this glass on the counter?
Who left their goddamned socks in the bathroom?
Why is the microwave door open?
And on and on it went.
At that point, it wasn’t so much about what our house looked like for us. It was what it looked like for other people. It was about pleasing unknown others.
To that end, we had already started planning our new house.
She figured out where some raised beds would go. I planned to add a pinball machine to a man cave in the basement.
She was decorating the kitchen in her mind’s eye. I was figuring out where I’d put all my bobbleheads.
The miniature “flash-forwards” kept us from losing it.
The shoes left near the front door always shattered the fragile peace.
Our financial situation was also beginning to create problems for us.
We moved the price of the home from “make a little money” to “break even, sort of.”
We got more visitors. We got more complaints. We got no offers.
A month or so later, we moved it to “take a little loss.”
The pattern repeated.
Finally, we moved to the “we’re pretty much willing to give it away.”
In the mean time, I wasn’t getting a paycheck for part of the summer. I was also stockpiling cash like a hoarder, understanding that at a moment’s notice I would be required to hand over a ton of money to make the new house ours. The mortgage we got was a great one, but no gifts were allowed and only so much in “closing credits” were permitted.
It was all on us. It was all about the cash.
I worked extra gigs. I sold stuff at rummage sales. I took on additional responsibilities. Everything short of swinging from a pole, I pretty much did it.
And yet our equity in the house dwindled with each passing group of disinterested buyers.
At one point, we finally got an offer. We were so overjoyed until we saw it.
The way it shook out, we would have to sell to them for $5,000 less that what we owed on the house and bring an extra $5,000 in credit for closing.
We tried to negotiate, but eventually we were stuck $5,000 apart.
The deal essentially fell apart on The Midget’s birthday.
Despite our best efforts, I found myself on my back porch with a beer at 9 a.m.
About a week later, my mother approached me and asked what it would take for the deal to go through. When I told her, she cried.
“I can’t see you like this any more. This whole thing is killing you.”
She then wrote a check to me for the amount and told me to figure out how to get this done.
I have no idea where she found the money. To her, the money didn’t matter.
She just wanted us to be OK.
The story should have ended there. As with most things, it didn’t.
We called our guy, got a couple things ironed out, set up the funds and were ready to go. This shouldn’t be a problem, we all figured, as the seller had set the terms and we met them.
The problem was the seller’s agent, who was on vacation.
The guy had been negotiating via text message and even though this was a “texted” offer, it was still a “verbal” offer in the eyes of the law. It was our responsibility to write it up.
We put all the formalities on paper and sent it to the agent. The agent, who apparently went somewhere in Northern Wisconsin where email is a tool of the devil, had trouble getting the offer. Then, he had trouble sending it to the guy.
Finally, the pieces got where they needed to and all we needed was a signature.
Oddly enough, the guy lived right down the street from us. I figured this out at one point when a neighbor told me he had looked at the house. He was currently living with his girlfriend and child at his mother’s house.
As the time ticked away on the offer deadline, I was a wreck. My wife was far more calm.
“We agreed to his terms,” she said. “What are you worried about?”
I just knew. Something had to go wrong. It was something beyond what I could explain to her, other than to say that something wasn’t right.
The phone rang. It was my agent.
“OK…” he said in a “this is how fucked up this is” kind of way. “We have a problem. The agent got ahold of the guy and he won’t sign. He says he is breaking up with his girlfriend and he’s not sure who will get the kid and he’s all heart sick…”
Almost to be mean, I repeated the line out loud for my wife to hear.
“Let me get this straight, the guy won’t sign because he’s breaking up with his girlfriend?”
The Missus hit the roof. “WHAT THE FUCK?” She then opened a bottle of alcohol.
Long story short, he never ended up signing.
We couldn’t even give our house away.
In the following weeks, I realized that there wasn’t a lot about the house that was horrible. Nothing leaked, nothing broke and it wasn’t a total shitbox.
Maybe if I dropped a wall here or added some shelving there… Hey, this might work out as a house for us either way.
Besides, I wouldn’t have to give up 20 percent equity and then pay someone additional money to take our house.
I went to talk to our guy while he was hosting an open house at the home we wanted to buy. While I was there, I walked around a bit and noticed a few things.
The man cave wasn’t as big as I remembered. Neither was the workshop.
The bedrooms were great, but they didn’t have same gleam I remembered.
The driveway was something I hadn’t noticed before, but I would have to fix.
This heavenly home might not have been everything we had built it up to be in the mind’s eye.
The guy understood, but we had some time left on our deal. We agreed we’d talk about it some more when it came closer to time.
Meanwhile, the insanity at home kept building. People kept showing our house at odd times and after weird time lapses. It felt like dating in high school: You want the date, you try for the date, it doesn’t work out, you say fuck the date and then bam, you get a phone call from the potential date.
You then allow yourself to get excited. You then find out the date won’t work out.
We also seemed to be in an odd demographic for house hunters. We kept drawing women with multiple children from one or more men, none of whom to which they were married. They loved the place but the guy didn’t want to commit to a house.
When I noticed this, I felt like an uppity dickhead. Then I realized that I probably shouldn’t feel that way.
I wasn’t judging them or their lives. Gay, straight, single, married, kid-laden, whatever. I didn’t judge. Whatever way they lived their lives was fine because it was their lives.
However, I was pissed because their lives were crossing paths with my life and making it a ton harder to get anything done. In other words, if you had 20 kids by 20 guys and never been married, but you had the credit to buy the house and bought it, I’d probably throw you 20 birthday parties on the way out.
However, because you couldn’t get your personal shit together with this secondary party, you are fucking up my life.
And, yes, that bothers me.
About three weeks ago, I became untethered, but in a really good way.
If we sold, we sold. If we didn’t, we didn’t.
My wife thought this meant I was having a mental breakdown. Actually, I was having a mental build-up.
“You can’t just give up like this,” she told me. All along, she believed this was supposed to happen. She prayed and dreamed. She saw the pieces fitting together. For the longest time, I had as well.
I wore my St. Jude medal, praying often to the patron saint of lost causes.
I buried St. Joseph in my yard in a few areas, as per the mythology that ran tangential to my faith.
Each time I did so, things seemed to get worse.
At this point, I finally had a moment of clarity. I was reminded of one time when I was talking with a priest about God and prayer and such.
“If God always answers our prayers,” I began, “why is it that I didn’t get (whatever it was that was important at the time).”
The priest smiled politely and said, “Sometimes, God says ‘no.’”
I didn’t want to think about that. My dad had been constantly telling us each time a showing failed to bear fruit that “Maybe this isn’t supposed to happen.”
It got to the point where I finally told him, “Look, you might be right, but I don’t want to hear that shit right now. If you don’t have anything supportive to say, just be quiet about it.”
Here I was, coming to the same conclusion.
The Missus was freaked out. We had another couple visits scheduled, so we kept them. Each time, the visitors decided our house shouldn’t be their house. Her freaking got worse.
Finally, she told me, “I can’t do this any more. Fuck all these people. When can we be done?”
It happened as I knew it would. When it came to painful emotion, be it rage and anger or despair and angst, I tended to arrive at the destination first. She, however, would usually arrive shortly thereafter.
A final visitor came, said the house was great, but they decided to build instead.
The next day, I texted the realtor and told him we were done when our contract ended near the end of September.
He was nice about it and agreed to let us out that day.
It’s been about a week since we decided enough was enough. The Midget was happy she wouldn’t have to leave her friends in the neighborhood, even though she won’t get a new room.
The Missus relaxed a bit and has begun to think about all the stuff we want to pull out of storage.
I felt odd. It reminded me of the time I broke off an engagement with my fiancée. I knew it was the right thing, even though it was painful. Still, that sense of finality was kind of a weight that settled in on me.
Even with that, I knew I would be better off.
We talked about ways to improve the home and get some more space. It’s a split level, so there’s a limit to the number of places we can add. I’m thinking of a giant rec room over the garage, while my wife is thinking about a large one off the back of the kitchen.
Either way, her garden beds will be unharmed.
I might even get a pinball machine.