In “Downsizing the Dream — Part 1,” I left off with the realization that I was going to have to let go of my dream house. Part 2 continues the saga!
While my husband and I were in isolation for his stem-cell transplant, we were also going through a bankruptcy. (I’ll be talking more about that journey and my experience with and thoughts about bankruptcy in an upcoming article.) There’s a lot of document gathering and retrieval that goes on during a bankruptcy, and of course, with Steve sick and with me as the main “manager” of the family finances, coming up with that paperwork was my responsibility. In the midst of it all, I was going over our life insurance policies.
Both Steve and I were insured. I had learned at a young age how important life insurance was, and I had always maintained a policy in my adult life. So at this moment in time, both Steve and I had term policies. We also had purchased land and built a home on a Wisconsin late in 2007, and I realized that the burden of that expense along with our current home was going to require a higher death benefit. I talk about it with Steve in my home office.
“I think we’re both going to have to double what our death benefits,” I said. “What we have now just won’t be enough if one of us dies. We’ll lose both the houses.” He agreed. At that time, although we were living under the same roof, we were still unmarried. Steve took care of his personal expenses, and I took care of mine. Steve said he would take care of it. I called my broker the same week and doubled my death benefit.
Fast forward back to isolation in the extended-stay hotel room, where I was trying to get all our financial numbers in order for our bankruptcy lawyer. “Something’s not right here…” I mumbled to Steve, as I was looking at the life insurance policies. “My death benefit is twice what it was, but yours appears to be the same lower benefit.” Steve seemed puzzle — but honestly, after all the chemo he had received, he had serious brain fog and was often confused and bewildered. So I asked him straight out — “Did you increase your death benefit?” He answer, “No, I don’t think I did.”
I was stunned. “Steve — we talked about this YEARS ago! You were going to double it!”
A sad look came over his face. “I forgot,” he said.
“Oh wow…” In my head, I knew exactly what this meant. “Gee honey. You’ve kind of left me high and dry.”
I took a deep breath and sighed. “That’s OK. It’s too late to do anything about it now. Let’s hope we never have to use it.”
But of course, we did, or rather, I did. As I mentioned in Part 1, I took the advice of Dave Ramsey, host of a financial talk radio show and author of several books on the subject. He says it’s smart to not make any big financial decisions when you are in a state of serious grieving. And while I knew I didn’t have enough money to pay off the house in full, I had enough to afford me some liberty in considering just what my next move would be.
And that would be, of course, a move. In some ways, I was fortunate that the Great Recession, while no longer in full swing, still had some residual effects. There were still foreclosures on the market, and their prices were very attractive.
I placed my house on the market. I needed to get a certain amount to avoid a short sale, because that wouldn’t have been helpful either. The house sat. And sat. And sat.
In the meantime, I had my cash and I made the decision to find a smaller place that I could buy and pay off in full. I already had stopped using credit cards back in 2013. With the bankruptcy now fully closed, I had absolutely no debt. And I definitely didn’t want any either. As far as I was concerned, I was going to live within my means from that moment on. A tough decision because it does affect your lifestyle, but the honest-to-God truth is that I haven’t regretted it yet. Not having debt is a beautiful thing.
I knew I wanted to stay in town, because my son with autism was thriving in a great therapy school, and I didn’t want living in a different school district to upset that. I hired a real estate agent, and we took a day to look at homes — specifically townhouses.
We looked at about six of them, all in one afternoon, and I fell in love with the very last home. Although it was much smaller than my dream house, it had a very similar style and vibe. It had a two-car garage, just like my dream house. And it had a lot of things my old house did NOT have: It had a finished, walkout basement. It had three full baths rather than just two, along with the additional half bath. It had what I had always dreamt of putting in at the old house — a laundry on the second floor, right next to my master bedroom.
Sure, it didn’t have a big backyard anymore. No family room. Just a living room/dining room combo. And gone was the eat-in kitchen area. But it was an end unit with a nice side yard. It was a quiet little subdivision. My son would be in the same school district. And it had the exact same conveniences with the area shopping as my former home down the street.
But then, only days after seeing it — the house went off the market. I thought, oh well… Not meant to be.
A few weeks later, I’m looking at the report of available homes my agent automatically sent to me every week… and there’s the townhouse! MY townhouse, I thought! It’s back on the market!
The house was a foreclosure. It was a little more than I wanted to spend. But I really did like it. I called the agent and asked if I could go in under the asking price. She said sure. The only thing was that I wasn’t going to be able to know how much other offers were. I’d only know if the bank accepted the offer or didn’t accept it.
I put in an offer. Another couple beat us out, despite the fact that my offer was in cash. Of course, we didn’t know by how much.
Oh well — it really wasn’t meant to be, I thought. I accepted it.
But then, a few days later… the agent calls me. Foreclosures can move fast — very fast — and the young, first-time home buyers weren’t prepared for how fast the purchase of the house was going. They quickly got cold feet. The townhouse was available again.
Huh. “OK,” I said. Sensing we were the only ones now with an offer, I said, “Let’s going in a little lower than before.”
The bank countered. In the end, I paid just a few dollars more than my original offer — all in cash. The closing did go fast. I made the offer in mid-December — and by New Year’s Eve, I owned the townhouse.
Now came the really tough part — taking literally years of stuff that had accumulated over several homes during my 20+ years as an adult, and moving it all over to a house roughly 1,000 square feet smaller — with virtually no storage in the basement, as that was now all living space. That’s a battle I’m still fighting — now going on four years. I’ll be exploring the ups and downs of that in several articles to come.
By the way, the other house — my dream house — didn’t sell. (In fact, one of the reasons I became a real estate agent was my own anger at my agents lack of action. Must have been a knee-jerk, “I’ll-show-you!” reaction.”)
I was losing my leftover funds from the purchase of the new house very quickly to its mortgage and taxes. But then I remembered — the bankruptcy! I went to see the bankruptcy lawyer and told him what was happening.
“Because of the bankruptcy, I can walk away from this house, right?” I asked him.
“Not only can you walk away, I highly recommend it,” he answered.
And that was that. I stopped paying my mortgage — the first time I had missed a mortgage payment in all of my adult life. If I said that wasn’t difficult to do, I’d be lying. Not paying my mortgage and not paying my bills when ordered to stop by my bankruptcy lawyer was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, from an emotional and mental point of view. A person who didn’t pay her bills — that just wasn’t a person that I ever was. It then took another 9 months or so, but eventually, the bank took over the house and put it up for auction.
Being that I still live in the same town and also since the street I used to live on is a quick shortcut from one main thoroughfare to another, I still drive by my dream house quite often. It’s right on the corner at the end of a block… Across the street from a cute playground where my kids often played when they were little. The new homeowners have painted the front door a dark blue shade that I personally would have never chosen. They’ve put a patio set out back where ours used to be. The gas grill is still there. They’ve planted a very nice garden out front.
But I have no envy towards the new inhabitants. Just the opposite! I’m glad the house, which really was a beautiful place and gave us much joy and happy times, is now yet again a home for another family. I hope they make memories that are just as happy as the ones my family had the chance to make there.
Still, while I do have happy memories of the old place, I really don’t miss it. I’ve talked about this with the kids, and they don’t miss it too much either. I think that’s because that place was right for us then — but it wouldn’t be and isn’t right for us now.
I like our new place! It’s easy to keep clean. I had the kitchen remodeled and as a result, I got my dream kitchen! I love not having to walk upstairs and downstairs with laundry. My daughter has the whole downstairs basement as her place — a “suite” complete with a full bath. It’s like a tiny apartment down there for her! It’s truly the dream space of any young adult still living at home.
My office is much bigger. So is my son’s bedroom — and now, he doesn’t have to share a bathroom with his sister.
I never have to concern myself with the landscaping or the snow removal (it’s all included in our homeowner association assessment). There’s a beautiful cherry tree that I adore right in front of our house!
And best of all, I own the place outright, while paying less than half of the amount of taxes I used to pay on my dream house.
Nope. No complaints. I may no longer have my dream house — but my family is still immensely blessed. Everything is as it should be for our life as it is — right now.
Be sure to check back in the upcoming weeks to see how I’ve been dealing with all the stuff we moved from the 2,800 sq ft single family home, to a 1,734 townhouse.