We had been house-hunting for five months and were denied multiple homes. Time was running out to stay at the house were living in. Winter was settling in, and no new homes were coming on the market. Despite continually singing “There’s a Place for Us” from West Side Story, no home emerged to beckon us. We finally realized that we would just have to move and begin renting again.
Unfortunately, renting any two-bedroom apartment in our area was going to cost us about double what we planned on spending for a mortgage. After searching local ads for a couple of weeks, we called up a friend’s old landlord to see if he had anything available.
He did! He was renting a 2-3 bedroom trailer behind his property for a ridiculously low monthly price tag. There was no yearly agreement- the landlord only required 30 days’ notice if we wanted to move. It was just 5 minutes from my husband’s job. It was going to be pretty cramped, we had to get rid of our cats, and we had to get used to living in what we affectionately called a “tin can,” but it met our needs and we knew we’d save money living there. We toured the place on January 1st, 2012, and had signed our agreement and begun moving in by January 8th, 2012.
Home, sweet home.
Though the trailer itself wasn’t the prettiest thing, the backyard made up for any lack of aesthetics in the building. A gloriously broad, open field stretched out for acres behind the home. It was a natural playground for a boy just learning to walk. Here’s J exploring the field in the first couple of months living there:
Not one month after moving in, our realtor called us to let us know the old schoolhouse that we had looked into previously had come back on the market. We laughed; we had joked that we just knew a house would come up as soon as we moved. However, it quickly became apparent that the house probably had major septic issues- and the bank was denying inspections (illegally?) and only accepting cash offers. Suspicious of more problems, we decided to drop it.
And that was it. Sure, we continued to look casually at online listings from time to time, but we gradually came to the conclusion that we would continue to rent. Maybe for a few more months, maybe for a few more years.
Contentment wasn’t automatic. Sometimes I still resented the tininess of our brown-paneled quarters. Sometimes the lack of insulation made winter and summer temperatures nearly unbearable (ice inside the bedroom, anyone?). I got frustrated with leak problems in the bathroom that were rotting our floor. It was close to impossible to host more than two people in our tiny living room. I won’t talk about the mouse problems. Yes, the trailer had its challenges.
But little by little, we began to find peace right where we were at. We stopped looking for the next step.
We let go.
We decided that renting a tiny place at a tiny price tag came with big advantages, and hoped that our patience would pay off after time. And we were happy there at our tiny house in the field.
Little did we know, there would be a next step- just not at the time we had planned it. Come back next week to read Part 4!
In part one, you read about our youthful ambition to buy a house before we were really ready. After casually searching for several months, we were told we did not qualify for a conventional mortgage and we determined that we weren’t really ready to be homeowners. Jump ahead two years and one job change later, and we needed to move out of the onsite housing from my husband’s previous employment.
(Our hopeful little family.)
We began searching our local housing market again. This time we had a much clearer idea of what we wanted in a home. Since we now had a child who wasn’t quite a year old, I really felt that I wanted a single family home. Though renting out half of a duplex may have helped cover some expenses, it also would’ve taken away the possibility of having our own space and privacy. This was important to me.
We were also convinced that we wanted a bit of land, 1) so that our son and future children could have space to play, and 2) so that we could grow a good sized garden. This pretty much ruled out most city homes. Suburban neighborhoods were too pricey in our area, so we began searching in more rural areas.
Even though we had more money saved for a down payment, our budget was still relatively low. There was a fine line between a very outdated home and a complete fixer upper in our range. And many fixer uppers did we see! Though my husband has a lot of experience doing various sorts of handiwork in homes, we really didn’t want to get in over our heads. Walls, floors, basic plumbing, and roofs- yes, we could manage those things. Structural problems, old wiring, pervasive mold, and bad septic systems? Nope, we didn’t want open those cans of worms!
The first home we put an offer on was a small country foreclosure that was originally an 1896 school house. It was low on square footage but rich in character and possibilities. It came with a half-acre of land and a low price tag since the upstairs pretty much needed to be leveled and re-worked.
We were so excited (and a little nervous) the first time we sat down to submit an offer. We signed and initialed what seemed like a big pile of paperwork. We handed over $1000 in escrow. We put in a low offer, but hopefully not so low that we “insult” the bank. And then we waited.
The contracted three day time period went by. No answer. A week went by. No answer. A few more weeks passed- and just when I was beginning to think the bank forgot about us, our realtor called! I answered the phone and held my breath.
“The bank submitted a counter offer with the original asking price. It looks like they’re not willing to move,” said our realtor apologetically.
I was so disappointed. We just weren’t willing to pay the asking price because of the work that the house required. We had felt ready, saved our money, dutifully did our research, and got pre-approved for a mortgage with no problem this time. I knew it wasn’t uncommon to be rejected a few times… but still, I hoped that it wouldn’t happen to us.
We did manage to recover from our first major housing let-down and got right back to searching. Another home in a quaint nearby town -listed as a one bedroom- had been sitting on the market for almost a year. It had enough square footage that we thought we might be able to rework the space and turn it into a two or three bedroom. We decided to check it out.
It turned out to be just as lovely as a home as we thought, but only two days before we were going to put in an offer, I was shocked to find the online listing declaring, “sale pending!” Funny how it could sit untouched for months and months- until we wanted to try buying it!
Okay, so that one obviously wasn’t meant to be, either.
We began broadening our search area. We found one city house- another foreclosure- with a decent fenced in yard that we thought wouldn’t be so bad. This one seemed to be in super shape and a great deal (all things considered), so we decided to offer the asking price immediately. We didn’t want someone to beat us to it again.
Our realtor called back the same night- the bank accepted our offer that very day! We were thrilled! It wasn’t the country home I had hoped for, but I comforted myself with the reality that most first-time home buyers have to compromise somewhere to get into a place. We were under contract, and it felt great to be on track to move.
What we didn’t realize was that we had missed something that was majorly wrong. When Tim went back to see the house with his family, he discovered there was a part of the basement that we completely bypassed the first time- and the foundation was sinking. It would probably cost $20,000 to fix it.
Really? Is this home going to fall through too? I fought back the tears as it sunk in that this house was just not going to work. We had to go through the process of obtaining an inspection to verify our findings and get out of the contract. We ended up losing $500 on the deal when it was all said and done.
The next home we looked at was a semi-fixer upper in suburbia. It had a nice yard and a do-able project list at a great price. You know the story by now- We made an offer. But another buyer snuck in that same night and put in a slightly higher offer- and got the house before us. The listing agent denied us the chance of each buyer putting in his best offer for a “bid war.” So we watched this one slip through our fingers as well.
To say that we were extremely frustrated at this point would be an understatement.
(Walking through yet another empty house that didn’t work out with J in my arms.)
We had already seen probably around 15-20 houses over the course of several months. It was approaching winter time quickly, when no new listings were coming on the market. We had exhausted most of our possibilities if we wanted to stay true to our shopping list. To top it off, we were still living on the property of my husband’s old job, and we knew that we really had to move soon. Tim’s former boss continued to be gracious and patient, but we didn’t want to take advantage of him by continuing to stay there. I began to wonder if we were ever going to find a home.
Did the perfect house finally come along and rescue us from our plight? Well, no, not yet. We would end up needing to rent again, and it would still be many months until we finally got into our own home. Come back soon to read the next installment in Part Three!