Two things happened this week. First, we now own a house. Second, we had the wedding reception. That one followed the day after the other was a fluke.
I’ve hesitated to write anything in detail about our experience in buying the house this summer because I was unsure if anything I said would come back to hurt us before it was all over. But now it’s over.
We bought a short sale from a nice guy who had a whole hell of a lot of bad luck. I know we live in America and all – currently the land of “I’ve got mine and if you don’t then there must be something wrong about you” – but there hasn’t been a day when my excitement and joy about this beautiful house that we now own hasn’t been tempered with a sadness and resignation about the only way we could afford something like this. And that is by someone else being in desperate circumstances.
When I’ve told people that, they tend to become remarkably uncomfortable. They usually try to justify the whole exchange as simply financial and amoral, but there is a large part of me that fully believes the amount of pain M & I have suffered this summer in our transience has been some sort of penance for the way we’ve come to own such a special place.
To buy a short sale, a house that is still owned by the person who is losing it, you must have an element of vulture to you. The ability to rationalize that their loss is inevitable and it may as well be you who gains. And I suppose that is good enough for many people, and, despite rationalizing in that way myself, the guilt of it would overtake me at times.
I’ve seen the destruction left in the wake of other houses people were financially forced to vacate: the appliances pulled from the walls, glass doorknobs stripped and sold along with any other valuables that could be harvested from the house. Those houses are filled with anger and despair. You can feel it when you walk in.
When we came to see the place that is now our home, it was a last minute thing and the owner was here. The moment I stepped into the house, I was blown away by the feel of it and how beautiful it is. We talked with the owner for a while afterward on the porch and decided to come back the next day and look at it in the daylight. We were smitten with the house, and he made it clear that he wanted us to have it. I think what he recognized in us was that, despite our status as vultures, we saw the same kind of beauty in the house. We weren’t going to tear it apart; we weren’t going to flip it.
For months, we waited. We moved. We lost the futon to mold, we lost the sofa, area rug, and chair to moths in the storage space. We moved four times by the end of the summer, living out of suitcases and hardly anything to cook with or eat on. I reminded myself constantly that our homelessness was – to an extent – of our own making. It was a waiting game. Would the house win? Or would we give it up and move to an apartment and call it quits?
Obviously the house won. But not until we gave up and decided to abandon it, only to be talked back into trying a new loan.
This weekend, the former owner of the house routed an email through his realtor to our realtor to us. He said that leaving this house was the hardest thing he’s ever had to do, but that he’s glad that we’re the ones who got it. He told us the history of the house, of its former owners before him, of the things he’d done to the house to make it look the way it should (things that I had assumed were original to the house). Though some people may find the email guilt-inducing (being reminded of the kind of work and care poured into this place), I found it a relief. I cannot forget how I’ve profited on someone else’s misery – and despite people wanting to make me feel better about it, I don’t think I should forget it – but having that person feel that their love of a place wasn’t in vain, that he trusts us to do right by the house means a lot to me.
My father likes to tease me and is currently saying that nothing makes you a capitalist like becoming a homeowner, but I think he’s wrong. I think the loss of community identity is tied to a feeling of entitlement. If you continually question that entitlement, if you dig down and look at the privilege you have and what the effects of your choices are, then the often-repeated triteness that we become more conservative as we age doesn’t have to become true.
And to the former owner: Thank you for giving us so much in this house. I know the house itself wasn’t voluntary, but everything you carefully added to the house over the years was your choice to leave and I recognize that as a gift.