Staying Put

As I walked out to the car this morning, it hit me. The sign
was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bedrooms were great, but they didn’t have same gleam I

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

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

“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

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

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.

3 thoughts on “Staying Put

  1. Doc
    I started to write a lengthy comment describing the two moves we’ve endured in the past 7 years, but trying to flesh out the story was making my blood boil as I revisited the same kinds of feelings you described. At the outset, I was a gently misanthropic and generally optimistic, but by the end my respect for most of humanity was in tatters and I was, like you, suffering from depression. The burden of carrying two houses and mortgages — always with one of them many hundreds of miles away — aged me more in 3 years than the previous 48 combined.
    Like you, it all sorted out, but I think I’d rather perform eye surgery on myself that ever have to move again.
    Congrats, Doc, and long life! (free of realtors!)

  2. Been there.
    But we had a windfall, so bought the new house, then the adoption fell through. Then she lost her job. Then I lost my job. Then we had to decide which house to keep and got to live through the foreclosure on our old house.
    Then I got a job, and we hung on, barely, with huge debt and a HAMP lifeline and are still digging ourselves out.
    She still wants the renovations and the new house and the better life, and I look at the checking account balance and the bills and just shake my head.

  3. Yay spam commenter!!! Ugh!
    Doc, sending you “loving your home vibes” until a sunny sales day presents itself w/o y’all taking either a financial or a stress bath!!!

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