JN84: Holy ferret, we dropped the house

March 31, 2010

Dear everyone,

Buying a house is like slapping yourself repeatedly in the face with a sock full of melting chocolate: sure, it sounds like a good idea at the time, but once it stops, you just end up sweaty, sticky, and people think you have something else all over your face.

It has been a very, very stressful couple of weeks. Last night, after a painful discussion, Jameelah and I decided to withdraw our offer on the house. We had gone through inspection; I followed the inspector up to the roof and looked over into the lake, a view of which we could have had. All the flaws of the house were rationalized away, since we liked it so much. No washer and dryer plumbing upstairs? Why, we can just install some pipes in the closet of one of the bedrooms! The slanting front stairs? Ha, as long as we don’t get drunk and stumble home, we’ll be fine!

Then the fog started to dissipate around me, like when you’ve drunk too much and everything feels all great ,and then your buzz goes away and you look around you and realize you’ve been overly affectionate with a pillow or something (what, this never happened to you?). This was a huge deal, a decision that would affect us for years to come. Maybe we didn’t really want a house so much as the idea of owning a house, a piece of the American Dream.

But the American Dream should not be giving you nightmares! I stayed up sometimes, thinking of doing what our friends Andy and Helen are doing, living in different countries for one year each and having a blast (sometimes literally, as with the recent earthquake in Chile). It would be hard to do that with a house. No way we could rent it out to fully cover the mortgage, at the full-price we were buying it for. I think of trying to find a tenant. What if we get a bad one? Besides, do we really want to have people living beneath us, making us feel like we can’t play video games at 3am? And do we really want to tie up 40% of our net income in house payments and have to live off of grocery outlet beets and frozen corn?

Anyway, I called up our agent, who has been the nicest, most patient guy on earth. We’ve dragged him through quite a lot, and I would understand if he hates our guts and throws rocks at us if he sees us at Safeway. But we got to look out for our best interest. He faxed in papers to null the deal and retrieve our earnest money.

Thanks, everyone, for all your support these last few weeks. The right house will come at the right time. We’re going to take it slower on the wedding, too, since a variety of obstacles keep getting in the way, such as the house, and my crazy family and their schedules. It’s been quite a ride, and I’m surprised Jameelah still wants to marry me, despite all the stuff I’ve put her through.

Now that the stress is lessening, I can return to my goofy self. I guess I should call Long up and…tell him he was right, and beg for him to help us find a house that’s a good investment. I hate telling Long he’s right.

But, we’re planning a trip to Mexico this summer!

JN83.5: Holy ferret…I think we just bought a house

March 18, 2010

Dear everyone,

Yesterday, I soaked morel mushrooms in water and salt, hoping to drive away gross, horrible creatures that tend to make homes in them. No, not Tea Party Republicans, but little bugs and insect. We were saving them to eat in celebration when our offer on the house is accepted, but hearing no such news yesterday, I sautéed them in olive oil and garlic, and ate them anyway over fettuccini drizzled with truffle oil.

They were awful. I mustn’t have cleaned them right, and they tasted very, very sandy, as if I had soaked them in cat litter instead of sea salt. It was strange, because I rinsed them at least three times. It was very disappointing.

Today the sellers faxed in their counter-offer. Nope, they said, no reduced price. They wanted full price. They’ll help pay some of the closing costs. But they’ll let us keep the kick-ass stainless steel fridge and oven. You know the oven with the smooth ceramic top that you can clean by simply wiping? There are TWO inside this house!!

So I rushed to Jameelah’s school to be stared at by her 28 students while she initialed the counter. On the way over, however, I just had to call my brother Long, who is a real estate investor who has made quite a load of money flipping houses.

“Are you nuts?!” he said, “That’s way over what you should be buying! Do you want to be a slave to this house? At that house payment, you won’t be able to enjoy life! You’ll be trapped in your house forever, and when you sell it, you’ll lose money. And renting out your basement may sound like a good idea, but you might encounter horrible tenants who trash your place and be a nuisance.”

“You two are young,” he said, “Don’t you want to travel the world? Don’t you want to explore Africa? Trust me on this, you don’t want to tie yourself down, working only so you can support your mortgage. You don’t want your house owning you!”

He’s completely right. We could wait and find the perfect fixer upper. Long would make sure it’s a good deal. He would help us fix it up. We would live in it, and he’d help us sell it, and instantly, we’d have 30 to 50K. “Your first house won’t be your dream house! You need to use this opportunity to invest!”

But we’re not real estate investors. We’re just trying to find a place that we’re comfortable living in! I want to be able to go home each day and relax in my yard and plant herbs on my deck and stare at the clouds and raise ferrets if I want to. We’re homebodies! On my birthday Jameelah and I stayed at home and cooked and then we watched “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” on Netflix. And I was happy. We could travel every season to a different country if we had the money, but home is always where we’ll be spending 90% of our time. I want it to feel good.

And this house feels good. We’re not going to make 30K when we sell it in five years. We might even lose some money. But during those five years, dammit, we’re gonna enjoy the hell of it. Needless to say, we agreed to the counter-offer. The house is now pending inspection. If the inspection passes, we start financing, mild renovations, and finding tenants.

Long’s words linger, like those morels, crunchy and slightly bitter.  Sure, we’ll have to cut back for a year, probably have to survive on ramen and pasta, and those have to be on sale at Grocery Outlet. But just thinking of being able to eat ramen on our deck, or cooking oatmeal that we dumpster-dived for our guests on our awesome stove, or picking apples from our neighbor’s trees late at night when they’re sleeping, those thoughts fill me with happiness.

JN83: We’ve made another offer on a house!

March 16, 2010

Dear everyone,

Jameelah and I bought some morel mushrooms! Half a pound’s worth! And we might have also bought a house.

All these months of house hunting have been fun, and exhausting, and heartbreaking, honestly. After we withdrew the offer on the last house, the listing agent called back, begging us to resubmit the same offer. Aw, I think, that poor old couple, trying to move to Florida.

But heck no! Because this weekend, we found this awesome little house. As soon as we walked in, Jameelah and I fell in love. I’ve only fallen in love a few times in my life, and one time was with Rubbermaid Stainshield containers, so you know it doesn’t happen often. This house is really cool. It’s not too big, but much bigger than our apartment, and it has a little view of the lake and mountain in the distance. And it’s a little out of our price range, but it’s OK, because the basement is all done with a bath and kitchen and we can just rent it out to supplement our income.

And our neighbors are retired and love gardening! They have fruit trees! And kale! And grapes on the vine! We’re already thinking of what to bring over to them so they will like us and give us helpful gardening tips. Vegan flan, that should do it.

Of course, we’ve started daydreaming of stuff we could do: Vegan barbecues! Sunbathing on the deck! An office for me to play video games in! And a cage to start our very own ferret farm! (That last one is a maybe, since Jameelah has never appreciated ferret farming).

Anyway, please keep your fingers crossed for us. We submitted the offer today and gave them two days to respond, so we should know by Wednesday if we get this house. The morels are soaking in salt water to get rid of bugs. If we get the house, we’ll celebrate by sautéing the morel mushrooms in Earth Balance butter and garlic. If we don’t, we’ll sauté them in Earth Balance butter, garlic, and tears.

JN81: We bought a house!! Almost!!

March 4, 2010

My friends,

Buying a house is like slapping yourself repeatedly in the face with a sock full of Jell-O: It’s messy, but kind of fun. Try it. This week has been eventful for Jameelah and me. We found this cool little house on a hill in a neighborhood we like, filled with light, with a yard, newly updated, with stainless steel appliances, and sometimes, when it’s clear, you can see parts of the mountain range standing in the distance. The neighbors are a young Asian couple and 20 of their relatives, and we started daydreaming of trading homegrown bok choy and wasabi roots with them and sending our kids to the same violin class and pressuring them to attend the same medical school.

So we worked with our agent and submitted an offer yesterday. Three hours later, they countered with an increase of $10,000. “They’re desperate,” said our agent, “if you increase 5K, they’ll probably take it.” The sellers are an old couple who are trying to move to Florida. Yippee, we thought! These old people are desperate! We’ll have a house, yay!

Then I couldn’t sleep. The house is only slightly bigger than our apartment, and the living room is actually smaller than the apartment’s! Today I called Long, my older brother, who is a brilliant real estate investor. We didn’t want to talk to him, because sometimes in life, you need to maintain illusions to keep your sanity, and Long is the kind of person who can dash hopes and dreams faster than a Tea Party Republican can say “Sarah Palin 2012!” He would rain on your parade, and then tell you parades cause cancer.  I called him today and he said we would end up losing $30,000 or $40,000 when we sell the house in a few years because no one would buy a house this small. He said our children would be on the street, begging, pretending to be lepers, and I would have to grow marijuana in the backyard to make mortgage payments and that the loan sharks would come over and destroy our bok choy and wasabi.

All right, he didn’t say the stuff about begging and marijuana and bok choy, but he painted a very bleak picture, so bleak that I called our agent and withdrew the offer completely. In a way, I am relieved. In another way, I’m disappointed that another house fell through. It always takes a little while to recover, and sometimes, like the first house that was beyond perfect, you don’t recover completely. Each time you find a little house, you start daydreaming, imagining picnics in luxurious lawns and cutting fresh kale for your stir-fry and tiki parties, and maybe a little trellis covered in grape leaves that you can stuff with rice and Greek herbs and boil and squeeze some lemon juice on top and invite your neighbors over during summer evenings when sunlight doesn’t fade until 9 and the world seems so still and serene. You daydream these things, and then you start to wonder how much something like that is worth. Isn’t it worth 30 or 40 grand, a vision like that?

Hell no! 40K, that’s like…a lot of money. I can’t imagine a number that big, having never experienced that before, but I’m sure it’s a lot.

It’s back to the hunt. “Don’t worry,” said our agent, “we’ll find the house that is right for you guys.” I start thinking about the old couple, who are probably daydreaming too, about selling their house, about moving to a condo in Florida. I feel a little guilty for disappointing them, for raising their hopes and dashing them. We were the only offer they got so far. Maybe I should ask Long to call and cheer them up.

JN72: The scents of manliness

December 1, 2009

My friends,

I apologize for being absent these past few days. Things have been crazy, and I feel like I’ve eaten an entire bar of Trader’s Joe’s 17-ounce dark chocolates, but without the high. First, things have settled down at the office. We had a 3-day staff retreat, where we all got to know each other’s behavior types and sang Kumbaya while having a potluck. It was very effective. There were candles too.

On a side note, I heard on NPR that a couple is making candles targeted toward men. They’re called “Mandles” and they have manly scents such as “Autoshop” “Meat and potatoes” and “Campfire Breakfast,” which I would imagine smells like burned eggs and bacon. It’s brilliant. I think they should also make scents called “Flatpanel TV,” “chips and salsa” and “Brookstone gadget.”

Where was I? Oh yeah, things have been insane, insane I tell you. I was nominated as president of the neighborhood council, leading a slate of six people. This means more work, but slowly I am amassing power and soon, soon Facebook, Crocs, and that Freecreditreport.com guy will face my wrath, muahahahaha.

The biggest change however, and you better sit down for this, is that Jameelah and I are searching for a house. We figured, why spend so much dang money for a wedding when we can use that money as a down payment on a house. I mean, our friends and family don’t care. They just want us to be happy. Right? Right? So we thought we’d just buy a house, then have a small celebration at the house.

For weeks we’ve been driving around the city, gawking at houses. At least on a few occasions, we snuck into a vacant house to look around, me very nervous, and Jameelah calling me a wimp because I didn’t want to face charges of breaking and entering. Then we found a real estate agent, and that made things a lot easier. Apparently a real estate agent can go into any house that is on this weird thing called a “List.” It’s weird. They’re like a cult, and they have magical passwords on their phones that let them open little boxes where house keys are stored. It’s amazing. And they talk their own language, and it sounds like this: “If you get an FHA loan, you can amortize your payments, but I recommend an interest-only payment system, because in five years you might want to flip it and reverse it.”

Anyway, so driving around, we were amazed by some of the houses. We just want a little one with lots of light, a little backyard where we could start a small vegetable garden, and a basement where we could sing Karaoke on Friday nights without having the police called on us by the uptight upstairs neighbor like last Christmas (They should also make a Mandle with the scent of “Bitterness.”) It is Seattle, and apparently for what we pay here for a decent house, we could get a mansion in the Missouri. But then, who wants to live in Missouri. (“Maw, that vegemetarian is a-makin’ fun of Missourah again!” “Git the shotgun, Anna-Belle!”)

But we found a great little house, and today, we’re going to make an offer. It’s at the higher end of our price range, but we just fell in love with it when we walked in and realized that it doesn’t have mold like our current apartment! We’ve been busy running around getting all the documents ready for our loan. It’s a time-consuming and confusing process. Today, we sat down with our agent while on conference call with our broker. Said our agent, Al, to our broker, Arnie, “So we did a market analysis and are thinking of offering full asking with concession that seller pays 3.5 closing costs, what do you think?” Arnie says, “Wait, I still need several more documents to secure the loan, including their tax returns, 12 months of bank statements, and report cards from elementary school. Plus, their down payment money needs to be more seasoned, and also, what is their blood type and shoe size?”

We signed five billion pages. Tomorrow I will rush to get the missing documents, then we’ll send in our offer. We’ll know by Thursday if they take our offer, or they’ll just point and laugh. Will keep you updated. We’re nervous. We really like this house. It has a great little yard and I’ve started daydreaming about planting some grapes on a trellis so we can make our own dolmas.

In the meanwhile, I’m getting inspired for more Mandle scents, including “Leaking roof,” “cracked concrete,” and “rotting wooden deck.” What’s your favorite manly scent?


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