Our house story

by sarahmfry, June 19, 2014
I need to get this house journey down on paper.  WARNING:  This will most likely be more boring than the most detailed natural birth story you have ever read.  Feel free to scan.  Or click the red x and go read something worthwhile on Facebook.  This is for us.

We had house shopped for months....gobbling up new house ads as soon as they came on the market, viewing anything that seemed remotely right for us. (We had a showing at one big beautiful old thing that was LITERALLY falling down!) Through the search, we nailed down which things we wanted most in a house, and which things we were willing to sacrifice.

Of course, finding out how much loan we qualified for helped to narrow down the options.  It's almost liberating to have the bank tell you:  "Based on your income, we'll only give you this much.  Deal with it." So you limit your search and it becomes easier. Or harder.  Or at least smaller.  Whatever.   : )

We had thought we might buy a place a little out in the country...with some chickens, some sheds or maybe a barn...expanding our dog business with a nice kennel.  But I remember the day that we realized we needed to keep our radius small - close to the church.  There were several reasons, and all of them big reasons.  So that really narrowed the search.

I'll admit there were days when I thought it was going to be a real miracle to find a 4-bedroom house.  That wasn't falling down.    Within 5 miles of the church with a yard at least big enough for 4 dogs and 5 kids. Within our price range.  My faith had weak days.  I may or may not have cried a tear once and spent hours scouring real estate listings.

Many of the big houses in town in Frankfort have been turned into multiple apartments and are very run down.  We looked at a ton of foreclosures, but the financial situation is different for them, didn't really fit where we are since we don't have another house to borrow against.  And the banks weren't making happy noises about giving us a renovation loan.  And although we hoped for 4 bedrooms, we realized that we weren't interested in those houses with 7 bedrooms in 1200 square feet.  : )

Our realtor is awesome.  Her name is Itzamara.  Isn't that beautiful?  We all call her Itza.  And she found us our miracle house.  Bless her heart - we had her out in the worst winter, viewing houses in subzero temps and a foot and a half of snow and freezing rain.  She deserves an award for patience.  She sent me the link to this Harrison House pretty early on, but for some weird reason I just wasn't impressed by the listing.  I felt very "meh" about it.  I knew we should probably look at it sometime, because we were trying to be thorough and open-minded.  But I wasn't excited about this one. It's really weird, because I really have great imagination when I view a mess had gotten excited about some pretty awful houses (see above).  One day she was showing us a nice house that had just been flipped.  She mentioned..."Oh...by the way...I went ahead and made us an appointment for the house on Harrison."  I was like "Hey!  cool!  Let's see it.  We're being thorough and open minded."

It was an awful, dark, cold winter.  The house looked like a little like a sad decrepit beige monster covered in snow.  There was (and still is) old homemade wooden scaffolding nailed to the side of the house.  The siding was off in places.  Paint peeling.

But as soon as we opened the door. Actually...come to think of it...BEFORE we opened the door...my heart started to melt towards this big lollygagging old thing.  The porch is big and roomy with enough space for a swing and a couple chairs or a table for alfresco dining and a porch Christmas tree. (Yes...about that imagination...)

So we walked in and I kindof went:  "Hmmm. This is neat."    It was awful cold and dark and somehow cavernous but cluttered at the same time.  But as we walked around with the aid of Itza's trusty long realtor flashlight, the house started opening up to us.  Room after room.  Floor after floor.  Closet after closet after pantry.  We fell in love.  It's a little quirky.  But it has character.  And space.  LOTS of space.

As we walked out, David said.  "I think that might be the house."  Those of you who know David know he doesn't usually just say extra stuff.  And he certainly doesn't jump to conclusions.  My heart took a little leap of hope that he loved it too!

Earlier in our house search, during a family meeting, we had made lists of what was a top priority for each member of the family.  Would you rather have a fireplace or a porch?  Your own bedroom or a big yard?  We were looking for what we were willing to sacrifice. But this house had the whole list!  The yard, the fireplace, the big porch, enough bedrooms, a huge usable basement, a full attic for more bedrooms later, a garage.  It had it flaws, but it was a house we could really love.

The problem was posted loud and large on the sign in the snow-covered yard.  SHORT SALE.

For those of you who haven't encountered this real estate nightmare, a short sale sometimes happens when a homeowner is on the brink of foreclosure.  The bank encourages them to put it on the market, get as much out of it as they can, and the bank decides if the offer is sufficient or if they are going to move on towards foreclosure.  In short....Short sales are long sales. I've heard them described as Chinese water torture. Banks are brutal about protecting their assets.  So they simply don't respond to the offer (hoping, I assume, that someone else will fall in love with a big lollygagging monster with some glaring problems..and offer them MORE than fair market value?)  Whatever.  So sometimes the bank doesn't even respond to the offer for like 6 months. Or more.  Usually people give up on the house and find another one before the bank agrees to a sale.

So we prayed.  And we kept shopping.  And we finally decided to make an offer.  Prayed some more, and always kept watching the market.  Well, wonder of all wonders the bank came back within a month and accepted our offer! They immediately put  "Sold"  on the yard sign.  But it was far from sold!

Then the second hurdle...our bank.  Who is also brutal about protecting their assets.  And are freakishly paranoid about loaning money to a little pastoral family who keeps a mostly-cash budget.  The appraiser came and went and said it appraised for more than what we offered.  But then the bank has this trusty appraisal-review committee who lives heaven-knows-where and exists for the sole purpose of making homebuyers' lives miserable.  They sent us back a list of things that had to be done or they wouldn't accept the appraisal. And it wasn't changing light bulbs, either.  I haven't mentioned yet that the homeowner had ripped out entire rooms - down to the wall and floor studs..and had started thousands (almost) of projects and not finished them. One big one being the roof.

I remember the day Itza called me and said that the owner's bank responded immediately and said they, nor the owner, would help with the required renovations.  They called it a "Deal-Killer."

So if you've read this far you're my real friend and you know how well I deal with terms like "Deal-Killer."  I'm so awesome and strong in the face of disappointment and all.   It was a hard day.  We had already mentally been falling in love with every space in that house - flaws and all.  Someone else would shut the door and move on to a respectable prospect, but our brains were imagining each room fitting the needs of our family just right.

And meanwhile the owner's bank was tightening the noose....they were about to be done with the house (which had been on the market forever) and foreclose and collect their insurance money.  So they set a final foreclosure date and said "talk to the hand."

So we gathered ourselves.  (Actually, David's self was already gathered.  I sortof flopped along.) And took a look at our options.  There weren't many.  Or actually any.  One day we drove around looking at foreclosures.  I think we looked at about 13 homes that day.  And NONE of them did we want. Even the ones above our price range.  Even the ones with barns in the country.

So of course I went home promptly and cried and panicked a little.  Later that evening, David said.  "I think this house is worth the risk.  Let's make the repairs and hope for the best."  Hope springs in the heart anew.  : )

It was scary.  But we signed a paper saying that we were willing to do all of the work and lose all of our time and money if we didn't get the house -  and wouldn't do anything mean to the owner or his bank.

They gave us the code to the key box.  And we dug in on Memorial Day.  And some of our friends found out about it and started showing up.  I think one day there were like 15 guys at a time working.  They repaired floor joists and added insulation and moved plumbing and replaced nob-and-tube wiring and hung drywall and replaced and painted siding.  And the ladies painted and worked hard reclaiming the jungle of a yard and mopped floors and served tea.  We hired a guy to patch the roof and the guttering and some boot-thingy that had broken.  It was scary.  That thing is high and steep!

We got it done.  And then we waited again. The appraiser had to come back and take pictures again, which he would email to our banker, who would email them to her obnoxious committee in Boston or Texas or wherever.  And all that had to happen - plus closing on the house - before the foreclosing bank's deadline.

The day the appraiser was supposed to come do the inspection, David was there at noon checking on something.  Everything was normal.  I went by again about 4:00 to get something off the porch, I think (I can't remember why.)  The kids begged to go inside again because they hadn't seen the work since it had been finished.  When the kids and I walked in the front door, we gasped.  A huge chunk of the old plaster ceiling had fallen to the living room floor - just inside the door!  We didn't know if the appraiser had come yet, so we scurried. We swept it up and swooped it away and mopped the floor so that it would look as normal as possible if the appraiser came.  David was out calling when we called him, so he ran home and changed, came and saw the damage and went to buy some drywall to patch the ceiling.  In the meantime another huge chunk crashed to the floor just missing my head.

David had been spending hours on the phone trying to get insurance for the new house, so he didn't get started on cutting the drywall and patching the ceiling.  In the meantime, I had to run back to the church to turn the air on for Prayer meeting and to pick up a couple of missing hardware items for the renovated rooms.  I ran by the bank real quick just before 5:00.  David was off the phone by then and we talked on the phone.  He realized he didn't have enough time left to patch the ceiling and needed to get back and get ready for prayer meeting.  I told him to just wait at the new house with the kids for me for 5 minutes - I wanted to take the kids by the library before going home.  We figured the appraiser wasn't going to come that late if he hadn't already, anyway.  So we were going to call it a day.

While I finished at the bank and drove the 3 minutes home, David locked the front door and waited on the porch for me with the kids.  Lo and Behold, here comes the appraiser - taking pictures from his truck.  Here's the kicker.  When he got out and talked to David, he had forgotten what he was supposed to be checking on!  We thought he would come with the checklist they had given us and would inspect the things we had fixed. But he was going to just take pictures of random problems that he saw since he didn't remember what we were supposed to fix!  The miracle is that David was there to remind him what we were required to fix so that he wouldn't take all kinds of new pictures and get the committee all riled and start the whole process over!  He didn't even see the ceiling.  He stood right inside the door, but was 6 inches too tall to see the ceiling beyond the door frame.  So we got there JUST IN TIME to clean up the mess and for David to be there to guide him to take pictures of our required renovations.

Is that a cool story or what?

So...I've made a long story long.  We wired our down payment today and we close tomorrow morning at 11:00.  And we're going to have a family house dedication and are planning to camp out tomorrow night in the house in sleeping bags to celebrate.

We don't plan to move in until later in July, because there is so much messy work that needs to be done and it will be much more efficient to not be living there while we do it.  Our goals before moving in are:  peel the old wallpaper (sob), paint almost the entire 2900 square feet and sand, stain and varnish the wood floors. We are flexible.  We'll get done what we can. And we hope to move in at least 2 weeks before school starts in August.

We are so excited and maybe a little terrified (we have budgeted MORE for utilities than for our whole house payment with insurance escrow).  It is old.  And big.  And will keep us on our toes.  And maybe on our knees.  But we are dedicating it back to Him and can't wait to use it for His glory.

 Thank you for reading.  You're crazy for reading the whole thing but I love you for it. : )

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