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Monday, January 23, 2012

Dear Real Estate Industry

You're mad at us, I know.  I can tell by the tone of the e-mail our realtor sent to my husband in response to our announcing that we're withdrawing our offer on the house we looked at last month.  Our realtor suggested (though never actually stated) that we were being unreasonable, and attempted to shame us into changing our mind by assuming that we were withdrawing our offer because we were not actually qualified for a mortgage and have "strung along the seller and the bank" all this time.

Here's the thing.  This house was a short sale.  It's been on the market for a year, and in that time has dropped its price by nearly $100K.  Even with that, the house was still overpriced, and we offered $15K less than the current asking price (a number which we still think is generous, considering that the house will need about $50K worth of repairs in the next five years).  But before we made the formal offer, we asked our realtor to find out from the seller if they would be willing to consider a low-ball offer, because we didn't want to waste anybody's time.  We were told to make the offer, and they would consider it.

This is my third time buying a home.  I've sold three already.  In every case, the initial offer was either accepted, countered, or rejected pretty quickly, and any acceptance was contingent upon the buyer securing their financing.  Yes, our offer was slightly higher than our pre-approval, but our mortgage broker didn't think that should be much of a problem and told us that once we had an accepted P&S he'd get to work at formally processing our mortgage for the entire amount.  He was operating under the same assumption I was: first comes the offer, then the acceptance, then the financing.  That's the way real estate transactions have worked for a long time, excepting some transactions where the sellers state up front that proof of funding must accompany all offers (this transaction was not advertised as such).

Our offer gave the sellers and their bank two weeks to approve our offer.  The sellers did their part in a day.  Their bank let the offer expire with no action.  We only found this out after we called our realtor on the day it was to expire to ask for an update.  He had nothing, because he hadn't been following up.  Acknowledging that those two weeks included Christmas, we extended the deadline on our offer until the middle of January.  This time our realtor called us on his own initiative the day the offer was to expire, to tell us that the bank hadn't done anything yet but that the sellers had hired an attorney to try to move things along.  The attorney called us a little while later and gave us a more detailed update: the bank wouldn't accept our offer until they'd appointed a negotiator, which he was optimistic would happen the following week.  After that, things should move much more quickly.  We decided not to formally extend the deadline of our offer, which gave us the option of pulling the plug at any time, or letting it ride and moving forward with it should the bank accept our offer later.  For the time being, we decided to let it ride.

A week later we got another call from the seller's attorney.  The bank still hadn't appointed a negotiator.  They needed more information before they would do so, and it could still be a few weeks.  An e-mail from our realtor informed us that some of what bank required was proof of financing and an addendum to the P&S stating that we would close within 60 days of approval.

We were fed up.  After failing to simply accept or decline an offer for a month and missing two contractual deadlines, the bank was demanding we guarantee a quick closing that would hinder our ability to fully inspect and assess the property, plus demanding proof of financing up front?  The whole thing reminded my husband of the scene in Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader tells Lando Calrissian, "I am altering the deal.  Pray I don't alter it any further." 

Our realtor was offended at our offense, and informed us that "the bank is and has been working in a timely is corporate America and procedure."

Well, corporate America, you have stated your terms, and we choose not to accept them.  Like Lando Calrissian, we believe this deal is getting worse and worse all the time, so we're getting out while we still can.

I don't care if you're mad at me, Real Estate Industry.  It's a sad day when a seller has to hire an attorney to get the bank to act on processing an already-approved short-sale.  It's an even sadder day when a buyer trusts the seller's attorney more than she trusts her own real estate agent.

I believe in honor, diligence, and good faith adherence to contractual obligations.  We have shown that.  So have the actual sellers of the house.  Real Estate Industry, you have not.  Your attempts to shame us have failed, because we cannot be shamed by an entity that itself has none.  Send us back the deposit we made in good faith, and go play your games with someone else.  If the game can only be played by your rules, then we choose not to play.  Despite what you may think and what you may want, we actually do have that option.

Have a nice day, and may the Force be with you.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Refocusing for the New Year

Yes, I realize we're coming up on the second week of January, but the general tone of my life for the past few years (ever since I became a mom, come to think of it) has been that of constantly trying to 'catch up' and maybe even 'get ahead' of things, and never quite achieving it.  So it makes perfect sense that I'm just now getting around to thinking about how I want to approach this new year.

Going into 2010, my hope was simply that it would be better than 2009.  I think I can honestly say it turned out to be worse.  Going into 2011, my hope was that it would be better than 2010.  Some things were better, some things were worse, so overall I'd call it a net neutral, i.e. no change.  Going into 2012, initially I was just hoping that it would be better than 2011, and then I realized that that strategy hasn't been working out so well for me.  So this time I want to set some specific goals on how to make it better.

I've never been a big fan of New Year's Resolutions.  They've never worked for me, and they seem just too trite and faddish.  Who doesn't go into the new year wanting to lose weight, get their finances under control, and be a happier/nicer/better person overall?  Oh yes, and quit or cut down on [insert favorite vice here].  But it seems I do need to be a little more specific and intentional if I want 2012 to be better than 2009, 2010, or 2011.

A blog I follow (Introverted Church) recently posted about having a New Year's Rule of Life instead of New Year's Resolutions.  According to author Adam S. McHugh, "a rule of life is a way of arranging the rhythms of your life - all aspects of your life - so that you can best embrace God's gifts."  He then further breaks it down into the four categories listed in Jesus' greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength."  He suggests that you create your rule of life so that you have elements in each category that are natural and desirable (and therefore more likely for you to keep) as well as some things that are a bit of a stretch.  If you regularly and consistently fail at your rule of life, then it's a bad rule and you need to revise it.

I particularly like this way of thinking about things because I want to live a Christ-centered life that takes into account my gifts, abilities, circumstances, and limitations.  As I see it, if I set a rule of life that I can't keep, then it's probably not really a rule of my life, but a rule of someone else's life.  I am who I am, not who I wish I was, not who someone else thinks I should be.  I can make some changes to improve myself, but I can only improve upon what's already there, and not be something that I'm not.

So when I think about what I want 2012 to look like according to these categories, I immediately run into a problem.  I'm perpetually worried about finances, and, since we're still recovering from our long stint of dual unemployment a few years ago, that concern is somewhat justified (even though my husband is working now, and we've got a concrete and realistic plan that we're in the process of executing to cut our current expenses).  But Jesus didn't address financial stability in the greatest commandment, so trying to prioritize it as a goal in its own right doesn't work.

And maybe that's a good thing.  Our lowest period in the last three years was indisputably the seven months we lived in rural Iowa when I was serving as pastor at a highly toxic and unhealthy church.  Why were we there?  Because we'd been living entirely off savings for eight months when I started that call, my husband's industry seemed to have fallen into a black hole never to be heard from again, and our best hope for survival was for me to find a job (acknowledging that I'd earn less than half of what he'd been making).  My most marketable skill was ministry.  I didn't look too closely at the red flags that came up during my interview process, and I believed the fiction that the congregation presented.  If I hadn't been so desperate for a paycheck, maybe I would have looked more closely, and avoided the whole nightmare.  But wanting financial security was my overwhelming priority, and we're still paying for that mistake two years later.

So as far as my goal of financial security is concerned, I'm just going to have to let it go, because it doesn't have a place in a Christ-centered rule of life.  That doesn't mean I should be stupid about money, but it does mean that it's not important enough to warrant a place of its own.  I preach and write all the time about the importance of trusting God; maybe it's time I try it myself (practicing what I preach?  What a concept!).

So what is important enough to warrant a place of its own in a Christ-centered, great commandment ordered rule of life?

Heart:  In 2012, I'm going to have regular date nights with my husband in which we will learn to just enjoy each other's company again, rather than using the time to strategize our survival.  I'm going to play with my children at least once a week.  (I'm philosophically opposed to being my kids' primary playmate--they can play alone, with each other, and make their own friends, but I'm always going to be MOMMY first.  That said, it doesn't mean we can't have fun together.)  I'm going to make friends with some of the women at my church, starting with attending their monthly events.

Soul:  I've known since I left Iowa that I'm spiritually wounded and in need of healing.  It seems I've found a safe church home at my current congregation (where I'm just a member and, when necessary, provide pulpit supply).  I'll continue worshiping there, plus contributing to the ministry of the congregation (I've already been asked by some of the women I went to the retreat with in November if I'd teach a bible study on a specific subject).  I also find that I'm benefiting spiritually from writing Quiet Devotions, so I'll continue doing that, and I'll try to write other spiritual and theological resources.  (This might actually someday contribute to financial stability, as my hope is to self-publish and sell some congregational resources, but for now I'm only setting my goal on writing that enriches my own spiritual health, and trusting that if God wants to use those resources to help others, then he will.)

Mind:  As much as I like the idea of getting a Ph.D, I know that now is not the time.  Instead, I'm going to continue reading both fiction (I'm on a 19th century kick right now, though will sometimes mix it up with fantasy or contemporary literary fiction) and non-fiction, usually theologically related.  While I'll continue to follow politics, economics, and current events, I want to make this blog a little less political and a little more personal, spiritual, and theological.  If I comment about politics or current events, I'm going to try to look at it from a theological perspective.  (I've just written a couple of devotions that emphasized the importance of keeping God in mind in all that we say and do, so this blog is probably a good place to try to put that in action.  Again, practicing what I preach--this is going to be hard!)

Strength:  Yes, this is the 'lose weight and get healthy' part of it.  Specifically I'm going to track what I eat in a logbook (something I've been doing on and off since August), weigh myself weekly, and make adjustments to my diet to try to keep it balanced, healthy, and results in my losing some poundage.  I'm also going to get on my recumbent bike for at least ten minutes a day, three times a week.  I know that's considerably less exercise than is recommended, but since quitting the gym two months ago I'm starting at zero.  I'll follow some advice I came across the other day and try to increase my exercise a little bit each month.  Even though my progress will be slow, I'll be establishing a habit with each increase, hopefully keeping it manageable and not getting discouraged.  When the weather improves I'll add some outdoor activities, but since I don't know exactly where I'll be living then, I'll reserve specifics until I have more information.  (Yes, we're moving again.  More on that later.)

So that's my Rule of Life for 2012.  I truly hope this will help make this year better than last year.  And the year before that.  And the year before that.  Wish me luck!