After leaving the Pacific Northwest at age 17 to “catch the moon” in Seattle, Leisa Jennings raised two beautiful children as she continued her passion of writing short stories through personal experiences. She returned to her childhood home after 36 years following the tragic loss of her son. She wraps herself in the comfort and solitude learned in the hushed forests of Pacific County. Leisa is a free-lance writer and resides in the small oyster town of South Bend, Washington.
Ma’am, We Don’t Want Your House
This old house of ours was built on dreams, And a business man don’t know what that means. There’s a swing outside the kids played on every day, And tomorrow morning the man from the bank is gonna come and take it all away…….take it all away…..take it all away. (Neil Young)
I would not say that I am bitter, exactly. After all, I got to move to a stunning resort town overlooking the Puget Sound. I had not thought about renting a house because I have owned my own for the past 25 years. So many years of complaining about living in an increasingly overbuilt city and how it was turning into the shopping mecca for all of Washington state in what seemed like overnight. Our two-lane drive with no stoplights became three, and then four with a suicide lane, before I could shake a stick. The roaming pasture land with the Cascade Mountains in the background became a sea of overcrowded apartment complexes….….It reminds me of the children’s story, “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.” The story goes….after many years of1 working together, Mike and Mary Anne face competition from modern, electric, gasoline diesel shovels. Looking for work in the newspaper one day hoping to save them from the scrap heap, Mike finds a small town, Popperville, that is about to build a new town hall. The town select-men react with disbelief when Mike makes the claim that he and his steam shovel Mary Anne can dig the cellar in a single day; they protest that it would take a hundred men a week. Mike insists that Mary Anne can indeed finish the job in one day. At sunup the next day, Mike and Mary Anne manage to complete the task before sundown. However, he neglects to provide a way out of the cellar. They are stuck below watching Popperville become an industrial bustling city. In my case, the story did not end as well as the children’s book. In the book, a young boy who has been watching makes the suggestion that Mike take the job of janitor for the town hall, and that Mary Anne should become the boiler for the town hall's heating system. The town select-men agree and the new town hall is completed before winter. In contrast, I chose, for a variety of reasons, to remain in the cellar for way too long with no boiler. So, yikes, here I sit now renting a small house with no garage and no yard. My house (and my cellar) sits vacant as the bank has not yet collected their booty. I had just finished the landscaping in the back yard with ornamental cement blocks surrounded by pansies and other perennials. Fruit trees and blueberries were beginning to produce. When I knew we were leaving, I sold the landscaping rockery that I so carefully had put around the trees and ledges. Oh, and I sold all the trees and plants that the rockery went around! How unscrupulous is that? We had planted flowering cherry trees and English laurel bushes across the fence that paralleled the busy road and they were almost higher than the fence now, which had been the objective. There was a plant that I left, but I left it for Alice, Mike’s mother. (We’ll talk more about Mike later…he is my ex husband who passed away). As much as I loved its beautiful violet blossoms each year, they always reminded me of her. The stunning Althea, Rose of Sharon…that’s what she called it, and its beauty was breathtaking each spring. People actually stopped and commented on it. But it was not only Alice’s; it was also ancient and impossible to move, as were the huge billion year old rhododendrons that came to the top of our roof. I loved to look out my bedroom window in the spring because even though we were on the second floor, the brilliant pink rhodie blossoms loomed into view from my bed. It was so uplifting in the mornings, and it hid the view of the street so well. I have to admit, also, and I am not proud of this, that some of the plants that I couldn’t take with me I solidly refused to have someone else own; therefore, they were given what I like to call the “Kool-aid.” A sort of Jim Jones ending, you see. So, okay, we sold all the cabinets in the shop and anything that was not nailed down. We even sold the old shed that Mike and I bought many moons ago, the one the kids were so excited about because it had a loft. It had to be sliced in half (that stung) and put on a flat bed truck, but still, the sale added a cool 800 dollars to our moving kitty. What I remember most about that shed, though, other than painting it to match the house, is how angry I was when Mike wanted to run electricity to it. At this time, he was not able to move his legs, and I was simply not interested in digging in the dirt to produce a 4-foot trench for a half block. But I did, and there was electricity to the shed. The in-ground pool sits eerily empty other than the maple leaves and fir tree needles in the bottom, its blue color now smudged and spotted with mud and debris. It was only a year ago that we were swimming in this beautiful clean bright blue liner filled with chlorinated clear water. There we were, sitting outside on nice days swimming with family and friends at will. Diving, laughing, and eating, as we had been for the past 20 years. It was expensive….sure….but still we loved it when the kids were small. Well, let me be clear, I loved it. Many was the time that the extravagant purchase was thrown in my face over an argument with Mike. But to me, it was lovely to watch the children and all of their friends playing in the pool, pretending to be dolphins, practicing gymnastics, and competing for the “best diver” award. Later, it was a sort of albatross, if you know what I mean…..the expense, the worry. When is some kid going to trip on the side, break his leg, and sue us? There were older kids there that I didn’t know anymore, jumping off the roof of the garage into the pool. That’s not a liability, right? In the end, it seemed like young teens were coming over with the impression that my children owned the house, with a “hey give me a towel…..” and just throwing it on the deck wet afterward. Somehow, my attitude toward the upkeep, expense and liability dwindled. Just didn’t have it in me anymore. AND…I was appalled at the manners of the young people who DID come to swim, like it was a given….like it was expected. It didn’t give me a warm and fuzzy when all of a sudden I felt I needed to be in the house when friends came over rather than pool side. Oh….your mom is so square… In addition to not wanting to spend money on a frivolous pool, Mike also was not into leisure time. He grew up that way and Alice encouraged “never an idle moment.” I thought at the time that the pool would be a great thing…..Mike was sick and not able to do much physically, so I felt it would be good for him to be able to do a swim activity. And I thought it would be a benefit in that we could partake in this at home so that we would not have to go out to entertain ourselves, as Mike was on the road to becoming an invalid. Unfortunately, Mike seemed instead to resent the pool. Not because of his illness, but because he could not relax and just be entertained by sitting in the breeze with a cocktail. He always felt he had to be mowing the lawn. I was okay with that, but it seemed he felt I should be doing the same. He seemed annoyed when we swam on hot days. Actually, after a few years, sad to say….when Mike got in the pool I was so afraid that he would be too weak to pull himself upright because of the severity of the MS progression, that I could not enjoy it. I watched over him diligently as he struggled, but he was a little bit like one of those weighted balloon clowns that topples over and bobs back up after a punch. Therefore, it was a clearly a stressful albeit refreshing family activity. Ah, but so much went in to the building of this pool that just doesn’t really matter. It is ancient history…the digging up of the yard, the digging of the hole, the apple trees that we cut down in order to build the pool. As the pool progressed, huge dirt piles were dumped in our backyard that my kids played on as much as they did the final project, the POOL. They rolled down the hills of dirt, made forts, laughed and played all day. Who would know that a simple few piles of dirt would entertain my kids as much as a 9-foot deep swimming pool. So back to the loss… there is the back yard, the graveyard for the many deceased family pets throughout the years, from rats, to cats, to our favorite golden retriever, Punch, who Solomon buried beneath the grape arbor, claiming it was his dog so he would bury him. Something I will most certainly miss, the grape arbor that will yield the most delicious grapes for the new owners, that is, the ones that didn’t get “the Kool-aide.” But mostly, the memories….the memories of 25 years. I will miss the sandbox that my kids played in, the Tonka toys, and the tunnels they made. I will miss the old-fashioned chain swing set that Mike and I built. And though it is not there anymore, I will miss the wooden bench that Mike built to surround the fir tree. After he passed away, the tree outgrew the bench and buckled. Well, there you have it. We packed it all up in one day....I drove my white GMC truck loaded with our three cherry trees and my twisted filbert. I didn’t look back. I couldn’t. When we left I felt like Ma Joad in “the Grapes of Wrath,” as they drove off in the jalopy from Oklahoma to California. Her son asks her, “Ain’t ya even gonna look back, Ma?” She answered sadly, “What fer?” Okay, let’s cut the crap. I hated that house and the whole neighborhood. This is how I grew to hate it. I moved to this house when my first husband, Mike, owned it, having been previously owned by his mother, my arch enemy. If you can picture the sea witch from “The Little Mermaid,” you are getting warm. For the most part, I stayed to myself and tried not to mingle too heavily with the neighbors as I have always valued my anonymity. Don’t get me wrong, my neighbors were nice respectable people; however, extremely religious and a just a teensy bit too pushy on that end in my opinion. There are Dewey and Marion, the elderly couple in their 90’s two houses down that have lived in the same house since the earth was created, a small cracker box with a huge garden and yard where they raised their five children. Marion’s answer to everything was that, “The Lord will take care of things.” They were generous with their garden, which covered most of their back yard. Dewey had been shot in the head as a young man in WWII and had a metal plate inserted into his brain. He was disabled since then and was always outside hoeing and raking in his garden. He stood about 4’5”, so I didn’t figure he had to bend over too far. Dewey always had a grin on his face, the kind where you couldn’t tell if he was smiling because he understood what you were saying and liked it or was just smiling for the heck of it. You had to love him for his quiet soft ways and generosity. The kids were always welcomed to their blueberries and blackberries, and Dewey always brought over rhubarb. Marion meant well, she invited me to the church Christmas play every year, despite being turned down for 15 or 20 years. Ah, a true Christian. No one can ever say that she was not persistent. That is definitely annoying perseverance, but I know that in her heart she felt she was just doing the Lord’s work. No harm done. Then there is Tom, their son, who never married (neither here nor there, but I think he is gay but can’t admit it because of his and his parent’s religious convictions). Middle aged, overweight, and a little slow if you get my drift, Tom lives next to his parents. Tom lived there when my first husband, Mike, lived there with his family. In fact, the two went to Martha Lake Elementary, same as our kids later, and together they played. So as Mike moved on, then came back and bought the house, Tom was still there. They weren’t so close after they grew up as they no longer had anything in common, and Mike was definitely not the religious type. Tom is nice, very gentle and kind. He, too, always had a smile on his face. Must take after Dewey. But can’t people sometimes smile too much? If they never are NOT smiling, then how do you know how they really feel? How do you know they are not just idiots with a constant shit-eating grin? There must be something SOMETIME not to smile about, right? On the other side are John and Barb, a middle-aged couple who never had their own children and led a quiet life of constant prayer and proselytizing. John and Barb had lived in this house since I came into the picture, but we never really knew each other. Between the 8 x 10 of George Bush Sr. on their living room wall and repeated invitations to their church congregation, I was not anxious to get any closer than a friendly wave or small talk occasionally over the fence. They were good people, don’t get me wrong, but you sort of got the feeling that politics was not a subject that would go over so well in conversation. I felt them out on a couple issues and could see right away that speaking my mind to either neighbor was just a waste of my time. As a drafted Vietnam gunner, John had very clear opinions on politics and he would have been a force to be reckoned with if he really knew how I felt. Go dems! I have a feeling that soft gentle nature and religious passive tone of his would have come to a screeching halt. So, you can see why I didn’t spend a significant amount of time socializing with neighbors, though I have to admit, I did attend a few birthday gigs bringing my expected plate of cookies. Otherwise, how would I know what was and was not appropriate to bring up religiously and politically? So, though my first husband, Mike, had known these folks all his life, we never socialized when I moved there. Trees grew in between our houses so that I could get to my car or out the driveway without nodding or having a conversation strike up. It was just the way I liked it. I didn’t even know the neighbors that lived across the street in the green rambler and the duplex. People came and went, while I raised my kids on my own little postage stamp. We put up a nice fence that separated us from the neighbors allowing me to play with my kids on the swings or in the sandbox and not have to acknowledge pesky neighbors. I could set them up with their paints at their small wooden table that I got at a garage sale as I mowed the lawn. The neighborhood was okay, schools okay…I could do this. I volunteered at the grade school, helping with art projects and so forth. In return, I was privy to what were considered the most sought after teachers, and I could actually hand pick them for my children according to their credentials. I was told by one 1st grade teacher that, “I can always tell the children who spend the day in daycare. They just don’t seem to have manners. I can spot the children who have been raised in at home by a caring parent.” Wow, that made me feel so good, apparently so needed and valuable to the future wellbeing of my children. Every story has an ending, be it good or bad, happy or sad, and this story came to an abrupt tragic ending as my husband’s illness drastically worsened. Suddenly, the house became a burden that I couldn’t keep up with myself. Mike was no longer able to help with the yard or house and soon, whether it was the stress of his illness or just life playing out, we separated. At that point, I wanted to give the house back to him, but he insisted that I stay and raise the kids in a “house.” “Please take it,” I pleaded, “It’s yours and I am happy to live in an apartment.” Too bad I got so well adjusted to living in such large quarters, huh? Well, this house soon needed a paint job, a new roof, a new deck….get the picture? I grew to resent the house as if it were a harness holding me back from green pastures. Well, as Mike passed on, the years passed and here I was still in the same house, like a bad penny you can’t get rid of, I thought. But this bad penny was gaining in value at a tremendous rate. Now, what held me here was the well being of my kids. Well, wasn’t it important to keep them in the same environment and same school? That’s what I was told. So, there went another 7 or 10 years at my prison house. Meanwhile, the neighborhood became filled with transients moving into the maize of apartment buildings suddenly springing up and eating up all available property. The schools became overcrowded. The kids passing by to school would antagonize our dogs and throw rocks at the neighboring goats while cursing at each other at the top of their little lungs. I couldn’t believe kids as young as four years old walking behind their siblings, these foul-mouthed role models, on what resembled I-5. Where were the parents? There wasn’t even a sidewalk. I took care of the house, but not with the same “spring in my step” or with as much vigor as in the first years when my kids were young. The “positives” in my life, these two kids, were growing up. The septic system continued to fail, made obvious by the standing water and sewage in the front yard from broken pipes. Oh, how many afternoons I spent in the yard with my rubber boots, in full view of all passers by, digging trenches to find the line to the system and unclog whatever it was this time. Sort of embarrassing, right? It reminded me of being a teenager at my mom’s house and being out in the yard working in a muddy mess fixing this or that (it always rains there). The last thing you need is friends driving by waiving cheerily to you out the window. So, there was repeated flooding of my basement. After replacing the carpet twice because of septic backup, I finally sprang for the cost of a sump pump. I was determined not to have poop floating in my basement ever again. Within a few years of this, I met and married Brian…friendly, unsuspecting, trusting Brian. Suddenly, I found myself way closer to my neighbors than I ever wanted to be. I would come home and there would be Tom, the neighbor, leaning over the fence having a friendly tête-à-tête with Brian. This led to even MORE invitations to church picnics, church plays, and church dinners that I consistently rejected. On the other side of us, through friendly fence talk, Brian got to personally know John. When John’s wife became ill with Lou Gehrigs, he needed help regularly with this or that and Brian was always there to help. Barb needed to have a covered walk way to get to the car, with corrugated roof and all. All of a sudden, though, I was being asked to help put his wife to bed, or to put her makeup on, or fix her hair….all tasks that are in and of themselves very simple. Yet, it bred a familiarity that I wasn’t comfortable with. But at this point, she was bedridden and dying; I had to do it. As I took off her glasses, I realized that she had the most beautiful sparking eyes. She was always so understated in her old fashioned smocks and permed short hair. I had no idea that she was actually quite beautiful physically when you looked closer. She did not display that when she worked in her garden and yard with a mask on her face (pesticides and chemicals?). Barb was a kind person that didn’t deserve her fate with ALS. Then again, Mike didn’t deserve his long battle with MS; he was a good person. (Why do bad things happen to good people?). However, sad to say, I don’t remember having folks scrambling to help me when I clearly needed it. Not with yard work nor with Mike’s care. I think I would have gladly accepted a simple, “can I help you” from passers by. You saw me… in the yard digging up the septic system in my dirty boots in the rain on Easter morning as you were walking by my house probably headed to some easter egg hunt. You didn’t look over, but I knew you saw me. You didn’t want to embarrass me? Right? So just pretend you don’t see me 10 feet from you and make me want to crawl in the mud out of sight. I looked up at and our eyes met, but there was no “Happy Easter” for me! It is okay as you probably would have been met with a bitter “fuck you” in response. Maybe they were there, in all fairness, and it is just that I never asked? No, I guess I didn’t involve myself before in other’s affairs, so why should I want people to bother with me now? I suppose that’s fair. It seemed to me that most people, those neighbors included, just didn’t want to really know what was happening as Mike grew more ill, more disabled…how bad it really was, or how sad more realistically. They stopped asking how he was after he was so debilitated and bedridden because they didn’t want to know the tragic answer. I wondered if John ever thought of these things as I was reading to his wife and applying her makeup after Mike’s painful prolonged death. Back to Barb’s illness….I never was very fond of touching strangers, especially dying strangers. It was so uncomfortable that I was almost angry with being asked. My anonymity was slowly slipping away. It wasn’t Brian’s fault. Being friendly and helpful is a positive quality, but it changed the dynamic of my household living, my comfort zone. Soon, Tom took down the trees between our properties and all of a sudden I was privy to his day-to-day activities. I knew when he had church barbecues or people from the church over on Sunday to play horseshoes. All I had to do was step out onto my deck and boom, there was the friendly wave. Hi Tom! Hallelujah! Brian is absolutely correct when he tells me that I never wanted to stay in that house in the first place. True enough. I was definitely Mary Anne, the steam engine. The grass is always greener. However, I really thought that the money from this house would be our retirement. It was a scary thought to sell and leave, but we had two choices. We could plan to leave when the price of the house grew high enough to make the money for new digs in a new place of our choosing, or we could fix the multitude of costly problems. We even tossed around the idea of completely remodeling the house and staying. On the other hand, with the value rising so quickly, we could sell this house and buy another outright! The thought was so freeing to me and suddenly we were talking about living in places like Hawaii….or Florida. I was so arrogantly settled into the life of “owning a house.” If I had only known. This is the mind set we were in when we got ourselves into trouble. Brian says that I’m “broken.” “I don’t know how to fix you babe,” he said, as if he is looking to reconnect two wires or fix a short. That’s Brian, my electrician, the fixer, the troubleshooter…..he gets so frustrated when he just can’t put humpty together again. It is such a sweet yet sad quality to me. My dreams are always of being homeless. In my dreams, I can’t see clearly, it is foggy, and I am panicked because I am desperately looking but can’t find a place to live. My sleep, if I sleep at all, is constantly interrupted by sudden visions that are like a video picture show of my house and the memories there that leave me wide eyed with a heart that I fear is going to pop out of my chest. Remember those round film projectors, the carousels where you click a button to go to the next slide? I click those buttons all night long. I’ve tried listening to talk radio while I lay there in the quiet. Oh no, they say that lack of sleep can really age a person. I must be approaching 150. It happened so quickly and unexpectedly, though in retrospect it is crystal clear that loss was inevitable. We just didn’t get it; we didn’t have the foresight. But in 2006, the housing market was going gangbusters and home values were skyrocketing. Having bought and sold a piece of investment property a few years before and profiting 100K within two years, my husband and I had dollar signs blurring our vision, believing that investing in real estate was the answer to sure money for our future. Our first thought was to buy a distressed property in order to fix it up and then “flip” it within two years. Time and again we heard people talking about this “flipping” practice and how profitable it would be. Just a few nails and boards here and there, right? It sounded simple enough. Enter Todd Geers, our greedy, pushy mortgage broker/real estate agent, who wormed his way into Brian’s psyche with his ravings about how much money we could make. According to our slick new “financial advisor,” investing in property would be the key to our retirement. “Babe, Todd says that we could afford to buy another house…..all we have to do us use the equity from this house,” Brian said. “No….that just isn’t possible,” I said irritably. The old adage, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” came to mind. But after much bantering back and forth about the possibilities, I decided to hear Todd out and see what his ideas were. After all, we had no retirement and it was true that we had plenty of equity in the house. Maybe what people were saying was true. Todd was way too confident and arrogant and that should have been an indicator as to his insincerity. He arrived with his military hair shave, new squeaky clean diesel truck and straight legged Lee jeans with shirt perfectly tucked in. Todd, you need to lower those jeans, seriously, you’re going to hurt yourself. He was a caricature of a swaggering Texas cowboy that I have yet to identify (was Matthew McConaughey from Texas?) Todd wasn’t as handsome as Matthew as he popped in a chew and proceeded to open his briefcase and empty out its contents of charts and notes in order to educate us on new investment ideas. My, what a wealth of information! To be fair, Todd WAS quite knowledgeable about real estate investment, that is, IN a standard booming economy, which it was at that time. Who knew that if we were to invest, it would be the single worst year since the Great Depression for investing in property. As Todd explained to our wide eyes and open ears, we could not only buy one investment piece, but maybe two or three! This is how it works. We use up the 100K home equity line of credit against my house that the bank had already approved. “It’s just sitting there not making you money!” Todd explained. Then we take out another line of credit, as much as the bank will possibly lend us. We use this money for down payments on pieces of property. Even better than “flipping” a house, he said, rent out the house for two years. By that time, the house will be (he busily works the calculator…tip tippity tap) …what was it he said? “Houses are gaining in value at 17% per year and have been for years. It can only go up!” Well, unless it goes down….right? Okay, so meanwhile you rent out the places and just sit back and collect the rent as your property soars in value. Sounds like a cakewalk. Better have another look see! Wow, getting another HELOC from Wells Fargo was about as difficult as going to pay the water bill. Oh, by the way, a HELOC, I learned, is a Home Equity Line of Credit. You just sign the papers and spend the money. The bank wouldn’t lend us more money than we could afford, right? They must think this is a good idea, since they didn’t even inquire as to whether or not I had a job, which I did not. Brian had a job, but he had incredibly bad credit. In the fine print of the 50ish page document that I did not read all of (who reads those?), it stated that the HELOC had to be paid back within seven years. The interest rate would be variable, a fact that I questioned, but I was also told that I could fix that rate at any time if I maintained my perfect credit score. Of course I had a perfect credit score with fifty years of paying all bills on time, particularly my mortgage. It didn’t occur to me to do otherwise. Well, okay then, it all sounds good, where do I sign? I forgot to ask what happens if you lose your good credit rating. The answer is that in that case you would have to pay a much higher rate to get the loan “fixed” at a certain rate, thereby raising your monthly loan payment to God knows what. So, with high hopes and a ton of fresh energy, we rolled up our sleeves and prepared for the investment adventure. “Let’s see,” Todd explained, “You owe 190K on the first mortgage on your house, fixed low rate. Hmm…you have a 100K HELOC already, so we can use that for investment….why don’t you ask for another 100K?” “Your house,” he plucked away at his calculator….tap tap tap… “is worth at least 400K, more like 450K.” He figured out almost down to the penny, how much money we could spend on each investment property. But according to Todd, what really mattered was the rapid increase in the value of real estate and that, at the very least, we would double our investment in two years. “There is no worst case scenario,” he explained, his blue eyes from inches away from mine. Well, in my negative minded tendency, I played out what I figured was the “worst case scenario,” and that was that maybe we wouldn’t make any money on the investments and would break even. Big deal. Brian and I were no real estate moguls, clearly, but in the next few years we would precede to receive the equivalent of a Ph.D. in the inner workings of bankers, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, tenants, assholes, and all the crooked laws that govern them all. It was an expensive education. We learned that it takes about 20% down to buy a house, money from our HELOC just waiting to be put to good use. So, if the property investment costs 300K, we put down 60K. A 400K investment would cost us 80K up front, etc. Todd assured us he could find many mortgage companies willing to lend the balance to us with our credentials (credentials?? Oh, you mean Brian with bad credit and me with no job?). He laughed, “Oh they are practically begging to loan money to anyone, don’t worry! They don’t really care about credit history or jobs or any of that crap; we can doctor all that up. There are so many out there,” he chuckled (yeah, big belly laugh), “that if one won’t bite, I’ll just go to another!” (Like India?) He suggested a two year plan of investing in as many properties as possible with our financial HELOC limit. Okay, now maybe at this point we should have investigated on our own. But, hell, he was both a real estate broker AND a financial advisor. He would do all the paperwork and deal with all the banking issues. We certainly didn’t want to take on that responsibility if we had Todd here, clearly a professional in the field, to negotiate our finances. Our next step was to go hunting for great investment deals that were either properties to “flip” or rent out and just kick back and rake in the dough. How simple is that? That was our simplistic perception of renters… that as the landlord, you just sit back and collect the money on time from these honest people who will take care not to live in squalor and therefore take care of their rental (your mortgage), right? Todd’s first suggestion was an old Victorian farmhouse in a quaint small town. We drove out to see the “fixer upper” ourselves. “Ya see,” Todd says, “here is what I visualize. What you do is use some of your LOC to fix up the property, say 20-30K. We put down 20%, which is about 100K as the property is selling for 500K.” (500K????!!) “At this point you can either sell it at a huge profit OR you can rent it out to vacationers from out of town. Just put an ad in the paper….there are so many people who would jump to stay here as a bed and breakfast right in town.” He was so full of shit and fortunately I saw through that deal. There was our first indication of deceit. He might be dealing with a couple of ignoramuses with regard to bank finances and real estate, but he was NOT going to sell me on the bed and breakfast idea for this house. I said, “Hello! I’ve lived here and there is no way in hell anyone is going to come stay here as a resort destination! For what? The bike trail? Boeing? Because they like rain? I don’t think so.” “Canada???” I interrupted, “No, if people want to stay in Seattle they will go to Seattle; if they want to stay in Canada, they will go to Canada!” Then there were the exaggerations on the price to fix up this huge house. Whoever owned it before obviously gave up on it because it appeared to have been left with a remodel half completed. He sold Brian on the idea with his fast talk, unrealistic dreams and ideas of home improvement. With exaggerated hand gestures he pointed out how we could replace this tile or that. Perhaps a swing on the front porch. “Yeah, that’ll bring in the vacationers,” I thought sarcastically. I started adding up in my head what it would cost to make this heap inviting to even a herd of goats. Why didn’t we throw in the investment towel at that time? I guess we just felt he was honorable and was looking out for our best interest, being such a professional and all. He was a good talker, trust me. Let’s give him another chance. “No thanks on this one, but what else have you got?” “Well, okay,” he said shaking his head in disbelief as if to say, “you’ll regret this!” He backed down but gave the impression we were making a big mistake by passing up this beaut…this great, never-again-to-be-seen opportunity. A few weeks later, Todd called again. This opportunity, (already? He certainly was diligent) he explained, was a double duplex up north with a view of the beach. “The renters are already in the place!” he exclaimed. Well, the price seemed right. “Let’s go see it,” we decided. As we approached, we observed the front yard which was no more than a few car hulks that looked like they had been dipped in water daily for the past 100 years and left out. The gutters of the structure were torn and dripping water and the whole place desperately needed a paint job. Was this low income housing? I don’t mean to be prejudiced, but obviously no one that lived there gave two shits about the upkeep. Okay, well you can’t judge a book by its cover. Let’s continue. As we rounded the back, there were giant plastic kid play toys, you know, the disposable kind that have a working life span of a million years? As it turns out, the folks were home while we checked out the apartments. Imagine what it would have looked like if they had not been given notice of our arrival? Not that you could really have spruced up this pile of rotted lumber. As it is, the carpets had obviously been flooded before. In one of the pantry rooms, debris and old Pampers were heaped up a few feet. It was the sort of “junk” room, I guess, where you put anything that you can’t find a place for and then worry about it later. My junk storage, however, has typically been a single kitchen drawer, not a room! Well, okay, I could see beyond that…picture the place clean. I tried, I really did. Todd was commenting on the remarkable view, which I simply could not see to save myself…well, maybe if all the trees were cut down. Just a few simple repairs and ridding the place of the junk cars out front, he suggested. “Okay, well, how about we get an inspection? It only costs about 600 dollars and it would give you an idea of what is needed here to improve it to your standards,” he suggested, somehow implying that our “standards” were too high. I asked if the inspection money would be refundable if we did not buy the property and he was a little unsure of that, but he said, of course, most probably….(most probably?) not to worry. Well, I have to say that the place looked like a train wreck to me, but then I did doubt my vision. I am a glass half empty kind of person and I needed to remember that. Brian, however, is a fixer and could see what an overhaul would entail. And it is true, if this place were fixed properly and the tenants were paying on time and regularly….well, and this and that, etc., etc...what a perfect world that would be, right? At that time, it actually seemed feasible. But somehow, I had a bad feeling….just a nagging suspicion. We had the inspection done and the list back of problems was pages. The electrical wiring system was not wired to code to begin with, and after 20-30 years, they most certainly would not pass inspection. The gutters leaked…..the plumbing, the carpets…foundation, and so on and so forth. Was there anything structurally sound on this property? NO! I had to step in and say absolutely no way, no how, can this be a good deal for us. Okay, strike two for Todd. If only we had not waited for strike three. We went on a few more excursions with much the same end result, but feeling slightly rushed and more pressure with each viewing. Todd didn’t say anything derogatory when we refused an investment, but it was clear from the tone of his voice that he had bigger fish to fry and we had better start coming around to some of his ideas. He’s a busy man! It was the quick turn on the heel back to his 4-wheeling man truck, the slightly less friendly business talk and absolutely no small talk or banter. I think he probably left us each time cursing, but realized on calming that he would stand no profit if he became frustrated enough to show it. Then again, maybe not, considering what pushovers we must have seemed to him…gullible little Gullivers. Our first investment purchase was actually our own idea. There was a house across the street going up for sale and we knew the owner. It was a three bedroom, two bath rambler with a nice yard in the back. It was not the color of my choice as I am sure anyone would concur; you don’t have to be a decorator. It was a pale, yet surprisingly loud limish green sort of exterior paint. It was like a yellow Easter egg with a few too many drops of green in the dye had been dipped in dirty water a few times. It stood out a bit from the rest of the houses on the block, needless to say. But how convenient it would be to fix up this house or to simply rent out for a few years. This house was a stone’s throw from our house, just out my huge picture window. So we could see if any problems arose. Boy did they arise and I got to watch it as if it were in Dolby sound on a big screen TV. The house belonged to John and Barb’s brother, David, who had needed a place to care for his elderly mother until she went into a care facility. I had a big corner desk in my living room right by my picture window where I spent most of my day working on the computer. For years I had watched David lug his single laundry basket from his house to across the street to John and Barbs and back again. What does a used washer and dryer cost, about 50 dollars each? I watched him take his feeble mother, arm in arm, for slow walks along Larch Way. That was sweet. He was not a particularly friendly fellow, this David, and odd in that he had not one friend ever come to his house. I never witnessed him leaving to go anywhere other than the grocery store. You know, you would think, man in his 40s or 50s, single, that maybe he would, say, go skiing on a Saturday….(I had heard that he used to be a ski instructor) or have a church picnic occasionally after the Sunday sermon like the rest of our neighbors, being as he was just as religious as all the rest. They all went to the same church, John and Barb, David and his mother, Dewey and Marion, and Tom, never married Tom. Surrounded by all this glorious religion, why didn’t it ever rub off on me? David was well dressed in a “churchy” way; he certainly never had on jeans, rather always khaki pants and sport shirt tucked in, and his hair was short and clean. Never sneakers but always shiny leather shoes. Apparently he was very well educated, having a PhD in History, I believe. I can’t picture him actually teaching history, (maybe quantum physics), but Barb said he had been a “history” teacher. He was actually quite conversational, if pushed to it, but it always seemed forced. If forced into a corner with me, regarding the material discussed, God knows he knew his WWII memorabilia for sure. He politely nodded and ummmmmed and ahhhhhhhed softly at the appropriate times, but you just never got the sense that he was invested in anyone’s wellbeing other than his own. That the whole time you were talking he was sizing you up, your knowledge, your intelligence, and plotting what to say next. He knew what he had to say in order to seem sincere, but I just never felt the sincerity. He was a wealth of knowledge, yes that is true, but inside I sensed a guarded coldness. He would come to the potlucks or birthday parties given at his sister’s house or Tom’s or for Marion and Dewey’s 75th or 80th anniversary (or whatever that is up to with Dewey being in his 90s), but my guess is that he did not enjoy any of these get-togethers. He arrived out of a sense of religious and family duty, having been taught that attending these gatherings was honorable. He had a sense of duty to all things religious and family, but no kindness to back it up. I’ve seen him at the grocery store time and again where he clearly recognized me, but instead of saying hello, he would just act like he hadn’t seen me. He would only acknowledge me if forced to by inescapable face-to-face contact, like if we ran into each other down one of the grocery isles and he couldn’t get out of it.. So when we were thrown together unavoidably at a pot luck, he certainly never carried a warm glow. David’s tiny mother, who he so carefully dressed for walks in her little coat and woolen scarf, seemed to be a burden that he concealed with his passive sounds and calm tones. I bet inside he was a raging maniac. Probably couldn’t wait to dump the mother in a home and get back to Minnesota where he was from. Pick up where he had left off. I don’t know…..either spending all his time in church and ice cream socials, or high tailing it over a gay bar to celebrate his new freedom. Sounds a little harsh, as I never really knew him that well, but if you were to spend a few potlucks with him, I think you would come up with the same conclusion, or at least it would cross your mind. I know that the main reason David was going to sell the house was that his mother was going to be moved to a nursing home as she was rapidly deteriorating. Hopefully, in short order (maybe?) he could honor his mom’s request and take her body back to Minnesota to the family cemetery where Barb and David’s father was buried. In addition, Barb, sister across the street, was becoming progressively ill with ALS. She, too, wanted her body hauled back to Minnesota, and we all knew that she would die within five years. Five years was a generous timeframe. David seemed desperate to just get out of Dodge, and maybe he could get a two-fer on the train ride to the family plot. However he was feeling, he was more than happy to show us the house. He was firm on his price for 275K and after looking at a few real estate sites, we agreed his price was reasonable. He seemed in a hurry, but then again, his mother was not going to live long. He added the most interestingly weird touches to the house and changed what most would have thought were the best of the decor. Granted, I’m no interior designer (nor real estate mogul, obviously), but some of this was a no brainer. For instance, in all the years that I have watched that house from my front picture window, there had been a living room window about 5 x 8 feet staring back at me. It brought the only light into the living room as far as I could tell. So, you tell me, why would someone replace that particularly lovely window with a 3 x 4 feet one? My first thought was….oh, paranoia of course…he is a privacy nut. Imagine if someone were to walk up the walkway and actually be able to peer into the living room. Maybe he works on his computer in his whitie tighties…..who knows? I promise, I never looked in that window and averted my eyes at all times. It seems that drapes would have been a much less expensive route than to pay the window installers to not only install the window, but then to re-sheetrock, mud and tape all around the space where the window HAD been. Who does that? Then again, since he had lived there I had never seen a light on in the living room. Apparently, his sanctuary was the tiny kitchen nook. Maybe he felt safe there and hoped that no one knew he was home. I would often see a tad bit of light coming from his mother’s bedroom. Poor thing, I always pictured her in there alone, lying in bed watching TV, probably munching on carrot sticks or some other snack that doesn’t leave crumbs. I guess they could be conserving, but he didn’t strike me as the cheap type, just the oddball type. John told us that he bought TV dinners for he and his mother and they actually “split” them, adding a little extra potato or rice here and there to make them into full meals. No wonder the kitchen appliances were immaculate. He didn’t spill so much as a drop of orange juice in that fridge, and that is because everything he bought came in a small disposable can or package, according to John. He would not be cleaning out that fridge. It was fairly apparent as we discovered David’s “home improvements” that he was also a clean freak. I don’t mean to keep badmouthing David, but I can only state what I saw. The wall-to-wall carpeting had all been torn out, and underneath was the most beautifully preserved hardwood from the 60’s that I have ever witnessed. I don’t think so much as a splash of gravy, or dog pee, or anything else was ever spilled on that carpet to leak down to the immaculate wood. It wasn’t enough to have the hardwood impeccable, David also had to have it all re-sanded, stained and varnished until you could practically wave back at yourself in the reflection as you looked down. Here’s another thing..the walls were all repainted with high quality Parker Paint, as evidenced by the ten (or so…maybe more, I’m serious) 5-gallon buckets of old empty plastic paint buckets in the single car garage. We are talking about a 1400 square foot house, not a mansion. He must have put four or five coats on the walls! Imagine having to scrape all that off to change color. Guess we’ll keep the corpse color he had chosen. He painted all the living area except the big picture window that had been resized. He must have repainted before he had the window replaced and never got around to touching up the wall that was munched up by the process. David had also installed high quality German-made heaters into all the rooms instead of the electric baseboard. He was miserly, but one of those types that spent money on the strangest things. It is possible these heaters were replaced due to finances, but there must have also been a filter issue, an environmental hazard or something, as I can’t imagine any other reason to spend such an enormous amount on these expensive heaters. The kitchen was apparently his last bone of contention. He must have decided to sell the place while the kitchen was half remodeled. The floor was torn up; he probably couldn’t handle all the germs that pressed into the cracks of the linoleum. Then he meticulously taped off the ceiling and walls with that thin floating plastic. So zealously taped, in fact, that most of it had to be scraped off with a razor knife and the rest just pulled up the paint with it! I can picture him with a white surgical face mask desperately protecting the rest of the house from the toxic fumes (of what?? Ripping up tile?). He probably thought the floor had asbestos. Once he had decided to sell the house, it looks as if he skipped straight off the ladder in a single step and across the street to his sister’s to begin the sale preparation. Good riddance, I’m sure he thought. We decided to try to buy the house. It was still a good deal, regardless of the necessary repair work. Let’s just see what would be involved and what profit we could scarf up. We brought our “financial advisor” Todd into the scene, as remember he could get us a loan, “no problem good buddy.” He got to work immediately on the sale, even talking with David about the particulars of the deal, and of course suggesting that he be the mortgage broker. David was skeptical of course, as you would predict, and had already engaged an attorney for his own protection. I believe our only direct encounter with David regarding the house was when he came to my gate in the piss pouring rain and talked to me about whether or not we wanted to continue the termite service with Orkin. “Would you like to come inside?” I asked. Oh no, he wouldn’t come into the gate, though asked repeatedly, as clearly the rain was literally dripping off my nose. He explained that he had a contract with Orkin where they came out once a month and sprayed his whole house and surrounding areas. “Do you typically have a problem with bugs and termites?” I asked. “Well, not really, but I like to make sure there are no surprises.” I told him no, that I didn’t think we could afford that every month (wouldn’t that cost a small fortune? They must have loved to have him as a customer). He just kept standing in the sideways rain, me with no coat getting completely soaked as he tried to talk me into the Orkin “plan.” I thought I was going to float away in the torrential downpour. It was odd. My concern would have been less the termites and bugs and more the rats that were drawn to the basement from the filthy farmhouse next door. This farmhouse had pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, you name it. This house had provided me with window entertainment for years, (before we owned the green house) starting with the twin babies that were born to the sloppy, dirty country ma and pa living in the house (and in the Dark Ages) next to the green one. I remember Child Protective Service showing up a few times, once when Doris (Doris….what a fitting name for this mother) was napping in middle of the day as her two twin babies crawled out onto busy Larch Way. She “homeschooled” her children, for what it’s worth. As they grew up, one of the twins remained home at the farmhouse and had a slightly slow appearance. I have been told that this twin baby was dropped on her head at some point. You would see her roller skating down the busy road in her thin nightgown with her goats pulling her from a rope. She was maybe 14. The other became pregnant at 14 and remained home (I don’t want to nastily suggest the father, but I never saw anyone else coming or going). Homeschooled my ass, they never learned so much as to comb their hair, poor things. So one twin was off with the goats all day or riding her horse in their itty bitty little city lot around and around in a six foot circle. The other was seen occasionally with a protruding belly and bare feet sitting on the front porch or milking the goats. Doris was ruthless, a stumpy, short, bleached blond with a rather large rear end. She was always bent over in the yard doing some sort of gardening, which is why I got to know her back side so much better than her front. Just the chubby ass in the air and the stringy fried hair facing away from me. Her style was intriguing, which weeds she would choose to pull (or not to pull), or which plants she decided to put in the garden. It was so random! Did I say garden? Patches of dirt, that is more what I would say, just random patches of dirt or straw. One day she would plant them, the next day she would pull them up. There was no method to her madness that I could ever figure out. Sometimes the goats would get out and I would see Doris running out in her nightgown, barefoot (Doris was always barefoot), as she sloshed down the road chasing the goats or the dog to herd them back home and corral them in the small patch of yard. I guess they figured they lived in the country. It’s just that most people don’t milk their goats in the front yard of a busy street with carloads of shoppers on the way to the mall, some who stop and point and laugh. I even observed a Billy goat chasing a little girl that was walking to school one morning. Her father was walking with her and running from the goat as well as he yanked his daughter along. His face looked as if he were being chased by a mama Grizzley. John says that he himself was afraid of the big goat with the horns as once it got loose and ended up in his backyard munching on plums. As John tried to chase the goat off his property, the goat began to charge him. I can picture skinny John running up one of his fruit trees in fear. Seems pretty obvious that you are not in the country when your “free to roam” dog is hit by a car and your ducks stop traffic. Well, they stop traffic effectively by either being hit and killed or because people see them before they hit them and stop. Once we were walking and witnessed a car coming to a screeching halt as it hit one of their male geese waddling down Larch Way with his mate. The driver brought the poor dead goose to Doris’s door in his arms with the neck hanging grotesquely. The horrified driver and was told by the Doris’s husband….we’ll call him Mr. Doris, “Hey, that’s a great way to slow traffic!” Not the most compassionate of folks. Mr. Doris was a very good attorney who stayed out of the family limelight and was rarely seen. He was the breadwinner for Doris, the four children, and the host of animals residing on their city lot. The whole point I was trying to make is that with all their farm animals in such a tiny dirt hole, the rats could be spotted by simply walking down the alley. The whole place stunk to high heaven and looked like it should be condemned. If I won the lottery, I think I would have bought them out just to get them the hell out of Larch Way. Another story from John goes…. “once someone complained about the chickens getting hit in the busy road, so the next day, to prove a point I guess, Doris stood in her front yard and chopped the heads off her chickens.” I hated them, to be honest. Pure hatred. I was sick of their animals running all over the neighborhood and their yappy little limping dog running up and down the street, (he had already been hit by a car previously). I called Animal Control over and over, but….”gosh”…he said, “they were shorthanded.” I even took a pictures of their dog dumping over people’s trash on garbage day and rifling through it, spreading it all over the street. I took pictures of the dogs consistently shitting on our lawn and pissing on the shrubbery. But…well, I tried. Next thing you know, I get a summons in the mail to appear in court and testify as to what their dogs (and goats) had or had not done. I had taken pictures and given them to the animal control guy and asked to remain anonymous, but he showed up brightly and promptly in his big “animal control” white truck with lettering. Turns out that apparently, Doris and the mister had already been given plenty of complaint notices; they just paid the fines and kept living like they the inconsiderate idiots they were. The neighborhood had given up trying to prosecute them, we all would just shake our heads as we passed their stinky house. Later, after we owned the green house, their dogs continued with their shenanigans; their goats ate the shrubbery that we planted, leaving little brown stubs, and their chickens were over every day scratching and clucking their way through the fresh beauty bark we had spread. Needless to say, the daffodils and tulips that I planted in the beauty bark never bloomed, as the hens plowed them up just as fast as I could plant them. We told the farmhouse folks numerous times to please keep your goats, chickens, pigs, and dogs in your own yard, but they would just give us this blank silent stare. Todd found a loan for us, no surprise, and the company was American. Hmm…I thought they were all American, a sure sign that this all happened in the past few recent years. Before 2007, wouldn’t we have all gone, “of course they are American, where else would they be?” So Greenpoint Mortgage became our new lender for the “green house” (we’ll always call it the green house) at 8% interest. At that time they were still calling themselves a “mortgage company.” Funny I can even remember that name, Greenpoint, considering it was sold three times in those two years and ended up in India as Adahmi, (now called a debt collector, not to be confused with a bank or mortgage company). Let’s get the lingo straight, our loan was now with a “foreign debt collector.” We wouldn’t know that except that we just kept getting new paperwork and had to scramble around follow the leader style with each sold mortgage in order to find out who and how to pay. In the frenzy, each debt/sale transaction to a new foreign company provided fewer contacts or representatives to chat with. The paperwork sent to us with these new companies became progressively less familiar and more ambiguous to interpret. When I would call the company, I would be tossed, turned and transferred to so many times that my head would spin. Huh? This communication gap is getting us nowhere! I wasn’t digging the tone of the voice on the other end of the phone either. If I had known all my business was going to end up in India, perhaps I would have benefitted from an online course for beginning Rosetta Stone conversational East Indian. I couldn’t even follow what they wanted me to do or how to pay the mortgage. To summarize, this investment was to last only two years. We find renters to pay $1500 per month; our only loss would be the $100 per month from our HELOC that we would have to chip in for the mortgage (the loan being $1600/month). If I could tap out the figures as fast as Todd did (motor hands), I could tell you exactly how profitable it looked on paper. Well, so we throw in $100 a month, that is, if you have no repairs, no time loss or late payments with your perfect tenants, no septic issues, no floods, and no appliances that go kaput. Those are just a few of the issues to ponder. If the property is gaining in value $500 per month (as Todd showed us in a graph at 17% per year), well then we would come out right there on top, wouldn’t we? “That’s okay,” he smiled, “if you use that extra $100 a month out of your line of credit to supplement the rent for the mortgage, that is still peanuts compared to what you will make back after two years. With the rate this house is gaining in value, after two years, you will make at least 20K profit on this place, (yuck yuck), hell, maybe 50K!” So, with good renters for two years, we could just turn around and sell the property for the future value, which he projected would be roughly 350K to (no way!) 450K! We were delirious. Before we even began this insanity, there were constant unexpected pieces taken out of the cash pie which lowered our profit margin dramatically. It turns out the expenses at the house grew exponentially. Oh, and did I mention that after two years the interest rate was going up 2%? So there was no notion of trying to make a long-term plan with this house. That’s okay, we were anxious to ride off on the dusty trail to a new destination. Also, there was a substantial penalty for early payoff. Nothing extravagant, just a mere 11K! (more fine print that I neglected to read carefully. My bad). How does that work? Say for the sake of happenstance, the same day that your two year investment is up, you sell the property. Well, then in that case you don’t pay the penalty, right? In return, your rate doesn’t go up the 2% because you sell the property at exactly 12 p.m. on the exact day? That’s likely, don’t you think? Why didn’t this cross our minds? Of course the time period is going to overlap; the banks set it up that way! Did we think at we could look on the calendar on that particular date and simply approach the nice renters at the door with an, “okie dokie, time to get going, we are selling today at noon because we don’t want to pay a penalty, and also we don’t want the interest to increase our monthy mortgage by $400 per month. Sorry, hope we aren’t inconveniencing you. Tootle loo! No hard feelings!” They would just pack their bags with a farewell wave from the front of the U-Haul, children in the back? Does this seem logical? Of course not, nothing happens overnight. What Todd did not tell us is that (of course we should have known), there was not only the cost to buy the house, but also his fees that he sort of kept mumbled on the back burner, and escrow fees and taxes. Hard to speak clearly and chew at the same time. Never forget the IRS: you pay tax to acquire the property and you pay tax to sell it, don’t ever kid yourself about that. Todd sent David the paperwork to be signed, which David promptly took to his attorney. It is customary to share all closing costs between seller and buyer, but that is not what David demanded. He said, “No, I want to walk away with exactly 275K, not a penny less, so all costs are yours.” Well, that was a little unfair…but, hey, it’s David. What did we expect? Still, in this booming economy, it was a marvelous deal. So we initialed all of his changes and the heat was on. What I am trying to say here is that the costs were enormous to buy a house. It is all the hidden costs jammed in the little fine print. So, the cost of the house ended up being roughly 300K, not 275K. Thanks for sharing, David. Brian repaired the kitchen floor with new hardwood. I painted the kitchen and dining room, and we finished painting all the walls that David had just up and ditched in the living areas. It was so kind of him to leave us one of those 5-gallon buckets with about a third of a bucket of paint. Oh, the other thing I forgot to mention is that in the whole time he lived there, he never plucked weed one. The walkway and driveway had never been pressure washed as was noticeable by the slimy, mossy black surface. That’s okay, I was okay with pressure washing. Just set me up and let me go. It was raining that day, grabbed my boots, and got all the drive and walkways cleared from goo with a few day’s work. Worse yet was under the back deck that had been so neglected for a billion years that a herd of buffalo could have lived under it in the tall weeds and black tar mold. You would think that with David being so anal about cleanliness, he would have marched his ass out there and strapped on the pressure washer for a few days. Before we had even finished painting we were so pleased to have someone already call on possibly renting the house. A young fellow called and said, “I have the perfect renters for you. They are in a really big hurry, so they don’t care if the painting is finished.” I said, “Well, we still have to paint the deck.” He said, “Oh don’t worry about that, they probably won’t even set foot on it. All they want is a Wal-Mart around the block.” Wow, didn’t paint a very attractive picture to me, but let’s hear them out. To each his own. My oh my, I could shoot myself for not going with my gut instincts. “They are two disabled women so they won’t be any trouble. They just sold a house in Bothell that they inherited so there will be no trouble paying the rent.” I said, “Well, okay, why don’t we meet at the house and fill out some paperwork.” I met the two young fellows at the house and I asked for the information on the girls so I could check their credit. Oh, it turns out the “girls” were my age. The two real estate partners seemed extremely rushed, constantly on the cell phone….such an important men and all; they were all of 21. One made sure he let me know he was busy with another house they were “flipping” and had all sorts of contractors that he was dealing with. I said, “well, sorry but I need to make sure they will pay the rent.” He left angrily and called me immediately with the information on social security numbers. I called Todd for advice and asked if he could do the credit check. I told him, “they are really in a hurry to find a place, so can you get right back to me?” Well, he called back about 10 minutes later and said, “hmmmm, well, their credit isn’t so great….but I don’t see any foreclosures here….and they don’t have any rental history. It looks okay to me. I think I’d go ahead and rent to them.” I had a bad feeling from the get go and I was determined not to sign any documents until I had seen both women. Again, the young fellows were pretty disgusted with me. See…they knew they were dealing with an amateur and that I would get flustered at being rushed and them acting like I might lose the whole rental. Then there was the pressure I was feeling from Brian who was at work. I knew that if I declined these folks without really being certain that I would catch hell. The guys said that the gals were willing to pay the 1550 per month no problem. That would almost cover the mortgage! So I was ready to meet the girls. I had all my documents drawn up, paperwork on the contract, and a checklist for the damages and such. I told the guys that I needed to go over the contract and documents with them before renting and that I definitely, MOST CERTAINLY, had to meet them! I learned quickly why they did not want me to view these creatures from hell. I was nervously pacing the floors of the house waiting for the tenant arrival. All of a sudden I see a huge old battered sedan pull up with an older man wedged behind the wheel and a large woman spread out in the front seat. I say spread out because that was her only option. As she exited the car I could see that her hair was dirty and greasy and she was about 500 pounds. Worst of all were her filthy feet and toenails, which blended in so perfectly with the brown straps of her Birkenstocks that for a moment I thought she was barefoot. She struggled to the doorway and asked me if this was the house. I could tell that she was not seeing me clearly through her half-inch lenses. The looked like magnifying glasses that were so strong that her eyes were barely visible. She made no sense and didn’t answer my questions directly. She seemed schizophrenic, very shifty eyed and paranoid. After a 15 minute entrance up the two steps to the front door, she was sweating and fighting to catch her breath. I tried to get her focused on filling out the contract. “ Soooo, you are Karen, right?” I got a sick feeling in my stomach. She “looked” at me, yet didn’t really “look” at me. So, the renters…..I keep trying to forget them but they will be forever engrained in my mind as the beginning of the end….beginning of anxiety medication, that’s for sure. So, after “Karen” rolls herself in, (I couldn’t take my eyes off her exposed feet and toes), to the front step and I greet her with a, “nice to meet you.” I extended my hand (ick) to receive her short fat fingers. She had a shifty look…told me her sister did all the financial arrangements. So I asked when her sister would arrive, clearly insinuating that the deal would not be sealed without her presence. I vividly remembered telling the two real estate moguls that I had to meet the renters. PLURAL! I was shaking in my boots, so to speak….just quivering. I told Karen that I could NOT sign paperwork without the other tenant. So, here is the unreal part, the part that could have changed the whole outcome of this arrangement if only I had gone with my instincts and to hell with what Brian would think or anyone else. To hell with losing another month’s rent. As I was trying to discuss rules before move in and how the procedure would go down, Karen glanced everywhere except into my eyes. She groaned and moaned about being diabetic and continued to ignore what I was telling her, what a surprise….ok, this is so unbelievable that I have a hard time retelling the story. Karen is now inside the door, and the driver of the car, some old relic with long white hair, is parked across the street in the area marked “do not park” (it’s the sidewalk asshole). Behind him, get this, pulls up a semi moving truck and parks behind him. “What are those movers doing here?” I asked. My heart sunk. Karen said they were in a hurry and were wanting to move in that day. I said, “CLEARLY, we have not even discussed the contract and I have NOT met your sister! You will NOT be able to move in until we go over the contract with both you and your sister present!” I thought I was being reasonable, but both Karen and the two realtors looked at me in disbelief. Annoyed, they called the other sister, Kathy. Bob, the “friend” sitting in the car, went to retrieve Kathy so we could get on with the process. Now, as we are waiting around for Kathy to arrive, the movers come to the door expressing extreme anger at having to wait. “How long do we have to wait? This is costing us. Maybe we will go have lunch and come back. What’s the hold up?” I replied very firmly, “NO ONE is moving one item into this house until the contract is signed and I have met all tenants.” The movers stormed out and returned to their moving truck. So they have to spend an hour at Taco Time, I thought, big deal, better safe than sorry. Finally, Bob returned with Kathy, a replica of Karen. In a wheelchair, slightly less dirty than Karen, and just a smidge more approachable, though she would not stop talking for one second. She just rattled on, not allowing me a chance to ask any of the questions about the rental or go over any paperwork. Clearly, the sisters were completely out of their minds. The “boys,” the real estate agents, gladly did the walk through of the house with me, carefully documenting any scratches or issues. And so….the first crucial mistake was made. We signed the paperwork. It all happened so fast, the move in, the problems and issues. First of all, they had told me they had “a” dog, a small dog. Well, at move in they brought along another dog, a huge chocolate lab mix that was on his very last legs, poor thing. They said he would be no problem, he just lays around. Being an animal lover, I couldn’t have them just put him out. Okay….I said. After signing the contract, Kathy said, “Well, then there is Bob, of course he will be living here sometimes (of course!).” It turns out that Bob was the decrepit old man who was driving the “girls” to the house. There had been no mention of him before. I said well, he has to sign the contract also if he is living here, but they assured me that he just comes to visit sometimes. Next was their motorhome. “It’s okay if we bring our motorhome, isn’t it?” I said, well, not really. The back yard is a septic system and nothing can be parked there. But….well, I guess you could park it very close to the house on the driveway. We tried to be so accommodating and ended up just being a couple of fools, so easy to take advantage of because we ARE NICE PEOPLE. Because Kathy was disabled, Brian said they could drive the car into the front yard to the steps to pick her up occasionally when they needed to. We asked them if they could please use pads under their grand piano (how did they end up with a beautiful baby grand, oh yeah, they inherited their uncle’s stuff). We explained that the floors were immaculate and freshly sanded and varnished to perfection. Yeah, right. So…..here is how it turned out. The dog urinated and pooped in the house, we found out later, more often than not. The poor old fella was let out occasionally, and Bob would actually come out in his underwear (not boxers, either), no shirt, barefoot, and try to retrieve the him from across the street. Bob had no problem with coming out of the house half naked. He also had a drinking problem and was frequently seen falling into the ditches trying to get back to the house. Bob, it seems, had no other home. We let it go. Oh well, as long as they cause no problems and pay the rent, we thought, who are we to judge how they live their lives. But soon there were signs of trouble that snowballed into catastrophe. I should have known, just by basic pure instinct, but where was our intuition? Ok, I really wanted to make this work. But….as events progressed, it threw me into the most anxiety driven, stressed state that I have ever known. I watched from my window. First I saw that the motorhome was parked ON the septic…. Then I noticed that the old dog never went outside, other than the one time that he was AWOL and Bob came in his underwear to try and find him. I was wondering about the many huge trash bags they put out onto the sidewalk and left there each week. Well, of course, the neighborhood dogs (i.e. the neighbor farm), spread this trash all over the street and sidewalk. The goats continued to eat all the shrubbery we planted regardless of how many times we directly complained. I also watched their dogs take their two shits each day in the yard. Between the farmhouse, and watching what was going on at the green house, I was a basket case. Soon, it became uncontrollable. It wasn’t long before I was watching the pizza delivery driver twice a day come to their door, and the door only opened a crack, but it was clear that the trash was backed up so high that the door wouldn’t open. For some reason, both Brian and I moved with kid gloves, so intimidated and amazed at the audacity of the obvious abuse. They acted innocent, but in truth, they had been through this time and again and knew their “rights” inside and out. We were not allowed to enter their home. We were told that the law stated that they were to be given 24 hours notice of our arrival, BUT….they also had the right to decline our entry. In these early days of learning the ways of the world, we were still in the “investing” mode. We saw that the duplex across the street was for sale. How lucky for us! We met with Glen, the owner of two years. He was very cautious and said that he had bought the place two years ago for 200K and was now selling it for 400K. We couldn’t believe that in two years he made 200K. How could we go wrong with those stats? So, we talked to our friend Todd. Our expert relayed to us that, yes indeed, this was a prime piece. He would find a way to get us a loan, he assured us, and that it would be no problem. So, here we were making our second mistake, letting Todd bargain and lie to the banks in order to get us a loan. He finagled how to make us appear to make enough money to bite into this investment with our new “lines of credit” that he couldn’t wait to use up. With me not working, and already having two houses, the banks did not hesitate for a moment and did absolutely no investigation into the finances. We were given the green light. Todd did mention quickly in a very small voice that it was a “reverse mortgage” or “negative amortization.” We had no idea what that was, but Todd assured us that this meant the interest rate would increase (thereby increasing our mortgage hugely) only after two years. What we would do, he explained, was up the rent a little to cover the mortgage. The interest simply gets tacked onto the tail end of the loan and continues to add up. In two years the interest rate simply goes up 2%, we then sell and make such a huge profit that we pay the increased loan principle, as well as continuing with a higher interest rate until we can sell the property. This loan from the original bank was also later sold to various “dept collectors” in India so many times that I couldn’t keep straight who to call or who to pay. So, Litton Loan Servicing is a debt collector?? But it was not a concern to Todd because our “investment period” was to be two years. Again, we did not foresee that maybe the property would not sell after two years or that value would drop in half. In retrospect, I believe that Glen was aware that a huge change was coming to our economy and real estate investment. He mentioned that his father-in-law was in “banking.” Anyway, we fell for more, hook, line and sinker. Todd was excited that the duplex already had renters. Now were the proud parents of another piece of property and we set up a little box in the laundry for dropping off the rent. We made sure that Andrea and Jeremy, with their two children, on the bottom level knew that we were right there for any problems. Upstairs was a nice young man and his dog. That year, a week prior to Christmas, we got a message from Andrea in the duplex that the kitchen had water leaking into the seams. She failed to mention that there were two inches of water standing in the entire bottom duplex. By the time Brian could get there to check on it, within an hour, the whole first floor was flooded and the water was coming from the septic system. Now we had “gray water” (dirty sewage water) up the first five inches of dry wall and soaking the carpets throughout. As it turns out, the heavy floods of rain that week had saturated the septic and so the gray water had no where to go except to back up. We hurriedly moved all of Jeremy and Andrea’s furniture, their Christmas tree and presents, and all of their belongings out of the house. Instead of receiving rent that month, we got no payment, and they spent Christmas in a hotel while we spent our Christmas dragging up dirty carpet, paying to have the apartment professionally sanitized, fixing drywall that had now become moldy, painting, and refurnishing the apartment. Meanwhile, the situation was getting worse at the green house. Kathy had her son come to “visit.” She didn’t mention it until after three weeks when we asked if her son was staying. Again she said, no, he was leaving, but it was clear that he was not. It soon became apparent that he was dealing drugs out of the house and was high on meth 24/7. He bought a motorcycle and began wildly careening around the house making a track of mud. His own racetrack. He parked the motorhome over the septic in the back and got it stuck in mud, creating two-foot trenches in the yard. But he was unapproachable because he was so obviously out of his mind and we were sort of afraid to confront him. I was getting angry with Brian because I felt that he should go over and read them the riot act. I seethed inside as I listened to his loud motorcross bike raging. Finally, Brian went over and told him in no uncertain terms that the motorcrossing around the house was out. We informed Kathy that the rent, as stated in the contract, would increase by 50 dollars with a lengthy guest. This was about the time that we started seeing signs of total disrespect and no concern for the property whatsoever. The cops were called in, guns drawn at one point, on many occasions. Their son, it seems, was a raving lunatic with a loaded gun, selling drugs and living on the floor of the house. We trod through mud trenches to put up decorative trees across the driveway so that it was clear not to park on the lawn. However, the goats ate all the trees. The son was a very scary creature, with wild, wide eyes, and a loud and obnoxious temper that would be dangerous to provoke. Suddenly, when Brian called for the rent, there was no answer. Call after call and no answer. Finally, an answer from Kathy stating that they would get us a check. Three weeks passed. It was apparent that they had no intention of paying the rent, but we had no idea how devious they really were until later in court. I know it is hard to believe that we were still willing to let Todd lead us by the nose. Yes, yet one more piece of property that was going to get us out of this mess. Our condo investment was supposed to be a rent-to-own property, a splendid idea for a renter that wanted to build up credit and purchase the condo in two years for an agreed upon price. Tap, tap, tap on the calculator. Low and behold, the banks were still eager to lend to us because we were such a great risk (suckers). Unfortunately, as the economy tanked, there were fewer and fewer possibilities of renting the condo out. No one to rent it for enough to pay the mortgage on it. Now we get to the consequences of our dealing with banks during the economic crisis of 2008. We now have three investment properties and our house is mortgaged to the maximum amount. There is no equity left in our long owned home. I got a sort of sick feeling one day as I watched the market slowly crash. Each day I checked to see the fluctuation in the home values. I watched in horror as our two properties slowly lost more than half the value of what we paid for them. Then, I watched the value of the condo begin to plummet along with the rest. I knew that we needed to get out of this while we could still sell the condo and make a “profit” (right!), thereby at least getting the investment money back. At the rate these homes were losing value they would be worth next to nothing, but I was still hopeful that we could sell and at least break even. If we could put the condo up and sell it quickly, we would still be ahead. We decided we would rent it out until the sale came to fruition. We hired a “property management” specialist to help us find the perfect renter as we felt we had apparently been completely lacking in judgement of character. We needed a professional. “Jim Kennedy” our new “agent” found us tenants within a month! Whaddya know? We met the woman of his choosing at the condo and we explained to her that we would need to be showing the condo for sale purposes when possible but would give her notice of the showing. What good landlords we were? She seemed like the perfect tenant and proved to us her steady employment. We didn’t see it coming. How many times could we be had? First came the refusal to let the property be shown at any time for any reason. Second came, you guessed it, refusal to pay the rent. Apparently our judgement in real estate agents matched our judgement in investments! After months of nagging, our tenant dropped by a check at one point, but it was marked “insufficient funds” by the bank. After that, she refused to answer the phone or the door for six months. When the phone once was answered it was by someone who claimed to be her daughter informing us that her mother was in the hospital having a very dangerous surgery. Oh, so when you are having surgery you just don’t pay the rent? I was flabbergasted. We went through the legal motions. We taped a three-day eviction notice on her door and waited. Rather than being in the hospital, it appears that she was busy talking to her own attorney. We were told that our eviction notice was invalid as she did not come to the door in person. Confounding us further, her attorney also told her that she was not obligated to answer her door to us. In the end, we tricked her into answering the door by trusting one our friends to knock on her door and physically put the notice in her hands. To our amazement, she wrote us a threatening letter claiming that we were harassing her. We were forced to continue to pay the 200$ water/sewer bill, as well as try to keep making the mortgage payments as she sat in the condo and refused to answer the door. Here begins our education in rental/tenant laws and an introduction to slimy attorneys. After six months of nonpayment we finally were told that we could take all of her possessions out of her house and place them on the front lawn. By this point, we were deeply in debt and in arrears with paying the mortgage, not to mention attorney fees on top of that. A policeman was in charge of overseeing our struggle to remove her furniture. Of course, we had to pay him for his time. He said, “you know,” after I leave here you can take what you want.” Looks like this eviction would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, our condo tenant had nothing of value, just broken down furniture and junk. We learned that she had been fired from her office job and wanted on felony charges for writing fraudulent checks (one to us for the rent..icing on the cake) and skimming money each month from her employer. At this point, it all started to seem comical. Rental management specialist? It is all a sort of blur, the domino effect of loss that ensued and how quickly I was actually thinking that not only would we possibly lose our investments, but we might lose our house, too. However, I couldn’t think quite in those terms as I still believed what our agent had said, that at the worst, we just would not make a profit. Having rid ourselves of our condo bimbo, we focused on how to remove the destructive tenants in the green house. Yep, time for another lawyer, and wouldn’t you guess, we picked the oldest, most decrepit slime ball in all of Everett. From the get go he was trying to make deals with the tenants to come through with the rent, drawing out the process as he charged us. We repeatedly assured him that we had already tried getting the rent payment by every means short of entering the house with a loaded gun. This tiny creepy skeletal old man seemed to just want to put off the inevitable, not listening to our descriptions of the tenants and their intentions, as he filled his coffers. We went to his smoke filled small office. The walls and carpet reeked of 1000 dead cigarettes. His secretary was using an outdated typewriter rather than a computer and appeared to have been hired from an employment service that was quite mistaken about her office skills. She later asked me if I was interested in helping out her son’s football team financially in return for possibly…..hee hee….losing our invoice for our attorney charges? Wow. The day we were to meet in court Brian and I arrived on time and waited, nerves wracked. After an hour or so in came Kathy and Bob, Kathy in her wheelchair and both looking so very sad. While we paid our lawyer hourly we were asked to be patient as Kathy discussed the situation with her “free” lawyer. Apparently, the court provides an attorney in the lobby to make sure tenants do not get taken advantage of. Hours later, yes were paying, tick tock…cha ching, cha ching…our lawyer comes to us and says that it’s “all settled,” that Kathy had agreed to pay by check the next day! How about that! We were given no choice. Round two, where Kathy, Karen, Bob, the crazy son, and their two dogs get another three months of free rent as we see ourselves losing yet another investment property. Back to court we go. This time we are given clear instruction on eviction. We were told by the Lynnwood Police department that they would “pick” the date that we could evict our tenants. On that date, an officer would show up at his leisure and we had one hour to move their possessions and place them on the front lawn. However, this police officer told us in no uncertain terms that we were responsible for all items, and if there was theft, we would need to reimburse the tenants. He was very clear that if anything was taken off the property, we would pay for it. We were at a loss as to how to handle this as we lived on a busy road. How were we going to keep surveillance all night? All week? We were called an hour ahead of time by a police officer who stated we had our “hour”; he was ready. We arrived across the street to start emptying their possessions. It was difficult to gather a group to help us move with such short notice. We needed a small army to dump this many belongings onto the lawn. We were met by Bob who was still in the house and actually walking around in his whitey tighties and otherwise naked and talking to himself. I asked the officer is this was really protocol, that the tenants could be in the house when we booted their stuff out? Maybe I used some expletives. As I removed their belongings I found myself in a rage, pitching their furniture, lamps, dishes, etc., out the door and onto the lawn. As I pitched out their foot-high, ceramic, white “Jesus” statue, the head broke off (how fitting). The officer looked me in the eyes and shook his head and said if I did that again he would arrest me. Everything was to be placed gently on the lawn. We were also ordered to provide and pay for inside storage for their grand piano. How to move it? He said he supposed we would have to hire a mover. Well, we figured we may as well make a party out of it. My sister, nieces, nephews, and friends all came to help us on the guestimated date. In the back yard, the tenants had amassed a huge collection of heavy life-sized statues, everything from baseball players to kings and queens. I will never forget (and have a laugh each time) as I remember my nephew, Tanner, loading up a Native American chief figure larger than himself onto a dolly and trudging through the yard. There were some funny things…After everything was moved, we watched until dark as passersby stopped, looked around frantically, and tried to quickly load up their cars with possessions. After shouting out to them, we decided to put a sign in the yard that said, “EVICTION. DO NOT TAKE ITEMS IN YARD!” When this approach did not deter thievery, Brian rigged up a motion sensor that flashed bright lights on the property when someone was trying to sneak and “steal” from the front yard. We kept guard all night. At least we had a laugh that evening at the lunacy of the process. The tenant’s boxes and possessions stayed on the front lawn for a week. I was happy to go and fill some of the boxes with their dog shit while we waited to see the turn of events. Would they get their stuff? The next week I got a call from some movers stating that they had been hired to remove the tenants belongings and take them to a storage unit. This is AFTER the police officer said we would be responsible for paying for storage for them. I explained to the mover that his company quite possibly would not be paid for the move he was doing and to be careful. I gave him just a snippit of our story. Have them pay up front, I said. He called later and said that he got payment through VISA. I encouraged him to make sure he takes “all” the boxes in the yard and not to leave any as it may be valuable. There was some satisfaction at having filled them all with dog shit. Unfortunately, the damage was so severe to the house that is was not repairable and would never be as pristine as it had once been on David’s meticulous watch. They had been putting out cigarettes by crushing them onto the beautiful hardwood floors and dumping their pasta, pizza and puke right onto the floor. The stench was severe with stomach bile and used hypodermic needles in one room that we had to scrape up with gloves on. Garbage was piled to the ceiling inside and outside. The yard was ruined with muddy deep tracks and holes as well as a crushed septic tank. Needless to say, we were not able to rent or sell the property in time to save it from foreclosure. This leads me back to the duplex, our final investment nightmare. Then we can discuss the aftermath of the tenant disasters, and finally focus on how we lost these properties and our own home to foreclosure, and I can assure you there was no room for a breath in between. It became clear that Andrea and Jeremy, the bottom level renters of the duplex, were no longer going to be paying rent. Each month they were late with their payments with checks, and they were coming to us from their parents, their church, and friends of theirs. It was not a good sign. But after payment stopped completely, it was three months before we could get them to open their door. They informed us that they had small children, and under no circumstance does the law allow us to boot them out. Jeremy had lost his job, and apparently the pyramid scheme selling health products that they jointed to make ends meet did not pan out so well. Finally, the door was answered with a peek from inside and we were told that they were moving in with their parents. I nearly wanted to ask them if we could come along as well. It was as if each tenant thought we were wealthy slum lords trying to evict innocent rent-paying tenants. So, the bottom rental became empty. The upstairs had been rented to a young fellow and his dog at the time we purchased the duplex and were very good tenants apparently, at least for the last owner, Glen. However, the same month we bought the duplex the renter informed us that he and his dog would be moving at the end of the month. You can see how we started to feel like this was a personal thing between us and karma. This left the upstairs apartment empty as well as the down. It was a very tough year for the economy and people were losing their jobs and moving in with family just to keep afloat. As the duplex remained empty, Brian found his kindness again being taken advantage of. He had met a young man through work who was having a hard time making ends meet with his on-again, off-again seasonal construction work. We welcomed “Clint” into the green house temporarily until he could find more permanent employment. I remained stern about the NO DOG policy after our experience with “Bob” and his 20-year-old shitting chocolate lab. So Clint moved into the green house on a short-term basis after the bile was cleaned and repairs made to damage as best we could. We charged only half the rent so that Clint would have a chance to get back on his feet. Funny thing though, sometimes I would see a cocker spaniel in his truck sitting in the drive. Remember I lived across the street. Sometimes the dog would not be in the truck and other times there he would appear, pathetically waiting in the driver’s seat. I put two and two together and said to Clint, “I can clearly see that you have a dog that sits part-time in your truck. I know you have a dog.” Having more sympathy for homeless pets than people, I told him to please just let the dog come and go freely. Very grateful and a little bit shy at the deceit, he assured me the dog was no problem. This dog turned out to be the least of my worries. As the duplex became empty, Clint was eager to move into it. And why not? He was such a handyman, he insisted, and could keep the place up and do small repairs as thanks for our cutting the rent in half. Soon, I began to notice that Clint never left his apartment except to go rollerblading down the street to catch a bus to go to the roller rink. Besides skating a few times a week, he spent his entire days smoking marijuana and playing on his X-box with his massive screen TV. I could see this train wreck coming. I was finally catching on. No rent, and more no rent. We finally sent him a letter asking him to please leave at the end of the month. He responded with the threat of hiring a lawyer for harassment. He said, “I know my rights.” Clint continued to come and go for another few months as now all three properties were left with severely overdue mortgages. If we saw him outside of his apartment we trailed after him to ask (gently of course) about leaving. I raged inside as we tip toed around his arrogance. by the timeClint managed to exit the scene, in his own damn time, it was too late for us to salvage any investment. We were forced to foreclose all three properties. As we had renters who refused payment, our own finances continued to dwindle. All that we had remaining had gone to try and keep ourselves afloat. It was during this time that Brian was laid off of his own job along with a million other U.S. citizens. His unemployment check did not even cover our own mortgage, much less any left over to salvage our investments. A new real estate agent was very eager to come over and strategize about selling my house of 25 years through a short sale. This meant that we would get nothing for the house but at least save ourselves from bankruptcy and foreclosure on our own house. We would have to leave as soon as it sold. (leave where?). He advised us of some improvements to make the new owners “happy,” a light touch here, a tid here a tad there. A few throw pillows and maybe spruce up the yard. This way our house would sell sooner in the short sale. Someone could jump right into my place, sitting at the pool, their children enjoying a swim. The bathroom that was a little outdated. Heavens, my sea foam wallpaper was out fo date! No, we decided against the short sale. I would not have it. We kept making our house payments until our savings ran completely out. It was then that I started trying to take the advice of TV commercials. Hey, let’s see what the bank will do for us. After all, during the 25 years that I had the house and made payments, Well Fargo must have profited over a million dollars. Maybe we could do some sort of refinance that would stretch out the payments and reduce them to an affordable level. I was told many times by Wells Fargo, “Ma’am, we don’t want your house.” “Okay,” I would say, “well can we refinance?” Some that I talked to on the phone were hopeful and encouraged me to go online to a site that was helping foreclosure victims. Oh that one? Oh, that one is not for people like me. This was lacking or that was lacking. No ma’am, we can’t help you. Next week, yes we can help you. Next, oh…not sure who you talked to but we can’t help you. I received calls all during waking hours. How about you fill out this 10-page document and see if we can change your terms. Who were these people talking to me on the other line? Some seemed as if they almost wanted to be your best friend, like they had nothing to do with the actual bank. As if they were hired to answer phones simply to try to collect money, but not a shred of financial knowledge. I never got the same answer or advice twice. After filling out the paperwork, I received an answer a few months down the line. No, it turns out that the best offer they could give me was to defer my mortgage payment for six months, and then at the end of that period I would be required to pay it all back. I laughed. “Hm…so we are unemployed, have not a penny to our name, but in six months I am going to pay back what amounted to 7K? How does that work?” Back and forth we went for months until finally an agent from the bank said, “um..you are going to lose your house.” I said “thank you.” Apparently, they did want my house. Finally a shred of honesty. There was a representative was in my driveway within the week looking at how best to represent the house for a new buyer after the foreclosure was finished. We sought the advice of a foreclosure attorney who said, “what took you so long? You should have filed for bankruptcy months ago!” Why on earth would you spent your last penny on making mortgage and home equity loans?” We tried to buy back our house the next year as it still sat in foreclosure for a price that we actually could have afforded. Alas, they cannot resell to the prior owner. There are laws against that. The hose was sold eventually for a pittance. We could have stayed at our house longer until we were physically kicked out, but I could not sink to that level of embarrassment in our neighborhood. We stayed long enough to sell off what we could of appliances and anything of value to raise enough money to see us through renting until jobs could be found. Staying in the neighborhood was not an option. I could already see the inquisitive neighbors watching as I sold trees from my yard with an “hmmmmph” attitude that said, “tee hee.” Even Tom next door asked to buy the grapes in the grape arbor (how about a punch in the face?). Sure, you can have the ones that did not get the Kool-aid. He also bought the riding lawn mover. Guess we wouldn’t be needing that. So, where to move after 25 years, hmmm. Where in the world are Leisa and Brian? We tossed around a few ideas and came up with a beautiful resort island that was only a ferry ride from our home. Because I was so devastated, Brian was bending over backward trying to find something that would excite me, something to take away the pain. This location seemed like another state with the ferry distance and that part suited me fine. However, renting in our situation was not as easy as I had figured. I had not accounted for what we looked like on paper. Having payed the mortgage every month on time did not matter. Having no jobs, no income, four foreclosures, and a bankruptcy DID matter. We were looked upon as trash. We were turned down on all applications for rental. We stayed at our house until we finally found someone who felt pity enough on us and would finally reluctantly rent to us, but only with a very high deposit and three months worth of rent ahead of move in. We would start over. So, that is where we headed, on that day, with my two Kwanson cherry trees in the back of my white GMC and a moving company with all of our belongings. I did not look back (what fer?) and have never returned to 17008 Larch Way. Hey, it’s only material.