In the Suburbs / "Catalyst for selling in this horrible housing market"
About 18 months ago, I saw a small ad in the Connecticut Post asking for people who were potentially interested in teaching in China. At the time, my business was uncertain, my wife's job had just been eliminated and we were struggling to make mortgage payments and pay bills.
"Why not?" my wife asked. "We have nothing to lose."
Her response surprised me, because she has always been the voice of reason and logic. Suddenly, she was letting her adventuresome side come out and her tone was actually exhilarating. We were both excited about this potential new chapter in our lives.
Within a couple of months, I received a response to my letter of intent and our contact, Raymond, invited us to come to Flushing, Queens, and meet with him and his boss, the gentleman who ran the program. We made that visit exactly a year ago and learned about the program, which actually sounded like a dream opportunity.
The commitment was at least six months -- preferably a year -- in Beijing. They would provide a two-bedroom, rent-free apartment, a small salary and the assurance of at least 20 hours a week. While I had the teaching background and would teach writing, reading and related subjects, my wife was invited to teach English as a second language to ensure that there was a double salary.
Reality hit us about an hour into our meeting when the euphoria dissolved and we realized that we'd have to sell or rent our home. Then there was the question of the dogs. We knew our daughter would take our little dog, Sadie, but two dogs would be impossible. Already, there was a lot to consider.
Fortunately we were able to sign a simple contract, and note that our final commitment was contingent on whether our house was sold by December 2009 to ensure that we'd be able to leave for Beijing in time for the Chinese New Year.
We remained excited as we de-cluttered and prepared the house for sale. We also remained realistic. We had explored the idea of a rental, but learned quickly that our chances of getting a tenant who would cover our mortgage and then some were very unrealistic in this tough housing market.
We also interviewed a rent management company, added that monthly cost to our required payment and our enthusiasm began to deflate. "We really have no choice but to sell," I told my wife. "Actually, I was going to suggest that we put the house on the market even before the China possibility came along."
My wife agreed and within six weeks, we had taken our very lived-in home and most of our debris and transformed that home into a very presentable for-sale, property.
We had so much stuff, I simply never dreamed we'd pull it off. I dusted myself off after burying the blessed statue of St. Joseph, the good luck saint for selling homes among other things, and hoped for the best.
We were assured the house was priced to sell and we set our sights on China. Over the first three months, we held the "traditional" tag sale, had a number of showings and honestly thought we had a shot at selling the place. That was nearly a year ago.
I also investigated putting our most valuable household items in storage, finding spots for our cars for the year and selling everything but the main items at a professional house sale. That would mean when we returned from China, we would have no place to live, no roots and a clean slate.
After going through this extensive exercise, the reality is that the house hasn't sold and we've learned the harsh lesson about today's wobbling housing market. While most of the lookers have liked the house and some have even asked about white picket fences and wheelchair access, they've never returned. And the overall market continues to skew toward buyers who are after fire sale prices, make demands that are bizarre and hold sellers hostage with horrific negotiations. There are very few housing market horror stories we haven't heard.
We took all the loss leaders into consideration, have even lowered the price significantly and remain optimistic. China has become a fleeting memory.
On the plus side of that disappointment, however, my business has improved, I now have a paying position at the Fairfield Museum, my wife's social work practice is getting stronger and we learned that the organization, that would have handled our China assignment, apparently left a few key things out, including a method of handling our loss of medical insurance and how to deal with catastrophic illness.
While we haven't totally given up on China, we are looking at it now as a possible short trip to celebrate our house sale, and not as an assignment.
The exercise and ordeal of putting the house on the market and not selling by our timetable has also motivated us to de-clutter even more, start some real packing and really look for homes in Milford or Orange or in the Trumbull/Shelton or Huntington area.
For right now, despite this miserable market, we are not planning to lower the price of the house again. There is a part of us that remains optimistic that a buyer will still come along. Perhaps when the heat breaks and the grass looks greener than it has, our broker will consider another open house.
China did prove to be a wonderful catalyst to move us to the next stage of our lives and I'm still a believer that things happen for all the right reasons. I can only hope in the near future to be able to write that the house is under contract at long last and that we survived the agonizing negotiation of arriving at a fair price. But I'm taking nothing for granted in this highly volatile market.
Steven Gaynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.