A dream realized

We bought a house!

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A dream deferred came true yesterday: We successfully closed on a beautiful house sitting on almost an acre of wooded land in a location where we’re ecstatic to live.

This was our second attempt at buying a home, and a huge victory for us because of the hard road we took to arrive at this point:

Two weeks after we married, I moved into husband’s house when my apartment lease was up. His house was only 11 miles northeast of my apartment, but it may as well have been in another state. It took me more than an hour to drive to and from work. It took me almost an hour to drive into the city. I quickly felt cut off from friends. It took a Herculean effort to participate in my former life’s activities because getting to those activities took so much longer. Many times, I gave up and withdrew because I hated spending so much time in a car. Weeknights became a monotonous, depressing routine of going to work, coming home, and doing nothing fun because I was too tired to go back out and too upset about that fact to want to do anything fun with husband at home. Then I grew resentful for the life bleeding out of me. Husband accused me of taking the long way to get places, then suggested I simply leave for work and social outings when traffic wasn’t heavy. Which is most of the day. Then I grew even more angry that he couldn’t understand: We simply lived far from the city and everything we used to do.

The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that his house was a classic bachelor pad, complete with furniture and personal items from roommates who hadn’t lived there in two years, cigarette burns on the carpet he’d never bothered to replace, and a garage so packed with junk I couldn’t park my car in it.

The weekend I moved in, I had to ask my movers to kindly move some of his stuff out of the way so my stuff could fit. Few things have hurt me so deeply as him not making room for me in his home.

Before you think this is a post about trashing my husband, let’s review my part in this:

I cleaned his home to my liking but yelled at him for “making” me do work he should have done. I started clearing out his garage and threw away items in which I saw no value but which sometimes held real sentimental value for him. I alternated daily between crying about my isolation and berating him for the living situation he “forced” us into. (I had my own paycheck. If I wanted real, quick change, I could have paid for another apartment where I wanted to be, but I felt that we were married, and I should live with my husband.) I really berated him for having his house on the market but doing nothing to improve its curb appeal, its interior, or its affordability. He had a price he wanted and would not budge because come hell or high water, he was going to profit off this house.

I couldn’t have cared less if he made money from its sale. I just wanted out – of the house or the marriage. If the former didn’t happen soon, the latter would.

After a few heart-to-hearts with his realtor and my dad, who is a real estate agent, we started making the necessary changes that would move the house to sell. We painted doors and stairwells, hired professional maids to deep-clean, and purged stuff we didn’t need – an outward show of the internal emotional purges we were simultaneously making to put the past two months behind us and move on.

Meanwhile, we put an offer on a lovely house in the heart of the one area where we agreed we could live. Our goal: Move by Thanksgiving. We began the ardurous process of collecting paperwork and negotiating a home purchase and loan. I could see a light at the end of our long, traffic-jammed, Animal House tunnel.

Husband’s house finally received an acceptable offer. We planned to close on our new house on a Thursday, and sell his house two days later. We’d be in our new house a week before Thanksgiving, tightly meeting our goal.

As November ticked by, we grew excited about our new pad. We booked a mover. I browsed home decor sites while daydreaming about the way I would decorate. Husband made mental notes about finishing off the basement and establishing a man cave. We told all our friends we were moving back toward the city, and we would soon be able to join in their fun again.

Three days before our closing, the appraisal came back $21,000 under our purchase price. Our VA loan would only cover the appraised value, so unless our seller agreed to reduce the price, we’d have to pay cash to cover the gap between appraised value and contracted price. He refused to budge at all. The next day, our lender broke the news that their underwriters could not approve husband as a co-borrower after all, because he is self-employed and his business, though it has been growing and making large investments in equipment and staff to handle the growth, has shown too big a loss in the two years past for them to trust him to pay a mortgage. (Never mind that he has had one for five years and never missed a payment.) But they could approve me alone for the mortgage. Would we like to do that?

There was our prisoner’s dilemma: Do I take on the mortgage in my name only, even though as an individual with just my income, assets and liabilities I have no business taking on a loan that large? Do I take the risk of our new, shaky marriage surviving long enough to count on husband’s paycheck also supporting our household and my credit score?

For husband: Does he let the note be created with my name only listed as the owner of the house? (Because that is absolutely what would happen. If the mortgage is in my name only, so is the property.) Does he take the risk of our shaky marriage surviving long enough to see a return on his invested paychecks of having a place to live as well as future equity and eventual profit when we sell and move on?

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After several calm but intense discussions over the next 36 hours, we decided we would not let our emotional attachment to the house lead us into a bad financial investment by overpaying for a house. Nor would we make a bad marriage investment by giving me outsized control over what will likely be the largest type of purchase we’ll ever make together.

We walked away from our dream.

But husband’s house was still selling in two days. So on the day we were supposed to close on a house and open a much better chapter in our newlywed life, I searched for apartments instead. Husband angrily went to work. He was so disappointed that our only recourse was to “downgrade” to an apartment that he refused to visit complexes with me. I booked an apartment in a familiar area near my old apartment and informed the movers about the change in destination.

A new wife, picking out her and her husband’s first joint home without her husband there or caring at all, has to be one of the saddest sights.

When I handed my ID to the leasing agent to begin our application, I noticed that I still hadn’t changed my last name. I had intentionally kept my maiden name through our European honeymoon because I didn’t have enough time to update my passport in the eight weeks between our wedding and the trip. But now, two months post-honeymoon, what was I waiting for? Was I subconsciously giving myself one less piece of paperwork to change back when we divorced – which,  considering the extreme frustration we felt toward each other, seemed plausible? Was I really going to let this hiccup ruin us?

Enough, I thought. We’re stronger than this. We’re so disappointed, and it’s okay to feel that for a while. But we have each other. We will still have a roof over our heads. We’ll be less stressed because we’re getting a place close to our work and our friends that belonged to neither of us before marriage, so there is no territory and there are no memories attached. We have two crazy dogs who love us and will help us fill this apartment with more love. We will work to get through this.

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Looking back upon the last 14 months, we needed to live in our little apartment crucible so we could work out some big issues before embarking on a more permanent home. (God is always in details like this.) We needed to improve our communication about expectations for the state of our living space, when we would each be coming and going, and when we would be home for each other. We needed to realize that stuff is just stuff, and sentimentalism is okay until you can’t walk around one of your two bedrooms because it’s so full of furniture, clothes, and tchotchkes. We needed to establish a household budget, and learn to stick to it.

Maybe most importantly, we needed to learn how to tolerate each other when we’re upset. One thousand square feet doesn’t allow you stew in isolation for very long. You can still hear your husband’s TV show blaring through the bedroom wall. He can still hear you as you try to vent to your mom on the phone. If you become hungry and want a snack from the kitchen, you’re going to inevitably see your offending spouse when you try to get one. You also learn not to go completely bonkers on each other because you share walls with other tenants, and someone calling the police could make for an awkward evening. We learned how to forgive quickly and sincerely, and move on.

I don’t think we’d be as strong as we are now, and in as much love as we are, if not for this apartment.

It was work, but one day about 10 months after we moved in, husband turned to me and said, “We can start looking at houses again, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m home wherever you and the dogs are.”

That’s how I know we’re ready for this house. With those words, it felt like God was saying, “Ok. I had to have you guys work on what is really important to a marriage and family. Now I’ll let you have the dream you want.”

This time, everything that could go right when finding and purchasing a home did. We found what we wanted for a price we could afford. We reached quick and fair compromises with the sellers about needed repairs. The appraisal came back in line with the purchase price. Our loan approval came through as expected, with no last-minute surprises. Because we had a “last time,” we were better prepared to make “this time” successful.

Yesterday, after 14 months of saving, going without, postponing, and growing, we finally received keys to our future family home.

The sellers told us at closing that we’ll love the dogwood and myrtle trees in bloom once spring arrives. They advised that if we put up a bird feeder or two in the backyard, we’ll be treated to the sight of all kinds of birds gathering there. We’ll see a menagerie of animals walking through the backyard: possums, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and deer. It’s a good house with many good memories. They hope we enjoy it as much as they did.

We cannot wait!

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