As I Grew Older

April 26, 2009

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
My dream.

And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
The wall.

I am black.

I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.

My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

-Langston Hughes

New Dance Move: The Housing Half-Step

April 21, 2009

As most quarterlifers know, when it rains it pours. It is rare to have one life event occur without others following close alongside or behind. The first 4 months of this year have been no exception to that rule for my family. This last week broached flood stage. Life has been coupled with long days on the road, my daughter’s surgery (which went perfectly fine) and a good lesson in the real estate market.

My wife and I have had many conversations lately about where we go next in life. The conversations can be stressful despite their necessity. We both know that we do not wish to make a permanent home in International Falls, and I receive my bar examination results in less than one week. Throw on top of that a media-proclaimed sour economy and relative job security in working for my state government which has arguably the best health insurance I will probably have in my life.  Housing costs in International Falls are very low compared to the rest of the countries but because the area is touristy we make up for low housing costs in terms of groceries and gas prices. Finally, Congress and the President has manufactured a tax credit which gives first times home buyers $8,000 if they stay in the home three years of more. Let’s also not forget that mortgage rates are pretty stellar at this point in time. A lot of us could not secure student loans at 5% interest rate or less. What would you do?

Caryn (my wife) and I have been trying to figure out a way to accurately compare financial and economic reasons for staying in International Falls for three more years against various social, psychological and other reasons which are difficult to express in numbers. Bankers and realtors are eager to help with the first part of the equation by measuring your earnings and credit score. When you get away from the number side of things the bankers and realtors are not the best counselors, but they do manage to shed their financial motives to a limited degree. With the information available to us, we decided to try to locate a house in International Falls for the past three weeks that would suit us for three years. What follows in the paragraphs below is a summation of our experience with the local real estate market in our conquest to secure our first home, and escape apartment life for good.

We have been looking at several houses with various sizes, shapes, locations and prices. Some have wonderful river views, others have basement layouts that could confuse even the best cheese seeking government lab rat and the remaining ones each have their own quirks. We found less than a handful that we truly liked with most of them being at the top or exceeding our price range. However, one of the realtors we have been working with in recent weeks informed us on Tuesday evening that the most wonderful little house was coming on the market the following morning, and it would be worth our time to check it out.

We took her up on the offer and inspected the property the following morning. Her eye for detail hit a home run as far as we were concerned. She had managed to locate us what I consider to be a dream starter home, if there is such a term. After we left the property, Caryn and I couldn’t stop talking about the house. At the end of the day we ended up calling the realtor to ask for a second showing the next morning. We still liked it just as much. But that is when things got interesting!

Prior to leaving the property, our realtor informed us an offer had already been placed on the house, but full of contingencies that frustrated the seller upon presentation of the offer. We elected to jump into the game as buyer number two. We spent about forty-five minutes working our way through a mountain of paper work in order to convey our interest to the seller. We received news a few hours after our offer to the sellers that they were going to work with us on our offer because we had far less contingencies (only a home inspection and financing) than the first buyer. Excitement . . . which was very short lived.

A couple hours later after the first phone call from the realtor we finally received the first counter offer. We had the wind knocked out of us with how little the seller moved; less than 1% down from the original asking price. Frustrated together, we decided to sleep on it. The next morning we elected to increase our offer on the house price by five percent and eliminate a few other conditions originally imposed in our first offer. The realtor called us hours later after our second offer with the second counter offer. Another brick! Not only were we informed that the seller was now asking his original asking price again, the realtor informed us that two more buyers were coming forth with separate offers in addition to ours. The only thing we could really say to each other was that the seller was dealing from a position of power and in a most enviable position, which is probably a complete anomaly from the rest of the housing market.

After talking for a solid hour, Caryn and I ended up telling the realtor that we rejected the seller’s second counter offer and we were exiting the bidding war. The realtor pleaded with us to stay in it. The encouragement to stay “in it” was not subtly being driven by the six percent commission her office would be collecting on the transaction from the seller. After a few minutes of chatting, we made it clear we had no interest in paying more than the asking price. And here is why.

I, along with every other citizen in Koochiching County and the rest of the free world, have access to some critical information. From my standpoint, it is critical that you understand where the adverse party is coming from in their rationales and reasons. By visiting the county auditor, treasurer, recorder and assessor, I was able to learn what the seller paid for the home, when he/she purchased the home, whether he/she financed the house or a mortgage existed (along with most of the terms of the mortgage), how much property taxes are per year and how much the local Realtors are collecting for commission in the area on the sale of a home. With the assistance of a little Google-ing, I was able to locate the interest rates from the year in which the seller purchased the home. My information told me the seller had only had the “starter dream house” for less than seventeen months and he/she believed the value of the property had increased by fourteen and one-half percent in that time. In my opinion, this amounted to a “flip.”

Equally, and probably more, important to knowing seller’s position is knowing your own limits and sticking to them. My wife and I could afford the housing and utility payments easily, even at the seller’s full asking price. We have run through our monthly budget at least once per day in the last month, a lot of it with the assistance of the banks with whom we were seeking pre-approval on mortgages. But on this house we were not willing to go any higher. We were also able to say that we completely envied the seller’s position and hope to find ourselves in the seller’s position one day with a house of our own on the market. We were both extremely satisfied with our decision to exit the bidding war. We are trudging back to our rented apartment, looking at the rapidly inward moving walls hoping that they hold up until we locate the next potential house for us.

At this point in the dance of life, we feel like we have taken a very good half-step towards home ownership. While we did not get a home that we thought would be an excellent fit for us we did get the one thing that people always get when life’s events do not go in their favor or according to plan: experience. We have become familiar with the house buying process, which can be an extremely intimidating even in life if you have interest in it, and learned how to do our research in securing what should be the best deal possible for us. We have used several different bargaining chips in our negotiations including property price/value, closing costs, realtor’s fees, fixtures (appliances and personal property), improvements to the property prior to closing and closing date, just to name a few. It probably goes without saying that the more information you have the better off you are, regardless of what it is you may be doing.

Thank you PostSecret

April 19, 2009

Sometimes PostSecret has heartbreaking messages for us. Sometimes elated ones. Sometimes, it just reminds us that we aren’t alone.


2M4M for Teabagging

April 16, 2009

Urban dictionary needs to be the first stop of anyone developing a national movement. If you plan on using an acronym or slogan for your cause, it may be best to make sure that your term is not already in use. Let us take, for example, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). Their new initiative to ban gay marriage rights is called “Two Million for Marriage”. Now, “Two Million for Marriage” would have been a fine slogan (fine, if you disregard their desire to strip couples of their rights to profess their love for one another. But that’s a different topic). No, NOM (insert LOLcat joke here) would like you to refer to their initiative as 2M4M. Seriously. It’s on their website. I don’t know about you- but I’ve searched personal ads before, so maybe I was one of the few in the know. But a quick search of Urban Dictionary gives us:

M4M: Abbreviation for men seeking men in an online chat room.

Look how easy that was. Ok, maybe thats a little harsh. I mean, its possible NOM just wanted something easy to put on their signs. But what of the national Tax Day Tea Party movement. This group of people came together over their hatred of taxation and decided that a nation wide tea party on April 15th would do the trick. I don’t agree, but whatevs. The self-reflective part of thier initiative comes in their first major action- mailing tea bags to the white house. And how have they promoted this? By telling thier followers to “Teabag the White House” and Teabag Obama”. You can even follow them on Twitter ( Apparently I am “perversion literate,” according to Jon Stewart. How I know about teabagging has to do with John Waters so get your mind out of the gutter. But, again, a few quick seconds on Urban Dictionary and we get:

Teabagging: To have a man insert his scrotum into another person’s mouth in the fashion of a teabag into a mug with an up/down (in/out) motion.

So please- If you’re a right wing organization bent on taking your message public, spend some time on Urban Dictionary. All we need is Rick Santorum to sponser an initiaitive to revive the economic policies of the old west and call it Saddleback America.