Once upon a time, in summer 2012, we sold our forever home, gave away our pets, left our jobs and emigrated from the USA to New Zealand, with our 4 year old and 6 year old in tow. Oh, and I was 34 1/2 weeks pregnant with Baby #3. It was interesting. Some days. A lot of the time it was just really, really freaking hard. We moved because we did not want to spend the rest of our lives wondering What If, but when we did move, we found that we were pretty much just filled with the gaping hole of regret and remorse.
When we realized that we weren’t just finding it hard to adapt, but that a life in New Zealand was not the life for us, we were thrown into even more turmoil. Desperate to move back to the States, we knew if we made the leap – and left the safety net of the husband’s job – we would be moving once again into a deep murky sea of uncertainty. The one thing we knew that we had to do, was to make a promise of stability for the kids and ourselves. For us, this stability meant not moving again. If we could make that promise to the kids – that we really would never move again – then maybe we would feel marginally better about the fact that we uprooted them from the life we knew and dragged them half way round the world, only to relocate again just as they started to feel settled.
We needed a house. And a place to move to. We wanted a fresh start, we started Googling. After weeks of investigating options online, we decided that Portland, Maine would be our target destination. It seemed to come up over and over again when we started researching great, affordable places to raise kids, and we were desperate to move to be near the sea. The Pinterest-y images of cobbled streets and brick buildings, plus the lure of an easy train ride to Boston pushed us over the edge. Neither of us had ever been to Maine, but sometimes you just need to have a leap of faith. We decided.
With giant decision number one under our belt, we then set about finding a house. We knew that having no jobs lined up would potentially be a huge (and possibly insurmountable) barrier to getting a mortgage, but we had to believe that we could make it work. The hubster suggested that we look for a house which we could rent-to-own, allowing us to live in one place and purchase it as soon as we were able. I have to admit I was ridiculously skeptical.
But, since we were operating partly in the realm of desperation and partly in the realm of almost-fantasy, he started working on it. He emailed a bunch of realtors, and after a hefty succession of no’s, he found someone willing to at least try to help us find this mythical house. Meanwhile, we were obsessively looking at house listings, desperate to find the perfect combination of space and neighborhood and good schools. Of course, not only had we never been to Portland, we only knew one person who had visited. So our concrete knowledge went as far as knowing that there is a great donut shop downtown.
We created a sort of imaginary view of the city. Overlays of maps and school districts and neighborhoods and individual houses for sale, all in our respective heads. Feeling trapped in New Zealand, compulsively taking neighborhood jaunts through Portland via Google Street View was the weirdest form of escapism in which I have ever participated. We narrowed down the areas we might want to live in, and the school our kids could attend by a strange process of digital elimination. We found a house on Christmas Day, 2013, a house which ticked many of our boxes.
Tons of space, giant yard, good neighborhood, good location. It also seemed to have a bunch of problems, from what we could make out. It’s an old Victorian house which has been split into a duplex in the most brutal fashion – a hacked out staircase, a hastily added side-door, some strangely configured rooms and spaces. Our realtor went to look at it on our behalf and sent us a pile of impossible-to-interpret photographs. “This is the wall where the staircase would have been” and “this was a doorway but now it’s a wall”… We were sad to see that our dream house had some borderline nightmarish qualities – the repulsive downstairs bathroom full of mould, the sagging disaster called a kitchen. But, we would overcome, right? The owner had hypothetically agreed to consider a rent to buy option at least, which was more than any of the other sellers in Portland that we had approached.
We started negotiations with the promise of viewing the property in January when we arrived back in the US. Somewhere along the way there was a giant miscommunication and for a while all bets were off. Meanwhile, we moved half way round the world to land in Maine. We connected with our realtor in real life a few days after we landed, and we started to look at houses. The first time we looked at this house, we said no way. We’d taken the images and information we’d found online, and created our own sense of how the house would be, but the reality had so many problems, it seemed insurmountable, including someone living in the house who had zero interest in moving out…
So we tried other houses, other neighborhoods, other towns. We circled outwards as far as we could go before panic set in and we scurried back into Portland, city mice to the end. We started to lose faith that we would find anywhere to live. February in Maine, in the thick of snow storm after snow storm is not the very best time to buy or rent a house. We began to consider other possibilities. Maybe we should try upstate New York after all. Denver seemed nice. Maybe we should even go back to Minnesota.
One thing we knew, we couldn’t stay in a hotel room forever. Two big kids fighting in one bed plus a non-sleeping 16 month old in our bed started to get old fairly fast, despite the hotel breakfasts. We decided to go back one more time to The House. This time, we would go with a more open mind.
This time round, we looked for the yes, we looked for ways we could make it work. We decided to focus on the positive, and deal with the negative if and when it became an issue. We drew up a contract. We arranged for the person living downstairs to move out so we could rent the whole house after a few months. We made it work, we moved in to the upstairs unit. We brought a couple of towels and some cutlery and our clothes from the hotel. We ordered mattresses and did a giant Target run. A couple of months later, the man downstairs moved out (sweet relief) and our furniture and possessions arrived from New Zealand.
For the last two years we have had one date etched into our consciousness, March 18th, 2016. That was the date that we had to complete the purchase of the house, otherwise we would forfeit our downpayment and the portion of our (astronomical) rent which has been going towards our house deposit every month. We didn’t know how we would make it work, but we knew that we had no choice, failure was not an option.
At first, our options seemed numerous, surely one of us could get a salaried job so that the mortgage application would be fairly straightforward… But as time went on, we could see that option becoming less and less likely. My web design business was doing well enough to keep us afloat, but by the time our deadline would roll around, I would not have been in business long enough to qualify for a mortgage needing 2+ years of self-employment records.
We asked our bank about mortgage possibilities. They came back with a resounding no. We considered extending the rental part of our contract and postponing the buying part. We tried not to worry about what would happen to us if we couldn’t complete the sale. Would we lose our house purchase and the rental contract, so we would no longer have somewhere to live? One day, I decided to ring some credit unions.
The first mortgage person I spoke to at the first credit union I found said she would make it work. That it was unusual, but possible. That we may have to jump through some hoops but she would do everything in her power to make sure we got our house. And she did. It took a few months to get everything sorted, with a few setbacks and a bunch of delays… but it happened.
On March 18th, 2016, we bought this house. It is ours. The relief is astronomical. The change in how we feel about where we live is huge. For the last two years we have lived here, this has been our house. But it never really felt like our home. Now, we’re making it into our forever home. We have a long way to go to get the reality to match up with the dream, but we’re doing it. Goodbye to all the nasty coat hooks and ugly light fittings (so many boob lights to remove…), goodbye terrible kitchen floor. Ugly plastic blinds, your days are numbered.
We have the space and the location and the peace of mind of knowing we don’t ever have to move again. We have the insane to-do list of homeowners with a lot of repairs and upgrades ahead of them. And we have the satisfaction that comes from seeing an impossible-seeming dream through from beginning to end. The next chapter starts right here.
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