Thursday, January 26, 2012

Microcosm of the Real Estate Market in a Condo Sale

As the 20th century turned into the 21st, my husband and I bought a small condo a mile away from us for his mom to live in.  Yesterday, we sold that condo.

So much has happened in between.  My mother-in-law moved into the condo in January 2000 and lived there until her death in 2005.  Because she so enjoyed talking to the security guard downstairs, and because she didn't like not having to work as much as she thought she would, she got her license and became a security guard herself.  That job led her to meet all sorts of interesting people who enriched her last years.  I'm glad we were able to help make that possible.

We have been trying to sell that condo since her death in 2005, and in many ways, that journey has been a microcosm of the national housing market.  We priced the condo very high in 2005--housing sales made us think it should be that price, and if we'd put it on the market in 2004, we'd have probably gotten that price or higher.

But the market in 2005 was beginning to implode, even though we didn't realize how bad it would be.  The following years saw us chasing the market down, trying to come up with a price that would bring in buyers.  We did some freshening up of the condo as we tried to make it more attractive.  Some years, we just couldn't face the real estate market, and the condo sat empty.

You might ask, "Why didn't you rent the place?"  Well, because the condo rules don't allow that.  As an owner who lived there, I'd be happy about that rule.  As an investor in the building who lives elsewhere, it got to be annoying.

Along the way from 2000 to 2012, we were able to tap into some equity, which we used to improve our primary residence:  a bathroom remodel, a kitchen remodel, a new roof, a new AC unit.  We were happy to have the condo when we lost power at our house for several weeks during the disastrous hurricane season of 2005.  It hasn't been a total disaster.

Still, if you run the figures in stark black and white, what we put in and what we got out, it may end up being one of the bigger financial debacles of our life.  We ended up selling the condo for exactly what we paid for it in 1999.  Along the way, we've paid monthly maintenance fees, an assessment or two, taxes, insurance:  money there's no way to get back.  It could have been worse.  I'm trying not to torture myself by thinking of all the ways it could be better.

At these times, I like to remind myself of a quote I found in Ann Lamott's Traveling Mercies;  a friend of hers reminds us all that "if you have a problem you can solve by throwing money at it, you don't have a very interesting problem" (259).

As we drove to the closing, I said to my spouse, "This may be one of the last real estate transactions that we make."  Not the last, but one of the last.  At one point, between 1997 and 1999, we seemed to be buying and selling properties at a dizzying pace.  Now, barring unforeseen life changes, it's hard to imagine that we'll buy or sell more than two or three more properties before we retire/die/run off to a sailboat.

I think of myself as a child playing Monopoly, buying and selling properties, formulating ideas about real estate that have often influenced me as a grown up.  In the days to come, I may run a piece on how real estate these days is nothing like Monopoly.

As we drove home, I was surprised by my lack of emotions.  I thought I'd feel relief and euphoria.  Instead, I just felt very tired.  It's been a long haul to this finish line.  Careful readers of this blog may remember that I thought we were going to closing in September.  That deal fell through, as did an offer in November.  That one scared me a bit, as the owner offered our list price minus $1000 and couldn't secure financing.  We couldn't have afforded to lower the price much more--was the market plunging yet again?

Happily, we had another offer from a buyer who had been searching for awhile.  They had made at least one other offer on a different condo which had fallen through.  I imagine they were happy when we said yes.

Again, we see a microcosm of the national market, with some Florida specializations.  We've had a real estate market buffeted by foreclosures and tightening regulations.  Now to buy a condo you have to have 20% of the price as a down payment.  That knocks out a lot of buyers.  And the foreclosures make it difficult to ascertain the what the true price of a condo should be.

I thought I might feel sad--I've been very fond of that little condo, and it's been part of our life for many years.  But I didn't feel sorrow.  I didn't feel much at all.  We bought some steaks to grill and then we bought some ice cream cones at the beach.  It was a quiet celebration.

I woke up very early remembering that I had forgotten to tell the power company that we had sold the place.  I wondered if anyone had told the buyers how to get the electricity transferred to them.  My spouse reminded me that I'm not responsible, that they're grown ups who will figure it out.

This morning, I feel relieved.  When the next hurricane season comes, I won't have to worry about 2 properties.  I'm done paying property taxes on a place that just sits empty.  The next round of foreclosed properties can come on the market, as they are forecast to do in February, and I don't have to panic.

I will spend the morning thinking about tasks that need to be done:  calling the power company, doing some grocery shopping, feeling gratitude that this phase of our real estate life has come to a close.  I need to get back to my writing life too.  It's amazing how much time it takes to sell a property.  It will be good to get back to regular life, whatever that turns out to be.


Sandy Longhorn said...

Congrats on finalizing and closing. Here's to getting back to regular life!

Hannah Stephenson said...

Sounds like you were ready to let go of this place, huh? I'm glad it finally worked out. It indeed sounds's like the work of moving without an actual move (you know how people can experience secondary's like you were arranging for a move for years without it actually happening).

Very happy for you that it is a closed chapter. :) And thank you for your comment over at my site today! I loved thinking about "Alternate Kristins," and know just what you mean.