So I sat down with my Exel spreadsheet, took the balance left on my unemployment, the amounts paid every two weeks, and calculated that my financial doomsday hits in March. I called the Loss Mitigation number for my bank, and got a nice guy -- Gary, in Arizona -- and I talked with him about my options. I mentioned my IRA and that I'd been doing odd jobs to make ends meet, but once the unemployment runs out I will essentially stop being able to pay my mortgage, and was there anything the bank could do to prevent a foreclosure?
Gary talked about options and numbers, and said a couple of things that made a lot of sense. One was that even if the bank could extend some kind of payment reduction, if I couldn't even pay that, what was the point? I might consider trying to sell my place, but if I couldn't, I might be better off "walking into the bank, handing them [my] keys and saying, 'I can't make my payments, I just have to give it up.'"
He also said, "I heard you mention an IRA. Don't spend that on your place. If you spend it all to stay in your place, what will you do once it's gone? If that is all the money you have, keep that for yourself. Use it to take care of yourself."
I explained, as I find myself doing more and more (those of you who have been in this situation may understand) that my credit score is 812, that I've always paid my bills, that I'm not someone who takes her responsibilities lightly, but I can't seem to get anyone to consider me for a decent job.
"Look," said Gary, "a new chapter is being written for a lot of people. A lot of people like you, good, decent, responsible people, through no fault of their own, find themselves having to do things they've never done before. If you have to do it, do it. Take care of yourself."
I didn't expect this level of personal concern, and I was taken off guard. Gary was so kind, so understanding, and I thought of all the stories he must have to listen to every day. I was grateful that instead of being jaded, he was empathetic. I got a little choked up, thanked Gary, and sent an email to my real-estate friend to talk about putting my place on the market. Now, the chances of me selling the place quickly are crazy slim; however, on the bright side, it's nicer than when I bought it, and it's cute.
This is emotional for me. It's not that I can't part with the place, but rather the notion of having to make a new home again, of moving my stuff agin (GROAN). And this is the first place I've ever bought completely on my own. And it's so. Very. Cute. I've made stained-glass windows for it, take hot baths in my lavender-tiled vintage bathroom, eat at my four (!) windows overlooking the ornamental pear trees in the courtyard, drink wine with neighbors as we look over Lake Michigan on summer nights. Listen to the waves as I lay in bed. It's purely lovely. And yet --
I've been thinking about why I moved here. To have a better quality of life. Yes, for what I have and where I am, I'm paying a lot less than I would in Boston. But compared to renting, I'm paying a lot more: I could get a 1-BR with heat included for easily $300-$400 less per month.(The apartment above me, same layout, is for rent for $810 per month, heat and hot water included, because they've owned it forever. Not as nice as mine, but...My outlay is close to $1300, because our assessments are high.) The jobs I've looked at that paid too little for me to live on would be doable, if not excessive, if my housing outlay were reduced like that. And it struck me: By buying this place I'd locked myself into exactly the job rut I wanted to avoid. Don't get me wrong: owning has a lot of advantages, as far as equity and tax deductions. At least, in a normal economy. But I don't need to own here. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to grow old in Chicago - my sister could never live here.
I realized that if I rented again, I could ease my housing burden. Even if I got a job, selling may still be the preferable option: I'd rather spend money on movies and restaurants and traveling, and a life. I won't have to worry about condo boards and long-range planning. I could pay down my credit card. I could expand my job possibilities. When I thought about that, I realized that, as sad as it will be to leave my cute little condo and my great neighbors, it may be for the best. I like the idea of not being tied down. Ask my ex-husband.