Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Refinance Denied

Five years ago my husband and I bought a severely neglected 1940s era condo/townhouse. The windows were shattered, the bathroom destroyed, and the kitchen a virtual cockroach morgue. And yet, at the tender age of 25 & 26, we saw potential. We also thought it might be our last chance to buy something. The market was steadily rising above our means.

The first year in our home we saw drug deals on the street and sidewalks littered with used condoms, diapers, and half drunk 40s. We had neighbors knock on the door asking to borrow money for beer. A cop stopped my husband, on a walk with our dog, to say: "This is a bad neighborhood. Better walk your dog somewhere else, buddy."

Undeterred, we focused on what we could control. We replaced the windows, the back door, and the bathroom. We tore up the cheap carpet and refinished the hardwood floors. We removed the kitchen cabinets (and the shower of cockroach carcases behind them). We replaced the banister and the radiator covers. We painted the rooms. Put wood blinds up on the windows. Bought a new range for the kitchen.

And as the years passed by, the neighborhood started to prosper. New owners made similar improvements to their units. The condo association hired a professional groundskeeper. The condo board became more pro-active. And a really cool collection of neighborhood kids started hanging out in our cul-de-sac -- skateboarding, riding bikes, playing games -- adding a sense of community to the place. More neighbors moved in with dogs and kids.People learned each other's names.

And I suppose with all of the improvements to the external and internal landscape of our life here, I thought we might have some hope of refinancing our home this year. We didn't enter the process blindly. We stay current with housing prices on RedFin and Homes Database. We're aware of foreclosures in our neighborhood. So, two weeks ago, I cleaned every inch of our home. Decluttered, organized, vacuumed, scrubbed. I bought flowers. I baked cookies.

My husband and I attentively greeted the home inspector. Pointed out all of the improvements to our home. The place never looked better in its history. And I couldn't help feeling a sense of pride. We had transformed this modest crack house into a warm, inviting home. We had done everything possible to make this place presentable. There could be no regrets.

And I think that's why I cried when we got the estimate. We bought our home in 2004 for $235,000. In 2005 and 2006, similar condos in our association went for well over $300,000. In 2007, it dropped to $270,000. And now, here in 2009, our home is worth an estimated $145,000. Refinance denied. We would have saved $450 per month on our mortgage had it gone through. That would have helped ease the burden of being unemployed.

I know this is not a unique story. People all over the country are experiencing it. And I could be mad at the banks for irresponsible lending; or borrowers for irresponsible dept; or the government for allowing it to happen. But, in truth, I am responsible. The buck stops here. We haven't been lucky in many respects this past year or two, but it's material. We've got our health. We've got each other. And, really, we've got a home that is so darn full of love I can't help but feel joy in what we've accomplished here. It reminds me of that old camping adage: leave your site cleaner than when you arrived. We've done that here. We're living it. Regardless of what it is worth, we came here and made this house a place worth living in.


  1. I completely understand your plight.

    We bought our house just under 2 years ago for $340,000. The tax assessment this year was for $190,000. I nearly passed out.

    Then again, we bought ours at the absolute peak of the boom. As in, the next week all of the news articles about foreclosures started to come through and the banks practically slammed shut all loan opportunities. If we had closed 1 week later, I am certain that we would not have our house today.

    And I'm totally with you. I complain about the cost of the place and the market crash and, particularly, about how much better our financial situation would be if we had the mortgage of $190K house, but at the end of the day, we love our house and I'm really glad we have it. And I know how much time and effort you've put in to fixing up your house. I'm sure it is a place worth living in.

  2. I'm sorry to hear about the refinance, but you've taken the right perspective. It's not the house itself that matters as much as the people in it. It may not seem like it now, but the good things you're putting out into the world will come back to you soon enough. In the meantime, hang in there and know that lots of people are rooting for you, David, and Stella!

  3. That's really too bad, Katie. I just (finally) did my taxes and I owe over $2000 back. Not the best time for this!

  4. Willis, looks like we're in this together! Thanks for sharing.

    Corey, so right about the "people in it" -- well put.

    Frances, yikes! We got hit up w/ some nasty taxes this year too. Always seems to arrive at the worst possible moment. My thoughts are w/ you.

  5. Katie - just wanted to comment to say how much I have been loving this blog. My Mom was laid off in January and was lucky enough to find work - better work - just last month. I was sending her links to help keep her spirits up and I think it worked :-) You have such a great perspective on what is certainly a pretty lousy situation - I know that it isn't all puppies and sunshine, but just reading someone who doesn't regard the situation as The End of The World is so refreshing.

    Like Willis said - we hear you on property values. All I tell myself is that I love my house and the people in it. The rest will fall back into place in time.

  6. Sharon, I'm so glad to hear your Mom's found work! And thanks for the kind words regarding the blog. That means a great deal to me. Thinking about you and wishing you well!