Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Housing Crisis: A double-edged sword

In the "Land of the Free and Home of the Brave:"

In June 2011, there were over 200 houses for sale in Frederick, MD with at least 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Most were priced extremely reasonably, since the housing market had crashed in recent years - and many of these houses were even foreclosures listed below market value (those might have needed work, but there were plenty of options for someone willing to invest a little elbow grease). The point is, anyone with a moderate income and decent credit could buy a house.

So we didn't really expect to be able to sell our house. In fact, several real estate agents we spoke with warned us that it would be virtually impossible to get close to our asking price within the few months that we were willing to try to move. Nonetheless, we cleaned, painted, repaired, polished, planted, and put up a sign. And I guess God sent us a sign - because the house sold in less than 2 weeks - after only 2 showings. We were shocked and fully unprepared. We had just listed the house and not even left on a house-hunting trip of our own to find a new place. But it seemed this move was "meant to be" and so we scurried off to find a home in Germany - with only a 2-week shopping window before we needed to return to the US, pack up our belongings, close the sale, and ship on out.

Cross the ocean, to the birthplace of Daimler-Benz and the Cinderella Castle:

To our utter shock, at the same time, in the region of Essen, Germany (considerably higher population), there were approximately....ZERO... such houses on the market (good size for a large family and decently priced). The rental situation was not much better. There were about a dozen rentals that offered 4 bedroom and 2 baths, albeit with substantially less square footage. And of those rentals, there were people lined up to the Austrian boarder trying to rent them. Nice small families with only 1 or 2 children. And German landlords - they like small families. Families with four children are often presumed to be socially inferior (the nasty slang word "Asi" for anti-social was directed my way).

We were crest-fallen. We made a last-minute offer on a tiny 3-bedroom, 1-bath fixer-upper whose owner of 50+ years had recently passed away. A Notary was hired to draft the contracts, the mortgage applied for, and we headed back to get packed. However, when we returned a few weeks later, ready to move in and begin renovations, the seller still lacked the legal paperwork proving he'd inherited and could sell the house. The deal was delayed repeatedly and eventually fell through - while we remained...


For about 5-weeks we literally had no home. Sven and I, along with our oldest daughter, stayed with friends in a town near Essen. The other kids were with their grandparents several hours north. The container with all of our worldly possessions (including all the warm fall clothes we desperately needed) was sitting in harbor accruing astronomical daily storage fees (it arrived much faster than expected).  While we hoped to soon move into the house we intended to purchase, we continued to look for other options - primarily rentals at this point, since a new closing would take too long. We needed to be in a home before school started. Our hope was that the youngest would attend 3rd grade in our neighborhood school, although the older three were enrolled in a school offering the International Baccalaureate. We needed to know what neighborhood we would be living in. But the situation seemed so hopeless.  I questioned how God could have sent us through this frustrating nightmare.

Happy Ending:

In September, the weekend before school started, we hit gold. Having cast our search net wider and stretched our budget to breaking, we landed in a fabulous rental home. It is a 100-year old duplex under historic preservation that boasts five bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a beautiful sauna in the basement, a wood-burning fireplace, and a lovely landscaped and fenced yard, as well as a garage! The owners interviewed several interested renters and selected us (not that I begged or anything ;) ). We signed a contract on Saturday, painted a few rooms on Sunday, had our container delivered on Monday, unpacked and built beds on Tuesday, and Wednesday the kids started in school!

Another day, I'll share the post-move-in adventures of life in a house with no kitchen or lamps :)

Our new home!

View of the backyard from Master Bedroom balcony

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