My name finally made it into the paper! My wife and I appeared in the real estate transactions page a couple of weeks ago, after we bought a house in the L-section. As I reflect on the whole process, several moments stand out:
2010. Spring. I’m new in Palm Coast, and I’m in Flagler County Property Appraiser Jay Gardner’s office for an interview.
It’s the cleanest office I’ve ever seen: Here is a man who manages the appraisal of every house in the county, and his desk is completely devoid of paper or germs? A doctor could walk in here and perform emergency surgery on this desk.
Jay is telling me the property values are so low it’s like people are giving houses away. Then it comes out that I’m renting in the B-section, and he stops mid-sentence.
“Brian, you have to buy a house,” he says. He’s giving me the Jay Gardner Look. Serious. All-business.
“Yes, sir,” I say.
After looking at about eight other houses, we walk through a beauty on Beaverdam. Carol Monachese, of Parkside Realty, is our agent, and she’s rooting for us. The house seems perfect, from the floor plan to the yard and the price. Then a word of caution.
“If you remember, I said we should stay away from short sales with two mortgages,” Carol says. She’s wearing her signature smile, but she cocks her head to the side, as a warning. We trust her; she has been to our house and spent time with our kids. She once declined a piece of pizza at our dinner table, so you know we’re tight.
But this house is so perfect, we just have to do it, we say. It’ll all work out, even with the two mortgages.
Weeks later, we learn the second mortgage wants $5,000 cash. Goodbye, Beaverdam. We loved you first, but we’re moving on. It’s a buyers’ market.
So it’s back to scouring the lists of houses in our price range. I have Carol on speed dial.
It’s been months since we started this process, and we’re starting to wonder whether we should give up and rent for another year.
But finally, we reach a deal on a house in the L-section. This one is bigger than Beaverdam, and it’s less expensive than other houses we’ve liked.
I should feel nervous. But it’s not real yet. We’re walking into the Parkside Realty office to sign the final documents and become homeowners.
We sit with Carol and a representative from the title company at a table, and I reach into my wallet for my driver’s license, when another card falls out: my graduate school ID. The picture is me, but five years ago. Has it really been five years? Comparing the two pictures, I see that I have aged. And I’m about to do something that will age me even more.
Sign here. And sign here. Carol is smiling and offering congratulations. Sign here.
Among the pile of papers is the amortization schedule. Looks like I’m paying practically pure interest at first and no principal. Just for fun, I glance through the packet of data tables to see at what date the payment will be composed of equal parts principal and interest: 2026.
Yikes. So this is the American dream.
In my mind, I’m running. Down the street. South on Old Kings Road. I’m climbing a tree in the middle of a forest, eating wild berries and fresh squirrels and making my home in nature, where there is no interest, no monthly payment, no —
“Oops,” Carol says. “You missed this one. And initial here, too.”
I close my eyes and sign.
After two weeks of packing, then four long hours of lifting and dollying and driving back and forth (thanks to a bunch of friends who helped), we slept our first night on our beds in the new house.
We wake up to a labyrinth of cardboard boxes, and they’re all open-mouthed, scraping my shins as I walk by, calling out to be unpacked.
There are many signs of chaos: I’m wearing my wife’s socks. I eat breakfast cereal out of a dinner glass. My 4-year-old son is sleeping with a cardboard box for a blanket. (He has a blanket; he just thinks it’s fun. I promise.)
And then there are the inconveniences: The microwave isn’t installed above the stove yet. The ice maker doesn’t work in the freezer for some reason. Oh, and there’s no hot water.
Fortunately, these problems are easily remedied (thanks again to the help of friends, including Carol, who has her husband call back with advice on the hot water, even though she’s technically out of the picture at this point).
“There’s a scorpion in the bathroom,” Hailey says. Her face is white.
I’ve never seen a real-live scorpion, and I’m disappointed that it’s just a wee baby, about an inch or two long. I was expecting something about the size of a garden glove, and I was wishing we had a shovel to smash it with.
I eliminate the itsy bitsy scorpion and return to my laptop on the floor of the family room (we have since bought a couch). Hailey returns to her computer desk.
“Scorpions survive three to five years,” she says. She recites other terrifying stats: Scorpion young are born alive, about 25 to 30 at a time. Females eat their babies. Scorpions are in the arachnid family and glow under ultraviolet lights.
Now, all else is pushed down the list in favor of our new No. 1 priority: Call the bug man. Any bug man. Pronto.
(Fortunately, Trevor Tucker and Sun Country Pest Control took care of us. Rah rah, advertisers!)
I have officially achieved homeowner status. It has nothing to do with signing a piece of paper, really. Or actually inhabiting the house itself. In my mind, the real turning point is buying my first bag of concrete.
I know my neighbors will be impressed when they see me lug the dirty bag of mix down my driveway. I am going to set this mailbox like a real man (hopefully no one is looking when I take 10 minutes reading and re-reading the instructions).
I feel a new sense of pride in my home. There is no landlord to call if the linoleum needs to be replaced or if the garbage dispose-all quits, but it’s all going to be worth it when the housing market recovers, and my property value spikes up.
Right, Mr. Gardner?