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Finding the House | VRChristensen

Finding the House

It started with a sign:

Estate Sale

I wanted to see the house. It was run down, it was shabby looking, had been allowed to fall into disrepair. But I wanted to see it. And so we went.

It was the third day of a three day sale, and all the good stuff had been taken. I wasn’t there to buy anything, not really. I simply wanted to see the house. I suppose it would have been nice to see what had been there, how it had been furnished, that kind of thing, but I had waited for the crowds to dissipate. I had a feeling this would be a meaningful experience.

I should perhaps rewind just a bit and explain something about this journey. We had a house, a beautiful house in South Carolina—a 1918 Colonial Revival that we lovingly and painstakingly restored. We weren’t finished when my husband decided he couldn’t stay with his current employer and so began looking for work elsewhere. We had decided not to move, not till the house was done, so when he got a job offer in Virginia, and accepted it, I was both unprepared and discouraged. It meant he would leave and I would remain to get the house ready. It took another year and a half before we could join him. The separation, to put it lightly, was Hell.

Part of the problem was, obviously, that we were trying to sell our house during the worst real estate slump in history. Part of the problem was that there was no alternative for us but to remain. We could not rent in Virginia—or we thought we could not—for a price we could afford, with three kids, a dog and seven cats. We tried several times to buy, but each time it fell through. I think we tried six or seven different properties, mostly foreclosures, but for various reasons, they turned out not to be viable options.

We at last decided on a property, which must by necessity be temporary, to buy and move into. We moved in, but at the last minute, the loan fell through. I have to say I was relieved. I hated the house, though I liked the neighborhood. It was a historic neighborhood, one of two, once prominent streets, that border Sutherlin Mansion, the last capital of the Confederacy. The neighbors were friendly and watched out for each other. Many of the city’s prominent historical preservation folks live around here. And the houses, both run down and restored, are beautiful.

So we went to the estate sale. I fell immediately in love with the place. There was so much light and charm to the house. It was exactly the right

Books I bought at the estate sale.

size. And while it had not been updated since the 60’s, it had been owned by the same family, if not since it was built, then certainly for the last 90 years or so. I could see what the house was meant to be, and I knew I could make it so again.

I had to have this house.

So I asked one of the auction people if they knew the situation. I was informed that the house had gone into foreclosure. I was at once hopeful and anxious. The house we were living in (across the street) we had been renting for the last year and a half since the loan fell through. It was still on the market and might, at any minute, be sold. Foreclosures sometimes take years to go through. Sometimes, not often, they go through a little faster. We didn’t have years, I knew that. But if it were available sometime in the spring…it might just be possible.

I kept my eyes peeled. The Day house can easily be seen from our little, rundown rental property, and you’d better believe I watched it. I watched when the men came to winterize it, to clean out the remaining memorabilia of one woman, and one family’s long residence in the house (how I wish I’d had the courage to dig through those garbage bags they had piled out on the street). And I watched as they cleared the vines away and revealed even more of the faded and sad exterior. They were preparing it to go on the market.

I also watched the internet. I found a notice stating that the house would go up for auction on December 18, on a Tuesday, before Christmas. There would be no showing. It was a cash only sale. They were hoping to get the $70K owed, but it being an auction, who knew. I felt it would not sell. I could not buy it, not for that price. Not on a Tuesday in December for cash. I sought advice. I took a lot of ibuprofen for my stress headaches. I was told it would certainly sell. An investor, someone, would buy the house.

It did not sell.

I continued to watch. And then one day a sign appeared on the door. It was just a letter saying the property had gone into foreclosure, and that a certain real estate company would be representing it. I called the man. He had no information on it. Not yet. But he took my name and told me he’d call me back in a couple of weeks.

A couple of weeks went by. I heard nothing. About a month later an ad appeared in the paper, along with a sad looking picture of the house. There was no price, no MLS number. Just: “Needs major repairs. Seeking offers.”

I called the real estate agent once more. He didn’t have a price yet, but would get back to us.

I continued to wait.

And then, at last, we were allowed to see it. I’d seen it already, of course, but I wanted to see it again, I wanted to get my name on the list, I wanted to be the first on the list of interested buyers. And there was a price. They wanted $31K.

Holy cow! This might actually happen.

We went to see the house. Major repairs. I find this a relative term. Our house in South Carolina, when we bought it, had been owned by one family since it had been built. It had outdated electrical, sketchy plumbing, peeling paint, a porch that needed replacing, a kitchen and bathrooms that needed updating. No heat. What are major repairs? This house was in exactly the same condition. We could do this.

Only how much would we need to borrow? 50K? 70k? 100k? We still own a house in SC. It limits us a great deal. But I was determined to make some kind of offer. My parents had offered to help us out if we needed it. 30K was hardly anything at all. But houses had sat, were sitting, on this street, for less than that. There was a precident to ask less. And if I could borrow the cash… Maybe 20K was not so bad an offer. We decided to do some research. We would find out just what we could do and we would make an offer.

The following day we had to be out of our house in order to allow the agent to come and show it. We got up, it was snowing. We prepared to leave.

We own an outhouse!

The man who greeted us was not the agent, but a home inspector. An offer had been made and accepted. If the inspection passed, we would have 45 days to be out of the house. There was no choice now but to move forward on the Day house. There was no alternative but to offer cash. A loan would take 60 days at least.

So I called my parents, and they came through. We made the offer. And waited.

It was rejected.

My migrains returned.

We made another offer.

It was countered. They wanted the asking price. Another offer had also been made. That other offer had been countered with the same. Was it a matter now of who accepted first? Was it a matter of who made the best offer? Did the fact that I had made contact with the selling agent FIRST, that I had made my offer FIRST, that the house was MEANT to be mine count for anything? We accepted the counter, but offered a couple thousand more (though I didn’t know how we’d come up with the money).

We waited.

I took more ibuprofen. Sometimes chased with acetaminophen.

I did a lot of praying.

And at last out offer was accepted. They accepted their counter, and told us (does this happen anywhere else but in the South?) that we did not have to offer the extra couple thousand, that their counter of the asking price was sufficient. The house was to be ours!

I truly believe the Lord works in mysterious ways, and though I rarely wax religious, this is not the first time that a property came to us by truly providential, even miraculous, means.

The house does not have adequate electricity. The plumbing leaks. The boiler works, but does not heat enough water to bathe in. There is no heat.

But it’s my house. Mine! And I’m so grateful, and so excited. This is going to be one gorgeous house!

There are butterflies in the stained glass. Can you see them?

And something else of passing interest . . .

We live on property that was once owned by a man named Holbrook. It may not mean anything to you . . . yet. I wrote a book a few years back. Five or six years now, I suppose. The hero’s name? Daniel Holbrook. Coincidence? A sign. Whatever it is, I think I’ve come home!

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