Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Developing a Backup Plan

Sander and I have recently started having some tough conversations related to his layoff. No, I'm not nagging him. This is about what happens if we become one of those statistics - you know, the people who still can't find a job after a year, or two, or more.

My husband is a really smart guy. Couple degrees. MIT on the resume. Can build or fix anything to boot. I have faith in him. It's the economy I worry about, and the total lack of jobs.

But this is not about him. It's about a house. Our house.

As I've mentioned before, our house is a rather old and demanding one. I'm fairly sure the previous owner sold after 30 years in residence (Fun fact: we're only the 3rd owners of our 1933 colonial. People tend to stay around in our neighborhood) because things were starting to need the kind of maintenance that gets expensive quickly. Like new wiring, that sort of thing.

But as much as I complain about it, I love our house. I mean, I really love our house. There's something rather magical about the setting, with the giant old oak trees whose leaves and branches spread over the road like a mantle. And when I look out my front door, I overlook a Christmas tree farm. Around me are farmers and gardeners and even a raiser of miniature horses. Each Christmas since we've been there, we've walked down to the neighbors house with hot apple cider in our travel mugs, paid our tree fee, and carried the chosen tree over the stone wall.

And then there's the house itself. It's a pain in the butt, maintenance wise. It's poorly insulated, and oil heated, which gets expensive. But we've spent the last 3 1/2 years making it our own. It's the place we brought our daughter home to on a cold, snow-dusted day last February. And to someone who grew up in mostly apartments, a home of my own has always been at the top of every 'what do I want out of life' list. Always.

So there's that.

But it's an expensive place to own. Our mortgage, despite our large downpayment, is a touch over 50% of my net. And then of course are the heating and electric bills, and all the other bills and maintenance that come with homeownership.

And our income is down by a bit over 1/3. When Sander was working, the house wasn't even a bit of a stretch, it was a very comfortable amount, so much so that we've been on track to pay it off a good bit early.

But he's not, and while I have no doubt he'll find the right thing, we had to start conversations about our backup plans, because the house is probably - probably- untenable on just my salary. I say probably because we could make it work, but I'm not sure it would be a very happy arrangement for the long term. The house needs some things, and I'm not quite ready to give up some things small and large, like opening a bottle of wine in front of the woodstove fire on Friday nights, like taking the adorable one to StoryLand next year, or someday trekking the Lycian Way . We will if we have to. But we're trying not to have to. For the short term, sure. Forever? Not so crazy about the idea.

So "What do we do if..." has been the opener to a lot of discussions lately.

We could move. We still have equity, at least we're pretty sure we do. And given the location, I think we could sell - it's a very desirable place to be. But there's the economy, and uncertainty is the name of the game. We'd probably lose much of what we put in to the house, but we would come out clean.

But then there's the "Where would we go if...?" part of the conversation. Back to renting? Buy another house? Neither of those options seem particularly appealing. We're in a good place in our house. We're happy.

I don't know that there's a single right decision. Normally, I'm a planner, and I want to be ahead of the game, knowing my next move - and having several backup moves - before I have to make it. But this time, I almost feel like I'm going to let events unfold for a while. Sure, that's how lots of other homeowners have gotten into messes, but I'm not them, and our situation is solely ours, even if it has similiarities to that of others out there.

So I'm playing a bit of educated russian roulette. I may be making a mistake with that, by not getting out in front of the situation. It's possible.

But I also believe that sometimes when you reach the end of your rope, the best thing to do is tie a knot and hang on. So that's the plan, at least for now.

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