Due diligence

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July 24, 2009 by 8junebugs

I’m getting a little deeper into two processes right now:

1. Finalizing a contract with a new real estate agent to list Mom’s house. The market analysis of the new agent came in $50,000 lower than the first. I keep expecting to get a little pissed off about this, but it hasn’t happened yet. The new price seems more realistic to me, both from a market perspective and from an “I know the house” perspective.

The only thing that does piss me off is that the first agent wasted six months of my time and money. The house should never have been priced over $200,000, and I trusted the “expert.”

To find a new expert, I went outside the community. My Bean’s mom has been in real estate in the East Bay forever, where she handles homes worth less than this one and homes that fetch millions.

She did the research and interviews to find me a new agent. As jaded as it sounds, I no longer felt I could trust referrals from inside the community–too much is based on personal relationships and the “way we do things,” and I need more than that. I need responsiveness and options and results, and I knew that Bean’s mom (one of my many surrogate parents) was looking out for my needs, and only my needs.

It’s hard. It feels…un-neighborly to turn down recommendations from friends and even family, because I know everyone is just trying to help. But it’s business, and if there’s one lesson I took away from Mom’s life story, it’s that it’s best to keep business separate from family and friends.

2. Investigating my options with the company holding the mortgage. There is no more cash to cover the payments–even if there was, there is a point of diminishing returns. Rapidly diminishing. And I’m at that point.

My attorney continues to suggest asking the mortgage company to accept interest-only payments until the house sells, and I continue to remind him that the mortgage was bought out by a predatory lender and the payments are already mostly interest. He has also directed me to Vermont’s Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities, & Health Care Administration for assistance.

(Vermont’s a small state. I guess they aggregate oversight?)

Most of the options available for folks who can no longer make their mortgage payments are focused (and rightly so) on people who want to remain in or otherwise keep their property. Refinancing, mortgage assistance–these are all structured for homeowners, not for estate executors.

I’ve been clear from the start that I am not willing to link the estate–meaning the house–to my own credit. I committed to keeping the mortgage afloat for six months, and I’ve done that. Doing more than that is bad business, and I have no intention of taking on a mortgage of my own in a state that will never be my home…not even for the house I grew up in. I have to let it go.

I can understand KidBrother and the rest of the family’s emotional attachment to the house–as much as I would like them to understand my position, I can’t compete with three decades of birthdays, barbecues, slumber parties, and Christmas dinners.

My struggle is with remembering that I don’t have to.

The ancillary struggle is with making judgment calls that affect others. KidBrother would put any dime he could spare into holding onto the house and hoping it sells, out of love for Mom and loyalty to her dream. I firmly believe that money (which, to be honest, can’t really be spared) is better spent on building his life and planning for his future…on finding his dream.

I wouldn’t approve of KidBrother buying the house (he’d love to)–he’s not sure yet where he wants to be and what he wants to do, and that’s a lot to take on. But if he was in a position to do it, I’d sign off. That’s not the same as trying to help with a bad mortgage and getting no return on the investment.

The opposite precedent was set when we were kids. Mom took on a lot of her parents’ financial burden, pretty much as soon as she could. I like to think I understand that and I know she was proud and happy to help, but a lot of things might have been different for us–our family, her kids–if she had planned for the future instead of sacrificing it for the past.

If I thought she died content with how that played out, I might be less determined to prevent KidBrother from starting down the same path.

What still upsets me the most, six months after her death, is not the fact that she’s gone. I can deal with that, as most people do when they lose a parent. It’s that she busted her ass, built her own successful business (Carousel Cuts…not so much The Glass Clipper), and spent her last years worried about money. It’s knowing that she loved the house and the land, but was trapped by it in the end–emotionally unable to let it go and financially unable to sustain it.

I can’t fault her for wanting to keep the home in which she was happiest. I do think that we, as a family, have a hard time letting go and moving forward, and we haven’t benefited from that particular brand of stubbornness.

I am proud of KidBrother for wanting to help, but this is one instance where I can help him.

I am aware that, in this instance, “what’s best for the estate…and best for the heirs” and “what Mom would have wanted” are not necessarily aligned.

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