Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, LITTOF readers!

Today my mom and Tom (stepdad) arrive for an eleven day visit! I'm so excited!

Today's post on Love in the Time of Foreclosure at ChicagoNow is a letter to Secret Santa. Check it out to discover the unexpected gift Bob and I received this yesterday. Click here to read.

I hope that wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you're happy. I know I am. Happy and grateful. And full of sugar.

Merry Christmas!

Steph



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Thursday, December 10, 2009

LITTOF on "Design Your Life"

This summer I discovered the wonderful blog Makeunder My Life - Designing a life with intention by Chicago jewelry designer, Jess Constable. You might remember my post about her Weekly Exfoliations where she passes on or repurposes at least one item a week from her life that she no longer needs, uses or loves. Her spirit inspired me right away. And I had the pleasure of meeting her at a gathering for Chicago bloggers called ChiBLOGo.

All of this is to say that when Jess asked me to do this week's Design Your Life post, I was thrilled! What is the Design Your Life series?

Design Your Life
Every Thursday guest bloggers from all walks of life share their intentions and tangible, actionable ways they design their life accordingly.


You can read my 'Design Your Life' post on Jess' blog here:
Design Your Life: Steph in the time of foreclosure

If you like it, leave a comment (I'd love to hear what you think of my intentions for life) or share it with a friend, please. Thank you!!

(Shopping tip for the holidays: If you're looking for jewelry for anyone on your list, be sure to check out Jess' jewelry line Jess LC. It's beautiful and really well-priced. Seriously, check it out.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Being thankful in good times AND in bad

We all know it's easy to be thankful when things are going well, but what about when they're not? Today's Love in the Time of Foreclosure post is about just that... and how being thankful in the toughest times is what got us where we are today.

Click here to read.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hear our story on "The Story"

Hi LITTOF Readers!

Bob and I are going to be on NPR tomorrow (Tuesday, November 24.)

Click here to find out the where/when/how.

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

I am thankful for so much! For the support and unconditional love of my family and friends, for a wonderful place to live, for my nurturing marriage and wonderful husband and the adventure of life. And you, readers. I'm thankful for you!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

LITTOF November highlights


Pablo lounging on the $50 sofa in his bumble bee sweater. What? It's cold here!

I just realized we're half way through November! Unbelievable! And Bob's birthday is only fifteen days away.

We've been very busy on the island the first half of November and I've been doing my best to document each step along the way over at ChicagoNow. In case you missed anything, here are links to some of the posts from November.... (just click on the title to check them out.)

The significance of 21 days - They say it takes 21 days to adjust to a major life change. How are we doing on day 21 on the island?

The strangest house I've ever seen - Real Estate Mom takes us inside, well, the strangest house she's ever seen. Hidden staircase, anyone? Underground bunker?

How to get the stuff you need for free - Read all about the Great Island Giveaway Event!

This old couch - Meet Bob's new best friend. The couch. The ugly floral couch he refers to as "Eight and a half feet of glory."

Day 4 on the island: Where are the whales - Read about our 4th day on the island and our move into the main house.

Happy mid-November, everyone! And thanks for reading!

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween in the time of foreclosure


HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

When we moved across the country to accept a position to be caretakers for a farmhouse on an island, we did not sign up for ghosts! Today's post at Love in the Time of Foreclosure on ChicagoNow is about the possibility of our house being haunted. Make sure to check it out and share your ghost stories in the comments section!

Day 3 on the island: Is this house haunted? - Love in the Time of Foreclosure

Last year we threw a wonderful Halloween party on a budget by decorating the house with the help of scary movie projections. The house actually blogged about it last year on its blog. Here's a look back at that:

My Halloween Costume - The House Blog

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Are you getting your Love in the Time of Foreclosure?


Hi LITTOF readers!

I'm just posting quickly to remind readers that all the new Love in the Time of Foreclosure action is happening over at ChicagoNow.

We're only 4 days away from our move to the island and a lot has been happening. In case you missed some of the action, here are the LITTOF posts from the last week with links to catch you up:

-
8 things that helped us turn our personal housing crisis into opportunity
- I am a guest blogger today at Magpie Girl.

-The island awaits - This Friday we begin our trek to our new home for the next two years on the San Juan Islands.

-WBEZ and Love in the Time of Foreclosure - Jeanne Power from Chicago Public Radio wrote a really nice story about us on the WBEZ Blog.

-Al Capone in the Time of Foreclosure - The Chicago mobster's Wisconsin hideaway sold at auction last week.

-One way to save money: Commit to a year of no clothes- This post was inspired by blogger Rachelle Mee-Chapman who has made a pledge to spend no money on clothes for an entire year. Could you do it?

-Top 5 reasons to leave your home on the market during the holidays - wonderful advice and insight from my mom - The Real Estate Mom

-The Insider's Guide to Bankruptcy: The IRS - What we have learned about our IRS debts in bankruptcy.

If you're a regular reader, might I suggest you sign up for the RSS Feed? I hope you will.

And as always, if you enjoy a post, please share it.
Or comment. It makes a big difference.

Thank you!

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Foreclosure is a battlefield

WE knew it was hard. Perhaps the biggest challenge of our lives. The fight to save our home from foreclosure. But... more stressful than actual combat? More stressful than the dodging of actual bullets and bombs? More alone than a dry and dusty desert in the Middle East?

According to a Marine who served his country in Iraq, YES.

Fighting to save his home from foreclosure was more stressful than combat in Iraq.

continue reading...

Monday, September 28, 2009

The lesson in change

Hi LITTOF readers!

I completed the 7-day Spare Change Challenge. Go to ChicagoNow to read my post "The Lesson in Change" about see how I did.

Thanks!

Stephanie

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How to win a price war & a beauty contest

Today is Wednesday... you know what that means, right? Every Wednesday at "Love in the Time of Foreclosure" is a new & insightful post by The Real Estate Mom. That's MY mom. Pam.

Today she shares her insight on how to sell a home in this crazy, low-down real estate market. Part 1 is all about pricing it right. How do you do that?

Well, you're gonna have to read her new post to find out!

Don't forget... the blog has moved. We're here now. Where? Here. Bookmark it. Subscribe to the RSS feed.

Why aren't ALL my posts there? Because we're having some technical difficulties with the transition. We're working on it! In the meantime, if you want to browse back to the beginning of LITTOF, you actually do that right here. Just for now.

Have I thoroughly confused you? I'm sorry. I know. Thank you so much for sticking with me through this transition, though! Really. Thank you!

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The insider's guide to bankruptcy: credit cards

See this new post here and find out what Bob got in the mail yesterday.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Moving back home = the death of romance?

Visit LITTOF'S new home at ChicagoNow to read this article. Thanks! -Stephanie

Friday, September 4, 2009

Big blog news: LITTOF is moving to ChicagoNow

Hello LITTOF Readers!

Happy Friday.... and loooong weekend. Woo hoo!

Big blog news. Guess what? Love in the Time of Foreclosure is going to be a part of the new site ChicagoNow.com!

What does this mean? We have a new address. Here:

http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/love-in-time-of-foreclosure/

Please take a look. Do you like the new banner? I hope so!

Over the next several days we will be migrating all of the LITTOF archives and comments over to the new location. It should be all done by the middle of next week.

Please note that I will not be writing any new posts here on the blogger site. They will all be over at ChicagoNow. So please join us!

It's a new adventure.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A house used to own me

This is just a quick post to send you over to Recessionwire.com to read the article that I wrote for them about our story. It's titled "A House Used to Own Me."

Recessionwire's tagline is: The Upside of the Downturn. They have wonderful articles from that perspective. It's right up my alley... and I bet yours too. Check it out.

And if you like my article, will you please share it? Tweet it, Facebook it, comment on it, e-mail it... a little goes a long way. Thanks!

A House Used to Own Me - Recessionwire.com

The morning after

Good morning from smokey Pasadena. The fires are still burning out of control and blanketing Pasadena in an unrelenting, mesquite-smelling smoke.

We woke up to ash dusting our rental car. They're saying that some of the areas burning haven't burned for up to 100 years. It's incredible and sad and so scary for the people whose job it is to force these flames into submission. An exhausting and dangerous one to say the least.

It's one thing to watch this happen on the news and another to be here and get the enormity of these fires. The smell, the haze, the sore throats, the headaches. The people... fighting to save their homes. From fire.

Seeing the blaze of orange on the hillside each night is such a vivid reminder to be grateful. So grateful.

Yesterday was our Chapter 7 hearing. There's not really that much to say about it, actually. Our attorney met us with a handshake and assured us that it would be easy and there was no reason to be nervous. He was right.

We sat in this room on the first floor of the Ernst & Young Plaza at 7th & Figueroa in Downtown Los Angeles while we waited for the judge to call us. They were running a bit behind. The Judge sat at a table in front of the room that was filled with chairs. He was dressed in a suit. I don't know why I was expecting robes. No robes. No formality.

In fact, by the way we were dressed we resembled attorneys more than those declaring Bankruptcy. At least I did in my black pants, jacket, bright blue collared shirt and heels. Bob wore khakis and a nice dress shirt. That I insisted on. He wanted to wear a short sleeved collared shirt that was nice but much more casual and I said no. Too casual. We need to look professional. And, well, had he worn the shirt he wanted he STILL would have been more dressed-up than the majority of the people there. He gave me the I told you so look and I accepted it. Yes, he was right. But still, better to look professional than not, right? Jeans, flip flops, t-shirts... okay for hanging out. But for Bankruptcy court?

Anyway, there we were. Dressed like lawyers. In the Ernst & Young building.

(This is a very nice building. Expensive rent. Lots of irony. We couldn't get over that statue. The business man with his head in the wall. I have no idea what it's supposed to convey. But to us, there for Bankruptcy Court, well, it conveyed failure. And seemed so strange it was comical.)

So there we were, as I was saying, sitting and waiting to be called as others went up and answered a series of questions. Is this your signature on your documents? Have you sold anything in the last 4 years? Have you ever declared bankruptcy before? One woman was there for the third time. 1988, 2001 and yesterday. Lots of small business owners were there. Men, women, young, old... it ran the gamut. One man was there as a result of a devastating divorce. Another was an independent real estate investor. And then us.

I wasn't nervous. We answered the judges questions. When he asked if there were any creditors there to contest or who would like to interview us, I held my breath. I didn't look. It was only a second or two. Then the Judge said, well, since then that concludes this meeting. No creditors. Phew. Breathe.

I asked our attorney, what next? He said, "Nothing. You're done." I asked if we'd get something in the mail or something. It seemed so anti-climactic. Is it really over? Do we really have a blank slate? Or at least a partially blank slate? The answer, I suppose, is yes.

Weird. It's the morning after and it hasn't quite sunk in.

Bankruptcy done.

Next? IRS.

Our attorney recommended we file an amended return that would reflect the loss we took on our house. It could perhaps lower the amount we owe. So that's next.

Now? Today? Well, we fly out at 6. We both have some work to do this morning. Then we're going to "inventory" our belongings here. The stuff we didn't sell. And we only have a few hours to do this. We need to figure out what we want to bring immediately to the island and how to get the rest there. We've had a friend offer to drive it up for us. Amazing. Incredible offer. He said it would be a favor to him. A nice excuse to get out of L.A. for a bit. So... well, we have options.

And are so clear that we are exceedingly wealthy in friends. You are all so lovely and amazing. Thank you!

A few more questions to answer:

-No, we didn't drive by the house.
-No, I wasn't tempted.
-Yes, we've enjoyed our time here.
-No, it didn't make me sad. It made me happy. To see our friends. To feel so at home.

Any more? Questions? Ask away.

I have one for you: What the heck does that statue mean to you? And WHY would it be at the entrance to the Ernst & Young Building? What am I missing here?

-Fire grows to more than 122,000 acres - Los Angeles Times

Friday, August 28, 2009

I hope you're happy, L.A. I really do.

Today we are going to Los Angeles for the Bankruptcy hearing. Already. It happened so fast! I've been feeling anxious about it. I don't know if it's about the hearing or returning to L.A. To the 'scene of the crime' so to speak.

I think I'm afraid of missing it too much. Of realizing that I actually do. Because it's been quite out of sight out of mind for me. And that's helped. But now I'm confronting it. Our past. And it feels so soon.

Oh how I've missed our friends. Our community. The food. Auntie Em's, Alegria, Yuca's, the Taco Zone truck on Alvarado, Kogi Truck, the natural hot dog truck in front of Silverlake Wine on Thursday nights (I guess we ate from trucks a lot)... and yeah. We've missed the house. I wrote about that. It's no secret. But...

One thing I know for sure... I will NOT be driving by the house.

This trip back sort of feels like confronting an ex only a few months after the break-up while wounds are still fresh. How will you feel when you see them? Devastated? Or happy that things worked out the way they did? How will they look? Will it be easier if they look miserable? Perhaps. But in all honesty, I really want them to be happy too. Kind of like this...

I'm walking into court when I suddenly see L.A. out of the corner of my eye. Shit. Do I say something? Or keep walki--- too late. L.A. saw me and is heading this way.

ME: Oh my god, L.A.! It's really you! Wow. Wow.

L.A.: Stephanie. Wow. Look at you.

ME: Yeah. It's good to see you.

L.A.: It's good to see you.

ME: No. Really. Wow. I can't believe it's been... what?

L.A.: Two months.

ME: Is that all? Seems longer.

L.A.: You look... happy?

ME: Oh yeah. I am. I'm happy. I'm great. Totally. We're doing awesome.

L.A.: What are you doing here?

ME: Oh, just... you know... just court.

L.A.: Court? Shit. Why? What happened?

ME: Nothing. It's no big.. it's nothing. Just quick in and out. Yeah, so you're looking good. Hot, actually.

L.A.: You think? Wow. That's... unexpected coming from you.

ME: No, you look really hot. Like on fire, hot.

L.A.: Now that you mention it...

ME: Seriously burning. Inferno. Like, melt your skin off kind of hot actually...

L.A.: You look like you might have lost a few pounds.

ME: Huh. Thanks. Well, I've been running a little. Not as much as I should.

L.A.: Yeah, I can tell.

ME: What?

L.A.: Nothing. Go on.

ME: I've been busy. Really busy. You know. Work. Family. Chicago.

L.A.: How is Chicago? Humid?

ME: No, the weather has been perfect. Cool. Not too hot.

L.A.: I see.

ME: Chicago is such a great city. It's good to be back. We love it. I work in the Loop.

L.A.: Oh , the Loop. Wasn't there a shooting there yesterday?

ME: Well, we should be going, actually.

L.A.: Yeah, me too. I'm really busy too.

ME: I should let you get back to dowsing flames and what not. Being the center of the universe.

L.A.: Excuse me?

ME: You know what I mean. Never mind.

L.A.: Okay, well you take care.

ME: Wait. L.A., we had some good times, didn't we?

L.A.: (no response)

ME: We did. But what's in the past is in the past and... well, you never know what the future holds. But I mean this in all sincerity... I hope you're happy. I really do.

the goals we carry in our wallets

"As long as we have hope, we have direction, the energy to move and the map to move by, we have a hundred alternatives, a thousand paths and an infinity of dreams." - author unknown

This is the quote that welcomed me into the online "Pre-Discharge Bankruptcy Class" called Money In Motion. I scoffed at first. Because it was 6PM on a Sunday and I really, really did not want to take a 2-hour online course that would just remind me of how much a failure I am financially. So, yes, I scoffed. At first.

Then I realized that that quote is just another way of saying what I've been saying all along... happiness has nothing to do with the circumstances. I have hope. Like our President. I hope. But hope alone doesn't inspire change. It must be backed up by action. This pre-discharge bankruptcy class is one action.

Here I am facing my computer on a Sunday evening because something clearly needs to change. This online course isn't a reflection or a reminder of my failure. It's feedback. It's acknowledgment that I need a little help to change. A change in thinking. New tools.

So I make the choice to dive in and read everything in this 2-hour online course. I won't skim. I'll really read it and even take notes. Because I'm here for a reason, after all.

The first thing this Money In Motion course addresses is GOALS. Goals are the basis for any budget, it tells me. Your goals should be flexible and specific. It asks me to write down three goals on an index card. One short term, one mid term and one long term goal.

My pen hovers over the index card.

I write "My Goals" at the top.

Then think. Hmmmm.... why is this so hard?

For an entire year I have been training myself to NOT want anything, that's why. I've been training myself to avoid magazines, zappos.com, stores of any kind. I've been re-conditioning myself to be able to walk into a store and walk out feeling BETTER about having NOT bought something than having spent money just to spend money. I've been learning how to be creative and "shop my closet" as a way to find new outfits and combinations of clothes I've never tried before. New clothes without spending a dime. Trading. Selling and buying used. Wanting less. Wanting nothing except what I have and being grateful. Satisfied. And I am.

Thankfully. Gratefully.

So this is hard. I'm finding it hard to write something on the card. Something that doesn't feel completely arbitrary or simply "pie-in-the-sky." But Money In Motion (MIM) is telling me to. Is saying: GOALS ARE THE BASIS FOR ANY BUDGET. They must be specific & flexible. Okay, so they can change. Fine.

Okay, a new pair running shoes. I actually do need those. Mine are old and worn through and given my propensity towards injuries, running on old shoes is a very bad idea. So that one's easy.

Next one has to be between $500 and $2000. Harder. Even when we do earn money, we don't want to just spend it on things. But experiences. The goal: acquire experiences, not things. Remember? Right. So... well, why not? A vacation. A romantic vacation. A fabulous vacation. I can commit to that goal. At the present the only vacation we have on the books is a one night camping trip to Lake Geneva, WI where we were married 6 years ago. We haven't been back since. So... I write it down. A fabulous vacation with Bob.

Third goal. More than $5,000. Well, since our goal is to spend nothing acquiring furniture for the house on the island I'm not going to write down furniture. What else? Savings. That counts, right? Why not go large. $10,000 in savings. The idea of saving is much sexier to me now than a new car or even a new wardrobe. So savings it is.

MIM suggests I carry my goal card in my wallet where I can see it each time I go to spend money on something. And I haven't done that yet. Why? I don't know. Perhaps I'm still relating to it as "pie in the sky." Or perhaps I'm avoiding something. That's more likely. Avoiding being limited? Perhaps.

So, guess what. I'm doing it now. Right now. Putting the goal card in my wallet. Done. It's now there. My reminder. A little gift from MIM.

I have a challenge for you.

Grab an index card and write down 3 goals. 0-$500, $500-$2,000 and over $5,000. What are yours? I think we can learn from each other. Once you've written your goals, take a picture, upload it & post the link in the comment section. Or... just write them out in the comments if you don't want to go thru the whole taking the pic and uploading it business.

Either way you can join in. I just want to know, what goals would you carry in your wallet?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Limbo

Today's post is written by my amazing husband Bob. Two weeks ago I requested that he write one because I'd been missing his voice on the blog. Not to mention, I absolutely loved the post he wrote back in March- A Guy's Guy- and was craving another. I told him, "It better make me weep!" No pressure, right? Well, enough preamble. Here it is...

Limbo Belafonte
“Every limbo boy and girl
All around the limbo world
Gonna do the limbo rock
All around the limbo clock...”
That song popped into my head today. Ha ha! Now it’s in your head too! Make sure to either hum the tune or sing it in front of others. Nothing like passing on a tune you can’t get out of your head to others. That seems to be the only cure.

It reminds me of the earlier years, roller skating around the rink while "Limbo Rock" blasts throughout the building. A single file line is formed and one by one people skate under the limbo stick being held by two people, one on each end. Everyone goes through and falls down or touches the stick, eliminating them from the game until there is only one person left. The person left is the one who successfully arches down, bends sideways or backwards, and seems to be a contortionist by nature, as each round the stick is lowered closer and closer to the floor.

For me, when the limbo stick gets to a certain height, my mind starts acting up. “I can’t do it. It’s too low. I’m gonna fall...”

Limbo as a colloquialism is "any status where a person or project is held up, and nothing can be done until another action happens.”

Sounds familiar.

Sending out resumes for a job over a year ago
Putting the house on the market
Calling/working with lenders and creditors
Temporarily living in the Midwest
Filing for bankruptcy

Waiting.
“Limbo lower now
Limbo lower now…”
For over a year, life has been in limbo. Always waiting for another action, being held up until something on the other end happens. Something in someone else’s control. An action on the other end.

Actions like

A job offer
Offer on the house
Agreement on new terms
The right time to move
Court approval

It all boils down to

a request
a waiting period
and approval/denial of the request

It’s the waiting time that seems to make things go into limbo. Whether it’s taking too long, or I want to be somewhere else, or doing something else, that’s where limbo comes into play. It turns to anxiety, stress, disappointment, depression, fear, loss, heartbreak, hopelessness. The limbo stick is too low.

I’m a very impatient person. So for me, something that might take a month, may seem like an eternity and completely stress me out. Someone else may not even notice the time go by and think to themselves, “that went by fast!” They don’t even sweat it. That person has a bit more flexibility in how they're viewing that particular situation.

“la la la...”

Maybe if I step back for a moment, stretch, breathe and relax when the limbo feeling hits, I won’t be so concerned about how low or high the bar is.

“Get yourself a limbo girl
Give that chic a limbo whirl
There's a limbo moon above
You will fall in limbo love...”

I know that when Stephanie and I spend time together and reconnect, things tend to come back in to focus. Life tends to be a little less hectic and a bit more magical. The limbo stick seems to be high enough to stroll right under. Effortlessly.

“Don't move that limbo bar
You'll be a limbo star...”
The question I pose to you is... how low can you go?

-Bob

Read Bob's previous post "A Guy's Guy"

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TEDDY & ME: Real Estate Mom Shares a 39-year-old Memory

(This post has absolutely nothing to do with Real Estate.)

Sen. Edward Ted Kennedy, D-MA, dies at age 77

In 1970 I was a flight attendant for American Airlines
based at LaGuardia field in New York. It was such an exciting time to be living in NYC and I loved flying and all the travel it provided-- free passes and all of that. I also loved politics. It was my minor in college and I loved discussing politics with anyone who would listen.


One day I was working a trip from D.C.'s National Airport (now known as Ronald Regan Airport) to Boston’s Logan airport. We were preparing the airplane for the passengers when a gate agent came barreling down the aisle in the coach compartment to find me in the galley.

“We’ve got a VIP coming on board and he’s going to be sitting in coach!” he said excitedly. As a new flight attendant I always worked in coach, and we rarely had any VIPs in the back of the airplane. So, I couldn’t help but be mildly excited.

“Who is it?” I asked. “Senator Ted Kennedy,” the agent responded. The Kennedys always sit in coach.”

OMG. Senator Ted Kennedy? I almost fainted. I was the biggest Kennedy fan outside of Massachusetts. I loved all things Kennedy -- their politics, their family legacy, and our shared passion for sailing. But more than anything I was excited about the opportunity to discuss politics with the senator. Now was my chance to dispel the myth of the airhead flight attendant. I’d approach him and talk to him about the pocket veto currently before Congress. It was going to be great.

Ted was the first passenger boarded and he went to the very back of the airplane in the “A” seat on the port side. I kept thinking now’s my chance, before everyone gets on board and we get busy. I’ll just go back there and start chatting about that Pocket Veto Bill. We'll have a brief but intellectually stimulating conversation. It'll be great.

I made an effort to approach slowly so he wouldn’t think I was a raving lunatic fan. I formed the words I’d say in my head. I got to 23 A, 24 A, 25 A then... Senator Kennedy. He looked up at me with a questioning smile. I opened my mouth and (in a squeaky voice) said, “Going Sailing, Senator?” He answered with a smile and a nod “Yes, Ma’am.”

GOING SAILING, SENATOR?!?!?!?!? I wanted to die of embarrassment! Where did those words come from? I missed my opportunity for a nice chat with my favorite senator! I was mortified.

The flight was only about an hour but I couldn’t risk going back to him again as my mouth seemingly had a mind of its own. After we landed at Logan I locked myself in the bathroom just in case I was tempted to speak to him on the way out.

But the one thing I’ll never forget is the twinkle in his eye, the smile on his face, and the fact that the only person who made me feel foolish, was me.

Thanks for the memory, Teddy. And God Bless.

-Pam (The Real Estate Mom)



photo credit: Yachtpals.com - "Ted Kennedy Back at the Helm"

-Ted Kennedy, Senate's Liberal Lion, Dies - NPR

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Monday, August 24, 2009

13 Personal Money Management Tips From LITTOF Readers

It’s been one week since my “B is for…” post where I wrote about the fact that Bob & I have filed for bankruptcy. I also asked for tips from readers on how you manage your money. I have loved reading your comments and getting your suggestions and thought I’d put them into a post because I have a feeling that the comments sometimes get overlooked. And there are some gems here. I found them to be on the whole practical, exciting, charming, specific, unusual and thought-provoking.

I'm not posting all of the comments in their entirety as some reiterate previous tips. (If you'd like to read all the comments as posted by readers, you can do that here.)

Without further ado, here are YOUR tips around making personal finance management easy (easier):

1. General Budget & Finance Check –
I stick to a general budget. I have a rough idea of how much I want to save each month, knowing that things happen and it's not always possible. I do a "finance" check once every month to see what I'm spending on. It hasn't changed much over the past couple years so I'm not as uptight as I used to be :) – Kim

2. Cash Envelope System—
We write out a budget each month, all of our expenses are listed with amounts and we calculate our income for the month. We have $$ budgeted for food/household/hygiene and that amount is set aside in cash at the beginning of the month. I can go over budget in this category so I use the cash envelope system and divide the cash into weekly amounts. Once the $ for that week is spent then that’s it – no borrowing from the next week or using a credit card. It’s made me make smarter decisions knowing I have limited amount of cash for the week – and since spending cash hurts more than a credit card, cash has helped me to carefully consider my purchases. -Holly (Anchorage, Alaska)


3. The RUDE little Post-It Note–
I give myself an allowance every week and when the credit card bill looks like its going over my self-imposed limit I put a post-it on the card with some rude little comment to myself to remind me to rethink my purchase. -mri

4. Dave Ramsey, Dave Ramsey, Dave Ramsey!
My Hub and I follow Dave Ramsey, my in-laws follow him, my sister Lindsey and her Hub follow him, and some of my friends as well. He knows his stuff and he obviously comes highly recommended from MANY people. By following his ideas last year we paid off 5 of our bills and we hope to add more to that this year. –Maxson trio

5. Detailed Budgeting & Quicken-
I have a very detailed budget, but often find myself overspending in some categories (usually in the "household" category!). I track all my money with Quicken. I've been using it since like '97. Seeing WHERE your money goes makes it really easy to change your ways and stop spending as foolishly. I'm also big on electronic banking and automatic payments. Make life simple, and make your money work for you. - Jessica

6. Write it down!-
I write down everything I spend on a spreadsheet and do a monthly spending plan balancing what's coming in and going out. If it comes up short, I cut entertainment, clothes and eating out OR see if there is a way to generate more income. I give very modest gifts for birthdays and things like that.

Also, I do not have an open active credit card. You won’t believe how careful you are with your cash when you have no "emergency" card. Because there is ALWAYS an emergency - like gas or food. That has been the single best thing I have done. And yes, I have huge student loans and all sorts of things but I have never gone hungry and I have never been homeless. The peace of mind is the reward for not spending more than you earn. It's priceless. - Anonymous

7. The power of the mind-
Poverty is in the MIND. Wealth is in the MIND. Many people would pay all they had to have a great partner in life. You are rich, keep that in your mind and soon the outside will reflect the inside. - Anonymous

8. Mint.com-
I forget where I heard about it, but I've been using mint.com as a way to keep track of our spending, credit cards, loans, etc. It's not perfect, but it definitely helps me visualize what we're spending too much on, where we can save more, etc. And, it also allows you to create individual budgets, too. - Nicole

9. Nausea As a Repellent-
We don't set a budget, but I get nauseated when I spend money (thanks for the money issues, Dad!) so that's a decent de facto system. -Marta

10. Cut Out the Booze-
My advice for anyone who wants to save money is to cut out alcohol. While I am not a big drinker so this is easy for me, my husband and I estimate that we save several hundred a month by not drinking (as compared to our peers). It’s worth every penny. -Megan

11. Monthly Check-In & Hide Your Cash-
I use Quicken to track household finances. I used to use a cash envelope system, but my apartment was robbed during that time. As it turns out, renters' insurance doesn't cover cash at all! I'd recommend a debit card and Quicken as a great way to go. As someone else noticed, spending habits are fairly consistent over time, so monthly check-in is probably all you need after you get a handle on things. - Suzanne

12. The Colorful Money Jar-
Since I moved to Australia, I don't qualify with my visa status for an Aussie credit card, so I live an all cash life. I have auto payments set up for rent and utilities, then I take out a set amount on Sunday from the ATM and it is what I get to spend during the week. Anything left over gets put in my money jar, which I keep in the kitchen. If I run out early, I can take from the money jar but not from my bank account. The weekly allowance is generally more than I need for a normal week, so the jar fills up with brightly colored Aussie money (pink! purple!) and once several hundred has accrued, I take a long weekend visiting some part of the country I haven't visited yet. -Abby

13. Streamline Your Budget!
I recommend a ruthless streamlining of your budget every couple of months, till you're convinced you are where you want to be. The tool that helped us the most was to keep a spreadsheet of our categories of spending the money that was left over after bills (eating out, movies, post office, coffee, parking fees, hair/beauty, clothes/shoes, etc.). It was shocking in some cases to see how the actual dollar amount was nowhere near our general sense of what we were spending in a particular category. - Crystal

Thank you for sharing your tips, what works and what doesn't work. I'm learning so much through this process!

If you have a tip you have yet to share, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and comment below. I'll be reading.

Thanks!
-Stephanie

Friday, August 21, 2009

LINKS IN THE TIME OF FORECLOSURE: How to live in a lighthouse & more

So you know I'm on Twitter, right? Yes! Right here. I mention this because today's links are all courtesy of Twitter. Links I found while reading others' Tweets. Should I call them Twinks? Or Litters. Twinks. Anyway...

Lighthouse Living



Remember how I wrote about wanting to live rent-free in a lighthouse? Well, these people found a way to do just that. They are the current lighthouse keepers at the Seguin Island lighthouse on Seguin Island in Coastal Maine. How did they find this opportunity? Why, The Caretaker Gazette, of course. (I SWEAR they are not paying me.) Island Caretakers - The Caretaker Gazette Blog via @housesitter


The Recession Hits Sesame Street

Have you heard the news? Elmo's mom lost her job! Fictional jobs are not even safe in this economy!

Actually, I think this is a really brilliant idea. Why? Because kids don't read blogs. Do they? No, I really don't think so. They watch Sesame Street. What a great opportunity to introduce your child to the changes happening all around them if not in their own home.

From the Daily Finance article":
...the message of Families Stand Together: Feeling Secure in Tough Times, an excellent program airing next month on PBS, is that Elmo's situation is not unusual, especially with the jobless rate expected to top 10 percent before the end of the year.

The producers of the show, which features Al Roker and Deborah Roberts, created a commendably realistic -- though not depressing -- look at the recession's impact on all sorts of families. According to the non-profit Sesame Workshop, Families "aims to help families with children, ages two to eight, experiencing difficult economic circumstances by offering strategies and tips that can lead to positive outcomes for their children's physical and emotional well-being during this tough economic climate."

It goes on to mention that the residents of Sesame Street even host a big garage sale to make some extra money and that Elmo starts his own Lemonade stand.

This link is courtesy of "Living with Less" - the human side of the global recession by writers and editors of The New York Times. @livingwithless


60 Ways to Really Save Money on Groceries


I don't know why, but I just hate clipping coupons. The time it takes seems to be way more than it's worth in the end. I know people will disagree with that, it's just my sticking point with coupons. That's why I like this post - How to Save Money on Groceries from Mommy Coddle. (I found Mommy Coddle via The Lovely List @thelovelylist.)

The list comes from Mommy Coddle readers and I find it incredibly useful. I've been thinking about this a lot lately as our move to the island draws nearer. I keep thinking, we're going to have to cook A LOT MORE. I'm both excited and nervous about that. It's a shift, but one I've been wanting to make for a long time. Anyway, check out the list of 60 reader suggestions on how to save money on groceries.

As a sampler, these are 3 of my favorites:

2. Taking a cue from many of our grandmothers, come up with a meal plan--like Pizza Friday (homemade), eat out Saturday, Grill Sunday (and grill some extras), Monday Soup and Salads (use some of the grill extras), Tuesday Fancy Sandwiches (like clubs and panini), Wednesday Pasta, Thursday Meat and Potatoes.

21. Buy a whole chicken. Cook it in the crockpot, then debone, chop and freeze for use in tacos, enchiladas, sandwiches, etc.

22. Have breakfast for dinner. It's usually cheaper.

And last link of the day...

Do you eat debt for breakfast? This Guy Does!



His name is Adam Baker and he's at war with debt. He eats debt for breakfast. His slogan is "Get out of Debt... Get Into Life." And he documents his journey and shares such useful information on his blog Man Vs. Debt! What can I say, I'm inspired! Apparently the birth of his daughter had him reevaluate the way he was living, spending and carrying debt. That was the turning point for him and when he declared war and wrote an actual declaration. It's genius. Bob and I should do the same thing. I've mentioned this to him. I think I'll print this declaration and read it to Bob at some point this weekend to inspire one of our own.

Here is the Man Vs. Debt declaration of war:
We, the leaders of the Baker household, formally DECLARE WAR on Debt!

Let it be known that we will not stop until Debt is eradicated from our lives! We will not win every battle, but we WILL win the War. There will be no negotiations, there will be no cease-fires, there will be no treaties of any sort.
We pledge the following:

* We shall cancel all of our credit cards and shall not apply any new credit.
* We shall track every penny we spend.
* We shall spend less than what we earn.
* We shall “give every dollar a name, on paper, on purpose at the beginning of every month.”
* We shall use strictly cash for variable monthly expenses.
* We shall constantly strive to cut spending and fixed expenses.
* We shall dip into our emergency fund only during true emergencies, after all options are fully exhausted.
* We shall never have a car payment.
* We shall rent until the war is over, we have 20% down, and we can afford a 15-year fixed mortgage.
* We shall never co-sign for a loan, for anyone… anywhere.
* We shall never loan family or friends money. If we choose to give, it will be a gift.
* We shall utilize books and blogs to study our enemy and develop our strategies.
* We shall invest in ourselves and our earning potentials.

Declaration of War reaffirmed as witnessed on March 27th, 2009
Inspiring, right? What would you pledge?

Thanks to @wisebread for tweeting this. By the way, Wisebread also has a wonderful website all about "Living Large on a Small Budget."

Photo credits:
-Lighthouse image is courtesy of The Caretaker Gazette
-Elmo is via Blog of Wishes
-The cherry tomatoes is a photo I took of the beautiful tomatoes from my mom & Tom's garden! Hooray for home-grown.
-The picture of Adam & his daughter is from his site Man vs. Debt


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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How To Know When To Remodel Or Buy New: Real Estate Mom answers a reader question

Good morning, LITTOF Readers!

It’s Wednesday and you know what that means...

Words of Wisdom from the Real Estate Mom!

Today I’ll answer one of the wonderful questions I’ve received from a reader.

Gabrielle asks:

“How do you know when it's smarter to buy another house vs. fixing up or remodeling what you've got?”
Remodeling can be a pain. Your house is in disarray, you’re doing the dishes in the bathtub while the kitchen is destroyed, you have to go to Wendy’s to go to the bathroom, you can’t find your socks, the wallboard dust has seeped in between the pages of all your books, and there’s no place to sit down let alone have anyone over for a nice cup of tea, the contractor has just yelled “Uh oh!” for the fourth time today as he discovers the plumbing isn’t connected to the sewer and it’ll be $5,000 more to fix the problem, and you know all the contractors better than family members because they’ve “lived” with you for so long! Well, you get the drift.

However if you LOVE your home and your location, if you have an artistic flair and want to create your own space, if buying another home in your area with the amenities you're seeking is not a reality, if your remodel would not put your home out of the price range of the other homes on the block, and if you have a high tolerance for pain, then remodeling may be for you.

If you do opt for the remodel make sure to budget 20% above the quoted costs for over runs. Take a page from Steph and Bob’s book. Their remodel cost them all of their cash reserves and then some and the project took twice as long as they anticipated. The results were beautiful and the area they lived in could normally support a home of greater value just not in this market.

My advice- and remember this is coming from a die hard remodeler- in today’s world it is probably cheaper and smarter to buy rather than remodel. Now this is just MY opinion but here’s why I say this. Money is cheap right now to buy a home. If you have good credit you CAN get a mortgage at 5.3% 30-year-fixed rated with no points. The market nationally has adjusted downward about 20% making wonderful homes available for about what you would have paid for them in 2000. You may be able to move up to an area that was out of reach before. There are many short sales and foreclosures out there that are great opportunities if you have patience (waiting for the bank's approval) and are willing to buy a home without any warranties. Your costs in moving are a known while the remodel holds many surprises. I remember reading an article that said most people who remodel move within 5 years of that remodel, because the project didn’t meet all their needs.

But do remember, your current home has to be priced realistically for the market today. If you bought your home between 2004-2007 you probably paid top dollar for it. In order for a home to sell today it must be priced competitively AND in perfect condition. We’re calling the current market a “Price War and a Beauty contest” but that’s another post.

I suggest having three Realtors do a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) on your house that will give you an idea of value in today’s market. At the same time, describe to the Realtor you chose, what you’re looking for in your next home so they can send you listings of what’s available. You can also go on Realtor.com (the site of the National Association of Realtors) Zillow, etc and look at available listings in your area yourself.

Hope that answers your question, Gabrielle. Please keep the questions coming, and I’ll do my best to get the answers to you.

On another note, I just want to say that I'm getting so much from reading the comments on Steph's last post - B is for...- about Bankruptcy. Thank you for the thoughtfulness in your comments and the great tips about what works for you in budgeting and managing your finances!

Until next Wednesday,

Pam- The Real Estate Mom

P.S. Make it a great day (my dad's favorite saying that I'm adopting)!

Photo Credit: Bob took this picture of their kitchen during the remodel. Needless to say, they used their microwave A LOT!


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Monday, August 17, 2009

B is for...

I’ve been putting off this post.

I haven’t wanted to write about it. I mean, I’ve wanted to, but didn’t know quite how. Well, I’ve been afraid. Afraid of saying it out loud. Of seeing it online. Of documenting my ‘failure’ for all the world to see. Of opening myself up for potentially massive judgment and the harsh critics on the internets (as my friend Jackie would say.)

So I’ve procrastinated. Wrote about other things. Waited. Until now. Because the whole point of this blog is to tell it like it is. Right? Yes. The point is to tell it like it is in order to hopefully make a difference for someone else in a similar situation. To be open. Honest. To accurately document our experience in the housing crisis and the great economic recession. Our view has always been that we are not victims. And that our present hardship is the fertile soil of our rebirth. This is our chance to be born again, so to speak. Our new savior? Simplicity. Financial responsibility.

Tell it like it is, Stephanie. Just own it. Do it.

Okay. But how? Well, just stick to the facts. In March I wrote a post about the facts that make up our lives and how we found freedom in relating to them as just the facts. Without adding anything.

So, to take a lesson from that post...

At this moment in time, these are the facts:

-WE are ‘camping out’ in my mom and stepdad’s walk-out basement.
-WE are moving in October to the San Juan Islands where we will live for 2 years rent-free taking care of someone else’s house (that story is here.)
-WE are no longer homeowners.
-OUR credit score is 511
-WE have just filed bankruptcy

There it is. Ouch.

Did you miss it? Should I say it again?

We have just filed bankruptcy.

We are insolvent.

We are bankrupt. Lacking in a particular desirable attribute (money.)

The letter of the day is B. And B is for Bankruptcy.

I know.

I know. Please don’t look at me like that. Like that! Oh, you’re not? You just had something in your eye? Well, the thing is that I am making an effort to relate to these facts as just facts and nothing more, but I’m not there yet.

Why?

Well, I guess because I’m afraid of what you will think. I'm embarrassed! It’s hard to confront the overwhelming extent of our debt and how we got there let alone how everyone else will now categorize us.

Let me be clear:

This is NOT where we thought we’d end up.
This is not where we wanted to end up.
This IS where we have ended up.

In Bankruptcy.

The B-word.

There are a lot of facts that led to the fact that we’ve filed for bankruptcy. And we are using all the facts to learn, to grow. The challenge is to not use the facts to beat ourselves to bloody carcasses. What good would that do? I see no upside in that.

When we first met with our bankruptcy attorney he said, in so many words, be good to each other.

"If one of you drinks or eats or is short with the other, just know that it’s probably because of this. Bankruptcy. Because most people have a conversation in their heads that says, I’m a loser. Don’t listen. Just ignore it. It’s just a conversation."

He said all of this with extreme intensity. He wanted to make sure we heard what he had to say.

He said that bankruptcy is hard on marriages because, he pointed at Bob and said, “He wants to build you a castle," he then pointed at me, "and you want a home that’s safe."

He let that hang for a beat. Simple. But true. The truth of that simple statement hit us between the eyes. "And when that doesn’t happen," he continued... clear that he had our attention, "you think you failed. A lot of couples end up in divorce court next and I hate seeing that happen. It doesn’t have to be like that. Okay?" Okay. "Good. You're going to get through this."

And with that he handed us our marching orders. It was a relief. We were so afraid of that meeting. Of acknowledging that this is where we've actually landed. Of the embarrassment! But once we did, it wasn't so scary.

And we could have just gone about our business and never told a soul. Started fresh. No one would have to know. Except for the fact that I have this blog and I feel an obligation to be as truthful and vulnerable as possible. And our commitment to peeling back the curtains for the benefit of others. Which leads us here. To this moment. To me sitting in a coffee shop in my hometown on my day off work typing out the facts.


Photo Credit: Cookie Monster Wallpaper - deviantART by Elmhoe

Now that the cat is out of the bag, I’ll be writing a lot more about the process of going through bankruptcy and its effects on us and what we’re learning. I expect questions. Ask away. Please.

I have questions too.

First of all, do YOU live on a strict budget?

What tools do you use to track your spending?

Comment below or e-mail: loveinthetimeofforeclosure@gmail.com


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Sunday, August 16, 2009

A priceless reminder to just be happy from a Zen Master

So I fully intended to do a Friday “Links in the Time of Foreclosure” blog post to stick to my new and self-imposed structure for the blog, but I got sidetracked with the post about the Release of Lien and ran out of time to do the ‘links’ post.

It was a busy week as I started a new project (thankfully) and am commuting from Barrington to Chicago every day. Which is easy with the express train, but definitely an adjustment.

Anyway, the one link I found worth sharing with you was to an article I read in the New York Times on the “Happy Days Blog.” Today is Sunday. It’s beginning to look like rain. The trees are swaying in the breeze and I’m still thinking about this article.

“For the Time Being” by Norman Fischer – Happy Days Blog [The New York Times]

Norman Fischer is a senior Zen Buddhist priest and poet. And what he wrote for The New York Times about happiness speaks so powerfully to our experience. It’s like he’s in my head! Well, he is a Zen Master. He writes about happiness and the human experience. I was especially taken by this passage:

“We want enjoyment, we want to avoid pain and discomfort. But it is impossible that things will always work out, impossible to avoid pain and discomfort. So to be happy, with a happiness that doesn’t blow away with every wind, we need to be able to make use of what happens to us — all of it — whether we find ourselves at the top of a mountain or at the bottom of the sea.”

Somehow knowing this helps. Knowing that it’s impossible to avoid pain and discomfort is a good thing. The goal isn’t to avoid it, but to learn from it. Perhaps? And accept it when it comes along. Pain & discomfort... hardship doesn’t have to take the place of happiness when it does appear. They can live side by side.

And by the way, to me pain has nothing to do with suffering. There's pain and then there's your reaction to it. Ever see someone who is completely calm after having just broken a bone? I broke my arm skiing in college and I still remember this eerie calm that came over me. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it was painful... but I was determined to get through it. Or little kids that fall and whack their heads and get back up and keep playing? To me, they are choosing FUN and PLAY instead of suffering. Their head might throb, but playing is more important to them. (I'm not a parent, so parents... feel free to disagree. Or agree. Either. Both.)

That’s what I’ve learned through all of this. I’ve experienced it first hand and sometimes I still forget. And I get stuck thinking that there's somewhere to get to. Like this:

Once we're on the island, we'll be happy.
Once we're out of debt, we can breathe.
Once we're dead, we can sleep.

We used to say, "Once we sell the house, things will be normal again." But what is normal? To me, Norman is saying that pain and discomfort are normal. That this is it. Truly. I've complained about being in a constant state of transition and how challenging it is. What if life is a constant state of transition?
"...to be happy, with a happiness that doesn’t blow away with every wind," Norman writes, "we need to be able to make use of what happens to us — all of it — whether we find ourselves at the top of a mountain or at the bottom of the sea.”


Whether we find ourselves in the house of our dreams or in someone else's dream home... Put like that it seems so silly that we would suffer a minute over our situation. One thing that is so clear to me is that we have truly been using what happens to us... all of it.

It’s wonderful to be reminded. And we're with Norman on this. We’ve found that it is possible to experience both love and happiness in the time of foreclosure.

That discovery is worth more than the dream house and all of our possessions combined.

For the rest of Norman’s poignant article in the New York Times, click here. Go read it and then come back here and comment. I'd love (as always) to hear what YOU think!

photo credit: courtesy of Katherine of Chicago


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Friday, August 14, 2009

Just when you think it's safe to open the mail...

TWO DAYS AGO we received a piece of mail that made our hearts sink into our stomachs. Why? It was from ReconTrust. Remember them? They're the ones that sent us a million foreclosure notices. Here.

First of all, what kind of name is that? ReconTrust? Really? It's suspicious to begin with. It sort of sounds like "We can trust" which makes me think, "No. No, no. We cannot trust ReconTrust." Or reconnaissance. Which is "a military term denoting the exploration used to gain information." So that makes me think we're being spied on by a company that feels the need to put the word 'trust' in their name.

But seriously, what is the origin of this name?

Perhaps it comes from the FDIC's "Regional Economic Conditions" (RECON). But that doesn't quite fit.

Well, regardless the name alone still incites shivers, stomach flip flops and light-headedness. So what was it this time?

It was an official notarized document called SUBSTITUTION OF TRUSTEE AND FULL RECONVEYANCE.

Huh?

Here. This:

Ah, yes... the Substitution of Trustee and Full Reconveyance. Of course. Not really. We had no idea what this was. But we assumed it meant bad news. Because anything from ReconTrust has been bad news. Does this mean that National City is coming after us?

Well, hang on. Let's break this down. According to Websters online dictionary, the word 'reconvey' is a transitive verb that means:

1. To transfer back to a former owner; as, to reconvey an estate.

Oh. Well, that sounds... like good news. Right? Perhaps? I mean, we wouldn't have been able to have sold the house had their still been a lien. So this is really just a formality, it seems.

I visit ReconTrust's FAQ page to learn this:

What is a Lien Release?

When a home loan is paid off, a Lien Release is recorded with the county. A lien release document transfers title from a trustee or beneficiary (e.g., the lender) to the equitable owner (e.g., the borrower) of the real estate when the debt is satisfied (or paid off) under the terms of a deed of trust or mortgage. Every state uses a different name for the Lien Release Document, e.g., Satisfaction, Release, Discharge, or Substitution of Trustee and Full Reconveyance. No matter what it’s called, the lien release document has the same purpose: to release the lien of public record.


So, it is good news I suppose. It is a lien release document. But seriously, every state has a different name for it? Why? To keep us on our toes?

Does this mean that National City isn't going to try to collect on the difference? That the debt is satisfied? I don't know. We were told that they are waiting up to three years after a short sale to go after the difference. But that's another story.

For now, we'd just be happy to never receive another piece of mail from ReconTrust ever again. Let's hope this is the last.

I like happy mail. What about you? What is the best piece of mail you've received lately?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wednesday Wisdom from "The Real Estate Mom"


It's Wednesday! You know what that means? It's time for a little wisdom from my mom... otherwise known as "The Real Estate Mom."

Hi, LITTOF readers. I’m Pam Weinert, Steph's mom and, as Steph has mentioned in many of her posts, a Realtor here in Chicagoland. I’ll be posting every Wednesday on topics as they relate to Love In The Time Of Foreclosure, and I’ll answer any questions you may have relating to real estate, foreclosure etc.

One of the biggest frustrations for me has been watching my kids go through this financial meltdown, slipping, slipping like a drunk sliding down a wall, and not be able to do anything about it. Sure, I’ve dealt with foreclosures and short sales, I’ve even taken the big Kahuna class in distressed properties through the CDPE (Certified Distressed Properties Institute) and I’m now certified in handling distressed properties. But, like anything, when it happens to someone close to you, it becomes gut wrenching personal, like a sick doctor trying to heal herself.

Steph and Bob’s purchase of Silver Ridge was partly because of my coaching. They doubled their money on their condo and I always said “There’s no better investment in the world than real estate”. I can hear those words coming out of my mouth. I said them to whomever would listen, I believed them, lived them, and I practiced what I preached.

For almost 30 years I’ve been a Realtor helping people buy and sell their most valued possessions, their homes. My husband, Tom and I bought and sold 12 homes. We have had rental properties, and we even rehabbed an old boat. Real estate investing was Tom’s full time job.

Twenty five year’s ago, when I was a single Mom, I bought two houses, rehabbed them and sold them for a profit. The first one was a huge, crazy project. I had way more enthusiasm than money or skill. The house was a 100 year old Victorian home that had been neglected. It was one of three Victorians a father built for his three daughters so they could live close to each other. I liked to think that our house was the house of the “individualist’ because our turret was round while the other two were square.

The Victorian today.

Stephie and my son Tommy tell me one of their first memories is coming home from grade school and rather than being given warm chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven, I handed them each a paint scraper, some sand paper, and a fruit roll up and we got busy with the work of rehabbing. We stripped old wood, removed wallpaper, and pulled up flooring. We were so excited one day to find beautiful maple floors under cracked and ugly red and black linoleum. As I learned, they learned, and our lesson was your home is a sanctuary to be nurtured and loved. It should reflect who you are. It should be a place you share with your friends, and it will always be a great investment.

So Steph came by her real estate investment savvy honestly. Bob, right off the condo doubling experience, was enthused. So, when the Silver Ridge home came on the market at a drastically reduced price, they asked my opinion and I said, “as long as you can afford it, go for it.” Who knew the real estate bubble was about to burst? I didn’t. When the downward slide began I advised them to list their house immediately. I thought it would sell fast and they could salvage something. And the rest is history.

Yes, mistakes were made, but as in any crisis, lessons were also learned.

I learned that my kids have tremendous resilience. I learned that having a home has nothing to do with bricks and mortar. I learned to ask very tough questions of my clients. “Is your mortgage current or have you missed any payments? Sounds pushy doesn’t it? Well, the reality is that 80% of people who are in jeopardy of losing their homes never talk to their lenders or ANYONE! They’re in denial, depressed, embarrassed etc. As a Realtor I want to give them a safe place to unburden themselves so I can help them. I’ve also learned that real estate is only a good investment if you can truly afford a property, and if it’s a really good buy.

Do I still believe in real estate? Do I still like being a Realtor? Yes. Now, more than ever, because people need good Realtors who are educated, and who really care about them. Do I still believe real estate is a good investment? I do. There are some great opportunities out there in realestateland. There is cheap money to borrow, if you qualify, and wonderful plans for first time home buyers. So, yes, I still believe. But as the old song says “Money can’t buy you love” and neither can owning a home. You have to find love and happiness on your own, even in the time of foreclosure.

This is a picture of the house we moved to from the Victorian (only a block away.) We rehabbed this one too- and installed that beautiful stained glass window you see in the photo that I found from an old church.

Cruising the Waterways - Pam & Tom's blog about their year on the boat

Monday, August 10, 2009

In retrospect on my birthday...

One year ago today was my 33rd birthday and the first open house at our house on the ridge in Silver Lake.

We had put the house on the market on August 8th then opened it up to the public two days later. A Sunday.

I remember cleaning frantically. De-cluttering to get it show-ready. The first boxes we packed were for that open house. We woke up early, finished cleaning and then drove to the Ocean. To the beach. Leo Carillo. Friends joined us. We enjoyed the sun and the time together at the ocean. It was really lovely. And though we were just North of the Ventura County line, our house was never far from our thoughts.

We were definitely shell-shocked. What did we just do? We are actually selling our house? Where would we live?

At that point selling the house felt like the only thing we could do and the very thing that would save us from bankruptcy. The house would sell in a matter of weeks and we’d pay off our debts and just be renters. Jarring, yes. Unexpected, yes. Not my ideal birthday present, no.

In the back of my mind listing the house was somehow just a formality. A sign to the universe to let it know: We know this is serious and we’re willing to do what it takes. It would work like Murphy's Law. Someone would put an offer in on the house and then, just like that, jobs would appear. Money would fall out of the sky to save us and we wouldn’t have to sell. It was my birthday, after all. And I’m always optimistic on my birthday. Things were bound to get better. I didn’t want to sell. Nobody wanted us to sell.

I remember talking about the economy and how maybe things had to get bad before they got better. That maybe all of this was good for 'us.' I meant 'us' in a largely symbolic way. I didn't mean us. I meant, the world. Americans. This will teach us (Americans... other people, not us) to not be so wasteful. Yep. I said that. I still wasn't dealing with the fact that everything that was happening was actually happening exactly and specifically to us. It was too early. And I was too shell-shocked.

Right next to the sand in the parking lot was a camper with a little sitting area out on the beach. Wood benches, a little table and a grill, a multi-million dollar view of the Pacific and a sign that read: Campground Host. I pointed that out. What’s a Campground Host? Our good friend Jenna knew exactly the purpose of a campground host as she had always fantasized about being one. It’s someone who managed the campground in exchange for a free place to live and sometimes a small salary. Hmmm, I thought. At least there are options.

Last night after a lovely day spent on the little lake down the road near my mom and stepdad's house we were reminiscing about this first open house and my mom (the Realtor) said, “We should have lowered the price right away.” Yes. But we didn’t know. We didn’t know how bad it would be. How bad it would get. How LONG it would take. Bob’s theory all along had been to list the house at the price we paid. I was adamantly against that. This was August 2008. Things were bad for us, but didn’t seem so apocalyptic then as it did later. We weren't at that point yet. We were at the beginning and we had to start somewhere.

Bob was right, though. I know that now. I knew that when we received our first notice of foreclosure. Bob was right. If only we’d listed it at that price... we would’ve been out from under so much faster. Moving on. Cutting our losses. Not drowning. We would have avoided months of agony. We know that know.

Then? A year ago? We didn’t know. The feedback we got on the price from that first Sunday Open House a year ago today was that it was just right. We had close to 30 people come through on that first day. Everyone loved the house. Everyone thought the price was right.

The thing about price, though... it’s only right if someone is willing to pay it.

So we know that now. That day at the beach we didn’t. That day at the beach- my birthday- we sat in the sand trying to forget. Trying to look at the bright side. We looked at the ocean. The vastness and the power.

“I want to live by the ocean,” Bob said. And he meant it.

“I want to live in our house,” I said. And meant it.

One of us was going to get their way in the end. But neither of knew the journey we would take to get there. We will be living by the ocean. Not ON it, per se. A few miles away. Closer than we were, though, that’s for sure. On an island in the Pacific Northwest. I still can hardly wrap my mind around this twist of fate.

And that’s the thing. A year ago I never ever could have dreamed up this conclusion. That things would get so bad, that it would take almost 11 months to sell, that we’d sell it for almost 100,000 less than we paid, that we’d sell all of our possessions, end up living with my family, planning a future to take care of someone else’s house on... an island.

What can I say about all of this now one year later?

It is what it is. Maybe it is all good.

And...

I'm grateful. For so much. Just grateful.



PHOTO: Bob took this picture of Mom, Tom & I having a little birthday sail in a friend's Butterfly on the little lake by their house.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Links in the Time of Foreclosure


*THE SWEET TASTE OF 'MORTGAGE APPLE CAKE'
A woman saves her home from foreclosure by baking and selling cakes she called ‘Mortgage Apple Cake.’ Have you heard this story? I thought we tried everything to save our house, but apparently we didn’t. We never tried baking. This woman did. It’s very inspiring. I love a good ‘triumph in the face of foreclosure’ story.

-She Baked Her Way Out of Foreclosure- Today [MSNBC.COM]

-Angela Logan's Mortgage Apple Cakes - Bake Me A Wish

*A VERY HAPPY ACCIDENT

Greg Pincus – creator of The Happy Accident- wrote about LITTOF and our story on his blog recently. He characterizes our story as a ‘happy accident’ courtesy of social media. The fact that we ended up landing this amazing caretaking opportunity via us documenting our story on this blog. He says:
Once again, the lesson re-learned for me is this: you truly can’t anticipate everything that could come your way when you’re active online… but if you’re focused and prepared, you’ll be ready when it does.
Greg’s point has been sticking with me since I read it. Why? Well, because I think when the word ‘accident’ often gets equated with ‘luck.’ But I don’t think that’s at all Greg’s point. It’s not an accident in the way you accidentally spilled a glass of red wine on the carpet. No, it’s an unexpected outcome as a result of being ‘active, focused and prepared.’ What does that mean? And what is the point? The point is that you can set yourself up for a happy accident. The way that we did… and in the way that Greg suggests.

-A Happy Accident: Blog and Home Variety – The Happy Accident


*TALES FROM THE TRENCHES
This blog is in my Google reader. I follow it every day for it’s incredibly useful and insightful information about the mortgage crisis. For anyone facing foreclosure, they have a wonderful resource of short videos answering questions such as:
-What is a reverse mortgage?
-I received a foreclosure notice in the mail. What do I do now?
-What should I write in a hardship letter?
-Answering your questions – Facing the Mortgage Crisis


*EXFOLIATE YOUR LIFE!
What the heck does that mean? Well, Jessica, the creator of the wonderful website Makeunder My Life does an End of the Week Exfoliation every Friday. Here’s what she says on her site:
Each Friday, readers and myself toss out, pass on, or repurpose one item we no longer need/use/love.
Why? Well, as she says: “There is something really freeing about passing on things that no longer have a place in my life to someone who needs them.”

Bob and I definitely experienced this freeing sensation when we had our “freeing-up sale” and the subsequent purge of things. We also have since realized that we still have more we could shed. Or, ‘exfoliate.’

So, I’m joining Jessica’s ‘End of Week Exfoliation’ starting today. With this black bag. I bought this bag at a boutique in Silver Lake that is no longer in existence. It was called Edna Hart and it was a victim of this economy, unfortunately. I loved this bag so much when I first bought it that I bought my mom one in red for Christmas. The thing is, I don't use it much anymore. Because I don't love it like I used to. But, my mom still does. And she is the happy recipient of my first Friday Exfoliation. Enjoy the bag, Mom. Now you have one in red and black. (Feels good.)

-End of Week Exfoliation – Makeundermylife.com

(Thanks to The Lovely List – a new and lovely site- for leading me to Makeunder My Life)

...Speaking of The Lovely List, they have teamed up with bikebuyers.com to give away this lovely Cruiser Bike once a month:

How do you win? Share the lovely list. Details are here.


So those are the Friday links. I hope you enjoy and find value from them as I have. Let me know what you think. If you have any other blogs or links to suggest, send them my way please. Thank you!

Enjoy the socks off your weekend!
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