Saturday, September 15, 2007

Might As Well Get It Over With - Part 2

We decided we wanted to get away from the city, to a smaller town or even out in the country. We ended up in rural Kansas, about 45 minutes from the southern-most edge of the metro.

Our house was just what we wanted. Another 4BR ranch-style, with 2 large bathrooms, an open floor plan, a two-car garage, all on five acres of land. It was just four years old. It didn't have the basement we wanted, but it had a clean 4-feet deep crawl space where we could take shelter if there was ever a tornado. We thought we might grow some peach trees on the acreage and sell the fruit.

Our mortgage was for about $115,000, and our payments were double what we'd been making on the other house. Still, we told ourselves we could do it, as long as everything kept going the way it had been.

There's this guy named Murphy; I know some of you are acquainted with him. Apparently he decided to move into our new house with us.

The first thing we learned was that we were land-locked, meaning our land was surrounded on all sides by other people's property, with our only access being a shared driveway with our nearest neighbors. Of course we knew this when we bought it, but we didn't stop to think about the implications. If our neighbors didn't like the idea of us running a small fruit stand on the property, they could legally try to block the public from using the shared driveway.

The second thing we learned was that, despite the fertile farmland all around us, our land was crap. We were on a plate of limestone, just 18 inches or so under the surface, and the soil above it was poor. The reason the lawn immediately surrounding the house could grow grass and flowers so well was because the soil had been hauled in.

We had closed on the house in mid-October of 2001, just after 9/11. The moderate gas prices we enjoyed before 9/11 were now skyrocketing, so Shane's commute to work in the city was costing us more than we'd expected.

Then Shane got laid off from work. Of course, we knew it was possible, but in the four years that he'd been with his union, he'd never been laid off for more than 3 days at a time. But this time, days turned into weeks and then into months. He looked for work to get us through the rough spot, but any non-union job he could find didn't pay as much as his unemployment, so he continued to draw it instead.

I looked for work, and fully expected to find something quickly, as I had always been able to do in the past. But a large telecommunications company in our city had just had massive layoffs and the job market was flooded with applicants. I was finally able to get a job at the Internal Revenue Service. It paid well, but it was only seasonal. Still, it would help.

In the months before the layoff I'd learned that I had Grave's Disease, aka hyperthyroidism. It's often manageable with medication, but not in my case. I had a procedure called an ablation, which effectively kills off the thyroid gland, resulting in hypothyroidism, which is more easily managed. But until the change takes place and doses of replacement hormone can be regulated, there are a lot of unpleasant side effects.

For me, the worst of them were moderate depression and a severe case of what is commonly known as "brain fog". Of course, this was happening to me as I was trying to learn a somewhat complicated job at the IRS. I couldn't do the work because I simply couldn't make sense of it. Add to that the depression and a delusional certainty that Shane was going to leave me because I was ill, and you have one messed up little Annie. Those symptoms are long gone now, but at the time, they made it impossible for me to work.

The layoff lasted about five months in all. By then, we'd signed up for a total of four credit cards and they were nearly maxed out. Not on toys or luxury items, but on groceries, gas and whatever else we had to have to get by. We somehow managed to keep current on the vehicles and the house, but looking back, I'm not sure how we did it.

I called about refinancing the house, but of course, we had no equity in it yet. I called Consumer Credit Counseling again, and they worked up a plan, that if we agreed to it, would allow us to make partial and/or interest free payments to our lenders until we could get back on our feet. Unfortunately, on Shane's unemployment compensation alone, we couldn't even make those payments. So once again, we filed for bankruptcy.

We still wanted to keep the house, so we didn't put it in the bankruptcy. In fact, in Kansas and at that time, I don't believe they could have included it anyway. We chose to keep the vehicles (and their monthly payments) out of it, too. Our two small pickups were still in good running order, and we knew we had no money replace them. We needed both of them -- one for Shane to take to work, the other for me because neither of us were comfortable with me being 15 miles from the nearest doctor without a vehicle. We also knew that keeping those payments current would be our first stepping stones toward rebuilding our credit. Additionally, we kept out one gas card and our warehouse club credit card, which both had zero balances.

Even with the bankruptcy, we soon learned that we simply couldn't afford the mortgage anymore. We might have tried to sell the home, but we'd seen the other houses, nice ones like ours, on our road sit for more than a year without selling. Every month the house didn't sell would be another month we were behind on the payment, in a sense making the bankruptcy all for nothing as our credit rating continued to plummet.

We learned about something called "deed in lieu of title" wherein we could surrender the home to the mortgage company and simply walk away from it. It wouldn't look good on our credit report, but it would be better than a full-blown foreclosure or continued late payments. As it turned out, our mortgage lender wouldn't let us do this. They would have, had we chosen to do so at the time of the bankruptcy, but not afterward. Our attorney had not explained that this was an option, so we were basically left with no choice but to let the house go into foreclosure. Later on down the road, this would cause us more trouble than the bankruptcy itself.

So, we packed our things and moved back to the city.

(Part 3 tomorrow.)

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