Monday, December 17, 2007

A very Dickens Christmas

... with the part of Bob Cratchit shared between Pynchon and I.  If Munchkin were smaller, she could be Tiny Tim.

The thing is, Christmas is coming up fast and we're facing penury and the dashing of our dreams. This past week in particular, I'm clocking more time crying than I am actually doing any of the grading that stands between me and my much-needed break; I'm spending nearly as much time desperately crunching numbers in spreadsheets, calculating loans and trying to find some path that leads from the terrifying now to a calmer future.

The furniture store that owns the property directly behind and to one side of us wants to build a 14 storey condo building where currently a one-floor office space and a small delivery area sit.  They want to build the condo right behind our house; the delivery area will serve as the main access point into this 'luxury development'.  We live on a busy-ish street, sure, but this 'neighbour' is a 9-to-5, very quiet and low-key operation.  A 14 storey luxury condo tower peering perpetually down into our yard and our home is a very different proposition.

They want to buy our house.  After a few weeks of heartbreak and mourning--our finished basement and fireplace!  Our garage!  All the renovations and hard work we've put in!  Our daughter was conceived here!  This is our family home!--we decided that, obviously, we couldn't stay.

The worse news?  They seem determined to get a 'bargain' on our house, to extort the lowest possible settlement.  Vague terms, lowball offers, snippy remarks about how we live on a busy street and can't expect them to pay what it would actually cost us to replace our home with a comparable one a couple of streets over.  They claim urgency, then they stall.  They tell us they'll buy us a replacement home, and then cry poor when our agent finds a home with near-identical specifications just around the corner.  They cajole us with their concern for our quality of living, and then they threaten us with plummeting property values.  They tell us they want our property.  Then, worst of all, they threaten to just build around us and let us rot.

We've only been here 2 years.  We have barely any equity; if this development drops our property value, we will actually have negative equity in our home.  The neighbourhood has rapidly gentrified since we've moved in:  mall redevelopment, another condo loft conversion, new office spaces, slew of upscale retailers, a flagship LCBO, and a Starbucks.  We're on the main bus line and so get by with our one car.  It's a fantastic location, and we were so lucky to get so much house, in such a location, for the price we did at the time we looked.  We are so happy here; we don't want to leave the neighbourhood.  But unless we actually get a real deal from these people, I don't know what we're going to do.  We just can't afford to add any more to our monthly mortgage payments:  we pay a full second mortgage payment for daycare, and our plan was to stay here at least 7-10 years, at least until daycare and the car and the student loans were paid off, at least until we were settled in our jobs.  And Pynchon is trying so hard to leave his toxic, toxic, but well-remunerated soul-killer of a job, so our income will soon be cut.  We're poor because we're doing what needs doing for our family--but all of this was easily enough doable here, in our home, on our busy street, bought at a terrific deal and with a great mortgage.  And now we're going to lose our home, or all of its value, or our position in the neighbourhood of my dreams, or a good number of features and square feet, because ... because Scrooge wants to maximize profits from a luxury development that leaves no room for us.

I bite my tongue to keep from asking them, "You want to build a 14 storey luxury condominium and you can't fairly compensate a new family that didn't want to move, that can't afford to upgrade, that tried to invest in a home for now and for the future?"  They ring our doorbell and enthuse about what a wonderful project they've concocted and how excited they are, while I can hardly stomach the idea of Christmas shopping and feel a shudder of dread when I try to imagine a future beyond the next couple of months.

They talk about fair market value, but I wonder:  how is it fair when every real estate agent in town knows about this proposed development and our house might as well be contaminated by radiation for all its desirability to the 'market'?  How is it a market when there's only one buyer who would ever even consider purchasing this property now, from a seller who never wanted to put it up for sale? How is it fair when they have urban planners and development lawyers and multiple real estate agents and a home they can snuggle into a night to dream of profits future, while we have an emotional attachment to our home, the feeling of the world being pulled out from under us, and a lawyer we can afford to consult in 15 minute increments?  God, if it were a couple of years from now, once I've got tenure, once Munchkin is out of full day care, once the five-year loan on the car is paid off, we could take whatever they might offer us, and leverage our way into wherever we liked.  But not now.  We just can't.  We're cornered.

Their L-shaped property wraps around three houses.  They've already bought the other two:  the first was a flip-gone-wrong I'm sure they got for pennies; the second was Bill and Helen, those wonderful neighbours who shoveled our walk when Munchkin was a squalling and demanding Miss Baby, terrified retirees on a fixed income, nothing but their house as an asset, Bill and Helen who told us they're just too old and scared to fight.  Now it's just us.

I'm very scared.  I'm very angry.  Every night, I'm up for hours, roaming the dark and fearing the future.  Every day, my thoughts race away from me and my work goes untouched.  I'm having trouble eating, but find drinking a little too comforting.  I worry.  I cry a lot, and fume a lot, and write itemized lists of grievances just to stop them from swirling in my head.  Pynchon holds me and comforts me as best he can.  He wishes he could make me feel better.  I try not to cry in front of Munchkin, but when we pull into the driveway after daycare, and she shouts out 'Home,' my heart breaks again.

My home ... my home.  When I get stressed or scared, I retreat to here, I wash dishes, I dust, I hang pictures, I paint.  But now, everywhere I look I see futility and fear:  I don't feel safe here.  The house will be knocked down--it's too much, really--for surface parking, a guest lot.  I've seen the site plans.  All our love and all our work and all our payments reduced to rubble.  We've been working so hard to build our future here, and when I look around all I see is a past, a past I hoped I could keep around me for years, a sense memory of newlyweds and pregnant ice-cream binges and our first cordless drill and Munchkin's first ... day, tooth, smiles, steps.

We need to sell to them by tomorrow, they say, or they're writing us out of their plans.  Merry Christmas.  Hallelujah, holy shit, pass the Tylenol.

What can you say, bloggy friends?  Do you have any comfort to offer?  Any advice?  I've been needing for weeks to write this out but it's hard.  I'm struggling so much with this; I'm falling apart.  Poor Pynchon is trying to hold me together, but I think it's just too much for one person.  Maybe it will be okay.  But real estate to me is a matter of commitment, of heart and soul, and I haven't the stomach for this kind of ruthless greed, this rapacious bargaining.  Not at home.  I just can't imagine.


Cloud said...

Mimi, you don't know me... blogger sent me to you at random one day, and you happened to be writing hopeful things about sleep on a day I needed to read such things, so I come back from time to time. I'm sooo sorry to read about your nasty real estate mess. I don't have any comfort, and you may already have heard this advice, but I think you need to give them a reason to try to bargain with you. Right now, they hold all of the power, because they don't think you are a threat to any of their profit. You need to convince them otherwise. Threaten to write heartbreaking letters to the local newspaper. If you think you could stomach it and your lawyer thinks you have a case, threaten to sue them in the most public way possible. Threaten to picket their new development everytime a real estate agent brings a prospective buyer in. Threaten to turn your house into a crack house next to their luxury condos. Point out that rich people's friends won't want to have to parallel park on such a busy street. Basically, you need to convince them that you could hurt their property values, too. Your only cards are the threat of negative publicity, the fact that if you let your property go to pot, their luxury condos would lose value, and the fact that most people would prefer to buy a luxury condo that has a place for their friends to park when they come to visit.

Get as much money as you can from them, hopefully enough to get into a new home that you'll like in your neighborhood. And then don't worry too much about the memories. Those will come with you when you move. We moved when Pumpkin was 5 months old. At first, it felt strange not to be in the place where we'd been newlyweds, and where we brought her home from the hospital... but now, our new place is home, and it is all good.

Mimi said...

Cloud! I can't tell you how much it means to me that you delurked to come out swinging so hard against these bastards. Thank you. Excellent advice. Maybe we'll let it drop that we have a social relationship the publisher of the tri-city newspaper ...

You know, our property is zoned industrial, actually, so we could put in a metal workshop or something equally unclassy, noisy, and distasteful

I hope you have a good sleep ...

alejna said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. I have no advice to offer. But I can offer my largely incoherent late-night sympathy.

It sounds like a hellish ordeal.

I like the ideas mentioned by Cloud. I really hope that those bastards don't screw you over. It's totally not fair. The greed is repulsive.

I hope that you get a good offer, and can find a new home soon. I'll be thinking of you, and wishing you the best.

Jaelithe said...

Hopped over from HBM. Seconding the idea of threatening to go to the media. Make the greedy jackasses see it in their heads-- the story on the six o'clock news about the everyday working family being forced to sell their home at a loss just days before Christmas-- the camera zooms in on the worried face of the mother, then the crying kids, as the mother says, "You want to build a 14 storey luxury condominium and you can't fairly compensate a new family that didn't want to move, that can't afford to upgrade, that tried to invest in a home for now and for the future?"

You also may want to tell them you have a blog. And that you know a lot of other bloggers. And that the other bloggers would be happy to blog about your terrible experience on your behalf.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Alternatively, you could go all capitalist on them.

Knock your house down yourself & build a little parking garage and sell it back to them at a healthy profit. Or sell your house to a person who builds parking garages for a living.

Is it really possible that they'll build around you? Or is their "sell it by tomorrow or you're DOOMED" an empty threat? I mean, what happens if you say, My house is worth $X, I won't sell it for less, and then walk out of the room?

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Ok I keep thinking about this. What is fair market value? They want it and you have it, its value is whatever you can convince them to pay. Right? They can't condemn it, they can't just take it from you. They can only buy it.

It seems to me that if they want it that badly, your house just jumped in value.

Have you seen a version of the site plans in which your house is still standing? What's the configuration? Imagine it's not your house, it's just a square on a piece of paper. What alternate uses could it have? Could a coffee shop open there? A car repair shop? Can you threaten to sell it to a different developer?

Don't let them steal your house from you! Make them pay through the nose, the *ssholes.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

PS You shouldn't just talk to a lawyer. You should also talk to a kick-ass real estate agent.

nomotherearth said...

Bottom line is they're not going to want a house in the middle of they're parking lot. I think that is an empty threat. If you really do know that publisher - USE THAT RELATIONSHIP. It's not a time to be a self-effacing Canadian. Papers love human interest stories - especially at Christmas. And holidays are notoriously slow news times. They're going to be looking for news.

And call CityTV too. They love this kind of thing.

The company will pony up if they think they're going to lose some of the shine off their fancy condos.

Let us know how it goes. I'm so sorry you have to deal with this crap.

nomotherearth said...

Btw, I do know the difference between their and they're. It's late. :-)

Amy U. said...

Ooooh, CityTV! Silverman Strikes Back (or whatever his name is)! I wish I could help somehow and I can certainly imagine myself in your position. Nasty condos are going up everywhere, it seems. This totally sucks, and I don't have advice but just want you to know I'm thinking of you. Hugs.

Beck said...

Oh, sweetie. Move to my town. There's a university 45 minutes away to teach at and a sweetly staffed small daycare for munchkin (and Baby to be buddies with). houses are cheap and there are no condos - I promise - in the works anywhere.

bubandpie said...

Oh no! I got a completely different impression of the situation from your email. You're getting such great advice here - especially the bit about the real estate agent. Don't sell your house today for a price that will break your heart.

cinnamon gurl said...

Oh, Mimi! I had no idea this was moving so fast! I thought it was something that was years out...

I'm so glad you've blogged about it though because you've provoked some great ideas. Please please please let me know if I can do anything to help. Anything at all.

cinnamon gurl said...

Ok, on my way to work I passed the construction site of a new townhouse development going in around the corner from me. And it reminded me...

It used to be a stand of big old trees. They started construction in September, and now all the trees have been razed. Every single one. Now, from the busy street you can see the backside of houses on a quieter street. One of those houses, whose land was partly severed for the development, was sold in June. The asking price seem astronomical to me, but it went to multiple offers and sold for $30k above asking. The new owners new the development was coming and they just felt it would add value, not reduce.

The house in front of the development was bought years ago, I think, when the plans were first begun (they had to do all kinds of zoning stuff). There is another house, right on the corner of the busy street where all the transports go on their way to the beef processing plant. It went on the market a few days after construction began in September and I thought there was no way it would sell. The asking price didn't seem astronomical but I didn't think anyone would buy it. It sold in less than a week for $15k above asking. The real estate agents were totally flummoxed.

So bottom line: your property value may not plummet but it's in the developer's interest to make you believe it will. I believe you can get a truly fair price for your house and start again.

Kyla said...

Oh no, Mimi. I am so so so sorry. I am so angry, sad, frightened for you and with you. Our location is purely suburban residential, so this won't happen to us, but it so easily could. We got our home for a steal (purchased from family) and being forced to move from it like this would hurt us financially, in a bad way.

I think people have given good suggestions. I'm just hoping it works out for you.

Jaelithe said...

Hey, I posted a link to your story on my blog. A couple of people have left comments over there for you.

Bon said...

Mimi...this is awful, and miserable, and i am so sorry.

but i also think, if you have any energy left, fighting is worth it. they're bullying you, totally.

see if they really mean it - call their bluff, AND call your publisher friend.

i can't imagine that if they really want your house gone, they won't pay what you ask...they'll just make you absolutely miserable in the process, the bastards. but if you can surround yourself with support and information (and a good lawyer and real estate agent, like someone suggested), maybe there's a "god bless us, every one" left in this story yet.

hoping for you.

Cloud said...

Another thing that occurred to me during the middle of the night nursing session: you and Pynchon are Munchkin's "home", and I suspect she is yours. She will shout out "Home!" at the new house, too, and she'll soon provide you with new memories that will make the new house feel like home to you.

Good luck taking on the evil real estate developers! I don't know what the laws are like in your neck of the woods, but out here in California, developers are required to provide a certain number of parking spaces per unit. So they may need your land for a parking lot more than they are letting on.

Mimi said...

You guys are all really helping me feel stronger. I'm still scared witless, but today Pynchon and I decided he should take over the negotiating: I'm too scared and emotionally invested. He, on the other hand, used to work in a pawn shop. He's an excellent negotiator.

Yes, we have a good real estate agent, and our lawyer is a Big Name in these parts. Good advice. We're holding onto the media card. We're pretty well connected, and we're photogenic and pitiable. That's a last resort.

Bubandpie: I've been vacillating between hope and terror. Terror, lately, is winning.

CG: you can't know how much your stories help me feel better. Really. Thanks.

Jen-p: you make some excellent points. Thanks for coming back to make them!

Pynchon thinks we can tell them we'll just turn our house into a chock-full, 5 bedroom student rental (there are a lot of those around these parts, and they are NOOOIIIIISY) and that should scare 'em a little more than the idea of our little family staying quietly put. Party house in the condo backyard.

Mad Hatter said...

Oh no! When you emailed me about this I had no idea the timeline was so short. This is awful. What is wrong with the corporate sector: out here they are closing mills and handing out lay-off notices a week before Christmas; in Ontario every single member of my family has been devastated by the collapse of the manufacturing sector (in your City no less, where the RIM-Y economy has forced the gentrification of your neighbourhood). Now this. It is infuriating.

Cloud is right, though. Your memories will move with the people you love. The sentimental places and objects may pass but the memories will stay.

Jenifer said...

Mimi, most of what I wanted to say has been said...that said fight hard for your dollars. You can make new, wonderful memories and you will.

bubandpie said...

Student rental sounds like a plausible threat. Good luck today. I'm pulling hard for you guys.

Omaha Mama said...

Oh - I'm so sorry! To feel fear in your own home. Terror at the holidays. My hearts goes out to you in every way.

My head, well it is clueless about such things. I'd say the only inclination I would have it to get out. Because really, you wouldn't want to live behind that ruckus on principal. Although, the college rental thing sounds like a fun idea! You could cover the mortgage on your new place!

Best of luck. And PLEASE keep us posted soon on what comes of this!

Karen said...

Mimi - I'm so sorry. I hoping hard for you. keep trying to get what you need.

slouching mom said...

oh, i'm so sorry, and also sorry for being so late in reading this. you've already gotten some kick-ass advice though.

i shall stand in solidarity with you.

sending you strength and kick-assedness.