Wednesday, September 7, 2016

When a Home is Not a House

When my mother died several years ago I was given the option of buying my brother out for his half of Mom's home.  He was more than ready to let it go, but I clung to it like a life-preserver, for that's what it was: a building filled with memories that would keep my grief manageable in the years that followed. I rented the home to a neighborhood family that supported my mother after Dad died.  Steve had provided her handyman needs and he was a man that she trusted. This was no small accomplishment in dealing with a Sicilian grandmother.

Today Steve's granddaughter, a child with diabetes, lives down the street in Mom's little brick house. It is a comfort to the families that they are so close together and can be available to help each other as needed. That is the definition of community and family rolled into one.

From the early weeks after my mother's death I was badgered by realtors and investors wanting to buy my mother's home. I pictured them stalking the obituaries. At that time I was angry and bitter and replied with aggressive, ugly letters that accused them of being piranhas. In time, my anger faded and I came to recognize the trash envelopes in my mail containing the annoying solicitations. Usually they were dumped in the outside trash before they could contaminate my home. I continued to find them filled with false promises to people that believed they would be given a fair price for a home they could no longer afford to keep. In my eyes these so-called investors were stealing dreams; in their eyes they saw dollar signs. That is until Scott came along.

Several days ago I received yet another solicitation. I am not sure even now why I bothered to open it. Inside was the usual promise of money magically manifesting when my home was taken, but down in the right corner was a photograph of a young man in a suit and tie and I was immediately taken by him. He had a kind, sincere face and a future of promise was written all over his smile. I knew then it was my duty as an Elder to educate Scott about life when several decades have passed and lessons lay at your feet like a pile of presents.  Likely I will never know this young man, but I have placed a lot of faith in his ability to make this world, my community, a better place.  This is the letter I wrote to Scott, the realtor: 

Dear Scott,

For the umpteenth-millionth time I got another solicitation for the sale of my home. Today it was your letter.  Please take a moment to read what I have to say.  I like your picture and you look like a nice guy with a promising future. I want to share some wisdom. This makes you special!  You do not want to know about some of the replies I have made in the past to these kinds of letters.

I know you want to buy my home. It is located in a “hot” area. Your letter promises to close fast, eliminate stress, and with this I get an unconditional cash offer.  Oh, and my home will sell for a "Premium"

I also know that investors prey on people that are stuck with a home tying up precious cash. Maybe a relative left it to them and they can’t pay the taxes; maybe it holds painful memories. It could be run down and they don’t want to bother fixing it.  All they want to do is get rid of the house. Then there are people like me.

We call our home on Vista Drive the Alamo. That means it is the last place I will retreat when I can no longer care for my farm. It will be a small home where I can still have my hens, my small garden, and my irrigation. It is the home where I started my life.

How would you ever know that home was built for me sixty years ago? It was in the county then. My mother was seven months pregnant when she was nailing the shingles on the roof.  My father built his house paycheck to paycheck, and it was paid for when they moved in with their teenage son and their new baby girl.  Until I got married, I did not know what a mortgage was.

You would not know that my first grade birthday party was held in that very carport. That the mulberry tree in the house east to us was also our property, and I could scale it like a monkey.  I cried in that tree when I was mad at the world. We delivered eight Dalmatian puppies in that storage room. My sixteenth birthday party was hosted in the dining room. My parents and their friends got drunk and put together my swing set on Christmas Eve in the living room. One day, hiding in the back bedroom, my older brother and I scanned the personal ads in the newspapers looking for his future girlfriend. The one I picked became his wife and they were married over thirty years until he died last spring. And I watched tears run down my ninety-year-old mother’s face as she sat in her kitchen watching me take her clothes out the door to the group home where she would die five months later. You see I am the only surviving member of the family that lived in that wonderful, old home.

                               The yellow brick house that grew into a home.

The family that rents this home is the daughter of the man that helped care for my mother after my father died. Their child is diabetic and they want to be close to their each other.  I am happy to rent my home at a fair price to return the service they provided for my family.

You are playing the numbers game.  But for people like me and my family, you will need a different approach.  Put a few extra sentences in your letter addressing the other side, those of us that will find it difficult to let go of the memories attached to not a building, but a home. There will be people like me that will see your approach as different, special, and you will earn their consideration. 

Good luck to you Scott.  I hope you remember to make this world a better place. I am putting a lot of trust in your generation. I see a lot of promise, even in those younger than you. There is a reason I am picking on you and I’m not sure why that is. I just feel like you are the guy that is going to make a difference in your profession.  Don’t let me down.

Josephine DeFalco