Let me give you a few key tips for buying a house for under $10,000:
1. Look for a real estate agent who does side work as a comedian. That is the only place where he/she will make money from your home sale.
2. Start selling furniture in your current house that will never fit in the >$10,000 house. You may actually make enough money to buy the new house!
3. Set reasonable expectations: A tarp-free roof is not a reasonable expectation.
4. Rule out gated communities from the start. A yard with a gate is still within reach, however.
5. Start watching reruns of “This Old House.” Norm will become a dear friend.
6. Finish reading this blog…just for the encouragement!
7. Look for neighborhoods where more people are moving out than are moving in.
That is exactly the kind of neighborhood Joy and I were hoping to find when we began looking at Huntsville, AL real estate in late 2011. We hoped, in some small way, to partner with neighbors to change the neighborhood migration from “out” to “in.” We focused on one region of the city.
Scanning internet listings, a listed sales price of $9900 caught my eye. I assumed it was a vacant lot. The ad assured me that there was a house on the property. “Looking for a project?” the listing beckoned. The realtor’s honesty was admirable. As I scanned the detailed house images, I wondered if listing pictures was actually his best idea. The good news: it was sending everyone else to the next listing.
Not me. I wanted to buy the house now simply for the novelty of it, for the joy of casually telling people I bought a $9900 house. I figured the monthly mortgage payment would also make me smile. It did not hurt that I had a decent background in remodeling work. I had to go look at this house.
In visiting the house, I was expecting the worst: rotting floor joists, buckling walls, sagging ceilings, unusable utilities, compromised rafters, rodent infestation. Aside from some sagging ceilings, I found none of the above. It had a slab floor, ruling out some significant problems. While I could not turn on the utilities, they appeared to be sound. I was pleasantly surprised.
I toured the house without my wife, Joy, who was back in Connecticut. It takes a special woman to even allow her husband to check out a $9900 house, especially without her. I told her that the 2 br, 1 ba, 800 square foot house had real promise. We decided (yes, Joy is a saint) to make an offer on the house. Call me crazy, but we made a full-price offer.
The selling realtor told us that in order for our offer to even be considered, we would have to get confirmation that we had $9900 in the bank. We did not have $9900. I returned to Connecticut and began scrambling to scrape up the money, all the while worrying that someone else would put in an offer on the house.
It took me nearly a week to come up with the money and the confirmation letter from the bank. The delay felt like a disaster. It was quite the opposite. When I called my realtor to tell him I had finally secured the letter, he gave me the news: Just that morning, they had lowered the price to $8900!
That is how, in November of 2011, Joy and I came to buy a Huntsville home for eighty-nine hundred dollars. When I tell people that, they invariably “correct” me: “You mean eighty-nine thousand dollars, right? Right?” I pause and smile. “No, we bought it for eighty-nine hundred dollars.” Then I casually add: “It needed a little work.”
Of course, God has to get the props here. After all, He was the one who nudged us to move into that particular neighborhood in the first place. In our financial position, we could not have afforded a house that cost more than $10,000 anyway. My background in home remodeling allowed us to do things that many others could not. And Joy’s peace about the whole project may have been the biggest miracle of all. The house was–and is–a gift.
So in July of 2012, we moved into the house that Joy, each of our children, and several of our neighbors helped me to remodel. There will be other blogs for the remodeling story, I’m sure. For now, we love the house. We love the neighborhood. We love making friends. And we love watching what God is up to in our neighborhood.
We have, however, run into one unexpected downside of buying an $8900 house. Guilt. From other people. More than once. For some, our decision to move has created a kind of pressure that they are supposed to do the same thing. Still others have wondered if we think they should be doing something similar.
When the thoughts are put into words, it sounds something like this: “Do you think we live too extravagantly? Do you think we should move into a smaller house? Do you think everyone should move into a low-income neighborhood? Is everyone supposed to buy a house for less than $10,000?”
Our home purchase is part of the story God is writing through our lives, but it’s not the script for everyone. What is for everyone, as I understand the wisdom of Jesus, is to bring light and hope and grace to the neighborhood where you live right now. In the most remarkable kind of description, Jesus says that we are supposed to be “the light of the world” just like He was the light.
The Bible says this about Jesus: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (The Bible, the Message version—John 1:14)
Jesus moved into our neighborhood, full of grace and truth and light, in order to change the neighborhood for good. We share the same calling. Every neighborhood needs people of grace and light who will love and serve their neighbors. Gated communities. Trailer parks. Townhouse subdivisions. Slums. Downtown high rises. Apartment complexes.
God will occasionally call someone to move to a new neighborhood, but most of us just need to “move in” to the neighborhood where we already live. Hang out with people more. Listen to stories. Ask for help. Offer help. Share meals more. Share God’s grace. Your neighbors need you, and you need your neighbors. It’s time to move into your neighborhood.