My house was listed for sale on Tuesday morning.
By Friday afternoon I had accepted an offer.
It’s enough to make one’s head spin. In a good way.
The sale is pending. There are a couple of hurdles to be jumped before closing, typical to most home sales (inspection and appraisal). I don’t anticipate any issues that will cause the offer to be rescinded by the buyers.
Just as I was excited to hand over the reins of my dog camp to a particular person, I’m thrilled about the couple who are buying my house. An unexpected bonus.
But before I explain why I chose these particular buyers – and the “money” part of this post’s title – I want to relate a story about the consequences of stress.
The Brain Under Chronic Stress
I’ve been contemplating this big life transition since October. I waited until May to actually list my home for sale because (a) it would show better with the snow gone and the vegetation greening; and (b) I wanted to make sure I was at peace with the decision.
Over those months of contemplation, I realized that the thing that stressed me the most was the daunting logistics of getting me and my dogs, and my furniture and personal belongings, from Idaho to Vermont. Not selling the house. Not buying one in Vermont. It was imagining the actual process of moving that was keeping me awake at night.
That stress caused me to fall down yet another stressful rabbit hole, one it turns out I didn’t need to explore. Stress and lack of sleep led to a brain fog that – once I realized my mistake – left me embarrassed but relieved.
You see, I had decided that my current vehicle – a 2008 Mazda Tribute – had too many miles on it (over 200,000) to safely drive nearly 3,000 miles across the country. With the dogs as my only companions on a six-to-seven day trip, the last thing I wanted or needed was a breakdown in some forsaken place.
But hey, I was selling my house, I was suddenly going to have some cash to play with; time for a new car, right? I’ve always kept my vehicles until they had at least 200,000 miles, a tradition inherited from my pilot father who was expert at maintaining cars. “Treat the machine well, and it will treat you well.”
I spent a lot of time researching what I wanted. I’m on my second Tribute and love it, but Mazda no longer makes them. Ideally, I’d like a plug-in hybrid SUV, especially because they come with a nice federal tax credit. Ah, but too many others apparently had the same idea, and none can be found. Okay, so a regular hybrid. I settled on the Toyota RAV4, for the simple reason that it has enough headroom in the back for Conall when he stands in the cargo space with the back seats down. (Clearly my priorities are different than those of most people.)
Model selected, I next researched the issue of sales tax on new car purchases. It quickly got complicated. Idaho and Vermont have similar sales tax rates (6%), but if I bought a car in Idaho and paid sales tax here, I would have to pay tax on the fair market value (i.e. purchase price on a new vehicle) as soon as I registered it in Vermont. In other words, I would pay value tax TWICE within the space of a few months, roughly $1,800 in each state. Finding no legal way around it, I decided I would just have to pay both taxes. Part of the cost of relocating, I reasoned and grudgingly accepted.
I contacted the car broker in Washington state who found me my second Tribute. The woman he bought the business from found me three previous vehicles, including my first Tribute. I’m a big fan of car brokers. They completely cut out having to negotiate with some skanky salesperson at a car dealership, doing that for you and getting a price break that more than covers their own fee. They can also help you sell your old vehicle.
I told the car broker what I was looking for and that I wanted to trade in my Tribute because it had over 200,000 miles on it. “Wow; you drive a lot,” he commented, which struck me as odd but we moved on to other topics. He asked me to text him my Tribute’s VIN# and mileage. I went into the garage, wrote down the VIN# and checked the odometer. Twice. Three times. I couldn’t believe my eyes: somehow (probably while cleaning the dash), I had accidentally cleared the trip odometer, which I purposefully left untouched since buying the car in 2011 with about 32,000 miles so I’d always know how many miles I had put on the car. The trip odometer now read something like 20935.1 – just under 21,000 miles. But my eyes, used to seeing all of the miles I had driven, ignored the decimal point and my brain interpreted it as just over 209,000 miles.
Pushing the odometer button that toggles between trip and actual miles, I realized the Tribute had a tad over 153,000 miles. An embarrassing discovery, but a welcome one.
Lots of life left in her!
I sheepishly texted the car broker about my mistake and apologized for taking up his time. I had also been messaging a local friend throughout this whole car finding/buying/tax ordeal, so I also had to admit my error to her.
I have an appointment with a mechanic in town next week. He’ll give the Tribute a good check and fix what needs fixing before the boys and I head for Vermont. Whew.
Getting over the mortification of my error, I remembered a similar reaction to the stress of big life changes many decades ago. It was 1983 and I was about to start law school, which meant moving to a new city. I found an apartment and moved in just days before classes started. Having read The Paper Chase by John Jay Osborn (1972) and One L by Scott Turow (1977), I was suitably terrified about the competition and challenges of the first year of law school.
To relieve my anxiety, I decided to go for a drive to explore my new neighborhood. On a winding uphill road through a densely-treed area, I turned onto a small gravel pullout to consult my map. When I pulled back onto the road, I clipped the back bumper of a car coming up the hill with my front bumper; the car had been in my rear view mirror’s blind spot so I didn’t see it. (Life lesson learned: don’t rely on the mirror alone, but always – always – turn your head to look behind you as well.) No injuries except to my pride – it was my first-ever accident – and after exchanging information, insurance handled repairs for both vehicles.
Two days later, I backed into something, causing additional minor damage to my car’s rear bumper.
My father – my car was covered on his insurance policy – was understandably worried. Two minor accidents in the space of a few days when up until that point I’d never had any driving issues. He quickly realized the problem: stress. He calmed me down, urging me to be mindful of the stress and more careful when driving
Research by psychologists, neurologists and others has shown that stress – especially chronic stress – changes how our brains function. One might feel disorganized and forgetful, make poor decisions, have difficulty processing challenging information. In short, brain fog. Stress also affects memory and mood, and sleep.
So that’s my excuse: I stupidly misread the mileage on my Tribute for weeks because of the enhanced stress I’m experiencing as I navigate this big life transition of moving from Idaho to Vermont.
I envy my dogs. They have no idea we’re about to embark (pun!) on a grand adventure, so they don’t stress out about it. They sleep just fine, even when I can’t. And while all of the long days we’ll spend in the Tribute as we cross the country will be somewhat stressful for them, mostly they’ll be bored silly with pent-up energy, wondering when we can all go for a trail run again. For now, I’m trying to ignore the stress I’ll experience on that long drive.
Once I purchase a home in Vermont (which oddly isn’t stressing me out), arranging for movers to get my furniture and personal items from Idaho to Vermont is the last stressful task to figure out before setting out, the hood of my Tribute pointing east.
It Isn’t Always About the Money
Idaho, like many parts of the country, is experience tremendous growth. Like, serious, mind-boggling growth. The pandemic seems to have accelerated that trend, because in 2020, Idaho had the most in-bound moves of any state.
That’s a large part of why I’m leaving. I left the Seattle area in 2005 because of relentless growth there. I’ll write later about all the factors that made me decide to leave Idaho, but for now I joke I’m a salmon, swimming against the current to reach home, or in my case, my about-to-be-adopted-new-home of Vermont.
Because so many people want to move to Idaho, demand for housing far exceeds inventory. In short, it’s a seller’s market. Buyers are desperate for anything, happily paying what seems to me like crazy prices. The value of my home easily doubled in the past two years, with most of that increase in 2020. That fact, though, is what allowed me to dream about moving someplace new and making that dream a reality.
My realtor assured me my home would sell quickly, and for an amount I found astounding.
On Tuesday, May 4th, the listing for my home went on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) which is immediately picked up by Zillow, Realtor.com, and other national real estate websites. The response was instant.
The first showing was on Wednesday, May 5th, and an offer arrived that evening. I had to decide by 5:00 pm Thursday, May 6th, whether to accept the offer. The buyers had written a letter about themselves as a way to personalize the offer. They offered $5,000 over listing. Tempting, but I told my realtor I wanted to let others see the home and see if we got more offers. I let the deadline on the first offer expire.
Meanwhile, to help alleviate the stress of showings, the boys and spent lots of time walking in the forest. I took many photos of the emerging wildflowers.
A few more showings occurred on Thursday and Friday. The couple who made the first offer submitted a revised offer on Thursday, based on feedback my realtor provided to theirs, e.g. that it’s vital to me that I be able to stay in my home for 30-60 days after closing so that I have time to find and buy a home in Vermont without worrying about being homeless. The revised offer was at listing price but allowed me to “rent” back the home for $1 through August 1st (although they wanted a $1,000 damage deposit). It expired at 5:00 pm Friday.
Annoyed, I asked my realtor if such tight deadlines for accepting an offer were typical. He said they were. Personally, when it’s a seller’s market, I think that’s a bad move by buyers. No one likes to feel pressured or rushed to make such a big decision.
In the meantime, by Friday afternoon I had two more offers.
One I was expecting. Why? Because when I was driving up my road – my realtor would text me when a showing was done so the boys and I could return home – I saw two vehicles coming down my driveway and my road. The first was driven by a woman, alone, who smiled big and waved. I figured she was the realtor, and the wave was simple courtesy to a stranger because she had no way of knowing it was me; in this rural area, nearly everyone waves or at least lifts a finger off the steering wheel when you drive by an oncoming vehicle. The second vehicle contained a couple, and I only had time to really see the driver, a man with a beard who was also smiling broadly and waved.
I figured they liked what they saw and would be submitting an offer.
They did, on Friday morning at 9:00 am. It was only $500 over listing price, and because they would have a mortgage as part of the purchase price, the closing date was mid-June, when they would expect possession. This couple also included a short letter with their offer, sharing who they were, what they did for work, their recreational pursuits, and emphasizing that they would be living in the house full time and becoming part of the community, rather than using it as a vacation/second home. Their offer expired Saturday at noon, so not as rushed as the first offer.
Another showing was scheduled for Friday at 10:00 am. And yes, that resulted in a third offer. This one was $5,000 over asking price, all cash (faster closing), and I could stay 30 days past closing without rent. But it would be a second/vacation home. And, with a fast closing (no later than May 31st), I would have to be out by the end of June. Oh, and they added this verbiage: “Seller to have house professional [sic] cleaned upon moving out.” I felt insulted because, well, of course I’ll leave the house clean when I move and I have already arranged for a cleaner for that job. They saw the house, how tidy and clean it is, so why add that as a condition to the offer unless…you’re a snob? Or were offended by evidence that I live with dogs? Or maybe they lack an understanding of what it’s like to live on a gravel road that throws up lots of dust? Silly, but it rubbed me wrong. So petty, I thought, given the dollar amount of the entire transaction.
I took an instant dislike to the couple, even though I knew nothing else about them.
By Friday afternoon, after discussing all the options with my realtor, I said to hell with the extra $5,000 above listing in the third (cash) offer; they were snooty about the cleanliness of my home, and they weren’t willing to give me the extra time to vacate if I need it (I might not, but again, I don’t want extra pressure). Which is odd, given it wouldn’t be their primary residence. It all seemed petty of them.
Ultimately, I went with my gut. My decision was based on liking the smiling couple I saw driving down my road and the short letter they included with their offer. She works for the National Park Service as an Astronomy Interpretive Ranger, so she’s going to LOVE living where there’s virtually no light pollution at night, the stars so clear and big you feel you as if you can reach up and pull them from the sky. He’s an archeologist who currently works for the Idaho Conservation League, helping preserve wildlife (including wolves) and open spaces. My people! Oh, and they like birds. Their realtor told mine that she liked seeing birding magazines in my house.
As I explained to my realtor, I wanted this particular couple to buy my house because I’m confident they’ll allow the house wren to continuing building her nest each year in the small hole in the siding where a propane pipe used to go. They may even build upon the relationship I started to develop with the ravens this past winter. They’ll appreciate my wildflower garden and the bumblebees it attracts. And unlike the first couple, they did not include hunting in the list of outdoor activities they enjoy.
I made a counter offer, asking to have until August 1st to vacate, rent free. They quickly agreed, and by late Friday afternoon, May 7th, we had a Purchase and Sale Agreement. Assuming the inspection and appraisal come through clean (and they should), closing is set for June 11th, giving me June and July to search for and buy a home in Vermont. Based on all the searching I’ve been doing on Zillow and Realtor.com in that state, I’m confident I’ll find something I like within my budget in that time frame. And hey, the fact that I don’t need to buy a new car after all gives me more “house money” to play with!
Quite the whirlwind. From listing to “pending” within four days.
I’m glad that the boys and I no longer have to disappear for an hour or two at a time while the house is being shown. I don’t have to worry about tufts of dog hair wafting across the floor because a showing is imminent. I don’t have to hear any more feedback from buyers’ realtors like, “There was so much dog hair in the space between the concrete pad and the deck” (there was, and I removed it, but…seriously?), or from another, “We all noticed the dog scratches on the door and trim leading to the garage” (yes, put there by the wonderful dog of friends who rented my house in 2009, during the housing crunch when I returned to Seattle for a job). I laughed to myself about how we all notice – or learn to not notice – different things, depending on what’s important to our sense of order and cleanliness. But I said to my realtor, with some seriousness: “No more non-dog people can see my house!”
But mostly, I’m excited that my house is being bought by non-fussy, outdoorsy, smart people who will enjoy it as much as I have for these last sixteen years.
In the past few years more of the homes in my subdivision have been sold to people using them as vacation homes. These “second homers” ignore the covenants and conditions (e.g. driving their noisy, exhaust-blowing snowmobiles or ATVs on their properties); they invite their friends up and have loud outdoor gatherings, or worse, rent their home as an Airbnb (violating covenants); and generally bring an attitude of entitlement and privilege. When I first built my home, almost everyone here occupied their home full time. Sadly, the character of the neighborhood has changed for the worse.
Even though I won’t live here anymore, I decided that I wanted to accept the offer from the couple who will live here full time, appreciating the green aspects of my home and property, enjoying all the bird life and watching the deer, and contributing to the local community with their unique skills and jobs. Even though I could have had an extra $5,000 from the “second homer” offer, that couple came off as snobs who would be like all the other second home owners around me, and I just couldn’t stomach letting them have my house.
Sentimental, I know. Stupid, even, from a financial point of view. But honestly, I already felt I got an extraordinary price for my house from the “good couple.” An extra $5,000 from snobs – even though that money would be enormously helpful to me going forward, paying for my moving costs – coupled with the risk that I wouldn’t have found a home in VT ready for me to occupy by their June 30th deadline (and it’s not like they risked homelessness, as I do, because my house would be their second home) made it easy for me to decline their offer.
I slept soundly last night. No regrets.
This morning the boys and I celebrated – with minor reservations on my part, because we still have those two hurdles of inspection and appraisal to clear – by going for a run in the forest. It was clear and cold (25F), so the few remaining patches of snow in this section of forest were frozen solid, making for excellent footing.
After pushing part way through an overgrown section still covered in snow, a spot that will soon get cut and cleared to allow the last bit of logging that started last summer, I said the words that always get Conall excited: “Let’s go back!” When I saw how playful he became, trying to taunt Finn into a game of chase, I started recording. Space was tight, with all the saplings bent over the trail or still embedded in the frozen snow.
It’s the very last frame that had me laughing out loud when I viewed the video on my computer at home: two dog brothers giving each other the evil eye as they play!
Best stress-relievers ever: playful dogs, and the forest.
I’m certain the boys will have a similar beneficial impact on my stress level as we start our lives in Vermont.
Feature image: a meadow of avalanche lilies in the forest, May 6, 2021.