"It wouldn’t be the end of the world."

That was how a friend of mine and I summed up our recent conversation about the prospect that either of us might be forced into a home sale by financial circumstances.

Thankfully, the prospect is hypothetical, but it’s still one we’ve both worried about from time to time. We’re both baby boomers (she at the older end and I at the younger end), self-employed and unmarried, which are three characteristics that add up to an existence without much of a safety net.

Editor’s Note: Inman News is pleased to introduce "House Keys," a new weekly column about homeownership by veteran real estate writer Marcie Geffner. "House Keys" offers a fresh look at today’s changing images and perceptions of homeownership through current news events and personal stories. For information about publishing this column on your Web site or in print, contact Elaine Baker: (510) 658-9252 ext. 128.

"It wouldn’t be the end of the world."

That was how a friend of mine and I summed up our recent conversation about the prospect that either of us might be forced into a home sale by financial circumstances.

Thankfully, the prospect is hypothetical, but it’s still one we’ve both worried about from time to time. We’re both baby boomers (she at the older end and I at the younger end), self-employed and unmarried, which are three characteristics that add up to an existence without much of a safety net. If our independent careers faltered, we’d be hard-pressed to get hired at our ages and we don’t have the fallback position of a husband who brings in a second income.

And we do love our houses. My friend, who did not want her name to be published, owns a lovely house in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood. The house is neither a mansion nor a bungalow. It’s a spacious and tastefully decorated ranch-style residence with an enviable crop of camellias in the front garden.

The current economic recession and extraordinary spike in home foreclosures had both of us thinking about what would happen if our finances deteriorated to the point at which we couldn’t afford the triple whammy of mortgage payments, property taxes and house maintenance and repairs. Frankly, we thought, it would be awful.

The predicament we pondered wasn’t hypothetical for millions of homeowners who had to sell their houses last year or will have to do so this year. Together, they’ll comprise a new group of single men and women, married couples, families with children, widows and widowers of all ages and tax brackets who’ve been forced to face the hard reality of life after homeownership.

Some of them will regain their financial footing and return to the ranks of homeowners. Others, some of them now only children, will remain renters for the rest of their lives.

Neither my friend nor I relished the idea of a rebound to renter status. Nor were we enthusiastic about condominiums in which we’d share our very walls with our neighbors. Accustomed as we are to our private, detached residences, we rightly or wrongly perceive apartments and condos as noisy and crowded.

But suppose, we mused, we really had no choice but to sell. How bad would it be? We’d have to downsize our furniture and get rid of a lot of our belongings. We’d lose the two-car garage and private backyard. It would hurt. …CONTINUED

But we wouldn’t be dead. We wouldn’t be incarcerated. We wouldn’t be homeless. With luck, we’d hang on to enough equity to avoid the dreaded apartments and end up in nice-enough condos with halfway decent neighbors. That really wouldn’t be so awful.

What’s more, we realized as we chatted on, we’d be quit of our mortgages. We’d have more disposable income, more "money in our pockets," as my father would say. If we moved into a large well-managed condo complex, we’d be free of any worries about overgrown trees, backed-up sewer lines and leaky roofs.

And if we became renters, we’d never have to call another plumber, painter or appliance repairman. Not only would that not be awful, it actually sounded pretty darn good.

Neither of us has any plans to move any time soon. We love our houses and we like where we live. We’re content to be homeowners, despite the headaches. But if we land on hard times, if we really absolutely have no other choice, if we simply have to sell — well, we’d be OK, we decided.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Marcie Geffner is a freelance real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News.

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