Q: I’ve made an enormous mistake. I bought the wrong house! I plotted and planned and dreamed about buying a low-maintenance townhouse in a small complex, really private and an easy commute to work and church. And I bought that — there’s only three units in my HOA.
But since I bought, my two neighbors have walked away from their homes, so now my private unit is borderline creepy, and I really have no neighbors for quite a distance. As a result, my unit just got broken into, and I’m on the hook for 100 percent of the HOA’s responsibilities.
Also, I think I made a mistake by putting so much down on my place — I put down about half of the cash I had, but since the value has declined so much, that’s all gone and I have no equity.
I want to buy a place almost the exact opposite of my current home, but can’t now because I’m so upside down. How did this go wrong?
A: Friend, have you heard the saying about the best-laid plans? Nothing else is more apropos to your situation. It sounds like to me that you didn’t actually make a mistake, per se. Rather, circumstances beyond your control changed, unpredictably so, and are causing you pain despite the fact that you actually took a well-planned, financially responsible approach to buying your home.
This is precisely the reason they say hindsight is 20/20. With the benefit of hindsight, you would have known that the market crash was coming, that the real estate bubble was about to burst and that your property’s value was about to decline. Of course, you would also have known that loans were going to shortly get much more difficult to obtain. Your crystal ball would have told you that obligations of the three-member HOA, which seemed so manageable, would also end up entirely on your plate.
But foresight is decidedly not 20/20. So, your job was to make the best possible decisions, both in terms of selecting a property and structuring your financials, with the information you had. Accordingly, from what I can see, your only mistake is in viewing your past behavior as a mistake, or second-guessing yourself for what sound like very well-reasoned, deliberate and mature decisions at the time you made them.
Many first-time homebuyers end up making big-time changes to their vision of home before they buy their next home. It’s the nature of the beast: As long and hard as you dream about, think about, journal about and house-hunt for your first home, unless you’re buying a home of a type and location you’ve already lived in, you simply cannot do any more than estimate what your daily experience of that home will be like.
The fact is that most first-time buyers are trying to improve on their past living situations, rather than duplicating them. Maybe next time you’ll go more suburban, or into a single-family home or into a larger HOA; whatever you decide to do differently, it doesn’t mean that this home was a mistake. It just means that you’re growing up as a homeowner, and learning what does and doesn’t work for you — then acting on it. And that’s not a mistake.
Lest you begin to feel that your neighbors who have walked away from their homes and mortgages are obtaining an unfair advantage, rest assured that your decision to honor your mortgage obligations will benefit you, in terms of your credit, for years to come.
That doesn’t mean that walking away was not the right decision for them — it just means that despite the instinctive grass-is-greener perspective of homeowners who stay (vs. walking away), your neighbors may face many years of financial and credit rebuilding to do. You, on the other hand, may be positioned to recoup your downpayment and lost equity, depending on where you are geographically and how long you are willing and able to stay put.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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