Tuesday, July 8, 2014

One Day in May: Walking Away from The House

I once heard from a friend in Iowa City that during the farm crisis in the early 1980s they “had walked away from their house.” I was unfamiliar with the expression, and she explained that as no one would buy or even rent their home, in the northern part of the state, they had no choice but “to give the house back to the bank.” I learnt that the two expressions were euphemisms for losing the house due to inability to make the mortgage payments. My friend told me the story sadly, and in confidence; for her it was a shameful secret.

Although I sympathized with her, at the time those kind of troubles seemed entirely disconnected from my world. Life was good: Tzvi, my husband, got tenure and we owned a small house in an area of town where most of the neighbors were people like us: young families associated with the university.

Then several years later in another part of the continent, in Texas, we too were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Few days ago I wrote a post "One day in May," about the day when Tzvi was fired from IBM. And now I would like to focus on one of the least pleasant consequences of that event.

When we moved to Texas Tzvi wanted to buy a house with a swimming pool, I objected. It seemed to me highly inappropriate, even immoral, to waste so much water while Israel suffers from such an acute shortage (we were always taught to conserve water). Tzvi reminded me that this was the US, and came up with a winning argument: it would help our daughters make friends in the new place; I gave in. Still, athough some kids did come to play in our pool, apparently many parents subscribed to Tzvi's position and their kids stayed in their own backyard pool.
Once Tzvi lost his job, we had to sell the house right away. However, the same realtor, who 4 years earlier had assured us that our lovely house in the very good good neighborhood was a great investment, said that since it was “an older” home (13 year old) it would be hard to sell (all the more due to its, already, dated pool). Sadly with so many new houses on the market, nobody wanted to even look at ours.
Even prior to that plight, I had no faith in American houses. While in my country houses are made out of concrete and are meant to last forever, many American houses, even the most impressive mansions, are made of wood. Why would I trust a wooden house which could be blown away by a huff or a puff, and surely by an ordinary tornado, within seconds? Indeed our house proved to be not only a broken reed, but a liability.
 It always surprised me, that the “brick houses," in the new developments of our little town in Texas had brick tiles pasted on top of the wood frame. Those tiles were there only for aesthetic reason and contributed nothing to support the structure of the house. In a way, those flimsy short-term, yet sturdy looking, houses were a good metaphor for our condition. Once Tzvi lost his job our own structure collapsed, and there was nothing that could support it and keep us from falling.
Back in Israel we couldn't make the mortgage payments, and after a while, like my friend in Iowa we had to "walk away from our house.” But her loss was the result of a larger economic crisis in her part of the country, ours was just an unfortunate outcome of a local housing surplus. And since it was not an excusable reason, our loss was especially difficult to understand, and almost impossible to come to terms with.
About six years later, we received a legal letter from a law firm concerning our debt to the bank. We responded by offering a modest monthly payment, it was declined.
Unfortunately, there was neither a happy ending, nor a great lesson to be learnt from the whole affair. We didn׳t get a chance to remove that stain from our record, and we never restored our pride: at least it has served as an on-going reminder about our limitations.

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