MCF vs. Change

For about a year, possibly longer, I've been considering purchasing my uncle's house. He lived alone in the home his and my mom's older brother bought for their family after serving in the army. Too old to take care of it, and having neglected many things for many years, he's been slowly moving into an apartment. It's an average home in a decent location, but definitely needs a lot of work.

Because he's been so slow in moving, I've had plenty of time to think about it. I don't usually make big changes in my life overnight, and tend to go through a slow evolution in which the smallest change is a big victory. The possibility of having to make a decision was delayed even further when the uncle that owns the home lost his wife this past Summer. I've had plenty of time to go back and forth on the issue, while continuing to save money. Thursday night after dinner, my dad hit me with something heavy on a commercial break: “we need to talk about your uncle's house.”

It seems my uncle had finally had the home appraised, and said he could give it to me for $459,000. I'm not going to divulge my savings nor my salary here, but suffice to say it was more than I was hoping for. My dad meanwhile had everything planned out. We would hire a contractor to get an estimate, to find out how much work the house would need. From the air my dad pulled figures, saying that an estimate might cost $500 while removing trees, remodeling the bathroom and replacing cracked items like the toilet and the tub, adding a second bathroom, fixing the heating, and other major repairs might cost $100,000. Once we had an estimate as to what it would cost to fix things up, we might be able to get my uncle to lower the price. I was also told that “we” had the money, and he and my mother would sell his lot to help me out, which I really don't want him to do.

I think the problem is that, while his plan unfolded, it was becoming less my house and more our house. I know I'm their only child, and will probably inherit their property someday anyway. I realize he wants to see me benefit from it while he's still alive. At the same time, pride takes over, and I want to work hard and earn my first home. More importantly, I need it to be my home. The more my parents are involved, the less it will feel like my own place. I can imagine my dad in his ‘70s stubbornly doing heavy work, while my mom calls me at the office to tell me I should be helping. I envisioned them dropping in with their spare key in the middle of a date, because my life is always better and worse when I fantasize. I also had concerns about the haggling process, and while getting an estimate is sound advice when dealing with a stranger, I didn't want to venture into territories that would cause conflict in my family. I could sense my dad was unhappy with his brother-in-law's offer, and spoiling for a fight.

At the end of our discussion, my dad said I had to call my uncle that night and give him an answer. I said I needed time to think, and my dad snapped and said I was “lazy” like my other uncle and would never do anything. I went back in the other room to watch television, and to think. On the next commercial break I had more questions about the estimate process, but by then my dad was sulking. “Ask your mother. I don't know anything about anything.” My mom had minor surgery earlier this week and has been recovering, and we've been bringing her dinner in her room. I didn't want to stress her out or have her move around too much, but she called out, “what's all the yelling about?” I went in and gave her a quick recap. She was a little upset with my dad that, due to his hearing difficulties, he got some things mixed up. My uncle wanted me to think about it, and didn't need me to call him that night. I slept on it and spoke to my dad Friday morning when we both had clearer heads. The price wasn't that great, making the house no better or worse than any other home I'd buy on Long Island. The only reason I considered it was because it was family and I thought I might get a reasonable, but significant, break. My dad also agreed that with all the points of dispute, we could very well end up fighting with relatives we normally get along great with.

I haven't actively looked at houses in two or three years. When I was a kid, I always imagined I'd have a wife or fiancé at the very least by the time I was looking for a place of our own. Granted, the other school of thought is that an adult with his own house is much more likely to attract a wife than one that lives with his parents, but it's tough to get a house on a single income. I haven't given my uncle an answer yet and while he didn't need one overnight, he will need one soon. I'm wondering if I'm doing the sensible thing by passing, continuing to save, and keeping my eyes open, or if this is my typical resistance to change as I embrace my routine and comfort zone. Maybe I need to start looking at other houses again.

While my living situation hasn't undergone any life changing improvements in the past five days, I am happy with one minor change that's made a big difference. I've been getting to work later and later for some time now. On the off chance my secret identity is ever revealed and my superiors come across this information, I won't get into specifics. It's probably no secret anyway, and probably has never been an issue because I consistently stay late, get everything done that's thrown at me, and never take more than one vacation day at a time, usually two or fewer a month. On the other hand, if there was ever a need to fire someone, it's the one blemish on an otherwise perfect record that could be used as ammunition. I try and fail every morning to get out the door on time, and hate myself for it.

Part of my routine involves surfing the internet while I eat cereal. I check my e-mail, check my blog for comments, and read other blogs and post comments of my own. When I finish eating, I don't feel like getting ready just yet so I'll continue to surf, and even play a pointless time waster. Sometimes after the game, I'll lie down and take a ten minute nap, making the situation worse. It's become a serious problem.

After wracking my brain each morning, fighting traffic and cursing myself, I came upon the most obvious solution. If I eliminated the computer in the morning, how much time could I save? I wouldn't turn it on even to check my e-mail. There's never anything urgent, and the rest of the stuff on the web can be checked from my desk at work, if need be. I was off on Monday, but gave it a try on Tuesday. It helped that my parents were at the hospital and I was too nervous to relax and oversleep. Breakfast took ten minutes instead of sixty, and there was no napping. I was still late for work, but not nearly as much as I had been. There was another unexpected side effect. I found that, by 5:30, I was caught up and working on things that weren't due yet, getting a decent head start. It felt wrong to leave so “early”, but I decided maybe I'd get down to the gym and do more than my usual 20-30 minutes. At my peak, I had worked out for an hour and a half every day, but that routine had declined over the years.

For four straight mornings I kept my computer off. Each day I got out the door earlier and earlier, got more work done, and got to the gym at a decent hour with a clear mind. I ran over three miles each day. I lifted weights, and got in another fifteen minutes on an elliptical machine. It's a lot of small changes that will become a new routine if I stick to it, and one that feels amazing. In another shocking development, after continual chiding from B13, this has also been the week that I kept my cell phone on. I only turned it off each night to charge it. Those who've met me in real life realize what a big deal this is. There's still a part of me that wonders if I'll get a tumor from the new prolonged exposure, because that's just how my mind is wired. I do feel a little dizzy right now, but that could just as easily be from suddenly adding an hour to my workouts for four days in a row.

I didn't buy a house this week, but I did win a few smaller battles. Who knows what changes I'll accomplish next?


Blogger TheWriteJerry said...

At that asking price - plus another $100,000 in renovations - that's either one big house, or it has lots of land, or it's in a very desirable location, or it's way over-priced in today's buyer's market.

The time to buy a house given market conditions is now, but only from a buyer who is setting a realistic price or one who you can bargain way down. This is a buyer's market, and you are in the driver's seat.

11/18/2006 3:03 AM  
Blogger Kev said...

Given your current lifestyle and living arrangements, you've got a good thing going. If your parents don't mind you still living with them, I think you should continue to build your savings.

I think leaving the computer off in them morning is an excellent idea. Rubi spends time on the computer in the morning much like you do and, like you, it makes her run late.

11/18/2006 11:01 AM  
Blogger MCF said...

My parents don't mind, and the rent they charge pales in comparison to what I'd have to pay for a real apartment. On the other hand, I just turned 32, so I don't want to turn into the Chris Elliot character on Get a Life either.

Jerry, it's big enough for me but not that big, nor does it have a lot of property, but it's all about the great location. Meanwhile, apparently my uncle called this morning and my dad told him I didn't want it because my "job is shaky". My mom says we have to stop letting him answer the phone. When my mom spoke to her brother, he told her that obviously the appraisal isn't the price he'd expect from me(which my dad misunderstood) but that he agreed with all the work the house needs, he'd also feel bad sticking it with me.

Meanwhile I'd better stop typing and get downstairs. My dad is dragging a heavy ladder out to clean the gutters. I guess it's good that I'm still here to keep an eye on him.

11/18/2006 11:29 AM  
Blogger cube said...

Hang in there. Save your money & buy a house without strings attached. Sometimes getting into business with family isn't the wisest course.

11/18/2006 11:40 AM  
Blogger Lyndon said...

"Never do business with family because it usually ends bad" My friend is a lawyer and always tells me this. Too many relationships get strained during the whole business process and you get lingering bad feelings on both sides.

Given what you say about the house, save a bit longer and do things in your own terms, not because you were rushed into something.

11/18/2006 7:40 PM  
Anonymous theGreek said...

First of all, you take a nap in the morning after just waking up? Secondly, I thought your cube WAS your apartment. You should jump on the chance if all the figures make sense, don't worry about the whole 'deals with family' bit. Your uncle seems pretty old, so the feud won't last THAT long. You should agree to pay for the house after you've moved ALL of your stuff in. I've seen your workspace and if your stuff at homr is similar, by the time you're done, there won't be anyone to pay.

11/18/2006 9:18 PM  
Blogger Otis said...

Never buy a house from a family member. Every time somethings goes wrong in it you won't have anyone to blame for it.

I'd hate to tell you what $459,000 can get you where I live. Lets just say you wouldn't have to remodel your brand new 5 bedroom 4 bathroom house in a gated community.

11/19/2006 9:44 AM  
Blogger Rey said...

LOL > The Greek.

Who did your uncle get the place appraised by? If I remember the location and the house specs (and considering the repairs you said the place needed) I find him telling you guys that dollar amount fairly surprising. I'm sure he didn't expect to get that full price but him saying it meant that he'd be moaning every dollar away from it which just isn't fun.

A pity.

I would still recommend house shopping like Jerry said, this is a good time (right now, mid school season) and if anything you're working towards retirement (living from home, owning a house and could even rent it out for it to pay for itself).

11/19/2006 8:02 PM  

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