Today we are going to Los Angeles for the Bankruptcy hearing. Already. It happened so fast! I’ve been feeling anxious about it. I don’t know if it’s about the hearing or returning to L.A. To the ‘scene of the crime’ so to speak.

I think I’m afraid of missing it too much. Of realizing that I actually do. Because it’s been quite out of sight out of mind for me. And that’s helped. But now I’m confronting it. Our past. And it feels so soon.

Oh how I’ve missed our friends. Our community. The food. Auntie Em’s, Alegria, Yuca’s, the Taco Zone truck on Alvarado, Kogi Truck, the natural hot dog truck in front of Silverlake Wine on Thursday nights (I guess we ate from trucks a lot)… and yeah. We’ve missed the house. I wrote about that. It’s no secret. But…

One thing I know for sure… I will NOT be driving by the house.

This trip back sort of feels like confronting an ex only a few months after the break-up while wounds are still fresh. How will you feel when you see them? Devastated? Or happy that things worked out the way they did? How will they look? Will it be easier if they look miserable? Perhaps. But in all honesty, I really want them to be happy too. Kind of like this…

I’m walking into court when I suddenly see L.A. out of the corner of my eye. Shit. Do I say something? Or keep walki— too late. L.A. saw me and is heading this way.

ME: Oh my god, L.A.! It’s really you! Wow. Wow.

L.A.: Stephanie. Wow. Look at you.

ME: Yeah. It’s good to see you.

L.A.: It’s good to see you.

ME: No. Really. Wow. I can’t believe it’s been… what?

L.A.: Two months.

ME: Is that all? Seems longer.

L.A.: You look… happy?

ME: Oh yeah. I am. I’m happy. I’m great. Totally. We’re doing awesome.

L.A.: What are you doing here?

ME: Oh, just… you know… just court.

L.A.: Court? Shit. Why? What happened?

ME: Nothing. It’s no big.. it’s nothing. Just quick in and out. Yeah, so you’re looking good. Hot, actually.

L.A.: You think? Wow. That’s… unexpected coming from you.

ME: No, you look really hot. Like on fire, hot.

L.A.: Now that you mention it…

ME: Seriously burning. Inferno. Like, melt your skin off kind of hot actually…

L.A.: You look like you might have lost a few pounds.

ME: Huh. Thanks. Well, I’ve been running a little. Not as much as I should.

L.A.: Yeah, I can tell.

ME: What?

L.A.: Nothing. Go on.

ME: I’ve been busy. Really busy. You know. Work. Family. Chicago.

L.A.: How is Chicago? Humid?

ME: No, the weather has been perfect. Cool. Not too hot.

L.A.: I see.

ME: Chicago is such a great city. It’s good to be back. We love it. I work in the Loop.

L.A.: Oh , the Loop. Wasn’t there a shooting there yesterday?

ME: Well, we should be going, actually.

L.A.: Yeah, me too. I’m really busy too.

ME: I should let you get back to dowsing flames and what not. Being the center of the universe.

L.A.: Excuse me?

ME: You know what I mean. Never mind.

L.A.: Okay, well you take care.

ME: Wait. L.A., we had some good times, didn’t we?

L.A.: (no response)

ME: We did. But what’s in the past is in the past and… well, you never know what the future holds. But I mean this in all sincerity… I hope you’re happy. I really do.


“As long as we have hope, we have direction, the energy to move and the map to move by, we have a hundred alternatives, a thousand paths and an infinity of dreams.” – author unknown

This is the quote that welcomed me into the online “Pre-Discharge Bankruptcy Class” called Money In Motion. I scoffed at first. Because it was 6PM on a Sunday and I really, really did not want to take a 2-hour online course that would just remind me of how much a failure I am financially. So, yes, I scoffed. At first.

Then I realized that that quote is just another way of saying what I’ve been saying all along… happiness has nothing to do with the circumstances. I have hope. Like our President. I hope. But hope alone doesn’t inspire change. It must be backed up by action. This pre-discharge bankruptcy class is one action.

Here I am facing my computer on a Sunday evening because something clearly needs to change. This online course isn’t a reflection or a reminder of my failure. It’s feedback. It’s acknowledgment that I need a little help to change. A change in thinking. New tools.

So I make the choice to dive in and read everything in this 2-hour online course. I won’t skim. I’ll really read it and even take notes. Because I’m here for a reason, after all.

The first thing this Money In Motion course addresses is GOALS. Goals are the basis for any budget, it tells me. Your goals should be flexible and specific. It asks me to write down three goals on an index card. One short term, one mid term and one long term goal.

My pen hovers over the index card.

I write “My Goals” at the top.

Then think. Hmmmm…. why is this so hard?

For an entire year I have been training myself to NOT want anything, that’s why. I’ve been training myself to avoid magazines,, stores of any kind. I’ve been re-conditioning myself to be able to walk into a store and walk out feeling BETTER about having NOT bought something than having spent money just to spend money. I’ve been learning how to be creative and “shop my closet” as a way to find new outfits and combinations of clothes I’ve never tried before. New clothes without spending a dime. Trading. Selling and buying used. Wanting less. Wanting nothing except what I have and being grateful. Satisfied. And I am.

Thankfully. Gratefully.

So this is hard. I’m finding it hard to write something on the card. Something that doesn’t feel completely arbitrary or simply “pie-in-the-sky.” But Money In Motion (MIM) is telling me to. Is saying: GOALS ARE THE BASIS FOR ANY BUDGET. They must be specific & flexible. Okay, so they can change. Fine.

Okay, a new pair running shoes. I actually do need those. Mine are old and worn through and given my propensity towards injuries, running on old shoes is a very bad idea. So that one’s easy.

Next one has to be between $500 and $2000. Harder. Even when we do earn money, we don’t want to just spend it on things. But experiences. The goal: acquire experiences, not things. Remember? Right. So… well, why not? A vacation. A romantic vacation. A fabulous vacation. I can commit to that goal. At the present the only vacation we have on the books is a one night camping trip to Lake Geneva, WI where we were married 6 years ago. We haven’t been back since. So… I write it down. A fabulous vacation with Bob.

Third goal. More than $5,000. Well, since our goal is to spend nothing acquiring furniture for the house on the island I’m not going to write down furniture. What else? Savings. That counts, right? Why not go large. $10,000 in savings. The idea of saving is much sexier to me now than a new car or even a new wardrobe. So savings it is.

MIM suggests I carry my goal card in my wallet where I can see it each time I go to spend money on something. And I haven’t done that yet. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps I’m still relating to it as “pie in the sky.” Or perhaps I’m avoiding something. That’s more likely. Avoiding being limited? Perhaps.

So, guess what. I’m doing it now. Right now. Putting the goal card in my wallet. Done. It’s now there. My reminder. A little gift from MIM.

I have a challenge for you.

Grab an index card and write down 3 goals. 0-$500, $500-$2,000 and over $5,000. What are yours? I think we can learn from each other. Once you’ve written your goals, take a picture, upload it & post the link in the comment section. Or… just write them out in the comments if you don’t want to go thru the whole taking the pic and uploading it business.

Either way you can join in. I just want to know, what goals would you carry in your wallet?




Today’s post is written by my amazing husband Bob. Two weeks ago I requested that he write one because I’d been missing his voice on the blog. Not to mention, I absolutely loved the post he wrote back in March- A Guy’s Guy– and was craving another. I told him, “It better make me weep!” No pressure, right? Well, enough preamble. Here it is…

Limbo Belafonte

“Every limbo boy and girl
All around the limbo world
Gonna do the limbo rock
All around the limbo clock…”

That song popped into my head today. Ha ha! Now it’s in your head too! Make sure to either hum the tune or sing it in front of others. Nothing like passing on a tune you can’t get out of your head to others. That seems to be the only cure.

It reminds me of the earlier years, roller skating around the rink while “Limbo Rock” blasts throughout the building. A single file line is formed and one by one people skate under the limbo stick being held by two people, one on each end. Everyone goes through and falls down or touches the stick, eliminating them from the game until there is only one person left. The person left is the one who successfully arches down, bends sideways or backwards, and seems to be a contortionist by nature, as each round the stick is lowered closer and closer to the floor.

For me, when the limbo stick gets to a certain height, my mind starts acting up. “I can’t do it. It’s too low. I’m gonna fall…”

Limbo as a colloquialism is “any status where a person or project is held up, and nothing can be done until another action happens.”

Sounds familiar.

Sending out resumes for a job over a year ago
Putting the house on the market
Calling/working with lenders and creditors
Temporarily living in the Midwest
Filing for bankruptcy


“Limbo lower now
Limbo lower now…”

For over a year, life has been in limbo. Always waiting for another action, being held up until something on the other end happens. Something in someone else’s control. An action on the other end.

Actions like

A job offer
Offer on the house
Agreement on new terms
The right time to move
Court approval

It all boils down to

a request
a waiting period
and approval/denial of the request

It’s the waiting time that seems to make things go into limbo. Whether it’s taking too long, or I want to be somewhere else, or doing something else, that’s where limbo comes into play. It turns to anxiety, stress, disappointment, depression, fear, loss, heartbreak, hopelessness. The limbo stick is too low.

I’m a very impatient person. So for me, something that might take a month, may seem like an eternity and completely stress me out. Someone else may not even notice the time go by and think to themselves, “that went by fast!” They don’t even sweat it. That person has a bit more flexibility in how they’re viewing that particular situation.

“la la la…”

Maybe if I step back for a moment, stretch, breathe and relax when the limbo feeling hits, I won’t be so concerned about how low or high the bar is.

“Get yourself a limbo girl
Give that chic a limbo whirl
There’s a limbo moon above
You will fall in limbo love…”

I know that when Stephanie and I spend time together and reconnect, things tend to come back in to focus. Life tends to be a little less hectic and a bit more magical. The limbo stick seems to be high enough to stroll right under. Effortlessly.

“Don’t move that limbo bar
You’ll be a limbo star…”

The question I pose to you is… how low can you go?


Read Bob’s previous post “A Guy’s Guy

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(This post has absolutely nothing to do with Real Estate.)

Sen. Edward Ted Kennedy, D-MA, dies at age 77

In 1970 I was a flight attendant for American Airlines based at LaGuardia field in New York. It was such an exciting time to be living in NYC and I loved flying and all the travel it provided– free passes and all of that. I also loved politics. It was my minor in college and I loved discussing politics with anyone who would listen.

One day I was working a trip from D.C.’s National Airport (now known as Ronald Regan Airport) to Boston’s Logan airport. We were preparing the airplane for the passengers when a gate agent came barreling down the aisle in the coach compartment to find me in the galley.

“We’ve got a VIP coming on board and he’s going to be sitting in coach!” he said excitedly. As a new flight attendant I always worked in coach, and we rarely had any VIPs in the back of the airplane. So, I couldn’t help but be mildly excited.

“Who is it?” I asked. “Senator Ted Kennedy,” the agent responded. The Kennedys always sit in coach.”

OMG. Senator Ted Kennedy? I almost fainted. I was the biggest Kennedy fan outside of Massachusetts. I loved all things Kennedy — their politics, their family legacy, and our shared passion for sailing. But more than anything I was excited about the opportunity to discuss politics with the senator. Now was my chance to dispel the myth of the airhead flight attendant. I’d approach him and talk to him about the pocket veto currently before Congress. It was going to be great.

Ted was the first passenger boarded and he went to the very back of the airplane in the “A” seat on the port side. I kept thinking now’s my chance, before everyone gets on board and we get busy. I’ll just go back there and start chatting about that Pocket Veto Bill. We’ll have a brief but intellectually stimulating conversation. It’ll be great.

I made an effort to approach slowly so he wouldn’t think I was a raving lunatic fan. I formed the words I’d say in my head. I got to 23 A, 24 A, 25 A then… Senator Kennedy. He looked up at me with a questioning smile. I opened my mouth and (in a squeaky voice) said, “Going Sailing, Senator?” He answered with a smile and a nod “Yes, Ma’am.”

GOING SAILING, SENATOR?!?!?!?!? I wanted to die of embarrassment! Where did those words come from? I missed my opportunity for a nice chat with my favorite senator! I was mortified.

The flight was only about an hour but I couldn’t risk going back to him again as my mouth seemingly had a mind of its own. After we landed at Logan I locked myself in the bathroom just in case I was tempted to speak to him on the way out.

But the one thing I’ll never forget is the twinkle in his eye, the smile on his face, and the fact that the only person who made me feel foolish, was me.

Thanks for the memory, Teddy. And God Bless.

-Pam (The Real Estate Mom)

photo credit: – “Ted Kennedy Back at the Helm”

Ted Kennedy, Senate’s Liberal Lion, Dies – NPR

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It’s been one week since my “B is for…” post where I wrote about the fact that Bob & I have filed for bankruptcy. I also asked for tips from readers on how you manage your money. I have loved reading your comments and getting your suggestions and thought I’d put them into a post because I have a feeling that the comments sometimes get overlooked. And there are some gems here. I found them to be on the whole practical, exciting, charming, specific, unusual and thought-provoking.

I’m not posting all of the comments in their entirety as some reiterate previous tips. (If you’d like to read all the comments as posted by readers, you can do that here.)

Without further ado, here are YOUR tips around making personal finance management easy (easier):

1. General Budget & Finance Check –
I stick to a general budget. I have a rough idea of how much I want to save each month, knowing that things happen and it’s not always possible. I do a “finance” check once every month to see what I’m spending on. It hasn’t changed much over the past couple years so I’m not as uptight as I used to be 🙂 – Kim

2. Cash Envelope System—
We write out a budget each month, all of our expenses are listed with amounts and we calculate our income for the month. We have $$ budgeted for food/household/hygiene and that amount is set aside in cash at the beginning of the month. I can go over budget in this category so I use the cash envelope system and divide the cash into weekly amounts. Once the $ for that week is spent then that’s it – no borrowing from the next week or using a credit card. It’s made me make smarter decisions knowing I have limited amount of cash for the week – and since spending cash hurts more than a credit card, cash has helped me to carefully consider my purchases. –Holly (Anchorage, Alaska)

3. The RUDE little Post-It Note–
I give myself an allowance every week and when the credit card bill looks like its going over my self-imposed limit I put a post-it on the card with some rude little comment to myself to remind me to rethink my purchase. –mri

4. Dave Ramsey, Dave Ramsey, Dave Ramsey!
My Hub and I follow Dave Ramsey, my in-laws follow him, my sister Lindsey and her Hub follow him, and some of my friends as well. He knows his stuff and he obviously comes highly recommended from MANY people. By following his ideas last year we paid off 5 of our bills and we hope to add more to that this year. –Maxson trio

5. Detailed Budgeting & Quicken-
I have a very detailed budget, but often find myself overspending in some categories (usually in the “household” category!). I track all my money with Quicken. I’ve been using it since like ’97. Seeing WHERE your money goes makes it really easy to change your ways and stop spending as foolishly. I’m also big on electronic banking and automatic payments. Make life simple, and make your money work for you. – Jessica

6. Write it down!
I write down everything I spend on a spreadsheet and do a monthly spending plan balancing what’s coming in and going out. If it comes up short, I cut entertainment, clothes and eating out OR see if there is a way to generate more income. I give very modest gifts for birthdays and things like that.

Also, I do not have an open active credit card. You won’t believe how careful you are with your cash when you have no “emergency” card. Because there is ALWAYS an emergency – like gas or food. That has been the single best thing I have done. And yes, I have huge student loans and all sorts of things but I have never gone hungry and I have never been homeless. The peace of mind is the reward for not spending more than you earn. It’s priceless. – Anonymous

7. The power of the mind
Poverty is in the MIND. Wealth is in the MIND. Many people would pay all they had to have a great partner in life. You are rich, keep that in your mind and soon the outside will reflect the inside. – Anonymous

I forget where I heard about it, but I’ve been using as a way to keep track of our spending, credit cards, loans, etc. It’s not perfect, but it definitely helps me visualize what we’re spending too much on, where we can save more, etc. And, it also allows you to create individual budgets, too. – Nicole

9. Nausea As a Repellent
We don’t set a budget, but I get nauseated when I spend money (thanks for the money issues, Dad!) so that’s a decent de facto system. –Marta

10. Cut Out the Booze
My advice for anyone who wants to save money is to cut out alcohol. While I am not a big drinker so this is easy for me, my husband and I estimate that we save several hundred a month by not drinking (as compared to our peers). It’s worth every penny. –Megan

11. Monthly Check-In & Hide Your Cash
I use Quicken to track household finances. I used to use a cash envelope system, but my apartment was robbed during that time. As it turns out, renters’ insurance doesn’t cover cash at all! I’d recommend a debit card and Quicken as a great way to go. As someone else noticed, spending habits are fairly consistent over time, so monthly check-in is probably all you need after you get a handle on things. – Suzanne

12. The Colorful Money Jar
Since I moved to Australia, I don’t qualify with my visa status for an Aussie credit card, so I live an all cash life. I have auto payments set up for rent and utilities, then I take out a set amount on Sunday from the ATM and it is what I get to spend during the week. Anything left over gets put in my money jar, which I keep in the kitchen. If I run out early, I can take from the money jar but not from my bank account. The weekly allowance is generally more than I need for a normal week, so the jar fills up with brightly colored Aussie money (pink! purple!) and once several hundred has accrued, I take a long weekend visiting some part of the country I haven’t visited yet. –Abby

13. Streamline Your Budget!
I recommend a ruthless streamlining of your budget every couple of months, till you’re convinced you are where you want to be. The tool that helped us the most was to keep a spreadsheet of our categories of spending the money that was left over after bills (eating out, movies, post office, coffee, parking fees, hair/beauty, clothes/shoes, etc.). It was shocking in some cases to see how the actual dollar amount was nowhere near our general sense of what we were spending in a particular category. – Crystal

Thank you for sharing your tips, what works and what doesn’t work. I’m learning so much through this process!

If you have a tip you have yet to share, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and comment below. I’ll be reading.



So you know I’m on Twitter, right? Yes! Right here. I mention this because today’s links are all courtesy of Twitter. Links I found while reading others’ Tweets. Should I call them Twinks? Or Litters. Twinks. Anyway…

Lighthouse Living

Remember how I wrote about wanting to live rent-free in a lighthouse? Well, these people found a way to do just that. They are the current lighthouse keepers at the Seguin Island lighthouse on Seguin Island in Coastal Maine. How did they find this opportunity? Why, The Caretaker Gazette, of course. (I SWEAR they are not paying me.) Island Caretakers – The Caretaker Gazette Blog via @housesitter

The Recession Hits Sesame Street

Have you heard the news? Elmo’s mom lost her job! Fictional jobs are not even safe in this economy!

Actually, I think this is a really brilliant idea. Why? Because kids don’t read blogs. Do they? No, I really don’t think so. They watch Sesame Street. What a great opportunity to introduce your child to the changes happening all around them if not in their own home.

From the Daily Finance article”:

…the message of Families Stand Together: Feeling Secure in Tough Times, an excellent program airing next month on PBS, is that Elmo’s situation is not unusual, especially with the jobless rate expected to top 10 percent before the end of the year.

The producers of the show, which features Al Roker and Deborah Roberts, created a commendably realistic — though not depressing — look at the recession’s impact on all sorts of families. According to the non-profit Sesame Workshop, Families “aims to help families with children, ages two to eight, experiencing difficult economic circumstances by offering strategies and tips that can lead to positive outcomes for their children’s physical and emotional well-being during this tough economic climate.”

It goes on to mention that the residents of Sesame Street even host a big garage sale to make some extra money and that Elmo starts his own Lemonade stand.

This link is courtesy of “Living with Less” – the human side of the global recession by writers and editors of The New York Times. @livingwithless

60 Ways to Really Save Money on Groceries

I don’t know why, but I just hate clipping coupons. The time it takes seems to be way more than it’s worth in the end. I know people will disagree with that, it’s just my sticking point with coupons. That’s why I like this post – How to Save Money on Groceries from Mommy Coddle. (I found Mommy Coddle via The Lovely List @thelovelylist.)

The list comes from Mommy Coddle readers and I find it incredibly useful. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as our move to the island draws nearer. I keep thinking, we’re going to have to cook A LOT MORE. I’m both excited and nervous about that. It’s a shift, but one I’ve been wanting to make for a long time. Anyway, check out the list of 60 reader suggestions on how to save money on groceries.

As a sampler, these are 3 of my favorites:

2. Taking a cue from many of our grandmothers, come up with a meal plan–like Pizza Friday (homemade), eat out Saturday, Grill Sunday (and grill some extras), Monday Soup and Salads (use some of the grill extras), Tuesday Fancy Sandwiches (like clubs and panini), Wednesday Pasta, Thursday Meat and Potatoes.

21. Buy a whole chicken. Cook it in the crockpot, then debone, chop and freeze for use in tacos, enchiladas, sandwiches, etc.

22. Have breakfast for dinner. It’s usually cheaper.

And last link of the day…

Do you eat debt for breakfast? This Guy Does!

His name is Adam Baker and he’s at war with debt. He eats debt for breakfast. His slogan is “Get out of Debt… Get Into Life.” And he documents his journey and shares such useful information on his blog Man Vs. Debt! What can I say, I’m inspired! Apparently the birth of his daughter had him reevaluate the way he was living, spending and carrying debt. That was the turning point for him and when he declared war and wrote an actual declaration. It’s genius. Bob and I should do the same thing. I’ve mentioned this to him. I think I’ll print this declaration and read it to Bob at some point this weekend to inspire one of our own.

Here is the Man Vs. Debt declaration of war:

We, the leaders of the Baker household, formally DECLARE WAR on Debt!

Let it be known that we will not stop until Debt is eradicated from our lives! We will not win every battle, but we WILL win the War. There will be no negotiations, there will be no cease-fires, there will be no treaties of any sort.
We pledge the following:

* We shall cancel all of our credit cards and shall not apply any new credit.
* We shall track every penny we spend.
* We shall spend less than what we earn.
* We shall “give every dollar a name, on paper, on purpose at the beginning of every month.”
* We shall use strictly cash for variable monthly expenses.
* We shall constantly strive to cut spending and fixed expenses.
* We shall dip into our emergency fund only during true emergencies, after all options are fully exhausted.
* We shall never have a car payment.
* We shall rent until the war is over, we have 20% down, and we can afford a 15-year fixed mortgage.
* We shall never co-sign for a loan, for anyone… anywhere.
* We shall never loan family or friends money. If we choose to give, it will be a gift.
* We shall utilize books and blogs to study our enemy and develop our strategies.
* We shall invest in ourselves and our earning potentials.

Declaration of War reaffirmed as witnessed on March 27th, 2009

Inspiring, right? What would you pledge?

Thanks to @wisebread for tweeting this. By the way, Wisebread also has a wonderful website all about “Living Large on a Small Budget.”

Photo credits:
-Lighthouse image is courtesy of The Caretaker Gazette
-Elmo is via Blog of Wishes
-The cherry tomatoes is a photo I took of the beautiful tomatoes from my mom & Tom’s garden! Hooray for home-grown.
-The picture of Adam & his daughter is from his site Man vs. Debt

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Good morning, LITTOF Readers!

It’s Wednesday and you know what that means…

Words of Wisdom from the Real Estate Mom!

Today I’ll answer one of the wonderful questions I’ve received from a reader.

Gabrielle asks:

“How do you know when it’s smarter to buy another house vs. fixing up or remodeling what you’ve got?”

Remodeling can be a pain. Your house is in disarray, you’re doing the dishes in the bathtub while the kitchen is destroyed, you have to go to Wendy’s to go to the bathroom, you can’t find your socks, the wallboard dust has seeped in between the pages of all your books, and there’s no place to sit down let alone have anyone over for a nice cup of tea, the contractor has just yelled “Uh oh!” for the fourth time today as he discovers the plumbing isn’t connected to the sewer and it’ll be $5,000 more to fix the problem, and you know all the contractors better than family members because they’ve “lived” with you for so long! Well, you get the drift.

However if you LOVE your home and your location, if you have an artistic flair and want to create your own space, if buying another home in your area with the amenities you’re seeking is not a reality, if your remodel would not put your home out of the price range of the other homes on the block, and if you have a high tolerance for pain, then remodeling may be for you.

If you do opt for the remodel make sure to budget 20% above the quoted costs for over runs. Take a page from Steph and Bob’s book. Their remodel cost them all of their cash reserves and then some and the project took twice as long as they anticipated. The results were beautiful and the area they lived in could normally support a home of greater value just not in this market.

My advice- and remember this is coming from a die hard remodeler– in today’s world it is probably cheaper and smarter to buy rather than remodel. Now this is just MY opinion but here’s why I say this. Money is cheap right now to buy a home. If you have good credit you CAN get a mortgage at 5.3% 30-year-fixed rated with no points. The market nationally has adjusted downward about 20% making wonderful homes available for about what you would have paid for them in 2000. You may be able to move up to an area that was out of reach before. There are many short sales and foreclosures out there that are great opportunities if you have patience (waiting for the bank’s approval) and are willing to buy a home without any warranties. Your costs in moving are a known while the remodel holds many surprises. I remember reading an article that said most people who remodel move within 5 years of that remodel, because the project didn’t meet all their needs.

But do remember, your current home has to be priced realistically for the market today. If you bought your home between 2004-2007 you probably paid top dollar for it. In order for a home to sell today it must be priced competitively AND in perfect condition. We’re calling the current market a “Price War and a Beauty contest” but that’s another post.

I suggest having three Realtors do a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) on your house that will give you an idea of value in today’s market. At the same time, describe to the Realtor you chose, what you’re looking for in your next home so they can send you listings of what’s available. You can also go on (the site of the National Association of Realtors) Zillow, etc and look at available listings in your area yourself.

Hope that answers your question, Gabrielle. Please keep the questions coming, and I’ll do my best to get the answers to you.

On another note, I just want to say that I’m getting so much from reading the comments on Steph’s last post – B is for…– about Bankruptcy. Thank you for the thoughtfulness in your comments and the great tips about what works for you in budgeting and managing your finances!

Until next Wednesday,

Pam- The Real Estate Mom

P.S. Make it a great day (my dad’s favorite saying that I’m adopting)!

Photo Credit: Bob took this picture of their kitchen during the remodel. Needless to say, they used their microwave A LOT!

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B is for…


I’ve been putting off this post.

I haven’t wanted to write about it. I mean, I’ve wanted to, but didn’t know quite how. Well, I’ve been afraid. Afraid of saying it out loud. Of seeing it online. Of documenting my ‘failure’ for all the world to see. Of opening myself up for potentially massive judgment and the harsh critics on the internets (as my friend Jackie would say.)

So I’ve procrastinated. Wrote about other things. Waited. Until now. Because the whole point of this blog is to tell it like it is. Right? Yes. The point is to tell it like it is in order to hopefully make a difference for someone else in a similar situation. To be open. Honest. To accurately document our experience in the housing crisis and the great economic recession. Our view has always been that we are not victims. And that our present hardship is the fertile soil of our rebirth. This is our chance to be born again, so to speak. Our new savior? Simplicity. Financial responsibility.

Tell it like it is, Stephanie. Just own it. Do it.

Okay. But how? Well, just stick to the facts. In March I wrote a post about the facts that make up our lives and how we found freedom in relating to them as just the facts. Without adding anything.

So, to take a lesson from that post…

At this moment in time, these are the facts:

-WE are ‘camping out’ in my mom and stepdad’s walk-out basement.
-WE are moving in October to the San Juan Islands where we will live for 2 years rent-free taking care of someone else’s house (that story is here.)
-WE are no longer homeowners.
-OUR credit score is 511
-WE have just filed bankruptcy

There it is. Ouch.

Did you miss it? Should I say it again?

We have just filed bankruptcy.

We are insolvent.

We are bankrupt. Lacking in a particular desirable attribute (money.)

The letter of the day is B. And B is for Bankruptcy.

I know.

I know. Please don’t look at me like that. Like that! Oh, you’re not? You just had something in your eye? Well, the thing is that I am making an effort to relate to these facts as just facts and nothing more, but I’m not there yet.


Well, I guess because I’m afraid of what you will think. I’m embarrassed! It’s hard to confront the overwhelming extent of our debt and how we got there let alone how everyone else will now categorize us.

Let me be clear:

This is NOT where we thought we’d end up.
This is not where we wanted to end up.
This IS where we have ended up.

In Bankruptcy.

The B-word.

There are a lot of facts that led to the fact that we’ve filed for bankruptcy. And we are using all the facts to learn, to grow. The challenge is to not use the facts to beat ourselves to bloody carcasses. What good would that do? I see no upside in that.

When we first met with our bankruptcy attorney he said, in so many words, be good to each other.

“If one of you drinks or eats or is short with the other, just know that it’s probably because of this. Bankruptcy. Because most people have a conversation in their heads that says, I’m a loser. Don’t listen. Just ignore it. It’s just a conversation.”

He said all of this with extreme intensity. He wanted to make sure we heard what he had to say.

He said that bankruptcy is hard on marriages because, he pointed at Bob and said, “He wants to build you a castle,” he then pointed at me, “and you want a home that’s safe.”

He let that hang for a beat. Simple. But true. The truth of that simple statement hit us between the eyes. “And when that doesn’t happen,” he continued… clear that he had our attention, “you think you failed. A lot of couples end up in divorce court next and I hate seeing that happen. It doesn’t have to be like that. Okay?” Okay. “Good. You’re going to get through this.”

And with that he handed us our marching orders. It was a relief. We were so afraid of that meeting. Of acknowledging that this is where we’ve actually landed. Of the embarrassment! But once we did, it wasn’t so scary.

And we could have just gone about our business and never told a soul. Started fresh. No one would have to know. Except for the fact that I have this blog and I feel an obligation to be as truthful and vulnerable as possible. And our commitment to peeling back the curtains for the benefit of others. Which leads us here. To this moment. To me sitting in a coffee shop in my hometown on my day off work typing out the facts.

Photo Credit: Cookie Monster Wallpaper – deviantART by Elmhoe

Now that the cat is out of the bag, I’ll be writing a lot more about the process of going through bankruptcy and its effects on us and what we’re learning. I expect questions. Ask away. Please.

I have questions too.

First of all, do YOU live on a strict budget?

What tools do you use to track your spending?

Comment below or e-mail:

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So I fully intended to do a Friday “Links in the Time of Foreclosure” blog post to stick to my new and self-imposed structure for the blog, but I got sidetracked with the post about the Release of Lien and ran out of time to do the ‘links’ post.

It was a busy week as I started a new project (thankfully) and am commuting from Barrington to Chicago every day. Which is easy with the express train, but definitely an adjustment.

Anyway, the one link I found worth sharing with you was to an article I read in the New York Times on the “Happy Days Blog.” Today is Sunday. It’s beginning to look like rain. The trees are swaying in the breeze and I’m still thinking about this article.

“For the Time Being” by Norman Fischer – Happy Days Blog [The New York Times]

Norman Fischer is a senior Zen Buddhist priest and poet. And what he wrote for The New York Times about happiness speaks so powerfully to our experience. It’s like he’s in my head! Well, he is a Zen Master. He writes about happiness and the human experience. I was especially taken by this passage:

“We want enjoyment, we want to avoid pain and discomfort. But it is impossible that things will always work out, impossible to avoid pain and discomfort. So to be happy, with a happiness that doesn’t blow away with every wind, we need to be able to make use of what happens to us — all of it — whether we find ourselves at the top of a mountain or at the bottom of the sea.”

Somehow knowing this helps. Knowing that it’s impossible to avoid pain and discomfort is a good thing. The goal isn’t to avoid it, but to learn from it. Perhaps? And accept it when it comes along. Pain & discomfort… hardship doesn’t have to take the place of happiness when it does appear. They can live side by side.

And by the way, to me pain has nothing to do with suffering. There’s pain and then there’s your reaction to it. Ever see someone who is completely calm after having just broken a bone? I broke my arm skiing in college and I still remember this eerie calm that came over me. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it was painful… but I was determined to get through it. Or little kids that fall and whack their heads and get back up and keep playing? To me, they are choosing FUN and PLAY instead of suffering. Their head might throb, but playing is more important to them. (I’m not a parent, so parents… feel free to disagree. Or agree. Either. Both.)

That’s what I’ve learned through all of this. I’ve experienced it first hand and sometimes I still forget. And I get stuck thinking that there’s somewhere to get to. Like this:

Once we’re on the island, we’ll be happy.
Once we’re out of debt, we can breathe.
Once we’re dead, we can sleep.

We used to say, “Once we sell the house, things will be normal again.” But what is normal? To me, Norman is saying that pain and discomfort are normal. That this is it. Truly. I’ve complained about being in a constant state of transition and how challenging it is. What if life is a constant state of transition?

“…to be happy, with a happiness that doesn’t blow away with every wind,” Norman writes, “we need to be able to make use of what happens to us — all of it — whether we find ourselves at the top of a mountain or at the bottom of the sea.”

Whether we find ourselves in the house of our dreams or in someone else’s dream home… Put like that it seems so silly that we would suffer a minute over our situation. One thing that is so clear to me is that we have truly been using what happens to us… all of it.

It’s wonderful to be reminded. And we’re with Norman on this. We’ve found that it is possible to experience both love and happiness in the time of foreclosure.

That discovery is worth more than the dream house and all of our possessions combined.

For the rest of Norman’s poignant article in the New York Times, click here. Go read it and then come back here and comment. I’d love (as always) to hear what YOU think!

photo credit: courtesy of Katherine of Chicago

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TWO DAYS AGO we received a piece of mail that made our hearts sink into our stomachs. Why? It was from ReconTrust. Remember them? They’re the ones that sent us a million foreclosure notices. Here.

First of all, what kind of name is that? ReconTrust? Really? It’s suspicious to begin with. It sort of sounds like “We can trust” which makes me think, “No. No, no. We cannot trust ReconTrust.” Or reconnaissance. Which is “a military term denoting the exploration used to gain information.” So that makes me think we’re being spied on by a company that feels the need to put the word ‘trust’ in their name.

But seriously, what is the origin of this name?

Perhaps it comes from the FDIC’s “Regional Economic Conditions” (RECON). But that doesn’t quite fit.

Well, regardless the name alone still incites shivers, stomach flip flops and light-headedness. So what was it this time?

It was an official notarized document called SUBSTITUTION OF TRUSTEE AND FULL RECONVEYANCE.


Here. This:

Ah, yes… the Substitution of Trustee and Full Reconveyance. Of course. Not really. We had no idea what this was. But we assumed it meant bad news. Because anything from ReconTrust has been bad news. Does this mean that National City is coming after us?

Well, hang on. Let’s break this down. According to Websters online dictionary, the word ‘reconvey’ is a transitive verb that means:

1. To transfer back to a former owner; as, to reconvey an estate.

Oh. Well, that sounds… like good news. Right? Perhaps? I mean, we wouldn’t have been able to have sold the house had their still been a lien. So this is really just a formality, it seems.

I visit ReconTrust’s FAQ page to learn this:

What is a Lien Release?

When a home loan is paid off, a Lien Release is recorded with the county. A lien release document transfers title from a trustee or beneficiary (e.g., the lender) to the equitable owner (e.g., the borrower) of the real estate when the debt is satisfied (or paid off) under the terms of a deed of trust or mortgage. Every state uses a different name for the Lien Release Document, e.g., Satisfaction, Release, Discharge, or Substitution of Trustee and Full Reconveyance. No matter what it’s called, the lien release document has the same purpose: to release the lien of public record.

So, it is good news I suppose. It is a lien release document. But seriously, every state has a different name for it? Why? To keep us on our toes?

Does this mean that National City isn’t going to try to collect on the difference? That the debt is satisfied? I don’t know. We were told that they are waiting up to three years after a short sale to go after the difference. But that’s another story.

For now, we’d just be happy to never receive another piece of mail from ReconTrust ever again. Let’s hope this is the last.

I like happy mail. What about you? What is the best piece of mail you’ve received lately?