Home is Where the House Is

For the past seven years, I’ve called a townhouse in the Orchards neighborhood of Vancouver, WA home.

The first time my realtor drove me through the complex in the summer of 2006, I was not crazy about the place. It had a very “apartmenty” feel to it, with lots of buildings, all two or three stories tall, grouped closely together. There was a sales office. People were loitering outside. For the past ten years I had lived in a modest two-story house in a cozy little neighborhood with a decent sized backyard and a stunningly beautiful maple tree that erupted in a blaze of color every autumn. How could I possibly be content with anything less than that, I wondered, as we meandered through the complex. But my wife and I were in the process of divorcing, and we had agreed to sell the house and split the sizable profit. As a result, we were each able to qualify for individual loans and afford to buy new homes. Not actual houses, but condominiums, which were the next best thing.

In theory, anyway.

And when I set foot in my home-to-be for the first time, I fell in love. It may have had a shared wall and a small kitchen, but I was hardly slumming. Two stories, three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, central air, fireplace, two-car garage, covered patio. Best of all, no monster of an ex sharing the space with me. It was mine, all mine, and I envisioned great things happening there. Great things did happen there. Every other week my kids were there, and they had their own bedrooms. The other half of the time I got to play bachelor, single for the first time in my life, and that definitely had its perks. Just eating pizza on the couch while watching Rocky was a novelty. Before long, I considered the place as much of a “home” as my previous house had been. There have been a lot of great memories there over the years.

The good thing was, we sold our house when the real estate market was at its peak. The bad news is, I bought my townhouse when the real estate market was at its peak. Within a few months everything came crashing down, and housing values plummeted. As a result, I have been upside-down in my mortgage for years, with no sign of relief. On top of that, I qualified for an unconventional loan that is no longer available because it puts too much of a long-term burden on the borrower. Add to that HOA fees and a special assessment for maintenance and repairs, and I can barely keep my head above water. The time has come to do something about it.

(Courtesy of keepingcurrentmatters.com)
(Courtesy of keepingcurrentmatters.com)

Tara, who works in the real estate industry and knows a thing or two about all of this, suggested a short sale.

I knew virtually nothing about the process, let alone what it even was, but after much research, I think she’s right. It’s the best long-term solution to get me out of a situation that often feels hopeless. It’s not an ideal option, of course. My credit will take a hit, but it’ll be a temporary one. Two years, vs. seven for a foreclosure. In the meantime, Tara and I can rent a place and save up for a house of our own. I won’t have the burden of making big HOA and assessment payments every month. HOAs suck! Never again, if I can help it. I think of it as short-term pain for long-term gain. We might be stuck in an apartment for a while, but there are some nice ones out there. Better yet, maybe we can find a house to rent. Who knows? Our living situation might actually improve. I know our financial situation will, and right now, that’s paramount.

It’s not easy to do this. I’m scared to just stop making mortgage payments, and there’s always the possibility that the bank won’t agree to a short sale. But I’m pretty sure I can prove a hardship, and we’re savvy enough to know what to expect each step of the way. We’ll need a realtor first, one who is experienced with short sales. This could actually turn into a positive experience for all of us. That’s the optimist in me speaking. There’s also the fact that I’ll miss my townhouse. It’s cozy and comfortable, and not a bad place at all to live. It’s me.

But is it home? Not really. If nothing else, I’ve learned that home is where the house is. And the house can be anywhere. As long as Tara and I are together, that’s all that really matters.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

21 thoughts on “Home is Where the House Is

  1. We did it. Best move ever. It took about 7 months from start to finish. Our house finally short sold for $130K less than what we owed. Insane when you’re talking about a 1600 sq. foot house. But the Phoenix market is much different. I’m sure you are not that underwater.


    1. I didn’t realize that’s what you had done, Wendy. I’m not quite that far underwater, but it’s a significant amount regardless. Enough to know I’ll never be able to reach the surface without doing something drastic. I may email you with questions if that’s okay.


      1. And the thing that FINALLY convince me it was the right financial decision was when we realized that even though the market was coming back it would take another 15 years to BREAK EVEN. At that point we would have been in a 25 year old house with zero equity after paying for 25 years. Umm. no thanks?


  2. “HOAs suck!” Come back and live like a free, American, “I’ll paint my trim organdy if a %$#& well feel like it,” man, Mark!


  3. “If nothing else, I’ve learned that home is where the house is. And the house can be anywhere. As long as Tara and I are together, that’s all that really matters.”

    You are spot on about that, Mark! I’ve lived in several different places throughout my adulthood, some I wasn’t initially thrilled with, but once I got in there and made it MY home, it became my home.

    I’ve never owned a home myself, I have always rented. But that seems to work for me because I’m not a “fix it” type person. I prefer calling maintenance and having them do it – HA!

    The BEST to you and Tara. I know you’ll find the PERFECT place!


    1. I think living in the city like you do, renting is definitely the smart way to go. Plus, you’ve got a great apartment with killer views. Part of me would love that kind of life, Ron!

      Plus, like you, I’m not the most handy person in the world, either. Having somebody else around to do the dirty work is a big draw.


  4. Wishing you luck… You are right, home is where you are – what you make it, not the walls that make up the building


  5. I hope everything works out better for you! I know what it’s like to feel over your head – Kelvin & I had to declare bankruptcy when we lost our store in NW Ont. & have only just had a satisfactory clearance from it. It of course ruined our credit & we have had to live on “cash” for the last 7 years, but it has turned out to be a good thing because we don’t just whip out a credit card & make impulse buys anymore.


    1. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been, to see a beloved business you’ve built up fail. I’m sure it was through no fault of your own, though – so often these things are out of our control. At least you now only buy what you can actually afford! Good lesson learned.


      1. Thanks for the confidence – you’re right about it not being our fault. The town went from 867 in population to less than 300 when we finally had to give up. With hydro failures – losing full freezers of product & excessive repairs to brand new equipment due to power outages & power spikes/brownouts, we kept losing our cash flow.


  6. You’ll be fine. Like you said, “short-term pain for long term gain.” You will be much happier. And you won’t have to deal with that stupid HOA anymore!!


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