How a Simple Foreclosure Revealed a Hidden Truth

How a Simple Foreclosure Revealed a Hidden Truth

Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.
-Mark Twain

I walked around the house again. This would be the last time.

There was the siding that needed to be repaired near the back door. I remember when our dog was a puppy and decided, for some reason, to chew on it.

There was my favorite Maple tree near the bedroom window. The new buds were forming on the branches. This would be another great year for that magnificent tree.

I looked at the back fence again. My wife and I painstakingly built it a few summers ago. I remember the neighbor coming to tell me I misplaced the fence posts too far out toward the alley. I had to dig a bunch of new fence post holes to get it right.

I heard the crunch of the pea gravel beneath my feet as I moved around to the side yard. I put that pea gravel there. Truck load after truck load. Now I was going to leave it behind.

I got back to the front of the house.

“At least it’s better than we found it,” I thought to myself.

I placed the foam covers on the hose bibs. Winter was on its way out, but sometimes late cold snaps occur and I didn’t want the pipes to freeze.

With a last look, and after a final double check, I left.

The house had been auctioned off just a few weeks before this day. We had been in there for over a year without paying the mortgage.

When my wife and I arrived at the decision to let the house foreclose in the fall of 2011, I could feel that there was some hidden truth lurking in the decision. Some notion that was tickling the edges of my consciousness.

It wasn’t clear.

I could tell it wasn’t some superficial thing about ruining my credit. Nor was it the sacrifice of my ego every time I had to explain our decision to others. Rather, it was something a little more fundamental.

But what?

I put it out of my mind.

Logic was squarely on our side in this decision. That facts are these.

We found a house at the height of the U.S. housing market bubble in the fall of 2007. We found a variable mortgage that, in retrospect, was clearly no good. We signed the papers.

We agreed to a bad deal that didn’t expire until 2037.

Fast forward from 2007 to 2012 and our situation had completely changed.

The “variable” part of the variable rate mortgage was set to kick in on January 1, 2012. Our payment that was already just a bit uncomfortably high was going to increase by hundreds of dollars per month.

Our family had expanded. Since we originally signed the papers two beautiful children joined us on this journey – and took up the remaining bedrooms. We got a dog.

The only thing in this equation that stayed the same was our mortgage. Literally, the amount of money we owed on the house was almost the same as it was in 2007. After years of payments the balance remained almost untouched.

Bad deals have consequences.

Some of these consequences are obvious – like owing the same amount of money after years of payments – but others glide just beneath the surface, hidden. These are the ones that not fully understood or realized until after an action is taken.

As I look back on it now, I think the hidden truth had to do with keeping my promise.

But it’s not what you think.

Almost anytime you sign documents for loans there is some mention of a “promise to repay.” It’s an interesting word choice because the word promise is so personal, yet the transaction is anything but.

Setting that nuance aside, even my most logical self often falls for the romanticized version of “real men” making promises they keep no matter what.

The movie scene of this being some cowboy shaking hands with the affable but ruthless banker and then eating the consequences of that bad deal for as long as it takes. The cowboy toiling to keep his promise.

I always thought of myself as that cowboy. I’m not.

At least not anymore.

In reality, I didn’t feel bad at all about breaking this promise. I didn’t brood, I didn’t fight it. Once the analysis of our situation revealed a better solution, I broke that promise without second thought.

The truth that I learned through this ordeal was that I would break any personal promise that ran contrary to my family’s greater good.

Unlike the cowboy, I would not ask my family to bear the consequences of my bad decision if there was any other way out. Especially if that way out meant that only I would be taking the punches.

Up until this point the idea of putting my family first was just that – an idea.

“My family comes first.”

You have probably heard this phrase a number of times. It’s overused.

I have heard a number of men throw this phrase around over the years. It can justify anything from working late to taking nice vacations.

But I’ve only witnessed a few men prove it through real hardship. I’ve only witnessed a few take a big time hit to keep their family first.

I had to prove it. In my case this meant ruining my credit, drowning my ego, and letting go of a house we loved, a house we had poured blood, sweat, and tears into.

These are the hidden consequences. And hidden consequences never fully reveal their full power until after an action is taken.

For me, the hidden consequence revealed a hidden truth.

It’s been almost a year since we vacated that house. I have driven  by it a number of times just to check on it.

I’m not sure why I care so much about the house itself. We were paid by the bank not to ruin it before we left. This made no sense to me because I couldn’t imagine destroying something we put so much effort into.

I will always remember the feel of the hardwood floors under my feet, the smell of the tiny hallway bathroom in the morning, and the sound of the french doors closing.

Yes, I put a lot of work into that house. But, in return, that house taught me a lot. It taught me about real life consequences. And, it taught me that family really does come first.

Question: When have you been forced to give up a long-held idea of yourself? What caused it?

Photo by Kelly B.

Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson is a Seattle area writer and creator of The Red Cabbage. TRC is about inspiration, insights, and rock-solid strategies for 30-somethings looking to accelerate in business and life. Join our engaged community and receive my free web series and e-workbook, 7 Questions to Uncovering Your Purpose. We don’t have a minute to waste. See you on the blog.

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18 Comments

  1. Jonathan,

    A mortgage note is simply a contract, not a moral commitment.

    Banks can, and do, break these contacts all the time.

    So can the average Joe.

    The only difference is the average Joe is treated like a leper, while the banksters are lauded for their savvy business acumen.

    I applaud your decision as I’ve been there myself.

    DC

    Reply
    • Hi DC,

      I totally agree. I don’t like that phrase “promise to repay” because it personalizes a business transaction.

      Sounds like you have been through the same thing. Not fun, but sometimes it’s necessary to clean the slate and start anew.

      Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  2. My sympathy on losing your home. Sometimes the hardest lessons are those that teach us the most.

    Several years back, my hubby and I found ourselves skating very close to a financial cliff we had never even noticed was there. Overspending plus a health issue that would leave us with a $5,000 deductible bill really made us take a hard look at the lay of the land, and it was not pretty.

    We were “scared straight” into Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and have lived with great joy, within a budget, and below our means ever since. We even became facilitators to help others get their financial lives in order.

    This episode was painful, as we had always considered ourselves frugal and wise with our money. I wouldn’t change it, though, as so much good has come from it.

    Reply
    • Hi Kim – Good on you for doing the facilitating work and helping people out who need it. A couple of debt decisions and a major life event are all the ingredients necessary to cook up financial hardship in a hurry.

      We were doing really well with everything but the mortgage on our end. It was a time bomb that would keep exploding year after year as interest rates would eventually rise and our mortgage would reset every January. Our thought was that we needed to rip the band aid off quick and get the bad deal behind us.

      Thanks for the great comment!

      Reply
  3. Hi Jonathan,

    A good read and so well written. I’m sorry you lost your home, but the lessons you gained through the experience seem to have been worth the price. You sound like an honorable man who made that “promise” fully-intending to keep it.

    It seems to me that making good decisions, the best ones we can with the information available at the time, is paramount to putting your family first. Especially when it comes to money.

    My favorite quote was said by Josiah Charles Stamp: “It’s easy to dodge our responsibility, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibility.”

    Powerful words…in fact, I named my site Escaping Dodge because of it.

    The best lessons are usually learned the hard way or by being touched by someone close to us that has learned the hard way. I’m glad you’ve escaped dodge and now are using that insight and experience to help others avoid the devastating feeling that comes with realizing you made a bad decision.

    Cheers,
    Ree

    Reply
    • Hi Ree! I love that quote! The consequences always follow, that is for sure.

      I value the experience because I have a firm knowing of what to avoid the next time around. I learned a lot. We are going to lay low for a while and let things settle out.

      I would want others to avoid it if they can, but sometimes experience is the best teacher. For me, I have to fall on my face every once in a while to really “get it.” Trial and error.

      Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  4. I suppose jobs can be similar. We often kid ourselves that we should stick at them and make things a sucess and that anything else is a failure. If the job ain’t right or has become something different then we might have to let of our sense of loyalty. It’s one I’ve had to think about a few times.

    Reply
    • Hi Peter,

      I have felt that too with jobs. “It’s just a hard time, stick it out.” But then the frequency of the hard times start to overtake the frequency of the good times. And then the hard times start to become normal. Then it’s time for a change.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Reply
  5. Sorry about what happened. From personal experience, I have learned that you have listen to your intuition. If you are feeling depressed or uneasy and things keep going wrong, it could be your intuition telling you that you that the path you are on is not for you and to change it. It may seem a frightening prospect, especially if it is all you have known but the longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to remove yourself your predicament. You owe it to yourself to be happy. So be brave and good luck embarking on your new journey!

    Reply
    • Hi!

      Initially we didn’t think the deal was that bad. We were hoping we could refinance out of that loan down the road. Then the market fell away and we were manning a sinking ship. We watched the home value drop to half what we paid for it. Then it dropped to well less than half – Eek!

      I could sense that we would need to make a big decision, but I put it off. We waited until the last possible minute to start the process. I could feel it was a necessary, but we were second-guessing.

      Thanks for encouragement!

      Reply
  6. Jon,
    Never have to give up my house though in earlier days I had a few near misses and had to what we call here restructure the loan. Worked a day and night job for many years to fight for the house. What I value is “family first.” Never had my children gone to caretakers as my wife quit her job to pay attention full time to the children. I had a job that for years I could stop by during lunch and buy food for the family. Recently retired and was bored. Got a job that keeps me 12 hours from my family and I am quiting soon. Family first is one value I won’t compromise. regards, stu

    Reply
    • Hi Stu,

      Thanks for reading and for sharing. Glad you were able to restructure the loan and stay in the house – sounds like a lot of sacrifice to make it happen. At times I’ve worked two jobs to make things work, so I know it’s not fun.

      Enjoy the next chapter of life once you quit!

      Reply
  7. Nice, touching narration. Misfortunes are a part of life but there would always be light at the end of the tunnel. You did the right thing by putting your family above everything else. I’m sure a better, more beautiful house is waiting for you and your loved ones.

    Reply
    • Thank you for the kind words, KSS Pillai. The experience, while not something I would want to do again, did teach me a lot.

      Reply
  8. Reading your story help’s me again, to remember I was not alone in being foreclosed on in 2009. I was fired from the “perfect” job, (so I thought,) after only being there 2 yrs. I had perfect attendance, was involved in multiple committees, felt I was easy to work w/. Then one shift, I made a mistake and I was dis- missed. I was making a six digit income in 2007. Suddenly no income. Tried to save my house I had built in 2002, but had it foreclosed on in 2009. To this day I think about how good my life was and how happy I finally was. Now, 2014 I continue to be depressed and on disability. I have tried to get off disability, but the nursing positions are few where I live. I was told by a career counselor yesterday that nursing probably wasn’t going to be in my future any more and to try to find a secretary job. I’m 45, never been marrried and would have to get a room-mate…I just could not support myself on a secretary’s salary.

    Reply
    • I’m sorry to read of your misfortunes with the loss of the job you loved following but one mistake that was apparently judged in a very critical light, your precious home and then landing on disability… It sounds like a triple whammy that would be very difficult to adjust to and I can empathize with feeling depressed in the aftermath of so many unwanted changes in the areas almost everybody feels are important to how they view the very quality of their lives. But seriously, I would try another career counselor! Getting fired ‘happens’, as they say — and making a mistake is something that can happen to anyone, too. Some mistakes may be extra critical and lead to the worst ending, we can think of — especially when we love our job! but that does NOT mean there is NO opportunity that will ever be available to you, in the career you love, ever again! Perhaps, I don’t have enough information, here, and your recent disability is the primary factor forcing a career re-direction…. But I still feel there is something you can find that keeps you in touch with the things you loved most about nursing. Revisit the ‘realistic’ guidance and identify the ways in which ‘realistic’ is really code for ‘limited vision’. A career counselor with more faith in the power of a person’s passions to CREATE work adapted to work around seeming barriers might brainstorm up MANY possible directions for you to explore, that feel much more satisfying than a dead end. Phooey on the person who sits there and TELLS YOU there is NO way to do what you love. I don’t believe that has to be the entire truth. perhaps you will need to take on a different kind of support role you’d never have considered before all the changes — but sounds much more appealing to you than being a secretary, at least. Plus, I think there is room in your constantly expanding industry for new roles as a nurse to evolve. Maybe you’ll end up being a catalyst for a whole new breed of nurses who provide something that’s been lacking until your passion led you to press onward! You never know – But I do hope you will take a look at things from some other perspectives, before you give in to wearing the shackles handed you be a short-sighted career counselor. There may be many more ways for you find a new niche in nursing than you’ve yet imagined, if that is what you truly wish to do. I say, ‘so you made a bad mistake that had critical consequences – so WHAT??’ You have certainly learned something probably many other nurses would be grateful to learn THROUGH you instead of the same hard way you have. You have grown in knowledge and can share that, too, I would think. We all make mistakes – But we are more than just our worst time down — we’re all the times we reshape the terrain, find a new way back to our former balance, and walk forward, again, too! YOU know you can do more than settle for secretary work you loathe and pays too little. Even though you made a mistake it’s still OK to believe in all that you know and have done RIGHT — and WILL do right, when the next opportunities arise. Take a deep breath, Please BELIEVE in yourself one more time, and resolve to go find those opportunities. Don’t give up until you do — and don’t settle for being less fulfilled than you deserve to be. That mistake does not have to be the last word on you, your dedication, your ultimate expertise, or your temporarily diverted career, unless you’re listening to people who wrongly insist it has to. Toss them to the curb and reach out to find the support you need to get where you still want to go! Good Luck!

      Reply
    • I’m so sorry to hear about that. Sounds like you have had a rough time. Can I ask generally where you are located? I don’t think that career counselor was being helpful enough with his/her advice. I assume you would prefer to stay in the nursing profession?

      Reply
  9. Hi Jonathan,
    I know I am late on this,but I must say you fought and thought it out well. I think there is a silver lining ,very personal though…You took risks,you took a greater decision(considering majority of us wouldn’t want to let go of our houses ,it’s not about materialism,but house is a house) and you had the reasoning.

    All in all,it’s indeed an awesome journey when you look back,maybe 10 years down the line or twenty. you did it!

    Reply

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