All in the Hole

Dear Northern Virginia,

It’s hard to believe that I actually live here. That my paycheck and my husband’s paycheck can actually cover our insane mortgage payments, not to mention our other bills and debts. Over the last several years, I compared you with Boston, and you were coming out pretty well, seeing as how we were a lot more broke there than we are here.

However, I wish that your residents were buying more condos. Our home is very nice, we like our neighborhood, and the commuting isn’t even that bad. But the thing is, I don’t like this recent knowledge I’ve gotten that told me exactly how the housing market around here has affected our own property. Needless to say, it was not good news.

It’s true, we’re not planning on abandoning our little corner of your geography anytime soon, but at the same time, I also enjoy having options, or even just knowing that our decision to purchase a home last year was a good one.

I suppose in the back of my mind, I always suspected that prices weren’t as low as they were going to get when we bought, but I’m coming to see that a “temporary” drop in the housing market is measured more by years than months, which is not at all how the news and finance articles tell it. Those guys make it sound like the market could turn around again in no time, and that’s just not true. We’re in a pickle as a country in general, and this place in particular is starting to look like those giant pickles you can get on a stick at the State Fair.

I don’t know a lot about economics, but I happen to be one of the many recent first-time home buyers in the last few years who actually did my homework and got myself into a pretty traditional loan that I could actually afford. I was lucky to have a broker who explained what I didn’t understand and put me into a position that looked like it would be advantageous in the long run. But it makes me sad that in order for our place to appreciate in value it might put more people into questionable loans and at risk of bankruptcy or foreclosure in another three, five, seven or ten years. And I just don’t understand why more people didn’t put in the same research effort that I did for one of the biggest purchases that anyone will ever make. And that lenders led them blindly down a road of dangerous debt.

Maybe it’s me, but it shouldn’t work this way, should it?

I mean, I did everything right. I got married before I got knocked up. I bought property as soon as I was financially stable enough to do so. I contribute the maximum amount to my retirement account. I have health, auto, and homeowner’s insurance, soon to be adding life to the mix. I might not be in the best position I could be, but I’m stable and happy. It’s just when things go bad for a whole lot of people, even people who made a lot of mistakes or don’t have the best judgment, financially and otherwise, things go bad for those of us who are really trying, who have a pretty good idea of what we’re doing and actually learning things along the way. I guess it goes back to one of the very first lessons we learn as kids when we complain to our parents about how unfair it is that a sibling got something or got away with something that we never did. Life isn’t fair.

The situation around here just makes me nervous, though, and no one can reassure me because no one really knows what’s going to happen. Even the best experts can only take a guess.

Anyway, Northern Virginia, to address all this to you might be misdirecting my concerns, because this whole thing isn’t really your fault. It’s just that there’s not any one person, place or thing responsible here, or irresponsible, as the case may be. “Dear Federal Government,” “Dear American Home Buyers,” “Dear Predatory Lenders,” “Dear Banks,” “Dear Developers,” all would have been appropriate salutations for this. But because I am here in Northern Virginia, where the cost of living is higher than another place where I might have chosen to build a nest, the local address seems most fitting today.

In conclusion, I hope that things turn around for you. Because the government isn’t going anywhere, and people who work for the government are always going to need a place to live, and sometimes people do have to start out in a two- or three- bedroom condo before they can realize the dream of McMansion ownership. And hopefully there will still be options for people like us who couldn’t have gotten into the market without a not quite entirely traditional 15- or 30- year loan, for people with average credit, for people trying to fix past mistakes, get out of debt and actually get ahead in this life. Maybe there are fewer of us than I think, because it seems like all anyone does anymore is buy new stuff, more stuff, bigger stuff, but I hope that at least some of those consumers are doing it with savings and money in the bank instead of on credit.

Thank you for your time, Northern Virginia, and thanks for being a nice place to live despite the additional expense.

Sara the Midwest transplant by way of New England

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