The purchase of our new farm was arranged as a land contract, with a lawyer doing the paperwork instead of a realtor which turned out to be much cheaper. Since the couple owned the place outright, they agreed to finance us, instead of all of us having to wait for us to get a traditional mortgage through a bank. We gave them a down payment and set everything up legally, but this still required them to place an enormous amount of their trust in us for following through with monthly payments. As it turned out, our payment to them each month would be what paid their mortgage for their new home. It felt good and real, and we were all so elated to have been connected to make all of our dreams come true.
We had our work cut out for us. By the time they would be leaving the property, it would be fall. They said we could come and camp out if we liked, to start getting acquainted with the land, and to start setting things up for our animals, which was wonderful. We had two pigs, about 400 ducks, 15 goats, 25 turkeys and 2 dogs to set up for and then move.
We did go camp out on our new farm once before we moved in. It was a mosquito infested night, out in the meadow but the moon was full, and what a view we had. In the morning, it was raining, and I was still milking goats, so we had to skeedaddle quickly. As we pulled into my driveway, I noticed the pig pen in the front yard was empty, and a fence was down. I leapt from the car to see what was going on. The pigs were out! They were wreaking havoc down in the hoophouse and I saw feathers in Matilda’s mouth. She had eaten a duckling! The pigs had grown to about 150 pounds, and even as babies, pigs are hard to hold, and at this size, there was no controlling them. I flashed to something I had read about putting a bucket over a pig’s head in order to confuse them and push them where you wanted them to go. I tried it, and that didn’t work, my pigs were too smart, and just snorted and backed out of the bucket. It was pouring at this point, and I was in tears over the frustration of the whole situation. Eventually we lured them back in their pen with food, but we realized moving these pigs to the new farm was not going to be a walk in the park.
I had called a local realtor specializing in hobby farms to come look at my old place that evening. It was unusually chilly and still raining. I wanted to see if I could get it listed for sale as soon as possible. The real estate market was not in good shape in 2010. The realtor walked into my little living room, looked around for about 5 seconds, then looked at me said, “oh, honey….you’re going to get maybe $30,000 tops for this kind of place. Families want new houses, with lots of room. What did you pay for it? If I were you, and I didn’t say this, but, I would give the keys back to the bank.” I said, but what about the little barn I had built? What about the remodeled bathroom and upstairs? She said none of that mattered, people wanted new homes, and the market was in the buyer’s favor. She put her hair covering back on, buttoned her coat up and got set to head back out to her car. Shocked, I thanked her for her time, and felt a heavy weight settle over my heart. I had $90,000 left on my mortgage. I figured I’d just have to go direct and find someone who could buy my place for the amount of my remaining mortgage. Gone were my dreams of making a little bit of a profit to take over to our new place.
I placed flyers advertising my cute little homestead for sale around town and online. I put the word out amongst my friends and even offered a bounty to anyone who could find me a buyer. Times in the economy and the real estate market were tough. Many people were dealing with job loss and foreclosure, and even houses in the city were selling at basement prices. I had a handful of people come to check it out, but the truth was, if someone was going to move to the country, they wanted more land than 1.8 acres and charming rural vistas, not a suburban neighborhood on 3 sides. I hung onto hope that the right buyer would find their way to me.
Meanwhile, I contacted the lawyer who had done our land contract and asked her about my situation. I told her what the realtor had said about giving the keys back to the bank. Could I do that? Was that what foreclosure was? I had a mortgage for more than my house was worth, and I couldn’t keep up the facade for the bank. She said to do it properly and cleanly, I’d need to declare personal bankruptcy, and then hand over the title to the house as my only asset. This went against everything I had been taught about financial responsibility, and I had an excellent credit score that I had worked hard to maintain even while living on a shoestring. Personal Bankruptcy? Really? The very sound of it made my heart sink and made me feel so irresponsible. I struggled with this, but as the summer ended and we came closer to moving to the new farm, and I had no potential buyer I knew I could no longer afford to be paying the mortgage on my old place. I really wanted to just hand in the keys, was willing to give it back and walk away, but this was not an option. Time to “take one for the team.” Or, take one so I could grow and live my farming dream.