Friday, December 12, 2008

Good advice from the Land of Before

Maybe ten years ago when I was still a newly minted career girl at Donna Karan and just out of law school (confused and verbose as well as very well dressed, thank heavens!) a dear friend gave me a most valuable piece of advice she had read somewhere. Here it is, carry it with you always:

Beware of people with interesting problems.

This past week as I struggled with whether or not to buy a house far from our current New York and Florida digs and conceptually light years from where our great scheme for life stands today, I dropped into a bit of frightening void. As I may or may not have mentioned, I married a dashing, charming, and handsome naval officer who is mostly deployed. So, a lot of the time this is my show to make an Oscar winner of or send down in flames. With Josh's support on a phone line or email far away, I try to guide this little family the best I am able. I find the times when this has been hardest is when people with interesting problems attempt to throw me/us off course.

Right, so that is what happened this week when I made an offer on a rambling old Carolina estate whose Regency revival details were sweeping and fabulous but which needed a lot of work. Including and possibly not limited to, a roof, some plumbing, grounding the electricity, redoing all the floors (my husband looked at the photos and said, "They make wall to wall green fur?") wallpaper, paint, residing, and surely other unknowns because after receiving my offer on Tuesday, the sellers advised they really needed to close by Friday to avoid capital gains taxes. There was not an inspector available to see the place before Friday and our banks needed three days to affect all their activities to pay these people their money. To add to this: I could not locate Josh anywhere.

And then I received a terse email from the seller's attorney's paralegal, I suppose. She neither identified herself, addressed me by name, nor considered her surly verbiage all that carefully. Several things occurred to me:

1. I too speak Contracts, so back off, sister.
2. If I were to close by Friday, I am doing your client a favor, not the reverse.
3. Address me civilly, decently, and by name. Use exclamation points at your own peril.
4. Capital gains, huh? That is an interesting problem, albeit not mine.
5. You know, I don't dig these people, never mind that legal ease should never contain an exclamation point. And I don't trust them.

I thought about it until Thursday morning, barely ate or slept. But I knew in my gut I was paying a few percent more than I wanted to for this place, that it had problems and I like a good inspection, and that these people all have interesting problems. Warning. Warning. And just like that, this house I envisioned loving, restoring, and decorating back to genteel modernity, fell away from my consciousness. I loved the thing, when finished it woul have been a great family home and a fabulous place to entertain. I don't adore anything enough to roll a set of dice whose feel I do not like or trust.

I have ridden jumpers for a lot of years, and I know one thing: You know how the jump is going to go down in history from several strides out. You have the opportunity to change your fate. You don't have to have that wreck. And I swear, Pals. I felt that one coming deep down. Your gut may not always be right, but when all else seems unreliable at least you know your gut's intentions are genuine: your self-preservation.

Thus ends the crumbling mansion escapade of 2008. Tomorrow is another day and there are more houses. This is a bit of the one that got away:


An Aesthete's Lament said...

Yes, BH: There is always another house. You can count on that. Besides, take comfort in the knowledge that the ceilings were too low.

Mrs. Blandings said...

There's always a reason. I sobbed (!) about the loss of a house (in my defense, I was 8 months pregnant) only to stand on the doorstep of the perfect home six months later and think, "Oh, thank heavens." You are a wise woman.

So sorry I haven't been here before. Thank you for having me; I'll be back.

the quarter rat said...

You definitely made a wise move - never take ANY lip from someone you're about to hand over more than $100.

"Use exclaimation points at your own peril."

I think I may have to appropriate this phrase - it should be quite useful at work.