She Doesn’t Want a Mortgage

The best landlords I ever had didn’t care much about the money.  The husband and wife had lived in the same house for 35 years, only the third owners since the place was built in 1935, and they rented out the stand-alone guest cabin on their property every winter because they believed in giving us an “experience.”  This was a wonderful place to live; they knew it because they’d raised a whole pack of children on the property, which, despite being located less than a mile from Main Street, had enough pasture to keep a couple of horses and included its own running brook.

While we lived in the cabin that winter, the husband went in for a routine shoulder surgery and came out with a punctured lung.  While people live relatively normal lives after recovering from this at sea level, the story is different at several thousand feet of elevation.  He had to wear an oxygen tank, which he did, while out using the snowblower in the middle of a blizzard, plowing out the paths over and over again.  I began to think that it was because he wasn’t allowed to ski that he had taken to snowblowing so regularly.  Every half-inch or so, he’d fire up the noisy machine and take it for a spin around the cabin, until the whole place smelled like diesel.

It wasn’t reasonable to continue living at such a high altitude when he could live at sea level without oxygen and without further risk to his health.  So, for the last couple of months that we lived there, the couple took money off our rent for every hour we spent in their garden beds, weeding and working, for the times we mowed the pastures, for help organizing the attic.  And then they put their house on the market.  It wasn’t long before they moved away, to California, never to be seen again.

The house sold to a couple from Texas, and we moved on to find a new apartment.

I admired their swift action and lack of sentimentality about the whole transaction.  They didn’t hold out for a buyer who would live in their precious house full-time and raise a family there.  They saw the opportunity and took it, and they moved on to the new life without regret.  In a sense, choosing sea level was choosing life.

We live in a great age of mobility; more people than ever live in countries other than the places they were born, and people in America seem to roam freely over state lines.  Colorado, especially, is a state of transplants, its population increasing even as industry remains stagnant, and people who leave Colorado are anomalous compared to those moving in.

Yet there are times when the move is absolutely warranted, especially where health is concerned.  Altitude makes a serious difference; perhaps you read about the young woman who died this year from altitude sickness in Colorado.  When people are reluctant to admit the effects of altitude, they put their health at risk.

Such is the case for a former colleague, whose husband has been suffering from a degenerative lung disorder now for many years.  Recently, he experienced a sharp decline in health, and he has been making trips out of the mountains for several months.  The issue has escalated to the point where he notices a difference now between his home at 8,000 feet of elevation and Denver’s mere 5,280.

But they are reluctant to move: they don’t want to be a burden on their family members in Denver; they are hoping for a miracle.  More importantly, they said, after living for so long without a mortgage, they don’t want to go back to owing anyone money.

When she mentioned this to me, I felt my own lungs on the verge of collapse.  To watch someone you love suffer, to know that there is relief on the other side of I-25, and to ignore this because of a mortgage?

“Just get a bridge loan,” I said.  “That’s not a mortgage.  You’ll pay it off when the house sells.”

She was stalwartly against the idea.  “No, we really don’t want to deal with something like that,” she said.  “The house will sell, and we’ll move when it does.”

In the meantime, the cost of driving all those miles down to Denver for doctor’s appointments is adding up quick, and not only because of increasing gas prices.  The trip is taxing for her husband’s body, and he uses more and more oxygen each time.

Meanwhile, my grandmother is being pushed to consider leaving her home.  At the beginning of the summer, she fell while walking the dog and broke her foot.  Since then, it’s been just a blessing that my grandfather needed a stair lift for the months before he died; it’s still mounted to the wall, and she has needed it.  But she doesn’t want to sell the house, even though it’s putting her at risk, even though it’s clearly become too much.

As I continue to listen to these stories about people who have grown too attached to their surroundings, I can’t help but wonder if the Buddha is right: attachment is suffering.  Is this papyrophobia, the fear of paper?  Is it formophobia, the fear of forms? Either way, it seems completely irrational.

Having grown up in a generation that puts little emphasis on homeownership, it’s easy to dismiss their concerns as frivolous.  Choosing to stay in your home is certain death, yet you would rather die than move somewhere that you would potentially like less.  All because of a mortgage.

According to The Balance, bridge loans are more costly than home equity loans, but home equity loans are less likely to be an available option if your house is on the market.  Still, bridge loans might not require payment for a few months, giving you extended time to sell your existing house.  A bridge loan is designed for situations exactly like these; ones where time is of the essence in getting to the new property.

Money management is not so black-and-white, debt or no debt, and owning your home is still contributing to your overall wealth.  All around me, I watch people wait to be forced into a decision, so they don’t have to make a difficult choice, and they are free to complain about their lack of options because they waited too long.  To them I say: there are choices.  Tools like these exist for a reason; they can help you get where you want to go.

A former boss told me to start writing letters to my future self, sealing them up and beginning to open them around the time I turn 60.  “You think you won’t forget the things that bugged you about old people when you were young, but you will,” she told me, gravely, just after her own 60th birthday.  “You’re going to be glad that you did it.”

I reflected on the things I would say to myself: if you plan on getting attached to a house, make sure its a one-level place or an apartment with an elevator.  If you plan on getting attached to a human, make sure you aren’t more attached to your home than you are to this person.  Also: if you’re conscious of it, take good advice, and believe in your own self-worth, the money will work itself out.  It’s only money, after all.

I picked up a pen and began to write.

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