Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Missed it by that much!"

Earlier this year, in the spring, Jess and I were contemplating the purchase of a house on a relatively little-known area of Texas beachfront. It was one of those few "best kept secrets" in real estate, with homes very near the water still going for less than $100 grand. Hurricanes have come through in recent years past, and done some damage, but never much. The last hurricane to really cause significant damage to the intended purchase was Alicia in 1983. Alicia's rains and winds caused flooding in the neighborhood that did significant water damage to many houses in the small subdivision where our intended purchase is, but had only flooded the utility room on the lower floor with about 18 inches of water. These houses are all on stilts, and a few didn't survive that hurricane, toppling off their stilts. Our house choice was a little different from other houses in its subdivision: it has telephone poles for stilts, which make it pretty rock-solid, and it is the highest lot in the subdivision, making it the driest. In the hurricanes since Alicia, where other houses would get water damage, this house came out with nothing. Other houses would have glass or structural damage, this house would come away virtually unscathed.

We really liked this house. Close, long-term friends of ours from Houston have owned it for more than twenty-five years and we have visited it several times together. I have been there more than a dozen times over those years and spent a lot of great evenings there, walking on the beach after a great homemade dinner of fried shrimp that had been caught in the Gulf that morning, or ordering fried fish from the local take-out place that had the best cole slaw, onion rings and waffle fries, and enjoying them with a movie video. The house isn't fancy; in fact, it's pretty plain. Very beachy, minimalistic, with a nice big deck, 2 large bedrooms with a small bath and a great room that houses living, dining, and kitchen areas. And at the ground level, as I mentioned, a tiny utility room with a washer, dryer, and all the plumbing pipes in it. It isn't large, rather, it's cozy, and it's strictly a relaxation place. The third row of homes from the beach, you can easily see out to the water from the deck, and on highly windy days when the surf kicks up hard, you hear the water. But other than that, pretty quiet.

The community is a mix of retirees, people who make summer rentals, and a smattering of permanent residents. It's very friendly. There's a small grocery store, a video rental store, a few restaurants...all in all, a small town with not much to do, except to relax.

We really wanted to buy the house from our friends; it was going to be a nice setup, since we would have them maintain the care of the house during the year and use it as they wished, but we would own it. They needed to sell but didn't really want to since they had owned it for so long and had so many memories there. Our purchase of the house would allow them to use it as they always had except for those weekends when we would want to visit...and even then, they would have been asked to come out and spend the weekend with us while there.

During the preliminary negotiations to buy, an inspection revealed that there were a number of significant structural issues that would have to be fixed before the bank would loan us the money to purchase. The cost to fix the problems was going to add at least 30% of the purchase price to the cost of the house and that would just be more than we could afford to invest. We spent more than a few days discussing what to do. In the end, we had to call our friends and tell them them the news of the inspection and that we just couldn't buy it. It was heartbreaking.

Because of the structural issues with the house, it was now going to be a challenge for our friends to sell. They would probably have to fix a number of things before selling, and that would mean investing a significant sum of money that they didn't really have available to spend just to get the house up to the standard that would allow it to sell. We felt bad, but what could we do? We had made our best effort.

In the months since then, we've come to accept the fact that it wasn't to be and have been putting the money that we would have been spending on a second mortgage payment against the principal on the house we own now. It's been nice to see the mortgage balance dropping precipitously as we have been making a nice dent in it. If everything continues as it currently is, we will pay off the house in less than seven years from now. The good feelings about that have helped us cope with the disappointment of the deal falling through on the beach house.

Oh, I forgot to give you an important detail: the house is located on a narrow strip of land in the Gulf, south and east of Houston...just a few miles east of Galveston, to be exact. An area most likely unknown to you before this weekend, you might have heard of it now that the Bolivar Peninsula has flooded, with damage like this not seen in over 100 years. The entire Gulf coast community of Crystal Beach, which the house sits smack in the middle of, has virtually been leveled according to all reports. Videos from helicopter and jet flyovers are showing horrific damage. Though a few houses appear to be standing, most have been reduced to matchstick piles of wood in the seven miles of beachfront that the community covers. We have heard that most of the businesses in town were destroyed.

What a relief to have dodged that bullet. Had we lived in the area, as our friends do, it might have been easier to do all the things that must now be done in order to clean things up. There will be no way to know how the house fared for at least a week or more, but it's pretty evident that from the damage reports from within less than a mile of the house, that it will be a miracle if it is still standing, much less inhabitable. But for our friends, it might just be the break they need: a total loss would allow them to recover their money without having to invest additional funds to sell. While it will undoubtedly be a blow to them emotionally, the practical aspect has me thinking that it might be the biggest blessing in disguise ever for them. This puts me in a bizarre spot of hoping that the worst has happened. What a dilemma.


At 3:16 PM, September 16, 2008, Blogger Michelle Ann said...

Thank goodness it didn't work out...I don't know how those people constantly clean up and start over again and again.

At 6:22 PM, September 16, 2008, Blogger Dantallion said...

I understand why you see it as a dilemma - but here's why I don't think it is: You're not wrapped up in the nostalgia and the history of owning the place the way that your friends are. Ultimately, that makes your rationale more practical - your greatest criteria is your friends' well being - and takes into consideration their financial reality. Period. Quite frankly, I hope they're able to recoup the insurance, and maybe start a whole new set of memories elsewhere.

At 7:29 AM, September 20, 2008, Blogger ATG said...

Thank goodness that deal fell through.

Hopefully it will all work out for your friends.


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