We put our historic condo on the market in early spring, 2005. The market was still hot, and we had no reason to believe it would not sell quickly for close to the asking price. It was a lovely and unique place in the oldest house in the City of Somerville. We had 2 huge fireplaces, 2 bedrooms and even 2 living rooms. The backyard was spacious by Somerville standards and beautifully landscaped. As far as we could tell the only drawbacks were, proximity to the Redline (roughly a mile), and the bedrooms were in the basement. Unlike so many badly designed Somerville condos we had seen, we had an efficient and open floorplan with no wasted space. The kitchen cabinets were high-end custom built and the molding throughout the place was a lovely and unusual heart pine. It wasn't the cookie-cutter crap that every developer in Massachusetts seemed to be putting in. Gut a multi-family with an awkward floor plan, keep awkward floorplan, throw in laminate flooring and low-end Granite countertops and stainless appliances. YAWN! Our house was special, unusual and we loved it.
That was our first mistake.
We came home after a second showing in April 2005 to find a our perspective buyers standing huddled in our driveway obviously discussing our unit. We were with our son who was one and a half at the time. We smiled at them and they looked at us like we were covered in excrement. The next day the offer came in almost 40k below asking. We countered, they countered, they countered back and we asked for more and they walked away. No big deal. We had such a creepy vibe about them and we knew that momentum was on our side.
Or so we thought.
Another month went by with several second showings, but no offers. Then the day after Memorial Day the common dryer caught on fire. The damage to the house wasn't substantial, a few broken windows and the common laundry area was in bad shape. But the repairs meant we had to take it off the market for six weeks, which put us into July.
By July, 2005 the market had tanked. For the first time, hundreds of comparably priced condos appeared on the Somerville market. The proximity to the T and the basement bedrooms were suddenly a huge issue for a lot of people. Properties near Davis Square seemed to be moving, but not much else. Summer turned into Fall then winter. Our realtor did open houses every weekend, and we kept dropping the price.
Somewhere around last January I started to panic. We had moved to our new house. A single-family Victorian that we had lovingly renovated into our dream house over the summer. We were counting on the profit from the condo to pay off that renovation. I was pregnant with our second child and we were hemorrhaging money to pay the two mortgages and the equity line we took out for the construction. We had borrowed money from my in-laws to pay the contractor when the equity line was exhausted. I was waking up at night in a cold sweat wondering if we were going to get to stay in our house? The untaken offer became a crick in my neck, and a burning feeling in my ears. We could only bleed financially like this before so long. The unsold condo was the pink elephant in every room I walked in. Every Sunday we would go light fires in our beautiful fireplaces for an endless series of open houses. Then we'd continue our weekend, cellphone in hand and wait for our realtor to call us with the news from the open house.
We were lucky. Buyers always came to our open houses. The glut of inventory turned would-be aggressive buyers into a bunch of ditherers. One guy loved the unit, but didn't like the fact that our street had a hill because he liked to ride a bike. One couple didn't like the fact that our downstairs living room had a door that went to the common storage area.
Our realtor, Helen Praysman from century 21 Legacy never lost the faith. She was relentlessly optimistic and upbeat and she knew she was selling something really special at what was now a great deal. We were now priced well below the initial offer from the mean people in our driveway. But we didn't care. We just wanted out. By early February, 2006 we were ready to give up and rent the place for a year to at least help with our cashflow problems. I was having a baby in April and we'd be on a reduced income for much of my maternity leave. Renting wasn't a great option, but we didn't see much choice.
Then out of the blue the offer came. Full price. Cash.
That's right, cash. The buyer's broker came over to present the offer with Helen. She had told us not to sign on the spot. But there were no questions. We got our asking price, and they wanted to close in two weeks. We signed on the spot.
Then I really got nauseous, and it wasn't the pregnancy. Every inspection issue loomed huge and terrifying. Every time I saw my broker's number on my caller ID at work I'd start to shake. I was sure it was her telling us the deal was off. But all of the issues somehow resolved by themselves. We were asked to fix nothing.
And March 7, 2006-- a week short of a year when it first went on the market, we met at the Registry of Deeds signed the paperwork and they handed us a big fat check that we RAN to the bank with that morning. We paid off our contractor and our equity line and the loan from my inlaws.
I still follow the Somerville real estate market. It's only gotten harder for sellers. I can't help but feel grateful every time I see a "For Sale" sign. My husband and I have the same conversation several times per week. "I'm so glad we sold our condo."
"I know. Me too."