My heart is overwhelmed on this late June evening to be sitting on MY deck–not the landlord’s deck anymore, but OUR deck. The journey to this monumental day of home ownership started about six years ago….
It was 2008. I was a struggling mom–separated and headed toward divorce–who lived from paycheck to paycheck on my meager salary as news editor of our county newspaper, The Stokes News. I was desperate to find a place to live that would be appropriate for my children. One day after covering a county commissioners’ meeting for the paper, I went up to Commissioner Leon Inman, who is also a realtor, and said, “Leon, I need you to find me a house.”
Helpful as always, he smiled kindly at me, “Tell me what you’re looking for, Miss Leslie.”
At first, I simply said, “A place big enough for my kids and me.” Then almost unconsciously I shared my heart, “And I’d like a bigger-than-normal lot with a creek and woods.” I was taken aback by my very specific and idealistic request, but then I thought, “Why settle for less? Ask for the best.”
The VERY NEXT DAY, Leon called me to say, “I have just the place for you.” I drove to Danbury where he took me to a little house, sitting on about 2 1/2 acres with a creek in the backyard and big, beautiful trees everywhere. He admitted to me that the house was rough and needed a ton of work, and boy, was he right! It had been in the hands of his realty company for quite a long while and had not sold yet.
It was nothing to look at really, but somehow I took a “violent fancy” to it. That is the phrase Almanzo Wilder used to describe what his “Little House on the Prairie” wife Laura Ingalls Wilder felt when they first spotted the deteriorated farm they later bought and turned into a paradise in Missouri. Almanzo said, “. . .coming from such a smooth country, the place looked so rough to me that I hesitated to buy it. But wife had taken a violent fancy to this particular piece of land, saying if she could not have it she did not want any because it could be made into such a pretty place. It needed the eye of faith, however, to see that in time it could be made very beautiful.”
When I saw the property in Danbury, I felt like Laura, one of my favorite people who ever lived. I had “the eye of faith” that she had; I saw that the property had the potential to be a veritable paradise. I could even visualize what the rundown house could be turned into.
One thing that struck me was that the house had an exquisite view of a lush green meadow where a beautiful black horse roamed. One meaning of my name “Leslie” is “from the meadow.” I thought in amazement, “My name even fits this locale.”
Yes, I’m a Walnut Cove gal–that is my hometown where I have been called to minister primarily. But I was born in Danbury, our county seat, and have always been captivated by that quaint little “Gateway to the Mountains” town. For years, when we’d ride down Highway 89 through Danbury, I’d point over to the general area where this beat-up house was located (couldn’t see the house from the road) and say to my family, “Man, I wish I could live over there!”
So here I was with a chance to live by that very meadow, and I couldn’t afford to buy the little house, even though it was a steal of a deal. In desperation, I found a way to get the owner’s name, and I called him, asking if he’d consider a “rent to own” deal. He said he would’ve, but that the house was in the hands of the realty company. My heart sank, yet I held onto the faintest silken strand of hope.
At the end of many county commissioners’ meetings in Danbury, I’d ride down to the deserted little house, sit in the driveway and let the peace of the valley it nestled in overtake me. I watched the leaves turn brilliant colors all around it. I watched its bare trees caress the winter-blue sky. I watched spring begin to awaken in that valley all around the little house that seemed as vacant and lonely as I felt some days. The longing in my heart to live there was overwhelming.
Months went by, and then one day, the phone call came. The owner contacted me at The Stokes News office and told me the realty company’s contract on the house had run out and he was willing to rent to own. Overjoyed, I leapt at the chance. My daughter Meghann was now a college graduate with a full-time job, and she wanted to move into the downstairs area and pay part of the rent.
The landlord, being a very conscientious and super guy, put new carpet in two rooms upstairs, painted the walls and replaced some of the ceiling tiles, so the house didn’t look quite as bad as it had originally. We moved in on July 1, 2009. The house had a multitude of issues, as any house that has been sitting vacant for a long while does. But nothing dimmed my enthusiasm for it.
I remember the thrill of seeing the golden late-summer/early fall flowers burst into bloom all around the perimeter of my new yard. Opening my windows and hearing the pleasant gurgling of the creek was pure pleasure for me. The black horse grazing in the velvety meadow became known as “Jet” to my daughter Abigail. When spring came, I didn’t even mind push-mowing the huge yard, because the lush green grass was full of yellow dandelions and purple violets to feast my eyes upon. From my yard, I could see the curvaceous mountains we Stokes County folks call “The Three Sisters.”
I finally remarried, and the hubster moved in on Sept. 1, 2010. My daughter Meghann gladly relocated to another rental house with my other adult daughter, Chelsea; Meghann had never been fond of my little house since we found a black snake and assorted lizards in the downstairs area where she slept. The hubster, however, quickly fell in love with the place and teasingly used Almanzo’s words to describe me: “The wife took a violent fancy to it.”
We tried unsuccessfully over the next few years to buy the place, but no mortgage company would touch it, despite our good credit and accumulated savings for a hefty downpayment. The house was indeed built very oddly, like an eccentric and unusual vacation home; therefore, no comp values could be found for it. In other words, nothing comparable to it was selling in the area during the recession, and comp values are absolutely necessary in this era of new and stricter mortgage laws.
There were times I felt downright desperate–realizing we were futilely throwing money down the tubes via monthly rent payments. I felt angry as well–agonizing over how unfair it was that two people with good jobs, good credit and a nice savings account couldn’t get a loan just because their house was a strangely-built one with no comp values to be found. I still owned half of a house from my first marriage which I had the right to move back into, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to live there again after all the heartache of the broken marriage.
In the meantime, my kids had also fallen in love with the little house by the meadow. My teenage son begged me to stay there, saying he had grown immensely fond of it and enjoyed its proximity to the 4-H office, somewhere we spend a lot of time. My little boy also said he wanted to keep living here. My teenage daughter was a bit more reluctant about it, mainly because her cousins live next door at the former house. Eventually she too admitted how much she loved what we sometimes called “Deer Creek Cottage”–after a Thomas Kincaid painting and because multitudes of deer frequent our creek.
For nearly two years, I was petrified to apply for yet another loan–to be approved until the end, only to hear the underwriter say, “No, we don’t want to take a chance on this weird house.” I was paralyzed by a fear of being disappointed yet again.
Finally, in the summer of 2013, I wrote on a piece of paper, “Buying our house,” and put it in the big family Bible at “The Well,” our ministry house in Walnut Cove. I placed the little note strategically at Psalm 55:22–“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” I literally cast that burden on the Lord, and I determined not to worry about it any more–to simply trust Him with the house situation.
AT LAST, we found a company that agreed to finance, although they made us jump through what we felt were crazy, unnecessary and aggravating hoops (expensive structural inspections and all sorts of extra stuff). My poor hubster earned even more of my respect as he dealt with the issues singlehandedly. He handled every bit of the financial side of things and the loan application which was all-consuming for many months. There were constant delays, due a dishonest appraiser who seemed to delight in coming up with complaints about the house, which made the mortgage company delay the closing time and time again as they nitpicked about trivial things that ended up not even mattering at all.
The stress of it was wearing on Alan, although he kept telling me to not worry about anything. But I knew he was eaten up with the burden of it.
My turning point came one day in May as I stood barefoot in the morning sunshine in our garden near the creek. I turned to look at the little house, and my heart felt positively pinched with love for it. Suddenly, I felt Him comfort me, and I said aloud, “The Lord will provide.” A peace settled over me, and I repeated that phrase for the next few weeks….until at last, the loan went through, as satisfactory comp values were finally found in the area.
Today–June 27th, 2014–we closed on our little house. Despite a respiratory virus that was trying to attack me, I felt a deep joy all day long. Now we could begin to repair the little house. Our wonderful landlord had done some great things while we rented–even put on a new roof. But there is much more yet to be done; we hadn’t wanted to spend money on something we didn’t own.
I may not stay here forever, but why pay rent when you can own and resell one day if you choose? And if I ever decide to sell out my half of the other house I own, the hubster and I will use that money to pay off this house that we got for WAY under tax value. Then we will pretty much be debt-free. We would be able to travel extensively if we so chose and live out our dream of visiting every MLB stadium in the country, God willing. Not many people our age can already be debt-free.
More than one family member has said they have no idea why we would want to buy this fixer-upper house. I simply reply that the hubster and I adore it, the kids have BEGGED us to buy it, and the house isn’t as important to me as the lovely lot on which it sits. Several of my friends, when they drove down here for the first time, breathed deeply and said (and I paraphrase), “Wow, I feel such peace down here in this lovely little valley.”
Yep, tonight it’s peace in the valley for me. We are homeowners at last–in a historic and picturesque town with a gorgeous state park just minutes away and the mighty Dan River within walking distance. But I’m content most days just to stay here and listen to my little creek meander merrily along and watch Jet graze in the sunshiny meadow. My beloved Walnut Cove is just 12 minutes away down a beautiful highway, and I’m there nearly everyday at another house I love–“The Well.”
Doubly blessed? Yes, I am. And I thank God for it all. You think He won’t give you the desires of your heart? Think again, my friend. Delight yourself in Him and watch Him work!