Downsizing Our Life

One winter day in 2010, I blurted out, "You know, we really don't need this big house for just the two of us." My husband, Jack, sort of flinches whenever I begin a sentence with "You know ... "

But the truth is that we both had been thinking the same thing since we sold our auto-parts business and semiretired. Who needed a 350-square-foot office, a dining room that doubled as a dance studio or a 1,200-square-foot, heated shop? And more to the point, who needed a mortgage payment after your retirement plan had taken a big hit in 2008?

So the plan was to sell our 2,000-plus-square-foot house and cash out a nice, but smaller, place.

"Sounds like a plan," our real-estate agent said. Like everyone else in Southern Oregon, our home value had been going down since the 2008 recession. We faced that reality and listed our home in early December 2010. That turned out to be the easy part!

We started looking for another place immediately. We were faced with finding a place in our budget (the lower end of the median home price at that time). Seems it's one thing to say you want to downsize, but another to face the reality that smaller, less expensive homes are not going to have the features of your custom home — things like a built-in vacuum system, recirculating hot water, French doors, custom oak flooring, skylights, walk-in closets, commercial gas range ... well, you get the idea.

We were looking at houses built in the 1950s to 1970s, "ranchers" or "bungalows" with more or less original avocado or harvest-gold appliances, single-pane windows, cracked cement driveways and beat-up kitchens. You know, the houses that are advertised with "Bring your own hammer" or "Make it your own!"

We were looking at living in about 1,200 to 1,400 square feet with one bath and a small garage. We started questioning our sanity and were driving our real-estate agent nuts. She already knew we weren't going to be happy with most of the stuff out there in our price range.

But we all kept looking. It was supposed to be a "buyer's market" then, but we couldn't look at the abundant foreclosed or bank-owned properties because we couldn't wait months for a decision, and we hadn't sold our place. No one, it seemed, would take a contingency offer.

We combed the Internet listings. We looked above our target price by $20K to $50K to find anything in a decent neighborhood. We did many drive-bys, and usually I'd say, "Just keep on going."

But our persistence paid off, and we chanced upon a listing: a remodeled 1978 rancher with three bedrooms, two baths and an oversized, two-car garage. It had been listed for $40K over our budget, but after a couple of price reductions and many months later, it was at the top end of our price range.

The photos on the Internet made it clear that this was much better-looking than anything we'd seen yet. Our agent hustled us up the hill on the east side of Medford. We were not disappointed.

It was 1,425 square feet, and the main living space had been gutted and reconfigured into the now popular "open plan." It had a brand-new kitchen with hickory cabinets and granite countertops, a new concrete driveway and patio and a big, stone-faced fireplace. It was the Taj Mahal of homes that we'd seen. I guess that looking at all those other places (we called it "kissing frogs") helped us face reality.

We made a full-price offer — contingent on our home sale. The owner countered with, "OK, I'll give you three weeks to sell your place, or it's a no-go."

By then, it was early January 2011. We had some lookers, and Jack repeated the car salesman's mantra, "There's a butt for every seat."

Our agent insisted we have an open house. "I sell a lot of homes that way," she claimed.

So we staged our place and moved extra furniture to a storage unit. We swallowed our pride, lowered the price and hoped.

She was right. We had an offer in mid-January. A month later, we were moving into our little rancher, which we named a very tongue-in-cheek "Angel Crest Manor." That's what the sign says at the top of our driveway.

Do we miss our custom home? Every day. Do we miss the mortgage payment? Not so much!

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