Confessions of a Squatter: Or How I Am Probably One of the Few People Who BENEFITTED From the Housing Crisis

Economic Housing Crisis

The past few years have been amazing, albeit untraditional, for me. For those of you who DON’T know, I resigned from my day job in 2010 and have been on a spiritual walkabout ever since. “How were you able to afford to do that?” you may ask. After saving money for years at my salaried desk job, I was presented with a unique opportunity that allowed me to live virtually rent-free for over two and a half years. This would be the part where I should say, “And YOU can TOO!” Except, I’m pretty sure that what has transpired these past few years is relatively abnormal. But, let’s start at the beginning…

In 2007, Jojo and I moved into a beautiful 14th-floor 2 bedroom/2 bath condo in Chicago’s South Loop that had never seen an occupant. The owner and holder of the mortgage had purchased the unit as an investment opportunity at the height of the real-estate boom. She was a California resident and, to my knowledge, had never even seen the unit. A Chicago friend of hers had recommended the purchase and, at the time, I’m sure it seemed like a good idea. We paid her $1800 a month directly for rent for over three years and loved our home. Since we were the first occupants, everything was new and it had all the amenities. In the summer of 2010 the owner contacted us and informed Jojo and me that she was underwater on her mortgage and had ceased to pay it… and had not been doing so for several months- despite taking our rent payment. She told us we could stay there (provided we paid the monthly housing association fees of $490/month) until the bank gave her notice, which we assumed would be shortly. She told us that we would lose our security deposit of $1800, but we thought that was just the price of doing business and looked forward to leaving the apartment without having to follow any draconian move-out cleaning procedures when the time came. Months passed and savings accrued and STILL there was no word from the bank. I took my short-term savings and began my walkabout thinking that this would be a short respite from reality. During this time, I reconnected with old friends, learned to play bridge, built a deeper connection with my family (if such a thing was possible) and focused on caring for myself without all the stressors of the daily grind.

Mortgage Crisis Explained

Flash forward SEVERAL YEARS… What we later found out was that our previous landlord’s mortgage had been through Bank of America. If you stay current on your financial news, you will know that BoA has had some extremely rough times due to the housing crisis… The backlog of underwater mortgages, combined with a robo-signing scandal, left the people in charge of the paperwork with a herculean task… much to our benefit. Jojo continued to be gainfully employed, paying the monthly housing association fees and accruing a nest egg that has since allowed us to make the move to California. Finally, this past Fall, paperwork began appearing… but since the names on the paperwork were that of the mortgagee, not me or Josh, our real-estate attorney/friend told us that it could be upwards of six months of legal shenanigans before we saw any real action being brought against us. And he was right. So long as our building received their monthly fees, they were none the wiser about our situation and had no problems continuing with business as usual… we had been living in the building for 6 years and were, by then, friends with the staff.

Finally, paperwork started to come in that was addressed to the mortgagee AND “Unknown Occupant”. We were prepared for this day and had always agreed that when the day DID come, we would vacate peacefully and leave all copper piping in its rightful place- grateful to have had it for as long as we had. During this time, however, Josh had begun looking for a new job… and our fortunes aligned once again as he found a great position in Glendale, CA. “Perfect!” we thought! We would have to move anyways… why not to California?! About three weeks ago, Josh received a phone call from a local Chicago real estate lady saying that our property had been purchased by Fannie Mae and that she was now representing them and getting the condo back on the market. She then told Josh that to avoid the cost of hiring an attorney to evict us, that they were willing to PAY US to vacate the unit without any fuss. I repeat… they were going to PAY US to leave the unit… which we were doing anyways. All of this, to me, is indicative of everything that is backwards right now with the economy. But, for once, I was glad to be on the other side. As someone who has been without health and dental insurance for several years, it was nice to be on the winning side of a national crisis. I have watched some of my nearest and dearest struggle with the ramifications of the housing crisis and I am hoping that they weren’t being punished as some sort of divine karmic retribution for our good fortunes.

3 Little Pigs Housing Crisis

So, now that we’re out in California, we have begun the apartment search again. I have my fingers crossed, but know no matter the rent, we certainly had it coming!

What is your story? Have you impacted by the national housing crisis? As always, let us know!

At her finest

 

 

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Leigh

Leigh

3 Comments

  1. Are any of these benefits taxable? I don’t know. You might want to ask your tax guy. Great article and I loved the cartoons.

  2. Wow! Pretty crazy. I guess our “story” is just that we have been pretty fortunate to have had a wonderful roof over our heads for which we pay a nominal “maintenance fee” due to faculty housing as a benefit of the job. We looked several years ago for property to buy, and had we, it would likely have been a pretty permanent spot, but still, we’re kinda glad we have held off. What we’d really like to do is buy our campus house one day!

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