The first Molotov cocktail exploded into the neighbor’s front yard. Two gray figures swept across a ditch behind the house and disappeared into the thick smoke as the sky turned black. Two more yards had burst into flames. I ducked back into my car. People were screaming as the day turned to night-black darkness. War had started.
Pregnant and scared, I did not want this to be my daughter’s life. I wanted out. My fiance and I had been living in a rental house that we were renovating and house-sitting for a local landlord that we both worked for on our spare time in return for free living space. It was a great location for us to live in and it was great security for his expensive construction materials, but some of our neighbors really hated each other, and the situation was growing worse with each passing day.
My fiance and I fled to a friend’s apartment. She had recently lost her job and needed to take in boarders to help pay the bills, and we needed a safe haven. We stayed in her apartment while I worked and my fiance sifted through the local real estate listings and worked with a local real estate agent who was also a trusted friend of ours.
The first stumbling block was the real estate market itself. I was buying cheap real estate in some of the hottest markets in the country; the Marietta and Atlanta real estate markets were brutal to navigate because some houses were on the market for less than two hours before being sold. We would also mention our finds to local mortgage brokers during the financing process only to find the houses snapped up the next day. Sometimes we would inspect a house on my day off only to discover that it had gone under contract that very morning at 6 am or even earlier. We went through at least twenty of these frustrations. I learned not to disclose the address to anyone other than my own trusted real estate agent until the property is officially under contract.
Several mortgage brokers we visited had their own preferred real estate agents in the Marietta and Atlanta areas who would then try to sell us their properties, all of them more expensive than I could afford. It took us at least two months to find someone who we could work with. The hard part was finding someone who would not try to poach our real estate finds out to their own friends and family. Cheap Marietta and Atlanta houses were increasingly hard to find as time passed on. The baby was due in mid-December, and it was September. The clock was ticking.
Another hindrance was our credit and financial statements – I had barely acceptable credit scores while his was poor, and we both had almost no money in the bank. So it was determined that I was to get the loan and we would work on getting a zero down loan while enforcing Georgia’s custom that the seller pay closing costs. It was October. I went to the doctor, who determined that my official due date was December 23.
We both were looking at potential properties, inspecting them, and going over contracts. More houses disappeared the days that we looked at them. Things were looking grim. A plague of roaches took over our friend’s apartment and her son was causing problems. Her son had broken our fax machine in a fit of anger at having us living in ‘his’ living room. We fled back to our landlord friend’s property because things had quieted down in the neighborhood and the conflicts had stopped. We felt that we were finally in a safe place again.
It was November, and our friend had stumbled upon a great one-story house that she did not want to buy. It was priced below market value by at least thirty thousand dollars and the price was something I could afford. We ordered inspections and had our real estate agent produce a contract. We offered several thousand less than what the house was priced and required that the seller pay closing costs. We hoped for the best and waited for the response. Meanwhile, I went to work and told my co-workers to wish me the best of luck – my American Dream finally seemed to be within reach.
The seller accepted our offer, and closing was set for the last week in January. But things took a turn for the worse; people were burning garbage off a waterway near our renovating house, and a cat died underneath the house, causing a terrible stench. A hole that we had cut in the concrete in the garage to repair some piping had become an entryway for rats. One of them leaped at my fiance and snapped its jaw shut, catching on his pants leg. I watched as my fiance beat it away and ran from a large group of running rats that had exited the garage. We spent several days and nights living out of my car. I was determined not to have to go back to our friend’s apartment until the cockroaches were gone, but our patience was wearing thin, and the weather was getting cold. We went back to the apartment.
It was now December and we were in the process of securing financing. The company, not named, suddenly required more proof of my income. I called the personnel department of my work and had them send out more copies of my W-2 and income statements to a local PO Box of ours. We went to my bank and requested more statements to fax to the financing company. I took up some of my computer tools and fixed our fax machine. We were faxing documents and securing quotes on loans.
Things seemed to go well, except the roaches were getting to be a problem. In the middle of the night, I woke up to a large,one inch long, black roach scurrying up the inside of my right leg. I woke up later, early in the morning and slapped another huge roach off my face. My patience was wearing thin again, but we had no place to stay, as rents were rising in all the apartments because of the increase tenants available from foreclosures.
I continued to go to work, nervous about my due date. It was the second week of December. I stood in the office at my desk and turned to a co-worker and announced that something was leaking. I went to the restroom to take care of the ‘problem’ and my water broke as I sat on the toilet. Approximately thirteen hours later, my daughter was born in a hospital room full of cheering people. My parents arrived at the hospital and offered to let my fiance and I stay at their house. I quickly agreed.
My daughter and I were discharged from the hospital. My mom picked us up and the arguments started almost immediately upon our arrival ‘home.’ The third day that we were there, my fiance was ordered to leave and my parents then tried to convince me to cancel the purchase of the house. I refused, and left my parents’ house with the new baby.
My fiance took us over to our friend’s apartment. Our stay there lasted two days – her son was upset that we were there with our daughter. So we were ordered to leave and our things were thrown out onto the street. We spent a tense two days out in the winter’s cold, living out of the car. The only decent place we could think of was at one of the landlord friend’s empty houses, but there were no working utilities. So we parked the car at the driveway and slept in the warm car, bundled together in heavy blankets that we pulled out of a storage unit we rented for our things as we waited for Closing Day.
A mean neighbor called the police on us in the middle of the night, and the police officer on dispatch to our location asked us to leave. We started calling on all of our friends to find a place to stay. One person agreed to take us in. Our friend lives out in the countryside in a rented double-wide trailer with his wife and three children. Our daughter finally had a warm place to sleep at night. I returned to work from maternity leave in mid-January.
Closing Day approached, and we continued to work with the financing company. We had been told that our note would be a zero-down loan with 6 percent interest. Twelve hours before the closing was scheduled, the Federal Reserve Banks declared a nationwide immediate end to zero-down loans. Three percent down was suddenly required. We asked our families for the money. My fiance was able to come up with most of the money and my grandparents helped me out with the rest of what was needed.
The seller and I went into a local real estate office and signed a mountain of documents. They consisted of the contract and copies, finance documents and copies, HUD statements and copies, and various legal documents written up by a Marietta real estate attorney. I hugged my real estate agent and thanked her. After it was all said and done, a few pictures were taken and we left the office to get started on moving everything into our new home.
As a first-time buyer, I never cease to wonder how we coped with rats, roaches, a fire, evictions, and all the other stresses that we were forced to endure. My co-workers will never find a better story to re-tell. Even though I bought the house in January, I consider my success to be a Christmas-time miracle.
So many things could have stopped us. We had nothing but our faith. In retrospect, buying real estate in Marietta, GA has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It was worth it, though, because my children will have a wonderful place to live and are free of the violence that plagued our old neighborhood.
From homeless to homeowner, I am a success and I invite amp; encourage anyone else to try to succeed as well.