Farm Fridays: The Housing Crunch
We have gotten ourselves into a bit of a pickle.
Back in June when I was deciding if I should stay in Iowa or not, we offered to buy an old farm house nearby. The situation seemed perfect. It was on the gravel road about a mile away from the farm, at the top of the hill with a potentially great view, if only the overgrown trees and brush were cleared and a large hay barn was moved.
The house was trashed: the basement sloppy with mud from the leaking stairs, the bathroom and kitchen caked with dirt from decades of neglect. Plaster walls cracked and the chimney falling in. But the house was $40,000, and so, we figured, with a $100,000 investment to remodel we would have a great house, nearby, and by winter.
Then the delays began. There were weeks lost on reinstating an LLC, the sellers asking us to handle almost all parts of the transaction, and an abstract writing. And as we brought in people to give us quotes for working on the house, the cost started to balloon. $15,000 for a new septic, $14,000 for a heating and cooling system, dry wall, insulation, a new bathroom… the cost of the house started to grow upwards of $180,000.
Days and weeks flashed by, and the people selling it grew increasingly difficult to deal with, refusing to get their own lawyer to handle any of their questions or the typical "seller" parts of the transaction. At the point when they told me they were not paying anything toward the legal fees we had incurred, John and I told them we were out. We decided couldn’t take on all of the work and the cost of this new house when we didn't even know if we could make it as farmers yet.
It felt like the right decision at the time, except that now we have no real home for winter. We have the tiny house, but it has no running water and the thought of living and working (and writing all day) in a 200 square foot space day in and day out when it is cold and dark out feels depressing. Living in “town” – even if we could even find a rental – also feels like a dismal option as it is just really a collection of houses with a gas station, not the “living in the country” I left my job and San Francisco to do.
My brother has an Airstream we are going to buy (so all of you can come visit next summer!), which will hopefully double our living space for the winter and possibly give me a place to work that is not also my bedroom. But an Airstream in an Iowa winter? Is that really an option? Won’t the water tanks and everything else just freeze?
And even if John and I don’t kill each other this winter living in a tiny space, then what? Do we live in a tiny house and Airstream for the foreseeable future?
What I am realizing is that one of the huge problems in rural areas is the same one we have in the city. Housing is tight. But the lack of money in rural communities also means that often homes are run down or of lower quality, and unlike our house in San Francisco, a house in rural Iowa might never appreciate in value. To put more money into a house than we might be able to get back - that's just scary.
Now I am circling back to the house we didn’t buy, that, while more expensive than I might like, would someday be the house we want it to be, with a huge back porch and a space big enough for Thanksgiving dinner.
Which means I opened up the can of worms again on top of all the other cans of worms already squiggling around in our lives (most pressing of which is now selling our house in San Francisco). I feel stuck and overwhelmed. Every time we seem to make a decision, a heap of uncertainty washes over me a day, a week, a month later. Nothing feels finalized, decided, a done deal, because there is so much uncertainty and change in our lives all at once.
Except, ironically, the decision I made to stay in Iowa. That does not feel in question, and I am grateful. And when people ask me, what is Iowa like? Do you really want to be there? I just play them this. It is the soundtrack of sanity. This is why I want to be there.