Walking Away With Nothing II: Walking Away With Less Than Nothing

As some of you may remember, in the first week of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place’s existence I wrote a Big Whoop post called “Walking Away With Nothing.” It was about how I was able to sell my condo in Chicago but after fees and taxes and commissions were included, there was a very good chance that I would walk away from the sale with nothing: no condo, but also with no money.

It was, like seemingly everything I write about involving money, more than a little depressing. I know “depressing” is kind of my brand, as is “broke” and “sad”, but I write about money for a reason. When I was growing up, I was taught that capitalism was sane, benevolent and predictable. I subsequently feel like part of my mission, as an adult is to tell the world that it is anything but.

I’ve spent my adulthood learning that the conventional wisdom that had been drilled into my head as a boy as propaganda for capitalism was bullshit. I grew up thinking that investing your money in the stock market would yield a ten percent return annually, unless you were a total fucking moron. I was similarly indoctrinated into thinking that there was no investment safer, sounder or more consistent than property. Trends come and go, after all, but everybody needs a place to live. 

I have subsequently discovered that that’s horse shit as well. I bought a nice condo in Albany Park for 185,000 dollars in 2010, flush with money from my 2009 memoir, The Big Rewind and after seven years of diligently paying mortgage payments and assessments and mind-numbing condo association meetings and spending thousands to fix up my place for sale I was in a position where I would finally be able to sell my condo, but I would probably end up losing all eighty-five thousand dollars I’d sunk into it. 

The idea that I would walk away from selling the most/only valuable thing I’ve ever own without getting a dime from it was bracing. It’s the kind of thing you find a way to make peace with so that it doesn’t seem quite so soul-crushingly dispiriting. 

I’m only days away from closing on my condo so the wife and I were at Kinko’s yesterday, scanning and faxing documents related to the sale when I looked at a paper detailing all of the many, many expenses involved with selling a condo. I honestly only understood about half the expenses, but I obsessed about the number at the bottom of the page: 1,624 dollars. Even after knowing that my payout for the condo might be small, or non-existent, I still couldn’t believe that after all of that time, and all of that effort, and all of that hoping and dreaming and wishing, I was walking away with, if not nothing, then something close to nothing. 

Then my wife called our real estate lawyer (I find talking to him too stressful and depressing) and he explained that we had misunderstood the figure. After seven years and roughly 85 grand in taxes, interest, principal, escrow and whatnot, we would not be making 1,624 dollars. No, we would end up owing the bank 1,624 dollars but at least we would have no condo to show for it. 

At this point I began quietly, inconspicuously bashing my head against a wall. In one of our dispiriting exchanges, the real estate lawyer let me know that even though our real estate agent didn’t really do anything, since we came to him with a buyer already, the costs for selling the place would be enormous, bordering on five figures. I was prepared to pay eight or nine thousand dollars to get rid of my condo, but it began to look more like twelve or thirteen thousand. Knowing nothing about real estate, and only slightly more about money, I found that insane. 

As before, I tried to find the positive. After all, if I’d rented for the last seven years, I’d probably spend the same amount of money on housing and similarly not have anything to show for it at the end. Alternately, I’m lucky that the house didn’t lie unoccupied for months, even years, sucking up money every day without a tenant. I may end up losing money on my condo's sale, but at least it's not a huge amount of money. 

Unlike the movie Theodore Rex, my experiences as a homeowner did not turn out great. 

Unlike the movie Theodore Rex, my experiences as a homeowner did not turn out great. 

But really it just fucking sucks. It just fucking sucks but hopefully you can learn from my many, many, many, many, many mistakes. If you don’t need a real estate agent to sell your home, then you should probably try to do without them, as they are extraordinarily expensive. Also, selling homes is incredibly expensive. Don’t assume that real estate is an inherently safe, solid investment. The housing market, like the stock market, makes no goddamned sense at all. And if you sell your home, be prepared to pay a whole lot in fees. A dispiritingly, almost inconceivably large amount. 

So learn from my consistent bungling when it comes to all things financial, dear reader, and take comfort in the knowledge that you’re not the only one who sometimes/often feels lost and confused and overwhelmed and defeated by seemingly every element of capitalism and the free market system. A lot of us feel that way. I’m just a whole lot more vocal and public about it. 

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