2. Moving On, Part 1

I anticipated it would be a challenge; I did not, however, expect it to be a harrowing near-impossibility.

I waited until I had a deposit in hand before looking in earnest because I wasn't sure if I could actually sell my home. Much to my astonishment, it sold—quickly—to a friend of a friend who, once he saw it, was smitten. It was time for me to buy something, and I figured that a mobile home would be all I could afford, thanks to a housing market that had gone utterly haywire.

Finding one turned out to be alarmingly difficult. My problem? I didn't want to move far away from all of my friends, doctors, and everything familiar to me. But every map-driven listing of available properties placed me smack in the center of a giant void. If I relocated east to the shore, I had plenty of options; likewise, if I went west to the greater Trenton area, I could easily find something. Neither of these options was acceptable.

One unit popped up just a few miles away from my home (below left). Best of all, it was brand new. But when a friend took me on a little recon, much to our dismay we found it buried in a really shabby-looking neighborhood. I probably wouldn't be able to get my friends to visit, and even if someone was brave enough, they'd have nowhere to park but the street. So I crossed Plan A off the list, much to my friend's relief.

Plan B was a nice older unit in an attractive wooded community (above right), but after two days of inquiries, I finally learned it had been sold quite some time ago. Why was it still listed as available? "We just haven't gotten around to updating the listing." Helpful! Worse, two representatives from the same park office were sending me contradictory information: one said they had units (note the plural) available, while the other said they definitely did not have any. Come on, people, you ought to know what the hell is going on in your community, or is that too much to ask?

While I was drowning my sorrows in pizza with my friend one night, the thought occurred to me that perhaps I could purchase a new trailer and park it in a nearby community. I got some quotes from manufacturers, and found that a brand new trailer was two-thirds the cost of a typical 1970s vintage unit. Except... there were no open spaces anywhere in central New Jersey, and even if there were, apparently the vast majority of mobile home parks require you to buy the trailer from them, at a substantial markup; worse, the typical lead time was six months to a year. WTF?

So I lowered my expectations—significantly—and found a couple of dumps in serious need of help; they were dirt cheap, leaving me with more than enough capital to renovate them from end to end. I had high hopes for Plan C (above left): it was in a half-decent community about a half-hour away. But when I toured it, I quickly found it was in way worse shape than I'd expected: the HVAC was dead, one of the two doors was leaking and taped shut, the roof was sagging, and the thing still had a fuse box, with those old screw-in glass fuses, located at the bottom of a tiny closet in the bedroom—you actually had to lie down on the floor to get to it. Scary! (I sent a pic of the fuse box to a contractor friend, and he replied, "Oh, HELL NO!") By the time I was ready to see the second one (above right), it was sold. Probably just as well—it probably had fuses, too.

Just to make sure I didn't miss an opportunity, I expanded my search radius by a dozen miles and found a few potential candidates. However, a quick recon revealed they were all in undesirable neighborhoods—in some cases we didn't even slow down for a closer look. And one was literally just a few feet off of a busy road (below left). Yikes!

Having exhausted all of my options—again—I switched to Plan D: renting. After scouring the countryside for something affordable that wasn't on the second or third floor of some ugly monolithic complex, I found exactly one viable option. It wasn't bad: a little old ranch sitting in the middle of a nearby ten-acre farm (above right). I could deal with that. The problem? No one would answer my calls. I could only guess they'd already rented it, and just weren't being very professional about inquiries. So much for Plan D.

Every time I thought I had a solution, it was snatched away from me. Every. Single. Time. To say that I'd become disheartened would be the understatement of the century. But I had no one to blame but myself; I'd put everything on the fast track, and just assumed I could find something fairly quickly. I was wrong. Stupid, stupid, stupid. But the clock was ticking furiously: with only a week left until closing, I'd gotten nowhere. Hat in hand and with considerable trepidation, I asked the buyer if we could postpone the closing a week or so. Thankfully he agreed.

Then a strange thing happened: over the course of one weekend, four decent units were listed all at once, all about the same price. Immediately I inquired about all of them—I wasn't taking any chances, even though I'd already chosen one as my Plan E. Three of them were in the same park as the junker I saw earlier, whereas Plan E was in a gorgeous retirement community just five minutes away. But I had to be prepared for any possibility, so I arranged to see them all.

The first three tours were a disaster. The realty agent, who had to have been close to 90, got lost trying to find the first place (top left) and was 40 minutes late. Then she couldn't find the lock box, which was hanging on the railing right beside her. The unit was fairly clean but pretty beat up, and I found at least three electrical code violations; also, while the listing said the AC was "recently serviced," it had two clearly non-functional window units. And the kitchen cabinets were ready to fall apart. So I took a hard pass on that one.

The next unit, to which we had to guide the agent (above right), would have made a barely tolerable backup if circumstances forced me into it, although I'd have to be pretty bloody desperate: while it was recently renovated, a peek under the hood revealed some squirrely electrical work, plus the exterior was rather shabby. And since the agent was utterly clueless about what she was showing, she couldn't answer any of my questions.

We didn't even enter the third unit (above left); as we approached it, loud barking from a very large dog rang out from within, at which point I told the agent it was absolutely off the list. I thanked her for her time, turned around and left. Quickly. (I have cynophobia—the fear of dogs.) On the way home, we did a drive-by of Plan E (above right), on which I'd set my sights. The community was immaculate, and the unit looked to be in fine shape. It was very promising indeed. I arranged to see it. And so the nail-biting began.

The Nowhere Man < Index > Moving On, Part 2

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