Chapter 7: Going for Broke
All of this—retiring early and building a dream home on a dream property—was made possible by a healthy inheritance. A good chunk of it was tied up in a parcel of commercial property I'd never put to use, and because I foresaw a time I'd have burned through most of my liquid assets, I put the lot on the market before I started work on the house. Within a few months of listing, I had a buyer, and we signed the contract in June of 2015. I was confident things would proceed smoothly; once we closed, I'd have more than enough capital to finish my home and properly settle into a comfortable retirement.
Circumstances, however, would work against me. The contract stipulated that closing would take place after the buyer had completed a period of due diligence. Fast-forward a year, they were still in the midst of performing due diligence. And in the midst of building my home, my bank balance was fast approaching zero. Worse, I wasn't aware of just how bad things were until I'd arranged to have the well drilled, which completely tapped me dry in one shot.
I managed to keep going by selling some power equipment to my excavator. It was just enough to let me finish the roof on the living space so that the framing would be protected; otherwise, I might have had to tear it all down and start over. Then, using the remaining materials, I built an elaborate kitchen island, a floating breakfast bar, and a built-in entertainment center, among other things, while trying to convince myself the situation would be resolved any day.
But the situation wasn't resolved. Instead, it got worse; the buyers required another six-month extension. I sold all of my photographic equipment (of which I had quite a bit), my audio gear, about half of my tools, and even my new car. That bought me a few months of food and health insurance, but little else. By October 2016, work on the house had ground inexorably to a halt.
I've consulted realtors, lawyers, and anyone else in the business who might be able to help, and they all agreed: this was highly unusual—even unheard of—but it was also totally legit. In fact, it was watertight—to the point that I couldn't legally cancel the contract and find a new buyer, nor could I bring any legal action against the current buyers. They had me by the kahunas.
After applying substantial pressure on my lawyer to apply substantial pressure on their lawyer, they finally agreed to make a cash advance against the property purchase, which was almost but not quite enough to keep me alive until their new projected closing in April 2017. It was better than a sharp stick in the eye.
The first thing to go was health insurance, although that meant paying full price for my prescriptions. I crept through much of the winter on one meal a day, and some days none, because whenever I had any extra coin, I'd buy cat food. I could make do without; my precious cats could not. Indeed, I'm quite certain they've helped keep me alive; without them, I'd have no reason to get out of bed.
Friends had recommended getting a job, but that's not an option. For one thing, I no longer have a reliable car. I'm the proud owner of a 15-year-old rattling rust bucket with nearly 200,000 miles and not one good tire; I'm grateful to make it back home every time I run an errand. For another, I must be ready to respond at a moment's notice should there be any change with the property deal. And then there's my health, particularly my emotional health: perhaps not surprisingly, I'm often overcome by periods of acute depression—dark, ugly times when I'd become immobilized by deeply troubling thoughts. By all rights, I should be on meds.
Two years—two years—after signing the contract with the property buyers, they announced they required yet another six month extension. I threw a rod and had my lawyer demand they pay another advance, bigger than the previous one, so my life wouldn't be quite as nail-bitingly tight for me as before. They grudgingly agreed, then made assurances they would finally close after this extension. But, best-case scenario, it meant I couldn't resume work on the house until the spring of 2018 at the earliest. Truth be told, I was beginning to lose hope that I'd ever finish it.
I was forced to watch helplessly as my sadly neglected, half-built home sat slowly, silently decaying. The bastards were grinding me down.