That strategy might work in more urban and suburban areas of the country -- even
Roanoke -- but that phenomenon isn't happening in our rural area
We did get a quick offer on our house at an acceptable price after
making some improvements, however, and closed on the deal today.
A DYING AMERICAN DREAM?
For the past six or seven years there hasn't been a question of whether to
sell our house and land in Virginia, just when to sell it so we
didn't take a financial beating in the lousy U.S. housing market. Our
goal was to be able to live and travel full time in our RV, free from the
burden of home ownership.
Burden? Isn't it most
Americans' dream to own a house??
For many decades it was. Owning a home represented stability,
security, a certain measure of success, and the ability to make it their
own. Folks who owned their home weren't at the mercy of a landlord and
they could build equity in their investment.
Then along came the Great Recession at the end of 2007 and the
American Dream took a big hit.
Many home owners learned the
hard way when the housing market collapsed that they no longer had as
much (or any) equity left in their houses.
Millions of people who lost
their jobs or had some other type of financial emergency could no
longer afford their mortgage payments and lost their homes to
foreclosures and short sales. People who needed to move for job reasons
often couldn't because they were either unable to find a buyer or they
were "under water" on their mortgages
and pretty much stuck where they were.
Jim and I were among a large group of home owners who have wanted to sell
their homes for a variety of reasons but didn't really have to
sell. Our properties were called the "shadow inventory." We were all just
waiting "in the shadows" to sell until the housing market improved in our locale enough
that we could retain most or all of our equity.
On the market finally (5-3-14)
Many in this group intended to upsize, downsize, or move to another location.
We were different. Jim and I simply wanted to opt out of home ownership
for a while, after each owning several houses throughout our adult lives. We had discovered
that we no longer needed a home base while we traveled in our RV.
Today we finally succeeded in selling our house; the buyers
signed all their paperwork this morning and the deed was recorded this
afternoon. This four-page entry
explains why we sold it and describes our efforts to help it sell as
quickly as possible. Perhaps other potential sellers can gain some
useful information from our experience.
I've included a variety of photos in this series. In addition to
house and travel-related pictures, some
are from various locations around the Roanoke Valley and Blue Ridge
Parkway where we hiked and cycled this spring.
When Jim retired in 2004 we owned a small three-bedroom house on a
1/4 acre lot in Billings, MT. We bought it new, five years earlier.
It was a practical size and layout for us but we always intended to sell
it when Jim stopped working, not because we wanted to start
full-time RVing but because it was in the wrong location weather-wise. Montana has a
very long winter season and we both wanted a more moderate climate.
Since we were both retired, we had the flexibility to move anywhere we
Enough of this stuff!!!
(Hitch Hiker parked in our back yard in January, 2004)
Both of us were long-distance runners in our 30s, 40s, and 50s. While
Jim was still employed we enjoyed traveling in our small Prowler 5th-wheel
camper to trail races out West. We knew when we were both retired that
we could go on more extended trips.
Our dream retirement plan was to travel for a month
or two at a time from a new home base in a moderate climate. We'd have
the "best of both worlds" -- a stick house and a rolling
When we sold the house in Billings we traveled in our new, larger
32-foot Hitch Hiker 5th-wheel trailer to a
couple of races in Arizona and Virginia but our main focus was searching for a new location to call home.
From our research we tentatively narrowed our two top choices to Asheville, NC and Roanoke, VA.
Camping at McDowell Mountain Regional Park near
At the time we didn't know anything about the full-time RV lifestyle.
What was ironic was that we were full-time RVers then and didn't even
realize it! We lived in the Hitch Hiker for five months
before moving into our house near Roanoke, Virginia.
In retrospect we should have just kept traveling in our RV and not
bought a house, especially one that was so big and so far from town.
But we didn't know that then. We'd always been homeowners and just assumed
we needed a home base from which to travel. The good thing is that we bought the
property two or three years before the cost of houses really skyrocketed
during the frenzied housing bubble.
Big house, little house in our
The excitement of our new (to us) house didn't last very long.
What we soon discovered is that we enjoyed the adventure of traveling across North America
in our camper more than we liked living in the nicest house either of us
had ever owned before -- that wasn't enough reason to spend more time there.
We had too much house and too much yard for our Gypsy lifestyle. It
soon became more burden than retreat.
Another problem was the location of our property. It was in the East and
we usually traveled out West for our races. Since no one was living in
the house while we were gone for three, four, or five months at a time,
we had concerns about Things Going Wrong while we were gone. We've been
returning to the house in the spring and fall for a few weeks at a time
ever since we bought it, mostly to make sure everything was OK and to
keep up with routine maintenance.
That has meant a lot of cross-country driving twice a year.
10-5-13 RV Travel online
newsletter edited by Chuck Woodbury
Fortunately, nothing bad has gone wrong in the last ten years that
we've been gone a lot more than we've been at the house.
Our neighbors have been great with keeping an eye on our property, which was located on a
little dead-end rural road. We paid a neighbor to mow the grass and gave
him a house key so he could periodically check the inside of the
house to be sure everything was OK. Volunteers with the Sheriff's
Department also routinely checked the property for possible break-ins or
We still worried about the place while we were gone, however.
YOU LIVE FULL TIME IN A WHAT??
As we traveled we met more and more people who lived full-time in
their RVs. Most were fellow retirees. Some were younger people who had
wanderlust and the ability to earn a living while traveling.
Their lifestyle intrigued us.
Small RVs owned by three of our
ultra-running friends; two were full-timers at the time (2009)
The real tipping point for us was meeting another ultra runner
whose influence led us to more seriously consider selling our house. We
realized his reasons were valid. But it was soon after the housing
market crash and we knew it would be difficult to get all of our equity out of
Our friend seemed willing to take a financial loss when he sold his
house to live full-time in his motorhome, pictured on the left in the photo above.
We weren't. We wanted a net profit; that was part of our retirement plan.
We'd always considered home ownership as an
investment as much as a haven; the economic realities during the
Great Recession turned that historical expectation upside down. In most
localities, including ours, houses lost value for several years instead
of increasing in value.
Our timing in 2008 to consider selling our house to travel full
time in our RV couldn't have been much worse for sellers, but in
retrospect our friend was right -- we probably would have come
out ahead financially in the long run if we'd sold our house back then.
FLEXIBILITY, TIMING . . . AND LOTS OF PATIENCE
Fortunately, we had the luxury of flexibility because we didn't have
to sell our house when prices were so low. We had to learn to be patient until
the housing market improved sufficiently in our area so we didn't lose
our shirts financially.
It's been a long six or seven years in that regard but our patience paid off.
We closed on the property this morning and didn't lose our shirts --
just the worry.
Pretty flowers on one of the
fruit trees in our back yard (4-4-14)
How did we know when the timing was right for us to sell the place?
By keeping up with local housing information and getting comps
from several real estate agents and brokers every spring since 2008.
Until this year the news was not good for sellers in our rural area
between Roanoke and Smith Mountain Lake. Even though housing values in town
have recovered almost to their high 2006-7 levels, values farther out
from town, and especially in the lake area near us, continue to be depressed
seven years later.
Gorgeous color in a new azalea we
planted near the front entry this spring (4-27-14)
We thought the timing was right last spring. We made a few improvements
to the house and found an agent we really
liked who was willing to do a 60-day listing. We hoped someone would see
our place and immediately fall in love with the interior and the setting as
much as we did when we first saw it.
We figured if we didn't
get a decent offer in 60 days, the timing wasn't right yet.
Unfortunately, very few people came out to look at the place and we got no
offers. We assumed the timing wasn't right yet. We let the listing expire
and left on another trip out West for several months.
The market did improve some for sellers in our area later in the
summer. Perhaps we should have left our house on the market longer that
time. Perhaps we should have done the upgrades then that we did this time.
Perhaps the online photos weren't appealing enough. Perhaps the list
price was too high for the condition of the house. Perhaps there weren't
enough buyers willing and able to buy a country house with land right then.
We'll never know for sure but we decided to remedy all the
possible problems over which we had control this time so we could
get better results.
BRAINSTORMING RENO(VATION) IDEAS FROM AFAR
I mentioned in the last entry that our focus during the winter while
we were snow-birding farther south was coming up with ideas to upgrade our
25-year-old house sufficiently so someone would snap it up quickly
at a price we considered acceptable.
That was harder to do long-distance than if we'd been at the house
but we used our time wisely.
This time we talked by phone with seven -- seven -- real
estate agents and brokers about the current trends in our area. Their
opinions reflected the information about the housing market in the Roanoke
Valley that we'd read online -- that buyers no longer had the
upper hand in real estate transactions. Although it wasn't a "sellers'
market" yet, sellers were finally beginning to hold out for higher prices.
We could see that the prices were indeed increasing. The comparable
sales prices we got in January-February were higher than those we got
Dogwood trees blooming along the
Wolf Creek Greenway in April
Once we decided that yes, the time is finally right to sell our house,
our focus was on what we needed to do to make it more appealing to
buyers in our price range so we'd get as quick of a sale -- and at as good of a price
-- as possible. We didn't want to risk doing either too much or
too little to be cost-effective.
At that point we weren't sure what was "too little" and what was "too
much" but we had fun coming up with ideas. The agents were even more helpful
with that when they had the opportunity to see our house after we got
back to Virginia in late February.
Thank goodness we had free cable TV at Kings Bay. We discovered HGTV
(more about that later) and spent many hours watching shows about
renovating houses either before they were sold by the sellers or after they were purchased
by the buyers.
Scenic farm along the Wolf Creek
The most relevant shows were the two
formats by Jonathan and Drew Scott AKA the Property Brothers (can we adopt them??) and the
programs with JoAnn and Chip Gaines, who make older properties in
Waco, TX look stunning. We were particularly encouraged by the Scott brothers' format, "Buying
& Selling." It showed us that sellers who spend some money to update and
stage their houses usually get a faster sale and a better return on their
investment from today's buyers, who usually want a move-in ready house.
We also watched shows focusing on buyers;
those opened our eyes to features many buyers not only want
nowadays, but expect when they buy a new or used house. We
haven't kept up with decorating trends since we got the house ten years ago.
Mid-April foliage and flowering
trees along Wolf Creek
We did some other valuable research while we were at Kings Bay:
- When talking with the real estate pros we ran our major ideas past
them. At that point most of them had never been in our house but they
were able to verify that new kitchen appliances and a new roof would definitely
appeal to buyers. Those were the two big-ticket items we thought would
make the most impact.
- We researched types, styles, and prices of items online and visited local Lowe's and
Home Depot stores in and near Jacksonville so we'd be more familiar
with what we wanted and could estimate the
cost of various projects -- new appliances, new fixtures, tile
for walls and floors, roofing materials, etc. Our research saved some
time when we got back to the house.
- We contacted half a dozen roofers by phone. We got their names
from friends, neighbors, and real estate agents. Most were able to go
out to the house before we returned to Virginia and give us cost estimates
to do the job.
View from the Roanoke River
Greenway in June
Once we had a good skeletal plan we decided to cut short our winter
trip and return to the house in mid-February so we could get
started on our long list of projects.
We knew, for example, that roofers in our area were already booking
jobs for the spring. We wanted the house to be ready to list in
mid-April when the grass and
leaves would be getting green and the azaleas, dogwoods, and other spring flowers would
normally be at their peak.
We also hoped to beat some of the competition by listing that
early. Our research indicated that lots of sellers would be "coming out
of the woodwork" to finally list their houses this year.
HAS HGTV "RUINED" BUYERS??
My older brother, who also has a house that he wants to sell in a
rural area in Ohio, dislikes HGTV as much as I love it!
Although his house is 35 years old he is very reluctant to put in
new flooring or update the kitchen or bathrooms before trying to sell
it. He's a handy guy and thinks there are still a lot of buyers who
would prefer to do a renovation so they could choose their own colors,
flooring, appliances, and finishes. He says he'll price his house low
enough to attract those buyers, knowing upgrades are needed, rather
than sink more money into it and maybe not recoup it.
Sue's brother's house and our
camper during a visit several years ago
If there's anything I learned from overdosing on HGTV for two months
-- and reading lots of home-selling information online -- it
is that most of today's buyers prefer houses that are move-in ready.
They seem to have more money than vision, time, or patience for
Bill thinks HGTV has "ruined" buyers by raising their expectations
of what they want in a house and showing them how to get screaming deals.
We'll see whether my brother's plan or Jim's and my plan for selling is
"right." Maybe we both are!
Continued on the next page: the next two busy months prepping
the property for sale
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2014 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil