Wednesday, 2 January 2013

On Selling My House

2013 is here to wrap us in its warm and delightful embrace, like a mad, erotic teddy bear. Before we dive into its futuristic, furry lap, though, there is one more thing I want to share about the year just departed.

In 2012 one really great thing happened. I sold a house.

The reason this made me so very happy was that it represented the end of four miserable years of struggle and tension and general rubishness. You know at the end of Return of the Jedi, where all the ewoks are doing a dance and everyone is looking up at the smouldering remains of the second Death Star? And there's a palpable sense of "Phew! That was really horrible, living under the oppressive regime of those tight-assed Imperial bastards! I'm very, very glad it's over!" Well, that.

Here's the story. Warning - it is not as exciting as Return of the Jedi. I may have over-sold it a little in that respect. Nothing actually explodes. Though I did do the ewok dance.


Act One - A Very Short Engagement

So. 2008. Five years ago I had a little more hair, far fewer DVDs and - most importantly for this story - I had a house. A nice, big, not-very-posh house over on Doncaster Road. I had owned the house for ten years and lived there with a wide variety of friends, thieves, artists and madmen. It was a house of music and wine, home to dozens of parties and a difficult place to keep clean. So much wine was spilt into the wooden floorboards of the living room that I imagined a beast would one day rise, composed of wine, like the guy in Hellraiser, only made of Merlot instead of blood.

It was a good house, and it was mine. But then in 2008, for reasons which now seem ludicrous and inexplicable, I fell in love. The woman, who we are going to call Edna, after the naughty animated television in Will'o the Wisp, also owned a house. Not as big as mine, nor as likely to be ravaged by an all night party, but it was hers.

Such was my passion, I earnestly desired to get married. In retrospect, not my smartest idea, but emotion was my master and I am a foolish soul when excited. I sold Doncaster Road - not a fit house for the much more adult life I now intended to live - and bought a house in the nicer part of town, a street called Bromley Mount. Lovely, it was - all clean and spacious and semi-detached, with absolutely no wine demon living in the floor.

Forgive me for mentioning money, but as it will become germane to our story, I must set a little context. I did quite well from the sale of Doncaster Road, and was able to put £42,000 into the new house. A very decent deposit, I'm sure you will agree. I also opened a joint account for myself and my wife-to-be, putting in ten thousand pounds. Such was my delight at the prospect of my new life, I didn't mind that Edna didn't put any money at all into the house, and kept her own house just as it was. Or that she only put a couple of hundred pounds into the joint account. I was happy to share my good fortune with her. Both our names were on the mortgage for the new house, and from now on we would be sharing the responsibility.

For reasons which now seem odd but then seemed logical, Edna moved into the new lovely house, at Bromely Mount, and I moved into her somewhat smaller one. Something to do with a woman's touch, getting the new place ready. Or something. No matter, I thought. Soon we will be married and I will move into the nice house too. And even if, God forbid, this quite-new relationship didn't work out, we agreed we would simply swap back, and everything would be fair.

Well, as you have probably guessed, this relationship did not work out. My foolish excitement soon ran up against a number of problems, none of which it seems fair to go into here. Suffice to say, we were not the perfect match after all, and it became clear that we should part. This was not a pleasant time for either of us. But things were going to get worse.

Me, pretending to be all bloody and
battered in 2008. How little I know.

Act Two - A House Divided

Having moved into the new house, Edna was unwilling to move out. It was much nicer than hers, and in a better place, and... well... she wanted it. Now, obviously I wanted it too, because it was mine, and I had sold my house and had nowhere else to go. Whereas, you know, she still had her house.

But.... no. She didn't want to go. Why should she?

Hmm. Well, there was the fact that I'd paid for all the moving costs, and all the legal costs for buying the house, and that my money from the joint account had paid for a new kitchen, and carpets, and decorating... all of that kind of made me want to be able to live in the place. And it seemed a bit more, well, fair. But, after a bit of back and forth on this, I thought, OK. You want the house, you can buy me out. £42,000 please.

At first, Edna simply refused to pay me back. Because her name was on the mortgage, she reasoned, she could legally claim half that investment as hers. At first I assumed she was joking. What kind of a person would take £21,000 from someone just because a technicality meant they could get away with it? Surely not this person, who I had liked so much that I'd trusted her with all I owned in the world? "People change," she said. Well, maybe. Or maybe we don't know what we'll do, until presented with the opportunity.

After a while, she came up with a calmer, less morally dubious solution. Maybe she had calmed down - it was an emotional time. Or perhaps she realised that trying to take thousands of pounds from someone is hard to get away with whilst also claiming to be a good Christian who always tries to do the right thing. Either way, she offered some other solutions.

One was that I take her house  - the smaller, not as nice one I was currently living in - as part exchange, and she pay me the rest in real money. This wouldn't have been the worst solution. I was already living in the house, so wouldn't have had to go through the arduous process of boxing up all my Doctor Who DVDs again. And it was a pretty nice house, in itself. Nowhere near as nice as the new one - the one I'd paid for, the one she was living in. But not too bad. That said, having lived in the house for a while, I was starting to understand why Edna had wanted to move out. It was a noisy street, populated by cretins who liked to shout at each other way into the early hours. One of the houses across the back street appeared to be a halfway house for the criminally insane. Another house was raided by the police, who discovered masses of dope. Yet another turned out to be a brothel.

I decided, after consideration, that I didn't want to buy a tiny poky terraced house on a street full of shouting drug dealers and pimps. I would just have the money, thanks. This did not go down well at all.

Edna tried a variety of methods to persuade me that I had to buy it - emotional appeals, angry rants, made up maths. The most hilarious of these was her claim that I was financially responsible for her house, so couldn't just leave it. 'How so?' I wondered. This house was nothing to do with me at all, being owned exclusively by Edna. Well, apparently the mortgage company had said so. According to her, they deemed me responsible for both houses, because of something to do with the way we'd got the mortgage.

Except, when I asked the mortgage company about this, they looked at me like I had asked if I could ride a horse through their office. No, they hadn't said any such thing. No, I wasn't responsible for Edna's house. What on earth was I talking about? When I challenged Edna about this, she tried to pretend that actually, thinking about it,  it was the insurance company that wouldn't let me leave. Yes, that was it. Not the mortgage company. And I couldn't check this, so it was definitely true. Weirdly, she printed this bit in red, maybe thinking that I, a colour blind man, would be unable to see it. It was at this point I stopped trying to engage with her arguments on a logical basis.

Also, I moved out of her little house, rented somewhere else and engaged a solicitor.

Flimbleby's attempts to represent me
legally were sadly not up to scratch.

Act Three - A New and Exciting Kind of Maths

We now enter a long, tedious exchange of letters, mostly through solicitors, with which I will not trouble you. The basic upshot of it all was that Edna did agree to pay me all my money back, but then didn't do anything about actually paying any of it. Quite how this happened is due to an unusual new method of maths, which evidently favours nonsense over reason.

This maths allowed Edna to spend much of my investment in the joint account - ten thousand pounds remember - on things that benefited her, but then to complain that she had put about £500 in herself and why wasn't she getting that back, eh? She would complain that I unfairly 'drew all the money out of the joint account'. Yeah. My money. Or what was left after she spent most of it. Never mind that over half of my investment had gone on surgery for her dog, a college course she never bothered going on and cosmetic alterations to the house she lived in. Edna had put in a couple of hundred pounds herself. The injustice!

The £42K she had agreed to pay back wasn't such a fixed amount, either, and suddenly, magically, turned itself into the rather more modest £15K. This, it transpired, was a much more reasonable figure for her to pay back to me. Then she got to keep the house. Needless to say, I required some elaboration as to why my rather substantial investment, which she had agreed to pay back in full, had now diminished to less than half its original amount.

Reader, it is not for me to disclose the finer details of another person's accounting. Let me simply say, without any fear that I could possibly be sued for innacurracy, that Edna's maths were, in this instance, either a) so bad they would fail a test in a primary school for chimpanzees or b) outright lies.

Don't believe me? Try this. Since I had moved out of her house and closed the joint account, Edna was now paying the mortgage for the new house. So what she did was, she added up all the money she'd paid into the mortgage. And then added some, from nowhere, that she hadn't paid. And then she revalued the house, based on what it might sell for, in her imagination. And expressed the total money she had paid as a percentage of how much we'd make if we sold the house. And voila. I was only owed £15K, really.

I did some spluttering, like an old major in a 70s sitcom when confronted with the word 'knickers'. I did some maths of my own, this time using logic, and found some things she hadn't accounted for. Like the times she didn't pay the mortgage at all, and incurred charges. And the fact that the money she had paid in wasn't actually all paying off the capital, like what my money did.

And the fact that she was living in the bloody house, while I rented somewhere else, so she owed me rent.

And, in fact, hang on a minute, wasn't she renting out rooms, in my house that I owned, and keeping all the money for herself? Shouldn't that money be in the equation somewhere?

Well, evidently all this was unfair, and, in fact, manipulative. And bullying. And... er... shut up. How dare I ask her to provide financial information?

"But..." you might protest, "but it was her idea... to try to prove that..."

Never mind.


Act Four - Yub Yub

Anyway. I wasn't accepting the nonsense maths, or the paltry made-up amount of money I was being offered to let someone else own a house I bought. So we sold the place. I lost a fair bit of money, overall, but thanks to my solicitor's insistence on using actual, real maths to conduct the sale, I made a bit more that the silly amount offered above. And Edna won some money too - free money, out of nowhere, to enjoy alongside the house she still owns. Well done her.

I tell this story for a number of reasons. One, is that the story has been inside me for many years, and I want to let it out. I've tried not to deviate from the facts, nor to cast aspersions on Edna herself (though you may glean some small dissatisfaction with the way she conducted herself) but just to let the story stand for itself. There are, of course, other, more emotional versions of the story, which will paint one or the other of us as nasty, or treacherous, or unreasonable. None of that would alter the facts, though. This tale is simply what happened, as best as I can tell it.

The other reason for telling the story is that there are some blatant lies out there, wandering around the internet, courtesy of Edna herself. Those of you who know me are fully aware of the truth, and I trust you to form your own opinions. But after being silent for several years, and putting up with silly accusations, it is nice to be able to express some of what really occured. It's not nice to be called a bully, a loser, the devil incarnate, a cheat and a dickhead, when all you are trying to do is get back what is yours.

Epilogue - A Pretty Cool Hand

Many things have helped me through this last few years. Most importantly, of course, have been the friends who have stood by me, reassured me and - once in a while - prevented me from being that horrible person who writes nasty bitchy comments on Facebook and Twitter. They have made all the difference in the world, and I hope they know that. To paraphrase George Bailey, no man is poor when he has friends. I'd rather have lost all that money, than lost one of you.

And then there's this...

There was a moment, back in the first few months of this horrible situation, when the thought of struggling to get back my own money was making me very angry, and very depressed. And then I saw this clip, from Cool Hand Luke.

Luke has recently fought a fight he cannot win, against a man much bigger than him. Every time he got hit, he got back up. He wasn't throwing punches any more, he just wasn't staying down. Eventually, the other man had no way of winning. He picked up Luke, and carried him home.

And then Luke gets involved in a game of cards...

I can construct pretty good arguments, and do pretty good maths too. But they didn't help, not here, not against someone who wasn't interested in logic or maths, but only winning a nicer house, without earning it. What got me through this was the realisation that really, all I ever have is nothing. The money... that came easy and went easy, and it will either come again or it won't. To be happy rich or poor, to know you've done the best you can, and to have your friends at the end of it - that's the hand, and that's how to play it.