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  • Holly

Selling the House


The day the FOR SALE sign went up

Making a decision to sell the house was a highly emotional and consequential decisions I’ve ever made. It triggers the first round of telling people and family starting to understand that our dream is real. I won’t lie, deciding to sell our house was the most emotional process I’ve ever gone through, and a phase in this transition that probably took the longest.


I grew up in complex circumstances. I moved 14 times before I graduated highschool - which also may be why the vagabond cruising lifestyle is so appealing to the adult version of me. After college, my boyfriend and I got tech jobs, got married...da da, da da...had a couple kids, moved a few times and landed in the cul de sac of my dreams. It was disguised as an overpriced fixer upper in a sleepy suburban neighborhood outside of San Francisco. But this was a monumental moment - we had arrived! Never before had I fallen in love with a house. My transient state of mind never allowed me to emotionally connect with inanimate objects but I tend to be a hopeless optimist and I only saw the potential!


When we moved in, she was just a hot mess...like a woman well past her prime but trying to attract a lover by showing a little leg but barely able to smile with her spanx cutting off blood circulation. She definitely had sex appeal from the curb, but up close, she showed her age.


Over the years, we took her through two major facelifts and a full body makeover and she was transformed into a warrior goddess. I never doubted her through the countless quakes that come with living between four major fault lines. She kept us safe through the threat of floods and a 5 alarm fire that burned our next door neighbors house down - just after their own remodel.


Through holidays and heartbreaks, through personal achievements and major milestones, through terrible accidents, major illnesses and recoveries...all the crisis that comes with divorce, and the joy that comes with starting anew, she held us all in her arms and created a safe place for us to land.


She hosted countless birthday parties, beared the burden of the smells that come with years of Sunday bacon and my bad habit of burning cookies and beans left on the stove too long. She made room for guests and patiently provided gallons and gallons of hot water through two teenage boys’ showers, that just took way too long.


She smiled on the outside, when fights broke out inside, making sure to keep appearances while the tears and apologies settled in. And she never came unhinged when doors slammed or when the house shook with bass during covert beer pong parties while the adults were away.


As the graduations commenced and children moved out, their bedrooms transformed into offices and yoga rooms, collecting dust and bric a brac. Now with only half a kid at home (because we share her with her mother), we face the heartbreaking decision to let the house go; it can now become the dream house of a whole new family and the cycle can start over.


What’s happening with the house has been so jarring, because while we have been planning our sailing sabbatical for a couple years, it’s easy to make an abstraction of the life changes that will happen. When you are out on a sailing trip or studying the internet, or watching videos, the whole affair seems so far away. Even when we went to visit the factory and signed the broker’s paperwork, it was something detached from our everyday life. But the for sale sign on the house punched me in the stomach and left me breathless.


My personal feelings of this kind of change all aside, it forces us to face the absurdity of this dream, like looking in a mirror with a clown suite on. Now I have to now explain to my neighbors that I’m selling all my belongings and living on a boat - or maybe I’ll just say simply - we are downsizing and renting for a while.


Telling the kids was a whole other matter. We have slowly been revealing our plans to them, dropping small crumbs and cookies. None of them share our passion for water, we found that out early when we put all four of them on a small boat for a weekend trip shortly after they all first met, when my new husband and I started dating. After the barfing and crying and bickering they swore they would never do it again - which was fine because then we didn’t have to admit to them we shared their philosophy on the matter. My hat goes off to families who can live on boats together, for us, as a blended family we all barely made it out alive.


Sailing with four kids on a 24 foot boat

When I told now my 23 year old daughter, we told her about exotic places like the Greek Islands and Ibiza, which she was all over. And then she agreed she would come and visit and bring her posse of girlfriends from work. I’ll need time to get used to that idea but for now I’ll take it.


My son was quite concerned (he’s the one prone to seasickness and has always had a pretty weak stomach). His first question when I told him our plans to live on a boat and sail the ocean was ‘aren’t you afraid of getting eaten by a Megalodon?’ He’s 21 and a Junior at a UC. Mind you, he’s of the Sharknado generation and an avid consumer of internet mythology. I said, ‘first of all, Megalodon is extinct’ and he said, ‘well how do you know, do you have proof?’ Okay buddy you got me there. Then I just said, ‘look, I would rather die getting eaten by a shark than dying of a heart attack behind a computer screen’, which is honestly where I’m headed at the moment. He looked at me for a moment and said, ‘ya, that would definitely be a better story at your funeral,’ then he moved on to the next topic.


He’s since revealed to me that he secretly hopes I fail, which after calmly asking him why he felt that way, I realized it’s his way of telling me he’s worried and just doesn’t like the idea that I won’t be sitting at home waiting for him to call. Which right now is the first of every month because that’s when he needs money.


My husband’s son went to college as well and his daughter is considering joining us for the first summer, which would be awesome because of all of them, she enjoys the sailing the most, and is an absolute joy to be around (but don’t tell the other three I said that).


The rest of the family has been a mixed bag. My sister gets it, though I can’t stand the guilt I feel leaving her and my niece and nephew who are still in preschool behind. The big sister in me tells me to stay and help her, like she did me when I had small kids but I know she wants me to pursue this goal. She claims to enjoy living vicariously from afar so I’m happy to help her that way I suppose. And she loves to travel so our hope is she will come visit - though she gets seasick looking at a dock so not sure yet how we overcome that. My niece and nephew think it’s cool though and had a ball when we rolled up to the yacht club in the city to meet them one Christmas morning bringing gifts. My nephew wants to live on a boat now too.


My mom is another story, but I try to remember she is of a whole other generation and she worries. Though she’s been through a lot and married now four times - to someone absolutely wonderful who does take good care of her by the way. She sent me a text recently that she was sorry I had to ‘give up’ my house and she wouldn’t be disappointed in me if I changed my mind. I wanted to scream at her insinuation that I was following the dreams of my husband, not my own, but parents like children teach us the true meaning of unconditional love.


My husband’s parents we told when we went to visit them last summer, in Europe. As he told them in their native language, I sat and smiled. They asked questions like, how will we live and what will happen when we come back and I just sat and continued to smile fighting embarrassment of not having all the answers - an attribute that I normally take great pride in.


He explained we had been saving and have enough to live on for a while, but not forever. They live in a country that has a very different approach to retirement and healthcare, so they just wanted to be sure we had a good backup plan if things didn’t work out. This is our worst case scenario, the boat sinks and we are penniless, we could eventually move to Europe, get jobs in a local florist or bakery and live a happy life with affordable healthcare and make our kids come visit us. Not the worst idea in the world.


Telling my ex-husband was actually more entertaining than anything else. He’s the definition of a land-based homebody and never much enjoyed traveling vacations or unexpected change...which partially explains our incompatibility as a married couple. I adore him as the father of my children, he’s a wonderful man and I don’t regret anything about our nearly 20 years together. When I told him of our sailing plans and he asked where I was going to live. I told him, ‘no, we are going to live on the boat,’ and he said, ‘no but where will you be based, where’s your house?’ And I said, ‘the boat is our house and we will be moving so we will be based wherever our anchor is,’ and he said, ‘but where will you live?’ I laughed and told him he was probably in denial and it would eventually sink it what I was telling him. He really wanted me to keep the house, which I understand. We originally bought it and remodeled it together so like me, he has a connection with the house too. I bought him out, but I think deep down inside he still considers the house ‘ours.’ He suggested I rent it out, which I considered for quite some time.


Actually renting the house sounds all well and good, but once the math is done and the bills are paid, the net return is about the same as I would get living off the interest maybe a bit more. After considering all options and reading a dozen books on real estate as rental income and the tax consequences that come from converting the property to rental versus the capital gains forgiveness on a sale, the choice got easier. The real estate market in our area has been very good over the years, we are walking distance from blue ribbon public schools in a sleepy town where everyone knows their neighbors. But all things being equal without our boat plan, would we choose to live here once the kids are gone, and the answer is no. We would want to live somewhere closer to water, and somewhere a bit warmer. As a young adult I never understood why old people moved to Florida, now as I’m staring 50 in the eyes and chronically cold, I totally understand why that sounds like a great idea...climate change notwithstanding. And, purchasing an investment property is still an idea in the mix.


So the logic of selling the house is sound, it’s just emotionally difficult for me and those around me. My ex-husband who considers it ours, my children and step-children who grew up in the house, and myself, the one home I’ve lived in the longest, the only real home I’ve known my whole life. My husband now doesn’t share these same emotional anchors, but he’s an engineer so things are a bit more black and white...and moreover, he’s a sailor and has the most clear picture of us all about what that life holds, all of it, the immense joy, the frustration and the fear.


As a recovering offshore racer, he has the most clear idea of truely what we are in for, as I’m still a novice sailor and comfortable staring at the coastline. He didn’t have to talk me into this dream of cruising. Anyway, my point is that he can see’s the house decision for what it is, a chapter coming to an end, and a new one to be written.


Thankfully through all this, my husband has been my compass through this process of separation with the house. He has held me close and listened to my mental girations, without pressure or judgement, just providing objective empathy and deep compassion for a decision that only I can make. Very single cell in my body is resisting the decision to leave the house as they simultaneously also draw me to the ocean. This transition is what’s painful, not the future and where I’m going.


So on the day the for sale sign went up, I saw the house, filled with someone else's furniture, gussied up by the stagers and showing a little leg. This time not tired from a barstool but graceful from a throne. I know her every asset and flaw like I know myself. She’s endured and transformed and stands on her own in full glory ready to embrace the next adventure. She will face new triumphs and heartbreaks, milestones and meltdowns and is renewed and ready for the future...just like me.


So, this is my lesson in getting over the hump on selling the house that took me about a year to come to terms with. You can focus on the past or you can focus on the future, but whatever it is you focus on, it gets bigger. I just wasn’t looking in the right direction for a very long time.


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