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Scanning the yellow pages each realtor I called echoed the same response. "Without a down payment, I can't help you." Click.
To shorten my husband Loren's hour commute we decided to move closer to his job. Rather than try to find a rental willing to accept three growing children and a dog, we hoped to buy our own home. Though we lacked cash for a down payment, we scoured newspaper real estate ads. "Needs a little TLC" and "fixer upper" described houses we could afford.
A white two-story, in our price range, posted for sale in our neighborhood. We tried to figure a way to make the cramped rooms work for our family until we followed the listing agent into the last room on his tour, the kitchen. He cleared his throat. "Lots of potential here. Yes, siree. You could do fabulous things with this space."
Speechless, Loren and I stared into a gaping eight-foot hole in the middle of the floor. Remnants of rotted boards littered the ground below and reeked of mold.
At home that afternoon, I flopped onto the couch. "We're never gonna find a house."
Loren snuggled beside me. "We need to trust the Lord." Giving my hand a gentle squeeze, he bowed his head. "Lord, please help us find a nice place that fits our budget. Amen."
A week later I spotted a realtor's ad in the paper. "This is the last call I'm going to make," I said to Loren and dialed the number. "If this doesn't work, I'm done looking."
A cheery woman answered. "I can't help you, but Joe, another realtor in our office, specializes with clients in your situation."
Joe rifled through reality listings, but agreed the houses we could afford were either too small or needed expensive repairs. After several months of searching, I wondered if we'd ever experience our dream of home-ownership.
Then Joe showed us a three-bedroom rambler. "A bit out of your price range, but we could offer a lower amount."
With a huge yard, big enough for our kids and dog to run and play, and plenty of garden space, we took a chance. We were confident the seller would snatch up our offer since the house had sat vacant and on the market for over a year.
The owner of the house, who lived in Colorado, happened to be passing through Washington. He agreed to meet Joe the next day at a coffee shop near the tire store where Loren worked.
"I'll stop by after our meeting to let you know the outcome," Joe told Loren.
Waiting at home for good news the next day, I scrambled for the phone when it rang. "The owner was furious and yelled at Joe for wasting his time," Loren said. "He wants full price and said to make any future offers through his realtor."
Hot tears burned my cheeks. "But I'm sure this is the house the Lord has for us."
The kids and I felt lower than the tires slapping the pavement when we picked Loren up after work. Rain drizzled down the windshield as we drove home.
"Hey." Loren dug into his shirt pocket and handed me a business card. "This guy came in today for some warranty work on his Chevy pickup. We talked over lunch while we waited for his parts to arrive. He's a safari photo guide and told some wild tales of rhinos, snakes, and bears during trips to Africa and Alaska."
Giving the card a glance, I laughed. "Like we're ever going to go on a safari." The bold printed name grabbed my attention as I repeated it several times.
"Do you know who this is?" I shouted. "This is the owner of the house."
"Oh, it couldn't be," Loren said.
I read the card out loud. "His name's the same, and he lives in Colorado."
Loren pulled to the side of the road. "I can't believe it. What are the chances he'd walk into my shop and of twenty-two mechanics, I happen to be the one to work on his vehicle?"
Loren dialed the safari guide's number. "Uh ... Mr. Searles* this is Loren. I worked on your rig today. First how's your truck running?"
"Couldn't be better; that noise is totally gone. Thanks for calling to check."
"That's good," Loren said. "Umm ... Mr. Searles, the other reason for my call ... I didn't know when we spoke earlier you owned the house my wife and I made an offer on today."
Loren's confession met with an awkward silence.
"I want to apologize," Loren stammered. "My wife and I didn't mean to insult you. We've wanted to buy a house for a long time, and we simply offered what we can afford to pay."
Loren looked relieved when signs of life surfaced from the other end of the phone.
"Well I'll be. If I hadn't met you today, I wouldn't do this, but you're a good guy," Mr. Searles said. "I'll tell you what. You increase your offer. I'll come down a bit and throw in some toward your closing. And under no circumstances are the realtors to know we talked."
A Second Offer
Loren and I crunched figures and reworked our budget, then drove straight to Joe's office. "It's a waste of time," he said. "The owner was quite clear he won't accept anything under full price."
When we insisted he place the call, Joe threw up his hands. "All right, but he won't accept it."
We teetered on the edge of our seats while Joe called the listing agent. Shaking his head, he hung up the phone.
"Well, folks, I don't know how, but we have a deal."
Loren and I jumped to our feet cheering and wrapped each other in a big hug.
Joe looked puzzled. "I just talked to him this afternoon. What changed?"
I poked Joe's arm. "I told you we've been praying."
Three weeks later the Lord surprised us again when Nancy, the vice president of the bank, said, "We have a problem. We have more money than we need to close."
"I don't understand," I said. "First we didn't have enough money and now we have too much?"
That's when Nancy explained. In addition to the owner's $3,000, both she and Joe contributed part of their commissions from the sale.
"We wanted to make sure you two didn't lose this house." Nancy flashed a bright smile. "But since the money didn't come from you, we can't give you the overage. The only thing I can suggest is use it to buy down the interest rate." She winked. "That'll lower your house payment."
Humbled and grateful for each person's generosity, Loren and I signed the closing papers. Though some may view events surrounding the purchase of our home as coincidences, Loren and I know better.
From a house we couldn't afford to a mysterious clerical error which freed us from carrying the required mortgage insurance, something even Nancy couldn't explain, God's fingerprints were all over the contract.
*Mr. Searles is a pseudonym
Note: "House Hunters" first printed March 2016 in LIVE, a publication by Gospel Publishing House.
© 2014 Kathleen Kohler