"Once the idea got into my head it spread like a happy cancer, occupying every cell of my body. I was going to own a home." (from Bohomeownership: Part I: The Score)
Bohomewondership Part II: The Deal
Target: 1000 sq. ft. of Coal Country Heaven
Jim: Art Appreciator, History Buff, Owner of Realty Counseling Company
Margaret: Poet, Real Estate Agent
Rae: Retired Teacher, Peace Activist, Philanthropist, Home Owner
(I'd worry about that part later. Maybe by then I'd have things like a savings account with 10 grand in it.) In the meantime, I could use what I'd paid the past year in rent toward the deposit, then divide up the rest in manageable increments.
Because I needed a creative way to buy, and Rae wanted the properties her husband had managed and owned before his death in good hands so she could retire and travel, and because we all wanted to keep it simple, Margaret acted as dual agent. Now, I know what you're thinking: "Isn't representing both parties a conflict of interest?" But here's the thing about Margaret, and now that she's gone, I can say this:
She also knew the location of every abandoned mine in Southwestern PA. There are hundreds. I was hoping she'd map them and write a book, but she died of cancer before she had the chance.
Pink area indicates mine locations in Pennsylvania
Rae had stayed true to her humanitarian ideals, having marched in Washington against the Vietnam War, and had a table in her name at the Thomas Murton Center, and both she and Jim had a soft spot for artists.
(More about the Thomas Murton Center here:
In the three years after we signed the land contract, a handful of my fellow adjuncts and I began organizing our colleagues for union representation at the community college where I taught, which no one who's ever known me saw coming, including me. A labor organizer? Moi?
What can I say? Someone had to do it, especially when after some of my students spoke of coming back to their Alma mater to teach one day. "Under these conditions? Over my dead body," thought I. Low pay, zero job security, little chance for advancement, no health insurance and no retirement was unacceptable if not for me, then for my students who hoped to be in my profession. It was shortly after the controversial death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, who you can read about here in Dan Kovalik's explosive op-ed that immediately went viral :
Rae and I had gotten together for tea a few times when she was stateside. She'd come over to see what I'd done in the garden; I would get to see her photos from her recent trip to Vietnam or New Zealand or China. When I told her I'd been working toward AFT certification, she was very excited as she'd been active in the PFT, the public school sector of AFT, when she was a teacher. When I was becoming weary and sad after three years of trying to organize and motivate our colleagues, she took me to an event at the Letter Carriers Union hall where I got to see the legendary Staughton Lynd
where people called each other "brother" and "sister" in solidarity, and sang songs of protest and hope. She sent me invitations and the calendar for the Homestead Pumphouse events through the Battle of Homestead Foundation. She waved and cheered us on when we marched in the Labor Day Parade after our landslide win.
Labor Day Parade, 2015, with my fellow organizers. I'm on end at right.
So when the time to make the balloon payment and get a bank mortgage came, Rae called me. She knew no bank would touch me without a huge APR, and that I probably didn't have the money for a balloon payment. She offered to finance it at 2.5% fixed, forever.
"She could sell it out from under you!" said Doomsdayers no longer in my life. "She can flip it or will it to her kids or take out another mortgage on it and you'll be left holding the bag and it will take 30 years to pay it and she'd got an agenda." By now I knew better. She was just not that kind of a person. "Well, what if she dies and her kids claim it and don't hand over the deed???" She doesn't have kids; neither did Jerry, her husband. Neither do I. We had the agreement and details witnessed and notarized and our lawyer drew up the documents and the deed, now in my possession, as well as the statement that says I understand I have no coal rights to the land.
"Coal what, now?"
Fun Fact: "In Pennsylvania, the mineral estate may be separate from the surface (real) estate. Ownership of minerals on the same tract may be separated from each other – oil, gas, coal, hard rock minerals, etc. All surface and mineral owners have property rights under the law." - Commonwealth of PA Dept. of Environmental Protection
Rae and Jerry didn't buy the mineral rights, so they couldn't sell them to me. We don't even know who owns said rights. That means that some random stranger could show up and demand I vacate so he/she can start digging for their minerals. That's unlikely, as they'd have to present a mountain of paperwork to prove it. Most homeowners don't own the mineral rights to their land here, and no one's ever heard of the mineral rights owner showing up with a backhoe, so I'm not losing sleep.
When I think about the events that led to my owning my beloved crooked coal company cottage, I realize that had Margaret not kept it listed, I might never have considered buying. Had I not asked about owner financing, I'd never have known it was plausible. Had we gone with separate agents, Rae and I might not have been on good terms. Had I not become a labor organizer (a job I hated, by the way), we might not have become friends over shared ideals.
It's the one payment I always make on time, because it's personal. I owe Rae, literally and figuratively, because she, along with Jim and Margaret, made the impossible possible for me. They rock like the minerals underneath me that I don't own.
To see the interior/exterior transformation of the Crooked Coal Company Cottage and get on with all of the home decor/design/DIY stuff you've been craving, tune in next week, or subscribe and I'll send you the link.