In January of 1996, when our fifth child was born, we were renting a tiny two-bedroom, one-bath house with an itty-bitty back yard. We had 4 kids in one room, and the baby slept with us. We knew this arrangement would not be manageable much longer.
Shortly after Nathaniel was born, we started looking for another home to rent. Housing prices in the San Diego area have never been really low, but we figured we could afford a nice three-bedroom in a decent neighborhood.
We had a necessity list:
- Decent neighborhood
- Not a busy street
- In our budget
- Minimum 3 bedrooms/2 bathrooms
- Big enough dining room to fit our table
And a wish list:
- Bigger kitchen
- Two-car garage
At the time, a place such as this was going for anywhere from $900/month to $1800/month. Our budget was $1200/month.
It was a different world then. No Craigslist with photos, just the classifieds in the local paper. Early every Friday or Saturday morning, I’d get a paper and scour the “For Rent” section. As soon as it was late enough to call, I’d make arrangements to see the places and then put my kids in the car and drive.
Some places were just awful — clearly wrong. Others looked not quite as bad. We put in several applications. We had a perfect credit score, so we figured it would be a simple matter of being the first one in line for a place.
But. We. Were. Wrong.
They would tell me on the phone that we were the first to view the house and apply. But, when I followed up with them later, after we’d seen the house with kids in tow, or had written on the application the number of children we had, they would tell us that someone had gotten there before us. Clearly they didn’t want five kids living in their precious piece of rental junk covered in seven sloppy coats of paint.
Clearly they were lying to me.
This went on for six or eight weeks. There were tears. I was discouraged.
Knowing that we were looking to move out, and understandably not wanting her income stream to be interrupted, our landlady had lined up a new tenant for the home we were living in. So we had a deadline to be out by March 31st.
As the days passed with no success, the stress began to rise. March 15th came and went. We decided to broaden our search geographically. We began considering places in Escondido, a small city just north of San Diego.
The first few homes we looked at were trashed, on busy streets or in gang-dominated areas of the city. Clearly not suitable.
As of March 27th, we had still not found a home. In faith, I had been packing everything that we did not need day-to-day. But my faith was wavering.
I saw a new rental listing in the classifieds. I called. Got the address. I requested an appointment to see the place.
When offered a choice of appointment times, I chose the earliest one possible — eight o’clock on a Saturday morning — even though I knew it would be hugely challenging to get five kids (all under the age of six) up and out the door by seven thirty in order to have time to drive to the appointment.
I didn’t want to take any chances.
As we were driving along, discouraged by the way things had gone in our search to that point, we wryly speculated how many coats of paint this one would have, how many missing light bulbs, how dirty the carpet would be, etc.
We drove by some definite fixer-uppers before turning and heading up a street that this house backed up on.
As we drove up the hill, we could see that the quality of the homes was different. These were newer, well-maintained homes.
Strange. This was NOT what we had been encountering up to this point in our search.
We pulled up in front of the address I had written down, wondering whether somehow I had gotten it wrong.
Don went in first, while I waited outside in the van with the kids. About fifteen minutes later, he came out, and he had a happy look in his eyes. He told me the place was really nice and the owner (who was a real estate broker) did not freak out when he found out we had five kids. He had four himself, he said.
He’d asked Don his occupation and income and given him an application to fill out.
I went in to have a look while Don took a turn with the kids. I went in, walked around in amazement. This was “exceeding abundantly above all that I could ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
It was on a short cul-de-sac. In a neighborhood that was at the end of a dead end street on a hill. It had three big bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a two-car garage, a big “great room”, a backyard, a nice kitchen, a fireplace, and lots of storage. The carpet was clean, and the walls had only one coat of paint. The walls were dirty, but we told from the get-go that we could paint or do whatever we liked with them.
We had not even finished filling out the application when the owner handed us the keys. As he looked over the application, he said something about us probably being able to qualify to buy the place.
We were ecstatic! When we told our friends (who had been praying) the good news, our amazing painter friend Brad Stoner (shameless plug: http://bradstonerpainting.com) offered to paint the place for us for only his cost of labor! Wow, wow, wow!
Three days later, we moved into a freshly painted, almost-brand-new house just in time to celebrate Daniel’s 3rd and Rebecca’s 6th birthday on April 8th.
But that is not the end of the story.
Fast forward ten months.
I’m in my nice cozy home, making dinner, when I notice a man coming up the walkway toward my door. I anticipated a knock, but there was none.
Concerned, I opened the door. The man was walking away. There was a paper taped to the door.
When the man saw me, he turned back and asked whether I was the owner.
I said no, we are renting.
He then informed me that the house was in foreclosure, and the paper was a notice of the auction that was to take place at the end of that month.
The notice included the minimum bid. The amount was not only unattainable for us, it was waaaay above the market value for the home.
The owner, as I said, was a real estate broker. He apparently had purchased this home and several others during a real estate boom a few years earlier. This particular house was purchased when the market was high; it tanked a year later.
The housing market was still depressed at that time. The owner, unable to keep up on the payments, had declared bankruptcy and let his real estate property go.
When we applied to move in, we had had no idea that he was in such sorry financial shape. We thought back to our initial encounter with him — how he had said, you could probably qualify to buy this house, and other small clues that we had totally missed.
We were devastated. Not only were we faced with leaving this home we loved, but we would have the arduous task or packing and moving plus all the associated costs and hassle. IF we could find another home, that is.
We started looking.
And we started asking questions to try to figure out how much time we might have before we had to get out. We asked our banker friend Ed. He worked in a bank’s REO (“real estate owned”) department.
Ed explained the process. No one will bid on the house at auction. More was owed that the house was worth. The ownership would then revert to the bank. It was the REO department’s job to get rid of the real estate as fast as possible, for fair market value.
Since we no longer needed to pay rent to the previous owner, and the bank wasn’t in the rental business, we lived rent-free for February. I called the previous owners and requested our deposit back. It was a long shot, I figured, but worth asking.
Amazingly, they returned our deposit.
A few days later, there was a knock at my door. It was a real estate agent who worked with the bank that owned the loan on the house.
I’m sure she was sent by the bank to assess the situation, and to figure out how to get rid of these unwanted tenants.
I told her we were already looking for another place to live. I asked her about the possibility of us buying the house, (knowing full well that it would take a miracle, because we didn’t think we had enough money for a down payment).
Her response was not at all encouraging. She said the bank always wanted the house empty before it was put up for sale.
We kept looking for another place to rent.
After the auction date had come and gone, I got a call from a man from the REO department of the bank. We talked a bit about the feasibility of us buying the house. He referred us to a mortgage broker they often worked with. We made an appointment to meet with him.
Again in March, we did not have to pay any rent.
By not having to pay rent for two months, and by the return of our deposit, we now had enough in savings to make home buying a possibility.
We asked both sets of parents for their advice. And we prayed much for direction. Don prayed for a very specific confirmation, much as Gideon prayed (see Judges 6:36-40). A particular response from parents. One that, while solidly based on Scripture, seemed random and not at all likely to occur. And that was the response that we received. I only learned of this prayer and answer after the fact.
God was going before us. Making our paths straight. We decided to go forward.
We filled out the heaps and heaps of paperwork associated with a home loan, and then we made an offer to the bank for the house we were already living in. After a little back-and-forth haggling, our offer was accepted. As a part of our agreement, the bank paid to fix a few (minor) existing problems in the house.
We did not pay any rent in April.
We finally closed on our loan late in April. We bought a new home, and didn’t have to move.
But there is even more to the story:
Within six months, the housing market began to pick up. By the time we sold the house, eight years later, to buy a larger one for our much expanded family, it had more than doubled in value. There is no way we could have predicted that timing. Yet, it was the absolute best timing imaginable.
As I ponder God’s provision in the matter of a home, I think the thing I am most struck by is how I worked and worked to achieve my goal of nice home for my family. This is a good goal. If I had been successful, I would have been so proud. But God allowed me to fail in spite of my best efforts. I came to the end of myself. I gave up pushing, and came to a place of surrender. God, your will be done. Then and only then did the floodgates open and his mercy and provision pour down.
This story is not about me. Not about Don. It’s about our Great God. Only he gets the praise and glory for this miraculous provision.
God has been very generous to us.