As I drove in the driveway my heart sank. The front yard had an old arched arbor with dead plants barely clinging to it. There was a weathered wooden sign welcoming all that drop by. The names on the once cheerful sign were John and Shirley. At one time this must of been a cheerful and colorful garden while Shirley was still alive.
I took a deep breath and rung the doorbell. Expecting an elderly man I was surprised to be greeted warmly by a man, who he later told me, was only 60 years old.
Before I even entered the dark home that was awaiting me I was hit with the horrible, stale and overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke. (My Realtor mind was thinking already about how to make this home sale-able.)
The living room looked like it had not been touched in years. It was full of furniture that I'm certain had been placed there by Shirley. As a matter of fact, the entire house felt like time had stood still since her death.
John and I sat at their kitchen table and he started to tell his story. He needed to tell his story. He was a Vietnam Vet with mounting medical bills that the VA seemed to be unwilling to take care of and he is unable to work. His oldest son had lost his job and couldn't help his dad by paying rent.
John had all of his important papers spread out on the table as if to make sure he did not forget or loose them. There was his mortgage statement that he proudly showed me while explaining that he was current on his payments and how much he owed. Then he quietly told me he had enough money for about 3 months.
John said he had been unable to pay for his prescriptions, food and his mortgage so he had cut back on the medication he so needed.
I had assumed, since this was a referral from an Elder Law attorney, that I was going to have to figure out a way for him to sell the home. I was looking around with a heavy heart trying to make a mental note of everything that would have to be done to prepare it for sale, knowing that we most likely would not be able to sell it for the balance of his mortgage.
That's when John surprised me by adamantly telling he that he did NOT want to sell. He wanted to lease his home of 30 years rather than give it up. I asked him where he would go and John said he would move in with his sister.
When I told John that I would have our expert leasing agent work with him since our office doesn't allow us to handle leases, he carefully wrote down his name and the date he should call him because he was afraid he would forget. His hands were shaking so badly he could hardly write.
When we got up to leave he shook his head and said "I don't know how my wife did it. How do you work, take care of the family, cook and clean? I just can't do it all." At the door we shared a firm and warm handshake. As the door closed behind me I couldn't help but picture John walking slowly back to his chair.
Since then I met with our leasing agent who thinks, if we fix the home up, he will be able to lease it. I told him I wanted to help and would recruit members of the community to help. I couldn't stand by and do nothing.
Where had the systems failed? I may never know the whole story but I do know that there are probably many other John's out there. This economic crisis isn't about large banks and auto makers, it's about the forgotten victims. As Realtors I hope we can somehow make a difference in their lives.