A continuation of the How's the house coming? saga...
I finally said, "Honey, at these prices, we could just buy a house in an unflooded part of the city." To my surprise, she quickly agreed. I had only said that half seriously anyway. We both love our Vista Park neighborhood and we were both excited about being "pioneers" in the area. We've never built a house and we were looking forward to picking out everything from faucets to flooring.
But the reality of the situation was beginning to wear us down. Life in a FEMA Travel Trailer was quickly going from an exciting adventure to an annoying inconvenience. As the dream of rebuilding failed to break ground, the willingness to persevere in the little white box drained away.
So we decided to look. We decided we should see what was available on the market and at what price. We hooked up with a Realtor and started looking at the listings. It looked promising.
My major concern was with the funding. Up until now, we had been approved for a loan with SBA (Small Business Association) and a grant from Road Home based on our plan to rebuild. I pulled out the Road Home paperwork and read the fine print. According to their program, we had the option to relocate anywhere in Louisiana.
There were some differences in the options. It turns out the only difference money-wise is that we would not be eligible for mitigation money, which I was not sure we would actually get anyway because of arcane rules that barred "duplication of benefits" and problems with funding the program.
But if we were to rebuild on our land, we would get the grant money AND keep the property, whereas if we relocated, even if just right next door, we would be required to surrender our property in order to receive the same grant money. That certainly required some analysis, and it makes one wonder if the purpose of the Road Home program is to help us build better, stronger, smarter, or, if the goal is to hook people into staying in the same, flood-threatened locations. I have my own opinion on that topic.
I called Road Home and they said, "Just sign and send in a revised form indicating that you want to change from Option 1 to Option 2." Sounded simple, but anyone who knows anything about Road Home knows how impossible it is for anything connected to Road Home to be simple. Without going into all the boring details, we had already been waiting a few months for our closing. I knew that switching gears would be a problem no matter how optimistic their telephone answering center reps sounded.
I also called SBA and I was told, "Not a problem! You're already approved for a disaster assistance loan." But if I buy instead of build, does that change the dollar amount? And what are the rules? Am I required to buy a house that is exactly the same size in number or rooms, or square feet? Can I buy a double if I find one in our price range? Is there any penalty for buying a house in a flood zone, or an incentive to buy outside of a flood zone?
The answer was, again, simple. I was told there were not many rules. "Just find a house you want to buy and send in your purchase agreement and we'll review it." Those nice people at SBA just wanted us to get back into a comparable house as soon as possible. I expressed reservations. There must be some rules. I did not want to waste my time looking at houses that SBA would not approve. I did not want to waste my time and the time of everyone else involved by putting a house under contract only to be told that the house would not be approved for some abstruse reason. I wanted to know the rules up front.
"Don't worry," I was told, "You're pre-approved."
In July, my Darling Wife and I found a house we loved on the relative high ground of Esplanade Ridge. It was a two-story house with an upstairs apartment and a downstairs apartment. The house did not flood in Katrina, and we decided we'd like to buy it and live upstairs. We made an offer and it was accepted.
In mid July we forwarded the signed purchase agreement to SBA and Road Home. And that's when we entered bureaucratic hell.
Part four: Closing in on an option