I remember one beautiful afternoon when I was striding at the top of the world. Jeff Bridges and an army of HBO movie people had come to the farm to shoot a scene for "A Dog Year," my first bestseller and the launch of my writing about dogs and animals. Jeff invited me to lunch in his trailer and afterwards he asked for a tour of the farm. We picked our way among trailers, cameras, and nervous crew members.
I showed Jeff the restored barns – every penny of the movie money went into them – the new floors and ceilings in the farmhouse, the new fences and seeded pastures, the stunning view. "Jon," he said, walking me to the porch and looking out to the Black Creek Valley, "when you sell this place, you'll get a million dollars for it."
Two years ago, soon after Maria and I got together, we decided we ought to move. Many people attributed this to my growing older or to the dread American notion of "downsizing," something older people seem to be expected to do. Those were never the reasons. We wanted to find, buy and love our own place. Maria and I are a love story I never even imagined would occur in my life at any point, let alone once I passed 60. So I treat love as the miracle it is, and take it seriously. We want to move to our own place, our own New Bedlam Farm. We first put the farm – 90 acres, a restored 1861 farmhouse, four lovingly restored barns and good pastures with fences and paths off into the woods – on the market for $650,000.
Our timing was interesting, it was accompanied by the trauma of the Great Recession and my divorce, both of which occurred about the same time. It turned out that Jeff was a great actor, but not so great at reading the future of real estate. I was ready, but we didn't sell it for a million dollars, and we couldn't sell it for $650,000, it's assessed value. Rattled a bit, we decided to wait another year or so. This year, we decided it was time again, so we put the house on the market for $475,000. It is currently assessed at $575,000 and we thought it a bargain at that price. They would line up to buy it. We met Rocky and saw Florence's house and fell in love with it. The new place is no condo. It is a wild place that needs a ton of work. And it comes with a blind pony. All the animals are coming, and more. Life will not be simple or quiet.
We bought it and are closing on it in July. We decided not to wait until we sold the farm.
Bedlam Farm has been on the market for six months and has not yet sold. Almost everything about real estate has changed since I last bought or sold a house, nearly a decade ago. It is literally – like publishing – another world. Three months ago, we lowered the price to $450,000. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone over these figures in my head – how much for fences, a new roof, a new barn, Maria's studio, a new bedroom, windows with screens, waterers for the animals, a lower mortgage. Paying for two homes.
Today I talked with some people I trusted – a realtor, a financial adviser, and with Maria, of course. It hit both of us at the same, and the realtor and my adviser reaffirmed it. The farm was, in fact, worth a million dollars, she said, but not today, not now. Many people are interested, but no buyers yet. We decided not to belabor or lament this, but to respond to it. You'll never get your money back, not what you put into it, said the realtor. But you will sell at this price. You will not have a huge chunk of money to fulfill all of your dreams for the new place. So it suddenly came into focus for me, like the autofocus on my camera. Today, I got it. I saw what we had to do. In my mind, I saw many of our plans growing wings and flapping away.
Why not lower the price a few thousand dollars, said the realtor? No, I said, I see the problem. Houses in the $400,000 range are not selling. Houses in the $300,000 range are selling, especially if they are good values. Let's get it down there. So we lowered the price by $50,000, to $399,000. The new barn and the new bedroom will have to wait awhile. Maybe a new sink too. The fences might have two wires, not five. I try to be open here, and I will not lie to you. I always imagined that this beautiful farm would be scooped up in seconds by loving people who appreciate it. Today we gave a huge chunk of money away and I did not come close to panic. A miracle.
I wasn't sure about writing about this – it feels personal. But real estate listings are not private. And more importantly, I have always kept to the idea that the blog is about sharing the evolution of my life, and not only the fuzzy and furry and colorful parts of it. So I will keep doing that. I love my life, but it is not just about donkeys and flowers.
As I think about it, it seems fair to say that this is not a sad story, but a quite happy one. We love our lives here and will love them as much or more there. I can't do much about life or publishing or recessions and markets, but I will not hate my life or dishonor it with complaints, or call it hard names, either. I can't wait to herd sheep in the New Bedlam Farm with my working dog Red, and walk with Maria in the woods, and sit on the porch and watch the lumber trucks go by and walk with Maria in our acres of woods.
For much of my adult life, I could have bought the new place outright. For some years, I did pretty much what I wanted to do. That is no longer so. But the funny thing is that it has worked out. I would much rather be me now than me then.