And now for the reaction from the parents.
“So that’s when she told me she didn’t want to pay our asking price.”
“Wait. You were just about to sign the contract, and then she wants to negotiate a new price?”
I was on the phone with my Dad. This is the weekly, grandparent update, formerly the weekly dutiful-son update until I had children. In the dutiful son years, Mom always answered the phone, but now Dad has retired, so he hears the news first.
Because he is my father and I his son, I unwittingly force the role of father confessor upon him. I am old enough to be past this phase of our relationship, but I still value his approval. It is a deeply ingrained habit, not a conscious choice. I tell him what we are doing with our lives, and if I fail to amuse him or make him laugh, I naturally assume he disapproves. Then I begin to make my justifications until he really does disapprove. That’s when he puts Mom on the phone.
This neurotic anxiety is pointless. For his part, my father has no tolerance for being a confessor. Having suffered a heart attack and survived triple bypass surgery, he is unwilling to jeopardize his blood pressure with the specific details of his grown-up children’s foolishness. Ignorance is longevity. Fortunately Mom is much healthier and has no such qualms.
“So, what did she offer you?”
I told him.
“But … wait … that’s not very different from what you asked.”
“No, it isn’t,” I agreed
“Hmm. OK. And what did you counter?”
“I didn’t counter.”
“I didn’t counter. I accepted it.”
Really though, I almost did not accept the offer, but I didn’t tell Dad this. At the time, I was angry at being manipulated. But this anger was blunted by two considerations.
The first was that, for the first time, her voice lost that spiritual, unconcerned quality. It momentarily gained a harsh note of someone pressing an advantage that they are not sure truly exists, someone a little bit scared. It made her very human and vulnerable, and it reminded me that we didn’t have to sell the house. I could not be manipulated against my will. Plan B was simply to stay in New England, which we loved anyway, live on a tight budget, and send our children to public school instead of Montessori. As it turned out, Plan B was not economically feasible, but I didn’t know it at the time, because the national economic melt down was still months away.
The second consideration was that the price she offered was not very much less than the asking price. In fact, it was a very amateurish negotiation on her part, and it sealed her convincing role of a novice home buyer. My impression was this was a unconscious self-help maneuver whose only point was to bolster her faltering confidence. She wanted to prove to herself that she had some control and was not being taking advantage of by me. I was willing to forego some profit to buy some goodwill and smooth out the process, which turned out to be useful later. And in the big picture, the money was a only a very little skin off my considerable nose. Dad didn’t think so.
“You didn’t give a counter offer?”
“No, why would I do that?”
“You’re supposed to counter, to meet her half way. That’s how you negotiate.” Dad insisted.
“Well, it seemed kind of pointless to do so. It was still within the range Dawn and I agreed was what we wanted. Frankly we just want to …”
“Let me get your mother on the line. Ceci!”
One for one. Now to find something with which to disappoint Mom. The house sale wouldn’t do it, but she’s not thrilled about us moving in the first place so this shouldn’t be difficult. I could at least expect some unsolicited advice, or even better, a sigh and a parting shot like, “Well, it’s your life.”
Two thousand miles away, I heard my mother’s voice across the condo, “What?” It was a familiar voice from my childhood, a surprisingly effective roar from a small woman that developed while raising four boys and has since then been continually exercised by a husband who refuses to wear his $300 hearing aids.
“Get on the phone! It’s your son!”
“The one in Vermont!”
I heard her footsteps echo on the reddish-brown hardwood floors. With the exception of the bathrooms, there was not a single door or ceiling on any of the walls in their condominium. “Harry! How are you?”
“Great Mom. We have a buyer for the house.”
“Oh that’s wonderful! Did you get what you wanted?”
“Yes,” and before she could ask how much, “A very nice woman, a friend of some neighbors, and she seems anxious to get all the legal work done quickly.”
“That’s great! When do you move?”
“We have a six weeks to pack.”
“And do you know where you’re going?”
“Still the Fort Wayne area.”
“I know that. Don’t you have a house there?”
“No, not yet. We want to rent for a year before we consider buying land.”
“Oh good. That’s smart. I was worried you were going to invest your money and then not be able to get out if you didn’t like it. And where will you rent?”
“Don’t know yet. We are going to take a UHaul and drive out there and look for a rental when we arrive.”
“You … You don’t know where you’re staying yet?”
“Um, no. I mean, yes. We have a place to stay for a week or two. It’s at the school actually, a sort of B&B, only they don’t serve breakfast, More like just a B. With a large kitchen. It’s only while we look for a rental.”
Silence. No Response. Have I succeeded? Clearly she is not pleased with this plan.
“But what will the children do in the meantime?”
“They’ll be with us. It’s summer vacation, they don’t have to be in school. And I do believe you offered to come up and keep an eye on them.”
“Well, yes, so you could unpack. You won’t be able to unpack until you find a rental.”
“You’re right, but what can we do? We don’t have to time or money to take an extra trip there, and we need to pack now.”
A silence. A sigh.
“Well, I suppose you know best.”