We lost our house yesterday.

It never was our house. We’re renting it, because the people who are supposedly buying our house haven’t sold theirs, and so are renting ours. So we had rented this house with the intention of buying it when we could. It was terrific.

But the owner has just decided that she’s going to move back into it, and we will have to leave. I can see why she loves it – we do. But I’m certain that she’s never really going to move back in, and in the mean time, we’re screwed.

I like to think that in my advancing age (45 soon), I’m learning to understand The True Nature of Things. The owner is in her sixties and has the big C. She works in financial services and could loose her job and her healthcare at any moment. She has investments – in real estate. Her husband died in this large three bedroom with lots of twisting steps, and I understand she has no children. Why the hell does she believe her accounting firm is going to be expanding in the Bay Area in nine months, and that she’s going move here from LA and live alone in the house?

I think I made her believe it. The house is a bit dated. She has had it rented out ever since her husband died, and the kitchen really needs some work. My wife and I met with the broker/property-manager to discuss updating. With the current market, there are many cabinetmakers closing, and so prices are down. If she would take advantage of these prices and buy the materials, we would do the labor. This would help bring the house up to the current standard for the price we are paying in this rapidly depreciating rental market with many vacancies.

Oops. I understood that the poor woman would freak. The property manager was tripping over himself with relief that we weren’t moving out. But I didn’t realize that she would see our offer as a threat to be managed. In her world, she had to take control of her collapsing situation. Yes, she would redo the kitchen. However, she would get back to us “soon.”

We waited. The other fantastic house in the neighborhood – same price, arguably better view, much bigger and awesome kitchen – was withdrawn as the owners gave up their dream of retiring to S.F.

Well, the only control our owner had was to neutralize us. There would be no new kitchen. There would be no sale of the house and no renewal of the lease. She would be moving back in. I know it’s a fantasy. Maybe she knows it. But I don’t have the skills to show her things as they are. And so we have to go. My wife was starting a new business – the realtors make it sound like the only one in the entire Bay Area – but now she’s going to have to devote her considerable energies to creating a new family home.

I like solving problems, but with computers and startups, a lot of the problem is within my reach. I understand in principal that I should have enlisted the owner in a shared problem that we could solve together, and that where I thought I was doing that, I was doing so in a vacuum. My own “flexibility” aside, I was essentially imposing a ready-made solution that she had no part in creating. People are so fucking overcomplicated. They’re worse than dealing with Windows.

Can you imagine scaling this little problem by ten million or so? We’ve got an economic situation that everyone thinks is dependent on dealing with financial folks who have their back up against the wall – the same people that created the problem and whose world is falling apart and who don’t believe any it. And we’re all getting screwed. Can you imagine anyone having the patience and the general interest in other people to work with these guys so everyone comes out alive? Well, the introspective geek solution is to redefine the problem. Solve a problem that does not include the bad guys. We need the housing market to get moving? Fine. Let’s create a national bank not for the bad loans, but for new good loans. Let it create a new market with a rational valuation, rather than throwing money at the old one that is known to be structurally broken. (What, the bankers are the only ones who know how? Bullshit. I think they’ve demonstrated that they don’t.)

I guess I still haven’t learned my lesson. I still have some growing up to do.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. Man oh boy, does that suck.

    My heart goes out to you and Robin and the whole family. As somebody who has been through that situation, and similar ones, a few times, I know just how sucky it is.

    Hang in there, good luck, and don’t despair.

    Of course we should nationalize the banks, or create new national banks. That is obvious. But since such a move would tear away the last fig leaf that the USA is still a “free market” “capitalist” country, we cannot do it. The country is still too afraid of boogeymen to address this kind of problem rationally.

    Oh well, so it goes.

  2. Too bad for your pain. Rule one is, whose name is on the deed rules over anything else. Rule two is whose name is on the note negates Rule one. Guess my other observation is do you really know her motivation for moving back in?

    But I have to agree with your observation on the banks. Had the Fed had interest in Main Street what they should have done is erected a financial firewall for the regional/local retail banks where most small firms get their loans. Provide them discount window access. Then just let the Wall Street crowd fight for their lives. If they fail the assets don’t disappear. Other banks will rise from the ashes to take their place.

    Capitalism works best when the fear of failure tempers the lust for profit.

  3. Sorry Howard, good luck and hope it works out better than you expect.

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