Help! Home for sale - the Williamses

An Indiana couple trapped by a so-slow market.

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Karen and Jerod Williams do not act rashly especially when buying houses. They tried to minimize their financial risks. And they live in one of the most affordable housing markets in the country, which, again, decreases their risk.

Despite their care, they're suffering in the current slow housing environment.

The Williams family
The house is a sweet little American foursquare with plenty of yard.

They bought a new home early this year, at a time when the housing market in Huntington, Indiana, their home town, was purring along, slow but steady. They then listed their old home for sale, but shortly afterward the market stalled and they haven't found a buyer. It's been nine months.

"We didn't think it would ever take this long," says Karen. "If we had, we would not have bought the new house."

The market turned south quickly, according to Karen.

"We had two open houses early on five weeks apart," she says. "The first attracted two serious buyers, the second, nobody."

Two homes - too much

So now, the family, burdened with the work and expense of two homes, are at the limits of their budget, even though they both make good salaries. He's a machinist and she a manufacturing engineer.

They have three young children Darcy, 4, Sloane, 3 and Nolan, 5 months, to support and school debt and motor vehicles to pay for. At the end of the month, there's nothing extra.

"Any emergency may lead to bankruptcy," says Karen.

The family has already suffered through one such crisis; an emergency c-section needed when Nolan was born last July. Karen had scheduled a six-week maternity leave but she needed a full eight weeks to recover.

"I hadn't planned for the extra two weeks and it really set us back," she says.

Great start but too small

The couple's first house was small but sweet: a three bedroom, one-and-a-half bath wood frame of more than 1,050 square feet.They bought it for $80,000 in 2002, shortly after their wedding.

It has a separate dining room, detached garage, utility shed, big front porch and central air. The interior was extensively renovated in the early 1990s and features crown moldings and natural woodwork throughout.

The place sits on a quarter acre in Huntington, a city surrounded by rich farm fields that calls itself a "clean, safe and prosperous community."

The Williamses enjoyed living there until it got too small after Karen had the two girls. They love the new ranch house they bought, especially because it's on one level, which saves on stairs-climbing.

Plus, it's nearly two-and-a-half times as big as the old one. Even so, it cost only $110,000. They moved in April. When they went to sell the first one, they hoped to get what they paid for it four years earlier.

In nine months, they've already reduced the price twice; they're now asking $69,900. Even if they get that, and that's looking unlikely, they'll still lose a substantial amount on the transaction - especially factoring in selling costs and the $500 a month they have paid out as the house has stood empty.

"Originally," says Karen, "our goal was to make enough money to pay off my student loans and my van and leave enough to put down a good chunk on the new house."


Their contract with the real estate agent ends in March, so they think they will keep the house on the market until then. Their agent advises them to wait out the market.

They may do that. As Karen says, "We don't have a lot of options."

If it doesn't sell between now and spring, they may take it off the market and do a little re-modeling before re-listing.

One idea they're toying with is updating the kitchen - last renovated in the 1980s - with new cupboards and counters. They would do the job themselves with moderate-quality Home Depot products. It should not be expensive.

Karen doesn't think the project would add much value to the house. The hope is that it could make the difference in selling it at all. For her, the sooner they sell, the better.

"My husband and I will soon be in the desperation phase," she says.

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