Help! Home for sale - the Otts

The housing slump has made moving on up more difficult for this Wisconsin couple.

By Les Christie, staff wrriter

NEW YORK( -- The drive to improve your family's well being is a strong one, and Mike and Mary Ott thought they had a good plan to do it: They would sell the mobile home they owned outside Montello, Wisconsin, and buy a house in town.

Well, they bought the house they wanted -- but they didn't sell the mobile home. Now, thanks to the housing slump, they have two homes, only one of which they can really afford.

Mary and Mike Ott
The 1,200 square foot mobile home they want to sell.

"We have just enough extra every month to cover the new mortgage," says Mike Ott.

The web site designer and his school-teacher wife, who are in their late 20s, lived in a nice mobile home park an hour outside of Madison Wisconsin. The house sits on a big lot with pretty woods views and lake access. "It's a vacationer's dream," says Mike.

It's on Lake Puckaway, a large shallow lake that boasts excellent fishing, boating and water skiing. In the fall, there's duck hunting.

The couple, however, had several reasons for making a move. They want to start a family soon and a bigger house would help. And Mary would prefer a shorter commute to her school. Plus, the road to the mobile home park goes unplowed during the area's sometimes harsh winter weather, and Mary disliked driving on it after skidding on the ice a couple of years ago and ending up in a ditch.

The hunt

So in early 2006, the two started looking seriously for a new house.

"We looked at six or seven different houses," says Ott, "but none of them were what we were really looking for." The new homes had no character and the old ones had odd dimensions, such as a really narrow hallway or weird floor plan.

After a couple of months, though, Mary learned a fellow teacher and her husband were selling their house. The Otts took a look, like it and quickly agreed to buy. It was a four-bedroom, two-bath built in 1905 with a modern addition, combining the best of both worlds.

But the sellers weren't ready to move; they were breaking ground on a new home and wouldn't leave until August.

The Otts put their mobile home, a 1,200 square-foot 2000 Century with three bedrooms, two baths, a deck, laundry room and fireplace up for sale in February, and started to anticipate the late summer move.

They didn't want to rent a place during any gap between selling their old place and moving into the new one, since that would mean having to move twice. So they didn't push the sale of their house very hard.

Perhaps they should have.

The market turns

Their real estate agent suggested a $42,000 price, which the Otts thought was too high. They priced it at $39,500 and then $37,500. They got some lookers and even a couple of offers, but those deals fell through. Now the home is priced at $32,000, just $1,000 more than Mary paid for it nearly six years ago.

During the past six months or so, the market has cratered.

"The market is pretty slow," says Mike, "and getting slower every day."

When they put their home on the market there were a couple of neighbors selling their mobile homes also, but these units were older, built in the 1970s and 1980s, and less desirable. Since then, more and more for sale signs have appeared on lots all over the park.

As August approached, the couple started to fear that they would have two houses and few options.

"The park doesn't allow us to rent," says Mike. "Our stress levels rose as the closing date came nearer."

Luckily, their overhead at the park is low. They only pay $135 a month in rent for the lot, which includes water, garbage collection and sewage. They got a good deal on the new place, paying just $128,000, which was $22,000 less than the maximum they could afford.

The Otts are fortunate that they can just afford to carry both places. "We're just able to make the payments on both places," says Mike.

But if there's an emergency or an unexpected expense they don't have the cushion the money from the sale would provide. It's tough to start a family under these conditions.

And it doesn't look like they'll improve anytime soon. Winter in Wisconsin is not prime selling season. Mike figures they'll just have to wait it out and hope for the best this spring. Then, perhaps they can get back on financial track.

"It would be nice to save up some money for when the kids come," he says.