The Vine: August 1, 2012
Hi Sars! I'm writing on behalf of my SO and his family/finance frustrations. The set-up to this story is that SO and I live together and have just stumbled into a pretty great opportunity to purchase the house we've been renting for several years.
When he was in his early 20s, SO lived in his hometown about 1,000 miles away from us now, and he purchased a house there. When SO moved to our part of the country six years ago, SO's brother moved into the hometown house with his wife and two children (and partial custody of a third, for whom Brother also pays child support). Per agreement, Brother has always paid about $150 less than the total mortgage payment — the idea being that he would save up money to buy the house eventually (and the remaining $150 went to the principal — money SO would get back when he eventually sold the house).
Brother has had his share of problems, including a few stops and starts with various careers, but he's not a layabout. Every once in a while he has trouble making the rent and is often a week or two late with payment, but no big deal. The few times Brother has been in deeper financial trouble, his (and SO's) parents, who also live in SO's hometown, have stepped in and paid SO so Brother can owe them instead.
Unfortunately when Brother finally felt he was in a position to buy the house, he couldn't get a loan (due to job inconsistencies, he'd been able to report a bare-bones income the year before — good for taxes; bad for credit). We were under the impression that he'd try again, but he hasn't. It might be that nothing's happened that would suddenly qualify him for the loan.
There was also talk of their parents purchasing the house and taking over rent-collection duties full-time, but nothing's come of that as yet, either.
Of course, selling the house would provide down payment for the house we're in now. But that's not even the immediate problem. The problem now is that Brother has been falling farther-than-usual behind on the rent the last few months, and under somewhat frustrating circumstances. First was the announcement about nine months ago that Brother and his wife were having another baby. This is happy news, obviously, but also sent SO into a bit of a panic mode, i.e. if brother already has trouble paying rent with three children, a new baby isn't going to help matters.
Complicating that further: It's a three-bedroom house that was already a little tight for two grownups and two (sometimes three) kids; with a new baby, it seems much more likely that Brother will look for bigger digs instead of buying the house. But SO can't (well, won't) put the house on the market until Brother actually gets his stuff together and moves.
Baby is here now, and Brother does always seem like he's doing the best he can to pay the rent. It'll get to be a few weeks late, then he'll pay it partially and promise that he's working hard to get the rest together.
But then he'll do something like he did this weekend: post pictures of himself and his kids at a significant (and expensive) sporting event. (Not the first time he's done that while still owing at least part of the rent.)
The end result of all this is that, in addition to having to pay his mortgage there and his rent here (while hoping to save for a down payment), SO is just sad. Watching someone who owes you money spend money elsewhere is frustrating enough. SO also hates that he can't fully celebrate Brother's new baby — that everybody else is so happy but he's got this financial cloud hanging over everything. When he mentioned being upset about the sporting even pic, he immediately followed it with, "but [Brother]'s kids should be allowed to do fun things."
SO also feels guilty that, thanks to good, consistent employment, he's never been in dire financial trouble, and he has no kids to support. But of course, that doesn't mean he's in a position to sponsor Brother's family. Today he asked me (half-joking), "How much of a dick would I be to raise the rent on my brother with a new baby when he can't pay the rent as it is?"
So, on behalf of SO, I guess my question is: What's a good way for SO to approach the Brother/parents/financial situation? For my part, I'm trying not to get too frustrated on his behalf, but being on the outside of the family stuff makes me feel like there's nothing I can do to help. Really, I felt that writing this letter to you was one of the best contributions I could make. I'm sure outside perspectives will help him to find the right mindset to deal with it.
Another factor that may not be helping things: SO is actually the youngest in the family. On whatever level, I have to think that ordering your older brother around doesn't come easily.
Thanks in advance for wonderful advice,
Grateful for My Awesome, Responsible Older Sisters
What would SO do in a perfect world, if guilt weren't a factor, if Brother weren't a relative? What does SO want to do? It sounds to me like he wants to sell the hometown house and put a down payment on the house you currently live in. Has he considered just…telling Brother that? "Hey, Bro. So, we've had an opportunity come up re: buying the house we're renting right now. Trouble is, we'd need to sell the hometown house."
I mean, you've got a bunch of emotional family-of-origin stuff flying around here — SO feels like he can't sell the house on Brother, because Brother is family, he's responsible for minor children, he hasn't had the best luck with his employment, blah blah blah guilt-cakes, and I think Brother has gotten used to getting by with the repeated lateness on the rent and the rescues by their parents, with nobody forcing the issue or pointing out that another baby does imply certain increased financial commitments. On an unconscious level, mind you, but still. Plus it doesn't sound like SO and Brother got any of the assumptions about the rent or the eventual buying of the house in writing, so whenever he's late, or short, SO can't just point mutely to a contract with Brother's signature on it; he just has to simmer and pretend to accept whatever excuse it is this month. (Folks, please: Anything over a hundred bucks with a family member, especially a real-estate situation? Write up a contract and sign it. Yeah, "family's family" — which is almost always the problem.)
Anyway: nothing to be done about that now. Nothing to be done about the sporting event, either, or anything else in the past, so SO needs to leave all that aside and focus on the future: what he wants to do about the house, what Brother thinks about that, and how they can both get what they want. SO should think of it as opening a discussion with Brother, and should really listen to what Brother has to say. Don't make it an announcement or ultimatum; give Brother the opportunity to act as a counselor, get back into that older-sibling role. But also look for opportunities to think about the situation a different way. Brother might greet the topic with relief — maybe he's wanted to look for another place anyway. Maybe he'd like to take another run at getting a loan, at which time SO can say, "That's great — can we put a firm timeline on that, and put it in writing? And while we're doing that, can we agree that rent is due at X time and" et cetera and so on.
SO should start there: state what he wants, see what Brother thinks, listen, and then get whatever's decided on in writing — and hold Brother to the terms this time. Longer-term, SO needs to acknowledge that ain't nobody in that family buying that house, sell it, and vow not to repeat a similar intra-squad arrangement in the future…but everyone else may agree that it's time for the hometown-house chapter of the family's life to end, in which case, agree on a timeline and proceed. If not, well, you can handle it from there, but don't get too apprehensive about that before SO does the simplest thing, which is to say what he wants and get feedback on it.
Tags: the fam