Overvaluing, Undervaluing, and a $44K Mistake

After years on the market, and after a rent-to-own that didn’t work out because the buyers couldn’t come up with a loan, I enlisted the help of a seasoned realtor who I trusted to sell my home. She suggested a price that was low enough to match the apparently needed repairs, with an “as is” stipulation. A lovely couple made an offer that was $4K above my asking price. They were just the kind of people I was hoping would find it, who liked about it the same qualities I did. I was thinking that because the offer came only days after the listing was placed, it would be best to give it at least a week or more on the market at a higher price. My realtor suggested twice that “sometimes the first offer is the best.” Because of the time and effort I put into upgrading and maintaining the house over 14 years, I overvalued it. The higher ask caused the buyers to get an expert to examine the needed repairs, and they came back with a lower offer that leaves me with the amount of 2 months mortgage payment for the place. It was a fair offer from their perspective, because the work I’d had done to fix the retaining wall apparently was likely to be needed again in the future.

Fortunately, because I trust my realtor, the second time around, I accepted the offer and can put behind me the hassle and expense of the house. From a god’s eye view, I feel like it may be that this is the better outcome. They are a young family doing important but not-so-lucrative work in the community, and it may be better for them to have the extra funds than for me to.

I had recently an experience from the other side, which feels like the same principles are at play. After 9 months of volunteering every other week or so at an intentional community farm, I moved on site to begin the process of joining. I was asked to make a proposal for what rent and food contribution I would make. I offered an amount that was equal to the rent and utilities I was currently paying currently paying at a comfortable lakeside condo in the same area. I thought it was a generous offer. The accommodations in my new residence were a wood stove, a low amount of solar electric, and a water line that had yet to be hooked up, but was in progress. I would have to be in the main buildings to access wifi and for communal cooking. I averaged my last 6 months of receipts to come up with a food budget, and offered a food cost contribution equal to that. The member of the board responsible for onboarding indicated that the amount was more than adequate, but I didn’t realize she had no decision-making power. With the extra challenges of managing shifting operations and program shut-downs related to the pandemic, I didn’t press the director for discussion of all the particulars. This was a mistake related to the reasons that folk wisdom warns against going into business with family members; a sense of trust in the others’ good will can prevent one from taking pains to get clarifications in writing. I e-transferred my amount, not knowing that an invoice for a larger cost had gone to my spam folder. Two months in, when I finally got an official invoice, we had a discussion that should have been had up front. I know they worked hard over two decades and put up with a lot of disruptive and ungrateful people. This seemingly caused them to overvalue what they were providing and undervalue what I was offering.

For three months my daughter and I had been doing double or triple the required weekly 10-hour volunteer time contribution, to the point that I wasn’t even keeping up well with my editing and consulting business. As others came and left, I became the fourth longest-staying resident outside the founding family. I gave tours, coordinated the continued discussion and writeup of the policy for managing safety concerns around covid-19, started and managed the morning check-in meetings, and helped with all types of chores, including daily paddock picking. Yet they weren’t valuing or giving me sufficient access to provide the most marketable skills I had listed as my intended contribution, including grant-writing. Instead, they suggested that they were offering us learning opportunities that cost them more in management time than the value of my work.

I could have scraped together the extra amount monthly, but it would have put more pressure on me to increase my time in my business. More importantly, the discussions felt unfriendly and unfair to us. I still wanted to help, so I tried to resolve the cost issue by withdrawing from the communal meals while still paying the amount I agreed on for rent. They were okay with the arrangement of us being paying outsiders, but insisted that even in that neighbor relation without access to the common spaces, we should pay an amount only $50 less than my existing rent+food contribution. Due to our need for my daughter to have a social life and the insufficiency of the utilities, mid-way through the fourth month it became clear that roughing it this way was unworkable. Further, it wasn’t going to help them to figure out better business practices that would make them sustainable. They lost us, two reliable volunteer workers who had aligned values, a firm commitment to their organization, had caused no trouble, and paid regularly on time.

Some habitually undervalue themselves or their contribution, while others habitually overvalue. It is wise to get guidance from trusted others, because we all have blind spots. If you have learned to tap into spiritual guidance or your intuition, this too can show the best way forward in a particular situation.

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