A piece of my childhood

I have a chance to buy back some beautiful mountain property my mom sold after she divorced my dad. Should I go for it?

Published September 12, 2006 11:00AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My family built a cabin in the mountains when I was just a girl. It is in a subdivided area along a pretty creek. Over the years my parents purchased three adjacent lots -- the cabin is on one lot and the other two are undeveloped woods. When my parents divorced several years ago, my father kept the cabin, the center lot is jointly owned by both of them and the third lot went to my mother. My mother eventually sold her lot. I did consider buying it at the time, but didnt realize it would sell so fast -- by the time I thought about it and realized I could afford it, there was already a committed buyer. After two years, the lot has come up for sale again and the owner has left it virtually untouched, but because of the outrageous real estate boom, he is asking for more than three times what he paid my mother.

I am very interested in buying the lot. My dad loves the idea, but when I brought it up to my mom she got very upset, I think partly because she feels guilty she sold the lot (she didnt realize that I would want it so much) and partly because of the price the owner is asking. I think she feels like she would look like a fool for selling the lot when she did and angry that I would be paying so much more money to get it back. My brother and his children live much closer to the cabin than I do, so they are up there quite a bit, and while my brother loves the cabin, he warned me that "its not the same as it used to be." The area has been slowly developing (my brother and father have had altercations with a new neighbor who does not seem to understand property lines), so I feel like this is a one-time chance to try to keep at least part of the area the way it was.

I would like to purchase the lot (it has been on the market for a couple of months now and I intend to offer quite a bit less than the asking price), but I dont know how to do that without hurting my mom. The cabin is an emotional subject in my family because it was such a large part of our life together.

Is it naive of me to think that buying this lot will somehow save the area from the inevitable? Is it worth upsetting my mom? I just dont know what to do!

Torn and Confused

Dear Torn and Confused,

My feeling is that you should go ahead and make the offer. I can't explain all my feelings about this, and it isn't entirely rational. But that's my feeling. Go ahead and make the offer.

I have been through my share of grief about family and property, and I know how much it hurts to see some piece of land go away. It's like a piece of your heart is going away. And you want to keep it. But then do you want to keep it enough to buy it -- when you might use it hardly at all? Or are you just trying to keep a piece of your childhood intact? It's very hard to know. These things run so deep.

But here is something that can be said with some confidence: It's the family, not the property, that matters most. If the family is not functioning as it used to, buying the property won't fix things. Not really. And if you step in and try to make things right -- if you are the kind of family member who is always trying to fix things -- there's a good chance you'll just make things worse! Take it from me, the ultimate fixer, who gets his ass kicked every time.

The only thing I know with certainty is that these kinds of things have a power beyond all imagining and expectation -- a power both to make you unaccountably happy when things go well and unaccountably, inconsolably sad when they are lost. You realize how much of your hopes and dreams you put into the place, how deeply you had invested your happiness in it, and it tears you up.

So go ahead and make the offer and keep that little piece of paradise. And maybe your offer will be accepted and maybe not. And maybe you'll be happy and maybe not. And maybe in a few years you can go up there and build another little cabin.

Or maybe not. If it doesn't work out, let it go. Let it go and find yourself another little piece of paradise -- maybe a lot closer to home.

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