I divorced my first husband in 2006 and eagerly married my second two years later, falling in love again quickly and barely giving a second thought to whether another painful divorce might await me.
But real estate? That love affair burned me like no man ever could.
Don't get me wrong -- I've worked hard to make a full financial recovery from a 2011 short sale that was a result of the subprime mortgage crisis. I restored my credit score, saved a down payment and began contacting potential lenders.
But almost five years later, I'm still renting. Yes, I needed the time to get my financial affairs in order. But there's another reason: Emotionally, it's taken me this long to come to terms with the idea of owning another home.
In other words, I had to learn to love again.
So here I am, one of the 7 million or so Americans who suffered a foreclosure or short sale during the real estate collapse -- and one of the estimated 600,000 that John Burns Real Estate Consulting predicts will return to homeownership in 2016. For many of us, though, that return is a long haul on a rocky road.
So, after you've completely bottomed out in homeownership, how do you pull yourself back up and set out to buy again? It comes down to understanding why we're scared, what's changed since the housing crisis, and knowing exactly what you can do to avoid being in that position again. For me, talking to experts as I reported on this topic helped me do just that.
Who's running scared?
The prolonged financial trauma that goes along with foreclosures and short sales deeply affects people, says counselor Elizabeth Streight of Nashville, TN. Little wonder they're hesitant to plunge in again, even though the housing market has recovered and even if they're in a solid position financially.
"That seemingly irrational behavior is a form of self-protection," Streight says.
A lot depends on the nature of their original loss, says Rocke Andrews, president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers and a lender with Tucson-based Lending Arizona.
"The older people are, the less trepidation they have about coming back, because they were likely homeowners for a longer period of time and experienced the positive benefits," Andrews says. "People who bought for the first time at the height of the market -- who lost huge amounts of money and hurt their credit -- they're less likely to return quickly."
And returning is not for the weak of heart -- or the impatient. Some are irritated to find they face higher interest rates because of their history, he says. They also may be confused by the varying lengths of recovery time that mortgage programs require.
Despite the fear and uncertainty, Cristy Skolfield and her family persevered to buy again after they were forced to unload their St. Petersburg, FL, home in a short sale in 2011.
"For a while, we had no interest in buying a house, because we felt like we would get burned again," she recalls. "When we did discuss buying, we were told we couldn't -- because of the short sale -- until April 2016."
Skolfield and her family found a way to buy a house sooner, but the down payment was 25% plus PMI. They chose to swallow the financial penalties and go forward with the purchase because the home fit the family's needs perfectly -- but not without trepidation. Lots of trepidation.
Focus on specifics to overcome your fears
All sorts of buyers come into the process with fears, says Larissa Lentile with Down to Earth Real Estate in Nashville, TN. But there are reliable ways to overcome them.
Before she even takes clients to look at a home, Lentile insists they have a conversation with a loan officer. If buyers understand clearly what they're able to afford, it eliminates much of their angst, Lentile said.
But if you're looking to buy, don't depend solely on the lender to tell you what to do with your money. You may need to get assertive about the mortgage payment you feel good about making, which may be less than what the lender approves you for.
"The buyer needs to be direct with the loan officer and say, 'I don't care what the computer spits out, I need to be comfortable with the figure,'" Lentile says.
Of course, if you've got troubled credit, you'll need to get your credit score into at least into the mid-600s for serious consideration on most mortgage programs.
A mortgage broker also is going to require paperwork from your foreclosure, your tax forms, pay stubs, bank statements, and a host of other documents -- so if you think you're emotionally prepared to buy again, now's the time to get organized.
This time, I'm going into the real estate market a little wiser, thanks to my painful experience. I know that, like a marriage, homeownership is a solid institution -- but things can go wrong that make it impossible for some of us to hold on.
I just hope I find a second house that's an investment as reliable as my second husband.