In early 2002, the U.S. housing market was still years away from imploding, but Long Island, NY native Carol Hoenig was facing a crisis of her own––divorce.
With her husband moving on to a new family, Hoenig’s greatest concern was the Dutch colonial home they had owned since 1986. They spent years renovating the place, building a cottage out of a chicken coop in the backyard and installing a two-car garage.
But without a shared income, she couldn’t afford it on her own.
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“At the end of the divorce, the memories [in that house] weren’t warm and fuzzy, but I realized I wanted to leave it on my own terms,” she says. “My daughter kept telling me we were going to get the house back.”
With two of her three adult children working their way through college at the time, the only space big enough for her brood––and within her price range––was a rental.
“I got a two-bedroom apartment in the upstairs of a house and the downstairs neighbor [who was bipolar] was a nightmare,” Hoenig, 56, recalls. “She didn’t like that we even existed. This was not my lifestyle.”
Hoenig was working at the time as an events specialist for a major book publishing company. She stuck it out for about two years until a family member approached her about plans to sell her aunt’s nearby home.
“It was a handyman’s special,” Hoenig admits, but a pair of longtime friends offered to take care of all the renovations. ”They gutted it and built this house for me from this mess.”
Four months into reclaiming homeowner status, she was laid off. Now the chance to save enough to buy back her old home seemed even further away.
“I used that time off to see what I could do,” she says. “I had a book coming out and I built myself up as a consultant and freelance writer. It took off and I did very well.”
Months into self-employment, Hoenig scheduled a book signing event near her old neighborhood. Then fate took a turn in her favor.
“I found out from my previous neighbors that [my old home] was about to be back on the market,” she says. “They never even took my nameplate off the doorknocker.”
This all took place in Fall 2007, but the owners weren’t looking to sell until the following spring. There was also the matter of selling the fixer-upper Hoenig had purchased from her aunt.
“I was going to sell it on my own, but the very first time I did a showing by myself, I thought ‘I am an idiot, I have no idea who this person is and I’m giving a tour,” she says. “It was a mistake. I decided to get a realtor and pay the commission.”
By winter 2008, the house was off the market and she started the process of buying back her old home. Luckily, the new owners were more than eager to get it off their hands.
“They told me they never felt like the house belonged to them,” Hoenig says. “It was surreal. It really was.”
By the following spring, she was back home.
“One of the things my ex told me was that I’d never be able to afford anything and I needed his money to support me,” she says. “I didn’t let that play with my brain. When I got the house back, it was cool to know I did it on my own.”
This story originally appeared on Business Insider.