E-mail messages keep bid for house afloat Communication: While a merchant marine was working in the Persian Gulf, his wife consulted him through e-mail to finalize the purchase of their home.


Most of Jimmy and Bonnie Nolen's two-year search for the perfect home was decidedly low-tech.

But after reading stacks of Cecil County home-shopping pamphlets and driving to look at dozens of houses, their homebuying unexpectedly took a high-tech turn onto the "information superhighway" last fall.

A few weeks after Jimmy Nolen, a ship's captain with the U.S. Merchant Marine, left home on a four-month assignment at sea, Bonnie Nolen found the house they'd been seeking.

It is a 6,000-square-foot contemporary home with high ceilings and angles and curves that look like "a little gray castle," said Mrs. Nolen, 51.

The house has three fireplaces, five bedrooms, an in-law suite and a floor plan that is open and spacious. Expansive windows overlook 10 acres with a pond and a view of the Bohemia River in Cecil County.

The couple, who were living in Harford County, had looked at the Chesapeake City-area house in 1996, but quickly discounted it as too expensive at $710,000. But the home was being offered for about half the original price because of a bank foreclosure.

"I had prayed every night to find a house that not only I would be happy with, but Jimmy would be happy with, too," Mrs. Nolen said. "I made an appointment immediately to go see it. After I looked at it I offered the full amount. It's a fabulous house."

The couple had been pre-approved for a loan, and Mrs. Nolen had power of attorney for her husband so that she could complete a purchase if he was away.

She was competing with several bidders and wanted to raise her offer to an amount more than the couple had agreed to spend. The deadline for bids was in a few days and she had to act quickly. She needed to reach her husband.

His ship was in the Persian Gulf, and letter writing was impractical. Phone calls via satellite at $10 per minute were too costly. That was when her agent, Flore-Marie Hervert of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn-ERA, sent the first in a series of e-mail messages to the captain that helped to settle the purchase in just a few days.

"I never realized how important e-mail is," Mrs. Nolen said. "Without e-mail, I would still be looking."

On a ship almost halfway around the world, Mr. Nolen received the messages with details about the home and agreed that the bid should be raised.

"We sent the e-mail out on Sunday morning and got a reply that evening. It was a very long day," she said.

Mr. Nolen e-mailed financial information that was needed and received word immediately when the couple's bid for just under $400,000 was accepted.

"It was wild," said Mr. Nolen, 52. "Five years ago this would never have been possible. I've had mail following me around for 15 years that hasn't gotten to me yet. E-mail makes it a lot easier. I can get instant communication to and from home."

Using a digital camera, his daughter-in-law took photographs of the inside and outside of the home, including one of his wife sitting in the whirlpool that she had wanted, and attached them to the e-mail.

"A lot of people say that I was in the right place at the right time," Mrs. Nolen said. "It also had to do with determination and refusing to settle on something I wasn't crazy about. And the good Lord was listening to my prayers. But it never would have happened without e-mail."

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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