Our Adventures in Real Estate!

I have alluded to a big investment that Mark and I made in October. We purchased a duplex in our neighborhood and my mom and her roommate are our first tenants!

My mom finally decided last spring to begin the process of downsizing, simplifying and unloading the house where she had lived for the past 30+ years. There are so many elements to this major move that I literally could do a series (“How to Help a Parent Simplify and Move”, “How To Purge 35 Years of Stuff “, “How to Gently Encourage Your Parents That If They Don’t Decide Now Where It’s Going, It’ll Likely End Up in a Dumpster”, “Over My Dead Body, Literally”….and so on) and I may eventually get to that because I think those topics would be useful. For now, though, I’ll just tell you about how things fell into place to purchase a duplex with a first floor apartment for my mom that turns out to be perfect in so many ways.

Her old house is about 3 blocks away and it’s been great having her so close. When she and her roommate committed to leaving it, they looked in our town for something suitable to rent or something low maintenance to buy. The problem with renting is the risk of being booted for a landlord’s cousin or friend and unpredictable rent increases. Single level made sense but there aren’t a lot of them for sale here and they go quickly. They also weren’t enthusiastic about maintaining another house. They both really loved a “house” in a retirement community about 15 minutes away. “House” is in quotes because it’s an upscale trailer park community. Fifteen minutes away doesn’t sound far but when your spoiled by being a few blocks away, it’s huge.

I admit, I was slightly panicked at the thought of her being so far away but it was outweighed considerably by my relief of her finally getting out from under her huge house. It needed a lot of work, it was filled with stuff and frankly, as the only girl in a family of 5 children, I feared having to deal with it after they died. I’m not a worrier by nature but I lost sleep some nights worrying about one of them falling down the steps. That old house had lots of them, inside and out.

In March 2012, they put a deposit down on a pretty nice trailer up in the senior community. It was big, clean and had a beautiful view. It felt like a vacation home but the community seemed lifeless to me. Also, I thought the price was way too high. I just couldn’t picture them there. Another huge factor was a high lease fee for the land which did not include basic maintenance (yard, snow-removal) and this option still left them maintaining the “house”. But again, I was resigned to it. Luckily, they signed a contingent that they would get their deposit back if the house didn’t sell within 3 months. They began the process of decluttering in order to list it. The agent refused to put photos on the internet before a big purge. We got to that and they were able to list it before the 3 month contingent ran out. I think if they would have failed to make a good faith effort to list the house, they would have lost the deposit.

Then, one Saturday in May, I noticed my neighbor who owned and lived in the duplex, was having a yard sale. I walked over and asked why. He’s in the military and was transferred to Georgia and was selling. The building was built in the 40s by the mother of a couple who also lives in the neighborhood who are now in their 90s. The building has a history of conscientious-even OCD-owners and responsible tenants. Mark and I had been interested in buying it when it went on the market in 2001 if his parents would have considered living there. They weren’t so we didn’t look into it further. At the time we were in no position to invest in real estate, with 3 small kids and still in debt with student loans and not much savings but I always regretted not owning the building.

When I found out it was going on the market again I called my mom and asked whether it might appeal to her. I wasn’t sure what Mark would say but I told her I’d love to invest in it. She and her roommate came right over and we asked the owner if we could see it some time. Understandably, he didn’t want us to see it until things were more organized and cleared out. That day, I really felt that if it was meant to be, it would. From that point on, I resisted my urge to pray for what I wanted and instead totally trusted God and the intercession of a few other saints.

Very long story short, my mom’s house sold within 3 weeks of being on the market by a couple who didn’t want to close until September. On our end, the seller accepted our offer in the beginning of September and we were scheduled to close October 11. In spite of every big bank claiming closing within 30 days was impossible, it happened with the expertise of a friend who handles mortgages at a small local bank. My mom arranged to rent her house for a month until we closed (avoiding 2 moves) and we were able to finish painting her apartment the week she moved in at the end of October.

While I fully anticipated loving having my mom close, I didn’t anticipate how utterly convenient it has been owning rental property in my own neighborhood. It’s naive but I just never thought of it. One factor is just learning about the history of the building. My own plumber who also lives in the neighborhood, has been taking care of the building for 40 years. Meeting contractors, getting bids, meeting painters, storing things, cleaning, painting, everything was made easier by the building being a few houses down. If you’re considering investing, I highly recommend buying something close. It makes jumping into the landlord business so much easier. On top of all that it is so great that we can all walk over and pop in. My brothers also visit more because it’s now on the way to my house instead of a turn in the other direction.

A view from the 2nd floor balcony

The place truly is perfect for my mom. It’s all one level since we were able to squeeze a stackable apartment sized laundry unit in the first floor. The rooms are big which allowed her to bring a lot of her furniture. She hosted dessert for Thanksgiving and Christmas and I really think the size of the rooms and the layout accommodates our whole family better than my house. Also, she loves not having the maintenance worry and I actually don’t mind. The best part of all, the 2nd floor tenant is a relative who was also downsizing! I can’t tell you how stressful it was fielding calls from potential tenants. If Joe Schmo lived in the first floor (I loved the original show on Spike), I wouldn’t have cared as much who lived upstairs. But this worked out perfectly for everyone involved.

I’ll save the more fun parts of this story for later….(before and after painting and a new IKEA kitchen!)

So, anyone out there have rental properties? Any nightmares? Anyone else invest in property to accommodate a parent or other relative? Let’s hear it!

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