Note: This is Part Two in a series about how we managed to retire in our early 30s. You can find Part One here. You can follow me on Instagram to see what we are up to now!
After downsizing our space and mortgage by close to half and renting out our first home at the height of the recession (2010), we had a significant chunk of money freed up each month. I enjoyed having the flexibility that came from not spending our entire paycheck. Suddenly we had a cushion for when something went wrong: no more carrying a balance on the credit card each month because a tire went flat or the water heater sprung a leak.
The extra income galvanized me, and we started saving in earnest for another rental. We did other things to economize, always with early retirement as a goal. (I thought perhaps we would be finished working around the age of 50. I mean, who could expect to retire any earlier than that?) I figured we could buy another rental in about five years if I was careful about saving. I was concerned (okay, paranoid) about overextending ourselves with credit, and two mortgages felt like enough, so my goal was to buy the next rental with cash. We also didn’t want to forget about long-term financial goals, so continued to invest in Adam’s 401k and even bought some cheap stock in the company he worked for when it was made available.
In 2014 we had a good chunk saved toward our goal, but still not quite enough to actually buy anything. I read as much as I could about being a landlord online, and I experienced first hand how difficult it can be to be a landlord. The tenants we had in our gorgeous first home were continually late on rent and eventually stopped paying. (I found out later THEY BOUGHT A NEW BMW WHILE THEY WEREN’T PAYING ME RENT. Seriously.) I managed to get them to leave without having to take them to court, but they had broken nearly every plantation blind, their dog had destroyed most of the window screens and some carpet, and a window was broken. Also– inexplicably– nearly every light bulb in the house was burnt out.
I was disheartened because I thought they were good tenants and I was a good landlord. (HA!) Apparently, I am actually a pushover and garbage people lie to their landlord. (Who knew?) The higher end repairs made my grand plan seem a teensy bit less so. I found myself wishing I could just get $5 miniblinds and put down some vinyl flooring. That’s when I had a dual epiphany:
1) I can pay someone else to do this shit, and
2) cheaper houses have cheaper repairs
Lesson learned. I shopped around for a property manager and found that even after they took out their fee I was making more than when I had managed the house myself! Back on track and feeling sassy, I started researching where I could find the smaller, cheaper houses I had imagined for myself. Housing prices in the Charlotte area were on the upswing, but there were still plenty of formerly economically depressed areas surrounding Charlotte (like Gastonia, NC) that had old mill houses and strong rental markets. I read about revitalization projects in Gastonia (about 40 minutes from my home) and decided to focus my search there.
Then something absolutely life-changing happened! The company Adam worked for was sold, and as a shareholder (remember those stocks we bought?) Adam was able to make a profit. A BIG profit. So, just as we were reaching our savings goal for buying a cheap property we also had an enormous windfall drop in our laps. With the extra money our timeline accelerated dramatically. I started searching for my next rental immediately and managed to find the perfect property in Gastonia. I probably paid more than I should, but it was turn-key, which means I was immediately able to have my property manager list it for rent. It rented in less than a week, so all of a sudden I had $750 extra each month.
I had found several interesting small potential rental houses in Gastonia, but I now had a bigger sum of money to buy with than I had planned, so I decided to invest in a rental in our area of Charlotte. We’d bought our home in East Charlotte a few years before for an obscenely low price and it had already appreciated dramatically. Because I knew our area intimately, I felt comfortable buying a rental there even though it didn’t fit my new plan of only focusing on low-end rentals. I think buying for appreciation and buying for monthly cash flow are two very separate things usually, but as a resident of the area in question I felt comfortable departing from my plan in this instance.
So in the course of a few months (and through some very good luck) we went from one rental to three! Once we had all three rented the extra income snowballed. Working with the property manager was easy; they handled all repairs and direct deposited the rent in my account each month. I thought about all the adorable, affordable homes I’d found on my initial rental search and started formulating a plan for buying more.