I can’t contain it any more. G and I bought a house! Actually, three of them if we are getting technical 🙂 We are so excited, and thought we’d take some time to share the story of how we went from ‘renters for life’ to ‘homeowners!’
When G and I first got engaged, we had a casual conversation about our future. At the time, we firmly agreed: we would be renters for life. We loved Brooklyn. We loved our lifestyle, and we basically wanted to stay forever…
and then the pandemic hit two years later.
We took a two week trip to my parent’s place in Massachusetts that turned into a five month staycation. It was our first dose of suburban life, with lots of board games and reading, and four adults to take turns with the cleaning and cooking. It was mostly great, until we got our Brooklyn lease renewal reminder (and a lovely $200/month rent increase from our very friendly landlord in the middle of a pandemic), prompting us to emerge from the suburbs and return to the city to make the big decision — should we stay or should we go now*.
There were (and still are) so many reasons to stay. New York is one of the best places to live. It has everything- food, culture, and a constant humming reminder to live life fully, even in it’s most grim moments. Though I reluctantly** moved to the city in 2010, it was the place I could never imagine being permanently away from.
And here we are. Away from Brooklyn and settling into our new life in Providence, Rhode Island.
This is how it mostly happened. Somewhere in the course of the pandemic, probably after argument number 12 on how to correctly store pots, I started craving something more permanent. Some place to nest, some place we could drill a hole and not worry about security deposits. A few quick Zillow searches for “2BD Brooklyn” quickly squashed my dreams of Brooklyn property ownership.
Then G brought up the idea of buying an investment property. Some place we could buy and rent out, or resell later.
I wish I could say that I jumped immediately onboard at making a sensible financial decision for our future. But I did not. Of course, I didn’t. I balked at the idea of giving up my high rise life for trips to Lowes.
But I’m not (entirely) a monster. I did what I do best, I found stacks and stacks of books on real estate investment and then I read them. All of them. And I got hooked. Suddenly trips to Lowes didn’t seem that bad. Just kidding. They still seemed bad. But not as bad.
From my research, I found that there are many, many forms of real estate investment (REI). Some people buy a house*** to rent out. Some people buy disgusting property and fix it up and sell it at a profit. Chances are you’ve seen some sort of real estate investment on tv (hello Chip and Joanna). It’s a whole Thing with a capital T with thousands of forums, podcasts, mentors.
After a bit of back and forth, okay it was MONTHS of back and forth, G and I decided that we would look for small multifamily properties that had between 2-4 separate units. The basic idea would be to live in one unit, and rent out the other units. Those rents would then cover the mortgage, expenses and have some $$ leftover for future investments.
The only question was WHERE? New York City lacked “small” multi-families, so the search expanded across the New York suburbs — by which I mean New York City to Maine. Anything that could be somewhat close to THE city and possibly close to my parents (as a pandemic security blanket).
By chance, we visited Providence, RI in September for a small, covid-compliant wedding for my amazing cousin Rublu and his now-wife, Bridget. Despite being only 50 minutes from my parents, I had never really explored Providence (unless it was to drive through on my way to Steph).
Over the weekend, we explored the different historic neighborhoods, the multiple water views, and best of all, tasted some of the best food we’d had in months. Seriously, why did no one tell me about Providence’s food scene?? We ate our way through freshly baked walnut raisin breads, the best breakfast sandwich (eggs, bacon, avocado, chipotle mayo, hash browns with a bit of arugula and tomato to keep it healthy), and the most delicious Italian food to rival the North End.
In short, we fell in love. With the food and the affordable housing prices.
So we spent the next month visiting different multi-family properties until we landed on our dream home. Well our second dream home. First, we put in an offer on this stunning 1880s Nationally registered Italianate house with three colorful apartments, which was rejected within 4 hours of us making the offer. Thank goodness. because I think starting off with a 100 year+ house would have been …. a more challenging project.
Important Note: I want to be super clear buying an investment property is very different from buying a normal house. Before starting our search, Gabriel and I researched average rent prices, typical maintenance costs, and only visited houses where the numbers made sense. For us, the current rents had to cover the mortgage, taxes, short and long term expenses, and then have a least $600 a month left over. Instead of coveting countertops, we were knee deep in excel spreadsheets. If you are AT ALL interested in investment properties, make sure that you do your research.
The actual dream home a 2005 side by side triplex– three two floor condo-like apartments– in the last “up and coming” part of the fancy East Side of Providence. Finding both a new(er) construction in a city where the average home age is 70 years old AND where the apartments are not on top of each other is a UNICORN find. As in, it does not exist. It was so rare, my risk-adverse butt told G that “maybe we should make an offer before we see it?”
This insane proposition was backed up our real estate agent (and my parents) which felt like a sign. So we put in an offer (with a 48 hour acceptance clause) and, waited. And waited. And waited.
I assumed this would be like our last offer- rejected. And I wasn’t surprised. It turns out that G and I weren’t the only ones with the novel idea to buy investment properties in the last affordable “big” city in New England. Everywhere we went (in online forums) were filled with how the investment market has been insane, with people making offers sight unseen with $50k-100k over the asking price.
It turns out the savy real estate agent listing the house wanted to wait until the open house on Sunday to see how many offers they could get.
“Well… they have neither accepted nor rejected your offer,” our real estate agent explained.
We decided to use our new time to actually visit the house, and … it was exactly like the photos. Huge sunlight windows, copious closet space, and best of all, some room for improvement. Yes, I liked the fact that the house was good as is, but that G and I could actually do some very light, non-essential improvements. I was convinced that this was THE house.
We knew the competition would be step, so we decided to put in another offer, higher than before, with an escalation clause saying we would beat all other bids by a specific amount up to a specific number.
I won’t bore you with the details — I’ll save that for another post— but after 2 weeks, some intense back and forth and the some of the most stressful and enraging conversations— our offer was accepted. It was an intense learning curve, and an even more intense month of waiting to close, where G and I decided not to tell anyone about our “success” for fear it would all be taken away from us. Even up until closing, I didn’t believe it would actually go through.
But it did. On December 18, 2020, G and I became homeowners.
Our plan is to spend the next couple of months figuring out how to be the best landlords (very interesting so far) and make some slight improvements to the house. We’ve already painted the entire house in a very fashionable, renter friendly repose gray. I hope you enjoy long winded posts about REI and Home Improvement, because it’s coming your way.
And then, G and I hope to buy more properties in the near future. One very conservative goal is a house a year (or more) and our more ambitious goal is to get 10 units within the next five years. But of course, let’s see how this first property goes.
Lucky for you, I’ll be trying to document our first forays into home improvements and home ownership. I hope you’ll stick with me!
*bonus points to you if you got the Clash reference.
**when you grow up in Connecticut, everyone moves to the city. I knew I’d end up there eventually, but I thought I’d live abroad for longer before I actually moved.
*** I’m using house as an example. You can also buy apartment complexes, land, water– anything that can be turned into someone’s home.