Tag Archives: Pretirement

Is a basement apartment worth adding?

We have the opportunity add a basement apartment in our home. Does it make any sense?

basement apartment

Should we add a basement apartment in our house?

Longtime readers might recall that we kicked off a pretty significant basement remodel last year. We knew it was an inevitable future project, but we hadn’t wanted to start while we had such a little kid running around.

When my wife decided to change jobs, she ended up with some time off before starting the new job. An opportunity to have someone watch Pretired Baby while I smashed drywall was something that couldn’t be wasted. So I headed downstairs and grabbed my hammer.

As always, we underestimated how much time the project would take, mostly this time because we didn’t really figure in the time I’d have to keep things quiet for naptime. And because the scope kept expanding.

As we got deeper into the project, an idea that we’d talked about many times began to look increasingly realistic. The idea: add a basement apartment.

I talked quite awhile back about how we bought too much house when we moved here. We had specific things we were looking for and the size of the house wasn’t much of a consideration at the time. Although we love our house, I have to admit buying it was a significant mistake. A cheaper, more appropriately sized home would have been a smarter move. In fact, the extra amount we spent on this house is right about the same amount I currently need to declare myself officially pretired. Obviously if we were to downsize at some point (something that could still happen someday), I could declare myself financially free and be done with it. If we stay here, I will likely need to go back and bank a few more years of salary to put myself over the top.

Or is there another option? Could I downsize in-place? Let’s examine the situation.

  • Total house square footage: 2,500, split evenly upstairs and downstairs.
  • Upstairs layout: three bedrooms, one bathroom, dining room, kitchen. Bathroom is tiny.
  • Downstairs layout: One bathroom, which will be nicer than the upstairs bathroom when done, two bedrooms (One is tiny — only technically a bedroom, but would work for a kid. The other is currently planned as an office and has a fireplace in the room and no closet yet.)  There is an awkward entry area that would likely be a junk-collecting area and there is a large open room that would work nicely as a kitchen, but is currently planned as an exercise room. The laundry is also downstairs.
  • Our mortgage situation: Regular readers already know all about this, but the short story is I’ve paid off my portion of the mortgage to prepare for staying home with Pretired Baby. My wife now owes about $90,000 on her half, with about seven years until the loan matures. Her payment is around $1,500. Zillow puts the current value at $650,000. Appreciation was 11 percent and 14 percent the last two years, so if the market stays hot, we gain about $50,000 or so a year in value.
  • Other bills: Our core bills are around $1,600/month, so $800 each. We’ll call it $1,000 each to include some occasional splurges.
  • Potential rental income: We could easily get $800 for the space, potentially up to $1,000. While we’re daydreaming, it’s conceivable we could double that or even triple it if we went the VRBO route instead, although that would probably only be the high season, so likely we’d average back to the $1,000/month, especially once the extra tax and other expenses are considered.

That’s the big picture. So should we add a basement apartment or just finish up the space and enjoy it? I’m really not sure which way to go.

Yes, we should build a basement apartment:

  • More money is more money. Why wouldn’t we go get more since we’re already in mid-remodel anyway?
  • We’re not really using the space currently and things seem fine. We do have some things stored downstairs but that’d be a minor issue.
  • The extra money could essentially cover a nice chunk of our bills. If we brought in $1,000/month, we’d only need $500 each going forward. Appealing! And $1,000/month is about what my fourplex produced with a lot of hassle. This would be an easier way to get the same cashflow.

No, a basement apartment is a terrible idea:

  • Do we really want someone else living in our house? What if they’re nuts? We have a young child in the house. Is it safe?
  • There is extra work, so more scope creep. I’d have to run an additional drainline under the concrete floor. I’d also have to add laundry upstairs and while I sort of have a space for it, it’s awkward and would actually cause some storage issues.
  • Back to landlord hassles. I’ve really been enjoying not being a landlord the last few months. It’d really suck to go back.
  • We’d have to be considerate neighbors and keep the noise down. With a toddler running around and crying a few times every hour, that may not be possible. One of the best things about living in a house is that you can make lots of noise without annoying your neighbors.
  • Is $12,000 a year really worth it? We’re appreciating at four times that amount right now. I don’t mean to act like that’s pocket change, but in the grand scheme of things that amount of money doesn’t seem to compare favorably to the negatives.

As far as the extra works goes, the thing that scares me the most is adding laundry upstairs. Everything is possible, but the hassle and expense of that is off-putting. The biggest negative overall is just giving up part of our house — having a stranger around all the time. Maybe we’d get lucky and manage to rent to a busy airplane pilot who is gone all the time, but odds of that are slim. For $1,000/month, it just doesn’t seem worth it. If we were reliably bringing in $3,000/month or more, it’d be irresistibly doable.

But maybe I’m wrong. Small amounts of money do add up over time and this would greatly lower our overhead on a percentage basis. By effectively lowering my overhead to around $500/month, my existing pretirement fund would enough to cover all my bills, essentially rendering me essentially financially free without working another day of my life. (Naturally we probably wouldn’t want someone living in our house the rest of our lives, but presumably, we’d eventually sell and downsize so the rental phase would act as a bridge until the market ripened to where it became time to sell and move, at which time I’d have additional pretirement funds available.)

So on one hand, more work, more short-term expense and a major hit to our comfortable, private lives. On the other hand, I wouldn’t need to think about working ever again. Ever again. That sounds pretty sweet, too.

What do you think? We should add a basement apartment? What would you do? 

Time to take a look back

Two years since I quit my job and a year of blogging — how time flies

zprogressionLife is fleeting. I guess we all know that and it isn’t such a profound thing to say. But there are times when weeks flash by in what feels like minutes. “Wow,” we sigh after an exhausting week, “That week sure flew by.” And so the minutes of our days turn into weeks, which somehow become months. Then, in a quiet moment, we realize decades have slipped away from us.

That’s how it’s been around here the last few months. I can barely remember what’s been happening as I lurch from thing I have to do to thing that has to be done next. So, dear readers, I apologize for disappearing on you for the past several weeks. I won’t promise that it won’t happen again.

What’s been going on? Really, just life. Pretired Baby is officially a toddler now and has me on the move. He also had a major sleep regression a little over a month ago. That joyful stage included screaming in the middle of the night, a sleep schedule thrown into disarray and fighting us at bedtime. On top of that he’s been ridiculously clingy — always with me. To the point where he throws a fit if I even leave the room. Exhausting!

Meanwhile we’ve also been making a big push on the basement remodel project. I’ll save some of the detail for a later post, but let’s just say it’s been a good reminder that you never know what you’re going to find when you take drywall off walls. Naturally right at the same time my consulting client needed a bunch of work all at once so that has kept me hopping.

That’s all just a long way of saying I’m sorry I’ve been too busy to write. We’re making a few schedule tweaks to the childcare coverage and Pretired Baby’s sleep schedule has been getting back to normal so hopefully we’ll be back to normal soon. Fortunately we have a much-needed vacation coming up that should allow us to take a breath at least.

But these crazy past few weeks aren’t the only reason I’m pausing to take a look back.

I’m just a few days away from marking two years since I quit my horrible job to get ready for the baby’s arrival. And I just passed one year of blogging — appropriately I was too busy to post something about it on my anniversary.

This is what I mean by time flying by. Two years since I left my job? Really?

I don’t remember a ton of detail about that last day of work. I had some lunch with some buddies. I deleted a lot of old email. I left kind of early. All I know for sure is that the most dangerous place in Seattle that day was between my car and the freeway. The strips of rubber I left on the road that day are probably still there, marking my trail with black hate.

I quit knowing it was an uncertain move. Sure, I had no short-term economic worries. I had no debt outside of my real estate, enough free cash to last quite a while and a wife who still worked (even though I was committed to paying my own expenses). I was already on my wife’s free healthcare because the plan at that job was terrible. Since I hadn’t yet sold my fourplex, I had some theoretical monthly income and equity I could tap if I ever got desperate. And I’ve always known I probably need 3-5 more years of income to totally ice my pretirement.

But to keep things interesting, we decided that would be the perfect time to gut the kitchen and do a complete remodel. We sent Pretired Mama away for awhile and I got out the sledgehammer and destroyed the place. I’m still amazed how quickly we pulled that one off. It was a little crazy to try to squeeze that in before the baby arrived, but we were smart to get it done before he got here, I think, especially knowing how things are now.

I wisely quit in the spring so I would be able to enjoy the summer at home. And it was a beautiful summer. Yeah, I was busy working on the house, but it felt great and having wide open days with no job or baby meant I could move fast. No desk sitting meant I felt better than I had in years. I’d step outside to cut some studs on the chop saw and the sun would feel magical on my skin. The neighborhood was quiet and empty. Bliss.

Then the baby happened.

I had a lot to learn. How to feed him. How to calm him. I’ve changed a shitload of diapers. I’ve done a ton of laundry. Fortunately my wife got a few months off from her job so we were both home full-time for about four months together. Then it was just me. Then I spun up my consulting business again, doing most of my work during naps. And then I started a major basement remodel. Oh yeah, and started a blog.

The blog has grown far beyond my wildest dreams. It started as a lark, almost more as a way to get some things off my chest more than anything else. But the response has been tremendous and surprising. Now that this site is becoming a “thing” I’m beginning to formulate some actual goals for the future. Goals? Wow, I hope this doesn’t start to feel like a job! Either way I’ll share some of those goals in the coming days. 

And, yes, I have more posts to come. I still have a lot to say. I just need to find the time! 

So here’s to many more years of blogging and hopefully many more years of not working! Thanks for joining me on my journey!

One year with a baby — how am I holding up?

Pretired Baby had a good Christmas

Pretired Baby had a good Christmas

Today marks the one-year mark from the day Pretired Mama went back to work after her maternity leave. Closing the door and turning around to care for a baby all by myself is an overwhelming feeling.

In the early days, it actually wasn’t that difficult. Milk-sleep-poop-repeat. Milk-sleep-poop-repeat. The weather was even nice enough that we were able to take walks together nearly every day. He slept often enough that I had no trouble getting all my chores done each day, even having food on the table most days when Mama came home from work.

As time went on, we got into a routine. Since he was immobile and very mellow, I found the time to do some part-time consulting and even started a blog! Pretired Baby did his part, being quiet when I needed to talk to a client and exceeding all his growth benchmarks. So one year with a baby so far, here we are: comfortable with each other, hopelessly attached and used to our little routine.

I had grandparents watching him one day a week, which was a great help in my sanity as well as giving me the precious block of hours I needed to do some work. My wife has had quite a bit of time off as well, a few weeks between jobs and quite a bit of free time around the holidays, as well as quite a bit of freedom to work from home. Just recently we added a nanny one day a week to give me a little more bandwidth, which is helping quite a bit, but is expensive.

But all-in-all I think we did pretty well. Although some people think men shouldn’t be the primary caregiver, no one died and I’d even say he’s thriving. His language skills are developing very rapidly, he’s running around like crazy and is a very happy little boy.

That said, things are getting harder now. No longer can I just park him next to me while I work. He is also sleeping much less, cutting greatly into my work and blog time. Plus I’m more worn out now after a day of chasing him around. While I wouldn’t trade my time with him for money, the unrelenting nature of this job is exhausting. Some days I crave a break from him and then I feel guilty for that craving.

He needs more attention now and we run out of things to do on rainy days. I picked up The Toddler’s Busy Book but most of the suggestions are good for kids that are 2+. Hopefully it’ll come in handy a little later.

We’ll try to do our first trip to Hawaii this winter and I’m already dreading how crazy he’s going to get on the plane with no nap. Hopefully it’ll be worth it.

He’ll be two this summer and after that milestone we may look at daycare for one or two days a week to start getting him used to being around other kids. Unless you guys start clicking my ads, I’ll have to take on more work to cover that additional cost, but that could be a nice transition toward the extra money I really need to bank to reach my full pretirement goal.

So it should be an interesting few years coming up. It’s been an honor to be able to stay home and take care of my baby. I wish my wife could be here with me, but we’re both so glad one of us could be here.

I have no idea what the next year will look like, but one thing is for sure: it’ll continue to be an adventure!

Forcing cashflow — when should you do it?

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ever heard the term “forcing cashflow” before?

If you’ve done any real estate investing at all, sooner or later you’ll run into the concept but it’s a topic with implications well beyond real estate. It’s a tricky subject and one that I still struggle with today.

I faced the classic “forcing cashflow” situation a few years after I purchased my infamous fourplex. Regular readers might recall I actually bought two fourplexes at the same time from the same seller. After a few years of thin cashflow and pouring too much free cash in to feed the mortgages, I dumped the more problematic of the two and walked away with some decent appreciation profit.

I examined my situation. My personal monthly bills (outside of mortgage) totaled about $1,500 at the time. I was pretty obsessed with cashflow in those days so the math was simple based on my objective — specifically raising the monthly income from the property up above the amount I’d need to cover my bills. I talked to my friendly neighborhood mortgage broker and asked how much cash I’d need to bring in if I wanted to bring my payment down to $1,000/month (including escrow). Rents in the four units were around $650. So on paper I’d have $2,600 in revenue and after paying the mortgage my cashflow would be a sweet $1,600 (not counting maintenance, vacancies, etc.).  Not bad, right? Who wouldn’t want a free $1,000+ coming in every month?

Well, there are a few ways to look at forcing cashflow that complicate the matter. First we have to break out of the mindset that forcing cashflow is either “good” or “bad.” Rather there are various types of forcing cashflow that may or may not make it a good idea for your particular situation.

Old school real estate investors usually talk about forcing cashflow in the context of something amateurs do to make their numbers “work,” while they, the savvy investors, boast about their “cap rate” and similar methodologies to evaluate their purchases. And they’re quite right to do so because strictly forcing cashflow ignores the opportunity cost of putting the extra money elsewhere. For example, in my case, I would have been MUCH better off investing the money in stocks. That is to say the return I got on the additional funds was less than I could have gotten elsewhere. Thus my overall income situation would have been better by paying more attention to return and less to cashflow.

However! While all of that is true, there are other important ways to think about this. Let’s reverse things to help see this clearly. Imagine for a moment, I pulled some cash out of my property instead of putting cash in, say via a simple home equity line of credit loan (forcing a negative cashflow, if you follow me). Suddenly instead of the $1,000/month coming in, perhaps I have to feed it by $500. This could put an investor in an untenable situation, unable to keep up with payments and vulnerable in a crisis. Or to put this another way, if you were buying a rental property, how much should you put down? How could you know what the right amount is?

Cap Rate (along with GRM and GSI for you real estate investing nerds) is cashflow neutral — it only helps you determine whether the purchase (or sale) price is fair (based on revenue). Cashflow is profit-neutral, it just tells you how you’re structured. For example, you could have a 10 percent Cap Rate building (unheard of around here, we’re usually around 6 percent if we’re lucky), but if you bought it with 20 percent down and had some vacancy issues and repairs, you may have gotten a good “deal”, but the building could still be draining you every month. If you decided to force the cashflow, though, and put 50 percent down, you got the same good deal on your property and are enjoying some tasty cashflow. However, you’d have to examine your overall investment posture because you might have come out ahead by putting that additional cash into other investments.

Real estate makes a good example, but we face decisions on forcing cashflow every day, often without realizing it. Every time we’re faced with a decision on whether to pay for something up-front in order to save more over the long haul we’re making this kind of decision. Older car beginning to cost more and more in repairs — would a newer car put you ahead or behind? Worn-out refrigerator burning way too much electricity? Better to keep limping along or upgrade?

So how does one know how much to force cashflow? I have three ways I evaluate this kind of situation:

  1. Payback time – Identifying the time until you reach break-even can be a smart way to look at things. All else being equal, it can be a good idea to achieve the shortest possible break-even time with all invested money. Say you’re considering dropping $5,000 on new windows in your home to replace the drafty single-pane pieces of glass in your house. And let’s say your heating and cooling bill is $200/month and you estimate it’ll drop in half with new windows. So, “savings” of $100/month. Worth it? At a savings of $100/month, it’d take just over four years to break even. So it obviously comes down to how long you’d be staying in the house. If it’s your forever home, the sooner you get started the better. If you’re planning to move in two years, tape plastic over your windows and tough it out.
  2. Yield – Another way to look at forcing cashflow is to compare the income (or ongoing cost reduction) to what you could do in the market. In the above example we were considering investing $5,000 on new windows. What if we took that same amount and invested it in stocks? Using my 5 percent rule, we’ll assume we can make an annual 5 percent if we put our money to work in the market. Let’s compare that to our energy savings with our windows. Our energy bills drop by $100 in this example, so $1,200 per year. Making that on $5,000 isn’t too shabby. And if this is our forever house, we make that (24 percent!) into perpetuity (after year four). (Which is why it makes so much sense to make your house as energy efficient as possible. Although keep in mind saving $100 a month may not be realistic for quite a few of you.) But you do effectively make zero for four years so it’s a long term investment and that’s the way you have to look at it (although you’ll be warmer in the meantime, which is nice). And, of course, you’ll want to count the money you’re NOT making for four years in your math.
  3. Bar lowering – Traditional investors will scoff at me (rightfully maybe) for this one, but since my goal is pretirement, there is another way I look at things. I call it bar lowering and the idea is that even if your potential investment doesn’t make sense under the first two items, it may still be worth doing if it brings your pretirement closer. The idea is that it may be easier and simpler (and more guaranteed) to spend some money lowering your expenses to bring your needed income amount down. The most common example of this is paying off a mortgage. If your interest rate is only 3 percent, it may not make sense mathematically to pay off your mortgage when you could probably make more in the stock market. Let the stock market gains pay for your mortgage and keep the difference, right? Depending on your overall situation, especially your age, it might actually make more sense to take the guaranteed win of paying off your mortgage, which also lowers the amount of passive income you need each month. In effect, this is what we’re doing when we buy the new windows above as well. By dropping our bill by $100 a month, that’s $24,000 we don’t need to earn and invest (again based on 5 percent — $24,000 * 5% = $1,200/year). The basic idea here is that it’s easier and less risky to cut costs than to build up an investment portfolio. So it’s just another way of cutting “spending” even though it’s not the mindless consumerism we talk about so often here on Pretired.org.

So to me it’s not as simple as just comparing everything against what I could do in the market, although that’s become my main approach. And there are other things that complicate these decisions further. How do you really figure out what the savings could be on something like new windows? Basically it comes down to a guess. And then there are factors like resale value and your personal comfort to be considered.

For example, I constantly struggle with whether it makes sense to add solar panels to my house — something I really want. We currently budget $100/month for electricity (yes we have some of the lowest-cost power here in Seattle). I estimate it’d take $15,000 to solarize our house. That means the payback would be over 12 years! That’s hopelessly long — especially considering that we may not stay here forever. I really want them, but it just makes no financial sense. The only thing that tempts me is the bar lowering. With one up-front payment, I’d never have to pay for electricity as long as we stayed here. My share of the minimum monthly bills requirement would drop to a tiny $700!

Yet, the equivalent amount invested would only yield maybe $62/month (applying 5% to $15,000 again). And because I wouldn’t be paying a bill of $100/month, it’d be worth it, right? I don’t know! See? Confusing!

We make these choices every day without realizing it. Some are simpler than others. For example, we finally got smart and bought our own cable modem instead of leasing one from the cable company. It took nearly a year to break even but now we have the lower bill and every month is gravy. Not a big deal, but just another little hole to plug in our budget. We switched the gas furnace a few years ago at considerable expense. That was probably a 3-4 year payback timeframe, but we’re warmer and the ongoing bill is lower (lower monthly overhead).

Do I regret forcing cashflow on my old fourplex? I wouldn’t do it again. In retrospect, I think I would have been better off improving the building and increasing the rents versus trying to lower the financing overhead. But if I’m honest, if I could go back in time I’d sell that building much earlier and dive into the stock market head first. I became so obsessed with cashflow, I forgot to keep an eye on the big picture. Fortunately what I learned about cashflow and the positives and negatives of forcing cashflow help me greatly today as I put together the final elements of my pretirement.

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