A Retirement Story – Part 2

This is part two of my parent’s retirement story.  Click here if you would like to catch up on part one.  Their story has inspired me to aim for early retirement and I hope that it will inspire you too. Now I want to talk about housing and how it has figured into their story.  There are two parts to this story — housing pre-retirement and post-retirement.  This post focuses on the pre-retirement part of things.

Retirement story part 2 messy money

There is a large element to housing that is personal and emotional.  I would like to think that every housing decision we have made has been all about logic but I know it is not true.  There is a lot of ego and psychological junk tied up in where we choose to hang our hat every night. If it was just about logic and utility, the concept of curb appeal would not be necessary.  We would all live in plain boxes.  Or maybe it is just me that has a lot of mental angst tied up in our house.  I talked about this in Life in a McMansion.  As I look back over my parents housing and real estate decisions I can see how they benefited by avoiding emotional attachments to their houses.  They have no problem telling me on a regular basis that we should sell and move on.  I gasp and ask, “But what about the children?”

Yes, I somehow survived moving a lot as a child.

We lived in a number of houses while I was growing up and we moved when it suited my parents or when there was an opportunity they could not pass up.   My husband on the other hand lived in the same house until he left to marry me.  It brings an interesting dynamic to our relationship and our views on housing.  Just warning you as this will likely come up in a future post.

If at first you don’t succeed…

My parent first foray into real-estate was a failure.  Their starter home was in a new development and the builder went bankrupt after they had moved in.  Houses that were half-finished and left to decay.  The houses that were finished were taken back by the bank and since they could not be sold because of the condition of the development they were turned into short-term rentals (think — crack houses) and the whole place started to look like a scene from The Walking Dead.  My Mom tells me that it was not uncommon to find chickens running around the front yard. chicken in the yard messy money

Before there were hints of something rotten going on in the development my parents had realized they would like to be closer to extended family and had started building a new (modest) house on some land they had bought from my Grandfather.

When it came time to sell the house in the subdivision from hell, it was clear it was not going to happen.  In the end, my Dad walked into the bank and handed over the keys.  I think that this would have destroyed most people or at least made them gun-shy about home ownership, but they recovered.  I asked my Dad about his trip the bank and he said, “Not the best day of my life, but what else could we do.”

My parents moved to their new house while it was still under construction.  They did as much of the work on the house they could do themselves.  They did bring in trades to do the work that was dangerous or was required to pass the building inspection but most of it was built with their own sweat.  In the beginning the they did not have any power in the house.  The power company brought the power to the edge of the property and left on outlet attached to the hydro pool.  My Mom would get up in the morning and march to road with the electric frying pan and make my Dad breakfast at the roadside and my mom would wave at people as they drove by.  I don’t know if that would be legal these days – but they made it work.

We did eventually get electricity and my parents finished the house but after a few years (and a few babies) it was just too small for us and and not build an addition, they decided what they really wanted was waterfront property.  We moved.

Sweat Equity Pays

My parents bought a series of houses that were all in serious need of tender loving care.  Extreme TLC in some cases.  I can’t tell you the several times I have walked into my parents latest purchase and looked at them and said, “What on EARTH have you done?!?”  They have this gift of being able to see beyond the surface and into the investment potential of a property.  They make sure the house had good bones, is in the right location and they are not afraid of investing sweat equity to bring out a property\s full potential.  They can see diamonds in the rough.

When I was a teenager, my Mom bought some inexpensive lakefront property (sounds cabin messy moneylike an oxymoron doesn’t it) and they decided to build a cottage/cabin. Again, they built as much of it they could do themselves.  My Dad drew up the blueprints.  You might remember from part 1 of this story that my dad has a grade 10 education and has no drafting experience.  He spent hours working on those plans.  The bulk of the building materials they used were “reclaimed.”  I remember that the roofing was made from a recycled above-ground pool. The cottage had character and was a masterpiece by the time they were done.  It looked like something out of a storybook.

The equity from both their home and recreational property made a difference when it came time to retire. I understand that they are “Boomers” and were blessed with a positive real-estate environment and that my generation and the ones that follow may need to think about real-estate and housing in a different way.

But I think there are lessons in their story.

They did not let a failure deter them.  After the first real-estate fiasco, they could have thrown up their hands and said “Well that’s it for us,” but they didn’t. They kept going and didn’t let that setback define them.

Sweat equity pays dividends.  They got more out of their houses than they put into them.  It was hard at times, a bit chaotic living in spaces under renovation, with a bunch of kids but it paid off.  Take advantage of opportunities that others miss.  My parents could see the potential and profit where others could not.  I also believe people overestimate the amount of work needed to fix up a house and vastly underestimate the upkeep of a new house.

Housing matters.  It takes up a good chunk of our income, regardless if you are a renter or a homeowner.  We all want to live somewhere we love but we also need to be pragmatic.  The housing choices we make during our working years have a significant impact on our retirement.

Where do my parent’s fall on the Buy vs. Rent debate?

There was a time where they felt renting was a waste of money.  They don’t any more, but I will talk about that next time.  Their post retirement housing story is even more interesting.  I promise.

P.S.  As I write this my parents are travelling (frugally) in Wales.  I’m a little bit jealous.

32 Comments


    1. Thanks Amos. I recently read that health is the number one issue for people approaching retirement and many plan to keep working but life has other plans. Good to plan ahead.

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  1. Wow, they really do have an amazing story. My thoughts as a patent go the same way yours do… The kids! I moved around a lot as a child, too, and I survived, but we moved around the country a lot, and there is some stability that I wish we had had. But moving within our own city wouldn’t be so bad if we were able to recognize good opportunities like your parents.
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    1. I moved a lot and I survived too. My kids are really enjoying school and I don’t want to disrupt that so we are staying put for a few more years anyway.

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  2. Great story about your parents. As time passes we realize how much we learn from them, especially when you become a parent. Home Renovations can be a curse or a blessing. I want sweat equity when I buy my home, but the misses doesn’t. We will see who wins, when we buy our first home. Good Luck.
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    1. Thanks. Good luck with your ultimate new vs. old home decision. Happy wife, happy life?

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  3. I certainly am not the most handy of people so I ended up buying a smaller house that was a bit newer and wouldn’t require as much upkeep.

    Over the past few years I started to consider upgrading as I continued to earn more in my job. However, after thinking it through I’ve done a complete 180 and think I’ll stick around. My opinion of real estate has become a lot more lifestyle focused rather than investment orientated. I like my little house, and I’m not eager to upgrade.

    Your parents really worked hard and it paid off. Kudos to your mom for frying that bacon at the end of the your driveway!
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    1. Work around the house can be hard. I am lucky that I can go to my parents for advice and help because we are not born with the knowledge. Don’t be afraid to hang on to your smaller house. The carrying costs of a bigger house have been more than I thought.

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  4. Retirement is a big headache nowadays.
    One has to plan well in advance, the Western World is slowly getting old and I don’t know whether the pension system is sustainable or not.
    When I hear retirement, I already think of savings. I think it’s wise to put retirement ahead of anything.

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    1. I worry about the pension system and wonder what will need to happen to sustain it. Will be interesting. Thanks for coming by.

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  5. I like this:

    “people overestimate the amount of work needed to fix up a house and vastly underestimate the upkeep of a new house”

    Totally agree. Not all older homes are money pits, and new homes aren’t maintenance free. Some newer homes, in the first year or two, seem to have a truly surprising level of work needed due to defects etc.
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    1. We have bought new and underestimated the extras – fencing, painting, light fixtures and yes defects. It adds up.

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  6. I love this story! We’ve done the fixer upper thing twice now. I wish we’d kept at it like your parents did. I just don’t think we enjoy it as much as we thought we would. I would like to downsize too, although it’s been great having a house with an upstairs apartment with our son living at home. It’s just a bear to heat and maintain a 125 year old home in snow country. It’s on the market now, and I think we’ll rent next time. I’d rather not, but it will be a lot easier to get out of if we want to move again. My ideal living situation is an RV. Every morning when you wake up is a new opportunity for a grand adventure. Plus, you never end up stuck with bad neighbors. You just gas up your “house” and off you go! 🙂

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    1. I have fantasies about living in an RV one day. I don’t know if the reality would live up the fantasy but maybe I will get a chance to try. LOL about the neighbours!

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  7. You are right! Housing is an emotional thing for many people. I had a hard time “finding the right place” when I went to buy my first house. Now I like my house, I don’t LOVE it and I’d be willing to move if there was a good reason/opportunity. Thanks for sharing with us!

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    1. Hi Kayla, Yes lots of emotional baggage tied up in an inanimate object. Thanks for stopping by.

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  8. My emotional involvement in my home is one of detachment at this point. It’s too big and too much work and I want to downsize but can’t get husband on board yet. I think if we didn’t have any kids at home anymore he might be easier to convince but we still have one. In any case we’ve agreed to downsize in about 4 – 5 years and revisit this decision annually (i.e. maybe sooner). I’m not a big fan of moving a lot (although it does help you get rid of clutter) because of land transfer costs and moving fees. I’m not opposed to renting at all. Something about being maintenance free is very appealing to me.

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    1. You are right the costs of moving can be prohibitive so you want to get it right. I look forward to downsizing and hope I will know when the time is right.

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  9. “Or maybe it is just me that has a lot of mental angst tied up in our house.” Don’t worry. It’s not just you : ) I used to put way too much emotional weight on the “dream home” we would some day own. Now we own it (well, the bank still owns far too much of it), and I would do things very differently if I could go back in time. I’m going to have to look at your McMansion story.

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    1. Nice to hear I am not alone. The house is joyful pain in the butt. LOL

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  10. Seems like your parents just roll with the punches, never letting bad experiences get them down. Good for them! Certainly good role models.
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    1. They are but I should tell you their adventures with vehicles were really bad. LOL I have learned a lot from them.

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    1. They are handy people (and great to have around because they have helped me with a thing or two around the house) Sweat equity has worked for them.

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  11. Wow! I knew a few people who moved a lot, but it never seemed to affect the people involved. I can see it may affect the children much more than you realize. My children did not like that we downsized (17 years ago) because it meant losing their childhood home. When the children left, there was no reason to have a 5 bedroom home.
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    1. Yes, no point hanging on to a great big house if the kids have left the nest. My parents downsized after we left and said they did it so we couldn’t come back home again. LOL

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    1. Thanks Michael – I try to be open with my kids too about how things work beyond saying “we can’t afford it.”LOL I honestly believe that a lot of our financial tendencies are set when we are just kids watching the adults around us.

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  12. Your parents are made of steel! That’s quite a bit to endure and they managed to come through it all. Kudos to them! We are renting until we relocate to a lower cost of living state. Even then, if we buy, we don’t want a house. A two bedroom condo will do nicely.

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    1. There was a time where I NEVER would have considered renting. I see things very differently now and home ownership is not everything it is cracked up to be. One day I will post about our real estate misadventures. LOL. Thanks for visiting.

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    1. Real estate can be interesting. We have a few of our own interesting real estate adventures. It makes life interesting. Good luck with your own adventures in real estate. Thanks for stopping by.

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