I watched a lot of people get caught up in the housing craze in the 2000’s. I worked along side people who were making generally the same amount of money I was making who were buying three hundred thousand dollar houses. In just a few short years I knew people who were purchasing half million dollar houses. Every one of the people that I knew that did this were college educated people. Sharks don’t care, all blood tastes the same to them. We were subject to our fair share of ridicule for renting in those days. Anybody with an ounce of common sense could see the writing on the wall. I knew a few people who parlayed the housing bubble into big gains, people who sold at the top. I know some who lost multiple houses and had to start back at zero. And I’ve met people who are in debt forever. I met one fellow who told me that he had reached a recent milestone and he was now less than one million dollars in debt!
I think going through that period did one of two things for most people a) either you got burned had your credit ruined forever or b)you learned a valuable lesson in frugality, that you didn’t need to keep up with the Joneses to be fulfilled.
I’m happy now that we didn’t buy a house in those day and we continued to rent. By the time we ended up buying a house the interest rates were about as low as they could go and since I am a veteran we didn’t have to come up with a down payment. That was 2012. The house that we bought hadn’t changed since they built it in 1970 and thats what I wanted. It was probably the bottom of the market in Atlanta at the time. I couldn’t believe that we got that mortgage at below 4% interest.
It wasn’t our ideal neighborhood an it wasn’t our ideal street either. It seemed alright though. Lots of other houses that had been “updated” were vastly more expensive and usually pretty chintzy. We paid a little less than 140k for that house with about half an acre of land. I intended all along to renovate it and as soon as we moved in I went to work. It was a lot of work but it kept me busy. We expected to stay there for a long time I think. Little by little the location with all of the hustle and bustle turned out to be a location we didn’t like. Property taxes were exorbitant! School taxes were the primary culprit and we didn’t even have kids!
Renters usually don’t realize that they are paying the property taxes for their landlords. I realized that but I didn’t really know to what tune we were paying them. After we bought the house I knew for sure! I’m pretty sure that my neighbors didn’t like me and they never would speak at all. A few people were nice but overall most of the people there were just completely oblivious as to what was going on there. Foreclosures had caused several houses to fall to slum lords and that was like leaving the fence gate open; anyone had a good reason to come in. Burglaries happened in broad daylight the entire time we lived there. They got more and more brazen all the time. We didn’t like it.
Little by little I got the house in a decent state of renovation especially the first floor and kitchen. I put a deck on the back of the house and knocked out part of the brick wall under a window and installed a french door that opened out onto the deck. We put in new stainless steel fixtures new cabinets and new countertops. I built the cabinet boxes in the garage so they only cost the price of the material and the hardware. So probably one tenth what they would have cost and ten times the quality too. They weren’t perfect but I used quality material and the best hardware on the market. I built the doors out of bamboo plywood which was very expensive but worth it. That kitchen looked crazy! It sold the house. There were lots of fancy features in that house that I built in. It took a lot of studying to figure out how to do all of that stuff and that experience is invaluable.
The best thing about doing a project like remodeling a house is that it is delayed gratification or to put it another way it is delayed compensation. You’re never going to get any bang for your buck until you sell and you aren’t guaranteed that you will get what you are asking either. You have to make a judgement call on whether to purchase a place and make a determination if it will be a profitable project for you. After you decide that it is you have to be ready to live in a construction zone too. Some people might not be able to cope with that. It’s a stressful situation. After a certain amount of time all you want is for it to be finished. This can cause you to start taking short cuts which is a mistake. If you don’t succumb to this it will be a lot more fulfilling after it is complete. A million people have done it, we were certainly not exceptional.
Back to delayed gratification. Once you’ve finished your project and hopefully you paid for it as you went you’ve got all of your materials and all of your labor stored in your renovation. This isn’t making you any money obviously. That’s okay though because when you finally do sell it you make a windfall. Not everyone will get to experience a windfall in their lives. Most people live hand to mouth and honestly money is hard to save.
This all matters because we knew that we needed to move out of the city. By this time I had found permaculture and became an ardent student. It seemed like engineering to me but with an ethical approach. The engineering that I had done for the past ten years was not ethical in any sense of the word, it was development for developments sake. That grated on me the most. I enjoyed the work of designing I just hated what I had to design.
So designing something that worked with nature was a breath of fresh air for me. It changed my life. That’s easy to write and it sounds deep but now I realize that it was the changes that I was already going through that led me to permaculture. If it had come along before I would have probably just not have even noticed. I wouldn’t have been ready for it.
We did the best we could with what we had there on that little lot in the urban town of Tucker. It wasn’t enough. We didn’t belong anymore. Atlanta had changed a lot and we had to. I knew it was time to leave. Some devastating disasters happened to people that we were very close to and that had a strong bearing on us wanting to leave.