By Jam Michael McDonald, Zoocasa
Buying a home takes a lot of planning and can be an expensive endeavour. You have to think about your down payment, your mortgage and mortgage payments, your expectations on your space, your timeframe, your closing costs—the list is endless.
So if you’re spending a bunch of money, how can buying a home make you more financially independent?
First, change your perspective
Some investments are a lot clearer: put your money into this GIC and you’ll receive this return in this many days. It’s easy to see, easy to calculate, and easy to do.
Investing in real estate is an entirely different game, so you have to think of it differently. You’ll have initial costs, you’ll be forking out money, and you’ll feel kind of broke. And that’s okay. These “expenses” when buying a home should be looked at as part of the overall investment. There are some that are pure cost—home inspection, lawyer fees, other closing costs—but they all allow the transaction to occur, and they’re not extravagant compared to the cost of the home.
Think of a real estate investment as long-term, not short-term; complex, not simple; hands-on, not passive.
You can make real decisions about your home to save you money
I always enjoy chatting with readers of my blogs, columns and books. The other day I had an especially enjoyable dialogue with a 28 year old Winnipeg-based real estate investor named Saxon Funk. Saxon had bought the Canadian edition of Findependence Day and after a few emails introduced himself on the phone by noting he was the same age the protagonist in the book — Jamie — was when he embarked on the 22-year voyage to financial independence described in the novel.
After graduating from high school, Saxon tried door-to-door selling and selling insurance. He discovered day trading and foreign exchange trading in his early 20s but despite some success, learned that the activity was just as apt to leave him broke. Ultimately, real estate became his preferred road to financial freedom.
3-month mini-vacation in Asia
What really got my attention was the fact he had read a book featured in this blog earlier this summer: Timothy Ferriss’s The Four-Hour Workweek. Not because of my blog, I might add: Saxon read the book three years ago and actually enjoyed a three-month “mini-retirement” in Asia last year, in company with his wife.
Saxon works from home although he is still a salaried employee with one of the telecommunications giants based in the west. But he has a firm plan for achieving financial independence through various passive streams of income. Part of his search included a perusal of Ferriss’s material and Robert Kyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad, as well as this site.
Saxon is attempting to build his passive investment income through vehicles like Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and actively managed reasonably priced mutual funds from Mawer Investment Management. But his real play for findependence comes through real estate. He started while being frustrated in a previous job and reading various books about financial freedom. He was attracted to real estate when he discovered he could buy properties at 10% down, and he caught the Winnipeg real estate cycle at just the right time. Some properties in the city have doubled and tripled since he began buying properties.
Real estate is his main path to Findependence
He’s not a member of the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN) or its rivals but Saxon could be the poster boy for any of those educational outfits. He certainly speaks their language, speaking of the 14 “doors” he owned at one point, before selling one of his buildings (a triplex) at a tidy profit. He’s now at eight doors, as he wants the stability of lower levels of debt servicing. Similar to Jamie and Sheena in the novel, he and his wife live in one of the units of the building he still owns, renting out the rest.
He’s not implemented too much of the Ferriss material, other than absorbing the power of outsourcing and technology. So he has a 1 800 number he gives to tenants and when he’s out of the country can manage his properties by outsourcing to property managers closer to home. He’s not yet down to a four-hour workweek (neither am I!) but he does have a vision of living in places like Thailand, where you can get by comfortably on a Canadian income of $1,500 a month.
He doesn’t consider himself findependent yet, but notes that if he were 65 (or 67), the combination of being debt-free, rental income and the usual government sources of retirement income (CPP, OAS), he would be able to enjoy the kind of lifestyle championed by Ferriss et al.
“I could be. We would still have food on table. I don’t worry about getting fired or let go; the main property we live in covers all our bills and puts money in our pocket. If I were 65 and qualified for CPP and OAS, yes we would be more than free but since we still have another 40 years to go; most of our money goes to giving, investing and trips. So we’re at the point where our money is all play money.”
Despite being a member of the generation that has grown up with the Internet, Saxon views himself as “an old soul” who is not totally sold by the promises of web-based freedom. He does have the beginnings of a website at www.saxonfunk.com but has yet to pursue the blogging that would be part of it.
Another millennial’s dream of Findependence
For another story of a millennial inspired by Findependence Day, read about Sean Cooper’s plan to be findependent, or at least mortgage free, by age 31. You can find it here at the new Financial Independence Hub (which was launched a week ago). And you can read a new post there about how there seems to be a trend developing here.
Once it’s no longer necessary to commute to and from a downtown or suburban corporate job, where in the world do you want to be? I touched on this in a recent MoneySense blog on reverse mortgages. Most full retirees know they want to be close to hospitals, universities and libraries. They don’t need to be as close to the downtown core or even be near major transit systems though that can be a nice extra if they value city culture and/or friends and family still live there.
Throughout my personal Findependence journey this summer I’ve been posting photos of the community I live in: Long Branch, Ontario. It’s closer to downtown Toronto than its trendier neighbour to the west, Port Credit. The beach photo below, for example, I put on social media after biking along the (relatively) new boardwalk at the foot of 41st Street. As I commented at the time, at first glance you may think the photo is of some exotic beach somewhere in the south — it’s hard to believe it’s a mere 15-minute GO train ride from downtown Toronto. When I had one-hour commutes either to Don Mills or Bloor & Sherbourne, it sometimes seemed our home’s location was a bit of an inconvenience. It took a 12-minute car ride (or bus) just to get to the subway, which is why the three members of our family have three cars (though the youngest member is abroad so the car is on blocks).
Now that I’m semi-retired (that’s what I’m calling it for the balance of the summer, anyway!), I’ve really come to appreciate the community in which we live. In addition to the beach and bike paths that go from Mississauga to downtown Toronto, there’s a post office (convenient in my line of work), a library (ditto!) and quite recently a Starbucks set up shop: always a good sign for impending gentrification. The photo below of the path by the lake is the indirect route from the Starbucks to my home, during which time I generally carry back a library book or two that was on hold, and listen to podcasts. Not a bad commute!
Mind you, one couple I know on our street doesn’t like all this change and are preparing to beat a retreat for small-town Ontario. Not us: for now, this place is perfect: it’s a great base for full-time employment or part-time and if and when it comes time to “fully retire,” it has all the necessary amenities, some of which I’ve shown in scattered photos in this blog. If you’re still on the “before” end of Findependence, you might want to think about the place you want to be once you do achieve it. Hopefully this blog gives you a few ideas of what’s important.
I’ve not included photos of medical facilities but clearly that should be a consideration too: there are walk-in clinics and hospitals here. Local universities or colleges are a nice extra too: my parents enjoyed their last years in London, Ontario because they were right next door to the University of Western Ontario and took full advantage of it.
Here’s a Q&A about Financial Independence conducted with Money on Trees. The first part of the interview was posted Thursday morning here, with the second part scheduled for next Tuesday.
Note that I’ll be giving a similar talk about Findependence, real estate and personal finance tonight in Brampton (Pearson Convention Center) for the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN). REIN members attending will receive an e-book version of the MoneySense Beginner’s Guide to Personal Finance, plus the just-published April issue of the magazine, and possibly a copy of Findependence Day.