Downsizing Complete

Downsizing complete. We are officially moved in downstairs and have done most of what we said we were going to do. When we decided to downsize, we knew it would be challenging, but I don’t think we expected it to be so much work. We definitely took on a lot emotionally and financially (at least to start). The purpose of the downsizing effort was to take some of the pressure off of me after I had gotten laid off. I knew I’d get another job but I was sick of the immense pressure that comes along with maintaing a big house in an affluent neighborhood. Let me give you a brief history of the last few years and what led to this decision…….

Brief History

If you haven’t read my previous post on the subject you can read it here: Downsizing .

We are NOT a keep up with the Joneses kind of family but we do own a big two-family house in an upscale Boston suburb. We are lucky as this was a family property and not a house we had to purchase at market prices. The house was completely renovated upstairs in the larger unit in 2004. We did this project when my youngest was born 12 years ago. She was actually born downstairs while construction was going on. We gutted the second floor and added a new 3rd floor to a big colonial. This included everything back to the studs on floor two, raising the roof and adding the new 3rd floor of the same size. It was a massive project and when it was done, it was incredibly beautiful and perfect in almost every way. I had 2500 square feet of living space with a laundry room, two living rooms, a dining room, 2.5 baths, a sun room, and two zone heating and cooling. This was our almost forever home and we planned to stay at the very least until the kids went to college.

After completion of the upstairs unit, I rented out the first floor, moved upstairs and started collecting rent. Things were pretty damn good. My property tax went way up, but I had a good job and was able to handle it pretty easily with getting the rental check every month.

Then about 9 years in I got laid off from my favorite job I ever had. I loved the people and the work and was extremely saddened to have to go elsewhere. I rallied and I landed a good job along with a pretty decent increase in salary. My career started to take off. I was promoted in 9 months and was now the Technical Lead of a team of developers on a billion dollar product. Things were ok. It wasn’t as good as the previous job, but it was ok and I had good friends there along with a bigger salary and more responsibility. Then this year, almost three years later it happened again. I got laid off as outsourcing and politics combined to stick it to me. I was pretty despondent. I just didn’t want to go through this again. I was feeling the pressure of 14K in property taxes and no job. We were ok, as we had some money saved but I just didn’t want to deal with this. We also had two plane trips within three months planned and paid for while I was out of work.

I mentioned to my wife that I just felt too much pressure to maintain the house and our current lifestyle and that it was time to make a radical change and move downstairs. The job market figured to be in turmoil going forward with outsourcing and companies trying to squeeze every last minute of productivity from their employees. She agreed that it was a good move for us. We estimated we could almost double the rent, currently at $2300 (no utilities).  We let the current tenant know that she had 3 months notice and when the lease was up, we were moving downstairs and she had to vacate. The wheels were in motion.To see what we were getting ourselves into, look at the table below for stats on the two units:

 

 

Challenges

Despite a plan, there were many challenges remaining. I had to find a job. I didn’t want to write code for a job anymore, but I still liked tech and decided to try for a Technical Analyst job. At this time we also had two family vacations planned and paid for over the next 3 months. Were we going on our annual trek to Siesta Key (see Siesta Key ) and a new venture to Myrtle Beach with another family. We had planned both of these trips a year in advance and we were going no matter the job situation.

I found a job at a travel company as a Technical Business Analyst in mid June, two months after the Siesta Key trip and 2 weeks before the Myrtle trip. My start date was the Monday after we got home from the Myrtle Trip. Making matters worse was the tenant was scheduled to be out when we got home and she was threatening to squat and not leave (Massachusetts law is grossly in favor of tenants and landlords have minimal rights). We had no idea if she would be gone when we got home. I had already rented the upstairs unit and was super excited as we got $4900 / month with NO utilities. It was better than we thought. I had 28 days to rehab the first floor so we could move in, actually move down there, and then do some work upstairs in preparation for the new tenant. To put the icing on the cake, I was starting a new job, on day one of the hectic schedule. It was going to be close and we were very nervous we maybe had bit off more than we could chew.

In addition to the massive amount of work we had to do, we also had to buy a new Refrigerator for downstairs, a new washer and dryer and replace the malfunctioning dishwasher in the upstairs unit. My wife had scheduled an energy audit for the house as it is free in Mass and part of an energy efficiency program. They also claimed to give rebates for central air units and furnaces.  The first floor did not have central air and I really wanted to add it as I was used to having it upstairs, and the unit already had the furnace and ductwork needed to support it. I thought this was a good opportunity to make a marginal change and get a huge rebate on the compressor. Thank God, I had them check the unit for efficiency and they came back and said the furnace was toast and we were lucky. It was leaking carbon monoxide and could have killed us if it backed up into the unit. So now I had to replace the furnace as well. I feel completely lucky we found out about it.

All told it cost me 7K to replace the furnace and add the compressor. OK, I am scheduled to get $1000 back as part of the rebate, so that helps. Wrong !!  The plumber put a great furnace in but it didn’t match the requirements for the rebate, so no rebate. Lesson learned. I am now into the move for almost 10K and I still have to get the first floor insulated. The house is old and was not insulated. The upstairs was done when we did the construction, but the downstairs never was.  They came and said they could do it as part of the energy program and it would only cost about $400.  Score!! That would save a bundle on heat. They already did door sweeps and door weather stripping for free and I could tell the difference already. They also swapped all the lightbulbs for LEDs and so why not, we can use it. Turns out they couldn’t do it from the outside. They usually take off a strip of siding and blow it into the walls, but I have the cedar impressions siding and it is locked all the way the up to the top. They would have to take all the siding off the house in order to do the work, so they need to do it from inside, which means holes every 12 inches along all outer walls. Well they did it and then I spent a week patching, sanding, and re-painting the walls. I must say what a difference it makes. The best part is it ended up costing me $28 to insulate the entire first floor, not the $400 they quoted. That was a huge win as I was crying over the checkbook outflows on a nightly basis. This newer insulation is blown into the walls and packs tight. Not only does it feel airtight now, but it is quieter. I hear a lot less street noise. It is far better than the old rolls of the pink stuff. Some day, I may have to redo the upstairs to match as it will certainly pay us back over time.

 

Let’s look at the numbers to see if the effort to downsize was worth the considerable trouble. We can start with the expenses we incurred to move downstairs. We installed a new furnace for the first floor along with a new AC compressor that totaled 7K. We also bought furniture from IKEA, had the floors re-finished on both upstairs and downstairs (a total of 3750 square feet plus all stairways), insulated the entire first floor, had to buy new rugs, curtains, paint for two units, wall patch, and cleaning supplies for a grand total of about 15K .  OUCH !!!  Yes, it was a huge initial expense and believe it or not , we did most of the work ourselves outside of the heating and cooling and floor refinishing.

You may be thinking it was a huge expense and not worth it but I disagree.  Consider the furnace that was faulty and dangerous and could have hurt us or a tenant. That is a huge safety risk and needed to be taken care of. I’ll grant you the $2500 for AC was a luxury but it is increasing the value of the property and we decided it was a luxury we wanted to live with. The former tenant lived here for 10 years and the place really needed a refresh. We also had two kids, a dog and a cat upstairs and that takes a toll on a living unit. The entire property hadn’t had a substantial redo in a decade. So strictly from a property value standpoint, it was totally worth it. But what about the money savings from living leaner?  That’s where the numbers really tell the story. I took a 3 month sample comparing the same months last year and this year. It is not a perfect match because there are so many variables but it does give an idea of the savings I can expect to get on a regular basis.

 

Monthly Downsizing Income/Expenses

 

The water bill was interesting. I pay the bill for the whole house and it was less than last year. Three women moved out downstairs and two moved in upstairs. We do not have water saving shower heads upstairs but I do in the first floor unit. I think the combination of going from four people to two upstairs (with the non-efficient showers) coupled with four people sharing one shower downstairs (hurry up and get out !), has combined to save me money on water. Who knows, maybe it is a coincidence but I will keep track of it throughout the year.

The other bill I will monitor going forward is the Natural Gas bill. Upstairs it was very expensive to heat due to the sheer size of the place. We kept the thermostat on 63-65 consistently and with two zones we could expect a bill between $225-300 during winter months. Now with the newer and better insulation downstairs, we are snug as a bug. Even with setting it to 68 it rarely turns on. It is tight as a drum. I expect this to pay big time as it gets colder.

Conclusion

When someone asks me whether or not it was worth it, the answer is a resounding YES!  It was a ton of work, temporarily very expensive and is a huge challenge for four people with one bathroom to share, but I wouldn’t go back. These challenges are easily overcome but to have an increase in income every month of $2600 is too hard to pass up. Even with taking a pay cut at the new job, I am way ahead of the game. If we watch our spending, we should be able to sock away the money much easier moving forward. I did take on a little debt to finance the moving expenses as I was out of work for two months, and I did take a small hit to the paycheck but it was worth it as I will have it paid off shortly. I am well positioned for 2017 to be the best year yet if things don’t change with the job again. I now have an important income stream to help when the unexpected happens. I am going to be adjusting my goals for the upcoming year to reflect the optimism I have moving forward.  Thanks for reading.