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The Pandemic Duplex

What made us decide to purchase a duplex, in the middle of a global pandemic, located across the country?

I’ve written this in my mind a hundred different times, but I’ve just now decided to put pen to paper... or fingers to a keyboard. If you’re reading this with breakfast, grab a cup of coffee. Or ya know what, pour yourself a glass of wine - it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

It was the beginning of March in Michigan, so naturally it was snowing. I was 8 months pregnant and nesting like crazy (re: moving the entire playroom from the basement to the main floor) when my husband returned from Costco with enough food to feed everyone on our block. While our friends and family thought he was crazy (especially when he later brought home masks, sanitizer, and disinfectant) it turned out he was right - shit was about to hit the fan. On March 7th, we had our first and last date night of 2020. (Had I been able to see into the future, I’d have stayed out later than 8:30! Within a week, the country began shutting down.

Being pregnant those last few weeks was extremely difficult emotionally and physically, especially working from home with a 21 month old, but it was nothing compared to welcoming a newborn on April 1st.

Having a new baby join your existing family unit would certainly be a challenge at any point in time, but experiencing this change during a global pandemic was a whole other level.

While I expected long nights, I also envisioned long days of snuggling and bonding with our new baby, while our daughter socialized and learned alongside her friends at daycare. I saw a clean house, ‘Mommy & Me’ postnatal yoga, and relaxing walks around Target, with my new little love snoozing in the stroller. I imagined trips to children’s museums, playgrounds, and play dates, with our baby in a sling and our daughter running around merrily. I looked forward to introducing our son to family and friends, and maybe even having a date night with my husband again! Unfortunately, most of this was not possible. 

In many ways, having everyone home during my “maternity leave” (4 weeks) was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. My husband and I were very fortunate to maintain employment, and it was such a sweet blessing to watch our daughter grow fonder and fonder of her brother each day that passed. But it was also one of the greatest challenges of my life. The snow and cold temps kept everyone inside, the coronavirus cases kept rising, and we both soon had to learn to navigate working full time AND parenting full time.

As the only instructional technology specialist for a K-12 district, at a time when education had abruptly gone remote, moming two under two while working simultaneously was nearly debilitating. 

While all of this was difficult, something greater stared me straight in the eyes all summer: should I go back to work in the fall? I have been working since I was 16 years old. From cashier, to waitress, to teacher, to educational technology specialist, a big part of my life has always been defined by my work. For nearly 15 years, I have devoted my life to educating young children and supporting teachers. Until the pandemic, I didn’t imagine this changing. Ever. 

I recognize everyone feels differently about how children should be cared for and educated during this time, but I spent all summer thinking about how educators were soon going to be expected to carry the weight of jump-starting the economy. Underpaid and underappreciated, I was sickened that teachers were going to be asked by the president and other government officials to return to face-to-face education at a time when deaths from Covid-19 were skyrocketing. “Stay 6 feet apart, stay outside, and wear masks… unless you're at school.” Not only could this be putting students in danger, but it‘d be placing teachers and their families in harm's way. While it has been noted (in the short term) that children are not as impacted, this doesn’t keep their families safe. And having my own mother in a nursing home gives me a unique perspective - I kept thinking about her, on top of all of the unknown impacts COVID-19 might have on people in the future. 

With my own littles too young to wear masks or understand social distancing, it wasn’t setting right with me to send them to daycare. That’s when we began talking about what the coming year might look like. How could we supplement my income if I stayed home? What were we going to do all winter indoors if cases skyrocketed in Michigan again?

(Pictured above: how Wales‘ family members feel about long winters.)

Like I said in my last post, we had gotten really good at renting out our family home, but we had taken a break from it in the months leading up to our son’s birth. I had completely forgotten I set our Airbnb calendar to receive rental requests for summer, until the beginning of June when I received a ping from Airbnb that a family from New York wanted to rent our home for the entire summer. That’s right! They wanted to pay us to stay in our home through the end of September. We actually talked about how we might make this work, but because of the length of the visit and uncertainty with work in the fall, we did not accept. However, we had multiple other requests within the next week and ended up confirming a family from Washington DC with three little girls. They had attended University of Michigan and were excited to spend a month in their old stomping grounds, and our house was the perfect getaway. Coming from quarantining in DC, they were so excited about the backyard and large house to spread out. 

Once we confirmed renters, we needed to plan a trip. We decided to spend the month of July in Charleston. While we were having fun enjoying time with our babies and soaking up the sun, it was not lost on us that we had big decisions about the fall still resting on the back burner.

One day, on a family walk, we saw a duplex for sale. She was a tall, pink beauty with double wrap around porches. We were super obsessed with her quintessential Charleston charm. It got us thinking about an investment property in Charleston. Could we afford one? Could we live in one unit for now, with Chad working remotely? Would renting the other unit supplement my income? What would happen with our Ann Arbor house? Would we be able to rent it? Would people even be coming to Ann Arbor if the university didn’t open? There were way more questions than answers. And I guess now I would consider myself a risk-taker, although I never used to, because we didn’t mull it over for too long before we took the photos from Airbnb and uploaded them to Zillow. We listed our home for $4,000, furnished, and thought to ourselves, “This is crazy! Will anyone want a furnished house? Let’s just see what happens and play it by ear.” 

After listing our house, we went to look at the pink duplex. It was gorgeous! The only thing holding us back was the fact the unit we would live in was only two bedrooms. We could do it, but it was going to be tight. However, the seller happened to have an off-market duplex that was still under construction. It wasn’t the pink beauty, but it was a cheery green duplex and one of the units was a three bedroom. We put an offer in and started going back and forth on the deal, while simultaneously looking for renters for our house “just in case”.

A week had passed, and while we had gotten several fall rental requests, we weren’t getting any long-term bites. We only had a few days left in Charleston, and I was busy packing up the house we had lived in for the month, when Chad shouted from upstairs. He had an email from someone hoping to rent our house, sight unseen! A prospective PhD student at the university and her husband wanted to rent our Ann Arbor house the year! They were drawn to our house because it was furnished and family-oriented, as they were expecting their first baby. We FaceTimed with them that night. They negotiated the lease to be a little bit less than listed, but we would still make almost $1,000 more than our mortgage each month if they signed.

A few days later, we were under contract for the green duplex and had a lease signed for our Ann Arbor home. I talked with my boss and requested to take my hours down to 10 a week, remotely, for the year. Typing this, I still can’t believe how crazy all of this is. How all of these moving pieces happened to fall into place, I have no idea, but they did. Perfectly. 

So… the monies. How do we plan to turn me losing three quarters of my salary into an investment?

  • We are saving $2,700 a month without daycare.

  • We are earning an additional $1,000 a month for our property in Ann Arbor.

  • We went down to one car. We were leasing Chad’s and asked Honda to buy us out if the lease, and they did! No penalties.

  • We paid off all of our remaining debt (our one remaining car… student loans.. etc.).

  • We are going to Airbnb half of the duplex for roughly $230 a night. 

With a ~$3,000 mortgage, and $1,000 from Ann Arbor property, earning $2,000 a month from Airbnb would allow us to live mortgage-free. Since we will do the cleaning and turnover of the Airbnb ourselves, that’s less than 10 nights a month.

Now... for a live-in reno. Follow along to see how it goes! 



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We're Chad and Brandy Wales, and we're excited you're here to follow our family through life and adventures in real estate.

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