Finally, I have a genuine address! The home that entrepreneurialism and frugality bought.

It felt like home when I descended off Marshall Mesa into Boulder Valley on US-36 for the first time, with my father in May 2003. Now, I've really made it home.

I closed on a new home in south Boulder last Friday. And this past weekend, Amanda and I — with the help of her sister Jill, brother-in-law Brian, and two hired hands — moved in.

We love it, as does Amanda’s cat, Oden, who has 3x more space and a small backyard to now explore. It’s a major improvement over the cramped and boiling-hot 695-square foot Highlands apartment that Amanda has rented for the past 15 months — and that we shared since late-April when I returned from my Spring speaking and book tour, plus a few months last year in between long stretches of travel. I will miss one thing about our former neighborhood, however: Zio’s, the local bar, where I could score $1 pizza slices and $1 PBR’s after 9pm.

This purchase ends an impressive 13-year streak during which I had no genuine address. Not since August 1999, when I left my parent’s Massachusetts home for college, have I had a place where I could reliably hang my hat.

Even eighteen months ago I would not have predicted that I’d be a homeowner today. I was fresh off the Alaska-Yukon Expedition, not ready to “settle down,” and didn’t have the financial capital or income consistency either. But life changed: Amanda and I got serious, and my business took off. Just as important, I stayed frugal — during leaner times, I had learned that I didn’t need to earn much if I didn’t spend much, and that proved to be a hard habit to break. I even found an inexpensive workaround for date nights: Groupon (which, by the way, is more effective when not disclosed). Due to this combination of factors, homeownership became more appealing and plausible.

Home-shopping and the home

Oden awaiting move-in day

The Boulder real estate market caught fire this Spring, as apparently happened in many other high-demand markets too. We began looking seriously in mid-February, but it took a few weeks of home-shopping to “understand value,” during which time many other buyers entered the market — families and couples like us who had acquired the cash and confidence to buy in uncertain times, and investors who were seeking rental properties that would provide higher returns with less risk than other investment opportunities. We were all motivated by historically low interest rates, rising rent prices, and an early Spring.

Unfortunately, the combination of surging demand and limited inventory (in March, the number of listings was 40 percent less than a year prior) resulted in rapidly increasing prices, and many properties were going under contract within days of going on the market. We submitted an offer on one property just days after its listing, but we lost to an all-cash bid of an amount that was almost 10 percent higher than the market’s going-rate just six months earlier.

By mid-June, four months after we began searching, Amanda and I had become downright discouraged. Very few properties had been listed that met our price and spec standards. And we were struggling to swallow the premiums on Boulder real estate. One of the last properties we looked at was a condo on Shanahan Ridge, which has five-star trail access. Even so, for $280,000 we hoped for more: it offered just 1,064 square feet plus a detached one-car garage, one bedroom and a loft, and one full and one half-bath; nothing had been updated since it was built in the mid-1970′s; its floor plan was inherently inefficient; and the quality of its construction and materials was frustratingly shoddy. When I reluctantly began discussing an offer strategy with my realtor, Amanda excused herself: “I’m going outside. I think I’m going to cry. This can’t be our only option.”

How much is five-star trail access worth? Even I struggled to justify the costs of properties in southwest Boulder -- I wouldn't get much for what I paid.

Agreeing with her, that night I expanded my search criteria, looking more seriously at other parts of Boulder and even at different Front Range communities. Inventory elsewhere in Boulder was also extremely limited. And I just couldn’t get excited about living in Golden, Louisville, and the other outlying towns — they all have redeeming qualities but, well, they are not Boulder. (If you have lived in Boulder, you know what I mean.)

The expanded search did turn up one promising property, however — a spacious 1969 ranch-style townhome with two bedrooms, two full baths, an apartment-style basement, and an attached two-car garage. Amanda and I peeked through its windows the following day while we were in town for dinner with friends and liked what we saw: a very open floor plan, hardwood floors through the main level, an acceptable kitchen, and a relatively enormous master bedroom.

The property demanded some compromises, however. Its location was not as first-rate: it’s exactly one mile, not 200 yards, to the closest trailhead, and it’s within earshot of both the Boulder Turnpike and Foothills Parkway. And its price tag was a stretch. But we agreed that the first drawback was tolerable and that the second could be resolved by finding a housemate to occupy the basement.

I scheduled a showing on Monday morning and submitted an offer a few hours later. I had been told that, “When you find your house, you’ll know it.” And I certainly knew it on this one. By Tuesday afternoon we were under contract. The loan approval and closing was complex and intense but mostly flawless.

Why I wanted a home

Disastrously inefficient trip prep in Amanda's apartment: no floor space for visual organization, and no vertical storage to keep unnecessary gear and supplies out of the way.

Buying a home is both an emotional and financial decision. My motivations were — uncharacteristically — mostly emotional, and thankfully I was comfortable with the financial justifications, too.

Since graduating college I have essentially been a hiking dirt bag. During the warmer months I lived out of my backpack. During the off-season I found month-to-month — or even week-to-week — living arrangements, unofficially residing at no less than seven residences in as many years, probably not long enough to meet residency requirements and certainly never consistent enough to officially declare that I no longer lived with my parents.

Like it does for many dirt bags, however, the transient lifestyle stopped working. Not having a suitable space stressed my relationship with Amanda. It hampered my business operations, as I didn’t have a stable workspace or an efficient organization system for gear and supplies. And, most of all, I felt chronically unsettled — if I am going to keep traveling for business for 150 days per year, I need place of my own where I can retreat, relax, and refresh between trips, or else it’s unsustainable.

How I financially justified a home

Article in the Denver Post published July 24, 2012. Even if home prices were to fall further, at least some of the losses are offset by the many benefits of home ownership, namely the building of equity and the deduction on mortgage interest.

For emotional reasons, I wanted a home. But it was important to me that the decision was very financially sound too.

In a worst-case scenario, I figure this purchase will leave me no worse off than if I held onto my cash and continued to rent. If we did that, we would bleed about $1,400 per month. By owning, in the first twelve months we build about $400 of equity per month and pay about $800 per month in loan interest, about $200 of which we save on taxes through the home mortgage interest deduction, so our net bleed is only about $600 per month. After accounting for additional home-owning expenses (e.g. HOA fees, property taxes, capital improvements, and maintenance) we probably save about $500 per month versus renting.

Of course, I’ve locked up a considerable amount of my cash for the down payment. Given the current economic uncertainties and the looming crises on both national and global levels, I think it’s possible that at some point I may owe more on this house than it is worth, putting this capital at risk. But the property’s value would have to decrease by about 2 percent per year to negate the $500 per month savings of owning versus renting. This is unlikely over my ~20-year ownership horizon, especially in Boulder where the property values are very resilient.

If economic Armageddon never happens and the house appreciates only at the rate of inflation, for renting to be cost-effective I would need to find an investment for what would have been my down payment capital that returns at least 5 percent more than inflation.

Being self-employed in economically difficult times, I’m admittedly nervous about having to pay a sizeable bill ever month. But if our personal finances ever become really dire, we can rent out another bedroom, pull liquidity out of the property, or, of course, rent the entire home and return to the dirt bag lifestyle.

Gallery

21 Responses to Finally, I have a genuine address! The home that entrepreneurialism and frugality bought.

  1. benjamin rualthanzauva July 30, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    Congrats. I like
    – the cat on the mini couch
    – the term “bleed x per month”

  2. Patrick July 30, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    Congratulations on your home!

  3. Al July 30, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Congratulations on your new home!

  4. Daniel Allen July 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    Did your movers not have a ramp? Seems a little silly for a mover to not have a ramp.

  5. Thomas V July 31, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    Congratulations on your new home.
    It’s a big scary step for sure, but it sounds like you thought this one thru.

  6. Alan York July 31, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    How are the closets?Your gear closet will be larger than mine now!Congrats! A- ps.Just dis GSNP traverse w/Grayson….he wanted to combine the last 3 days into 2….your name came up : – ) Cheers! Be sure to LET Amanda spend some $ on decorating….thats what girls do and you can’t Groupon it all!

    • Andrew Skurka July 31, 2012 at 8:59 am #

      Closets are huge (for us) and have great organization features — lots of bars, drawers, and shelves. Looks very similar to your work actually.

      After a morning run we are planning to go furniture shopping today. Do not think I have a choice but to spend money on it.

  7. Alexandra Friedman August 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    I see where we all are going to have our dance-off at your housewarming party. I’m in training for the event.

  8. Tom Hart August 2, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    I think it is a great looking place. I really like the look of it from the front.

  9. Tom Hart August 2, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    I think it is a great looking place. I really like the look of it from the front.

    • Andrew Skurka August 6, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      Funny, because I think the exterior is probably its worst feature. But it’s functional, so doing something about it falls very low on the To Do list.

  10. Alex Tarra August 3, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    1) congratulations on your purchase.

    2) and that was the end of the great andventurer :(

    • Andrew Skurka August 3, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      Re your second comment, your assumption must be that adventurers who buy a home and/or get in a serious relationship can’t remain adventurers. I look forward to proving it incorrect over the coming years.

      • Paul Mags August 4, 2012 at 1:02 am #

        Lessee… Gerry and Jenny Roach here in Colorado. Ray and Jenny Jardine. Craig Childs. Tony Horwitz. And so on. :) Think Andrew has some good examples of people in committed relationships who have continued to explore, dream and discover. Congrats on the new home Andrew. And, more importantly, continued success in milestones of your relationship with Amanda.

  11. Rich August 13, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Congrats. But I cannot see how you chose Boulder over Golden. I’ve lived in both places. In fact, I only lasted 3 months in Boulder. But hey, to each his or her own right? Again, congrats on the new place Andrew!!!!

    • Andrew Skurka August 13, 2012 at 11:17 am #

      Golden is a nice place and it was the runner-up location. Good trail running, great access to the mountains, convenient distance from Denver, etc. And fewer negative connotations with it too.

      But I had two problems with it. First, neither of us have lived there so we didn’t know the town or the housing market as well. That learning curve could have been overcome with time and effort, if we wanted to do that. Second, and more important, neither of us have roots in Golden — no family, no friends. In Boulder, the situation is a lot different.

      • Rich August 22, 2012 at 9:13 am #

        Makes sense. I love Golden even though I live in Lakewood.

  12. Brian Robertson August 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    I see you’ve been shopping at the right home improvement store… good job. :)

    • Andrew Skurka August 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

      We’ve definitely been helping to keep your Boulder co-workers employed.

  13. Paula Krauss August 15, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    First, congratulations on your new home. You’re an expert on “nesting” since each night on your treks you must create a shelter. I can’t imagine anyone who would appreciate a real roof than you. Are you settled? Any room for books? Looking forward to seeing you next week!

    Paula K.

  14. Nano September 30, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    My girlfriend, Megan, and I are thinking of moving to Boulder from Santa Monica, CA. We’re headed east in April to check it out. I would love any advice you can offer regarding things to check out (ie trails, housing areas etc.). Glad to see you’ve settled; it gives me hope that settling down, being in a committed relationship, and possibly owning a home won’t squash any future adventures.

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