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New: Empty Nester Investors: A Conversation With Mary Smith

Posted on Jan 23, 2020


This month, Pickett Street is excited to begin their new Empty Nesters Investors program, which focuses on helping empty nesters and retirees bring in extra cash through smart real estate investments.
If you are an empty nester, or a full nester, or a single-nester, let Pickett Street help you make smart investment decisions—contact them at info@pickettstreet.com or (425) 502-5397.

To kick off this series, I chatted with Mary Smith, an empty nester investor and Margaret Smith’s very own mother. In 2015, Mary and her husband Andy sold their current home and purchased a 1950s rambler with a mother-in-law (MIL) cottage in Edmonds.

When they purchased the home, the MIL unit already had a tenant and brought in $950 per month. Since then, Mary and Andy have continued to rent the unit and have occasionally used it as temporary housing for their grown children as they saved to buy their own homes. Mary and Andy now earn $1,200 per month from renting the unit.

One of the most inspiring things about Mary’s story is that she and her husband did not start out with loads of cash. Instead, they used smart, simple real estate investments to build wealth.

“Andy and I both have had very basic working class jobs,” Mary said. “I spent 27 years with Seattle schools as a special ed assistant and secretary, and Andy has worked for over 40 years as a grocery clerk with QFC. Big money was never going to be in our future. We have lived our entire life paycheck to paycheck.”

Now, however, Mary reports that passive income from the MIL unit has provided some breathing room and a nest egg. As Mary puts it, “you would be surprised what an additional $1,200 month can do…”

For more details, read our conversation below.

You mentioned finding inspiration in Margaret’s duplex investments… tell me a little bit more about the inspiration behind your empty nester investments.

Our fourth home ended up being the first we bought as a couple that did not have anything to do with our kids. It was a purchase focused totally on what Andy and I needed as we headed into a new phase of our lives together.
Margaret had chatted with us about owning a duplex and earning extra income. I listened to her, but I discovered I wasn’t really actively listening…thinking of ourselves instead of our children had not been something Andy and I had done before. But Margaret’s encouragement and positive energy eventually gave us the courage to say, “Okay, what the heck—let’s do it!”

Margaret has that effect on people!

If you don’t mind chatting about the financial side of things, what have you and Andy been able to do with the extra passive income from renters?

We are in year five in our Edmonds home, and we have used the extra funds to complete renovations in our home and in the MIL unit. We have traveled, made double payments on credit card balances, and completed some much needed car repairs.

What has been the most challenging part of investing in real estate later in life? What has been the most rewarding part?

The most challenging aspect about investing at age 60+ is leveraging the risk. If you have big money I don’t think it matters as much, but when you have lived paycheck to paycheck your entire married life, financial risks at the end of your working career seem a bit foolish.
But what is life without taking a risk? We did not have anyone else to worry about but ourselves, and we needed to shake it up a bit.

The most rewarding part of investing has been the challenge of it: finding the right investment, and telling the story to anyone who will listen and watching them get inspired.

What kind of day-to-day work does working with renters involve?

The job of a landlord is actually very easy. We have a few legal duties, such as learning about basic rental forms and agreements, finding a service to run background checks on tenants, and opening a separate bank account to deposit the rent checks. The rest is basically home care.
Most of the time renting is just like interacting with your neighbor—borrowing a cup of sugar, sharing coffee, talking about the garden. Our current renter is quiet and has her own entrance on the side of the property. She is an avid gardener and has taken over the back lot and transformed it into a real showcase. If we travel, we have someone who can care for our home while we’re away.

What’s your favorite thing about your current home?

The kitchen is my favorite space. There is an island in the middle for cooking or crafts and a large eating area with a love seat and coffee table for morning reading and breakfast. We have a patio area off the kitchen that is fenced and gives a very private space for outside dinners or BBQ’s.

Our neighborhood is like going back in time to the 1950’s. There are lots of kids out on their bikes, neighbors walking their dogs, and even a paperboy who rides his scooter!

After five years as landlords, I can now say the only question we have is “why did we wait?”

Thank you so much, Mary! 

For more information, check out our post about real estate hacks for empty nesters.
And be sure to reach out to Pickett Street to chat about your investment options (info@pickettstreet.com or (425) 502-5397).

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