The story of how my little 130k house turned into a million-dollar mansion started a couple months back, when I commented on a Facebook ad-post from some real-estate-related company. The post said, “See what we’d pay for your home if we made an offer tomorrow!”
“My paid-for house near the beach is ‘officially’ worth 130k, but it’s a million-dollar palace to me!! Walking to the beach anytime, and living in a city I love: Priceless!!! #DaytonaProud — That said, if you want to pay me a million, I’ll take it, sleep in a van, and invest the money in helping my community.”
Fast-forward to nine weeks later (Facebook time stamps are handy!): Yesterday, an acquaintance of mine who happens to be a Realtor commented, “Jenny Nazak please call me if you are thinking of selling or want a value.”
To which I replied: “Like I said above. I mean that. 1 mil. There’s no way you or anyone would pay that for my little place. But my price to sell it is a mil, firm. I don’t care what any expert thinks the value is. <heart emoji>”
She replied, “Good motto. You wont believe how much houses are selling right now over asking.”
For sure, it is a seller’s market these days, here as in many other places outside the major metropolises. But 900k over the assessed value would be quite a stretch!
After making that comment yesterday, I got to thinking. Would I in fact be willing to let go of my house for a million dollars? And I started to feel not so sure I would!
For one thing, where would I live? Yes I said I’d live in a van and give the money to help my community. But I have realized that most of what my community needs isn’t money; it’s a sense of purpose and pride, and collective caring. There’s a nice little 4-unit apartment building for sale the next neighborhood over for 500k, and I can just about guarantee you that if I were to buy it and offer to hand it outright to someone who would agree to run it and find good tenants, I wouldn’t get any takers, at least not any serious or capable ones.
This is not a criticism of my community or the people in it. It’s just an example of how, if people don’t want to live in a place, money probably won’t be enough to keep them there. My offer would likely attract either layabouts who’d become a nuisance to the neighbors, or some absentee landlord who wouldn’t add much to the community.
OK then, what if I gave out 50k each to 20 people aspiring to start small businesses in the area; that’d surely make a difference in the community. And I could do that. However, even in my extremely limited experience with being a source of “patient capital,” I have learned that money can dissipate easily, with nothing good to show for it. I wouldn’t be so much concerned about getting a financial return, as I would be about making my money count in terms of creating enduring value in my community and the world. Still, even so, I’ve learned that handing out money is often not the answer.
What I would have zero desire to do is hoard that million. Just like I have no desire to hoard a hundred thousand.
And it also struck me that my house could easily allow me to generate a million dollars for my community (as well as build intergenerational wealth for my family), by me living here and attracting creative likeminded people to live here (which I am in the process of doing) and engage in activism and micro-enterprise.
It also occurred to me that if I live in a van, not only would I become dependent on others for a parking space; but also, I would not be in any position to offer anyone a financially secure place to live. With my house, I am very much in that position.
Of course, with a million, I could give 40 people 20k each toward purchasing a house or commercial building. Or give four people 200k each for same. That’s still leave me 200k to buy a house for myself.
Which led to the thought … But where? There is literally no other house I would rather live in than this one, where I have spent the past three years working hard to build soil and community. (And for four years before an inheritance enabled me to purchase this house, I was working hard to build soil and community as a tenant in the four-plex across the street.)
Even with the heated-up real-estate market, I could probably still find another house right here in my same neighborhood for 200k. But I doubt it’d be as well-made as this one I lucked into, and so nicely situated on a corner lot which makes it so ideally suited to my mission of creating a hybrid private/collective space. And with a freestanding garage that is currently basically a crafting shed but could easily transition to an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) or ACU (Accessory Commercial Unit) as those categories move into wider acceptance, which I think they are bound to do over time, with demographic shifts in society.
There may one day come a time when somethings or someones in my community would warrant my selling my house for a million dollars and living in a van. And I would be able to do it! My work tools, sentimental items, and other essential possessions are set up in my house to be able to be packed into a van in 2 hours or less. Some people have a bug-out bag; I do too, after a fashion, but I also have a bug-out room. I am actually a big fan of RV life, have done it before and may well do it again in the future, either out of choice or out of necessity (for example, climate-induced migration).
It is also possible that my highly well-situated beachside neighborhood will undergo incremental development, such that the natural direction of things is for single-family residences to make way for mini apartment buildings or even larger complexes. Given the pace of climate change, I don’t necessarily expect such investment push to reach my neighborhood, but it could, and I am prepared to cede my property for the greater good. I can imagine being offered 400k or maybe even 500k in such a scenario. Bizarrely, I noticed that I would be happier receiving that 400-500k, and having my place move up to a higher use, than selling my place right now to someone who’d be just a single-family homeowner like me. Even if it meant getting a million dollars right now!
Is that strange or what? What can I say; humans are funny. Behavioral economics is a fascinating subject by the way. And experts in that field might be able to offer some rational explanation for my seemingly irrational train-of-thought!
All of this is becoming quite the rambling post, for just a casual Facebook thread about house-scoopers! The topic turned out to be deep though. My main takeaways are:
1) Money is not always what it seems. Sometimes tangible things are worth a lot more to people and communities than makes sense on paper.
2) Even an activist like me, who has tended to take a form of “vow of poverty” approach to her finances, is allowed to live in a house without feeling guilty. (I’m working on that part. For sure, this house is not for one person. I strongly feel it’s meant for at least three permanent residents and a constant parade of guests.)
3) Weirdly, it can be very hard to find beneficial and sound places to park money. So hard, in fact, that I don’t necessarily want to have to deal with a million dollars.
One exception: If someone really did come to me with a million-dollar offer, I would definitely check with my siblings to see if they could use it. Helping my family if they needed it would be well worth living in a van for. They probably wouldn’t have need for it, though, so I’m pretty sure I know what their answer would be.
And so you have it. The story of how my sweet little 130k, mortgage-free, rock-solid block house by the ocean turned into a million-dollar mansion!
If this post sparks any thoughts about the values you assign to things in your life, I’d love to hear your thoughts! If someone offered you a million dollars for a thing you value greatly, would you take it? And if so, what would you do with the million?