ARM – Adjustable Rate Mortgages

An ARM is when the interest rate applied to the loan balance varies throughout the loan. The loan is typically amortized over 30 years like a conventional loan would be, but the interest rate is variable. There is an initial fixed interest rate for a pre-determined period of time (e.g., 5, 7, 10 years). The rate then adjusts based on prime rates, with a maximum amount allowed for the increase each period of time (e.g., a maximum 1% increase each year for 5 years). This is where people find ARMs alarming, but note these two important points: 1) an ARM can’t jump an egregious amount at the end of the initial fixed term (usually no more than 1% or 2% in one year, outlined by the lender at the beginning), and 2) the rate is based on interest rates at that point in time.

Usually, the benefit of an ARM is a much lower interest rate during the initial term. If you know that your ownership in the property will only be for 5, 7, 10, etc. years, then this is where the benefit is realized. Amortization schedules ‘front-load’ the interest** (e.g., your monthly payment is the same total ($500); your payment in year 1 will be broken out as $375 interest and $125 principal; year 20 will be broken out at $150 interest and $350 principal).

**Every dollar of your loan is being borrowed for a length of time determined by the outstanding principal on the loan. At the beginning of your loan, all 30 years are being borrowed, so the proportion of principal to interest of each monthly payment results in far more interest being paid. Every month you pay a little bit of principal, gradually decreasing your outstanding principal amount, meaning you are no longer borrowing it and will pay slightly less interest with each monthly payment.**

Therefore, if your interest rate for the initial term is less with an ARM than it would be with a fixed rate loan, you’re saving considerable interest for the time that you own the property. You’ll need to compare the interest rate savings during the discounted initial term of an ARM with the 30-yr fixed quote your lenders offers. Also evaluate an ARM based on how long you anticipate owning the house. If you’re looking to hold a property for more than 7 or 10 years, an ARM’s benefit is probably too risky since interest rates after that timeframe are unknown. Also, the more years your ARM offers for an initial fixed period, the less the discounted interest rate is.

In our current very low interest rate environment of 2020/2021, ARMs are rarely beneficial compared to a 30 year fixed rate.

An ARM is identified by 2 numbers. A 5/1 ARM means that the initial rate period is 5 years, and it can change every year thereafter for the life of the loan. A 5/5 ARM means that the initial rate period is also 5 years, but it can only change the interest rate every year for the 5 years after the initial term expiration. Here’s an example of a 5/1 ARM quote. It shows that the initial period is 60 months (5 years) and the maximum the rate could ever be is 5% more than the initial term, but that doesn’t mean there’s a guarantee of an increase since the interest rate is still based on the rate sheet at that time.

We found ARMs to be beneficial for our primary residences. We had several people try to talk us out of locking in an ARM. However, once we investigated the loan terms, we learned that there are strict parameters around your rate changes that absolved some of the risk others were using to dissuade us from the option. Yes, it’s a gamble, but interest rates have remained fairly steady or decreased over the last 10 years of our home ownership.

When we moved just outside of DC, the move was solely to get back to living together because our jobs had separated us. Being in the Federal government, the easiest way for both of us to get a job was the DC area, but we didn’t want to live in that metro area with the higher cost of living and a lot of traffic for very long. The rate terms offered were 4% on a 30 year fixed, or 2.5% on a 5 ARM. We owned the house for 3 years and 2 months. Over 38 months, we paid just over $23k in interest. Had it been the 4% on a 30 year fixed, it would have been over $37k in interest, which is a $14k savings. By paying less interest, that means that more of each monthly payment went towards principal than it would have, resulting in $4,700 more to principal. Additionally, by having a lower interest rate, our monthly payment was $250 less. Over 38 months that’s $9,500 less we had to pay, freeing it up to save and invest in other ventures.

For our second primary residence, we also had an ARM. We expected our time outside of Richmond, VA to be longer than the DC area, but not forever. I was uncomfortable with a 5/1 ARM and wanted the 7/1 ARM, but Mr. ODA picked the 5/1. We owned this house for 4 years and 9 months. Our interest rate was 2.875%. At the 61st month, it could have risen by 2% for the first year and 1% for each of the next 4 years. Had we gone with a conventional 30 year loan, the interest rate was going to be 4.125%; we would have paid $54k in interest during our ownership. With the ARM, we saved $17k in interest, put $5,300 more towards principal, and paid over $11k fewer in monthly payments.

We purchased our current residence a few months ago. We have a 30 year fixed conventional mortgage at 2.625%. Since interest rates are so low now (you can see how previously, we’d be around 4% for a conventional and got lower than 3% by choosing an ARM, whereas now interest rates are less than 3%) and we plan on being here for a much longer time, we didn’t pick an ARM.

As illustrated in the examples for the first two properties we lived in, ARMs can be a powerful option in strategizing your mortgage to work most efficiently for you. They are not without risk, so pros and cons must be weighed along with future forecasting of your life situation. If used in the best circumstances, they can help you shift tens of thousand of dollars away from interest and towards principal and other investments to aid in reaching financial freedom.

2020’s Expenses and Activity

When people talk about having rental properties, usually the first thing we hear is, “I don’t want to hear about a clogged toilet at midnight.” Does your toilet clog at midnight? No. So why do people think that tenants have issues that you wouldn’t typically see in your own house? A tenant can’t expect service faster than you’d get on your own property.

Even when there’s a month that requires a lot of our attention to be on rental properties, it’s still always worth the income/expense ratio. 2020 was a year of big expenses. However, I kept the perspective that we had several properties that we didn’t even hear from, and this was just one year of 4 so far.

Here’s a look back at what happened with our rental properties in 2020.

House #7 required a roof replacement. We have dealt with leaks since we purchased the house, and the time finally came that the replacement was more cost effective. This house also required HVAC repairs and plumbing replacement. Since we purchased the house, we had issues with the upstairs bathroom sink not draining properly. After several attempts to unclog it, our plumber finally made the call – it wasn’t a matter of cleaning a clog, it was time to replace corroded copper pipes… from the second floor to the crawl space. And so we did that. We then had to pay someone else to repair the drywall. All together, this house cost us $7,600. However, about $4k of that was the roof, which has to be depreciated over 27.5 years, so we only claim about $75 of that cost this year.

House #1’s roof has also troubled us from the start, but it’s under HOA control. We had a leak that was bad enough to require the HOA’s attention. It was a multi-week process to get them to even acknowledge me, and I have no intention to ever own a townhome again. I like having more control over my property than being in a position to hound an HOA to address a water-related issue as I watch more rain in the forecast. In the end, they repaired it, but we’re responsible for the drywall repair, which was $76.

House #6 required the main sewer line from the street to the house to be replaced, which was $4k including the scoping trip to put a camera in the pipe and see how deteriorated it was.

We had quite a few HVAC issues this year, after only having 1 issue on all our houses (well 2, but that second one was someone driving over our unit and insurance covered it). We had House #3 require a new fan, which was $635. House #9 had an entire HVAC replacement at $5k, depreciated 27.5 years. House #12 required HVAC work at $500.

We had to replace a dishwasher, stove, washing machine, and refrigerator among the properties as well. These were the major purchases and don’t account for several smaller plumber and electrician trips that were needed among the properties.

On the positive side of things, we paid off one loan, paid $23,500 paid towards another, and refinanced a property (reducing our monthly payment by $104).

Of 12 properties, we had to turnover 3. Turnover is the most time consuming to us personally because it requires our attention to touch up paint, fix things, order appliances, and coordinate any other maintenance issues. Then we need to handle listing the property and showing it when we don’t have a property manager, which was the case for 2 of our properties.

In March, we had the tenant at House #11 request a renewal of their lease. A couple of weeks after signing the renewal, they requested to be released from the lease because they were moving to another state. We worked with them, for a fee, to be released from the lease, and they vacated the house as of April 30. I had to repaint, clean the bathrooms and kitchen, fix a few things, and clean the carpet (which was only a year old at this point). We listed the house, had several inquiries, and had it rented on May 7.

In September, we had the tenant at House #7 request to be released from her lease because she was buying a house to take advantage of low interest rates. The Fall isn’t a good time to be listed a house for rent, but it’s hard to not help someone help themselves like that! We agreed to release her from the lease for 2 months worth of rent. Shortly after that agreement, an old tenant of ours reached out asking if we had something coming available in October or November, and this house fit her request perfectly. I met her to show her the house and had a November 1st lease signed the next week. We asked the new tenant if she could move out before October 31st, and we would refund her for the days she left early. We spent two days touching up paint, fixing an old water leak patch (the roof had since been replaced by the drywall work in the laundry room hadn’t been addressed), and cleaning the house. Our paint touch up was far from perfect, but we didn’t have time to repaint the whole house. I offered the new tenant an incentive of $50 per room and $25 per paint can if she wanted to paint herself, and she actually did 3 rooms so far.

The final house that had turnover is managed by a property manager. Our house was the first the tenants had rented, and they didn’t quite understand all the details of having to give notice that they were leaving. We worked with them while they went back and forth deciding if they wanted to renew or leave. While our lease stipulates that we require 60 days notice if they plan to leave at the end of the lease, we wouldn’t typically post the house for rent more than 3 weeks out. They eventually decided they wanted to leave the house, but then at the last minute asked for more time. We had a lease lined up for two weeks after they were going to vacate, so we were able to give them an extra 10 days in the house. Once they left, we had the carpet and house professional cleaned, and I touched up some paint. The property manager handled the listing, showing, and background checks. The new tenants haven’t asked for anything since they moved in back in July.

We were not heavily impacted by the pandemic. We hadn’t realized it until the Spring, but nearly all our tenants work in health care, which is just an interesting coincidence. During 2020, we only had one tenant that we had to constantly keep up with regarding her employment and ability to pay rent. She didn’t always pay on time, but we would have all the month’s rent before the end of the month each time. Then we had a tenant here or there that needed another week or two to pay rent in full, which we had no problem allowing. We didn’t collect any late fees in 2020.

While a year of several big expenses can be overwhelming, it’s helpful to know that this has not been our norm and the issues were centralized to a few houses. It also helps that 5 of our houses have long term renters (renewed more than once). Having a tenant renew their lease saves us time and money.

Doing Your Own Taxes: Set Yourself Up for Success

I manage all the financials for my family. Mr. ODA makes the maneuvers, and I record them. Excel is where our organization lives and dies. Sure, I have a degree in Finance and Information Technology Management (i.e., Excel), but it doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult to make tax prep easy for you.

This level of organization allows us to do our own taxes. After the first year of purchasing rental properties, we thought we’d have to hire someone to do our taxes because it would be complicated. It’s not any different than filing your own personal taxes. The software systems available online walk you through the entire process. Each property’s income and expenses have to be entered separately, which is time consuming if you have several properties, but it isn’t difficult.

The most important thing to be ready for your taxes is to make it a whole year activity. If you record income and expenses as they occur, it’s less of a hurdle when the year is over. By recording the activity all year, it then becomes a verification process when the year is over, thereby reducing the possibility of missing something or recording something wrong.

At the beginning of each year, I create a projection of income and expenses, which helps Mr. ODA adjust his W2 tax bracket throughout the year so that we break as close to even or owe very little when it comes to tax filing. Let me dive into that aside quickly.

Go back to Mr. ODA’s tax posts:
TAXES! Part 1 – What are Marginal Tax Brackets?
TAXES! Part 2 – Is Your Bonus at Work “Really” taxed more?

Taxes Part 2 is what I’m particularly referring to, but you may need the lesson in Part 1 to know what that means. There are IRS penalties if you fail to pay your proper estimated tax (when you don’t pay enough taxes due for the year with your quarterly estimated tax payments, or through withholding, when required). Title 26 of the United States Code covers the penalties. Essentially, the IRS is saying, “You have to estimate your annual taxes owed, and you’re not allowed to only pay us taxes on April 15th every year, but you have to pay the taxes over the course of the year.” People get excited to receive a refund from their taxes, but really that’s just an interest-free loan you’ve given the government. Perhaps some people do need that forced savings, but wouldn’t it be nicer to have that extra money in your pocket throughout the year?

Back to the point…

I create a new workbook every year with each house having its own spreadsheet. Schedule E is going to require you to put your income and expenses, per property, not as a whole, so it’s important to have expenses assigned to a particular house. I set up each spreadsheet in an Excel workbook to identify all known costs for the coming year. Not all of these apply, but these are typically the categories of my known costs for each year: property management, HOA, utilities (City of Richmond bills the owner (not tenant) for sewer fees), property taxes, insurance, annual mortgage interest, cost basis depreciation, and prepaid points depreciation. There’s also a chance that you’re carrying appliance depreciation costs (meaning, the purchase of a washer, dryer, refrigerator, etc. aren’t recorded as an actual expense in the year purchased, but are required to be depreciated over its useful life).

As the year goes on, I record any mileage (record the actual miles along with the mileage cost) and maintenance costs. The IRS posts the standard mileage rate for each year here. If a roundtrip to a rental property is 40 miles, then the expense is calculated as 40 miles multiplied by the standard mileage rate, which is $0.56 for 2021. I’ve learned over the years that the software systems just request your miles and do the calculation for you (which is smart and safer on the calculation side), but we want to know what the calculation is going to be, so I enter it as $22.40 in my spreadsheet.

You’ll be expected to input the days your property was vacant, so record that once it’s known.

Each spreadsheet is linked to a master sheet at the beginning of the workbook that shows the net income and expenses for each property. The difference of these amounts are what Mr. ODA uses to adjust his W4 deductions.

I personally assign costs month by month so I can keep track of them, but it doesn’t even need to be that fancy. A running list of these expenses are enough.

The categories are based on what’s going to be requested through Schedule E.

Then in January/February of the following year, I go through my filing cabinet and my email to ensure I’ve captured all of the expenses that I have receipts for, and vice versa to ensure that if I’ve recorded an expense, I have a receipt for it. Having already captured the expenses throughout the year serves as ‘checks and balances’ and doesn’t make the task feel too overwhelming.

Using Credit Cards

Credit card rewards can be lucrative. In 2020, we earned $1,616 in cash rewards based on our credit card usage. That’s money in our pockets that we did nothing except spend other money to get. Plus, over $1,000 of those rewards are in the Chase Sapphire rewards account where the points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel (i.e., they’re really worth $1,500).

I understand that credit cards can be trouble for some people, but I struggle to believe that people can’t learn how to use them properly and reap the benefits. I’m not here to provide personal financial advice, but perhaps our use of cards and our experiences can help you form your own opinion.

The most common excuse I hear is, “I don’t trust myself.” It takes discipline, but the internet has made tracking your balance even easier. Instead of having to go to the bank/ATM or wait for monthly statements in the mail to know your account balance, you can check it online whenever you want. Either keep a check register to manage your expenses on your credit card as if it’s using a checking account, or get in the habit of checking your balance daily. Heck, as soon as you spend something on the credit card, go into your checking account and pay that amount towards your credit card immediately. If you’re someone who regularly gets hit with insufficient funds fees, this probably isn’t the first step in your money journey.

We don’t pay cash for anything. Everything goes on a credit card unless it’s prohibited or there’s a service charge that outweighs our rewards.

We pay off the balance of every credit card every month. We have never paid interest on a credit card balance.


The simplest way to collect rewards is to have an all-category-cash-back credit card (e.g., 1% cash back on all purchases). However, we have several credit cards, and each have a different purpose. It’s more work to keep track of the spending categories and know which card to use in which situation, but if you take those few seconds to think of the right card, it can pay off in the long run. Over the years, the categories for each card have blended together as card companies compete for business and expand their reward programs, so we use fewer cards than we used to. We still have 5 that get used regularly.

Typically, one of our requirements is that it have no annual fee. However, we do break our own rule with one of the cards. If you look closer at the benefits the rewards cards offer that require an annual fee, you can compare to your lifestyle and decide if that fee will be worth it. I highlight each card we use here, but there will be an upcoming post specifically geared towards Chase rewards.

Chase Freedom: This card has different spending categories per quarter that it offers 5% cash back on, and you’re required to activate the rewards each quarter to earn those bonuses. The current category includes purchases at wholesale clubs, internet/cable/phone services, and select streaming services. Typically, we use this card the most when it’s a gas-spending category, which is usually one quarter per year. Other reward categories we have seen are grocery stores, restaurants, entertainment, or department stores, for example. There is a maximum amount of rewards that can be earned each quarter. There’s a lot of fine print associated with this type of card, so you need to make sure you’re aware of what counts and what doesn’t within that category.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: This card has an annual fee – $450. This seems steep at first, but the benefits of this card make it worth it for us. For one, you automatically get $300 worth of credit for travel-related charges (e.g., AirBnB, flights, hotels). The credit happens instantaneously when the charge hits. You earn 3% points (one point is the equivalent of a penny if cashed out) on all travel and dining purchases and 1% points on everything else, but if you redeem the points earned through their travel portal, you get a 50% bonus. We’ve booked several hotels, rental cars, and flights through their portal with the points earned. Right now, they’re also offering the 50% bonus on grocery store, dining, and home improvement purchase credits. You’re given access to select lounges at major airports through Priority Pass, get reimbursed on the fee for TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry, and earn an annual $30 credit on Door-Dash purchases. There are many more perks for this card that you can find on their site.

Citi Double Cash: The card provides 1% unlimited cash back for all purchases, plus 1% unlimited cash back for all payments made. We quickly learned that taking the rewards as a statement credit didn’t count as a ‘payment,’ so we didn’t earn 1% back for that. Since then, we transfer our rewards every month or so into our checking account, essentially giving us 2% back on all of our “everyday purchases.”

PNC Everyday Rewards: This card isn’t offered anymore, but a similar card (PNC Cash Rewards) is available. Our card offers 4% cash back on gas, 3% on cinema/movie rentals, 2% on groceries/restaurants/fastfood, and 1% on almost everything else. We use this card mostly for gas purchases now that we have the Chase Sapphire Reserve (used for restaurants and travel). This card also offers several worthwhile bonuses each month, but it’s on you to activate the reward before using it. For example, I currently have 10 days left on a Panera offer to “earn 10% cash back on your Panera Bread purchase, with a $2.00 cash back maximum.”

Bank of America: This card isn’t offered anymore. We’re earning 3% on online purchases, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 1% on all other purchases. When Mr. ODA got the card, the 3% category was used for gas, but BoA recently created the ability for the customer to choose their 3% category. Since PNC has 4% for gas, we were never able to take advantage of that for BoA and thus changed it to online purchases. So now, every time we order from Amazon we get 3% back! Before we were even dating, Mr. ODA didn’t appreciate that Mrs. ODA didn’t have a rewards credit card. He signed her up for this credit card the first moment he could. It literally went like this: Mr. ODA opens a computer and says to Mrs. ODA, “what’s your social security number?” We’ve since let my card close because we had the same card, and his card was more useful because if he deposits the rewards earned into a BOA checking account, he gets a 10% bonus on them. (Note: We let it close due to inactivity versus actively seeking closure on it because that card’s credit limit and history were useful to Mrs. ODA’s credit score. We’ll get into strategizing credit scores in a future post.)

Think about your lifestyle. Do you have a credit card that maximizes each activity or category of spending that you need (travel, dining, grocery, utilities, subscriptions, online purchases, gas, etc.)? Try and find the happy medium between the number of cards you need and your sanity in keeping up with them. Remember that even 1% cash back on purchases is better than $0. Try to use the cards that hit the most categories for how you spend most of your money.


Back in the summer of 2017, we were faced with a tough decision – find a way to pay for In-Vitro Fertilization or stop our quest to have a child. We had already spent thousands on infertility, and IVF was the next step. It was a minimum $22,000 to the doctor on top of what we already paid, and that didn’t include the medicine that was purchased separately. We were offered a personal loan through the doctor’s office – at 7% interest. Technically, we could pay for the procedure with cash, but we didn’t really want to liquidate stocks, we certainly didn’t want to pay 7% interest when it wasn’t absolutely necessary, and we thought it best to earn rewards on such a balance. That’s where a credit card came in.

We opened a new credit card that offered an introductory 0% interest rate. We basically gave ourselves a free loan. We also selected a credit card that provided an introductory bonus of some sort (e.g., spend $5,000 in the first 3 months and receive a $300 statement credit).

To utilize this approach, you need to be able to pay the monthly minimum requirement; if you miss a payment, you lose the introductory rate and have to pay the interest that would have accumulated on the balance from the beginning. On top of being able to pay the monthly minimum, you also need to have an idea of your financial status over the next year because if you only pay the monthly minimum, you’re going to be looking at a big balloon payment at the end of that introductory term.

Then in December 2019, my pregnancy with our second child became high risk. We knew that we would be meeting our deductible of $3,000, plus any other medical costs associated with my hospital stays and delivery. We opened another credit card at 0% interest to cover those expenses. We then had several expenses that we didn’t expect, but were able to put them on this 0% interest credit card (cars needed work to pass inspection, rental properties needed large investments (main water line replacement, roof, HVAC replacement), and insurance premiums). We paid over $25,000 of expenses between February 2020 and February 2021 on this card.

Each time, we could have paid off the card within the first few months if we wanted to push it. However, we kept our funding more liquid to make it work for us instead of going towards 0% interest debt. We paid well more than the minimum each month, and as we got closer to the end of the introductory period, I projected out our finances to ensure that we didn’t use our money to pay down mortgages when we would need it to pay off that credit card.

Basically, within reason, anytime we know a big purchase is coming, we open a new credit card to maximize the new account bonuses and not having to pay off or pay interest on those purchases for 12-15 months. This usually happens about once a year to 18 months. We find this is an appropriate spread of time to keep up with tracking, not having too many hard inquiries on our credit, and not violating restrictions that credit card companies have on opening too many accounts in too short of a time period.

If you’re smart with credit cards, they can be a powerful tool to wealth building, free travel, and creating other financial flexibilities.

Two Years of Changes

On the surface, a jump of $1.1 million in just over 2 years seems impossible, but here’s the break down of how things changed in our finances during our child-rearing hiatus.

The highlights:
– Mrs. ODA left her job;
– We purchased three new properties;
– We sold one property;
– We paid off two mortgages and significantly paid down two others;
– Our investments grew based on market fluctuation, as well as our continued investment; and
– The value of the properties we own appreciated.


Since I met Mr. ODA, I maxed out my Thrift Savings Plan (TSP, the Federal government’s 401k) contributions each year. Before that, I had been putting money into the TSP, but hadn’t maxed it out. I left my career position in May 2019, at which point I stopped contributions to my TSP. However, we put in as much as we could for the year before I quit (if Mr. ODA has his way, we’d have maxed out my contributions); I contributed $13,070 over the first 4 months of 2019. My balance on June 30, 2019 (it’s a quarterly report) was $300k. I have gained $127k over 19.5 months based on my investment strategy for the account with no new contributions. Mr. ODA continues to max out his contributions of $19,500 per year. His account balance has increased due to annual contributions, a loan repayment, and market fluctuations.


A Roth IRA has maximum contribution limitations per year. For 2019, 2020, and 2021, that amount is $6000. We each put $500 per month into the Roth IRA to max out the contributions. We have maxed out the contribution limitation every year we’ve known each other (10 years), and Mr. ODA had done so before Mrs. ODA knew such a thing. We don’t time our contributions throughout the year because we don’t want to stress about when the perfect time is and then possibly end up throwing five grand in when December rolls around. We have taken the ‘set it and forget it’ (essentially dollar cost averaging) approach to the Roth IRA investment.

Dollar Cost Averaging – Since we know we want to put $6,000 in for the year, we break it down into $500 a month and contribute on the 30th of every month regardless of individual pricing. This eliminates the need to pay attention to, and the effect of, volatility in the market. Some may say that dollar cost averaging is not a prudent idea because the market always goes up over time (essentially you’re setting yourself to pay higher and higher per share as the year progresses, on average), but I just can’t handle the psychology of dropping $6k on January 1 and not having anxiety for the rest of the year that it was the right decision.

As for the taxable accounts, this includes accounts we have set up for our children – UTMAs (however, the growth of these funds are not taxable to us because they are taxed at the minor’s rate – 0% for us). An UTMA is the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act. It allows an account to be set up in the child’s name without the child carrying the tax burden of the money. The IRS allows an exclusion from the gift tax up to $15,000. We put $50 per month, per child, into the account. This is also ‘set it and forget it’ with automatic deductions from our checking account.


Our cash balance really has no meaning. We bring in income and we pay our bills. We don’t purposely keep a savings account balance (as I shared in the Leveraging Money post, we’re not interested in maintaining 3x our monthly income in a savings account at 0.01% interest rate). We don’t purposely project how much to put towards mortgage principal.

We currently have a larger-than-normal cash balance, which is left over from selling our primary residence in September. It hasn’t been dwindled lower yet because we have a fence install that needs cash and we were paying down the last of our large credit card. Now that most of these things have happened, we’ll put more of our cash balance towards the investment property mortgage we’re currently paying down.


In October 2018, we had been living in our previous house for just under 3 years. In January 2021, we had only made 1 mortgage payment on our new home. While our current home cost slightly less than our last home and we put 20% down for each house, we had more years of principal pay down in October 2018 than we currently have.


We sold our Virginia home for $400k in September 2020. The valuation of that home rose significantly over the 2019-2020 years due to lower inventory with high demand in the Central Virginia area (probably all over the country, but I don’t know those details).

Also in September 2020, I traded my vehicle in for a van (and I couldn’t be happier :)!). That increased our vehicle valuation since the van is 3 years newer and a higher cost than my previous vehicle.

Even though my vehicle value rose slightly, Mr. ODA’s vehicle’s value continued to decline, and we purchased a home in a lower cost of living area, therefore having a lower value.


Since October 2018, we’ve purchased 3 properties, increasing the total property value of our portfolio. Additionally, all of our properties continue to increase in value. The Virginia homes have increased significantly over the last two years. In the table below, I’ve provided each property’s change in value from January 2020 (oldest snapshot per property I have) to February 2021.

Note that this is a projection based on the internet’s valuation and not an exact science. The only house that we have a recent appraisal on is the one that we refinanced in January 2020. That house’s appraisal was $168,000; we paid $112,500 in July 2017.


Of the three most recent purchases, one was purchased with a partner, split 50/50, and the other two were the last two KY houses purchased. These three added $215k of new debt. However, you see that our mortgages on investment properties have only increased by $27k, which doesn’t exactly say “we bought 3 new houses.” That’s because we’ve paid down (and sold) about $150k of mortgages in addition to 2+ years worth of mortgage payments going towards these loans.

In May 2020 and January 2021, we refinanced two properties. Quick tidbit – we signed the refinance papers in May under a tent in a parking lot, and we signed the January refinance at our kitchen table with a traveling notary. While the interest rate and monthly payment decreased, the loan balances increased because we rolled closing costs into the principal and took $2,000 cash out (the maximum allowed) in each case.

We sold one property that we had been paying down the mortgage on; in October 2018 it had a balance of $11,142, and we sold it in January 2019. We had been paying down the mortgage because it was our lowest balance. When we made that decision, selling the house wasn’t in the immediate future. An opportunity presented itself, and we sold it.

We’ve paid off two mortgages during this period. One was in January 2019 with a balance of about $44k, and another was in April 2020, which also had a balance of about $44k in the October 2018 calculation. Our intent to paying off mortgages was two-fold. It increases our monthly cash flow that helps Mrs. ODA stay home with the kids, and it gets Mr. ODA closer to being able to leave his job. Plus, due to Fannie/Freddie requirements of having no more than 10 conventional loans, it creates the opening for us to get a new mortgage if the opportunity arose. The downside is that it de-leverages the house’s financials and creates a smaller cash-on-cash return for the property.

We have also paid down 2 mortgages over the last two years that aren’t completely paid off.
– One of those properties is the one that we purchased after October 2018 with a partner. It has our highest mortgage rate. The affect on the numbers here just shows that the principal balance of that mortgage is smaller than it was originally, thereby not increasing the mortgage total ‘fully,’ if you will. The principal pay down on that mortgage has been $44k total, but we’re only responsible for half of that.
– On the other mortgage, we’ve paid almost $28k towards principal between October 2018 and now.


We open new credit cards with 0% interest for an introductory period when we have large purchases looming. Not only is the 0% interest beneficial to us for an introductory period of 12-15 months, but we strategically choose new cards that come with a welcome bonus (points or cash) when you reach a moderate spend level in the first several months. Given the strategic timing of a new card before a large purchase, this bonus is easy to achieve. When we have large balances on credit cards, it’s because we’re purposely carrying a balance month-to-month at 0% interest. We have never paid interest on a credit card balance.


Despite Mrs. ODA leaving the workforce, our net worth increased for all the reasons listed above. The one unmentioned piece, because its not directly tied to any accounts, is lifestyle. While our net worth, rents, and investments have increased, our lifestyle has not creeped. We still make strategic decisions, spend money mainly on needs, look for wants that provide our happiness without breaking the bank, and generally keep our financial future at the forefront of our daily lives. We live like no one else does so eventually we can live like no one else can.

Living intentionally allows us to get to where we want to be.

February Financial Update

I had so many things to share, and now it’s time for another net worth update, but I hadn’t gone into the details of our 2019-to-2021 changes! I promise, it’ll come.


We paid off $5,000 left on one of our credit cards. This credit card was opened for a large purchase, and the 0% introductory rate expires at the beginning of March, so I wanted to make sure it was fully paid off so we don’t pay any interest on the balance.

We put $2,000 towards an investment property’s mortgage, and we received $2,000 cash out from another investment property’s refinance.


Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts.

Between our personal home and the investment properties, except for the one that we refinanced so we skip February’s payment, we paid about $5,500 in mortgages. To put this in perspective, we brought in over $8800 from those properties, which doesn’t count $900 worth of rent at this time that the tenant is late on. This doesn’t include the properties that we own with a partner through an LLC, which nets us $400 each month (although one of those properties hasn’t paid rent this month yet either).

  • Our grocery shopping cost us $409.
  • We spent $76 on gas, and $72 eating take-out. We typically visit family once a week (45 miles round trip), go to the grocery (10 miles round trip) once or twice a week, and get take out once a week (10 miles round trip).
  • I made two Amazon purchases for non-grocery items we needed (e.g., activities for our 2 year old, vitamins, items for our daughter’s 1st birthday, and – really important – potty training seat), which totaled $125.
  • We owed personal property taxes from last year’s time in Virginia, so I paid the $94 for that. I also paid the balance of our personal home’s HOA, which was $85 for the rest of the year.
  • As for the investment properties, we had to purchase a new washing machine, which was $528 (although that cost is split with our partner for this particular house). We also paid for the insurance on a property that isn’t escrowed, which was $203.

$430 went towards utilities. This includes internet, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. Our electric bill was insane this month. We moved into our new home in November and had previously been living with gas heat so didn’t know what to expect. Mr. ODA called the HVAC company to have them run a diagnostic check on our units, and we found that the downstairs condenser isn’t working. It isn’t resolved yet due to an ice storm here, but hopefully it’ll be fixed today, and we hope to see some sort of compensation for our high electric bills due to this not working properly.


Our net worth increased by $102k from last month’s update. This change is due to fluctuations in the stock market and the value of the houses. Our 401k balances increased over $35k, our taxable investments rose over $10k, and home values increased over $42k all together. A difference of over $5k in our credit card balances also contributed to the change in net worth.

Tenant Satisfaction

A tenant moves out. Days without a tenant in the house equate to less income. On top of that, you probably have to touch up paint or repaint. You have to clean the carpet. You have to clean all the appliances and bathrooms. You may have to replace an appliance. Then there’s the extreme, that you may have to hire a junk removal company to get rid of the debris left behind and then hire a cleaner that charges a hazmat fee on top of the cleaning fee (does it sound like I’m speaking from personal experience?).

Turnover is when one tenant moves out and another moves in. The goal is to make that period of time as short as possible, or even non-existent. There aren’t always scenarios that you, as the landlord, have control over, but making a tenant feel appreciated and heard can keep them living under your roof for more than the initial lease term.

When a tenant leaves, in the best case scenario, you’re losing 1 or 2 days of income ($80). However, it’s also taken us up to 2 months to get a unit rented. That means you’re making 2 mortgage payments without income to offset them. When calculating your cash-on-cash return, the assumption is typically 5% vacancy rate, or about 18 days per year without rental income.

Then there’s the work you need to do to get the unit ‘rent ready’ again. Again, the best case scenario is cleaning the house and paint touch up. We now pay someone to come in and clean the house between tenants; it became worth the $100 to have someone come in, with the right tools, and be done a lot faster and better than I could do. The preference is to not have any carpet in a house, but we do have a few that have carpet that will need cleaned between tenants ($125). We do our own paint touch ups, so it’s typically no cost except my time because we have a standard paint color, and therefore left over paint. Quick tip: if you’re not painting the whole wall, use a paint brush to touch up the areas that need it, and then go over it with a roller to help blend it together, then you won’t see those touched up spots.

However, there may be more work to do than those quick, simple tasks that you can have lined up for 1 or 2 days. Even if the tenant treats the house great, appliances and carpeting have a useful life and may need to be replaced, which involves ordering and scheduling installation.

The end goal: keep tenants happy and not wanting to move means more money in your pocket. Find compromise and don’t always focus on your bottom line – and your bottom line will likely end up thanking you.

In 5 of our properties, we haven’t had any turnover (owned anywhere from 1.5-4.5 years). In 3 cases of turnover, the tenant left due to a job relocation. We’ve had 2 evictions. Our turnover rate for the average years we’ve owned the properties is 1.75, so the majority of the time the tenants renew their lease.

How do we do it? We create a relationship that says we’ll be responsive and listen to issues, we’re reasonable and fairly lenient with paying rent on time with sufficient notice and justification, and we provide houses that are in good condition.

We had a tenant vacate a house due to a job relocation. She had such a good experience with us, that she set us up with a new tenant for their house. Then a year later, she moved back into town and reached out to me. She said they had such a terrible experience with a landlord that if they were to rent again, it would only be from us. We just happened to have a tenant moving out because that tenant was buying her own house, and our newly vacated house fit all the parameters she wanted. That meant we had 2 days of turnover and didn’t have to list the property.

That house really needed a new paint job. We hadn’t painted it when we purchased it, and now it’s 3 tenants in. We didn’t know that until the tenant moved out and didn’t have time to paint the whole house before the new tenants were moving in. To show that we knew the house wasn’t perfect, we offered the new tenant $50 per room and $25 per paint can if she wanted to paint on her own. She was thrilled because she planned to paint some rooms to begin with, but now there was a financial incentive for her.

As for rent payments, if the tenant usually pays rent without issue and they preemptively reach out to tell us that they’ll need more time to pay rent, we’ll usually waive the late fee. Our calculations for the year don’t anticipate collecting late fees, so it’s not a loss of ours to waive the fee, but it makes them feel like we care about them as people. If you’re a tenant: communicate regularly with your landlord. Your landlord doesn’t want to evict you, doesn’t want to tarnish your record, and doesn’t want to put you in a position of financial hardship, but we can’t work with you if you don’t communicate with us.

We had a tenant ask us to put in a backsplash in the kitchen. He explained that he cooks regularly, and food is splattering on the wall, which was painted in a flat paint and didn’t wipe well (painted before we owned it). This is unconventional because it’s more than a request to fix a leaking sink or an inoperable appliance. However, we saw the benefit to install a backsplash in the longevity of the kitchen’s life and the tenant feeling like they got a ‘win.’ We agreed to do a peel’n’stick backsplash, which met the goal of a wipeable surface without being labor intensive. We even gave them options to choose from that matched the house’s color scheme. It cost us $68 and about 90 minutes of our time to install it. This tenant still lives in the home, which we’ve owned for nearly 5 years now.

We allow pets in the properties. Back when we were trying to rent an apartment for ourselves to live, few allowed pets; if they allowed pets, there was an astronomic fee associated with it. We decided to not eliminate the average 50% of pet owners by mandating a pet-free property, and we wouldn’t charge monthly pet fees or high initial fees (though we still charge some) associated with having a pet. Honestly, I have kids and a dog; my dog has never done anything wrong in our home, but my kids sure do make a mess and spill things. We have had issues with pets in our properties, but the owners have done other things wrong, so it was a poor tenant issue, not necessarily a pet issue.

I also feel that if we provide a house that looks clean and well-kept, then the tenant is more likely to keep it in that condition. We’re setting the expectation that this is the type of house that we’re renting, and we expect it to be in similar condition when we get it back. We understand paint scuffs happen, pictures get hung, and there may be a couple new stains on carpet, but the house is to be returned to us clean and put together, which is even stated in the lease. If we handed over a house that was dirty or had dingy paint and carpet, the tenant is likely to not put as much effort into keeping it in pristine condition. This isn’t foolproof. But we charge the security deposit for anything outside of normal wear and tear, and they understand this will happen from the lease signing, as well as the unspoken expectation made by the condition we hand the house over in. People are more likely to take care of properties when its condition is good enough to feel pride in, and will typically not respect it if it’s apparent the landlord isn’t taking care of it either.

Property Management

Property management can be useful and worth the 10% cost, but sometimes it’s not worth having the middle man. Here, I’ll break down our experiences with 3 property managers, but first, the terms of our management agreements. We have three properties in KY under a management company and three properties in VA with a property manager. In VA, we had 5 managed at one point in time, but we sold one property, and another is now managed by us since we knew the tenant and handled all the showings and lease set up.


Management fee: 10% monthly income. This is standard. If the rent is $900 per month, then you’re paying the management company $90 each month. If the unit isn’t rented, then they get $0.
Leasing fee: 1/2 a month’s rent in KY and $300 per new lease in VA (based on the fee structure of our individual property managers). Standard seems to be one-month’s worth of rent, so we have better fee structure there. In KY, half a month’s rent is about $400. In VA, we rent the houses for more than our KY homes, so half would be more like $500, meaning our $300 fee is a great deal.
Lease renewal fee: $0. We don’t pay either property manager for a renewal. The KY company had 10% of a month’s rent as the renewal fee, but we negotiated out of it. We don’t feel that renewing a lease is outside of the monthly management responsibility.
Maintenance fees: In KY, the agreement template had a 10% markup on all bills paid by the management company. We asked what the monthly management fee covers if not organizing repairs; with no clear answer, the company agreed to remove this fee. However, I have to request the 10% back every time there’s a maintenance fee because their system automatically adds it, and they’re not on top of removing it for our account. Our agreements also include a minimum dollar amount that they can spend on maintenance without our prior approval. This is meant that they can manage small repairs without having to coordinate with us, thereby making the process more efficient.
Unoccupied unit fee: KY also had a $50 per month fee for the months that the unit wasn’t rented. We felt that this disincentivized moving the unit quickly, and we negotiated the removal of this fee.

In all management cases, there’s also a stipulation that the company we sign with has first right of refusal for listing the house for sale.


The property manager is responsible for rent collection, coordinating maintenance calls, move in and move out inspections, distributing notices to the tenant (e.g., late notice), and any legal matters on behalf of us as the owners (which has happened).


In Virginia, we have a property manager for a few of our houses. The relationship began because her husband is our home inspector and handyman. Her experience was managing a few higher end properties, and she wasn’t part of a management company, but she is a Realtor. We were buying houses fairly quickly, and we decided it would be worth our time and effort to have someone managing the ones that were further away from our primary residence, mostly to handle the showings.

At first, the property manager would physically collect rent and deposit it into an account we set up just for the rentals. We chose a bank that was near her and us so that it was more convenient. Over the next couple of years, our tenants organically decided they would all pay electronically. We accept rent via Venmo, PayPal, and Zelle. We closed the bank account, since it required a $500 minimum balance, and now only collect rent online.

We’re more hands-on than your typical investor. This agreement allows charges up to $200, but the property manager calls us for everything. Most times, we want the opportunity to fix it ourselves. No reason to pay a plumber $125 for a service call just to replace a toilet flapper. But then 2 kids entered the picture while Mr. ODA works full time, and doing those types of maintenance calls have gone by the wayside. Two hours including driving time, the trip to get supplies, the possibility of multiple trips to resolve the issue, etc. were all reasons that we now rely on maintenance people to handle much of the work.

We learned a lot about the Virginia Code thanks to our property manager and her experience as a Realtor. We also had several filings and appearances in the court system for evictions that she handled on our behalf.


Our first house purchase was in Kentucky, while we lived in Virginia. We required a property manager because we didn’t want to spend an indefinite amount of time showing the unit nor handling maintenance issues in a market where we had no connections yet. The first property manager was awful; we picked the company because their rates were the cheapest. We paid for that in the long run.

We had some struggles renting the unit that first go around, but we were told we had an agreement with a tenant for her to move in on April 1st. After a week, we weren’t told that the lease was executed, and when we followed up on it, he said she was coming in the following week to sign for April 15th start. He didn’t acknowledge the difference in what we were originally told. We then had to ask several questions on how we’d receive our rent. It was as if they had never had a property owner expect to see the income monthly. Their expectation, as well as it was defined through emails, was that the money would go into an account they set up, they’d draw down anything needed for management and maintenance, and we may or may not see a ledger. When we asked to be a signatory on the account, they acted surprised that we’d want access to the money. Once we stumbled through account set up, I then had to ask for the statement of expenses month-after-month. There was no automatic process, and it was just when a specific employee got around to writing up the statement.

Then, an intoxicated driver drove into our property. Our property manager was out of town and couldn’t check on the unit. We expected someone else in the company to be able to take over when our specific manager was out of town, and that wasn’t the case. We had Mr. ODA’s family go take pictures of the wreck to ensure we got them ASAP.

After raising our concerns about response time to the property manager’s supervisor, we received this response: On a side note, [manager] has become very busy with his role in the company and taken on a very large property so I think this is attributing to some of his slow response times, although that doesn’t make it right or give him an excuse not to answer your questions. After that, we had several issues with the rental rate and whether it was listed for rent. Then, they didn’t push to uphold the lease, which allows us to enter to show the property with 48 hours notice, which would assist in not having a long turnover period of vacancy. They allowed the tenant to deny access over and over again, and they didn’t even start showing the unit until a week after she vacated it. After several more rounds of confusion about what it should be listed at and their complete inability to communicate with us, the contract was terminated.

The tenant moved out mid-April. We had a new property manager in place in mid-May. A two-year lease was executed for June 1st.


This company now manages the townhouse and two new properties we acquired in September 2019. It has not completely been smooth sailing, but communication has been better than the previous company and we haven’t felt forgotten about. As I shared previously, we negotiated out of the 10% markup on invoices in our management agreement. However, their system automatically adds the 10%, so I need to stay on top of the charges to make sure they’re at-cost with no markup.

We’ve had issues with the lease terms meeting what we agreed upon. For example, we charge a one-time pet fee and a pet deposit. We expect to receive the fee as income, but it was put in the security deposit account. With the way it was written in the lease, we can’t access that fee until the tenant moves out now. There were conversations about 18-month leases, but then one lease was only executed for 12 months. Luckily, the tenant was amenable to entering a 6-month extension on her lease.

All in all though, it’s worked well that they handle rent collection and depositing the balance of the rent after their fees in our account each month. While there have been hiccups, it’s been nice to know that they have processes in place and we don’t feel like we’re starting from square-one. Even though we now live in Kentucky, we find their management fees to still be worth the cost and don’t plan to manage these properties on our own at this time.

House #1: Off market purchase

Our first investment purchase was a townhome in central Kentucky (while living in Virginia) in February 2016.

At this point, we had purchased and sold our first primary residence, and had purchased a new construction home. Our first home sold for $62,500 more than what we purchased it for and we walked away from the sale with over $130,000. Our new home needed about $70k for closing, leaving $60k that we wanted to use for investment properties.


Mr. ODA’s brother-in-law had purchased a foreclosed townhome while he was in college and rented a room out to his friend – excellent forethought and financial decision making there! When him and his wife got married, they were ready to look into a home with more space and less stairs, so we offered to purchase the house. About 2.5 years after he had purchased it, we set him up to make $16,500.

Their Realtor suggested listing at $90-95k. The comparable sales in the area were suggesting 95-100k, but the townhouse in question had a lower PVA than the others recently sold. There was another townhome in the community listed for sale at $100k, but it had been on the market for 4 months at that time, meaning the market wasn’t interested in it at that price. Additionally, this deal was being done off market, which automatically yields a higher net for the seller because there were no Realtor commissions and minimizes the risk of a listing. They didn’t need to get it ‘show ready’ or have to leave the house for an indefinite number of showings. We removed the uncertainty of how long the house would be listed and therefore how many mortgage payments they’d still be paying before it sold. We also eliminated the possibility of an appraisal and home inspection negotiation during the contract period. For all those reasons, we offered $85,000. We settled on $87,000 with $2,000 in seller-paid-closing-costs. A family member, who’s a lawyer, sent us a template for a contract, so we used that as a starting point, and I wrote up our own contract.

We first looked into a loan assumption. We started with several questions regarding how he was paying PMI (whether we’d have to assume the PMI, whether the PMI would be recalculated for the new appraised value based on our purchase, and whether there would be a penalty if we paid down the balance faster to eliminate the PMI), how the loan balance would transfer cleanly, and whether they needed to cash out escrow. After asking all these types of questions, we learned that PNC wouldn’t allow a loan assumption of an FHA loan since our intent was to use it as an investment property.

We did not do our own home inspection. We figured the HOA would cover the exterior, and we reviewed the home inspection he had completed two years prior. There had been a few upgrades since the initial home inspection, and there wasn’t anything that needed our immediate attention. We bought a new washer and dryer since the unit didn’t have any, and I painted most of it before it was listed for rent.


Both sides of the transaction were able to sign the purchase contract electronically. We went through the whole loan processing without having to visit Kentucky. The attorney shipped the loan documents to us, we invited a notary over to watch us sign the papers, and then we FedEx’d the papers back to the loan officer for the sellers to sign.

While the closing itself went smoothly, we had several issues with our loan provider.

Our loan was a portfolio loan, which means that it’s a loan on the primary market and not backed by Fannie/Freddie. The interest rate was 4.5%; it was amortized over 30 years, but it had a balloon payment after 10 years. We paid careful attention to this loan (e.g., made many, frequent principal payments) because that meant we’d owe over $59k in 10 years.

It was amortized by 365/360 Rule (i.e., by the day) rather than the way it works in a traditional mortgage (annual rate divided by 12). In a traditional mortgage, the principal and interest difference is based on an annual APR, which creates a consistent amortization that gradually reduces the amount of interest in each month’s payment compared to the principal that will be paid. In the 365/360 Rule, each month’s principal and interest applied to the loan is different because it’s based on the number of days in the individual month. For example, in March, we paid February’s 28 days of interest, and in April, we paid March’s 31 days of interest; therefore, more of our March payment was applied to principal.

Here’s a snapshot of the amortization schedule, reflecting the changes of interest and principal by month.

The bank’s system was antiquated in that we could not make online payments unless we had a bank account with their bank. Being that this bank was in Kentucky while we lived in Virginia, we weren’t interested in opening a bank account and funding it just to pay this loan. This meant that all of our payments had to be sent by check to their location for keyed entry. The people responsible for entering these payments were not aware of the principal-only concept, and we spent almost the entire first year of the loan having to call every single time we sent a principal payment to have them reverse it, apply it as principal-only, and credit us the days worth of interest it cost us. After several months of this occurring and the response being that the teller doesn’t know how to enter it (then teach them…), we filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. We received all the interest owed to us as a result and all future payments were applied correctly.

Due to the poor relationship with the bank and the impending balloon payment, we paid off the loan faster than the 10 years. The loan was issued February 2016, and we made our final payment in April 2020.


We hired a property manager since we were not local and didn’t want to manage showings or maintenance issues in an unknown market. The property management fee is 10% of the monthly income. We actually had several issues with the first property management company, but ‘managing the property manager’ is another post. We released ourselves from that first contract and negotiated with another company, who has been managing the property for the last 4 years.

We have also had to manage the HOA company to address water leaks that stemmed from the brick facade. Both times, the issue presented was eventually resolved, but never in a timely manner. Unfortunately, we are responsible for interior fixes (e.g., drywall) caused by the exterior cracks, which are covered by the HOA since it’s a townhome.

One final interesting story about this house. In November 2016, just a few months after we purchased the house, an intoxicated driver crossed the center line, hopped the curb, drove through the fence, and drove into the back of our townhome, destroying our HVAC unit and taking out a post of the 2nd story deck. It was a Sunday morning. We didn’t pay anything for this incident. The HVAC and a broken light were covered by the insurance company; the deck was repaired by the HOA’s management company. It was an incredible incident.

The townhouse hasn’t been easy to rent. We actually looked into selling it, but our property manager, who is also a Realtor, thought we could only list it at $90,000, which was not something we were interested in, having purchased it at $85k. Once the place is rented, we don’t have issues with maintenance, rent payment, or tenant-related issues. It just takes a month or two of vacancy before we find a qualified applicant. We have offered incentives for leases longer than 12 months to help eliminate our turnover rate and number of days vacant.