We’ve been busy, which has kept our expenses down in our personal life. I’ve been working a few days at our local racetrack, which has been for my entertainment and a good way to bring in some money for our household. While our busy schedule has kept us from eating at restaurants and spending money on activities, the last quarter of the year brings big expenses on the rental front for insurance and taxes.
I still haven’t decided how to format these financial updates, but I did work on categorizing all the expenses for our year. I’d like to see how our spending changes through the year, and if I keep a running tally of the information, I’ll be able to consistently categorize expenses. At this point, I’ll just report for the whole year later in January, but it feels good to have that process started since there are a lot of transactions (already at 786 line items!).
We paid an extra $2000 towards the mortgage that we’re trying to pay off (we paid $1000 and our partner paid the other thousand). That mortgage balance is about $26k, which we’re responsible for half.
Kentucky taxes are due in October. Well, they’re actually due in November, but they give you a 2% discount if you pay before 11/1, so we of course do that. Two of our houses are still escrowed, so I don’t need to worry about that, but I had to pay one of the houses, which was about $1300. As an aside, I put it in the mail on 10/6 and it was taken out of our account on 10/8; I’ve never seen the mail and processing of taxes happen so quickly!
We had someone do the work on a house (fix bedroom doors and replace a missing section of fence) that was left over from my July walk throughs, and that was $490 (split with our partner). This house has been notoriously late on payments with very little communication, but they’ve turned a corner. They’re still late with payments, but they pay the late fee without prompting and give us advanced notice, which is all we ask for! They say they’ll be back on track with on time payments next month.
We’ve had issues with another rental, which I shared in my last post. They were approved for state assistance, so I’m expecting September, October, and November rent from the state here soon. Since there’s no timeframe for when that will come in, I’ve told her that she has to keep paying on the payment schedule we agreed to, and anything she pays will just go to December rent at this point.
We had all the drywall for the basement delivered in September for $788. Several pieces arrived damaged from the strap that held them down. Mr. ODA called Home Depot since the delivery fee was $75 for this convenience, and they were super nice. She refunded us for the broken sheets and the delivery fee ($125!).
Only $130 spent in gas (that will probably go up next month since I’m driving to/from Lexington 3 times per week for work, plus a few more personal trips there). Only $92 spent in restaurants!
While some of the expenses for rentals have trickled in, the next month is when most of them are going to hit. We’ll also have an annual medical bill come due in November.
Our net worth increased by $21k from last month. Our credit card balances are low, and then our cash balance is higher than usual because we used to just put any extra cash towards mortgages, but right now we’re trying to pay off that mortgage we have with a partner and rethink our approach (do we want to save for another down payment.. type question).
We have one house that seems to always have a story. Well, we have two that are consistently late, but the one just says, “it’ll be late,” while this other one has a crazy story. While trying to gather my information on how we’ve worked with her so much, I thought I’d share some of these stories. Perhaps if you’re a tenant, you can see the landlord’s perspective on how this just doesn’t add up and there’s eventually an end to the rope. So just for fun, it’s story time.
This person has a history of fraud. She also had domestic abuse and restraining orders against her that caused us to lose one of the tenants at the beginning of 2020. There are the typical excuses like car maintenance issues, and then there are interesting ones.
We started the pandemic off with a “furlough” letter. Knowing the history we have with this tenant, I didn’t take it at face value. I struggled to find a contact for the company that the letter was from, and then I eventually found a way to get in touch with a local office (as in… where she works and not the one in Florida where this letter seemed to come from). I asked for an employment verification for the tenant’s name and whether she was furloughed. The woman on the other end did a laugh/sigh thing and said, “She’s not furloughed. We’ve been over this several times. Her hours were reduced, but she is still employed and expected to show up to work.” I let her know that I received a letter from the company stating a furlough, which she said she was unaware of.
Virginia has a Rent Relief Program for tenants that were affected by the virus and lost income. The program is for unpaid, past due rent. I pretended to be a tenant and went through the application process; it very clearly only let me input unpaid rent that’s past due (i.e., I couldn’t claim that I wouldn’t be able to pay a future rent owed). I even went through the trainings available on the system. I was very thorough. The tenant paid January rent, and then I received notification that the tenant applied for assistance. I can’t remember how I knew it was for this tenant (because in the future, I’ll get emails from the system that I can’t tie to any tenant), but I knew. I called the hotline and asked what month was being claimed as unpaid and was told January. I sent the tenant an email letting her know that she was not eligible and that I had done my due diligence acknowledging the information. I had actually also called because I didn’t appreciate that the documentation on file required my social security number to be on paperwork that the tenant had access to. For some reason, this didn’t bother any other landlords, but it’s not something I want this person having! When I told her she was ineligible for the assistance, she said it was because she expected February’s rent to be late, which she then paid without the assistance.
She paid August’s rent on August 31. Why? She was in a car accident. When? On April 24, 2021. How is this related to August rent? I don’t know.
This doesn’t exactly explain why she doesn’t have income or what happened to her job. She said in passing that she would start a new job on August 30th, but we don’t know what happened to her last job or how long she had been unemployed.
It’s now October 6, and she hasn’t paid September or October rent yet. Why? Because she went to Costa Rica on September 1 (or 3rd?) and tested positive for COVID, so she had to quarantine. She shared several pieces of correspondence related to the car accident, which told us that she received over $5,000 in the insurance settlement. Questions that I have, which have not been asked and/or gone unanswered: 1) If you don’t have any money to pay rent until a car accident settlement check arrives, how are you affording to go on a trip? 2) If you received the settlement check in time to pay August rent on 8/31, why didn’t you pay rent with the rest of that check on 9/1? 3) Why didn’t you pay rent before you left town? 4) If you were unemployed for a while, and were starting a job on August 30, how and why did you leave the country (during a pandemic)? 5) Through communication with her girlfriend, we learned that she went to Costa Rica on 9/1, but she tested positive on 9/3. How did you get into the country and not get tested for 2 days? 6) I received an email on 9/6 stating she couldn’t get the payment to go through. What were you doing between 9/1 and 9/5 that I’m receiving this email on 9/6? 7) I responded to that email and gave other electronic options for payment. I received no answer or acknowledgement. Why couldn’t you respond to this email or attempt to pay rent again? 8) Assuming internet issues, I let it go for two days before sending a follow up email. No response to that email. Why? 9) At this point, I got stern. I very rarely get stern with people.
10) I received a response from someone stating they were her girlfriend and monitoring her email. If you’re monitoring her email, did you not find it urgent to address the lack of rent payment emails you’ve been seeing? 11) This person says she’s working with the family to get rent paid timely. I receive no rent nor do I receive an update. 12) Even though I had said I’d give until the 13th for an update, I ended up being responsible for my household while my husband traveled and didn’t get to the follow up until the 15th. I sent an email asking for an update. No response. 13) I don’t handle the text communication, so I waited until Mr. ODA was unoccupied with his work tasks, and asked him to text her on Friday. She responds! She says she’s been back for several days. Really? Why didn’t you get in touch with us? Why didn’t you let us know your status? 14) She says she can’t pay rent until Wednesday (the 22nd) because she had to pay for the extra costs for staying in Costa Rica for longer than anticipated. What if you had paid rent before you left? How would you have been able to pay for that hotel stay and getting out of the country? Why is it on me to float this financially? 15) Mr. ODA texted and asked about payment on the 22nd, we got no response, and I sent a notice of default. She suddenly was able to share that the person she was going to get the money from didn’t have it, and she couldn’t pay rent. Then she responded to my email and said she wanted a payment plan (Virginia requires me to offer a payment plan once every 12 month cycle). 16) I put together a payment plan to start payment on 10/1. She responded that she wouldn’t be paid until 10/8 because of the start date after she returned to the country. So she can’t pay anything towards TWO MONTHS worth of rent until it’s late for both months.
I front-loaded the payments in the plan. First, I need to pay my mortgage, which I’ve now paid twice without offset from a tenant living in my house. Second, I’m not offering a payment plan for the next six months worth of rent, so come November 1st, she needs to pay rent in full. She can’t have evenly spaced payments while also paying full rent in future months. I put the due dates as every other Friday, starting 10/8, as she claimed she had no money until then.
I stated several times that the money is due on the date that we have agreed upon, and there is no five-day grace period like there is in the lease. Too many people think rent is due on the 5th because there’s a grace period. It’s due on the 1st, but there’s a grace period to allow for payment without penalty. October 1st was a Friday, and I still received rent on the 4th and 5th. Since this is overdue rent, I wasn’t going to play the follow up game that I’ve already had to play far too much in the last two months, so it was due that day, and that’s it.
During this process, she applied for assistance from the State for COVID relief. I also included the following: Any monies received from the State’s program will eliminate the last payments first. If and when I receive money from the State, I will let you know, and I will update the schedule accordingly. Do not assume any payments received; adhere to this schedule until told otherwise. If you can pay more than the amount throughout this timeframe, please do. Any and all payments received will work to eliminate the latest payments due first.
Since I didn’t find any requirements on the how the payment plan was to be set up, I didn’t extend it very long. The final payment is scheduled for 12/17, so that’s just 6 payments. As I mentioned, I front-loaded the payments, so the first two are $550. Then they taper to $350. The payments to be made also include the two months worth of late fees.
If she doesn’t adhere to the payment plan that she had to agree to, then I can seek possession from the court for default on the lease. Hopefully we’ll have some money here by the end of the week!
There’s really no point to this except to share in our experiences. The excuses are creative and entertaining. We’re lucky that we have the ability to float one house under the payments of all the other houses, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to be two months behind on income.
The key to financial freedom is passive income or cash flow so that you don’t have to work, right? Well, managing rental real estate isn’t truly passive, so a hiring a property manager to do that work on your behalf is enticing. But are the benefits worth the cost?
We have 12 rental properties, and 5 of those are self-managed. While I’ve mentioned the benefits of a property manager, I wanted to run through the reasons we don’t have a property manager on all of our properties. It comes down to time management and cash flow.
THE DETAILS ON SELF-MANAGED HOUSES
The very first property we bought was in Kentucky, while we lived in Virginia, so we needed a manager on that one. But then we bought two houses in Virginia. They were right next door to each other, and I worked about 10 minutes away. Without kids, I had the time and flexibilities to manage them. Plus, both houses had active leases on them when we took possession. Without having the immediate need and learning curve of finding a new tenant, it was easy to manage the rent collection and any minor issues that came up on the houses. A property manager would have cost us $105 each month on each of these houses. Even now that we don’t live near them, the houses are newer and we know they don’t have any major issues, and the tenants keep renewing their lease, so it’s [relatively] easy to manage from afar. There are some maintenance hiccups – like the flooring debacle – but mostly I just collect the rent electronically. One house is routinely late on the rent, so I have to manage that property more than the norm, but it’s all via electronic communication and doesn’t require me to be on site.
Our third purchase in Virginia was of a vacant 2 bedroom house. Still, no kids meant that I could manage listing and showing the property to prospective tenants. This was the first time that we had to figure out the tenant search process, but we were able to show it to a couple and have it rented the first weekend it was listed. Again, the house requires very little attention, and I just collect rent. Even when the house had to be turned over, the tenant leaving put us in contact with a friend of their family’s, and that’s been who’s living there for several years.
Our last two that are self-managed are the two that we have with a partner. I handle the rent collection and paperwork. When we have an issue, we’re more likely to call a handyman than do the work ourselves anymore, but again, phone calls and emails aren’t that difficult. We just had a handyman go out to look at two broken doors and to replace a missing fence panel. While I was there over the summer, I had secured the railing that was loose, but I didn’t want to do any of the other work. It also helps that we have a partner, so the cost of any work to be done is only half for us.
For the past year, we took over management of a property that had been with our property manager in Virginia. We knew the tenants from a previous house of ours, and we felt that our management of that house from afar would be easy as compared to the $120/mo we were saving by self-managing. We didn’t have any issues we couldn’t manage during the year. However, they’re now purchasing a home. We’re obviously not there to manage showings, so we gave this property back to our property manager. She listed the house and showed it for us. It’ll cost us $300 for the listing and 10% of the monthly rent for her management ($135). For the last 11 months, it has been rented at $1200. That means that we’ve had an extra $1620 worth of income for the year than we would have ($120 for 11 months, and the $300 listing fee).
For our Kentucky houses, we are very hands off. We don’t weigh in on costs less than $200, and we don’t get any updates regarding rent payments or tenant searches. Sometimes it’s too hands-off for me. For instance, I don’t even get a copy of the executed leases until I ask for it, and I don’t get a copy of any receipts (I just get a summary of charges taken out of our proceeds). It has been hard on me psychologically, but I’ve learned to let it go over the past few years.
For our Virginia houses, we’re more hands on, and sometimes it’s too much. We still discuss all the details when an issue arises, so it’s just saving me the time of calling and coordinating contractors, which is rarely necessary. Then there are times that I even handle ordering and contractors; for instance, I just handled replacing the hot water heater and refrigerator at one of our houses. All of our tenants pay rent electronically, so that’s not even on our property manager’s radar (she used to collect rent and then deposit it in a joint account we gave her access to). Since she’s not responsible for rent collection, it’s then on me to let her know if someone hasn’t paid, and she handles the follow-up communication.
However, our Virginia property manager has been worth her weight in gold because she has handled multiple lease defaults for us (with one actually leading to an eviction), which involves going to the court house to file the motion and then showing up for the hearing(s). We had one tenant who had to be served multiple notices, but she eventually left on terms mutually agreed upon. We had another tenant vacate a house because his kids were attending a school out of the address’s district (and blamed us for that.. I don’t know!), but we took him to court to require payment of past due rent from before he vacated. Then we had a true eviction, where the tenant stopped paying rent and had to be taken to court multiple times. The judge ruled in our favor and told her to vacate the premises, which involved police officers escorting them out of the house. We have been very lucky that the houses we manage haven’t ventured into the realm of taking them to court (although one in close), and that our property manager has been able to handle everything on our behalf for these instances.
We can get caught up in the “we’re paying for nothing to happen” mentality with our property managers. Each month, we pay out $720 for property management. In Virginia, our property manager doesn’t even collect rent, so most months there’s no action from her for the houses. In Kentucky, the property manager collects rent, holds it, and pays out our share the next month. It can be hard to see that total number that we’re paying, but for those months that involve a lot of coordination in receiving quotes, going to court, or meeting contractors, it’s nice that we don’t have to deal with it.
Sometimes it’s worth paying for peace of mind and relaxation, knowing someone else is handling your problems for you, but you need to choose where that balance is for you. Do you want to manage it yourself to know your money is being spent fully at your own discretion; do you want to have a manager while maintaining a lot of the decision making; or do you want to be fully hands off with a management company who you can trust to handle your property with your best interests at the forefront? It’s all a balance of how much you think that’s worth compared to your time spent and knowledge on managing rentals.
Cooler weather is here! We have a full calendar these days with pre-school and sports. I’ve been managing that by setting a lot of alarms giving me a half hour warning that we need to leave the house for something. We also celebrated our son’s 3rd birthday with both sides of our family, which was so much fun. He knew all about a birthday and the traditions, did a great job at being grateful for his gifts, and hasn’t stopped playing with all those new toys. This month, his birthday party and a long weekend trip to Virginia were our big expenses, while the sports and activities kept us home and not eating at restaurants in between those things! On top of all this craziness, Mr. ODA went on a work trip, then I picked up a few shifts at the race track to help them out. And so, here we are, two-and-a-half weeks since my last post.
About once a month, we have a meeting with our financial advisor. During last month’s meeting, his software system said that we hit $3 million net worth! Unfortunately, my numbers last month didn’t say that, and they still don’t, but we’re right there. I didn’t think it worth it to line up my information against how the software is reporting the number because a lot of our net worth is based on the current market value of our real estate, which isn’t necessarily an exact amount. I know Mr. ODA had a goal for the first million in net worth, but I wouldn’t say that we had a goal to hit this particular number. With the financial advisor, we’re working on our mentality. We’re basically trying to figure out what’s our true goal (instead of just this number), and if we had (and did) everything we wanted, what would that cost difference be? I’m working on two other posts about our mentality, and I’ll have to include this side of the thought process as well.
One of our credit cards has a balance of over $2,200 in this net worth update. That includes almost $1,000 of a hotel that Mr. ODA had for a work trip, the hotel for Richmond at $450, and an AirBnB charge for an upcoming trip of $424. It also includes Mr. ODA’s food purchases while on travel, which amount to about $180, and an Uber trip of $10. The work expenses will be reimbursed, but that’s not yet accounted for in the math since the payment hasn’t hit our checking account yet.
With the child tax credits coming in, our investments have gone up each month. We’re putting some of that into the kids’ investment accounts. We’ve also had other unexpected income, which led to another $500 transfer into Mr. ODA’s investment account. Usually, we see an automatic contribution of $1100 between our Roth accounts and the kids’ accounts. This month, we had $1,900.
All of our housing expenses were about the same. This coming month has a trip planned, a day to hang drywall in the basement, and me working at the race track nearly every weekend.
Why did we do so much traveling and activities this spring and summer? Most people probably assume all our travel was making up for a year of not traveling during the pandemic, but we came at it from a different perspective.
We’ve had a long term goal of a beach/lake/mountain home. After another failed search to make this dream come true this past Spring, we decided to redirect that money to trips this summer. I’ll run through the background, the financial decision, and how we spent our travel “budget.”
We first looked into a vacation rental in Snowshoe, WV – six years ago. Snowshoe is a ski resort, and one of the better available ones to those of us south of the Mason Dixon. It also has a draw during the summer with hiking and mountain biking, albeit not as constant of a stream of people needing a rental. The draw for us was that it was halfway between our home in VA and Mr. ODA’s family in KY.
We went as far as meeting a Realtor and looking at properties. If the house was off Snowshoe proper, it was a good distance from the ski lifts and not in great condition. If the house (condo) was on Snowshoe proper, it came with a lot of rules and regulations and costs. Everything near the ski lifts had to be under Snowshoe’s management, which included their cleaning costs, and their booking process. This meant that someone couldn’t necessarily go onto the website to book our unit. Someone would go on their website and book “a 2 bed and 1 bath unit” and the system would cycle through the bookings. With the high condo costs and the uncertain bookings for those units, as well as the distant location of the units that weren’t subject to the condo process and cost (plus finding a management and cleaning company for that), we stopped the search.
Since then, it’s been on the wish list, but we weren’t sure what direction we wanted to go.
When we moved to KY, we decided to look into a lake house. We want it to be close enough that we could just pick up and go (e.g., trying to keep it under 2 hours), we want it to be on a lake that allows motor sports (so this rules out anything that’s “no wake” or prohibits motors of any kind), and we want it to be lake front (we learned this during our recent search, and hadn’t fully realized how much we wanted this until we saw a house that wasn’t on the lake directly).
We looked at parcels of land and kept an eye on a few houses listed in the March/April timeframe of this year. Our initial thought was that we would purchase land and hold it until we were ready to have a house built. The parcels of land we looked at didn’t meet the criteria we wanted (good size, on the water, ability to build a dock). I started to feel like we were pressuring ourselves to make a decision for something that we didn’t actually need.
We took a break and just kept an eye on Zillow. We went to see a new construction house on Herrington Lake, but it wasn’t actually on the lake. It was next to the community pool, across the street from the community’s dock, had 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms with a loft, and it was brand new. It even had a two car garage, which wasn’t something on our wish list. However, the price tag was high; it had been listed for many months, and we didn’t feel the comps supported such a cost for it not being literally on the lake. We spent a lot of time mulling it over, but decided to not even put an offer in. Lucky for the seller, they did get a full price offer shortly after that.
I decided that we should wait at that point. I figured we may have better luck waiting until the end of the summer (perhaps people will think they’ll spend their last summer on the lake and then unload it?), and that we shouldn’t force this decision to not get exactly what we want for something that isn’t a necessity.
THE FINANCIAL DECISION
If we purchased a $250,000 second home, and I assume an interest rate at 4.5% (even with excellent credit, the rates you see advertised are for primary residences), we’re looking at a mortgage payment of $1,200. On top of that, we’ll have escrow costs, HOA costs, the possibility of management fees, and then even PMI costs. That was another big factor; we’ve been throwing any ‘extra’ money towards paying off two rental property mortgages, so we don’t have $50,000 liquid to cover a 20% down payment. Without having the 20% down payment, it wasn’t even guaranteed that we’d be able to get a loan for a vacation house.
Knowing $250,000 was even more than we expected to spend, I conservatively assumed $1,200 in monthly house costs. Instead of spending $1,200 each month to go to the same destination over and over again, why don’t we just mentally allocate $1,200 each month to travel and go to all different places? And so, months of a crazy amount of travel began.
HOW DID WE SPEND OUR ENTERTAINMENT ALLOCATION?
We started with a last minute trip to Atlanta to see the Braves. We spent 4 nights in Atlanta, went to two baseball games, met up with family for lunch, visited Stone Mountain, and explored the city parks. We stayed in a 2-bedroom hotel room because it was cheaper than any AirBnB options, and I was highly focused on giving the kids separate sleeping spaces. The hotel experience was less than favorable (dirty, AC broken, limited breakfast, roaches … and a good name hotel!), and after some conversations with the hotel, we ended up not paying for it. They had credited us one night without us asking after the AC continued to not work after their “fix.” Mr. ODA then had a casual conversation with the manager about the stay as he was checking out, and the manager credited a second night. I thought we paid for the rest of the nights, but it never showed up on the credit card. Our total trip cost was $460.
Later in May, we went camping in the Daniel Boone National Forest with some family. We booked a “cabin” (I used that term loosely; it was walls, a roof, and platforms for sleeping bags, but it had electricity and AC!) for two nights. We went swimming, rode bikes, and hung out under a canopy while it poured on us for most of the main day we were there. Our dog got to come on this trip, so we didn’t have any pet fees. We brought groceries to cover our meals since there’s nothing close by. Since we’d be buying groceries anyway and gas is negligible since it’s an hour away, I’ll just focus on lodging, which cost us $158.
Almost a year ago, we planned a trip with the extended family to Hocking Hills. This shouldn’t really count against our “monthly allowance” mentality since it was going to happen regardless, but I’m including it anyway since we didn’t do any other June trip. Mr. ODA’s parents covered the cost of lodging, and the rest of us covered the cost of food and our canoe rentals. We went hiking, got rained on, and played games at our rental. On the last full day, we rented canoes and went down the Hocking River, which was a great experience. We went with 6 kids, 3 of which were under 3 years old. So if you’re a beginner or looking for something to do with little ones, this was a fun time for $52 per canoe! This trip cost us about $200.
Before we left Virginia, we discussed doing walk throughs of our properties and being more present with them. There were some properties that we hadn’t seen since we bought it because they don’t have maintenance requests or we call someone else for the work. Well, it was a whirlwind to move, and we didn’t do that last summer. After the debacle with the flooring replacement at one of the houses, we knew we needed to get back there to tie up loose ends. We have a wedding to attend in the area in September, but decided this couldn’t wait until then. The first weekend we could go ended up being the 4th of July. Being in Richmond, VA, there isn’t a large AirBnB market for a normal sized family. All of the options that were available were meant for multiple families in a large house, and we just aren’t interested in paying $700 per night for ourselves. We went with a hotel halfway between Richmond and our old neighborhood, and because we stayed for 5 nights, it was considered “long term,” and it only cost us $525, which included $75 for the dog being with us. Since our entertainment was either working on rental houses or visiting with our old friends, we just had food and gas costs. The total trip cost was $690 (and most of that was tax deductible!).
We learned that St. Louis is only about 4.5 hours away from us, so we looked to see the Braves’ schedule. They were scheduled for mid-week games for the first week of August, so we marked it down. Unfortunately, things were busy, and I didn’t make the plans in advance. I struggled to find pet care for our dog, and I ended up booking an AirBnB the morning before we left. We searched and searched, and this one randomly popped up that morning, and it worked out well. Lodging cost us $585. Our entertainment (tickets and parking) cost us $135. Food and gas cost us $213. Total trip cost was $933.
My plan to visit my family in NY in July didn’t come to fruition because we had to manage 4 days worth of our builder being here to fix things in the house, and then I had a doctors appointment pop up that had to be a specific time. Instead of driving there and back (12+ hours each way), we booked some flights. We’re able to go from Cincinnati to JFK directly (such a blessing with 2 kids under 3!). The flight was 2 hours, plus an hour on each side for driving (although, it took us an hour and a half to get to my parents’ house when we landed at JFK because a 3:20 arrival, plus what felt like a 2 mile walk from the gate to passenger pickup, put us at getting on the Belt Parkway at 4 pm – that’s not good for that area!), and getting to the airport an hour early. We left out of LGA, but it was still a direct flight, and we arrived 25 minutes early! We had hardly any wait at TSA for either leg, no issues with boarding or the flight, and we got our gate checked bags easily. I’ll take 5-6 hours of travel over 12+ hours. The flights were booked through our Chase Travel Portal, costing us the equivalent of $833 in points. The parking is $9 per day, the gas to get there is negligible, and we actually didn’t spend anything on food (I very much owe my parents for that!). Our entertainment goal was to go swimming in my parents’ pool the whole time, and that’s just what we did! The trip cost us $36 in parking and $100 for our dog’s boarding.
On top of these long trips, we also did a lot more activities that were just for one day. We went to 2 Reds games, the Cincinnati Zoo several times, a UK baseball game, Bernheim Forest, and random family/friend activities. It turns out we didn’t spend the $1200 per month we had mentally allocated, but we kept ourselves really busy and had a great time making memories!
Now it’s time to enter a new phase of life: preschool and sports! I’m pretty excited!
This house was purchased in 2018, and it was actually purchased by our Realtor and friend, under the plan that we would formalize the partnership after closing. Mr. ODA had been searching for another investment property, but we had 10 mortgages already (9 investment properties and our personal home), which is a Fannie Mae cap (see the Selling Guide, section B2-2-03). One of our loans was a commercial loan, and we had hoped that it didn’t count against the 10 mortgage limit, but it did. Fannie says that the cap is the number of properties being financed, regardless of type, when looking to originate a new loan. Our Realtor had one rental property on his own and had mentioned how he wanted to purchase more properties to create an income stream through that option.
Mr. ODA and our partner went to see the house without me in March 2018. After the initial visit to see the house, they requested the information for the tenant that was living there. We received their applications, current lease, move in check list, and rent roll. They had started living there October 1, 2015, and while they had been late, they had always eventually paid rent with the late fee. During some of our initial searches, we had someone tell us that rent on the 6th was more profitable because they’re pay with a late fee. While we don’t encourage late payments (and we’re actually really lenient with late fees in general), this eased our tension when we saw late payments.
The house is a 4 bedroom, 2 bath, with a fully finished basement. The condition of the house was probably slightly lower than what I would have accepted based on the pictures, but I hadn’t seen the house in person. I actually had only seen one room of this house before our walkthroughs this past July. Our partner and Mr. ODA said that the pictures didn’t do the house justice, and it was worth purchasing.
After our partner purchased the house in April 2018, we established a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). My last post goes through the details of why we established an LLC for joint ownership, but we don’t use LLCs for our personally owned properties at this point.
We requested three different options for the mortgage numbers: A) 20 year fixed with 20% down was 5.125%; B) 20 year fixed with 25% down was 4.75%; or C) 30 year fixed with 25% down was 4.875%.
All of the options included ‘points’ without us being told upfront or requesting it. We questioned the reason for the quotes having these points and were given a half-hearted response that sounded sketchy. We ended up with a 30 year fixed, no points, and a rate of 4.875%. There wasn’t an incentive to go with a shorter loan (and therefore a higher payment each month) at a higher rate just to put 20% down. We went for the 30 year instead of the 20 year to increase our cash flow opportunity since we have a partner on the house and are only getting 50% of the income and taxable expenses.
Our partnership actually started with a loan for the down payment of this house. Mr. ODA and our partner agreed to allow us to pay him back over time for our 50% of the closing costs. We didn’t have the amount needed liquid, but we knew we could make up the amount owed over a short period of time instead of liquidating money from our investment accounts. We were able to pay most of what was needed for his closing, but we “took” a loan from him for $8,000. I used a loan agreement template that I found online and manipulated it for our purposes.
We established the loan terms to be the same as the mortgage he was entering into (4.875%). Most personal loans are for five years, so we chose that timeframe, even though we knew we’d pay it off much earlier than that. We could have just agreed to the terms and not documented it based on our relationship, but I’ve always felt better having things overly documented. I was basically an auditor in my career, and I’ve seen how “gentlemen’s agreements” over rental-related things haven’t worked out. I formalized the process through this contract and had all of us sign it. While the contract was mostly for our partner’s benefit (to make sure we paid him and he received interest), this was the only documentation we had that once he closed on the house, he then had to give us 50% share of the property ownership.
I established a simple amortization schedule through Excel’s templates. We established the loan terms as 5 years (60 months) at 4.875% (same as the mortgage being executed). When I made extra payments to him, I logged them in the spreadsheet. We only made two payments to him, but he made $44 for not having to do anything except accept our money. 🙂
We had to establish an LLC to be able to claim the tax benefits on this house for our 50% share. The attorney required us to have the tenants acknowledge the transfer of ownership to the LLC since we hadn’t executed a new lease in our names. The attorney then took care of the establishment of the LLC with the State and transferring the deed of this house to the LLC.
We’ve had the same tenants since we purchased the house. We inherited the tenants, who had moved in 2.5 years before we purchased it, and had rent established at $1300.
As a reminder, we purchased the house in April 2018. They paid that July’s rent late, and despite reminders about the late fee, they didn’t pay it. And so began this constant story with them. The main frustration was that they wouldn’t tell us to expect rent to be late, so we kept having to follow up with them. After two months in a row of it being late at the beginning of 2019, Mr. ODA actually explicitly said: In the future, it’s better to communicate issues with rent payment up front to see if there’s an opportunity for us to work with you. We had been lenient and informally requesting the status of rent, but this was their warning that we’d be sending notices of default going forward.
In January 2021, we hit a wall with rent payment. I sent the notice of default on the 6th of the month like usual. However, because of the pandemic, I had to adjust my verbiage to highlight all the rent relief options available and remove the late fee requirement. My understanding is that a late fee can still be collected in Virginia, but I can’t proceed with eviction just because they don’t pay the late fee portion (which isn’t something we’ve ever held any tenant to regardless). While the rent payment is typically due within 5 days from notice, Virginia now required me to give them 14 days to request a payment plan or pay rent owed. We then had to text and email them several times and never got a response. I finally sent an email with the following at the beginning:
We are very flexible landlords and willing to work with all our tenants. However, we are unable to work with anyone who does not preemptively share possible rent payment delays nor respond to requests for information. Please respond to this email by noon Sunday January 24, 2021 or pay the rent owed by that deadline to prevent proceedings for eviction filing with the court.
Virginia was very lenient with rent payment throughout the pandemic, but they were also fair. The lack of response from a tenant or the tenant not working with the landlord didn’t protect them from eviction. I finally got a response that the rent would be paid that week.
Since then, we’ve been told that rent will be late. We’re simply sent an email that says “you’ll receive rent on 2/12. Sorry for the inconvenience.” It’s as if they feel they have the upper hand and control. We hadn’t received any late fees until I finally sent an email in response to their “you’ll receive rent when we get to it” email for August’s rent that there’s a late fee due.
In 3 years, they’ve been late 14 times. When I put it in that perspective, it doesn’t seem that bad. In the moment, it seems like it’s a constant battle with this house. That’s probably because a majority of our houses pay rent without making it a painful process!
We hadn’t raised rent in the 3 years we owned the house, and they had been paying $1300 since they moved in on October 1, 2015. That’s a great deal for them! Depending on our ownership costs, we would typically look at raising rent every 2 years, and likely around $50. We’ve raised the rent on only 2 tenant-occupied houses we have (meaning, raised the rent on people who continued living there, versus raising it between tenants); both were rented under market value when we inherited the house, and both have received a $50 increase every two years. We typically raise the rent during vacancy times, which has worked out pretty well for most of our other properties.
For a 4 bedroom and 2 bath house, $1300 is low. We mulled over our options. The house is currently on an October 1st renewal, which is a poor time to be looking for new tenants. I wanted to get the house on a spring lease moving forward. My original proposal to our partner and Mr. ODA was to offer them a 6 month lease (ending 3/31/22) at $1400. Our partner said we should include our expectation that we’ll be raising the rent to $1500 for a year long renewal as of 4/1/22. I struggled for weeks on the verbiage for this double proposal. Eventually, Mr. ODA said we should just risk it. We should lay out an 18 month lease at $1450 to split the difference, and if they don’t want it, they can leave or attempt to negotiate.
We offered them just that, and they accepted. Of course, true to form, they were a week late in meeting the deadline to sign the selection that they want to continue living there at the increased amount. Now the rent will be $1450 as of October 1, 2021, and their lease will run through March 31, 2023.
We started with a clogged drain right off the bat. We had our partner go over there and try to unclog it with store-bought items, but it didn’t work. We ended up hiring a plumber for $300 to work on it. We’ve had several plumbing issues in this house, including a clogged sink that backed up and flooded the kitchen and basement. We ended up needing to have the line jet blasted and a camera put through it for $550! This plumber’s quote for the ‘fix’ was $6k. Mr. ODA sent the video footage to another plumber, and that guy said he didn’t see that anything was needed, so we didn’t proceed with the ‘fix.’ The jet blasting appears to have worked, and we haven’t had any damage reported. The other plumbing issues included fixing leaks in the basement bathroom and replacing that toilet.
The inspection didn’t identify active leaking on the roof, but our insurance company was hounding us over the condition of it. We ended up sending our roofer out there to do the items that came up on the inspection report. This was $350.
We then had several more issues with the roof that cost us $125 before we just decided to replace it. The replacement was quoted at $5,500 and surprisingly that’s what we paid. We expected to have additional costs for plywood replacement due to all the damage we had seen.
Interestingly, while not communicating about rent nor paying rent, they felt the need to tell us the washing machine wasn’t working. We ended up replacing the washing machine for them. We try to not supply any non-required appliances because then it’s on us to fix them or replace them, but since the tenants already lived there when we bought the house, we inherited that the washer and dryer are our responsibility. More interestingly, as I was writing this post and going through my receipts, it dawned on me that the washing machine that was in the house when I did my walkthrough last month isn’t the one that we just sent them in February.
While collecting rent has been frustrating with this house, and we’ve had a lot of plumbing and roof expenses, the house is still profitable and worth our investment. The house is in an area of Richmond that’s being revitalized, yet at the same time it’s in its own pocket of the city that’s also protected from big changes and is mostly original owners. Appreciation has really taken off, so even though our maintenance issues have eaten big chunks out of our cash flow, this house will be well worth it when we eventually sell it and move on to a new investment.
Not that I expect you to know these letters right away, but bear with me.
There’s a common question that comes up with rental properties: have you formed an LLC? An LLC is a limited liability company. This is a business mechanism in which you create an official business for your properties, thereby separating them from your personal finances.
That’s the positive to an LLC – an LLC separates the rental properties from your personal finances. This protects your personal finances in the event of a tenant suing you through one of your properties. However, for this protection to really work for you if you have multiple properties, each property would need to be within its own LLC. For example, if you put 12 properties in an LLC, then yes, they’re separated from your personal finances, but they’re not separated from each other. Meaning, if someone sues you, they can go after your entire portfolio.
Mr. ODA and I have discussed grouping a few houses in different LLCs, but we don’t see the benefit of the costs that go along with it. There are fees to form the LLC, put properties into the LLC, and then an annual fee ($50 in Virginia). We have an LLC for the two properties we have with a partner, but we went a different way for the properties that we own ourselves. We pay $250 annually for a Commercial Liability Umbrella Policy (CLUP).
A Commercial Liability Umbrella Policy (CLUP) extends the limits of your primary liability insurance policies. Our CLUP is through State Farm, but our individual policies are not necessarily through State Farm. There are many nuances to how it works; for instance, you cannot have a CLUP on top of commercial liability insurance. We have individual personal insurance policies on all our houses, required to cover $500k, so we can have the CLUP extend those coverages. Each property is listed in the CLUP, even the ones we have with a partner because our ownership had to be at least 50% for it to be covered (which it is).
While the cost will vary based on each scenario and coverage, we pay $250 annually for a $2 million policy. Every 3 years, we’re expected to weigh in on our policy, which includes sending individual homeowners insurance policy documents, each policy’s 3 year loss report, and current pictures of the front and back of each house to our agent. We’ve only had one claim on a property, and that was a car accident that took out our air conditioner in House 1.
CREATING A PARTNERSHIP
We do have an LLC that has two houses in it, but that’s because we own them with a partner.
There’s a cap of 10 mortgages that an individual (or a couple, in our case) can have. When we reached that threshold, we asked our friend and Realtor about other houses we were interested in. Our Realtor purchased two houses as an individual, and then we put them in an LLC to give us ownership. After the first house purchase, we had our real estate attorney set up an LLC. Then after the second house closed, we just had to add that house to the same LLC.
When our partner went under contract on the first house, we created an agreement with him. We owed him half of the down payment and closing costs to be 50% partners on the property. At the time, we didn’t have the cash liquid, and he agreed to allow us to pay him monthly, with interest. So he paid the funds-to-close, and we structured an amortization schedule at the market rate to pay him back. It only took us two months to pay him the balance based on our cash flow, which equated to about $44 in interest for him.
I now manage most of the maintenance, collect all of the rent, pay all of the bills except the mortgage payments that our partner has on automatic billing, and pay him out his 50% share each month.
SETTING UP AN LLC
To establish the LLC, we paid our real estate attorney $393 (split 50/50 with our partner). We answered a few questions, and then we met in their office to sign the paperwork during a half hour meeting. The attorney handled filing all the paperwork with the state and were set up as the “Registered Agent.” A Registered Agent is an individual or business entity that accepts tax and legal documents on behalf of your business.
A year after the LLC was established, I received a bill from the attorney’s office. The bill was for $100 – comprised of $50 for the LLC fee from the state and $50 for the attorney processing the payment. If you’ve read more than one of the posts in this blog, you’ll know that wasn’t going to fly; we don’t pay extra for things that we can do ourselves. I started researching the purpose of a Registered Agent and who could serve as such a person, and I found out it’s not required to be an attorney.
I outlined my proposal to our business partner, and he agreed that we didn’t need to have the Registered Agent as the attorney. He would prefer his other LLCs be managed through them so nothing gets missed, but since I keep a pretty well organized business, I have mechanisms in place that will trigger a reminder of payment if I don’t receive the bill in the mail. We paid the $50 processing fee that year, and then I filed a change with the State Corporation Commission to eliminate the middle man.
One of the concerns with putting a new mortgage into an LLC was that the bank could “call” the mortgage through the “due on sale” clause. A due-on-sale clause is a provision in a loan that enables lenders to demand that the remaining balance of a mortgage be paid in full if the property is sold or transferred. Transferring a mortgage to the LLC risks triggering the “due on sale” clause, although there were historically very few times a lender would call the mortgage due to an LLC transfer.
Another weird nuance to owning a property in an LLC is that homeowners insurance companies charge more for the same house, with the same human clients, simply because its ownership is placed in an LLC compared to in personal names. For example, after we transferred one of our properties to LLC ownership, the same company increased our annual rate from $484 to $874. We have not been able to figure this one out. Presumably, the biggest source of risk to an insurer is the fact that the people living in the house are not the owners, although when we don’t have a house in an LLC, the insurance company still knows that it’s used as a rental. If there’s anyone out there that can help us understand this behind the scenes insurance nuance, please drop the info in the comments. We were able to find an insurance company with a reasonable price, but it’s still an odd nuance.
For our risk tolerance, we’ve decided that a CLUP is enough coverage in the event of a catastrophe ($500k in regular insurance plus $2M in umbrella). We haven’t established any other LLCs because the cost of establishing individual LLCs is more than we want to take on. However, we did use an LLC where we needed to establish a joint property ownership and be able to legitimately claim expenses for tax purposes. We have two houses, both of which are with the same partner, in one LLC.
This has been a crazy month. We went to St. Louis and New York, we tiled the basement bathroom that we’re building, I refinished a desk that I purchased 6 years ago, and we had several activities to occupy our time. Being that we’ve been so busy, we haven’t set any new goals and are still talking through what we think the next few years look like. We are still managing sleep disruptions with our nearly 3 year old, and that takes a lot of time from my day and night. Anyway, here’s how things shook out over the last month – very high credit card bills to cover many large expenses.
Utilities: $240. This includes internet, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. I find it interesting that it’s not routine to have irrigation in Central KY, and that’s led to surprisingly low water bills. Our water, sewer, and trash is all together each month, and it’s only $53 in the middle of the summer!
Groceries: $390. On top of that, I had a charge for a 4 month supply of the vitamins that I take, which I pay for up front because I don’t want to pay a surcharge to pay monthly (if I can afford to pay $300 now, I’d rather pay that then end up paying $340 for the same product at the end of 4 months).
Entertainment/Travel: I broke down the St. Louis trip costs in my previous post. We booked our flights to NY through the Chase portal using points. It was the equivalent of $833 for 3 round trip flights (our daughter as a lap child). We paid for parking at the airport ($36), and that was it. On top of those costs, we had several sports fees and activities that we paid for. I didn’t add up the details, but I estimate that those cost us about $300 this past month.
I paid $3,800 worth of medical bills (high deductible plan… we got there).
We spent about $175 on tile supplies for the bathroom, which includes returning about $40 worth of materials.
Rental work cost us a good bit this month.
Our plumber made his rounds to 3 of our houses on one day to address items that I found during the walk throughs in July; this cost us $730.
Somehow (very unlike us), we had an outstanding pest control bill from December. When I called to schedule another appointment, they requested payment (rightfully so!). We spent $290 on pest control then.
We purchased a hot water heater and a refrigerator for a rental property after our property manager did her walk through. We also purchased a fan and had that installed (we would have done it, but we don’t live there anymore), but we split that cost with our partner. These cost us $2,317.
As usual, two houses were late on rent. One paid on Friday and actually included the late fee (10% of rent). Another gave us a letter about a car accident she was in and said she wouldn’t have rent until she received the settlement money from that. It’s the 16th and we still don’t have rent. The positive here is that we have several other properties worth of income that cover the expenses on this house (mortgage), so we’re not floating the mortgage with our own money for this one house.
Here’s a tidbit of my spending. I don’t have Amazon Prime. Rarely do I need something in 2 days or less than $25 that I would need to pay for this service. I search Amazon for things that I eventually want, put it in my cart, and then when I need to hit the $25 free shipping threshold, I add the items to the cart to check out. This is how I handle Christmas shopping basically. I have thoughts on what to get for people, keep it in my “save for later” section, and then order it when I place an order. I actually have several Christmas gifts already purchased.
Since I’m not able to find the time to coordinate updating all our accounts with Mr. ODA, this is just a rough update of our financials. Our net worth has increased about $58k. I’ve paid down the very high balance on our Citi card already this month, so this snapshot in time isn’t showing that I’ve already made $5k worth of payments towards that. About half of that increase is attributed to an increase in property values. The rest is attributed to the usual mortgage payments and investment balances increasing.
While I plan on sharing all about our summer of travel at the end of the month, we thought this last trip deserved a post with more detail than what that post will entail. We went to St. Louis from 8/1 to 8/5. It’s 4.5-5 hours from Central Kentucky and a really easy drive on I-64.
When we mentioned to people that we were going there, it was usually a negative reaction. I was starting to get concerned about how safe it would be, but the moms in one of my Facebook groups always raved about their trips out there. I was concerned enough that I didn’t book our lodging until the day before we left.
We went back and forth on whether our dog would take the trip with us, which affects our lodging options. Our usual sitter (through Rover.com… and if you’ve never used it, let me know because I could save you $20) wasn’t available for our trip dates, so it left us in limbo on what we wanted to do. Taking the dog with us hinders our ability to be out all day, but the more we thought about the logistics, it seemed none of our plans were for a full-day activity at once. I searched through Rover to see if there was anyone available for about $25-30 per night either near our home, or in Louisville, or in St. Louis. I came up with nothing. I contacted 3 different people in St. Louis who had availability on their calendar, but then they said they were busy.
Knowing that we’d have the dog with us, I went back and forth with whether to go for a hotel or AirBnB. At a hotel, I felt more confident that we’d have a clean and comfortable experience, plus we’d have the amenities of a pool and breakfast provided. St. Louis reinstated their mask mandate as of 7/26, so that may have limited the breakfast options to bagged food rather than something substantial. The pet-friendly hotel that I was looking at was about $700 for our stay to include the dog. I started looking at AirBnB and VRBO options. The pro to that type of option is that I can have separate bedrooms so that: 1) I can black out the windows with multiple layers of curtains for my children, and 2) we can still hang out in the house once the kids go to sleep.
If you’re looking at AirBnB in the area, stay away from any of the listings by “The Stay.” While one of their properties may have good reviews, nearly all of their properties have very bad reviews. I’ve never experienced as many listings with negative reviews as I did when searching this area. I’m used to deciding between someone with a 4.8 star or a 5.0 star review. “The Stay” had many negative reviews, and then there were even others in the area that had 3.0 star reviews. “The Stay” had all the same issues – the property wasn’t the same as the one pictured (that they circumvent by saying in their listing that pictures are of similar units), they provided the bare minimum on towels and linens, their doors were questionable if they closed and locked, and some units were even dirty.
I searched several times. The morning before we left, I found one that I hadn’t seen before. It was a 2 bedroom and pet friendly; she had a rating of 4.85, but the reviews were all glowing. I decided to go for it and messaged the host, who accepted our reservation request within the hour! Even better, it was only $585, where I was earmarking about $700 for lodging.
St. Louis has a lot to offer. Many activities/attractions seem to have adopted a model where entry is free, but you pay for parking. There are many parks to explore, including the massive Forest Park, which is larger than Central Park in acreage. The parks have lots to offer – from sports to the arts, and they’re free. When we were in Atlanta, we explored parks, but the parking was always a beast, entry cost a bit, and the park was dirty and overused. Conversely, St. Louis’ parks are used, but not overused; parking is free, and there’s plenty of it; and they’re clean.
We visited the Gateway Arch, which is a staple. We made reservations online and paid their fee to ride to the top, which was $35 (2 adults, both kids were free). Their website includes a link to a nearby parking garage that is $9 for 5 hours of parking. The garage was about 3 blocks away from the entry to the Arch. Note that if you click the link, it auto populates for one hour; you need to manually change it to a 5 hour reservation. If you don’t make it a 5 hour reservation, then you’re charged for going over that 1 hour. We learned through experience. The parking garage was so nice about it though, and they refunded us for our screw up on the reservation when we had to pay for going over time.
There’s a museum that’s free under the arch; you still need to go through security, but you don’t need a reservation or have to pay the entry fee to see it. Once you get through the museum, you get in line for the ride to the top of the arch (either the north side or south side, based on your reservation). Strollers are permitted everywhere except here. We simply left our stroller at the bottom, and it was there when we returned. They give you some history about the arch and show you a video about the 60s and building the arch before you get in line for the elevator. Then you get in a little “pod” that takes you to the top. It’s little. It’s confined. It only has 5 seats. It’s “scary,” but only a 4 minute ride to the top. You spend a few minutes looking around, and then you head back down when the next group arrives. You’re assigned a “pod” number, so they make sure you leave with the group that you arrived with.
The Science Museum (pictured above with our itty bitty daughter waving to the dinosaur) is free! The parking is $12, which we paid. There were spots outside the museum on the street that were free, but we didn’t feel the need to seek a spot out. It was a last minute decision to go here. They closed at 5:30, and we wanted to get in as soon as possible since we were already arriving about 1:30. They had a lot to do there. Our almost-3-year-old had a great time exploring. They had dinosaurs, puzzles, arcade games, infrastructure exhibits, space exhibits, and a fire show to see. Everything was hands-on, and we had a great time. We really didn’t expect to spend nearly 4 hours there, but we did!
The Zoo is free! And it’s incredible! Parking in their lots (one on the south side and one on the north side) is $15. But we parked on the street in Forest Park and walked 0.4 miles to the entrance for free. Honestly, we planned on paying the $15, but we don’t like sitting in long lines to get somewhere. When we saw the line, we checked the map, saw it was about a 10 minute walk, and we just parked the car right there. It worked out perfectly. The zoo was well maintained and very shaded. We were impressed by the aesthetics of the exhibits for all the animals (e.g., grass, blending of tree protection instead of wire cages). We spent about 4 hours there, moving at a fairly slow pace. We contemplated purchasing the “Adventure Pass,” but decided against it. There are several activities within the zoo that you can pay for individually, or you can buy the Adventure Pass. For example, it’s about $8 per person to ride the train. That’s something that our son would really enjoy, but that seems steep. So we thought about the adventure pass, which is about $15 per person and includes the train, carousel, sea lion show, stingray exhibit, 4D theater, and a dinosaur exhibit. Our son would have loved all of those things, but as we wandered the zoo, we noticed all the lines were really long. Our two kids would not have enjoyed standing in long lines in the heat, so we decided to see how far we got without the activities. Since that brought up to nap time for our daughter, we decided to just go back to the AirBnB at that point.
We did a brewery tour at Anheuser-Busch. Tickets were $33 total for the adults. The tour was 75 minutes long with a lot of walking (and a lot of time spent outside). At the end, they gave us a bottle of beer to take home that was fresh off the production line (yet ironically we haven’t drank it yet), and then they gave us a beer from the tap to enjoy in the biergarten. Their food options were expensive though. We looked into an appetizer to enjoy with our beers since it was about lunch time, but chose to pass. The kids ran around the picnic table while Mr. ODA and I chatted and enjoyed our beers.
While on the tour, they mentioned Grant’s Farm. Their website hadn’t been very clear on what the experience entailed, so I had written in off. We decided to risk it. It was free admission, but you had to pay $15 for parking. We arrived and were still lost on what to do! We went to see the Clydesdales in their barn, and then we walked across the parking lot to a bridge. When we got to the other side, we were in a queue and still really lost – haha. We ended up getting on a tram that took us on a 20 minute ride through their property. We got to see a lot of animals like a safari tour (e.g., water buffalo, bison, several types of deer, yak), and then they dropped us off at the end. It was a zoo of sorts with a bunch of animals to look at, and some that you could feed for a fee (milk bottle for goats… which was only $2 and I would have done if it didn’t involve standing in a really long line with two kids in the heat; and pellets for llamas, cows, and goats in another section). They offered other things, like parakeet feedings ($7) and camel rides ($10). At the end, you enter a little german-looking village that had food for sale and some horses to see. Most interestingly, it had two free beers per adult. So again, we enjoyed our beers while the kids ran around the table and ate some pretzels!
The reason we picked this timeframe was because the Braves were in town playing the Cardinals. We bought tickets on StubHub for $23.80. We paid the $9 for the Arch parking garage for a 5 hour window; the garage is one block from the stadium. I still can’t believe it worked because game day parking was actually $25 or $30 for the garages on that block. We got to the garage at 5:30 for a 7:15 game, so we got a great parking spot that was easy to leave from (no long queues after the game lets out!). We explored the Ballpark Village before the game. There were lots of restaurants, but we had already eaten, so we just played with the giant games (Connect4, Jenga) in the center of the Village. We walked the whole stadium, as we like to do when visiting a new one. While it was nice, it wasn’t anything special. We really like how the Braves have a section for their history that you can visit, and we were surprised that this was a newer park and didn’t have such a section. The Braves won, so we ended on a great note.
I’ve mentioned before that we don’t spend a lot of time or money on food when we travel. We’re not “foodies,” looking for the eclectic options of a region. We usually rotate between fast food options while we’re racing between activities. However, we purposely spent more time on this trip to spread everything out, so we ended up having an evening free. We went to the “Delmar Loop” to try a place that had good reviews: Blueberry Hill. We were disappointed. We tried fried raviolis, which claims to be a St. Louis “must have,” but other than that, it was just regular bar food (that was overpriced). The “Delmar Loop” was cool to walk down after dinner, but the drive to get there was sketchy.
There are areas of the city that are run down with boarded up buildings, just like with any city. While we drove through a couple of these areas, it wasn’t our destination. Even driving through it didn’t feel overwhelmingly unsafe (as it did in certain areas of Detroit). Our destinations were always in safe-feeling areas that were clean and well-lit. Whether we were downtown or in the suburbs (where our AirBnB was), we weren’t concerned.
As for the pandemic concept, the mask mandate was put into effect again right before we arrived. We had to wear masks for all indoor activities, regardless of vaccination status. Some places also required masks during entry (like at the zoo) or in crowded areas.
A FUN MIDWEST TOWN WITH A BUNCH TO OFFER
The whole trip was amazing. There was obviously a great selection for a family with young kids, but many more things to do if your traveling party is just adults. Bars, the Arts, Local Food, Museums, etc. There are even more things available to do (Botanical Gardens was one on our list if we had the time). The people we interacted with were all very pleasant, and the price was right. It’s worth putting on a travel list if you haven’t been!
We’ve been super busy knocking out our to-do list on completing our basement bathroom build. There’s more to come on it, specifically the financials of us doing it ourselves (with the help of my dad at the beginning), but for now, here’s a sneak peak of where it stands.
Our new house had an unfinished basement. We deliberately delayed finishing it until our “6 month” builder’s meeting, which only recently happened. My dad helped us frame the bathroom, set up the plumbing, and get the drywall up. Mr. ODA and I have worked on sanding the drywall (terrible job), priming, painting, laying the floor tile, grouting the floor tile, and laying the shower wall tiles (which unfortunately also entailed wall touchups and repainting). I still need to grout the wall tiles, hook up the plumbing, install a light, install closet shelves, and install baseboards. Hopefully the grout will be completed this week, so this is why I don’t have any new posts completed.