Work Provide Housing House Hacking with Jenni:
This week, we’re going to tackle another example of the work provided house hacking. Jenni and her husband recently purchased a farm in New York when suddenly they realized the farming experience wasn’t quite what they thought it would be. After searching for another job Jenni, her husband, and their kids found themselves moving to a ranch in Paducah, Texas. While usually, the ranch provides housing from a house on the ranch itself, all of the houses were occupied. In lieu, the employer gave Jenni and her family a flat rate housing allowance. Luckily, allowance exceeded their housing costs!
Jenni and her husband were able to still keep the farm in New York and decided to rent it out to a relative. This isn’t your ordinary house hack, but it definitely allowed Jenni and her family to live for free and still have their own property. Talk about financial freedom!
You Can Listen On:
Choose FI – https://www.choosefi.com/
How to get in touch with today's guest:
Guest Website: http://www.familysizefinance.com/
Transcript of the show:
Across the world. People have their housing costs taken away as much as half of their income. Have you ever thought of trying to change that? The good news is there is a way house hacking is real and we are here to show you how other people just like you have made it happen. Welcome to the house hacking podcast and here is your host house hacking expert Andrew Kerr.
Andrew Kerr (00:28):
All right, our guest today is a personal finance blogger and coach, a mother of four, a side hustler extraordinaire. She writes for and coaches large families on getting out of debt, increasing their income via side hustles, and setting a foundation for financial independence. So today I want to welcome on Jenny from familysizefinance.com. Jenny, thanks for being with us today. How are you doing.
Doing pretty well!
Andrew Kerr (00:55):
And where are you calling in from? What? What's life looking like for you today?
From a small town in Texas, you've never heard of it. It's called Paducah. Um, and a actually if you Google Paducah, you'll find there's a much larger one in Kentucky. So we're, uh, we're pretty tiny over here, so that's a lovely fall day out here. So
Andrew Kerr (01:14):
What's tiny? 5,000, 10,000, a thousand?
uh, 1100. There's many more cows than people around here.
Andrew Kerr (01:21):
Ah, okay. More cows than people, uh, well I'm really excited to have you on, uh, I think you have this really unique house hacking experience. It's not the traditional house hacking where we rented out rooms to roommates or we did this small multifamily. I'd really love if you could just sort of to get us started, give us a sort of a high level summary of what your house hacking experiences.
Um, well we kind of found this house hacking by accident. We had bought a farm in New York and the farming experience wasn't quite what we thought it would be. And we found ourselves, my husband found ourselves looking for another job. My husband's a wildlife biologist. And so, um, as we were looking, we found this, uh, position that he's in now, which is for a cattle ranch just outside of, of Paducah. And, but we didn't know when we took the job is out here. If you're a ranch employee, it's pretty typical for housing to be covered as part of your salary. So, um, it actually enabled us because we got, um, a housing allowance from the ranch to cover our rent and utilities that allowed us to keep the farm in New York and actually make that into a rental. So it's kind of a twofold house hacking story for us.
Andrew Kerr (02:40):
Awesome. Well let's really sort of dig in. All right, so your husband's a wildlife biologist. You tried to do some farming in New York, you realize, Hey, let's take a different career path. That's not what we thought it would be all, it wasn't all that it cracked up to be. And then, you know, why'd you pick Texas? Sort of random thing, you know, upstate New York too. All the down to Texas or, yeah. How'd you end up there?
Well, we've actually lived all over Montana and Nebraska, South Dakota, so Texas is one of a long string of States we lived in. But we actually picked it because we had lived in Texas before. We lived in Lubbock for, which is only a couple of hours away. So we were actually, we really liked it there. So we were actually really happy to go back and be near enough to friends to go visit. That was a big sell for our kids as well. It didn't seem so unfamiliar and scary to them because like, Oh Texas, we know Texas cause we, we've lived there before. So that was part of the reason.
Andrew Kerr (03:34):
And when you started looking for different jobs, I mean were you really open to looking anywhere in the country or was it, you know, the opportunity and in Texas came up and you're like, Oh yeah, Texas, we're familiar with it, so let's go that route. Or was it this really sort of broad based search?
It was a very broad-based search because we lived all of our, we're really not scared of moving to a place that I've seen since they've done it on multiple occasions. We were in kind of looking to be near to family, which is part of why we decided to go to New York. But apparently, but that wasn't working out. And, um, I had family in Utah and so we're kind of looking to be close to there. There were a couple of opportunities in Idaho and I think in Eastern Washington that we looked at, but again, the housing was pretty expensive in those places because they're beautiful and they need wildlife but just that, that also makes them tourist spots and kind of expensive. So, um, particular was a lot more affordable. That was another reason why we chose it.
Andrew Kerr (04:29):
Now when you were looking at this job and the other jobs, was it a standard that housing was included or was it just something, you know, you're looking around, you're seeing these job postings, it seems interesting and then you and your husband are leaning towards Texas and this is sort of a nice surprise that comes up
In wildlife biology, It's pretty typical for interns or temporary employees or even employees in really remote locations or just out of college to have housing or at least like an allowance or like a minimal rent be typical if they've got like, usually they'll have like a bunk house or something like that and they, but they kind of assume that you're single so it works great if you're a single person just at a college, great. You know, you have either cheap or free housing while you get your feet wet in the industry. It works out great. But if you're married with four kids that doesn't work so well and usually and as you climb into positions of higher salary and more responsibility, you'll find that that less and less common. Like for example, his, none of his other positions in wildlife had any sort of housing allowance or free housing or anything like that. You do find it, but it's usually in temporary positions or you know, if you're studying the long nose that in some, you know, random mountain cabin and they'll provide you with, you know, a cabinet or a bunkhouse like that. Typical biologist position.
Andrew Kerr (05:54):
So you found the Texas opening, did you right off the bat that housing was included or did when you started applying for the job and learning about the salary it came up or did you negotiate that in?
No, we didn't negotiate it in. I think we did find out about it when it was like with the posting, or at least we knew it at the point of the interview that that was a part of it. So,
Andrew Kerr (06:17):
and I mean what was your sort of thought process? You know, a lot of times in personal finance, in house hacking, and really a lot of things people use, I found, you know, their kids is a reason why they can't do stuff. It's like, Oh well I could never do a house hack as a multifamily home because I've got kids or you know, we can't move every couple of years because of kids. And it seems like you said, yeah, our kids are used to this. Let's go take this, on this cool experience. Like how'd your kids react to the thought of that, you know, what was your sort of thought process?
Well, and actually we had considered a house Hack when we were purchasing a home in Lubbock, but there just weren't that many duplexes that were big enough for our family. So that was a big limiting factor. We actually looked, but that just where we were, it really wasn't a huge possibility. Like if we would've waited for a year or more, we might've been able to find one. But, um, can you repeat the question? I'm sorry.
Andrew Kerr (07:14):
No problem. I mean, so it sounded like you had moved pretty often. Is that something your kids just got used to or is that sort of a lifestyle that, that all of you as a family created is, you know, it's mom, dad, the four kids. We're going to move around, we're going to have these cool experiences.
The, uh, the moving around was, it was kind of a series of unfortunate or fortunate events. Like some of them were layoffs, some of them were promotions. Um, some of them, you know, we mindfully chose to move because the job wasn't working out. Um, and so while we didn't plan that to be our life, but as we went through those, you know, trials of moving from place to place, we realized that we're a lot more resilient than we thought. Our kids are a lot more resilient than we thought. Um, and luckily we don't, none of our kids have special needs. I'm sure that would've, you know, effected them much differently if they had or there should have been some special medical situation. But I think, you know, for the average kid, you know, they survive moves. Some, they, they make friends, you know, they cry but they make friends and they get used to a new school system with a new teacher and they're really resilient. And so we knew that, that this next time, you know, even if it wouldn't have been close to what they knew we could have, we could have done that.
Andrew Kerr (08:30):
Yeah, I know my, my wife is definitely a big city girl. Grew up in the twin cities, went to school in Boston. But for me, the idea of living in some more remote areas, these smaller towns on big ranches, I think as a kid that would have been phenomenal experience to have that and be in these different parts of the country that has more nature, not the big city, beautiful scenery and around animals.
Yeah, it's cool. It's being out in the country and on a farm or ranch you get a special kind of education that you just cannot get anywhere else. So when the, when the time came for the birds and the bees talk, we had a great premise already in place. My son knew plenty from watching the cows on par and just understanding, even just like understanding where your food comes from, understanding, you know, that sweat, like what sweat equity is, you know, that blood, sweat and tears is how you make a living. Whether that's you know, milking cows or you know, working in an office that like they realize that, you know, dad and mom, that's what they do. And it has varied from time to time while we've been doing and how we've been doing it. But that's kind of an education for them a little bit.
Andrew Kerr (09:40):
Yeah. Actual real life experience versus like some of my friends when I was graduating college, they couldn't change a tire on a car. They couldn't iron unless it was ramen noodle. They really couldn't cook anything. It sounds like your kids are getting these actual real life experiences that are going to benefit them when they're adults.
Today we spent, we spent the afternoon, um, picking apples from our Apple tree and um, my uh, shot his first deer and so we've been processing meat for winter all day long. They know exactly where their food's coming from.
Andrew Kerr (10:13):
Yeah. All right, so let's go back to your housing. Your husband got the job, you moved to the small town in Texas town of about 1100 people. You know, what is the actual housing situation look like? And I know you said you had a big family. It's for kids. So, you know, tell me how that ended up working out.
Well, the agreement with, um, my husband's employer was actually that they were going to build him a house because they didn't have one. Currently available on the ranch. The other ones were all occupied with Cowboys and the foreman and things. And so in, in lieu of that, they've been providing us a housing allowance and we've been renting a house in Paducah itself. Uh, we, it was a minor miracle that we even got one at all. There was, there's almost no rentals to be had here and no one ever uses anything like Craigslist. And so unless you know someone in town that has a rental, you don't find out about it. It's not anywhere on the internet. We're, uh, we're back a few, few decades around here. And so luckily the office manager knew someone trying to sell a big old house and she said, you know, she approached them and said, Hey, would you be willing to rent it? And they said yes. So that's how we got our current rental house in town. And, uh, by the grace of God, it was big enough for all of us. There aren't that many houses entailed that are. So that was, that was pretty awesome. And then they will start work on building the house that we will live in on the ranch in January.
Andrew Kerr (11:38):
Okay. And so they excited about that. I can imagine. So they're giving you a stipend right now. Was it a flat amount and you could find anything in that price range or if you spent less you could keep it?
No, it's a flat amount. And then um, so the amount is 900 and rent is 650 and then utilities, depending on the season run from maybe 2 to 350. It's an old house that installation.
Andrew Kerr (12:04):
But in some months you're essentially breaking even or might even if the utilities are low pocket, a little bit of money. And then I imagine during the AC, you know, summer and you got to have the AC crank and it's a little bit more. But you're essentially with the job though, having your housing costs almost cost neutral or costing you 50 to a hundred bucks a month
pretty much. And luckily that's enabled us to keep the mortgage on the farm that we have and allow my brother in law to keep farming. So that's been an extra added bonus too.
Andrew Kerr (12:34):
Yeah, that's pretty amazing that you're actually able to, to do that and have that there that the low housing costs here so you can actually keep the farm in upstate New York that you, you had mentioned earlier, do you have any say in the house that they're actually building for you, are they going to build sort of a standard house that when you guys are done and your husband's contracts up, someone else can go in or do you get to pick out paint and tile and flooring and all of that stuff? Or do they sort of take care of everything?
I think they have a few stock plans. The ranch is part of, is, is part of a system of ranches and they have ranches all throughout the United States and Canada. And so I think they, they, I'm assuming they have an architect that has like a couple stock plans that I think we could choose from. And then I think we get some say in the finishes, you know, the paint, the flooring, the door knobs, things like that.
Andrew Kerr (13:23):
Well that's pretty cool. If you can even add just a little bit of customization. Really make it feel like home.
Oh yeah, for sure. We have my, my husband and my son and I were talking today about the forts we're going to build outside and um, he wants a, a dirt bike track. We'll see if the ranch is okay with that, but we're all really excited about it.
Andrew Kerr (13:42):
Awesome. So when your husband took the job, was there a defined contract period that he had assigned for or was it essentially open-ended gets hired, stays on as long as you guys like it.
No it's open-ended.
Andrew Kerr (13:52):
Okay. So I mean that's pretty cool that they're actually investing in building a house to house you. And you know, if you guys had a better opportunity to come around, you could essentially leave or you could end up being there for 10 years.
Yeah, we're hoping it's the latter. We're kind of done with moving around and our kids are getting old enough that while they're resilient, moving still isn't a cake walk.
Andrew Kerr (14:12):
Yeah, I definitely hate moving the whole part of figuring out what you want to pack up and then having to pay to ship it somewhere else and then unpack it and try to figure out all the mess.
Unpacking is the worst.
Andrew Kerr (14:21):
Yeah, it definitely is. You know, if, if you're not really planning on leaving or is this sort of going to be your, your spot now then until your kids finish sort of elementary, middle, high school period and go off to college.
That's the plan. Yeah. We, we don't say uh, the P word, permanent, cause then we just moved six months later. But um, yes that's the plan. Our kids are in a great school. Um, and the job is fantastic. We've been making some good friends here, so we're, we're hoping that this is is definitely long term.
Andrew Kerr (14:51):
yeah, that's really wonderful. So you know, sort of looking back at this experience as non traditional house hack where you're ended up getting your housing costs paid for, if you sort of think through it, like are there any tips or tricks or sort of best practices you could give to someone else that might be looking in that similar field as your husband for, you know, what could they do to find a similar situation where housing's provided?
I think the best opportunity for a similar house hack would probably be, like I said, when you're first out of college and you're single and you can go anywhere, there are tons of jobs that we've come across. Some I think, Oh, if only we could, you know, just me and my husband go and research the, you know, the Elk in in Canada or you know, the, the Beatles in Mexico or whatever. We could go and get free housing and that'd be fantastic. But as you kind of climbed to more responsibility, those opportunities are less and less common. So I would lock it in, you know, do what you can while you're still young. And even once you have kids, and this probably goes for people in any industry, give house hacking a look like I wasn't really into personal finance as much as I am now when the house hacking was a real opportunity in Lubbock. And I wish that I would have given that a harder look. Um, just looking at the numbers and looking at what you can do to get housing for free and how the trajectory that can put you on is just amazing. And the kids will, they'll fill as much room as you give them. Whether that's a, you know, 500 square foot apartment or a 2200 square foot house, they'll, they'll fill. It doesn't really matter too much. So as long as you know, the necessities are covered. And I, I think another tip I give is, especially employees in, um, agriculture, ranching and, and things like that. There's where you see a lot of, um, housing as well. My husband's, he's kind of one foot in, in ranching/farming and one foot in wildlife biology, which is another reason why this job is so perfect. There are several ranches in the area here that offer their employees free housing. And even there's a small ranching town just to the South of us that offer the teachers there free housing as well because it's so small and they need, they need to and that's where the school is. Then these ranch kids need to go to school somewhere and so they have to bring in teachers. And one of the ways they do that is they incentivize that with the, with the free housing. So almost everyone in town is connected to the school somehow cause the school offers free housing. So that's pretty cool. Not in our industry. But, but those, those tiny little opportunities do exist if you, if you can find them.
Andrew Kerr (17:42):
I mean if you just think about things creative, I mean you just mentioned essentially three different industries, you know, agriculture, ranching, you've got your wildlife. And then teaching, you know, I've heard about folks that have done teaching overseas and add housing provided, but you just gave a great example of a place here actually in the United States where if you're willing to do something a little bit differently and you want to be a teacher, go be a teacher and here's a place you can go to actually get your housing covered for you.
Yeah. And even if you just did that for five years, even if you know rural Texas, it's not your thing. Even you tough it out for a few years, you can save quite a bit. So doing that.
Andrew Kerr (18:17):
you yeah. Really set yourself up financially for, for years to come. And then sort of thinking back through this house hacking experience that you had, you know, what do you think your biggest challenge was that if you could do it differently or if you could go back and change something, what would you actually go back and change?
I don't think I would change anything about the house hacking experience itself. Anything I would change is about how we, you know, managed keeping the farm. But I don't know that's directly related to the house hack, I don't know that I would change anything necessarily. I feel like we've been really fortunate and blessed to have basically like you said, how the housing expense be a neutral for us and it's a great place to raise a family.
Andrew Kerr (19:00):
Wonderful. And I know you said you want to sort of make this a semi-permanent place for awhile, but now that you've sort of been spoiled by this experience, if you know five years down the road, is this something you'd try to look for a new job where like they're going to provide housing for the whole family or try to negotiate that in?
Well, we'll certainly try. I read, like I said, I don't know if you could repeat this one if you tried, but it's certainly a strong incentive to stay. Um, and um, I'm sure it's designed to be that way somewhat being as remote as we are, but it's definitely something we'd look for. Uh, again, if you're looking at a government biologist job and a lot of them are for government, there are some private ones, but most of them are government based. Though you'll find a lot less of that if we ever could do it again. You bet. We try. And if we went back to owning a home, I would definitely look into the traditional house hack, if we had the opportunity to do so. I think
Andrew Kerr (19:55):
Yeah I think those opportunities that are out there for that sort of multi-family, small multifamily unit, it just takes some looking and then some cities are better than others. I know where I grew up in North Carolina, I did two house hacks there, but it was more of the room rental style and there were multifamily. I probably could have done one when I was in my twenties it was really tough. I think if you got to the point where you're married and having a family to find that sort of ideal situation. But where I'm at now in New Orleans, uh, my third house hack was the first house like I did with my wife. And then where just closed on our fourth house act that we're getting ready to start working on in New Orleans, this older style city, it's very, very common where you have this old giant house that's maybe 4,000 square feet, has a huge yard, was divided up into a duplex or triplex and it makes it more, I think conducive to house hacking for families. So I think a lot of it just depends on on the city that you go to and some are have a lot more multifamily than other cities.
Yeah. And one thing I've also seen is a lot of properties, like you said, I'll have that bigger house and then in the back yard they'll have a mother-in-law suite or a very large shed that you could, you know, adapt to, to be a studio apartment. I actually had a friend in Lubbock that did exactly that. She, she did Airbnb. It was, our houses were almost identical and ours, it was a garden shed. And so it wasn't big at all. You know, maybe 10 by 10 it was quite tiny, but it didn't even have plumbing. But she was able to Airbnb, you know, she, they did some renovations and, and made it nice for the bed and you know, a, a wall heater or whatever and made that into a little Airbnb space. So I definitely look for anything like that regardless of where we were to, to take advantage of that house hacking opportunity.
Andrew Kerr (21:46):
Well if you definitely ended up doing moving and you find a new place to do a house hack, make sure to write it up in your blog. That way people can read about the story and you can help keep pushing out this movement of getting people to think about their housing. Definitely creatively.
For sure. And I'd love to get that out to families as well. Cause like you said, a lot of people think, Oh, I have kids, I can't do it. I mean I fell into that trap too. Um, but really you, you can, if you choose to, might be a little bit tight, but you could do it.
Andrew Kerr (22:13):
Yeah. Like, like you said, kids will fill as much space as you give them. So if today for, while they're young, they gotta have put two kids in a room and share on bunk beds after awhile there'll be used to it. Great. So at this point before we sort of wrap up the show, this is where I like to ask our guests a set of final six questions and we like to call this “The Famous Six” Are you ready for it?
Ready as I'll ever be.
Andrew Kerr (22:38):
Awesome. All right, so number one, what is your favorite personal finance blog or book that you've read recently?
I am a big fan of, uh, Choose FI. I think that's a, probably a pretty common one. But I also like Housify I love that she's got a big family is still pursuing financial independence. And so I like those two.
Andrew Kerr (23:00):
I haven't heard of that one. I'm going to go look it up and also put it in the show notes. So Housify, I'll, yeah, I'll, I'll have to look that one up. All right. And then number two, what is your favorite real estate related blog or book that you've read somewhat recently?
Oh, I'm sure everyone that comes on the show says this, but Bigger Pockets has been a wealth of information. So that's been a lifesaver in so many facets. So that's definitely my favorite blog.
Andrew Kerr (23:24):
Yeah, Bigger Pockets is a great resource. All right, so let's go on to number three, especially since you've moved around a lot. I think this is pretty relevant. What's been your favorite travel destination so far?
Ooh, I would have to say we took our family to Florida. My house, one of the ranches owned by the system it has been worked for is in Florida. And so he had a work trip, so we just decided to car everybody along. And so we took the kids. Um, it's about an hour or two outside of Orlando, Florida. And we spent a week just on the beach. I think we had Lego Land is our one like big touristy destination, but they just soaked up the beach. So the beach in Florida, I could just live there and watch the waves forever. So.
Andrew Kerr (24:06):
Awesome. Well, maybe I'll have to get your husband to find his next job on a coastal town and find a job that will also pay for the housing on that coastal town.
That'd be fantastic.
Andrew Kerr (24:17):
Awesome. Uh, do you, and then number four, what's next on your sort of travel vacation list? Do you have any family trips coming up or anything you want to do in the next year or two?
Uh, my husband and I have just been turned onto travel hacking like this, um, credit cards and things. Um, we've been burned by credit cards a couple of times and so we're pretty leery. But, um, we've been really conscientious and making sure that I pay off every month and we're saving up for a trip to Austria and Italy in a 2021 and we're, we're really excited about that.
Andrew Kerr (24:48):
So Italy is my favorite country. I've been there four times. Uh, next year I'm going back for my fifth time. And then two years ago, my wife and I were in Europe and one of the places we went to was a Austria. Absolutely love it. We're really big on the credit card travel hacking, especially, I think it pairs really well with real estate because a lot of times when you're investing in real estate or buying real estate or doing a house hack, you're going to have some large expenses come up. There's no better way than to do that credit card signup bonus and get it and then use those points to go travel.
Yeah. And it gives you a silver lining. When we had to replace the pellet stove for our tenant. And uh, and so I was like, Oh man, it's so much money, but I get travel rewards and that made it, you know, it's like the sugar that helps the medicine go down a little bit.
Andrew Kerr (25:33):
Absolutely. So where in Italy is sort of your, the places you're thinking of going?
Oh, I think we're going to start in Austria. My, my husband's grandmother is actually from Austria. Like she would speak to them in German sometimes. And so, um, we are going to go back to that kind of ancestral home. It's like right on the border of Austria and Italy. It's called — . I'd try to pronounce it in German, but I'd bet you it. So I call it [inaudible]. Um, it's actually in Italy now. Previously it was an Austria, but post world war II, they redrew the boundaries. So, um, no, it's an Italy. Um, so we'll probably start there and that's like a small ski type of a towns. I'm hoping we get to go skiing and then we'll probably hit Venice. I'm crossing my fingers that we can hit Carnival. I know that's going to be expensive, but I thought that would be really cool to see. And then, um, Roman Florence, I've uh, I read the agony and the ecstasy in my junior year of high school and ever since then I'm like, I'm going, I need to go to Flores before I die. So this is a definitely a bucket list opportunity for me.
Andrew Kerr (26:37):
Yeah, you'll have a great time. I'm sure of it. Italy is an amazing country. Even Austria was fantastic. I just, I'm always drawn to Italy and keep, keep going back. All right. So that brings us on to question number five is what is the biggest bucket list item that you haven't accomplished yet?
Oh, that Florence trip is up there. I'm publishing a book. I would like to do decided exactly what kind of a book I, I do some creative writing and personal finance stuff. I'm not sure which one, which love is going to win out for first place on that one. But we'll see.
Andrew Kerr (27:13):
Well hopefully you'll be able to accomplish one of them and maybe you'll be really ambitious and you'll write two books, one personal finance-related and then one on the creative side.
Yeah, definitely. That'd be great.
Andrew Kerr (27:23):
Awesome. And then number six, what is your favorite life hack?
Related to real estate or just in general?
Andrew Kerr (27:29):
Anything you can, you can do both if you want to do both, but, anything.
Um, house hacking a pretty pretty sweet one. So it's travel hacking, life hacking in general. We like to meal prep a lot at my house because with six of us that's a lot of food and we go through it and um, cooking's great but you can only handle so much at a time. So um, my, the greatest life hack I've seen is to meal prep a lot of chicken at once and to shred it quickly, I stick it in my kitchen aid and turn it on with the paddle attachment. I can't remember. I think my sister turned me onto that and uh, life-changing have to chop the chicken before you stick it in the freezer.
Andrew Kerr (28:09):
Oh that's really cool. I'm actually going to have to start doing that. W w we've got not the kitchen aid mixer but we've got another one that sort of similar type.
Yup. Yup. Those stand mixes are fantastic.
Andrew Kerr (28:19):
Awesome. Well Jenni, thank you so much for being on the show and sharing your sort of unique house hacking experience. We're going to put your blog and all your information in our show notes so folks can find you. But again, thank you so much for being on the show.
You're welcome. Thanks for having me.
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