In 2008, we traded urban living for life in rural America. We had decided we never wanted to pay rent again. I know, crazy. So we were living in a family cabin for cheap while we started our eBay business. Since this was just a temporary living arrangement, we started looking for a house we could afford. After having lived in NYC and SF the past nine years, buying a home always seemed like a ridiculous idea. We hated paying rent, but we also didn’t want to be in long term debt with a huge mortgage.
By this time, the economic crash had hit the housing market hard (and real estate is already MUCH cheaper in depressed rural areas), so we bought a foreclosed home for $70k. We cashed in our retirement accounts, took advantage of Obama’s first time home owner tax rebate and bought it all in cash. Awesome. Here’s a video of one of the first times we walked through the house after buying it.
The house had “good bones” but was in rough shape overall. Holes in the walls and roof, dingy and a half-built sunroom. Several previous owners didn’t maintain it. Except for some areas that needed immediate attention, we honestly could have just painted the walls and been done. Instead, we decided to go all in. Unless our life changed dramatically, we decided this would be the house we’d keep vs. “trading up” later. Instead of thinking of this as a “starter house”, we would make this our home base for the rest of our lives. Since we’re self-employed and spend much of our time at home, it really needed to be comfortable. So the renovation began. We lived (more like camped) in the house and second building during the entire construction period of two years.
We sub-contracted professional carpenters, plumbers and electricians to do all the serious work. But–we saved a ton of money by:
1. Being our own general contractors- dealing with the plans, designs and getting permits from the county ourselves.
2. Doing lots of the manual labor- We did demolition, hauled trash, bought and carried all the supplies and scavenged for useful materials.
Can’t see the slideshow? Click here.
This slideshow shows the long process of redoing every part of the house. We installed new windows, tore down walls, updated the septic, new drywall, new insulation, new siding, new roof, new bathrooms and strengthened the foundation. And that was just some of the big stuff.
Because we wanted to make this a house we really loved to live in, using quality materials was very important. We spent a lot of time on Craigslist finding old heartwood pine flooring being given away for free. Sometimes we’d actually have to pull it up out of other people’s houses ourselves. We also found that the Habitat for Humaity Restore was a great source of windows, sinks, toilets, lumber, everything! Companies would donate almost new stuff to the Restore when customers returned special orders. It was crazy that we were getting beautiful name brand Anderson windows for pennies on the dollar. As any Scavenger knows, shopping at the ReStore takes time and patience to visit every week to see what new stuff they have. We often changed construction plans based on what we were able to buy. Flexibility was key.
The property also had a two-story separate garage that was once used as a welding workshop. It was rain damaged and had been infested by termites at one time. As you can see in this slideshow, we completely redid this building to become our eBay office and storage building.
While all this was going on for two years, we were living in the house. Every morning, the guys would come to work, we’d wake up, make coffee, and cook breakfast in the microwave. Before we had a working shower, we bathed in a large plastic storage bin, no we’re not kidding.
We were making money from our other tech job, but much of the money to pay for the construction came from selling on eBay. The guys working on the house were cool with being paid week by week. Some weeks we’d take off when weather was bad. We’d go into overdrive photographing, listing, and selling shoes and coats (our main inventory at the time).
All our inventory was in plastic bins in rooms that weren’t being worked on. Ryanne would pack each morning and I would drive the packages to the post office. We were able to finally finish the house and do everything we wanted with just a little debt on a credit card that we soon paid off.
So eBay isn’t just a some extra money for us. We harnessed scavenging, owning our time and online selling to really invest in our lives. We don’t want eBay to just be another job for us. Instead, our goal is to use the money we make on eBay to make sure we can continue to own our time. In 2011, we bought another old house that we’re redoing so we can rent it out to vacationers. But that’s a whole other story…