BiggerPockets Money Podcast 05: Jump Starting Your Early FI Plans by Live-in Flipping with Mindy Jensen

by | BiggerPockets.com

Mindy was born in a small town, and then she moved and moved and moved. In fact, moving doesn’t phase her at all, which plays right into the core component of her investment strategy—the live-in flip. Mindy moves every two years to take advantage of the IRS gift of paying zero capital gains taxes on the sale of her primary residence (up to certain limits).

Mindy shares her wealth of experience with this process, both in a practical sense with DIY tips and tricks and smart financial analysis, as well as in the personal sense of how it impacts family life.

Listen to this episode for a different twist on hacking your housing, and discover how a family can use the live-in flip to round out a financial plan capable of bringing about early financial independence.

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Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Scott: Welcome to BiggerPockets Money, Show Number 5.

“So that’s a personality flaw that I have. I just know that I can do everything. Like, it sounds really cocky and it is kind of cocky but I don’t think, what could happen? Like I said before, I jump in with both feet”.

It’s time for a new American dream, one that doesn’t involve working in a cubicle for 40 years, barely scraping by. Whether you’re looking to get your financial house in order, invest the money you already have, or discover new paths for wealth’s creation, you’re in the right place. This show is for anyone who has money or wants more, this is the BiggerPockets Money podcast.

Scott: How’s it going, everybody? I’m Scott Trench here with my co-host and actually, I don’t know if you’re my co-host today. You might be my guest. But either way.

Mindy: I’m just a guest today.

Scott: How are you doing, Mindy?

Mindy: I am doing very well, Scott. How are you doing?

Scott: I am doing okay. I think I had a bit of an embarrassing morning today. What happened this morning when you came into the office?

Mindy: So when I came into the office this morning, I saw a pair of men’s underpants on the floor near the bathroom. And I’m like hmm, what’s going on with those? Why would somebody just leave their underpants on the floor? So we have an internal chat in our company and I took a picture of it and posted it up there. I’m like, who left their underpants on the floor? Turns out that our very own Mr. Scott Trench left his underpants on the floor. Scott, do you just make a habit of running around the office naked? Why were your underpants on the floor?

Scott: So let me see if I can explain this away. Yesterday, I was wearing—I have one pair of jeans and I needed more pairs of jeans but—

Mindy: One pair of jeans? You’re taking frugality too far.

Scott: Too far. I took it too far. And I spilled hot chocolate all over the jeans. Just a huge gaping mess right down the side of my right leg. So I was like, okay, I’m going to change. And I took off my boxers and my—I went to the bathroom and I took off my pants and boxers, put on some athletic shorts, spent the rest of the day in athletic shorts as an exception.

And then when I was going home, I must have walked past the bathroom with my jeans and my boxers over my shoulder and they must have just fallen out and I didn’t notice so I come back and there’s a picture of my boxers all over the internal. I’m very embarrassed today. Things are not going well.

Mindy: I was just surprised that there were underpants on the floor. And then I wasn’t even the first person in. Evan was the first person in this morning and he said there was some R&B music playing like Barry White and ooh, romantic music. And I was like, oh, I don’t know what’s going on at work but that’s not appropriate office conduct.

Scott: I don’t know how to explain that one away.

Mindy: Somebody else was just listening to music.

Scott: It’ll be a couple of years before I live this one down. So I hope mom’s not listening.

Mindy: I hope she is. I’d like her to know that. I’d like everybody to know that there’s actually more than one pair of underpants in your office. I went in there today looking for a copy of your book and there’s those red and blue ones right there.

Scott: No, no, no. Those are flannel shirts. I can show you. Those are my flannel shirts. I don’t have multiple pairs of underpants lying around my office. Just the one that got ruined and I had the other pair in my car.

Mindy: Do you have any socks in your office, Scott?

Scott: I don’t know. Maybe. I’m going to restock my little drawer of clothing just in case, for the exact reasons it happens.

Mindy: Don’t you have 42 pairs of socks in your office, Scott?

Scott: Oh yeah, so I mentioned on a BiggerPockets podcast that I needed more socks for Christmas. I was just kind of joking, I guess, but somebody sent me 42 pairs of socks. Seven boxes of six pairs of socks and they’re actually right here in the office. I can probably show them if people are watching the video version of this.

Mindy: Yeah, go grab those. They’re kind of pretty. There’s a couple. There’s like some definitely male socks. There’s some could be male or female socks.

Scott: They are. They’re Christmas style socks.

Mindy: Hold them up a little bit more. We can only see three pairs.

Scott: Four boxes of these and I’ve got another type of socks that I also brought home. So I am good on socks for now.

Mindy: I just thought it was funny, Scott sends me a Slack message. It’s like, Mindy, did you send me socks? I said, no, I don’t think so. He’s like, I have 42 pairs of socks somebody just sent me. That should cover you for a few days. Forty-two days before having to do laundry.

Scott: Well, moving on from Scott’s wardrobe or the visibility of my wardrobe, my Tommy Hilfiger pants. Let’s go to the purpose of today’s show which is to learn about you and your story and how you got here in life. And I’m really looking forward to this because I know Mindy’s story but it’s really exciting.

It’s really repeatable. It’s something that I think that everybody that listens to the show will learn from and be able to kind of see how the decisions that she made enabled her to move toward financial freedom, free up time for her husband, free up the ability to hang out with her children. Just a great story I’m really looking forward to hearing again.

Mindy: Oh, well thanks, Scott. So I was born in a small town in southern Illinois and then I moved. And I moved and I moved and I moved and I moved times like 27. I have never in my whole life lived in a house for more than five years. And moving around as a kid kind of sucked. I went to three different schools in second grade.

Scott: Oh, wow.

Mindy: But what that taught me, in my first school in second grade. My second school in second grade, I was still pretty shy because it was like, I hadn’t moved mid-year before, and I was the new kid and I was just—but I loved to talk as evidenced by the past episodes of the show and the future episodes of the show. I really love to talk so you can’t be shy and talk to a lot of people at the same time.

So the moving really got me out of my shyness. It also taught me that moving is easy and okay to do and that has set me up in life to do the kind of investing that I like to do which is called live-in flipping. What that is, is you live in a house while you’re flipping it, while you’re doing the rehab work and the reason that you do that is not because you love messes and untidiness. It’s because you can, if you live there for two years, you can avoid capital gains taxes, since I’m married, up to $500,000.

Scott: It’s tax-free.

Mindy: It is tax-free. Uncle Sam never sees it. This is a gift that the IRS gave me because they love me so much and it’s only for me. I’m just kidding. This is a gift for everybody from the IRS because they love you so much. If you live in a property for two out of the past five years and you own that property for two out of the last five years, any capital gains that you make outside—which is the difference between the price you purchased it at plus any improvements that you made and the price that you sell it at.

Let’s say you buy it for $500,000 and you put $100,000 into and you sell it for $700,000, you just made $100,000. If you lived there for two years and it was your primary residence, you pay zero dollars in capital gains taxes which is quite a gift, quite a bonus from the IRS. So I have taken this model and I have done it eight times.

Scott: Wow. Can you tell us, I would love to hear about the start of this journey but because it’s so relevant and fresh, can you tell us about the property that you currently live in and how you bought that and rehabbed it and what it’s worth now and all that?

Mindy: Yes, I would love to. So I bought the property that I live in now—we had moved to the state of Colorado and bought a big, brand new house. It turned out we didn’t like that neighborhood and that area at all. So we moved to a different city in Colorado called Longmont and by the time we moved there, the market was starting to go up. We couldn’t find anything. We wanted to sell our current house before we bought our new house so we couldn’t get a contract on our old house. So we had to buy a new one. We found this house because it was a Fannie Mae Home Path foreclosure property and in the first 30 days that a home—

Scott: And what year was this?

Mindy: This was 2013.

Scott: Okay.

Mindy: The first 30 days that a Home Path property is listed, they won’t even look at investor offers. They will only accept owner-occupant offers and they’ll kind of accept anything. I saw this on day like 32 and made an offer, I think we were at day 40 when we made the offer and there was one other offer. It was now opened up to investors but there was one other offer. Fannie Mae wants to put owner-occupants into property so they said, if you will live here for a year, you will get preference over this other bid. Well, I’ll live there for a year if I get preference over this other bid. I had outbid and lost out on all these properties just in the short time that I was looking.

So we put in an offer. We said we’d live there for a year, which we did because if you say you’re going to live there and then you don’t, that’s mortgage fraud and that’s a whole another story. We bought the house, we moved in, and when we bought it, it was two bedrooms and one bathroom. We paid $176,000 for it. It was 1300 square feet and it was one of the ugliest houses I’ve ever lived in. I’ve lived in a lot of ugly houses and this one was pretty tops.

We put in pretty much new everything. We have new siding, new windows, we popped the top and added 500 square feet upstairs. We took this large, unusable space in the back of the house and turned it into a dining room, bedroom, bathroom. So now, the house has four bedrooms and three bathrooms and it is 1800 square feet and I estimate, as a real estate agent, I estimate that I could put it on the market today for $550,000 and get an offer instantly.

Scott: So what would you net profit after tax be?

Mindy: Oh, you’re going to make me do math now. Okay, so we paid, let’s open up a calculator—we paid $176,000 and we put $100,000 into it so it’s worth $276,000 minus 550 equals—I would probably make $274,000 if I sold this property today. And if I listed it at $550,000, I could sell it today.

Scott: And that’s all after tax. What kind of, I don’t even know how to do this one, but what kind of income do you think someone would need to make in order to achieve that level of after-tax income in a year? $300,000 or $400,000? $350,000?

Mindy: Probably $400,000 because up there, you’re at the top tax bracket and I have not paid attention to the new tax changes yet. What is the top tax bracket, like 38%?

Scott: Oh, I couldn’t tell you that one either.

Mindy: I think it’s like 38%. So let’s see.

Scott: This is such a phenomenal way to create so much investable liquidity. The ability to create so much equity and be able to harness it tax-free is just such a powerful thing to do and you know, was this a big part of your ability to achieve the current level of net worth that you have, those eight other flips?

Mindy: Yes. Absolutely. I’m looking through my mental stack and I made $20,000 on my first one, which was a total accident. I bought a condo. I lived in it for four years. I got married. My husband had a house so we sold the condo and we sold it for $25,000 more than I paid for it. And I think I put in like $1000.

I put in a new tile floor that I did myself with the help of my dad. I didn’t pay somebody to do it. I painted all the walls. I put a new light fixture in the kitchen. Like that’s it. Over the course of four years, I did pretty much nothing to the house and I made $25,000 which I put right in my pocket and then moved onto another one. Like, I want to do this again.

So we flipped my husband’s house and we flipped a condo in the city of Chicago and then we moved out to the suburbs and flipped a bunch of houses out there. And living in it for two years means that I don’t have to pay any capital gains taxes. So $100,000 from this house, $150,000 from that house. $50,000 from that house. You know, that’s a salary. That’s a couple of salaries. That’s three or four salaries. And it’s all just tax-free.

Scott: So I like to house hack, so I buy duplexes and live in them. One of the things that happens with the house hack is I had to treat my property as three quarters, or at least half—if I live in a duplex, one half. Half of it is an investment property. Half of it is primary residence. So the way I was doing it, I had a roommate in my half. So three quarters was an investment property and one quarter was a residence.

I am excluded from three quarters of this benefit that you are able to receive by doing a live-in flip and that is a huge drawback of one of my strategies of house hacking and a huge advantage of what you’re doing. You get the house to yourself and you get to you know, exclude the entire purchase price from a potential sales tax, unless it’s over $250,000 or $500,000.

Mindy: Yes, and let’s clarify that for people who aren’t so familiar with it. $250,000 is the capital gains tax exemption if you’re single. So you would be $250,000. Since I’m married—my anniversary is tomorrow. I’ll be married 16 years tomorrow.

Scott: Happy Anniversary.

Mindy: Thank you. I have done this my whole married life and I have the exclusion up to $500,000. I haven’t ever hit that. I think that my current house, I’m not anxious to move. I actually want to see if I can stay in the house longer than five years, but I really like the neighborhood.

We had a massive flood about four months after we moved into the property and the neighborhood was kind of cut off from everything else. So all of our neighbors got together, we had a big party, we really got to know each other and I love the neighborhood. So I don’t want to move. So I think down the road, I am going to hit that $500,000 but honestly, that’s a really nice problem to have.

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. So let me ask a couple of questions here. Number one, you started in 2013.

Mindy: On my current house.

Scott: On the current house. How old are your girls?

Mindy: My girls are almost 11 and just turned 8.

Scott: So 10 years old and 8 years old. How old were they when you moved into the house?

Mindy: 6 and 3.

Scott: 6 and 3. So this is something you can do with small children, right? That’s a barrier to financial independence that some people have. And you’re shaking your head so what are the challenges of doing this with children?

Mindy: Okay, so it sounds like all unicorns and rainbows. Like yay, you get all this money. But you have to live in a construction zone. We are jump in with both feet kind of people so we did the whole house. We tore out everything but the kitchen and the bathroom and started rebuilding and we added the second story and we had plastic over the doorway to the back of the house for probably a month and a half. It happened to be extremely cold then, which was awesome.

I had the washing machine actually in my kitchen. I knew I was taking out the floor and replacing it so I didn’t care but I had to drill holes in my kitchen floor to put the waste pipes and the water pipes to my washing machine so I could do laundry. There wasn’t heat in the back of the house at that time. So there’s a bit of sacrifice. However, if you’re going to live there for two years, you don’t have to jump in with both feet.

You can start by remodeling the bathroom and you know, remodeling the bedrooms and knocking out a wall or whatever it is that you need to do. I do recommend that you keep at least one room untouched at a time so you have a place to go that isn’t just covered in dust and construction supplies. I would say, to kind of batch your projects together. I knew that we were going to have to rewire the whole house. I think it had 60 amps service, 60 in electrical service and we went up to 200 or 220. I am drawing a blank now. We went up to 200, I think.

Scott: I think it’s going to be 220, right?

Mindy: 220? I can’t remember now. I am completely drawing a blank on that. 220 sounds right. Whatever. We had the electrical service upgraded and to do that in the whole house, you kind of have to open up all the walls at the same time. We were pulling wires through, like underneath the kitchen and in the crawl space and up through the garage and a lot of stuff that if you do it room by room, you may have to call your electrician back multiple times.

Scott: Mhmm.

Mindy: I am very blessed in that my electrician is my father-in-law so he just came and stayed with us for a while. He loves the girls. The girls love him. So they’d play in the morning and then he’d go rewire the house in the afternoon.

Scott: Now, suppose you don’t have this advantage that you’ve got with the father-in-law, how much would that electrical work have cost you in that scenario?

Mindy: $10,000-$15,000.

Scott: Okay, so you’re still up $240,000 even after the electrical bill on the property, right?

Mindy: Yes. And I put in a couple thousand dollars just in supplies and permits. I did everything permitted and I totally recommend that you consult your permit office of your city and get everything permitted because if you’re going to significantly increase the value of the home and significantly increase the layout of the home or upgrade the electrical, the plumbing, or whatever. You want to get that permitted and approved by the city so you don’t have to go back later and try to get it re-permitted. When you go to sell the house, people are going to ask about permits and having the permit there is a better choice.

Scott: So you mentioned that, it’s not all sunshine and roses in this process. Tell me about moving with a family. Because I am a single guy and I don’t like moving. I understand the value of moving and I do every year or so to buy a house hack, but that’s a big thing that families don’t like to do. What’s it like moving school-aged girls, 6 years old, to a new place?

Mindy: Well, it’s a lot of work. You have to pack up, you start packing up things that you don’t necessarily need. We moved in the summer so it was very easy to pack up all the big coats and the sweaters and the winter gear as you’re starting packing. And then you pack up some toys that they won’t miss. You pack up, it’s just like moving as a regular person, you just have more stuff to move. If they’re school-aged kids, they’re not going to be very helpful with the packing. The three-year-old was not all that helpful packing. She would be like, oh, I want to play with this toy. I just put it in the box. But you get through it.

I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, which I think was really, really helpful. Being a stay-at-home mom allowed me to do a lot of the running around, a lot of the errands that my husband, because we do most of the work ourselves, he didn’t have time for during the day. He was actually working a real job and then at night he would stop working and he’d put a movie on for the kids and you work on the house.

Scott: And one of the things, if I’m correct here, you bought a house that was probably well within your means to purchase at that $175,000 price point, is that correct?

Mindy: That is correct. And I don’t want to be like preachy but we could have paid cash for the house because we had sold another house. So, we lived in Wisconsin. We moved to Douglas County, Colorado and put down 25% on the house there, which was like $400,000. So we put down the $100,000 there. And then we made more than $100,000 on the other house, so we just had this extra money. It’s not extra money, you can always put a use to it. But we had this extra money sitting around.

We had gotten a loan, or applied for a loan for the house in the current house in Longmont but there was a series of snafus and we thought we weren’t going to be able to get the loan. We applied for the loan because we could have a low down payment, 20% of $176,000 is what, $40,000 or $30,000, something like that. So I took my $100,000 that I made from selling the other house, or that I got after selling the other house and I didn’t have to put it all back down on this next house. I could put down a small percentage of it and then just keep the rest and invest it. So I had the low down payment and I think my interest rate is 3.25% for 15 years, which is kind of unheard of. That’s almost the lowest you can go.

Scott: That’s fantastic. You financed at a great time when rates were super, super low and you got a 15-year mortgage which allowed you to get even lower rates, right?

Mindy: Yes, and in hindsight, would have gone with the 30-year because it was like 3.5% or something and I can take that money and invest it in the stock market in other rental properties, in other real estate ventures, and make more money than that 3.5% that I’m paying out. So, we’re actually looking at refinancing the property back into a 30-year loan while I have a job. My husband does not work anymore at a job that pays him. He still works.

Scott: Well yeah, to summarize what you’ve talked about so far, you started off by house hacking, you made a cool $20,000 grand and then you just parlayed that—sorry, not house hacking. Live-in flipping. You parlayed that eight times now and each time you have more and more, plus I’m assuming you’re saving in your personal life and being financially responsible throughout the whole process.

So you’re stockpiling cash and then realizing these huge gains that are all after-tax, readily accessible wealth that you can use. And then you get to the point where you are now where you bought this $175,000 home and can easily put down $100K in expenses for you know, the rehab. And now you’re sitting on a big pile of equity and you’re financially independent alongside your husband who just quit his job, right?

Mindy: Yes. He has been retired, or financially independent. He quit his job in April of last year.

Scott: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s awesome. I guess one question I would have here is suppose you are—at what point did you become competent and confident at your ability to manage the rehab work yourself? You mentioned that you do a lot of it yourself, right? It scares me. I own real estate and I have worked on my houses. It scares me to think about doing an electrical work or drill a hole in my kitchen floor so I can connect the waste water pipe from my washer and I’m assuming attach it to the sewer system. Like, that’s stuff that’s pretty outlandish, it seems like pretty scary. It seems like it’s going to be a lot of work and a lot of money and could go horribly, horribly wrong. How’d you develop that confidence to do all of that stuff?

Mindy: So that’s a personality flaw that I have. I just know that I can do everything. It sounds really cocky and it is kind of cocky but I don’t think, what could happen. Like I said before, I jump in with both feet. I read a book, I mean I didn’t just cut open the sewer pipe and be like, oh, I’ll just stick this in this hole. But I checked out books at the library. How to repair your plumbing. YouTube will show you how to do literally everything. So a lot of YouTube videos.

The electrical work, mostly that was my father-in-law and my husband and they do the work and my father-in-law was a union electrician for 40 years. So he went through the apprenticeship and journeyman and all these steps to be an electrician. And my husband grew up with it so he would just watch him do it and learn from him.

But the plumbing, I mean plumbing really isn’t that hard. You could do plumbing. I have a hard time getting everything tight enough. I don’t have the physical strength to tighten all of the clamps and all of that with the plumbing so that it doesn’t leak. But they have this new thing called—it’s not even new, it’s called PEX and it stands for some giant chemical word but it’s called PEX tubing and it goes together with this little ring and connector and like a $75 dollar tool. And all you do is close it like this. It crimps the thing completely closed. I can’t explain it any better than that.

Go to YouTube and look at like a YouTube video and it really is as easy as it looks on YouTube. The tool is $75 and that has saved me thousands of dollars in plumbing repairs and plumbing costs and you know, hiring a plumber because we were able to do it all ourselves.

Scott: Awesome. I love the do-it-yourself mentality and how you’re able to just, I don’t know, confidently approach all of this stuff.

Mindy: And another thing is we had a hard time finding contractors. I mean, if you have a project that you need to bid for, call up a contractor. They’re not going to call you back. Ten times out of ten, they’re not going to call you back. You have to call 25 people and maybe three of them would call you back, which is not ten out of ten, but still. That’s just illustrating a point. Maybe three will call you back, possibly one will actually show up to give you a bid.

It’s so difficult to find a contractor and especially now in the real estate boom that the Denver area is experiencing. But even back when we first started doing this, we were experiencing the same, early 2000s, the same market where it was just going up and up and up and we couldn’t find anybody to do it. And finally, my husband’s like, forget this. I’m just going to do it myself. And I don’t even know if YouTube was available then. I think he just got a book at the library. So all you people just starting out, you’re even more advantaged because YouTube.

Scott: That’s awesome. So let’s say you’re approaching a project and you’re like, if Mindy can do it, I can do it, too. You’re a listener. What kind of planning needs to go into this? I assume that you didn’t just like buy a property and be like, oh, we’ll figure it out after that. You had some sort of plan. You kind of had a vision of what it was going to look like. How did you get the knowledge and confidence and expertise necessary to know what you’re going to do with the property once you bought it?

Mindy: We knew we wanted to add more bedrooms. We have two kids. Growing up, I always had my own bedroom. I wanted my kids to each have their own bedroom. We knew we had this—we just walked around the house. This space is unusable as it is. How can we change it? Oh, we could make it into a bedroom. Well, we should add an extra bathroom. Oh, I would like to have a dining room which in retrospect was a stupid idea. We never eat there ever. We always eat at the kitchen table.

Scott: The dining room?

Mindy: I have a dining room just off the kitchen towards the back of the house as you walk out to the backyard.

Scott: Oh, yes. I’ve been to Mindy’s house several times and I didn’t even recognize it as a dining room.

Mindy: It’s just a space where I keep the kitchen table. My dining room table. So I would definitely recommend, if you’re buying a house, live in it for a couple of months and really get a feel for the house. Oh, it would be really great to have this. The sliding glass door that was there off the kitchen was not there. It was just a solid wall and the only door in and out of the house was the front door. There was like a garage door and a door to the backyard but you had to walk out to the front door. And we don’t even use the front door now.

In retrospect, I would have liked to change the windows in the front of the house and wall off that stupid front door. I put a stupid couch in front of it right now. We never ever use it. So, walk around the house and live in it for a couple of months and see how it works and see what you would change differently. You know, this is our eighth house so we knew we wanted to do this. We knew we wanted to do that. Pete, actually Mr. Money Mustache, suggested the sliding glass door and that was the best suggestion I’ve ever gotten from anybody. That was such a helpful suggestion and I don’t know that I would have come up with that by myself.

Scott: He gives good in-person advice, too?

Mindy: He gives great in-person advice, too.

Scott: Oh, wow.

Mindy: So yeah, I don’t really know that I learned it any one place.

Scott: It sounds to me like it’s a lifetime confidence and mindset of I’m going to be able to do this myself and I’ll figure it out. And when I can’t figure it out, I am good enough with money that I’ll have the resources necessary to go hire it out in those few cases. I assume you hired out the pop top portion, right? Where you added new structural components to the property and a new roof and all that kind of stuff, right?

Mindy: I did. I hired a guy off Craigslist, which I recommend zero percent doing again. I hired a guy and he came out. He was so excited to do this job. He came out every day for the first week, gung ho, on time, stopped at the store on the way there or gave me a list of stuff to go get and just like jumped in with both feet doing this.

And then by the second week, I don’t know if he was bored or if he just doesn’t have good time management skills, but he started coming later and later, and leaving earlier and earlier and taking a longer lunch. And arriving, and oh, I have to go to Home Depot to get this. Well, I could get it. I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’m not doing anything except cleaning the house. I could wait to go get this. Let me do these things. And it just kind of turned into a debacle that devolved over a couple of months.

We eventually fired him and we hired people that as we were walking around the neighborhood, we saw them working on this house and they did really amazing work from the outside. And we went up and talked to them and they said, hey, you want to come in and check out the house? Go ahead. Drywall is next week so you can still see everything that we’ve done right now. So we went in.

The guy showed us how he did stairs, which I still don’t exactly know how he does his stairs to make them so amazing. But they don’t squeak. They don’t shift. They don’t move. I mean, they’re not supposed to shift or move. But a lot of stairs squeak but his stairs are like rock solid. And it was just beautiful work. He didn’t just nail things together. He glued them and then nailed them so it’s more secure and just the way he did things was really amazing and it was great to see it in person.

So I would recommend if you’re contemplating starting off on this, when you find a contractor if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, go to their current job site and look around. Also, this job site was spick and span. They were so neat and tidy. They would clean up every day after themselves, which really makes a difference when you’re living in the property.

Scott: Now, one thing I’ve heard in the BiggerPockets real estate podcast is, I forget who said this, but with contractors, you get two out of three things. You get on time, high quality, and on budget. Would you say that those clean guys who were doing high quality work, was he a pretty expensive guy?

Mindy: No. Actually, he was the unicorn that did it on time, on budget, and high quality work. There’s no other guy like this. He actually moved to San Diego. If you’re in San Diego and you want to house hack, let me know. I got a guy. But yeah, they did an amazing job. They did phenomenal work, on time, I think it might have been delayed because of supplies or something because we were doing it over the winter. Or it extended into the winter. We started the project in June and it extended into winter because of the first guy. But the delays were not their fault. It was like supplies or it was too cold to work or whatever.

Scott: Awesome. I think it’s fantastic how you solved many of the problems yourself, found high quality contractors, fixed problems, got this thing together and have achieved hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial benefit. Can we talk quickly about your story? We know that you’ve been doing this for a long time, for eight different house live-in flips. At what point did you and your husband decide, we’re going to actually parlay what we’ve been doing here into financial independence and what did that process look like? How did that kind of transform into what you were doing from the before and after from the decision to pursue FI?

Mindy: So we discovered the concept of early retirement and financial independence—one day, my husband was having a terrible day on the job. He worked for a government—he was doing some sort of medical device that could kill people. And they had found a bug in the code. He was writing the code and they had found a bug in the code and he was like, I can’t do this anymore. How do I quit my job? And he banks this into Google and Mr. Money Mustache pops up. He was like, what is this? He reads this site and he’s like, this is garbage. There’s no way this is true. But he keeps reading and he’s like, oh, math doesn’t lie. This is actually the real thing. I could do this.

Scott: This was before you were neighbors with Mr. Money Mustache, right?

Mindy: This was before we were neighbors. We’re actually neighbors because of his love for his city. He just keeps talking about how great this city was and we’re like, hey, would you ever give us a tour? And he’s like, sure, come on up anytime. He was super nice about it. Like I said, this was five years ago. And he just showed us this amazing city. But anyway, to parlay this into financial independence, we discovered that you can retire early. We read about this concept called the Four Percent Rule. We did our math and we’re like, oh, we’re halfway to the Four Percent Rule right now.

Scott: And the Four Percent Rule, by the way, for those of you who are listening is a concept, I believe it was started by this thing called the Trinity Study.

Mindy: William Bengen did the first study, and then the Trinity Study came. I want to give credit where credit is due.

Scott: Ah, fair enough. I did not know that so I’ll have to look him up. But basically, the theory is that, let’s say you want to spend $40,000 per year. The theory is if you amass a portfolio of $1 million dollars, you’ll be able to withdraw $40,000 or Four Percent of that per year and have an extremely high likelihood of never running out of money. Your portfolio will regenerate itself because you’re pulling out a small enough percentage of the gains that you’ll last through most market scenarios.

And I believe that study focuses mostly on having that money invested in stocks but there’s other ways to tweak your portfolio. Maybe you’re more conservative or you have even higher probabilities than that. But the Four Percent Rule is often touted as a rule of thumb that if you have accumulated 25 times the amount of your annual spending or you spend 4% of your total asset base, that you’ll be able to retire indefinitely. And that was your goal. You’re halfway through it. You automatically realized that at the point where you had discovered financial independence.

Mindy: Right. just by being frugal. We knew that we had to invest in our 401Ks. So every year, we would max out our 401Ks. We were frugal enough that we could do that. He had a job. I had a job. And basically, my job covered the 401K contribution. So I would start off every year, I would donate to my 401K, or I’m sorry, contribute to my 401K 100% of my salary and it would take three or six months to get to that and then I would start collecting my salary. So it’s called frontloading your 401K where you load it up in the beginning of the year and then he would continue to contribute to his 401K. So that counted for a lot, but then 2007-2008 happened and our portfolio lost of lot of its value. But we were still doing this real estate stuff and we just kept churning that over and over.

Scott: So you had that portfolio going into 2007-2008. Did you discover financial independence before the great recession or after the great recession?

Mindy: After. It was in 2012 but we were still kind of at the bottom but Denver was starting to pick up. He had read a couple of blogs like Get Rich Slowly, Early Retirement Extreme. Early Retirement Extreme is a great blog but just like the title says, it’s extreme. It’s like eating beans and rice for dinner every night and having peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and then you can retire and have like $12.00 in your bank account. And it’s not doable for a lot of people.

But these other blogs were like, hey, if you’re just a little bit frugal, save money on things that don’t matter so you can spend money on things that do matter. We don’t live a beans and rice lifestyle. But I don’t have brand new clothes all the time because I don’t care. I have a really cool car because I wanted one since high school so I bought it when I could. But I bought it now instead of in high school when it would have cost me a lot more opportunity-cost wise.

Scott: So what was your timeline like once you realized you were halfway there and you kind of discovered this? Did you set yourselves a target or anything like that or a timeline in order to move towards this goal?

Mindy: We did. What an amazing question. We set a timeline. We set a goal of 1500 days from January 1st, 2013. Which was sometime in February of 2017, that we wanted to hit. Our original target was $1 million dollars and then we adjusted it because we don’t believe in paying off our mortgage early. We had about $120,000 left on our mortgage so we adjusted our goal to $1,120,000 dollars so we could pay off the mortgage if necessary. But if not, we can just keep, if everything was going great, we could just keep going the way we were going. So we don’t have a paid off mortgage. We ended up hitting our goal in 2016 right before my husband turned 40. 2015? I don’t remember when we hit the goal, but we hit the goal significantly early.

Scott: You hit the goal in late 2015 or early 2016?

Mindy: Yes. So it just has kept going. The stock market is on a super tear right now. We’ve actually pulled some money out of the stock market and put it into real estate investments. I just bought a 46-unit mobile home park in Maine with Brandon Turner and Ryan Murdoch. Ryan actually lives in Maine so he’s kind of like our boots on the ground. I have invested in real estate syndications and I do private lending which is me lending money as the bank to individuals who pay me a higher percentage rate. I think I’m making 10% returns on that, which is probably not as good as I can get in the stock market right now, but significantly safer.

Scott: I mean, it sounds like you have what I have discovered, a lot of millionaires have, which is their hands in a couple of different investments. You’ve got a large amount of home equity. You’ve got a substantial stock index portfolio. You’ve got a real estate investment. You lend money. This is what I think a lot of people who have achieved financial independence realized, is that they have a lot of options and ways to diversify and sustain their investments in really smart, creative ways that make sense for their portfolios.

Mindy: I agree. Thank you. I think diversification is really important when you are building your portfolio. Especially when you’re first starting out, you have all your money in Apple stock and then all of a sudden, it turns out that Apple goes out of business. Like that would happen. You have nothing. Ask all of those people that invested in Enron. Not only do they not have a job, they don’t have any investments and now they’re working at Wal-Mart as greeters because they’re 65 and nobody is going to hire them.

Scott: I actually took a slightly different approach when I was starting out. I would actually have all my money in index funds that I put all into a house hack. One asset that I could work on and guard very closely. But as I’ve got past six figures, now I’m starting to diversify a little bit more because of exactly what you said as well. But do you think it’s sometimes hard for someone with like $25K to really diversify and maybe build up these first few properties?

Mindy: Well, I think that an index fund is pretty diversified. You’re not in just one stock. You’re in the entire stock market. So a rising tide lifts all ships. So when the market is on a tear, you’re on an index fund that is going up with the market going up or if the market is going down, then your index fund is going down but it’s not dependent on just one company or one stock. Regarding starting out, I love the house hacking idea. I think you could safely argue that live-in flipping is a form of house hacking.

I am forcing a ton of appreciation by making improvements on the property. So you need a place to live. Why pay rent to somebody else when you could own the property and rent out a room? Or you could own the property and fix it up? Or you could own a property and rent out a room and fix it up? There’s a lot of different ways to cobble something together but it doesn’t have to be this huge outlay of cash. I mean, granted if you’re in New York City, you’re probably going to have a harder time. But you could go across the bridges and get a far less expensive home.

Scott: Awesome. Do you have anything else you want me to ask about, to cover before we move onto our Fire Round equivalent?

Mindy: No, I don’t think so.

Scott: I think we’ve pretty much covered everything. Or not pretty much everything but the big high levers of how you got started, what you did after that, the big lever which I think is live-in flip for you.

Mindy: Excuse me, yes.

Scott: All that good stuff.

Mindy: Yeah. No, I think we covered a lot of it.

Scott: All right. Well, this has been awesome. Let’s move onto our Famous Four and put you into the hot seat, Mindy. What’s your favorite finance book?

Mindy: My favorite finance book is called The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. So what I really love about this book is it was written in the 1920s and a hundred years ago, that information is still valid today and it’s basic concepts like be frugal. Don’t spend all the money that you make. Invest the extra money that you don’t spend outside of your living expenses. Invest with people that have experience in this or expertise. It’s just really basic information. Investing isn’t hard and I think that just saying, here’s this book that’s a hundred years old, giving you the exact same advice that you’re getting now.

Scott: Yeah, I think it’s fantastic. It’s one of my favorite books as well. I love it and there’s timeless wisdom in that book that applies. It’s crazy how well it applies to the real world today.

Mindy: It really is. Like, we’ve got all this technology. Think about the world in 1920s and the world in 2018. Vastly different. Investing advice is still the same.

Scott: Awesome. What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out?

Mindy: So you’re going to make mistakes. Maybe you started too late. Maybe you invested poorly. Maybe you didn’t invest at all. You spent every dime you had. Tomorrow is a brand new day. Start tomorrow. Start today. Today I a brand new day. Spend less. Save more. The best way to spend less is to track your spending. If you are not currently tracking your spending, start today.

Use Mint.com to track your spending. Use a spreadsheet that you make. Do it yourself. Write it down in a notebook. That actually helps me. I use a notebook, like a spiral notebook. I put it on the island and as I walk in, that’s the first thing I see. If I spent any money, I write it down. And as you track your spending, you’ll see things that you can cut out. When I first started tracking my spending, I was shocked to discover that I went to the grocery store every single day. And it was on the way home. I lived kind of up a hill and the gym was over here, so I would drive past the grocery store.

Oh, I need that one thing for dinner. Well, that one thing turns into like, seven things. And you do that every single day, you’re buying like 35 things you don’t need. Every single week. It adds up and the money adds up and the space adds up. So my best piece of advice for people who are just starting out—track your spending. There you go. That’s even better.

Scott: Awesome, I love it. It’s not necessarily a budget, right? It’s tracking your spending and know what’s happening so you can make those decisions and figure out, hey, this was not worth it, right?

Mindy: Yeah. I didn’t need that.

Scott: What is your favorite joke to tell at parties?

Mindy: Ask me if I’m an orange.

Scott: Are you an orange?

Mindy: No. I have small children.

Scott: Orange you glad I asked that question, though?

Mindy: No. Sorry, that’s a terrible question. I still love it.

Scott: That’s all right.

Mindy: It’s still awful.

Scott: I got a pun in there.

Mindy: Yes, you did. You always slip them in.

Scott: All right, before we peel out of here, let’s ask one more question here. Where can people find out more about you?

Mindy: Well, funny you should ask. I am on BiggerPockets.com. I am all over BiggerPockets.com. I am the community manager there so I am in the forums all day, every day. You can e-mail me at [email protected]. You can tweet me at @MindyatBP for BiggerPockets. Instagram is the same. MindyatBP. I think Facebook is also the same. MindyatBP. Pretty much, I am everywhere and I would love to chat with you. Not you, Scott.

Scott: Mindy is everywhere. Mindy is a legend who has been so ridiculously active over the last couple of months, writing books, starting podcasts, hosting podcasts, doing all this stuff.

Mindy: Ask me about my book, Scott.

Scott: Oh yeah, did you have a book? Can you maybe mention that?

Mindy: I do. I wrote a book called How to Sell Your Home and the reason I wrote this book is because there’s this guy named Morgan Housell and I have been following him forever. He’s unbelievably brilliant. You know, he’d be a good guy to have on this show. He is so smart about money and he wrote a post after he bought his first house. He lives in like a major metro area like New York City or something where it was normal not to have a house. And he finally bought a house and he was like, every time I talk to my real estate agent, I was back on Google looking things up because there was so many things you don’t know about buying a house. And the way that our publishing schedule worked, it made more sense to publish How to Sell Your Home first and then next year, we are publishing How to Buy a House.

Scott: You’ve written two books?

Mindy: Well, I’ve already written one. I’m writing one more.

Scott: What a legend.

Mindy: That’ll be out in 2019. I think January but that’s not set in stone yet. But yeah, so if you have a house to sell, there’s so many things that you have to do in order to do it right and you don’t know what you don’t know.

Scott: Your agent may not know what they don’t know, right?

Mindy: Your agent might forget to tell you something. Maybe they’ve been doing this for a thousand years and they’re like, oh everybody knows you need title insurance. I was in the BiggerPockets forums and somebody said, oh, I didn’t know I needed title insurance. Oh, well I know you needed title insurance. So I put that in this book and I am going to put that in the How to Buy a House book, too. So there will be a link in the Show Notes to How to Sell Your Home. It is available wherever books are sold. It’s also available at BiggerPockets.com/Store.

Scott: Awesome. Well, that was a nice plug.

Mindy: Thanks. Thanks for the opportunity to plug my book.

Scott: Well, this has been great. Do you have anything to add here before we close out and let everybody go home or do whatever they were going to do?

Mindy: I do not have anything else to add. If you have any questions about today’s topic, please hit me up. We’ve got a new forum on the BiggerPockets forums specifically to discuss the BiggerPockets Money podcast and the episodes. So if you have any questions, hit me up in the BiggerPockets forums. If you are not a member of BiggerPockets.com, the membership is free and always will be and we would love to have you. You can come over and talk about money or real estate investing or real estate in general. We have more than 900,000 members who are happy to help you out in almost every aspect of finance.

Scott: Awesome. Another great plug. Thank you, Mindy.

Mindy: Shall we wrap it up?

Scott: Let’s do it. From Episode 5 of the BiggerPockets Money Show, this is Scott Trench. Over and out.

Watch the Podcast Here

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • Mindy’s background story
  • The IRS and the benefits Mindy found
  • The story of Mindy’s first house
  • Tips for living tax-free
  • What it’s like to frequently move houses
  • How to live in the house you’re flipping
  • The DIY mentality
  • How to find contractors
  • The 4 percent rule
  • Tips for those who are starting out with financial freedom
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in this Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “I don’t think, ‘What could happen?’ I just jump in with both feet.” (Tweet This!)

Connect with Mindy

About Author

The BiggerPockets Money Podcast is for anyone who has money… or want to have more! Join BiggerPockets Community Manager Mindy Jensen and Director of Operations Scott Trench weekly for the BiggerPockets Money Podcast!
Each week, financial experts Mindy and Scott interview unique and powerful thought leaders about how to earn more, keep more, spend smarter, and grow your wealth.
You’ll get tips for getting your financial house in order and actionable advice from guests who have been in your shoes – and found their way out.

7 Comments

  1. Greg Parker

    Very good info. When my wife and I do the live-in flip (or new construction), we completely finish one bathroom first. Blow-up mattress on the floor for a few months, eat a lot of pizza till the kitchen is ready. Friends and family used to think we were crazy, but now we have 4 properties paid for with tax-free money and they are all still living in the same house with a big mortgage. It is a slow process, well worth it.

  2. Kim Stofan

    I just love Mindy! She’s so down to earth and real. I love the tell-it-like-it-is approach. It was so cool to have a show dedicated to her story. She really gives out top-notch advice. I agree, tracking your spending with apps like Mint is the best way to get a handle on your spending and creating a budget. I’m inspired to try the live in flip model. Thanks guys, I’m loving this new show!!

    • Kim Stofan

      Mindy, I was wondering if you moved your kids around in schools as your were doing your flips, or did you stay in the same school district? I have two little ones and I wouldn’t want to have them change schools every other year. I know you can work around this with inter-district transfers and what not, but I was just curious what you guys did when it came to the school thing. Thanks!

      • Mindy Jensen

        Thank you for your kind words!
        We started doing this before they were born. One move was from Wisconsin to Colorado, but the oldest was in 4-K so she hadn’t made deep connections. The second move was from that first Colorado house to the second (current) house, and we did not want her to continue to be in that school district because we didn’t have the same values as the people we lived near. We moved out of that district on purpose.
        We have now been in the same district for 4 years, and are not selling this house anytime soon because they are in school.
        I went to two different schools in first grade, three different schools in second grade, changed again for 8th grade and again for high school. So I know firsthand how difficult it is to move, and purposely am not doing it to my kids.
        However, you can find other properties in the same district or ask for a special consideration to stay if it isn’t too far.

  3. Billy San Roman

    Aloha Mindy!

    Listening to your podcasts all the way from sunny Hawaii and have been loving them so far. Great to talk about money and personal finance as you need to get that RIGHT before you can even think about investing in my opinion. Get your financial house in order before you go leveraging and investing! I had a question about your strategy to front load your 401k. Between the podcasts and beginning to read Scott’s book it seemed like the idea was to save as much of your income as possible to start your investing journey and to limit (or eliminate) contributions to 401ks or similar vehicles. Did you already go through the process of building that capital and started investing in RE before you front loaded? I currently get a match from my company for my 401k so I am putting in only as much as I need to in order to get the match, I put 6% they match 3% (I see this as a 50% ROI) but then taking home the rest to start piling cash to begin investing. Just looking to see what your thought process/strategy was with the 401K front load as it didn’t seem to be in line with what I thought the direction was.

    Mahalo for your response and keep the podcasts coming they’re awesome!

  4. Omar Reyes

    Hi Mindy,

    I just listened to this episode and was hoping to pick your brain about a comment you made: why is it that you aren’t a fan of paying of your primary mortgage quickly? I understand the math behind opportunity costs with higher-yielding investments but I figure there is more to it.

    Thanks!
    Omar

    • Mindy Jensen

      Hi Omar!
      I have a 3.25% interest rate on my loan, and while most people are used to this rate as the norm, it’s actually historically ultra-low. My first loan, I felt like a negotiating master when it was 7% and assumable.
      I now regret getting the 15-year loan when I could have gotten a 30 year and had more time to make even lower payments.
      Money will never be cheaper to borrow than it is right now.
      BUT you have to be able to sleep at night, and if having a mortgage prevents that, then pay yours off. Personal finance is personal.

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