Real estate is definitely starting to wake up around here, thanks to the influx of Canadian and Chinese investors. Everyone thinks the market is improving and will continue to rise. In Phoenix, the inventory of houses for sale has dropped by 42.1% and the median price has risen by 34.5%, with both indicators trending positive at the end of March. Unemployment here appears to be dropping; in January it fell .3 percentage points to 8.7%—not great, but better than a continuing rise. Last night the instructor of my new real estate class remarked that the people who will be taking the licensing exam at the end of this spring or early next fall will be in an excellent position to start working.
Moi, I remain skeptical. My mother got a real estate license in southern California, back when I was in high school. She never made a penny at it. However…she didn’t work at it full time, and she knew little about marketing or business practices. Though I don’t know much, I sure know more about it than she did. And of course, she had my father and so didn’t have to earn a living; I’m pushed by an element of desperation.
Exactly how desperate that element is remains to be seen.
Last night I was noodling with the numbers and realized that if I were to take a 4% drawdown now, rather than continuing to put off drawing down retirement savings until I really can’t work anymore, I could live in reasonable comfort. Actually, there are several ways I could bring enough money into the house to restore something like a middle-class lifestyle. Each has its problems. But it could be done.
One is to draw down 4% from savings.
Because of the mortgage on the downtown house, I’d still have to teach. But not much. The amount I’d need to come up with annually, above and beyond the drawdown plus Social Security, would be $4,400. That’s 1.85 courses per year, a huge improvement on 3 +3 + 1. Since the online magazine writing course is now well established and drawing enough students to make every semester, it would mean I’d never have to go into a physical classroom again. And I’d never have to read another barfiferous fresman comp essay again.
Drawback: it wouldn’t improve my financial situation. I’d still have to pinch pennies and often would run unnervingly in the red.
A second strategy is to take a drawdown but continue to teach composition courses.
I compared my last GDU paycheck, in the fall of 2009, with what I’m making now. One regular month’s net pay came to $3,170. Today, my infinitely pared-back, rock-bottom expenses come to $3044 a month. So if I could somehow bring monthly net income back to where it was in 2009, I could cover my living costs and pay my share of the mortgage. A drawdown of 4% added to Social Security would give me $2,674 a month, a $496 monthly shortfall, or $5,952 a year.
To make up the shortfall, I’d have to teach 3.1 sections a year—much better than three a semester plus one in the summer.
This scheme—start taking a 4% drawdown now (not later) and make up the difference by teaching (but teaching a lot less)—presents some major drawbacks.
1. I would have to teach. And I don’t want to. Nor will I be able to do so for the rest of my life, unless I drop dead soon.
2. I’d have to marshal every penny in savings. It would leave me nothing to buy a new car, and keeping my 12-year-old vehicle running is starting to cost more than I can afford.
3. It would do nothing to improve my penurious lifestyle. I’m sick of pinching pennies.
If I taught 2 & 2, I’d net an average $3,314 a month. That would at least give a little wriggle room, but it doesn’t erase the problem that I need a newer vehicle.
Another possibility is to earn a rather small amount in another job—something in the real estate industry is what I have in mind—continue to teach while I can, and not take a drawdown.
As we noted the other day, my friend JS says he earns $200,000 a year selling real estate. That’s in the present supposedly peakèd market! Now, he’s been at it for 10 years, he has an MBA, and he’s a very fine marketer. However, a tiny fraction of that, just $30,000, would suffice to support me, if I kept on teaching—not unfeasible given that I’ve managed to reduce teaching to a minimal workload. Let’s assume I netted $15,000 after taxes and expenses:
That’s teaching three sections a semester (one of which is the online magazine writing course, a piece of cake), and nothing in the summer.
The result is more than I earned at the Great Desert University. It would be a bitch of a lot of work, at least until I could develop a business to the point where I could drop the teaching. But it would return my income to its former glory.
There’s a third alternative: take a 4% drawdown, net 15 grand in working in a real estate office, and don’t teach:
This would provide a monthly net of $3,924, significantly more than GDU was paying me. If I continued to keep an iron grip on spending, it would be enough to buy a car, which I’d have to do anyway if I were hauling prospects around to look at real estate.
And finally, a fourth possibility: continue to teach two sections a semester (only one of which would be in the classroom) while taking a drawdown and hustling a net 15 grand in the proposed other endeavor.
In this scenario, I would net $4,564 a month, more than I’ve ever earned in my entire life. It would be a lot of work. However, two sections a semester would be relatively easy, since only one would be a composition course (work for the online course is now minimal, since I have that down to a template).
The disadvantage to pulling down savings now is huge: it could mean I will outlive my savings. Women in my family have lived into their mid-90s…and they were freaking Christian Scientists! They never saw a doctor in their lives. Given decent medical care (assuming I can get it), I might live longer than that. With inflation forcing me to take larger cuts of savings, I certainly could deplete my savings before I die. And that is a real nasty prospect, given what we know of elder care in this country. One needs a large chunk of money at the end of life to avoid dying in hideous squalor, suffering, and neglect.
The disadvantages of teaching while trying to build a new career are large, too. I figure I’ll have to hang onto two or three sections while I’m getting started, in order to guarantee enough income to pay my bills. But if the real estate plan starts to fly, then I would want to quit teaching. The question is, would teaching in that first year or two or three be such a distraction that I couldn’t make the real estate idea work?
It certainly could be. Even though I’m not putting many hours into it now, even a few hours a week could be quite a hindrance. I may need all my energy and attention to build a new business.
None of the four schemes is ideal. What would have been ideal would have been to have kept my GDU job until I was 70, by which time I would have accrued enough in savings to support me and my son would be in a position either to sell the downtown house, as planned, or at least take on most or all of the mortgage payment.
Knowing that “ideal” will never happen again, I need to figure out how to make a choice among four less than perfect strategies to keep a roof over my head, food on my table, and wheels under my feet.