FINALLY, we are sharing a project that we have been working on for 3 YEARS! We are building a house in Florida!!! We are so excited to be expanding our vacation rental business to the FL panhandle! Construction has begun and we will get the keys in just a few short months. The new vacation rental will be just a couple of blocks (a 2 minute walk, to be exact) from the beach! Wow, this is such a long story...where to begin?
It all started 30 years ago. Ty grew up vacationing in the Florida panhandle with his family. He visited the panhandle for the first time when he was an infant! “30A," a county highway that runs along the Gulf, consists of several quaint, curated beach towns, each with its own distinct aesthetic. It's slow, sweet, and local. We love the small town feel and laid back beach lifestyle. Ty spent most of his visits staying in one particular neighborhood, renting different homes within the community. He actually lived in the area for several years while attending college at Florida State University, which is about two hours away. He commuted to classes from the beach!
Ty took me the area while we were dating and again shortly after we got married. I fell in LOVE with the white sand, emerald water, and unique architecture. We grew to love the area more and more with each visit. We day-dreamt of owning a home in one of the small beach towns. As newlyweds, we had virtually no savings, an overwhelming amount of college debt, and had just begun our careers. Ty was a teacher and I was a college drop out who worked at a flooring store. Purchasing a house in Florida was not on the radar, though we talked about it all the time, frequently pulling up real estate listings and "ooh-ing and ahh-ing" at a variety of beach homes.
This photo taken in front of where our porch will be!
We began our flipping business after one year of being married. We didn't actually set out to "start" a business, we simply moved into a fixer upper, renovated, then sold. We repeated this several times until we realized that we had become habitual house flippers! Around the time of our first flip, Ty got his real estate license and began selling real estate in addition to his teaching career. We grew our business, paying off chunks of debt with each flip. After the Ada flip, we were able to pay off the last of our student debt and started discussing investing in real estate. We were excited, but quite nervous, too.
We had been dipping our toes into the concept of short term rental investing. As we gathered more research, we got more comfortable running numbers and analyzing different properties to get a good sense of how much a property might make. We started to day-dream about a life with "location independence," where we could live in different states, during different seasons, by way of owning short term rentals and living amongst them during each home's "off season." A dream was born and we became focused on bringing it to reality, spending time every day looking at real estate listings, analyzing properties, and talking to our lender. We dreamt of a life consisting of the "lake, beach, and mountains," chasing sunshine (avoiding cold weather!), and homeschooling our (future) kiddos...all while living nearly "mortgage free" by having short term renters pay the majority of the mortgages. Now you can see how the cabin fit in the plan! But more on that later.
In the meantime, we had built long term rentals (one single family home and four townhomes) with friends of ours. With this new vision in mind, we sold these properties in 2020 in preparation for the new business plan.
Goodness, there is so much more to the story, but in order to keep this blog post digestible, we'll skip to Florida house hunting. First, in 2019, we almost purchased a 500 sf studio condo but chickened out last minute. Next, we seriously considered another condo, about 1200 sf with two bedrooms. Again, we negotiated with the realtor for awhile, then backed out just before signing a contract, out of fear. We kick ourselves now as those units sell for nearly 3x what we could have purchased for!
As we were watching prices rise immensely, we knew we had to get in quick or our chances of owning anything in the area would slip away. One year later, we found another neighborhood online that intrigued us, drove down to Florida to tour the model home and meet with the builder. We told ourselves that if this was something we really wanted to do, we needed to get over our fears and take the risk. Without giving ourselves too much time to overthink it, we signed a contract with that builder. We were officially going to be homeowners on 30A! The home was set to be complete in one year, and we were SO. DARN. EXCITED.
However, months and months went by with no construction progress and little communication. Finally, about one year later, we drove down to Florida for a long weekend, anxious to see some progress. The lot was still not even cleared. Long, grueling story short, we discussed our concerns with the builder. After some unpleasant conversations, we felt as though they had little intention of building our home "soon." We ended up signing a mutual release. We were very frustrated but could not bear the thought of having money tied up in limbo for who knows how long, nor did we want to enter any sort of legal battle. Photo below is of the original lot we selected.
This was all occurring while we were in Florida and I was 7 weeks pregnant. One evening, we were telling a family friend of Ty's about this debacle. He is actually a builder as well, who builds primarily in the beautiful neighborhood that Ty grew up visiting (we've decided not to share the name of the neighborhood for the time being). We were walking this neighborhood when we ran into this builder-friend of Ty's. While touring the construction site of one of the homes he was building, we shared the story of our house debacle with him. Suddenly, I fainted and began to have (what Ty thought was) a seizure.
We spent that night in the hospital, terrified for the health of our baby. Praise God, he and I were fine! It was determined that I passed out due to stress. Our builder friend was so sweet and thoughtful. He offered to drive us to the hospital and texted Ty through the night to check on me and the baby.
Before I passed out, we discussed building costs with our friend, specifically in our "dream neighborhood," half-jokingly thinking we might be able to make something work there, instead. That particular neighborhood is literally our favorite place in the world. The neighborhood is around 30 years old and has very, very few remaining lots left. There happened to be one teeny tiny lot available, just big enough for a skinny beach house.
Long story short (I realize I keep saying this, ha!), we asked our friend about building a home for us. He had upcoming availability and said that he would love to build for us! Building with Jerry (who Brooks will refer to as, "Papa Jerry!") felt like a no brainer. We have been inside many of the homes he has built, all of which are absolutely gorgeous (He actually built this house that we decorated for friends a couple of years ago!), but more importantly, we trust him. After our previous experience building with a complete stranger across the country, this was essential to making us feel comfortable enough to take such a big risk, again. We reached out to the seller of the lot. She was a tough negotiator (that's a whole other story!) but we finally came to an agreement.
In the end, we lost a huge amount of equity due to signing with the wrong builder and losing an entire year of appreciation. Entirely frustrating, to say the least! However, this abode will offer a much better experience for our family and our renters. It feels like it was "meant to be," as that last lot was held for 30 years, just for us. Our builder, an old family friend of 20 years, just so happened to be working on one of his houses, in the dark, and recognized us as we were on an evening walk on that particular street. Had we not run into him, we would not have had the conversation pertaining to building in the neighborhood. It all feels nothing short of divine. We praise God immensely for this wonderful opportunity!
It's crazy to think that little Ty walked and biked past that lot hundreds of times over the years. Soon, little Brooks will be doing the same, and we'll have many family memories on that same beach.
There are so many more crazy details to this story...like how some of our best friends bought a home in the same neighborhood, how the seller initially denied our first offer and I cried nearly the entire drive from Florida to Michigan, how we could not find an architect to take on our project, and more.
I have been keeping this a secret for so dang long! Mainly, the process has gone so slowly that we wanted to wait until we were nearing the finish line to share the build. Otherwise, the build updates would have been photos of dirt (well, sand!) for months on end. When the home is done, we will have been in the building process for well over 3 years, 4 if you consider the first home we tried to build!
I have a plethora of content about this house ready to go! Check back soon for more about the design and photos of the house!
Thanks for being here,
Han and Ty