Lucky Strikes

Richard Connor

WHEN OPPORTUNITY knocks, will you be ready? In the past 15 months, my wife and I have had two attractive but completely unexpected opportunities presented to us.

On Labor Day 2019, a neighbor at our New Jersey Shore house told us they were selling their home. They had bought a lot nearby and were planning to build a larger house to accommodate their growing brood of grandchildren. They knew my wife and I had a third grandson on the way, and they correctly guessed we were outgrowing our current three-bedroom house. Their home was newer by three years, 400-square-feet bigger and had an additional bedroom. They were willing to sell it to us directly, thus avoiding the 6% sales commission.

My first instinct was to say “no.” Along with being newer, bigger and nicer, it was also 25% more expensive than our current home. Selling the old house and buying the new home would mean a bigger mortgage. That didn’t make sense to me. I was about to turn age 62.

But I checked with some realtors and they encouraged me to reconsider. They thought it was a good price for a well-maintained house in a great neighborhood. They also thought our current home would sell easily. I ran some numbers and determined we could afford it without really changing our financial plans. My wife and I felt it would be a big plus to have enough bedrooms for our adult sons, their wives and the grandkids. No more need for the pullout couch.

We decided to take the plunge. The realtor had a buyer for our home within a week. We sold at the end of October 2019 and bought the new house two weeks later. We made some modest upgrades and renovations over the winter, excited for the next summer.

Flash forward to March. Our younger son and his wife live across the Hudson River from New York City in a beautifully renovated two-bedroom condo. Both work in Manhattan. They had their first child in early March. The first COVID-19 patient at New Jersey’s Hackensack Medical Center was admitted the day they left the hospital with their newborn. Within 10 days, both their employers had shut down their offices. My son and daughter-in-law had planned on spending several weeks at home, so the initial lockdown didn’t impact them much. But their little urban oasis got smaller and scarier as the virus spread.

At the end of April, they came to our new shore house for a long weekend. They’re still there. Their employers don’t anticipate opening their Manhattan offices until summer 2021 at the earliest and they’ve indicated they will support telework for the foreseeable future. Our son and daughter-in-law are really enjoying life at the shore. Our decision to buy the bigger house turned out to be a timely move, allowing all of us to spend time together without being on top of one another. An added bonus: My son and daughter-in-law have been able to rent out their condo.

Meanwhile, in September, we received an unsolicited offer for our primary home in Pennsylvania. Like much of the nation, our simple suburban neighborhood has become a hot commodity, as city dwellers seek more space and large backyards. Houses in our 55-year-old complex are selling within days at surprisingly high prices.

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Although my wife and I had talked about selling our main residence and downsizing to our shore home, we hadn’t planned to take that step for a few years. Then the unsolicited offer arrived. The prospective buyers are the niece and husband of neighbors. They made an attractive offer with a six-month settlement period.

My wife and I were initially inclined to take a pass, feeling it was too soon. But we kept talking and realized this was a great opportunity for us. We could get a good price for the house without having to show it—and we could sell directly to a nice young couple, saving the large commission. The house is in good shape, but there will be the usual upgrades required in the next five to 10 years. And we already have another home to move to. The timing also aligns with my wife’s plan to either retire or cut back on work. We agreed to sell.

When I think of the two opportunities, I wonder whether we were just lucky. But I also think you can do things to prepare yourself for when opportunities arise:

  • Be open to new possibilities. I tend to say “no” too quickly. Listen to the opportunity, think about it and make a considered decision.
  • Show interest in other people and their lives. Both of these opportunities came from neighbors. We knew each other’s family situations and future plans.
  • Educate yourself on important topics. I’m interested in financial and real estate markets. This kind of knowledge helps you to make timely decisions.
  • Save some of your powder. Taking advantage of an opportunity may require easy access to cash.
  • Be open and honest with yourself and family. Big changes impact many people. Before we decided to sell the family home, we spoke at length with our children. It was our decision, but it would have at least some impact on them. We wanted to make sure there weren’t issues we hadn’t considered.

Richard Connor is a semi-retired aerospace engineer with a keen interest in finance. Rick enjoys a wide variety of other interests, including chasing grandkids, space, sports, travel, winemaking and reading. His previous articles include Rate DebateFor Goodness Sake and That Monthly Check. Follow Rick on Twitter @RConnor609.

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2 years ago

Thank you! Great article with lots of nuggets of truth!

Roboticus Aquarius
Roboticus Aquarius
2 years ago

Richard, great topic.

We’ve twice gone into debt to take advantage of opportunities, one educational, one business related. It was painful, for 15 years we were in the red or just barely
breaking even.. but over the last 7 years the effort has largely come to fruition. I give all the credit to my wife when it comes to finding those opportunities; she has a great way with people.

2 years ago

Your point about personal connections leading to those “lucky” breaks reminded me of when we bought our previous home in 1998. We had finished grad/law school several years earlier and were living in our tiny starter home with our two small children, a dog, and a cat.

In early 1998, local friends approached us. They were upgrading to a larger home because friends of theirs were moving out of state and selling to them. They knew we were probably close to ready to move into something larger, and their home, with four bedrooms, two baths, a nice yard with a playhouse and swing set, in a good family neighborhood, was perfect for us. They even had two daughters slightly older than our two little girls, and the girls’ rooms were already decorated in our daughters’ favorite colors.

The husband was a realtor and knew how to estimate the market. They came up with a fair market price and offered to split the commission we wouldn’t be paying (market price – 3%). They also wanted to postpone the sale and the move for 6-7 months until their friends moved out of the home they were buying and they could do some updating. That was great for us because it gave us time to put the funds together for the purchase.

We ended up living in that house nearly 21 years and made over a half-million dollar profit when we sold the house and moved to a new condo in 2019. Buying that house when we did—the California market went nuts within a year after the purchase—was one of the luckiest breaks we ever got financially, not to mention that it was a great home for our family all those years. And all because we had friends who approached us with the opportunity—after their friends approached them for their upgrade.

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