I’M EMBARRASSED to admit that the best piece of financial advice I’ve ever received is also the only piece of financial advice I’ve ever received. To make matters worse, the advice came from someone who stood to profit from the guidance he was providing.
As a child, I don’t remember a single family discussion about money. There were no dinner table talks about the stock market. There were no lectures about saving, spending or investing for college.
In high school, the only financial guidance I received was a lesson on how to figure out change from a cash purchase. That skill, along with showing I could correctly fill out a personal check, was supposed to ensure I was financially competent to enter adulthood.
In college, my personal finance horizons broadened. I discovered that financial aid offices were happy to hand out thousands of dollars to anyone willing to sign on the dotted line. But what about advice on the best strategies for using those funds? Such questions were met with silence.
When I entered the workforce and got married, I still didn’t have a financial mentor. My then-husband had no desire to be involved in decisions about money. It was up to me to pay the bills, manage the budget and file the taxes.
For four decades, I taught myself—through trial and error—everything I needed to know about money. I didn’t ask for advice because I didn’t know who to ask. My personality—I’m generally suspicious of people offering me their opinions—meant that, in any case, I probably wouldn’t have acted on the advice I received.
Late last year, it became apparent that my dream of retiring at age 55 was going to materialize. I was confident that my husband and I had the financial wherewithal to live comfortably without my salary.
As part of our retirement plan, we decided we’d sell our house in Oregon and move to our home in Arizona. Since I wasn’t eligible to retire until May 2022, I assumed we’d relocate in early June. The plan was to sell our Oregon home after we’d settled in Arizona.
In January, my husband encouraged me to contact our real estate agent. I was reluctant. I felt it was too early in the process to bother the agent. I’d purchased four homes in my life and felt I had a good handle on the timeline we’d want to follow.
With my husband’s gentle prodding, I finally conceded. The agent was happy to give us his take on the real estate market. I was skeptical that anything he could say would change my mind about the plans I’d already formulated.
The agent’s advice was simple: Get your house on the market as quickly as possible. With no homes in our neighborhood currently for sale—and mortgage rates still hovering around 3%—he felt confident we’d have multiple buyers interested in our house.
He warned us that waiting until June would mean having to compete with a surge of other homes for sale. He believed that once mortgage rates rose above 4%, the number of buyers would decrease rapidly. He told us the current real estate market was unlike anything he’d seen before.
It would have been easy to dismiss our agent’s advice. He was, after all, going to make a generous commission from the sale of our home. But for once, I set aside my skepticism and decided to trust someone else’s opinion.
Taking his advice would mean our lives would be disrupted in unimaginable ways in the weeks before I retired. But I also realized that not taking his advice could mean losing out on the highest possible price for our home.
In the end, the advice we received was sound. Our home sold less than two days after going on the market. It closed for $125,000 above the asking price. We weren’t required to pay for any necessary repairs. We were able to stay in the home rent-free for several weeks.
Now, in hindsight, I appreciate the advice even more. The first and only piece of financial advice I’ve ever received—and ever taken—could hardly have been better. By June 2022, housing prices were cooling off at the fastest pace on record. As I’ve watched the sales trends in our old neighborhood from afar, it seems likely that we sold at the market peak.
Kristine Hayes Nibler recently retired, and she and her husband now live in Arizona. She enjoys spending her time reading, writing and training their four dogs. Check out Kristine’s earlier articles.