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How We Unretired

John Yeigh

ONE RECENT TREND among newly minted retirees: unretirement. According to an AARP study, some 3% of retirees are back in the workforce one year later, taking on either fulltime or part-time jobs. Often, unretiring wasn’t part of the retiree’s original plan—but we shouldn’t assume it’s necessarily about needing money.

Starbucks’s Howard Schultz, quarterback Tom Brady and Disney’s Bob Iger are poster children for unretiring. Even our HumbleDollar world includes many examples of those who have reinvented, retooled or rebooted their life so they could rejoin the working world. In 2022, after five years of retirement, my wife and I returned to work.

We spent our first three retirement years dealing with a host of transitions and challenges facing our kids, our aging parents and ourselves. We were finally ready to get going with our retirement plans when the pandemic hit in 2020.

Fast forward to 2021, and both children indicated they’d be working and living in New Hampshire by mid-2022. We had thoroughly enjoyed the state’s outdoor vibe during past vacations. New Hampshire is also a zero-income-tax state, which is especially beneficial while we undertake large Roth conversions before our required minimum distributions kick in.

But how might New Hampshire fit into our retirement life? As a test drive, we rented a cabin on Lake Winnipesaukee for two weeks in June 2021. Our family joined us there, and everyone agreed that they adored lake life and wanted more.

We’d already started house shopping. But for the most part, we couldn’t afford lakefront properties, plus many lake houses are basically glorified hunting cabins. The locals call these rustic places “camps.” Common challenges include well water, septic tank issues, slipshod construction, limited heating, no cooling, century-old wiring, dangerously steep terrain and bunk-house configurations. Locations can be remote—down unpaved roads or on desolate islands. Many only serve as six-month residences.

We kept hitting roadblocks—until October 2021, when a different kind of lakefront property came on the market. This property had three cottages, one occupied by the owner and the other two available for rent. Two of the cottages were freshly rehabbed. The location was ideal for the highway and stores.

The lot was level, and the property featured two docks, a boat ramp, and even came with kayaks and paddleboards. In addition, the cottages were furnished down to the linens, dish soap and paper towels.

Of course, there was just one catch: price.

We pounced anyway. Instead of buying a forever house, we exited retirement and embarked on managing a year-round VRBO-Airbnb operation. Never did we foresee a retirement of cleaning houses, making beds and doing laundry for up to 16 guests a week. Our duties include restocking toiletries and firewood, repairing what breaks and occasionally rescuing our tenants on the water.

This operation might seem daunting for older owners. But we have housekeeping, landscaping and occasional handyman help. Cleanliness is the key to positive rental feedback, so tidy turnovers are our most critical focus.

The new property is working for our family. Our just-graduated son lives with us, and our daughter and her husband visit regularly. Our family enjoys lake life activities, which include fishing, wakeboarding, foiling, kayaking, skiing and hiking through stunning natural terrain.

How is unretirement going for us? In a word, fantastic. Here are six benefits to our unretirement, most of which are common to small business owners:

  • The business puts structure back in our lives. This occurs mainly during the May-to-September rental season, when our family wants to be at the lake anyway. The work is part-time and flexible, but changeover Fridays are busy.
  • The structure helps us stay mentally sharp, especially for my wife who manages the business. It generates oodles of things to track, including schedules, maintenance requirements, tenant communications, parking, trash and recycling, supplies, accounting and so on.
  • The business keeps us physically active. My wife especially enjoys showing off her step count on changeover days.
  • The rental income helped us buy a property that we otherwise couldn’t have afforded. Costs are high for things like electricity, cable, weekly laundry, booking fees, housekeeping and property taxes. Despite all these expenses, the rentals should be nicely profitable.
  • The property further diversifies our investments and adds a fourth leg to our three-legged stool of Social Security, pension and investment income. True, we’ve taken on increased real-estate risk. But Zillow indicates New Hampshire lakefront property is up more than 15% since our purchase. Our timing was also a bit lucky. We locked in a 3.25% mortgage right before interest rates took off, and sold stock for the down payment at the market peak in 2021.
  • Best of all, we have interacted with many interesting people, which expands our social engagement. We’ve shared drinks, meals and fireside chats. My wife’s VRBO and Airbnb feedback is highly positive, which feels great and is critical to sustaining a rental business. Four favorite renters are returning this year.

Our unretirement has provided a renewed and refreshing sense of purpose. We aim to provide a positive experience for our renters and to develop the business for our children—one that, we hope, they’ll eventually take over.

John Yeigh is an author, coach and youth sports advocate. His book “Win the Youth Sports Game” was published in 2021. John retired in 2017 from the oil industry, where he negotiated financial details for multi-billion-dollar international projects. Check out his earlier articles.

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