How we came to buy a home in Lake Tahoe

How we came to buy a home in Lake Tahoe

We’ve bought a home in Lake Tahoe! Before we could close escrow, we had to dig it out. An arduous task as it was surrounded by 8-15 foot snowbanks on all sides!

In 2011 when we started this blog we were on a quest to “work less, live more, and travel the world as a family.” 2010 had been the year of crash and burn for our family. I’d cashed out my retirement to run for Congress and lost. We ended 2010 out of money and moved into the in-laws’ garage with little idea what to do next. In 2011 as we prepared to do a short sell on our home in Santa Barbara, we came up to Lake Tahoe to live in the cabin my wife grew up in, which still belonged to her grandfather. Lake Tahoe would be a place to re-group. This would be our base while we figured out how to make money remotely and travel the world indefinitely.

There’s two things I need to point out here.

  1. I don’t know why it affected me so strongly, but I was really wrecked by my political loss and financial meltdown. I was 30 years old. Losing an election and taking a financial hit shouldn’t have been that devastating, but for some reason, for me, it was. I was ready to check out of society and withdrew from almost all of my professional contacts and tried to build a new life doing completely new things.
  2. At this time, I did not think it was financially feasible to both own or home (or live in a long-term rental) and be able to travel as much as we wanted to. So we would have to choose one. Either we could establish a base or we could become travelers. We decided to become travelers.

In March of 2014 we put all of our stuff in storage and took off to Thailand for three months. The plan was to travel throughout the summer and fall and then return to Lake Tahoe to ski each winter, and we spent a few winters in short term or vacation rentals in Lake Tahoe.

In the fall of 2015 we were back in Guatemala and decided we were ready to have a home base and we wanted it in Lake Tahoe. We talked to some lenders and we just weren’t in a place financially to make it happen. Because we made the decision that we wanted to buy, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on rent, so we rented a cheap apartment.

Follow what happens next…

I would say that renting the cheap apartment was penny wise and pound foolish. It was not a good place to live. We were the upstairs tenants of a two story duplex and the downstairs neighbors could hear everything. Our kids could never play or be rowdy without us being worried about the downstairs neighbors. We walked around on eggshells. It would have been better for us to have paid a little more for a place that we could have actually enjoyed instead of being cheap (but still spending a lot of money) and having something that we could not enjoy.

We were so unhappy in that apartment that we decided to move out, move back in with my in-laws so we could accelerate our timeline to buy a house by saving more money.

We move back to Santa Barbara with the in-laws and after only three months there we find out that the house they’ve been renting for seventeen years is going on the market and they have to move. So Monica and I are trying to figure out what we’re going to do next. Her parents decide they’re going to try to buy the house they’ve been renting. We’re kind of waiting around to see if that’s going to happen.

I’d been looking at this house on in Lake Tahoe that I thought looked good, but I always felt silly for even looking at it. We weren’t ready to buy yet and buy the time we were ready, this house would long be off the market. But we came up to Tahoe for New Year’s and stayed with some friends. We had such a great time with our friends. It felt like we were supposed to be here. It felt like if there was one place in the world our family was supposed to be, it was Lake Tahoe.

While we were here in Lake Tahoe over New Year’s, the in-laws found out that they were not going to be able to buy the house where they had been living. Now, Monica and I really did have to figure out what we were going to do. Went to look at the house I’d been looking at on and loved it. Talked to a lender, got approved, made and offer, accepted…… and here we are. (There is some crazy stuff in those dots I’ll write a separate post about).

But think about this….

I think we made a poor decision when we rented that cheap apartment. We would have been much happier spending a few hundred dollars a month more and renting a house we could have actually enjoyed.

BUT, if we’d done that, we would probably still be in that house because we would have been comfortable. We never would have made the move back to the in-laws.

IF our in-laws’ house hadn’t gone on the market, or if they’d been able to buy it, we’d still be in Santa Barbara with them. But it didn’t work out, and so we are here.

Somewhere between 2011 when we first came to Tahoe and 2015 when we decided we were ready to buy two more changes occurred.

  1. My view of myself changed. In 2011 I had a low view of myself. I was kind of a failure, I thought, and I didn’t think it was possible to have both a home base and to be able to travel as much as we wanted to. By 2015 I did think it was possible to do both.
  2. My view on work changed. In my 20s I was I was totally career minded and focused on getting ahead. The first half of my 30s, I checked out. Now, in my mid-30s, I have settled somewhere between those two extremes. More on this in another upcoming post. But this desire to do work was one major motivation in settling into a home of our own.

Finally, I’ll say this. Our friends are in Lake Tahoe. We’ve met many people all over the world who are dear friends, but for some reason, our closest friends — the people who for whatever reason we connect with and are sympatico with — those people are in Lake Tahoe, both for Monica and me and for our kids. In that sense, the reason we moved in Lake Tahoe is captured in one photo, a selfie I took of our tribe just after we moved into our house.

I’ve told all the kids in this photo that we have a rule at our house. No knocking. Just come on in. I am excited for my kids to have their friends to get dirty with. I am excited to have the opportunity to invest in these kids the way Thomas Jefferson invested in John Quincy Adams. Maybe I can help them in a way that their parents just won’t be able to when they’re in their teenage years. Monica and I are grateful to our friends, who have in the past months as we’ve worked to get up here, have put us in more deb than we’ve ever been. We’ve never had friends help us the way these friends have helped us. We felt like they wanted us here, and they were willing to sacrifice and help to get us here.

People comment on what a big change this is for us. Constantly traveling, always on the go, and now we’re homeowners and the adventure ends. Not at all! This is part of the adventure. Travel is but a rudimentary form of adventure. Living is the adventure.

This summer when the snow finally melts we look forward to turning our home into a homestead. Monica, who is an architect by training and an engineer and project manager at heart, has never had a pallet like this one to express this part of herself. I’m looking forward to getting a good wood operation going — gathering and splitting my own wood for our wood burning stove each winter. There’s talk of a green house and a chicken coop. And lots of dinners with friends.

For now, I’m content with a few short trips a year. I’m going to Denmark and Sweden later this spring. Monica has some trips in the works. We’ll go on some family camping trips throughout California. And I get to scratch my travel itch with some business travel, which is great. I’m already thinking about our next stint of extended travels, but that’s a bit of a ways off right now and that’s okay. It’s not a sacrifice right now because this is where I want to be.

I’m very thankful for our little home.


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