Karen’s 28. Her squeeze is 34. “Here’s our crazy idea,” she wrote me, “drop out.”
It’s a radical thought for a couple of urbanites employed in the web design business who think a racy night is diddling with Zoocasa. At least they come here. “Love the blog. Read it for a reality check after searching for 7-figure homes in my T.O. neighbourhood.”
Here’s the crazy idea.
“My husband floated the idea of buying a farm somewhere remote in Canada to grow cash crops and manufacture liquor on site with the produce grown there, beer, cider, etc. For some reason this didn’t seem entirely crazy to me. Particularly faced with the prospect of heading into an unfulfilling job everyday in an economy that is not getting better.
“We have just over $100,000 in savings that we were keeping for a down payment on a house (ha) and don’t plan to do it for a few years to bump that up a bit. If we do make the move, I work as a web designer and writer now and could do it freelance to pay the bill while the crops grow Tell me this is crazy and we can’t do it. Tell me what we should do instead.”
Before that, a word from Franco. I eviscerated him a few months ago on this blog for wanting to move up to a bigger Vancouver condo because he has a wife and newborn. Ending up with a bigger debt on a doomed unit with no savings, I hissed, is the last thing a responsible dad and partner would do. It worked.
“You gave some sobering advice. So I sat on it for a while and thought long and hard. Then my wife said she can’t stand living here. So off we went to find a rental and began the process of dabbling as landlords and putting our place up for rent. After 10 days of no show craigslisters, questionable people from high school who coincidentally showed up to view and rent the place and a realization that unless I cheated on my taxes, I would not be able to break even every month off my rental, I decided to leverage the manipulated news of a housing recovery and put our place up.
“I took your advice and got a real pro realtor. She found a buyer in 12 days. I was relieved beyond belief. Now we are feeling great. We got a 2 bedroom just 4 blocks away in a building with better amenities than the last one and balconies overlooking beautiful English Bay and its stunning sunsets. We now have a bunch of cash, I have a good job which pays 6 figures and I have a beautiful family to hug every day. No Condominium investment will replace that euphoria.
“Since I took your advice and decided you were right, I now start to hope you are a little wrong about the decline targets you mention in your blog. I hope it goes even lower. I hope that sanity and reason are restored in a city where very few people make a mint (legally) to afford the prices that housing costs. I am a convert to your ways. I am not a sociopath, I just think it sucks that the country my parents immigrated to has so lost its ways and its potential. I don’t know why we are so foolish. People who do little “work” can sell concrete, steel and drywall boxes as the answer to some investment wet dream and call themselves professionals. I have family in Germany. You know what happens with apartments there? They stay even or go down in value. Over there, homes are for shelter, not some Tom Vu get rich quick scheme. You want to get rich there, you build the best cars, trains and cranes, not ‘marketing systems’ like Bob Rennie and Brad Lamb. “
See? I’m not such a bad guy. Franco says he’s a Garth convert, and he’s not even ‘a sociopath’. Does an endorsement get any better?
So, I grouped these two notes (both received on Wednesday) because they share the theme of repudiation. You’ll be hearing a lot more about that in the time to come. Looks like things are going to turn out a tad worse than I’d been expecting, or hoping.
Our economy’s shifting into a lower gear, but most people have no clue it’s happening. It’s all around. Big corporate mergers (Loblaws-Shoppers, for example) are defensive moves and presage substantial job cuts. The potash thing this week is a national kneecapping. Torstar profits falling 44% is all you need to know about retailing. Now economist David Madani (Capital Economics) says growth will wither and the real estate soft landing the feds have been planning will end up being hard. “I think people are really under-estimating the risks to the housing market,” he says. “Is no one worried about this?”
Now consider this: 900,000 people work in Canada building houses and condos, compared with just 225,000 employed in the entire energy, oil & gas and mining sector. We’re losing manufacturing jobs at almost 4% a year, and adding drywallers and carpenters at about the same rate. The number of people who work making stuff is at an all-time low. The number of people who work building stuff’s at an all-time high.
So what? So we don’t export stacked townhouses or condos, like we do potash or airplanes. Cheap interest rates, house horniness and a new appetite for debt have massively distorted the Canadian economy. Like Vancouver or Saskatoon, we’re busy building a society in which we’re obsessed with selling each other bigger homes financed by money we borrow, not earn. It’s a house of cards.
Too much money has flowed into one sector, making us dependent on jobs which can only last if the house binge continues. But with record debt levels already here, it cannot. This should be self-evident. Madani’s right. No soft landing.
Franco was smart to exit. The best gift for his family was liquidity.
As for Karen, how can dropping out be crazy when it means debt freedom and self-sufficiency? Contrast your little farm life, a few hours’ drive from the city, with buying a million-dollar house in Toronto and a $900,000 mortgage. When you have digital skills, common sense and the courage to live off the established grid – despite the challenges that brings – why not try it? Besides, if it sucks you can just drink a lot.
It won’t be for everyone. But for many smart people who understand what lies ahead, the newest big idea is living small.