How I’m Opting Out of the Mortgage Trap

“You are cleared to close.”

As I stared at those five magical words on my computer screen, I couldn’t help but notice the tears beginning to gather behind my eyelids.

Blame it on pregnancy hormones, blame it on the dust bunnies that have made themselves at home on my nearby bookshelf, or you can all it exactly what it was—a feeling of sheer elation that came with knowing that my husband and I were one step closer to closing on our new construction home loan and achieving a dream that was almost a year in the making.

Let me back up and give you a bit of context! My name is LC Johnson and I’m a twenty-eight-year-old entrepreneur in the process of opening up a coworking and community space for women of color in my current hometown of Columbus, Ohio. And not just any coworking space—but one that can serve as both my business’ base of operations as well as my family’s primary residence.

I like to think of it as the ultimate live/work space and the following is a quick peek at how I came up with an idea for a house that will pay for itself and my journey over the last twelve months to make that idea into a reality.

Opting Out of the Mortgage Trap

As a kid who grew up living primarily in apartment complexes, I have always longed for a home of my own but was wary of saddling myself with a thirty year mortgage and a huge monthly payment. When my husband and I started dating, I was excited to find that he was equally enthused about becoming a homeowner but even more excited that he shared my distaste for traditional home finance options.

At first, this would come up in conversation while binge watching episodes of House Hunters on HGTV. But after dating for two years and then making the plunge to say “I do,” we started talking a little more seriously about what homeownership might look like for us. We agreed that the ideal scenario would be to own a home with $0 mortgage payment every month.

Since neither of us comes from a financially well-off background, we settled on two potential options for making this happen: building a tiny house (a particular type of house that is usually between two hundred and four hundred square feet and costs between thirty and fifty thousand dollars to build, which we would save up to pay for in its entirety) or buying a duplex and renting out one half to a tenant in order to cover the monthly mortgage payment.

We had gotten pretty far into the research phase and felt close to making a decision regarding which option would be best for us when I came up with a completely different idea, guaranteed to turn all of our careful planning and research completely on its head. (My husband would probably say that that is pretty much the story of our entire marriage, but I digress…)

“What if my business were to become our tenant?”

After almost four years as a blogger, speaker, and online coach with the mission of supporting women of color to show up more courageously in their lives, careers, and entrepreneurial ventures, the truth was, I was feeling a bit burnt out of the online scene and was craving some community building that could happen in real life, in real time.

I had no clue what this would look like, but eventually the idea for Zora’s House began to take shape. Zora’s House would be a coworking and community space that would offer events and programs for women of color in my local community around topics of personal, professional, and entrepreneurial development. In many ways I envisioned this space as the physical manifestation of the online work I had been doing for some time.

I shared this dream with no one but began looking into spaces for sale or rent that might fit my needs. Since my husband and I were thinking about starting a family, one of my top priorities was that the space was someplace within walking or biking distance to the neighborhoods we were considering living in. It wasn’t until one night of discussing the pros and cons of buying a duplex and becoming landlords that it dawned on me…

What if my business were to become our tenant?

Not only would my space rental and commuting needs be taken care of, but instead of paying an outside property owner, my business could pay rent to us, wiping out our mortgage costs in one fell swoop. It took me two weeks to gather the courage to propose this idea to my husband and initially he was skeptical. But after explaining the concept in more detail and showing him the business model, he eventually agreed that a live/work space would be the perfect solution for our needs.

A Dream Deferred: The (Crazy, Stressful, Awesome, Time-Consuming) Journey Thus Far

Once we were both fully on board with the idea of Zora’s House, it was time to get to work making it happen! In many ways, the journey thus far has broken into three major categories:

Business Stuff: I felt in my gut that there was a market for Zora’s House but I knew that I still needed to test the concept and begin building the community of potential members before we officially opened our doors. In addition to fleshing out the business model, I also started a meetup group and began to host events similar to the ones we would be hosting once our space was available.

Legal Stuff: Another consideration was whether or not the city would approve our live/work plan. Because we are building on a lot that is zoned residential, we needed to go through the process of applying for all the appropriate variances and commercial permits. I thought that this process would take about sixty days. It ended up taking almost five months!

Construction Stuff: The final piece of the puzzle was finding the right builder for our unique project and applying for our construction loan. Again, this process took much longer than expected because of the uniqueness of what we are trying to do!

Despite Zora’s House being my business, both my husband and I have had to deeply engage in the process of bringing this dream to reality. Often times either I or both of us would be managing projects from several of these areas and there were many instances which made us feel like we were taking one step forward and about ten steps backward.

Almost everything we’ve done so far has taken longer than expected and cost more than expected and yet we have stayed the course, knowing that Zora’s House will be a major contributing factor to our long term happiness and financial freedom.

One Step Closer…

Zora’s House is not scheduled to officially open it’s doors until the fall of 2017—a full twenty-one months from when I first seriously breached the conversation with the hubs! And yet, the reality of what we are creating becomes more tangible every day.

Our meetup group has to over six hundred members and to date we’ve hosted ten events and reached over two hundred women in our target market. Not to mention I am in conversations with three funders about potentially contributing a combined fifty thousand dollars towards our first year of programming and operating expenses. (A big chunk of which will go towards wiping out our first year of mortgage payments!)

At no point has this journey been “easy” but as I constantly remind myself, escaping the traditional home mortgage trap and creating a life that is custom designed for my needs and the needs of my family is worth every short-term sacrifice and more!

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