House Hacking Triumph? A Pursuit of Financial Independence Story

The siren song of passive income was calling…”gotta get ahead, gotta escape this rat race, gotta get on that path to Financial Independence!  Okay, I’ll build a Real Estate empire, problem solved!  Here’s my experience of navigating the obstacle-laden, pitfall-prone process of trying to House Hack using a small multi-family rental property.

I poured over the internet, read tons of books, listened to podcasts, joined forums. Anything and everything Financial Independence/Retire Early, I consumed. Eventually, I landed on the House Hacking as a strategy to Financial Independence and convinced my boyfriend to do this with me. We had been aggressively saving and managed to get a few pennies together. “Don’t have analysis-paralysis…it’s time to do something!,” I thought.  I picked up the phone and called a realtor. The first domino was set in motion.  

Finding my House Hacking Property

My house hacking strategy was to buy a small multi-family, duplex, house with a guest house, something along those lines.  I would live in some part of it, and rent the rest. The numbers needed to work such that I lived with little to none of my money going towards the mortgage.

Lunch breaks, Saturdays, every spare minute I was running around to every multi-family in town. I saw the good, the bad, and the oddly smelly? Every time, evaluating, “What rent could I get for this? How much DIY love is this place going to need?'” Trying to figure out “Will it cash flow and how much?”

Driving back to work from the worst property I’d ever seen, think ‘Silence of the Lamb’ scary, I passed it!  My future house hack! There was a for Sale sign outside…”that looks like a duplex!” I thought as my neck craned.  Good location, didn’t look like a dump. Eight days later, we were under contract!

Existing Tenants in my Rental

It turned out to be a triplex, two current renters…okay, I’m a Landlord on day 1. 

First order of business was to tell the nice kid in the studio unit that he’s got 30 days to find a new address. I would be moving into it. He had a really sweet kitty that would rub on my leg and meow when I was looking at the place. This was going to be hard. Armed with an official-ish looking form we got off the internet, we did it. Living in a rental that was for sale with only a month to month lease, he wasn’t too surprised.

Next, to address the tenant who was smoking cigarettes in his unit, which was not expressly forbidden per the lease I inherited. And oh, the tenant was also on oxygen periodically. Smoking was definitely not something I was going to allow in any future lease, and the fire hazard of smoking near an oxygen tank was unacceptable.

I approached the tenant with empathy and we were ultimately able to come to a working agreement.  Dealing with a difficult tenant situation right off the bat tested my preparation. Thankfully, I had done my homework, and the experience ended up helping feel more confident about my landlording abilities.  

Having friends really helps your house hack project.

Next, I needed to get some new tenants in the empty unit to help pay the mortgage!  Just needed to add some cabinets, throw a fence up, slap on some paint…shouldn’t be too hard, right? 

Many, many hours, on nights and weekends, with the help of generous friends, the planned upgrades were done. Of course, each task took much longer than anticipated, but a few beers were consumed and some laughs had.

Getting New Tenants for my House Hack

Time to post the rental listing, hold my breath and wait for the phone to start ringing off the hook.  “No call in the first ten minutes?!?  We’re never going to rent it, we’re ruined, this was the worst idea ever!!!” My mind shot negativity at me rapid fire.

The phone did eventually ring. Finding my first tenant was a lot like learning to date.  At first, I put a lot of effort into every interaction, thinking each time, “this could be the one!?”  After about the the 20th inquiry, I was solidly jaded and had honed my skills for weeding out the crazies and bad fits without wasting too much of my time. 

There were a few that ‘got away’ and there was even a Ghoster!  “I thought you were going to fill out the application?  Were you ever going to call me and tell me you were never going to see my place again?”

Then, in came ‘the ones’….a responsible, gainfully employed, quiet couple. No pets even!  I could tell right away when they walked in, they wanted the place even more than I wanted them.  I finally exhaled once the deposit cleared.

Still, there was more work to do before they would actually move in, more nights after work spent at the rental!  And don’t forget the leaky toilet in the smoker’s unit, which involved a failed plumber’s visit, and several trips to the ‘big box’ store. Eventually, we figured it out ourselves after spending a Sunday afternoon getting very intimate with miracle of indoor plumbing.  

Tough times

Phew!  Things were done just in time for my new people to move in, which coincided with the kid in the studio moving out. 

“Damn cat!  This place smells like cat urine and dirty-boy!  How am I’m supposed to live in here?” A major meltdown commenced, with a many tears and a few foot stomps.  (Super cute when a forty year old woman throws a tantrum.) 

A shot of whiskey and a hug from my amazingly supportive partner, and the night was not totally lost.  We opened some windows and started game planning.  Little did I know how much dry wall would be in my future. 

House Hacking, DIY dry wall.

“Was that a chip bag that was just opened next door?”  Yep, it was, and I could hear it from the luxury of my new 350 sq ft studio. Ugh. What does the internet say about sound proofing?  YouTube to the rescue!

We ended up basically tearing out all of the shared wall and rebuilding.  First, we added a layer of sound proofing insulation.  “Nope, not enough….can tell he’s watching SNL.”

Okay, throw some black vinyl in there, cut the floor for separation…throw on some green glue, and two layers of 5/8′ drywall on there for good measure.  How can drywall be so heavy?  And drywall mud….love/hate relationship with the stuff! It can cover up so many evils, but the sanding and dust.  I don’t think I will ever get it all out of my nasal cavities.  But in the end…beautiful silence!


Eventually, I got the cat pee smell out, as well as a myriad of other improvements done in my cozy new living space.  I figured out how to make a small space very functional, as well as aesthetic pleasing.  I have two good tenants in the other units, which covers all mortgage and utilities.  I’m  now officially cash flowing, house-hacking, and on my way to financial independence!

Buying and operating a rental property hasn’t been easy, no part of the process went as expected, most of the experience I don’t regret…at least not yet!  I don’t yet have the real estate empire needed for full income replacement, but I’ve made a step towards diversifying my income stream, decreasing my overhead, and proving to myself that I can make something like this work. With a lot of help from my loved-ones and the internet, of course. 

Master Your Money, Live a Truly Prosperous Life!

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