We’re happy to let y’all know that we’re still alive! It’s been nearly three years since we’ve posted on our site and man, has it been a wild three years. We’d love to apologize about the absence, but honestly, we don’t feel that bad about it. We’ve been out there in the world living life and enjoying ourselves and there’s nothing about that to be sorry about.
I guess the only real thing we’re sorry about is that our memories are going to miss some of the details, but we’re here to give you an update on our past three years. (Editors note: this is getting a little long winded, so it’ll be a three part series and we’re only going to focus on 2020 in this post.)
Did we have to go back to work? Did we have to sell off our properties? Are we still tolerating each other? Find out below!
The last time we posted was March of 2020. You may remember, that was essentially the beginning of this little thing called COVID-19 that caused a world-wide shutdown. At that time, we were in Cyprus and we haven’t given much detail on how things went. But, you’re in luck, because here is our tell-all novel.
There were a whirlwind of changes pretty quickly. One week we’re going to the gym, having walks along the beach stopping off at cafes & bars, and hanging out with friends. The next, we’re completely locked down and are only allowed to leave our apartment once per day.
We had to send a text message to a government agency with an explanation of your trip to get approval to leave the house, and you were only approved once per day. The penalty for breaking this rule the first time was a €300 fine, the second time was a €3,000 fine. Frankly, it didn’t seem like everyone was following these rules, but our grasp of the Greek language is very rudimentary so we weren’t too confident in pleading our case with the police .
The only exception to this was walking your pet. So, Emily and I took it upon ourselves to be sure Rocky, Emily’s grandparents’ dog, was getting plenty of exercise per day. It was our burden to bear and we were ecstatic to get outside. Our one saving grace was that our apartment had a little courtyard so we weren’t cooped up inside ALL day. Either way, Tiger King did little to placate our nerves and we were getting pretty stir crazy.
After a couple of months of this isolated existence we made the hard decision to come back to the US. It could’ve been the overbearing lockdown compared to our friends back in Alabama, it could’ve been us worrying that our tenants would all lose their jobs and we would need to go back to work to ensure our properties weren’t foreclosed on, whatever it was, we were set on getting back ‘home’.
Getting out of Cyprus was quite an endeavor. As there were no commercial flights happening on the island, we had to get an ‘evacuation’ repatriation flight through the US embassy.
The airport opened specifically for our flight which would take us to London for a night, then from London onto Dallas, and finally from Dallas on to Huntsville. At this point in time, London and NYC were both ground zero for COVID, and we weren’t too eager to spend any time there, but it was a necessary part of the trip.
London Heathrow was a ghost town. It was incredibly eerie to be in one of the busiest airports in the world and only see a handful of people. Each person sequestering to a terminal all to themselves, and a few of which were outfitted in full hazmat suits and their luggage wrapped in Saran wrap.
Luckily, our trip went smoothly and we were back in Sweet Home Alabama without much issue. You might recall that at this point in the pandemic, there were some extreme reactions and emotional involvement in other people’s decisions. For example, if you left your home, even once, you were LITERALLY killing dozens of sweet grandmas, friendly grandpas, and even any daisies and songbirds you may walk past while out on your murderous stroll. Because of this, we decided against openly talking about our trip online and just miraculously popped up in the US and A.
As it happens, one of our tenants turned in her notice to move out of one of our apartments, and we thought it was the perfect opportunity for us to move in and fix it up ourselves. This gave us a convenient home base while we visited family, hung out with friends, and took up a few new outdoor hobbies like mountain biking. We were also able to be back in town for two nephews to be born, and were able to attend our good friends’ wedding, so we weren’t too upset about coming back!
We have the upmost respect for anyone who does a live-in flip, like our friends Carl & Mindy at 1500days.com. Our renovation wasn’t even super in-depth but here’s what we did:
- Replaced the carpets and vinyl with LVP flooring
- Removed some cabinets above the stove and added a freestanding hood vent
- Added a dishwasher
- Refinished the tub/shower combo
- Swapped out the appliances
- Replaced the kitchen countertops
- Covered the popcorn ceiling
- Replaced the window unit AC with a mini-split AC & heat
- Furnished the space
Even though it may not seem like much, at the time, this was pretty much the most extensive renovation we had done. And, we did it all while living in it. Which means it was just a constant battle between us, the dust & mess created by our projects, and all of our things that we constantly had to shuffle around.
It was fun getting to spend the summer on projects, especially considering at this time, the world was still pretty much shut down. We still enjoyed life though by taking daily walks together, going to the gym, hiking and mountain biking with friends.
We should also mention, at this point, we were still self-managing all our long-term rentals, and we decided to take over the management of our one short-term rental. We realized that our place was essentially a passive income stream for our Airbnb co-host. She was never going to the property, and we felt like her customer service skills were affecting our reviews, and ultimately our income. So, we started doing it ourselves and are so glad we decided to take that plunge because that has opened so many opportunities for us.
Once we finished furnishing our apartment, we decided we would also try to rent it out on Airbnb while we traveled around. Funnily enough, we didn’t have a spot to stay for our first couple of Airbnb guests, so we gave car-camping a try and just crashed in the back of our Honda Element. We had gotten some practice earlier in the month when we drove up to Massachusetts to visit our friends Cody (co-host of the FI Show podcast) and Lauren. If you didn’t know, the Honda Element is cavernous, so don’t sleep on it, only in it.
After a month or two of successful hosting, a condo popped up for sale right next door to our first short-term rental, so we hopped on that deal. It would’ve cash-flowed as a long term rental, but at this point we were really enjoying the flexibility and income of a short-term rental so we decided to go that route. Luckily, it was move-in ready and all we needed to do was scrounge up some furniture.
In a bold & ballsy move, the week that we launched our third short-term rental, we decided to head down and snow-bird in Florida for the winter. Or, at least for December (…you’ll have to check out our 2021 update to see what happens the rest of the winter). We established systems and processes for managing the short-term rentals, and we had already been self-managing our long-term rentals for years. The only need was a reliable cleaner. Well, luck would have it that my mom is a pretty damn good cleaner. Not to mention, she could always use a little extra cheddar. So, she was hired and we loaded our happy asses up and headed to warmer weather.
We’d always talked about visiting this little town called Tarpon Springs. It was on our radar because we had read that it has the highest (per capita) Greek population in the country. And having just ‘evacuated’ the island of Cyprus earlier that year, we could use a little Greek culture in our lives. We booked an Airbnb for a month, and this was our first foray into what we like to call: geo-hacking.
Essentially, geo-hacking is renting places that are cheaper than your place rents for. For example, if we can rent our place in Huntsville for $100/night and we can find a place in Florida (or Mexico, Europe, Asia, Timbuktu, you get the idea) for less than $100/night then it makes us more money to continue traveling.
Anyway, onto Tarpon Springs, we LOVE this place. Three years later, I’m here in Tarpon writing this post. What’s to love about it? Well, it is winter in Florida, so the weather is amazing. There’s a little Greek town on the water with over a dozen Greek restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and grocery stores. The music is Greek, the people around you are speaking Greek, hell, even the road signs are in Greek. Seriously, if you popped up in Greek town with no idea of how you got there, with the boats and everything surrounding you, it would be easy to think that you’re on a Greek island.
There’s also a very walkable downtown, just a hop and skip away from Greek town, with tons of restaurants, breweries, cafes, and things to do. We can’t forget that the Pinellas Trail starts in Tarpon Springs. It’s a 46 mile protected bike trail that runs through the downtowns of Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, and Clearwater, and onto downtown St. Pete. We biked along the trail almost everyday to go to the gym or explore the town.
To recap, it’s warm, it has an interesting culture, it’s walkable and bike-able, it’s only 40 min to the Tampa airport so you can get pretty much anywhere pretty quickly, and it’s about 11-12 hours by car away from our family & properties so we can always get back in a day if we need to. Not to mention that we’ve made some great friends while in Tarpon Springs!
At the beginning of 2020, we had no idea we would be back in the states, but when all was said and done, we’d spent 8 months in the US. Similarly, when we booked our Airbnb for the month of December, we didn’t have a clue where we were going to be for January or for 2021. I guess you’ll have to wait until we get around to writing the next article to see if we’re still alive in 2021.
Also, to keep this financially on track, we started the year with 10 rentals. To break it down further, that was nine long-term rentals, and one short-term rental. At the end of the year, we had 11 rentals, which was eight long-term rentals, and three short-term rentals. We didn’t have to go back to work, and continued living off our rental income which grew due to rent increases, pocketing the management fees, and the additional income from the short-term rentals.