One of the ways in which I can keep myself financially afloat, while pursuing my dream of becoming an independent writer, is that I own a rental property. The profit I make on it isn’t enough to keep me above water alone, but it certainly helps.
When I initially wanted to quit my job as a social worker and write, I decided to take some equity out on the property to keep me financially stable for a year or two. This also meant I could create a nice little nest egg for when the time came to self-publish my book. But in order to get that equity, I had to get insurance on the property first.
I fully admit I didn’t have the property insured. I have this theory that insurance is a total scam. They wouldn’t do this business if they didn’t make a huge profit from it. So, in the bigger picture, we are the ones who obviously lose out on money. That’s it. I never said it was a complicated theory - or even a great theory.
Therefore, when I refinanced the rental property to get that mouth-watering equity, I requested the lowest insurance coverage possible. Since I wasn’t going to rent out the place to a bunch of frat boys, I felt like the risk would be small. Though, now as I write this, it might be hot to rent to a bunch of frat boys - at least in my head.
I successfully stretched my equity money to two full years. My stint in bartending helped me sustain it for a bit longer. However, the stint in bartending completely derailed me from this writing journey. Staying up til 5 a.m. and getting wasted each shift didn’t help my creative juices be very juicy. It also made me a bit of a miserable and depressive psycho.
So here I am, keeping myself afloat with the rental property profits, pimping out the guest room in our home on AirBnB, and now driving for Uber/Lyft (which I hadn’t been doing when I originally wrote this). My finances began to float in a perfect, yet very fragile balance.
I also need to give props to my partner, who covers my half of the mortgage and utilities. He also buys most of the groceries and all the propane I use to grill my daily turkey burgers. He believes in my dreams of becoming an author without having to become a total hobo (or a “homobo” if you want to make it a gay joke).
Then a day came when I got a letter from the HOA on my rental property. For those of you who live under an HOA, I am sure you understand the anxiety this induces every time I get such a letter. Hell, even if you’d live a block up from an HOA, you’d get anxiety. HOAs never send letters informing you that they will be giving you some money back or telling you how much they love you and want to make babies with you.
Wait… where was I? I just got sidetracked trying to imagine what it would be like to try and make babies with my HOA. OH YEAH! So, I opened the letter and there it said the last thing I ever wanted to hear. They were billing me for $4,022.40. My heart immediately started gagging.
The whole thing was due to a loss assessment done in 2016 for a brutal hailstorm that hit Denver. What in the hell is a “loss assessment?” Did this mean a bill for assessing the damage to the roof? Wouldn’t it make more sense to pay for the actual repair? It didn’t matter. The HOA didn’t have enough in the reserve and now each unit had to pay their share.
Just before I reached for some matches to set myself on fire, the letter said that if we had homeowners insurance, the loss assessment could be covered. Oh, thank God. The insurance will cover it, I thought. Then it hit me: I had set my insurance low in order to save a few bucks.
I grabbed the phone and dialed my insurance as quickly as I could. Once I got connected to a call center worker, I prayed. Please, let this loss assessment be covered. Please, let this loss assessment be covered.
“Good news!” the call center worker said. “You do have the loss assessment coverage. We will be able to help cover one thousand dollars.”
“THAT’S IT?!” I screamed. “ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS?! BUT I NEED FOUR THOUSAND!!”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s all you had yourself covered for.”
My heart went ahead and vomited. I still had to pay three thousand dollars out of my own pocket. What was I going to do?! Didn’t he know that my perfectly balanced finances were totally fragile? Didn’t he know this would fuck over my financial homeostasis?
It didn’t matter. That was it. I owed three grand. For the rest of the afternoon, I emotionally curled up in a fetal position until Luke got home.
“Don’t stress,” Luke told me. “I will help you. We are in this together.”
We’ve always kept our finances separate and, in times of need, we did help each other out. But Luke was already covering my part of our home and more. I couldn’t have him help pay for the hit on my rental property - especially because I was no longer sharing the profits with him (as we did before).
As much as it made my wallet cry, I told Luke “no.” I couldn’t have him bail me out and I certainly couldn’t have him make any more sacrifices. It was my fault that the insurance was low. I had to face the consequences.
The only source of money that I could use to pay off this loss assessment was from that nest egg I saved before. This meant I would no longer have the money to self publish my book. My attempts to stretch my finances with low insurance coverage now shanked my dreams of being an author. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to think about it.
But I did know that I needed to go ahead and change my homeowner’s insurance to have adequate protection. According to Murphy’s Law, nothing bad would ever happen to the rental property again, but I needed to make the phone call to change things ASAP.
Of course, weeks passed and no such phone call was ever made. Making a phone call in these modern times is akin to something like taking a number two in a public restroom. It’s super awkward and you’ll try to hold off on doing it until the last possible moment.
While driving home from the gym one day, I saw a blaze of smoke filling the sky in the distance. A huge fire had broken out and it was coming from the direction of my townhouse - my rental property. I thought about how crazy it’d be if it had actually been my property. But as I got closer to the area, the smoke seemed to be coming right from my rental property.
My heart started vomiting again. This couldn’t be happening. I began trying to bolt my way over to the property, but those damn Denver drivers kept getting in my way. The closer I got, the more the air filled with smoke.
I finally reached the street where I could turn down and get to my townhouse. But an emergency responder popped up and tried forcing me to go the other way.
I rolled down my window and yelled out. “ I NEED TO GET DOWN THIS STREET!”
“NO CAN DO!” He yelled back. “THERE’S A TOWNHOUSE ON FIRE UP THERE! IT’S NOT SAFE!”
“BUT MY TOWNHOUSE IS DOWN THERE!!!! IT COULD BE MY HOME!!! WHAT’S THE ADDRESS?!?!”
“I DON’T KNOW THAT INFO. BUT FIREFIGHTERS ARE WORKING AS HARD AS THEY CAN. YOU CAN’T ENTER UNTIL THEY GET THE FIRE OUT!”
Not to give you another “number two” analogy, but this was the moment I just emotionally shit my pants. I called Luke screaming frantically. He checked the local news sites and didn’t see anything. I raced back to our house and began flipping back-and-forth between news channels.
The stations kept fucking with my emotions. They teased me by confirming there was in fact a fire in southeast Denver, but they would have more details as soon as they came in. Finally, one news station had a helicopter getting an aerial view of the fire and it wasn’t our property. My heart could finally stop praying to the porcelain gods.
I picked up the phone immediately and called my insurance company to increase the coverage (including the loss assessment) to, the proper amounts. The girl at the agent’s office giggled.
“This is so funny,” she said. “It actually lowers the cost of your insurance a little when you increase it to the appropriate amount.”
This information did not make me giggle. She just rubbed salt all over my wounds. And it only made me feel more sour about the three thousand dollars I’d have to pay out of pocket for the loss assessment.
I would continue to grumble and mention it to 85% of the friends I encountered over the following month. I would complain about how my self-publishing-nest-egg was ruined and I didn’t know what else to do - that my writer dreams may not work out.
“Why don’t you just do a kickstarter?” a friend asked me one day when I told him the story.
“I don’t want to do a kickstarter,” I told him. “It seems to be so self indulgent to ask people money from people when you don’t have anything to give them yet.”
I actually don’t hate kickstarters. I think it’s amazing to reach out and let other help you create enormous projects that people will love. But once people started launching gofundme pages for that European vacation they always wanted, it seemed like crowdfunding had gotten a little carried away.
“Umm, you’re an idiot,” was his exact response. “You already have an audience who loves your work. Let the people who believe in you help you get this book off the ground.”
I left his place that night thinking about his words. Sure, I didn’t want to do kickstarter, but I was also the guy who didn’t want to increase his insurance and look where that got me. My insurance intuition had led me down the wrong road and now my original road of self publishing had been cut off. Perhaps I needed to let go of my intuition on kickstarter too.
On the same day I finished writing this essay, I went ahead and paid the three-thousand dollars to the HOA. It was painful to transfer all that money out of my bank account, but it had my brain wondering about those times we think we know what’s best for us. Sometimes following such intuition gets us into trouble. And, when it does, the time has come to stop listening to ourselves and start listening to others.
Edited by Glen Trupp
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