I Believe in Wilmington, North Carolina

When Clay and I make plans to visit our parents, it hardly feels like a chore because both sets have chosen to retire in locations that are geographically desirable and vacation destinations in their own right. Thank you, Mom and Dad! So when we realized that we’d be able to drive down to Clay’s parents for the holiday weekend with only a slight rearranging of our schedules, we hopped into the car and headed south to Wilmington, North Carolina.

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Named after the Earl of Wilmington, Spencer Compton (1673-1743), Wilmington, North Carolina is a port city and considered a gateway to the beaches along the Cape Fear coast.  The most industrialized North Carolina river, the Cape Fear flows 200 miles and empties into the Atlantic Ocean near Southport, North Carolina and served as a main transportation route in to the interior of North Carolina during the colonial era. Downtown historic Wilmington stretches along the Cape Fear, complete with a riverwalk, cobblestone streets, restaurants, bars, and boutique shops.

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We arrived on Friday in the early evening hours. Clay’s parents offered to feed the kids and handle the bedtime routine and insisted that we go out for the night. They didn’t have to twist our arms hard – before we knew it we were dressed up and heading into downtown Wilmington. As soon as we found out that it was the kick off for the Downtown Sundown Concert Series, we paid $1 for wristbands, grabbed some beers, and  watched the sun set as 42, a Coldplay tribute band, performed with the USS North Carolina in the background.

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Afterwards, we walked over to Circa 1922 for dinner, where we had cocktails and the local snapper “escovitch”, which came with a warm bammy, pickled peppers, scallion and chayote. After our late dinner, we walked along the river underneath the stars.

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The next morning, we headed south and crossed the intracoastal waterway to Caswell Beach on Oak Island. This is our go-to beach when visiting Clay’s parents because it is low-key and almost always empty. Dolphin sightings are almost always guaranteed and we even had a blue crab that kept swimming our way in the waves. The kids thought he was cute – Clay and I thought he looked delicious.

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We spent hours body surfing and playing on the beach. As I mentioned in my previous post, we’re really enjoying this phase of parenthood and love that our kids are so adventurous and up for anything. The forecast for the weekend was touch and go for awhile but thankfully, we couldn’t have asked for a better beach day on Saturday. The waves were big, the sun was shining, and the occasional cloud provided much-needed cover.

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After the beach we stopped for frozen yogurt. So healthy.

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We showered and then played in the backyard for a little while before deciding we were hungry enough to head down the road to The Shuckin’ Shack. We had local beers and Saul T’s Steampot, which comes with a dozen oysters (we ordered 6 steamed and 6 raw),  a dozen clams, 1 pound of snow crab legs, 1/2 pound of steamed shrimp (we ordered them Old Bay style), corn, and slaw.

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The next morning, we went to church with Clay’s parents and out to breakfast. Afterwards, we headed over to Ocean Isle Beach. We stopped in OIB Surf & Java and purchased coffee and some gear before hitting the beach.

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The weather was starting to deteriorate but we didn’t let that stop us from going in the water. We made the best of the cloudy afternoon and body surfed until we decided to head back to Clay’s parents for dinner.

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After showering, Clay and I were tasked with picking up the pizza from Pizzetta’s. We stopped next door at Lowe’s Grocery Store and somehow ended up at The Beer Den. We chatted with other customers and the server about our love of beer and ended up taking home a growler for Clay’s parents.

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We headed back home yesterday morning, but not before snapping a picture of the kids with their grandparents. The drive home wasn’t the best – lots of rain but the not-so-fun drive was worth having a great date night out in Wilmington and two days at the beach. It was great being able to spend time together as a family and having four interrupted days with Clay – time is precious and we have made a pact to take advantage of every opportunity we have to do what we love most. Nothing is guaranteed in life. Might as well make the most of it and swim into crashing waves and eat fresh seafood.

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How We Became Accidental Landlords

We often joke that we know a lot about the home buying process and very little about selling a home. Since that cold evening thirteen years ago, when we publicly declared ’till death do us part in front of our family and friends, we’ve shared ten addresses together (I’d like to offer my apologies now to said family and friends who constantly have to update their address books on our behalf). Of our homes over the years, the majority we have rented, one was on post, and two were homes that we own. And still own to this day. Because life sure is a lot more fun with two mortgages <insert eye-rolling emoji>

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We bought our first home in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina when Clay ETS’ed from the Army when we were in our mid-20s. This house is what we thought we wanted – a suburban life in a new construction house with four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. We lived in an apartment during our time at Fort Drum, New York and logged many House Hunters hours. We knew what we wanted. At least, we thought we did. Our Raleigh home is a lovely house but we quickly learned that we wanted something different out of life than what we were experiencing at that point in time in Raleigh.

Long story short (and boy – is it a doozy of a story!), Clay became active again soon after we bought this home. Clay deployed to Afghanistan for a year shortly after our son was born and when he returned, it was time to move again. While we didn’t purchase this home at the top of the market, the odds weren’t in our favor when it came time to sell it. We put it on the market briefly but when people began to ask if it was available for rent, we crunched some numbers, and quickly realized that it made better financial sense to put this home on the rental market.

And here we are seven years later with no plans to sell because it has become a great investment over the years. It helps that we have a fantastic property manager and the Raleigh market is booming once again. It is doubtful that we will ever call this house home again, but it will likely be a part of our lives for quite some time.

Oklahoma House

We also own a home in Lawton, Oklahoma. We didn’t love our time in Oklahoma, but we absolutely love this house. It was built in 1983 and is on a large corner lot with trees, which are a precious commodity in southwest Oklahoma. We love ranch homes and the floor plan is everything we want in a house – it isn’t large by any means but at 2000 square feet, it is more than enough room for us. We had only lived in it for 8 (!) months until we were given surprise orders to Washington, DC, so it was in our best interest to rent it out when we left. Additionally, when we were looking to buy a home in Lawton, we did so with the idea that it would eventually become a rental property so we looked for certain features. We just didn’t think it would be so soon after buying the house!

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The backyard even has the most adorable playhouse, which makes this place perfect for young family. Sigh – I really do love this house. Our experience with being landlords to this house hasn’t been as positive as our Raleigh house (older home = more things need attention) but we are not losing money on it, so we can’t really complain. We’d like to sell this house in the near future because we’d like to eventually buy another investment property elsewhere and we’re just not comfortable owning three homes at this point in our lives. Unfortunately, we’re not that baller. Like at all.

When people discover that we own multiple properties (neither of which we actually live in), we are often met with a handful of questions regarding our situation, such as…

Did you use a VA loan to purchase both houses? No. We used a conventional loan for our Raleigh house and paid points to knock the interest rate down. We had the money for a sizable down payment and we could get a better rate with a conventional loan. We did use a VA loan for our Lawton house because we purchased it when rates were extremely low and the rate the VA offered was competitive with the conventional loan market. However, we do not have near as much equity in the Lawton house and looking back, I wished we put more down initially. But alas – shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Do you plan on living in either house again? Short answer? No. Long answer? I’ve learned over the years to never say never. However, both homes are in locations that we would never choose to live again ourselves but who knows what Uncle Sam has in store for us down the line.

Why don’t you sell your Raleigh house since the market is booming again there? Our mortgage is low, we are able to charge a nice amount for rent, and years ago we refinanced to a lower-year mortgage so the house will paid off well before we hit our golden years. In the future, we may revaluate but as of right now, we’re happy keeping it as a rental.

Are you going to sell the Lawton house? Eventually. The market is more volatile there so we are considering our options. Ideally, we’d like at least a week or two to spend there between the tenant moving out and putting it on the market. There are some projects we didn’t get around to before leaving that we’d like to do before making the listing live. If you know of a great Lawton real estate agent that is willing to explore some options, let me know!

What sort of issues have you dealt with over the years? Thankfully, nothing major. We’ve had plumbing issues, fence replacements, air conditioner repairs, furnace repairs, painting that need to be done as well as re-staining of the deck, an oven door fell off and shattered, an over-the-range microwave exploded, and little small jobs that a handyman addressed. Some years are better than others and there are many months where we don’t clear a profit due to maintenance issues. But that is all part of the home ownership game.

Will you buy a home where you PCS next? No. It is very unlikely that we will buy a home (instead of renting or living on post) as long as Clay is active duty for the simple fact that we won’t live in a place for more than 1-2 years from here on out. Some military paths offer more stability in one place but that is not in our cards, which we are totally okay with…because if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be doing this whole military thing and would likely be living in one of our two homes! Ha.

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Wichita Wildlife Refuge – Lawton, Oklahoma

Who else out there consider themselves to be accidental landlords? We didn’t plan on this when beginning our home-buying journey as young twenty-somethings but like most things in life – it’s best to keep an open-mind and see where the road takes you. After all, I never would have thought I’d live among buffalo and longhorn steers in the prairie, let alone own a house there. We’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and I’m not going to lie – sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming to have such a large chuck of our assets tied up in real estate. But what in life is worth doing without at least a little bit of risk? Now if you excuse me, I have to answer an email that just arrived from one of our property managers (not even kidding!).