Two months after reporting that I was “Starting Over“, I’m still standing on the same precipice, intending to make the jump but holding back. The purpose of this article is to talk (to myself and anyone else who cares to listen) about whether this “holding back” is out of fear, or because it really makes sense to wait, just a little longer. So caveat to readers: much navel-gazing ensues.
Basically there are two things holding me back — I think. The first is that my house, after a year on the market, has not sold (yes I know my timing for selling real estate is terrible). If I lowered the price I would probably get only half what it would be worth if I were patient. Opportunities for renting it are poor. My ex (who of course owns half of it) does not want us to sell in a panic. I was thinking I could perhaps just give the house to her as part of the final separation agreement, and move on. But most of my assets are tied up in this house, and if she were to continue to live there the maintenance costs would be high enough that she’d also need a significant cash reserve to pay for them, beyond any income she earns and alimony she would receive from me. So that would mean, for me, starting over with almost no cash.
The second thing holding me back is my job. It’s a really good job which allows me to do some things I love doing, with a very good team of people. It pays reasonably well and the stress level (a big issue, as I’ve found, for a colitis sufferer) is very low. The downside is that the paperwork and administration are so substantial that there is almost no time left for me to do the things I really want to do there (writing and speaking about sustainability, innovation, risk and entrepreneurship). And the job is in Toronto (where I no longer want to live — too damn cold in winter), and there is virtually no chance I can persuade the conservative organization I work for to let me do the job someplace else, in any of the places I’ve identified I would like to live.
So there’s the quandary: If I walk away from the house, I need to keep the job to build up cash again. I have a pension that kicks in in July, but I have worries about it too — it is paid to me in $US, so if the $US collapses so does my pension, my only source of significant retirement income; and there is a clause in the pension agreement that if my former employer, through whom the pension was earned, suffers a serious decline in profit, my pension will be cut proportionally, and I personally believe there is a significant chance of that happening in the rocky economy we’re now living in. And if I keep the job, I have to stay in Toronto, in which case I may as well stay in the house I’m in.
Now do you see why I’m holding back? Here’s how the three scenarios look:
Best case scenario (probability: about 20%): By September the house sells for a reasonable price and there are no hassles with my pension. Would I quit my job at that point? I think I would then probably try to negotiate doing it from another location (most likely the lower mainland or gulf islands of British Columbia). Failing that I would probably give a year’s notice and, in the summer of 2010, if the pension is still providing an adequate income and not looking threatened in future, I’d retire.
Most likely scenario (probability: about 50%): The house doesn’t sell by September, but the pension is providing an adequate income and not looking threatened in future. I’d probably do the same as in the ‘best case’ scenario — try to renegotiate work location or failing that give a year’s notice, and then give the house to my ex as part of the final separation agreement, when I move away from Toronto.
Worst case scenario (probability: about 30%): The house doesn’t sell by September and problems also arise with the pension. If that occurs, I’m probably stuck doing what I’m doing for several more years — the stress involved in doing anything else under those circumstances would be high enough to jeopardize my health, and I’m just not going to do that.
Put it all together and 2010 retired in BC looks like a good (70%) but not certain bet. I can see renting a place, probably in a co-housing or other intentional community outside the city, near forest and ocean, perhaps shared with another ‘snowbird’ (a person who lives in Canada six months of the year in summer, and winters somewhere warmer, both to take advantage of low-cost universal Canadian health care and to stay onside immigration laws in other affluent nations that prevent non-millionaires from retiring there all year round).
I can see renting a second place I would live in from November through April each year in New Zealand, Australia or Hawaii, likewise shared with community. Why rent instead of buy? I just can’t see the point in tying up a lot of money buying property when the future housing market, in my opinion, will in the longer term go sideways, at best. The era of insane housing price inflation is over, killed by the realization that borrowing more than you can hope to repay is and always was bad business for everyone.
I doubt I would be able to sublet either place during its colder season, but I’d be quite willing to let someone reliable house-sit it for free (other than utilities) while I was in the other hemisphere. This whole plan would have to be agreeable to the communities I’m living in, of course.
My dream, as regular readers probably know, is to live simply in a yurt or similar innovative round structure (one large room, reconfigurable) in the summer in each hemisphere, near forest and ocean, where heating and air conditioning (at least during the months I’m there) are unnecessary, in a peaceful, uncrowded and progressive location, with good Internet access, doing the ten things I love doing (graphic above), and nothing more. There are places in BC, NZ, Australia and Hawaii that appear to meet these criteria.
OK, I’m clear. Thanks for listening to me think out loud. Any other ideas and comments to help me plan my future, I’m all ears.