Plan Your Future
My parents became my tenants. Here's what happened.
When I bought a house at 27 years old, I felt it was a way to put out into the universe everything I hoped for. I'd fix the place up as my income grew, and one day, hopefully raise a family there.
I was honestly surprised I even got approved for a mortgage, as I was just starting to make my way at work. The only reason I even had a down payment on hand was because I had a few thousand dollars of my college fund left over, thanks to scholarships.
This was just a few years ago, when there was still a lot of concern about millennials boomeranging back to our childhood homes. Real estate wasn't even on my radar until my mom suggested I take a look at the little orange bungalow down the block from my parents' house, in the suburbs of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
My mom picked out the place. And, five years later, she and my father are renting it from me.
A couple of years before we decided that my parents would become my tenants, they sold the big brick house they had lived in for almost a decade, and bought a tiny house next door to mine. For them, retirement was a decade or so away, and they wanted to be ready. All summer and fall, we drank rosé and pinot noir by the fire pit in my yard, swapped vegetables, and savored each other's company.
But just as my parents were finally enjoying some financial security, my life began to feel like it was falling apart. Three years after I bought my house, a guy I was dating moved in with me. He ended up losing his job, and we agreed that in lieu of finding more work, he would fix up my house. Then, he abruptly left me—and he'd only gotten as far as the demolition phase. I was left with a hole in my heart, and an even bigger one in the master bathroom.
Four months after the breakup, I lost my job. The replacement I found paid half as much. To make ends meet, I got a second job. Then a third. I was managing my mortgage payments, but there was no room in the budget to finish the renovation. My house was in no condition to rent out, making it impossible to leverage my one real asset.
Then came some more bad news: I was laid off for the second time in nine months. After that, my furnace blew and my pipes froze and burst. It was in the 30s inside the house, my credit cards were nearly maxed out, and most of my savings were gone. I went to the library each day to apply for jobs and keep my hands warm.
But then things began to look up. After just 10 days, I got a job interview, and by the end of the month, I had an employment offer. There was just one catch: The position was in Portland, Oregon. I had only two weeks to move across the country.
Over a few late nights and heavy pours of bourbon, my parents and I came up with plan. As I moved out West, they would rent out their place next door and move into my home. They would pay me $900 in rent each month, equivalent to the mortgage.
Accepting my parents' help meant being brutally honest with them about all my perceived failures, including the $10,000 I had accumulated in debt. The truth is, I judge myself far more harshly than they ever could.
A few weeks after my move to Portland, I gave them a Skype tour of my new apartment. In return, they showed me how all of their things fit just right in my old house. The room that once held my former partner's tools and music equipment is now my father's study. My mother's wine collection fills the dining room closet. They added a brand-new shower to the master bath. Through my laptop screen, they look at home.
I have never before lived so far away from my family. I have also rarely felt so loved. My parents have seen me work hard and they have seen what I hoped to achieve. They know firsthand how the world has changed and that, despite our privilege, my options and outcomes are not guaranteed to be the same as theirs were at my age. There was a time, in what feels like another life, that I dreamed of filling my home with family. In a way, that's exactly what I did.
Meghan O'Dea is a Chase News contributor.