If You Want My Advice

No man gives so freely as the man who’s giving advice. So many people like to advise on the impossibility of something, or the surety of another, or the soundness of any type of thing of which they have heard good things but of which they have no particular knowledge themselves. And so I found myself, the other day, peering through the windows of yet another possible investment property.

It had the markings of a real find. – Large single-family home next to a large state university. I could rent out single rooms to students quite easily and at a good price. It would only be a short walk for me to the train to get to my own classes and obligations in Boston. There was a small yard. The building was in fine condition.

It was bank-owned and they wanted to get rid of it quickly so the price was low. Plus, there was a one bedroom apartment in the walk-out basement that could also fetch some additional rental income. A real find by all standards.

“Are you thinking of buying this place?” Came a voice from behind as I peered through one of the basement windows.

“Why, yes,” I was confused as to who he might be, since the place was bank-owned.

He proceeded to tell me about how he was absurdly upside-down on his debt for the property and so three months ago he telephoned the bank and told them they could have it, he wasn’t making any more payments. He had started renting a studio apartment next door. He was very informative about the history and condition of the building.

He said, “You should buy this, it’s a good price. You can’t go wrong with real estate.” Now, he has no financial interest in the property being sold. So I judged his only motive to be one of doling out a good piece of advice to a young man. He was maybe 15 years my senior. I agreed with him about the price but the irony of his words, given his predicament, was apparently completely lost on him.

Then he told me of his misfortune. “I’m a carpenter, I was doing well until last fall when I got laid off.”

“Oh! I got laid off last fall too,” I volunteered and instantly regretted it. I saw a momentary look of confusion on his face, apparently wondering how, after a year of unemployment, I could be in a position to purchase a cash-only foreclosure property. But he didn’t pry.

Then, as we talked about the structure and the misery of the current economy, we came about the front of the house and I had a striking, stereotypical vision of our opposite state of affairs. There in the driveway our cars were parked side by side. His shiny, late-model, 10mpg truck, which he was surely still making payments on, was parked right next to my slightly dented but well-maintained, 30+ mpg, 10 year-old sedan for which I’d paid cash.

We were both single. Likely made similar incomes and were laid off at the same time. Given his age he’s had 15 more years than I have to amass savings. Yet here I was about to pay cash for a house he couldn’t even make the monthly payment on.

Now, I don’t begrudge people the opportunity to make mistakes. – Or to push their luck financially. I understand some people have a harder time seeing the value in preparing for the unexpected. But for goodness sake, if anyone in that scenario ought to be giving out advice, it certainly wasn’t him. I feel like shaking some people and saying, “Look at us. Look at you. Look at me. I know what I’m doing. You don’t. Try shutting your mouth and opening your ears for once. Just once! Please, if not for your sake, then for mine.”

But I don’t. People would hate me. So instead I just took his advice as I take most advice, with a smile, a knowing-grin, and an unspoken thought of rebuttal.

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  • [...] When you have two people in similar circumstances with the same options but with different choices, we should not blame external circumstances. Yet what it seems like now is like the day after the big party. People are hung over and they blame the bartender (the banks). It’s like they completely miss the connection to the all the booze or credit they were drinking the day before. Like the example in this post, people just don’t seem to get it. [...]