Within the first few weeks of our redeployment from Iraq, all of the soldiers were still adjusting to the freedoms we had stateside. The first ten days of being home, we has to complete this rigorous reintegration process the Army uses to help us adjust. This process was comprised of several classes daily and different resiliency exercises. I believe the program was well intended, but there was no way to prepare for freedom after a fifteen month deployment in a combat zone.
I had a close net of friends that were still in the unit after our return. After deployments, most soldiers came down on orders for other duty stations and they normally reported within the first months of being home. I lost many battle buddies this way. Hinesville was also prepared for our return. The military was the main source of income for the local businesses so when we were deployed, things were very slow. Therefore, after all the parades and celebrations were done, it was back to business as usual. The biggest factor of the return of a deployed division was the money the soldiers had when they returned home. Everybody had saved up money and needed to spend it.
One night two friends and I decided to step out for a few drinks at the only club we had to go to at the time. We were having a good time this night. This was a great night, better than normal. Reid, Liggins, and I were all in my 2000 Chevrolet Suburban with all black tint and a fresh pair of twenty-six inch wheels. Let’s just say it was hard to miss the vehicle. I was coming to the light at the intersection where it T-boned. Instead of stopping at the light to make a left, I decided to cut through the gas station on my left to avoid the light at the end of the street. Take into consideration it’s 2:00 a.m. and all the traffic from the club was on the way to the Waffle House about two miles away. I didn’t even make it through to the other side of the gas station before the police turned his lights on. I remember telling myself many things before the officer came to my window. One, was to suck on a penny. I remembered some old story of somebody putting a penny in their mouth to pass a breathalyzer. Who knows if this is true? I was going to try it anyway. As the officer approached the windows I knew my career was in jeopardy at this point. The reality was, we were three black Non-Commissioned Officers fresh from Iraq, and it wasn’t hard to see we were looking for a good time. The officer approached the vehicle extremely calm as if he had the entire situation under control. He asked for my information and went back to his vehicle. I honestly can’t say much about what took place after that. I just remember waking up in my uncomfortable seat and thinking whatever happened to that police. Both Liggins and Reid were knocked out cold, but I hurried up to wake them. I paused for a moment before gathering myself. I didn’t know how much time had passed; I was just concerned with having to take a breathalyzer. But when I woke up, I was refreshed and my buzz had gone away basically, and what made it worse, I was hungrier now then I was before. So, this led me to decide to get out the truck and walk over to the police car behind us and find out what was going on. As I approached the officer’s car, I could see the look of dissatisfaction on his face that I’ve seen many times. In fact, it was so familiar I already felt bad by the time I got to his car window. He rolled down the window and I softly asked him what was happening. He sharply asked me to get back in my vehicle. I immediately followed his instructions. I sat and talked with the guys for a moment when we started to notice the sun was coming up. My first thought was how long we been there. I looked at my watched and found that it was 0600 in the morning. We had been sitting in that parking lot for around four hours. We slept the alcohol off while the police were behind us. After that, I sat there patiently as I saw the officer walking towards my driver’s side door. I politely rolled down my window as he gave me five tickets. T0 this day, I can’t even tell you what all those citations were for, but I happily paid them because I realized that officer saved my career that night. I also took a vow to never put myself in that position again. It was immature of me and it helped me see that I must grow up fast and start acting like a professional.
Home ownership was a breeze for me starting out. The house that I purchased was a recently renovated three bedrooms two bath single family home with ceramic tile throughout and a newly installed inground sprinkler system that would prove to be essential later. I was living the American dream, except for the grass. It’s interesting how I always took a liking to the lawn. I found it fun to cut grass and trim bushes, then I set out to make my first project the yard. I wanted to plant a tree and put a whole new lawn in. I didn’t know anything about any of these ambitious ideas. What I did know was I didn’t plan on my yard looking like all these other houses in GA that can’t grow grass because of the sandy soil. I rented a machine that would tiller the whole front yard and I could have it done in a few days. This process tooku more than three days as I found it hard to go fast with all those pesky sprinkler lines running through the yard. What seemed so innocent in the beginning turned into a complete nightmare. At this point, I had a friend of mine that I knew from years earlier. He was a friend of a friend, but we started hanging out more since I had left for the Army. Preston came to stay with me as soon as I purchased the house. When we took the trip to Florida immediately after returning from Iraq, I decided to help him out. He was the kind of helper that was there for every second of the process, but wouldn’t provide anything not asked for. It was a tough process. Something told me that he knew I was tearing those sprinklers up though, but who knows. As the days went by, I noticed the neighbors looking at me funny as if they didn’t see an ambitious homeowner trying to bring the property value up on their homes before they made the first mortgage payment. After I got all the grass torn out and the lawn was now complete mud, it was my choice to choose the desired grass I would like to plant to go in the yard. This was great because it would be just the way I wanted. I had larger expectations. I got my seed and went on to plant my yard. The grass sprouted up and died a month later. I got a bad grass that didn’t stand up to the constant sunshine of the Georgia heat. I then turned around and got another seed that I remember to this day. Centipede grass – great for the harsh climate and it doesn’t have bald spots either. I found this out later from the landscaping company I hired to manage my lawn and fix the sprinkler system and show me how not to destroy my lawn again. This process turned out to be my life saver.
Stock Market Crash
The much-loathed economic decline and subsequent recession in the later 2000s left many people feeling helpless, overwhelmed, and horrified with their circumstances. The Great Recession, as it has been so formidably dubbed, has resulted in more than just emotional trauma—a scarcity of assets throughout the market economy as well as an untimely collapse in the financial sector of the world economy.
States like Florida, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Arizona were deeply impacted by the horrors of the Great Recession, while midwestern states tended to see less of a change in their overall poverty levels. The unemployment rate skyrocketed while the average household income plummeted to the fiery depths. Person after person was mangled by their fiscal woes, and tragedy seemed to be the only conclusion to be drawn by this terrible turn of events.
Although many families were overwrought with financial instability and a deep-seated insecurity, some people did not fare so poorly. In February of 2009, I was among the few still-optimistic individuals left in the United States. I had recently purchased a new property, and my position enabled me to utilize a standard-issue Government Purchase Card. These cards were distributed to authorized personnel for certain business handlings for the government, which gave this gung-ho twenty-two year-old an unshakeable confidence despite the market falling apart around me, though the recession had hit lows not witnessed since the Great Depression. I refused to let that stand in my way. Although my knowledge of the stock market was somewhat lax initially, I picked up on certain trends and movements like a natural.
When I realized that the Government Purchase Card I was allotted had switched from Bank of America to CitiBank, I saw an opportunity.
Citibank is the consumer division of financial services multinational Citigroup. Citibank was founded in 1812 as the City Bank of New York, later First National City Bank of New York. Citibank provides credit cards, mortgages, personal loans, commercial loans, and lines of credit. The bank has a total of 2,649 branches in nineteen countries, including seven hundred and twenty-three branches in the United States and 1,494 branches in Mexico. The U.S. branches are concentrated in six metropolitan areas: New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Miami.
Citi Bank had recently purchased the naming rights of the New York Mets’ baseball stadium for $250 million; clearly, they weren’t going under any time soon. The company’s stock was selling for less than two dollars per share. During a crisis, man can rise above the perils and stake a claim for fortune. As soon as the stocks hit their lowest point, little more than fifty cents per share, I bought nearly 15,000 shares. With my interest in the market peaking, I began noticing the habits of other companies.
American International Group, Inc., is an American multinational insurance corporation with more than 88 million customers in one hundred and thirty countries. As of 2015, AIG companies employed around 65,000 people. The company operates through three businesses: AIG Property Casualty, AIG Life and Retirement, and United Guaranty Corporation (UGC). AIG Property Casualty provides insurance products for commercial, institutional, and individual customers. AIG Life and Retirement provides life insurance and retirement services in the United States. UGC focuses on mortgage guaranty insurance and mortgage insurance. AIG also provides financial services in global capital markets operations, including direct investment and retained interests. It wasn’t long before I had invested in AIG as well, buying roughly 2000 shares of one of the largest insurance firms in history.
I was not the only one to turn a profit out of the stock market mishaps, but my story is one of hope and inspiration. It helps to give people the belief that there is light, even in the darkest of times.
Even with this addictive new method of making money, I was still only in my early twenties. The pervasive restlessness that accompanies youth took hold, and I withdrew my stakes in favor of cashing out. Do I regret his choice? That’s hard to say, but I did claim that “the most interesting part of this experience,” has been realizing just how much money I would have walked away with if I had only kept my stock. Together, they would’ve been worth more than $924,000 today.
My First Flip
When I purchased my second property in the winter of 2009, I wasn’t expecting to flip it. With my military training background and upcoming deployment egging me on, I realized that I had a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time. Though the property was only $36,500—a sum easily granted in cash to avoid loans and interest rates—there was much to be done before I could stand to make a profit. I had every intention of renting that house out to make money off it, but with thirty-days remaining before I leave for my third deployment, time was of the essence. How did I manage to pull off such a challenging debacle? With skill, foresight, and adaptability.
I would use the funds from my investments made in the stock market to fund my acquisition of the property. There were many reasons that came into play with the acquisition of this home. Mortgages aren’t traditionally issued for homes valued less than $50,000. Furthermore, when purchasing a home through a bank, it takes longer to close on the property. The bank has different procedures that they require before they issue a check. Since I was short on time, I determined cash would be the best option moving forward.
Purchasing real estate property from a third-party seller is relatively standard, but it can contribute to a few dilemmas that go otherwise unanticipated. I recognized the potential issues that could result from the owner living far off on the east coast, but I refused to let that deter me. I was on a mission, and the house had to be in order before I was shipped out overseas. After paying for the property with cash, the seller promptly gave the me the keys to my new home; unfortunately, there is a little bit more that goes into homeownership than that. Before any home improvement projects could begin, I would need to figure out how he could get utility usage in the home without the closing paperwork. Like a true natural at flipping houses, I rented a generator to use until the utilities could be officially set up for the property. Without letting anything stand in his way, I managed to knock out a good chunk of the work on the house before he even closed on it. Whether it’s my military background or natural aptitude, I put his adaption capabilities to the test when he dealt with the closing process on this property.
The actual house itself was not in bad shape, especially considering its age and condition. It was a sturdy, dependable place with a lot of charm and character, which made it all the easier to work with. A few coats of paint here, some hardwood resurfacing there; the house would be as good as new. With all the work I had been putting into the home—even going so far as to show up for the closing in the middle of my renovating and returning once the paperwork had been officiated—I decided to get some help on my remaining challenges. Though I had no formal instruction on projects of this caliber, I relied on my obsession with DIY Networks and my skills as a fast learner to make a deck on the back of the property. Thankfully, I had friends who were willing to at least offer moral support as I strained away on the home improvement tasks.
While I was hard at work whittling away the hours, a stranger happened to emerge on the premises. The man simply waltzed in, as if he was in a trance. He looked around, walking to and fro, examining the house, before asking if I knew why the house had been put up for sale. As it turned out, the man was good friends with the prior occupant, though not the kindly old woman who had moved away. That woman’s son was his friend and neighbor, and he explained that the house did not have the greatest of reputations. In fact, it was he who had found the body of his friend hanging from the stair rail in a gruesomely successful suicide attempt. According to the stranger, the young man was distraught over many things—namely, his father’s recent passing and his mother’s decision to move away and remarry. The stranger disappeared back into the silent night, dispersing as eerily as he had emerged. With the newfound potential of ghosts haunting my every waking thought, my friends and I managed to get the improvements done as rapidly as possible.
Deployment is not the sort of thing one can postpone or avoid, so I left my property in its mostly finished state to be rented out. My first tenants were old friends of the family, but unfortunately, they were not quite the compatriots they had once been. The relationship between leaser and tenant was an amalgamation of strained, discombobulated, and unpleasant experiences for the twenty-four months that they lived in the house. With such a disquieting first wrangle with leasing, I decided to abandon my initial projections for the property, instead opting for a full renovation and resale—thus, this lovely home became my first flip.
Renovating for thirty days before renting the place out is incredibly different from the renovations needed for a successful flip, and being the knowledgeable man that I am, I understood how much work would need to be done to make the place a vibrant addition to the housing market. I went through several contractors before deciding to throw up my hands and roll up my sleeves. I stripped the entire property down to the bare minimum, opting to replace the wiring and extend the acreage with some efficient tools. I added outlets and fans, dimmer switches and light fixtures. I brought out the carport, replaced the windows, and extended the stairs, but to make matters sweeter, I even closed in the porch. Between the local Habitat for Humanity store and liquidating lumber sellers, I managed to make several improvements that would have otherwise cost me a fortune. Throw in the benefits of a new roof and a redone deck, and you’ve got a gorgeous ensemble worth far more than the original asking price. Though I made more than twice the initial amount I spent for the property, the biggest lesson I learned from my first flip is to always keep track of your spending.