I bought a fire station for my first home

This post is part of the new “reader stories” feature here at Get Rich Slowly. Some reader stories contain general “how I did X” advice, and others will be examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. Today's reader story is a little bit different; I wrote it after interviewing the subject.

For Your Money: The Missing Manual, I knew I wanted to include stories from average folks like you and me. As I wrote each chapter, I asked around to find one or two people I could interview for sidebars that would illustrate my points about happiness or travel or debt reduction.

Unfortunately, not every interview made it into the book. Out of the twenty stories I heard, maybe ten or twelve actually made it past editing. One of the interviews that got cut was with Jacob, a 25-year-old GRS reader from Kansas who, aside from the mortgage on his home (about which more in a moment), doesn't use credit.

So today, I'm sharing a very expanded version of what I wrote for the book. I've gone through my notes about our e-mail and phone conversations, and have drafted a profile of Jacob. These are all his own words, though I've re-arranged the order to give a better narrative flow. I hope you like his story as much as I do!

Hey Twitter followers! Do you live without credit cards? Want to be in my book? Drop me a line!
My name is Jacob, and I saw you were looking for people who don't use credit for an upcoming article. I'm 25 and I've made it this long with out ever having been given a line of credit. I don't have a credit card or any other form of credit. I do have a debit card that comes out of my checking account so I am not completely archaic.

A brief rundown of my situation:

  • Graduated college with a masters degree (~$16,000 in student loan debt)
  • Bought a house (FHA loan) ($7,500 first time home buyers credit that I will begin paying back in 2010's taxes)
  • Bought an antique vehicle (not my primary mode of transportation)
  • Refinanced my home loan less than a year after originally buying it

I'm employed full time and save fairly aggressively (at least I tend to think so). I actually own a fairly unique home; it's an old fire station, and my antique vehicle is a 1966 fire truck. I know both of those are probably not the most responsible things to do financially but I felt that I could afford both even though I had just graduated from a state school and bought both within six months.

I hope that my email doesn't come off as audacious or boastful. I was just offering up a very unique situation that I thought might interest you and your readers.

What's It Been Like to Live Without Credit Cards?

It really hasn't been all that difficult. I'm sure that I probably could have gotten a better rate on my home loan and my vehicle loan if I had a credit card and had built up a better credit rating. I'm sure that my credit score is lower than it would be had I been using a credit card for a few years.

I did run into a bit of trouble twice though when I was renting a car, but I've managed to rent hotel rooms (under 25 years old) and bought plane tickets with out any problems. Money has gotten pretty tight without having a line of credit to cover low times, but I've always lived below my means and cut way back when money was tight. Right now I have a healthy savings account that I am about to dip into to travel to Prague next summer for 2 weeks.

I'm Actually Fascinated by the Fire Station. Can I Ask You More About That?

Sure. I'm really not shy about my situation. I live in Wichita, and a lot of people have heard about me at least in passing or at parties. It's hard not to own a fire station and a fire truck and not be noticed! People are a lot less shy about asking those questions when it's such a unique situation. Apparently its hard to gauge the market on antique fire truck and fire stations.

How Much Did the Fire Station Cost?

Originally, the seller was asking $120,000, but after some negotiating I ended up paying $116,000 and got the three large window AC units (there is no central air) and several appliances. The home was only appraised at $115,000, so I had to cover the $1,000 difference at closing.

And You Bought This Right Out of School?

Yeah. I was lucky to be able to afford a down payment right out of college. I was lucky to owe as little as I did with my masters degree. I worked 2-3 jobs every summer to be able to live and go to school without working during the semesters. One summer I worked 70+ hour weeks, and some of those days were 16 hour days between two jobs. I also had some help from my parents.

For my mortgage, I have an FHA loan, which only required 3.5% down. I know it probably wasn't the most responsible thing, but I didn't want to live with my parents and commute 30 minutes each way, and I didn't want to rent and just lose that money each month. Was it the smartest choice I could have made? Maybe not, but it has been a lot of fun and it hasn't set me back financially so far as I can tell yet!

My sister lived with me for a lot of the time I've had the fire station, and she has paid a little bit towards rent, which has helped me increase my savings.

When Did You Buy the Fire Station?

I bought the fire station two years ago this June. I've actually refinanced my mortgage since I purchased it: I dropped my loan from 5.875% down to 5.0%. It cost me a little bit in closing costs, but it reduced my monthly payment from $893 to $803. I pay an additional $100 each month towards principal, which is bringing down my loan quicker than I anticipated.

I bought my house right before the market went downhill fast. I bought it before the $8,000 tax rebate, but I did qualify for the $7,500 tax rebate that I will have to pay back. I used the rebate along with some saved money to pay off completely one of my high interest student loans. I traded a 10-year 6.8% student loan for a 15-year 0%-interest loan (rebate) from the government.

Why a Fire Station?

I bought the fire station because I was looking for a place of my own. I wanted lots of space where I could build things and have a small shop. I also like having extra storage because I'm a bit of a collector — I have trouble throwing things away. Plus I had plenty of room to buy and store an antique fire truck. (Granted, I wouldn't have bought the truck if I didn't have a fire station.)

And You Have a Fire Truck?

Yes. About a year after I bought the Fire Station, I bought the fire truck that lives in the garage. The fire station was built in 1953. The fire truck is a 1966 Dodge and comes from a small town called Centralia, Kansas. My dad grew up in Centralia, and it was the fire truck in town when he was a kid. It only has 1600 miles on it, and at least 400 of them are mine.

The truck is probably the most irresponsible purchase I've made. I found it at an online auction. To buy it, I had to get a two-year loan at 9.75% through my home-town bank (where I've been a customer for a long time). The truck cost me $5500 after the auction fee.

What's It Like to Live in a Firehouse?

Living in the fire station has been a lot of fun. The garage is large enough to have friends over and have parties, and when we cook out we can open up the large doors and eat in there and still feel outside. The winters are a bit tough with the gas boiler. My gas bills in the winter have topped $350 on more than one occasion.

I've enjoyed having my own home:

  • I have lots of space to plant vegetables in the summer and flowers in the fall.
  • I recently bought raspberry and black berry plants so I will get some fruit in the years to come.
  • I can do renovations if I feel like it and feel like I am getting something out if it.
  • Recently I have also started brewing my own beer at home. I am about to bottle my first batch and we will see how it goes.

With my tax refund this year, I think I'm going to pay off the loan on my fire truck so I'll be able to shift more money towards savings and put more of it towards my student loans. I debated using my tax refund to pay down my student loans since it would save me more in the long run, but having one less loan to worry about and being able to apply that money towards the student loans with the flexibility was much more appealing. (Also, it would allow me to begin saving for a possible engagement ring.)

J.D.'s note: I'm not a fire-engine sort of guy, but I have to say: I love this. I love the brick firehouse, and I love that Jacob went out of his way to find a fire engine. There's nothing about this that isn't awesome. It's too bad his story didn't make the final cut for my book, but I'm glad to be able to share the extended version here.

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basicmoneytips
basicmoneytips
10 years ago

Interesting story and also choice of homes. I like his aggressive style toward saving and paying down his debt.

I can see where a firehouse is probably pretty cool, esp when you are his age. However, later I wonder if it will fit his and his family’s needs?

Justin King
Justin King
10 years ago

Can you imagine living in a fire station? That’s awweessome!

Chelsea
Chelsea
10 years ago

I’d love to see some more pics of the exterior and interior of the fire station and more info re: square footage etc. I love unusual homes.

BrianB
BrianB
10 years ago

Did you ask if he had to do any re-zoning on the property in order to live in it? That is a really cool story!

ABCs of Investing
ABCs of Investing
10 years ago

I think he’s nuts….but what a cool ride! 🙂

Malcolm
Malcolm
10 years ago

PLEASE post some more pictures of the interior and exterior of the fire station. Like Chelsea, I also love weird houses and how they work into everyday life.

Bananen
Bananen
10 years ago

Great story. I too would love to see some pictures of the station and how you have decorated it. Perhaps the pole is located in the bedroom 😉

Also, have a GREAT trip to Prague. I used to live there and it’s the best city that I have ever experienced; People are great, dining out is cheap and the city is beautiful and very safe.

Money Reasons
Money Reasons
10 years ago

I think this is cool because my son is a firefighter enthusiast. It good to see someone pursue their dreams and yet still keep a great financial sense about it.

It’ll be interesting to see what Jacob does with the place in 5 years from now.

I think I’ll show this story to my son, he’s now 9. 🙂

DCS
DCS
10 years ago

I too would like to petition for more pics. In fact, I demand a fully-narrated youtube-based cribisification of the entire estate inside and out. Come on Jacob! We know you’re reading this!

Snowballer
Snowballer
10 years ago

Actually a fire station would make a pretty good home for the right person because you have that large garage. Talk about an awesome multifunction space to set up for your hobbies/workshop/possibly entertainment.

ThePotofGold
ThePotofGold
10 years ago

He’s on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JacobLaha

I sent him the link & requested more pics – HA!

Laura
Laura
10 years ago

I think this a great post. The odd choice of housing reminds me of the advice in the Possum Living book although I’m pretty sure they were thinking of getting the odd choice of housing for much cheaper. I would also love to see what he’s done with the inside.

Tyler
Tyler
10 years ago

When did this interview take place? Given the tremendous hit the Wichita economy took (for example, Cessna experienced a 44% reduction in employment), has he maintained his same employment and/or pay rate during the economic downslide?

Billy
Billy
10 years ago

You were able to use the first time homebuyer credit to buy commercial property in Kansas. I live in Texas and wanted to buy a small rural church and could not use the first time homebuyer credit.

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

I wanna see the fireman’s pole! Who doesn’t dream of sliding down to breakfast or school every morning?

side note: Rent isn’t losing money every month. That’s a common misconception. GRS recently had a really beautiful article explaining when renting vs buying comes out ahead, and there’s a nice calculator at the NYTimes that will run your own numbers for you as to which is financially better.

guinness416
guinness416
10 years ago

Well Anderson Cooper just bought a fire station to live in too. Why not!

guinness416
guinness416
10 years ago

Meant to also add: this reminded me of a british TV show called Grand Designs that my dad is addicted to, about building really ambitious and personal homes. A while back one episode was a young and essentially broke couple who bought a huge (huge!) water works building and had the dream to turn it into their house. They then proceeded to renovate themselves, which was a ton of work. The end result was jaw dropping and even shut the smarmy host up for a while. Check it out: http://url.ie/5gks

Thad
Thad
10 years ago

Cool! I love unique homes and used to live in an old corner store in the UK, while dreaming of moving into a church conversion. Now that I am back in the USA, those unique homes are harder to find but a fire station could be a cool place to live!

Molly On Money
Molly On Money
10 years ago

Jacob seems to balance his spending with what/where/how he wants to live quite well. He kept saying he made some purchases maybe he shouldn’t have but I think he comes across as someone who has a good head on his shoulders and has fun in life without overspending his wad. Good luck!

Bethany
Bethany
10 years ago

J.D.’s note: There’s nothing about this that isn’t awesome.

Haha….I love that. And I agree.

E West
E West
10 years ago

Sounds cool, especially how you did it without credit card history. So often we think we need to use them to build a credit score.

Congrats on the fire station. My husband and I were thinking about doing something similar with an industrial building. Now we are planning on a sailboat for our first home.

Look at apartmenttherapy.com for design ideas. I have seen examples of people raising families in old fire stations.

Erica Douglass
Erica Douglass
10 years ago

Eh, well, I don’t agree that everything is awesome. He has an attitude that renting is throwing money away. The problem is–he’s still young. What if he wants to move, gets a job opportunity somewhere else that pays better, etc.? He’s in a real bind–he bought an unusual (read: hard to sell) house in a declining market with basically nothing down. This isn’t the sort of thing I’d recommend to any young person. I am 28 and I have watched many of my friends get suckered into this sort of housing bet and then have to sell a house and… Read more »

Ann
Ann
10 years ago

Ghostbusters flashbacks!

As for moving for work, all the companies I worked for paid for moving expenses, offered a transfer bonus, and bought your old home if it didn’t sell in a few months’ time.

Jessi
Jessi
10 years ago

As a firefighter, I have to say that I feel like I live half the time in the station anyways and consider it my home away from home – but this is just COOL. I would love to own my own fire station! 🙂

Thanks for giving this awesome post a pf spin and I wish Jacob the best of luck with his engagement and rest of his life!

Live Richly
Live Richly
10 years ago

I enjoyed this story, and the antique fire truck is very cool! I would love to see pictures of the inside. However, I fear Jacob has left himself financially vulnerable. From his story, he must be underwater on the firehouse. If a setback like illness or unemployment occurs, he may be forced to sell his place and take a big loss. I don’t see the real estate market bottoming until 2013 at the earliest due to the ARM resets still to come, so I hope Jacob can keep the firehouse for 7 years or so. I also would like to… Read more »

trb
trb
10 years ago

Hey all you haters on purchasing without much down: let’s say he has to move to take a job after three years, and end up having to sell under water. Even if he sells for a 30,000 loss, he’s avoided 36,000 in rent (assuming 1000 month rent), and taken advantage of tax breaks in the meantime. Even if rents are lower, call it even. I thinl its awesome.

JJ
JJ
10 years ago

Wow. Cool story. I love unique old homes. Finding a dream home within his budget is wonderful.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
10 years ago

The firehouse *is* awesome. It’s straight out of Ghostbusters.

I can’t imagine paying $116k for a house though. That pretty close to what I’m trying to save for a *down payment*. His mortgage payment is barely more than I was paying for a car payment.

Chett @5k5k.org
Chett @5k5k.org
10 years ago

Sooooo where’s the family pet, er I mean dalmatian?

Carrie
Carrie
10 years ago

What a great home! While I agree that putting so little down was a bit foolish, it sounds like the home really meets his needs and I don’t think he sounds overextended. Hard to know without more info on his balance sheet, but it’s an interesting home that allows him to pursue his passions, and that’s really important.

The Tim
The Tim
10 years ago

Cool story. It would be fun to see some more pics of the former fire station.

Jacob
Jacob
10 years ago

#4 – BrianB – Someone else bought the home from the city and had been living in it for several years so I didn’t have to handle any zoning issues if there were any to begin with. #7 – Bananen – There is no pole, it is a single story fire station. They didn’t have a hose drying tower. It was the first station in town to have a hose drying oven. #11 – Tyler – Wichita did take a pretty hard hit considering the airline industry. Its not so much the commercial airliners that have declined, its the private… Read more »

Kandace
Kandace
10 years ago

For the past fifteen years or so I’ve dreamed of living in a fire station, particularly as I drive by those that were built before 1950. I don’t think it will ever happen as I am thoroughly ensconced in my bungalow, but that’s great for Jacob.

Thanks for the post.

quinsy
quinsy
10 years ago

you know, in this situation he doesn’t seem to have been hurt much by putting so little down.

I ran the numbers on an amortization calculator. It’s 15 year mortgage, and he’s putting in an extra $100 a month – by my calculations, he’s only get about $100K of principal left on the place.

Honestly, if he does decide to sell, it may be a little tough to sell, but as long as he can sell it, I think he will end up in great shape!

I’m in agreeance about the awesomeness!

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

Tyler K., that’s what we get for living in California. Down payments that are more than a lot of folks pay for the whole house.

Dig the fire station, man. I’ve seen terrific houses made from barns and churches, grist mills, pretty much anything. Small towns are easier to work with on re-zoning.

And it may have been impractical, but I kind of love that Jacob bought not just a vintage fire truck, but the one from his dad’s home town. I’ll bet he’s asked to drive it in every parade.

Kristin
Kristin
10 years ago

What a fun reader story! Congratulations on living without credit cards, Jacob, and I would join the crowd clamoring for a closer look at what living in a fire station is actually like. I’m originally from Wichita as well, and many of the young people who go to state schools and move back to Wichita buy a house at 22/23 1) because they can, and 2)because they likely will end up living there for many years. Cities like Wichita didn’t have a run-up in real estate prices in the last decade, and thus didn’t lose much when @Tyler: Wichita has… Read more »

The Tim
The Tim
10 years ago

RE: Jacob @ 32 – Sorry, I just pulled it up with a couple of very easy county public record searches, something anyone could do with the information provided in the article (first and last name and city).

J.D. you can feel free to delete my comment @ 31 above, and if you’re trying to help Jacob stay more anonymous, I suggest deleting his last name from the post at the very least.

Kevin
Kevin
10 years ago

For a story about a guy who “doesn’t use credit,” I sure counted a lot of loans. Student loans, a mortgage, a car loan, and even a loan from the government (the $7500).

It’s certainly an interesting story, and he’s clearly accomplished a lot for his age. I just think it’s a little dishonest to portray him as someone living “without credit.” Sounds to me like he’s had an average amount of debt in his life, with the exception of the lack of credit cards.

Brian B
Brian B
10 years ago

I’m still not convinced that renting isn’t a waste of money. I can’t see Donald Trump or Howard Stern renting property.

Anthony
Anthony
10 years ago

I love this! I have always wanted to buy some sort of an old government building and live in it. They are always very well made (brick or cinder block), and they are huge. I’d love to have the garage! Jacob should create a website or a blog about his fire station home. I would love to know more about it, and see some photos and I am sure others would love to know as well.

Tyler
Tyler
10 years ago

@Jacob:

Good to see you are associated with Boeing – you must be feeling especially good given the status of the KC-X RFP and the work that would be coming Boeing Wichita’s way!

Jesse
Jesse
10 years ago

Where/How did you get the 15-year 0%-interest rebate for your student loans? I am in the process of consolidating all of my student loans.

Erica Douglass
Erica Douglass
10 years ago

@#26 trb: “let’s say he has to move to take a job after three years, and end up having to sell under water. Even if he sells for a 30,000 loss, he’s avoided 36,000 in rent (assuming 1000 month rent), and taken advantage of tax breaks in the meantime. Even if rents are lower, call it even.” I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people who read a PF blog can’t do math, but it still does surprise me. :-/ First, he didn’t purchase the house with cash, so he’s paying a monthly payment. He writes in comment #32: “Out… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
10 years ago

Erica, I disagree. I think even in this case, owning is clearly superior to renting. First of all, you made a math error yourself: “If he could rent for anything around ~$700/month, he’d come out WAY ahead (hundreds of thousands of dollars over 30 years) to rent at $700 and invest $250/month in higher-earning investments. Jacob’s mortgage payment was $900, but your numbers here add up to $950. I wouldn’t ordinarily jump on someone for this, but you made a point of complaining that “people who read a PF blog can’t do math.” 🙂 Now, how about a quick apples-to-apples… Read more »

Bella
Bella
10 years ago

@Erica – you also assume that he can get a comparable property for rent for that $700 a month number. Owning an antique vehicle and keeping it running means doing a lot of maintenance yourself, that means owning GARAGE SPACE. Which is not commonly found in a rental. It’s a lifestyle choice that he has clearly made and enjoys thoroughly. I think Jacob has shown an excellent example of making choices that get the biggest ‘bang for the buck’. He certainly spends a lot more than some people for his hobbies, but he clearly gets a lot of enjoyment out… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

Kevin– the $50 is what she estimates for “maintenance, insurance, and property taxes that would normally be covered by the landlord in a rental situation”

Beth
Beth
10 years ago

@ J.D.

What I like is that this story didn’t make the cut in your book! Now I absolutely need to know which stories did!

ebyt
ebyt
10 years ago

Really cool!!!!!

mike
mike
10 years ago

All math aside, if Jacob ever decides he wants to move into a traditional house, based on the comments I’ve seen here, I don’t think he’ll have any trouble trying to find renters to live in the firehouse in the future.

Way to go, Jacob! Very creative way to get ahead financially.

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson
10 years ago

RE: #43 and 44. The link to the New York Times rent v. buy calculator (thanks for the tip, J.D.!) is very helpful. I ran some calculations regarding my own situation, and saw that even in California’s depressed market and low-priced rentals, in my situation owning still was better after just a few years. The calculator is fairly comprehensive, too. Renting usually makes sense only in the short term. On the other hand, I’ve tried calculations to justify owning a vacation home, for which I haven’t found a calculator, and it seems that unless it’s rented to others for most… Read more »

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