UK Entrepreneurs Reject Real Estate, Go Full Nomad!

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Before we get to today’s post, I want to announce the winner of last week’s book contest. After randomizing the entries (I really enjoyed reading all the amazing 180+ comments! Thank you all for entering.), the winner is…

*drum roll*

Maddy: “I know it sounds lame… well, maybe not really, but it def feels lame… if I had a sudden $1000 I’d spend it on a crown for my tooth which has been broken for a long time. Crowns are so expensive (all dental work is now) and I realize how spoiled I was when working corporate and taking all those amazing healthcare benefits for granted.”

You will be contacted by the authors to receive your copy soon!

For those who didn’t win, consider buying a copy of The Woke Salaryman Crash Course on Capitalism & Money. I really love this book and I think you will too.

Also, for those who didn’t win the free e-book, today’s another day to give away more free stuff. Read on to find out how…

We first met Alan & Katie Donegan when we attended our first UK Chautauqua as speakers way back in 2017, and we quickly hit it off. They were already well on their way to FIRE, but their money was invested in a combination of index funds and rental real estate. After we invited them to come traveling to Thailand with us and showing them how much more awesome life is as a nomad, they became convinced that index funds were the way to go, since it allowed them to keep traveling while not having to worry about leaky toilets halfway around the world. “We’re ditching real estate,” they announced excitedly to us one evening!

Turns out, it didn’t go the way they expected. Here’s their story, in their own words.

The thought of renting out an apartment, dealing with a HOA or having another property leaves me wanting to hide in a darkened room.  The drama of the last time has been seared into my soul.

In October 2019, after chewing it over with Kristy and Bryce we made the big decision: to sell our apartment and become nomadic.  Filled with hope, excitement and the desire for freedom we listed it and expected the offers to come rolling in by the second. 

A week later the UK prime minister called a general election over Brexit and the likelihood of selling the apartment quickly disappeared. Then came Christmas, weeks of silence and waiting for our ineffective realtor to call.  We had received a grand total of zero offers. 

Months rolled by and everyone told us the market was dead, so we made the decision to rent out the apartment. At least we could cover the cost of the apartment whilst we waited for it to sell.  We decided on a full service agency that would take care of everything.  We rented out the apartment and left on our travels. It was the beginning of 2020.   

Whilst we were abroad, the agent called with the exciting news that the oven had broken and we needed to pay for a new one.  My first thought was “how? What happened to the oven?”  It was in amazing condition when we left a few months ago.  The agent told us the tenant wouldn’t let them into the apartment for religious reasons so he couldn’t send us photos or investigate further. 

I refused to pay for a new oven without understanding what had happened to the old one. Eventually the tenant sent us photos. The oven had been destroyed, the rubber lining was hanging out and the door was hanging off.  

Battle commenced! After arguing with the agent and tenant across time zones that this wasn’t normal wear and tear we reluctantly agreed to go 50:50 with the agent for the new oven.  The tenant didn’t answer the door at the first agreed delivery slot so I found myself waking up at 5am to micro-manage delivery.  I didn’t retire early so that I could set an alarm for 5am! 

Early 2020. Covid hit. Still zero offers on the apartment and viewings were illegal. Things were not looking promising.

We returned home to the UK and decided to check on our beautiful apartment in a kind of drive-by situation.  As we passed by I noticed there was aluminium foil on the windows.  Naively, I called the agent to ask him “what the heck is going on?” He told me he couldn’t get into the apartment to check due to the religious sensitivities of the tenant.  He didn’t know what was going on with the apartment.  I started to ask myself what I was paying him for.

One year later. 2021. Still no offers on the apartment. Our ineffective realtor didn’t seem to do anything, not even reply to calls. He changed his email address and company, we think covid sent him bankrupt.  Through a continuing calamity of situations, covid, no one buying apartments, everyone moving to the countryside and Brexit raging on noone wanted to buy a town centre apartment either to live in or as an investment.  

Eventually the tenant left the apartment and the agent called us and told us we had to fix the place up before we rented it out again.  The pictures were terrible, the tenant had destroyed the kitchen, the wall mounting had melted off and there was water damage throughout.  

You might have figured out what we were too naive to realise… the tenant had turned our 2 bedroom apartment into a weed farm.  The aluminium foil on the windows kept the place insulated and he used the oven to heat the room so the plants grew faster.  The moisture rich environment was great for the plants but destroyed our kitchen and fixture and fittings.  The agent said it was the cost of doing business and did nothing to help.

Our beloved home that we had lived in for 9 years was destroyed. 

Another year later. Early 2022. We finally got an offer through.  A cheeky, low ball offer based on the poor condition of the apartment. I went back and forth with Katie for a few days, unsure whether to accept the offer and be done with it or to fix the apartment ourselves and negotiate further. With heavy hearts, we realised we were done. We were ready to get the hell out of property ownership. Our haven, our home, our apartment had gone from being our dream home to becoming a mill around our nomadic necks. 

We had bought the apartment 11 years earlier for £167,650 and we sold it for £240,000.  Back of the envelope maths said we didn’t do too bad.  We had made £72,350 in 11 years.  We should be happy.  We should be celebrating. 

I didn’t feel like celebrating.  I couldn’t help wondering if we had really come out of this on top.  Would we have been better off renting? 

My mum always told me “Renting is throwing away money”  Well-meaning friends and family repeat “Property is the best investment you will ever make!” But is it really? It took 2 and a half years to sell that place. If we had rented a home we would have avoided all the stress of fixing toilets, HOAs and pop-up weed farms.  On emotion alone we would have been better off renting but what did the maths say?

Most people make their property decisions on emotion and expressions society teaches them and they never work out the maths.  It was time for us to truly understand the numbers and to math that shit up. My wife Katie immediately got an excel boner and went to work! I didn’t see her for 2 days. Every time I tried to talk to her she would mumble something like “mortgage interest rates”, “renting is throwing money away my ass” or “f&*king weed farm tenants”. Eventually she re-emerged from her spreadsheet orgy. She had an answer. 

Katie analysed 2 different scenarios.

Scenario 1 – Buy the apartment and overpay the mortgage

This is what we actually did. We saved up a deposit (British for down payment), bought the apartment and got on the property ladder. We felt like proper grownups.

A few years into owning our property, we were both earning good money. We hadn’t learned about index investing at that point and we didn’t know what to do with our savings. We had wisely avoided lifestyle inflation but the money was burning a hole in our pockets. 

We had been given “Automatic Millionaire” by Katie’s uncle Rich and the book explains how much interest you can save if you overpay your mortgage. So we said to ourselves “ok, we can do that” and we aggressively overpaid the mortgage for the next couple of years. 

The big question in scenario 1 is whether or not we actually made money owning that property for 11 years!  

We bought the apartment for £167,650 and we sold it for £240,000 11 years later. It looked like we’d made £72,350! We should have been doing a naked dance on the beach in Mexico but did we really make that much money after all the expenses of owning?

When people work out what they have made on a property they do simple and quick maths based on the headline numbers. They work out what they sold it for minus what they bought it for to give the profit. They conveniently forget about all of the other costs such as the interest on your mortgage which is like an open wound slowly going septic and bleeding you dry over the years.

There are various costs of owning a home that you don’t have when you rent. Katie was super excited (more excited than hanging out with me!) to work out how much we spent on the following:

  • mortgage interest and fees
  • building and HOA fees for the property
  • conveyancing costs (solicitors fees) when buying and selling the property
  • estate agent’s (realtor’s) fees 

Did we actually make £72,350 from that property? During her spreadsheet orgy Katie made a waterfall chart that shows the true cost of owning our property over the years and what profit was left for us at the end to celebrate with on the beach in Mexico. 

The chart shows what we thought the profit was on the left hand side and gradually, as you remove each of the costs, what the profit actually was on the right hand side.

When you take off all the different expenses of owning the property we were left with a profit of £9,713! Not to be sniffed at, but a far cry from the headline figure of £72,350!

When you work out how much you’ve made on your property do you look at the real cost or do you just look at the headline numbers? Would you still buy a property if you realised that you weren’t actually making much money by the end?

Now to the real question, would we have been better off renting? There are two sides to every decision in finance. There is the maths and then there is the emotion. Most people make their financial decisions based on emotion and then end up paying for it later. 

Scenario 2 – Rent and invest

What would the impact have been if we had rented the whole time? What if we’d taken the deposit for our apartment and the mortgage overpayments we made and invested it all instead? Would we have been better off financially?

We all just believe the sayings without ever running the numbers and doing the maths.  Do you just believe “Buy land, God’s not making any more of it!” or “Renting is throwing away your money”.  I believed it, it was what my Mum and Dad taught me to believe. 

Katie and I decided to test whether this was true with cold, hard maths. 

Drum roll please….

We would have made a profit of £31,140 in scenario 2

Rather than having £9,713 as we did in the first scenario, we would have had £31,140 (yes, this is after allowing for paying the rent over those years). 

We would have been over £21k better off if we had put our deposit and overpayments in the market and rented instead. Mum, I am sorry to say you got it wrong. Society got it wrong for our property in our location. 

Renting isn’t throwing away money. 

Owning a home was like taking £21,000 and flushing it all down the toilet!

You could look at it another way.  What did we buy for our extra £21,000?  We got the security of owning our own property. We got the pleasure of being a homebowner.  We got a 2 and a half year struggle to sell the place.  We got a pop-up weed farm (with none of the benefits) and a destroyed kitchen.

Would we have actually rented if we had known the numbers upfront? I don’t know! At the time we were so desperate to get out of parental accommodation and have our own place that we were obsessed and fixated on buying. I’m not sure that even Millennial Revolution could have persuaded us to rent.  

Now as a 45-year-old I’m packing my things into a DeLorean to go back and try to persuade younger me to rent instead of buy. We would have had more freedom, more adventure and been better off financially!

I want to be super clear on something.  We are not anti-property.  We are pro-maths.  Do the maths on your property and see what you are better off doing.  If it turns out that renting is better financially than buying then you can ask yourself “am I willing to pay extra to own a home?”  Do you think you will get potentially thousands of value from the perceived security of owning a home? Consciously make the call and then own that decision. 

Of course we know that this is what happened in our one specific set of scenarios in our one property in our one little town in England. Please don’t dismiss our point by saying it only applies to that one set of circumstances. Let me reiterate what the point is: do not blindly believe society’s common “wisdom” that buying is better than renting.

Throw out the old saying and start making decisions based on maths first and emotion second. Or as Kristy would say “Math that shit up!”

Alan & Katie learned a hard, but valuable lesson: Real estate ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially if you don’t MATH SHIT UP first!

Since we met, Alan & Katie have become FIRE celebrities in their own right, founding Rebel Finance School, a FREE online course where they teach those hard-earned lessons to a new generation of FIRE aficionados. Did I mention it’s FREE? ( (seriously people, you can’t afford not to take this course!)

And as you can see, they are also huge nerds, which just adds to why we love them!

Be sure to check them out at The Rebel Finance School! They are FI and want to give back by helping as many people as possible and we can vouch for the fact that they are two of the kindest, most selfless people we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing!

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21 thoughts on “UK Entrepreneurs Reject Real Estate, Go Full Nomad!”

  1. When talking about half million ish dollar amounts over a 10 year ish period 20k is kind of in the noise… I suspect that you could change the result to look positive or negative depending on which assumptions you consider. For instance paying 20k a year extra in rent drives up your income taxes. Was this included? Is rent inflation adjusted? Were the assumed rentals comparable to the purchased home, or merely hypothetical? Etc. Lots of similar factors to consider that can sway the result. Without sharing the details it’s hard to conclude anything from this analysis… I guess it would be nice to actually see the maths here rather than just hear about them.

    1. Love your name show me the Maths. We have a spreadsheet showing it all . In answer to your questions:

      1. Why does spending more drive up income taxes. Income tax is based on income not spending. Maybe it works differently where you are?
      2. yes we used comparable rents. We had a two bed room apartment and looked up comparable places to rent. We didn’t choose a really small place to make renting look better. We did the actual sums and research.
      3. Yes rent was inflation adjusted each year.

      The conclusion from the article was do the maths for your situation instead of assuming that renting is throwing away money. We laid out all the headline figures to keep the article simple and show the key points for our situation. Is the real thing you don’t trust we did the maths properly without seeing the spreadsheet?

      Have you done the maths for your situation?

      Thanks for asking questions. Happy to share the details. love that you comments.


      1. Good job including those factors. My underlying assumption for item ‘1’ was based on my FIRE pursuit over the years and in hindsight is based off the assumption that (like most people) you would not be maxing out ALL tax-advantaged (USA in my case) investment options (401k, IRAs, HSA, 401k employer matching, stock purchase programs, etc.) If you have high income and ARE maxing all these options then yes any extra expenses would already just be taxable income. If not, then you would be sacrificing those tax/other benefits in order to pay the rent (assuming rent cash outlay is higher than home ownership outlay). That said you could save your down payment and use that for the extra cash flow, so maybe this effect disappears or inverts… There is also opportunity cost on that potential added expense (which granted would also apply to a mortgage down payment, housing costs, etc.) So long story short is it’s complicated math with lots of factors to consider. This site is very biased against real estate, which is fine, as long as there is data to back it up. We have kids and own a house for lots of reasons so the housing question is not one I’m dealing with right now. The question comes up about rental units though… I am generally very averse to getting into landlording a separate rental unit. It sounds like a huge hassle… But then I have friends (seemingly) making a TON of money on rentals. Maybe this is just working full time plus building sweat-equity? Or maybe it’s a great investment? Hard to say. More data and a method for sifting through it would be beneficial for readers pondering the rent vs. own vs. landlording question.

  2. We bought our house 20 years ago in a fairly expensive locale in California. We were paying extra principal but when we refi’d to a very low fixed rate (US truly fixed!) it made more sense to put that extra into the market so we did. Our own experience with ownership has been good partly because we enjoy a good bit of DIY home projects. Now we’ve RE’d and are starting our see the world phase. We may rent the house out to close family if we end up more nomadic eventually or we could sell at that point as we live in a desirable market.

    Anyway, just wanted to point out that not all ownership experiences are negative and mess up your FIRE plan. Also for us there’s a soft benefit of owning in that we’ve been the main family gathering site for holidays and occasions since others in the family don’t own or are in smaller places. That part isn’t visible in the math but is important to making memories and enjoying life.

    1. Hey Tom, love your comments and you are so right. There are some amazing benefits to home ownership you are so right. There is an incredible benefit to having that gathering place and bringing the family together.

      We are just saying do the numbers and understand the costs. I think we are attacking the assumption that renting is always worse than buying and asking people to think about what they are doing.

      Fixed mortgage rates over the long term are AMAZING. The longest you can fix for in the UK is 5 years and that affected things massively.

      Congrats on fixing and investing instead and on getting to FIRE. Amazing work. Alan

      1. I think the takeaway for me was to decide on the house plan with the right balance of head vs. heart (for yourself/selves) and also the caveat that the future may mess up or help your plan, so just roll with it!

  3. Curious as to why they emerged from the spreadsheet orgy without hard numbers for maintenance and upkeep.

    Did they really not spend any money on maintenance and upkeep in those 11 years?

  4. Great story and sorry to hear about all the stress. 🙁 Glad you’re sharing this with the world and make more people aware of all the angles.

    I was on both sides of the renting deal in the past 7 years.

    As an owner, I was lucky to find great renters that never bothered me with anything – perhaps also because I never adjusted their rent for inflation. 🙂 It was definitely a positive experience.

    Money wise, I made like 35k$ collecting rent over the years. However, if I had sold that apartment and put it into SP500 or the local stock market I would have been up 100% 🙂 – so compared to that, I pretty much lost about $40k!!!

    As a renter, I love that there are no worries about stuff breaking or replacing… however, a little annoyance that when the place is not “yours”, you’re less likely to make it nice and invest money into it. Also the owner may be usually slow to replace or upgrade any old appliances. Different incentives.

    Another bonus to renting is you can leave fairly fast if you no longer like the place, you need a bigger/smaller place, etc. When you’re owning, as you mention, the investment is not so liquid.

    Of course, location is important, and your personal (And family) situation matters – there’s not a single best solution… everybody needs to do their own math.

  5. Hi Alan & Katie, I am so sorry for your bad experience with home ownership. I started renting at the age of 17 and I could only afford sharing accommodation and hated it. I bought my 1st house at age 24, after graduating as a nurse and earning $19/hr. I did it up, with separate accommodation for me and rented out the rest of the place. My flatmates rent covered all the expenses of the house so I only spent on yearly maintenance and my own groceries and personal expenses. I saved 75% of my income versus 40% if I rented in 2009. I bought 2 more properties needing work using the equity on my 1st house and did them up and rented them out using an agent with good reviews. In 2013 I moved to a bigger city for better work opportunities and put my house on rent as well with the agent. I rented from 2013-2019 in various rental places. 2018 I needed 3 surgeries and did not work for 9 months and decided to sell all my properties. My agent had been great doing 3 monthly in person checks on all properties and sending me pictures by email. Some maintenance or replacements incl an oven but all done by his repair people with my approval. Here are some numbers House 1 (2009-2018) bought $170,000, reno $30,000, rental income after exps incl maintenance 2009-2012 – $0, 2013-2018 – $15,862/yr, sold $355,000. House 2 (2011 -2018), bought $80,000, reno $5000, rental income after exps $5200/yr, sold $165,000. House 3 (2012-2018), bought $100,000, reno $10,000, rental income after exps $10,800/yr, sold $200,000. I was putting my savings from my income in CDs as post GFC I did not trust shares, but I also did not understand it. My savings in 2018 was around $100,000 (I lost a lot of money lending to untrustworthy friends and family) and after paying taxes, mortgage n selling agent, House 1 profit $80,000, House 2 $95,000, House 3 $125,000. Between 2009-2018 mortgage rates in NZ averaged 7% and CDs averaged 4%. If I had invested all my savings after rent in CDs, in 2018 I would have $170,000 (after lending to family/friends) and $70,000 after 2018 medical bills. In 2018 I found Millenium Revolution and learnt about FIRE and shares and bonds (Thank you Kristy and Bryce) and started investing in ETFs. But I missed doing up houses and the extra income so I invested $150,000 and bought another house in 2019 and rented out the extra rooms in the house. Eventually I built an extra 2 bedroom unit in the back and moved in there and the rent from the main house covers all my expenses. I work less now due to a heart condition, but still save 90% of my income. I have enjoyed my journey and will retire in 3.5yrs, my house has doubled in value and will return me a cool $600,000 if I sell it today vs my ETF incl initial $150,000 plus savings is $405,000 today. Owning houses actually worked out better for me with the information I had then and my risk tolerance.

  6. Alan and Katie, I’m so sorry you had to go through all that crap. I guess we could all say it was unnecessary however how you’ve climbed back out of it and the learnings you both got from it make you what you are now. I still wish you hadn’t had to deal with such a trashy situation though.

    All our assets are invested in ETFs. I’m really happy with that. I flushed my home back in 2017. I never considered taking a renter. It scared the living crap thinking what someone could do to the place. I had zero guts to risk it. Ultimately, it worked out well even though it took 6 months at the time to sell it. At this point, we AirBnB here, there and everywhere. Doing a long term rental could work too as AirBnB is getting more expensive and the quality of the places offered by hosts is getting worse over time. At the same time, guests are rating everything 5* when they don’t deserve it which throws off looking at reviews to judge a short term rental you’ve never set foot in but have paid upfront for. We do still have flexibility as our ETF portfolios have grown and our 4% withdrawal is significant enough to absorb the extra costs. Phew!

    Overall, I think you both are on a really good path and you’ve learned from your experiences so there’s nowhere to go but up from here. Wishing you both all the best!

  7. I’ll accept the facts and conclusions of Alan and Katie but I’d suggest that treating housing as an acceptable short term investment is the issue. Much like index investing doesn’t necessarily do well in short term periods.

    A $200,000 home purchased in 1999 and sold in 2011 for $267,000 shows (like your case) only modest gain. A $200,000 home purchased in 2011 and sold in 2023 for $292,000 shows a pretty solid gain. 1999 was a housing peak and 2011 was during a housing crash. That home purchased in 1999 was worth $390,000 in 2023, a near doubling in value.

    In the USA, most homes are bought with leverage 70% or 80% debt and a fixed rate of interest for the 20 or 30 repayment period. That means an initial investment of $40,000 might have become about 10x in 2023. I realize it is more complicated than that but after the initial purchase expense, most homeowners look at housing cost as a rent analog.

    (source: )

    For most homeowners in the USA, home ownership provides a long term investment opportunity and stable housing costs. Index investing is a lot like housing, it works well long term but has inherent risks short term. And that might be the real lesson.

    I’m also USA centric and it appears conditions in the UK might make shorter term home / rental investing more difficult. I have at least a hundred personally known experiences of family members, friends and business acquaintances who have owned homes for multiple decades and none have less than 100% appreciation. Most have much more. My 25 year old Florida home is 6x. I’ve also a fairly active investor in apartment complex participations (usually 200 to 400 units). In the southern USA, near term rent inflation has been extraordinary as much as 50% in some complexes since 2020. Over the 40 years I’ve been investing, annual inflation is usually around 4% to 6%.

    In the USA, owned housing costs can be incredibly stable over long periods of time. Rents are only stable in urban areas in decline or in a few cities with rent control. Most people in the USA are geographically stable with only one or two home purchases in a 60 year adult lifetime. I get that some are frequently transferred executives or world wanderers but most are not.

    Again, your experience is real but may not predictive of more than short term real estate performance in a specific time of uncertainty in a suspect economic environment. I’d be very interested in knowing what the financial analysis might have looked like had the apartment not been trashed and the home sold in good condition (there might be comparables in public records).

  8. Once upon a time, people bought a house to live in. Now people buy a house, even a house they have no intention of renting out, as an investment. IMHO, that is the problem.

    I prefer owning my home because (a) I don’t want to be renovicted and (b) I can make changes to the home that suit me. The downside is a reduction in flexibility, but for me personally, the trade-off is worth it.

    However, I don’t confuse my home with my investments and I do not count my residence as part of my net worth. A conservative view that is not shared in the investment / FIRE community but then I’m FIRE’d. Are you?

  9. I think it depends on personal preferences. Personally, I prefer owning my house especially with a family and moving around like a nomad has no attractions to me after age 30. Some people may like moving around better because there is always something new and interesting. As long as each person could justify their lifestyles with financial senses, there is really no one better than the other. Some people may rather pay a Morgage and work (as long as it is tolerable) than travel around the world full time. Also not all types of work could be done remotely. So only a certain group of people could live a nomadic life and still replenish their income if necessary. If you find your lifestyle that you enjoy, there is no need to justify it to others and get into the debate of rent vs. buy blablabla.

  10. I am from the United States of America, where we are into rights and freedoms such as religious freedom. But damn, The First Church of Indoor Marijuana Farming? With restrictions on unbelievers looking into the sanctuary? I wonder how that would work out in US courts.

    Dan V
    Taipei, Taiwan
    PS: I rent cheaply–very cheaply–but none of my freelance work involves weed!!!!!!! WOW!

  11. This is such a Deja vu scenario. Our experience was very similar to yours. Trying to manage a rental when abroad and weed farming ( it was a flat in London) struggling to sell due to the mold and weed smell permeating throughout the house, crappy realtor and unable to access the flat, missed rents despite having a management company.. the list could go on.

  12. For us, renting is too risky because we need a lot of workspace for making art and furniture. We’ve seen friends get booted from their rentals because the owner decided to sell or rent to a family member.

  13. Thank you Katie and Alan for you generous offer in the free, looks like amazing course ! I signed up and urge my brothers as well.

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