Ages: Mary-Kate is 49, Mike is 51. They have three children: Rowan, 13; Sikhona, 11; and River, 9.
Occupations: In 2013, both left well-paying, high-stress “dream jobs” — she as a consultant, he as an outdoor-education teacher — to pursue careers closer to home and more aligned with their values. Mary-Kate is pursuing a PhD at the University of Guelph. She’s also an independent consultant and part owner of Anwaatin Inc., which works with Indigenous communities to facilitate wealth creation through climate-change action. With Mike, she’s a co-founder of Two Sisters River. The company, named for their kids, is an umbrella organization for their ventures, including the rental properties Mike manages.
Earnings: Net rental income is roughly $50,000 per year. Mary-Kate’s consulting income and academic grants are approximately $50,000 per year.
Assets and liabilities: A family home and a rental home next door to it in Guelph, assessed at $950,000 and $900,000, respectively; a six-unit apartment building across the street, assessed at $1.3 million; and a rental property near Georgian Bay, Ont., assessed at $700,000. Mike’s teaching pension, available in 2024, will pay $17,839 annually. Mortgages and private loans on all residential and rental properties: roughly $1.8 million; car loan: $35,000; student loans: $40,000.
From corporate to community
When we quit our jobs, we set out to create a local, sustainable, community-focused lifestyle that would also generate income. We owned a six-plex apartment building across the street from our house. Our vision was to transform the units into beautiful, affordable places to live that were also environmentally sustainable. And the idea was that the rental income would pay down the mortgages and, eventually — as long as we didn’t keep refinancing — we’d own the properties outright and the profit would come to us as retirement income. But the reality is that we’ll keep refinancing because there’s always another project.
A startup mentality
We’ve never bought a property or undertaken a project where we actually had the money in hand or knew how we’d be able to afford it. We’ve always had to be really creative. For example, we wanted to put solar panels on the six-plex, and at the same time replace and re-insulate the roof. We refinanced the building, which paid for the roof. And then we announced to our community that we were looking for investors in solar energy. We raised about $55,000 and structured the investments as community loans with a 6% return, negotiated the terms with each investor and used LawDepot.ca to create the agreements.
When we got the funds, we purchased the panels and connected them, and now we sell extra energy back to the grid — which pays down the loan. At this point, we’ve paid back two of our three original investors. The idea was that the roof and the panels would pay for themselves. And they did.
Vision-aligned financial advice
The advice we’ve gotten from financial advisors has always been very mutual fund–based. We couldn’t find investments that matched our values. We want to invest locally, and the advisors we talked to weren’t prepared to help us plan for that, or to help us set up real-estate investments. We want someone who can understand our vision and then work with us to give a step-by-step plan: How do we do our taxes each year in service of our goals? If we need to refinance, what has to be in place for that refinance to be successful? If we want to put out an offering to our community for a shared investment or community bond, should we be structured as a non-profit? What could shared ownership look like?
We wanted financial and investing advice but we couldn’t find it, so we figured it out for ourselves and bought the building as a way to build our community.
We have a ton of equity in these buildings, but we can’t access it most of the time because we don’t check all the boxes. It would be great to have a financial advisor who could be an advocate for us in these areas.