Our Latest Real Estate Investment: 7 Acres of Lakefront

We thought we had a good plan. Work another year or two, minimize our belongings, downsize to our 700-square foot cabin as a home base, and travel extensively for a few years.

It was a good plan, actually. It still could be. But one great opportunity has us thinking a bit differently.

Our Latest Real Estate Investment: 7 Acres of Lakefront


Not long ago, we closed on ten lots, including 4 waterfront lots with 560 feet of frontage with a total of nearly 7 acres on a recreational lake Up North. A month ago, we weren’t in the market for lakefront property or any type of real estate.

How did this happen? The new property is about 75 minutes away from our current second home, but closer to my wife’s hometown, and very close to a property where my wife’s family spends nearly every summer weekend. To be exact, our property is 2 miles by lake or 4 miles by car from the family lake lot.

We weren’t actively looking for property, but with the frequent trips from our lake place to the family lake place, I couldn’t help but notice the “For Sale” signs along the lake. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I hopped on Zillow to see how much owners wanted for property on this lake.

We already had our own uber-low maintenance place on a very nice lake, but most weekends, we would ditch it to be with family, sleeping in various spare bedrooms to avoid making the nearly three-hour roundtrip daily. Every weekend, packing up a subset of the stuff we have at our cabin, which is already a subset of what we own, it’s tough to know what you have and where you have it, and wouldn’t it be nice if we had a place of our own just down the road?


Looking at Waterfront Property


So I found one property that sounded too good to be true. 4.6 acres with 100+ feet of shoreline for just under $100,000. That’s a lot of property at a great price. I saved it to my favorites, and we even tried to find the actual property on our own, but there was no realty sign on the road.

A few days later, we decided we should try to schedule a showing to see if it really was too good to be true.

We hopped online, did our waterfront search, and found a couple more properties that piqued our interest. One was an old resort with several outbuildings and more than an acre, and the other was this 7-acre property with a ton of frontage.


Waterfront Lots


On a Tuesday, we contacted the listed realtor to see about viewing these three properties. The old resort was now under contract. The 7-acre property, which had only been on the market four days, had already had several showings, and the 4.6 acre lot was available, so we made plans to see the latter two that Friday.


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On Thursday, we heard from the realtor. There was an offer on the 7-acre property and if we wanted an opportunity to make an offer, we would have to move up our viewing to Friday morning. The seller would be responding to the offer Friday afternoon.


Making an Offer on Our Waterfront Property


The 4.6 acre lot was shaped like a 12-inch ruler, sandwiched between two really long driveways with a power line running diagonally through it. The woods would have been great if the property was more square-shaped, but with a really skinny rectangle, there wasn’t much we could do with it, other than cut in our own ridiculously long driveway.

The 7 acre property, on the other hand, was roughly square shaped, or at least trapezoidal. Four waterfront lots are separated by a township road (free plowing!) and the back lots have room for trails, tree forts, campsites… you name it. It’s got a creek with small fish and minnows and one large angry-looking snapping turtle when we were there.dynamite creek

The other thing we really liked about the property was the price. This frugal physician loves a bargain, and this property was priced surprisingly low. On our current lake, waterfront lots go for $2,000 to $3,000 a foot. On this lake, in a less glamorous part of the state, a quality lot could be had for $700 to $1,000 a foot.

The listing had been live for eight days when we viewed the property. The asking price was $175,000. When my eight-year old son asked how much the other people were willing to pay, we gasped, but the realtor responded with something along the lines of “solid, but beatable.”

We offered $170,000.



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The Waiting is the Hardest Part


Unlike Jim Collins, who had to wait on pins and needles for days when he made an offer on his “new” upper midwest lakefront property, we only had to wait a few hours.

A fair amount of the property, particularly portions near the lake, are low land full of cedar and spruce trees. It’s not swampy, but we had a contingency put in place to have a wetlands determination to ensure it was buildable land prior to closing.


cedar stump
gnarly stump, dude


We made our offer early afternoon, and received a call from the realtor mid-afternoon. The seller was going to counteroffer the other interested party unless we were willing to remove the contingency.


I had walked the property a second time that day with a relative who is familiar with where you typically can and cannot build. The property has lake homes on either side where the builders had obviously cleared and filled similar land. In fact, our property has an existing (albeit decrepit) structure on one lot, and a small log-sided shed or tiny house on another, and some filling and clearing had already been done.


Waterfront cabin
a cabin that would benefit from a FIRE


Feeling confident enough that we would likely be able to build on any lot, or at least on the two with existing structures at a minimum, we removed the contingency.

My wife suggested that we drop our offer by $2,000 since we were no longer getting the wetland determination done. I hesitated, not wanting to lose this place over a couple grand, but she did have a point — the seller was going to split the cost and now the burden and risk would be on us.

We lowered our offer to $168,000. I started feeling uneasy. Tom Petty was right; the waiting is the hardest part. How were we feeling at that point? To quote Jim Collins, who found himself in a similar situation:


“We’ll be disappointed if we don’t get it and horrified if we do.”


My better half saved us $2,000. Our offer was accepted.


Financing our New Lakefront Property


I haven’t carried any debt for nearly two years now, having decided to be debt free by forty. I saw no reason for this property to change that.

I dug deep into my pockets and came up with 37 cents and some pocket lint. I had to dig deeper.

I don’t believe in a large emergency fund, but between what I had in savings and a couple upcoming paychecks, I could cover about $50,000 of it.


evinrude sport 16
did i mention it comes with a boat?


I needed another $118,000.

For a couple years, I’ve been saving and scanning health care receipts, with the intent of growing my HSA balance and cashing in someday down the road. I have found the process tedious, cumbersome, and slightly risky if I were to lose the receipts and the digitized backups. I cashed out the receipts for about $7,000.


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The rest would come from selling some funds in our taxable account. Usually when I sell, I’m exchanging directly into a similar but not substantially identical fund. We call that tax loss harvesting, and I was able to do that to the tune of $46,000 in paper losses in 2016.

To decide which lots to sell, I essentially did the same exercise I do when I decide which lots to donate, but instead of looking for the biggest percentage gains, I looked for the smallest.

Here’s what that looked like, looking at this year’s taxable investments. I have been plowing money in because a) our expenses have been quite low this year, and b) I got a healthy tax refund after donating $100,000 last year.


Sell Don't Sell


Selling seven lots dating back to March of this year (be sure to use Specific ID as your cost basis in a taxable account), I came up with $116,000, taking $3,660 in short-term capital gains. Of course, I won’t owe anything, but will simply use up a little less than 10% of my carryover losses from last year’s tax loss harvesting efforts.


Taking Ownership of our Lakefront Property


It’s ours now. There’s no turning back. We went through the cabin’s dresser drawers and cabinets, looking for anything worth saving. We didn’t find much. I did set aside a few tools, a Sony PS2 with a few games, a campy 1970’s polyester shirt, and some funky drinking glasses.

We left behind mountains of clothing, dishes, half-empty whiskey and gin bottles, a few nudie magazines, and random knick knacks.


waterfront cabin interior
that’s a combo 8-track / record player


We arranged for the Habitat for Humanity Restore to come and clear out all the appliances and furniture, and anything else worth salvaging. They came last Friday, and as of Monday afternoon, that red velvet sofa (and matching chair and coffee tables) have sold! Eventually, the cabin and the falling down garage next to it will be coming down.



We’ve only just begun spending money on this property, I’m afraid. Next steps include:

  • Determining where we will be allowed to build, and choosing a spot
  • Coming up with a design and floor plan
  • Clearing and filling to raise the land to be suitable to build and start a lawn
  • Finding a spot for a tree fort
  • Septic tank and drainfield
  • Drilling a well
  • Building a tree fort!
  • Building a home!!!


We are lucky to have family in the area, and they are excited to help us in all of the above steps. They happen to have a family business that deals with home consruction, and know all the trustworthy contractors, plumbers, electricians and more who do quality work. Most likely, many of the people who work on our next project will be the same people who built us our first home ten years ago. This time, we plan to build a not so big house.



The New Plan


We’ll probably start building next spring and will have our new home ready to be lived in late fall. I’m a fan of mid century modern design, and I’ve sketched out one idea for a home. The larger side (~1,300 sq. ft.) will be for my family, with the smaller side (~700 sq. ft.) as an apartment for friends, family, and perhaps AirBNB guests ($40 off for you). We’ll have a door or doors that connect the two that can be opened to combine the two places as one.

I’ve also sketched out a smaller version that would be 2/3 the size, but without the attached apartment, but here’s the larger version.





We still plan to make this new place our primary home base for awhile, traveling extensively with our boys for several years. We’ll be selling off one of our best investments and our primary home once I am retired from clinical medicine.


picking wild raspberries
the boys picking wild raspberries on our new property


The new place will of course cost more than the cabin that was going to be part of our original plan, but it will offer us significant advantages.

  • It will be larger. We will still have to downsize, but not so drastically.
  • We can easily use it year round. The old place has to be drained and winterized, and is not well insulated.
  • No more condo association. No more association rules or dues!
  • We can rent out one or both sides when we’re not using them. We have enjoyed being AirBNB guests around the world, and I think we’d make good hosts.
  • We will be closer to my wife’s family, and can sleep in our own beds all summer long.
  • Room for guests. Our friends and relatives can have their own adjacent space when they visit. Friends and family have stayed at our cabin, but only when we’re not there.
  • Room to roam. We’ll build on a half-acre, leaving more than six acres to do as we wish. I’ve had a few fun ideas, but we’ll focus on getting a nice structure up on the first half acre before making too many plans.


There are a few takeaways from our recent impulse buy.

  1. Don’t be too rigid with plans; anticipate changes and roll with them.
  2. Keep your eyes open. If we hadn’t gotten curious and taken the time to investigate, this opportunity would have quickly passed us by.
  3. A taxable account is great ready cash, and prior tax loss harvesting can make accessing it painless.
  4. Family matters. We’ve moved around a bit, but our most recent move and our next one both put us very close to family.



2019 Update:


We came very close to starting to build on two of the waterfront lots. We had the permits, the custom house plan, and the money to pay for it. Admittedly, the cost to build was significantly higher than we had anticipated.

We compared what we would have to spend to build what we thought we wanted to the cost of existing homes on the lake and in the area. The difference was striking, and we axed the plans to build.

Our plans for the next several years include extensive travel, spending most of our summers in northern Michigan, but most of the year away from home. We decided this was not the time to build our next dream home; we don’t even know where we’ll want to be in four years when our older son starts high school.

We’re hanging on to one of the waterfront lots and two of the back lots and the others are for sale. If we get anything close to our asking price, we’ll profit handsomely.

As for our living situation, we fell in love with a $90,000 mid-century house in town. We’ve moved into it and will split time between it and our little second home on the lake.

It’s not what we expected to end up with, but we’re happy with this arrangement. It’s important to remain flexible!


[Update 10/12/2019: Yesterday, we sold one of the four waterfront lots with two back lots for a purchase price of $80,000. That’s nearly half of our original purchase price for 1/4 of the land. Although we’re not using the property as we thought we might, we have no regrets.]


100 thoughts on “Our Latest Real Estate Investment: 7 Acres of Lakefront”

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  2. Just stumbled across this. It kind of made me laugh. So we are now calling a large impulse purchase – flexibility. Ummm……ok.
    And we are considering it a great investment because you think it is cheap. Hmmmm.
    I’m sure it will work out fine for you, but I don’t think there are any takeaway lessons for your readers, except the ones that are already FI.
    And your RE does seem to be getting pushed further and further away.

    • I’m happy to give you a good laugh, Bob.

      There is some risk involved, but I am confident it will prove to have been a solid investment in time. They’re not making any more lakeshore.

      One lesson is not to have all your money tied up in retirement accounts. Access to liquid funds in a taxable account can come in handy in a situation like this.

      As for the retirement date, we’ve been FI for a couple years now and I plan to work part time for a couple more. As long as we don’t build a million-dollar estate on the property, we should be in great shape.


    • Thank you for the read. I love that idea about taxable account. I’ve been debating about opening one for exactly the liquidity of it. Would you recommend not maxing out the 401K and instead just contribute to the match and the rest to taxable acct? I struggle with this. I’m so jealous of the price you paid for the 7 acres. Was this also in Michigan? And good luck on your future endeavors. Can’t wait to see pics of the finished home!

  3. This is a great story and having the cash on hand is motivating to get FI. As usual, well explained and transparent.

    One question though. If you had bonds in taxable, would you have sold those instead of the stocks? Probably less short term gains given the rising fed reserve rates recently and less likely to rise high if the market goes up so feel less loss aversion if it does. As my financial idol Billy Bernstein says, treasuries (and munis) are great dry powder to buy the lot you neighbor needs to firesale to cover her margin calls : )

  4. We are “thinking” about island property in the future, but we still have a lot of research to do before we go that route. Did you feel comfortable taking the plunge because you’d already bought that type of property before (septic, rural)?

    Coming from someone who works in construction, having existing homes is key if you’re worried about wetlands. At minimum, you should be able to build on the current footprint of the structure.

    • I’ve had a septic system before, and we had a well growing up, too. We’re going to be sure to leave the structures up until we have our permits and permissions to do what we hope to do.

      Island living can be next level challenging, depending on the size of the island and the amenities or lack thereof. A family friend of ours has a private island about the size of our new property. He’s mastered harnessing solar, running generators, and dealing with the weeks in the late fall and spring where the thin ice makes travel impermissible.


      • The island has car ferry access and all basic amenities year round, so it’s more just a rural small town that you just can’t get off without a boat or plane 🙂

  5. Lakefront living is the best.

    My parents are 80+, just sold the 30 year home (1/4 acre) this month for 1mm+ (being near a big city helps a lot.) and moved off the lake after 55 years.

    Home will be bulldozed shortly and a new one built, but the memories live forever.

    At 50+, I can state with confidence you are making quality memories that you kids will reflect upon for their entire lives. Great move!


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  7. I can confirm what you already know. Your wife is smart! Looks like closing the deal was more important than the cash, which was good for you. Sounds like a great place for you to enjoy. Assuming the land percs? I currently have well and septic. There are pluses and minuses but overall, I’m a fan.

    • Yes. Yes, she is.

      The land should perc once it’s raised. All the neighbors have had to do some clearing and filling prior to placing their septic fields, and it will have to be a raised field with a lift pump. I hope to have most of these issues resolved this fall yet.


  8. Great buy doc! I used to dream about owning lakefront property but never could, thanks to my peripatetic career. Now that you have such a beautiful waterfront, can I bum a week or two as a vacation stay there? I promise to write articles for free for your website or maybe more enticingly, make and serve you one of my famous curry dishes. Please…pretty please ?

  9. Ironically last week I wrote a piece talking about how I can afford to buy a similar property in Maine.(not posted yet) Haven’t found the “perfect” one yet, but its probably in our future based on family traditions. Sometimes you just have to do what fits.

  10. Curiosity served you well!

    Thanks for sharing the tax loss harvesting – it’s always been in the back of my mind but I hadn’t considered how to best exercise it to our benefit since our taxable account isn’t big enough to bother with it yet. This gives me a great outline to think ahead for when it is.

    I hope you love the building process! We have been going through a massive renovation that I wish we had the time to actually enjoy because it could have been fun building our own place, but time constraints made it otherwise.

    • We built our first home, and it went really well, actually. We knew we had a builder and subs we could trust, which was huge, and my wife actually let me pick out more or less everything. She had veto power, but I don’t recall her ever using it.


  11. Solid plan, great project to dive into when 60% workload goes to 0%. I’ve had a similar fantasy of downsizing to a smaller home or townhouse in our area once we are empty nesters, with accommodations that could be rented out as we slow travel. Unlike your land o’ lakes, California beach towns are imposing far more restrictions on airbnb-style short-term rentals, which (among other considerations) keeps this mostly at the fantasy level.

    Look forward to hearing about this newest adventure. Taking vicarious pleasure in your victories, small and large!

    • Yeah, this place is out in the boonies. Not in a town, but there is a township that controls some of what we can and can’t do. AirBNB is definitely allowed though. Between VRBO and AirBNB, there are numerous places available on the lake.


  12. Congrats on the purchase, and getting it for a great price! Looking forward to seeing more posts on this as you get started with the build.

  13. Looks like a nice deal. I look forward to learning more about your lake front property. I find lake front property fascinating as I’ve never lived in one not to mention building one.

  14. This is a good demonstration of a key attribute to succeeding at early retirement – flexibility. Congratulations on your purchase! And I could not agree more with ‘family matters’ – that is the reason our early retirement plans are likely to take us halfway around the world!

  15. Nice lakefront property! Congrats, I bet you’re excited for what comes next!

    Lakefront property must be a new FIRE blogger trend that I’m missing out on.

    Around here, there are plenty of lake front properties… but they all go for multi-millions. Probably not my style.

  16. Congrats–your sketch looks awesome. Do you plan to build with cash or take out a construction loan? My husband and I are planning an extensive renovation to our home–also planning to build a separate living space for guests or potential AirBnB rental on the property, in addition to other changes–we are paying cash and have about 75% on hand but will need to take the rest out of our taxable accounts. We have plenty in those accounts but have never sold any of them for anything, have done some basic rebalancing but have (stupidly) never done any tax loss harvesting. If you have any advice on how to decide what to sell I would be very appreciative!

    • If you can cover it with some from taxable, that may be better than the rigmarole associated with taking out a construction loan.

      If you’ve never done any tax loss harvesting, then you want to sell stocks / funds you purchased more than a year ago (or any lots that have a loss regardless of purchase date).

      You can make a simple spreadsheet like I did to determine which lots have the lowest percent gain. Those are the ones to sell. Once your “sell” list adds up to the cash you need, go ahead and sell. The money will be deposited in your designated checking or savings account within a few days.

      Be sure to follow up and ensure that the lots you designated to sell are indeed those which your broker identified. Vanguard somehow goofed mine up and did FIFO on most of mine, but I saw the error and they were able to reassign the sold lots and get the capital gains right.

      I hope that makes sense.


  17. Everyone is telling you congrats like you just had another child! 🙂

    I think this is awesome. We rent a lakefront cabin for a week a year for a family vacation with the in-laws. Maybe I can convince my in-laws to buy one instead.

    • I’ve been a boat owner longer than I’ve been a father. It’s no wakesurfing boat, but I picked up a nice little 16-footer with cushy seats and a 90-HP outboard motor the day before we had our first son. Just put it away for the year the other day.


  18. Kind of classic example of why so few docs RE even when they’re FI. There is stuff they can spend money on that actually makes them happier and their job isn’t that bad.

    At any rate, must be fun to buy real estate for cash. Have fun with the treehouse. That sounds like the best part.

    • I was thinking the same as I read this update. My impression is that PoF has the FI part figured out, but I do not think he will RE based on this action (and future plans regarding new construction). Any complaints about career will be considered with a skeptical view–he is not desperate enough to RE. But nice buy–gratz!

    • MMM has far more skills than I do. My Dad could do a lot of the work himself, but I don’t have the skills, the tools, the knowledge, or the patience. Currently short on time, too, but at least that’s about to change.

      The tree fort I think I could pull off, though.


  19. How great that you were able to take advantage of such a stellar piece of property! And paid for in cash. Sounds like it’ll be a much nicer setup than your cabin. And your design for the house is beautiful!!!

  20. Congrats PoF. So will you be selling the old cabin sooner than later or will you keep it until the new place is built. Your design is what I imagine in a home for us. 1 level with lots of windows looking out onto the landscape. Awesome.

    • Thanks, Triple D!

      Our current thinking is to furnish the new place with furniture from our current homes, so we may very well keep what we’ve got until the FIRE place is nearing completion, or at least far enough along that we could store things in the garage or the loft above it.


  21. Congratulations on your new adventure! Wishing you many years of FIRE in the new place. I guess there are enough people here to rent it that it’ll pay for itself soon.

    • Thanks, MSF!

      On one hand, it might be nice to work a bit longer to finance the build largely from cashflow / savings that starts now. On the other hand, once it’s built, we may get the itch to move in permanently ASAP.

      If we know this winter that I will be working another year, we might want to consider delaying the build for a year, as well. I’ll keep you posted.


  22. Fantastic! Whether it is a lake home or mountainhome, a home that allows your kids to experience the great outdoors is a blessing. They will thank you for this experience one day.

    I am sure your part time gig will allow you the necessary time to throw yourself into the plans for building and navigating the various regulations that invariably come with land purchase.

    Having lots of windows is a must for a home on a lake or in the mountains. We did not fully appreciate how much we would love streaming light in our family room and dining room next to our deck. An expansive lake view or valley view on a crisp morning in the fall is priceless.

    • True, and not all lakefront is created equal. You can have sand or muck in front. Clear water or lily pads. Grassy shore or marshy.

      We’ve got a non-mucky, kinda sandy bottom, no weeds, and crystal clear water thanks to the otherwise no-good zebra mussels.


  23. Your new property looks amazing. Keep us posted as you build. It will be great to watch as your dreams become reality.

    With the costs of developing a new property, do you think you will stay working part time longer and delay your full retirement?

    • Thanks, Neuro-doc.

      You ask an excellent question. At this point, we’re done saving for retirement, but every month I remain employed can pay for about 100 square feet of the new build. But… we can also pay for it fully by selling our current primary and second home. Or we could sell one or more of the 100-foot waterfront lots, but I’m in no hurry to do so.

      Most likely, it will depend more on the needs of the hospital and who is hired to take my spot and their availalability. I’m currently planning on working into next fall and quite possibly beyond.


  24. Congrats! Takeaway #4, Family Matters, is a big one. This sounds like a great improvement from your current situation, and should allow you more time to spend on the important things in life.

    Perhaps you could use some of the land to make Camp PoF where long time readers could visit to camp and enjoy lake living…

  25. My greatest memories of my childhood were riding dirt bikes with my father at my grandmothers lake house. Untangeable benefits in the joy your kids will experience. Extremely dangerous but extremely fun. I think a lake house is a great place for family time, especially if you keep it as a crappy shack with little to no technology.

    • Sounds like good fun, and dirt bikes are good business for your friendly orthopedic surgeon and anesthesiologist. We took care of a fractured patella courtesy of a dirtbike vs. tree showdown the other night.

      Our current cabin has no television, but we do have internet. Tough to live without it for weeks at a time.


  26. Awesome write-up! Sounds like you’ve got a good investment on your hands. I appreciate your ability to be nimble and adjust paths when something better comes along. If you structure things correctly, that Airbnb side of your home could really take care of a lot of you costs. Best of luck!

  27. Awesome! After packing up and going to cabins a few weekends this summer I am trying to think of ways to make it easier so I understand the urge to have your own space and not traveling

    Let me know when you find all the hot spots out there!

    • Thanks, Johanna!

      I itemized and came up with about $2,000 resale value for the goods that were hauled away. There was some decent stuff, but not our style, and we had nowhere to store it, anyway.


  28. This is awesome. It sounds like the new property will meet your needs better than your other great lake property. I love that you did the research and then acted quickly. You learn a ton (about what you want and don’t want) by looking at properties. And you can always wait to make an offer if you aren’t sure. Great idea for the separate living space in the new house! Lots of options!

    • Thanks, Vicki!

      When we originally bought the other lake place, we lived and worked fewer than ten miles away. We could boat from our house to the cabin. Or ride bikes.

      Two months after we bought it, I lost my job and the hospital declared bankruptcy and closed six months later. It made a lot of sense to have that place back then, but it’s making less and less sense lately as our ties to the community are not so strong.

      Should I put you guys on the list below Gwen?


  29. You will be happy with the purchase over time. I too have lake property. We have 5 acres with a one bedroom 1500 square foot house. The property next to us is for sale at $2500 per foot. Your sketch looks like lots of windows which are essential. I would also recommend a large deck! Our lake was built by TVA by damming the river. They have lots of rules on boathouses etc. One rule is on any lot you can only have one kitchen. I guess to prevent subdivision. I don’t know if this applies to you. It sounds like you are buying several lots so you can have as many kitchens as you want. If you clear off the whole property then you have to mow it. My husband likes the golf course look so we pay a guy quite a lot during the warm weather to take care of it. I do lots of my comments to this blog sitting on my deck, looking at the lake, and occasionally sipping on a craft beer. Cheers.

    • That sounds lovely. 1500 sq. ft. is more than adequate for a couple. Less to clean, maintain, etc…

      With ten lots, we could conceivably have up to 10 kitchens, but we have no interest in cleaning 10 kitchens! I’m not sure about boathouses. I may have to look into that one.


  30. Good for you, PoF! Looks like an awesome place to create a home that fits your needs and also a place to create great memories for you and the family.

    I also appreciate the link back to your tax loss harvesting article – very helpful!

    • Thanks, TGE!

      We’re excited if not a little anxious with all that this next venture entails.

      The Brexit post touches on TLH, but I really do need to create a more definitive post on the subject. It’s simple once you grasp the concept, but there are many nuances and potential pitfalls.



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