Decatur By The Numbers

Loading my truck and cargo trailer aboard Island Transporter. Taking them over to Decatur Island.

Loading my truck and cargo trailer aboard Island Transporter. Taking them over to Decatur Island.

I reached a fork in the road this winter where I realized I needed a bigger boat or I needed to focus on getting a piece of property to complement the boat I have. I chose the latter, and in the synchronistic way of the universe, I am now the owner of a half-acre lot on Decatur Island.

Now that the dust has settled, I feel I can share the financial reality that made it possible. I am trying to live a life of true wealth, and a big part of that lifestyle revolves around a careful balance between money and quality of life. I try to live by example, and that’s why I feel it’s important to share the financial side of things.

The first thing I feel I should admit is that my parents supplied $10,000 to help me with the down payment on the property. They knew that living in the San Juan Islands has been a lifelong dream of mine. Thanks to my influence, they’ve been boating up here a lot more and also liked the idea of land and a mooring ball in the summer. This property came with rights for a mooring ball permit. Between that and a desire to see their son succeed, they decided to help me out.

At any rate, it was this article that set off the discussion between the three of us. I’ve had my eye on Decatur Island for about three years now, and I already knew of the realtor, Sarah Jones, who lived on the island. It didn’t take me long to find the property I have now. A mile from shore by road and half-mile as the crow flies, it hit all of my requirements. The seller was asking only $43,000, which made it the cheapest piece of property on the island.

My friend Andy from S/V Yahtzee stopped by Decatur Island with his two boys. We all went to the park to play.

My friend Andy from S/V Yahtzee stopped by Decatur Island with his two boys. We all went to the park to play.

I went to see the place and was immediately taken with it. At 100 feet above sea level, it’s not a bad hike and I’ll never have to worry about flooding or sea level rise. The lot was cleared of trees by the previous owner. It has a good southern exposure because the two adjacent lots had been cleared, yet the property sat in the heart of a thick forest, which protects it from all wind directions. Best of all, it had no immediate neighbors and was extremely private.

I asked about seller financing and discovered the seller would entertain terms as long as it had 25% down. Even with that good news, I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting this property. I certainly wasn’t going to sacrifice my new lifestyle for it. I wanted it, I’d work for it, but I wasn’t going to be foolish about it.

After retreating to the boat, I began to make dinner as I thought things over. The gears in my head were turning so fast I got distracted and sliced the tip of my finger off while cutting an exceedingly slippery beat. I was so shocked I got light headed and felt like I might faint. After a few minutes to put myself back together, I headed back to Anacortes to put myself back together. The cut wasn’t as bad as I initially thought, but I did lose a lot of feeling in that fingertip.

Not to be deterred, I returned to the island twice more that month; once with my father. My parents saw how serious I was, and agreed that it was a good deal, so they decided to help me. With little room to negotiate, I put together three offers. They all equaled the same final dollar amount but differed in the down payment and interest rate. The seller agreed to the one with the largest down payment and the smallest interest rate, which was the offer I had hoped she’d choose. I had a good cruising kitty saved up that I could tap into, but my cash flow is rather minimal as I transition my career into software and move towards a lifestyle of true weath.

I can never pass up the opportunity to get a good sunset shot.

I can never pass up the opportunity to get a good sunset shot.

All said and done, the final down payment with taxes and fees came to about $13,000. I negotiated an interest rate of less than 3%, payments of interest only, and a balloon payment at the end of five years. That made my monthly mortgage payment only $80 per month. Taxes are about $250 a year and HOA fees are $500 per year.

The water bill is a little high at $50 per month and I have to figure out power and septic. For the foreseeable future though, I plan to stay off-grid and install a composting toilet. All-in-all, the average cost to maintain the property came to $192 per month.

By moving my cargo trailer to the island I would save the $40 per month I’d been spending on storage. Since there is no police presence on the island, paved roads, or street signs, I don’t feel obliged to insure my truck or renew the tabs. That only saves me $15 per month on insurance and $100 a year on registration, but I’ll take what I can get. That makes the net cost about $170 per month. Manageable even on my meager salary.

Getting that help on the down payment from my parents meant I still have enough in savings to build basic infrastructure: a small shed, a composting toilet, batteries and solar panels for basic power, and money to transport my truck and trailer to the island. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, but it’s going to be a labor of love.

Financial considerations aside, this property offers a great and intangible value: a land based shelter to complement my liveaboard lifestyle. I don’t plan to ever move off the boat, but there is frequently bad weather in winter when I’d love to get off of it for a few days. Even with the modest resources I have on the property, I now have a basic, heated foul weather shelter. I’ll be able to have a large garden, plenty of room for canning, and a place to store all the needed equipment for both.

The last two years of my life have been focused on exploring a lifestyle of true wealth as much as it has been about sailing. This property is the next step down that road.

Related posts:

Insulating a Boat Hull - Part 2
Sailing the Gulf Islands, Part 11 (The End)
Calling all Gearheads
3 Responses to “Decatur By The Numbers”
  1. Good for your parents for helping you live your dreams! A mooring ball is such a good investment. Not to mention the land. good for you!

  2. Allan says:

    Just curious from past experiences, how strict are the HOA rules n covenants? Also $500 a year is a big chunk of dues on a half acre plot. What sort of services does that give you?
    You said it came with rights to a mooring ball, is it all ready there ready to use? Can you ” live ” on it or are you restricted in the number of days you can stay on your boat while moored? If you were tied up to your mooring how far do you have to go in a dinghy to get ashore, then how far to the property?

    Is there a decent boat launch on the island so you could haul your boat for repairs or what not if you had a trailer?

    Congrats on the acquisition. I’ve been half heartedly looking for a similar deal but hadn’t thought of an island plot. Thanks for expanding my horizons.

    • Chris says:

      The HOA rules aren’t too strict (depending on your ask). The important thing is that they work for me. The dues pay for the dock, park, air strip, and roads. So I feel like the money is put to good use and I get value for it.

      There are no rules regarding living on a mooring ball. The HOA has no jurisdiction on what happens on the water.

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