Building a Life Part IV: The Informational Interview

Sometimes I feel badly when Husband gets sucked into my hurricane. The winds are strong, papers fly all over the place, sometimes dogs get sucked in and spun around, it’s hard to hear in there – generally it’s a bit of a chaotic mess. He is more measured than I am, and finds my constant running around exhausting to watch – let alone to join.

However, recently he’s been the one jamming our schedule full of things. Our Google Calendar from last month started to look more like a Rorschach test  than an agenda:

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S0 – what’s been keeping us so busy?

The meetings we’ve been going to have been with a variety of professionals in the real estate field. We have now met with three real estate developers, the #1 real estate agent in Philadelphia, and two small business consultants, to help us better think through the business plan Husband has written (and that thing is CRAZY; it has color-coded graphs and charts, and actually cites census data he went to the trouble of procuring… ).

Husband is planning around the possibility of leaving his full-time job in June, because he wants a more flexible schedule. He thought his priorities were financial security, working with kids, and teaching. Then he did the Needs & Values activity and it revealed, to his surprise, just how important spending time with family, feeling rooted within the neighborhood, and being deeply connected to home are for him. As we think about having children within the next five years or so (which is TERRIFYING), we both want to find a way to increase our freedom & flexibility. But how?

We have both been obsessed with real estate – independently and now together – for years, and have both signed up for a real estate agent course online. The idea is that we would like to start investing in properties in Philadelphia, with the aim of building equity but also generating a little cash from the investments each month, so that we have more time to do things we love: volunteer with organizations we care about; write; read and learn; be with the dogs and with each other, and eventually with our children; visit friends and family; travel.

But he didn’t stop there. Husband also had the incredible idea to start a lease-to-purchase program for low-income families. Housing instability is a huge barrier to educational success. In short, when students are homeless, have housing instability (move a lot/are evicted) or struggle with inadequate housing (they have no bed/share one room with six people) it’s hard to really hunker down and get into your homework. The idea is that when people own in a community, they care more about it. And the communities become more stable, both through the involvement of neighbors, as well as the investment of capital into the area. Finally, home ownership builds wealth, of course – so the hope is that owning a home can help to break the cycle of poverty and reliance on government aid for families and their children.

Essentially, we would partner with public schools to find families who are eligible and interested in participating in a lease-to-purchase program, meaning that part of their rent would be set aside as a down payment on the house, and once enough was saved they would be able to apply for a mortgage and own the home. The families would be scouted through the local public school, and participation in the program would be contingent upon students’ attendance & comportment in school, as well as the family’s involvement (through volunteering, meeting with key support staff, whatever it may be).

We would be the ones to buy the homes, partner with schools, & run the program.Well, really, Husband would – and I would help. But it’s his beautiful and fascinating baby.

Anyway, the bulk of our meetings have been with men who wear suit pants and no jackets and work in real estate. We’ve gone to them so they can tell us about our investment strategies, and when we leave we usually end up discussing the lease-to-purchase program, too, as we weave through the cobblestone streets in our neighborhood looking for someplace to have a 3pm lunch and think things through, again.

But last week, after seeing Real Estate Agent #3,  I asked a question when we got stuck in our usual loop of “what should we do? So many things sound appealing, but how do we do them?”

“So let me ask you this ,” I started, looking down at the pavement. “And this is a genuine question, not a suggestion.”

“OK,” Husband replied, looking at me as we walked ahead.

I met his gaze. “What if you were to do real estate full time?”

He paused. The corners of his mouth seemed to turn down. I tried to  explain.

“Again – not a suggestion, just a – ”

“No. I really like that” he said with a frown and thinking eyes.


“Yeah. I hadn’t thought about it before.”

I was surprised. He opened the door to a sushi restaurant on the corner. We sat down at the laminated table and ordered a tea. I picked up the thread.

“How does it make you feel to think about it””

“Good. Really good.”

I was skeptical.


“Yeah. It makes me feel happy.”


“Yeah. It makes me feel a little scared, because it’s so unknown – and I’ve never considered it as a job before. But I think I might really love it. It would give me the chance to really meet a lot of people, which means a lot to me.”

This is true.

And I really, really love the idea of running workshops for first-time homebuyers, you know? Not to get them to choose me as an agent, but really to help them figure it out. That would be, man – that would be great.”

“And you’d be great at it.”

“I just think – what about the kids at South Philly High? I want to help that population, that community.”

:Well, is there a way to do that if you’re a real estate agent?”

“I could do the rent-to-own program.”


“I could also do workshops with the kids, like I’d first thought of; you know, teaching them about pathways to home ownership, investing in their futures.”

“Yep. Absolutely.”


“So would that feel good?”

“It would. You know? It really would.”

I blew on the tea and look at its ripples, small and quiet like those caused by a timid toe dipped in a  swimming pool. I took a sip before speaking again.

“Would that be enough? Would you feel like you’re selling out, or abandoning something, if you made this switch?”

“You know, I’m not sure. I don’t know. I might. But I wouldn’t be. So I don’t know how long that would last.”

We both went back to the menus with a lot to think about: Husband considering his next life step, and me trying to think of ways to help and support him. Over and over, a phrase churned in my head: informational interviews.

Why is that, you may ask? Well, more on that tomorrow!


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