I first stumbled across Emily and Corey of Little Chicago Two Flat on Instagram early this year, after Emily left a comment on one of our posts. Of course, their handle piqued my interest, and although their account was relatively new, I was immediately sucked into their DIY adventures. Why? To be honest, they reminded me of a younger version of me and Scott! They purchased their first home last year, but instead of a city condo or single family home, they jumped into home ownership by scooping up a Chicago Two Flat in need of elbow grease and love.
Emily introduced me to the concept of ‘Home Hacking,’ a term I’ve never heard before (hi, geriatric millenial here), but I quickly realized that Scott and I have been doing the same for a decade! Home Hacking is the practice of making financial decisions that will help to lower your cost of living for the sake of financial freedom. (Owning an Income Property is an example of this.) And because we often receive questions from followers around the world inquiring about our home journey as both renovators and hands-on landlords, we thought it would be fun to hear more from Emily and Corey, who are now doing this themselves!
This is another round of Collective Q+A, a blog series focused on sharing voices other than our own to promote new ideas and encourage outside-of-the-box thinking. Today we’re sharing a longer interview with Emily and Corey to gain insight on their house hacking journey!
If you’re home hacking with someone like a partner or family member, being aligned on your goals and practicing genuine empathy is everything. — Emily and Corey
What does your personal version of house hacking look like and what do you hope to achieve?
We tend to take on a broader, more inclusive definition of house hacking. If you’re making intentional financial and lifestyle choices that lower your cost of living, you are doing some version of home hacking. In our version of home hacking, we set three guiding goals early on to keep us grounded.
- Increase our living space to more comfortably work from home.
- Stay in or close to our current neighborhood.
- Lower monthly living expenses and build equity to achieve more short and long-term financial freedom.
In October 2021, we purchased a two-flat in our current neighborhood. The home has a second floor, first floor, and garden apartment. By renovating the second-floor apartment and transforming it into our owner’s unit, we’re doubling our square footage and gaining a second bedroom. So, check and check on goals one and two!
Now, we’re working super hard to hit our third goal of achieving more financial freedom. Once we have tenants in the first-floor unit, our portion of the mortgage will cost us the same as renting a 500-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in our neighborhood. Then, once we update the garden unit and rent it out, we’ll hit the house hacker dream of “living for free!” In other words, our rental income should fully cover our mortgage. This financial freedom will hopefully allow us to travel more and take on some entrepreneurial projects!
What motivated you to choose a 100-year-old+ vintage home as opposed to something built more recently?
We spent about four months going to open houses and just getting a sense of our style and what got us excited. After seeing a lot of multi-family homes, old and new, and doing some research on historic Chicago homes, we couldn’t get over the idea of renovating and living in a classic brick Chicago two-flat. The two-flat is such an emblem of Chicago. It’s a part of our city’s history, permanent aesthetic, and homes just aren’t built with the same level of craftsmanship anymore. Very few people even know the phrase “two-flat” outside of Chicago.
Maybe it was our love for Chicago and its history or just that we wanted the challenge of DIY renovating a 1910 home, but either way, we couldn’t be happier with the decision to go vintage! While many people are now converting these 1900s buildings into modern single-family homes, we wanted to carry on the original home hacking legacy of the beloved two-flat.
We couldn’t agree with this sentiment more! That said, a vintage home has its challenges. What has been the biggest surprise of the project so far?
Home hacking and DIY renovation have consumed our lives even more than we anticipated over the past six months! It’s been a full-time job on top of our full-time jobs. Every project turns into a bigger project. For example, renovating our bathroom, after the demo, we quickly discovered the subfloor was nowhere near level (1910 home problems). So, we spent weeks researching how to build level floors and constructing a new subfloor before waterproofing and tiling. The floor fiasco moved our timeline back, but we had to keep moving forward.
While we could have hired someone to help us, every decision – whether about DIYing something versus bringing in a contractor or choosing modern yet affordable light fixtures – takes a lot of effort and care when you’re on a home hacking budget. Decision fatigue is real, and we imagine it’s a different kind of stress than renovating a “forever” family home.
How have your expectations of the project differed from the reality?
Coming into July 2022, we thought we’d be 100% settled in our new home and focused on interior design. Instead, we’re still wrapping up last-minute things like installing trim and picking out handles and pulls for our kitchen. While we have a few pinned items for design inspiration, we are far from choosing our throw pillows! We’re learning that our home will be an ongoing project and something we love, change, and grow into over time. That’s the reality, and we’re much more comfortable living in transition than when we started this project.
That’s a great outlook to have. We’ve also learned that living in transition can help to spark new ideas as a project unfolds! For others that are looking to take on their own Home Hacking project, what do you recommend as the first steps?
The four most valuable things we can share are to be clear on your goals (e.g., what is YOUR version of home hacking and what are you trying to achieve?), dive into research about home hacking as much as possible, build a solid team early on, and be patient with the process! We shared some reflections about our own experience with home hacking on our blog here too.
We’re also so fortunate to be home hacking together as a team. We came into the project with a similar vision for success, and luckily, we’ve been able to adapt to change and give each other grace when we hit bumps along the way. If you’re home hacking with someone like a partner or family member, being aligned on your goals and practicing genuine empathy is everything.
We admire your alignment with one another and can’t help but wonder: What’s next in your house hacking adventure, and/or do you plan to do this again?
The biggest thing we’re taking away from our home hacking journey is that we’re absolutely in love with this work. Even in the thick of the renovation and under financial stress, we still catch ourselves saying things like “Maybe a bungalow next time?” or “Should we build an A-frame…just for fun?” For now, we need to settle into our two-flat and design our space, but we’ll see what comes next! We honestly can’t imagine not renovating something or pursuing another entrepreneurial project at this point!
Thank you for supporting the creators that inspire us every day! You can follow along with Emily and Corey on Instagram @littlechicagotwoflat, on TikTok @littlechicagotwoflat and on their blog, Little Chicago Two Flat. You can also scroll through our past Collective Q+As right here, if you’d like!