“We paid off our mortgage by our mid-30s”
Fritz Wyssen, 40 // Krystal Wyssen, 37 // Quesnel, B.C.
When Krystal and I married 14 years ago, we had only $1,500 in our pockets. I was 26 years old and Krystal was 23. We started our married life together by renting a small one-bedroom cabin that was just 350 sq. ft. in the tiny town of Kitwanga, B.C. You could say we started small—really small. Those were tough days and money was really hard to come by. I made $20 a day shovelling snow and about $150 a week as a paramedic. In those days, you only got paid when you got an ambulance call. I got about two calls a week.
Then our luck turned. In 2000, I landed a job with the highways department in the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). There, I negotiated the price of our first home, and we were able to buy a small bungalow for $50,000. The following year we rented it out and bought a larger, unfinished home—really just a shell. It was also $50,000 and was in a more remote area. The market was really depressed, so it was a great deal. We then spent the next year renovating it ourselves. At first I earned $40,000 annually while Krystal earned $5,000 a year working part-time as a cashier. As our salaries grew, we put every spare penny we had towards the two mortgages.
Four years later, the real estate market was starting to turn. We were itching to get back to the mainland where we could raise our growing family—we had our son Korbin by then. We sold our home for $107,000 and moved to Quesnel, a working-class town in the B.C. interior. It was an adventure. We came to Quesnel blind, picked it on a map and just drove down here. I worked in a timber mill full-time as well as part-time for the local ambulance service. Krystal got a full-time cashier job.
We bought a brand new 3,500-sq. ft. house in Quesnel for $200,000 and used the proceeds of our two homes on the Queen Charlottes to make a big down payment. The house was way underpriced because the builders were experiencing financial problems and were anxious to sell. We spent the next three years aggressively paying off the $60,000 mortgage, and we had it finished in 2008, when we were in our mid-30s.
For us, the key to financial success in real estate has been to never fall in love with a property and to always be willing to negotiate the price down. We always lived in small towns where real estate is cheaper. We also made sure to buy at rock-bottom prices and added value by renovating. As well, we advertised online and sold our homes privately.
With our home in Quesnel, we made sure we had a short amortization period—20 years. We doubled up on monthly payments once a year, and made the maximum annual prepayment—usually 10% of the value of the mortgage. We also saved 25% of our combined income each year. Then, when the mortgage came due in 2008, we took $30,000 from savings and paid the balance in full.
Most important is to stay out of debt and live frugally. Krystal and I do all our own home maintenance and renovations. We buy meat in bulk, pay our credit card off each month and pay cash for vacations with the kids—Korbin is eight now and his sister Riley is five. Last year, we took the kids to Disneyland and kept to our $5,000 budget.
Our next dream? To retire early. I’ve recently picked up a part-time position at a sawmill while Krystal stays at home. Our magic number for retirement is $750,000. When we get there I’ll walk away from work. We’ve given ourselves 10 years to reach that number. I don’t know what early retirement will bring for us but I’m sure it will be quite an adventure.
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