Investing in people, homes: Chimacum bus driver's dream coming true thanks to retired math teacher

By Allison Arthur of the Leader
Posted 1/5/16

John Jamison is investing some of his retirement funds in Lisa Walsh and her children, as well as in a small house near Quilcene that would make Walsh a first-time homeowner.

A school bus driver …

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Investing in people, homes: Chimacum bus driver's dream coming true thanks to retired math teacher

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John Jamison is investing some of his retirement funds in Lisa Walsh and her children, as well as in a small house near Quilcene that would make Walsh a first-time homeowner.

A school bus driver for Chimacum School District, 44-year-old Walsh now pays more than $900 a month in rent. As a homeowner, she expects to pay $600 a month.

Walsh is not the first person Jamison has helped become a homeowner since he moved to Jefferson County 24 years ago from Maine. A Port Townsend woman he first helped buy property is almost finished paying off her loan, and Jamison expects she'll upgrade from a trailer to a modular home soon.

Over the years, the now-retired public school math teacher figures he's invested in about 10 people and properties, from Maine to Mason County, Washington, with the majority in Jefferson County.

Now he wonders if it's a model of investment that might suit others who have retired to Jefferson County and who, like him, not only want a decent rate of return on their investment, but who also want to invest in people and community.

“I don't trust the Federal Reserve. I don't trust the stock market. The Federal Reserve is controlling the interest rate. I might as well invest in what I know, which is people and houses,” he said one day as Walsh listened in to Jamison's explanation of why he's chosen to go with a self-directed IRA, take control of his funds, and invest in people like her.

“It's a win-win situation. I'm making money on my money and if the house is worth more than what we pay for it, it's unlikely the person will walk away from it. It's not like the last [real estate] crash. In every case (in which he invests) the house is worth more than what they are buying it for."

Jamison would like to see the idea grow.

“What I would really like to do is put together a social network of some sort where you put together investors and match them up with people who need a home," he said.

The house in Quilcene Jamison is helping Walsh buy was on the market for $85,000 for several years. Their offer of $75,000 was accepted. And by the time Walsh is finished improving it, Jamison expects the house and property to be worth $150,000.

Jamison said he's never had to foreclose on any of the properties he's bought.

“Lisa's note will be for 20 years and I'll bet she pays it off in 15 or less because she has a plan,” Jamison said.

“I'm not just investing in the house, I'm investing in the family,” Jamison said as he stood with the family on the property they intend to close on in February.

WALSH'S STORY

Walsh didn't know anything about Jamison when she drove him and students he was chaperoning from Chimacum High School to Lake Crescent last May.

But they got to talking and she told him her story, how being a bus driver allows her to spend as much time as possible with her two boys, 9-year-old Jay Mellis and 7-year-old Colton Mellis.

“I've always been strong-minded about the fact that if I'm going to be a mom, then I'm going to be a mom. I want to make sure my kids have their mom as much as possible. They're number one,” she said.

She had aspirations to become a metal sculptor and earned a degree in welding technology in 2002. She worked as a contractor for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The job took her to Japan. Then she got pregnant and decided working 70 hours a week wasn't going to cut it. So she got a night job at Walmart unloading trucks so she could be with her son as much as possible. When her second son came along, she opted for an assistant teaching position with Peninsula College.

Walsh also taught welding at the Northwest School of Boatbuilding, but when her program was canceled, she took the bus job.

Walsh's story resonated with Jamison, who understands jobs are hard to come by, but also believes that work is always available for those, like Walsh, who try.

Jamison also loves a story in “Chicken Soup for the Soul” called “Glenna's Goal Book,” about how to make dreams come true.

That story tells of a woman who envisioned marrying a wealthy man and living in a beautiful house. And she did both, and more.

On Thanksgiving morning in 2015, Jamison called Walsh and said, “You're up. Let's look for a house for you.”

Walsh said Jamison told her straight up that he couldn't finance it all himself. Helping so many means his money is literally tied up in other homes and other people.

“But we can look for like-minded people who feel comfortable with helping families,” he told her.

In addition to Jamison, there is now one other investor involved. Jamison and Walsh are confident they can find other investors to raise the remaining $45,000 she needs before the sale closes in February.

It was a bit over the $70,000 price range she was told to look for, but “the minute I saw it I knew it was the one,” she said.

“It's a 1925 house with two bedrooms on 2 acres. The gentleman who had moved in had started remodeling it. He had done a really good job except at some point he couldn't complete the trim,” Walsh said. So the house is unfinished. And it's unlikely a bank would touch it in the condition it's in.

“It's kind of a little project house. But knowing me, I'm a very hands-on person. I love doing construction and building and I thought this is perfect. I get to finalize the house. My kids and I can go from room to room making it ours,” Walsh said.

“It's probably the best Thanksgiving day I can remember, at 8:30 in the morning, getting a call from John. When I picked it up and he said 'It's your turn” I said 'Oh, my gosh.'”

“The obstacles have fallen away. It's just happening as we move forward every day.”

INVESTING: THE MATH

Getting Jamison to talk about investing in people, about his concern for the middle class, and his lack of faith in banks, is not difficult.

“Banks aren't helping people. Used to be back when I was young you could borrow with pretty much as a handshake,” he said.

Jamison comes from a diverse background. He's had two careers: he spent 20 years in the paper mill business and 20 years as a math teacher. He's also started an insurance company and a pizza business. Now 69, Jamison reflects on how his father bought a house in Maine in the 1950s thanks to a private investor down the street who let him borrow money.

Jamison is concerned about the poor and about the lack of affordable housing. He says that goes hand in hand with the lack of affordable land in Jefferson County, which he partly attributes to rules that don't meet the needs of poor people.

Small lots need septic systems that are expensive and difficult to get with existing restrictions, he said.

“So are we to just throw up our hands and let people live out in the woods in tents? A potential solution would be using these lots for tiny houses. They say you can't do that. Is everything 'can't?' I think there are certainly ways it could be done,” he said.

Jamison had wanted to build low-income housing on commercially zoned property he bought in Quilcene where a hotel used to be, with a 10-bedroom septic system. He wanted to put three livable units on the property. The dilemma was that even though the septic system was OK, laws required that part of the property be set aside should the septic system fail. Ultimately, he sold the property.

While Jamison wasn't able to do what he wanted, he reconnected with a man he had hired to work on the property. The man was interested in the land because he was renting a single-wide trailer for $400 a month. Jamison helped that man buy a foreclosed house. Now the man is living in a five-bedroom house and is paying $376 a month to own it, Jamison said.

While the people Jamison helps buy homes typically pay less to own then they do to rent, Jamison said he's making money. He has a spreadsheet on every one of the 10 investments he's made so far, which includes a bulldozer he helped a student of his buy because the enterprising young man wanted to start a landscaping business.

“I think there are a lot of people sitting on CDs that are making 0.1 percent and I think they'd be ecstatic to make 7 percent. Now they can,” he said of investors helping people buy homes, people who might otherwise not qualify for traditional bank financing.

Jamison acknowledges that he does look for properties that banks might not lend on because they “may not be up to standard.”

That doesn't dissuade him. He said he sometimes loans a little more than the price of the house to help the owner fix the place.

The way he figures it, someone who is paying to own the home will want to maintain it and will continually improve on it.

Last week, Jamison was also looking on Craigslist for appliances for Walsh. The kitchen was gutted, down to the floor, so she'll need everything from stoves and countertops to flooring.

Jamison had found a freezer and wood stove and refrigerator all for free.

“She's going to need something to start out with. When you invest in someone, you want them to succeed,” he said of why he was going the extra mile with Walsh.

“You can see Lisa's place needs work. The banks wouldn't touch that. I finance everything, including the closing costs, and when it's done, it will be worth $150,000.”

Or, to do the math – he expects the house and land to be worth double what he and Walsh are paying for it.

HOW DREAMS START

Jamison's venture into real estate started somewhat by accident, and somewhat as a dream.

He and wife, Christine, spent eight years living “off the grid” in snowy Maine. Christine visited her home state of Washington and returned one day, advising Jamison that the flowers were blooming in Washington. “And that was the end of that,” Jamison said of Maine.

Jamison said he had friends who could handle the weather, and so he invited them to buy his property for $600 a month. They had been paying that much in rent. And that was where he first got the idea to invest in people and in real estate.

The Jamisons moved to Jefferson County 24 years ago and started looking for a house with a water view – it was in their own dream book. Real estate agents told them such a place was out of reach. Jamison disagreed.

“We have a 180 degree view of Port Townsend and Indian Island, contrary to what the Realtor told us we could afford,” Jamison said. He said he worked with the homeowner to make it work for him as well.

Jamison now is building a cabin in Republic, Washington. He also owns a cabin that is off the grid in Maine. And Christine has written a book, “Off the Grid and Glad I Did,” which is available on Amazon.com.

Back in Port Hadlock, Jamison is interested in helping others achieve their dreams. That includes a family living in an RV who he is counseling through the Irondale Church. They sometimes attend Community Soup, which the church puts on.

“I'm telling you, some of the places people are living in now, like in Irondale, shouldn't be happening,” Jamison said.

Jamison wonders why small houses can't be built for people to get them out of some of the houses in Irondale that aren't warm or suitable to habitation. Members of Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend also have been advocating for tiny houses to help with the affordable housing crisis.

“Does the county have land that we could be using? That's the crazy thing about government. They have more and more parks to be set aside but they don't have money to keep them open,” he said of the county needing to set aside land for affordable housing.

“And what would happen if you taught all the kids to build a tiny home and then gave them a plot of land and a pile of lumber after they graduated? Of course, there's more to it. The infrastructure is complicated.”

Jamison can wax on about how America is losing its middle class for so many reasons, about education and teaching math in real terms, about the difference between renting and owning, about government failing and about banks still approving what he calls “liar loans” which put people in cars and houses they really can't afford.

He knows the word is out about him as well.

“I have a list of folks who would like to own a home. We can finance a home in such a way that they are paying less to buy than renting,” he said between phone calls about Walsh's property deal and looking on Craigslist for free appliances to help furnish it.

All he needs now, he says, are more people than him interested in helping people like Walsh.

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