Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Nice House with Limited Income in the Most Expensive Housing Market in the United States

God has created a world where you very often do very well if you follow biblical principles.  He also intervenes in a direct way based upon His goodness and sovereignty, what we could call "providence." Some of what is described is obeying God and, therefore, subduing the earth.  It will work only if you follow what He says.  What He says is great.  When you follow what He says, things turn out great, and it was because of Him, so let Him be praised.  However, it is not, "I prayed for years for a great house and God finally gave it to me."  I prayed for daily bread.  God gave everything to me.  That's how the will of God works.  Does He sometimes give special favor to one of His children?  Yes.  Yet, I look at every little good thing as His favor too, and not just a house. Because He gives all good things, He should get the credit for the following.

My wife and I were married two weeks in August 1987 when we traveled cross country in a UHaul to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the most expensive housing market in the country.  We had no debt, but we also had no furniture.  We had enough savings for our first and last to get into the cheapest one bedroom apartment and to print a brochure.  I got a job at a sporting goods store and my wife as a teller at a bank, both making about minimum wage.  The zestimate at Zillow for our present house is $550,000. I believe we could sell it for more than that, if we wanted to live somewhere else. Realtors have sold similar houses in our neighborhood for $600,000.  How could a pastor afford a $550,000 dollar house at what California calls poverty level income?

I remember when my wife and I first moved out here and started going door-to-door in evangelism in addition to working our two jobs. We truly believed that we were bound to buy the industrial sized bag of pinto beans and survive on a pinto bean diet.  We were ready to do that.  We bought all of our original furniture used for less than 500 dollars, which included no bed, but a used queen sized mattress that lay on the floor.  I had left a car in California after surveying the area, and we arrived to the Bay Area to the Dodge Omni having been broken down with someone having borrowed it.  They left it for us broken. I got under the car and fixed it with a wire coat hanger.  The rest of the time that car continued to operate, it did so held together in part with a coat hanger.

It sounds like we had it made, doesn't it?  There's really money in paying rent for a school multipurpose room and preaching a very unpopular message, much more unpopular than I even suspected.

In part, I write this post, because I know in fact that we are criticized by several for living in a nice house (not by anyone in our church -- our church people are happy for us).  People very often like to see pastors almost as poor as possible. You can see that in the criticisms of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians, where the false teachers at Corinth tried to make him look like a money grubber.  People intimate that about us with our having this home.  I'm serious.  Mainly, however, I have written this post, because it could help people know how to move to and then make it in ministry in a very expensive area.

I was completely naive when I moved to the big city.  Very early on I got a call from a man and woman, who said that their car was broken down and they needed help to get to the funeral of a relative.  I took our entire savings to help them out of their predicament and then never saw or heard of them again.  One man called and said that his daughter was sick and he needed food for his family.  I took him to the grocery store and bought him a basketful of groceries.  The next day I got a call from the same man, except he had a different name.  He accidentally had called the same number to try the same trick again.  He told me that he had sold the groceries for heroin.

The rent for our first apartment in 1987 in Pinole was $550 a month.  After a year, we moved to an even cheaper and very old apartment for $495 a month.  I moved our entire apartment in our car.  Our aforementioned mattress flew off the top of the car onto San Pablo Dam Road in El Sobrante, and I stopped traffic to put it back on the roof.  No one helped us move.  In that tiny apartment, by the way, I built the entire winning float for the fourth of July parade in 1988 in Hercules.  I dressed as Abraham Lincoln, and posed with many, many Filipinos at the city park in town.  50% of Hercules's population was Filipino-American.

When the Dodge Omni wouldn't move anymore, we bought a used Subaru wagon on a three year loan.  It lasted for about seven or so, and after we paid off the Subaru loan, we kept making payments to a savings account for the next car.  We would not touch that account.  When the Subaru breathed its last breath on highway 80, we paid cash for our next used car, and have paid cash in the same manner for every car since.

We never went on a vacation in our first three years of marriage.  We lived in California.  We figured that was like being on vacation.  Even though it really hurt, I paid for health insurance out of our own pocket, and it was a good thing, because it paid for a necessary minor surgery for me that would have really harmed us financially.  I know people who didn't want to pay for health insurance, and they paid for the pregnancy with a loan.  No one under my roof has a smart phone.  We don't have cable television.  We don't own a pet.  I have replaced the soles on my wingtips five times.  Usually I use shoe goo before I even get there.  Right now I have shoo goo on holes in the bottom of my shoes.  We believe giving over and above the tithe.  For the most part, 25% of our budget for many years went to pay for the instruments and music lessons of our children.  This has been a great blessing.

Going door-to-door our second year, I ran into a young couple, who told me that they had sold their mobile home, what some people call a "trailer," for the downpayment to their house.  I checked out the trailer parks in our area.  There weren't many, but in one of them, a man was selling the mobile home of his sister, who had died.  He needed to get rid of it, so he sold it to us for $12,000.  We also paid $350 space rent, but we dedicated my wife's paycheck to paying off the loan almost immediately.  In six months the park where we lived voted to become senior only, so my wife and I were the only residents in the park under the age of fifty-five, kind of everyone's adopted grandchildren.  About three years later, we sold the mobile home for $19,000.  We used that money and other savings for a downpayment on a $118,500 two bedroom, two bath condo.

The Bay Area housing market is a big roller coaster with very high highs and then major lows, worst hit by the mortgage crisis when the housing bubble popped.  The housing market was at a low four years after our buying the condo, and we decided to buy a three bedroom townhouse for $135,000 and rent out the condo.  That was an adventure, because we did go through one bad renter.  Our condo was valued at $85,000 when we bought the town home.  We were almost completely out of money when we sold the condo for $142,000.

While we lived in the mobile home, the big earthquake of 1989 hit.  That was very interesting.  Our son was born while we lived there.  A daughter was born while we lived in the condo.  Our last two daughters were born while we lived in the townhouse.  We lived in the townhouse for 15 years.  I laid tile in the dining room and bathrooms and remodeled the kitchen.  I turned the garage into a very nice garage.  We put in a gas fireplace insert and new windows.  I am not a carpenter.  I learned it in the midst of everything else.  Most of my studying, I did in my garage for all those years.  I wrote a few books in the garage.

When the housing market started to drop.  I could see it happening, we sold the townhouse for $250,000 and moved into a very small two bedroom apartment close to our church building.  It was an extremely cramped two happy years.  I loved being a renter again.  I loved my landlord.  We're still friends.  He's a believer.  He's also a contractor, who has given me some good advice.

After two years in the apartment, four years ago, when the housing was rock bottom, we bought our present three bedroom, two bath single family home in a good neighborhood in El Sobrante.  It was complete providence of God that we got it.  The owner died and the children needed to sell it to split up the proceeds.  In the house lived a Hells Angel.  I'm not kidding.  The other inhabitant was one of the sons, who was very, very bipolar.  The house stunk of smoke and drugs.  The police had greatly damaged the entrance in a drug raid a few years before.

Sounds like a privilege, huh?  We had sold our house for $250,000 and live very frugally and then paid $320,000 for the house.  I gutted both bathrooms down to the studs, we put another bedroom in the back of a very large garage.  We moved out two tons worth of mess.  Literally two tons.  I put in all new floor coverings, including nailing down hardwood floors in my living room and ceramic tile in the kitchen, entrance, and dining room.  I painted the outside and repaired the water sprinkling system for the dead lawn.  I bought a used door with a mortise lock like the one our front door needed.  There was no door knob or lock on our door, except for a surface bolt.  We turned the fireplace into a gas fireplace by getting the insert on craigslist.  We bought a used washer and dryer.

I learned how to do everything on youtube.  It was like having three full time jobs with pastoring, fixing the house, and teaching in our school. A very kind friend of ours did pay for a new roof, which it badly needed.  I repaired a cedar shake roof to get by the first three years before that roof job. Someone also gave us money for new windows, but I did the replacement myself.

We were able to pay for all the work on the house with extra on the loan because it was at least a quarter of the cost, since I did the work.  Must be nice.  I lost twenty pounds remodeling the house.

We have a nice house.  That's why.

I've noticed that many young couples are looking for something really nice right away and they ruin their lives because of a lack of contentment.  I've seen couple after couple make bad decisions to get the house they wanted.  It was never about us getting the house we wanted.  It was always about wise stewardship.  I never bought during a bubble.  Never.  Many people do.  I always bought after a bubble popped.  The bubble occurs because people are buying.  During those times, we are waiting. We don't need to keep up with the Joneses.

The key to living in a nice house at the age of 54 is not having to live in a nice house at the age of 54. To us, again it's good stewardship.  We saved money.  We bought low, sold high, bought low, sold high, bought low again, and sold high.  We lived in a tiny apartment for two years with a large family. We did the work ourselves.  We didn't borrow depreciating items.  We saved for them.

It has been a great blessing as we have entertained many, many people in this home.  Some of you reading have been a part of that entertainment.  We use it for the Lord.  We have someone in our home usually once or twice a week.  It's been a nice, safe comfortable place for my two college aged daughters to come back to every night from going to state universities.  It is one mile away from our church property.  I hope you are happy for us.  In addition, let it be a lesson.  To God be the glory.

Now that you've read this, you could say, Brandenburg is bragging on himself.  I am defending for sure.  I am explaining.  You could read Paul's epistles and say, Paul is bragging on himself.  He said that in 2 Corinthians, because that's what people will say.  People need to know how you did it, so they can reproduce what you did.  I think all the parts are important, but I'm not going to not tell the story just because I'll be then criticized for bragging on myself.  Paul talked about what he did, because he needed to do that.  It's a practical outworking of biblical principles.


JimCamp65 said...

Thanks for sharing the story. Much of it is very familiar, as most preachers go thru many of the same early struggles. I heard a guy long ago state that the average Christians attitude is "God wants preachers to be humble & poor. The Lord will keep him humble, & we will do the rest".

It is sad that there are people displeased at you having a nice house. It would be better if we all could rejoice in someone else doing well, someone else prospering in any manner, instead of behaving envious & petty.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Jim. I'm glad you were happy reading it. I do believe this is the story of many pastors or people who have had it much harder than what we have. I haven't told the whole story of many other great things that occurred with us separate from just our housing situation. Housing, however, in the Bay Area here is a big issue. Many urban areas seem like "can't do" because it's too expensive to live in those areas with the income. Also, you don't get a good reaction to your preaching, so you can't become self-supporting, as well as not having a good enough job to make payments on a house. It's worse than ever out here on that front.

Kent Brandenburg said...


As it relates to pastors and money, sure, some pastors are abusing a situation with money. Many people know about many varied situations, where pastors seem to go that direction. Most don't, as I see it. They are going through a hard time, harder than what I'm describing. However, I've also seen through the years that if you have something nice, people resent it, and then when you explain how you got it, showing that you weren't born with a silver spoon in your mouth, now they are mad because you've explained it. I guess they want people to keep thinking that you got it through some devious means. If you explain that you didn't, they aren't happy. It's easy to see, overall, they just want people to think ill of you. Then you know, it's not really about the house, or how you got it, but because of the message you preach. It's an unpopular message, and people hate the light. It's not about the house, but about the unpopular message. I'm letting you know that I know that.

Bobby Mitchell said...

An elderly preacher once told me that if I did more, had more, or achieved more... people would hate me. Very true.

Another preacher said, "There's two things that many people will never forgive you for: success and failure."

I've stayed in your house four times if I remember correctly. I praise God for your hospitality. Twice you've housed all nine of us! It is a very nice place and I thank the Lord He lets you use it for His glory and purpose.

This is a good article on stewardship.

Anonymous said...

I am not a fan of most of what you write Kent but I am a fan of this. Congratulations on managing your financial life well. I will take issue with one thing. People don't resent because they don't like your message. They resent because they are envious. It would not matter what gospel or false gospel you were preaching.

Jon Gleason said...

Who knows? A pastor might have a nice house because he led someone wealthy to the Lord and they were so grateful for his part in what they've received that they wanted to give him a house. Would that be wrong?

A pastor might have a nice house because of an inheritance. Proverbs tells us inheritances are good things.

A pastor might have a nice house because he obeyed I Corinthians 6, didn't sue another believer, and the other believer later made the matter right. A pastor could use that unexpected money to buy a house -- would that be wrong?

A pastor might have a nice house because he worked a job in which he did well financially before he became a pastor. Is that wrong? Is it wrong for those who are well off to become pastors, and if so, are they required to first give away everything they had?

A pastor might have a nice house because he doesn't take a vacation for ten years, never eats at restaurants, never buys a new car and drives his cars until they die, etc. And he uses that money instead on something (a house) that will help him to not be a burden on other believers in retirement. Is that wrong?

A pastor might have a nice house because he's had to work a job and has excelled at it, and so done well financially with it.

There can be a lot of reasons for a pastor to have a nice house.

The only part of a pastor's personal finances that is open to criticism is if his salary is excessive (and that's largely a matter for his church) or if he is provably (2 or 3 witnesses) behaving sinfully with money, "behaving sinfully" being defined by what Scripture actually says.

Full disclosure: I also have a nice house (for some of the reasons above).

Anonymous said...

Cool story. I'm one of your readers who vehemently disagrees with you on your view of health and support of the medical/industrial complex. Even so, I do enjoy your blog. I appreciate you being willing to allow comments from those who disagree....But back to this topic: Thank you for the post. I enjoyed reading it. We can learn through the examples and stories of others, and this is one way of sharing those stories.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Bobby Mitchell, Thanks.

Two Anonymous Comments, Thanks.

Jon Gleason,

Very good comment. Nice extra points. Glad you included them. Thank you.

Jim Peet said...

Great story. Thanks. We linked to it on S/I here

My wife and I have a very nice house. Got to it differently but still by the providence of God.

Thanks. I appreciate you

Jason Byler said...

A testimony to the goodness of God and a faithful servant.
Can relate to your story. Appreciate you sharing it.

Jason Byler

Anonymous said...


I so appreciate this article for so many reasons. Dr. Singleton my mentor used to love the passage, "unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain who build it." Your story lives out that verse. Your testimony points out God's part and your part. I so appreciate your spirit in this. It is a good example for all of us in the Lord's work. God bless you may brother as you faithfully serve in your corner of the Lord's Vineyard!

Straight Ahead!

Joel Tetreau

Kent Brandenburg said...

Jim Peet,

Thanks. I appreciate you too. I hope the story can help people.


Thanks for your comment. I hope it is going well for you.


Thank you. I really hope the best for you too. Thanks. While it's all happening, it just seems like faithfulness, but when you look back, you see all the providence occurring too.

Joe A. said...

For the life of me, I cannot understand why people would complain about your circumstances unless they A) don't like you or B)are complaining because of the place God has put them or C)just want to complain. I guess I have gotten to the point that I can be happy for someone else, learn from their successes and mistakes and hoe my row. As to those who need to comment negatively, they should be quiet and mind their own business. Good for you brother. I wouldn't want to live there, but I'm glad God is blessing you.