In 2007 Cara Brookins escaped a marriage in which she had been the victim of domestic violence. She desperately needed a safe home for herself and her four children, who were ages 2, 11, 15 and 17 at the time.
The problem? Brookins couldn’t afford an existing home large enough for her family, and she certainly couldn’t afford the even greater expense of hiring a contractor to build a new home for her. The solution? Brookins—a computer analyst who had never built anything bigger than a bookcase—and her children built their dream home from the ground up, mostly by themselves.
They learned construction techniques largely by watching YouTube tutorials.
Cara Brookins’ story is a great metaphor for anyone facing a seemingly insurmountable real estate challenge. Let’s unpack some of the lessons represented:
USE ‘WHY NOT’ THINKING TO FOCUS ON POSSIBILITIES--Brookins’ inspiration flashed when she drove past a house that had been shattered by a tornado. “I stopped and got out to look at it and could see inside the walls,” she said. “You don’t often get the opportunity to see the interior workings of a house, but looking at these 2x4s and these nails, it just looked so simple. I thought, ‘I could put this wall back up if I really tried.’”
Needing a home of her own, she thought, “Maybe I should just start from scratch.”
This possibility-focused thinking reminds me of a Robert F. Kennedy quote: “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”
Brookins used ‘why not’ thinking and chose to focus on possibilities rather than reasons why she couldn’t succeed.
That weekend she and her children dreamed about building a home of their own. “The kids joined in and started drawing floor plans on little notepads,” she said. Shortly thereafter Brookins pursued a construction loan.
FOCUS ON YOUR RESOURCES AND YOUR GOAL--Brookins qualified for a loan barely sufficient to cover construction supplies and an acre of land. Further, the terms of the loan required her to complete construction in just nine months.
It would have been easy to succumb to discouragement. It would have been easy to focus on the fact that she didn’t know anything about construction and lacked the funds to hire contractors, builders and other licensed professionals.
It would have been understandable to quit. Limited funds were compounded by limited time. She only had nine months to accomplish something she’d never done before. And she had to build while working a full time job and caring for four kids.
But Brookins focused on what she had, not what she lacked. She had enough funding to cover materials and land. She had nine months. She had free labor in the form of four willing kids. And she had access to free tutorials on YouTube and some free advice at the local Home Depot.
This is a great example of what Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, meant when he said: “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”
Brookins didn’t focus on lack or obstacles. She focused on available resources and her goal of creating a safe home where she and her children could recover from the abuses of the past.
‘SINK THE SHIPS’ AND COMMIT TO THE GOAL AS THOUGH LIFE DEPENDS ON IT--Since her loan only covered supplies and land, Brookins and her kids needed to commit to doing everything they could to cut costs, which meant doing most of the labor themselves.
“Once I had bought all these supplies and they were all piled up, there was no way out,” Brookins explained. “There wasn’t enough money to pay anyone to put them together. There was no plan B.”
Thus committed, the family watched instructional videos and dove into the project.
“We didn’t have proper work boots so we put plastic bags on our feet with old tennis shoes,” she said. While they had some help from licensed professionals along the way, Brookins and her kids taught themselves how to do everything from hand-mixing foundation mortar to framing walls and running gas lines. It was difficult, but they persevered because failure was not an option.
This reminds me of the story of the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes who, in 1519, sailed to the New World with six hundred men and a goal: conquer the powerful Aztec empire.
After arriving, Cortes ordered his vastly outnumbered soldiers to sink their own ships. This sent a clear message to his men: We are committed. There is no turning back. We must succeed or die trying.
Within two years he succeeded in his conquest of the Aztec empire, which had endured for 600 years.
Within nine months of piling construction supplies on her piece of land, Cara Brookins and her kids conquered construction and successfully built from the ground up a 3,500 square foot, five bed, 2.5 bath dream home with a three-car garage, mostly by themselves, with techniques they learned largely by watching YouTube tutorials.
We can learn from Cara Brookins. If you’re facing a major real estate challenge, set a big goal (notice she didn’t set out to build a shack). Establish a deadline. Multimillionaire entrepreneur Robert Herjavec of Shark Tank TV-show fame says, “A goal without a deadline is just a dream.” Use ‘why not’ thinking to magnify your vision of what is possible. Learn all you can, take an inventory of available resources (a good Realtor® armed with inspirational anecdotes is one of them) and focus on optimizing what you have, rather than being limited by what you lack. Laser target your goal (not the obstacles along the way), and ‘sink the ships’ (commit as though there’s no alternative to success). Then you too can successfully overcome a seemingly insurmountable real estate challenge!
Brent Metzger is a Realtor® with Roche Realty Group. He may be reached at (603) 229-8322 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.rocherealty.com to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market.