The Moneyist: I successfully renovated a condo building. My new husband offered to manage my next project — and it all went horribly wrong

United States

Dear Quentin,

I come from a very poor background. I have been homeless a few times. Through hard work and sheer sacrifice I was not only able to secure a good job for myself, but I spent my life as a teenager taking care of my entire family. That continued until my mid-30s, when I started focusing on myself and trying to secure a retirement.

I’ve had to figure everything out on my own. It was quite lonely. After a few failed businesses, I finally found real estate and dived right in. It cost me quite a bit, and I met a few bad characters during that time, but overall I purchased and rehabbed a four-unit condo and it turned a profit in five years.

During that time, I found another four-unit building, which I purchased in cash. My ex is an electrician and was extremely helpful, so we got together quite fast as we spent lots of time together. He helped me with many projects, often supervising the labor, but I always paid for the supplies and any third-party workers needed.

He dug us into a hole

He proposed after a year, and we got married a year later. He asked to manage the second rehab. He told me he knew more than I did about project management. I invested $ 140,000 and he invested $ 40,000. Three years later, the project was not finished. When I questioned him, he got angry and frustrated.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our joint project led to awful tension because he just lied about what happened to our budget — the money I invested — and why the project was not even 50% complete. He dug us into a hole, spent money on things I told him not to buy, and went way over our original budget.

‘I paid for most of our expenses the entire four years we were together, and he only contributed when he felt like it.’

My husband left me in August. He gave up on the project and our marriage. He said our marriage and business stressed him out. I never judged him, and knew I made twice as much as he did when we met, but that did not matter to me. I paid for most of our expenses the four years we were together, and he only contributed when he felt like it.

He tried to return in February, but we ended up fighting again. He now wants the $ 40,000 he invested in my building that he tore apart and left destroyed. I could have finished it two years ago had I remained in charge. I have nothing legal in writing. I called an attorney, who said a divorce could cost me $ 15,000.

I am not some bigwig investor

If both properties were purchased in my name only before our marriage — and I have invested three times as much as he has in his failed project — who is owed what? I told him he doesn’t have rights to either property, and we shouldn’t need such an expensive divorce with no kids. Aside from the project, we have not commingled our finances.

I bought this building to use for income in retirement, as I am not some bigwig investor. These two buildings cost me my life’s savings, and should have netted me $ 1 million in assets. My assets are now at $ 650,000 because the other building is still at a loss. In my current state, I would lose money if I sell it as is.

He keeps telling me to take equity out of my first property to pay him in order for him to go away, but I don’t feel I owe him anything due to his negligence, the fact that he has my money tied up, and the loss of rental income over the last two years. I covered our expenses, including $ 50,000 in vacations since we’ve been together.

I feel like I have had my heart broken, and now he is trying to break my wallet too.

Project Manager

Dear Manager,

Mediocre man meets a successful woman, convinces her that he is better at building stuff, is unable to oversee a project similar to one she successfully managed in the past, invests a fraction of the amount his wife invested, gets angry when questioned about his failures, picks up his hammer, and demands his money back. 

We’re all caught up. And now? You have the money to talk to a good lawyer and get the lay of the legal landscape. It bodes well that you bought these properties before you were married, but you have likely commingled the second property given that he invested $ 40,000 of his own money to renovate it.

Whether or not you live in a community-property or equitable-distribution state, collect documents: bank statements, emails, credit-card statements, invoices, and anything that shows the contributions you made to this marriage. Be prepared. He may end up owing you money.

While you’re doing that, keep your gaze on the future rather than the past. It may be true that you could have $ 1 million in savings by now, but that’s not what happened. You paid a price for a lesson that you will not forget in a hurry. Don’t give up your creative gold for anyone.

‘I would like you to build something that will cost you nothing except the grit and determination you have shown in your life thus far.’

When I read that your estranged husband had arrived on the scene, I hoped it would not turn out this way. He did you a favor by bolting. The good news is you still have skin in the game, and you can finish the second project as you finished the first. But first you need to get tough. 

In order to do that, I would like you to build something that will cost you nothing except the grit and determination you have shown in your life thus far: a glass wall between you and your husband. It’s time to stop entertaining his demands on your time and your business.

He is a crazymaker, a man who built himself up on a smoke cloud of false bravado. If he was the man he said he was, he would have built you up instead. You already managed a similar project under budget and on time. The only person you need to prove anything to is yourself. 

The next man who comes along and point-blank tells you that he’s better than you at something or anything, show him the door. Hopefully, it will be a door that you have personally paid for and installed — one with a good lock and hinge, and a nice, hefty swing to it. 

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