Photo of Mary Jane Williams and her family.

Mary Jane Williams: Find your 'why,' the rest falls in place

features go-getters Nov 05, 2021

Prior to turning 50, Mary Jane Williams was a homeschooling mother of six living in Fort Myers, Fla. Today, she has a 6-year-old granddaughter who is an ideal playmate for Mary Jane's 5-year-old son.

After passing the 50-year mark, she ventured into rehabilitating and flipping homes with a business partner. They buy homes, fix them up and their either resell or rent them to others.

Mary Jane had no experience in flipping homes when she decided to pursue the opportunity. At first, she and her husband simply purchased land, held it for a while and resold it for a profit.

"It's a bit more challenging when buying homes," she explained. "You have to see the diamond in the rough for a home that is in pretty bad shape, then transform it into a home someone else would want to buy."

Rehabilitating homes is physically challenging for Mary Jane, but chasing after a 5-year-old son also works to keep her in good physical shape. She starts work on her business shortly after wrapping up homeschool lessons for her children still at home, one of whom is taking college-level classes as she wraps up her high school education.

Afternoons are spent shopping for home improvement materials and items to put inside the flip homes, and then completing paperwork to organize the mortgage side of the endeavor.

"I become more of a secretary at night by keeping track of all the finances pertaining to the partnership, but I get to wear many hats throughout the day," she said.

Family business

Mary Jane's children really appreciate it when she has jobs they can do, too. Her oldest son is an electrician by trade and her middle son is experienced in installing and maintaining air conditioning systems. Her teenage daughter assists in preparing homes for sale, and even her youngest likes helping out by picking up trash.

"It's almost like a family business," Mary Jane said, noting that she does have to hire outside contractors to address drywall, plumbing and roofing issues.

The business isn't too stressful, although there are moments. Yet, nothing really keeps her up at night worrying about the business or properties.

"I tell my husband that I'm figuring this out as I go and, when I fail, I fall forward," she explained. "Sometimes the outcomes are not exactly how I imagined them to be, but I am always learning something new to better prepare me for the next opportunity. "

The first big change

Real estate isn't the first life-changing experience Mary Jane has enjoyed. In 2010, she and her husband sold a 4,000-square-foot home chock full of "stuff" and bought a 400-square-foot RV to live more simply and purposefully.

"When we started touring the United States, we had three high-schoolers at the time," she explained. "It was a fantastic experience! We were really able to connect with our kids and enjoy some adventures together before they ventured out on their own."

To prepare for the trip, Mary Jane to sell almost all of her treasured belongings because there wasn't any place to store them in the RV.

"I remember our first garage sale and marking down my treasures to $1 or even 50 cents," she explained. "In my mind, they were gold, but I made the choice to part with them because they were holding me back from an adventure my husband and children really wanted to do.

"I wanted to support them, and that meant letting go of my stuff. But when the items were gone, I never thought about them again," she added. "It was a tremendous weight off of me and we had much more freedom to do what we wanted to do."

Mary Jane said many people see stuff as comforting, but it is a false sense of comfort that actually locks people into a property they no longer need just to store items they rarely use or even look at.

Of all the places the family has visited, they loved spending an entire summer in Alaska fishing for salmon and visiting different sites. In fact, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's parents invited them to their home and cooked pizza for the gang.

"Everyone in Alaska was warm and inviting. When they saw our Florida license plates, they all wanted to hear our story," she explained. "We also really enjoyed spending time in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, too."

Surprise detour

The full-time road trip came to a surprise, but temporary end in 2015 when Mary Jane discovered she was pregnant. The family came off the road and rented a home for the final months of her pregnancy so she could be closer to doctors and the hospital where she'd deliver her son.

However, when the baby was just 2 months old, the family hit the road again to pick up their adventure.

"When he was about a year and a half old, we noticed he wasn't meeting his development milestones. So we decided to rent another home to see if more space would help him get back on track," she added. "A short time later, he was diagnosed with autism, so we put the RV trip on hold to focus all our attention on our son."

Mary Jane was taking the boy to therapists and doctors seven times a week. Although that put an end to the RV dream, it opened the door to another challenge.

"We bought a little hobby farm because my youngest daughter wanted to become a veterinarian. We thought this would be a great way to help her explore the career field and help our autistic son learn more about animals by taking care of them," she explained.

Then the farm animals started to have babies, who in turn started having babies, as well. As part of her homeschooling exercises, Mary Jane's teenage daughter started reading everything she could about the birthing process and actually helped the animals through it -- even delivering breach births by herself. Today, the young woman wants to become an ultrasound technician and go into a missionary field.

Motivation for change

When COVID impacted America, Mary Jane said she was more than happy to just be a stay-at-home mom; however, her husband was under tremendous pressure to leave his technology job.

"It was almost a forced retirement. Because he is also in his 50s, he started to question his value and doubting his ability to keep pace with younger folks just entering the field," she explained. "It was a very worrisome problem for him because he had been the primary breadwinner for our entire marriage."

When she explored the house-flipping option, she decided it was something she could turn into a profitable business within a year to bring in enough money to match her husband's current income. That would not only relieve him of some stress, but open the door for him to explore a new purpose and passion as well.

Mary Jane had always been a fan of HDTV and its home improvement shows. As she contemplated the business idea, she started reading more about it. She also connected with some family friends who were involved in real estate.

"Everyone told me to stay away -- far away -- and that I would be in over my head. They warned me that contractors are notoriously unreliable and often don't show up when they’re scheduled," she explained. "They also said that because I am a woman, contractors wouldn’t take me seriously.

"Those comments scared me, but I felt driven to keep moving forward until I hit a wall," she added. "I thanked them for their input, but kept taking additional steps."

Mary Jane admits the negative feedback could have taken the wind out of her sails right then, but she also knew that she could do anything if she had the right purpose and reason for doing it.

"My ‘why’ was to help my husband and reduce his fear about losing his job and ensuring my family would be okay," she explained. "That was enough to keep me going even through all the warnings."

Then Providence stepped in. A friend of her oldest son had been flipping homes for quite a while. In fact, he had 16 flips under his belt before connecting with Mary Jane.

"It was an ideal combination," she said. "He had all the knowledge and know-how needed to flip homes successfully, and we had the financial assets to enable us to acquire properties and supplies. So we teamed up on a few projects and work very well together."

Time management

Flipping homes while raising a teenager and special needs child, and managing a farm is a recipe for crazy. It forced Mary Jane to really hone her organization skills and patience.

"I just learned to eat the elephant one bite at a time," she said. "I compartmentalize my life into three-hour increments when possible and just do what I need to do to get through that period. Then I can move on to the next thing.

"I also need to balance my workload with the needs of my 5-year-old," she added. "I try not to absorb myself so much in the workload that I would become impatient with him."

First sale

The first flip sale was a family home that belonged to Mary Jane's husband's grandparents. They were some of the original developers of Fort Myers Beach and had a beautiful water-front property. When grandpa died, the couple bought the home from his estate, but sat on it for many years.

"It was almost like a museum in honor of my husband's parents for all those years," she explained. "Little did we know that it was just waiting for the right time to become a really blessing on our lives."

When COVID hit and her husband was feeling career pressure, Mary Jane determined that if she was ever going to launch the business, that was the time to do it. So she stated clearing out the home in anticipation of putting it on the market.

During that process, she learned that they were sitting on a sizeable investment. Not only would the original home bring a nice price, but the lot could be divided into two additional lots -- each of which would be very attractive to homebuyers. By selling the home and lots, the Williams received a sizeable amount of money, which enabled them to buy more homes to flip.

Through the process of selling those homes, a few people approached her to Mary Jane if they had any homes for rent. With home prices skyrocketing, there was significant demand for rental units. A home across the street went on the market, which Mary Jane and her partner bought and made some minor repairs before immediately renting it. Having rental properties will also work to maintain a cash flow to buy supplies and permits.

Final advice

As she crested the 50 mark, Mary Jane knew she was in the last half of her life.

"I just wanted to go out knowing that I did everything I could when I had the ability to do it," she said. "That gives me a sense of energy."

Someday, she hopes to slow down and just maintain a garden. Until then, while her body is able and her mind it sharp, Mary Jane wants to push herself to accomplish everything on her list.

"I'd love to tour with my husband and maybe take a cruise around the world or do some other unusual things to soak up all the beauty our world has to offer," she said.

For people contemplating what to do after turning 50, Mary Jane advises them to focus on one thing they think they’d like to do, then learn all they can about it.

"YouTube is wonderful. You can become YouTube certified in just about anything," she explained. "The important thing is to keep gathering knowledge.

"If you encounter negativity, don't take it in. Keep going to the next level," she added. "When you figure out why you want to do something, it fills your gas tank and keeps you going."

NOTE: Since she was interviewed for this story, Mary Jane successfully passed her real estate exam to become a licensed agent, which will greatly help her business, and shows she continues to gather skills and knowledge.

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