Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Valuation of Intangibles

I recently sold my house.

This place ain't mine no more.

I bought this place a little over six years ago. I lived in it for 1½ years, and then I rented it to amazing tenants for the next 4½ years.

The house sold quickly, thanks to my awesome realtors, Sarah and Jamie Reece. As Shakespeare would say, Sarah and Jamie made the process as smooth as monumental alabaster.

    February 25: Tenants move out
    March 5: List on market
    March 10: Accept offer
    March 28: Close

Repeat business and word-of-mouth are extremely valuable. I've done my repeat business, as Sarah and Jamie also helped me buy this place six years ago. And now here's my word-of-mouth:
Sarah & Jamie are great agents -- I highly suggest working with them for your next real estate transaction!

Sarah & Jamie Reece.
(Photo from

Truth be told, I've taken quite a bit of shit for selling my rental property. "You had exquisite tenants!" "It was generating cash for you!" In light of conventional thinking, this shit is duly deserved. My tenants were indeed fantastic, and the property was indeed generating income.

But conventional thinking doesn't work so well for my lifestyle.

Furthermore, conventional thinking rarely considers the valuation of intangibles. By selling my property, I've acquired something called "freedom" -- freedom from having to property manage, freedom from having to worry about someone else managing the property, and freedom from everything else that comes along with owning stuff.

Freedom, for me, is precious and thus very valuable.

I moved to Seattle in 2006 to begin a PhD program in Accounting at the University of Washington. I wanted to study the valuation of intangibles.

My comrades entering the various doctorate business programs in 2006.
I'm in the third row, third from the right.

As you likely recall, the valuation of an organization's assets, liabilities, and owner's equity are displayed within a financial statement called a "balance sheet." (My apologies if I'm bringing back horrid memories of your Accounting 101 class.) Traditionally, accountants have only included an organization's tangible assets within the balance sheet. But in today's knowledge-based economy, it is often an organization's intangible assets that truly drive value for the business.

Sure, there exist approaches for valuing certain intangibles on a balance sheet, such as franchises, copyrights, trademarks, patents, and brand names. But there are no methods for valuing employees. I wanted to study how to value employees on a balance sheet.  I wanted to quantify the elements that make employes valuable -- the quality of management, the loyalty of the workforce, and technological know-how, to name a few. After all, without employees, organizations are worthless.

I didn't get too far into the doctoral program, as the surrounding mountains and waters of the Pacific Northwest proved to be far more enticing. Though my interest in valuing employees has waned, my appreciation for the valuation of intangibles has not. 

In the year and a half since I've abandoned my traditional career-centered lifestyle to design and live my own life, I've placed a greater and greater value on freedom. I've exchanged my rental property for freedom. I've pulled up more of my roots, and I've further expanded my wings.

Less tangibles in my life means more room for intangibles -- freedom, gratitude, joy, happiness. And while I don't care to spend my life pinning a dollar amount on these intangibles, I can affirmatively say that the valuation of my intangibles far exceeds the valuation of my tangibles.


  1. I am 65 and thought of working for one more year, you know for financial security and all that; but wow, you made me rethink, and I am grateful for it.

    1. Anonymous -- glad to have inspired some rethinking. :)

  2. So you took some shit over this... I bet none of them have a personal mission statement. In fact, without a mission statement (and that's probably most of us humans) holding on to property is a form of comfort to shield us from an uncertain future. I see nothing in your mission statement about being a landlord. ;-)
    Only time will tell, but if you are honoring your compass, I don't see how you can go wrong. I admire your courage and determination.


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