I know

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Before we started

I know this isn’t easy.  In fact, it’s harder than we expected.

I know I’m out of the house more than you want.  I’m sorry.

I know it’s stressful not knowing if our credit card will be accepted or not.  It’s getting better.

I know we grouse at each other more than we should.  Maybe we just need more coffee?

I know our daughter understands some of the stresses.  She will become resilient.

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I know five years ago we were both working full time.

I know five years ago we said we would work our asses off for five more years.  We have.

I know five years ago we decided that our fledgling business would support us in five years.  It’s not, yet.

I know the power of goals.  Our business has only been around for 56 months.

I know I joked about the light in the tunnel being either the end of the tunnel or a train.  It’s the end of the tunnel.

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I know we would not trade our life.  Even if I were to earn six figures.

I know there are still a few things we want.  But our needs are simple.

I know that if our business keeps bumping along as it has, it will support us; 64 months after we started it.

I know I will not be finished working.  But it’s downhill to the finish line.

I know it’s easy to focus on the negative.  But the flip side is so much brighter.

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It gets better with age

Kitchen (Before)

Kitchen (Before)

I do feel that my projects are moving slowly but at least they are moving.  These pictures show the (slow) transformation of the kitchen at the most recent project to be flipped.  I’m not done, but I am hanging drywall.

Cabinets removed.

Cabinets removed.

I work seven days per week.  That is not a brag, it simply is.  Working seven days per week tricks the brain into forgetting exactly which day is today.  Maybe that is why so many religions have a Sabbath – one day to reset and let everyone know which day is which.

Cabinets and horse hair plaster removed.

Cabinets and horse hair plaster removed.

As I was working the ceiling collapsed on me (yes, fell onto me).  It didn’t feel great.  Falling ceilings are always a concern in old homes (who knew?).

Insulated and wall board going up.

Insulated and wall board going up.

A friend is helping me so that he can gain some experience working on homes.  He is a fellow MBA.  Interestingly enough, every day he tells me that he enjoys the satisfaction gained from this ‘man’s work’.  I too experience significant satisfaction from the work I complete.

Walls partially finished.

Walls partially finished.

One of the great satisfactions of this work is the ability to see my own abilities improving.  I would not consider my abilities ‘expert’ but the more projects I complete, the more I see my work transforming from “WTF dude” to “Hey, that actually looks kinda nice”.

Newest UFUO – Duplex

The past two months have been the first time that I’ve had two large projects running concurrently.  One is a single family home.  The other project is a duplex that I bought for $6,000.  The duplex has a few issues: the two second floor bathrooms were pulling away from the house because there was no beam to support the load; there are two sizable leaks into the house – one in the kitchen, one in the entry; most of the pipes were broken; many of the radiators froze and burst; a new roof and new gutters are needed; the damaged carpeting and flooring needs to be replaced; one rotten exterior wall needed to be replaced.  The ugly web of wires, fuses, and circuit breakers would have scared the spiders of Mirkwood.  Oh, and there’s a boat to be disposed of.

In other words, a perfect project for me.

This is the first time that I’ve used subcontractors to handle a large portion of the labor.  The roofing, structural replacements, electrical work, rough plumbing, and HVAC work are all subcontracted.  The structural and roofing crew are Amish, so they do not appear in any of the pictures of the work being completed.  The two bathrooms had sunk nearly 4″.

(Hover your mouse over the photos for captions)

 

The first day I stopped by the job site, the entire wall, from the bump out on the left third of the first photo to the lower roof in the second third of the first photo was gone.  People were walking in and out of the house via this wide opening.  I was unable to get a photo of the entire wall removed, but a section of wall approximately 12′ long was removed, repaired, and rebuilt.  Gutters will protect this section of wall in the future.

Both the interior and exterior electrical service entrances were improved.  One of the old meters hung off the wall – as in – dangling free of the wall, held in place by the service wire!

New service entrance.

New service entrance.

We’ll see how this all plays out – part of me feels really good about this project…and part of me is a little nervous.  It’s super easy to handle most of the work yourself – especially when you don’t pay yourself.  Having other crews on site means the burn rate of cash is drastically increased.

Thank you to all involved in this project – from the sellers and financier to the contractors and (probably most importantly) my wife (for putting up with this madness).  Thank you all.

Baseboard Mysteries

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Today I finished gutting a kitchen.  Behind a baseboard I found the above picture, taken in December 1964.  With a little internet sleuthing I located the names of the family that owned the house at that time – the Jones family.  The patriarch passed away some time ago and the matriarch passed in 2016.  As luck would have it, one of the children owns a small business in town, not five blocks from where this house is located.  I plan to stop by tomorrow and see if I’ve got the right family.

 

 

Peek into the newest project

I’m starting another project that I plan to flip.  I think this one will go much better than the last.  I believe there is more upside and when I finish, hopefully any potential future buyer will agree.  Follow us on Facebook for more up-to-the-minute photos (look for HBS Real Estate).

It all adds up

I chatted with a friend of mine earlier today.  He remarked “It seems you’re really starting to find your feet with [the rentals]”.  It hit me that yes, I am starting to find my stride.

A lot to clean up.

A lot to clean up.

Today I really dug into a new project.  I’ve been picking around the edges for the past week or so – removing bits here and pieces there; moving materials to the job site; shoveling snow; purchasing unique items to make the house pop.  The plan is to flip the house.  I still own my last attempt to flip a house.  This project is less ambitious and I have better systems in place than I did two years ago.

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The kitchen before I started….

The kitchen after five minutes, a saw zall, and a wrecking bar.

The kitchen after five minutes, a saw zall, and a wrecking bar.

As I tore into the kitchen, I realized: I’ve been here before.

The AirBnB

The AirBnB

Rather than that Ground Hog Day queasy feeling of “I’ve been here before and I’m repeating myself again and again and again and again,” I realized that the isolated motions of horse hair lath-and-plaster removal was old hat, but my ability to remove this lath and plaster in this particular 2,500 sf house is due to the accretion of skills and knowledge over a period of ten years.

If my 35-year old self traveled back to tell my 25-year old self what I would be doing ten years hence, the 25-year old would not believe the 35-year old.  But the 25-year old had a dream (not even to the point of being a goal).  The 25-year old also picked up a book on real estate investing and began adding knowledge and skills.  3652 days later I’m here, finding my stride.

Darkest before the dawn

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I seem to reach a point in all of my projects where I feel I’m working and working and working but no progress is being made.  Wiring, plumbing, hell even framing, take time and must be done but I always feel there is no progress.  I come home tired.  Hands bleeding, back strained, and dog tired (there is something good about that kind of tired, you know?).

What keeps me moving through the mire is the knowledge (and it is becoming knowledge at this point) that there exists an inflection point when the project starts to gel.  Not dissimilar to the point where, after a seemingly interminable amount of kneading, flour, water, salt and yeast become bread dough.  My inflection point is when my vision for the project starts to take hold, asserting the vision’s dominance over the mess I began with.

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Yet, I still feel I am slogging through the work.  Most rough framing completed – check; most wiring done – check; most plumbing completed – check; oops, head back for more rough framing, touch up the piping.  Almost done? Nope, forgot to do some structural work.  Then finish the rough framing before I can finish the wiring.  Great!  Now it’s all ready for drywall (except the ONE DAMN OUTLET that I forgot…ARUGHHH!).

(my wife accuses me of opening too many projects before I finish one…I’ve never argued that point)

Anyway, I continue pushing through the frustration, knowing I’ll turn the corner soon.

Soon.

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Let there be Light

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I’m tired, my hands ache, and the raw skin on my knuckles screams at me each and every time I bump my hands (which is a lot).  There were two overhead lights  when I started working on this house.  I have been adding recessed lights to add some light to the house but to also help keep all available head room – the walls are only seven feet tall.  Reaching into walls to pull wires causes me to bump my hands and fingers in many painful ways.

Don’t trust an electrician with soft hands and not a little dirt under his nails!

As I improve this house, I am able to celebrate small victories.  Today’s was the (almost) completion of all electrical work in the first phase of this project.  The work is complete enough to celebrate, even if it is a little premature.  However, these small victories dull my sense of accomplishment on this project, almost like trying to watch a river cut a new channel.

As I pulled the above photo off my phone, I had the opportunity to review the work to date and, admittedly, smiled to myself as I look at all that has been accomplished in 39 days (yes, the house used to be pink):

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I probably won’t be ready for guests for the Temple game, but progress is happening.

The right stuff

Not The Right Stuff (for this job, usually)

Not The Right Stuff (for this job, usually)

Real estate investing is all about The Right Stuff, as defined by you, the investor.  For some, The Right Stuff is a mobile home park, for others, a Unique-Fixer-Upper-Opportunity.  The Right Stuff goes deeper than the purchase though – it goes all the way to the rock bottom of your business.

Flooring sander

Flooring sander

The right tools, materials, clothing and software are all part of The Right Stuff.  The suited picture (who some have accused of being my identical twin) is Not The Right Stuff for working in a basement, but is The Right Stuff for asking for a sizable loan.

My dad is a scientist at heart (geology) and I spent a good portion of my childhood competing in science fairs (ice crystals are anisotropic crystalline solids…for those who may remember).  This love for experimentation extends to my adult life.  Never put in a hardwood floor?  A few YouTube videos and some trial and error and I’m off to the races.  Rewiring an entire house?  No problem (zapped a few times, but I’m still typing).

The right stuff for drywall on a Friday night.

The right stuff for drywall on a Friday night.

My love for experimentation previously allowed me to believe that if anyone could do it, I could do it.  Hence the floors, wiring, plumbing, drywall, plaster, etc.  This belief has probably held me back, but not necessarily in a bad way, as I have been forced to build systems to manage both a day job as well as the rental business.

The past two years studying for my MBA have taught me many things but one of the best is: the ‘rules’ of life are there for a reason, play by the ethical rules and you’ll probably get to where you want to go much faster and with less angst than by trying to create new rules.  For me, this has meant the abandonment of the ‘I’ for the development of a team.

My company has worked with five contractors with mixed results (remember this one?).  Through all of the previous contractors, I’ve fallen back to “if anyone can do it, I can do it”, which has really stifled my business’s growth, but I am still convinced has probably helped me more than it has hurt.

But I’ve continued to try.

Which gets me to the most recent contractor I have used.

The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff (finally)

Last February, I needed a contractor to help with a downed electrical service wire (the wire going from the pole to your house).  An ice storm had pulled the wire off one of my units and I needed someone THAT DAY to assess the situation and come up with a solution.  I called around and received a recommendation to hire Chris.

On that icy day in February, Chris finished his normal day’s work, then went to my apartment, secured the wire and made arrangements to fix the service wire the next day.  Since that day, Chris has been my go-to guy for plumbing and electrical work.  When the original contractor walked off my most recent project (again, should have followed my gut), I called Chris.

A sailor would blush at Chris’s command of the artsy words in the English language and his diet may be sub-par, but his work ethic and skills are far superior to all other contractors I’ve found (and his prices are exceedingly low for the quality of his work).  Chris is The Right Stuff for my business.

I am trying to purchase a duplex in need of significant rehab (if any friends have a spare $44k, I can put it to good use and give you a good return).  I decided to ask Chris if he wanted the work, and asked him to do some of the work I had intended to do.  Chris’s conservative proposal (ie: assumed high costs, actual costs should go lower), came in at a lower cost and faster turn around than if I did the work myself.

Definitely The Right Stuff for my team.

 

Not as tough as it looks

Road-rash from some seriously aggressive sandpaper!

Road-rash from some seriously aggressive sandpaper!

 

PrePreScript: This was going to be an entirely different post, which you’ll be able to find at www.dadsreading.com later this week, but I figured this is more real estate related.

PreScript: My entire philosophy on life is simple but I’m not a good enough to contain it in 500 words.  Maybe one day I will spend the 10k words to flesh out my philosophy.

I’ve been pondering my future: what to do with my MBA?  Today, I listened to a podcast where the host interviewed Ben Hewitt, a Vermont homesteader and philosopher/thinker (the podcast is long, but worth the 1.5 hours, IMO).  I was struck by the choice Ben made to live a deliberate life, on his terms, which has allowed him to thoroughly enjoy life.  While Ben has enjoyed his life, he admits there are difficult times.

Yet he enjoys life.

This brings me to real estate.  Many people actively avoid hard work but there is enjoyment in physical work as mentioned on Invisible Office Hour’s first podcast.  On Invisible Office Hour’s cast, one of the hosts discusses building a wall at his house and how pleasurable the project was.

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Flooring edger

I find similar satisfaction in the physical labor I conduct on my rental properties.  Today was no different.  Eighteen hours of work punctuated by one hour for breakfast and an hour and a half for dinner/hanging with my daughter.  Yes, some of the time was spent writing, but at least ten of those hours were spent doing physical labor.

Looks like a droid to me.

Looks like a droid to me.

 

Flooring sander

Flooring sander

There is comfort knowing who will be putting money into your IRA/401k, etc, but there is real satisfaction watching progress – the transformation of an ugly caterpillar into the monarch.

Before and After (from right to left)

Before and After (from right to left)

I don’t know where I will end up, where I will be working or who I will become.  I want to continue being satisfied.  Do I have to sacrifice comfort?  I don’t know.

It may be difficult, but it’s not as tough as it looks.

 

More pictures from today (the power was off…)