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”.

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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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…)

How you know you’ve hit rock bottom

Rock bottom

Rock bottom

I’ve been (slowly) pouring a cement floor into the house with a dirt basement (Basement post, Flooring install).  I’ve now literally hit rock bottom.  You see, the basement in the house is typical of old homes – damp, musty and wet when it rains, so I wanted to add a sump pump.  I knew the basement was rocky as I had tried to dig out some flooring supports and kept hitting rock.

My plan was to remove the old, now abandoned sewer lines and put the sump pump in a hole dug under the old pipe.  First I removed the pipe – Grind through it with my grinder (noisy and dusty), remove the pipe and dig the hole.

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Next, I dug and dug and dug and cleaned the hole out.

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Tried as I might, I realized I had hit rock bottom.

Rock bottom

Rock bottom

So I enlarged the hole and test fit the sump basin.  The basin is sitting a little high, but I’ll drill holes in the walls to allow water in which the pump can then push out.

The sump basin fits

The sump basin fits

I then had to place a $25 test plug in the old sewer line just in case there was a sewer backup, I didn’t want the basement flooding.  Nothing like spending $25 so I can bury it under cement.

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I then drilled a hole into the side of the basin and placed a 2″ PVC pipe to allow for sub-slab water to find it’s way to the basin.  I placed stones, sand and gravel around the sump pit to allow water to flow into the basin.

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I jury rigged some forms around the slab to hold the concrete in place and filled the massive hole with gravel and large stones.

Next I mixed concrete (this is from a previous pad in the same basement):

My back is screaming at me again, but here’s the finished product:

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Pouring a concrete floor in a dirt basement

Waste lines

The most recent house I’ve been working on has dirt basement.  I was excavating a portion of the basement to install a wall between the two units and had to cut out a tree root.  The long term plans for the house are to install a cement floor in the basement and convert the basement to a tall crawlspace.  My plumber still thinks the space would be great for a work space – I’m skeptical.

Anyway, I’m slowly adding portions to the floor (currently about 15SF installed…it’s a slow process).  There is no window into the basement, so I have to hand mix each of the 80lb bags of cement.  It’s heavy, slow work.  Here’s a quick set of pics of my work yesterday.

The plumber will be installing the new water lines this week so he needs a spot for the water heater.  The pile of junk on the dirt floor is exactly where the water heater will go.  Time to move the pile and prep the floor.

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I moved the junk pile and spread some gravel then a 6mil vapor barrier.  The plastic is a little thin for my liking, but it’ll do.  The gravel is there to allow any water that gets into the basement to flow to a future sump pump.

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I cut and built some concrete forms for the 3’x3′ pad.  I cut the 2×4’s in half so I could insert the steel remesh for strength in the concrete.

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I then used some scrap to hold the top and bottom of the form together:

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Next the form was checked and leveled with small stones in the low corners:

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Then the mixing began.

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Bag by bag, the forms filled up.

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While it felt like a long day, the actual mixing only took about 30 minutes.  Setting and leveling the forms took almost an equal amount of time.

I need an official HBS shirt!

I need an official HBS shirt!

Finished concrete - a little soupy.

Finished concrete – a little soupy.

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