Jan 03

Okay, time for a rant here…

For the sixth time in less than ten months, Pitney Bowes postage (PB.com) has posted late fees to our account for payments received posted two or more days prior to the due date.
Pitney Bowes has gone from the industry leader in SMB postage solutions to adopting slimy, time-consuming business practices.
If it has happened to us, then I’m sure it is happening to countless other small businesses. If it happened to you I would like to hear from you.  Maybe it is time for legal actions.


I would also like recommendations for alternative services for businesses sending 400-1000 pieces of mail a month.
Jul 03

A reader writes of the frustration he was having after being charged by the city for mattresses dumped at his property that were not from his tenants.  With the ever exploding bedbug problems in urban areas, there are a lot more mattresses hitting the garbage.

We had a similar problem with properties in Milwaukee.  At one property mattresses would appear behind it once a month or so even though there were no move outs.  We would the get gigged for the $100 repeat litter fine even though we had our clean out crew drive past the property every couple of days and remove any trash well before getting notified by the city.   Somehow it seemed the city inspector was there the day the mattress was dropped off each month.

I wanted to catch who ever was dropping the mattresses in the act so I bought a trail camera and mounted it to view the garbage area.  Mattresses quit appearing immediately after that.  We have since installed trial cameras or wifi cameras at a number of locations.  The problems generally stopped upon installation (deterrent effect)  In one case we caught a neighbor who is a small contractor dumping.  He quit after being given a picture of him unloading his truck in the garbage cart area of our property.  I’m sure he is now dumping at someone else’s property to avoid paying the construction debris fees at the self help dump.  Most bad happens after dark so Infrared (IR) technology is important for night vision.

An example of a trail camera that uses an SD memory card to record images.  We have a number of the Moultrie cameras.  In fact they were being sold in the sporting goods section of Wal Mart at a similar price to Amazon.

A 64GB card holds a lot of images.  Set it to overwrite when full and then retrieve the card when there is a problem.  These can be mounted anywhere as they are battery powered. A set of batteries lasts three months or so.

If you have a cooperative tenant with internet or provide internet to your building, the other choice is wifi enabled security cameras.  The under $100 ones need to be building mounted for the power, but you can upload to cloud storage and keep a month’s worth of images or movies.

Netgear makes a battery powered wifi camera system that intrigues me, but haven’t bought any yet.

Why do my Amazon links start with smile instead of www?  AmazonSmile donates a portion of the sale to any charity you select.  I chose Children’s Hospital of WI, but there are a million 501 (c) (3) organizations that you can choose from.


Jan 02

A year ago I wrote of my five top ideas for real estate for 2013.

Of those ideas I have implemented .. not much.   Shortly after the first of the year 2013 we found that my wife’s ongoing back pain was being caused by a large benign tumor. She had it surgically removed on Valentine’s day and is fine today, but it upended things for a while

Today as I reflect on the past year and think about this coming year I reread the ideas posted last year. A year later they all hold value.

Two have been implemented as part of an effort to increase the value of membership by the Apartment Association of Southeastern WI’s  board of directors under the leadership of Joe Dahl.

The Association now has quarterly small group meetings as part of the Professional Membership. These meetings are an important element of #3 on the list, improving  how we share our collective knowledge

In a big step towards #1 on the list, reducing maintenance supply costs, the Association has teamed up with Home Depot, Pittsburg Paint, Sherwin Williams, and a number of other organizations to provide discounts to our members.

Home Depot offers a whopping 20% discount on paint and 2% cash back rebate on most purchases to our members. Sherwin Williams offers members discounts on paint equal to the discounts that major contractors receive. Pittsburg has similar discounts.

I would add a sixth and seventh opportunity for 2014, Crowdsourcing/Crowd funding for real estate.  I’ll post my thoughts on these in the next couple of days

The five most important Real Estate Ideas for 2014 remain:

(Clicking on the topic’s title takes you to the full article)

  1. Reducing Maintenance Supplies costs
    Pre 1950 buildings in lower income neighborhoods require around $100 per month per unit for repairs, replacement reserves and improvements. Newer buildings in more affluent neighborhoods perhaps $50 – $65. This is all maintenance from leaky faucets and unit turnovers to new cabinets, new roofs, electrical upgrades, replacing parking lots ect. (more)
  2. More Effective Maintenance Labor/Contractors
    Maintenance, replacements and improvements to rental housing represents nearly $100 million per year in the city of Milwaukee alone. A savings of even 1% is a lot of money. (more)
  3. Become better at sharing our collective knowledge
    The ApartmentAssoc@YahooGroups.com is good beginning. However it does not work real well as a reference tool as the posts are not organized by topics nor apparently easily searchable for many users. (more)
  4. Group purchase of a distressed block or two
    There has been this wild idea floating around in my head for years, acquiring a distressed block with a group of active owners and turn it around for fun and profit. (more)
  5. Tech Meets Real Estate
    There certainly are huge opportunities for software/web solutions for things that cause frustrations for owners and perhaps tenants. (more)
  6. Crowdsourcing for real estate, posting later in the week.
  7. Crowdfunding for real estate, posting later in the week.


Oct 06

For the past two and a half decades or so, I put a lot into the Apartment Association.   I remain a board member and avid supporter of the organization.

We did some good and prevented some bad during my tenure on the board.  We’ve had very impressive leaders before and after my presidency such as Dave Domres , Attorney John Savage and Attorney Tristan Pettit.  We’ve also had some of the brightest minds working behind the scenes to make things happen, such as Jeff Chitko, Bill Lauer and Attorney Heiner Giese. Countless others did a lot for the Association and industry  such as Jim Dropp, Joe McLean, Bob Jovanovich, Dave Ohrmundt, Richard Bishop, Kim Queen and many, many more. The list of achievers is truly too long to list here.

This crowded slate of superstars really makes standing out difficult for even the best.

Then along comes our latest president, Joe Dahl and I am in awe.  The guy has been AASEW president for 10 months now.  In that short time he has accomplished the near impossible.

During the housing downturn Home Depot cut back on Pro reps and dropped their AASEW membership.   I tried for a couple of years to get them to return as a sponsoring member. No dice.

Not only did Joe get Home Depot to rejoin, but in the process secured a 20% discount on paint and a 2% rebate on everything else for our members.  Then he went on to get member discounts* from Sherwin Williams, Wisconsin Legal Blank, Pittsburgh Paint and many more vendors we use everyday.  The rebates more than pay for most member’s dues.  To stay competitive in this industry you will almost have to be a member.

We had a couple of good trade shows when Carmen produced them, but let’s be truthful, the last few year’s shows were dogs.  This year Joe enlisted the help of Shari from Sid Grinker, who along with Bill from ABC Sewer made this an outstanding event for both the industry and the vendors. The place was packed.   When you see either of them give them a big thanks.

Joe convinced some outstanding people to join the board such as Jon Krause, formerly of OnMilwaukee.com, Steve Johnson and Aaron Moseer.  These guys are young and sharp. (young of course being relative)

Our general membership meetings this year were often at capacity.  This was due to good marketing and strong subject matter.

Although not an Association event, Joe personally put on a very successful and impressive fund raiser for Senator Lasee who has been a friend of real estate and housing.  Something like 60 influential people from the rental industry attended.  I’m sure the Senator was pleased.

This kid — and  I can call him a kid because he is a couple of years younger than my oldest son —  is sharp and willing to do the work.  Joe holds an MBA, while at that point in my life all I held was a hammer and a paint brush.  😉  So far the only bad thing I can say about Joe is sometimes he swears enough to make a sailor blush, but he promises me he is working on that.

If you were a member, but no longer are, or if you never were a member, you should check out what the organization is becoming under Joe’s leadership. If you are a member you should take advantage of the discounts* and throw your support behind Joe and his team. If you are a larger owner that is not in the Milwaukee area it may make sense for you to join just for the discounts.

The 1980’s group Timbuk3 must of been thinking of us when they wrote “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades”  Bit of trivia – Timbuk3 was a Madison WI band.

* November 18th general meeting, which is the board election, the Association will be presenting a guide to all of the discounts and how to use them to your best advantage. I believe this is a member only event, but will verify and post more later.


Jan 09

Real Estate Ideas for 2013 Part Five: Tech Meets Real Estate

What can be done collectively to improve our businesses, save costs or generate additional revenue?

On January 1st I posted a list of ideas that I had that some of us could consider to collaboratively work on.  I intend to pursue one or two of the ideas presented and may entertain partnering with the right person or persons.

This post is the fifth and final of my more in depth notes on the ideas.  I will post others over the next week or so as time permits me to clean my notes into coherent sentences. If any of the topics interest you comment either on the list or directly to me at:Tim@ApartmentsMilwaukee.com

Part Five:

Tech Meets Real Estate

There certainly huge opportunities for software/web solutions for things that cause frustrations for owners and perhaps tenants.

I see this as the greatest opportunity of those presented by me.  We are in an industry that has low margins and high expenses. A 10% swing in effectiveness can mean the difference between wildly successful and a miserable failure.

Some thoughts on where tech and rental real estate may intersect:

  • Setting rents to market rates. How much are you losing because your rents are too low or how much have you lost due to your rents being too high and your vacancies languish? Me, too, to some extent. ;-(  What if there was a site that effectively tracked what other rents are at in your area?
  • Property acquisition. Look at what sites like SpotProperty are doing elsewhere, but not here.
  • Vacancy filling Craig’s List used to work, but now there is too much spam and fraud. What about a system where the tenants need to prequalify before actually applying. While pre qualifying without processing the full app  by an individual owner may be problematic from a fair housing standpoint, a proper third party system could work.
  • Tools for  group maintenance supply buying mentioned in Part One of this series where owners could opt into a group purchase of bulk supplies
  • Improved tenant screening.  Things like “Bad Tenant Lists” are illegal, but there must be things that are not being done today or being done in a manner that is more difficult than necessary or simply be improved by tech solutions.
  • A site for creating and serving 5-day notices etc. by certified mail or personal service from your computer without ever having to leave your home or office.
  • Put your solution here…

Where tech helps our industry today

Obviously MLS is the big tech tool of real estate.

The right property management software is essential for all but the smallest of property owners.  Our company uses very customized management software that makes many tasks and decisions automatic or semi automatic. In general a click a button and the machine does exactly what a well trained person would. Receive a WE Energies service termination notice and a work list item is created to check for vacant. Tenant collection actions are automatically determined on amount due, last pay date and how long they have been a tenant. One button and it select the proper notice or reminder for all tenants. Of course there are overrides as special circumstances require special treatment.

Automation of routine tasks frees our employees to think about things that need thought about, rather than thinking about the repetitive and mundane.  Computers are great at those tasks.

Another example of tech meeting rental real estate is the free eviction notices we provide members on the AASEW site.

Outside of MLS, management software, five days and the examples above, there are certainly other solutions and improvements just waiting for us to identify.  Well, waiting for you to identify, as I’ve put all I can think of in the above list.

If any of the topics interest you comment either on the list or directly to me at:Tim@ApartmentsMilwaukee.com

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