Jan 04

 Real Estate Ideas for 2013

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 third 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 Three: 

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.

What if the archives were used to form a new reference tool, perhaps a Wikipedia style “Best Practices” Guide for Milwaukee rental owners.  My vision is a user contributed, user edited tool that would be a ready reference to many topics we discuss on these lists.

It would include everything that a property manager runs into. Who is the best plumber, what notice do you use for the tenant that decided that partying till 6 AM everyday is being neighborly.

Many of us know a lot, but none of us know it all. Things change in our industry nearly daily.   Contractors and suppliers who were the best may have become expensive  sloppy or retied.   New vendors and contractors come on the scene every day. Bad tenants learn new ways to circumvent screening. Laws change. Judges and Commissioners change their views on how laws are implemented.

Similarly a Mastermind Group could reap benefits if the right people were involved. Here is a good overview of how Mastermind groups work.

Another model is what groups like StartUpMKE are doing in the tech field.  It is similar to what the Apartment Association does, but they seem  more involved in actual business creation.

Lunch with  AASEW board members was an interesting idea.  If you don’t recall this you can read more about lunch with AASEW board members here.  When I look back on our prior attempt, I think this would work better if the sponsor board members would set a date, place and topic.  Then if there was enough interest for that particular meeting it would move forward.

Bottom line: There is power in shared knowledge and we should do more to harness that power

Jan 03

Real Estate For Ideas 2013 Part Two

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 second 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 Two:

More Effective Maintenance Labor/Contractors/Service Providers

As mentioned in part one, 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 Effective Maintenance Labor/Contractors/Service Providers

The ability to have skilled, cost effective maintenance available on demand is typically a missing element for small owners.

If all of your unit preps are done two days after move out you will have far less vacancy income loss. If you can respond quickly to emergency repairs less tenants will move.

Even larger owners such as our company can’t do this efficiently with typical staffing. Either you have too few workers the first week of the month or too many the rest of the month.

The million dollar question is ‘How do can you have an on demand workforce without the risk of uninsured “contractors” who may later be deemed employees by taxing authorities or injured and not covered by your property insurance?’

A couple of years ago Affordable Rentals rolled out Rental A Worker, where we ‘rent’ other owners our maintenance people by the hour for small or large jobs. We benefit as we can have a larger workforce to meet the up and down demands of maintenance, while being able to share them when our workload is lighter.  We can also justify having highly skilled people on staff full time, such as certified heating techs.

The big advantage this offers other owners over hiring Joe off the street is our people are insured and have taxes withheld. There is a real danger and expensive otherwise. For the longer version read: Your Handyman-Cheap Contractor or $60000 Mistake?

The real vision for Rent-A-Worker is to expand it to a temp like service where there is an on demand workforce that can ramp up when there are a lot of preps etc and then can work for another temp agency on slow times.  This would hold an advantage for our company as well as other owners who participate.

Such a system would have a worker rating system, whereby the owners would grade them and their opportunity to work and future pay rate would be based on those grades.  So the best workers would achieve full time employment at a decent wage.

All the workers, whether they are laborers or small uninsured contractors would be treated as employees with the temp agency withholding taxes, maintaining worker’s comp etc., thereby eliminating a potential career ending risk for owners who were hiring “handymen” for cash.  The guy in the Cheap Contractor or $60,000 mistake went under.  I assume this was the cause

I pursued the temp angle a bit a year a half ago.  We hired a college grad who was formerly a manager a temp agency that moved out of the area. Excellent resume and references. I held a lot of hope for him to do well at this, but in the end it did not work out. By that time I was distracted with the purchase of a commercial property in Hollywood FL to house my wife’s businesses.  The basic software framework exits as well as some operating procedures.

I still believe an available,  flexible workforce  is the brass ring for our industry; seeing so much benefit for my company as well as many other owners. This may be the top new project to aggressively pursue this in 2013. The open question on this is does Obamacare make this in anyway less practical today if the number of temps exceeds 50.

Jan 02

Real Estate Ideas for 2013 Part One

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 first 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 One:

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.

Do the math on your units over an extended time period. Do not forget to include a reasonable value on your time. You chose $10 an hour? Why not work for me or McDonalds.  Make more per hour and avoid all the hassles of ownership? 😉

A quick check of city data files shows there are 159,658 rental units in the City of Milwaukee alone, inclusive of rented units in owner occupied buildings. Let’s assume a low ball $50 per unit per month in repairs, replacements and improvements. Annually that is a whopping $95,794,800. Yes, nearly $100 million per year. It actually could be a much larger number. Even 1% savings  is a lot of money.

So what can be done?

Improve supply sourcing: Collectively finding the best deals and creating good deals through group purchases.

We did this a couple years back when the CO detector law went into effect. Prices then for COs were in the twenty dollar range. My company alone needed around 2,000 CO units. So we shopped the best deal and found where the quantity price breaks were. We brought in a bunch of other larger owners and the final price dropped to eleven something each due to the number of pallets ordered. So four or five hours of my staff’s time saved our company and the other participants collectively tens of thousands of dollars in a single transaction.

Last spring myself and another midsize owner went to the Hardware Show in Las Vegas. Between us we buy some products in quantities that equal or exceed an independent corner hardware store. In Vegas we found good deals on a number of products and vendors we continue to use today. You can read more about this trip here: http://justalandlord.com/2012/05/13/thoughts-ideas-from-the-national-hardware-show/

This brings us to the million dollar question… ‘How can we use our collective shopping experiences and buying power to improve our bottom-line on a daily basis in 2013?’

Obviously group buying is a large opportunity.  There are some details that would have to be worked out to prevent this from being a burden to anyone.  The CO detector deal worked because the larger the group the lower the price for all of us.  I knew the other owners, but even then some backed out or reduced the number of units they wanted.  In this instance it was not a problem as the request I received after placing the order exceed the ones that were not taken.  But the situation could have left me with $11,000 of detectors I had no immediate need for, but a bill that would need to be paid within 30 days.

The most viable option that I can think of is a web based system where an item would be presented and people would commit to their purchase with a credit card that would have an authorization hold on the amount of the commitment, but the card would not be charged unit we reached the magic number. Once we were ready then the charge cards would be processed and the order placed.  For this to work we would need a pretty short time frame to order.  Seven days? If the quantity was not reached then the authorizations would be released and nothing would be charged to the owners’ credit card.

The website would show how many widgets needed to be ordered to get x pricing and how many to get y.  Emails would go out saying we are X number of units away from placing the order or X number of units away from the next level price break.  Some larger owners could quickly do the math and figure out if they bought an extra 50 widgets that the price break savings would make it less than they were paying for the original amount.  (That happened with the CO detectors.)

There would of course be some upfront costs here, but not a lot.  There would also be some admin costs finding and securing the orders.

Sharing our purchasing experiences could be an opportunity too.   If we had some easy way of sharing what we were purchasing from whom for how much we would all know the best places to buy.  I just do not see reaching a level of participation that would make this work.  (But I’d enjoy being proven wrong)

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

 

Jan 01

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

I will post my in-depth thoughts on these topics 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 here or email me at: Tim@ApartmentsMilwaukee.com

  • Reduce Maintenance Costs
  • Become better at sharing our collective knowledge
  • Group purchase of a distressed block or two
  • IT meets real estate

Reduce Maintenance Costs

Improve supply sourcing: ‘How can we use our collective shopping experiences and buying power to improve our bottom-line on a daily basis in 2013?’  More thoughts on better material sourcing.

More effective Maintenance Labor/Contractors/Services The ability to have skilled, cost effective maintenance available on demand is typically a missing element for most small to medium sized owners. Read more on  effective maintenance labor solutions that could change our industry.

Become better at sharing our collective knowledge

The ApartmentAssoc@YahooGroups.com is good beginning. But the idea could be greatly expanded upon. Perhaps a Wikipedia style “Best Practices” Guide* for Milwaukee rental owners. It would include everything that a property manager may run into.

Similarly a Mastermind Group could reap benefits if the right people were involved. Here is an overview of the Mastermind concept.

Also look at what groups like StartUpMKE are doing in the tech field.  Read my thoughts on increasing the sharing of knowledge.

Group purchase of a distressed block or two

Choose a very small geo area of Milwaukee. Think something on the terms of both sides of a block or two maybe three at the max. It should be depressed, as in make Detroit look like a nice place to live, depressed.

Apologizes to Detroit, but many people know of Detroit’s challenges and fewer of the challenges of Milwaukee.

Yes, unfortunately, there are many areas like this in Milwaukee and the numbers are increasing as foreclosures work their way through the system.

The plan would be to assemble a group of investors and turn the area for fun and profit. My  expanded thoughts on group purchasing of a distressed block.

Tech meets real estate

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

Some ideas:

    • Setting rents to market. 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. ;-(
    • Property acquisition tools Look at what sites like http://www.spotproperty.com/ 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 by an individual owner may be problematic from a fair housing standpoint, a proper third party system could work.
    • Custom Management tools My company’s secret sauce is our highly customized management software. Nearly every task is one or two clicks and the computer makes many mundane management decisions on its own.
    • Put your solution here

You can read my thoughts on tech and real estate here

Conclusion

What? This is not enough ideas for one year? Then post yours on the comments!

Shy, then email directly at: Tim@ApartmentsMilwaukee.com either for my review only or to repost anonymously as you direct.

 

 

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May 13

What I’ve learned in the past few months

I wrote a while back about my trip to the ASD retailer show in Vegas. We followed this up a few weeks later by returning to Vegas, along with Jeff of J & J Rentals, for the National Hardware Show.

We were looking both for new products as well as opportunities to buy items that we currently buy in case and pallet lots. We were not expecting to hit a home run on the latter as, although we purchase $25,000 to $35,000 of hardware, building supplies and paint per month, those number probably were not enough to interest large wholesalers.

We actually hit a home run on both as well as finding products for my wife’s event supply business.  Ironically it turned out my son was at the show too. He left radio and is now working for a public relations firm. They were there helping promote a fertilizer infused grass seed.

Cool new products found at the show

Number one has to be TeleSteps telescopic type 1 250# and 1A 300#  rated ladders with OSHA and ANSI certs. These were originally developed for military and law enforcement use. At the show they had a couple of the flat black anodized military versions on display.

The advantage of these over an extension ladder is they fit in the trunk of your car instead of requiring a truck with a ladder rack. What was happening is we would send a maintenance guy out and if the job required a longer ladder we would have to divert a truck with a ladder rack to deliver and then pick up the ladder.

I purchased one telescopic ladders and sent it out with a crew leader. He came back, said he loved it and asked if he could keep it. I said sure as long as he took good care of it. He said he would treat it as well as he treats his girl. I cautioned him not to bring my ladder back in the same condition as his girl, pregnant.

Now two other crews are requesting their own telescopic ladders.

Next cool item:

SaniSeal wax ring replacement. This is the “donut” that fits between the toilet and the sewer pipe flange. The problem with regular wax rings is if there is any movement they tend to leak causing the floor to rot or water damage to the apartment below. It a heavy person sits on the toilet the wax ring can compress and they do not return to their original form afterwards.

The SaniSeal product is made of polyurethane foam that does not permanently compress and is reusable if a toilet needs to be unmounted for things like drain cleaning.

We have purchased a case of these.

Speaking of drain cleaning:

General Wire was at the show with their sewer and drain cleaning machines. Not too much special there, but they have a new head for both small drain cleaners as well as sewer machines called the ClogChopper. It looks like it could handle roots better than a normal blade. We bought one and will try it the next time we run into roots, which is often as the city in their infinite wisdom tend to plant trees at the curb line right above the sewer.

We also found a couple of new tools for clearing sink drains.  Probably the best of breed is the “DRAIN KING” MINI-SNAKE

Painting:

There is a tremendous amount of time wasted in set up and take down on painting jobs as tThey have to clean their brushes, rollers etc. I’m pretty sure I lose an hour a day per painter. In fact during the summer we run our paint crews ten hours a day four days a week to cut some of this cost, plus the guys like three day weekends.

We ran into a neat product that can cut the set up/tear down cost a bit. The Kovrd 3 IN 1 PAINT TRAY BAG & DROP SHEET is an air proof bag that just zips shut to keep the rollers, trays and brushes fresh. It also works as a mini drop cloth for painting doors etc.

No one in the upper Midwest carries the product, so we bought a case and had it shipped up to Milwaukee.

Water, water everywhere…

Milwaukee sewer and water costs are out of control, but you knew that.

We found some interesting water conservation products. One that may or may not save a lot of money depending on how well it is accepted by the tenant base are flush valves that convert standard toilets to dual flush, using half the water for liquids that solids.

A few seemed like well educated people would have a hard time understanding them and were expensive such as the Toilet Guardian AquaOne.com, but one shows promise.

The One2Flush by One2products.com is relatively inexpensive, in the $25 range in quantities, and appears simple enough that it will not confuse tenants which results in service calls. We are going to do a limited test on a handful of properties to see the results. The valve itself has been used in europe for many years.

In the past we’ve tried the FluidMaster water sentry. This is a fill valve that shuts off when it detects a running toilet. The results were not that encouraging, but it was a few years ago. Korky, has come out with their version of a similar product called WaterWISE™ We ordered a dozen of these for a test.

Faucets

When it comes to faucets you can get cheap plastic faucets that constantly need replacing or you can get metal faucets that last but cost 3-4 times as much.

We found a distributor of good solid metal faucets at the price point of the plastics. These are made for the hotel industry, and weigh enough that you could probably take them to Miller Compressing, a local scrap yard, and get the price back in scrap metal. They have all the listings such as NSF, CSA, etc. and are approved for CA, which has some of the most stringent requirements in the nation.

We located a manufacturer of fire extinguishers and another of CO and smoke detectors. Both seem to offer a good price compared to what we are buying today. We are working out the shipping before placing an order.

Really cool thing

We were at the Frost King booth, you know, the weatherstrip, carpet bar and plastic manufacturer.  The salesman that spoke to us was no other than Mel, the founder and owner.  I like the product and was impressed that a guy of his position still works the floor, talking to even t smallest of buyers.  No wonder they have been so successful for so long.

Final thoughts

We also found a few general suppliers, but I feel those those will be of limited interest to the readers at large.

I’m sure I left out a few important points and will write more later.


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