Oct 30

As many of you know I like data.  Okay – maybe “like” is a little weak.  Perhaps its love, or at least a dangerous obsession.

Our industry, at least in regard to small properties,  shies away from meaningful data collection and utilization.  However, you can do so much with the right data – from setting your rents in the sweets spot between charging too little and losing money to charging too much, having your units remain vacant and … losing money.  What is that house you are looking buying at really worth and how much rent can you really expect to receive? In many neighborhoods paying assessed value is paying two to three times what everybody else is paying.  In a few high valued neighborhoods assessed value is a steal.  Ask the listing broker how much rent you can expect and some will tell you the sky.

Lately we’ve been looking at a lot of data points from rents, to evictions, to city orders, to special assessments, to tax assessments in general, to foreclosures and a ton of other interesting things.

For example we are developing an internal tool for suggesting rents that is using for rent ad data, including rent amount as well as other thing such as how long the ad has appeared, how many times in the past two years has the unit been for rent and mashes that up with property data – age, size, assessed value, date of last sale, how many units are owned by that owner and a dozen other metrics. Then combine this data with city order data, eviction data, tax delinquency and foreclosure information for the subject property.  While we haven’t finalized the algorithm, we are getting close.

Another fun project is trying to identify properties that will fail.  We look at when they were purchased, if they are tax delinquent, if they are on the DNS monthly reinspection list, if there are evictions, if the water bills have been placed on the tax roll, etc.

We started doing this with database tools, Python scripts and a lot of manual acquisition.  We’ve found a lot better methods since.

One of the tools we use for data acquisition is import.io. Today I was in San Francisco for their Extract conference.  The theme was “Data Stories Worth Sharing”  There were 600 in attendance, with what appeared to be an equal distribution of data scientists, data analysts, and application developers. Oh and there was one landlord.

I wanted to attend the last two but either the timing was bad or the event was in London, which is quite a trip for a one day conference.  Today was so great I regret not attending the previous events.

If people thought I was a pain in the butt before with my data obsession, I’ll be downright dangerous now. 😉

If you want to play with the tools I play with, another one to look at is Mirador, a data visualization tool developed by Harvard and others primarily for things like Ebla research.  This is a radically cool tool  for seeing patterns in data.  Before that we were only testing patterns against assumptions.  Mirador points out the patterns for you.  

To visualize the results there is Tableau or for the more adventuresome there is a Javascript library D3

I think I should call this “Big data about small properties.”

If you are interested in data and rental hosung and want to talk about this more, drop me an email at Tim@ApartmentsMilwaukee.com

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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 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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