Mar 24

In the past few months I have had nearly a dozen of conversations with other rental property owners that have turned to some variation on the question ‘What do you attribute your success to’ My story is simply not that interesting.

It is a story of working hard at generally boring things. Yes, I have lived well off landlording for three decades. Yes, I now have time to walk  thirty-five to fifty miles a week, often barefoot on wet sand. Yes, I have the time to travel around the country to help my wife with her business.  I still work remotely when I am away form the office, just not the insane hours I did as a kid.

But the truth is mine is just not an exciting story.  Seems most people want to know how to be independent and wealthy by July.  They do not want to hear about the multi year, multi decade journey it took me.

I used to say ‘Everyone says they want to be me, but none of them are willing to do what it takes.’ That was too egotistical sounding and I only used it in private conversations with folks who pushed me to tell them “the secret.”

A couple of years ago I read a quote by Hugh MacLoed which I like better.  In fact I liked it so much I bought a numbered MacLoed print for my office wall.  At least it was there before my staff redecorated the offices … I haven’t checked in a while.

“What people say they want and what they’re willing to work their ass off to get are two different things. ” – Hugh MacLeod

I simply focused on one thing most of my life,  pursued boring fundamentals with dogged persistence and took the time to learn the laws that affect my business.  For me this worked well.

Focus. Today the buzzword in business start ups is ‘pivot’ and the mantra is ‘pivot early and pivot often’, meaning a complete change in direction when things get tough.  Tough seems to mean in their terms that you aren’t ready for a one hundred million  dollar IPO and it’s already been six months so it must be time to do something else. I wonder how many of these young entrepreneurs  give up just before success.

As I criticize the pivot I must admit I too had a major pivot in the very early days. When I was in my early twenties I wanted to own a state of the art contract computerized manufacturing (CNC/CAD) company.  My background was in manufacturing and CNC machining. I loved the challenges and logic of making things.  I started buying rentals with the goal of using them to finance the machine shop.  That dream hit a bump in the road.  My potential business partner had some legal problems that I was unaware of until we went for financing.  I stayed with the rentals and grew that business.  So on some level this was a pivot, but not in the sense it is used today.

Instead of the pivot I went for incremental improvement.  For thirty years I did little else for income that did not involve rental housing. Every day I try to do this better than we did yesterday.

It was only in the last few years that I diversified a bit from Milwaukee rentals by helping my wife with her business and began exploring Southeastern Florida real estate as well as some angel funding stuff. You will not create the next PayPal, eBay or Google through incremental improvement, but it is a path to a decent sustainable lifestyle.  I see it as a fault of mine that my dreams were not larger, but I am fairly content where I’m at.

Persistence is still being there when everyone else gets tired and goes home.  Persistence is when you still show up and giving it your all even though you’ve had  three bad months in a row. Persistence is eating Kraft instant macaroni four times a week for months on end to finance a rehab. Persistence is leaving for work at 6 AM and not arriving home until 10 PM every day for weeks on end.  (See my follow up post on ten things I should have done differently) Persistence is staying the course when everyone around you says it is a no win game.

Despite how it is spelled, there is no fun in the fundamentals. Once the adrenaline rush of buying a building wears off so does the enthusiasm of many.  Rental real estate is a tough business.  When my son said he wanted to follow me into the business I told him to find something better to do with his life.  And landlording is a business, not an investment, at least not at the levels we are dealing with.

Bookkeeping, taxes, employees/HR, purchasing, collections, filling vacancies, evictions, customer service and dealing with bureaucrats are all part of the unfun fundamentals.

To succeed at landlording you have to focus on these fundamentals and pay attention to a myriad of laws and rules that affect us. I’m pretty sure that must every business out there is similar in this regard.

I’ve done all of those, others who are successful today have shared similar stories.  Then there are those who seemed to hold such promise at the beginning but suddenly were washed out.  Most of them looked for a shortcut, ignoring the fundamentals and then gave up when it got a wee bit hard.

May 15

Sewer, water and municipal service fees have become a major operating expense.  I’m sure these runaway fees have lead to the failure of many newer, under capitalized owners.

Last month the law changed on municipal utility charges, making it more practical to have tenants be responsible for these charges.  We owe a lot of thanks to the work done by Gary Goyke in making this law a reality, as well as the support of the members of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, the Apartment Associations of South Central WI and of course the members of the Apartment Association of Southeastern WI

In addition to the potential financial benefit to owners, there is a societal and environmental benefit as this will certainly result in conservation.  No more walking into a unit, only to see the tenant thawing dinner by running cold water over frozen meat for half an hour.  Remember when you paid for heat and would find windows open on sub freezing days or when you paid for hot water and found your basements being used as a laundromat for friends and family.

The most important aspects of the law effect the 2015 billings.  However there are some things we as owners need to do now to ramp up.

First, you cannot bill tenants directly for utilities that are not separately metered.  This means for multiple unit properties the water needs to be separated and an additional meter added.  In older Milwaukee duplexes this is not going to be a major job.  The two plumbing contractors I spoke to felt it would be a $600-1000 per duplex  to separate the water and install a second meter horn.  Remember that in this style building you only need to separate the cold water to the lower unit faucets and toilet as well as the feed to the lower water heater and possibly laundry facilities.

Older side by sides and four families will take more work, read $, as they typically have a single cold feed to the upper units.

Second, for the benefit of tenants, owner occupants and the city’s ability to collect their utility bills; we must urge the city to go to monthly billings

Attorney Tristan Pettit shared the attached doc from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities that should be the first step in the road map to making the change.

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.

 

Dec 21

A member of the LandlordAssociationOrg Yahoo Group asked:

I’m considering investing in residential real estate and becoming a landlord. If I proceed down this path I would be inclined to buy a house rent it, learn, then buy a bit more every year. So I need some advice:

My inline reply

1. Is it a good idea?

I bought a duplex in December 1977 when I was 21, another in November 1978.  A couple in the spring of 1979 and a few more before that year ended. By May 1981 I had 70 units and quit my fairly good job. I have had a paycheck that did not bear my signature since.   Today we employee around 30 people in two states.

2. What do I need to know?

Everything you possibly can learn at someone else’s expense rather than making expensive mistakes yourself. 😉

Start with learning landlord tenant law and small business management.  Not knowing the law will cause you to fail.  Not thinking of this as a business will cause you to under perform and over work.

3. Any books or courses you recommend?

  •  Any books by John T Reed  that interest you.  They are the ones I wish I wrote.
  • The E-Myth by Michael Gruber
  • Landlording by Leigh Roberson
  • An oldie (first edition 1959)  but goody is How I Turned $1,000 Into a Million: In Real Estate in My Spare Time by William Nickerson.  It is not the path I took, but the principal is sound.

4. Any organizations I should join?

Any local landlord group or apartment association.  Try a few and see where you fit in best.  I attribute a lot of my success to being an active board member of the Apartment Association of Southeastern WI.  I have been on the board all but two years from 1989 to today.

Being active in the association you choose is the key as you will learn of  opportunity and risks  before most of the rest of the industry.  It will also speed up your learning of the laws that affect your business.

 

May 19

In my embarrassingly long time at rental real estate, I started in 1977, I have seen low prices, I have seen low interest andI have seen easy money, but never all three at once. If real estate investing was a horse race this would be the trifecta.

Today there are really powerful opportunities as interest rates are at record lows, real estate prices remain depressed and there is actually money available for the right deals and the right borrowers.  As far as depressed pricing you can purchase properties today at the prices they were going for in the mid 90’s but now those properties have vinyl siding, new windows and good roofs.  Interest rates? HUD has 35 year, assumable, fixed rate multifamily loans available at silly low rates.  LTV of 83%. I think they are even non recourse.   Friday the rates for the 223 (f) were posted as 2.95%.

Find the right larger deal today, get it financed under these terms and you could quite honestly be set for life, barring of course our government doing something really stupid and destroying the entire economy.

AASEW president Joe Dahl has arranged to have four leaders in Milwaukee area lending speak to the Apartment Association tomorrow Monday May 20th.

The meeting is free for current AASEW members and $25 per person for those who are not members, but at $99 a year who would be in this industry and not be a member.

When: Monday, May 20th, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.

Where: The Best Western, 1005 S. Moorland Road, Brookfield 53005

More info about the meeting and the Association at:

http://apartmentassoc.org


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