New Quotes I Live My Life By

Anybody who knows me knows that I am big on self-improvement. I pick up a lot from the lessons of Freemasonry. I also listen to a lot of Podcasts. Some of them are light podcasts on historical topics, but a lot of them are  self-improvement (Art of Manliness, Tim Ferris Show, Art of Charm) and real estate education (Get Rich Education, Real Estate Guys, Bigger Pockets) and I pull a lot of platitudes from them that seem to stick. I posted about a bunch of them 2 years ago So, here are some of my more recently adopted maxims.

“Do the math and the math will tell you what to do.” Russel Gray of The Real Estate Guys

This is one that I get from the Real Estate Guys and also my good friend and mentor, Charles, who dropped some knowledge on me recently. This applies to any negotiation or deal, but I apply it to a BRRR (Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance) real estate strategy. When examining a deal, you have to plug numbers into your Bigger Pockets calculator (or other calculation device) to see how much to pay for the property for based on how much it will cost to do the rehab and how much you can safely pull out of it once the rehab is done. And don’t pay a penny more.

If you have taken the time to work all of these numbers out and you get to the bargaining table and the price goes beyond that point, you should just walk away.

Of course it’s not always that easy because there’s a lot of emotion involved, there’s the myth of sunken costs of time invested, and a whole host of distractions.

A good example of this was given to me by Charlie via anecdote. He was in a meeting with his client who was trying to sell his business. The client had carefully examined the books and the business, and had formulated a valuation of how much he thought the company was worth. When negotiations started, he saw his client getting caught up in the moment and was edging toward taking less money than his valuation. Charlie pulled his client aside and said (I paraphrase) “What about your calculations have changed from before this meeting to now?”

Boom.

His client was ignoring the math screaming out to him to walk and if not for Charlie’s wise counsel, would have walked away from the table feeling pretty bad about taking less than his company was worth.

“Overestimate your costs and underestimate your profit.” Charlie

I’m sure this concept was not coined by my mentor and Masonic Brother Charlie, but he put it  so succinctly that I felt I should use that phrasing. This is such a simple concept. Sometimes when analyzing a deal, it is so tempting to give your calculations slim enough margins to try to make the deal work on paper. “Oh, well, I can shave $4k off the budget if the roof ends up being fine for another couple of years,” or estimating that you will receive the high end of the rent range for that market. (I know, I’ve done this.)

Do not do that. Avoid this line of reasoning at all costs.

If you use conservative estimates for your deal and it’s still a good deal, then if the worst case scenario happens you are still profiting. And when the best case scenario happens, you are all the more in profit.

“Be Willing to Walk Away”

This one is hard for me. How do you just walk away from something that you really want? I’ve definitely made boneheaded concessions because I wanted something so bad. Then there’s the flip side. There’s something that you don’t want all that much, but are kind of interested in, so you make a super low, almost ludicrously low (but still somewhat reasonable) offer and when they push back you just walk away.

Then, as you’re walking away, they say either they’ll take your price or counter-back at what is still a screaming deal… for something that you could have lived without in the first place. So you got a great deal!

The point isn’t to offer on things you don’t want, but to go ahead and make the low ball offer on something that you only want at really low price even if you don’t think they’ll take it.

So, to apply this to something that you do want, you just have to convince yourself that you can do without it. That will give you leverage at the negotiating table.

“Don’t count on motivation; count on discipline.” – Jocko Willink

I was listening to the Tim Ferris podcast while hanging blinds in one of the rentals and the guest was a ex-Navy Seal Jocko Willink (who is a super-human, FYI). One of the people who wrote into the show with questions asked how he stays “motivated.” To which he responded:

“Don’t count of motivation, count on discipline.”

And this totally rocked my world because we always see things about getting motivated and staying motivated, but “not being motivated” is just an excuse to be lazy or put off something hard or that you don’t want to do, but need to. It needs to get done, so you need discipline to hunker down and do it.

 

 

Real Estate, WWE, the Tour Business, and recent podcast listens

I feel like writing a blog post, so this is just going to be random stuff about what’s up with my life right now.

FYI: Married life is awesome.

Real Estate

First off, for our next rental property purchases we chose the “hard” difficulty level. We have purchased two single-family homes (one partially with proceeds from a 1031 Exchange sale of the condo in Reno). So for property number 1, aside from carpet paint, and various other minor repairs (replacing treads and risers on front steps), putting in appliances, and vinyl floor we have encountered these difficulties:

Rotted back door, frame, and part of the sub-floor and joists (Taken care of for a very reasonable price by BWB Construction)

Appliances in place, paint, carpet, etc. complete I then spent a week showing the house every evening to roughly 16 people (well, 16 appointments, half no showed).

Finally we get a renter and I show up Sunday evening to do some last little repairs and…..img_20161009_143225 img_20161010_173403 img_20161010_173424 img_20161010_175834and a tree fell. Luckily it just did some minor damage to the back deck guard rail.

But man!

And the Housing Authority is suppose to come and inspect maybe as early as this week.

So I got to do my best lumberjack impression and cut of the three with a much too small chainsaw borrowed from a fellow Mason.

Looks like I’m spending part of my Saturday repairing the guardrail.

Our other property is in the middle of a renovation loan (also with BWB Construction doing the work) and all was going okay until we needed to drop the power line to complete the fascia repairs and Dominion (the power company who also happens to own every government official in Virginia) says they can’t come out until October 24th… when our rate lock on the loan expires.

Sigh.

Luckily BWB got on the phone with them to come out earlier (although they were suppose to come out 2 days ago, but still haven’t).

Otherwise, things are going well there.

Wrestling

One of the best things about living in Richmond, VA is that the WWE comes through here 3 or 4 times per year for live events, TV shows, and sometimes PPVs.

Last Friday, Melanie and I went to NXT at the Altria Theater. This was the set up for those who are curious:

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The event was fun. We went to the PPV “Backlash” in September, but that’s a lot more casual fans and less hardcore “smarks” (referenced in a previous article).

Best match of the night was Austin Aries vs. Cedrick Alexander from a wrestling match perspective.

The most entertaining matches were Samoa Joe/Bobby Roode vs. Shinsuke Nakamura/No Way Jose and Asuka vs. Aaliyah because of the personalities of who were involved.

The Smarkiness of the event led to much more fun crowd and lots of chants, singing along, and all the things that us rasslin’ fans like to do.

Backlash, the WWE PPV, had two really awesome matches in Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Title and AJ Styles winning the WWE title from Dean Ambrose.

For any long time wrestling fan, AJ Styles holding the WWE title seems like some fantasy land as of 5 years ago.

By the way, we sprung for the nicer seats for the PPV…

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49ers

How about them 49ers? Man, we are terrible. Chip Kelly, Blaine Gabbert… our team is like the frickin’ Island of Misfit Toys.

Richmond Tour Guys

The tour business is a little on auto-pilot as I have turned my attention to getting these two rental properties together. Luckily I have an incredible guide in Michael Thomas who has been massively taking up the slack. It’s impossible to convey to him how much easier he has made my time management.

So far this year, we have given tours to over 825 people between regular walking tours, private tours, and custom tour packages. I swell with pride knowing that something that I started has been apart of 825 people’s vacations. They could spend their visit to Richmond doing anything… and they chose the Richmond Tour Guys.

We are Number 3 on Trip Advisor for “Tours in Richmond” behind only a bike tour and food tour.

Also, we brought on a new guide, Ray. He will start doing tours on weekdays, which is an area that I’ve longed to explore since the Tour Guys’ inception in 2014. Unfortunately it’s starting in October and November, which are traditionally less well attended.

As for the bad:

I had a couple of good private tours lined up including an Executive tour complete with an Executive Coach that cancelled; and a tour for a retirement home that I spent 10.5 hours routing, writing a script for, and practicing for them to cancel and thus, the Richmond tour guys has a new policy:

20% or $50 deposit for all specialized private tours!

New Phone: Blue Life One X2

I just got a new phone since the screen on my old phone (Huawei P8 Light) got shattered by an errant phone drop.

I don’t sign contracts for cel phones after I signed a 2 year contract with AT&T and submerged the phone I got from it in the river. So now I just buy unlocked smart phones by lesser known companies and I have not had a bad experience yet.

After cruising cNet, I ended up getting the Blue Life One X2 Android phone which has an octacore 1.4ghx processor, 4gb of memory, 64gb storage, 16 mp back, and 8mp front camera.

All of which the internet tells me is good.

I bought this one for $180 (normally $200, $180 special pre-sale price).

So far the phone is great. It’s way faster than the old one, I don’t have to worry about running out of space for podcasts, and the screen is bigger. The camera is also twice as good (literally, the old phone was 8mp). CNET rated it the best smart phone under $250 and honestly, since I’m not gaming or doing anything intense with my phone, I don’t really need the Samsung Awesome.

Freemasonry

In August I was all about working on Historic Mason’s Hall, the 1785 building in Shockoe Bottom that is the oldest lodge in the US continuously used for Masonic purposes. Then everything else took a back seat to real estate for the last month or so and probably will for 2 or 3 more weeks.

Efforts for the lodge are going strong.. slow and steady, but strong. We recently got a donation from the Sons of the Revolution and have embarked on a Facebook Ads fundraising campaign that has had some success. We have a great core group of guys who care about the building and are willing to put in the time to make saving it happen.

One of the things that we’re finding is how a little cleaning can go a long way:

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I also recently discovered podcasts about Freemasonry. The one I’ve been listening to most is Masonic Roundtable. It features two Virginia Masons, so it’s got a lot of relevance to me.

I especially like the historical episodes such as on the Morgan Affair, the Baltimore Convention of 1843, and the episode on Prince Hall Freemasonry which is the traditionally African American branch of Freemasonry (we are working on bringing things together).

It also covers some more esoteric topics such as “memento mori,” or reflecting upon death and how we should make the most of the time we have on this plane of existence.

I reiterate as I did in my post about Freemasonry that Freemasonry is not a religion or cult, and it is non-denominational.

 

2016 Richmond Jewish Food Festival

(Original Posted on the Richmond Tour Guys blog)

It is the 7th year for the Richmond Jewish Food Festival… and it gets better every year.

The festival had it’s beginnings in the Kiniseth Beth Israel Temple… after 5 years, it got crowded and moved to The Weinstein Jewish Community Center. I had never been to this festival before and was expecting long lines to get the food. The line was long, but it went by swiftly.

As for food, they of course served traditional Jewish food of Eastern European origin, but also offered some Israeli food, which is more Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern in flavor. I opted for the traditional food: Brisket Dinner which was Brisket and 2 sides (a steal at $15!):

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Cholent, Knish, Brisket, cabbage rolls

My plate: Cholent, Knish, Brisket, cabbage rolls

On the left is Cholent, which is a traditional Jewish stew made as an end-around of not being able to cook on the Sabbath since this stew could feed everyone for the whole day. It’s ingredients are as varied as the people who make it and can include, lentils, beans, rice, various meats (not pork, of course), rice, barley, oats, etc.

On the right is a Knish which is a filling inside of some dough that is either baked or fried. Mine was filled with what looked like Potato, but I guess it can contain everything from rice, to meat, to veggies.

There is of course the brisket, which is smoked beef.

The other sides that I got were the Cabbage Roll…. a ground beef, tomato, rice mixtures stuffed inside of cabbage which has become to underdog hit of the Jewish Food Festival over the years.

Also, no Jewish food festival is complete without Latke’s, the famous and delicious potato pancake.

Latkes and Israeli Sampler

Latkes and Israeli Sampler

We also got the Israeli sampler which was Shwarma (meat grilled on a rotating stick and shaved off and stuffed into a tortilla type thing) and Falafel (Mashed, fried Chickpeas). All with a bit of Hummus.

Entry to the event is free and the total for all of this food (and it was A LOT of food) plus two beers was $47. The Brisket Plate with 2 sides is only $13. A steal.

Bubbie’s Bakery  provided lots of sweets and treats. Personally, I can’t go without some Baklava and a couple Macaroons.

What really struck me was how organized the whole thing was. There was a really long line that moved very fast. Once you got to the front, you were sent to a certain numbered booth (all of the booths sold the same thing) with your group to get your food, then there were 6 or 7 registers set up to take payments. It was all very streamlined which I’m sure was developed over several years of trial and error.

There was also several vendors selling various items, Jewish music, and some information on the Jewish culture.

Richmond actually has a long history of a Jewish population, but that’s another story for another post….

If you’re a local, or you are visiting Richmond, it’s definitely worth checking this delicious food festival out. You will not find good, homemade Jewish food like this anywhere else in Richmond.

And if you do… tell me where! at Matthew@richmondtourguys.com

Real Estate Resources/Tools I Use

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Most people who know me know that I am into real estate. I’m very much a novice, but I see a lot of people wanting to get into it. Some have even asked me about it, or where to start. I have done a lot of research. I listen to a lot of podcasts, read a few books, and read websites. To that end, I thought I would share what I have learned and throw some resources out there that I use and have used for other people to use.

What I have learned so far through my small amount of experience and advice that has helped me:

1) First step is to figure out your goals.

Do you want to flip houses? Do you want to Buy and Hold? Do you want to develop and sell? Do you want to build on vacant lots and rent them out? What’s your income goal? Do you want to replace your income and stop there?

The steps to do this are listen to the podcasts that I recommend later in this article. The recent Bigger Pockets one about the “freedom number” was good for me. It will help you figure out your goal.

For example,you might have a goal of 2 properties per year cash flowing $200/month or something like that.

2) At the same time learn all you can about your market. If you’re willing to travel, what about other markets around you? I am in Richmond, and know nothing about, say, the tidewater region, but your local REIA groups or other meetups should help you there. Talk to people (in person, you can only do so much on-line).

3) Talk to a lending professional. Figure out if you can get financed and for how much. Knowing your own ability to get financed can tell you where to start.

4) Easiest (but not easy) way to get started is to use an FHA 3.5% money down loan to buy a duplex/triplex/4plex and get tenants to pay your PITI (Principal, Interest, Taxes, and Insurance). Once again, I don’t know what market you’re in and if that’s feasible. Use some sort of Calculator for real estate investing (such as Bigger Pockets calculators, for paid subscribers only) to figure out if the numbers work.

The things to account for in a Buy and Hold property are Principle, Interest, Taxes, Insurance, Vacancy rate, a percentage for repairs, possible HOA dues, etc.. The books I recommend later in the article will define all that for you.

5) Other successful investors, especially the ones younger than you and your same age, can be intimidating to someone who is working full time, making family time, and trying to make Real Estate work. A lot of these people who are constantly flipping and making deals happen are light years ahead of you in their real estate portfolio.

Don’t compare yourself to other people. Know what your personal goals are and reserve engineer them to lay out a rough outline (that will inevitably change over time).

6) Get started. NOW. There will never be a perfect time or the perfect property. The best way to learn is by doing imperfectly and learning.

Resources:

Number 1: Bigger Pockets (www.biggerpockets.com)

Bigger Pockets (BP) is basically a social network for real estate investors and the best starting spot. They have a free course called The Beginners Guide to Real Estate Investing. They have a weekly Podcast where they interview successful members of the website. Both of these are awesome ways to get educated. They have a blog where members write posts. They have calculators for rentals, flips, etc. to analyze deals (real estate transactions are referred to as “deals” by everybody for some reason). These are mega important for due diligence prior to investing.

The most important resource BP has is the BP Community. There are forums, ways to connect, etc. and it basically is a place for you to go give and get advice; share stories and information; and read through to learn. You can post your deal on the forums and ask people to analyze it, and they will usually look at your analyses and help you figure out whether it’s a good deal or not simply because they enjoy real estate. I have asked questions down to something about mudding drywall for my water heater closet.

Everyone wants to help other investors because real estate is not a zero-sum game and when you put good things out in the universe it pays you back with interest.

Also, totally worth it to pay for Plus, if not Pro membership if you are at all serious about real estate investing.

Podcasts

Aside from Bigger Pockets podcast, the number one tool that I use for Real Estate (RE) education are podcasts. I have 3 real estate related podcasts that I listen to religiously every week:

Bigger Pockets Podcast

I mentioned this one earlier. This is not the best quality podcast, but it is probably the most informative for just real estate. It is good for all levels of investors and covers a wide range of topics. One of the hosts Brandon, while very knowledgeable and nice, is very annoying to me (I think it’s his voice), but not so much that I won’t listen to this podcast. They interview Bigger Pockets members of varying levels of success and by listening to this you can learn strategies, see how other people off their investments, as well as be inspired.

The Real Estate Guys Podcast

Easily the most well-rounded, professional podcast out there. Robert Elms has been hosting a radio show for something like 25 years and has an enormous well of knowledge and contacts that he leverages to help investors, from buy and hold to flippers; and from novices to experts.

They cover all topics real estate related. They will also sometimes interview people about the Federal Reserve or other markets, just to give perspective to how economic news will affect real estate.

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Get Rich Education w/ Kieth Weinhold

This is the podcast that reminded me about wanting to invest in real estate. I heard him interviewed on Entrepreneur on Fire with JD and started listening to his podcast. That is what prompted me to FHA loan and house hack (a fancy term for living in one unit and renting out the other) a duplex. A lot of his episodes are just him telling you about a specific strategy, or part of a strategy. He outlines how to do the FHA loan on a multi-unit property. He takes concepts such as total return on Real Estate and breaks it down over an hour episode. He also does some inspirational episodes and interviews with people. All of his interviews are strategic and cover specific topics.

He’s big on using turnkey investment providers who buy, rehab, rent out, and some even manage a property for you out of your home market. I understand why he recommends certain ones on his podcasts, but sometimes it seems like his podcasts are a sales pitch for some of these companies. In my research though, I have found that most people have been happy with his turnkey providers, so maybe Keith is genuinely trying to refer people to good companies.

Books

I have to be honest in saying that I haven’t read a ton of books on Real Estate Investing, but these are ones I’ve read that were widely recommended.

Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiosaki

Of course there is the seminal Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiosaki, which I mentioned a few months ago that I listened to on Audiobook. It’s basically the catalyst for you. It will shift your mind and the way that you think about money. It will shake you out of the mindset that you work, save up a bunch of money, and live off of that fixed amount of money through retirement. Lessons such as “work to learn, don’t work to earn” and buying assets with the money you earn instead of consumer stuff.

Most real estate investors will tell you they have read this book ,and many will tell you this was THE book that changed their lives forever.

Land Lording on Autopilot by Mike Butler

Okay, so you’ve purchased your investment property… now what? This book is highly recommended by several folks. If you’re not going to pay a property manager, then this is the book you need. Mike Butler has developed systems to manage his some-80 rental properties. He gives systems on tenant screening, managing those tenants, managing the property, writing leases, etc. This helped me wade through a lot of BS when finding a tenant for the duplex. Also ,when you buy the book, he gives you all the templates you could ever need for managing your properties.

Book On Real Estate Investing With Low and No Money Down by Brandon Turner

Another Bigger Pockets related recommendation (sensing a pattern here?). Brandon Turner wrote this book on how to use almost no money to get started in real estate. Strategies such as syndication, leveraging portfolio loans from local banks, using private/hard money, etc. He also talks about the FHA multi-unit strategy for first timers. It’s a great read and luckily Brandon isn’t the one who does the audio book version.

Full disclosure: I mostly listen to Audiobooks.

Real Estate Investment Groups

For education as well as finding deals, these local real estate investment groups are the way to go. It is full of experienced investors, hard-money lenders, potential business partners, and newbies who you can learn from, make deals with, or even teach a thing or two. I found two local ones in Richmond (Virginia) that I attend on Meetup.com.

Mentors

The best thing you can do is to find a mentor. I have a great mentor who I met through my Masonic Lodge in Reno (who is also my realtor) who is happy to give advice. I can never really let him know how appreciative I am of him, but he has no idea how much I value him being there for me when I have questions.

If you can find a mentor (probably your best chance is working for someone for free) it’s the best way to go. It could be someone you meet at an REIA group, on the street, a friend, or family member. They don’t always have to be older either.

If you want to get into real estate, I’d love to talk to you about it as a starting point, so feel free to hit me up!

Good Coffee, DIY , Wedding Planning, WWE, and other musings

Since I feel like writing a blog post, this one will be filled with random thoughts and observations.

Wedding Planning

Planning a wedding is a lot of work. I’m lucky that my fiancee is really taking the lead on a lot of this stuff; her mom has been a big help in keeping us on track and task. We’ve got a date, photographer, location, DJ, Caterer, bridal party, almost flowers, and a bride and groom.

So much goes into a wedding. When I started getting asked about table centerpieces I was like “Wait, that’s a thing I have to decide?” Or whether or not to give away custom chocolate bars at the reception. How about: where to have the rehearsal dinner? How about planning for out of town relatives? I suppose I should get to work on an itinerary; being that almost everyone is coming from out of town.

But, I am looking forward to spending the rest of my life with the woman I’m about to marry, and I’ve heard the wedding is one of the best days of your life and I can’t wait!

Good Coffee

I largely quit drinking coffee (except on weekends) because it gave me terrible acid reflux and stomach pains. I will have the occasional cup of Cafe Bustelo at work, but for the most part I don’t drink it during the week. The coffee that I have at home is basically store-brand coffee. It’s serviceable, I suppose.

So, my friend Greg and his girlfriend came to visit Melanie and I a couple of week ago. They both work at Starbucks and brought us a couple bags of Starbucks coffee: an Ethiopian blend and a Guatemala coffee. We ran out of coffee in the office, so I got one of the bags ground, put it in the Mr Coffee and tasted it and just as I had feared:

It was awesome…. and my taste buds have been forever spoiled by the smooth, rich tastiness of good coffee and I won’t be able to experience the savings of drinking Kroger brand coffee at home ever again.

Do-It-Yourself

Since we purchased the Duplex, and it was not renovated with great precision back whenever it was renovated (2009, I believe) there are some quirky things which I have been doing around there. One is masking the water heater in the kitchen corner with a closet which was the subject of my last post. The other project was an 11″ x 7′, 2.5 foot deep recess in the bathroom wall. We lacked cabinet space, so we purchased a thin cabinet from the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store and put that in.

It’s pretty satisfying building something, even if it isn’t perfect ( and lord knows it isn’t), but by trying to do things on this future rental property, I can learn and be much more well equipped to do things on our settle-down house.

The rough part about all this is that we keep having to buy new tools. Many of these are pretty basic, so we need to have them anywa: circular saw, plumb bob, drill/screw driver bits, framing square, speed square, saw horses, pry-bar, paint supplies, nails, screws, stud-detector, coping saw, clamps, etc. Then there’s the yard work stuff, lawnmower, weed wacker, rake, etc. We have spent more money at Lowes in the past 2 months or so than I have in my previous 29 years. We’ve still got a few more basics to acquire, but the bleed of money toward tools and equipment has slowly clotted.

But what about these nails, screws, etc.? You can’t buy them by the pound anymore, you have to spend $6-9 on a box of fasteners when you only need like 6 of them. So now, we have to figure out where to store this stuff in our small apartment.

My upcoming projects (after the wall) will be cleaning up the yard and trimming back the growth, cleaning out the shed (which was full of old building materials, spider-webs, and spiders) and putting a floor down (simple, 4×4’s and plywood), and building a handrail for the front porch.

Thoughts on WWE

Seth Rollins is out for 6-9 months and one of the best parts of WWE TV is gone. Shaemus is the champion and it really couldn’t be more lame. Roman Reigns is a very mediocre flag bearer. Randy Orton is out having shoulder surgery. John Cena is out to host a reality show.

It’s pretty bad.

And the lowest raw-ratings since 1996 illustrates this.

Kevin Owens is great on the mic and in the ring, but he’s not established enough to carry the company.

Dean Ambrose is awesome, over, and way, way, way under-used. How is this guy not the main guy for WWE? He always gets the biggest reactions.

NXT is almost always awesome. The women’ division is lacking a bit at the top since Charlotte, Lynch, and Banks left, but otherwise has a good crop of wrestlers coming up.

I like Finn Balor as a champion. He acts and carries himself like a Champion should… a true professional. It’s like he brings that Japanese “we take this sport seriously” aspect. And he has great matches. Main roster material? I’m not so sure…

Samoa Joe is not very over with the NXT crowd.

Currently Reading

The Book on Real Estate Investing With No and Low Money Down by Brandon Turner  It sounds like some cheesey sales pitch, but he’s pretty realistic in what to expect from these efforts. this is the guy who co-hosts the Bigger Pockets Podcast.

Mis-Adventures in D.I.Y.: Building a Water Heater Closet

Melanie are doing what many investors would call “house hacking.” We bought a duplex (that use to be a single-family home), rent out the lower unit, and live in the upper unit. One of the things about property ownership is that you get to try your hand at being handy.

(You also get to know the layout of your local hardware store very well.)

I have never been particularly handy, but one thing that my Uncle taught me (when I was 23 and helping me get my condo rent ready) was that you just have to try, because even the handiest of people don’t always know exactly what they’re doing.

So I try.

And I thought it would be amusing to present my attempts at home improvement as an almost complete novice in a segment titled “Mis-Adventures in DIY Home Improvement.”

Often, home improvement blogs are done by experts.

Not this one. And I will tell you all of the problems that I ran into that were either my fault, or something I didn’t ever know could occur. I work for a construction company (never having worked in the field) and so I had a lot of people to lean on and ask for advice; but a lot of my learning came from Youtube.

I should also note that my work is not an indicator of the construction company I work for. I’ve never been trained as a Carpenter and have never done field work.

Now, one of the things about doing this in a rental property is that the remodels haven’t always been done to super high standards by past Owners.

One detail a landlord wouldn’t care about is this water heater in the corner of the kitchen… out in the open.

We decided this was ugly and if we were going to live here for a year or two, we should do something about it. So I built a closet. And in the process greatly built up my meager tool collection.

1st: I spent about 3 weeks with a stud detector, plumb bob, chalk line, framing square, tape measure, level, pencil, and step ladder trying to get all of the future walls plumb and square.

My first issue is that the house is 100 years old, balloon framed, and crooked! Being that I’m not skilled enough to compensate, I decided to just go ahead and do it by the book, plumb, square and level. I messed up the chalk line a bunch of times. I marked up our walls with pencil that was nigh impossible to erase. I even used permanent marker to mark the floor that I thought would be covered by a bottom plate that ended up not being the right spot.

Never the less, I lined it up the best I could and started framing.

2nd: First, I nailed the bottom and top plates. The shorter side has no bottom plate, because a pre-hung door was going to be put there and pretty much take up that whole side.

Because of the location of the ceiling joist, my top plate positions were pretty limited in options. The longer side in the picture was parallel to the ceiling joist and the shorter top plate is screwed (with 3″ square-drive screws) to the other ceiling joist that is above the existing wall.

I had to use the same joist for each top plate, which is why the top plate on the longer part of the closet isn’t the same length the bottom plate.

The bottom plate was screwed in directly through the linoleum to the sub-floor with 2-1/2″ square drive screws (so as not to poke through our tenant’s ceiling!).

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3rd: Next was placing the two main studs on the walls. You’ll notice that on one wall the base trim is gone and on the other, the stud fits much more neatly. That’s because I ripped off the trim and shoe mould of the one wall before a carpenter friend of mine recommended that it would be easier to just use a Multi-Master tool to slice a spot in the trim for the stud and drywall. He let me borrow his.

He was very correct as it took me 20 minutes of painstakingly and awkwardly cutting and nailing trim behind that stationary table that the water heater is setting on. When I finished, it still didn’t look good. The multi-master took about 2 minutes and looked great.

The studs (somewhat bowed and arched because Lowes sells crappy lumber and I didn’t know any better) were screwed into the top and bottom plates. Since there was no stud behind the wall where these were placed, no supporting screws were put between the top and bottom plates. This might be a problem if this was a load bearing wall, but it’s just cosmetic.

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4th: Next was putting in the corner. I did this by putting two studs together in an “L” shape and screwed them to the top and bottom plates. One regret I have is that I sort of jammed and tapped these stud into place since I cut them about 1/8″ too long, so they were kind of bowed. This is sort of a no-no, but I needed to make progress.

Then I put in a jack stud for the door to fill in that inside corner of the “L.”

Generally, you’re suppose to put  studs 16″ on center, but I just opted to put one stud in the wall since it wasn’t structural.

It ended up being way off because I didn’t measure 16″ correctly. I honestly don’t know how that happened.

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I toe screwed the studs to the plates. Toe screwing is putting screws/nails/fasteners in at an angle.IMG_20151013_190514 IMG_20151013_190520 IMG_20151013_190528

5th: Next was the door. It was a cheap, 6 panel, pre-hung door Lowes…and my studs were a little tight. With a bit of finess, I jammed the door (and the jamb) into its’ spot. The door doesn’t shut flush because the jambs aren’t even, but with the bottom and top plated being slightly off (due to my slight mis-chalk-lining), it’s what we were stuck with. I had to carve a sliver of wood to get it to close right. It’s definitely not the best installed door.
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But it opens and it closes!
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6th: I put cross studs (obscured by the drywall) and the jack stud over the door. Traditionally, there would have been a jack stud on either side of the door for that door header to rest on, but the wall left no space, so I just had to toe screw it right into the king stud. This would be a deifnite no go if this were a load-bearing wall.

7th: Time for drywall! I basically screwed a 4×8 sheet to the cross-studs which I didn’t get a picture of and then just cut along the wall.

One of the problems that I had was that I didn’t saw off enough of the trim with the multi–master to fit drywall, so I had to carve out a notch in the drywall to make it sit right.
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I pretty much just cut along the corner stud to make the piece of drywall fit. Then used that for the thin parts next to the door.
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8th: Drywall tape and mud: after I finished cutting and fatsening drywall to the rest of the frame, I needed to tape an mud the joints. I had done this once before on my bathroom cabinet project and I used the pre-stuck mesh tape rather than using mud to afix traditional drywall tape to it. Despite my better judgement due to my not-so-great results on that project, I did it again.

It still proved troublesome.

But by the time that I put some mud over it and realized I had made a mistake, I was too far to go back, so I just kept at it. I’d put 1 layer, wait 24 hrs….IMG_20151017_194437

Another layer.. wait 24 hrs.

IMG_20151017_194500 And finally a 3rd layer of mud!
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This outside corner proved especially tricky because of the aforementioned tape issue. Despite my best efforts, the mesh part of the tape kept peaking through in parts of that corner.

I was later told by a Carpenter friend that you’re suppose to put a “corner bead” on the corner which avoids that problem. Well, I didn’t know that and it’s too late to go back, since I’d already finish painted it!

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9th: Prime and paint. Did this on a Sunday. Managed to erase all of my bad pencil marking on the existing walls by matching the paint very well.

10th: Trim-out: I had run base trim, very much ugly base trim, in the bathroom project before. This time, it would be different….

And after messing this up 3 times and having to buy more base trim than was necessary, I did it! I coped the piece of the base-trim that connected to the existing wall’s trim, and mitered the corners to match with my skil-saw. Not too shabby…

Then came caulk. Lots and lots of caulk around the door trim and the space between the wall and the base trim.
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My coping of the meeting of the trim… I’d give it a 6.

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The final step was shoe mould which I messed up..ohhh…probably 7 or 8 times because the corner isn’t a perfect 90 degrees. Finally I just cut the base mould at a weird angle, and filled the 1/8″ space at the outside corner with wood putty…

One day, I will install shoe mould well!!!

I painted the trim and voia-la!IMG_20151112_073529
Our kitchen looks a tiny bit smaller and the closet wall’s a little off, but now we don’t have a water heater hanging out in the corner in plain sight. We also now have a place to stash our tall trash and recycling cans (which use to just be next to the water heater out in the open)…paper grocery bags… cleaning supplies (brooms, mops, etc.) and I have a sense of accomplishment having done a job in spare time over 6 weeks that would have taken a decent carpenter an afternoon to do!

Kudos to Melanie who put up with 6 weeks of tools, lumber, etc in the kitchen ever so patiently and our tenant who had to deal with my going up and down the stairs 80 times to make cuts on the front porch.

Tools used:

  • Stud detector
  • Plumb bob
  • Chalk line
  • Framing square
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Pencil
  • Step ladder
  • Skil-saw Circular saw
  • Sawhorses
  • Swanson Speed Square
  • Black and Decker corded drill and driver that I’ve had for 10 years.
  • Utility knife
  • Assorted hand screw-drivers
  • 2″, 4″, and 8″ Scraper Blades for drywall mud
  • Coping saw
  • Hammer
  • Bosch Multi-Master Tool
  • Paint brushes
  • 9″ Paint roller
  • 3 Spare rags
  • Swear jar

Materials:

  • 2x4x10s (11) I actually only would have needed 8, but I messed up a lot…
  • 4x8x3/8″ drywall (2 sheets)
  • 2-1/2″ and 3″ square-drive screws
  • 2-1/4″ Drywall screws
  • 1 2’8″ x 6’7″ pre-hung door
  • Roll of drywall tape
  • Pre-mixed drywall mud
  • 10′ beaded base trim (I used 20, but that’s because I messed up so many times!)
  • 10′ Shoe mould (I used 2, but that’s also because I messed this up a couple of times)
  • 1″ Trim Nails
  • 1 tube of general caulk
  • .3 gallon primer
  • .6 gallons of finish paint
  • Old newspaper (during painting and caulking)

 

The Ups and Downs of Business and the Path to Success

One moment your on top of the world and then the next, life hands you a heaping helping of humble pie.

What Success Really Looks Like

What Success Really Looks Like

Maybe it’s just me and I’m inclined to have big emotional upswings and downswings, but life is a just a crazy roller coaster. Success is less like climbing a mountain and is more like climbing a series of hills that turn into a mountain range, with more hills in-between. Some of these hills and mountains will then have groups of trolls at the top trying to throw you back down the other side and make you start from the beginning, or to the bottom of a mountain that you’ve already climbed.

I will give you an example of this based on events happening solely this past week:

That trolley tour that I was suppose to guide got cancelled. I was very disappointed. The disappointment didn’t stem so much from not getting paid for it (although I’d be lying if I said that didn’t play a part), but stemmed more from the work that I put into mapping that tour route, memorizing the script, and practicing it once per day for 2 weeks all being for naught. True, it helped me write my Church Hill Tour script, and gave me something that I might be able to use if we do this sort of thing down the road; but that’s a tiny consolation.

I found out about this on Monday. On Tuesday, I get a call to give a private tour (which pays pretty well) that evening and execute it almost perfectly.

Success! Up the mountain.

Saturday comes and it’s time for the morning tour and I get one guy who doesn’t tip me anything for the awesome 2.5 hour tour I just gave him.

Well that’s a kick in the pants down the hill.

Granted, I didn’t expect a big turn out because of all of the cool stuff going on for the 150th anniversary of the fall of Richmond at the end of the American Civil War; but seriously; one guy?

Down we go.

So, the inaugural Church Hill tour was that evening as given by one of my new guides, JJ. I didn’t hold high hopes for turn out because of all of the Civil War living history and reenactment stuff going on at the State Capitol. It’s a tough competition, but Lo and behold…..

Inaugural Church Hill Tour

Inaugural Church Hill Tour

19 people show up for the tour!

Back up the mountain.

It’s not easy, but it sure is an exhilarating climb.