Saturday, December 28, 2019

Measuring With Light -

Laser Measuring for Speed and Accuracy

Years ago when I was a kid helping my father with projects around the house we used a wooden rule that unfolded to the desired length and broke when I bent it the wrong way. It was fragile and sometimes awkward, but in the hands of a skilled workman got the job done nicely. Later, when I began my own projects I started using the ubiquitous tape measure. I still use my FatMax most of the time and still manage to mangle one now and then. But, it gets the job done.

I know lasers have been around for a number of years and for some readers this is old news. However I don't see too many in actual use. Of course they are very good at some tasks and as useful on others as eating soup with a fork. I, like most, use the tape for cutting boards, but using a saw with a laser guide helps you hit your mark.

When I put granite counter tops in my home about seven years ago, the tradesman came out and made a template out of foamcore... and the tops fit very nicely. About three years ago I put those tops on a nice rental I was preparing and the same guy came out with a laser device connected to a laptop computer, He was done in a quarter of the time – and the results were just as accurate. Not having been there during the production of the tops I must assume similar time savings were realized in the layout of the pieces.

So what benefit do lasers bring to the investors, rehabbers and realtors? They really come into their own in measuring room sizes and other distances around a property – all without wrestling with a tape that may not be long enough and may kink along the way. All it takes is a couple of clicks of a button and you have the length and width of a room. “Pro” models even calculate the square footage for you. How's that for figuring carpet or vinyl plank flooring?

These handy gadgets run from around $25 to several hundred dollars... depends on the company, quality and the bells and whistles. Amazon lists them from thirteen companies. Some come from well known optical houses like Leica and Bosch and tool people like DeWalt. So there are plenty of options and price points to meet most any budget and task.

The DeWalt DW030PL Lightweight Laser Distance Measurer is a nice low price unit from a favorite tool maker. It is a compact, light weight unit with the primary limitation is the 30 foot range.

The Bosch Blaze Pro is a good step up with a 165 foot range accurate to with 1/16 of an inch. and square foot calculator. It has the auto square function for calculating square feet at the touch of a button.

Then there is the Huepar 3D Green Beam Self-Leveling Laser Level 3x360 Cross Line Laser Three-Plane Leveling and Alignment Line Laser Level -Two 360° Vertical and One 360° Horizontal Line -Magnetic Pivoting Base 603CG Even the name is a mouthful. It has one 360° horizontal and two 360° vertical laser lines can be selected individually depending on job site requirements. Oh yes, this one is a bit more expensive, but it does more.

As you consider these three members of the laser measurement universe, you will see bigger, better and more expensive units. You can even find some laser units attached regular tape measures. I still use my FatMax but also have the handy Bosch unit my wife got me for Christmas a couple of years back. It's a great piece of equipment. Which one would you choose?


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Friday, December 20, 2019

Keep Those Gutters Flowing!

One of the ways to increase the profitability of rental properties is to keep your costs down. Often this means not doing things on rental houses that you would do on your own home. This is usually seen in the difference in rehab estimates between preparing a property for rental as opposed to sale to an owner occupant. Of course, this is understandable as renters are not quite as particular about some of the details since many do not look at the rental situation as long term and buyers usually have the mindset of staying put for a while.

As property owners, most of us would like to have the tenants look at their stay as a longer term situation as well. While new tenants present the opportunity to bump the rent up – in most markets – they also lead to gaps in rental income as well as clean up, paint up and fix up costs. On balance, it is generally better to have longer term tenants than to have frequent turnover.

An evidence of the shorter term thinking of tenants is the way the property is maintained. Usually they are not quite as conscientious as the home owning counterparts. Most don't trash the place but neither do they go out and perform periodic maintenance around the house.

One of the neglected tasks is keeping the gutters free from leaves. It is not necessarily a bad thing if Joe Tenant does not get up on a ladder to scoop out the leaves. You can't fall off a ladder if you don't get up on a ladder. Falling off a ladder is one way to hinder Joe Tenent's quiet enjoyment of the property and most assuredly some litigation happy shyster lawyer will find some way to put the financial blame on the property owner. This is particularly bad if that property owner happens to be me.

Injured tenents are not the only bad things that come about from unmaintained gutters. They can overflow and direct the water into roofing supports. rotting the wood that keeps the tentant and your property protected from the rain, wind, sleet and hail. Although here in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, sleet and hale are not major concerns – but rain is.

All this can be avoided with some sort of cover or screen over the gutters. You do have gutters, don't you? They protect the foundation and landscaping, help keep water from penetrating gaps on the siding, and direct water away from sidewalks and driveways. This last item is especially important in the frozen north where the rain can freeze and give the tenants an additional opportunity to fall and hit the jackpot with the help of the aforementioned shyster lawyer.

Trees are great to have on your property. They are nice to look at while they provide shade... and leaves that clog your gutters. There are many approaches to keeping these leaves out of the gutters and downspouts. Just as there is a variety of methods there is a corresponding variety of prices – ranging from simple styrofoam wedges to sophisticated held in place with screws. Let's look at a few of them.

Click for more info

These units are made of premium domestic aluminum and come in a variety of colors although they cannot be seen from the ground. They are held in place by stainless steel fasteners to help them stand up to the tropical storms we are too familiar with. They are easy to install and feature contractor pricing.

Click for more info

Easier to install, these covers simply snap into place – and just as easily snap out for maintenance. They are made of heavy-duty expanded aluminum that won't rust or rot. The tight mesh keep out debris but very small pieces like pine needles may pass through. The spring tensions keep them in place through most of what mother nature can dish out. Oh yes, they are also made in the USA.

Click for more info

Then there is the ultimate in simplicity in keeping the gunk from clogging your gutters. This style foam wedge slides into place and seals out leaves and debris while permitting water to flows smoothly. Like the others this cannot be seen from the ground as it sets down in the gutter. It is about the simplest and easiest way to get the job done.

Whichever way you go, keeping the gutters working without periodically paying your handyman to do the job or risking the neck of a rent paying tenant is a worthwhile project. For me, I chose the spring loaded covers as a good combination of quick installation, function and expected life span. You may make another choice. That is why we have so many choices in the land of the free.


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Sunday, December 8, 2019

Why Real Estate?

If you are reading this, I must assume that you have some interest in real estate. Whether you see it as a place to live, a place to do business or as a path to fame and fortune, there is a lot to like about real estate.

There is something that gives one a sense of permanance and stability that owning the place you live in gives you. That is why the real estate crash around 2008 was so tragic. It destroyed dreams and uprooted families. Looking back, the whole situation was fueled by greed and by government regulation.

At the time many lenders offered “no doc” loans that were based on “stated income”. That is you did not have to provide evidence that you had the ability to pay back the loan. This came about, in part, because inhabitants of the center of wisdom we call Washington DC felt that certain protected classes of people were not able to buy homes because of discrimantion on the part of the banking community.

Never mind that many had no hope of being able to pay the loans for their homes – they needed to be home owners. So hopes were raised as home loans were given with the primary qualification being one had a pulse and body temperature. What could possibly go wrong with this plan? Anyone who understands economics would realize by this time that adding many new purchasers to a relatively fixed supply of homes can only drive the prices higher. So people who could not afford a house in the first place were paying even more for the ones they got. Predictably then these same hopes were shattered when the stated income of, maybe $60,000 turned out to be only $30,000. When these buyers stopped buying and the houses went to the banksters, the demand dropped and so did housing prices.

People lost their homes, banks were flooded with non-performing notes and and inventory of houses they couldn't just dump on the market all at once or it would have caused prices to fall even further. Seeing the problem, but not the cause, Washington once again stepped in to save the banks even after criticizing them for too easy loan undewriting. Again, never mind that some of this was to pacify banking regulators who wanted to see everyone get a house that wanted a house.

Did we learn from this debacle? We did. Uncle Sam – I'm not sure. As an example of the impact this had on families, I got a call from a couple that had purchesed a home the year before and because they were getting a divorce, neither one could afford to keep the house by themselves. As we looked at the numbers, they owed over $200,000 on a house that was only worth $190,000 at the time. There was nothing there for a realtor. There was nothing there for me as they needed a resolution much more quickly than we could have worked through a short sale with the banksters. With some of the things we've learned in creative financing since that time, it may have been possible to work out some kind of a deal, but that was then they just had to walk away from it. Everyone lost... even the banksters.

Does that mean that real estate is a bad deal, that it is too scary to get involved in? No it just means we have to learn from the past. Think of it this way: if it was easy and fool proof, there would be little profit as everyone would be competing for deals and there would be nothing to build on. Andrew Carnegie once said, “Ninety percent of all millionaires become so through owning real estate. More money has been made in real estate than in all industrial investments combined. The wise young [person] or wage earner of today invests [their] money in real estate.” Now the percentage may have dropped a little from some of the recent tech millionaires, but the idea still holds true, especially if you are not a dedicated computer wizard.

Even Mark Twain recognized this when he said, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” He understood the law or scarcity, that over time as there would be more and more people looking for a place to live, the fixed supply of land would become more expensive.

There are many ways to get profit from real estate, you can buy and hold it – renting it out so the tenant pays off your loan. You can buy run down properties and fix them up to sell them at a profit. If you have accumulated some money, you can finance such projects and receive an interest rate many times higher than your semi-friendly neighborhood bankster can provide. At this point it may be appropriate to point out I am not really down on the banking community, but to progress very far in the real estate business you will find that traditional bank financing will not be sufficient and other souces will be needed. But that is a topic for another day.

Of course, by being careless and not doing your due diligence, you can lose you hard earned dollars. However by paying attention and learning all you can, this risk can be minimized Beyond that, you will get an education in human nature as real estate is just the vehicle – it is still a people business. Robert Kiyosaki tell us, “Many novice real estate investors soon quit the profession and invest in a well-diversified portfolio of bonds. That's because, when you invest in real estate, you often see a side of humanity that stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and saving money shelter you from.” If you want the results you have to see these things, not as roadblocks, but as conditions of the enterprise and learn to deal with them.

Owning real estate is something you can feel good about, especially taking the worst house on the block and turning it into a show place. You are providing nice places for people to live. You are making nicer neighborhoods. Sometimes you are even helping people facing foreclosure to keep from being completely devastated by the whole situation. This is something you don't quite get by admiring your stock and bond certificates – if you even get them these days.

You get the satisfaction of creating something. I will leave you with what Donald Trump has said, “It's tangible, it's solid, it's beautiful. It's artistic, from my standpoint, and I just love real estate.”

Happy house hunting!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Did You Have a Good Turkey Day?

Actually the Thanksgiving holiday that just passed is more than a day of over indulging with family and friends. For some, it may be hard to believe, but it is even more than football. It's a time to step back from striving for more and more - what some see as the American dream. To be happy we need step away from the thinking of Edward G Robinson in Key Largo. When Humphrey Bogart asked the gangster what he was after, he couldn't say, then he said “More!”

Don't take this as a criticism of working to make a better life for ourselves and our families. But think about it this way: if what you have doesn't make you happy, getting a nicer house or faster car won't do it either. If the thought goes through your mind that you will be happy when you get this thing or something else happens, you joy will be quickly passing and ongoing happiness will be forever out of your reach.

You may be thinking that I don't know your situation and your reasons for being unthankful this time of year. Obviously I don't. Those are just details. Look at one of the most unhappy people in our country, Colin Kaepernick. He spent his holiday at an “unthankfulness” gathering railing against the country that gave him opportunities few will ever see. Was he appreciative of what his talents on the football field gave him? It's hard to believe he did the way he disrespected the game, his teammates and our country.

I won't get into a discussion of the validity of his cause, but in the way he let it define his life and his actions. For those of us in the USA, a spirit of unthankfulness causes us to overlook the freedoms we have and the prosperity these freedoms have given us. Sure not everything is right, but then, when and where has it ever been otherwise?

I don't often often go out to movies – there are far too many available at home and I don't have to wait in line to spend nine dollars for a bucket of popcorn. However in the past few days I broke my usual habits and saw a couple of movies that emphasized how powerful the American experiment in individual freedom impacts the people privileged to experience it.

The first film, Midway, showed what free men will do to protect their country and families. For the cynics who say there is little to be thankful for, we really need to appreciate the cost to the airmen and their families who sacrificed during this battle that was the first major American victory in the Pacific and turned the tide against the Japanese Imperial Navy. They gave their lives so we and their loved ones could live in freedom.

The second film showed what free men and do with the opportunities we have before us. Ford vs Ferrari showed how a major corporation needed to come to individual entrepreneurs to help them defeat entrenched auto racing champions. Of course, the bureaucratic interference made the job more difficult, but it was still the efforts of free individuals like Carroll Shelby and Ken Myles that got the job done.

But, you say you haven't been given the resources that Shelby had or you haven't faced an enemy as big as the Navy flyers did. So what? Neither have I. Most people haven't. Perhaps that, in itself, is something to the thankful for.

So what does this mean for us? It's easy to be bummed out because of things or resources we don't have. We can look around in the real estate business and see other investors who have more money available to them or have access to better deals. Often we don't see what they had to go through to get to their current situation. Some even had less the we do when they started.

One thing we all have is opportunity. Some will say they don't have the same opportunities. As Werner Erhard would tell you “So what?” (No, I am not promoting EST, just using an illustration.) Each of us has opportunities unique to our situation – sometimes we just have to look a little harder to find them. When we do, this is something to be thankful for. It is these opportunities that make or break us. The opportunities we don't have don't matter and there is no point in dwelling on them.

As an illustration, let me tell you about a trip I made with my grandson to the Tampa New Car and Truck Show. Pretty much, unless you have Jay Leno's garage, there was something there to make you unhappy and discontent with the vehicle you are driving, even if you just got it. Perhaps especially if you just got it. You would see something better you could have gotten. You just may not appreciate the car or truck you drive and are not quite as thankful for having it. You may say: why should I be thankful for it. I worked for it . I earned it. Hey, you had the ability to work, some people don't.

There were all kinds of things that caught my eye, the mid-engine Corvette, the Cobra Mustang, the supercharged hemi Challenger, especially the '68 454 Chevelle convertible with cowl induction. Younger people won't understand the last one, millennials might not even get the first three. Did the existance of these vehicles diminish the utility and benefit of the car I drove to the show? No, but I could have let them destroy my appreciation for it and desire to take care of it since it wasn't a great as the ones I saw.

The point of all this is that you cannot drive vehicles you don't have and you can't take advantage of opportunities you don't have. BUT... you can take advantage off opportunities you do have... and because of this consider them as the path to get you where you want to be. Because of this we can appreciate whatever is before us – and we can step forward into them. And... be thankful for them.

Now about the people in our lives. They have helped make us what we are, especially our families. If they have been difficult, they have developed patience and strength in us – something to be thankful for. If we have learned something from them – that, too, is something to be thankful for.

Even if that doesn't move you to a spirit of thankfulness. Take a deep breath. You are alive. You can think. You can dream. You can take steps toward your dream. As long as you live there is purpose to your life. Don't see it? Look again, harder. The funny thing about human nature we often miss some important things in life unless we are looking for them.

So start looking – IF you even want to be thankful. There are reasons for everyone to be happy even if it a chance for a better tomorrow. An attitude of gratitude will carry you much further than living in a perpetual pity party.