Ode to QuickBooks

What if I told you there was a product out there that could streamline your business, provide valuable real-time data about your properties and virtually eliminate any hassle associated with filing your tax returns? Furthermore, if you use it properly, it can make you love tasks that you used to dread. And it will only cost you a few hundred dollars.  The product is QuickBooks.

I don’t care what free money management software came with your new computer. If you own rental properties, even just one, buy QuickBooks Pro. Now.  If you can point and click and have even the most basic typing skills, you can learn to use it.  One of the most beautiful things about Quickbooks is that you can ease into it.  When I taught myself to use it, I treated it like a computerized checkbook register.  Little did I know that in one step of data entry, I was creating all of the information that my accountant needed to do my tax returns, all of the reports my bankers would want to see, and valuable reports that would allow me to keep track of my tenant’s rent payments. My awareness of all of these built-in features came much later.

I was really clear when I started buying property that I wanted to build a four lane highway and grow into it (which I did when I went from 2 units to 79 in three years).  Quickbooks was the asphalt on that highway.  I am so grateful for this product (and it has been a long day) that I decided to write a little poem . . .

Ode to QuickBooks

In the past

My receipts would tatter

And day after day

I had no idea what was the matter

Try as I might

I lost sleep at night

Because I had no idea of my numbers.

On a fateful day

Not so long away

I taught myself to enter

Everything that brought my business to center.

Now I peacefully slumber

Enthralled by the numbers

Knowing that my data

Has nothing the matta’

And that when I awake

The cheerful noise you do make

Will let me know

That as I grow

I can do my books quick

And still have my pick

Of how to report

On my free time spent at the resort.

One of these days, I am going to post some links to help you learn to use QuickBooks.  Be sure to follow my blog, so you don’t miss that information (as well as any future dreadful poems).

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If you say “I’m sorry” one more time, I am going to raise your rent.

One of the little discussed professional hazards of being a landlord is something I call “apology fatigue.”  I used to call it “compassion fatigue,” but then I realized that it is not the being nice to people that wears me out, it is their repeated apologies when they pay their rent late or make too much noise or park in the wrong spot.  Just do what you are going to do people and then get over it.  You can say I am sorry once, but fifteen times just gets on my nerves.

Even before I became a landlord I was never a fan of apologies, but now it is safe to say I am a total non-believer.  Most people use apologies like they use paper plates.  It’s in front of them, it is easy, it is convenient and they can throw it away when they are done with it.  I am not saying they are insincere, but when someone pays their rent late four months in a row and laces their explanations with apologies; well, they come off as insincere.

The other camp, let’s call them the stoics, they don’t bother with apologies.  They are so chronically late, that they know an “I’m sorry” is like spitting at a hurricane.  I sort of have a begrudging respect for this camp.  They are late. I leave them a stern voicemail warning. They drop off wads of cash in the middle of the night. At least I don’t have to listen to them apologize.

How Many Landlords Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?

Every once in a while, maintenance issue becomes simpler to solve then what you might have originally thought.  Enjoy those moments, because the scales seem to tip in the other direction more often.

Here’s a trick that might, just once in a while, save you from having to install a new light fixture at your rental property.

When you remove the bulb, inside the light socket is a little metal tab that makes contact with the base of the bulb.  Over time, this tab can get compressed or even just dirty.  With the power off (of course), using a non-metallic item (duh), you can gently pry up the tab a little bit so that it makes contact with the base of the bulb again.  I usually use an old fashion number two wooden pencil or the tip of a small plastic voltage meter.  Screw the bulb back in and if you are lucky, your problem is solved.

This tip is good to try on those light fixtures where tenants have tried replacing the bulb a few times, but none of them seems to work for long.  I learned this when one bulb wouldn’t light in a series of fixtures in a carport.  And yes, my electrician told me (fortunately he was there for another project).

Here’s the punch line: Just one, as long as the bulb is willing to pay rent once it is lit.

One of my Favorite Tools

As a landlord, I actually try to limit the number of tools that I own.  My belief is that the more tools you have, the more work you end up doing.  To this end, I also drive a Toyota Matrix station wagon, not a pickup truck.

Anyway, I do have a few favorite tools that don’t fit in the tool bag.  Today it was my drain snake.  Ten years ago, I don’t think I had any idea what a drain snake was and now I know I own at least two and maybe a third hiding in maintenance room somewhere.  It is a simple, hand-held device that allows you to run a long, thick metal spring into a drain and spin it around to clear a blockage.

In my experience, a drain snake is most effective on bathroom sinks and bathtubs.  You do have to disconnect the P-Trap (or J bend), but usually you can save yourself about $75-100, if you are willing to get a little dirty.  Make sure if you are going to use a snake, that no one has poured Draino down the sink recently.  Then messy becomes toxic.

As you incrementally push the snake further into the drain line while rotating it, you usually can feel when you hit the clog.  Also, when you pull the snake back out, you usually will find a clump of something wrapped around the tip (most of the time, hair, sometimes a dead bird).  For really clogged drains, I usually snake it a few times.

Here’s what I have learned in my seven years of snaking:

  • Bring gloves, channel locks, a roll of paper towels, a garbage bag, and  a bucket
  • The channel locks are to take apart the P-trap and the bucket goes underneath to catch the water (directly underneath while you are taking the drain line apart)
  • As you are pulling the snake back out, hold a clump of paper towels in your hand and run the snake through it to clean off the gunk. If you are really diligent, you will also spray it with WD-40 to inhibit rust.
  • Kitchen sinks are often better left to the professionals.  Handheld snakes just seem to be a little too small to solve the problem.

And of course, if you want to accessorize your drain snake, you simply must add a toilet auger and a Zip It.  The toilet auger is a little less fun to use since you are dealing with someone else’s waste, usually solid, but again, it can save you $100 if you don’t have to call the drain service (try $300 on Christmas Eve.  Bad call on my part!) It follows the same principles as the snake, although I seem to manage to break every auger I buy.  The Zip It is a cheap plastic strip that slides into the drain and grabs any hair that is close to the opening.  It is perfect for anyone with long hair and drains without good screens. I also use it when turning units over as preventative maintenance.

Finally, always be sure to show your tenants what you pulled out of their sink and tub drains (not so much on the toilet).  It can help prevent repeat performances in the future.

Happy drain snaking!

Inner Voices

If you are anything like me, chances are you will find yourself waking up every third day or so with a raging case of self-doubt.  And that’s a good week.  Maybe I never got it out of my system in junior high school, but man I can do a hell of a job on myself.  On these days, it can be helpful to treat yourself like your favorite sports team during a losing streak.  They need your support and encouragement even more now than when they are winning.

One of the greatest myths about entrepreneurs is that we can actually spell the word entrepreneurs. No really, it is that we are these confident, invincible forces that sail through the world turning everything we touch to gold with our charm.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I am a neurotic, doubting, worrying mess, just like you.  The only difference is that I have learned to act in spite of what I am feeling.  I can look at my inner psychotic and say “That’s nice dear, I appreciate what you have to say, but I am going to go ask the bank for a 3 million dollar loan, anyway. Talk to you later. Don’t eat the cat while I am gone.”

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