You Don’t Know What You Want

You may think you do, but until you are confronted with options – perhaps just a few or maybe dozens, you don’t really begin to understand what you want.

In this humble case, you don’t believe that you want a yellow tub.  Who would?  Yet, when you browse the apartment listings online, you fall into a sea of photos of white subway tile, one generic wall of white followed by another.  The dozens of galleries are interchangeable, and after hours of clicking through images, you realize it really doesn’t matter which apartment you choose, because they’re essentially all the same.  

That is, until you click on the listing for Lady Broadway.  There she is, with that joyous yellow tub, glowing audaciously in the sunlight.  How dare she?  This is bold, unconventional, and totally in your face.  She isn’t hiding her personality in the dark shadows of a closeted afterthought of a bathroom.  No, she has the nerve to showcase herself in front of a window, basking in her glory.  Take it in.  There’s no looking away.

Almost in spite of yourself, you start thinking about how that yellow tub might lift your spirits each morning.  You feel a sense of familiarity that you can’t quite place, and then it comes to you.  Lady Broadway’s tub is the same shade of yellow you saw in the YouTube video about 2022 design trends and the return of Art Deco.  The shades of gray with the classic yellow, the elegant lines – that’s it! 

Suddenly, you know what you want and what you must have.

You want a yellow tub.

Serendipity on Broadway

People mean well when they say, “When God closes a door, he opens a window,” but I still find the phrase mildly annoying. I mean, who wants to hear about the next open window when you’re looking at a closed door? Yet, it didn’t take me long to consider the window when I was staring at the inside of the securely latched bathroom door, holding the loose antique knob in my hand.

That morning, Carlos and I walked the perimeter of the Broadway property, preparing for another junk haul. We rounded the corner adjacent to the neighbor’s fence, and there it was—a petite school chair from the 1920’s or so, with a solid metal frame and a wooden seat. It hadn’t been there the day before, and it’s sudden arrival was odd, even a little creepy. It was placed on the sidewalk facing the fence, as if the fence were an old chalk board and it was time for a lesson. The creep factor was palpable. Carlos and I looked at the chair, at each other, and back at the chair.

Carlos broke the silence. “How did this get here?”

“Good question.” I didn’t want to think about why it was there, but I went for the logical explanation. “My guess is that someone had a little happy hour time here last night. It’s not visible from the street, so I guess someone hung out here.”

“Hmmm. You think so?” Carlos didn’t look convinced.

“I don’t know, but it’s going on the junk pile.” With that, I picked up the chair and stacked it with two trashed satellite dishes on the side porch, ready to be picked up the next day.

We went off to tackle our rehab tasks for the day. At one point, we took stock of needed supplies, and Carlos explained that the bathroom door needed a new knob because the stem was too short, causing the handle to fall off. I made a physical note in my notebook, but I failed to make a mental note. This will become important later.

Later… Carlos headed home and I was about to lock up, when I realized that instead of stopping at the rest area on I-70 (my new favorite place), I could use the new, sparkling, functional bathroom on site. I crossed the threshold and closed the door behind me. As I closed it, the knob separated from the spindle and I was trapped.

Dramatic, you say? No. A vacant property with no one around, at least no one who means well, and no way to exit. Then I looked past the claw foot tub to the double hung window. Could I fit? Probably. Am I too old for this business? Definitely. Will I break something? Maybe. But it’s a first floor bathroom, so what the heck?

As I stood on the edge of the ancient tub and unlocked the window, I surveyed the situation below and laughed out loud. A few feet below me, that creepy chair rested on the planks of the side porch, pushed against the wall like a step stool waiting to aid my escape. I slipped through the window and lived to tell this tale.

You might call it serendipity, but I prefer to think of it as God’s sense of humor. God didn’t close that door on Broadway. I did, and I knew better. God provided me with an open window, but He knows me and did me one better, with a ladder, a soft landing, a laugh, and a story. I’ll take that over serendipity any day.

Don’t Respect My Privacy

I won’t respect yours, either.

This morning I’m reflecting on a first in our business. We had our first experience of a tenant who passed away in a unit and was found after neighbors suspected a problem. It’s been a sad, distressing, and difficult process for everyone involved, but this post isn’t about being a real estate investor or a business person. It’s about being a human being.

How often do we use these phrases? “He keeps to himself.” “She doesn’t bother anybody.” “He just wants to be left alone.” You get the idea. We value privacy and those who want to be private. It’s easier. It doesn’t require much of us. But I have to wonder if we’ve gone too far.

In my own home, I’ll admit I don’t know all my neighbors. Would I notice if the guy next door didn’t leave his house for a week? Maybe not. Would I be a better neighbor, a better human being, if I did? Maybe.

Entering this week of Thanksgiving, I’m pondering whether respecting my neighbors’ privacy is a lazy way of not connecting with them. Recent studies, like this one from Harvard, point to an epidemic of loneliness associated with increased mortality rates. I’m not implying that my neighbors are lonely, or that I am. But it’s worth considering. When are we respecting each other’s privacy, and when are we simply leaving each other alone?

Historic Districts

As much as I appreciate the pristine quality of a new home, I’d rather live in a home that has age and character. What you give up in the reliability of mechanical systems or the cleanliness of brand new materials, you gain in the unique details of an older home. When the older home is an investment rental property, it creates new considerations. Lesson of the day…historic preservation districts.

Why does it matter? If time is money, you need to consider the extra time involved in rehabbing a historic home. Case in point, our property on Broadway in Hagerstown. (No, it’s not Broadway Street or Broadway Avenue, it’s just Broadway. I verified this because it didn’t make sense to me, but there it is.)

Part of the reason we bought the property was because it was on an attractive street with similar attractive homes. Did we realize it was in a historic preservation district? No. Would it have stopped us from purchasing the property? No. In fact, it probably would have made us feel better about it. But at the time of purchase, we wouldn’t have been thinking about obstacles to the rehabbing timeframe. Now that we are ready to rehab, it adds an additional layer of complexity. Not only will we need to submit the appropriate building permits, but we will also need to submit applications to the historic district review committee for the Potomac-Broadway Historic District.

What will this mean? From my current research, the phrase “exact in kind” comes up repeatedly. Will it be possible to repair/replace with “exact in kind” materials? I’m not sure yet. Will it cost an arm and a leg and take four times as long to find “exact in kind” replacements for a house that’s 120 years old? Maybe. Stay tuned as we navigate this journey.

For readers who are current or future real estate investors, keep this one in mind as you evaluate potential properties. We add it to the list of lessons learned.

Lessons Learned Vol. 1

GO to the property before you buy it. Granted, this might sound incredibly obvious, but when you are investing from a distance and you are relying on information given to you by professionals, you might make this mistake. We did, and we are otherwise very intelligent folks. Hey, it can happen to the best of us.

The story has a happy ending, because it was just the beginning. We made an investment. We started. We stopped talking about it and we did something, which is major.

You can be smarter, and you can go tour that property to be sure you are making the right deal. But do something! Stay tuned for how this zombie comes back to life.

Note to self…you’ll pay to have this removed.
Yes, you’ll remove this too, and pay for it.
This too! And more rooms just like it.