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The Couch Contractor

I'm a firm believer that a landlord should have a strong pulse on his expenses. As Warren Buffett notes, the first two rules of business are:

Rule 1: Make Money

Rule 2: Follow Rule 1

In real estate that means, collect rent and keep expenses low. The latter is imperative because without such, the asset will start to become a liability.

As a portfolio holder of 31 units, I'm always aggressive on collecting rent and minimizing repair expenses. Keeping expenses low requires a few skill sets:

1. Have a general understanding of how mechanical systems function

2. Ask a hell of a lot of questions

3. Probe, probe and probe some more for alternatives

4. Be assertive, at times stubborn, with your recommendations

Given there is a litany of information on the internet, each skill can be accomplished with research and a winner's attitude. Doing the proper research can literally save you hundreds of dollars. With that said, I recommend that every private landlord be a Couch Contractor.

So what exactly is a couch contractor?

A couch contractor can be defined as someone without the skill set or desire to make the necessary repairs but has the final decision on how the repairs are to be made.

In essence, an efficient landlord that makes decisions from the couch.

Let me provide you with a real life example for additional clarity.

Earlier this year, I purchased a duplex and post purchase I realized the basement drain was cemented over. Who cements over the basement drain is mind boggling but the situation had to be addressed given the flood potential if a basement pipe leaked or if a hot water tank burst.

Knowing this was a mandatory repair, I had two plumbers price out the job. Both recommended breaking open a section of the basement concrete and replacing the cemented drain and pipe. Thereafter, the exposed section would be back filled with concrete. The total project cost was quoted at $900. Both contractors mentioned that the repairs could not be completed in any other fashion. While I did not disagree, I'm a proponent of the Dave Ramsey philosophy, "trust but verify."

I have many real estate hats; landlord, leasing agent, property manager, project manager, accountant, consultant, etc. No day is ever the same and while I prior plan my daily, weekly and monthly activities, there is no certainty on the hats to be worn each day.

The situation at hand called for the Couch Contractor label to be imprinted across my forehead. Faced with a challenge, I was eager to come up with a winning solution because at the end of the day, that’s what winners do…WIN!

I moved forward with my research and after coming across several substances that potentially dissolve concrete, I decided that muriatic acid, also known as hydrochloric acid, was the best choice.

My research included watching Youtube home repair videos, reading Home Depot reviews and scanning various internet websites. YouTube was highly effective as it showed a visual of the acid dissolving the concrete. Now that I had the remedy, it was time to test its effectiveness.

I informed both plumbers of my proposed solution. One plumber was resistant and mentioned pipe and drain replacement was the only way forward. The other plumber was onboard to give my remedy a shot but he advised that he never heard of an acid dissolving concrete. I inquired with a third plumber and he too mentioned that the acid would not work. While I did not get any positive feedback from the plumbers, I was still firm in testing the couch contractor’s research.

I chose the plumber whom was willing to give the muriatic acid a shot as I did not like the resistant energy from the other plumber.

Now it was time to put the muriatic acid to the test. Could the solution defy the Contractor Gods and dissolve the concrete?

After the first test, the answer was no. No concrete dissolved, water was still backing up. I asked my contractor if he diluted the substance with water and he mentioned that he did. I told him for the second go around, we're going "all acid, no chase."

He followed my lead and after a few hours, wahla magic! The water was free flowing down the basement drain pipe. I was ecstatic about the results. Not only did I save $800, the team also gained newfound knowledge which can be used in the future. Furthermore, I enjoyed the continuing education precedent set.

The next time you face an expensive repair, always remember to do your research before greenlighting the repair. Being a couch contractor can save you hundreds or even thousands. For a few hours worth of research, the end definitely justifies the means.


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