Last night was another evening of therapy for me – the therapy that comes from leaving all of my work and other issues behind me, head out to the back shed, and play with power tools. There is never anything wrong with the world that the smell of sawdust from a circular saw cannot solve.
One of the other things that I do for therapy is talk about landlord-tenant stuff, it is especially therapeutic if the discussion is with someone who doesn’t have a great deal of experience in landlord-tenant stuff – as the transfer of knowledge and information is good for the soul. Last night I got to do both, my work in the shed was interrupted by a call from a Daily Herald reporter who is working on a story and wanted some background from me.
After the 20 minute conversation about the story, we had a 10 minute conversation about life in general. As a part of that conversation, the question came up about how I became a landlord – is this what I wanted to do? That is a conversation that could easily have taken up an hour or more of his time, and would have bored him to sleep. If and when I ever write an auto-biography, how I became a landlord will easily take up a quarter of that book, so trying to answer that question here in a blog post – well abridged hardly covers it.
I had mentioned that in my acceptance speech I made a few weeks ago, that I had brought up that I had not chosen to be a landlord. Investment real estate is not something that I dreamed about as a little kid, no dreams about it as a big kid either (and current dreams about real estate lately tend to be more of the nightmare variety). Actually, it turns out that both of my careers that I have had (before real estate, I was in the Army working in the intelligence field) were not careers that I had wanted – were not careers that I had even considered. In both cases, these were careers that found me.
The story of how I stumbled blindly into the world of cloak and dagger is probably a story for another day. The story of becoming a landlord begins where that other story ends.
After being forced out of the military in 1993 by global circumstances (the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and eventual collapse of the Iron Curtain and all that was behind it pretty much put me out of a job), it was time to start all over again. Although only 24 at the time, I felt like an old man. I decided to go to college and get a degree, which only reinforced that I was 24 going on 40. Here I was, having spent years in the intelligence field, traveled the world, barely survived the cold war and had my share of adventures in a “real war” as well – surrounded by kids fresh out of high school who thought they knew it all.
I did my first two years here in Wausau at UWMC (I wonder how successful I need to be before I get to be on one of those billboards). I was out the military in April but school wouldn’t start until that fall, and I couldn’t just sit and collect the unemployment checks, I needed to find a part time job. I found jobs doing everything from bouncing at Bops (now Grand-Daddy’s on Grand, but then it was a teen club) and a couple of times at Bruisers. I worked for a local security company being a rent-a-cop for places like Kolbe & Kolbe and SNE. However, my parents told me about an office job available with their landlord, Emmerich & Associates.
E&A was more than my parent’s landlord, they were also sort of business partners. My parents ran a CBRF, a facility that takes care of the elderly. My parents told the owner of the company that their son was back from the military, and he suggested to them that I apply for the position. So I did, and was interviewed, and offered the job later that day by the property manager. (Over a year later, I learned from that property manager that I was not the most qualified applicant. She felt when the owner of the company told her she should interview this person for a job, that it would be pretty hard to not hire the person the owner said to interview.)
However, the part time job that was only supposed to last that summer continued on through the school year, and through the following summer and school year. I left that part time position as assistant property manager to finish my degree in Madison.
Shortly after graduating from the UW’s School of Business with degrees in International Business and Human Resources Management, I was ready to explore the world of International Business and find a job that would take me back to Europe. I had kept up my German and was still very fluent, and although my Russian was no where near where it once was, I still had a handle on it.
However, before I even really started the job hunt in earnest, my parents had a meeting with the owner of E&A and had mentioned that they were going down to Madison to attend my graduation. He had told them that in his mind, there would always be a place for me within his organization and without applying, was offered a full-time job back at E&A basically as the owner’s personal assistant in the summer of 1997.
Through some staffing changes and personal development, a few years later I was basically managing the operations of the company and a few years after that we started talking about succession planning.
In 2006, as part of succession planning, I purchased a fairly large chunk of the properties from him that I had been managing. So, in December 2005, the tenants were renting from E&A, in January 2006, they were renting from my newly formed HelpRent, Co. There was no change in staffing so this was probably the most seamless change in ownership tenants ever experienced. This change also moved me from basically an at-will employee who could give notice and explore other things that life had to offer at any time to a vested owner of millions of dollars of real estate and hundreds of tenants. This is real estate that I needed to manage and take care of. These tenants are not just customers, but people who depend on me to provide them with safe housing – they trust me to provide them with one of their most important needs – they trust me to provide them with their home.
Here it is, 2009. I started this adventure in real estate over 16 years ago. I never really thought about this industry as a career option for me – this industry found me. It hunted me down, found me, and thought me worthy. And, because it found me, I feel that I have a duty to do the best job I can. Anybody can do a job in a career they have chosen for themselves – but when the career chose the person – I think it increases the obligations to not let that career; that industry down.
So, although long for a blog post, that is the short version of how Dr. Rent became a landlord.