Excerpt from the Property Investment and Landlording Book: Building Wealth via Toilets and Tenants.
Along any journey toward freedom, your resolve will be tested. I’ll relate the frightening fable of our first shot at real estate success:
After a few weeks of seeking bargain property in 1990, we found our first enormous “opportunity” while perusing imminent foreclosures. Located on Queen City Avenue in Cincinnati, the home’s basic architecture was beautiful! – a brick Tudor endowed with lots of structural charm, albeit run-down. However, the address also harbored the nastiest debris I’d ever seen or smelled – the stuff movies are made of. It was a literal STINKER. The Cincinnati Health Department had condemned the parasitic palace. While touring the house, Denise was despondent about my infatuation with the dump.
In a very sad situation, Skitz (name changed), a fifty-year resident of the home, was living there alone in a very unhealthy environment. Fully coherent and still driving, she had been ordered by the Health Department to vacate the premises due to the horribly unsanitary conditions and numerous building code violations. Using entirely credit card advances, we paid off her mortgage and other bills, and gave her extra cash to boot – a far better outcome for her than the imminent foreclosure and eviction.
We then arranged for a mover to transfer Skitz’s stuff. But, when the two big guys arrived, their jaws dropped and faces paled. They did an abrupt about-face, unwilling to contaminate their truck with the abounding supply of roaches, rats, and filth. No other movers would touch the job either, and many contractors refused to work inside the house. You won’t believe what dwelled within!
We began working on the yard and façade while awaiting Skitz’s relocation. As we toiled, Skitz (legs bleeding from flea bites) chattered from behind a rickety screen-door. While chatting, she chased green bottle flies that landed on the screen, smashing them with her bare thumb. We winced with each crunch, as little white entrails extruded through the screen wires. Even the FLIES wanted out!
We removed a fifty-year accumulation of rancid filth, including; urine soaked newspapers, rotten food, decades of partially lithified crap from 43 dogs, a few cat skeletons, three five-gallon paint buckets full of human excrement (no toilets worked), scores of vermin, thousands of roaches, and millions of fleas. The rats and mice were particularly virulent. We even coaxed our exterminator to join in our sport of chasing chemically-dazed rodents with a shovel.
Rumors of the “animal house” were infamous within the neighborhood, and neighbors were insatiably curious. With a few cheering us on (some gagging and cursing), we lined the curbs with the vilest trash imaginable. Word of the rehab quickly spread. Neighbors inquired about the timing of our planned extermination, so they could simultaneously treat their homes to repel the fleeing pestilence. As we toiled outside, Metro bus drivers would stop and to peer out, even though they had no passengers to drop. One driver shriek-whistled, clapped, and flashed us the “thumbs up” signal.
We dragged out three fridges full of rotten food, wrapping the doors tightly closed with duct tape to keep the maggot-infested goop from oozing forth. As our grand finale, we garnished the putrid heap with dozens of dead rats, which bloated in the hot sun after a few hours. I thought the trash guys might get a chuckle from it . . . but it turned out they were NOT amused. Neighbors recounted the scene for us: The garbage collectors slowly climbed from their truck in disbelief, warily sauntering around the heaping piles that lined the sidewalks of our corner lot, shaking their heads all the while.
Next, the Cincinnati Litter Patrol instantly posted a “nasty-gram” on our door, demanding that we IMMEDIATELY get construction containers. I called them on the next business day, and their “litter detective” hounded me hourly to ensure that I had ordered the boxes.
. . . In retrospect, I figure the rat garnish was probably a bad idea.
With the domestic animals now gone, it was time to work inside. I quickly learned that fleas become extremely ferocious when hungry. Excepting a few rats, all warm-blooded hosts had already “left the building”, so the bloodthirsty parasites were ravenous. I grew fearful of the famished fleas. Each time I needed to enter to swiftly place flea bombs, I first duct-taped my jean cuffs, belt line, and shirt collar tightly closed to keep the parasites away from my vitals. I also sported a snug headscarf and dust mask . . . but sadly all efforts were vain. Hundreds of the glimmering little varmints flittered on the surface of my jeans, and invaded my beard. Even after scurrying home and showering with a triple dose of flea shampoo, I mentally conjured creepy crawlies infesting every inch of my body. The pungent odor of feces and rotting rodent carcasses etched my brain, as did Skitz’s conglomeration of perfumes, which was apparently intended to over-power the ambient stench that permeated everything within the home. I sometimes still awaken from a troubled sleep in a cold sweat.
“What could be more challenging?” we wondered. What an initiation to real estate investment! Renting property to tenants couldn’t possibly be worse . . . could it?!
And what about Skitz? . . . After months of patient compassion, gentle requests, and offering to help her move, she eventually did relocate to an apartment, pursuant to a court order and the Cincinnati Health Department. Some gullible and compassionate landlord didn’t check Skitz’s living habits, and offered residency. During the cover of night, puttering to and fro in a wood-paneled station wagon, Skitz stealthily whisked her zoo sized menagerie to the new habitat, along with some essentials.
Upon relocating the entourage of pets and parasites, she hired workers to change the doors and locks and board the windows. I drove past her new residence a few weeks later to observe a beet-red landlord, with arms flailing; loudly shouting at a barricaded door. Now if prospects ask that landlord “You allow pets?” I’ll bet his eyes glaze and his lip twitches. Just don’t let this story prevent you from being successful in real estate. This is not the normal situation. But tenant selection is paramount.