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Your Ticket to the Beach: Creating a Checklist to Help Automate Your Real Estate Business

by Clay Huber on March 1, 2013 · 14 comments

  
Real Estate on Autopilot

We’ve all seen it. It’s something that is almost a certainty you’ll see in any real estate guru’s video or website. The image of a person relaxing on the beach with a cocktail in hand watching the sun set on some foreign island. The context of the image is “buy the course and our strategy will have you at the beach while you are still making money.”

Real estate investing can definitely produce this sort of outcome; however, if you think buying some course is your ticket to paradise, make sure you put on your “disappointed underwear”, as I have little doubt you will be disappointed.

I should note, that at the time of me writing this article, I am NOT one of those that fall into the “lay on beach while business still makes money for me” categories. While I do have an ever growing stream of passive income from the owner financing properties in my company’s portfolio, my business still “needs” me in it. (My goal is if you are reading this 5 years from now, I will be in Hawaii sipping a fancy drink while my business is still fully operating)

On that note, for all you of you who can do whatever you want, but your business still runs, please comment and let me and the readers know how much you agree or disagree

The Overall Concept

In order to get yourself at the beach, you need to “pull yourself out of the business”. This doesn’t mean you sell your business, this just means you are able to go to the beach and everything runs itself. This may not sound like much, but stop for a second and think about all you do as a single person, or even has one half of a partnership:

  • Ideas and concepts
  • Researching the ideas and concepts (are they cost effective – both in time and money)
  • Implementing the ideas and concepts
  • Monitoring them after they are implemented

“Ideas and concepts” is pretty broad. That was done intentionally. Marketing, deal analysis, buying, selling, managing, raising funds, and the list goes on and on. Point being, the amount of work a start-up entrepreneur does is quite mind boggling.

Learning to Love the Checklist for your Real Estate Investing Business

For me, this has been hard. I fully believe in the concept, particularly since it was pounded into me as I worked on my engineering degree in college, but that still doesn’t make it the most exciting thing in the world.

In the world of engineering, you need to figure out ‘how’ to do something, document it, and then make it repeatable time and time again (create a system). The same is true for any business, including real estate. After figuring out ‘how’, you need to document. The best way in my mind to do this is with the checklist.

The checklist is one of those things that can be extremely annoying in the short run, but in the long run, the amount of time it saves you is priceless.

Why Bother with a Checklist?

I’ve already hinted that this, but in order to create a system, you need it to be repeatable. Here’s the tricky part though. Not only repeatable for “you”, but for Bob, Sue, Bill or Sally!

If you/I ever want to get to the beach, we will need to train people in the jobs we are currently doing. I have done a little of this before, so from experience, training is MUCH EASIER to do when you have a checklist in front of you rather then scratching your head thinking, “Now what did I do next?”

In your mind, it may “make sense” and odds are, you are probably using quite a bit of intuition, but remember, that person is NOT in your mind, so it could very well sound like Chinese to them. Training someone in Chinese when they only speak English is not going to be too productive.

With a checklist though, you can both speak English since you’ll be able to say, “First you do this. Second you do this. Third you do this. If you get Result A, do this. If you get Result B, do this.” Not only will it help you as you train, but if Bob, Sue, Bill or Sally has it in front of them while you’re not there, your phone won’t be ringing off the hook as you try and sip your cocktail.

How to Create a Checklist for your Real Estate Investing Business

First off, there isn’t really a right or wrong way to do it. The point of it is to document what you are doing. The only facet I would stand firm on is there needs to be some sort of sequential order. Whether that is numbers or letters or Morris code, it doesn’t matter.

Second off, there is nothing to big, small or obscure that a checklist can’t be made for. Case in point, below you will see my checklist for Website Implementation. (click image to make bigger/clearer)

Real Estate Investing Example Checklist

After looking at the image, hopefully you realize this is something anyone can do. It’s simply doing an activity that works (no need to map out an inefficient process), and then writing down the steps. You may think that creating a website is just “find URL, hire web guy or do it yourself, click the “live” button”, but when you stop and go through all the steps, there is a lot more to it then that.

How detailed do you want to get? That all depends. If you want someone else to be able to take a process from Step A to Step Z, the more details the better. Below is Step #12 from above, “Launch Site”. You may think, this step needs even more detail? Before I built my first website, I would have had the same thought. After going through a few websites though, there is definitely “more-to-the-story” within just this one step. (click image to make bigger/clearer)

Real Estate Investing Checklist Example #2

The 3 Big Benefits of Checklists

I’m sure there are more then three, but to me these are the three that really stick out.

  1. Think Big – If your dream truly is to have a business that runs on its own, you gotta have big goals! If you do a simple task such as creating a checklist, what you are really telling yourself is this: My business will grow someday to the point where my only choice will be to hire others so I can focus on the “big decisions” of the business.
  2. Audit Your Efficiency - Think you’re doing things the best way possible? I know I did the first time through. Then, the second time through using my checklist I find myself thinking, “This makes no sense. What a waste of time!” Having these moments is immediately followed by a revision of the checklist that adds/subtracts portions to make the process that much quicker and time effective.
  3. Train in English – I already touched on this, but when the time does come for you to begin to phase yourself out of certain areas of your business, make sure you are able to train the person in English. With a checklist in hand, your communication will be that much clearer and won’t come across as a foreign language.

In summary, if you have the ambitions of laying on the beach while your real estate investment business runs without you, then start working on checklists. Even if you are perfectly happy with your business being a one or two person show, I’d still advise using them so you can self audit your processes.

Let’s hear your feedback. Do you use checklists? What ways do you find helpful to document what ‘works’ for you? I (along with others I’m sure) am interested in learning what you do within your business to prepare yourself for expansion. Comment below!

Photo: Giorgio Montersino

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark G March 1, 2013 at 10:30 am

What is the tool you are using in your example images?

Reply

Clay Huber March 1, 2013 at 11:08 am

Mark, I am using “mindjet”. If you Google that, it should be the first result that pops up.

Reply

John Wahlgren March 1, 2013 at 10:34 am

Great article!

I use checklists a lot. I think they’re great and help me staying focused on the next step instead of thinking about several things at the same time.

I’m trying to split my time between actually “doing” things and thinking of strategic decisions, brainstorming etc. I think it makes me much more effective.

Reply

Clay Huber March 1, 2013 at 10:38 am

Thanks John.

I totally agree with you. It’s hard to not be focused when you are sitting there mapping out a step-by-step process to something. You really don’t have much of a choice; you MUST be focused to do it.

Reply

jeffrey gordon March 1, 2013 at 12:44 pm

My son, who is 30, just finished a major remodel–equal to the purchase price of the property– He is a project manager for the FEDS and this was his first project where he ran it completely on his own while holding a full time job–fortunately he could walk to the job at lunch each day if necessary. I had run two previous projects for him and beat into him the advantages of scheduling an systemizing the renovation processes. On his own he went back through our prior two projects and built himself a project schedule in MS Project along with phase values.

He was long 2 weeks of his scheduled goal and over ran about 10% on his costs. He put out a weekly update for his subs (in both english and spanish) and he seems very happy with the results. He had to let go 2 of the original subs and further ingrained his understanding of the remodel project golden rules–like no prepayments beyond delivered materials, and provide the subs with specific material lists to be used.

He knows he has a ways to go, and one of his challenges is evaluating his current strategy of doing major remodels vs much more cosmetic remodels.

I was impressed that he has taken up Chris’s Clothiers recommendation to use the same materials on all the jobs to reduce waste and simplify the project planning etc. The nice thing is that my son is in DC where there is a large quantity of very similar older row houses of exactly the same size and character which lends itself to repeating the same project over and over. Not to mention sale prices in the $350-$600/SF range :)

thanks for the article Clay, seems like engineers and bean counters have similar tendancies for building systems.

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Clay Huber March 1, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Thanks Jeffrey.

Sounds like your son is well on his way to having some extremely efficient systems in place. There is never a perfect system, but we should (as your son is) always be striving to get it as close to perfect as possible.

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Risto March 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Another great tip from Clay!

I don’t use checklists, but after reading this it kinda don’t make sense not to. I use Mindjet too; It’s a great tool. It makes it easier to mange my business, because I can see everything in front of me. Instead of trying to “work from my head.”

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Clay Huber March 1, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Thanks Risto. I’m in full agreement, it is definitely much easier to see everything rather then trying to “work from my head”. My head is a complicated place, so I’d imagine it would be 10x’s worse trying to “train someone from my head” – yikes!

Thanks for the comments.

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John March 4, 2013 at 1:58 am

Great article and absolutely agree. A great book on the topic is The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande which is a fun read, incorporating the tangible advantages of checklists in everthing from surgery to commercial aviation.

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Clay March 4, 2013 at 6:14 am

Thanks for the suggestion John. I’ll have to check it out!

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Cheryl A. Lowitzer March 5, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Clay: you hit the nail on the head. The beauty of a SYSTEM?
Saves
You
Stress
Time
Energy
Money!!

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Clay March 5, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Very nice Cheryl! I’ve never seen that before, so thanks for pointing that out. Does a great job of summing everything up!

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kelv!n March 7, 2013 at 11:54 pm

hi clay…

I have just recently begun creating task lists for the week at the beginning of the week and reviewing the list at the end of the week. to some extent, this is a form of checklist to keep me in line w my greater plan and hopefully on schedule. the challenge I’m finding now is my terrible estimation for certain tasks for the lack of experience or foresight on what’s required per task scheduled for the week. this week has been a mess and miss for what I had hoped to accomplish. I am still trying to prioritize and formulate my over arching plan and all the tasks involved. furthermore, the tasks I put on my list are sometimes too simple or too complex, as I’m researching or inexperienced in certain tasks.

how do you suggest we plan for the unknown when it comes to scheduling and task/checklist creation?

thx for the article on checklists.

Reply

Clay Huber March 8, 2013 at 5:57 am

Hey Kelvin, thanks for the comment and that’s a really good questions.

Unfortunately for you and all of us, there is no crystal ball that can look into the future and assist you with knowing how long or short a task will take. This all comes with experience, and it still happens to me.

I had a task I wanted to complete and estimated it’d probably take 30 minutes or so and it took me 2 hours. Whoops! Slight oversight on my part, but there is only so much you can do.

It’s basically like renovating a house. If you think a project will take you 3 weeks as soon as you walk in the door, reality is, you’re probably looking at more of a 4-5 week project (assuming little experience).

Best advice I have for you is to always budget a bit more time then you think it will take, that way, you can hopefully get everything done.

Great job though in being this “structured” so early on. Keep this going throughout your growth and you will have an extremely streamlined and efficient business!

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