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Don’t Go on Vacation [Unless You Do These Three Things...]

by Brandon Turner on March 25, 2013 · 27 comments

  
Vacation

I’m 1000 miles away from home and all hell is breaking loose.

Yesterday, Chris Clothier wrote an article here on the BiggerPockets blog about the important of taking a break in your real estate business in order to rejuvenate and build your business even stronger. Great article, great lesson. This was especially timely for me, as I’m currently traveling through California on my way to a wedding. However, this trip is anything but “rejuvenating” because I did not completely set my business up for it.

There’s a rule when it comes to real estate investing that most experienced investors already know:

90% of the bad things that can happen WILL happen in the 10% of the time you are out of town.

I don’t know why this is, but it seems every time I leave town, the drama begins. Although most of my real estate landlording is on “auto pilot” – I’ve learned over the past weekend that I was not as prepared as I should have been for this break. As I’m very found of saying, writing helps me to clear my thoughts so today that’s what I’m going to do. Today’s post is going to focus on five things I’ve learned over the past several days that I should have done differently in order to make this vacation more peaceful. I hope you can use these thoughts to help you set your business up as more “automated” so you can take a trip in peace.

1.) Have a Backup For your Backup

I don’t hire a property manager, but manage myself with the help of a resident manager who looks after my properties in exchange for free rent – and it works awesome about 95% of the time. He typically handles most of the maintenance and leasing of units. He’s my backup whenever I’m out of town and I need something done.

However, this weekend he was gone for his anniversary.

So lesson number one – have a back-up for your back-up. Most of the rest of these problems could have been heavily avoided had I planned for his departure. I knew he was heading out, but I thought “what’s the chance that something bad is going to happen during this time?”

Yep. 100%.

2.) Where Do You Keep Phone Numbers?

Most of my tenants phone numbers are in my phone, so when I need to get in touch with someone and my resident manager can not, I can pull out their phone number and call them. Other than that, their phone number is nicely tucked into their file, locked in a file cabinet in my office.

However – a phone number in a phone doesn’t do a lot of good when my phone decided to “jump out of the car” somewhere on the Oregon coast. Yep – somehow I managed to lose my phone with all my contacts in there.

Not only did I lose my contacts, but during the 12 hours I had no working phone, both the boiler AND the television (we provide TV at that location) went out at one of my properties so the tenants all lost hot water and TV at the same time. Since my resident manager was completely out of commission and I was without a phone, I was completely unaware of the six tenants who were calling and calling and calling.

I picked up a new phone, but hadn’t backed up my contacts recently so, of course, I had no phone numbers. Trust me – this hasn’t been fun to track down all the numbers.

So, lesson #2: store your tenant directory online, in your Dropbox account or Google Docs account. You never know when you’re going to need a number.

3.) Keys – Where Are They?

Finally, on my way out the door I couldn’t find my keys.

Not needing them for this trip (we’re in my wife’s car) I gave up and figured I’d just find them when I get home. Why would I need keys to my rental property while I’m 1000 miles away!?

Well, I didn’t – but someone is going to need them. My key to the room with the boiler is on that key ring. So, my resident manager is back in town now, but has no key to that room. I suppose I can send him to my house to search through the couch cushions, or I can have him break the lock and put a new one on. Or I can hire a locksmith. Definitely not a decision I want to have to make, especially from 1000 miles away.

So, lesson #3: Have a system in place for keys while you are on vacation.

The Lesson Learned

Vacations are awesome – but if you are stressed the whole time, it’s not so great. If you have rental property and manage yourself, don’t let your landlord responsibilities keep you from enjoying the fun things in life. Instead, build systems to manage the difficult times and enjoy your life. Landlording is not always easy, but it becomes easier with every system you set in place. This has become increasingly apparent on this trip.

I’m going to go back to enjoying my trip, and my original backup (my resident manager) is already set to fix the issues that went wrong this weekend. In the end, though it’s been stressful, nothing drastically bad happened. However, the lessons I’ve learned this weekend will help me to create an even better system for future trips – and hopefully help you as well.

Do you have any suggestions for me, or others who might be faced with problems while on vacation? How does your “vacation system” work? Leave your comments below!

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon Vornholt March 25, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Brandon –

There is nothing like real life experiences to point out our shortcomings is there? I see new procedures in your future.

Try to have some fun.

Sharon

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Sharon Vornholt March 25, 2013 at 6:55 pm

BTW great picture.

Sharon

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Brandon Turner March 26, 2013 at 10:02 am

Thanks Sharon! That picture was taken in front of Alcatraz Island! And yes – I’ll be working on systematizing even more when I get home!

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Paul March 25, 2013 at 7:26 pm

I left for vacation (out of the country) about 3 weeks ago. When I finally got hooked up to wifi I had several voice mails/e-mails along with a video from my tenant showing water streaming in the upstairs ceilings (due to ice dams). Thankfully I had backup but this made for a little less relaxing trip.

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Brandon Turner March 26, 2013 at 10:03 am

Oh no Paul! That’s terrible! Glad you got it worked out. I can’t wait till the day when we have internet 100% of the time … okay, well maybe that doesn’t sound so nice :) But it would make our jobs a little easier!

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Al Williamson March 25, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I feel your pain Bro! Same thing happened to me some years ago. That’s when I learned the power of a keybox. I have one on all my rentals and I routinely mount them on the homes of loved ones. It’s an absolute must.

PS
No fair using your lovely wife’s picture to get folks to read your post. That’s low down!

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Brandon Turner March 26, 2013 at 10:04 am

Thanks Al – yeah, I actually own two of those boxes but never thought of actually USING them. I won’t forget that again!

And how can you resist that smile of hers!

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Mark Ferguson March 25, 2013 at 9:06 pm

I have not had a vacation where I didn’t work for years. The down side of the REO business. I am hoping structuring my business better and rental properties will give me the freedom to enjoy a vacation without my phone some day. I may go into withdrawl.

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Brandon Turner March 26, 2013 at 10:10 am

I feel the same Mark! I have renewed motivation now to streamline my vacation process!

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kyle hipp March 25, 2013 at 9:24 pm

A little over a year ago I left for Jamaica for a week. I manage everything myself and my father is more than capable so he was my backup. I notified all my tenants and privided his number to them. I told them I could not be reached as I rarely checked my phone. I also gave my father the phone nunbers and names and locations of all properties. He had a key to my house with the files on all my properties with their layouts and other pertenant information as well as the location of my keys. I purchased a property a week earlier that I was planning to flip but turned out the backup plan to hold played out a lot better. I got a call the day before we left that a water heater was leaking. If I remember correctly an element was out and I was able to adjust the settings to limp it along for a week and replaced it when I got home. Nothing major but I had great piece of mind with my father at the reigns.

I get to return the favor for my father in June as they leave for a trip since he has gotten grown his own rental business as well. Hopefully things go smoothly for him as well. ;)

Great reminders, there is always more I can do to better prepare. I try to set up a lot in case something happens to me. My wife is extremely capable at many things but this is a complicated business and I try to set up everything so that she could look in my files and be able to figure everything out. By that token I still have some work to do. Hope you enjoy the remainder of your trip!!!

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Brandon Turner March 26, 2013 at 10:11 am

Thanks Kyle! I plan on re-vamping my efforts as soon as I get back!

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Joshua Dorkin March 25, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Seriously . . . you’re on vacation — that’s just not fair!

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Sharon Vornholt March 26, 2013 at 6:42 am

@Josh Dorkin — You should take note.

@Brandon Turner – Doesn’t sound like a vacation to me. You are still working.

Sharon

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Brandon Turner March 26, 2013 at 10:13 am

It’s a working vacation :)

(paradox?)

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Brandon Turner March 26, 2013 at 10:14 am

:) I can whine. I’m only on vacation from my rentals and the rain!

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Jason March 26, 2013 at 8:25 am

I think we all have those horror stories. Visiting my coach in Baltimore a few years back, the water heater shorted out due to a poor electrical contact. It then shorted out all the appliances in the house. New electrical panel and all new appliances. 4k poof, gone.

Great post. Even plan C is often not enough.

Jason

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Brandon Turner March 26, 2013 at 10:19 am

Oh that sucks Jason! Did insurance cover any of that?

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Bilgefisher March 26, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Nope. They considered it two separate incidents. 2k for the panel and 2k for the appliances. My deductible was $1500. I didn’t bother with them.

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Brandon Turner March 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Dang! That’s not cool.

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Karen Rittenhouse March 26, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Ahhhhh, the joys of owning your own business.

You said the magic word – Systems. And you keep tweaking them until all the holes are filled.

Set up your business as if you plan to sell it – as if a stranger could come in and run it without interruption. When you get to that point, you’re free!

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Collin Kautz March 27, 2013 at 9:56 am

Brandon, do you use the iCloud? If you have an iphone you can backup all of your contacts online and it works the same as using dropbox without worrying about importing your contacts from your phone to dropbox.

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Brandon Turner March 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Hey Collin – I didn’t on that phone. My wife has the iPhone, I have (had) a dumb phone cause I dropped my iPhone in a bucket of paint… twice…

So no backup for me. But, with my new phone (a smart one!), I will definitely be doing backups!

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Brandon Turner March 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm

That’s exactly it – keep filling those holes! I’ve discovered several now, so I’ll be filling em!

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Brian Burke March 28, 2013 at 10:52 pm

My advice for avoiding all of this: when you lose your phone on day one of your vacation, don’t get a new phone until you get back, remaining oblivious to the mayhem you left behind. You get to enjoy your whole vacation, and by the time you get back your manager would have solved the problems on his own. Win/win.

Ok, seriously though, I’m glad we went to dinner before the stress hit you. After all you’ve been through, that must seem like it was ages ago. Enjoy the rest of the trip!

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Brandon Turner March 28, 2013 at 11:07 pm

That’s honestly not a bad idea. Things tend to work themselves out when I step back. :)

And yes, dinner was awesome. Best food I’ve eaten this whole trip! Thanks again!

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Graham November 22, 2013 at 4:25 am

We all know that the consequences are horrible but when was the last time you did a backup of your pc?………………no I havent either.

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Mark Ferguson November 22, 2013 at 7:45 am

I have Carbonite on my pc that backs it up online every day. Fantastic investment for peace if mind. $50 a year.

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