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One Way to Avoid Broken Toilet Phone Calls at 2am

by Tom Sylvester on February 17, 2014 · 14 comments

Avoid Broken Toilet Calls

Have you ever heard this one?

“Yeah, I’d love to invest in real estate, but I don’t want to get called to fix a toilet at 2 AM.”

I’m sure you have.  I hear it every week, but it has not stopped myself and many others from investing.

Real Estate is a Business

One of the biggest issues that new investors face is self-imposed… they treat their real estate investing like a hobby and not like a business.  You see, a business takes work.  A hobby is just something you do on the side for fun.  You can increase the chance of being successful (and reduce stress) by putting time into your business to truly understand it and make smart decisions.

SWOT Analysis

This is the #1 strategy I use when doing business planning.  SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  It is a strategy that I learned in grad school and use all the time throughout my various business ventures.  Typically it is used by business consultants who charge you a lot of money, but today I’d like to show you how you can use this technique to elevate your business.

I like to think of SWOT analysis as a pros/cons list on steroids for professionals.  It is used by taking a scenario and asking the following questions:

  • Strengths - Things your business or the scenario does well that provide an advantage
  • Weaknesses - Things your business or scenario do not do well that provide a disadvantage
  • Opportunities - Things that your business or scenario could exploit to benefit from
  • Threats - Things that could cause issues with your business or scenario

I like to use a table like the one below to help do the analysis.  Strengths and Weaknesses are things that are internal to your business, while Opportunities and Threats are external to your business.

So you can typically control and change things that are internal to your business (Strengths & Weaknesses), while you can only exploit or mitigate the impact of things external to your business (Opportunities and Threats).







Once you go through this exercise, you will have a good idea of the landscape, but you are not done.

Take Action

The previous step was great, but it does not add much value without action.  Now that you understand a view of your business from various perspectives, you need to make some decisions and take action.

For example, does you business have a strength that you could exploit, such as being able to borrow money at a low rate?  Does it have a weakness, like lots of manual processes that require you to get them done?  Is there an opportunity that can benefit your business, such as being endorsed by previous tenants to fill vacant units quicker?  Or do you have threats, such as your investing area experiencing a declining population?

For each item on the list, I then like to take a look and determine the next action.  In some cases an action is not needed, so I just enter N/A.  In other cases there is an action that needs to be taken, so I make note of it.  After I get through each item, I collect my actions and use them as part of my goal planning process.

This ensures that the actions I take are correlated directly to my business and help drive towards my goals.  You can do the same, without paying a lot of money for a consultant.

Back to Toilets

So the promise at the start of his post was being able to get started in real estate investing without getting called at 2 AM to fix a toilet.  If you perform a SWOT analysis on your business, getting that call at 2 AM could be a threat to your business because you can’t respond to it, could lose a tenant or could cause added stress.  By going through the evaluation process and determining an action for that threat, you will be able to mitigate the risk associated with that threat.

What it comes down to is understanding your business, understanding your business environment and taking preventative actions to keep your business running smoothly.

Action: Take the SWOT chart and fill it out for your business.  Then determine 1 action that you can take for each section (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) and leave it in the comments below.

We have been doing this for years and it has saved us from some big risks and allowed us to take advantage of some fantastic opportunities so, hopefully, it can do the same for you.
Photo Credit: Michel Filion

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Megan Samuels February 17, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Like stocks or bonds, an investment in real estate does have its fair share of risks. However the improving real estate market and lower-than-average interest rates have made residential real estate an attractive and profitable option for many investors today. Investors can be as hands-on as they wish to be with their investment property and as for projected maintenance, however, if toilets aren’t your forte, you don’t have to deal with them. Property management companies make it easy for investors to earn impressive returns passively by handling maintenance needs on behalf of investors. Management companies do charge a fee but many times it is included or added to monthly rent paid by tenants. If you are thinking about investing in real estate is it definitely worth it to look into a decent management company!


Tom Sylvester February 18, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Megan – Agreed! It all comes down to planning. Far too often people jump in and get into trouble, where they could have prevented this with a little planning.


Roy N. February 17, 2014 at 3:12 pm


You velcro a laminated call list on the inside of a kitchen cupboard door which contains contact numbers for your sanctioned service providers (plumber, electrician, etc). These are also contained in the “Welcome home” package you give to each new tenant when the move-in {or when you take over a property with existing tenants}. The binder in the Welcome Home package also contains a copy of the “House rules” which the tenants read and signed as a Schedule to the lease. These house rules also explain when the tenant will be fiscally responsible for the 2-am toilet call {i.e. most of the time}.

I call this pre-emptive SWOT ;-)


Tom Sylvester February 18, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Roy – Thanks for adding so many actionable items. My original intention with the article was to be actionable, but it ended up turning into a more generic post about how to plan.

We use the “Welcome Home” package but have not used the laminated sheet in the property. I like that idea. I’ve also heard the idea of putting the price of common repairs on the sheet (along with what the tenant is responsible for) so that way they see the cost of things. The context of this was for move in/move out inspection, but I believe it can also be applied to this situation.


Geoff February 17, 2014 at 5:41 pm

I do (not the velcro part) the same as Roy, a list of my providers, and the amount they are responsible for before I kick in the remainder.


Tom Sylvester February 18, 2014 at 3:22 pm

That is great Geoff. Hopefully people reading are getting the social proof of these tactics in action.


Dayna February 17, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Risk identification and mitigation is critical to the success of any business. I have used the SWOT analysis in the corporate Information Technology arena, but have never thought of applying it to the real estate realm. Good idea! Thanks!


Tom Sylvester February 18, 2014 at 3:48 pm


I agree 100%. Much of my background comes from the corporate setting, but I almost always find application to my real estate business. Here is another post where I brought Lean Six Sigma from the corporate world into real estate –


Jason February 18, 2014 at 8:24 am

I found the best solution for non emergency 2am phone calls is to send a repairman over to the house at 7am to fix the issue. Those night owls hate early wake ups.



Tom Sylvester February 18, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Love it! I’ll have to try that one.


Josh February 18, 2014 at 10:45 am

I really like the idea of posting repairmen names on the back of a cupboard should anything go wrong. I would also send a plummer, or any repairman, in the house beforehand to check anything that may be outdated or threatening.


Tom Sylvester February 18, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Josh – Yeah, I like that idea as well. After we ran SWOT on our business, we started walking through and inspecting our properties twice a year. This allows is to see the general condition of the property, ensure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are working as well as take care of any potential problems before they become big issues. This has helped a lot.


Gerald K. February 18, 2014 at 11:06 pm

We show tenant’s where the shut offs are for leaks, running toilets, including the main shut offs, and have them initial that that page at lease signing that they were shown and understand their operaton. Since there’s not much that can be done until normal business hours anyway, we deal with the phone calls then. Like other’s have posted, blogged, or Podcasted, if the house in on fire, call the fire department, we’re not equipped to deal with those type emergencies. Calls us afterwards and we’ll get back to you during normal business hours.


Jerry Kaidor February 20, 2014 at 9:16 am

At each of my apartment complexes, staff has the standard contact list. They know who’s the plumber, who’s the electrician, and 911. The “upchucking toilet” calls never come to me.

I have an 888 number for the business. It has business hours. After hours, it turns into a message box. During business hours, I – the owner – am available to the tenants. They call it, they get the owner on the other end of the line. Over the years, this has been a valuable

One thing I have at each complex is a good handyman. I searched until I found one. A good handyman is someone who knows construction, knows the codes, is responsible. A person who doesn’t need babysitting. A person who does what he says he’s going to do when he says he’s going to do it. Such people are not cheap. At each complex, the handyman is the highest paid individual. They often charge by the job, and I 1099 mine at the end of the year.


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