Where to Keep Your Repair / Maintenance Junk if You’re a Real Estate Investor

by | BiggerPockets.com

As a landlord, my partner and I tend to accumulate lots of little fix-it paraphernalia. We have traditional tools, of course, like drills and battery chargers, hammers and nails, drywall anchors, circular saws and an assortment of bolts of various sizes. We have half-used gallons of paint and deck stain. We have paintbrushes and trays and rollers, and large scraps of new, unused carpeting that could be used in some small room. We have a spare dishwasher (and, until recently, a spare refrigerator) that work perfectly fine, and look decent, but probably wouldn’t fetch much money on the open market. We have excess tile and planks of pine and several bottles of cleaning products.

Even though we hire contractors to do most major work, my partner and I have accumulated this junk from doing small little jobs ourselves. (We do less of that now that we’ve scaled up to six units, but we did quite a bit more when we were first starting out). And now we have a problem that we never anticipated when we entered the landlording business:

Where on earth are we supposed to store all this junk?

If we had a garage or a toolshed, we’d have a bit more space. But we live in an urban setting. We don’t have space to keep tools and tile and excess 2×4’s. And we never imagined that this dilemma would be a by-product of owning rental properties (although in hindsight I guess we should have anticipated it).

We don’t have a perfect solution yet. (Your suggestions and solutions are welcome!) But here are a few things that have helped us control this monster:

#1: Make a Mental Shift

Part of the reason that I don’t like getting rid of something that’s useful is because I know that I’ll just need to buy it again.

Let’s take my spare dishwasher, for example. I got it for free from a friend who was renovating his home. It looked great and performed well.

For several months, my spare dishwasher sat outdoors on my back porch. I didn’t want to sell it, because I knew that the second that I did so, I would need to buy a dishwasher for one of the units. I also knew that, invariably, I’d pay a higher price than what I would earn while selling the old one. It’s Murphy’s Law. If I sold a dishwasher for $100, I’d inevitably end up buying an identical one for $150 (plus $40 delivery) within a few weeks.

“Why would I waste $90 of my hard-earned dollars when instead I could use this one?,” I’d think.

But then I grew sick of having so much junk around me. And so I made a mental shift: Would I be willing to pay an extra $90 for the benefit of NOT storing a dishwasher on my back porch for several months? The answer is yes, of course.

So my first tip: If you can sell something, rather than keep it, then do so … even if you’ll ultimately pay a little more. It’s worth the peace-of-mind.

#2: Prioritize Things That Might Get Discontinued

On the flip side of the coin, there are certain items — such as tile — that are unique and that might get discontinued. If you have to limit the amount of junk you have around, prioritize the items that are non-homogenous and that can’t be easily replaced by an off-the-shelf alternative.

For example: Let’s imagine that I had to ask a contractor to remove and replace an old bathtub. The tub surround is made of tile, and the bathtub-removal process will cause the tiles closest to the tub to break.

I don’t want to replace the ENTIRE wall of tile, so ideally I would provide the contractor with an exact-match of the existing ones. But if matching tile isn’t available, I have a problem. (At that point, I need to get creative: either find a compatible alternate tile, or decide it’s time to upgrade the entire tub surround.)

There’s plenty of peace-of-mind in knowing that if a few tiles shatter, I won’t waste hours trying to find an exact-match replacement. So if I do have to limit myself to storing only a few items, I’d rather store something unique, like tile, rather than something that’s easily-exchangeable or easily-replaceable.


Do you have any suggestions for minimizing and managing all the fix-it material that’s around your home? Share your suggestions below!

Photo: Gabriel Herrera

About Author

Paula Pant

Paula Pant quit her 9-to-5 job, invested in 7 rental units, and traveled to 32 countries. Her blog, Afford Anything, shares how to shatter limits, build wealth and maximize life. (At AffordAnything.com, she shares EXACT numbers from all her rental investments -- costs, cash flow, cap rate; it's all published for the world to read.) Afford Anything is a gathering spot for a tribe dedicated to ditching the cubicle. Read her blog, and join the revolution.


  1. I don’t really keep a lot of stuff from my rentals around, as the work gets hired out. I do keep matching flooring though, but I keep that at the property itself in an inconspicuous area. For example one has a crawlspace that is clean and dry but no one would really go in unless doing some sort of repair. I keep matching vinyl floor planks there as well as a roll of vinyl that was leftover from the bathroom floor replacement, large enough to re-do the floor the next time. Another rental has a storage shed and the renters don’t mind having a small box of tile in there.

  2. Oh wow, I am a “useful thing” packrat.
    I have a old garage at my triplex that is filled with stuff. I am learning to let go- and I plan to sell that property, so I better learn fast because I have nowhere else to put that stuff! Part of me is hoping I sell to a developer who just says “leave whatever you want, we’re demo-ing anyway”.

  3. If you’re willing to accept some overhead expense, a climate-controlled self storage unit with some shelving is absolutely fantastic for storing excess building materials and tools.

    When I finally made the transition from storing excess tools/materials in my shed, garage, carport, and living room to storing them in a secure offsite facility the relief was palpable. It also made it easier to allow an employee access to items without me having to be available for them to pick it up.

    • I store excess paint (if it’s unique to the unit) and other finishing materials like tile in each unit. Usually in the closet under the stairs or the utility room. Then again, I’m always accumulating other tools and ‘stuff’. I’m had been getting better at getting rid of extra materials, but I recently moved to a hobby farm with a 60×100′ pole barn so I find myself sliding back into just putting things in the barn. I need to get organized and disciplined with getting rid of things or I’m going to end up with a gigantic pile of ‘stuff’.

  4. Been doing REO’s for over 45 years, that’s 45 years of collecting stuff:( When I remodel, usually leave some carpet, vinyl, or tile in the attic for patching. Write down the colors for each room along with LOTS of pictures for references. With the amount of rentals I have there’s no problem with excess, but still end up storing more then I want. My problem is I’m suppose to be retired, have way too many tools and yes I need them.

  5. I bought a house in the same area as all of my rentals all of the excess is stored in the basement. The basement used to be a storefront the house was originally at grade but many years ago the road was carved out to create a railroad underpass. The new grade exposed the front of the basement wall which over the years became a store front. With local strip centers the store front and all others in this area became obsolete. Since there are no internal stairs into the house above, the area became a nice free storage unit.

    As to renting a storage locker if you take into consideration the rent each month, it would be more cost effective to throw the stuff out and buy new for each project.
    I paid $37k for the house it is rented for $800 a month about $600 of that is net cash flow. Not a bad deal for a storage locker. I gave the tenant a washer dryer set to use, as a trade for the electric lights tied into her electric panel.

  6. For quite a few years I bought materials when I found them at a good price. What I ended up with was several garages filled to the brim with stuff. And when I needed it, maybe I could get to it easily and hopefully it wasn’t damaged. I’ve since eliminated and used much of it and now I have a house I rent out with a detached garage. The garage sits behind the house with it’s entrance on another street (house on a corner). I didn’t rent the garage with the house (they have a fenced in yard with a shed). I use the garage for my storage. I make it a habit to return returnables and try only to buy things I have an immediate use for. It has made life so much simpler. I only keep the most used materials and small tools in this garage. I keep the other tools at my own house for safe keeping.

  7. I think owners need to be careful with how much stuff they keep. When I was in college I stayed in a house that was divided into 3 or 4 apartments. It had no air conditioning, you had to supply your own window air conditioner. My neighbor didn’t have one, but when we looked back in the detached garage – filled to the brim with all sorts of “junk”, there was one in there. We asked the handyman about it and he said yeah, it’s been sitting there forever, why don’t you use it, and installed it for her. When it was time to move out, the landlord/owner remarked that it was a nice a/c unit she had, could he buy it from her. My neighbor said, “Sure,” and so the owner, not knowing what sorts of stuff he had in his own garage, bought his own air conditioner back from her. We later saw him… put it in the garage.

  8. I try not to keep anything, it’s just not worth the space it takes. Couple of years ago I took over management on a 15 unit property where the prior management had used one unit for storage. These units rent for $650/month… I can rent off-site storage for $40/month and rent that unit out if I have to. When I seen that, it shifted my thinking and I try to return, liquidate or throw away any leftovers. It’s just not worth it.

  9. My partner and I have been discussing this same issue recently and haven’t found a solution, but here’s one idea that others might want to try.

    We have considered sectioning off the basement of a duplex we are beginning to rehab and installing Bilco doors. This has a couple benefits that would work for us…

    1.) It would provide us with our own space to store tools and materials

    2.) Removing the stairs (to the basement) from the first floor 1BD provides additional sq ft we will incorporate into the new kitchen design

    3.) The mechanicals are all in the basement and can be accessed without disturbing (or dealing with) tenants

    4.) This particular property happens to be very centrally located for our target market area and is about as convenient as a storage location could be

    Considering all these benefits, we still are 50/50 on actually executing this plan. The Bilco install will run around $6,500 and the cost seems a bit high even for the convenience and benefits.

    Still, maybe this is an idea that will work for someone else!

    • Max T.

      I have a duplex with almost the exact setup you describe.

      The basement is split into a rear third and a front two thirds by a wall with a locking door. The front two thirds that can be accessed via the bilco is for my storage. The rear section has the mechanicals and laundry for the first floor unit.

      Its a dream!

  10. WOW I hadn’t really thought this thru, but I have all ‘leftover’ materials in the 4th unit of our 4-plex. Once that unit is rehabbed I WILL have to find a place for extra draws, tile, paint, etc…

    Some great ideas presented here.

  11. I have 2 places with basements not accessible from the upper house. I use the same paint color in all my houses so interior paint storage is minimal. for bigger stuff I use my garage and now part of an old warehouse I partially own in a commercial area. I try to keep flooring but since I buy most of it on sale I cannot use the same type/color in all my units like I can paint. I keep extra outlets, switches, etc of 3 colors types.

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