The Disgusting Experience That Led to My Biggest Real Estate Mindset Shift (The “Toilet Story”)
You may have heard this story on last week’s episode of The BiggerPockets Real Estate Podcast. On the show, I said I’d write a blog post about it. Well, here it is. I’m sorry…
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Before you read any further, I need to warn you.
This post might be a bit… gross.
So as long as you are not in the middle of eating that leftover Chipotle chicken burrito (half brown rice, half white rice, of course), stay with me and you’ll learn the story behind one of the most transformational shifts in my real estate business.
And it all has to do with a toilet.
(Seriously, I’ll tie this into a good business lesson by the end. It’ll be wrapped in a nice bow, perfect for you to share with your family and friends on Facebook. Hint, hint.)
The Story (Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You)
It was several years into my real estate investing business, and I had just purchased my first apartment building: a 24-unit property that needed a fair amount of work. Up until this point, my wife and I were doing absolutely everything in our business. Things like:
- Answering every tenant phone call
- Showing units
- Shopping for properties
- Fixing leaks
- Turning over units
- And pretty much every thing else a landlord does.
After all, it’s cheaper to just do it myself than hire someone else, right?
Which brings me to the toilet.
I had rented one of the units in this new apartment complex to a friend of mine and three of his “bros”—all in their early 20s, with most every cliche you can imagine for a group of this makeup.
So, one day, I get a text from my friend:
“Hey, I think one of the guys dropped something down the toilet, and it’s not draining real fast.”
OK, a fairly common problem for a rental property owner. But because the message didn't go through the "normal channels," (meaning, my wife taking the phone call and scheduling a contractor), I completely forgot about the issue the moment after reading it. I guess my subconscious was thinking, "Well, if it becomes a problem, they'll reach out again."
Instead, things got worse.
Like… this is going to get gross.
One of the young men in the apartment got the flu, which quickly spread to all the members of the home. And this was not a pleasant “mom-gives-you-a-popcicle-and-you-go-back-to-school” kind of flu.
This was a “spend-nine-hours-on-the-john-wishing-you-were-dead” kind of flu.
And about that time, the toilet decided to morph from “not draining real fast” to “not draining at all.”
Thankfully, my friend took care of the problem, and I lived happily ever after.
No. That’s a lie.
It ended much, much worse.
Because when you are a 21-year old male in your first house, sick with the flu, you don’t call the landlord again. You don’t send a text. You don’t cease your operation of said toilet.
Related: This Simple Advice Will Help You Manage Contractors & Other Workers More Effectively
You just keep using it.
Finally, after the week-long-flu had passed, my friend finally gets in touch and sends another text: “Uh… Brandon.. this toilet thing is getting kinda bad.”
I head over to the property, walk in the bathroom, and subsequently… die.
Not literally, but mentally, spiritually, and psychologically. I’m talking scarred for life.
The toilet was filled, to the brim, with… well, you get the idea.
FILLED. To the top. Like my Starbucks Americano, so full I can’t fit the lid on. But less delicious.
Now, I’d love to tell you that I simply called a plumber, paid the money, and felt bad for the poor fool who had to fix the problem.
But I’m the poor fool because I would NOT pay some plumber $100 an hour to fix a problem that “I can fix in a few minutes.”
After all, what a waste of money!
My “Solution” to the Toilet Problem
So, after an hour of attempting to clear the clog with a hand-snake (Google it), I gave up and did the only thing left to do…
(No, I still didn’t call the plumber.)
I unbolted the entire toilet from the floor, carried it across the room, and attempted to dump the toilet, upside down, into the bathtub.
I say “attempted” because I didn’t quite accomplish my goal. If you’re a weirdo like me, you’ll know that it’s not easy to lift and carry a 50-pound toilet, filled to the brim with another 50 pounds of death, without spilling much of the contents on the floor, on my feet, and down the front of my entire body.
But after all my work, I succeeded. I found the culprit on the bottom of the toilet, which was now upside down in the tub:
A contact-lens solution bottle.
I carried that toilet and did the worst maintenance job imaginable—and I saved myself $100.
And that was the day I decided to never again do maintenance on my properties.
That was the day I became a real estate investor.
You see, I had it all wrong. I believed that I was saving money and doing the right thing by doing everything myself. I thought that $100 to a plumber was $100 that I was losing.
That, my friends, is called “scarcity mindset.” It’s the belief that money is a finite resource that must be guarded like your last few french fries at McDonalds.
Sure, I saved $100, but what did I lose? And I’m not just talking about that one specific case. I’m talking about how many deals did I lose because I was too busy working in my business? How many dollars did I step over to pick up a dime? How many minutes did I lose doing things I love because I was “carrying toilets”?
Everyone carries toilets. Maybe your “toilet” isn’t as gross as my toilet, but the analogy holds true. We all do things that we could and should hire others to do. We hold on to certain tasks because we want to save money, or we believe that no one can do as good of work as us, or because we feel that it’s “our job.”
Maybe it’s changing your oil.
Maybe it’s answering your phone calls from tenants.
Maybe it’s mowing your grass.
Or changing your locks.
Or one of a million other tasks we do that are “simple” tasks.
What Toilets SHOULD You Carry?
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t work. Work is good, work is healthy, work makes you wealthy.
But what kind of work should you do?
In his excellent book 80/20 Sales and Marketing, Perry Marshall (guest on episode 217 of The BiggerPockets Podcast) shares a concept of applying a “dollar per hour” figure to every task you accomplish, based on how much you’d have to pay someone to do a task.
Mowing your lawn? Probably a $10 per hour task.
Changing a toilet? Probably a $100 per hour task.
Negotiating a real estate deal? Depending on the deal, this could literally be worth tens of thousands of dollars per hour.
Don't believe me? Think of it this way: If I spend five hours on the few tasks involved in a real estate deal that I physically have to do (making big decisions, looking at the property, signing documents, analyzing the deal, etc.) and that deal makes me $100,000 over the many years I own the property (which, taking into account appreciation, the loan pay down, the cash flow, and the tax benefits, is not hard to achieve at all), I’m essentially earning $10,000 per hour for those hours I work on those tasks.
Therefore, Marshall makes the point: do more $10,000 per hour tasks (even if it’s just for a few minutes) and fewer $10 per hour tasks.
In theory, you could work just one hour per week doing a $10,000 per hour task and make many, many times more than working 40 hours per week doing $10 per hour tasks. (I say “in theory” because, as we all know, we aren’t going to ever be perfect at this. But the more you work toward the higher-valued tasks and delegate the lower-value tasks, the more you’ll see your income climb. You don’t have to be perfect to see a massive change.)
Related: Here’s Why Work-Life Balance is Actually a Fallacy
This is the secret all great business leaders know. In reality, it’s the secret ALL of us know, deep down, yet we still cling to the $10 per hour tasks. We feel comfortable there. We feel safe there. We feel accomplished there.
But we’ll live in mediocrity as long as we continue to carry those toilets.
So ask yourself today (and every day), “What toilet am I carrying?”
What “toilet” can you give up, outsource, delegate, or eliminate?
What $10 or $100 per hour task can you hand over to someone else, so you can add just one more hour per month of a $10,000 per hour task?
$10,000 Per Hour Tasks
When I tell people this concept of the $10,000 per hour task, I inevitably get asked, “Well, what are some examples of this? No one is going to pay me $10,000 an hour. I flip burgers for $8.55 an hour!”
First, understand that we’re not talking about someone paying you $10,000 per hour at a job. We’re talking about specialized tasks in your life that could bring you massive wealth down the road for a relatively few number of hours inputed now.
- Analyzing a real estate deal (you ain’t going to buy a deal if you don’t analyze ’em!)
- Connecting with local investors for lunch/coffee (a one-hour lunch could lead to partnerships, funding, etc.)
- Reading a real estate book or listening to a podcast (one concept in one book/podcast could shift your mindset or change the direction of your business—I know it has for me, many times)
- Writing direct mail letters (though, even this could be outsourced!)
- Driving for dollars (this, too, could be outsourced!)
- Negotiating a real estate deal
- Touring a property
Get my point? In reality, when I think about all the tasks needed to buy a real estate investment that is going to net me hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few decades, there are actually very few tasks that I HAVE to do.
Think about it.
How many tasks HAVE to be done by you to put together a real estate deal? And if you added up all the time needed, how much time really does it take?
Less than you’d think.
Of course, when buying real estate, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince, which is why finding others to do the kissing is so important.
Do the tasks that matter, and stop doing the tasks that don’t.
In other words, stop carrying toilets.
The Toilet Lesson
To conclude my story, that event of the toilet and the bathtub taught me a valuable lesson. My time is not best spent fixing toilets. My time is not best spent fixing leaks. Or talking with tenants. Or any of those tasks.
After the toilet trauma, I hired a part-time “in-house” property manager to answer phone calls and deal with contractors, and I began to do few $10 per hour tasks, fewer $100 per hour tasks, and more $10,000 per hour tasks.
And you know what? The time I spent working on my real estate dropped DRAMATICALLY, yet my net worth and cash flow climbed faster than ever.
Because I stopped carrying toilets.
So let me end this long, gross blog post with a simple question:
What toilets are you carrying?
Let us know what tasks you refuse to perform anymore—and what you’re prioritizing instead!