Work/Life Balance & Staying Sane - Your Tips?

52 Replies

I own and manage 6 units with $100K in gross rents, all cash-flowing in the Bay Area, while working an "officially" full-time job. Bought the last directly through listing agent, and in contract on 2 duplexes right now, directly through listing agent.

I typically work 4 days a week at my full-time job, about 5-10hrs/month on real estate, take off 5-6 weeks per year for Thanksgiving, Xmas, New Years, July 4th, and a couple other weeks, in addition to a month and a half straight for Amsterdam, Paris, London, Munich (Oktoberfest!), Florence, Barcelona, Mallorca.., and planning 3 months straight to Asia in next 18 months.

I've also been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Kansas City, Philadelphia, DC, Malibu, and San Diego over the last 2 years. I fund this partially by taking a partial paycut to "buy" vacation, and partially by taking a lower-paying job that gives me a lot of flexibility (and of course, some rental income ;). (and some free credit card points) - All while working full time, prospecting for, buying, rehabbing, and managing these 6 units at $100K gross rents, w/ 4 more in the pipeline. And I'm not even that organized, so imagine what you could do!

As many noted, put a value on your time. I will rarely do anything I can pay someone else $20-30/hr to do just as well.
2) Have a key person(s) to handle your recurring business for you. (My handyman lives in one of my units, for a partial discount on rent - with his friends). While I am in Europe for over a month, or on vacation elsewhere.. This may be a team of people for you, or..?
3) Have all your key documents, blank, and signed, on a dropbox online. This will do wonders for you when you have some turnover.
4) Have all pics, listings, etc. for each unit and property saved and ready to go.
5) Have checklists/systems and all forms ready for getting things into action mode. (Notifying tenants of cleaning responsibilities, showing unit, new listings, voicemail for listing, ) - or call PM.
6) My tenants are my "partners." I communicate with and treat them respectfully and reasonably. I minimize my vacancy and losses by finding win-win situations that work for all of us. Doesn't mean let them walk all over you.. 4 of my 6 leases won't be up until next year, so it's on cruise control.

Your balance with real estate, work, and life? Tips for making it happen and improving it?

@J. Martin

Great tips! I am close on your heels with a full time job, 8 units and about 70k in annual rents. All the systems are coming together and I look forward to enjoying that freedom of time you talk about (not quite there yet).

@J Martin love the post. Haven't had any sane time in quite a while. As of Feb, I no longer have a full time "real" job, but worked about 30 days straight to finish the last house that we just sold, and almost as many in our new house. My "other boss", the one I'm married to, would like her kitchen done NOW. We are hoping that our first trip abroad, to Sicily, next week, will restore some of that alleged sanity. Couldn't have made the trip w/o the proceeds from REI.

Updated over 4 years ago

After thinking about it for a while, I realized that I hadn't included any tip(s) in my post. (aside from maybe travel). So here's my personal tip; go fishing! We have a small lake in front of our house. I recently taught my daughter about "speed fishing"

Nice work, this is inspiring!

I am striving to have flexibility like this someday!

Thanks for sharing! I am working on the systems part myself....such a key component to maintaining sanity. If you like to travel, it is not an option.

@J Martin

Great post J Martin and thanks for sharing.

The last 8 months have been pretty insane for me personally lollol

In the office 100+ hrs per week and the last full day off we had was on the December 27th 2013 lollol

Although I do dream about pina coladas in the Bahamas one day I love the "insane" pace we are moving it.

There is a saying "Make a passion an obsession and you will never work a day in your life"

With running our real estate business the above saying is definitely true. It doesn't feel like work and there is not enough hrs in a day to get things done :)

What I am looking at implementing within our group is to find individuals that are willing to learn the business inside out and take ownership with running the daily operations.

I also hope that over time the business can be at a stage where I can hand over all shares to a certain number of individuals and step back, relax (in the Bahamas), keep a minority stake and watch others while they grow my creation.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

@J. Martin appreciate your post. I also have all my docs, forms, pics, etc on my ipad, and can operate super quick with it. I have a decent scanner app (uses camera to snap pic of docs) and it's awesome for bank papers, contracts, etc. So between iBook PDF docs, scanned docs, pics, and a bit on spreadsheets and text apps, I have EVERYTHING real estate related! It's awesome as I run everything off the ipad (mini.)

As for time use, I find that my stuff runs hot and cold. I have lots of free time (no real job :), but when I need to respond to something, I usually need to do it pronto. So I'm always checking emails, etc. Of course I'm busier day to day when I'm actively buying and then renovating, but once the property is stablished (optimized for highest and best use with tenants in place), then I'm back to the slower zone and that is when I travel. I still need to optimize a handyman and someone to help fill vacancies while I'm away, but plan to get that set up later this year.

I'll definitely want to hit you up for advice on doing that...maybe talk more this Friday over beers! Cheers,

The update only got part of my post.

After thinking about it for a while, I realized that I hadn't included any tip(s) in my post. (aside from maybe travel). So here's my personal tip; go fishing! We have a small lake in front of our house. I recently taught my daughter about "speed fishing". 10 casts, no luck, back to work. That 5 minute break helps tremendously sometimes. What do you think @Aaron Mazzrillo?

@Michael Lemieux

Sounds like the REI is paying off well if you don't have a real job, and I like the "speed fishing" idea. (although I thought you were supposed to have at least 2 beers during fishing, so not sure if I endorse that if your daughter is too young! Lol). Enjoy the trip to Sicily..

Any other tips on how you managed the RE workload before you were able to stop the full-time job? Tips & tricks for us youngsters trying to follow in your footsteps?

@John Horner

I got a little lucky with my 9-5, but setting up systems and having a handyman have really saved my world. I recommend reading “Working the System” – which you can get a free copy of online.

@Jonna Weber it sounds like your job as an agent may not allow you to travel.. But you're probably always busy as an agent.. What tips do you have for all of us on staying on top of things? Organization tips? Putting everything on calendar? Outsourcing what you can? (I forgot to add this is a big one for me!)

@Engelo Rumora ,

I like your attitude.. It’s definitely not work if you enjoy it! While I like getting new deals down, and the general work, I’d definitely rather be sleeping in then follow up with some tenant.. Same with my day job. I actually like it, and it’s interesting. But I’d still rather spend my day in flip flops, waking up whenever it suits me! Maybe traveling the world! Lol. PS Sold most of my Bitcoin. I'm still a believer in the long run, but right now, I was just trying to catch that crazy upward volatility at the end of last year.. I'm not in for the bumpy sideways ride..

@J Martin, I really don't have any other tips on staying sane, as mentioned in the first post it's been a long time. It was a long hard struggle. Briefly, bought a house $500 down, 70k, owner financed,(Nov. '09) ended up gutting most of it, not planned, lived through dirt, dust, construction, family feuds, more feuds, aggressively paid down mortgage, re-fied - pulled out 40k in Nov. (planned on making it a rental), bought new house, changed plan, got laid off, sold house walked w/ 50k.


(we will NOT live in the next flip) : )

@Amit M. , it sounds like we’re on the same page on having everything saved in an easy location.. I’m with you that my time intensity is definitely higher on new acquisitions and rehab. I’ve had to exercise less oversight of my workers during rehab, and shifting more responsibilities to my handyman managing the jobs, and following specific instructions.. But the acquisition, along with planning what should be fixed/replaced, and doing final lease-up activities, is something I haven’t been able to trust someone else to do as successfully as I believe I will do/direct it.

For a handyman, the best advice I can give is find someone local you can trust. Easier said than done… Secondly, to hold on to them for your dear life! For me, this is the key person who really makes my investing life easier, both now, and expected in the future. That’s why I gave him an unrequested raise (although still reasonable), and offered him a stable place to live (which he has not always had), in a unit in my fourplex. In his role, he does a better, faster, job than I would do for less money than I am willing to work for. And is worth every penny. Keeping him happy is in my strategic plan for operating my properties. Just as important, or perhaps more so – than leasing units even.

For someone to lease up while you are gone – I have not done this yet. I had all tenants except one on long-term leases at the time (4 apts & 1 house purchased vacant). Unfortunately, my handyman does not speak good enough English to respond to potential tenants in the manner (and personality) that I would like. But part of my 1yr plan (I’m re-realizing now! Thanks!).

I’m thinking about a friend I know I can rely on, who is very organized, a great people person, phone person, and judge of character – then teach her a couple things and give her thorough checklists/systems. Or, find a property manager I can trust to do an excellent job. Too bad I’ve only met @Andrew Fingado once! Maybe we can develop that relationship further in the future so I can eventually pass all my leasing over to him… He reminds me of a young, ambitious, bearded fellow I know! (4 units & 2 SFH in Richmond so far Andrew.. not in iron triangle!)

@Michael Lemieux ,

Thanks for sharing, and congratulations on your hard work and success to make money and provide for you and your family. I feel for how that may have impacted the relationships too, and have a related story.. although totally different situation.

I moved into my first purchase (FHA 4plex) in the best of 4 vacant units (pretty good shape, but needed a lot of little things) - a world away in Richmond CA, from our place in the Sunset in San Francisco. My (now-ex) girlfriend moved out there with me to stay close. The area was fine, but didn't go out as much as we used to, and really wanted to live in Oakland.. It wasn't any final blow, but definitely affected our lifestyle and relationship in some ways.

To be honest, the bigger impact was that I traveled out of town a bit in my 9-5 job, and that coupled with the time from my early investments in RE and other interests made it harder to contribute sufficiently to the relationship. And while I don't regret it as a key foot in the door in real estate, we have to be conscious about how our time and living situation gets tied up in our business, in regards to loved ones..

I was just thinking more about it, and my next tip would be; don't live in your flip if you can help it.

: )

@J Martin - actually I do get the opportunity to get some travel in. I am very intentional about it, as it is a passion. I love the fact that in this day and age, real estate transactions offers and paperwork are all mainly web based. I also work with an outstanding brokerage with others I can call on. Outsourcing is huge too. This year I've been focusing on systematizing and outsourcing more of my RE investment business so that I can focus more time on serving others as an agent. (which in turn creates the financial opportunity for me to be able to keep investing). I made the leap to Quickbooks and hired a bookkeeper to get my business more organized financially. I am constantly working on learning my strengths and weeding out what others can do more efficiently than I can.

By the way - love your comment about your tenants being your partners: I agree with that sentiment! Mutual respect is huge to a successful landlord/tenant relationship.

@J. Martin Sounds like a plan. We should definitely talk more about real estate and property management in person. Excellent tips on stress too and I agree about what you said about not letting our business get in the way of loved ones. I would say we should all try to avoid taking work home with us, but I work from home so it's not really possible to not take work home with me!

By the way, I haven't been able to make it out to the last couple local meetings lately as it's "leasing season" for a lot of my properties. I have had more than a dozen units to rent out this last month, but i'm almost done with this round.

When and where are the next meet-ups? On a side note, I am thinking maybe we could have a Berkeley meet-up at some point, since that's where I do a lot of my management and it has a lot of very city specific aspects for property owners.

I'd be interested in talking to you more about your current properties and future strategies too.

PM me and let's see if we can work something out in the near future.

I always like to hear from my local folks too.. @Johnson H. , you're a busy guy and travel a lot.. What do you think are the most important tips to manage work/real estate and your daily life? Key people/outsourcing? Checklists?

@Minh L. , you stay busy with deals and have a family.. what tips can you share with us youngsters to maintain that balance, or get more efficient at what we do..? @Jessica Yau ?

Originally posted by @Jonna Weber Weber:
Thanks for sharing! I am working on the systems part myself....such a key component to maintaining sanity. If you like to travel, it is not an option.

Glad you do get to travel! I knew I needed to improve my organization and processes, but listing to the "Work the System" audiobook opened up my eyes on how to go about it (although I should have known already..?) You can get audiobook and ebook free online with email address or two..

@Andrew Fingado ,

I will talk to you more about it, and I understand if you're busy with work..

BUT, I think you should come out to the meetup I organized this Friday evening in SF. Just over 60 investors so far. A couple guys, Josh Dorkin and Brandon Turner will be there.. Come say hello to everyone!

Also, @Andy Kaufman has held a meetup at his offices in Berkeley. I can't remember any investors buying/owning in Berkeley though, I don't think.. I haven't ever held a meetup in Richmond (only Oakland, SF, and far up as Santa Rosa..)

@J. Martin

I will try to make it to the upcoming SF meeting, but if I can't I should be able to make the next one that is on this side of the bridge.

I'll reach out to Andy Kaufman and see if any plans are in the books about another meeting in Berkeley.

If you and I could try at some point to get together people in the area for a meetup around Richmond, I think it would provide investors a more local atmosphere along with detailed discussion about the real estate aspects of West Contra Costa County. I feel like investors from Richmond and the immediate surrounding areas are underrepresented on BP. Or they are just hiding out. :)

Maybe we could pull them out of the woodwork and get them on board. I know of a couple of local places perfect for a small get together. Food for thought.

Thought i'd give my input about how I stay sane at my job since @J. Martin and so many others have given their input.

When you are a property manager you are never officially "off work". There is always the possibility of a call, even at 4AM. Luckily I have been able to outsource repair issues to a family member who is a contractor who takes care of emergency repairs. Even so, there have been trips at 2AM to a property for an issue which required my presence. That being said, I have created a life in which I can be a successful property manager and at the same time have enough free time to relax to do my job at the best of my ability.

My advice for anyone out there, just like J Martin said: outsource as many jobs as you can afford and are comfortable with. Solid advice. Also, don't take on more work than you feel you can handle. Let me explain.

I keep a smaller management portfolio than other companies because I refuse to let my work suffer to gain more income. I am the only real estate broker in the company I created and I plan to keep it that way. I serve as leasing agent, manager, but I outsource bookkeeping and repairs. I am somewhat selective about what jobs I take. If it's too far, too bad an area, not enough money for the work put in, I have no problem passing on it. I want to do the best job for my client and if I feel like there's a property that will somehow effect my work or myself negatively I cannot ethically take that job.

I have seen other property management businesses crumble because they grew too quickly and didn't want to hire out more help. Their reputation suffered as the owners became grouchy, overworked, and uninterested. This gives the property management industry the reputation it has now. What is good about having more money when you go to work unhappy and overwhelmed and come home exhausted?

I want to keep my business small, local, and reputable. This means at a certain point I may have to cap it and not take any more clients. If it means I take a hit on my income, I could care less. I don't need the stress and I refuse to let my work suffer. I plan on investing to supplement my income.

Moral of the story, your emotional health and happiness are much more important than money. I would rather make 100K per year, keep a mid size management portfolio and be able to have free time to relax, be proud of my work, etc. than make 300K a year with headaches every day, unhappy owners and tenants, all the while no time to enjoy life.

So my advice to everyone: Don't take on more and allow your work to suffer, and don't take on more than you can emotionally handle. If that means a pay cut so be it. What's the use of making double what you make when you are unhappy and will probably croak at 50 from a heart attack? Life's too short. Make money but know when to say "enough's enough".

@Andrew Fingado thanks for all your prop mgmt tips. Since you do more volume than an independent owner like me, what do you suggest for a general handyman? It seems the good ones end up moving onwards and upwards, and the bad/or expensive ones are left around by default?

Also, I've had horrible luck with craigslist for this type of stuff- lots of losers, parolees, etc. who know how to hussle- one guy was very nice over the phone, but then brings his WT wife and child to the job, all screaming at each other. I had to micromanage him/them like hell and just prayed that he'd finish without smacking her on my premises! Second CL peril was hiring someone for countertops. He brings an unannounced friend, then these guys almost come to blows! I had to manage the hell out of that situation too.

Right now I cobble together a small force of: my contractor for plumbing/electrical, but he's often busy and not very fast, my painter, who is quick but limited, and a house cleaner for deep cleans between tenants.

Oh Lordy, where do I find the ideal handyman who wants to stick around, knows what to do, and is sane?!?

When I grow up, I want to be just like you J!! =p

I've always loved your energy and enthusiasm and so glad I met you! Need more people like you in the world!! I'm still at my day job but often work on REI every chance I get. Long term goal is to own rentals and travel also ;) but as you know, Chris and I are focusing on our rehabs and just finding more deals. See ya Friday!

I love how you say your tenants are your partners! Thats a great attitude to have!

One tip I try to use is to give myself short deadlines and stopping points. For example, unless it's really pressing, I don't work past 6:00. The reason is that the amount or work one has seems to fill the amount of time one has allotted for any given project. It's amazing what you can do with a sense of urgency. Just compare how well you studied back in school the night before a test compared to the day before that.

In addition, I would recommend David Allen's Getting Things Done. It's a very helpful method for getting organized.

@J. Martin -

Great topic! The best book I've read on this subject is When Work and Family Collide by Andy Stanley.

Really impacted the way I view priorities and business.

Free eBook from BiggerPockets!

Ultimate Beginner's Guide Book Cover

Join BiggerPockets and get The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Real Estate Investing for FREE - read by more than 100,000 people - AND get exclusive real estate investing tips, tricks and techniques delivered straight to your inbox twice weekly!

  • Actionable advice for getting started,
  • Discover the 10 Most Lucrative Real Estate Niches,
  • Learn how to get started with or without money,
  • Explore Real-Life Strategies for Building Wealth,
  • And a LOT more.

Lock We hate spam just as much as you

Join the Largest Real Estate Investing Community

Basic membership is free, forever.

By signing up, you indicate that you agree to the BiggerPockets Terms & Conditions.