Investors that self manage: becoming a handyman

16 Replies


Kind of an odd question. I have a dilemma where my current property manager may retire in ~5years. I mean that's still awhile but I am the type of person that likes to think many years ahead.

I recently graduated with two degrees and started working full time M-F while managing the properties time to time on the side along with my PM. I got very lucky in finding my PM who also happens to be a landlord for many properties in Southern California. She has her go-to contractor/handyman but I think they all might be retiring in ~5 years since they are at the age for retirement and have been casually discussing about retiring sometime soon. Just thinking about is dreadful since my PM has made my life a lot easier throughout the years. 

I have been reading some forums where people will self-manage their own properties. Heck, I even read on the forums where some people will self manage out of state (I think that's amazing that you found a way to self manage out of state without a PM). 

So the question(s): for those that self manage your own property, how did you learn the basic handyman skills for fixing/repairing basic things without the need to call a contractor/handyman? I am reading on some forums where people will fix or do everything themselves and I am wondering how did you gain those experience/skills... especially if you are working full time and doing this on the side?

I am thinking about reaching out to a construction company or even a handyman to be a mentor or take apprenticeship/assistant (I have seen some companies and handyman working on the weekends) so that I can learn the basics. Is that feasible or not recommended? I think it will be nice to know the basics/fundamentals and I am always eager to learn new knowledge. I think it will be beneficial in the long run for future investments as well.

OR another option I am thinking is attending a vocational school? I have seen some with short programs with low/affordable tuition. 

What do you advise? Is it a bad idea? 

Updated almost 3 years ago

Long term goal is eventually quit my job when I am in my 40's or even 50's and be able to fix and manage mostly myself.

There’s a big difference between self managing your rental (finding tenants, background checks, leases, collecting rent, coordinating issues, etc.) and fixing the mechanical problems that come up. Some people do both, some do only one. There’s no reason you can’t handl the management - and find yourself a reasonable handyman to take care of the leaky sinks, broken doorknobs, etc. Many investors would tell you to NOT do your owm work - your time is worth more than that ! Of course if you WANT to learn to fix things around the house, go for it! Pick a small first project and watch YouTube!

Simple.  FITFO!

In all seriousness, I learned by watching Youtube videos before I started a project.  I volunteered to help friends, family and neighbors with their repairs.  Not for free, I would always charge them.  However I charged them in tools, I got more and better tools and they got more affordable repairs.

Figure out first what you're comfortable with.  Kind of comfortable with.  Not comfortable with at all.  You start to dabble in other trades and eventually you're skilled in enough trades.  It's also important to know these skills so you can later confirm which contractors are taking advatnage of you; understanding time, quality and general material costs.  You also learn which tasks you'll never want to do again and gladly pay!  For me, tile work.

Hope this helps but more importantly, just start figuring it out!  You'll mess, a lot.  But you'll learn that way.

Mike is correct. The management part of rentals and the physical repair work are different.

To answer your question about repairs, personally, I grew up in a family who always did our own construction. Building houses, barns, warehouses, simple shade shelters for livestock, etc etc was just part of growing up for me. To be fair, like everyone, I have my strong and weak suites on repairs. For example, I'm a pretty good carpenter but I'm terrible at wiring.

I'm a big supporter of the best way to learn is to do mentality. If you know anyone in the construction business, even if its your cousins neighbors brother in law, hit them up about hanging out at the job site for a day. Just watch how they do things to begin with. Over time, you may be able to assist them with something.

If you prefer the classroom environment tons of Vo-Tech colleges/classes are available.

Just remember, like anything in life, skills aren't learned in a day. Be patient and know your limits. Changing something like a garbage disposal is a pretty good starting point. You probably shouldn't be ripping off shingles to replace roof decking as your first DIY job. 

@Ho Eun Park I self manage. My rental is about 2 hours and the last time their toilet clogged. I called a plumber and paid $200 for it.

Yes it is expensive. But really, I dont want to drive 4 hours roundtrip to try to unclog their toilet.

And I was right by not driving there, because when the plumber called, the issue was further down the sewer. My effort driving there would have been useless.

My advice, if you have some bandwith in your cash flow, you should just call a handyman or have your tenants do it (and give them a rent credit) .

I had one of my tenant install to 6 fence boards (literally just buy the materials at home depot and hammer nails on the fence posts). I could do it.

but again not wanting to drive 4 hours roundtrip for that. I told my tenant to do it and gave him $50 credit.

He was very happy and I was happy too!

I always think about the value of the repair on different levels and start in a stepwise fashion
1. Do I want to fix / repair it.
2. If so , can I safely do it and will repair be dependable
3. Do I know how to fix it or is it something I could learn.
4. Is it worth my time and if not, is there other “value “. For instance, a simple repair not worth my time affords me the opportunity to get in house and preemptively look around in the attic for leaks , unchanged HVAC filters , etc.

Things I avoid secondary to liability, not worth my time, don’t want to learn/do or I simply just cannot do it.
1. Most plumbing issues other than simple toilet gasket changes, sink drain closing mechanism(the thing on bathroom sinks that opens/closes drain which are ALWAYS corroding and breaking), and the occasional complete uncomplicated toilet switch out.
2. Complex electrical issues other than fixture change outs, ceiling fan changes, basic diagnostic stuff (garage doors for example often have simple fixes) and breaker resets.
3. Most all HVAC issues
4. Most anything that requires a ladder (roof issues, gutter cleaning).
5. Landscaping / trees other than some simple limb cutting / trimming.
6. Most appliance repair.
7. Most all painting other than occasional HOA touch ups (for example, spent about an hour letting my kids repaint mail box posts)
8. Flooring

I find that most of what I can / want to do has already been learned but I find that YouTube is helpful as are owner / equipment manuals as well as family resources for knowledge and lastly, this website BiggerPockets has been an enormous resource for myself in regards to the business side of management.

@Ho Eun Park YouTube can teach you everything you could imagine there’s a video for every repair imaginable .most home repairs are not that difficult if you understand what you are doing . Now Some are tedious and time consuming just not mentally challenging . I do what I can which is basic stuff but Lately I try to not to hang around my tenants any longer than I have so my handyman fills in . He charges about 20-25$ an hour so being an hour away it often is not worth my time or trouble to even go there and swing a hammer when he’s so cheap and does quality work without over improving the place .

I learned a variety of stuff from my Dad who was an HVAC guy and had experience in a lot of different trades. I stick with the easy things, and hopefully not time consuming..

Garbage disposal, faucet, toilet guts replace, bath sink drain, electric outlets, switches, fixtures. These are all pretty easy.

Painting inside, baseboards, fence repair, doorknobs, hinges, handles, easy. Even replacing a shingle or 2 is not hard. Most yard work is just sweaty.

Repiping the house, new electric panel and service, foundation retrofitting, HVAC repair, pouring a new driveway, tree work, exterior paint. Counters and cabinets. These are left to a pro.

Estimate how long the job will take then multiply by 3.

Do you have more time, or money?

Predictably the answers are all over the place, since people's skills and talents are greatly variable. One of my "standard speeches" is that most skills are a "craft" not an art, nearly anyone can learn to be competent without having a gift. Anyone can learn to draw with practice, but may not be Da Vinci.  That said, not everyone is a good troubleshooter, that takes a certain logical mindset to take in all the aspects of the situation, filter it through your mental database, and come up with the answer. There are professional contractors who suck at it!  @Ho Eun Park I'd be interested to know what your degrees are in, might give some insight on whether you may have aptitude for the more advanced stuff. But anyone can learn to fix drywall or install a new toilet.

I'd rather focus my time on other things. For simple fixes, if you're close by and can do it quickly and safely, why not? Anything else though may not be worth your time or potential liability.

True freedom is freedom of time, so if you can automate most parts of your business, then you're golden.

@Ho Eun Park I manage Two of our properties, a total of 6 units from 3 hours away. When we lived in the same town I learned everything on YouTube. There are some great recommendations in this feed! One other idea would be to find a company that has a “peace of mind” package. For example we use a company that services our AC units and HVAC once a year for $195 (highly suggested by the way) and with that service we get priority on appointments, 10% off all services and regular (instead of surged) pricing if we have something that needs to be addressed after hours, on the weekends or holidays. It is a 365 24/7 company that provides us a lot of peace. We know that if a pipe bursts on Christmas Eve we can get it addressed. Look for a company like that in your area. Those in NE Indiana the name of the company is Korte Does It All.

youtube really. but for other things that can be frequent problems. AC going out, broken garbage disposal, light switch not working ect. whenever the contractor comes out to fix the thing. I'll sit and watch and ask questions along the way. If it looks easy enough i'll do it next time and save myself a couple hundred for less than an hour of work.

YouTube. Has anybody said that yet?! LOL. No, seriously. YouTube. I bought a duplex and put in a third bedroom and second bath in the basement via youtube videos. Ok, ok. I did hire a plumber and an electrician. They were licensed and it was required by my city. Major Electric and plumbing just seems like something wherein a person could turn a $100 job into a $1,000 job. Beyond that, I get referrals from my realtor and other investors at the REIA meetings. Start collecting names before you need them.

Also, my lease states minor fixes up to $10 are to be handled by the tenant. And clogs of toilets or garbage disposals are to be handled or charged to the tenants, as it is their fault. Unless there's a septic problem, tree root, etc that would have caused the clog.