If you wish you had one skill....

19 Replies

Okay here's the deal. I'm looking to invest in my first buy and hold property very soon and expand from there. I work as a nurse and I like what I do, it pays the bills, I have excellent job security and I can literally pick up and go ANYWHERE I want! Eventually I want to build up enough of a portfolio that I can transition out of nursing or maybe only need to work part time as a nurse and work more hands on with my investments. I'm fairly handy- I've done everything from laying flooring and carpeting, tiling, grouting, hanging kitchen cabinets, hanging and finishing drywall, roofs, fences, landscaping, minor electrical and plumbing repairs, etc. I'd like to maybe pick one skill and really perfect it, maybe get certified/licensed, something like electrical, HVAC, etc.

So I ask- what skill set do you really wish you had? or what skill do you have that helps you the most?

Great question!

The skill set I wish I had: Electrical. Something about live wires that freak me out, and I leave to the professionals. 

The skill set that helps me the most: I'm a numbers, data, and analytical geek. 

Jon Huber, Real Estate Agent in New Jersey (#NRS0565737)

What a great question @Beth Blank.

Okay fellow investors, this is only my opinion from my experience:-)

I chose HVAC and got the accompanying licenses for:

 - Furnace

 - Air Conditioning

 - Gas Piping

 - Duct work

I also have the refrigeration license but never use that one.

Why? It was the only trade (in my state) I couldn't do as a homeowner without a license.

I install a new high efficiency furnace and a/c in all my properties, make sure I point out the value, worry free, energy savings, and benefits when selling or renting.  Average cost is about $1,700 versus $7,000 to $9,000 or more to hire that out.  Adding ductwork to that project for a couple hundred dollars could cost an additional $2k to $3k from a contractor.

Another big savings, I got an estimate for a backup generator needing an added 20-foot gas line run.  Contractor cost = $800.  My cost was less than $100. 

When getting that license I had to learn Industrial, Commercial, and Residential applications.  While Industrial and Commercial require several tradesmen and huge equipment, residential is smaller, weighs much less than a refrigerator, so it can easily be a 1-person project.

As for repairs, my neighbor just paid $700 for a fan motor replacement.  That motor costs about $110. He was stuck without heat in the winter - he had to pay!

Another great benefit available with the HVAC license is the ability to run a small local business to friends and neighbors - bigger if you want, but, in my opinion, heating and cooling are emergency needs when they fail.

Note: Pluming: a sewer back up is an emergency need, but many times a rented snake can clear that.  Leaks, well, many a handy-person can fix those.  To be cautious, inspect main drains with a camera-snake before you buy and save or negotiate usually about $10k for a replacement or less for sleeving.

Electrical would be my second choice.  I do more electrical to update old houses, replacement for circuits without grounding wires, and added circuits for convenience.

I just paid $1,000 for an electrical service upgrade from screw in fuses to a breaker panel.  Since it was a rental, I wasn't allowed to pull my own permit like I could if it was my primary residence...  From there, if I needed to add a circuit or 2, well, I don't need a license to buy everything I needed from the home improvement stores (unlike buying a furnace or a/c unit).

A long time ago before I new how-to, I hired an electrician to add one circuit; it cost $175 for about $15 in parts, and he left me with drywall repairs where he opened up the walls for access.  What if I needed several new circuits?

Similar to the HVAC license, a Plumbing or Electrical contractors licensing course will be teaching the Industrial and Commercial applications, plus the theory, including the entire electrical grid and the origination in history for power creation for electrical, and similar history and infrastructure for plumbing.

Requirements:  8000 hours of on the job training, or 6000 hours with a 2 year degree, and if I recall correctly, a Bachelors degree in the chosen field allows you to write for the license without the 4-years of on the job training... that was 25 years ago in Michigan for HAVC, not sure what the requirements are today.

Now then, this is because I enjoy do-it-myself home rehabbing and investing.

I can usually get the job done faster than I can get 3 estimates and wait to be scheduled by a contractor to show up and do the work.

Do-it-myself investing has allowed me to reduce risk of cost over-runs, weather the real estate crashes, reduce debt, but mostly because I enjoy the work.  

My feeling is, when I take all the effort to find a great home investment deal close to my home, why give away the work I enjoy doing.  This way I don't have to run a business, do free estimates, try to collect and please customers, have a full scale marketing system, or employees.  All my work is in one place!  - that's just me though:-)

Okay, hope this helps you out some Beth.

An Aside:

Not to be compared with investors who hire everything out that don't enjoy the do-it-yourself style of investing.

There's no right or wrong way investing in real estate as long as you're profitable, right?

For me, (I tried it), as an off sight real estate investor; it was more about managing and scheduling contractors, a marketing program for a continued supply of investment properties, raising additional working capitol, and lots of office work.  As I get older, to stay in the game, I'll probably have to go back to that method.

- Cheers to All here on BP!

The skill I'm working on is General contracting.

I'm a licensed electrician and hvac contractor on the side and work full time. I just finished rehabing a rental doing all the work except the roof myself, the problem is I spent four months after work and weekends not to mention away from the wife and kids for a whole summer. As much as it kills me to pay someone to do the work I can do, I have to ask my self how much is my time worth and not seeing my family vs. paying a contractor.

I was a maintenance mechanic for many years.  I am licensed and certified in many areas of construction.   What I found when flipping houses (in which I have flipped many) is that the technical trades are the ones you don't want to get too deep into. (I will explain why later).  There are many that do such.  The hardest trade to find, believe this or not, are great painters.   Good painters are hard to find. I am talking about the reasonably priced, dependable, correct and quick ones.  Many people will tell you they are good painters, when they are not.

Now lets get down to the most costly people in flipping.  These are the under-house - in attic people.   I don't know about you, but I am someone that has never enjoyed being under a house in a crawl space or in an attic.   These people are normally expensive as well.  Included in this category are duct installers and insulators.  

At present I am flipping a home in a small town.  Something that this small town does not have is carpet installers.  It has been frustrating to say the least.  Matter of fact I am talking with the painting company I am using (which consist of two women) to add carpet installation to their business.  Matter of fact, I may finance them to do so.

Now many states and areas have different regulations for codes.   Some do not allow landlords to do their own repairs period, without pulling a permit, and you must have a licensed trades person to do the job.  Water heaters come to mind. 

So, if you are going to flip a house to rent, I suggest that you buy the property, and start with all of your electrical and have a good licensed electrician to check it out - remove fuse boxes and replace them with breaker panels.    Replace anything he thinks may be a problem in the near future.  Replace the plumbing if need be.  Pex tubing and ABS is my advice. If you have the basic knowledge of both it should be simple for you.   If the HVAC is older than 5 years, replace that as well. Old water heater replacement is a must.  I will also tell you this.  Most people that let their house go into foreclosure is for 2 reasons.  They are, the HVAC system, and roof.  Both of these are very costly to the inexperienced people. (Unless you want to do roofing, that is costly to everyone). 

You asked what trades to focus on, believe this or not, they are the most common which you have experience in.   Getting a license to be an electrician, plumber or HVAC mechanic takes time, and you must keep up with the changing codes on a daily basis. If you are a master in either of these trades, you are better off starting your own business in those trades and flip properties on the side.    Basic plumbing skills is a must for anyone flipping a property - I will go further on this, if you don't know how to do basic plumbing, like how to run water and drain lines, or how to replace a water heater to code, maybe you shouldn't flip a home to begin with - these are easy to learn and they can be costly if you have to pay someone to do such. The same goes for light receptacles and ceiling fixtures.  

Now if I was to start a company, it would be in basic home repair to consist of painting, drywall, ceramic tile (wall and floor tiling) floor sanding, counter-top replacement and carpet installation.  If you know these trades along with basic plumbing you should be good to go.  I don't know of anywhere that it requires a license trade mechanic to do fixture replacement.  Fixtures are just that, however.  They are light fixtures and sink fixtures.  Now think about this paragraph alone.   What are the two most expensive places in a home to renovate?  If you know these trades, you can do both very cheaply, if you don't need to run or move plumbing and electrical runs. (Even if you have to do this, you can run the lines, and have a licensed trades-person to make the final connections). 

My advice to anyone and everyone that flips properties full time, or has rental properties.  If you are going to pursue a trade, do that first, and flip on the side.  If you want to build a portfolio, or flip homes to sell, do that.  A real estate license would be your best bet to pursue, and you need to work in it to do so.   Knowing the basics in trades is what you really need to know along with an active brokers license. - That will save you the most money in the long run in any real estate investment. 

Lots of good insight, thank you all!!

The most valuable skill Hubby and I possess is the ability to learn. New things we have never tried don't scare us, we simply educate ourselves. Sometimes that education leads us to the conclusion that we will be better off hiring someone for that job, but many times it leads us to an enjoyable new skill. Too many say, "I don't know how," or "I've never done that before," and give up.

@Sylvia B. Abdolutely agree! I've learned how to do a lot by watching YouTube videos, talking to professionals in the field and asking questions and then just jumping in. Getting started is sometimes the hardest thing.

At this point I think I'm leaning towards HVAC. Most maintenance things are not an emergency fix- you have time to investigate the issue, determine if it's something you can fix yourself, maybe call for an estimate, etc but if somebody's heater goes out and it's 3 a.m. in January in western PA that is an emergency fix and it's going to be expensive. Plus I can work on the side answering those late night calls- believe me if I have to roll out of bed at three a.m. and scrape ice off my car it's going to cost you!!

All of the trades are rich and require many years to become truly proficient. Even then, one is always learning and can always improve. That's part of what makes construction (and  life!) so enjoyable. 

Personally, I enjoy carpentry the most. I think it is one of the most versatile trades and worthy of a lifetime of study.  If I had to chose which trade I wish I was good at, I'd say masonry.  It is so hard!  I once saw a video of a journeyman mason building a block wall.  It was like watching the ballet...every movement had a purpose and there was no wasted effort at all!

So I think it's good that people want to learn to build and fix things. And certainly YouTube videos can be helpful. But always do a good job. Take the time to learn as much as you can and always strive to refine your techniques. The more you do something, the better you will become and the more you will appreciate true craftsmanship. 

@Beth Blank I am a property flipper. I am looking at doing two things: getting a general contractor license so I can pull permits in my city (even if I hire out to better skilled pros) and getting my Real Estate license so I can more easily sell my stuff and save $$$$. 

Great advice, all! Thanks for taking the time

Beth, I am like you- have done a multitude of things and never been licensed. I am hopefully going to be doing my first own home inspection this month on an old house. You're in Pittsburgh, so I imagine many of the houses you might look at may be older than 1970"s. I grew up on the east coast and remember seeing some very scary old farmhouse foundations... One two story one actually had a stream running through what was left of a crumbling basement for a while. I was afraid for the young couple who had just bought it and were going to fix it themselves.

I've done some floor leveling, post and pier replacement, floor underlayment, sill and wall stud jacking and replacement with my late partner and learned a lot- but not enough. I just spent the last 2 days doing nothing but watching videos of floor header joist and sill replacements and how to jack and brace single story buildings at foundation level and roof rafter/top sill level. I can probably replace a longer rotted section myself now by hiring and working with one general labor person. Next, I'll look at foundations and see if there is anything I can or want to do. If so, I'd save a lot of money.

While this may not be something you want to do, if you understand how it's done you'll be in a better position with any contractor. Floor joist, sill rot and sometimes lower wall stud rot are very very common in older houses or poorly built houses. Knowing what to look for in those cases can make a big difference between enjoying what you do and having nightmares, especially in houses that are more than one story. 

I would NOT however recommend fixing these issues as a career in itself ... Seems miserable.

Interesting question for sure Beth!

Here's my 2 cents: It sounds like you're contemplating trading one job for another - from a nurse to a handyman in some capacity. This is the route I originally went with my real estate investing, only to find out years later it wasn't going to get me where I wanted to go.

Real estate is a great investment vehicle IF you approach it correctly. If you approach it as a job or as self-employment, you've basically just created another job for yourself. There's nothing wrong with that, but just see it for what it is - a self-created job. And to some degree, you're still trading time for money, which is what we want to get away from.  

Here's two books I'd highly suggest reading if you haven't already. Michael Gerber's E-Myth and Robert Kiyosaki's Cash Flow Quadrants. These two books combined could have saved me many years of grinding away in my business - years that were never going to get me where I wanted to go.

To answer your question, the skills set that help me the most is:

Learning to work in harmony with others and creating win/win arrangements. This could also be classified as a communication skill, as well as emotional intelligence.

Learning how to acquire the correct mindset to build and grow a business (goal-setting and strategizing).

Learning sales and promotion. Everything is sales. And you can't make a sale if nobody knows about it - promotion/marketing.

Learning how to be resourceful. Most of what heavy-hitter investors do is assemble the resources to bring a well-thought-out plan to fruition (think Donald Trump). As Tony Robbins says, "Resourcefulness is the ultimate resource." I've learned not to ask people questions for things that can be found out with a simple google search or by watching a 2 minute youtube video. We learn to find the answers we need when we need them, and if we can't find them or they are complicated (like legal issues) we consult with professionals.

Anyway, hope something I said here helps!

Originally posted by @Beth Blank :

Okay here's the deal. I'm looking to invest in my first buy and hold property very soon and expand from there. I work as a nurse and I like what I do, it pays the bills, I have excellent job security and I can literally pick up and go ANYWHERE I want! Eventually I want to build up enough of a portfolio that I can transition out of nursing or maybe only need to work part time as a nurse and work more hands on with my investments. I'm fairly handy- I've done everything from laying flooring and carpeting, tiling, grouting, hanging kitchen cabinets, hanging and finishing drywall, roofs, fences, landscaping, minor electrical and plumbing repairs, etc. I'd like to maybe pick one skill and really perfect it, maybe get certified/licensed, something like electrical, HVAC, etc.

So I ask- what skill set do you really wish you had? or what skill do you have that helps you the most?

 Guess it is a acquired skill but,negotiating and sales skills.

I have a day job, so real estate is more of a hobby than anything. Number one is that it has to be fun. However, I think I should make money while I spend time in hobbies. I feel that economic and community development is is exciting. Some communities are beyond repair, but some are not. I am interested in getting involved with community stakeholders, council members and economic development entities to revitalize communities and increase the value of my investments.

I wish I was better at this.

I wish I were a mind reader! :) 

I'm of the opinion the most important skill you can learn in this, or any other business, is how to manage/lead people effectively - especially conflict resolution. 

If you haven't already, read the E-myth. Learning new technical skills can be very time consuming, and while it makes sense early on, I don't think it's a viable solution in the long term to try to do everything yourself. I believe time is better spent doing what only you can do.

That said, I love building things, and there isn't a job in a house I can't/won't approach with a good degree of confidence. Learning the BASICS of HVAC, plumbing and electrical will probably save you the most money in the long run...but that stuff isn't that fun to me. I hate painting with the fire of a thousand suns, because I used to get paid to do it. 

So maybe my point is that there is no single skill I would find most helpful - I'd rather have a good foundation in all of it so I usually know what I'm looking at, and when it's smarter to hire it out.

Awesome question! I've been a landlord for 6+ years and have been learning a lot by necessity. I've gotten a solid handle on plumbing, electrical, some HVAC, pouring concrete - almost everything - just by studying what goes wrong in my houses and asking contractors when forced to hire them. They're usually very willing to help you learn how to handle the small stuff, so you call them when something REALLY goes wrong. It's amazing what you can learn when you have to! 

I do wish I was more confident with carpentry. I do some small stuff, but I have some balconies and raised patios I am too scared to touch. I've spent a lot of money hiring people to help with those projects.

Plumbing all the way for me. It's fairly simple process to learning to yourself but extremely expensive if you have someone else do it.

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