Furnishing Your Home Office on a Shoestring Budget

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4051398710_6146f3f42aLast week, a few new investing partners and I took a drive around our neighborhood looking at potential short sale properties that were listed by local agents.  Within a few hours of viewing the properties we had made an offer on two properties. I put together the packages including an offer, addenda, hardship letters, financial information, and several spreadsheets showing the difference between retail value, repair value, and the lender’s likely credit bid at the foreclosure auction. The first was dismissed out of hand, but the second offer was accepted by the seller’s agent, and then the seller just a few minutes later; from there, it was on its way over to the bank for approval, where the waiting game began.

I took a moment to reflect on the process of putting together the offers, and wished the banks were as efficient in the process as I was.  I took a few more moments and registered the processes that went into making those offers.  I searched the properties online, took a short ride to visit them, got some digital pictures, downloaded them to my computer, placed them into my offer document templates, and then worked a few spreadsheets, all from the comfort of my nice, neat, desk.  Everything was scanned and uploaded to virtual server and then emailed to the agent for approval.  The entire process, outside of walking the actual properties, took just a few hours from start to finish and was contained to a five foot radius circle around my desk.

What i realized was that the combination of smart technology and good organization allowed me to operate very efficiently.  With just a few pieces of simple equipment I was able to secure a deal that will likely net a profit over ten times the cost of all that equipment, and that is just in one day’s work.

If you’re an entrepreneurial investor looking for your first deal I suggest you take a step back for a moment and ask yourself if you have the tools you need to succeed. 

Reading books, networking, and taking real estate education courses are all nice, but your career starts in your very own home, with a little space you carve out of the corner of your kitchen or your dining room. By making your space neat and organized, and filling it with the right gear you will setup yourself up for success, rather than failure.

Here are a few tips for setting up your home office, even if you’re operating on a shoestring budget.

Organization is the key

Because space is usually limited, organization is paramount when planning and furnishing your home office, especially if your work area is a small corner of the family room or a desk which also doubles as the dining room table.  Studies show that neat desks encourage creative thought and lead to more productive behavior so keep your work space neat and clean if possible.

If you have an entire room dedicated to your home office make sure your furniture and equipment are placed in an efficient manner.  If you’re the kind of person who likes to print their emails before you read them you’ll want the printer within arms reach.  No sense it having to get up and walk across the room every time you want to grab a document.  If you like to file everything and then refer back to them several times a day then you’ll also want to keep your file cabinet close.  Consider getting a desk that incorporates room for your gear, a printer stand, and a file cabinet all in one piece.  Most office supply stores carry this type of furniture.  For those on a tighter budget, consider going second hand.  There’s always a good post on Craigslist.org or E-Bay for these types of items.

A decent desk and chair combo at most office supply stores start at around $150.  The garage sale specials can run even less, while the plush designer sets can push into the thousands of dollars. A good file cabinet with a lock will run you another $50.

Total Furniture Costs = $200

Get the Gear

There is really only one piece of technology you need to get started; and that’s a computer.   Think of a computer not as a sunk cost, but as an investment in the future success of your business.  In today’s world they are a requirement and you should beg or borrow the money needed to buy one.  Fortunately there are many options for you when it comes to computers.  You’ve got your Macs, your PC’s, and soon, the Android computer, which should be an interesting addition to the mix.  In my humble opinion, a Mac is still the best buy.  Pound for pound they’re more expensive than their PC counterparts, but they’re also more user friendly and much more versatile.  There is a good deal of competition among the cheaper PC’s, but in the long run you’ll find it more cost effective to buy a good computer, which will probably come with some free peripherals like printers, scanners and fax machines.  I’ve always been a fan of the Dell machines and have had their support techs on the phone and out to my house to replace a laptop keyboard in under 24 hours.  Not bad for a weekend service call.  Plan on spending $500 for an entry level PC and $1,000 for an entry level Mac.  Only time will tell where the Android comes in on price, but early signs are pointing toward a sub-$500 launch in early 2010.

If you plan to stay “green” and only read emails and documents online call me up and I’ll write an article about you.  Otherwise, you’ll need a printer.  Printers themselves are cheap; it’s the toner that will hit you in the wallet.  I prefer a single function color laser printer that can be networked across multiple computers.  Other multi-function printers are good if you must have scanner, copier, or fax capabilities for your business.  Most laser printers will set you back $150 or less, with toner costing the same, and needing replacement every 6 months.  At present my printing costs run less than $0.02 per page when I print in draft mode at a low DPI setting.  When I need professional quality printing, it costs closer to $0.04 per page.  That’s a lot cheaper than running to Staples and paying $0.49 for a color copy or $0.25 for black and white.

With the right computer system, things like office phones and fax machines have become a thing of the past.  Now, with cloud computing you can have a virtual pbx style phone machine integrated right into your computer and make and receive phone calls with a simple USB headset/microphone combo.  The voice quality is just as good, if not better, than using a land line, and voice messages can be sent to your mobile phone or your email inbox.  Google Voice allows you to have free phone number which can forward to an existing phone line, like a home phone or mobile phone, and will also transcribe any voice messages you get for free.  You can also create documents on your favorite word processor and fax to machines across the world.  Received faxes come directly to your email inbox in pdf form and can also be sent to your mobile for viewing on the road.

Cloud computing eliminates the need for bloated software programs, reduces the chances of viruses, and allows you to access your contact information from virtually anywhere you can get internet access.  For more information on cloud computing read this article.

While the modern cell phone is not necessarily a business requirement, it will certainly help your productivity.  It will also help you get work done when you’re away from the office.  I remember my first cell phone and the battery pack that came with it.  They could barely fit in the glove compartment of my car.  The salesman told me once I started using it I would feel naked without it.  Truer words were never spoken.  I scarcely leave home without it, and if I do, I get that sinking feeling like I’ve forgotten something important.

Current cell phone offerings include Windows-based PC phones, Palm Pilots, Blackberrys, iPhones, several Android platforms, and non-pda phones as well.  I carry an Android-based phone with GPS navigation which can link to my calendar, pull down addresses for my next meeting, and guide me right to their doorstep.  A PDA type cell phone will set you back anywhere from $50 – $250, and will probably require you sign up for a one or two year contract, which will then run you about $50 per month, depending on your data plan, if any, and minute usage.  If you live in an area where T-Mobile coverage is particularly strong, they offer an unlimited minutes plan for $49 per line.  Otherwise, avoid T-Mobile like the plague, there are better service providers out there with superior coverage and voice quality.

Total Gear Costs = $900 – $1,300

Do the Math

Computer, cell phone, desk, chair, file cabinet, all-in-one printer totaling between $1,100 – $1,500, with a yearly maintenance cost of $100-$200 (not including cell phone plan).  Not bad for all the furniture, fixtures, and equipment you’ll need to start turning a profit the day you open your doors!

Photo: jnyemb

About Author

Mr. Grella is co-founder of Cornerstone Funding, a business consulting firm helping clients finance their business and real estate ventures. He has held positions with several national banks and lending institutions, and has consulted for small businesses, non-profits, government municipalities, and Fortune 500 firms alike.

3 Comments

  1. Great article! I remember back in the day I started out with a laptop on one of those little folding tables used to eat at the couch while watching T.V. I think they’re called T.V dinner tables?

    I used that and a cell phone, yellow pad of paper and whatever pen I could find. This was all done while I was at home. When I was working my J.O.B, it was in a large and very loud diesel tow truck.

    I made it work until I could improve, now, I have an iMac, printer and separate fax machine on something not much bigger than that T.V dinner table. I make it work because I don’t need any more room than I have.

  2. Indeed this is a great article, I also started out with very little money to invest on my home office…I even bought a surplus DELL PC just to get me started, and all surplus furnishings which is not bad actually…haha…but then it was all worth it…I’m actually starting my own office and handling several people per project..it pays to be patient and learning to earn first before spending too much…

  3. Didn’t think i’d be following up my own article so quickly…

    The agent representing the property on which i made an offer, mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, had some funky paperwork with herself acting as a third party consultant on the short sale deal. It also appears as if she has some ownership in the property which she didn’t disclose earlier.

    Anyway, the deal is now dead, which underscores why it is so important to keep a neat and efficient office. I spent an hour or two total on this deal and then moved onto the next one.

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