The Disgusting Experience That Led to My Biggest Real Estate Mindset Shift (The “Toilet Story”)

by | BiggerPockets.com

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…

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.) 

How I Bought, Rehabbed, Rented, Refinanced, and Repeated for 14 Rental Properties

This is the dream right? Going from zero to 10+ rental properties, providing stable cash flow and long-term wealth for you and your family, and building a scalable business model to boot! Learn how this investor did just that, in this exclusive story featured on BiggerPockets!

Click Here For Your Free eBook

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.”

Nope.

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.”

#UnderstatementOfTheDecade

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!

flipping-tv-show

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?

flipping-hot-market

$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.

For example:

  • 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!

About Author

Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner (G+ | Twitter) spends a lot of time on BiggerPockets.com. Like... seriously... a lot. Oh, and he is also an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, traveler, third-person speaker, husband, and author of "The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down", and "The Book on Rental Property Investing" which you should probably read if you want to do more deals.

16 Comments

  1. Steve T.

    Eh… This was when you were small, so, you could have also immediately responded, fixed the issue quickly, taught your tenant a lesson, and charged them for the repair (if clogged toilets are covered in your lease). Sure, it is good to grow out of those jobs, but investors who never do them don’t learn, and some get taken advantage of.

  2. Greg Parker

    Fantastic analogy. I am wondering how much money I just made by spending 10 minutes reading this. I suppose it is a lot more than I made this weekend shoveling gravel in a driveway at one of my rentals for 4 hours…. I could have paid someone 100 bucks to do that, and I could have looked at 10 properties!!

  3. Costin I.

    IMHO, it’s not “scarcity mindset”, it’s realistic thinking:
    If you don’t know what you are doing, hire some who knows (or should know, but that is another discussion) – otherwise is a clear case of “save a dime, loose a dollar”.
    If you earn (in present, not in wishful time) substantially more with your current skills (don’t forget you are get taxed for whatever you earn, plus the expenses, like traveling to work, spending time in traffic, car, gas, clothing, etc.) than hiring someone – hire, otherwise you are wasting your time.
    If you earn same or close to the cost of hiring someone – it might be a toss, because if you know how to do it, and enjoy doing it, doing the work you might save money, and a $ saved is more than a $ earned.
    But if you earn less than hiring someone to do it, and you can do it, you’ll be better off doing it yourself – nobody else is going to do it better or more careful than you.
    Till you reach the point where your earning surpasses the cost of hiring by a large margin, and/or you have amassed large capital (financial, networking, educational or otherwise) and you are ready to deploy it, it’s wishful thinking that you reading a book while having someone else cut your grass is going to make you rich.
    Cut yourself the grass first, and instead of vegetating on the couch in front of the TV after, learn investing from a book and analyze a deal – that’s how you will get ahead.
    Brandon didn’t get good a finding deals and made a lot of them because he stopped carrying toilets. He stopped carrying toilets because he got good at finding deals and it no longer made sense to carry toilets. Don’t confuse wishful thinking and day dreaming with actual progress.

    • Al Mac

      COSTIN I. I totally agree with you. With only a handful of doors in my tiny portfolio, I find that my positive cash flow gets eaten up very quickly when I start getting contractors to carry my toilets. Yes, there has been situations where other maintenance has to be done in parallel, so I have to get help and hire a laborer or a handyman, but I try to limit that or else I end up with no profit. Yes I know part of the problem is that I didn’t do a good job at analyzing my properties when I bought them, and after time some of them were even in the red numbers, but I can’t change the past so I have to live with that. The only choice I can see now is to do as much maintenance myself, or pass on my profits to contractors while I still have the burden of owning properties.
      I thought about just getting rid of the “under performing” properties, but in my market it looks like it is really hard for small investors with very little capital to find deals with enough cash flow, so I’m just hanging on to my properties until I can get enough equity and the market improves.

    • Paul St.Julien

      I agree with this posting completely. The toilet issue showed us that repairing that type of issue was beyond Brandon’s skillset and it should have been hired out. But, in the beginning you MUST save as much money running your business as possible. It’s only after you gain the skills to make considerably more money than it would cost to hire a contractor, do you regularly do that. When first starting out, having handyman skills may make the difference between success and failure.
      I have learned much from Brandon’s postings and he has been a mentor for my investing success, but I have to disagree with him on this issue.

  4. Susan Maneck

    I never touch a paintbrush in any of my houses. I know what my labor is worth and the people I hire work for far less than I make. That may have something to do with the fact I was 57 years old when I got into real estate investment and when it comes to home repair I’m quite sure I don’t know what I’m doing. DIY is best left to the young and broke.

  5. Nathan G.

    It’s a very necessary thing to learn if as you start to scale. With just a few rentals you can probably handle all the cleaning, maintenance, showings, inspections, etc. As you start to grow, it makes sense to hire out. Trying to do everything yourself doesn’t equate to greater income.

  6. Joshua Diaz

    This is probably one of the nastiest things I’ve read. However, it’s also a very important lesson.

    I just finished listening to the podcast episode where this lovely story premiered, but reading this still made me shudder. I must identify my own toilet and make sure never to carry it.

    Thank you for sharing. Sorry you also caught the flu from that, though!

  7. John Fedro

    Gross and fantastic story, Brandon! I feel like a disgusting poop story is a rite of passage as an active real estate investor. Great segue into the topic of analyzing all your daily activities through a “dollar per hour” type of lens.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write this.

  8. clarence larcarte

    Brandon, you’ve written a lot of great blog posts, but this is by far my favorite. I was just about to head to one of my rentals to “carry a toilet” but I found somebody on Craigslist to carry it instead. I need to consciously make this decision every day so I can get unstuck from this rut I’m in. Thanks for the nudge!

  9. Charles Connolley

    Wow. Had a blocked toilet full of feces from a mentally ill tenant (very sad story). I bought a bucket a bucket-top shop vac for $25 from Home Depot, cleaned it out the best I could, and threw the bucket vac directly into the dumpster. The I busted up the toilet with a sledgehammer, because I wasn’t going to stick my face down there to get the bolts out.

  10. John Barnette

    The affluent realize money buys time. Time to spend on tasks you want to do. Whether looking to make more money, family, sleep, gym, walk im the park. Not carrying toilets. We have all fallen for the save money and do it myself. But the time is spent. Great little article. Like the creative use of time in expressing the lessons of your story. Hehe.

  11. Ed B.

    Brandon, I mostly agree with you, but it’s simplistic and incorrect to say a person is always better off spending his time pursuing higher paying jobs like finding, analyzing and buying investments. Costin and Paul St. Julien, both said it very well, so I don’t want to repeat them, but we don’t always have the option to choose to carry toilets or negotiate an investment. Many times there is downtime while waiting to see if financing is approved, if your offer is accepted, if the zoning request is granted, etc. Why not carry a toilet or two during that waiting period, because sometimes a dollar saved is truly a dollar earned. Unless you have other skills you can trade your time for to earn more than that $100. And if you have someone needing those skills at the moment. If not, then you’re just fooling yourself by thinking it’s better to hire out that job. Admittedly, some jobs are just so nasty and unpleasant that it’s almost always better to hire it out, even if it costs twice what you would normally do it for. Until the investor develops the skills to earn more through investing than carrying toilets, it’s folly for him to think hiring others is going to improve his financial position. All that will do is make him poorer.

Leave A Reply

Pair a profile with your post!

Create a Free Account

Or,


Log In Here