This morning I’m reflecting on a first in our business. We had our first experience of a tenant who passed away in a unit and was found after neighbors suspected a problem. It’s been a sad, distressing, and difficult process for everyone involved, but this post isn’t about being a real estate investor or a business person. It’s about being a human being.
How often do we use these phrases? “He keeps to himself.” “She doesn’t bother anybody.” “He just wants to be left alone.” You get the idea. We value privacy and those who want to be private. It’s easier. It doesn’t require much of us. But I have to wonder if we’ve gone too far.
In my own home, I’ll admit I don’t know all my neighbors. Would I notice if the guy next door didn’t leave his house for a week? Maybe not. Would I be a better neighbor, a better human being, if I did? Maybe.
Entering this week of Thanksgiving, I’m pondering whether respecting my neighbors’ privacy is a lazy way of not connecting with them. Recent studies, like this one from Harvard, point to an epidemic of loneliness associated with increased mortality rates. I’m not implying that my neighbors are lonely, or that I am. But it’s worth considering. When are we respecting each other’s privacy, and when are we simply leaving each other alone?
As much as I appreciate the pristine quality of a new home, I’d rather live in a home that has age and character. What you give up in the reliability of mechanical systems or the cleanliness of brand new materials, you gain in the unique details of an older home. When the older home is an investment rental property, it creates new considerations. Lesson of the day…historic preservation districts.
Why does it matter? If time is money, you need to consider the extra time involved in rehabbing a historic home. Case in point, our property on Broadway in Hagerstown. (No, it’s not Broadway Street or Broadway Avenue, it’s just Broadway. I verified this because it didn’t make sense to me, but there it is.)
Part of the reason we bought the property was because it was on an attractive street with similar attractive homes. Did we realize it was in a historic preservation district? No. Would it have stopped us from purchasing the property? No. In fact, it probably would have made us feel better about it. But at the time of purchase, we wouldn’t have been thinking about obstacles to the rehabbing timeframe. Now that we are ready to rehab, it adds an additional layer of complexity. Not only will we need to submit the appropriate building permits, but we will also need to submit applications to the historic district review committee for the Potomac-Broadway Historic District.
What will this mean? From my current research, the phrase “exact in kind” comes up repeatedly. Will it be possible to repair/replace with “exact in kind” materials? I’m not sure yet. Will it cost an arm and a leg and take four times as long to find “exact in kind” replacements for a house that’s 120 years old? Maybe. Stay tuned as we navigate this journey.
For readers who are current or future real estate investors, keep this one in mind as you evaluate potential properties. We add it to the list of lessons learned.
GO to the property before you buy it. Granted, this might sound incredibly obvious, but when you are investing from a distance and you are relying on information given to you by professionals, you might make this mistake. We did, and we are otherwise very intelligent folks. Hey, it can happen to the best of us.
The story has a happy ending, because it was just the beginning. We made an investment. We started. We stopped talking about it and we did something, which is major.
You can be smarter, and you can go tour that property to be sure you are making the right deal. But do something! Stay tuned for how this zombie comes back to life.