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Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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Featured Biz Question

Hi, I used to own an apartment building and there were times when I would have used an apartment repair and preparation business. My question is, does anyone out there do this kind of work, and if so, how do you approach it? Thanks in advance.

Answer from our Guest Expert Mark Bower of Aberdeen Mobile Home Repair

Rental Repair Business

Dear Idea Cafe Schmoozer,

Part of my construction business does involve doing repairs on rental units. However, working for landlords and apartment owners isn't all it's cracked up to be. Grab a cup of coffee and I'll tell you my story.

For some reason, most folks who want to become freelance "handymen" or start their own repair business, often think of offering their services to landlords. While there's nothing wrong with that, let me just say it's a real tough way to enter the market. Now I realize you were an apartment owner in the past, but for the benefit of others who weren't, here's a quick lesson on working for landlords from a freelancer's perspective.

Working With Landlords

You have two types of landlords -- owners and managers. If you're dealing directly with owners, they generally own only a few rental units and like to do a majority of the work themselves. They only call in a handyman if they have to -- and they call because they're either swamped with work and need help catching up, or they have a job that's big and extensive or beyond their expertise. If any owner has a great amount of rental units, they then normally have a hired handyman on staff and only call a contractor for the same reasons just mentioned.

If you're not dealing with the owners, then you're usually dealing with a rental manager. A rental manager may manage property for one owner, or for many. If he manages enough rental units, he also probably has his own handyman on staff. Otherwise, they call a handyman for almost everything unless the manager has a brother-in-law in the business which he's trying to keep happy. If your goal is to do apartment repairs, then contacting rental managers may bear more fruit than contacting owners. Owners who hire managers are used to being billed for anything that needs done.

Perfectionists Need Not Apply

Owners and managers want the job done right, but they also want a simple, inexpensive solution. They also want you to remember that time is money. I have a father-in-law who likes to do handyman repairs, but he's a real perfectionist. He'd never make it working for landlords. Landlords don't want a perfectionist, unless you're working in the Trump Tower or some other high-class building. For instance, if you're called to repair a hole in a wall caused by a door handle, the perfectionist would go through the steps of patching and painting. The efficient apartment handyman would purchase
an oversized handle stop and stick it over the hole and be done in 5 minutes. It'll look great and you'll be commended for your efficient work and for coming up with a solution for preventing it from happening again.

Several years ago, I had a manager call me about a leaking garage roof. The roof was in bad shape, but the owner didn't want to spend a lot of money. His tenant was on the verge of leaving and the manager needed a solution fast. The manager had already called a roofer, and got an estimate for '"doing it right." Needless to say, the owner wasn't willing to spend that kind of money on an old garage. So I told the manager that if he could spend $400, I'd give him a new roof, including labor and materials. The owner gladly agreed to $400. Several days later, I gave him a new roof -- I simply screwed on 7 or 8 sheets of corrugated metal over the old roof and it hasn't leaked since. It wasn't perfection, but the owner was ecstatically happy and I made the manager look real good. Plus I made about $200 in the two hours it took me to do the job. I'm now their #1 go-to guy for handyman work.

Stay efficient, do it right, be smart and your phone will continue ringing. But beware of the downsides of the biz.... continued

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About the Expert

Mark Bower
Owner of Aberdeen Home Repair

Mark Bower
Mark is also a lecturer and consultant. He spends hours a week reading and learning about his industry and about running a business. He strives to be the best, to always be on top of his game. more