Past Midway Ramblings on Business & Life

4-Plex – Worth It

Part 5 of a 5-part series…

This is the final continuation of the story about the 4-plex we owned in Austin, TX. The one with the crystal meth, swarming bees, grow lights, electricity theft & spy cameras, the flood and termites.

But there’s more to this story because…

The value of the 4-plex was hidden, as are many things in life.

Even though we had all these challenges (and more) with this property, it was worth it. Worth it for the experience, but more importantly, worth it for the hidden treasure I found.

Canesha

Jumping back in time… I had setup an appointment with a young lady named Canesha1 to view a vacant apartment. When she showed up, she was sharp, professional and had everything neatly prepared in a folder (proof of occupation, pay stub, work references, etc.). She was ready for business. The difficulty – she had a very short employment history, perhaps only a month or so at the time, and no prior rental history. She was young.

Canesha was a larger-than-life personality. She would be difficult to miss in a crowd or at a party. She filled the room with her confidence and seemed to have ambitious plans for her future. She was just a “I love life” kind of person with a big smile and a wonderful inner-city accent.

She said she was interested in the apartment because the location was convenient for her job (walking distance) and the price was within her ability to pay. I liked her instantly.

Uncharacteristically, I accepted her application on the spot. Gut feel.

Canesha paid her rent early every month, sometimes more than a full month in advance.2 Also, contrary to what I previously wrote about tenants only calling with bad news, Canesha periodically called just to tell me I was doing a good job managing the property and that she appreciated me. That’s all. She just seemed happy to live there… and to be alive in general. How could you not like her?

About six months after she moved in, Canesha called to tell me she got a promotion and a raise. I think she just needed to tell someone who would be excited with her – and help celebrate an early career success. And I was genuinely happy for her. Her work ethic and positive demeanor were paying off.

A few years later (shortly after I had sold the 4-plex), Canesha called again to tell me she had been promoted. She was now a manager and the company had plans to make her a part-owner. She just wanted to tell me. I was proud of her and elated for the recognition of her hard work. On that call, she said,

“Andy, you gave me a chance when no one else would. I visited a lot of apartments and no one would rent to me. But you did… and it made a difference. It allowed me to remove myself from my background and setup on my own.”

“And, oh yeah, can I use you as a reference for my next apartment?”

Most definitely. And when they called, I sang her praises and meant every word of it.

Over time, I began to appreciate our unlikely friendship.

8 years later (mid-2013), Canesha randomly called again. We had a great talk. She reiterated how much she appreciated me for taking a chance on her. This time, she was calling to tell me she was opening a beauty salon. Her own business. She was so excited and picked my brain about business in general. At the end of the call, Canesha had a great sales pitch for me, which is best read in her voice:

“You tell yo buteful wife, I do ALL TYPES a hayer. [Huge laugh]. She come down hea, and I do haw hehr foe free, firse time.”

Playing along, I said, “Canesha, you know she’ll be the only blond haired, blue-eyed, white girl in your shop this year.”

“I said ALLLLLLL TYPES a hehr…” She laughed again, and I felt her vivaciousness for life through the phone.3

With this, all the hassles of the 4-plex melted away. It was worth it for Canesha alone. She wasn’t hidden, but she was a treasure.

Maria was more hidden…

Maria

Maria4, a timid, young, single mom with two little kids, could not pay her rent. After several attempts to communicate with her by phone (without answer), I knocked on the door for an in-person visit. Her mother answered and said Maria wasn’t home. She closed the door and I assumed I would need to come back another day.

As I was walking down the stairs toward my car, Maria said my name. She was home after all. Her father, also there at the time, told her she can’t hide from her problems and that she needed to come out and talk to me. Good advice.

Maria said, “I know I am several months late on rent, but I don’t have the money. You have always been so kind to me. I just have no options.” She was sincere, and I knew it. I let her stay without paying. I just didn’t have it within me to start the eviction process.5

Maria moved out a month or so after that conversation.

She later called to thank me for giving her a break during this season of life. She literally had no other options.

Conclusion

Even though crazy things happened at the 4-plex while we owned it, even though it was not a good financial investment, it was still worth it, because it was meaningful and impactful to these two people (even if only incrementally), and to me as well. The 4-plex served its purpose and I’m proud to have these memories. I treasure them. All of them.

The true value of this property wasn’t financial. It was relational, unexpected and immeasurable.

Up close, the problems looked like unwanted wrinkles and creases in the unfolding fabric of life. But now, from a distance, I can catch a glimpse of the beautiful mosaic these imperfections form, that is of life itself.

Alla dessa dagar som kom och gick… inte vissta jag att det var livet.6

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FOOTNOTES:


  1. Not her real name
  2. She once paid so early I had to ask her to slow down because she was lapping my accounting.
  3. Honestly, I was really reluctant to include this part because I wanted to be sensitive here. I deliberated about this a lot. I even asked some friends to pre-read this blog entry to provide feedback specifically about this section. The feedback was mixed (thanks guys). Some said, “Leave it as is. It brings out the story and you speak highly of Canesha.”. Others suggested I “delete this part because it’s a touchy subject.” They reasoned the down-side outweighed the upside. Clearly, this would be the safest approach. Others felt I would “lose the personal connection with the story” if I deleted this part… that it would become just a “recounting of the facts” without it. The last person suggested I compromise, leave it in, and add a footnote explaining my dilemma and how I considered this at great length. This is that footnote.

    I wanted to be true to the story and better bring out Canesha’s personality, but not at the expense of overstepping social etiquette. In the end, the true litmus test was that I asked myself if Canesha would mind. I envisioned how she might respond and concluded she would most likely come back at me with an over-the-top answer designed to make me laugh… “I don’t care what you do with your dumb blog! Probably ain’t nobody readin’ it anyway.”. True. So I left it in.

  4. Not her real name
  5. I was extremely fortunate to be a full-time dad when my oldest daughter was a baby (actually, for the first 3 years of her life). I’ll write about this another time, but the point here is… this experience gave me an appreciation for how much work babies are. And there were two of us. And only one of her! I have no idea how single parents can possibly raise kids, work full-time and keep it together. Consequently, this is a soft spot for me.
  6. Swedish: All those days that came and went… I didn’t know it was life.

3 comments

  • Beautiful entry, and thank you for sharing this. So often, we have to treat investments solely as investments because that was the original purpose of them. However, when you step back and consider the people you meet and the lives you touch, you realize that an investment that you are personally involved in has a much greater return that is hard to measure.

    Thank you for the compassion you showed to Canesha and Maria as their landlord. Our world is better because of you.

    As a former owner of a hair salon, I’d like to know…has your wife gone to the beauty shop yet?

By Andy Jones
Past Midway Ramblings on Business & Life

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