Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Craigslist's Help Forum Fails To Help


I had a disappointing experience with Craigslist this week.

When a rental is vacant, I post it on Craigslist because it's the best way to find qualified tenants in this area. I've been doing that almost exclusively for the past 12 years. I'm a happy landlord evangelist for Craigslist.


For the first time, my rental post was flagged and removed.


I didn't do anything different, so it must have been a change on CL's side. Either they changed their terms of use (TOU), or I've unknowingly been breaking the rules, and now they have a way to detect it.


That's fine. I have no issue with that. I want to follow the rules and am happy to bring my posts into compliance.


But that's when things started coming off the rails.


First, I noticed I wasn't getting any calls. So I logged in and saw it was flagged. I suppose I understand why CL wouldn't alert a spammer that they've been flagged, but I get the feeling that it only hurts someone like myself who's trying to do it correctly and not someone who's trying to game the system.


At this point, all I know is that my post was flagged and removed. I don't know why beyond a general reason that "the post doesn't comply with the TOU."



Fine. I read the TOU and posting guidelines. The closest thing I could see was that I included a link for people to apply online, which could be seen as "the primary purpose is to drive traffic to a website" (the yellow highlight is mine).



I removed the website link, but it was flagged and removed again. Great.


Next, I checked out the scam warnings and saw this (the yellow highlighted block below is mine):



I'm not asking for any financial or background/credit information through CL. I stated in the post that I will be asking for it later, but that's after a tour. In the context of the post, I should be fine, right?


I decided to deep into the bowls of craigslist.


It turns out, the "help" page isn't very helpful. There are some general FAQs (including one, btw, that gives instructions on adding HTML and links to a post. How does that align with their prohibited section? That must be for a different category?)


In fact, there is no way to get help from someone who works at Craigslist. On the help page is an option to "contact us" choosing that takes you to a list of issues, including "scams, spam, flagging." That gives an option called "My post was flagged off incorrectly"



But the only help is from the "flag help forum."


That's right. When you have an issue, the only solution is to ask the help forum.


So I did.


I shared my post's details asked what I needed to fix so I wouldn't be flagged and removed anymore. I felt like it was a genuine ask for help.


What happened next was a strange combination of guessing and belittling.


First, how is it that the only way of getting help is from a non-official set of people? All they did was start guessing things that maybe, might look wrong. And each post did it with a thick coat of "you should know better." Here's one of my early favorites:



Yeah, I am clueless, which is why I came to the forums for help. Apparently, I used the wrong word, I should have said "removed" not "flagged." I guess? I don't know. That's why I'm asking for help.


Or what about this one that's not even relevant to my question:



Not helpful, and kind of sad if that's been wrigleywannabe3rd's experience.


I clarified that including a link was an issue, and I was told there's also information I'm not entitled to.



I wrote back - because I couldn't help myself - that I am allowed to ask for this information in Oregon. And I clarified that I'm not asking for anyone to send me their information through CL, but instead by going through a standard application process. To which the reply was:



I know... which is why I'm on the forum asking for help.


The Epiphany

The next morning I got an idea of what I should do.


I found someone else's successful recent rental post and copied the format (using my info, obviously). I posted it, and it stayed up! I'm still unsure why my original post was flagged, other than there's a lot less information now.


I tried to be a nice guy and left one more note in the forum thanking everyone for chiming in. I shared the changes I made and thought we'd all leave on a happy note.


Or not.


Much to my surprise, the group looked up my post and decided to keep giving me further feedback.



Since the post was still up, I didn't feel the need to re-engage, but in all honesty, I felt like I made the changes they requested, and based it off a recently successful post. Why does my_generic_handle feel like it will be flagged again? That's a serious question since I never officially found out the problem. 


And my favorite comes from Jack80218:



Not only is this off-topic...


Not only does his suggestion not work for this 200 square foot box with ONLY outside walls, which he would know from looking at the pictures...


But he took the time to look up my wall heater's reference and quote the installation best practice...


While at the same time heavily implying that I did it knowing that the resident was the one paying for electricity.


*Sigh*


I must say, I am not impressed by Craiglist's help forums. Perhaps it's me and the reasons ARE obvious and I'm blind to it because I want to keep doing things the way I used to. Perhaps I am being overly sensitive and the truth hurts. But maybe it's just sour grapes because the members did take the time to downvote all of my replies (why is that even a feature?).


The Revenge of The Facebook

In related news, I decided to try Facebook's Marketplace. Using the same post that was flagged on CL - I got many great responses within hours, and two applicants, both of whom were highly qualified within 10 hours (overnight, no less). So, thanks to Craigslist's opaque flagging and help systems, I found a viable alternative.


I wouldn't say Craigslist lost me as an evangelist, but my enthusiasm has been tempered.


To be clear, I'm fine with flagging and erring on the side of removing suspected spam. Keep the marketplace safe! But if you're going to remove my posts, I want to be able to figure out why (beyond "read the TOU"), and ideally without belittingly. Especially since I'm not participating for the fun of it, but using it as a business tool.


Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Landlord's Book Review of Evicted by Matthew Desmond


I run a local real estate investment club, and this month I did something a little different and created a pre-recorded video. I did it for a couple of reasons, but the biggest reason was that I listened to an impactful book about poverty and discrimination in the rental business.

It's called "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City" by Matthew Desmond.

My review is an hour-long video (there's a podcast audio version too), and if you're a landlord I recommend watching the video and reading the book.



Monday, May 18, 2020

Sacrifice, Patience, and Nuance During the Coronavirus


I read a fantastic article this weekend called, "Church, Don't Let Coronavirus Divide You." Even if you're not a church leader (or a Christian), I think this article does a great job of articulating how people ought to respond to the pandemic, especially as things start to open up. This is great advice for everyone. Below are a few parts that resonated with me.

The main problem is different convictions:
"Some will be eager to meet in person and impatient to wait much longer to get back to normal. Others will insist it’s unwise to meet at all until there’s a vaccine. Plenty will fall somewhere in between."
And compounding that is the question:
"Have you noticed how remarkably confident so many of us are in our views right now? Unfounded certainty ... is a contagion at least as viral as COVID-19 itself."
This stuck me in the heart. I definitely fell into this camp. Even at times being certain that nobody really knows anything! It makes it difficult to act civilly when there are vastly different opinions that are held as facts.

This actually sounds very familiar to politics. Though, at least for me, politics often feels like a distant discussion without much influence on my day-to-day life. The pandemic is different. So even folks like myself, who generally don't pay much attention to politics, have entered the conversation with a firm - albeit non-expert - opinion on how things should be handled.


Sacrifice

Instead, the call is to place other's interests above ourselves, to hold the posture of a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1):
"someone might find it personally difficult—even maddening—to have to wear a mask during church and stay six feet away from everyone at all times. You might think these precautions are a needless overreaction. But here’s the thing: even if it turns out you’re right, can you not sacrifice your ideal for a season, out of love for others who believe the precautions are necessary?"
and
"Likewise, those who think the lockdowns should continue should not pass judgment on those who question the wisdom of the government’s ongoing restrictions. Churches should strive to honor people on both sides of the spectrum."

Patience

What a good article! And it continues to talk about patience.
"To be sure, it is good and right to be eager to gather again... But we should be careful to not rush it. We should be careful to not go faster than governments allow, or faster than those in our community can understand. We should be patient with a timeline that might be slower than we’d prefer; patient with a reopening process that will doubtless be clunky; patient with leaders feeling the pressure of this complex situation; and patient with one another as we figure out the new normal. Those who are not comfortable with physical gatherings should be patient with those who are, and vice versa."
I'll be honest, I actually enjoyed the break, so I'm totally OK with a slow transition. Not out of health concerns, but because I enjoyed having an open calendar. I also understand I'm blessed to keep my standard of living, which is not true for everyone.

Jessi and I have talked about doing mini-quarantines going forward. It's a stay-cation: where you stop all normal activities, but you don't travel either. We do take breaks from activities, but it's usually not all at once and we have a tendance to fill that time with other activities. I'd like to institute some sort of regular family retreat/stay-cation/mini-quarantine.

Now having said that, I already know I'll struggle with being patient with "a reopening process that will doubtless be clunky." This is where I will need to regularly remind myself that they're human too and this is new to everyone.


Nuance

I appreciate the final thoughts on nuance. The idea of both seemingly opposite ideas can be true at the same time. We're encouraged to take
"the path that prizes both courage and prudence, and avoids both pollyannaish and doomsday responses. It means we can be skeptical of some aspects of the lockdown without resorting to outrageous conspiracy theories, and we can honor governing authorities (Rom. 13) while engaging them in civil pushback when necessary."

The whole article is great and articulates my sentiments well. I recommend reading the whole thing.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

How’s It Going As a Landlord During the Pandemic?

My mobile office

Perhaps the most common question I get during the COVID pandemic has been, "How's it going as a landlord?"

It makes sense I'd get asked this given that I left my job at the end of last year... just enough time to almost get settled into a new normal before everything came down.

For starters, Jessi got sick right away. It seemed like pneumonia at the time, but in retrospect, it shared very similar symptoms to COVID. However, she was never tested. When we called our doctor, he said the advice would be the same no matter which illness it was - stay home and rest - so there was no need to get tested. All that to say, our family's life ground to a halt for a couple of weeks.

And I LOVED it!

(Jessi was miserable, but I never showed any symptoms of anything.)

It was like a staycation where nobody had any real expectations for me. I got to focus on my startup and playing with the kids. I pushed back all maintenance projects and canceled all scheduled lunches, meetings, and trips. I even stopped tracking my schedule, todo list, and turn off my morning alarm for two whole weeks!

Not too bad, right?

Elinor & Vinnie, a lot of sleep happened around the house


At the end of those two weeks, Jessi was feeling better, we were all working/playing in the garden, and I was figuring out how to get back into doing some rental work... It hit that those two weeks would have looked entirely different at my old day job.

You see, my job was already 100% remote, so sheltering in place wouldn't have impacted me. However, since I was on the forecasting team, it would have been all-hands-on-deck to try and quantify the impact of COVID on the business. How bad would it be? For how long? What do the different recovering scenarios look like? Which drivers would be impacted? What happens when millions of kids are suddenly at home with school worksheets to complete? What about millions of employees not going into an office, or not working?

Those are some immense unknowns! I'm sure every medium-to-large company has a cadre of people trying to come up with plausible scenarios. They're combing through all available data, no matter how sketchy, to find some sort of useful insight. That's the job, and it can be enjoyable. But, it can also be stressful when senior managers are clamoring for answers now.

As a small landlord, I didn't need to do any of that. Either people would pay their rent, or they wouldn't. I sent out an email asking folks to let me know if they were going to have any issues so I could work with them. That was all there was to do, and by God's generous blessing, I didn't have any extra-ordinary non-payments (just the usual issues). We'll see what happens next month, but I'm choosing to trust that God will take care of us again. It also helps that each of our residents are awesome, responsible people!

I suppose, if I was actively growing my business, I'd be a lot more interested in figuring out the potential impact on the real estate market. But since I'm not looking to buy or sell any time soon, I'm not stressed out over it. I do think about it a little for Majordomo, but it's such a new company that it's really only a question of growth rates. And, the product fits well with social distancing: instead of asking contractors to go through a house to tell you how much repairs will cost, upload your home inspection to Majordomo's website and wait 24 hours for estimates.

Samson, hanging out in my garage office


So, how's it going as a landlord?

Really well. I dare say, possibly better than if I wasn't. By having a diversified income (~80 checks vs. 1), it takes a lot of the risk away, and I'm able to take time off as needed instead of doubling down on the workload during uncertain times. It's not perfect, and the monthly budget is much tighter, but that was by choice, and I'm genuinely grateful for all of the Lord's blessings in our life.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Jumping Up In Age


As it turns out, I'm getting older.

Shocker. I know.

I think we all know it intellectually, but sometimes we have a moment when it smacks us in the face. For me, it happened this week.

Jessi and I have been talking about getting a trampoline for the kids. I had a 16' one (from Costco!) growing up, and I jumped on it all the time.

[Fun fact: my parents originally purchased it so my brother could learn how to fall. You see, he had broken his arms three times in 18 months, and they determined it was because he would close his eyes while falling, and not catch himself. The trampoline seemed to help!]

For a while, our kids seemed too young. Then we visited some friends who had a trampoline, and the kids played on it for a super long time! And they loved it! And they slept exceptionally well that night. Double bonus!

Well... with shelter-in-place in effect because of COVID, we started looking. This time, Walmart came through with a sale on a 14' trampoline and the ability to pick it up without having to go into the store.

We set it up - in the rain, we do live in Oregon after all - but the next day was perfect, and we all bounced. The kids loved it. I loved it! They enjoyed it when I bounced them high. We took turns doing tricks, like jumping on your bottom and then on your feet again.

I got back into my high school days and started doing flips, twists, and combinations. I got winded, like in a real workout!

Then we got off...

And my back was killing me with what felt like a muscle knot.

My shoulders and neck were sore.

My knees felt wobbly.

...Oh yeah... I'm not in high school anymore. In fact, I'm twice as old as when I was in high school!

And my body feels like it. I usually don't think about it too much, but I suppose that's because I don't try to do the things I used to do in high school.

Man, what's it going to be like when my kids are playing sports? At what level will I be able to participate?

For me, this was a good warning since my kids will soon start participating in sports, and my role isn't to be a fellow player - to chase hard after a ball and go 100%. Instead, it makes sense to trend closer to a coach (that still runs around!) Kind of like in Cars 3.

I love being a player, and it'll be hard not to be on the field with them, but like I've found joy in being a parent, and I'm confident I'll find joy as a coach too.

Oh, and don't worry: I recovered enough to get back on the trampoline the next day.

Monday, January 13, 2020

2020 Goal: Relax


For many years I've been at a constant hustle. I don't work every night, but I do on a lot of nights. And I don't work every weekend, but perhaps 7 out of 8 weekends, for at least 4 hours.

It makes sense, when you have a day job, the only time to handle property maintenance is on nights & weekends. And bookkeeping, tenant tours, and... Majordomo development.

If I had to have a meeting during the day, I would extend my day job's work time to make up for it. As Majordomo started going, it meant my workday often end at 6. And many times I finished something at 8:30 once the kids went to bed.

The idea of a work-life balance was a joke. Though to be honest, I liked what I was doing, so I never felt the need to find a balance. Hiring an assistant last year helped tremendously, but I was still pretty busy.

Again, to be clear, I loved everything I was doing and wouldn't go back and change it. It was a conscious choice, and I never felt burned out.

2020: Conscious Times of Relaxing

But I have an opportunity by freeing up 40 hours a week. There’s the risk that my remaining responsibilities expand to fill the available time, but what if I actively fought that and took purposeful, meaningful breaks?

Also, at the end of the year, I listened to a fantastic podcast series by the Bible Project on the 7th day. They talked about the idea behind a Sabbath: to take a break and enjoy the fruit of God's labor. It doesn't mean "do nothing," but to enjoy God's creation the same way you might enjoy picking food in a garden. In fact, God is so serious about it, it's one of the 10 commandments:
'"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. ' Exodus 20:8-11
Not only was the podcast compelling, but in November, my church challenged each of us to practice the Sabbath.

I must confess that for the past 12 years I have not fully trusted God with one of my days. That was especially true last year with a growing rental portfolio and Majordomo development work. I have a lot of pride in keeping a tight schedule and fitting in more activities than normal.

I'd like to change that. My desire is to experience the joy found in a 7th-day rest. To trust that God will provide everything I, and my family, needs in 6 days.

So, my goal in 2020 is to consciously, purposefully, find time to relax. To pick a day of the week when I put my phone down and shut off my computer.

I don’t want to get legalistic, but I do want to set some boundaries. I want to learn how to slow down, play with my kids and simply be in the moment.

Saturday will likely become my Sabbath day. I definitely intend to turn off my laptop. And I’d like to turn off my phone too, but the chance of a tenant call is something I need to prepare for. So, more than likely I'll leave my phone in the office and use my watch's notifications to triage urgent items.

I know Sundays are often candidates for a Sabbath, but we're often serving in some capacity, which makes it harder to actually feel like we're taking a break and enjoying God's creation.

During the remaining 6 days. I intend to work hard on the rentals and Majordomo. Just in the last week, I've been able to contribute more to Majordomo than ever before, which is exciting! But as fun and exciting as it is, I really want to be conscious this year to not solely (if at all?) depend on my own level of effort for success.

I've already failed miserably the last two weekends, which is why this is something I want to learn how to do this year. I clearly won't be able to go all-in right away, so my plan is to gradually phase it in and build my week around it.

So there you go. That’s my goal: relax. Observe a regular Sabbath and unplug. And when I’m working, work hard, so that I can relax guilt-free.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

25 Days a Month Bible Reading Plan


Jim Rohn once said, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." I completely agree with this sentiment and will add that it extends beyond in-person interactions to also include media. You are the average of the people, and their content, you spend the most time with.

So, it's not so much, "you are what you eat," but more "you are what you consume."

What do you give attention to? Do you spend time on Facebook? Netflix? News sites? Blogs for XYZ? Whether you realize it for not, each of these influence your thoughts and perceptions of the world. None of those are good or bad, but you want to be purposeful with what you choose.

One "person" I choose to spend time with is God. I want Him influencing my thoughts and perceptions. There are many ways to interact with God, but as the quote implies the important part isn't what you do, but the amount of time invested.

One way of spending time with God is by reading the Bible. You can do occasional power sessions where you read entire books, but lasting change comes from the regular habit of spending time with God each day.

You can pick up a Bible and start reading. Even 10 minutes a day is great, but I find it helpful to have a reading plan.

One problem I have with most "read the entire Bible in a year" plans is that they don't give you a margin for missed days. For example, the plan I followed last year required reading every single day. What do you do if you miss a day? One option is to treat reading like exercise: you just pick it back up the next day (either skipping the previous day or taking longer than a year). The other option is to double up the next day, but what if you get 2 (or 3!) days behind?! Suddenly the discipline feels daunting.

What if you had a plan with built-in days off? That way you could catch up if needed. It turns out there is a plan called the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan which does exactly that by splitting the plan into 25 days a month.

But, to be honest, I don't love the way it splits the Old Testament reading. It groups all the wisdom books together, and as a result, feels like you're flying through Psalms and Proverbs. My plan last year broke these out so you read a little bit of each every day, and I really liked it!

So... I made my own which combines the two.

It's 25 days a month of reading, giving you time to catch up if needed, or opportunities to dive deeper on days off.

Every day you read a Psalm, a Proverb, and the Gospel. Plus, a section of the remaining parts of the Old and New Testaments. I used the Discipleship Journal for the New Testament sections. And the DAB for the Proverbs (which I modified to fit 300 days of reading). For the Old Testament and Psalms, I found a website that gives each book's verse count and used that to spread out the reading evenly while maintaining natural breaks.

I then made the text small so it fits on the front and back of a regular sheet of paper.


If you're a Christian, I highly recommend a daily practice of spending time with God. Make Him one of the five people you spend the most time with. If you get discouraged by every day reading plans, check this one out. If this one isn't a fit, there are hundreds of others to choose from.

Thanks for checking it out. I'd love any and all feedback since I just made it and will be using it for the first time this year.