Saturday, December 06, 2014

And Now For a Fur-less (Furlo?) Baby

We're having a baby!

We've been waiting 3 years to write this post.

Thank you to everyone who prayed for us.

To friends who cried with us during our 7 miscarriages. (it was a long 3 years :/)

To the doctors who poked and prodded both of us and put up with our un-ending questions.

To co-workers who dealt with our crazy mood swings for no apparent reason.

Finally, to God for being faithful to us.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And please continue praying for Jessi. It turns out she has another blood clot. She's taking blood thinner shots each day and they seem to be working. This means it's a high-risk pregnancy, so please continue to pray for us.

For those of you who figured it out (I'm pretty sure our friend Eric did when Jessi only ordered water that night) - awesome. :)

Vinnie knows something is up, but none of us really have any idea what we're in for. :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Power of Energy

I'm flying back from a business trip right now.  My intent was to read during the two hour trip, and instead I spent most it passed out in my seat. Thankfully I woke up long enough snap that photo of the clouds hovering over Oregon [and write this post].

And then I got to thinking about energy and productivity. So here come some thoughts while cruising in an airplane... Tired...

I don't know about you, but I have clear energy patterns, which I leverage to be productive.

1) I'm a morning person. I'm WAY too chipper at 6am. I'm positive and can take on anything. Therefore, I try to structure my day to get the important things done in the morning. I even go as far as waiting until the afternoon to workout and shower to not waste that morning energy, and give me an afternoon boost. The apartment project doesn't allow for that, but that'll end... Eventually...

2) I can handle minimal sleep for 2 nights in a row. And by minimal I mean less than 7. I have never pulled an all-nighter, and don't want to. I got close last night with only 2 hours of sleep thanks to a late working session combined with an early flight. The previous night was also minimal (5 hrs). I already know that I'll be fine today and can continue to push myself once I land. However, I also know that I absolutely MUST go to bed semi-early tonight, or tomorrow will be bad. Low Energy introduces lots of mistakes on my part.

3) I need to change my setting regularly. For some reason, after 2 weeks of working in the same place, I start to goof-off and get less done. A LOT less.  I find that if I change my setting, even just slightly, my productivity jumps back up. For example, I move from working at my desk to on the couch. I change my chair from a ball to a regular chair. I use a monitor, I don't. I work from home, and then in the office. I only have to do it for a day, and I reset. Again, it's a noticeable amount. That's weird, right?

I learned these patterns by testing and paying attention. In college, I experimented with waking up crazy early to study instead of staying up crazy late. I learned that I read twice as fast in the morning. So waking up 1 hour early was the equivalent of staying up 2 hours later. This was easy math and I started going to bed at 9pm and waking up between 4am and 5am when I had a lot of homework.

4) Being too busy is a function of over committing.  I still need to get better at saying no. I also need to get better at delegating tasks. The apartment project has been a huge learning experience. For example, even though I was away on business, the guys kept working & Jessi gave me regular text updates. How cool is that?! I need to do more of that. The book I'm not reading right now is called "Landlording on Autopilot". So my intentions are good. I just need to somehow be less busy so I can focus on being less busy... Going back to delegating: The trick, is to have the task be valuable enough that you can afford to split the reward with someone. You also need to be in a place of authority to make that decision. Being an employee doesn't allow for it. Running a slim-margin business doesn't either.

Well... It's time to store my device for landing. Thanks for reading! Do you have any weird things you've noticed that affects your productivity?

Friday, November 07, 2014

When To Delegate

(Image: Some of the bathrooms didn't have an electrical outlet. Weird, right? I hired a friend who's an electrician and we spent a weekend adding electricity to the bathrooms.)

When buying the apartment building, we knew we were going to hire people to help. The big question though was what I would delegate and what I would do myself. Around that same time Inc had an interesting article called "When to Delegate? Try the 70 Percent Rule" (via LifeHacker). Here's the main point:
"Smart CEOs, on the other hand, use the "70 percent rule." Put simply, if the person the CEO would like to perform the task is able to do it at least 70 percent as well as he can, he should delegate it. Is it frustrating that the task won't be done with the same degree of perfection or perceived perfection that the CEO himself could achieve? Sure! But let go of perfection. Is it easier said than done? Yes, certainly. But there is no place for perfection when it comes to delegation. The upside for the CEO is that he doesn't need to spend any time on the task--zero. The "return on time" doesn't spend on that task is infinite, in addition to gaining that same time to invest in a higher impact project."
This helped point me the right direction. It also helped that I'm not a master craftsmen, so the barrier is pretty low. :)

After a few days of observation, I got a good idea of their skill level and was able to pick the tasks I would do verses the ones they would do. For example, I built a new wall because I had the vision and expertise. I let them patch large sections of drywall because 70% would still look good enough.

It also got me thinking about other aspects of my business, like accounting and record keeping. I'm good at it, but it does take time. Is this something I could delegate? Would 70% be good enough? Honestly, no. It would need to be pretty close to 100%. Then I started thinking about systems. Is there a way to build a system that makes it easy enough to run that 70% is more a question of how long it takes instead of the accuracy? That sounds quite do-able. McDonalds figured it out, I could too.

So that's my next step. To focus on building systems that will enable me to easily delegate a task without having to worry about too many errors being made.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Discovery Flight Birthday Present (With Video)

In case you didn't know it, Jessi is awesome. For my birthday she found an opportunity for me to fly an airplane. It's called a Discovery Flight where you get a preview of what it would be like to take flying lessons. You spend an hour learning the basics and actually flying (with help). It's pretty awesome. Check out this fantastic video Jessi put together which also features a sound track from the best movie of all time.

This is then plane I flew.

 Here's what the cockpit looks like.

 There I am looking awesome.

 Our view. It was beautiful out.

The view from the side.

The view below.

And the wonderful lady who put it all together. Thanks Jessi!

PS. Taking lessons would be awesome, but it's $10,000 to $15,000 to do so. It think we have a while before living that dream. Until/If then, going up and actually having control of the plane was a great experience.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Value of Feedback and Inspections

(Image:There were an unbelievable amount of holes just like this all throughout the building. We scraped all of them back and patched them. There's an art to making them blend in.)

Clearly I'm not a parent or a teacher because any parent/teacher reading this will think this is the most obvious learning ever.

So... It turns out, if you give a task to someone who has never done that task before, you need to do at least two things.

ONE: Show them how to do it.

Just describing it isn't good enough. You actually need to model it for them. You literally physically show them how it's done. Then watch them try the activity and correct them until everyone is satisfied with the quality.

TWO: Inspect their work after it's done and provide feedback

When they say it's done, don't just just take their word for it. Go and inspect their work. Take a critical look and let them know where it needs further work. Take it a step further and explain to them what you're looking for when inspecting their work... hopefully it's the same as what you said before they started. Bonus points if you can have them show how it's up to your standard.

I tried skipping these steps, and it doesn't work. I tried just doing step two, and all it does is result in frustration for everyone. I've found that if I spend extra time on step one, the job actually goes faster and step two is very, very easy.

The scary part is when you've spent a significant amount of time on step one and they're still not up to your standard. That's when decision time comes in: Spend more time training (either from you or someone else)? Lower your standard? Have someone else do it? These are not easy questions.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How To Get Everyone on the Same Page of a Project

(Image: My project task list. Green means it needs to be done. An "X" means it's done. ip = In Progress.)

One of the things you do as a manager is give direction. When doing a rehab, you're giving tasks: remove this fixture, patch that wall, and replace the item over there.

The issue I ran into was getting everyone on the same page. At first, I created my own project plan which included tasks, materials, who was going to do it, and time to complete each. I'm actually pretty good at this and tend to land pretty close to my estimates. Then I kept that project plan for myself and simply let my guys know the bigger vision and only immediate next tasks.

Since I often have meetings for my job, I liked to give enough tasks to get them at least through my next meeting. So I would give 3 or 4 tasks. However, when I checked in, I found that only the first and last tasks were done, and the middle ones were forgotten. As you can imagine, this was slightly frustrating.

How do I get them on the same page as me? How do I get them to not forget a step? Ideally, how I do get them to be more self-empowered?

My current solution is working better. First, I only give two immediate tasks at a time. Second (which technically came first), I shared my project plan. So not only did I give them the overall vision of the project, but I also shared all of the details. We spent 45 minutes going through each task and making sure they understood each one. So, if they finish their immediate tasks, which I now just read off the list with them, they know what to do next and and how to do it.

It's not perfect, but it's a lot better.

Another side benefit is that they're actually freed up to give input into the project since they have a clearer understanding of what they're doing. For example, one day I asked them to install a new cabinet. They stopped and asked if I really wanted to install it before they painted the room. Notice, they remembered that painting was on the list (albeit an obvious one, but still), and felt comfortable asking about it.

I was able to send them off on another task from the list while I did some research. It turns out you do want to paint drywall with at least a primer before installing something to it. So we're following their suggestion and painting that wall first. If I hadn't given them the entire project, they would have gone forward without question, like earlier.

Lessons learned: Be organized and fully scope out a project before starting, then share your entire plan with the team. Take the time to slow down and make sure everyone is on the same page before you get too far into the weeds of actually completing the project. It'll help them know where they're going and provide an opportunity for feedback to make the project even better.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Mood of the Leader Dictates the Mood of the Group

I'm pretty sure I gave everything away in the title, but that's OK.

The other day I was in a bad mood. Do you know what I mean? One of those days where you just feel like being upset. There's no particular reason behind it, but everything bothers you. I'm pretty sure that happens to everyone on occasion.

Normally it's OK because it means I'm annoyed about life while in a phone meeting and nobody really knows except myself. I'm in my own little upset world.

However, when you're leading a group of people, even if only two people, you have a HUGE influence on the demeanor of the group. Because of my bad mood, I immediately put both guys on edge. I could tell they were walking on eggshells around me, and that bothered me even more! Then they started to get frustrated too. Before long we were all in a bad mood.

Surprised by the influence I had on the group, I became hyper sensitive to my attitude and tried to fix it. Here's what I did:
  1. I admitted to the guys that I was in bad mood, and it wasn't their fault.
  2. I apologized to them for putting them on edge and tanking the group's attitude.
  3. I then went away and laid down for 20 minutes to essentially reset my day.
  4. I came back and let them know I was changing my attitude. And I did.
The group's attitude got better and we went back to working well together.

So, as a leader, people are watching and following. If you bring energy to a project, others will catch that energy. If you're a downer, others will be downers. If you don't care about the details, neither will they. If you work hard, so will they.

Another, more fundamental way to think about it: Act like the follower you want to have, because that's the type of attitude you'll attract.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Credit Card In Motion Tends to Stay in Motion

(Image: One of my new toys tools for getting work done. Being able to easily put in finish nails is really ,really nice. Being able to powerfully blow air around is really nice too.)

According to, Newton's 1st law of physics states:
"An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. This law is often called "the law of inertia". This means that there is a natural tendency of objects to keep on doing what they're doing. All objects resist changes in their state of motion. In the absence of an unbalanced force, an object in motion will maintain this state of motion."
Pretty profound and clearly had a massive impact on our understanding of physics. I also think it goes beyond just objects and is just as true with human behavior. In physics it's called inertia, but with behavior its called habits. This make intuitive sense: we keep doing what we're doing unless something external stops us. And even when something tries to change us, we fight it.

But this last week I noticed the law of inertia in my life in a different way: how I spend money.

Normally I'm pretty frugal on my personal spending. Some would kindly point out I'm probably too cheap. Normally that's true. I regularly go an entire week without spending any money (I pay off our credit cards weekly, so I know when it's still a zero balance). What's strange is that it actually feels weird to pay for something after holding a "streak" that long of not pulling out your card.

However, this last month has been different. With the apartment project underway I've been regularly spending money. And since there are 11 units, most of my spending has had an extra "0" behind it. I'm fine with the expenses because I have a very clear path of how I'm going to earn it back, but I'm still spending money regularly.

But the most interesting part is that I've noticed I'm ALSO spending more money on personal items. Since I track my spending, I can clearly see I'm outside my normal levels. Even factoring for planned expenses, like new iPhones, our spending is 25% higher than normal. Yikes!

Digging deeper, a majority of that is food related. Not surprisingly, when we get busy we tend to eat out more. It also don't help that lately I'm working across the street from a pizza parlor that seems to purposefully pipe in fresh cooked pizza smells into my window around 4pm. Yum! But I've also noticed we have a couple more gadgets hanging around the house.

For each new gadget I have a really good reason for why we bought it, but combined they add up to a significant amount of extra spending. Lots of these items we've wanted for a while (new washer/dryer, new thermostat, new phones, plus a few more), but we've held off. Now all of the sudden we're buying everything. Is it just the timing of when things break? Partially. But mostly it's because we're in the spending mode, and so it's easy to break down and buy the item: "A credit card in motion tends to stay in motion."

How to Break the Cycle
Ideally I'd make the decision to go on a spending fast. I would literally leave my cards at home for 3 days and stop spending money. Ideally. Unfortunately, that's not an option when you're in the middle of a large rehab project. Just leaving my personal cards at home wouldn't help because the act of spending money is still occurring. Another option is to go to cash only for personal spending, which will also slow it down.

My hope is that simply identifying the inertia will slow me down some. I'm also looking for triggers that make my "spendy sense" tingle. If I know that pizza smells are going to start wafting my way at 4pm, I should eat some nuts at 3:30 to reduce my hunger a little bit. It might also look like making formal shopping a list ahead of time and agreeing with Jessi that we'll stick to the list (we do that for food, but that needs to be done for Home Depot as well). When we see something we "must" have, we'll add it to the list of the next shopping trip. When the next shopping trip comes, we can decided if it's still something we must have.

The point is to change something, to put an "unbalanced force" in a different direction. I know eventually this project will end and my spending inertia will slow down naturally. Since I still have at least another month of this project, my goal will be to start getting my personal spending under control earlier.

Finally, if I worked for Mint, it would be fascinating to look at the data and see if large purchases are followed by a temporary bump in unrelated spending. Am I weird, or does Netwon's first law expand to spending as well?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Passion of An Owner vs The Passion of An Employee

(Image: My temporary office. I keep the windows open and I really get a feel for the hustle and bustle of the city - yes even in Albany. When I go home, it seems really quite... and then the train goes by...)

For all of my working career I've watched a clock. Sometimes it's very explicit, like when I punched a time clock while working at Arby's. Other times, like with HP, there's an expectation for the amount of time you put in each week even if you get paid the same amount no matter what. Some weeks are longer than 40 hours, but there's an understanding on over time it'll even out with other weeks that require less time.

Everyone who's had a traditional job knows exactly what I'm talking about.

However, when you own your own business, it changes. I mean, I'm still watching the clock, but it's constantly wishing I had more time to get more work done instead of seeing how much longer I have to work. That's because the reward is no longer tied to time, it's tied to the final product (fixing a rental in my case, selling a product/service for others). This is a true shift in thinking.

One observation I've made is that I'm MUCH more willing to spend an extra hour working on something to get it just right than for my normal job. I'm also willing to work really late because I know that each day the unit isn't rented I'm losing money. Note: it's my money, not my employers. :) Also, it's beyond the feeling of "I love it so much I just lose track of time." It's not that. Trust me, there are parts of a rehab I hate (pulling staples from the floor where an old carpet was for example), but I still work extra long and spend the extra time to make sure it's done right.

When it was just Jessi and I working, this shift in thinking wasn't as obvious. We just did it because that's what you do.

However, when you hire someone, they don't have the same mindset. In hindsight it's obvious, but it really hit me yesterday while we were working on a specific task (removing fixtures and random nails from a room, and filling in holes). They just wanted to finish because it was getting near 5pm and they wanted to call that task done and go home.

I found myself in awe that they didn't care about spending the extra 20 minutes to finish it off right. I was totally willing to pay them, but they had other things to do. Clearly they didn't take ownership of this project like I have.

Again, obvious in hindsight, and understandable. But it still surprised me in the moment.

I find myself asking how I can get them to not care about the clock as much and instead care about how the project finishes. How can I do that when I even fall victim to watching the clock in my day job? I don't think just paying them more will work long-term. Somehow I need to get them to buy into the dream; to get passionate about the project.

For someone who follows the tech start-up space pretty closely, I'm surprised that I don't have the answer to this. How do other owners do it? Do they just settle for the fact that not everyone will have the same level of passion? Is it really settling? Clearly the work is still getting done and as long as someone who does care (me, in this case) is around to keep people on track, it's probably OK.

Perhaps that's one of the secrets to being a manager in larger organizations like HP. Perhaps you have to take a form of ownership and responsibility. Being on the manage side of my business, makes that pretty clear. Being highly skilled is nice, but being willing to put in the extra effort and genuinely feel the burden of responsibility for the project/organization is another thing. I will admit that I'm not at the same level for HP.

How could HP get me more passionate about my work? Again, higher pay would be nice, but I don't think that's a long term solution. Year end bonuses tied to performance are nice, but that's once a year and the amount is 1) a small percentage of my overall compensation and 2) not highly variable, so it's not really linked to my performance.

From an employer/owner perspective, one answer is to only work on projects that are exciting to employees. In my case, I should hire people who get excited about taking something old and broken and making it new. If couldn't find those people, perhaps I should re-think the project.

No real conclusions yet. Just observations and questions.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Work Hard On Your Dream

(Image: I fixed some plumbing in one unit. I never worked with PEX piping before, but it's pretty awesome. I'm inspired to redo our entire house with this one day.)

Since we bought the apartment building I've been busy. I think it would be good to get some of my thoughts out now that we're a month into this project. It'll be good because I think I'm learning some valuable lessons worth sharing, and it'll help me to process instead of just running as hard as I can.

There are many ways to get equity in real estate. One way to to pay a lot of cash for a property - instant equity. Another way is to improve a property where the final product is worth more than the cost to improve it. When improving a property, you can hire a contractor to do it for you or you can do it yourself. Doing it yourself is called "adding sweat equity". You can also take a hybrid approach and hire general laborers that you train and manage (depending on the nature of the work. I hired out the electrical work). Given the scale of this project I opted to hire general laborers that I manage.

Once we bought the place, I got internet access in one of the units and created a mini-office space. I also hired two guys through All-Star Labor who are actually doing the repairs for me. My schedule, despite not doing the work, is fairly non-stop:

  • 5am: wake up. Think about running, but instead spend my time catching up on emails or reading the news for the podcast.
  • 6am/7am: Start getting ready for the day by doing a set of push-ups and sit-ups.
  • 7:45am (or earlier if I have a 6:30am meeting for HP): Arrive at the apartments and get set up. Review my project plan and give the guys instructions for the day.
  • Do my HP work. In between meetings, bounce to the different units and make sure everything is going fine.
  • Lunch (could be as early as 11am, as late as 2pm): run errands, which usually involves buying supplies for the repairs.
  • Do more HP work while answering questions and giving direction.
  • 5pm: The guys head home for the day. I'm usually still working on something for HP.
  • 6pm: If I don't have something else scheduled in the evening, I'll work on a more technical project myself.
  • 8pm/9pm: Go home to eat dinner. Work on projects at home until I literally can't stand anymore. I was helping Jessi clip Vinnie's nails one night and almost fell asleep while holding him.
  • 10am/12am: Review my todo list and goals for the next day. Go to bed.
Clearly not your typical 8-5 day which ends with a walk in the park and watching TV. I've actually started losing track of the days because each day is so packed it feels like multiple days ago, and I don't really have weekends anymore, just days when I get to focus more on the apartment project.

It's a lot of work and definitely testing my physical, mental and spiritual strength. But you know what? I love it. I recently saw a Zen Pencils comic that captured my emotions perfectly:

Like the comic says, Jessi and I have a dream and realizing that dream is hard work - harder work than I imagined. But it's worth it because we're staring to realize that dream. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the evening walks where we dreamed about our future, but it's even better to be actively pursuing it.

If you have a dream, start working on it. Do one thing a day to advance that dream. However, I must warn you, you might find that seeing your dream come through might require an unimaginable amount of work one day. Is your dream worth that? It's OK if you find it's not, at least you know instead of wondering. If it is, I promise you'll be prepared to step up and work hard when the time comes.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Kickstarter Campaign - WinnowingFire Music

Our good friend, Rod Miner, has a Kickstarter campaign going for a few more days...We would love to see his project get fully funded!

Watch the video below for more info and check out his Kickstarter page here!

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Bible #BookReview

When I set my goals in January, my very first goal was to finish reading the Bible. I said, "I'm going to finish the Bible this year. I've been working on my reading plan for 2 years and I have a little under a year left. The trick is to consistently read a little bit every day."

That's exactly what I did. Almost every day I would either read or listen to a couple chapters. Although I did get excited this last month and start reading more because I knew I was getting close. Hence the reason I finished this goal a few months early.

It's funny, I find I have a couple conflicting thoughts on finishing the Bible. On one hand I want to tell everyone about how awesome I am because I read the whole Bible. It is genuinely an accomplishment.

On the other hand, I'm reminded a quote, "What's important is not how many times you go through the Bible, but how many times the Bible goes through you."

Wow. That kind of puts things into perspective.

So, it is good that I read the entire Bible, but it has to go further than checking off a to-do list. For starters, it doesn't mean I don't have to read the Bible anymore because "I've already read that." Actually, I'm already thinking next year's goal involving scripture memorization so that God's word will really be imprinted upon my soul.

So what's in this book? (from a non-pastor point of view)

For starters, I believe the Bible is the Word of God. It's a book about God's relationship with humans. It's a relationship that started off perfect, but then human's broke that relationship by disobeying God. But crazily enough, God loves us so much that he put a plan into motion to restore that broken relationship.

To be clear: the Bible is not a history book or a science book. It's a relationship book and about the character of God. Yes, it does chronicle historical events, but the point of chronicling them is for the purpose of explaining the character of God and his relationship to humans.

Personally, I love the stories that are in it. There's a part near the beginning where the Israelites become enslaved in Egypt and God frees them. The whole event is amazing. God calls a man named Moses to lead His people. That interaction where God calls Moses is classic. Moses doesn't think he's qualified at all to lead, but God keeps handling every single objection until Moses runs out of excuses and decides to lead. I love it!

God then creates the law for the Israelites. This is perhaps the most frustrating part of the Bible to read. Not because it's a list of laws (though, that was tough to power through), but because it succeeded in it's intended purpose of showing humans that we're broken. You see, God created the law to show us that we're not perfect. To follow all the rules would make us perfect, and restore that relationship with God. But nobody could follow them perfectly. They kept failing over and over and over again. This part of the Old Testament shows humans failing to be perfect on their own. That restoration can't happen on our own. It becomes clear that we, as humans, can never be "good enough" to be good enough for God.

But then there's the twist. God knew we could never be perfect on our own. Yet, He still loves us and wants to restore that broken relationship. God, being pretty wise, realizes that He is the only one perfect and powerful enough to restore that relationship. So God sends himself, his Son, Jesus to earth. I won't spoil the birth story, but it's pretty awesome.

Jesus grows up and is perfect because he's God, while at the same time being fully human. I absolutely love reading about Jesus. Jesus strikes this perfect balance between being caring and calling people out. Jesus reveals even more about God's character and relationship with humans. For example, Jesus explains that it's not what you consume that makes you "unclean", but what comes out of you (your thoughts and actions). He explains that your heart and motivation are much more important than checking off something on your todo list.

Jesus even gives the greatest commandment of all time: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself." Incredibly simple and yet impossibly hard.

But here's the deal. Jesus coming down to earth was great for learning more about God, but that still wasn't enough. Our relationship to God was still broken. To right our wrong, punishment must be served. God went into painstaking detail earlier in the Bible to explain that anytime someone does something wrong, a sacrifice must be made. One option is to sacrifice yourself, but for obvious reasons that's not optimal. The other option is to have something else be scarified for you. The idea is to have something perfect that doesn't deserve punishment be punished for you. It has to be perfect, otherwise it's punishment will just be for itself. The Israelites often used a new born lamb or pigeon for this.

So, God wants to restore His relationship with humans because He loves us. In order to do that, a perfect sacrifice must be made on human's behalf. Jesus is perfect because he's fully God and fully human. Can you see where this is going? Through a not-so-random turn of events, the Israelites kill Jesus for claiming to be the son of God. Perfect sacrifice made. Relationship restored.

Then, something amazing happens. Jesus overcomes his death and comes back to life. God wins.

With Jesus' death and resurrection, He explains that he died for us. That all we have to do is ask for forgiveness from God about our wrong doings and accept that Jesus's death covers us too.

It's is pretty amazing and encouraging story. I highly recommend everyone read it. At the very least, check out the four gospels at the beginning of the New Testament. It'll change your life.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Downtown Albany Apartments

Today begins a new chapter in our life.

In 1930 this apartment building was built in downtown Albany by a lady named Grace Burnap. She named it the Burnap Apartments. She passed away and the property passed on to her husband, Frank, and son, Willis. The Burnaps sold it to the Logsdons in 1943 and the name changed to the Logsdon Apartments. Since then the property has known many owners and most recently is called the Lyon Apartments after the street it sits on.

Starting today, 84 years after it was built, this building has new owners: us.

Like any 84 year old building, this one is in need of some TLC which is exactly what we're going to provide. It's going to be a huge effort, but it'll be worth it to bring these 11 units up to par. Our goal is to provide affordable, clean, and safe housing. This fits in line with our goal of loving people, providing homes for them, and improving the Albany community. Many people we talked to knew about the building and are excited to see the reputation improved.

Here are some of the crazier projects we're going to do in the next couple of months:

We have a water leak. Thankfully the wall has already been removed for us.

We also have mold...

All of the bathrooms are "classic" looking. They need to be cleaned REALLY well.

This kitchen will be re-done. Notice how the counter hangs over a little bit on the drawers below rendering them useless? IKEA to the rescue!

And then there's items like this.

There was a water leak. It's been fix, but the damage has not. That's half good news, at first we thought the water leak was still ongoing.

The basement actually offers a very interesting opportunity to add value. We're thinking about adding a laundry center after we finish the main floor rehab.

I'm still trying to figure out how someone breaks only the outside pane. Especially when it faces an office building.

Common questions we get asked:

Q: How many units?
A: 11 units. 6 studios. 5 single bedrooms.

Q: How can we afford this?
A: Well... not having kids helps (unfortunately). So does both people working. Most importably, it's spending significantly less than we earn. Being ready to jump on opportunities like this is one of the reasons we bought a small fixer-upper, and haven't fixed it up yet. Funny story: our neighbor asked me yesterday when we were going to fix up our home. I told her in about 5 years. She was shocked we would wait that long.

Q: How can you stand dealing with tenants?
A: We do five things to make it enjoyable for everyone.
1) We screen really well and find great people. See this BiggerPockets post on how to do it.
2) We communicate frequently with each of our residents.
3) We treat each resident with respect. Notice the subtle language... we call the people in our rentals residents, not tenants.
4) We provide a welcome package including quirks about the property, a list of contact numbers for utilities and service providers, and a couple move in items like paper towels and soap. This starts us off with a positive relationship.
5) We build systems to automate the process - i.e. they pay rent online - to reduce the amount of time we spend actively managing, and make it easier on them.

Q: How will we have time to make all the repairs?
A: We won't. We're hiring a couple people from a temporary agency to work for a couple months on the rehab. I'll be there to answer questions, work evenings and weekends, but they'll do 80% of the work. We're also open to friends coming over to get sweaty with us. :)

Q:What are we planning on doing with it?
A: The building is in need of some major rehab. During that time we won't have anybody living in the building. Once it's fixed, we'll re-rent it. The first phase of repairs will involve lots of paint, flooring, caulk, drywall, a couple new kitchens, and at least one new window. Then we'll turn our attention to the outside next spring.

Q: Can we see inside?
A: Definitely! Give us a call. Chances are we'll already by over there working.

Q: What about your 2014 goals?
A: Yeah... Clearly I spent more than $2,000 this year... That officially happened Thursday when I paid the closing costs. I think I'm okay with that.

Q: How do you feel?
A: We're excited! We're nervous (I couldn't sleep last night)! We're still excited! Ask us again in two months...we will probably say tired.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Two Showers In One - An Amusing Story Of Habits

I'm fairly certain I washed twice this morning while in the shower, but to be honest, I'm not sure.

I hopped in the shower and did my normal thing: think about the project I was just working on while washing up. Somewhere in the middle I noticed a fly was sitting on the window sill. Curious if it was alive, I splashed water on it.

It was! The hunt was on!

Using my ninja like reflexes I cornered the fly and gave him a swift ending. Proud of myself I grabbed my shampoo and started washing my hair... wait... it already felt foamy... Or did I just squeeze out to much soap in my proud mental state?

Confused I looked at my body... no soap...

I looked at my wash cloth and bar of soap... clearly wet from recent use... strange...

Now I really started questioning myself... Just how far did I get in the washing process? I remember soaping up my wash cloth. I remember washing my arms... But that's it. Did I really just wash my upper half? How long have I been in here? Suddenly my legs felt grimy... What is my mind doing to me?!


This happens all the time, and not just while in the shower. We start down a familiar path and put things on autopilot. Ever try running an errand while driving home from work to only find yourself suddenly at home kicking yourself for forgetting to run the errand? That's autopilot.

In a lot of ways this is a good thing. If our minds didn't adapt to regular activities, we would have less brain power to tackle difficult questions and exercise creativity. In psychology that's known as being a cognitive miser: our minds find different ways to save time and effort while going through the day.

Driving and showering are just two examples of habits. There are many, many more habits we have that just happen automatically without us consciously thinking about it.
  • We might walk the same path every time we go out (I know this because my dog knows exactly which roads to turn on... Oh yeah, I guess we do turn here each time. At one time that was a purposeful decision, but not anymore)
  • We might eat a snack every day when we get home. We eat the same amount of food, or at the same time.
  • We might spend impulsively at the checkout counter.
  • I was just reminded that if I set my alarm for the same time every day for 30 days, I'll automatically start waking up at that time even without an alarm.

The interesting thought for me today is: What happens when you get knocked off of autopilot? Especially once you get over your disorientation (Wait! Where am I?).

Do you just go back to soaping up as normal? Or do you take the opportunity to make sure what you're doing is actually the right thing?

For showers it's probably not a big deal. For impulse spending, that can add up to something huge. Same with snacking. My encouragement today is to allow yourself to get knocked off of autopilot, and when you do, to take the 20 seconds to ask yourself if what you're doing is the right behavior. See what new path that leads you down.

For some inspiration, here's a trailer of the movie Yes Man with Jim Carrey. The idea is that he purposefully got out of his habit of saying no to everything. As you would guess, it's gets funny fast.

You clearly don't need to be this extreme, but I genuinely believe that it's worth taking the time to re-evaluate your habits when you suddenly realize your in the middle of autopilot. When that happens, try something new and see what happens.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

6 Years! Plus 1 Week

I'm off by a week on our 6 year anniversary, but that's OK because we were busy having fun last weekend. Doing what? Fun stuff, of course.

First, on Saturday we went to a friend's wedding. Congrats Steve and Bobby!

Then we went on a hike at Silver Falls State Park which is just outside of Salem. It has a bunch of waterfalls that you can hike to.

Then we went home and put together a puzzle. Pretty simple, yet very fun. We watched Honey I Shrunk The Kids while doing this. What a goofy movie!

And for the fun of it, here are some photos from our wedding.

Fun with the camera shutter speed

Jessi getting ready with her sister, Becca.


The maids & the grooms... Looking way too serious. :)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

RoomScan Makes Sketching Floor Plans Easy

Jessi and I recently discovered a new iPhone app that's pretty sweet. The iPhone app is called RoomScan by Locometric and it creates floor plans without you needed to get out your tape measure and graph paper.

As a landlord, I use floor plans for a couple of things: to plan rehab projects and give perspective residents an idea of what the dwelling looks like before they drive all the way over to the property. My previous process was to grab a tape measure and open Google's Sketchup on my computer. I would then walk around, measure everything and input it into the computer. This process can take HOURS.

I first read about RoomScan on LifeHacker and downloaded it. Recently I had a chance to use it in ernest. There is a free version you can try, but think of it as a demo to decide if you want to buy the Pro version because you can't attach rooms and can only keep 4 rooms total. RoomScan Pro costs $5 and is worth it because it has all of those extra features.

To get the floor plan, all I did was take the phone and put it up against the wall. The app beeps and I move to the next wall. I went all the way around until I created a full loop. Where there is a door, you can easily add with a  tap. When you finish, it creates your floor plan with the doors. You can then tap on one of the doors and use that as your starting point for the next room. You can easily do a whole house in 30 minutes. Here's a demo video showing how it works.

Here's an example of what a single room looks like right after you scan it. I think it's cool that it shows you where you walked (the dashed lines are the position of the phone). Pro tip: if you accidentally drop your phone, you'll need to start that room over because the phone is tracking your movements and the end result will be funky. It also means you want to keep the phone steady throughout the measuring process and not wave it around a bunch while walking - give technology a little help!

Here's what a final floor plan looks like with all the measurements. Within the app, you can make adjustments to each room (both in size and position), change the output colors, and add windows. There are also multiple output types. I did a PDF export and then converted that to a picture. In the PDF, the perimeter numbers are readable because it's a better resolution.

It's a pretty cool app that's worth checking out if you find yourself doing floor plans with any regularity.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Are Gas Prices Rising?

One of the perks of being an analyst is that you tend to collect data for the fun of it... Because you never know when you might need to do a quick analysis. In this particular case, the opportunity presented itself when my mom shared a CNBC article about the inflation of food and gas costs.

Food prices + gas prices = Stressed consumers
"It's official—summer is here. But as Americans hit the road and fire up their grills, they've noticed that they're paying more for almost everything this year. And it's making some change their spending habits."
The article talks about food prices rising, and then talks about gas prices.
"If it's not tough enough at the grocery store, there's also plenty of pain at the pump. The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is now up to $3.68, according to AAA. That's up 14 cents from the same time a year ago, a jump of roughly 4 percent.  
Retail gas prices are rising as crude oil prices rise due to tensions in global hot spots like Russia, Ukraine and Iraq. Brent crude, the international benchmark, has risen almost 6 percent in the last three months, while West Texas Intermediate, the domestic product, is up about 5 percent in the same period."
Like I said, being an analyst and tracking data has it's perks because it means I can check these stats against my personal experience. Here's a chart of actual gas prices I actually paid over the last couple of years:

Clearly gas prices are rising in recent months like the article claims, but is it getting to concerning levels yet?


The same time last year, I was paying almost the same price on average at the same gas station (4 cents or 0.7% higher today). From a stats perspective, I consider that the same price.

There is also clearly a seasonal spike every summer, and this last winter was actually CHEAPER than last winter's prices. So we should be thankful for the savings earlier this year and shouldn't be surprised to see prices rising.

Now, could there be a rubber-band effect where lower winter prices cause summer prices to jump higher to make up for the corporate company's winter loss in revenue? Definitely. If anything, I would plan on that.

That and move to Oregon because their gas prices are apparently better than other places in the country (that sentence is for you Mom).

The other thing you can do is start changing your habits. Interestingly, the article paints this as a bad thing (you have to sacrifice and spend less). I disagree. You should always aim to spend less. If this is the reason you needed to start eating less and riding your bike on small errands. Excellent! That will have good consequences on your health and wallet despite the inflation "problem".

For me, this is the time of year I start riding my bike all time time: the weather is nice, the days are longer, and gas prices are higher. Combine that with the fact that I live in a place where gas prices apparently don't get as high as other places (and I don't even have to pump my own gas!), and I'll be saving significantly this summer.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

500 Days of Flossing

Just a quick update. Today I flossed for the 500th day in a row. Pretty crazy, right? I've been using an app called Lift to track my progress and it's worked great. I've talked about the app before and this goal in particular. So I just wanted to give myself a big pat on the back. :)

In other news, I've done push-ups for 158 days in a row. I'm up to doing 42 in a row. My goal is to do 70 in a row by the end of the year and I think I stand a chance of hitting that goal.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Gardens Are Weird

Gardens are weird. I'll admit that.

From a pure economic standpoint, individual gardens don't make a ton of sense. It's the opposite of economies of scale and specialized work, which tend to maximize output (and returns). In theory, I should spend my time doing something I'm great at (like analyzing data), earn my maximum potential, and then buy food at the store. Even if I buy local organic food, they can grow it more efficiently, and probably even healthier than I can, at a lower overall cost.

As a economist, it's hard not to think about that.

But them I'm also a male... who would just as easily spend my hard earned money buying pizza instead of something genuinely healthy. Anyways...

Now we found ourselves looking to expand our garden from one bed, to four. And not so we can specialize in one specific crop and trade with our neighbors, but so we can grow a variety of foods for us to eat (and let's be honest, have less grass to mow).


Because it's fun. I really don't want to sit at a computer ALL DAY doing work. And this is an excuse to go outside and hang out with Jessi.

Because fresh food tastes excellent. Pizza sauce made 100% from the garden just tastes better!

Because it does still provide an opportunity to trade with neighbors and build relationships. It also provides opportunities to strike up conversations while watering/weeding/harvesting.

And because in the end there is more to life than maximizing economic output. Which is exactly the argument I'm going to use when I suggest we buy a moisture sensor that will regulate when we water the lawn (because that "investment" will never make sense).

This year we're planning on growing a bunch of things like: tomatoes, peas, corn, sun flowers, pumpkins, asparagus, sweat potatoes, and watermelons (maybe... we hear it's tough in Oregon). Some herbs include, fennel, oregano, basil, and parsley.

If you have any suggestions, we'd love to hear about it. If we run out of room, that just means we'll have to expand again next year. :)

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Story Behind the Corvallis Pulse

The past 5 months, I've had the privilege of helping organize an amazing event in Corvallis. It's called the Corvallis Pulse and is happening Wednesday, February 26th from 8am - 2pm at LaSells Stewart Center Austin Auditorium. It's going to feature 8 Corvallis business leaders who will share their own perspective and insights on the state of the Corvallis market. Each talk will be concise and information packed – no more than 20 minutes each. You'll also have the opportunity to discuss, debate, and dive deeper with each speaker during breaks. The cost of the event is $25. Lunch will be served and the event is not-for-profit. All net proceeds and donations will be given to Benton Habitat for Humanity in Corvallis.

The event is going to be great! This is the story behind the Corvallis Pulse.

The Seed of an Idea
It started back in October when my realtor, Lee Eckroth, came to me with an idea. I had been making real estate reports for him for the last couple years and that report was now starting to be used by the entire Town & Country Realty office. In other words, it was incredibly useful.

So, at the end of a real estate investor club meeting, Lee comes to me with this idea, "What if I turned the report into a presentation and talked about it  for four hours." My response: "I love the idea, except for the part where you talk for four hours."

Ha ha. We all laugh at the awkwardness of my blunt statement.

But the seed of the idea is there.

We started talking about the importance of real estate. How it plays an essential role in our personal lives and in the economy. How residential real estate provides housing for families, and is an important source of wealth and savings. How commercial real estate creates spaces for jobs in retail, offices and manufacturing. How real estate income provides a source of revenue for many!

Lee's office manager, Jenny, did some research and found that when you buy or sell a home you have more of an impact than you probably ever thought, affecting a lot more people than you thought as well. A resale affects approximately 50 people's lives and incomes directly (i.e., real estate agent, broker manager, listing agent office, title company, loan officer, appraiser, home inspector, home warranty company, mortgage insurance agent, handyman, plumber, moving truck service, gas stations, hotel, etc.). According to the National Association of Realtors, when a home is sold in Oregon (Median Price $210,800):
  • Income generated from real estate related industries is $18,972.
  • Additional expenditure on consumer items such as on furniture and appliances is $5,647.
  • Expenditure on remodeling within 2 years of purchase is $4,451.
  • It also generates an economic multiplier impact with greater spending at restaurants, sports games, and charity events. The size of this "multiplier" effect is estimated to be $13,953.
Crazy, right? We started to hone in on this idea that real estate really is the pulse of the economy. Don't believe me? Look at what happened in 2007 when real estate crashed... The rest of the economy followed.

So we knew giving some kind of real estate update would be valuable to the community, but the idea of Lee giving a four hour talk still sounded horrible. Then inspiration hit... what if we did something similar to TED? We could have 8 speakers talk for 20 minutes each instead of 1 for 4 hours. They could each bring their own perspective of how the Corvallis market is doing.

We also knew this could be a great time to create discussions and so we wanted time for individuals to be able to meet with each speaker. The name of the event wrote itself: The Pulse of the Valley 2014: Corvallis Real Estate Forum.

Fun fact: Corvallis means "Heart of the Valley". Boom!

We started floating this idea to others and they loved it. Town & Country, Mortgage Express & the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce all instantly jumped on board to sponsor the event. We even had another company so inspired by the event that they're given an additional donation to Habitat. Now all we had to do was find speakers and put the event together.

IN Corvallis, ABOUT Corvallis, FOR Corvallis
We also quickly decided this had to be bigger than Lee. In following the Go-Giver model we wanted this event to be a gift to Corvallis. We intentionally decided to NOT make this a recruiting event. Sure, Town & Country is sponsoring the event and Lee is one of the eight speakers, but they are going out of their way to make it clear it's not about them. Plus, next year we want to have different sponsors and speakers which will really help drive the point home that it's bigger than all of us.

One person we're excited to have on board is Julie Manning, the Mayor of Corvallis. She'll be giving an introduction to the event. Again, because she recognizes that it's an event ABOUT Corvallis, FOR Corvallis.

Furthermore, our intent is to package up this event by creating guides and how-to's and give it away for others to put on in their cities. If a bank in Salem wants to put on the event, they can. Again, this event is bigger than just us and Corvallis.

Why $25?
We get asked this question a lot. Why charge $25? We already have sponsors and the money is going to Benton Habitat for Humanity. Good question. We started out with a desire for attendees to have skin in the game and for them to also be giving to Corvallis as they walked in the door.

Our first idea was to require 3 cans of food... but we quickly decided we didn't want to manage that. I'll be honest, I wanted to charge $50 to send the message that this is a premium event. The Pulse Team had a better idea: charge less and give the money away. For professionals, who are expensing it anyways, $25 is manageable.

Some courses charge hundreds of dollars for their material and I like they way they think about it. They'll say things like, "If you're in business, you know the value of what I'm sharing and the great price I'm offering it at. If not, it probably means you're not actually in business and so this course isn't for you." That's how I like to think of this event too. If you don't want to pay $25, you probably won't be inspired to take action on what you learn anyways. For a deeper understanding, read about 1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly.

Adding The Magic Touch
My wife, Jessi, is the Director of Wow in Lee's office (another reason why I got roped in to helping). Her job is to add wow to everything. She doesn't think she does a good job of it, but everyone else knows better. I like to think of her as "Quality Control". Her expectations of "good enough" are so high that something has to be perfect, and awe-inspiring before she likes it. We joke all the time that I need to run everything I create (charts, videos, blog posts) by her before sharing broadly because she represents the normal person. That's partially true (I can be an odd duck), but it also because she catches ALL my little mistakes and forces me to make it better.

What was I talking about?

Oh yeah! Jessi and Jenny have been working super hard to make this event magical. We do that literally in one way by having Hart Keene act as our emcee. He's a magician who's been on America's Got Talent! and does "strolling mingle magic". We think it'll make the event really special. We also have food, gift bags, inspirational quotes, greeters and great music. In many ways, it's a mini-convention.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm really excited about this event. I've gotten to preview each of the speakers talks, and I guarantee you'll be empowered with knowledge and inspired to action. I know Jessi and I are already changing our plans based on what we've learned. If you can make it, I strongly encourage you to register and come.

I'm honestly not sure how we're going to top this next year.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It's REALLY Hard to be Excellent at More Than One Thing

I've come to the conclusion that is REALLY hard to be excellent at more than one thing. Here's why.

Since we don't have a TV, I haven't been watching the Olympics, but I have been getting regular news updates. These updates often include who wins the gold medals, especially those who win multiple medals.

For example, today I read about American Ted Ligety who won the Alpine skiing giant slalom gold medal. From what I understand, he's pretty good at skiing. He's so good in fact that beside Ted Ligety, the only other American to win two Olympic golds in Alpine skiing was Andrea Mead Lawrence, who took both the women's slalom and giant slalom at the 1952 Oslo Games.

That's just crazy, right? There are only TWO Americans to win multiple golds in Alpine skiing. And this is just one example of a bunch of updates I've gotten. I'm catching a big lesson here:

It's REALLY hard to be excellent at more than one thing.

That should ring true if you read Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers. If it takes 10,000 hours to become great at something, you inherently have to NOT spend your time doing other things. If you never focus, then you never reach your 10,000 hours.

Want proof? Just look at these athletes: It's rare to win gold at more than one event. The reason is because they picked one and focused on it. If they practiced multiple events, they probably wouldn't even be at the Olympics.

I'll be honest, this is a tough conclusion for me to come to. I want to be excellent... and multiple things... and I find myself getting frustrated that I'm only good at a bunch of things. I suppose that means I need to make a choice: either focus on one thing and become excellent, or come to terms with being good a a bunch of things. I've made a choice by default, but I'd like it to be more intentional.

I guess it all depends on what I want in life. I've noticed that most renown people... people who change the world (or win Olympics)... were singularly focused. Do I want to change the world? Does changing my local community require the same type of focus? What about just being excellent at my job? My intuition says yes, but my heart wants more...

Clearly I'm still wrestling with this reality.