I clear out my old office.
I”ve owned a condo in Wickenburg for the past eight or so years. It was the first non-stock investment I made when I started making decent money. I figured that real estate is always a good investment, and it would be nice to have a property that someone else paid for. So I bought the condo — which had been previously occupied by a single renter for 11 years — and put it up for rent.
The condo isn’t anything special. It’s two bedrooms, one bath, with a kitchen that’s separated from the living room by a breakfast bar. Total square feet is about 900. The big living room window faces out to the parking lot, a park where there are ball fields and the town pool, and the mountains. The bedroom windows face out on another parking lot and route 93, which is the main thoroughfare between Phoenix and Las Vegas for cars and trucks. The condo property includes a well-maintained swimming pool, a not-so-well-maintained spa, and mailboxes. (A big deal in a town that’s only had mail delivery for about 15 years. The place is a short walk to a supermarket and other shopping and is well within walking distance to two schools.
I put it up for rent within a month of closing on it and had a tenant within a month. Thus began my long career as a landlord.
Being a Landlord Sucks
Being a landlord is not a job for the faint of heart. Although most tenants show at least some level of responsibility, there are always a few in the crowd who will treat your property like it belongs to their worse enemy. Some tenants go out of their way to find things to complain about — one family complained so many times about how the shower door didn’t roll properly that Mike and I went to the apartment, removed the shower door, and replaced it with a curtain. (Let’s see you have problems with that.) And did I mention that the average tenant isn’t interested in living in the same place for 11 years? I witnessed a parade of four tenants in less than five years, with lots of cleaning and painting and empty unit time between them. Anyone who thinks being a landlord manager is an easy way to make a living is fooling himself. It’s a pain in the ass.
To make matters worse, I had another good year and bought another property. That one was a 3-lot parcel with a 4-unit studio apartment building and two bedroom, two bath house on it. What the hell was I thinking? I multiplied my single unit landlord headaches by five. Now there was always an empty unit somewhere, a unit to clean, a tenant complaint to deal with, an apartment to advertise and show.
I won’t go into the gory details. I’ll just say that after trying a rental agent (who took a fully-occupied property and had it down to just one tenant in four months) and letting Mike manage the place for a short while, I got smart and sold the larger of the two properties, leaving me with the condo.
In the meantime, the condo’s last tenants, a young married couple with a baby, terminated their lease early and disappeared. But not before they completely trashed the carpet, doing what would turn out to be $1,600 in damage.
I’d had enough. I was sick of being a landlord. I decided to take the apartment off the market and move my office into it.
An Office in Town
Having an office outside my home for the first time in about 12 years was a treat. My work wasn’t in my face all the time. I didn’t drift from the kitchen to my office and get caught up reading e-mail or working through edits. I went to work in the morning, worked until I felt done for the day, and went home to a life. Mike, who was working from home at the time, did the same. I took the condo’s living room, so I could look out over the mountains, and Mike took the larger of the two bedrooms. The place had everything we needed to be comfortable — full kitchen with dishwasher, bathroom, and access to high-speed Internet. (For about a year, MIke had wireless access that we think he picked up from the local Radio Shack. Ah, the days of unsecured wireless networks.)
The really good part about all this is that we reclaimed both of the bedrooms we’d been using as offices at home. Mike’s old office became the full-time guest room, with all the furniture you’d expect to find in a bedroom. My old office became the “library,” with all of our non-work related books, a desk, framed maps, and a futon for overflow guests. We usually kept the guest room closed off in the summer and winter so we didn’t have to air condition or heat it.
Of course, there were some drawbacks to the office situation. First of all, my office was about 6 miles away, which meant that if I needed something there, I was taking a drive. I had everything there except my 12″ PowerBook, so I dealt with all work-related matters there. For a while, we didn’t even have Internet access at home, since we didn’t “need” it. (It didn’t take long for that to change.)
But the worst part of the situation was when I got calls in the middle of the day for a helicopter flight. The airport is on the opposite end of town. So if I got a call for a flight that day, I’d have to pretty much drop everything I was doing, lock up the office, hop in my vehicle, drive home to put on some more appropriate clothing, and drive to the airport to preflight the helicopter and pull it out. That took a minimum of an hour. When the flight was over, I’d do the same thing in reverse. By the time I got back to my office, my concentration was gone and I wasn’t usually able to get back to writing. Sometimes, the whole day would be shot to hell for a 25-minute tour around Wickenburg that put just $195 in the bank — that’s gross, not net.
When space opened up at the airport for an office, I tried to get it. The Town of Wickenburg’s Airport Manager jerked me around to no end. (If you think coming to Wickenburg to start a business is easy, think again. It seems that the town management isn’t happy unless they present at least a dozen hoops for a new business owner to jump through. The smart ones take their plans elsewhere. I’ve spoken to three different people who were interested in bringing medium sized businesses to Wickenburg, and all three said they’d built their businesses elsewhere after dealing with the town.) It took over a year, intervention from the FAA, an RFP process, and the threat of a discrimination case to get a contract. Now I’m wondering whether I want the Town of Wickenburg for a landlord. Like the smart folks who give up when they see the hoops, I don’t think I do.
So I moved my office back home.
There’s No Place Like Home
The move wasn’t easy, but we were smart enough to do it in the winter months, when it was comfortably cool during the day. We gave away a lot of furniture so we could fit my desk and the things I needed back in the library. All the books went back upstairs, into some built-in shelves, so my work books — including the ones I’ve written — could go in my office. Mike, who now has much less need for space, took the library’s desk upstairs and set that up by one of the big windows with the good views. We put his old desk in my hangar, so I had more space there to do my FAA-required paperwork. (My old desk there had gone up to Howard Mesa months before.)
So now I live with my work again and, frankly, I don’t mind one bit.
I had a book to write, so I got right down to work before everything in the condo had been moved. It I was more ambitious about it, I would have cleared the place out right away, had it thoroughly cleaned, and put it back up for rent. But I dreaded the thought of dealing with all the accumulated paper — including boxes I’d packed in our first Wickenburg home (an apartment on Palm Drive) and ones I’d packed back in New Jersey ten years ago. So I just moved everything aside to give the carpet folks room to lay the new carpet, turned the heat pump off, and locked the place up.
Now I’m Cleaning Up
Months passed. And I finally did something radical to get me to clean up: I hired a professional cleaner. And I told her to come next Wednesday, when I’ll be away in California.
Of course, I don’t expect her to go through all my crap and box it up for my office or storage. That’s something only I can do.
I put it off as long as I could. Yesterday, I had a dawn photo flight here in Wickenburg and a lunch meeting with one of the companies I advertise with. A good day to work on my old office, I reasoned. Lunch would make a good mid-day break. I’d put in 6 hours or so and be done.
Wrong! Although lunch was a good break, I didn’t come close to finishing. I worked in the condo from about 8:30 AM to 11 AM, did some errands, went for lunch, and got back to work at 1 PM. Then I spent the next 3-1/2 hours going at it.
I threw away 7 tall kitchen bags — you know, the 13-gallon size? — full of junk, including stuff I’d saved for more than 15 years. I got rid of all the Apple promotional and developer disks I’d accumulated from 1992 through 2001. I got rid of old software and manuals. I got rid of magazines — about 40 issues of MacAddict that were still in their original wrappers. I got rid of loose receipts, bills, and bank statements. I was ruthless. My hands got filthy — I washed them at least once an hour. My feet got sore from walking barefoot on the cheap carpet I’d had installed in the place.
I filled six file boxes with stuff I wanted to keep. I made piles of stuff to give away — some stuff for the cleaner, miscellaneous paper items for my neighbor’s kids to do crafts, photo and negative holders for a photographer friend, empty CD-cases for the local print shop guy (who also uses Macs).
Later, at 4:15 PM, when Mike rolled up to help me take some of the boxes out, I was exhausted. We loaded most of the boxes into my Jeep and his car, dropped some of them off in storage, and brought the rest home.
But I’m not done.
I’m mostly done. I don’t think I’ll need more than another 4 or so hours. And frankly, I might take the lazy way out and just box up the stuff and stick it in storage without sorting through it. It’s a terrible, nasty job, but there’s only me to blame for it. I just keep too much crap.
So today, after getting a haircut at 8:30 AM, I’ll go back to work in the condo. I’ll get all the loose stuff gathered together, throw away some more junk, and stack up the boxes to go into storage.
Hell, at least I can turn on the air conditioner.