Whenever there’s a debate about owning versus renting, one of the most common rebuttals against owning is not wanting to fix a toilet. The excuse is so commonly used that it has definitely become cliché.
Given we know that homeowners have a median net worth ~40X that of renters, it got me wondering whether there’s something more behind the cliché that makes renters deny the positive financial realities of homeownership over the long run.
Could it be that those against homeownership secretly wish they could afford a home of their own, but can’t because they aren’t willing to control their spending or take on extra work outside of their day job? Instead of making some sacrifices, are they trying to debase homeowners with an activity that’s supposedly beneath them? Maybe!
Every time someone uses the “fix the toilet” reason, I start to wonder what’s so hard about replacing some parts in the water tank or using a plunger? Janitors make well over $200,000 a year here in San Francisco. Are those against real estate arrogantly implying that being a janitor is not as honorable of a job? Perhaps.
I hypothesize those who aren’t willing to do the dirty work are the ones who will never earn or accumulate much more than the median income or net worth. Let’s debate!
After playing a couple hours of tennis at my club, I headed over to my rental to fix an overflowing dishwasher air valve – you know, those weird ~2 inch cylindrical metal things that sit next to your kitchen faucet. It’s funny because the person I played with, an ex-college tennis player, decided to join a different club because she wasn’t willing to pay the steeper initiation fee. Yet when I told her I had to go fix a leak at one of my rentals, she was amazed I would do such a thing! “Don’t you have people to do that for you?” she inquired.
When I first got notification from my tenant of the problem, I was initially bummed because I was tanning my cheeks on my deck. But I quickly YouTubed “how to fix an overflowing dishwasher valve” and found the solution. So easy.
I sent him the 3 minute video as reference, and he decided to give it a go by removing the valve cap and blowing forcefully through a paper towel roll to see if it could unclog the hose. It didn’t work because he texted me a couple days later to say the problem still persisted. No problem! I love stopping by my rental once a quarter to make sure everything still looks good.
Before leaving home I made sure I had all my plumbing equipment: a roll of paper towels, a flat head screwdriver, a wire coat hanger, gloves, pliers, and a pipe brush. What a pleasure to have a trunk filled with tennis equipment and plumbing tools.
When I got to my rental, I also tried the paper towel roll trick to create a seal to remove any gunk with a forceful breath. No luck. Then I got my brush and shoved it down the hole to try and clear out some gunk to no avail because it wasn’t long enough. Then I used a much longer straight wire hanger to get in there. That’s when I realized more work needed to be done because black gunk started latching onto my wire hanger.
I had to remove the valve connected to the garbage disposal and get in there! Once I did, I found both sides were completely clogged. I carefully started carving out the gunk from the hose with my wire hanger, then feverishly brushed out the insides until both the hose and the garbage disposal side were completely clean. I reattached the hose, ran a test and voilá! Everything worked perfectly.
The total time it took me to do this first-time job was 18 minutes. Next time, it’ll take me 10 minutes or less. Not only did I save myself ~$250 – $350 in plumbing fees, I also saved myself the time it would take to coordinate back and forth with my tenant and a plumber. I also now have the skill to fix all future dishwasher valve problems, including the one in my own house.
After I finished, I did a quick inspection of the house to note any new damages. Then I watered some of the fruit trees, picked a bag of lemons, checked mail and went to get some food. Total time spent: 35 minutes.
The next week I received a $9,000 direct deposit for the monthly rent.
Let’s forget about the $108,000 annual rental income I collect each year from this rental that requires no more than 10 hours of work a year. The aggressive savings I did in my early 20s is over now, but the rent continues to grow with inflation, forever.
After 14 years of being a landlord, you develop handyman skills that can earn you another solid income stream if you so choose. I could put an ad on Craigslist right now and charge $90/hour with a $200 minimum per visit. You know my ad is going to look pretty darn amazing given my experience in online marketing. Just eight jobs a week would net me an extra $6,400+ cash. Bam! That’s an extra $77,000+ in annual income.
Let’s say I smartly turn on my Uber drive app to pick up passengers along the way to my handyman jobs. Ten trips a week equals around $80. That’s an extra $4,160 a year in spending money. Given I can make driver referral income online as well, I’d probably make an extra $12,000 a year.
The annual grand total from just this one income unit is therefore:
$108,000 rental income
$77,000 handyman income
$12,000 driver referral income online
$4,160 driver income
Well, what do you know! We’ve reached a healthy amount of income that can be used to pay down a mortgage, invest in various assets to generate more money, and cover life’s many expenses to be more free.
If you’re willing to humble yourself, you’re going to financially blow all the people who are too arrogant (or too lazy) to fix their own toilets out of the water! It’s really not too difficult to replace a washer or tighten a screw you guys. YouTube is your friend.
Eventually, you will get to the point where you can afford to pay people to do everything for you without creating a significant drag to your net worth. But before you get to financial independence, which can be defined as 20X your average gross for the past three years or 50X your average annual expenses, you must be willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead.
If you’re unwilling, then no problem. It simply means you’re happy with the way things are right now. But if you aren’t happy with the way things are and still spend like crazy, are unwilling to get smart about being a self-sufficient person, or aren’t willing to get up by 5am or stay up until 2am to work on your side hustle every single day, then you need to read my post about Dunning-Kruger to jolt yourself out of delusion.
There’s one final benefit of being willing and able to do the dirty work. You instantly become incredibly attractive to a potential mate. Having enough money to provide for a family is one thing, but if you not only possess a can do attitude, but actually do as well, dare I say you become one of the most attractive people on the planet!
Life is good being free. But you’ll only truly know how awesome being free is once you get there. Don’t look back and regret not doing the dirty work because you were too proud. Fixing a leaky toilet is just a metaphor for dealing with the inevitable crap life throws your way. If you don’t want to own physical real estate, then you can just invest hassle-free via real estate crowdfunding sites like Fundrise. Make sure you’re not hating on an asset class because you’re envious of those who didn’t miss the boat. There’s always another opportunity somewhere!
Manage Your Money In One Place: Sign up for Personal Capital, the web’s #1 free wealth management tool to get a better handle on your finances. In addition to better money oversight, you can run your investments through their award-winning Investment Checkup tool to see exactly how much you are paying in fees. I was paying $1,700 a year in fees I had no idea I was paying.
After you link all your accounts, use their Retirement Planning calculator that pulls your real data to give you as pure an estimation of your financial future as possible using Monte Carlo simulation algorithms. Definitely check to see how your finances are shaping up as it’s free. I’ve been using Personal Capital since 2012 and have seen my net worth skyrocket during this time thanks to better money management.