Take My Sage Advice: Don’t Buy Extra Homes!

Deborah Welky


Because my husband Mark is a general contractor who does building and remodeling; and because I am an enthusiastic unpaid laborer, we occasionally get it into our heads that we should buy a property, fix it up and rent it out.

This is different than being a flipper, one who buys houses at a low cost and fixes them up for quick resale. However, if you want to live a long and happy life, I am going to suggest that you do neither of these things.

“Oh, but Debbie,” you say. “I see on TV where this is an easy road to glory and money.”

To which I reply, “And Westworld is a viable alternative to Disney World.”

No, the trouble with fixing up houses is, a) there’s always more that needs fixing than you originally thought, and b) if you do get it all done, then you’re stuck with a house.

Our last (yes, last!) endeavor in this fantastic field of opportunity came about six years ago when a guy in my daughter’s Missouri neighborhood offered his partially remodeled home to the first buyers who could come up with $50,000 in cash. That was us. The three of us decided to “get rich quick.”

Tens of thousands of dollars later, the home was saleable, but we decided to rent it out for $1,500/month instead. After all, we had replaced the kitchen floor, the kitchen cabinets and the kitchen appliances. We had put a new shower in the master bath. We had repainted every room and the entire outside of the house, and we had done a bit of backhoe landscaping. The place was lovely. We just couldn’t part with it!

The only remaining problem was a teeny, tiny crack in the basement wall that we couldn’t get to because the previous owner had put up an illegal back deck, doing it his own way, which, it turns out, wasn’t such a good way. In fact, it had probably caused the teeny, tiny crack.

Still, because the house had seven bedrooms, three bathrooms and an attic, it has been continually rented out, despite its little crack. We simply warned prospective tenants, “Just assume it doesn’t have a basement. If you decide to rent it, do not put anything in the basement.”

Enter Memorial Day Weekend 2019 with its torrential midwestern rains, Missouri tornadoes and generally lousy weather.

The tenant called. The basement was filled with four feet of water. Her Christmas decorations were floating. The water heater had shut down, and no one could take a shower. The power was off in two bedrooms, and the air conditioner wasn’t working.

We live in Florida. My daughter was busy hosting a backyard barbecue for 48 people. Our go-to handyman in Missouri wasn’t picking up his phone.

Do you know what electricians and plumbers charge on Memorial Day?

I do.

And it isn’t pretty.