During a period of temporary insanity, I made a pair of mistakes that dogged me for a dozen years.
I bought two apartment properties that totaled 20 rental units.
After struggling for years, and repenting verily in sackcloth and ashes, I’ve finally gotten myself shed — or, I would say, the Lord himself shed me — of all those apartments.
Thank you, Jesus.
The experiences of being a landlord and of getting liberated from it have highlighted for me several observations about life and faith I thought I’d pass along.
In theory, there’s nothing wrong with owning rental property. I know people who own a slew more units than I did and are perfectly content. The buyers who purchased my apartments got good deals from me and, being experienced investors, will no doubt earn consistent, significant profits. I wish them well.
There’s also nothing wrong with writing newspaper columns or preaching sermons.
Yet there are folks who — faced with the prospect of having to come up weekly with arguments about emotional issues, form them into some coherent structure and deliver them publicly — would suffer nervous breakdowns.
For whatever reasons, writing columns and standing up in front of crowds to preach bother me not at all.
It was the apartments that drove me crazy. And by crazy, I mean certifiably committable.
In fact, before I bought the first of those properties, a four-plex, my first wife, Renee, tried to warn me.
You’re going to hate this, she said. You don’t deal well with strangers’ personal problems. You’re not handy and can’t repair anything. You don’t like being called at 2 a.m. You have absolutely no landlord skills.
I ignored her advice. Not just once, but a second time.
I’d hardly closed the deal on that second purchase, a 16-unit complex, when I realized how terrible a mess I’d made.
Somebody needed something 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or so it felt. Water heaters and air conditioners don’t care what time of day they conk out.
People were constantly moving in. Or moving out. Or arguing with their neighbors. Or getting behind on their rent. Or skipping out in the middle of the night.
A roof blew off in a storm. A tenant’s power strip shorted out and the resulting fire did $150,000 in damage across multiple units. A renter’s visitor stumbled off a porch and sued me. My insurance got canceled.
Even when I fled on vacation, I had to endlessly monitor my phone. I could never relax.
After the first full year — even before some of the worst stuff happened — I started trying to sell out.
I changed realtors.
Then, in 2008, the real estate market collapsed nationwide. I’d made reasonably sound deals when I bought my apartments. But after the crash, you couldn’t give rental property away, at least in our neck of the woods.
For years, periodically I’d put my apartments back up for sale. My six-month contract with the realtor would expire unconsummated. I’d take the apartments off the market.
Once I hired a property manager to run the business for me, to take some of the day-to-day pressure off. She lasted a week.
I prayed. Incessantly.
Finally, early this year, I just gave up. I decided I was stuck, and there was no one to blame but myself.
I’d probably die in the rental business. I accepted it.
Then, something crazy happened.
From nowhere, two different buyers approached me. The first expressed interest in buying my four-plex, the second wanted the 16-plex.
They offered me good prices. Both deals closed within eight days of each other.
I did nothing to bring this about. Neither property had been listed with a realtor when the buyers appeared, although one sale ended up being handled through a realtor.
Suddenly, I was free of my burdens.
To me this was, literally, a godsend.
Some people might consider these simultaneous sales a happy coincidence. I, on the other hand, believe the Lord intervened. That’s how I explain the unforeseen arrival of two qualified, eager buyers — unsolicited — after all my fruitless efforts to sell.
I’m left with four thoughts on the matter.
First, I’m grateful. I can’t tell you how much less stressful my life is.
Second, I’ve long noticed there’s something about releasing a bad situation —usually from sheer exhaustion and defeat — that uncannily leads to a solution.
You quit trying to be popular; soon you discover the cool kids now like you. You quit trying to comprehend trigonometry; the next day the answers pop into your head. You quit trying to sell your crazy-making business; whoosh, it sells on its own.
Third, while I believe God brought those buyers to me, I wonder why it took him 12 years to do it. I’m glad he sold my properties, but why did he wait so long? If there was some spiritual lesson I was supposed to learn — humility, repentance, perseverance — I assure you I learned it 10 years ago.
Fourth, when you come up with a grandiose idea but your spouse warns you to forget it because you’re being an idiot, for goodness’ sake, listen.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.