Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Is D coming to fix my sink?"

We renovated a building we dubbed The Rowhouses.  I'll tell you more about that reno fiasco in a later post.  But for this story, all you need to know is that the architect made a big mistake, and we ended up in a financial mess because of the additional cost to remedy it.  We never really recovered, and were always scrambling for enough cash to run it properly.  Finally, exhausted from trying to keep a money-loser in good repair & afloat, we took a beating and sold it at a loss.

The buildings had 15 units, three of them rented by “the sisters”. They were three older women, all hyper, high-maintenance, and needy. On the plus side, in what was still a sketchy neighborhood, they were all very clean, paid their rent on time, and didn’t party.  So we tried to accommodate them whenever we could, which was weekly.  We changed lightbulbs.  We checked mysterious plumbing noises. We checked wear patterns on their rugs that they felt weren't normal.  Those three women took up about 95% of our time spent at that building.  And yet, out of respect for their age and long tenancy, the day we closed the sale, I thought that I would stop in at each of their apartments and say my goodbyes personally.

When I got to Mrs. J’s apartment, I told her that I wanted to say goodbye, the building sold that morning, blah, blah.  She listened (I thought) to what I was saying, and then asked if D, our repairman, was coming to fix her sink.  I repeated again that we no longer owned the building.  “But is D coming to fix the sink?”  No matter what I said, all she wanted to know was if D was coming to do her repairs.  Boy, did I feel stupid and insignificant.

Yet that exchange turned out to be a good lesson for me. I no longer delude myself into thinking any tenant actually cares about what I do.  I understand the landlord mostly doesn't exist, unless we "don't".  I'm sort of like the mailman -- only noticed if the mail isn't delivered.  And in an odd way it’s helped me.  I always think about Mrs. J when a tenant asks me a question.  I think “How does this pertain to him?  What's he really asking?  And what does he really want to know?”             

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