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How do you find good cheap help?

February 23, 2014

This is a topic I don’t post about often, but I spend a lot of time in this area. You don’t read a lot about labor in the RE books, but I feel this is a critical area that should be discussed more. So here is my philosophy on contractors. Keep in mind that self-managing with full time day jobs limits our time – so surrounding ourselves with good help is key. At this point we have our faithful list on speed dial, but typically around vacancies and new purchases we are always looking for good trades.

Ask for a referral. My best help has come from asking a fellow investor, neighbor or tenant for someone they have used or might know. These always seem to be good references. They have a vested interest and their reputation is on the line to continue to offer good work. My best trades seem to only do some work on the side and are not full time plumbers, electricians, handymen, etc. They typically don’t even have a business card.

Walked up to people on various job sites.  I like finding someone working on a house. I can immediately view their work versus just talking with someone I don’t know on the phone. These trades are also familiar with the area.  Lawn people are ideal to find this way.  I am out rehabbing a property, lawn is getting long, and all of a sudden a lawn guy drives up to mow the neighbor’s yard.  I go over there when they are almost done and ask them if they can run over my lawn for $20. 

Trades walking up to your job site as you are working. OK, here I have found you have to be careful. I will give these people small jobs only to start if I really need the help. These folks could be just scoping out the place. History has shown to me they will provide a cheap bid, but are not any good. Never pay them up-front for anything. 


Business cards stuck in the front door.  I use these on occasion and have had some luck. They obviously work in your neighborhood. I find them to be a bit more expensive than other sources, but I have found help this way.

Advertising. Lots of ways here: from pulling business cards off of a bulletin board, ads in local papers, craigslist, mailbox flyers, front door flyers, etc. Some luck here, but this is not how I have found my best trades.

Home Depot.  Not a great deal of experience doing this, but I did have a good painter approach me inside home depot at the paint department as I was loading a 5 gallon bucket into my shopping cart. They can also be found outside the Home Depot. These are typically day laborers and can be paid by the hour. I usually prefer to pay by the job, but I have had some luck here with basic work.

Spotting a truck. I can’t tell you how many times I am driving down the road and see someone’s truck that is advertising his trade. I will take a picture of these vehicles. Depending on my desperation I have called them before and had some luck here as  well. Finding someone local to the area is always a positive. I prefer the beat up truck, not the nice 2014 Big Ford truck. I want the 1976 truck with the ladder tied on with a tee-shirt. This guy will always be cheaper.

My final piece of advice here for landlords is that what you really need is a good handyman. You will want to have a good plumber, electrician, etc for the more serious jobs. A mistake we made early on was using a Licensed specialist for every repair. You just don’t need a fully licensed plumber to repair a toilet flapper. Handyman are designed for these small tasks. They are cheaper and exactly what you need for a quick fix.

From → Landlord

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