Brandon’s Landlord Adventures: A Tribute to Marvin, my Handyman Tenant

Investors who are in it for life and who strive to up-size their property holdings over time, ultimately want to get a large enough multi-family property to have an on-site manager.

This means that one of the apartments would be home to an employee of the investor, and that person would be in charge of all property-management related duties.

Well my Moore St. duplexes (remember, there are two of them, for 4 units total) are certainly not a “large multi-family” property. But as luck would have it, they did come with a built-in property manager — or maintenance manager anyway. His name is Marvin.

Marvin is one of those “Jack of all trades” kind of guys. His “real job” is to run a commercial floor cleaning business for grocery stores and pharmacies and such.

But during my first month or two of ownership two summers ago, Marvin pulled me aside during one of my visits to the property and said, “You know, you don’t need this lawn service company who’s been coming every couple weeks. I can take care of the lawns, and I’ll do a better job of it then they do.”

“Do you have the tools?” I asked.

“No,” Marvin said. We’d have to get a lawnmower, a rake, some basics. But if you’re willing to do that, I’ll take care of things. And I can do a lot more than that.”

We talked and I thought it over for a couple weeks.

Marvin was capable of more than just lawn care, too. He had been a maintenance man for the Bellingham Housing Authority and had skills with plumbing, lite electrical, carpentry, painting, flooring, and other trades. He could be an on-call handyman for the other tenants if they had a problem.

Ultimately, I liked the idea of the on-site maintenance man the way the big apartments did it. I decided to give Marvin a shot.

These were the terms:

  • Marvin would take care of all the lawn-care and associated trimming, edging, raking, blowing, etc.
  • In the winter, he’d handle snow removal, salting the walkways, etc.
  • If another tenant on site needed a repair, they’d call Marvin to help with it.
  • He’d communicate with me about everything, even the regular lawn maintenance, so I always knew what was happening.
  • I would provide a tool shed on site with a lawn mower and other necessary tools.
  • I would give Marvin a discount on his monthly rent for the regular, ongoing maintenance.
  • If he did any extra repair work to any of the apartments or exteriors, I’d pay him an hourly wage.

With that agreement, we fired the 3rd party landscape maintenance company and got Marvin tooled up.

Right away I began liking our new arrangement because Marvin did something that almost no contractors do: He texted me real-time pictures of the work he was doing, both mid-job and once it was completed.

On every single occasion he was working on the lawn, he would send me photos like these:

If he was helping someone else with a project he thought I might like, he’d send me pics of that. Here’s one:

Over time, Marvin proved to be reliable, capable, communicative, and completely fair with his pricing.

At BNP, we’d been less than impressed with our street-side listing sign installer.

I asked Marvin if he’d want to take that on, too. But first he’d have to build a set of sign posts, paint them up, build a storage rack to house them, and be available to drive anywhere in Whatcom County to install and then remove the signs whenever we needed one.

He was totally game. Within a couple weeks we had our plan together and he was sending me photos like this, as he assembled the sign posts:

Then, when he was out in the field installing signs for us, he’d text pictures of the ready-to-go sign:

In mid-summer last year, I evicted the one problem tenant we had and decided to put that apartment unit through a “paint and flooring” remodel. Who do you think did 90% of the work? Exactly: Marvin!

Once again he kept me updated through the whole process, with photos and texts coming to my phone on a daily basis.

Eventually I began referring Marvin to other clients for various jobs, and I always get good reports about him and his work.

Marvin, if you’re reading this, Thank You! I appreciate your continuous enthusiasm and availability, your fairness, your craftsmanship… the whole Marvin package.

May we continue this mutually beneficial relationship for a long time to come!