Jake meets Helen – Chapter 2

Six months later

Jake’s home town was at times gorgeous and at others a little miserable. On sunny days, a smile would appear on everyone’s faces. People would be happy to stop and chat on the street. When the weather was inclement, the town took on a dark and dingy feel. The buildings were grey, forbidding, and seemed to grow an extra storey or two, looming over the residents like a scary teacher watching over his students.

Today, the town had a friendly, welcoming feel, which is to say that it was sunny and warm and Jake was sitting drinking coffee enjoying the view, watching the sun glisten off the water in the bay. Breaking his reverie Helen dropped into the seat beside him. “Do you mind?”, she asked.

He hadn’t known her long, since he had met her community centre where she was a part time counsellor. She was perhaps in her early forties but had a youthful exuberance about her that made her seem younger than she really was.

She had a ‘happy to see you smile’ on her face. How did she do that? She always seemed in a good mood and pleased to see him. Why? he was a nobody, a nobody who was lucky to be alive.

Yet despite his sometimes unwelcoming, grumpy attitude she was always interested in what he was up to, what his plans were.

He’d been looking for work for a while now, but it hadn’t been going well. He was constantly fighting the fear that depression, or rather despair, would again reach into his heart and soul if things didn’t work out soon.

Helen had a way of gently drawing things out of him and so after nodding politely and asking her to join him he found himself telling her about the incident that had happened a few months ago and about how he was worried about his state of mind since that day.

That ‘incident’, as he called it, where he had finally decided to end it all, he had found a quiet road to do the deed when a voice out of the blue had told him not too.

He’d gone through this story with Helen before of course, in the counselling meeting he’d had with her. But he found himself describing it all again, and without warning tears slipped unwanted from his eyes.

Quickly putting his sunglasses back on, he dropped his head to hide his embarrassment. Helen just sat there with a sympathetic smile on her face, not saying anything and nor condemning either.

Jake couldn’t remember exactly what the guy leaning out of his window had said but it had stopped him doing what he had planned. The pistol he’d stolen from a friend had been left lying in the dirt, forgotten.

“Do you believe in fate?”, Jake croaked through his emotions. He was thinking again about that moment and the guy who interfered with his plans.

Helen seemed to give full consideration to his question but answered, “Well, I believe that things can happen in our lives for a reason and that it is just our reaction to these events that determine our futures. Is that what you mean?”

“But how do you explain the guy leaning out of his window then?”, he pressed. “When I think about it, it strikes me as odd”.

“Good question!”, she smiled, a strange enthusiasm spreading across her features. “I think we are all somehow connected in this wonderful universe of ours. Perhaps the universe wasn’t done with you just yet? Maybe there is something you need to do, something you need to achieve?”.

She paused, but seemed to be preparing to say more so Jake waited.

“Look, I can’t claim to know how the universe works, it’s just an idea I have that what we are made of is somehow inextricably linked with everything else. I also think that the universe somehow knows when people have a purpose in life, a goal. People with desire to do more. To have success. I don’t think that this interconnectedness is a sentient thing but more a driving force, carrying us forward. Something that wants to grow and develop.”

“That doesn’t explain my situation though does it? I was about to take my life! I had no plan, no purpose, no desire. I just can’t see it and if I’m honest I’m struggling to understand what I’m supposed to do.”, Jake grimaced and dropped his head again.

“What if you have something inside you that needs to achieve, to find its place in life where it is happy and fulfilled? When we are down or suffering from depression, this candle light inside us is hard to see. Maybe it is there inside you but you can’t see it because your thoughts are full of lack of hope, negativeness and sadness?”

Jake paused for a few moments. Looking for an answer that wouldn’t come, so asked out loud, “So how can I find that candle light? How do you do it? You seem so happy with your life and what you are doing!”

“I think the better question would be ‘How can you do it?'”, she replied, accentuating the ‘you’. “What is it you need to do right now to put you on the right path?”

“I have no clue”, sadness again creeping into his voice.

Their conversation continued for a while on to other things, the scenery, the beautiful weather they were having, what Helen was doing for her upcoming family holiday; small talk, but somehow healing, pushing the tears away a little.

Finally, Helen got up to go but leaned towards him to quietly say, “If you are going through hell, keep going!”

Using IT to manage properties

Tips and tricks to help you be more productive

Once you have found a tenant (or tenants) for your property (or properties), you would normally want to provide the best service possible. Below are some useful ways to make the best use of IT to help you manage your properties.

Contacts

Most would agree that seeing the tenants’ name and address when they call you is a useful tool.

I’ll also talk about grouping of contacts and sharing your contacts in a moment, but in the screenshot below you will see not only the persons name but also where they live and their room number (such as in an HMO).

iphone-screenie

Storing the name is of course normal practise for most people, however storing the address and room number (as above) can be useful especially for larger portfolio landlords or property managers.

Why is this useful?

Firstly, being able to answer the phone with the persons name makes the tenant feel noticed and more important. This is particularly relevant if the tenant knows you manage a lot of rooms.

Secondly, knowing the address and room number is helpful to you because you immediately know where they live and of any potential issue ongoing. You know this before you even say hello!

Having the address and room number is additionally helpful considering you may have several tenants named ‘Matthew’ or even more than one Matthew in a house!

Example:

I had a phone call from an ex-tenant from two years ago the other day. I answered the phone with

“Hi James, how are you doing these days?”

He was surprised that I was able to say his name! By the way, he was looking for accommodation in Plymouth since he was planning to move back and had kept my number.

Because I instantly knew where he used to live, I was also able to ask him if he was looking for somewhere similar to his previous address.

Grouping Contacts

If you have an iPhone then you will also have an iCloud account. From this you can manage your contacts using the website icloud.com. Within the icloud.com contacts section you can add groups to the list.

We set up a group (more on why you need to do this in a moment) per house along the lines of:

15 Central Road - 2015/2016

Many of our properties are student ones so we append to the address the year of their tenancy.  Normally, we are adding contacts to our database for each property for the following year as well even while current tenants are still in residence, hence the necessity of the 2015/2016. This way we instantly know whether it is an existing tenant calling or a future one.

When you create a new group on icloud.com and add a contact to the group, you should also type (paste) the address and room number into the Company field. The company field is shown when someone calls (alternates with the type of number: home; mobile; work). So in the company field you might type:

15 Central Road (R3) - 2015/2016

The Groups app

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 12.22.15

The Groups app for iPhone ‘reads’ your groups you’ve created on your iCloud account and makes it easy for you to send group text messages or emails from your phone.

Why use Groups?

Sending a text to a group of tenants manually using your phone can be a nightmare, and how are you supposed to remember everyone in the house anyway?

Obviously, the larger the portfolio the worse this problem becomes.

Opening up the Groups app shows you all the groups you have created. Tapping into a group shows all the contacts in that group. You can then ‘Select all’ and choose to send SMS or Email.

I probably don’ need to tell you why this is useful but as an example, you might need to inform your tenants about a viewing (texts seem to get a better response than emails it seems).

Contact syncing (or sharing)

If you are the only person managing your properties, then using your personal iCloud account would probably be fine. However, if you also want your property manager or maintenance guy to have access to your contacts, then you will probably want to create a separate iCloud account for the purpose.

You can add an additional iCloud account to your phone in Settings>>Mail, Contacts, Calendars>>Add Account.

You should then go online to icloud.com and sign in with the new account to add (and edit) the contacts. It’s best to use the website to add and edit contacts to be sure you are saving any changes to the shared account and not your personal iCloud account.

Also, any changes made, automatically go through to whoever you allow (i.e your maintenance guy if you have one).

Maintenance Management (using the Posidacious system)

Ok, before you read on, the system I’m about to tell you about was designed and programmed by me (yes I’m an IT guy as well as a Property Manager!). The system is available to anyone on a subscription basis.

It’s called Posidacious. You can find out more about it on the Posidacious Blog.

It’s a backend system design to help property owners and letting agents manage their maintenance requests.

These days, legislation can inhibit a landlords ability to carry out simply things such as serving a section 21 notice. With a system like Posidacious, you can properly record all maintenance requests, assign contractors and so on.

It goes without saying that you can cut down on phone calls and text messages and the confusion that arises when a tenant contacts both you and your maintenance team. I’m sure you can think of dozens of examples where confusion and stress arise.

We are currently working on version 2 which will have a new modern feel and include an iPhone app to help you and your tenants report and update issues.

Anyway, check the blog post on the summary of Posidacious for more information.

Digital signing of legal documentation

We use Adobe Echo Sign to get tenancies and guarantor forms signed. This is legally recognised with the same ‘weight’ as a printed and signed document. At least in the UK it is.

It reduces the amount of chasing we have to do to get tenancies or guarantor forms signed. Doing it the ‘old fashioned’ way can mean paperwork needs to posted (and then lost in post), then returned and so on. Nightmare!

We also used to scan all the returned tenancies and forms so using Echo Sign has alleviated a lot of admin work for us.

You can prepare template forms for signing where you simply need to put in the new tenants’ details and click Send. In the case of multiple signatures required, the system first gets one signature then it moves on to the next. This way you know who might be holding things up.

You can also get the system to get the signer to fill in additional information (such as home address, phone number, tick a box to confirm being a homeowner and so on).

Summary

I highly recommend setting out some basics for your IT in relation to your property management. Do this even if you just have one property! Who knows, in a few years you might thank yourself for doing this when you have hundreds of tenants!

Doing these things provides a better service to your tenants – and therefore potentially a better relationship with them too.

Better relationships with tenants can mean tenants stay longer in the property. Even if they move, they come to you first for alternative accommodation.

That’s all for now. Any questions, just ask!

Future Thinking – What is it?

Future Thinking is a phrase I coined years ago. I came up with the phrase when I simply got fed up with people talking ‘positive’. I wanted something more meaningful than positive. ‘Being positive’ is often seen as a lame, limp and shallow phrase. I think this is because people who are positive in the ‘being positive’ sense of the word are often short term optimists, they are often positive for no apparent reason. They just come across as optimistic; positive without cause.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m what a lot of people call a positive person and I always try and look at the positive side to a given situation or problem. However, for me, ‘being positive‘ is something that happens ‘in the moment’ and not something that lasts. It’s not something that decisions affecting our futures are made of.

So, Future Thinking sprang from a desire to be more than just positive. I wanted to have a way of describing life choices with future consequences in mind and not just life choices that affect the moment. For me this meant that while I was ‘thinking’ about the future consequences of my actions, it didn’t necessarily mean that I was positive 100% all of the time. Sometimes looking at the negative aspect can provide you with insightful information to help make your ‘future thinking’ decisions!

How does Future Thinking work in practise? I use the following methods:

Look six months back

It probably seems a little weird to talk about Future Thinking by first talking about the past. However, there is a very good reason for this. I like to analyse decisions I’ve made by first looking to see if the desired affect has actually happened. In other words, I look six months into the past, remind myself of where I was (relating to a certain situation i.e. job) and see where I am now, also relating to the certain situation.

If things have improved to my liking, then I tell myself that the decision I made six months ago was a good one and that perhaps I should carry on doing what I’m doing for the next six months too!

Look six months forward

So, I know where I’ve come from. Now I ask myself where I would like to be in six months for a given situation (again, could be a job or something else) and I make decisions based on this thinking.  Now, you could say, I’m ‘Future Thinking’ at this stage and you would be right. The thing about Future Thinking and the difference between just being positive is that you can apply this ‘look six months’ forward style of thinking at any time and for, well, anything!

Future Thinking can apply to the single moments in our lives too

Every decision we make affects (or can do) our futures. Examples:

Example 1

You are a self employed property developer. You see the guy who owns the big property corporation in your city while at a party. Do you go talk to him? Just an introductory conversation at first?

If you do, maybe it will lead to more conversations in the future. Maybe (or maybe not) it will lead to working with his company in the future.

You wander over and just as you get near he turns with a smile on his face and you have a brief chat after which he takes your business card.

You feel satisfied that you did the right thing and months down the line you see him again and start to solidify the relationship and talk about upcoming projects.

Example 2

You are a teacher and love working with young children. However, right now you are working with teenagers and you find it tough and stressful.

You are at a teaching conference with some colleagues. They head to areas of the conference that interest them (teenage teaching) but you see a big sign saying:

"Primary school teaching, new exciting opportunity - coming to your area soon!"

You think about whether you should leave your friends for a while to find out what the sign is all about.

You don’t because peer pressure draws you away. For a long time afterwards you regret not investigating that sign.

Final thoughts

Being positive or optimistic will not bring towards you the things you want. You have to take action. You have to make decisions. Sometimes they are uncomfortable and fear stops you doing the right thing.

Looking six months forward takes you out of the moment and the necessity to be ‘positive’ and into something altogether different – Future Thinking.