A Big Branch Poses Some Important Questions.
When my husband Lucas and I decided to take the leap into real estate investing, it was with the reassurance that Lucas is handy, motivated, reliable and a true “do-it-yourselfer.” He knows all kinds of useful things, like the difference between a miter saw and a circular saw, where a water shut-off would be located in a house, and how to tell the condition of a roof just by looking at it. He’s probably rolling his eyes reading this because, to him, this is all basic stuff, but to my mind, it’s a mystery!
Given our imbalance of skill sets, it’s been my ongoing fear that something would go wrong with our rental property at a time when Lucas is working and I am left to my own devices. You see, Lucas is a paramedic/firefighter, so when he’s on shift there are periods of time when he’s running calls and unable to answer his phone to even talk me through an issue.
In our regular lives, this has come up only a handful of times. Once, my friends and I wanted to watch The Bachelorette but the DVR was screwed up and we couldn’t get to the show. Another time I ran over a screw and got a flat tire. I know huge emergencies! Nevertheless, my biggest fear of all has been that something would go wrong with the rental house when Lucas is unavailable.
On Saturday, June 17, 2017, at 8:58 a.m., I was walking to meet some friends for coffee while Lucas was at work, and my fears were realized.
I got a text from our renters explaining that a tree had fallen in the front yard during some massive storms the night before. Thankfully, the tree had narrowly missed their cars, but it was blocking the driveway and they were unable to get out. They wanted to know if they should call someone to remove it or if we would do it ourselves.
My first reaction was simple. “Oh no. Lucas is at work and I have to handle this!”
Then I thought, “I work out. I’ll just go over there and drag the tree out of the way.” I guess along with being terribly unhelpful with household maintenance tasks, I am also incredibly overconfident in my physical strength. This idea was quickly put to rest as a series of photos came through the text chain. Turns out that although it was a branch, not a tree, that had fallen, the branch was the size of a tree and there was no way I was moving it with brute force.
I offered to drive our renters around until we could get someone over there to remove the tree, and I called several tree removal services. Unfortunately, no one could get to it until Monday because the whole city was covered in fallen trees and they were booked solid. In the end, we all waited for Lucas to get off work the following morning and deal with the problem.
Once off his shift, Lucas borrowed a chainsaw, went over to the rental, chopped up the tree, and hauled it away. All in a day’s work.
In all, this experience brought up a rollercoaster of emotions:
We were relieved
Of course we were. This tree could have fallen on the house, or our renters’ cars, or the neighbor’s house. Fortunately, it didn’t. We got lucky, and we were so very relieved.
We were annoyed
We spent an entire afternoon hauling tree branches around in the heat, which was pretty much the last thing we wanted to do on one of the few Sundays we had off together. This got us wondering if we really will want to continue being property managers if we get more than one property. It’s doable with one, but two or more could really start to drain us!
We were concerned
A million insurance-related questions were running through my head the second we got the text from our renters. What if the tree had fallen on their car or our house? Were we liable? Would our insurance have covered it?
The tree definitely appeared to be healthy, but the large branch that fell off of it clearly had squirrels nesting in it (at one end there was a large hole, see picture for reference). Would that have had an impact on what our insurance was willing to cover? For some reason, our insurance company treats this property differently because it’s an investment property and not the home we live in, so that had us worried, too.
Clearly, we have a lot to look into. We need to review our coverage and make sure we are properly insured in the case of another situation like this. A huge, uncovered claim would have wiped out our cash flow and set us back big-time on the money we’re setting aside for another property.
But risk is part of the game, right? Everyone told us real estate is a risk, but with the proper education and support system, you can mitigate that risk. I hope we’ve done enough to make that so. Either way, we’ve clearly got someone looking out for us or else that fallen tree would have been a sob story instead of a learning experience.
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