Tag Archives: Compassionate property management

The Way to Stay in Business, and Create Less Suffering, is to Extend Compassion in All Directions.

9I guess I’m not much of a blogger, for months on end I have nothing to say, but I have been thinking lately about an earlier post I wrote about Compassion. Specifically, “Extending compassion in all directions.”

Often, I see people causing problems for themselves and for others because we all tend to focus on what is in front of us, and forget what’s going on, on the sides, behind, above and below us.

When compassion is directed in one direction, for example, at your tenant, or your partner, or on yourself, you are missing a huge part of the picture.

When people who want to be Good become landlords, they tend to direct compassion towards their tenants only. Maybe they keep their rent artificially low so that the tenant will like them and be their friend. Or maybe this is what they think a good Christian or Buddhist or Muslim should do, and there is some basis for that. I think there have been rotten selfish landlords throughout human history.

There is nothing wrong with behaving this way, if it sustains all involved, and creates less suffering.

However, if doing this is going to put you out of business, even if it takes 15 years, this is not a wise manifestation of compassion. Does the landlord/lady have kids ? We need to think of them too, who’s going to pay for their college ? A spouse who needs health insurance? Your rental income can help with that. How about the lenders who helped you acquire your real estate ? They need to be on our radar too. If you screw up and can’t make your payments, that’s causing harm to whomever’s money you used to buy your rental. It’s also harmful to you. You will probably suffer a lot if you can’t make your mortgage payments !

Here’s what I found on the Huffington Post when I Googled “Idiot Compassion.” A term popularized by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa.

“…this is known as wise compassion, action that is inherently skillful, that sees the whole situation and aims to bring release from suffering; its opposite is known as blind or idiot compassion, which does not take into account the whole situation and so, while appearing compassionate, is inherently unskillful and may actually increase suffering. For instance, idiot compassion occurs when we support or condone neurosis, such as giving a slice of cake to an obese friend.” – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ed-and-deb-shapiro/wise-compassion_b_841019.html

The example I use for idiot compassion is the driver who stops hard on a busy street to let a mother and her baby cross. On the surface this sounds like a kind and generous thing to do. But I was once crossing the street with my daughter, when a nice young woman hit her brakes unexpectedly to let us cross. The car full of people behind slammed into her ! The kind driver was looking forward but not behind, just like the unwise landlord. She caused a big problem involving 6 people, and their families, and their Insurance companies, and people’s rates going up, and auto body shops, and the ripples of this crash radiated out and out and out.

My daughter and I could have waited to cross another minute, and none of this would have happened. No one would have suffered at all if the young driver had seen the entire situation, instead of just focusing on what was to the front. Wouldn’t that have been much better ? Even more compassionate ?

Image: AMAZING Buddha statue at Art Institute of Chicago

Raising the Rent is a Tightrope Walk

For any landlord, raising the rent is a difficult thing to do. Even if you are a heartless person, you have to walk a fine line and decide on an increase that will satisfy your needs, yet be acceptable to your tenant. If you don’t raise the rent enough, your business will suffer because there are, in many cases, consistently rising costs involved in doing what you do, like property taxes. On the other hand, if you raise the rent too much, your tenant is likely to leave, and if you are unable to rent the place soon, any benefit of a rent increase can evaporate very quickly.

In the following example, my tenants currently pay about $1350/month for a beautiful 2 bedroom place in a great neighborhood. I am sure this is under priced at this time, but I don’t believe raising it to it’s current value would be fair to them. I am therefore initiating a $95/month increase which I believe is already quite a blow to most people. I am only comfortable doing it because, as you will see, I gave them a price break over two years ago due to the deteriorating economic climate. Now, what if they decide to leave and I find out my perceptions are incorrect, and it takes me a month to find a new tenant. A one month vacancy would be an income loss of $1445 ( the new rent amount that I am proposing). It would take me over 15 months to recoup that loss via a $95/month gain in income, and that would be an utterly ridiculous result of a rent increase. It would be much much preferable to leave the rent stable and not have to find new tenants. So, we walk the fine line, and sometimes even express our sincere apologies to our tenants, because we don’t want them to move, and we know what it’s like ourselves when our costs go up, it’s difficult !

For your information, here’s an example of a rent increase notice I just sent out to some wonderful tenants that I would hate to loose. I start by reminding them of the price break they’ve had for quite a while.

Hi _____ & _____ ,

It’s been 2 years and 4 months since I first discounted your rent by $145/month, and one year since we discussed and raised it to $1350. This is still a full $95 less than ____ and ____ pay. I really love you guys, and hope that you can stay, but I need to bring your rent back up, at this time, to your original price of $1445. Hopefully your business is doing better and this won’t be a big problem for you.

I do imagine that if you two were to move I would probably be able to rent your place for close to $1600 a month. Rent prices in Portland have actually gone up a lot in the last two years.

I realize this is a pretty big increase, so it won’t take affect until August 1st in order for the two of you to have some time to think about it.

With apologies,


The Wonderful World of Plumbing

There are Bodhisattvas everywhere. Yesterday I walked into my local plumbing store ( the one that gives good advice ) with a few drawings and high hopes. I was replacing a leaking drain line in one of our two 100 year old houses. There I found a couple women behind the counter that I was reluctant to talk to, because neither one looked like an experienced plumber. It turned out that the younger gal, 6 months pregnant,  had actually worked as a plumber for 7 years. I was skeptical until she uttered the magic word, Oakum. No one but a real plumber would know what that weird old stuff that they once used to help seal cast iron pipe joints was called. Plumbers used it in conjunction with molten lead that they poured into a fitting.  She went on to give me some good advice on how to bond the new ABS drain line to the ancient cast iron stuff that may have been installed by a guy who rode a horse to work.

One great thing I’ve learned over the years is that people with knowledge like to share that knowledge. I’ve had plumbers teach me about plumbing, electricians teach me how to install a GFI outlet, and appliance repair man  help me repair a busted clothes dryer. I have found that a lot of this stuff is pretty easy to fix if you know how a bolt and a nut go together, and ABS plastic plumbing is just like cutting and pasting on your computer.

I think this tendency is a sign of what Chogyam Trungpa called “basic goodness.” I think everyone likes to help….

“Buddhist psychology is based on the notion that human beings are fundamentally good. Their most basic qualities are positive ones: openness, intelligence and warmth. Of course this viewpoint has its philosophical and psychological expressions in concepts such as bodhichitta (awakened mind), and tathagatagarbha (birthplace of the enlightened ones). But this idea is ultimately rooted in experience—the experience of goodness and worthiness in oneself and others. This understanding is very fundamental and is the basic inspiration for Buddhist practice and Buddhist psychology.” – Chogyam Trungpa


Stay In Business: extend Compassion in ALL directions

I’ve been thinking about what my first post regarding the actual work of property management should be, and what it takes to be “successful” financially as well as beneficial. For me the essential element is that compassion in business needs to extend in ALL directions. By this I mean that we have to be aware of our tendency to be either compassionate towards ourselves, or to be compassionate towards our tenants, as if they are different and separate. When we ignore our tenants and just take care of ourselves, then we’re like a lot of business people, “I am going to make this product (or provide this service) and people will pay me for it.” The thinking stops there, and the only goal is to get as many people as possible to pay us. On the other hand, if we are completely focused on being good and generous to our customers/tenants (often times because we just want them to like us), we do so at the peril of our own endeavor.
There are fewer examples of the later, than the former, but I have known really good, wonderful people, in business, who lost their shirts because they extended compassion in only one direction, away from themselves. They were so busy taking care of their customers that they forgot that they also needed to take care of themselves, their family and also their creditors. We want the world to be full of compassionate business people – but if they don’t make money, they will have to go back to working for someone else – and the world will be worse off !