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Hunting, Trapping, and Fishing
The Life of a Property Manager
In a life properly lived, you’re a river
Most of a real estateur’s career is spent hunting down decision makers. Whatever time is left is spent persuading them to do something.
A friend once managed a property that had a long-term lease with a defunct electronics store. The store’s lease had been acquired by a Megacorp who in turn subleased the space to specialty grocer - a wonderful place brimming with delightful prepared foods.
But the day before Thanksgiving - without warning and with lots of prepaid turkeys - the specialty grocer closed. Because it wasn’t his tenant (his relationship was with the Megacorp), my friend didn’t think too much about it.
It wasn’t until another friend, griping about getting screwed out of his Thanksgiving turkey, asked “I wonder if they even paid the power bill?” did he realize what liabilities might be coming. With a potential freeze on the way, my friend hunted and pecked through Megacorp’s phone system leaving messages here and there.
After an extended stalk he got a Megacorp representative to the property. With a locksmith they opened the door and with flashlights made their way in to find the display coolers writhing with red-eyed rats, hundreds of them, feasting on quinoa, orzo salads, and turkey carcasses.
As he backed away into the darkness, suppressing panic, something grabbed his ankle. He turned to find a whacked out vagrant.
The hunter became the hunted.
Epilogue: No vagrants were harmed in this story. But rats were, and the premises was later cleaned by a hazmat team, paid for by Megacorp.
Property managers’ primary role is as a buffer for the property owner, eating feces sandwiches, so the owner doesn’t have to. I once worked for a shifty property owner who owned a building leased to a national grocery chain. Despite being required by the lease to ensure a tenant’s roof remained watertight, he made me buy time - years of time - to fix it. The roof replacement was a big expenditure he couldn’t afford, and my job was to stall until he could cobble the money together. The roof had more leaks than non-leaks, and in the meantime I served as the punching bag for the grocery chain’s regional manager.
At one point during our years of makeshift patches, our roofer wanted to see the roof deck from inside the store. This old store, unchanged since its construction in the 1970s, had a grid of 2’ x 4’ acoustical ceiling tiles instead of the exposed ceilings common today.
I held the 18’ ladder while he teetered on the top step, violating every OSHA regulation, and lifted a soggy ceiling tile to see above. He cursed and replaced the tile and hopped down the ladder two steps at a time. The ceiling, he said, was filled with rats. Big ones.
Good, I thought. Since pest control was the tenant’s responsibility, I now had a counter punch for the surly supermarket regional manager. At least I could divert him for a while and require he get rid of the rats.
This bought me a little time, but during the next rainstorm I was summoned to the store. Again I had to stand there like a fraternity pledge as he ranted and pointed at all the trash barrels positioned to catch the dripping water.
I zoned out to the shouting, instead focusing on the extreme sag forming in one of the ceiling tiles. Just when it seemed it couldn’t expand any more, it didn’t, and it burst.
A waterfall ensued. A waterfall of rats.
What made it more entertaining was the regional manager had done his part and had the ceiling filled with rat traps. These were glue traps - small planks covered in a super sticky compound that prevented the rats from stepping off once they stepped on.
The store erupted in screams as shoppers ran to the front exit and rat after rat fell from the ceiling, squeaking. Some only had their back legs stuck to the traps and could still scurry with their front legs, like little rat chariots.
The rear of strip shopping centers is where property managers spend much of their time, cataloging abandoned mattresses and wooden pallets, identifying busted lights, and photographing broken dumpster enclosures.
Other than maybe a line cook cupping a smoke, or two cars pulled up close doing some sort of transaction through their driver’s windows, it’s usually an empty place. So when I once saw a host of city vehicles parked behind a property I was managing, I waded through the overgrown kudzu to see what the fuss was about.
A stern woman, dressed like an administrator and seeming like the boss of the group, handed me a business card. They had traced elevated levels of sewage up the creek to this property and were intent on finding out what was going on.
They were looking at the stub end of an 11” pipe that protruded from under the shopping center, debating its purpose. The pipe then began gurgling, faint and muffled at first, then gaining in volume.
We backed away from it just before it erupted, shooting water and other debris out into the creek.
One of the workers, leaning on a shovel, said to the woman in charge: “well you’ve found the culprit - there’s the sewer line”
“How do you know for sure it’s the sewer line?” she asked
“Because, ma’am, those ain’t brown trout shooting into the creek”.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in real estate.
And you know how - despite a developer’s best efforts to make a nice place - sometimes the vibes are off and that place feels sterile and fake? While other places just feel right and have a terrific energy that makes you want to spend time there?
If you want to know how wonderful places are created, and how they can increase surrounding real estate values, sign up for the Tacos & Patios Workshop - a free online gathering where we unpack the how and why behind unique mixed-use developments. Join now and get a recording of the last meeting as well as information of our epic upcoming in-person gathering.