Sunday, May 19, 2013

Apples to Eat vs Apples to Sell

This post is a sort of "why I am not writing" apology.

Some years ago a friend at a company I was working for related a conversation he'd had with the Vice President of Sales. The guy said, "You're worrying about 'apples to eat,' not 'apples to sell."

When my friend told me a bit later, he was in high dudgeon. He regarded this as sleazy--a sort of cheat. Like the software my friend was building didn't have to work, it just had to look good. I thought the same until recently.

My grandmother's house passed to my father when she died, and it was part of his estate when he died. And for reasons it would be tedious to read about, I have to manage this property.

Previous tenants left the house in something of a wreck and I've been spending every available hour there effecting repairs, cleaning, painting, and replacing trim. Among the many problems this property has is its drain field.

If you don't live in the country, you may not know what a drain field is. When your house is not attached to the city sewer, you need a means of getting rid of dirty water. I'm most familiar with disposing of dirty water with a drain field.

Water flushed from the toilet goes into a septic tank and from there it goes into a drain field. The drain field consists of a layers of sand, gravel and/or crushed stone with some means of supplying waste water to it. Septic waste water soaks into the ground, percolates through the soil, and is purified in the process.

This is centuries-old technology and the county health department manages inspections and issues permits for everything. This is the proper role of government.

The house can not be occupied, and it certainly cannot be rented out without a properly functioning drain field.

This project is a big deal because it entails a huge number of discrete tasks in addition to fixing the drain field. We've gotten a lot of things done and quite a few things remain undone.

The secret of managing residential rental property is getting good tenants. And good tenants need to be actively sought out. The goodness of a tenant has nothing to do with skin color, race, creed, or sexual proclivities. It has to do with taking care of things, living like a civilized human being, and paying rent on time. Good tenants generally have no urgent need to move. If someone is urgently seeking immediate housing, you definitely want to know why before you rent to them.

This translates into lead-time. To rent a house on June 1st, you want to be advertising in the middle of May. And to be advertising the house, you'll need pictures. Thus, last night I was putting up trim and my wife was going around behind me staging rooms and photographing them. And I'm composing ad copy when I have a few spare neurons.

 I gave my brother a status report last night and he pointed out the drain field wasn't ready.

That's when it hit me. That Vice President of Sales wasn't advocating a shoddy job papered over with glitzy cosmetics. My project will be complete when I have a nice house with good tenants. Right now, to get good tenants, I have to start advertising before everything is set. I need "apples to sell" so that I can start advertising. I can use the time between advertising (now), and renting to some good tenants to make the substance as good as the appearance. At the end of the day, I'll have "apples to sell AND eat." But right now, I have to get the cosmetics right.

You probably don't have to prep a house for rental, or build a complex software solution, but your writing may be in a state of partial completion. It'll take a while to find an agent, or editor, or do the things you need to bring it to market yourself. However, getting that person or persons on board  can be achieved with a polished synopsis and a double-polished first chapter. This is the "apple to sell" which you need today in contrast with the "apple to eat" you deliver tomorrow.

It is not a cheat, if you really do deliver on the non-cosmetic substance.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck renting your house. My home's "leech field" had to be recently replaced. Not inexpensive. Suddenly craving apples.... :)


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