What are the attributes of a great House Manager? What does it take to diagnose and repair a complex system like a home, to earn a member's trust, and become their first call when something in their home goes wrong? While we've given the subject elaborate consideration, we often find inspiration in the outstanding passion and work ethic of our House Managers. Whether it's George working past a scheduled appointment time to make sure everything on a member's list is taken care of, or Ben seeking every possible avenue to increase his knowledge of homes, we never cease to be amazed by the dedication and care they bring to their craft. Troubleshooting complicated systems is no easy task, and we truly appreciate their commitment to making the critical task of caring for a home that much easier for our members. Now without further adieu, meet Ben!
QUESTION: Hi Ben! Tell us about yourself. What do you like to do in your free time?
Ben: Typically, I work on my house. My wife is a real estate agent so I help her with her listings and do general remodeling for her, small things — light fixtures, outlets, faucets — just to touch the house up. A lot of painting too. We learn a lot from each other. Her knowledge as a real estate agent is really complementary to what I've been studying in my spare time to take the National Home Inspection Examination. My life is all about houses. I live it and breathe it.
In my personal time, I like to work on my car and go to the park or roller skating with my daughter. We'll take out our 6 ½ year old Jack Russell-Chihuahua mix. I also like to watch Holmes on Homes: How to Build/Buy It Right.
QUESTION: I heard you recently passed your National Home Inspection Examination; congratulations! What made you want to take this on?
Ben: Thanks! For the last year and a half, I’ve been studying home inspection, just to better myself and live by the culture of AAA and further education. AAA sponsored me to become a member of ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) as well as my books and testing materials. I’ve also been learning through working with fellow House Managers like Victor, who has his international code compliance certification. He teaches me a lot. I study to keep up with him!
QUESTION: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Ben: I just wanted to do what my dad and brothers did, which was kind of everything. They were sailors, mechanics, mountain climbers, runners... I grew up in airports. My dad was a serious aviation guy. I’ve been flying since I was just a baby in the seat. Early on, I got used to fixing the airplanes that I flew. It’s very high standards as far as the quality of materials you use, the procedures, and the checklist. You have to be very meticulous.
I got my pilot’s license when I was 32. For me, it was more of a rite of passage since it was so important in my family. After I got my pilot’s license, it really opened up my mind to a lot of things: procedures, protocol, being organized, and having a procedure for everything you do. It instilled in me a lot of good qualities that I use to this day. You have to be thorough. The devil’s in the details. If you’re in an airplane and you miss something, it can mean the difference between life and death. There’s no room for error.
QUESTION: What's your background?
Ben: I went to Chicago Art institute and studied graphic design. I also studied art at the Oakland Institute of Art. I was an artist before I got into construction so I transferred a lot of my design and art into building, designing furniture and smaller things. I designed and built my own bed frame.
I've also worked for termite companies, at just about every hardware store there is, sold computers, etc. Growing up, I had the luxury of working on my dad's old Victorian house in Alameda. When I started my own business and transitioned to working on homes, that experience made a big difference.
QUESTION: What's your favorite tool?
Ben: Channel locks, they're the best tool to have in all scenarios. They’re like crescent wrenches. It’s a plumber’s tool you can use for many things. In my personal time, I'll organize my tools so that when I go to work it’s much easier. Being organized and being methodical keeps me afloat.
QUESTION: What's was the first thing you fixed around your house?
Ben: I refinished the redwood trim in my old house. The first thing I fixed was stripping all of the trim around the house from 6 or 7 layers of paint over the years to get down to the original redwood trim. It’s invaluable. You can’t get that same level of wood anymore. It’s a much higher grain of wood because it’s older. They don’t get rot like these new houses do. I restored the door trims, window trims, and baseboard then sanded, stained, and varnished the wood.
I get a lot of enjoyment from building something and later on, going to sleep at night and envisioning everything I did. It's something I learned from flying. My dad taught me to play back everything I did that day in my mind, from the switches, landing, take off... the whole flight to find learnings and areas for improvement. I still do it to this day, thinking of ways I could have better fixed something in a home.
QUESTION: Any words of advice for homeowners?
Ben: A stitch in time saves nine. It's all about preventative maintenance, understanding your house, knowing how your house is built, understanding the components of your house... knowing your heating system, your water heater, your plumbing system, and your electrical. Find out where you have electrical wires in your wall, how much insulation you have in your attic, and the drainage grade around your house. Be very conscious of how water is affecting your house, whether it’s your gutters or windows. Water is enemy number one when it comes to homes.
And then there's efficiency. You want proper attic ventilation to release heat during the summer, for example. A running toilet could fill up a pool in a month. That's a lot of wasted water! Keep up on all the new technologies. The ideal is an old house with good bones updated with the latest tech. A good is example is Nests. They're really efficient about running your furnace.
Lastly, be proactive about preventive maintenance and update your old home to modern codes. New homes are really efficient but they’ll never be like an old house built with redwood.
QUESTION: What’s been your proudest moment in this line of work?
Ben: The most recent one I was really proud of was with a member who'd had somebody (not a House Manager) come out and tell her that she had a major roof leak. She had just bought this house and it was falling apart! There were nail holes popping up in the roof, and mold and mildew around the ceiling in one of the bedrooms. The person she had consulted before us told her that her roof wasn’t done properly, so I took an infrared camera, analyzed it, and found a cold spot. It could mean one of two things: there was water behind the wall or it could just be cold air accumulating there. When I went into the attic, I saw two problems: there was no roof leak but there was no insulation in that area, which made moisture collect in that part of the room and led to mildew. I was able to establish for her that she didn’t have a roof leak, just an insulation problem. The other thing I found out is that the low grade lumber they had used to build the roof was contorting (from moisture), which is why the nails were popping out. She could just fill the nail holes back in. I saved her a lot of money and a lot of stress.
We hope you enjoyed this interview with Ben! You can read more interviews with our team here. To have Ben or another one of our dedicated House Managers work on your home, sign up and then schedule a service (we recommend starting with the Initial House Assessment).