Best Trades for ERE

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Best Trades for ERE

Post by RFS »

I have thought about getting a trade recently. I have a college degree and have worked as a salesman and teacher, but I think the trades are an excellent route for ERE. Plus, I am 24, so I still feel young enough to make a switch. Here are the advantages I see:

1. It's a skill people will give you money for.
2. Massive labor shortage (thanks to high school guidance counselors encouraging everyone to attend university.)
3. Flexible hours. Income can be scaled up or down.
4. Objective measures of competence.

Do you think certain trades are better than others for someone pursuing ERE? Here are the ones I have thought of:

- Electrician
- Carpenter
- Plumber
- HVAC Technician

I plan to reach FI through real estate buy-and-hold investments, so those are just synergistic with real estate. Not to leave out millwrights, boilermakers, welders, ironworkers, wind turbine technicians, etc. Any insight on which ones interface well with the ERE lifestyle (enable low expenses, flexible employment, etc)?

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by daylen »

I have thought about this too (mainly electrician or plumber). If we extend the idea to service work then there is also firefighting, policing, and nursing. Internet based trades could include web programming and technical writing. Starting a business goes very well with the ERE philosophy too.

I think there is great value in having a job where the consequences of your decisions are immediate and obvious.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by Gilberto de Piento »

Arborist, landscaper? I suspect low pay if you work for someone else but good if you own the business.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by daylen »

Computer repair, car repair, tutoring, painting, janitorial, landscaping, and so forth can also work. It is harder to maintain stable employment with some of these.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by Augustus »

I looked into a few but one big turn off to me was the length of time it took to get to master level in the guilds. 8 years is a big commitment. A handyman/small time contractor might be better? But it seems like it's very hard on the body.

Jouneyman might work if you just want per diem contracts from established businesses? I don't know enough to comment.

I just browsed a few in my area and there were only 5 or so jouneyman plumbing jobs, paying 20-26 per hour, not worth it IMO. I'm sure it varies by location.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by IlliniDave »

If you

-do high quality work
-are reliable (show up when you say you will or at least call if things change)

you can probably write your own ticket in any trade that interests you. A large percentage of your competition does shoddy work and can't manage their time. If you're in the repair/service side and are willing to work evenings and weekends (so potential customers don't have to miss work for your visit) that's a good way to distinguish yourself.

Except for one chain/franchise plumbing company, my experience with tradesmen has ranged from marginal to downright bad.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by chenda »

One caution about trades is the physical impact they can have on the body. I know plumbers in their 40s who struggle to work because of back problems, and need regular physical therapy. Carpet fitting and removal men are apparently notoriously bad for your body.

Not saying it's a bad idea just something to consider wrt the long term.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by cimorene12 »

I agree with BiggerPockets about the overall trend. I went and pulled up ONET data for the four trades you mentioned.

HVAC Technicians:




This part of the MMM series on fixing up houses from 2011 has always stuck with me:
I was hiring subcontractors to help work on my housebuilding company’s first custom home. I gathered bids for the electrical, drywall, furnace, and plumbing work. They were all about $12,000, so I assumed all of these jobs were an equal amount of work.

The electricians worked for a week with a large crew, and provided thousands of dollars of fittings, light fixtures, circuit breakers, and expensive copper wire. The drywallers worked even longer and put up tens of thousands of pounds of drywall in all sorts of awkward places, then meticulously plastered and sanded the joints. The HVAC crew brought along a high-efficiency furnace and air conditioner, and put in even more hours.

But the plumber showed up with just one chain-smoking assistant and a few duffel bags of parts and pipes, and had the whole place done in less than a week before presenting me with the $12,000 bill. “What the heck?”, I thought, “Why do these guys earn so much money for so little work?”.

As a homeowner, you’ll run into the same situation. Plumbers routinely earn $100 to throw in a toilet, hundreds more to replace a sink or faucet, and thousands if you dare ask them to provide the plumbing for a new bathroom. ... -with-pex/

Without seeing this thread, I actually spent this morning trying to figure out the credentials and training that you need to be a plumber and diving into how to get an apprenticeship. I wish I could convince some people to go to vocational school instead of a 4-year university.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by RFS »

@Augustus- The time in apprenticeship is a big thing for me, too. I have thought about apprenticing under a contractor that does home repair/remodels, and then striking out on my own. That seems to be the most synergistic with real estate investing. That would 100% require a truck, but I don't think it would derail my finances if chosen correctly. You could even just account it as a business expense :P.

The thing is that I'm not sure how long it would take before I could start doing jobs on my own. Maybe if I specialized in one area, that would be a better business move. Only remodeling things like bathrooms or kitchens. I could even work as a handyman on the side while that got going- I think you would learn enough skills from being an apprentice/laborer to manage that.

@IlliniDave- I agree. One of my college mentors was absolutely screwed by 3 different contractors on one measly bathroom remodel. He thought the 4th guy was incredible, only to discover a few weeks later that he fucked up the shower tile. Just the word "GC" seems to make the average man's heart rate and anxiety levels increase.

I can't help but think there is a big opportunity in this field for people who are conscientious, can communicate effectively, and do fair business. I know that applies to any field, but people seem to be freaked out about being screwed increasingly more with residential construction-related trades. I wonder what putting up a simple website with before/after pictures of each job and a testimonial snippet would do for business.

One thing to consider, though, is that the amount of work is very much intertwined with the growth economy. Although so many in the field seem to suck ass, and with everyone fearful of being screwed, maybe the reliable and conscientious will always have work.

@Gilberto De Piento- Those are not bad ideas. And, they're specialized. I met someone recently who is making a decent living off of just power-washing people's properties.

@Daylen- I think the fire service, policing, and nursing are definitely not bad ideas either. Although they seem to be more inflexible, or aren't as gig-economy ish as other trades. You can't as easily pick up jobs when you want to.

@Cimorene- I appreciate the links! Do you have a plumbing union in your area? You may be able to visit the union hall and ask what they're doing about apprenticeship applications. The union apprenticeships all seem to pay higher and have better benefits than the non-union ones.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by cmonkey »

RFS wrote:
Sun Jan 20, 2019 9:58 am
I have thought about apprenticing under a contractor that does home repair/remodels, and then striking out on my own. That seems to be the most synergistic with real estate investing.
Given the advice for people to buy a 'starter home' and an 'upgrade home' at least several times during their lives, and the tendency for each and every buyer to rip the home apart and redo it with essentially the same stuff, just different styles, I would say this is a pretty solid plan. :cry:

After 6 to 12 months, you'd be really good at one or two skills. Once you get good at one skill, the rest will fall in line. It's really more about getting "good at building", it doesn't really matter what it is.

Definitely +1 on the wear and tear on the body aspect though. I spent 5 hours yesterday putting down laminate flooring and am feeling it today. But you are 24 and I am 32, so try to retire within 8 years. :P

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by jacob »

In 2010, I was thinking of getting into a carpentry apprenticeship. I looked at the various entry-tests (What is COS(45)?), the salary (which turned out to be in between what the National Science Foundation pays a physics postdoc and gradstudent respectively), and typical career trajectories.

It was strongly suggested that at "my age" (I was 35) I would be too old because apprentices spend a lot of time hauling 2x4s and worse up and down stairs all day long. Also that this was so punishing and physically demanding that if you hadn't made it to master carpenter (and gotten other people to do the hauling for you) by age 40, you'd be trapped and eventually worn down physically. So basically they preferred young applicants. Also, like with any trade, an apprenticeship is a bit of an investment in part of the master, because the apprentice is pretty useless the first couple of years and so operating at a loss. Therefore there's also a preference for people who are likely to make a lifetime commitment or at least enough years so the ROI more than breaks even.

Conversely, in the RV park, one of my neighbors was a carpenter (age 50-55) who pulled ~$40k/year by working a few months in Alaska and otherwise taking the rest of the year off for camping and fishing. He was in reasonable physical shape.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by EdithKeeler »

Instead of doing a trade, I’d get a contractor’s license and/or become a project manager for a contractor. You wouldn’t have all the time devoted to an apprenticeship, etc, you wouldn’t have the (sometimes literally) shitty work you’d have being a plumber or electrician, and it would not take a huge toll on your body. It’s interesting, challenging, and pays quite well. I work daily with contractors and construction PMs, and they tend to love their jobs. Good ones are paid very well.

One thing about doing a trade—you could commit a lot of time to it and then once you’re really earning, you’re also at the age where well, age starts taking a toll on the body. The knees go, the back goes, and you’re screwed if you can’t climb a ladder or crawl under a house. I’ve handled a lot of insurance claims where electrians have been electrocuted because someone else did not follow—or ignored—proper lock out/tag out procedures. I’ve handled quite a few fall claims on job sites.

If I had a kid, I would discourage him from being an electrician or a plumber. If he wanted to be involved with construction, I’d steer him to the project manager role. I think if I was going to encourage any kind of trade, it would be mortician. Yeah, I know, weird and ghoulish, but people are always going to be dying and while cremation is way up, one way or another (burial or cremation) has to be done by someone.

If you look at PayScale (Which I do take with a grain of salt), average mortician salary is about $46k a year. Average plumber hourly rate is $20/hour. So about the same. Electricians run a bit higher... but how long does it take to get there?

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by theanimal »

The only negative comments I've heard regarding trades when talking to tradesmen pertain to carpentry. The common complaints are that the work is either very monotonous and/or not engaging (framing, framing and more framing) or inconsistent (very seasonally dependent). That being said, for someone of an ERE bent, work does not need to be particularly long lasting. Carpenters seem to be the best option for sourcing work quickly and for short periods of time. Like Jacob described above, I have heard of numerous people travelling to areas and working a few weeks in carpentry to earn money for their flight/expenses home. A couple of my friends also do carpentry work a few months out of the year to supplement other more enjoyable jobs/lifestyles such as wildland firefighting and travelling. Carpentry also allows you to barter for housing with an exchange of skills/work for rent. This is fairly common, at least here in Fairbanks. I should note that I think that carpentry would be a poorer choice in poorer economic times as housing projects decrease and less work becomes available.
EdithKeeler wrote:
Sun Jan 20, 2019 1:11 pm
If you look at PayScale (Which I do take with a grain of salt), average mortician salary is about $46k a year. Average plumber hourly rate is $20/hour. So about the same. Electricians run a bit higher... but how long does it take to get there?
This is highly dependent on area. In my region, starting out as a year 1 carpentry apprentice you are paid $28/hr (increasing per standard hour times). Electricians and plumbers start at similar or higher. The hourly rate increases dramatically once you become a journeyman and can start your own business. As you note that takes a few years, but for someone with an ERE mindset. They can be FI by the end of their apprenticeship, start their own contracting business and take on as much or as little work as needed/interested.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Another good option could be getting licensed as a home inspector. A friend of mine who was looking into getting licensed as a general contractor discovered that the home inspection license is much easier to obtain for anybody who is decent at taking tests, and was quite useful for him in conjunction with being a landlord.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by ffj »

Carpentry would be your easiest port of entry and it's a good skill to have, even if you progress to an electrician or plumber. A good hammer, measuring tape, speed square, circular saw, chalk line and tool belt and you are ready to work. Carpenters who do rough work like framing will get paid the least, while finish carpenters (running trim or setting doors) will get premium pay. I would recommend working with a crew for a while before you entertain striking out on your own because there is a lot to learn, and I would definitely strike out independently once the skill-set is there because your income will increase dramatically. As well as your liabilities and tax burdens so keep that in mind.

Electricians also make good money but you have to understand that like plumbing, there is a lot of very unglamorous work that has to be performed. Running wire, drilling holes, crawling in tight spaces, not getting electrocuted, etc. If it's a remodel, then expect to do a lot of carpentry to get the job done. A lot of guys will specialize in either new construction or retrofitting. Retrofitters make good money but they also earn it. A niche market is small electrical jobs such as putting in a new outlet or changing light fixtures or ceiling fans.

Electricians unlike carpenters have to be licensed to perform the work, which takes time and money to get certified. There are handymen out there that skirt all the rules but if you want to be called an electrician, then you have to abide by your states rules and requirements. You also have to pay fees to remain current in your licensure. Electricians also need a lot more expensive tools to perform their work and a truck or van to haul it. As do plumbers.

Plumbers are similar to electricians are far as professional qualifications. Every state is going to be a little bit different as far as requirements. They also do a lot of work that is not fun and typically an electrician or plumber will hire out minimum wage flunkies to do the dirty work under their supervision. For a young person, this is a good opportunity to learn the trade if the professional is willing to teach or at the minimum allow you to upgrade your skills. Some don't want to do this because they rightly know that you will leave once better opportunities arise if they can't provide that opportunity.

In my experience, plumbers make the most money, followed by electricians. A good trim carpenter can make good money comparable to both at times, but as a whole does not. Now where carpentry does have an advantage is the multitude of variations of that skill set. They can frame, remodel, run trim, set cabinets, roof, build forms, hang drywall, install flooring, install windows, fix settling floors, and fix the mess the plumbers and electricians left behind after their work. So the chance of running out of work diminishes greatly whereas plumbers and electricians are a little more pigeon-holed.

Something you haven't mentioned is auto-mechanic. I think that is a wonderful opportunity to make great money if you are inclined to that profession. There are so many shady mechanics that if you are good at it, are honest, and charge a fair price then people will swarm to you. it does require a lot of tools and the space to do it however. And the knowledge takes a while to accumulate. But people are very loyal to mechanics who they think they can trust and they are wiling to pay a premium price for quality work. And it's a repeat business that does not slow down.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by Campitor »

I've worked for plumbers and do my own plumbing work. It's a very dirty job. Nothing like snaking out a waste pipe filled with human feces or stinking of decaying kitchen grease and food bits. And when you're not doing cleanouts, you're replacing boilers or hot water tanks which are heavy even when empty. If you're lucky, you either get to run pipe in new housing construction or a house that has been stripped to the bare studs. Otherwise you're always in filth or roach/flea infested basements and crawl spaces. And if you are soldering copper you will be breathing in those flux fumes. And with PVC you're breathing in the cleaner/glue.

Plumbers always seem to be in short supply in my area. It's my opinion the short supply has to do with how dirty the job is. You can make a fortune just snaking out clogged pipes but man does it suck. If given a choice I would get certified in this order:

If you want to make the most money, don't care how dirty you get, or how many hours are worked:
  1. Plumber
  2. Carpenter
  3. Electrician
If you want to make money for the least hours worked and don't mind getting dirty:
  1. Plumber
  2. Electrician
  3. Carpenter
If you want make money but want to avoid getting splashed with human waste (fecal/food matter):
  1. Electrician
  2. Carpenter
  3. Plumber
If you're starting late in life and want to have the longest career possible because the body doesn't get so abused:
  1. Electrician

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by BMF1102 »

@ RFS - I highly recommend trades.. through a union. All experience/opinions based in U.S.

I’ve been on both sides of the coin Union/non union. I was a non union residential new construction plumber for 8 years on/off. Have now been a union Millwright for 5 years.

Your looking into residential trades since they are synergistic with your real estate goals. Not a bad way to think. Plumbers, Electricians and Hvac all require state licenses, often have apprenticeship requirements, example 2000 hours a year under a master for 3-5 years. Then testing requirements on paper and practicals. Unless you want to work in the service side, these are all pretty boom or bust with the economy/ housing market. They also do not allow you to work across state lines, unless working for a Master who holds a license in said state. If you want to go into General Contracting then you can just hire these trades and not put in the time learning them yourself.
Of all these I think Electrician would be best. Very easy to make side money (most people fear electricity) I’ve heard of guys making 150$ to simply swap in a new electrical outlet in an existing box. Very simple but since most people don’t understand electricity and do not want to be electrocuted they simply pay the money.

You would do better in my opinion looking to work in the commercial/industrial markets. They continue making cereal, soap, flour, etc. when they all but stop building houses. They also rarely slow down on energy production which offers lots of work opportunities for various trades.

I can’t speak to all Unions but most offer pensions and health insurance. Some offer supplemental pensions or 401k’s on top of regular pensions.

I like to think of myself as an independent contractor and the companies I work for as customers, since we are allowed to solicit our own work. Similar to actually being an independent contractor.

Some trades are only allowed to get work through their union hall, so when they get laid off from a job they need to call the hall and get on the “out of work list” when their name comes to the top they get asked if they’d like to work. Depending on the trade you can only say no to 1 or 2 jobs before you go back to the bottom.

Unions also make it easier to work around the country. Instead of needing to find someone to hire you. Just call the hall where you’d like to work see if they need help/sign up for their out of work list, or they may have a “travelers list” for when they have big short term jobs and need extra man power.

There are also various pay rates for Unions around the country. Example my home local wage is 27.44 but do to travel I’ve averaged 49.50/hr last year.

@ Chenda/Edith - Work smarter not harder.
-Although certain trades are predisposed to certain injuries, Millwrights are notorious for needing shoulder surgeries for example. Also from observation, trade members that spend a significant amount of time welding seem to all wear reading glasses (fitters, tin knockers, ironworkers, boilermakers), 90% of operators seem to be overweight (lots of time spent sitting down running equipment)
-I would say Union companies generally have safer operating practices.
-I like Edith”s recommendation of Project Management though.
-Trades are definitely labor intensive at times and some more than others

This post is getting long.

@RFS - I do not offer an answer to your question, simply information to help you and anyone else reading form an educated answer for themselves.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by FBeyer »

I am a carpenter, stopped working as one a LONG ass time ago.
Carpentry allows to me to fix almost everything inside my own home. There are limits to how much electrical/plumbing work you do in your own house, but the list of things I can build/fix/upgrade/repair inside my own home is quite a lot.

Drawers, bed frames, installing windows, caulk work, hanging doors, repairing floors, installing kitchens, building cabinets/shelves, raising a covered patio, building fences, trim.

Our sofa and our three biggest shelves are store-bought. Every other piece of furniture in our living room in hand built by now. 8-)

If you want to make moolah, masonry has always been the goto trade around here, I don't know about the states, your history of stonework is very different from 'ours'. But if you want to learn the most fundamental and applicable trade when it comes to your own home, I'd recommend carpentry. It's also a versatile trade. If you get into piecework for the big construction companies, then yes, you're installing windows for 6 months at a time. If you find a smaller contractor to work for, you're never doing the same kind of work for more than a few weeks at a time at most.

Shit's heavy though! Roof tiles used to come in packs of 6. And you'd be considered lazy if you didn't carry one in each hand while you stack tiles on a roof :|

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by daylen »

I have been looking more into carpentry, but one thing that concerns me is how volatile the work can be during a recession. It looks like housing starts are rising from the big dip back in 2009, though the next recession could hit anytime. There seems to be less opportunity for carpenters to do maintenance work than for electricians or plumbers, and the maintenance/insulation work that does exist might be prioritised to experienced carpenters during a slow housing market. There may also be a trend of millenials living with kin or inheriting kin property.

How much of a concern should this be for a potential apprentice?

I would still like to learn such skills, and the skills would definitely help me with my plans to later build a permaculture. After 5-10 years I would probably transition into woodworking to reduce injury risk.

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Re: Best Trades for ERE

Post by SustainableHappiness »

An idea that hasn't been mentioned yet. Crane Operator.

I have a buddy who is doing this and he says until you get your ticket, it pays well but you're often forced to do bitch-work as an apprentice. However, after getting your ticket or towards the end of your apprenticeship you can either, go work for a mom and pop shop that is in one location if you want to settle down, accumulate $ and retire, or the interesting path is to become a global crane operator for a large multi-national.

You can become "the operator" for a specific unit and they ship you all over the world. These operators would make >$150K a year with minimal expenses as you are on the road the majority of the year. It's the kind of role that I saw in the Albertan Oil Sands where people worked 7 12s in a camp and then go to the a rental in the Caribbean for 7 days and do that instead of own or rent a place in Canada.

Great for young not tied down individuals and would suffer less from the bodily issues mentioned above (besides sitting of course). You could also potentially see the world if that's your shtick. Plus, you would be saving an assload of money because you are interested in ERE and could just leave when you were ready to chill instead of be locked in by golden handcuffs.

Pro tip - Don't get addicted to any of the following for bonus points -> Drugs, Alchohol, Prostitution

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