Everyone has to get stuff done

Mar 31, 2024

We all need new challenges, variety in our daily routines, and to see tangible results from our efforts to be fulfilled.

My editorial writing for The Zweig Letter has always reflected my own experience, much of it current. I usually don’t write about what someone else has experienced or written about. I think many writers share my approach to it, and hopefully it has kept my work relevant and topical over the years.

My own experience in the last seven weeks or so has been one of high productivity, but not in all of the “jobs” I have (my teaching, my board service, and the companies I have ownership in or am most involved with). I am back to working on houses, using my physical labor every day. And I have to admit, if not for the guilt about how well I am doing my other work these last few weeks, it has been incredibly gratifying.

Nineteen years ago, I started a business – Mark Zweig, Inc., a design-build contracting and development company. We started out by doing total gut-to-the-studs renovations of 80- to 120-year-old houses we owned in “walk to everything” locations. Ten years later, we had an unlimited license to build any commercial or residential project; 60-plus houses, apartments, and condos as well as 44,000 square feet of commercial space in a rental portfolio, and a business that got on the Inc. 5,000 fastest-growing privately-held company list as well as named “Developers of the Year” by our local chamber of commerce.

In any case, sometime around 2018, I and my best friend (who worked in the business and became my wife in 2019) decided we were sick of it. The risk/reward ratio got completely out of control. We had way too much overhead and debt in the business, and in 2018 had a bunch of big projects under construction with nothing to sell all year. Our working capital got almost completely drained and it wasn’t fun any longer. Our construction crews and our subs just weren’t performing like they once did. Everything took too much supervision and I didn’t have the time for it. So we decided to start phasing out of the business. We finished up our projects. We sold off our rental properties one by one. We didn’t replace workers who left. We paid a ton of taxes because we didn’t reinvest in real estate. Over a period of years we got out of everything. We sold the last building – a 21,000-square-foot multi-tenant center – a couple months ago. And even though we are carrying the note on it for the next two years, we don’t have to worry about it at this point. That was the last asset owned by Mark Zweig, Inc.

So that brings us to the present. We currently live in a mostly original 124-year-old Victorian house on a 1.1 acre lot in town. It was a largely original house we bought in November of 2021 and did a quick rehab on and moved into. My wife wanted to live closer in and we left a fantastic modern house about four miles away for this one. We did a lot of work on it but did not bring it up to the standard of what we used to do. It was too original and had too much character to completely gut it. We built a new garage with a gym and bathroom and made it look fantastic. And we carved off a .47 acre corner lot that could be easily built on. But I always felt it would not be the house I wanted to stay in forever. We got a great deal on it and our work created a lot of value. So I started looking around casually for something else, hoping I could sell my wife on it if I found a deal.

One thing I have learned about real estate over the years is to look at Zillow every morning, first thing. This is how you know what is selling and how much it is selling for. In real estate, you make money when you are buying, and you make money when you are selling. We always bought properties either the day they hit the market or after they languished on the market for a year or two. The house we bought recently was in the latter category. A giant mid-century modern house with two later Marlon Blackwell-designed additions 3/4 mile away had been on the market for a long time. The original owners were in a retirement facility and donated more than $15 million to various charitable causes in the last few years. It was a good time to make them an offer that reflected the time on market and condition of the house, so we did and we bought it.

Over the last seven weeks we have done a significant renovation of the place. We got so much done in such a short time in spite of shortages of good subs here even I am impressed with it myself. Sourcing everything ourselves, scheduling everyone carefully, and being there every day to get the quality we wanted has been very gratifying for both my wife and myself. And we have been doing physical work every single day, from putting stuff together to laying carpeting to hanging wallpaper and blinds and cutting up boxes. On top of it is the grueling chore of moving out of a 4,000-square-foot place with 7,000 square feet of stuff in its garages, sheds, attics, and basements. Every day my wife and I are completely exhausted but also happy to be back in the game. We are both losing weight in spite of eating out every night.

Being back in the phase of doing something where you can see the progress of your efforts every day has been very gratifying. While we all have our big long-term company-building projects that preoccupy our daily thinking, it’s good to have something more tangible to work on for a change. And while I am not as good at multi-tasking as I once was, I can still keep it all together and keep all those other plates spinning in the air while we get this effort wrapped up.

I recently turned 66. I’m in pretty good shape for a person my age, but there’s not as much gas in the tank as there once was. That said, one thing I know is we all need new challenges, variety in our daily routines, and to see tangible results from our efforts to be fulfilled. Just gratifying yourself with vacations and new cars and dinners out is not where it’s “at.” It’s getting stuff done that really makes us happy. It’s a basic human need and one we should not ignore or repress. 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.