Janesville couple manages apartments, life changes

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Saturday, June 26, 2010
— For years, Jim and Alesa McCarthy operated a family-owned trucking business that required cross-country travel. The Janesville couple once rode together on a haul that took them from Janesville to Portland, Ore., and back to Janesville via the Florida panhandle.

For the McCarthys, things have changed. These days, their commute often averages just 600 feet. Their new rig couldn’t be further from an 18-wheeler: It’s a little white golf cart.

Retired? Nope. They’re live-in apartment managers.

It’s 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, and Jim and Alesa are sitting at a wooden dining room table in their tidy, 1,000 square foot apartment/rental office at Greenbelt Estates, a 54-unit, seven-building apartment complex on Janesville’s northeast end.

The couple has lived and worked at the privately held apartments at Midvale Drive for about 10 months. Jim, 65, calls the properties “our little Ponderosa.”

As sun shines through a window and wind tussles a bean field across the street, the couple tells their story. Jim takes the lead, and Alesa fills in the gaps with tidbits and factual corrections.

It’s clear they’re a team.

For more hours a week than they’ll admit, Jim and Alesa do it all at the apartments.

Jim handles the maintenance work, scooting from unit to unit on his golf cart with tools, supplies and his ever-present, ever-ringing cell phone.

Alesa, who works fulltime for a financial reporting firm in Fort Atkinson, spends weekends cleaning vacant apartments, landscaping and wading though bookwork and rental contracts.

“I love the work,” Alesa says. “I spend all week sitting. It’s nice that I can do something active on weekends.”

The job offers Jim and Alesa one huge perk: They’re both at home. Finally.

On the run

During the bulk of the couple’s 17-year marriage, Jim drove over the road, sometimes for six weeks at a time. At the same time, Alesa ran her own daycare service, filling her calendar with 60-hour workweeks for nearly a decade.

“You don’t realize the home life you miss when you’re out there trying to make the world go around,” Jim says. “Thank God for cell phones and CB’s.”

Eventually, Jim decided to sell his truck, just before fuel prices spiked in the mid-2000s. For a few years, he drove for a private trucking company in Janesville, but following an injury, he was among thousands of local workers laid off in 2009, amid the economic downturn.

“That was when I told him to just retire from driving,” Alesa says.

Meanwhile, the couple sold their home and got out of the daycare business, downsizing at an apartment in Milton. Around that time, Alesa began work in Fort Atkinson.

Their prospects had changed, but their future was open.

Amazing change

Late last year, just months before he’d planned retirement, Jim and Alesa saw a job listing for a live-in property manager at a complex owned by their apartment’s management company. Alesa remembers how Jim went into the interview cold—a laid-off truck driver with no rental management experience and no maintenance skills.

“He didn’t become Bob Vila until later,” Alesa says.

Somehow, Jim landed the job, drawing an offer from the management company 30 minutes into the interview.

Just weeks later, the McCarthys moved into Greenbelt Estates, learning every aspect of property management from maintenance to marketing. Now, the couple and their golf cart seldom sit idle.

Jim says he gets at least 20 calls a day from tenants asking for help with anything from broken window screens to soap-gushing dishwashers. And that’s just when things are slow.

In periods of rental turnover—such as during the first-time homebuyer tax credit program that ended recently—Alesa spends hours readying vacant units. During those times, Jim does between 10 and 15 apartment showings a day.

“I guess we never really complain about the hours. Having been self-employed for years, we come by hard work,” Jim says.

At any given time, Jim and Alesa’s units buzz with about 150 tenants. And while Alesa’s still memorizing addresses at the complex, she said Jim knows every tenant by name and apartment number.

“I guess I never realized how much people have in common. The rapport you can build, it’s something I didn’t know I’d get out of this job,” Jim says.

Alesa said she enjoys seeing tenants move ahead in life, even if it means they’re moving on. She just hopes they’ll write.

Settling in

The best part of their life change, Jim says, is that he and Alesa no longer fret over whether a month on the road will yield payments on a truck and a home.

“I walk outside my door, and I’m at work. It’s great,” Jim says. “And in 10 months, I’ve only had to put gas in my golf cart once. I can’t tell you how nice that is.”

Just west of the apartments, trucks whine past on Interstate 90/39. Around the corner, a local travel plaza teems with semis. Jim knows they’re there. But he said he doesn’t yearn for the highway—at least not often.

“Whenever he feels that way, I just send him over to Menard’s. That way, he feels like he’s on the road,” Alesa joked.

This week, for the first time in months, Jim and Alesa have all of their apartment units filled. No one’s given a 60-day move-out notice. Barring maintenance calls, it looks like the couple could have a few weekends off.

Alesa said she plans to catch up on her scrap booking. Jim’s going golfing. No word on whether he’s taking the golf cart.

Sometime soon, the couple swears, they’ll get around to replacing the missing cabinet door in their kitchen.

“If we don’t get it done soon, I’ll have to write us up,” Jim said.

Last updated: 1:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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