I will answer the question: how I went from 1 house and an 8-unit building to over 1,000 apartment units and more importantly, what I learned along the way. I share my story NOT to brag because my success took a lot of hard work and honestly, a little bit of luck. My hope is that some of you will learn from my story, or at least be inspired to persevere and endure with real estate investing specially when times are tough.
Here’s the last part of my story.
28-Units in a War Zone
After my 8-unit acquisition, I did a couple of smaller deals. One of them is a 2-family apartment building I bought from the same “tax credit” group (see part 2). The next bigger deal came and as all deals, it appeared as “work”.
It was a 28-unit property - well it’s actually 4 properties in one block in Over the Rhine. At that time, that particular part of OTR was an “F” area (war zone) but it was gentrifying. The problem with the property was that out of 28 units, only 4 units were occupied. It needed work. The owner of the property wanted me to fix the units and he told me that if I want the property, I could buy it.
He told me was that he didn’t have any money personally to fix the units. Good thing though that he was smart enough to put aside money in reserves from the property when it was still performing. Anyway to make the long story short, I used $16,000 in reserves to fix some of the units. I did the work myself. Talking about being hands-on: I was literally putting my sweat into this property.
How to Turn a Problem Property into Gold
Now, I realized early on that leasing the property was going to be a problem if I marketed it and get tenants the conventional way. So I spoke again to the lady who worked for an agency which leased my 8-unit building (see Part 2). However, she told me her agency does not have any money in their budget. But I didn’t let that discouraged me. I spoke with other agencies - like agencies for AIDS, for the homeless, section 8, etc. I found an agency (I am keeping this one close to the vest as this is a source of competitive advantage for me) that was willing to provide subsidies to the tenants. So as soon as I fixed a unit, I lease it. And I did it several times until I get the building from 14% occupancy to 85% occupancy.
The owner of the building asked me again if I wanted the property and I told him yes. I knew that even with the property now 85% occupied that he still wanted to sell. Managing a property in an “F” area is no joke. It’s a full time job and it’s never passive. It takes a LOT of work. We agreed on a price of $140,000 - a mere $5,000 per door!
So I called my private lender. He lent me $170,000 and I kept $30,000 as reserves. The deal was so good that all it took was 4 tenants to pay me their rent and I was able to pay the debt service! After all expenses, my cashflow from just that one property is $30,000/year.
Cashing Out and Trading Up
One of the downsides though of owning a property in a F area is that it took so much time. I couldn’t do anything else. Somehow, I managed to do 2-3 flips per year allowing me to make a total income of about $75,000/year.
The word spread around in Cincinnati that I am THE guy who could stomach and manage these problem properties in war zone areas. So investors left and right were begging me to manage their buildings. I hired and trained some people and together were able manage about 150 units for other investors and my personal income increased to about $100,000/year.
Remember the 28-unit building in Over the Rhine? The previous owner of that building told me that he would buy the building back from me after a few years. Four years have passed since I took over and he was true to his word - he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and we didn’t even negotiate. My sales price - $280,000 is double what I paid for!
Some of you might ask why would I sell a cash machine like that. There were 2 reasons.
It was a win for the previous owner-seller-turned-buyer again of that 28-unit property. Because OTR was gentrifying, I am sure he would be able to sell that building for maybe even double what he bought it for.
Then 2008 Happened!
Anyway, I love 2008-2009. There were so many deals - it was a crazy time and there were some crazy deals that were crazy profitable! (I know - I said crazy three times in one sentence!)
One crazy deal was this desperate seller of a mansion. In 2007, this house appraised for over $600,000. He begged me to buy it for $300,000. I told him “NO”.
He then went back and told me he would pay me to take this house. He offered me $100,000 cash at closing! I told him “NO”.
Then he told me he would add 2 small houses on top of the deal. I finally said “YES”.
These 2 houses though needed about $30,000 to $40,000 in work. In just 60 days after we did the work, we sold these 2 houses and bought 4 houses which we rented and generated $2,000/month in cashflow. I also sold that $300,000 house for pretty much what I paid for but the real money came from cash at closing and those 2 free houses!
Then, I used that cash to buy non-performing notes. Ohhh man, those were really good times! I bought notes and sold them and made a whopping $300,000 profit! Wow.
I could talk more and more about the many deals I did but I won’t bore you with all the details. I just like to mention that my growth as a real estate investor happened slowly at first and then like a 14 year old guy, my portfolio had some growth spurts.
One growth spurt happened after I bought the 28-units. Another growth spurt happened when I realized I could hire property managers and teach them my system for managing these problem properties in war zones (so now I can scale).
Another growth spurt happened when I sold the 28 units and I met my business partner Nate. He was a lot better than me at construction. His expertise with construction allowed us to get into commercial properties and have ownership interests in them even when we don’t put our own money in those deals!
Still another growth spurt happened with a 48-unit property (and I talked about this property). We made over $1MILLION on it.
And my latest growth spurt happened when I focused on acquiring hotels and doing developments.
And then I woke up one day and I realized I have acquired over 1,000 apartment units and now partners with a group which has acquired over 5,000 hotel units. I couldn’t believe it.
What I Learned When Building an Empire
In 2016, I bought a brand new Escalade for cash simply because I can. This was my vision back in my “Four flats” period of my life (see Part 1). My vision became my reality!
I also bought 2 Rolex watches - one for me and one for my brother-in-law...also for cash. My partner Nate bought a Bentley for him and a Bentley for his wife (I try to be less flashy than that). The passive income we receive from our properties more than pay for these luxuries and once in a while you got to reward yourself.
Anyway, here are three things I learned that I want to share with you if you want to build a real estate empire: