In 2011, my wife and I relocated from Fort Belvoir, VA to Fort Benning, GA. We were both majors and she came from Georgia. We were visiting my in-laws when my father-in-law took me on a ride-along to check on his properties. At the time, he had about 10 single-family homes and I did not pry into how much he was charging for rent. But I thought, "he must be banking". However, I did ask him how he acquired the properties. He explained that in his small town, he is well known and respected, so when someone wanted to sell their home, he got first dibs. He was purchasing properties for $10,000 to $15,000. Right then, I decided that we can do it too. In the beginning, my wife was not on board, but I told her we could purchase in her hometown.
At this time, we had a summer home we had purchased in the same town in 2007, but due to the house market collapse in 2008, it didn’t have any equity. We also barely broke even from a house sale in Lacey, WA. Time to get creative: the only other collateral available were the vehicles. Our 2004 Suburban and 2006 Chrysler 300 were leveraged to acquire $25,000.00 in seed money. With the money secured, my spouse started searching for houses and I viewed several properties before we found one that met our financial threshold.
The most important lesson that I learned was from our realtor when he asked what we were going to do with the property, and we had no idea. He told us we were wasting money if we didn't act right away so it can provide us with income. Now, here is where we got lucky: the house was in poor condition, but the home inspector provided us with a contractor’s name. We put all our trust in a stranger, and he knocked it out of the park! I paid him weekly, but the house was ready in 30 days and rented right away. We spent more on the remodel than we did on the home, but it did not matter; we were in the game.
We learned primarily through experience. We dealt with roots bursting sewer lines, cutting down trees, late payments, and evictions. In 2018, we purchased two duplexes that were in poor condition. This purchase taught me that you can save a lot of money if you do the demolition and clean-up yourself. This allowed the contractor to come in and get right to work. Most importantly, you don’t need a special skill set to break stuff. I made sure that I didn’t go near any electrical work. However, I'm an expert at tearing up sheetrock, removing plumbing, flooring, and busted door. Something else I focus on with contractors is: how do they like to get paid? Some contractors want half the money before they do any work, some take progress payments and though it is rare, some don’t take any money until the job is complete.
While hauling trash to the dump during the demolition of the duplexes, I stopped at a corner store in Arabi, GA. It was hot and I was feeling sorry for myself. I grabbed a water and a beer, but as I was paying, there was a contractor’s card. I took one and when I returned to the property, I called him to set up a meeting. We met at the property and I told him I would need him to sheetrock, replace doors and redo the bathroom. He provided a quote and when I asked he took payment, he replied, "when the job is complete". I did not bother to contact anyone else. I know most people believe it’s a cardinal sin when you don’t request additional quotes, but in this business, it's hard to find honorable people. He became my go-to guy; which is a gift and a curse. However, I will wait for him and he always works me into his schedule despite his workload.
This is where we struggle. We don’t have any financial goals, but our personal goal is to provide quality and safe living for our tenants. Our strategy is purchasing small town deals only. At this time, we are not interested in properties that exceed our reach. We are also looking at both apartments and single-family homes. I am interested in obtaining about five more units because I believe there is no end to wanting more, so you must realize when you have enough.
Working in a small town, everybody knows who you are and it can be a blessing and a curse. For example, we had to evict a tenant a year ago. It turns out that the tenant was dating one of my wife's cousins. It was a lot of angst, but they understood and respected our position. We also have a property manager and that’s how we maintain some distance between us and the tenants. I also don’t have an issue with a tenant contacting me directly about issues despite having a property manager. It's just one way--not the way.
I don't give a damn about ethnic backgrounds--the human race is the only thing that matters to me. I read the book "Evicted" and it is my vow not to be considered a slum lord--no matter what it costs me. My reputation matters more. If I have a tenant that has an issue it becomes personal for me because I live well and I want my tenants to be proud to invite folks over and not have to run the faucet to flush the toilet.
It has been a great journey so far and we're ready and willing to learn even more!