By: David Greene
One thing I notice about frustrated people is they tend to look at the world in similar ways. I’ve often observed them seeing the world from an “all or nothing” perspective — like everything is black or white. In reality, most of the world falls somewhere along the line of a long spectrum. This is also true in real estate. Let me explain.
Billy is interested in buying rental property. Billy asks a real estate agent to show him some properties that might work for this purpose. Billy’s real estate agent doesn’t know much about investing but wants to help. Billy looks through the list of available properties and realizes prices are too high to make sense. Billy concludes that there are just no good deals out there and walks away bitter.
Mary wants to invest in real estate. Mary puts the word out and finds a friend who wants to sell her their property for 65 cents on the dollar. The property needs a new roof and won’t qualify for conventional financing and therefore can’t be sold on the open market. Mary is excited. She calls several banks asking about a loan for residential real estate. Mary is unable to get a loan to purchase the property because the roof problem disqualifies it. Mary determines real estate is a rip off and decides to invest her money in bitcoin.
John has a crush on Sue. John tells Sue and asks if she will be his girlfriend. Sue tells John she doesn’t really know him very well and only sees him as a friend. John gets his feelings hurt, determines all girls are the same, and gives up his romantic pursuit of Sue to focus on leveling up in World of Warcraft or finding more Pokemon in Pokemon Go.
(OK, this last example wasn’t real estate, but it still applies.)
I see examples like these all the time. People make the mistake of assuming things are one way or the other.
Either the MLS will provide a deal, or there are no deals.
Either the bank will give me a loan, or I just can’t get one.
Either Sue wants me right now, or I’ll always be in the friend zone.
When you look at life in a way that only gives you two options, both extremes, you’re likely to be disappointed. Not much of life is going to work out exactly how you want it to, especially on the first try. If you want to succeed, it usually involves trying over and over and over until you find the method that works for your personality, in your market, in the current economy, for your financial situation.
Finding that perfect formula takes time!
The Real Estate Spectrum
When it comes to real estate, I’ve found it is rarely an “either/or” situation. Just like other things in your life, real estate operates on a spectrum. Finding where you fit on that spectrum will help you narrow down what type of deals you should be chasing. Narrowing down the deals you’re chasing will help you be much more efficient with your time, money, and effort. Being more efficient will lead to greater success. Finding greater success will lead to growing your wealth faster. Growing your wealth will lead to all the perks you likely entered this environment to find in the first place.
When it comes to what type of property to buy, there is a spectrum that ranges from:
- Finding a property and doing every piece of work yourself, to
- Buying something that someone else has already done all the work on.
On one end of the spectrum, you can expect to save the most money. If you find your own deal, you can cut out the agent’s commission or wholesaler‘s assignment fee. If you do all the rehab work yourself, you can save on paying the contractor’s labor cost. If you find your own tenant and manage it yourself, you can save on paying the property manager’s fees. If you find private financing, you can avoid paying closing costs. Pure work, no help, no leverage — to save money.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the opposite. Buying a completely turnkey property where someone else has done all the work, right down to putting a tenant inside. You don’t have to use any of your own time, effort, or energy. Pure convenience — at a price.
I want to propose these are two completely opposite ways of doing things at different polar ends of a spectrum. You don’t have to think “choose number one or two.” You should be thinking more like, “Where along this spectrum works best for me?” Once you can figure that out, you’ll know where to throw your energy. Once you do that, you’ll see results start rolling in much, much faster.
I also want to point out that if you’re on an extreme end of either spectrum, you’re likely going to be very slow to build wealth.
The Cheapskate Side
When I bought my first property, I fell into the cheapskate end of the spectrum. My dad was a handyman, so I had him to do the repairs. I cleaned the carpets and the house myself. I did zero upgrades other than what was absolutely necessary. I skipped hiring a property manager to save $112 a month.
I didn’t pay to have a credit check run on my tenant because it cost $45.
Now, I did take out a traditional loan, and I bought the house through a traditional real estate agent. But for the most part, I was pretty cheap.
And pretty stupid.
I could have worked an overtime shift, made $350, and paid someone $100 to clean the house instead of me. I just didn’t think like that back then.
People who are drawn to this end of the spectrum are great at pinching pennies. It’s a commendable quality. You just need to know how to use it wisely. I’ve written a previous post where I spelled out all the dumb mistakes I made. Being so cheap was one of them.
Make no bones about it, I’m not the only one who thought this way. Many people fall into this trap. Like missing the forest for the trees, many people who miss out on great opportunities because they can’t do the work themselves and haven’t learned how to hire someone else to do it.
Those on the far end of this spectrum are the ones doing their own rehab work even if they don’t have an aptitude for it, managing their own properties even if they don’t have the patience, nerves, or mouthpiece for it, and looking for their own deals because they don’t want to cut out a slice of the pie for someone else. They rarely make progress, and when they do, it is very, very slow.
They are great at saving money. They are slow to grow wealth.
The Convenient Side
On the other end of the spectrum, you have people who want to do zero work. There are many reasons why this may be so.
- Some lack confidence they can do the job.
- Some are uneducated and ignorant and therefore trust these matters to someone more experienced.
- Some are timid and don’t want to risk failing, so they refuse to try.
- Some are downright lazy and just won’t put the effort into learning something new.
Whatever the reason may be, all these people end up paying someone else to do the work, and it hurts their profit.
Those on this end of the spectrum may do a ton of “deals,” but they actually learn very little. When you ask them about their business, they tend focus on metrics like how many houses they own, what their ROI is, or what their total passive income is. When you ask specifics like how much equity they have in the properties, what their typical LTV is, how they manage their business, or how they determine which repairs to make, they likely don’t have much to say.
The people on the far end of this spectrum are usually “turnkey” investors. They buy a property someone else has already done the work on, and while there always exceptions to the rule, they typically give away most of the equity to the person who did the work.
These people don’t bite off more than they can chew, but don’t have much meat left on the bone when it’s put on their plate.
They are great at avoiding work. They are also slow to grow wealth.
Understanding Your Options
Now, there is no “right” way to invest. There is only the way that makes the most sense for you individually. In order to determine that, you need to know where on the spectrum of “convenience versus work” scale you fall so you can know what will be the most efficient way for you to build wealth.
I’d like to take a minute to help clarify this issue. Once you understand it, you’ll be in a better situation to see things more clearly and determine what the best course of action for you will be.
(Please note, there are no absolutes in these examples. You may find great turnkey providers who sell at crazy low prices. You may find people who do all the work themselves and still lose money. My point is, in general, that’s not the way it works.)
Costco vs. the Convenience Store
I like to use the analogy of Costco versus the convenience store.
Let’s say it’s a hot summer day. You are cruising around in your car, and the desire for an ice cold coke overwhelms you. You want one. You need one. You’re going to get one.
Where are you going to get it?
The answer to that question depends on what you value, where you are geographically, and what you have access to.
Say, for example, you are right down the street from your house. You have access to ice cold Cokes in your own fridge. You know this because you bought them at Costco and put them there last week. You value your money and always look for a deal. If that’s the case, you’re going to turn your car around, go home, and grab a Coke. It makes the most sense for someone in your situation.
Now let’s say you are 15 miles from home and don’t have any Cokes in the fridge there anyway. You have plenty of cash to spend and aren’t worried about a couple bucks. Right across the street is a 7-11. Further down the street is a Costco. You know that Cokes are cheaper at Costco because you can buy them in bulk, and they aren’t kept cold. Costco is clearly the better deal. It is not, however, nearly as convenient.
So you head to the convenience store (aptly named), buy yourself the ice cold Coke, and continue on your way.
Now, in these examples, both people did what made the most sense to them based on their personal values, proximity to the vendor, and available options. The Coke at the convenience store is likely four times as expensive as the Coke at the Costco. You are paying top dollar because you don’t have to do any of the work. If you buy the Coke at Costco, you have to walk inside the store, carry the heavy crate to the counter, take it home, wait for it to get cold, then finally drink it. That’s a lot of work and a lot of waiting, and it isn’t as practical as paying a few bucks more for a Coke that is ready and waiting for you to consume.
The better deal is clearly Costco, but the more convenient deal is absolutely the convenience store.
It’s the same concept in real estate, but with much more to lose than a couple bucks.
This analogy is the best way I can think to describe how the real estate investing spectrum works. On one end of the spectrum, you have Costco buyers. These are people who spend lots of time buying a product in bulk to get the cheapest cost per unit, then rehab the property themselves, find the tenants themselves, and enjoy the finished product. This is the best way to find a good deal and the financially smarter way to invest in real estate, all things considered.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the turnkey buyers. These are the people who don’t spend any time looking for distressed properties or negotiating terms to buy them. They only buy properties that have already been rehabbed and already have tenants in place. They pay top dollar (in general) for the convenience of purchasing an ice cold Coke they can drink right away.
How to Determine What Is Best for You
Now, I am NOT trying to spark a debate on if turnkey is “better” or if doing your own work is. That’s the wrong question to ask. It’s assuming you must make an “either/or” decision, and I’m here to say you don’t!
My point is to spell out just what you’re choosing when you choose a turnkey provider to invest in — and just what you’re choosing when you do all the work yourself. In addition to that, I want to encourage the majority of you to find some form of a hybrid of these two methods. If you can do so, you can find the part of the spectrum that makes the most sense for you. Once you do that, you’ll see your business take off like you never thought possible.
In my opinion, turnkey has a strong place in real estate investing. The problem is, many newbies don’t understand where that place is! I hear so many brand new people tell me they are looking for their first deal and are considering several different turnkey providers. I wonder if they realize how slow that is going to grow their wealth and how little they will learn from this method.
When you buy turnkey, you are paying full price for convenience. Just like that 7-11 Coke. This method is perfect, and, in fact, custom tailored to the wealthy individual who is making money hands over fist and does not have the time to put into learning real estate investing. For that person, their time is better spent at work earning more money than it is in the investing arena trying to make it grow.
If I ran a multi million-dollar hedge fund that required all my time, you can bet I would not be looking for flip opportunities or trying to buy undervalued properties. I would be looking to maximize my income, and I would pay someone else to find me something to invest in. My time is best spent earning, not investing. There would be no reason for me to learn the business of RE investing because I wouldn’t need it to build wealth. I would have a skill set that offers me that opportunity at my job.
When you hear “turnkey,” these are situations ideally suited for doctors, lawyers, investment brokers, and other high paying positions that are time-demanding and financially rewarding. If you’re hear reading BiggerPockets, odds aren’t that great you fit into that category. This is a website where the little guy can learn how to compete with the big guys. If that’s your goal, you need to learn how the business works. You need to be buying at Costco, refrigerating your own Cokes, then either selling them to others or drinking them yourself. You can’t afford to be wasting money at convenience store prices.
In addition to the very wealthy, the other investor who benefits the most from turnkey products is the person who may not make a ton of money, but has acknowledged this just isn’t for them, and they have zero interest in learning RE investing. If you’re not excited about the stuff we talk about in the blogs, don’t like listening to the podcasts, and would rather spend your time learning something else, turnkey may be for you. It makes sense for you to pay someone to get you the finished product — especially if you’re not interested in learning the business yourself.
Odds are, if you’re on BiggerPockets.com, you are interested in learning this business. That’s why I’m here writing to you.
How I Determined What is Best for Me
For me, in my investing business, I’ve found an area of the spectrum that works wonderfully. It’s the perfect combination of managing the work myself while paying others to actually perform it. I’m going to share it with you so you can get an idea what it looks like when you find your sweet spot.
I buy properties significantly below market value, through either a wholesaler or a real estate agent. This is something I’m glad to pay someone else to help me with.
I manage the projects myself through relationships I have built with different contractors and handymen. This is something I’m glad to pay them to help me with.
I add value to the properties through creative methods like adding new bedrooms, adding bathrooms, adding square footage, removing walls, or doing upgrades for prices less than the value they add to the house. I’m able to do this because I’ve put in a lot of work to find contractors that provide extremely good prices because of the volume of work I bring them and the value I add to their business.
I use property managers to find me tenants. In addition to that, I use them as advisers regarding which areas to buy in, which upgrades to make, which contractors to get bids from, and how to execute an eviction should I need to. I also use them to find handymen for repairs and to spread the word I’m looking to buy more properties. This is something I’m glad to pay them to help me with.
As you can see, I’ve found a system that works for me. I’m able to maintain almost all the equity in properties I acquire by buying them below market value. Sometimes I actually add more equity through value-add decisions, all possible because of my relationships with others.
I’m able to leverage the skills, experience, and contacts of the people I use who take care of the different aspects (management, rehab, etc.) of my business. I also have the bonus of them taking care of those projects so I don’t have to. This is the perfect hybrid for me because it allows me to free up more time to find deals and also save equity by overseeing this system myself, not paying full price to a turnkey provider who has done all this themselves.
The Secret to Finding Your Sweet Spot
Now, I’m not writing this to dissuade you from buying turnkey. There are many turnkey providers on this website; some are very influential and run honest businesses. I’m not intending to insult their businesses or cast them in a negative light. I’m just trying to clarify they are providing a big service. A lot goes into getting a property turnkey-ready. The price you pay for that service is built into the purchase price.
I believe I’ve found a spot on the spectrum that is perfect for me. Now that I’ve found it, I’m able to pour more energy, time, and money into it. Soon, I’ll be purchasing 4-7 houses a month. This is very efficient. The efficiency will grow my wealth much faster. It took a while to put all the pieces in place, but once I did, I’m able to arrange what is basically a turnkey operation that doesn’t involve turnkey prices.
How have I been able to do this? I took the time to learn the different disciplines that go into real estate investing.
- I learned how contractors work. I learned how to negotiate with them, how to communicate with them, how to make them money.
- I learned how property managers work. I learned how to negotiate with them, how to communicate with them, how to save them time. I learned how to make their job easier.
- I learned how wholesalers work. I learned how to bring them value, how to get them paid, how to help them keep their clients happy, how to make their businesses more efficient.
- I learned how real estate agents work. I learned how to make their job easy, how to communicate with them, how to make them money.
- I learned how lenders work. I learned how to structure my finances to look more appealing (Brandon Turner has written good posts on this), how to bring value to them, how to make them money.
Once I learned how all the different pieces work, I was able to put them together in a way that is very efficient. I was able to build a self-sustaining system that can be replicated with speed and ease.
This is the key to every great business, whether you’re a wholesaler, agent, contractor, lender, etc.
If you want to find success in this field, part of it is hard work. Part of it is discipline. Part of it is networking. But a BIG part of it is learning — understanding the role everyone plays, not just you.
If you aren’t interested in learning, then by all means, use a turnkey provider. They are able to provide that service because they learned all the things I just mentioned and have put together a system to bring you the finished product! All I ask is you understand that it’s costing you a lot of money to do so:
- Money in the form of equity you’re giving up
- Money in the form of time you’re losing to build up your wealth
- Money in the form of future returns you would have made had you learned the business
This is how life works. If you want the convenience, you will pay for it. There is nothing wrong with this. For many people, this just suits their personality better. They aren’t as concerned with saving money as they are with a smooth, downhill journey with fewer obstacles, less stress, and minimized challenges.
But for others, they are here precisely because they want to run the uphill race. They want to learn. They want to overcome obstacles, overcome stress, and overcome more challenges. They want to pay the price to learn the game so they can excel at it. These people are fine with the pain because they really want the gain.
This is what I believe the overwhelming majority of BiggerPockets members are drawn to this site for. It’s the free education, the ability to learn how the business works without having to pay a guru for it. That’s the beauty of this site. The power of it.
So if that’s the case, understand that the turnkey model doesn’t always fit that description. If you’re looking for the convenience store Coke, then by all means, there are some amazing convenience store providers to choose from.
But if you want the real value in BiggerPockets — the learning, the free education — ask yourself if you’re selling yourself short and leaving value on the table by purchasing a property someone else has already put the sweat equity into.
The forums don’t help you much if you don’t run into problems to ask questions about.
The podcasts don’t help you much if you’re not trying to learn how the business works.
The blog doesn’t help you much if you aren’t going to replicate the success or learn from the lessons that the authors are writing about.
The calculators don’t help you much if the turnkey provider has already given you the ROI.
The books, webinars, free courses, and networking opportunities don’t help you much if you are ignoring every single aspect of real estate investing other than just owning a property someone else has turned over to you.
Find your sweet spot. Get your hands dirty. Jump in, learn, and get the most out of what free websites like this offer you. They may not be free forever! Pay the price to learn the business and reap the rewards later. Don’t shortchange yourself or count yourself out because it feels overwhelming or awkward. Believe in yourself and these resources. Value learning over earning.