JF1201: Turn Key Real Estate Investing In Detroit with Al Beahn
Al runs a business that finds cash flowing properties for other investors in Detroit. He’ll tell us that most of the negativity associated with Detroit is exaggerated media driven information. About 90% of the clients that come to Detroit to see some properties are surprised ina good way and end up investing with Al. Find out how to set yourself apart from other turn-key providers. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!
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Al Beahn Real Estate Background:
– Founder and CEO of Pioneer Homes, the leading source for cash flow rental properties
– Past seven years, he has closed more than 1,000 deals, valued in excess of $50 million
– Has clients across six continents
– Based in Detroit, Michigan
– Say hi to him at: https://www.pioneerhomesus.com
– Best Ever Book: Profit First
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Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, how are you doing? Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Joe Fairless, and this is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing podcast. We only talk about the best advice ever, we don’t get into any of that fluff.
With us today, Al Beahn. How are you doing, Al?
Al Beahn: I’m doing great, Joe. How are you?
Joe Fairless: I’m doing great as well, nice to have you on the show. Al is the founder and CEO of Pioneer Homes, which is a leading source for cash flow rental properties. Over the past seven years he’s closed more than 1,000 deals valued in excess of 50 million buckaroos. He has clients all across six continents, which almost is all of the continents; is Antarctica a continent? I think it is.
Al Beahn: I haven’t done anything there.
Joe Fairless: I figured that would be the one continent that you don’t have — this is where my board game risk background comes into play; I know my continents. And Al is based in Detroit, Michigan. His website is PioneerHomesUS.com, which is also in the show notes page.
With that being said, Al, do you wanna give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?
Al Beahn: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks a lot for having me, Joe; I’ve been looking forward to it. I actually got into real estate in 2009. I graduated college, CMU [unintelligible [00:03:31].16], and I was living in my parents’ basement. My dad was not the kind of guy that liked having that going on, so I think I was home for about three or four months and he just sat down and said “Look, man, you’ve gotta figure something out.”
I had always wanted to get into real estate, I just never really understood how or what to do, so I just kind of took a plunge and went out and I raised some funds, and I bought my first fix and flip. I did that back in 2009. Bought my first property for $27,000, I did all the work myself – I guess you could say I learned the hard way doing that. I flipped it, I think we sold it about four months after we purchased it. It was a 90-day renovation, and about 30 days to sell.
At the time I think I was 22 years old and we cleared about $16,000, and I said “Man, this is kind of cool.” I was kind of like my own boss, I was doing whatever I wanted to do, and that’s kind of where I got into the business. That kind of transitioned us into the turnkey model, which kind of developed in about 2010 for us.
We were just kind of in the market; I always say we got lucky. It was just good timing, and being local Detroit guys, that model just kind of fell into our lap, and the rest is history, really.
Joe Fairless: Are your turnkeys in Detroit?
Al Beahn: Yes, about 90% of what we do is in Detroit. We were doing a lot more in the suburbs a few years back, but the markets kind of shifted and we don’t see as much value there anymore, but yeah, we about 90%-95% now is in Detroit.
Joe Fairless: Pros and cons of investing in Detroit.
Al Beahn: Pros and cons… Pros is definitely going to be the price points. The ROI’s are significantly higher than the rest of the country. I think there’s a ton of value still to be had. Last week we were walking through properties that we could be all in at 40k-50k that will appraise in today’s market for 80k-100k, so… I think there’s a lot of opportunity for instant equity in certain parts of the city. I think there’s obviously the high ROI as well.
Cons – I think if you’re not careful with where you are, you’re definitely gonna be liable for some vandalism and theft like that, because that’s a real thing in Detroit if you’re not careful where you are. I’d say probably that’s the biggest con.
Joe Fairless: Where do you need to be? What areas?
Al Beahn: We try to stay in the North-West side of Detroit. We hone in on about six or seven different zip codes. East side there’s a couple small pockets; we like East English Village… That’s one of those areas I was talking about last week. It’s one of the few areas on the East side that we invest in. So between that and the West side, we try to stick to the West side for the most part.
Joe Fairless: When you talk to potential clients who have only heard about Detroit through probably negative means, what does that conversation sound like? And when they do invest, why do they ultimately invest?
Al Beahn: It’s really just media-driven negativity. This isn’t something that they’ve experienced themselves, so it’s just like a false image that they have, and I’d say 90% of the people that come here end up investing. I don’t think people expect to see what they see when they get here, and I think that’s one thing that kind of makes them get over that hurdle. But I don’t know, I guess we [unintelligible [00:06:46].01] They really take the time to educate the people that don’t wanna come visit. The sales cycle is extremely long – 60 to 90 days is pretty common, so I think they’re just comfortable that we spend that much time with them over the phone and educate them about the city as much as possible.
We like to share info about the market as well, so there’s just a lot of things I think that go into that, but ultimately the easiest sale is when they come here. They come and we show them certain parts of the city, and they just… A lot of people that have never been here are shocked to see what they see in certain parts. We’ll show them the good and the bad. I’m not gonna sit here and say there’s not bad parts in Detroit because there are, but we just try to avoid those areas.
Joe Fairless: Let’s talk about your business – how do you stand out from other turnkey providers?
Al Beahn: Great question. There’s definitely some competition here. I think it’s just the time that we spend with our clients. I’m not gonna bash any of the clients or competitors because I think they’re all great in their own ways, but I think that some people just wanna be educated a lot before they decide to make this decision. I’d argue that our sales guys are pretty thorough with our clients, and then obviously our product is definitely top tier to our competitors. We know where to be in Detroit.
So I think just a communication thing, and obviously, after the sale too, we really try to stay in contact with our clients. If they have any issues, or sometimes there might be some paperwork [unintelligible [00:08:16].03] with the property management, so we try to help them get through those hurdles as well. I think those are a handful of those issues why we kind of stand apart.
Joe Fairless: And how do you make money on the business?
Al Beahn: Our profit is built into the purchase price of a property. We buy it for X, we put X into it, and then we sell it with our profit built in.
Joe Fairless: Do you manage it, too?
Al Beahn: No, we have a third party. I actually did property management for the first five years we were in business, and then I realized it’s not profitable. It was really more of a quality control for our clients, but it just kind of became a drag and it was really just kind of a money pit for the company, so I got out of that about four years ago, and now we just refer it all to a third party.
Joe Fairless: Do you have one third party you work with?
Al Beahn: There’s a couple we work with. If we have a really big month, I try not to shift too many properties at one company at any given time, just to ensure that everything is handled properly. Nobody will tell you that they can’t handle it, but we’ve kind of learned that there is a breaking point for sure on what they can take in at any given point.
Joe Fairless: On that note, on the breaking point for what a property management company can take in, what were some things that you noticed slipping through the cracks that normally wouldn’t if you didn’t inundate them with a bunch of properties that they’re bringing on for the month?
Al Beahn: I’d say the number one thing is just getting in contact with the tenants on a timely basis. A lot of the companies that we’ve screened, they would get really hung up on the paperwork and they wouldn’t wanna contact anybody until the paperwork assignment. Sometimes when we sell a house, we have clients that work 70 hours a week, they travel to different countries or out of the country or out of state, and sometimes they can’t get to that, so we were seeing a property management agreement (PMA) not be signed for 30 days, and the next thing you know we have a tenant who hasn’t been contacted in 30-45 days. So I think the biggest thing for me – and I’m not sure about you guys in your market, but here my most important part of this whole process is the transfer… So when we give a file to the manager, my number one thing is to get in contact with the tenants right away, and I think for us at least — because we also buy properties that are already turnkey… So we might buy property from a landlord that’s retiring, or something like that, so for me I think it’s really the contact with the tenant, to make sure that [unintelligible [00:10:33].07] with everything.
Joe Fairless: Yeah, I’d say that would be from a business owner standpoint. That’s the huge variable for you and growing your business, because if your client has a poor experience with the third-party management company, the house could be great, but then the management company just totally blows it on who they put into the property, or how they retain that person, or how they screen the future person, or they don’t address certain maintenance issues… That just seems like that could be a big headache for you and that could cost you some business.
Al Beahn: Right, absolutely. This is our screening conversation when we’re looking for new managers – “The number one thing that we need is that when we give you a file, you need to contact these tenants within 24/48 hours”, because a week goes by, two weeks go by, they have some maintenance issues, rent’s due and then they try to call somebody and they can’t get a hold of anybody, then red flags start going up. We’ve had tenants leave on us just for that simple little thing… So yeah, when you’re doing volume, there’s gonna be that little tiny percentage of issues, and that’s usually the number one issue – the lack in the management process. We’ve really tried to hone it and tried to perfect it. We’re not perfect, but I’d say we do as good as we possibly can with that part.
Joe Fairless: How many deals are you selling a year?
Al Beahn: We’re pacing probably to do about 250 this year. I try to hit between 15 and 20 a month, that’s our goal. Obviously, we have months where we succeed that and then other months that we don’t, but we’re pacing to do about 250 this year.
Joe Fairless: That’s a whole lot of deals, and you’re talking about you’re buying, renovating and selling them as turnkeys, about 20 a month or so?
Al Beahn: Yeah, we do about — I’d say 60% is already turnkey; we buy a lot of property as is, and then the rest would be the turnkey renovations, correct.
Joe Fairless: What type of process do you have – if any – with your clients who purchase the property and then after the purchase hand then off to the third-party management company. Do you have some sort of process to follow up with them later?
Al Beahn: Well, our sales guy is known to keep in touch with them, and a lot of our clients are long-time clients, so I wouldn’t call it a specific process; it’s more of just a relationship thing, because we’ve learned that if you maintain these relationships with these people, and you don’t just sell them a house and say “Hey, it’s great to meet you. Good luck”, there’s always that repeat business.
We had a guy who bought a house from us early in the year last year, and my sales guy just kept a relationship with him. Not trying to sell him anything, just “Hey, checking in… How are you doing? How’s your family?” I think they had a similar interest in sports, so they kind of chatted about that, and the next thing you know the guy had saved up some cash and bought another property. So it’s really not a specific process per se, I think it’s more about building relationships with your clients, and for me that’s always been the best way to do business… So I’d say that’s what we do with that.
Joe Fairless: The biggest challenge that you have right now is what?
Al Beahn: The biggest challenge… I’d like to say inventory, but it’s usually not inventory; Detroit is a really big place. I think really it’s just some of the people in Detroit, some of our competitors – I don’t wanna call them competitors, but… They’re in every market. The guys that think they’re wholesalers and they market properties at just crazy prices. When we’re selling houses at 45k-50k, these guys are sending lists out with properties for 25k-30k, and it’s just a real struggle because people see that and they just think that’s the market, so they want properties for that price, and we just really don’t do that. Yeah, we come across deals from time to time, but I think that’s probably our biggest. If I talk to our team, that’s probably the number one thing, if I had to pick.
Joe Fairless: What do you do to help mitigate the damage that that could have on your listings at the price points you have?
Al Beahn: Well, we cannot pool comparisons. Go look at the Google Maps Street View, go pull up Trulia and look at the surrounding values. I’m never one to use Trulia, but if you pull up a property and there’s houses in the area at 10k-15k, the majority of that, and then you go pull up one of our properties and there’s houses in the 50’s and 70’s, you can just see it’s a totally different property, it’s a totally different asset; it’s not apples to apples.
And the number one thing is to say “Look, I think you should come and look at them both. We’ll take you to that property and we’ll take you to ours and you can just see it for yourself.” And it’s funny, because a lot of people don’t wanna do that. They just wanna buy it site unseen. We turn away a lot of business, Joe. There’s a lot of people and we say “Look, we can’t compete with that. I don’t wanna put our name on that product.” So a lot of times we’ll just let the business walk away, because sometimes it’s a really hard pitch to get them to understand that.
Joe Fairless: Based on your experience as a real estate investor, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?
Al Beahn: Best advice ever, that’s a good one. So the Best Ever listeners will like this, I guess… It’s really basic – I think no matter where you are, you have to do your due diligence. I’ve seen so many investors lose their shirt because they do not do their due diligence. Maybe that’s just a very simple, basic answer, but it’s such a major thing in the process. Obviously, price is one of them, but I think the due diligence part – inspections, title work and all that stuff… That to me, especially if you’re kind of getting into real estate — I know when I first got into it I didn’t even know what due diligence was; I’d walk through a property and think I just need to go to a title company and close. But I think the due diligence, inspections, title work is huge for me. If you’re just getting into it, I think that’s a big deal, for sure.
Joe Fairless: Tell us a story about when due diligence played a major role in the acquisition of a property.
Al Beahn: Yeah, absolutely. Back in the day, before we were good at this, it happened all the time. Buying properties on quitclaim deed… There was a time we bought (I think it was a) five-pack – this had to be in the very beginning, the first year, maybe a year and a half in the business. I found a house on a quitclaim deed. I think at the time the prices were so cheap back then… I wanna say we bought a five-pack for 55k or 60k, and “Hey, there’s back taxes. Hey, there’s water bills. Hey, there’s tax titles”, so you have to either [unintelligible [00:17:00].28] or you did not get title insurance. That happened to us before. I’d say that was probably early on one of the bigger mistakes that we made, just buying a property without understanding the title side of things.
Joe Fairless: Would you say that back taxes and water bills are more prevalent in Detroit that it will come up in due diligence compared to other markets?
Al Beahn: Well, it’s hard to say… I haven’t done much business in other markets, so I’m not sure. I’d say because of what happened in Detroit – there were 140,000 foreclosures when this whole thing hit the fan back in ’07 through ’09, so… To put it into perspective, there were on average 20k to 25k tax-foreclosed properties in the Wayne County auction every year. The most recent tax auction – there were only 6,500 properties. So it’s all getting cycled through.
So I think five years ago – absolutely; probably the number one in the country. But today, it might be more than average; I couldn’t say it’s more than any market, but it’s probably higher than the average.
Joe Fairless: Yeah. It was a poorly worded question. I should have asked you just relative to the properties you’re buying, are there a lot of back taxes and water bills? Because you’re in Detroit, you’ve been investing in Detroit, so you’re not aware of other markets. But you answered it. You made my stupid question into a smart answer, so thank you for that.
Al Beahn: No, it’s all good. I’d say maybe 20% to 30% of our properties that we buy have more than two years delinquent.
Joe Fairless: Okay, got it.
Al Beahn: I’m not sure, it might be different in every market. Here it’s after three years you’re subject to foreclosure, so we rarely see more than that.
Joe Fairless: Are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?
Al Beahn: I’m ready, man.
Joe Fairless: Alright, let’s do it. First, a quick word from our Best Ever partners.
Joe Fairless: Best ever book you’ve read?
Al Beahn: Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz.
Joe Fairless: Best ever deal you’ve done?
Al Beahn: This is a tough one; there’s two of them. I’m gonna talk about the first one because it was the first one I really did a creative deal. It was a package of 11 duplex units. In Detroit, a duplex — they’re side by side, and they’re actually two separate parcel ID’s, so you can buy and sell each half individually. There was a package of 11. I believe four of the units were actually side by side, so we actually bought the package, sold off the two buildings that were attached, profited enough to actually pay for the other seven units free and clear, and we had seven free and clear units with cash-flowing tenants basically for free.
I say that’s my best because it was one of the first deals we did that was very creative like that, and to this day I always love that deal.
Joe Fairless: Oh, absolutely. Do you still have those seven?
Al Beahn: No, we sold those probably about two years ago.
Joe Fairless: Okay. And when you sell them for your own personal investing, what’s the reason to sell and what do you do with that cash?
Al Beahn: At the time I think I was trying to get into some better assets at that time, so two years ago. I’d probably just put it back into the turnkey business and use it to basically flip some more properties.
Joe Fairless: And do you currently take some of the profits from the turnkey business and then buy rental properties for your own rental portfolio?
Al Beahn: Yes, I kind of do that model. I like to buy property from some of our profit. So if we flip ten houses, sometimes I might just maybe keep one of them. It’s almost kind of like a “no cash out of pocket”, really. There’s obvious opportunity cost there, but we do that as well for sure.
Joe Fairless: What’s a mistake you’ve made on a transaction?
Al Beahn: In real estate as a whole, still to this day one of the bigger mistakes was selling some of the assets that we owned. Even though it’s duplex units, I’d argue if I would have held on for a few more years, it’d be much more valuable. But mistakes — it’s always probably a due diligence thing. We’re doing so much volume, sometimes something slips through and you’ve kind of gotta eat it. But it’s always usually a due diligence thing. I don’t think there’s a deal that stands out that I’d say was like the worst deal we’ve ever done.
Joe Fairless: What’s the best ever way you like to give back?
Al Beahn: That’s a good question. For me, I don’t really have any formal way of giving back. I like to donate to our church around Christmas time more than average, but… For me, we get a ton of people that reach out to us through our social channels and other ways like that, people that obviously have never done anything in real estate, and I kind of make it a point to at least help a handful of people. I get a lot of kids; I’m a younger guy, so a lot of kids (15, 16, 17) reach out to me through maybe Instagram, and I’ll just be really bold with them if I think they have a crappy sales pitch, or their approach is bad, but I try to make it a point, at least a couple kids a month, just to kind of give them a little bit of advice.
I know back when I was 16, 17, even if I had one little tidbit of advice, it would help me out a long way, so I try to do that as much as I can each month.
Joe Fairless: How can the best ever listeners get in touch with you?
Al Beahn: You can call the office. I’d say the easiest would be through e-mail. The e-mail would be firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our website, PioneerHomeUS.com, and all of our social handles – most of them are @pioneerhomesus, so I’d say those are the best ways.
Joe Fairless: Congrats on building such a high volume business, with 250 deals a year that you’re rehabbing and then selling to clients across six continents. I did confirm via Google, while we were talking, that Antarctica is the seventh continent. You’ve gotta work on your Antarcticans. I don’t know about the stats, but maybe I’ve got an Antarctica listener, and they’ll be a new client. If so, then let me know; that way I can claim to cover all seven continents.
Also, the overall approach that you take with the due diligence, lessons learned along the way, the back taxes, the water bills etc., and then knowing where to invest and where not to invest, or at least an area where you need to go in eyes wide open. So perhaps maybe you do invest, but it’s just an area where you go eyes wide open. Where you choose to invest would be the West side and the North-West side in general. It sounds like there are exceptions.
Thanks for being on the show, Al. I hope you have a best ever day, and we’ll talk to you soon.
Al Beahn: Joe, I appreciate it, man. Have a good day as well. Thank you!