JF1351: From Bartender To Millionaire Real Estate Investor & Entrepreneur with Melanie Bajrovic
Melanie was lucky enough to have parents who taught her about money, and how to save it. By the time she was 22 she had a “nice nest egg”. Looking for guidance with what to do with her cash, her dad suggested investing in real estate. Starting with single family homes and then moving into commercial real estate and opening her own business in a piece of property she bought. Hear what it takes to improve your quality of life substantially through real estate investing. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!
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Melanie Bajrovic Real Estate Background:
- Serial Entrepreneur, Real Estate Investor, International Best Selling Author, Speaker and Educator
- Became millionaire at the age of 27, is an inspiration for those who have a vision for what they want in life
- Author of The Wealthy Barmaid: From Minimum Wage to Millionaire
- Went from being a waitress to owning multiple investment properties
- Based in Niagara Falls, Canada
- Say hi to her at https://www.melaniebajrovic.com/
- Best Ever Book: 7 Laws of Spiritual Success by Deepak Chopra
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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 fluffy stuff.
With us today, Melanie Bajrovic. How are you doing, Melanie?
Melanie Bajrovic: Great, great! Thank you so much for having me, Joe.
Joe Fairless: My pleasure, nice to have you on the show. A little bit about Melanie – she is a serial entrepreneur, a real estate investor, a best-selling author, a speaker, educator; she became a millionaire at the age of 27, and she is the author of The Wealthy Barmaid: From Minimum Wage to a Millionaire. Based in Niagara Falls, Canada. With that being said, Melanie, do you wanna give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?
Melanie Bajrovic: Sure, absolutely. My career in real estate started pretty young, because I started working at a really young age. I was 12 years old, and my parents had a restaurant; you know how it goes, you start working in the family business… So I started in the back, in the kitchen, I went on to hostessing and [unintelligible [00:01:56].08] and bartending, and I did that for a solid 15 years steady, all through school.
What I was doing at that time was I tried to save as much as I possibly could. My mom was big on saving, she taught me from a young age, so I was saving 100% of my paychecks. By the time I was 22, I had a good little nest egg, a bunch of money saved up… But at that time I was already like — you know, not that I don’t love bartending, but I knew I didn’t wanna be a bartender forever, so I wanted to figure out how could I make that money work for me.
It was actually my dad who recommended that I invest my money in real estate, and it was one of the options I was looking at, so I decided to do it, and that was one of the biggest turning points for me. I ended up looking at like 100 properties before I found the one, and it absolutely shifted everything for me… It was the best decision I made. It was a single-family house. That’s been my strategy ever since.
Since then, I just continued to purchase more single-family homes, building myself a little portfolio, which was super cool. It never was intentionally the idea, but I just thought “Hey, I want something for retirement, I want something just in case… What if something happens to me?” I knew that these properties would produce something. I wasn’t that savvy back then, but…
Then when I was 27 years old and I was still working in the bars, again, through school, I felt it was time I wanted to start my own business and get into commercial real estate. I knew that would be another big turning point for me, so that’s what I did. I bought a big piece of commercial property out where I’m from – it’s a city very close to Niagara Falls called St. Catharines – and I decided to run my business out of it. It’s a restaurant/bar, it’s had success five years and counting now, as we do this podcast… And again, huge turning point for me, both financially and just for my own confidence, because it was such a big decision; I was scared out of my mind. I really put everything out on the line… But again, one of the best moves I’ve ever made, and that kind of brings us to today.
Joe Fairless: Wow. Well, congrats on that starting incredibly strong out of the gate with the single-family house you bought when you were 22 years old, and then you continued to buy more. Were all those properties in Canada?
Melanie Bajrovic: Yes, they were.
Joe Fairless: Okay, cool. What type of financing did you get with those properties? Especially the first one, know that that was the first deal that you did, and banks might not have been as happy to lend to you.
Melanie Bajrovic: True. What happened on that first deal… Again, I had (I guess) — I don’t know if you wanna call it an advantage, or on the opposite spectrum, I did it the really slow and hard way; I saved up a ton of money, I was able to provide the down payment that was needed to do a conventional mortgage. Now, at the time there was a bit of a mistake here for me — if I had put in 5k or 10k more, I wouldn’t have needed the mortgage insurance. So I ended up getting it with that mortgage insurance, but that added to my monthly payments, it made it a little higher… But I did it by myself, with my income at the time; I had enough down payment, so it was a conventional mortgage on that first one.
Joe Fairless: Then how many homes did you buy after that, until you purchased a commercial property when you were 27?
Melanie Bajrovic: I purchased four more over the course of those next five or so years, and again, I saved as much money as I could; I was working three jobs, so I was able to save at an accelerated rate. I was still in school, and I lived with my parents, so I kept my own living expenses down a lot, so that I could invest in real estate. That’s basically how I did it – I was able to get those mortgages; I needed a co-signer for the last two, because my income wasn’t high enough… But the banks that I used were able to use my first few properties – the rental income – as part of increasing my rate of income to give me a better ratio, so I was able to get a mortgage with them. So they were pretty standard.
Joe Fairless: Who co-signed? Your parents?
Melanie Bajrovic: My parents, yeah.
Joe Fairless: Cool. Working three jobs at one time… Will you tell us what a day looks like working three jobs?
Melanie Bajrovic: Well, it was fun… I was just revved up, I was so excited about buying more real estate, and I always am; I’m always trying to figure out “How can I do more?” and it excites me to do so. But I’d wake up fairly early, I’d go to my first–
Joe Fairless: What time, on average?
Melanie Bajrovic: Maybe 8.
Joe Fairless: Okay, [8:30].
Melanie Bajrovic: I didn’t have to be at that first job till 10 AM, so…
Joe Fairless: What was the job?
Melanie Bajrovic: I’ve had a bunch, but this one – I’m thinking now one of the first times I was working three jobs, I was a marketing director at an arts council.
Joe Fairless: Okay, so you’d work from 10 AM to what time, as a marketing director at the arts council?
Melanie Bajrovic: It was about 4 o’clock.
Joe Fairless: Okay, 10 AM to 4 PM, and then what was the second job?
Melanie Bajrovic: My second job — it would be on different days; all three wouldn’t happen in one day.
Joe Fairless: Okay.
Melanie Bajrovic: I’d go to the bar, and I’d work till — it depends… I’d have school too though, right? So I’d have to kind of puzzle every piece in there. But if I had classes that day, I’d finish those classes… And it’s really cool in university, you get to pick your own blocks of time when you have your courses, so I was good with scheduling. Then I went to work at night; I’d most of the time close down the bar, but not every single night. Weekends, most definitely I did.
Then another job I had – I worked for a PR company, so I did public relations.
Joe Fairless: And you had that job at the same time as a marketing director? So you were going to school, and you were also working three jobs – roughly how many hours were you working on average a week?
Melanie Bajrovic: Yikes! All together, I mean… Six hours — there was that, and then a good 40 at the bar, plus another… It was definitely 80 hours.
Joe Fairless: 80 hours a week, plus going to school… [laughs] And what period of time did you do that approximately?
Melanie Bajrovic: Definitely from the age of 23 on, I was working that many jobs. 12 to 22 I was just doing the–
Joe Fairless: Yeah, sure… As a 12-year-old you weren’t working 80 hours? You’re such a slacker. [laughs] Got it. So from 23 to approximately 27? Okay. That’s incredible. What a commitment. And how did you think about your social life? You were living with your parents as a 23, 24, 25, 26-year-old… Most people — well, I don’t know about most, but some people (myself included) might think “Oh, what a buzz kill! I don’t wanna live with my parents at that age.” How did you think about that as a 27-year-old?
Melanie Bajrovic: Sure, it had its ups and downs… Also, my family background was Serbian and Bosnian, so it’s very much a culture thing that, you know, you stay with your parents until you get married, or [unintelligible [00:08:28].07] so it was very normal in our culture as well. But I was just — I don’t know how to explain… People ask me that all the time, they think “Man, you really missed out on so much” or “Is that good? All your focus now is work, and money, and investing in real estate”, but I was so hungry for it that it didn’t bug me. I just wanted so bad to secure myself financially; I wanted to make sure that no matter what, I’m gonna be able to do whatever it is I wanna do. No one’s gonna tell me no, and I’m gonna be able to just provide whatever I want for myself, and that was stronger than anything else, than any night out, partying with friends or whatever. Of course, I worked every major holiday, event, Halloween, St. Patrick’s days, whatever you wanna call it, but I was banking it, so I didn’t mind. It truly wasn’t like a huge sacrifice at the time. My wants were bigger.
Joe Fairless: Why do you think — and this is more of a philosophical question, so there’s really not a right answer… But why do you think some people want financial independence but don’t go to the lengths that you went to, working 80 hours, plus going to school, living with your parents (although perhaps it’s a cultural thing, so it’s not as shocking, but still…)? Why do you think that is?
Melanie Bajrovic: Like I was kind of explaining – it’s either just having that want that is so powerful to you, inside of you, for whatever reason… Maybe they don’t have that; maybe they’re like “I don’t know, I’m fine. I don’t need that much. I’ll always have a job, I’ll be okay…” Nothing drives them to the point of insanity, like “No, no, no… No way, Jose! I need to have my own stuff!” It’s either that, or plus, they just didn’t develop that discipline perhaps.
And again, I grew up with a family — my grandparents practically raised me; came from Yugoslavia in 1970 with nothing, with four kids, didn’t know a lick of English, knew nothing about the country or the system, the banking, or anything, and they made it, they survived, and I grew up with them, watching them work like dogs, they did whatever it took. They were in the bar industry too back in the day, and just stuff I saw them do and go through… No matter what, they just made it happen, went to work when they didn’t feel like it, three in morning, cops call, vandalism – it doesn’t matter what it is, they just get up and go, there’s no other option. So I was brought up with that, and maybe that’s where the discipline comes from potentially, that other people don’t have. That’s gotta be the only thing I can think of.
Joe Fairless: Yeah, the immigrant mindset where you’ve been exposed to your extended family – they didn’t have anything when they came to the country, and you saw that, and you wanted to replicated what they created based on their hard work, it sounds like. Is that fairly accurate?
Melanie Bajrovic: Absolutely. I saw what’s possible if you truly hustle, if you want something and get after it, you can really have it… So I felt “Whoa, sky is the limit then.”
Joe Fairless: I also think that anyone who is driven, who lives with their parents until the age of 27, will do whatever it takes to create that financial independence, so that they’re not… So maybe there’s also — if we’re not an immigrant, or don’t have — well, I guess we’re all technically immigrants in some form or fashion, but if we aren’t a generation or two removed from being immigrants, then maybe we just go live with our parents until we’re financially independent, and then that will really drive us to do something things.
Now I wanna talk specifics about this commercial real estate property… You said you’ve got your restaurant and bar; did you have a restaurant before purchasing the property, or did you create one as a result of buying this property?
Melanie Bajrovic: No, I never had my own bar or restaurant, but because I’d been working for my family for a long time, I ended up managing their entire business – and it was a big operation; 25 employees, for example… They went away a lot; they went back home to Serbia, former Yugoslavia, they took a lot of trips; I was the manager, I dealt with everything, so after years of dealing with all that, I thought “Alright, I know what it takes, I can do this on my own.” I didn’t wanna work for my parents necessarily… I didn’t wanna work for anyone my entire life; I was always an entrepreneurial spirit, I had other little side businesses of my own from the age of 16. So I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and it was just around that time that I was sort of done with it. I’m like “Okay, I don’t wanna do this anymore. It’s time for me to create my own. I need to do my own thing”, and I was ready.
So that’s at the age of 27 – I just started looking around for opportunities, for properties; I knew that the only thing I knew hardcore how to do was the restaurant business, the bar industry, so that’s where that decision came from. I found a great property for that, and started my own business from there.
Joe Fairless: So you bought the property and you created the business within the property.
Melanie Bajrovic: That’s right.
Joe Fairless: How much was the property?
Melanie Bajrovic: I paid $550,000. It’s a 20,000 square feet property. The building itself is 5,000 square feet. And it was a bar previously, so it was set up… It was super old, so I had to do a lot of fixing up of the place, but it had a bar, it had a kitchen.
Joe Fairless: And that was five years ago?
Melanie Bajrovic: Yeah, 2013.
Joe Fairless: That was five years ago… And what would you say it is worth today if you were to sell it?
Melanie Bajrovic: I’ve had some people kind of looking at it, and some commercial agents asking me if I’d be interested in selling, and it looks like the going rate around now is between 950k and 1.2 million.
Joe Fairless: Congrats on that. How much did you put into the property?
Melanie Bajrovic: That’s the best part about this deal… The way I structured it was some creative financing by using other properties as collateral. I was able to pick it up with hardly anything down up-front. It was really like a crafty deal.
Joe Fairless: Will you elaborate on that?
Melanie Bajrovic: Yeah. One of my best mentors is my uncle; he is a huge financing guy and he really helped structure that deal… But I just leveraged the other properties, all as collateral… And I think it was 5 points to the banker, and it was a good rate. I had to pay closing costs, sure… I mean, maybe when all was said and done it was less than $20,000 that I had to put upfront.
Joe Fairless: Wow. And then to get it to be functional and ready for the first customer to have a beer, how much money did you put into it?
Melanie Bajrovic: Interesting story about that. I purchased it (I believe it was) March 1st, and it ended up falling on a Friday. I was adamant that I wanted to open up for business immediately. This other restaurant that I had purchased it from – they had gone downhill, but they still had the doors open… And it was really rough, but I thought “I don’t wanna wait… If there are any regulars or customers still coming to this location (which I saw there were, circling in and out), let’s open the doors right away.”
So you wouldn’t believe me – I had a team, I had already hired girls and doing interviews elsewhere; I did some at my parents’ restaurant, letting them know that a new bar is opening up, screening people… So I had a team, I took an SUV truck, went out and bought kegs, cases of beer, I had another girl buy a bunch of food… I had everyone who was opening up with me come at this very time, and the lawyer ends up giving me the key at like [4:30] PM on a Friday – I literally drove from the lawyer’s office, came there, unlocked the door… Everyone rushed in, swept, mopped it, a quick little thing, put some food and the beers in the fridge, and I opened for business right away, that day.
Joe Fairless: Wow.
Melanie Bajrovic: I did my renovations and things little by little by staying open. I did a lot of stuff overnight, but overall, because I did it little by little, it’s hard to give you a number right now. At least 10k in the very beginning, and then I did more – I redid the bar area, I redid furniture, I redid the booth area… But all one by one.
Joe Fairless: Yeah. So 20k to close approximately, 10k at the beginning, so that’s 30k, and the way you’re talking about this, it sounds like maybe another 20k over the last 4-5 years?
Melanie Bajrovic: For sure. We’re not counting all the repairs I’ve had to do [unintelligible [00:16:17].24] Yeah, I’d say another 20k, for sure.
Joe Fairless: And then if we were counting those repairs, approximately what would that be? [laughs]
Melanie Bajrovic: Oh, man… Something breaks every week, so I don’t know how to tell you this one, but… Oh gosh, at least 10k/year. One year my HVAC went, and that was 10k by itself, never mind any compressors, or fridges and coolers and stuff… But let’s call it at least 10k-15k/year.
Joe Fairless: Got it, okay. Fair enough. So no more than around 50k, not including ongoing repairs and maintenance, but just improvements – about 50k all in to close, and now it’s worth approximately 950k, up to over a million.
Melanie Bajrovic: Yeah.
Joe Fairless: That’s incredible. Now, if they were to buy that, I imagine they’d be buying the bar and the restaurant, which would be a little sticky, since you’re the owner of it…
Melanie Bajrovic: Right.
Joe Fairless: So how would that work?
Melanie Bajrovic: Well, are you talking about the price, or…?
Joe Fairless: Yeah, if someone were to buy the property from you…
Melanie Bajrovic: I would include the business.
Joe Fairless: You would include the business. But you’re the one who’s running the business, yes?
Melanie Bajrovic: Yeah. I split it up into two corporations. One company is the tenant, which I happen to be the president of, and the other company is the real estate holding company that I rent from. So it is funky, because I’m both, but it’s set up in two different corporations. So if I were to sell, I would sell everything as is. Of course, I’m not gonna rip the bar out or rip any equipment out from the kitchen. I would just include all that in the price, and I’d sell it with the business, for sure.
Joe Fairless: In order to get this deal, you did the creative financing. Your uncle helped mentor you, and you leveraged your five properties and used them as collateral, and that allowed you to have less down than what’s typical… Let’s go through a hypothetical scenario – you get a really good offer for, let’s say, 1.2 million, because I think that was the high end of the range, yes?
Melanie Bajrovic: Yeah.
Joe Fairless: Okay, so you get a really good offer and you decide “Yeah, let’s do this. I’m gonna sell”, and then you take the profits from that money and you go to buy something else. In order to buy something else, you are told by the lender that you need to use your other properties as collateral in order to guarantee this loan. Would you still do that?
Melanie Bajrovic: I would. If it’s a great deal and I see a ton of potential that it’s gonna make me a lot of money — again, I’m certain in my capabilities that I’ll make sure whatever the business is, whether it’s just commercial rentals, my own business… I’d have to look at the situation, everyone will be different, but yeah, I would do it again, absolutely.
Joe Fairless: Cool. And obviously, you know the reason I’m asking, because it could be a domino effect; if something goes wrong, then boom – everything gets wiped away and now you’re starting from scratch, whereas if it was isolated and you weren’t using this collateral, then it wouldn’t be a domino effect.
Melanie Bajrovic: But it’s just a matter of doing the deal or not, if it’s a yes or no; yeah, I’d still do it, but making sure all your ducks are in a row and you assess the risk.
Joe Fairless: Based on your experience, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?
Melanie Bajrovic: Oh, boy… So I thought about this a lot, and one of the biggest in terms of single-family homes, if you’d like to discuss that, was really renting out your property to maximize your profits and your passive income. I think this component gets overlooked a lot. People are just really trying to make some quick money, get it occupied, but it’s so gravely important; it’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far, and I can really get into some details.
Joe Fairless: Yes, please.
Melanie Bajrovic: After setting your rent, learning how to do all that property marketing, conducting the showings, getting to know people, it’s really processing the application and screening the tenants – that’s one of the most important parts. I skipped it once; I can get right into that. So I didn’t verify these people – and this was like my fourth house, so I’m really embarrassed by this story…
Joe Fairless: They were really nice, and they gave you their word that they would pay, right?
Melanie Bajrovic: Absolutely! It just felt awesome… You know, when you just feel great vibes with people… They were wonderful people, so I wasn’t worried at all. I tried calling the previous landlord, but I just couldn’t get a hold of him, or something. All I did was call their jobs, and I learned, “Okay, fine” they were employed, but I didn’t do the proper background checks, credit checks, previous eviction notice checks – I didn’t do any of that stuff… And I got screwed royally; I hope I can say that word on your show, sorry…
Joe Fairless: People have said worse.
Melanie Bajrovic: Yes, okay! So they were literally con artists, I learned later…
Joe Fairless: Oh, wow, even better… Convicted con artists who then conned you. [laughter]
Melanie Bajrovic: Yes, yes! So what they were doing out there – amongst plenty of other things, I learned later – is they were posing as landlords in Toronto, and it’s a huge market there, so you get a ton of people coming out… And because it’s so competitive, people are throwing money at them, like “Here’s a deposit! Here’s a deposit!” So they were doing showings, taking all these deposits, and they fled the city.
Joe Fairless: On your property?
Melanie Bajrovic: Not on mine. That’s what they did in Toronto, I learned later. So because I didn’t verify stuff, it just turned out to be such a nightmare. I didn’t triple-check after the first month to make sure that the checks have cleared, didn’t check the second month; third month, finally, I’m like “Oh, this looks funky in my bank account”, so I looked at it – bam! I just see that nothing ever cleared, no payments went. They didn’t even get the utilities in their name; I didn’t do that afterward either, which is a big one now… I call utilities, just to make sure “Hey, did these tenants put it under their number? What date is it starting?”, blah-blah-blah… I didn’t do any of that.
I was $6,000 in debt because of them at this point, and now I can’t even kick them out; she’s pregnant, so… [laughter] Yeah, it was a disaster. By the time it’s your court date – it’s like three months later, and it cost me so much money, and they were mean to me… It was just brutal. Big mistake.
I was technically lazy, and I was just trusting without verifying. I don’t mind to trust people, but verify. So I really wanna make sure that everyone out there – please, God, don’t ever skip this step! Don’t be lazy, don’t overlook anything. They could be the nicest people in the world; you just never know.
That was the only bad experience. Every other tenant, I did everything right; I screened everyone properly, did all the checks, and 5, 6, 7 years later, still in my homes; beautiful, they take care of that property like it’s their own. One tenant just repaved the driveway, doesn’t ask me for a penny… It’s like their house. So you can have great experiences too, so don’t be scared off by it, but I’m just saying – don’t ever skip that step!
Joe Fairless: Trust, but verify. We’re gonna do a lightning round. Are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?
Melanie Bajrovic: I’m ready!
Joe Fairless: Alright, let’s do it. First, a quick word from our Best Ever partners.
Joe Fairless: Best ever book you’ve read?
Melanie Bajrovic: The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra.
Joe Fairless: Best ever deal you’ve done that we haven’t talked about so far.
Melanie Bajrovic: Oh, man [unintelligible [00:23:51].07] it’s gotta be my first, first house; it was awesome. It was a great deal. I got it for a super low price. It was an estate sale, and everything was just great.
Joe Fairless: What’s a mistake you’ve made on a transaction that we haven’t talked about.
Melanie Bajrovic: That we haven’t talked about – I would have to say maybe just not asking my banker for a lower rate.
Joe Fairless: Best ever way you like to give back?
Melanie Bajrovic: That’s truly the reason why I wrote my book and created a program, so I can just give knowledge, mentor others on how they can do all this, too. It’s giving my experience to helping fast-track their journey and impact other’s lives. That’s the best way I can give back.
Joe Fairless: And how can the Best Ever listeners get in touch with you?
Melanie Bajrovic: Absolutely – on my website, melaniebajrovic.com, anywhere on social media… I’m on all the stuff: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn – I’m all there at @thewealthybarmaid.
Joe Fairless: Melanie, thank you so much for being on the show. Thank you for talking about your journey, how you were able to save money through hard work from 12 to 27, some sacrifices – or perceived sacrifices; that is certainly debatable, because what exactly you are sacrificing to then gain… So perceived sacrifices you made, living with the parents – clearly not as social of a life as other 23-27-year-olds, because you were working a whole lot… Even though it was at a bar, which could be fun… But then also the approach that you took for the creative financing on your first commercial deal, and the risk assessment that you thought through from a collateral standpoint, using the first five properties as collateral. Some might not be comfortable with that, some might be comfortable with that, and it’s just interesting to hear your thought process for why you were comfortable with that.
Thank you so much for being on the show. I hope you have a best ever day, and we’ll talk to you soon.
Melanie Bajrovic: It’s an absolute pleasure, thank you so much.