JF2380: Finding A Unique Approach For Each Market And Project With Moneeka Sawyer
Moneeka was aware of the real estate business opportunities since she was a child. Following the American Dream, her parents saved their hard-earned nickels and dimes to buy properties. She graduated college during the recession and started a real estate business of her own.
Moneeka used cash gifted at her wedding as a downpayment for her first property. From then on, her real estate business took an intuitive path. 27 years later, Moneeka’s portfolio value is over $12M. Being based in San Jose, California, she specializes in buying executive houses for great long-term renters, and she secures her renters before investing her money into a new property.
Moneeka Sawyer Real Estate Background:
- Full time Podcast host and Investor
- 27 years of investing experience
- Portfolio consist of 5 executive homes, also started a ground up construction project
- Current portfolio value is about $12M
- Based in San Jose, CA
- Say hi to her at: www.blissfulinvestor.com
- Best Ever Book: The One Thing – Gary Keller
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Best Ever Tweet:
“Everybody has stress and money issues. Do you want poor people money issues, or rich people money issues?” – Moneeka Sawyer.
Ash Patel: Hello Best Ever listeners. This is Ash Patel, and today I am speaking with Moneeka Sawyer from San Jose, California. Moneeka, how are you?
Moneeka Sawyer: I am so great. Thanks for having me on the show, Ash. Nice to be here.
Ash Patel: Good. So you’re a full-time podcast host and investor with 27 years of experience in a $12 million portfolio.
Moneeka Sawyer: Correct.
Ash Patel: I’ve got to hear the story. Tell me how you got started.
Moneeka Sawyer: I actually got started in real estate kicking and screaming. My parents actually came to this country as immigrants with $200 in their pocket and a dream to make a better life. They had heard that the golden ticket to wealth was to buy real estate. So once they had me, they’ve been here for a couple of years, they started saving all of their nickels and dimes… Because now they’ve got a child and their lives were filled with love and hope and excitement. So they started saving their nickels and dimes and bought their very first rental property. So that’s how they got started. Now fast forward 18 years later, and they paid for my college education through real estate. They did the same for both of my sisters, they paid for our weddings… Real estate really provided a huge amount of flexibility and choice for my parents and freedom. So it did a really good thing for them.
But I also saw with my dad, the level of stress that he went through, the toilets, the tenants, the mortgages, all of that stuff. So at a very young age, I decided no way, I’m not doing that, not worth it. Money is not worth that level of stress. Then I graduated from college, and it was a recession. We couldn’t get a job and I was starting to freak out. I had a conversation with my dad one evening that completely changed my life. I was telling him that I was so stressed out, and how was I going to make it on my own? I wasn’t sure how to do this adult thing. What was I going to do about money? He said to me over the dinner table, he said, “You know, Moneeka, everybody has stress and everybody has money issues. Do you want poor people’s money issues, or do you want rich people money issues?” My first thought was “Rich people have money issues?” [laughter] But then I decided, yes, I was going to do the rich people money issue. So kind of kicking and screaming, going against my will I decided, “Okay, I’m going to try this whole real estate thing.” So that’s how the whole thing started.
Ash Patel: So this was right out of college…
Moneeka Sawyer: Well, it was a couple of years after college, after I had been struggling really hard.
Ash Patel: And did you start out on your own? Or did you take over some of your parent’s properties?
Moneeka Sawyer: Good question. So actually, what I did was my husband and I got engaged. He wasn’t my husband… Anyway, my boyfriend and I got engaged, and for our wedding, we asked everybody for cash. So at the wedding and that year we got about $10,000 in cash. So we put down, I think it worked out to 5% on our very first primary residence. Then from there – this is kind of an intuitive path. From there, once that appreciated, we took equity out of that house, and then I bought another primary residence and rented this one out. Then I did that again in another four years. Then we hit 2008 and 2009. Out of that equity line, I was able to now buy five houses, and I also bought a piece of land. So that’s kind of how it all grew. I just started with gift money.
Ash Patel: Is your husband in this business with you?
Moneeka Sawyer: No, he’s a software programmer. He knows nothing about it.
Ash Patel: So you dove in, and I’m assuming you caught the real estate bug, and at some point fell in love with this.
Moneeka Sawyer: Yes, absolutely. Yeah.
Ash Patel: Okay. So what are you doing now?
Moneeka Sawyer: I’m kind of doing the same thing. My whole approach is to keep it as simple, and easy, and blissful as possible. I want it to be just a kind of inflow. So I do executive homes. I’ve started with our starter home and then grew it and grew it. So now all the properties that we have are executive homes.
What I love about that are the tenants. I kind of did this the backward way. I decided who I wanted to do business with, which – your tenants are your business partners. So I decided I wanted to be in business with people that didn’t need me, they just wanted a nice home. So I decided on executives, bought properties that they would want to live in, then just kind of turned it over to them. I did a little bit of the training, but they handle everything. I never get the phone calls for the toilets, or whatever it is that might go wrong, the termites. I don’t get calls because rent isn’t going to be on time. Everything just kind of is inflow. So that’s what I’m doing now.
Ash Patel: So executive homes – is that just higher-end homes?
Moneeka Sawyer: That’s just higher-end homes.
Ash Patel: And is it short-term renters or longer-term rentals?
Moneeka Sawyer: Longer-term. So the smallest amount of time I’ve had an executive there is two years. Most of them surprisingly lived there 10 years or more, and I don’t understand it. Why were they not buying their houses? But most of them are coming from Japan or other parts of the country, or whatever, they decide to stay here, they love the job, and then they just feel like they can’t get into the California market.
Ash Patel: How often does the individual pay the rent versus their corporation?
Moneeka Sawyer: It’s always the individual.
Ash Patel: Okay, so you don’t have any company contracts? It’s always just individuals. How do you market for that audience?
Moneeka Sawyer: I don’t. What happens is… This is a really cool thing – with an executive, they have executive parties, which is why they want to have a nice house. When one of the executives is moving, they start to tell all of their friends that they’re going to be moving. The wives have been at the house a lot. Wives make decisions on houses, that’s what everybody says.
Ash Patel: Absolutely.
Moneeka Sawyer: And one person starts thinking about moving, and the other wives think about “Maybe I could move then.” So I haven’t actually had to market a property in years.
Ash Patel: So 27 years and $12 million. What does your portfolio consist of today, in addition to the executive homes?
Moneeka Sawyer: Just the executive homes mostly. I have six executive homes. Actually, I have a property in Belize. I’ve got a couple of properties, small-time properties that I’m carrying notes on. I’m in a couple of syndications and I’m also doing a construction project, which itself is worth about five and a half million dollars.
Ash Patel: Tell me more about that, the construction project.
Moneeka Sawyer: Yeah, that’s actually new. So when you talk about the $12 million, that does not include the construction project, just so you know. This is kind of a new thing. But basically, we bought a piece of land that was in a redevelopment area in Los Altos, California. Got it for a song, because the zoning wasn’t right. Nine years later, we figured out the zoning. We just started construction about two months ago, so we’re really excited. We just poured concrete last week.
Ash Patel: Amazing. So did you have to fight the entire nine-year time period?
Moneeka Sawyer: We fought. We fought and fought. But it’s not fighting constantly. Once a month, we’d go to a council meeting. In between, we have a couple of conversations with our engineer, or architect, or whatever. So it wasn’t nine years of fighting. It took nine years to kind of get through the whole process.
We did not have to rezone, which was great. But the council, because they’re trying to figure out exactly what they wanted to do with that area, kept changing their minds. I will admit, it was an insanely frustrating experience. Had we known it was going to take us nine years, we would not have done that. But on the other side of it, I’m really glad we did. My heart is really about making communities better.
Ash Patel: Awesome.
Moneeka Sawyer: So even with my executive homes, I buy distressed homes in good areas and fix them. So this is another one of these things – we’re going to be building executive homes, we’re going to be upgrading an area… I love that.
Ash Patel: Good. Were there any tactics that you use to coerce that city council?
Moneeka Sawyer: I was a woman on the team and it was really interesting… And for you ladies listening, I really want you to hear this… The council, and the planning, and engineering – all of these departments are used to dealing with construction workers, contractors, and builders, who are mostly men. Men have a different way of approaching things. They tend to be a little bit more aggressive, they tend to be a little bit more to the point, they tend to get frustrated when they hear “no” 10,000 times. My approach was much softer. I went into every single meeting and I started the meeting just reminding everybody, “We’re on the same team, we both want to upgrade that area. We just need to find a place where we can meet.” That was the approach every single time. When I would go into the council meetings and stand up in front of the council, I will tell them, “I’m trying to upgrade the area. We’re not trying to make every single nickel we can out of this. Tell us what you need.” They would complain about something and I would say “I’m going to make it beautiful!” So the way that I talked about it, I think was a breath of fresh air from what they normally hear. Do you know what I mean?
Ash Patel: Good for you. I don’t know that I could have been patient for that long.
Moneeka Sawyer: I don’t know that I could have either if I hadn’t been prepared.
Ash Patel: Good for you. So with all of your years of experience, you love executive homes. What are your challenges with those types of homes?
Moneeka Sawyer: I only carry six properties. So if I end up with a vacancy, it’s a big deal. Each place gets a rent of about $6,000. So that disappears. When you have more properties, you have a lot more diversification, vacancies aren’t a big deal. I will say in the last five years, I’ve only had one month of vacancy, but that one month was not comfortable. You’re kind of stressed out. But my systems are now so easy and so streamlined that I don’t worry about it too much. But I think that would be the thing, when I have a vacancy. Or in 2008 when I’ve lost values on all my properties. I lost 50% of the value. That was millions of dollars. So that was stressful.
Ash Patel: Right now you’re fully rented. Are you doing anything to continue to get the word out about your executive homes? Maybe try to line up future tenants? Or will you worry about that only when the time comes?
Moneeka Sawyer: I usually only worry about it when the time comes. People know that I do a show. They know on Facebook what I’m up to, so people know, so they’ve got their eyes on me anyway. Usually, I get about two to three months’ notice when someone’s going to leave, because when they’re moving to something else big, they have to prep. Their friends are hearing about it that early. Often I have it rented two weeks before they even leave.
Ash Patel: Awesome. Would you recommend other investors go into those higher-end executive homes?
Moneeka Sawyer: It really depends. It’s an expensive market to get into, and I certainly did not start there. I started on the smaller properties and worked my way up. If you can work your way up, it’s like a dream. The only time I hear from my tenants is if there’s a big problem like a fence blew down in a storm recently, or for Christmas and my birthday. It’s really, really a lovely way to run a business.
Ash Patel: Great. So tell me about your podcasting.
Moneeka Sawyer: Yeah. The podcast is called Real Estate Investing for Women. We talk about real estate strategy, obviously, but my whole approach is about bliss. So I want people to have a holistic approach to business and to real estate so that they can live a really joyful, blissful, simple life. I don’t want all the stress of real estate. That’s how I started. So on the show, that’s what we talk about. We talk about mindset, we talk about heart set, we talk about strategies, we talk about money smarts, so all the different ways that you can invest, get money, like self-directed IRAs. There are lots of different ways that we get private money, all of that stuff.
So we talked about all of those things, but definitely from a woman’s perspective because like I said, we bring something special to the market and I think women don’t understand that we’re so powerful. I will tell you that Los Altos had decided at one point to turn our property into a parking lot. Not a built-up parking lot, a flat parking lot. We would have lost a million dollars. It was because of my skill of communication that it turned around. Us women bring amazing things to the market. I think my show really helps to amplify our strengths.
Ash Patel: So when you started out with the podcast, was that your intention? …to get women into real estate, get them into investing, get their finances up to par? What are your biggest accomplishments in doing that?
Moneeka Sawyer: Yes, that was the thing, is I really want to empower women to have the freedom of choice, and financial freedom gives us that freedom of choice. So what were my biggest accomplishments?
Ash Patel: With your podcast and maybe some of your guests.
Moneeka Sawyer: Yeah. So some of my guests. I’ve talked to Hal Elrod, I’ve talked to Leeza Gibbons, I’ve spoken to Dr. Joe Vitale, I’ve spoken to many of the big names in real estate. So that’s been amazing. One of the questions you sent me was what are my Best Ever resources… It’s my guests, they’re amazing. I’m talking to these genius people every single day; they’re so much better at what they’re doing than I am and so they lift me up. So that’s one of the biggest things, is that I just have become such a better businesswoman, and it has increased my own wealth through the resources that they offer. So that’s one thing.
But the other thing is, every single day, I get either a new review, an email, or something on Facebook or whatever, saying how I’ve changed someone’s life. Someone started in real estate and now look at what they are. I had one woman that said, “I’ve been looking at buying real estate for two years, I started listening to your podcast, and now I have 10 properties.” So that is the thing that I love the most about it. That’s what keeps me going.
Ash Patel: Crazy question – if you had to pick one, the real estate investing or the podcast, which would you choose? You can only have one.
Moneeka Sawyer: Oh, so hard. I would have to pick real estate investing. And I’ll just say this as to why – I’m on my retirement track. The honest truth is that David and I could retire right now if we wanted to. I want to have a little bit more of a cushion because we have aging parents and some other things that I wanted to get taken care of. So we’re kind of looking at retiring in two to five years. The podcast is a hobby that gives me a lot of meaning, but the real estate is what’s going to give us the life that we want once we retire. I can’t really walk away from that. Yeah.
Ash Patel: So are you continuing to look for additional executive homes?
Moneeka Sawyer: Absolutely. I’m actually looking for a couple more executive homes and also one more building project. I’ve got my eyeballs on a piece of property that I’m in love with. Never fall in love with a property, ladies, or anybody. But I’m going to try on this one and we’ll see what happens. But I am looking for another building project.
Ash Patel: So what is your next executive home? What are you looking for and how are you going about finding it?
Moneeka Sawyer: I did the traditional route. This is another thing that I’m sure nobody else says on your show, but I use the MLS and Realtor, and I tell them areas that I’m looking at. We have some really big growth areas in the San Jose area right now. One of our malls is going from sort of mid-tier to high-tier and then we have a Google campus coming in. Now, we don’t know what’s actually going to happen on the other side of COVID, but we have a big Google campus stated to go in there. I’m looking in those areas for homes for the kinds of people that would be living around the Google campus or in this sort of higher-end area. It’s a little bit up and coming.
Ash Patel: An executive home is it just so much more expensive than the average home in the area? Or is it one of many homes in a high-end neighborhood?
Moneeka Sawyer: It’s usually one of many homes in a high-end neighborhood. I am never the best home in a neighborhood, ever. I like to be mid-tier for the neighborhood.
Ash Patel: And what are your typical cash on cash returns for these executive homes?
Moneeka Sawyer: That’s a good technical question that I don’t actually know.
Let’s say this – I have invested over 25 years, about $250,000 in these homes. I bring in about $5,000 a month on those homes. Now the equity is significantly higher. This is a thing that when you talk about retirement, you talk about how we have huge amounts of equity in California real estate – how are we going to now turn that into cash flow? That’s the project for the next two to five years. I don’t actually know how to do that yet, because I’ve never done it. So that’s the next piece.
Ash Patel: Passive investing.
Moneeka Sawyer: That’s right. Well, it’s always been passive investing. But now we’re going to move into cash-flowing passive investing, as opposed to equity growth.
Ash Patel: Awesome. Moneeka, what’s your Best Ever real estate investing advice?
Moneeka Sawyer: Be persistent. Don’t give up. The market will throw you some zingers, things get tough, sometimes you wonder what the heck you’re doing… But stay persistent and stay the course.
Ash Patel: And you’ve proven that with your nine-year fight with the city council.
Moneeka Sawyer: That’s right.
Ash Patel: Awesome. Are you ready for the Best Ever lightning round?
Moneeka Sawyer: Sure.
Ash Patel: Wonderful. First, a quick word from our partners.
Ash Patel: Alright, what’s the Best Ever book that you’ve recently read?
Moneeka Sawyer: I would say my favorite is The One Thing by Gary Keller. It really keeps me focused.
Ash Patel: What’s the Best Ever way you’d like to give back?
Moneeka Sawyer: I actually am a founding member of the She Angels Foundation. We basically fund nonprofits run by women. I’m heavily involved in them. I absolutely love it.
Ash Patel: Awesome. So a VC firm for female-led organizations.
Moneeka Sawyer: That’s exactly right. We’ve got two avenues. One is nonprofit and one is profit. I think it’s sheangels.com or something.
Ash Patel: Wonderful.
Moneeka Sawyer: I should know that. [laughs]
Ash Patel: And how can the Best Ever listeners reach out to you?
Moneeka Sawyer: Go to blissfulinvestor.com.
Ash Patel: Got it. Monica, what an incredible podcast today. It’s great for you to share your story about your parents coming to this country as immigrants. You had no desire to go into real estate, you went in kicking and screaming, and you’ve done amazing things with your podcast, your foundation, your success in real estate… Thank you for sharing your experience with the executive homes. What a great podcast. Thank you so much.
Moneeka Sawyer: Thank you so much for having me, Ash. This was a pleasure.
Ash Patel: Have a great day.
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