JF2463: Recovering from a Huge Loss with Daniel Wood
Daniel Wood became interested in real estate investing about 10 years ago in Sweden. His first deal left him in the hole of half of a million dollars. When everything that could go wrong did go wrong, he went bankrupt and decided to start a new company. Now, Momentum Property Education has a successful formula to help others understand the importance of Knowledge, Action, and People.
Daniel Wood Real Estate Background:
• Full-time property investor
• 10 years of experience
• Portfolio consists of residential properties, syndications, commercial properties, and a golf resort
• Based in Sweden but invests in the UK
• Say hi to him at: www.momentumgift.com
• Best Ever Book: The Snowball by Warren Buffett
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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. This is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing podcast where we only talk about the best advice ever, we don’t get into any of that fluffy stuff. With us today, Daniel Wood. How are you doing, Daniel?
Daniel Wood: I’m great. Thank you for having me.
Joe Fairless: Well, I’m glad to hear that and you’re welcome. Looking forward to diving in. A little bit about Daniel. He’s a full-time property investor, he’s got 10 years of experience doing that, and has a portfolio that consists of residential properties, syndications, commercial properties, and a golf resort. He is based in Sweden, but invests in the UK. With that being said, Daniel, do you want to get the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?
Daniel Wood: Yeah, I appreciate it. Thank you, everyone, for listening. We’ve been doing this – and I say we, because me and my wife Gisella run all our businesses together. We started out almost a decade ago. It was after reading the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I’m sure a lot of people started the same way as us. Well, we started by looking at our home market in Sweden, where we live. Born and raised here. But Sweden is a very tough market to invest in. It’s very heavily regulated, it’s not very easy to get financing, you can’t use all the fun and creative strategies that you can use in a lot of other markets… So we started looking around in Europe to see where did we think was a good market to invest in. We chose the UK because it is, in many ways, very similar to the US. You can use a lot of the same strategies, it’s very creative, but it’s also a very stable economy. That really attracted us. We started out and we kind of went by the book – we got ourselves a mentor, we got ourselves educated.
Joe Fairless: How did you find your mentor?
Daniel Wood: It was actually by coincidence. It was a seminar that they held in Stockholm, and it just came up as a LinkedIn ad, just as we were starting to look at finding someone. I was like, “Hey, look, property investing.” So I actually booked a romantic day for me and my wife. I didn’t tell her anything about it. We started out with brunch at a nice restaurant, we took a nice walk through the archipelago, and then as we’re seeing —
Joe Fairless: She didn’t know that she was about to be set up.
Daniel Wood: Yeah, she had no idea. She thought I was just the best husband ever. And as we’re standing there looking out over the ocean, I say, “Honey, I got a surprise for you. We’re going to a seminar on property investing!” [laughter] And then I was really quick, I’m like, “But I booked a really nice dinner afterwards” just in case. She was psyched. So we went, and like I said, we did everything by the book. We got ourselves a mentor, we started out, and then we promptly got ripped off for about 400,000 pounds.
Joe Fairless: That’s a lot.
Daniel Wood: Yeah. For American listeners, it’s about half a million dollars of money that, I can tell you, we did not have. We’d raised it all from investors, put together groups, and got ripped off by bad partners, bad builders… Kind of everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I got this call from my accountant who said, “Daniel, it’s time to bankrupt your company.” In Europe, bankruptcy is a big deal. It’s not like in the US where it’s kind of an expected part of your journey to success. Especially here in Sweden, once you go bankrupt, it’s game over. That means you failed as an entrepreneur, and go do something else. So when my accountant said that, it just took me by surprise. I mean, I knew the crushing debt, I was stressed out of my mind.
He says it’s time to bankrupt the company and I’m like “Wow. Okay. What does this mean? What happens now?” He said, “Well, basically, we’ll write off all your debt, and then we’ll start a new company and you can start over.” I’m like, “Wait. What? What do you mean start over?” He’s like, “Yeah, we’ll just start over. Start a new company and you start on a clean slate.” Obviously, that sounded amazing. Crushing debt and then he just waves a wand and it goes away. But I asked this fateful question, I asked, “Well, if I don’t pay the debt, who does?” And he said, “Well, I guess your investors aren’t going to see much of their money back.” I say, “Alright, I get it. So you’re not actually saying that I should start over. You’re actually asking me to just throw everyone else under the bus.” He said, “Well, I guess that’s another way of looking at it.” I said, “Yeah, we’re not doing that. I have no idea how we’re going to turn this business around, but we’re not bankrupting the company.”
So we went out and we started thinking about how do we do this. That’s when we got really, really lucky. We were actually running events at the time in Sweden, in Stockholm, we were bringing in speakers from all over the world, and we had this opportunity to bring Kim Kiyosaki, one of the authors of Rich Dad, Poor Dad to Sweden. The best thing about hosting an event is you get to hang out with the speakers. So we took her out to dinner, we showed her around Stockholm, and we told her about what we were going through and the journey we’d been on. She gave us some amazing advice. She advised us on how to restructure some of our deals, restructure some of our debt, and really just gave us the confidence to go back out and raise more financing, go out and do it again. It took a long time. We did well over 100 property deals, but finally, we turned the business around and got to a point where we had a portfolio that was generating a positive income. It’s been a tough journey, but we kind of got out the other side, finally.
Joe Fairless: Wow. Well, what a story and a story that we will learn more about right now, because I’d love to ask some specific questions about different aspects that you mentioned. The first question is – 400k pounds, which you said is equivalent to about half a million dollars. What happened exactly?
Daniel Wood: As you know, property is a slow game, so it took a while for us to realize that we’d lost this money. What happened was we went into multiple deals; we threw ourselves both feet first into the deep end.
Joe Fairless: You, your wife, and how many investors?
Daniel Wood: Well, it was different. We brought in investors into our company on just angel loans, and we brought in joint venture partners… I think, in total, it was probably 15 to 20 investors, but it was also over a period of time. As I said, we didn’t really realize how much we’d lost until a couple of years later. We had investors that had come in and that we’d paid back. What happened, just to kind of give you a brief, was – it was multiple partnerships.
One that really stands out, because everything really went wrong in that project, was this company that sold themselves is really experienced, our mentor had referred them, and they brought us this deal that was three terraced houses that we’re going to turn into blocks of flats. So we were going to turn it into 11 flats in total. For them, they said, “This is piecemeal. This is what we do every week” and we trusted them.
We did not do our proper due diligence, we did not look up their local reputation, we did not go into references; we thought our mentor had referred them, and so we’ll just go with it. Later, it turns out, this was the biggest deal they had done to date, and by a factor of 10.
The first thing that happened was the one in the team who was the architect – well, the problem was he’d never drawn anything like this before. So the first mistake he made was that the hallway that has to go up to the second and the third floor went right through the bottom floor flat.
Joe Fairless: Oh, okay… So you kind of hang out with your neighbors as you’re going up and down the hallway?
Daniel Wood: Exactly. So a slight problem there. What happened was they didn’t tell us that they made this mistake, that wasn’t in their DNA. So what they actually did was they called me up and they said, “Daniel, amazing news. Collin was able to redo the drawing so we got another flat in there.” Basically, what they said was they split the bottom floor flat into two. But that meant one of the flats was about 25 square feet.
Joe Fairless: For someone not familiar with what a flat is and not familiar with that term. What is a flat?
Daniel Wood: Oh, sorry. That’s an apartment. As I said, that’s the British version of an apartment.
Joe Fairless: Okay. So 25 square foot apartment.
Daniel Wood: Yeah. So, you know, basically a cupboard. But we were psyched. We thought they’d taken this house that was going to be three apartments and gotten a fourth in there. So we were seeing our valuations go up, we were seeing our rents go up… And originally, they actually put an accountant in there and they rented it out as a commercial space.
Joe Fairless: The 25 square foot flat?
Daniel Wood: Well, they kind of redid it into a one-room, little office for them. So they claimed it was a flat and it became an office. But a year or two later, the council came by and viewed the property. They said, “Well, that’s not okay. You’ve got to empty that apartment and you can’t do that.”
Joe Fairless: Understandably.
Daniel Wood: Yeah, they were completely right. But we had no idea until then what had happened.
Joe Fairless: Because you’re in Sweden and this is not in Sweden.
Daniel Wood: Exactly. And again, this was my first deal. I was totally trusting. In Sweden, we’re very, very naive, generally. When someone says they’re going to do something, they do it, and they tend to do it by the book. So we didn’t even consider the fact that something like that had happened. Stuff like that came out from this deal just throughout, and we went into the books at the end, we realized that they had stolen about 70,000 pounds from the accounts at the same time… It had been small transactions that we never noticed, but over a course of a couple of years, they’d stolen about 70,000 pounds. So all in all, on that deal, we lost about 120,000 pounds.
Joe Fairless: Okay. So not a back-breaker, but not starting off on the right foot.
Daniel Wood: Yeah. The first eight deals we did, four of them went fine, there were no real problems. And then four went kind of like this one; and the cumulative loss…
Joe Fairless: With the same group, or a different group?
Daniel Wood: No. The horrible thing is it was three different people.
Joe Fairless: Okay, so clearly the common denominator there is you.
Daniel Wood: Well, it’s us. It was us. That’s the big problem – we were trusting the wrong people for the wrong reasons. We went in with the promise of the “get really wealthy, really, really quick.” We were sold the dream and we saw these deals with the amazing return… You put your money in, six months you’re going to get it all out, then you recycle it into the next deal, and everything… And we got greedy. The warning signs were all there if we’d wanted to look, but the dollar signs in our eyes were kind of covering the truth.
Joe Fairless: What were some warning signs?
Daniel Wood: Well, I’ll go back to that deal. There was a bunch of them. The first thing was when you spoke to them… They were incredible salespeople, and they were the true used-car salesman/salesperson. It was one of those things where we just should have picked up the phone to the local property networking group and just ask, “Hey, have you heard about these guys? Do you know them?” We would have instantly heard that they don’t have a good reputation in the market. But we didn’t want to hear that; we didn’t want to know that they were a bad partner, so we never made that call. We wanted to believe that they were good. And then throughout the project, things came up.
The first builder we had went bankrupt and that lost us some money; the second builder we brought, in disappeared off to South America with the money, and then the third builder came in and it turned out the build quote was about 50,000 pounds higher than the original two had quoted, which probably is because he was giving us a correct quote.
Then when we got the first managing agent, or letting agent, as we say in the UK, they filled the property really quickly. Everything was great, and then about three months later, they had a falling out with our partner, took all the tenants, and vacated the premises. Then we got a new lettings agent and it took them about six months to get our first two tenants out of the three we needed to have in one of the blocks. So there was so much that you could see if you cared to look… It was just not right. You could even see that now going back and looking at the original deal presentations, you can see that there’s a lot of things that they didn’t include that they should have included about the area, about the types of tenants they were targeting, and stuff like that.
Joe Fairless: Well, first off, I want to take a moment and applaud you for sharing these lessons that you’ve learned, so that you can help the Best Ever listeners on their journey and help me on my journey. So first of all, thank you for that.
Daniel Wood: Well, of course. The one positive, I would say, out of all of this is the fact that we had investors involved and these investors were banging on my door, because they wanted their money back…
Joe Fairless: Literally?
Daniel Wood: Well, not literally, but my phone was getting messages, let’s just put it that way.
Joe Fairless: What were the messages?
Daniel Wood: People were nice. I wasn’t getting any threats or anything. But at the same time, they weren’t happy. They wanted their money back, we were delayed with payments, they wanted to know what was going on with their investment, and just updates. But it was this constant flow of it. So I would jump on a call and deal with someone, then I’d spend a week with someone calming them down, then it was the next person again; once I’d calm that one down, it was the next one. By the time I’d gotten through all the investors, the first one was angry again, because I hadn’t reached out to them for the process, because I was dealing with everyone else. It was this constant barrage, and it was so draining. And I totally respect it.
But what was cool about it, is the fact that we were able to turn the business around and we were able to start paying people back and getting out of it. So what happened was it kind of became a bit of a public domain kind of thing. It wasn’t just me and my wife does Gisella, it wasn’t just us investing our money and losing, it was other people who saw this transformation from total failure to doing pretty well. And what happened was, when we got to that point, people started reaching out to us and actually asked, “Hey, can you help me out? Can you teach me? I need help.” Originally, we said no. We did this to have more time with the kids and more time off, but at the same time, we could see the cliff they were kind of running towards… It’s hard to say no to someone who’s asking for help, so we started helping people out, and it was just so fun seeing them succeed.
I’ll never forget when two of our clients called me up and they said “Friday in two weeks, you have to come over for dinner.” I said, “Well, why? Why that day?” “No, you have to come over for dinner that day.” I’m like, “We got kids, can we do it the Saturday? Can we do today after?” They said “No, it has to be the Friday.” “I don’t know if I can.” “No, you have to be here.” “Alright, I’ll deal with it. I’ll be there.” So we show up two weeks later. “So why was it so important that we were here today?” He said, “Well, today was our last day at our jobs. We’re financially free, and it’s thanks to you. Tomorrow we’re celebrating with our families, but we wanted to celebrate it with you tonight first.” That was just such a wake-up call. I was like “Wow, this is why we’re doing this.”
Joe Fairless: Yeah. It’s powerful.
Daniel Wood: It’s amazing. It’s such an experience. That’s why we run Momentum Property Education, where we teach internationals to invest in the UK, to invest in Spain. If you don’t live in the UK, but still want to invest in that stable market, then we come in and help. A big part of it is we share all the screw-ups we did. We haven’t had a perfect journey. We’ve made probably every single mistake possible, and I still find new ones so I’m sure I’ll find more. But we make a lot of mistakes, we’ve made a lot of mistakes and therefore we’ve learned a lot. I think that’s important to share.
When people just talk about how great they’ve done and all the good stuff, that’s not where the lessons are. I think learning from, for example, this partner, looking at that deal and saying, “Look, when you’re going to joint venture with someone, you’ve got to do your due diligence.”
You might get that perfect gut feeling where you say this is a great person, I’m going to work with them – still do your due diligence. Or if your gut is telling you this is not right, well, then don’t do the partnership. Make sure both your gut trusts it and the kind of intellectual due diligence shows that it’s good. It’s better to say no than to say yes to the wrong person.” At least in my experience.
Joe Fairless: It is a phenomenal turnaround from 400 pounds in the hole to now, I assume, you’ve made profits and those investors are happy. Is that a correct assumption?
Daniel Wood: Yeah, we got a decent amount of equity today. It took us a while to turn it around, but now we’re in a very good position. It’s taken time and…
Joe Fairless: How much time?
Daniel Wood: I think it took us about six years to turn it around. It was a long slog, it definitely was. But I’m glad we didn’t go bankrupt, I’m glad we didn’t throw everyone else under the bus. Everyone doesn’t appreciate it. I have investors who – they’ll probably never invest with me again. And if someone asks them if they should invest with me, I’m sure they’ll say no, because we didn’t deliver on our promise. We promised to borrow the money for a short period of time, pay them back with a hefty interest, and we weren’t able to deliver. It took a lot longer and we didn’t pay a bunch of interest. But I’m proud of the fact that we decided to pay back everyone what they had invested and not leave anyone out to dry.
Joe Fairless: For someone who is in a challenging deal, and they have investors, and they are getting those phone calls similar to what you were getting, what advice would you give him or her?
Daniel Wood: That is a really tough situation. I get calls from investors who are in that situation occasionally, who asked me for help and advice. There are two parts to it. The first is how you communicate with the investors and the second is how you deal with the deal. It’s one thing when you’re in there with your own money, and you say, “Look, I’m going to cut my losses, get out of this deal, and I can go away and do a new one.” But when you have investors involved, it’s a lot scarier to make that decision. That can cause you to be in a deal longer, which means you rack up more losses.
I think sometimes you have to bite the bullet. You’ve got to do a review of the deal and say, “Alright, where we are now, is this deal salvageable, or is it just going to continue to eat up money and be a black hole?” The quicker you can make that decision — I’m not saying throw in the towel every time… But making that review and if you see that this deal doesn’t have a future, throw in the towel, get out of that deal, and get into a new one, a good one. That’s one side of it.
The other side is your communication with the investors. It’s really important, I think, to be clear and honest with them, explain what’s happening. Obviously, if you’re in this situation now, you can’t go back to the beginning. But if you’re bringing on an investor, be honest about them; make the expectations clear, talk about what type of deal it is, what’s going to happen, how you’re going to communicate to them, give them a briefing, and then follow that communication plan. Make sure you give them updates during the project, so when things, if they start going off the rails, they’ve been updated throughout the process and it doesn’t come as a surprise. You don’t want to be telling someone, “Everything’s great, everything’s great, everything’s great. Oh, sorry, I’m not going to be able to pay you back.”
Joe Fairless: They get whiplash.
Daniel Wood: Exactly. Like “Just last week, you told me the project was on track. Why aren’t you paying me back?” So you’ve got to be honest and share the story. But if you’re in that situation now, if you’re stuck, I believe strongly in brutal honesty. What I had to do with my investors – I opened my balance sheet and said, “Look, this is our equity and this is our debt. As you can see, we’re 400,000 pounds in the hole. I’m not going to be able to pay this interest that’s every single month just racking up. That’s not going to happen. I could sell everything I own and I’d still never be able to pay you back. I could take a job and the interest would still kill me. So I’m sorry, that’s not going to happen. But if you don’t like it, that’s fine. We can bankrupt this company. That means I’m out of this now and you get about 20% of your invested capital back. Or you’re patient with me and I’ll do my best to pay you back as much as I can, as quickly as I can. Your call, we do it your way.”
It’s just brutally honest; they obviously don’t want to hear it. You just have to say, “Look, I’m sorry. This is where we are. I hate to be in this situation and I hate to put you in this situation. But the fact is, if you want your money now, I’ll have to declare bankruptcy. This means we’ll go through bankruptcy court and about 20% of your invested capital will come back. Also, that means I can walk away now and I’ll start a new company and start over from scratch. So for me, that’s really, really nice. If you want, we’ll do that. Or I’ll try to put in as much money as I can into this company and pay you back everything you’ve invested. But it’s going to take me a while, because I have to go out and make that money.”
Joe Fairless: Did any of them say “Just bankrupt it and give me 20% of whatever I invested?”
Daniel Wood: No. Because technically, I could give them about 20% right away anyway, because I could sell some of the properties. So they were going to get the same amount. If we sold a couple of the properties, they were going to get a 20% anyway, and the bankruptcy process would take longer. So they were all kind of like “Well do that then.” And then we just had to patiently go through it.
I guess some people are never going to appreciate it. Other people have been really over the moon and just like, “Wow, you stepped up. I really appreciate it. Call me the next time you have something.” They’ve actually appreciated it. But it will vary. And honestly, I think that’s okay. I think when you’re investing someone else’s money, you’ve got to be prepared that they’re not always going to appreciate you, even when things go according to plan. I noticed that when we’ve done sourcing, which is wholesaling in the US. Sourcing is what we call it on this side of the pond. But I always say when you source a deal, it’s a bit like being an umpire in a baseball game. If you do everything perfectly, no one cares, no one notices you. But if you miss a call, and if you miss the wrong call, that’s when they come out shouting. It’s often a very thankless job, but you’re the one getting the reward in the end, because you’re using other people’s funds to build your portfolio.
Joe Fairless: I love talking to you about your experience, the bumps and bruises along the way, and also the way that you came out of it. We’re going to take a step back… What is your best real estate investing advice ever?
Daniel Wood: The best advice – we’ve boil it down; we call it our success formula here at Momentum Property Education. I really think if you follow this, you will be successful as a property investor. It’s actually three parts. Is that alright, Joe?
Joe Fairless: Yeah, sure. We’ve got just a couple more minutes. But yes.
Daniel Wood: Alright. I’ll walk them through quickly. We call it the KAP process. The K stands for knowledge, and we really base that off of what Warren Buffett always says… He never does an investment that he doesn’t understand. That’s the first step, make sure you understand. Obviously, if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re on the right track, you’re gathering that knowledge, you’re gathering the information. Get yourself a mentor. Yes, it didn’t go well for me and I got a mentor. But I still believe in the mentorship process, because it was thanks to my mentors that I was able to turn things around.
The second part, the A is for action. You got to take that step. I know I’ve probably scared some people now in this interview, but please see the silver lining. I did turn it around, we are in good shape now, and I don’t have a job anymore. I can do this. So take action, dare to take that.
The third part is people. Because people are who are going to bring you all your deals, they’re going to run your projects, and they’re the ones who are going to bring you the money, they’re the investors. If you get really good at choosing the right people, then you’re going to become really, really successful. If you get that right, then property investing is very, very easy.
Joe Fairless: Your first piece of advice, the one that you echoed Warren Buffett on, I wish I would have interviewed you prior to 2018… Because a deal that I lost money on as a passive investor, and the only deal –if memory serves me correct– as a passive investor that I’ve lost money on, is some factoring debt management thing that came from a friend of a friend who had an opportunity and I didn’t vet it out. There’s a whole conversation that we could have about that, and we won’t, but I lost money… And I didn’t understand the business. It’s just that first simple rule that you mentioned and that Warren also mentioned that I didn’t follow, so I’m here to say that I appreciate you sharing that acronym, and especially the first part of that acronym. Although I wish you would have shared it with me many years ago.
Daniel Wood: I’m sorry, we weren’t teaching back then.
Joe Fairless: You weren’t in the mix. You were in the middle of a storm back then.
Daniel Wood: Yeah, exactly. We were turning things around back then, so I didn’t have the advice to give.
Joe Fairless: We’re going to do a lightning round. Are you ready for the Best Ever lightning round?
Daniel Wood: I’m ready.
Joe Fairless: Alright. First, a quick word from our Best Ever partners.
Joe Fairless: The Best Ever book you’ve recently read.
Daniel Wood: I recently read Snowball, the Warren Buffett biography.
Joe Fairless: How can the Best Ever listeners learn more about what you’re doing?
Daniel Wood: Go to momentumgift.com. We have a free course on the three simple steps to property investing. So momentumgift.com.
Joe Fairless: Awesome. Thank you so much for being on the show. Grateful that you shared your lessons learned and the bumps and bruises you mentioned that you got along the way, as well as the story of how you turned it around. I appreciate you being on the show, Daniel. I hope you have a Best Ever day and talk to you again soon.
Daniel Wood: Thank you. I appreciate it.
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