JF1691: Never Holding Any Investments #SituationSaturday with Greg Dickerson

The title is simple today because the topic is as straightforward as they come. Greg’s strategy when it comes to real estate investing is to never hold any investments. Ever. He has his reasons and even a method to it, hear why he never holds, and what investments he does get into. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!


Best Ever Tweet:

“It can make sense to own properties, but what’s the difference between that and a big huge pile of cash?” – Greg Dickerson


Greg Dickerson Real Estate Background:

  • Entrepreneur, real estate investor, and developer
  • Over the past 20 years he has bought, developed and sold over $200 million in real estate
  • Started 12 different companies from the ground up
  • Say hi to him at https://gregdickerson.com/
  • Based in Charlottesville, VA
  • Best Ever Book: Principles by Ray Dalio


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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.

Here is the situation, Best Ever listeners… Oh, by the way, this is Situation Saturday, obviously. We’re doing a situation, and most of the time we do Situation Saturday. The purpose of Situation Saturday is if you come across a situation like the one presented during today’s conversation, you have a roadmap for your situation to help navigate if you choose to use that roadmap.

Today we’re gonna be talking about an investing approach of never holding anything. That is today’s Best Ever guest’s approach, and with that I will kick it off. First off, how are you doing, Greg?

Greg Dickerson: I’m doing great, Joe. How are you today?

Joe Fairless: I am doing great as well. Best Ever listeners, if you recognize Greg’s voice, you’re a loyal Best Ever listener, so props to you. Greg Dickerson is an entrepreneur, real estate investor and developer. Over the past 20 years he has bought, developed and sold over 200 million in real estate. He started 12 different companies from the ground up. I’ve interviewed him on the show before, so if you wanna hear his Best Ever advice, then go listen to that episode. I don’t know which one it is, because it hasn’t aired as of the time that I’m recording this one, but if you search “Greg Dickerson Joe Fairless”, you’ll come up with that episode.

Today, if you find yourself, Best Ever listeners, in a situation where you’re thinking through your short and long-term goals of how you’re going to acquire and build a portfolio and cashflow, Greg’s approach is never holding anything… First off, Greg, do you wanna give the Best Ever listeners just a refresher on your background, and then let’s go right into your investing strategy of never holding anything.

Greg Dickerson: Yeah. The short story is I joined the Navy right out of high school. Prior to joining the navy I had a background in restaurants and construction, so that’s the only two things I’ve ever done. Basically, natural-born entrepreneur. Cutting grass, raking leaves, whatever I could do when I was a kid… So I’ve always had the itch to have my own business, do my own thing. After the military I’ve worked a few jobs; got out of the military in ’85 to ’89-’90 timeframe. I’ve worked some jobs in restaurants and construction until ’97-’98, and that’s when I started my first major company. I was a handyman, remodeling contractor, working for a lot of investors and developers. I did $250,000 in my first year; I built that into about a 30 million dollar company. I sold it all ’04-’05, and learned how to invest in real estate, develop property, and buy, build and sell along the way.

That’s my long story in a short format. Of course, there’s a lot to all that. Like I said, I didn’t go to college, but I am self-educated. I’ve poured into myself through education seminars, training programs, mentors that I had, that I did deals with… I learned by doing, the hard way; I had a few people take advantage of me along the way, but I learned some really valuable lessons that made me what I am today, and enabled me to start a bunch of companies and do some different things that I’ve done in my career… But at the end of the day, I’m a builder, developer; that’s what I am. Whether it’s building companies, whether it’s developing real estate, or building and developing people, which is what I love to do more than anything else. That’s what I’ve done in all of my career, with all of my companies, all of my tradesmen, subcontractors and partners that I’ve worked with over the years. That’s me in a nutshell.

Joe Fairless: So your investing  approach now, now that we have that context, is to buy, build and sell. Is that accurate?

Greg Dickerson: That’s it. And build can be renovate, or it can be ground-up. So those are the two things that I really enjoy doing. I especially love renovating. That’s where I started in the business. But ground-up is obviously much more cleaner, and much more predictable.

Joe Fairless: Do you have any real estate in your portfolio right now?

Greg Dickerson: Yeah, I do. When I say I don’t hold anything, that’s long-term. I have this discussion all the time with investors. My situation is different than your situation, and it’s different than the Best Ever listeners’ situations. You’ve gotta know yourself, first and foremost, what your wired to do, what’s in your DNA and what you’re the best at, and then you’ve gotta understand what your end goal is and your strategy is. We’re all after passive income, right? So for me, passive income can mean owning a business, which I will hold businesses long-term, and it can mean cash, because cash can be passive income. So our lives are finite, which means we only need a finite amount of cash to live.

When I first started out, I don’t even know why, but I had a number in my mind that I wanted to get to, that I knew would take care of me the rest of my life… So I worked as hard as I could in my early young years, seven days a week, 24 hours/day, achieving that financial goal. When that number was taken care of, I didn’t have to do anything else ever for the rest of my life. So to me, that was my passive income goal. I knew I had enough cash to take care of me the rest of my life; that was my main goal. So anything beyond that was just for fun, and the excitement of doing the deal… I love to stay busy and do deals. I don’t even know why; it’s just how I’m wired, it’s just my philosophy, and the way it is.

So at any given time, I will own  real estate, because you have to own it while you’re doing the process, but my model has always been to buy it, and renovate it, lease it up, and then sell it, or build it from the ground up, lease it up and sell it. So there is a holding period along the way when you’re doing that, but I don’t like to hold anything any longer than I have to.

Joe Fairless: And what about the philosophy of buying it, and then when you perform on it, real estate is on your side, because you’re paying down the loan, and markets appreciate, you get cashflow… And people never sell, because they will then have to pay long-term capital gains, unless they 1031, and then eventually they’ll have to pay it, unless their kids don’t ever sell, and their kids’ kids don’t ever sell. Because there is that school of thought, and it goes against what you’re talking about, where you buy, you build something up or you renovate something, and you sell, and you’re constantly churning.

Greg Dickerson: Exactly. I do get that, and that does work for a lot of people, but I have some advanced tax strategies to where if you do things in a self-directed IRA, Roth IRA, then you’re not taxable on that gain. There’s also some really cool vehicles coming around this year with opportunity zones, where you can defer capital gains into that, and grow that, and grow a big gain that’s tax-free… So there are some strategies you can use to minimize taxes. On the developer side, I’m classified as a dealer, so it’s ordinary income tax for a business, so I don’t pay gains tax on the stuff that I do, because it’s inventory. So I’ve always been classified as a dealer, I’ve always been classified as having inventory, because I’m selling units, whether it’s lots, or houses, or whatever it is… So I don’t get hit on the gains side. And if there is anything that’s gonna be classified as a gain, then I can run that through an IRA, and not have to worry about that.

And then, of course, there’s the 1031 strategy, which I’m not a fan of, but it’s a good vehicle that a lot of people have used over the years. You can do reverse 1031’s, and things like that… So there are some strategies you can use to minimize taxes. For me, the school of thought — and I’ve only been during my career through one crash, and that was 2009. So everything you’ve just said for, that are all the great reasons to hold real estate, proved true prior to 2009. In 2009, those rules didn’t always apply. A lot of people lost everything they had because all the properties were now all of a sudden worth a lot less than they were. And the problem with a lot of commercial real estate is that it’s a lot of bridge and short-term debt; you never know where interest rates are going, as we’re seeing right now… And it’s kind of good and it’s bad.

So the free money that the Fed pumped into the economy has driven cap rates down on properties to unbelievably low levels, because their money was basically free, right? So the institutions that were loaning on those assets before are now the buyers of those assets. So what’s happening now is with the Fed — since they’ve used up on that and they’re not doing the quantitative easing anymore, interest rates are now rising, they’re trying to suck that liquidity back out of the market, so now cap rates are going to start going up again, because there’s gonna be a lot of assets hitting the market that need to be refinanced, that aren’t gonna make any sense 3-5 years from now; so there’s gonna be some opportunities there.

I’m very cautious, and I’ve worked very hard to put together what I’ve been able to put together, so for me, I’m always mindful that real estate doesn’t always appreciate, that it can be cut slam in half, if not even worse, depending on what’s going on in the markets… And you can’t always raise rents, and you can’t always fill vacancies, and you can have any number of things happen. But cash – you don’t have to evict, you don’t have to collect, you don’t have to chase down, you don’t have to ensure… Cash is king. If  you’ve got cash, you make the rules and you’re ready to strike when the iron is hot.

Joe Fairless: So with holding a significant amount of cash – pros and cons to that… Pros – what you’ve just said, you can strike when there’s an opportunity. A con is if you’re sitting on cash and it’s not making any money, then inflation is eating away at it. Any thoughts on that?

Greg Dickerson: Yeah… Potentially. And the dollar could lose some value, and there’s a school of thought out there that at some point the dollar is gonna lose significant value, if not become worthless… But that was if the Fed didn’t stop doing what they were doing. So with the Fed raising interest rates, they’re putting inflation in check.

I’m 51 now, so I just really don’t feel like in my lifetime, or your lifetime, we’re ever gonna see another 1970, where you’ve got double-digit interest rates, and lines at the gas station, and things like that; I just don’t think we’re gonna see that. I think what we can see is we’re gonna see a significant drop in the equities market at some point; there’s a little bit of an over-inflation there.  But as far as general, everyday inflation that you and me and everybody else feels – I just don’t think we’re gonna see significant enough of that in our lifetime to really be able to impact cash.

Joe Fairless: And there is a level of comfort, I believe – I’ll just speak personally; I have a personal level of comfort if I think about my investments as investments that I’m continuing to — if I’m selling, then I’m gonna 1031, so that I’m building a portfolio and I’m not having to constantly rinse and repeat and start from scratch. So is there any credence to that? Because with what you’re talking about – buy, build and sell, it sounds like that’s more of the “Buy, build it, renovate it, then sell, and then get out of there, get the cash, and then go do something else.” But in my mind, just as someone who’s looking to build a portfolio and have it scale and compound, that approach isn’t aligned as much as what I would wanna do. Any thoughts? And who cares about me personally, but just — there might be other people who think “Well, I want to acquire one, and then just build on that, versus constantly having to start over.”

Greg Dickerson: Exactly. And if you want to do that, you kind of have to do that. So if you wanna accumulate a number of assets, then hey, that’s a great model. So my model isn’t for everybody; it’s just kind of how I’m wired, and it’s kind of the same thing. The only difference is I’m building on the momentum of cash, versus building on the momentum of property. So for you to build a portfolio and get bigger, which is obviously — there’s two ways for you to scale… More properties, or more bigger properties, or both. In order to do that, you’ve gotta have some in order to keep going, because once you start growing and scaling, in order to be bankable and to raise the equity, you’ve gotta have a portfolio for people to have confidence in you and to provide that capital. So that makes absolute sense for what you’re doing.

If you’re holding those things for 20-30 years, then ideally they get paid down if you’re not refinancing and pulling equity out all along the way as you go… And there’s a school of thought there. I’ve done that in my career. I’ve refinanced, pulled equity out, and then sold on the back-end; another way to reduce taxes on assets. I’ve done a little bit of that as well. But there are some very, very wealthy people, and of course, institutional funds are going out and paying cash for these assets, and parking capital. So maybe at some point it can make sense to go ahead and just buy those things or pay them down and you own them, and when it’s time to hang it up, you’re done and you own all these properties outright… But what’s the difference in that and a big, huge pile of cash that you keep compounding? Do you see what I’m saying?

Joe Fairless: Yeah, I hear you.

Greg Dickerson: So it’s kind of the same thing; the only difference is my vehicle is the cash. So when I sell that deal, all my equity is coming out, that can go into a bigger deal, and then that goes into a bigger deal. Now, if you’re lucky enough, you could end up with a problem like Warren Buffet. Warren Buffet says “Hey, my problem is I can’t find deals big enough. I have to move billions to hundreds of billions. I can’t move a few hundred million. I don’t think I’m gonna have that problem, but that’s my philosophy – compound the cash, take the cash, make that work, versus the asset scenario… Because for me, in my career, in my track record and what I have done, that’s just kind of my fastball.

For you, and people that are doing what you’re doing, your fastball is continue to find the buildings, go to bigger buildings, and then continue to keep that momentum going down the road. That’s your fastball, because that’s where you’re at and what you’re doing… And again, I just started out as a builder, and that was the road that I went down, and that’s just kind of my world. It’s really interesting, you’re just kind of born into something, and a lot of times it’s just what you do.

Joe Fairless: Anything else that we should discuss as it relates to your approach on compounding the cash by never holding anything that we haven’t talked about already?

Greg Dickerson: I think we’ve pretty much covered it now. So there’s a risk. With real estate you have a risk. The place can burn down, you can get some down-zoning, you can lose your tenants, the political climate can change, fair housing laws… A lot of states are becoming tenant-friendly, landlord-averse… So there’s a lot of risk to owning a piece of property. It probably can never go to zero, but people are always gonna need a place to live… But there’s risk inherent with owning any kind of an asset, legal and otherwise.

When you own cash, really the only risk you have is being outpaced by inflation, or the institution that you have your cash in failing, which you’re insured to the FDIC level, but you’ve gotta spread that out a little bit, so there’s other vehicles you have to put larger sums of cash into… So there is risk there, that could potentially – if a bank fails and your cash is in there, you could potentially get wiped out and have no recourse, and/or who knows with cyber-theft what could happen to a banking system, or how long it can take you to get your cashback.

The other disadvantage to portfolio properties is they’re illiquid, whereas cash – you have immediate liquidity. That’s one of the advantages of the equity markets; stocks are very liquid, but stocks can go to zero.

So I would say that would be the only other angle to look at in terms of how you’re wired, and at my point in life, and the things that I’ve been through, including 2009, I’m very risk-averse. And the people that I know that made it through 2009 unscathed, they weren’t very leveraged, and they didn’t have a lot of equity tied up in their properties, or they owned them outright. The ones that were leveraged and had a lot of equity — so if you have equity in and guarantee the debt, that’s a bad place to be when 2009 happens. But if you have no equity in and you’re not guaranteeing the debt, it could be a good place to be… Because it’s the guy that says “Hey, I can’t sleep at night. I owe the bank a million dollars.” Well, the guy that owes the bank 500 million dollars sleeps extremely well, because that’s his partner, and they’re not going anywhere.

So the bigger you get, the more insulated you can be to an event; too big to fail, right? So that’s another thing that could be an advantage for you in scaling. The bigger you get, the more you owe the banks, and the more properties you have, the less likely it is they’re gonna let you fail… So that’s another side of it.

That would be really the only other thing. And again, I’m not saying my way is the best way, or your way is the best way… You can just kind of look at what’s out there and what people are doing. There are proponents that like to pile cash and put it in other vehicles that are less risky, or more risk-averse, and then there are those of the world that accumulate real estate and just build that and build that, and both models work. I don’t think one’s better than the other. I think you’ve gotta understand how you’re wired, what your talents are, what you’re the best at, and what your risk tolerance is and what you wanna do.

Joe Fairless: How can the Best Ever listeners learn more about what you’re doing and get in touch with you?

Greg Dickerson: My website is gregdickerson.com. All of my contact info is on there. I can be reached at 434-326-3903. I’m in Charlottesville, Virginia, outside of DC, and always excited to talk about real estate investing, and the debate of buy, hold or sell. It’s always an interesting conversation.

Joe Fairless: Yeah, and you have opened up my mind to your approach. Very interesting. Some things you mentioned that will help reduce taxes with your approach – self-directed IRAs, 1031’s, opportunity zones and refinancing, then selling later. Those are four ways. I appreciate you being on the show, I appreciate you talking about your approach. I hope you have a best ever weekend, and we’ll talk to you soon.

Greg Dickerson: Thanks for having me. You as well!

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JF1603: Handyman Turns To Real Estate Investing & Business Building with Greg Dickerson

With over two decades of real estate investing experience, and even more experience in construction and business building, Greg has a lot to share with us. Just the businesses he has built and/or helped other build and the knowledge he has gained from that, can be invaluable for us to soak in regardless of what level our real estate businesses are at. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!


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Greg Dickerson Real Estate Background:

  • Entrepreneur, real estate investor, and developer
  • Over the past 20 years he has bought, developed and sold over $200 million in real estate
  • Started 12 different companies from the ground up
  • Say hi to him at https://gregdickerson.com/
  • Based in Charlottesville, VA
  • Best Ever Book: Principles by Ray Dalio


Get more real estate investing tips every week by subscribing for our newsletter at BestEverNewsLetter.com


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, Greg Dickerson. How are you doing, Greg?

Greg Dickerson: I’m doing great, Joe. How are you?

Joe Fairless: I’m doing great, and nice to have you on the show. A little bit about Greg – he is an entrepreneur, real estate investor and developer. Over the past 20 years he’s bought, developed and sold over 200 million dollars in real estate. He started 12 different companies from the ground-up. Based in Charlottesville, Virginia. With that being said, Greg, do  you wanna give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?

Greg Dickerson: Yeah, that’s a fancy way of describing a adult ADD, right?

Joe Fairless: [laughs] I was gonna ask you about that.

Greg Dickerson: Yeah, yeah… I like to stay busy. I started out as a builder in 1997, a remodeling contractor; just me, my truck, and tools, and doing 250k my first year in the handyman remodeling business, and built it into a 30 million dollar company over the course of about seven years. Most of those other companies I built and started along the way, during that 7 to 10 year span that I was doing those other things, and they were mostly ancillary to the construction business, as I progressed from a remodeling handyman guy to a general contractor, building spec houses and custom homes down in the outer banks of North Carolina.

Some of those other companies were an electrical company, a plumbing company, a hurricane shutter company, pool, spas and landscaping, I had a couple of restaurants, I had a gymnastics trampoline cheerleading school, so… Just kind of a small community, people knew that I was successful at what I was doing; a lot of people were either struggling in their business, or they were selling something to me, like the hot tub guy, and they would approach me and say “Hey, I wanna start my own company. Will you help me?”

So that’s how I got involved in a lot of those other businesses along the way. I like to build things, I like to coach people, mentor people and grow companies, so… I’m systems oriented. My company was on auto-pilot, and it gave me the time to allocate to help other people grow their businesses and build their businesses. It’s kind of what I like to do.

Joe Fairless: How many of those 12 are you still an owner in?

Greg Dickerson: None of them. I built them all up over the years and sold them off. Pretty much everything that I do, I build it and sell it. I don’t really like to hold on to anything, and they were smaller companies. So it sounds great, but… The plumbing company was a million dollar company, my building company was the biggest, at 30 million; pool, spas, the landscaping company was probably three or four million a year. The restaurants were 2-3 million dollar/year businesses. So they were smaller business; I’d get them up, get them going to where they would sustain an income, and sell them off, and usually finance them over a five-year period.

Joe Fairless: Which one was the least profitable or lost money?

Greg Dickerson: Well, none of the businesses lost money, they were all profitable. Probably the cheerleading trampoline gymnastics school – that was a non-profit. That was a guy that had a program, and I took him under my wing and built it up, and basically took that non-profit. I guess the restaurants — I never made any money in the restaurants; those were kind of like breakevens.

Joe Fairless: What happened with the restaurant process where it didn’t make money, compared to the other nine or so that did?

Greg Dickerson: Slippage. In the restaurant industry you have a lot of slippage, you have to squeeze the nickels out of pennies. You have to do a lot of volume, it takes a lot of employees, and there’s a lot of theft in that business. I had kind of the wrong people that I backed, and basically — I had one venture that did lose a little bit of money, but… It’s just a very difficult business, and if you’re not there, you don’t have the right people in it, it’s tough.

Joe Fairless: Slippage. I know the term, but will you define it? Because I haven’t heard it in a little while, and I’m just a little rusty on slippage.

Greg Dickerson: Yeah, in any business you have slippage, and especially in the retail restaurant industry you almost factor it as a cost of doing business. So that’s theft in the retail industry, and it is theft and waste in the restaurant industry, whether it’s somebody giving away food and drinks to their friends, or taking it home, or just flat out taking it out the back door.

I worked in restaurants — I didn’t go to college. I joined the Navy right out of high school, and the only two things I’ve done in my life prior to joining the navy and after were restaurants and construction. And I was working in a restaurant when a contractor that was building an additional end of the building hired me to come clean up after him. That’s how I got into the construction industry; I’m a hard worker, so he asked me to help him on some other projects, and I kind of learned from him. I always had two jobs; I always worked construction during the day and worked in restaurants at night, so I knew the restaurant business, and I knew how to make money in it, but it’s a different animal, and it takes a lot of focus… It’s a controlled theft business.

Joe Fairless: So that one you really have to be hands-on. Which business out of the 12 was easiest to scale and remove yourself from the operations?

Greg Dickerson: That was the building company, once I figured it out. When I started out, I was doing everything myself, and then I hired another guy to work with me in the field, and then another guy after that, and… I was doing everything. I was making all the sales calls, doing all the estimating, running and getting materials, and swinging the hammer in the field. It was great, because I learned from my employees from the ground up, and I’m a leader/delegator/motivator; I have no problem turning over control and delegating.

As I built that company, I would bring on more people, and once I got to three people in the field, I stepped out of the day-to-day of working on the jobs and I just ran different projects; then I hired a couple more people, split the crews up and hired a superintendent to manage the jobs… So then all I did all day long every day was run up and down the road, giving out estimates. Where I was at on the outer banks in North Carolina it was very linear, North to South. So I had my office manager just kind of dispatch me, and I would just go on sales calls. This was back in the day of analog phones and beepers. I would show up on somebody’s property and I would give them a handwritten estimate right there on the spot, and then I’d go to the next one. I’m a guerilla marketer, so I would go to 20-30 of these things a day, just giving estimates for whatever – decks, additions, ground flooring closures with pools, just any number of things, before I started building houses.

I had about 20 employees full-time in-house. At that point in remodeling – we were three years in – we were doing about 2.5 million. 250k the first year, 750k the second, 1 million to 2.5, 7 million, 12 million, and then 30 million. That’s how it progressed over a seven-year period.

Joe Fairless: 12 million to 30?

Greg Dickerson: Exactly. And that’s when I started building houses. I got away from doing little remodel jobs, turned all my employees into subcontractors, started outsourcing everything and started building 0.5 million to 1.5-2 million dollar houses. So 30 million sounds like a lot, but it was really only about 20-30 projects that year when we hit that 30 million dollar mark, and they were big projects.

Joe Fairless: How much of it was profit?

Greg Dickerson: Usually about 20% is what you can bring down to the bottom line. Gross profit, after overhead and all that – you’re gonna net about 10%, before tax.

Joe Fairless: Okay.

Greg Dickerson: So it wasn’t a bad year. That was a really good year. I’d figured it out, I knew how to make money, and then – that was around 2004-2005, and we started to see the downturn. That was the peak of our market, that’s when things started to change a little bit… So I sold that building company, and sold a lot of the properties that I had at the time.

At that time I was building spec houses, I was building custom homes for people… Big, million-dollar-plus beach houses that they rent during the summer, and these things are like little apartment buildings. Some of these houses do 200k-300k/year in income, and you keep about 65% of that to contribute towards debt service. So your operating costs are about 35% on these houses down here, and they’re just turnkey automatic. There’s not collections, evictions, vacancies… People just come year after year, they book a year in advance. They’re just thoroughbreds, they’re unbelievable machines.

When you’re building them as a spec house, if it doesn’t sell, you always rent it, so there really is no downside to a spec house in a resort rental market like that… And there’s several of them, but the [unintelligible [00:09:25].25] is kind of unique, in the amount of money they generate, in the management fees.

It was pretty easy, and one of the things that I got into was I would buy oceanside hotels and tear them down and build houses back in their place. You know, the little one-story travel lodge kind of a thing. Those oceanfront houses were the ones that generated the most income. So that’s kind of how I got into the high-end market. I would buy a hotel, tear it down, flip the lots to an investor and build the houses for him, or I would build my own. That’s kind of how I progressed along and grew the company so fast, but… I had 20 employees; it was all management. There was me, I had a chief financial officer, I had the president of the construction company, underneath him was a vice-president of construction, we had six superintendents in the field and they all had assistants, and then we had our design team in-house. I had a draftsman designer who was drawing all the houses and doing plans, and then we had a design coordinator.

That was our team at 30 million dollars, and it represented about a million dollar overhead, which compared to the sales was pretty good.

Joe Fairless: How did you find the buyer?

Greg Dickerson: For the houses?

Joe Fairless: No, for your company.

Greg Dickerson: It was a guy that was working for me. He worked for another company, and he had gone into selling real estate, and he was working for me as a real estate broker and decided that he wanted to get back into building. I told him I was thinking about retiring, and this was 2004-2005; I’m 51 now, so how many years ago was that about…? About 12 years ago, I guess. So I was in my late 30’s, early 40’s and thinking about retiring. So I financed the company for him and he stepped into my shoes and took it over, and ultimately he ended up getting put out of business in 2009, just kind of like everybody else around here.

Joe Fairless: And he had bought it on a five-year finance, right? Five years financing the company?

Greg Dickerson: Yeah, exactly. And I had worked a deal with him to where I was out of it before 2009. I sold him in 2004-2005, I was out of it — that was a three-year deal on that one.

Joe Fairless: Okay, and how do you structure those deals whenever you sell your company?

Greg Dickerson: It was different for each one. Some of them had assets and some of them didn’t. The building company had a lot of assets, so there was an immediate transfer of assets for a sum, and then there was a balance that was paid out over three years, monthly, on the big company.

On the smaller companies usually it was just a lump sum cash-out, because they weren’t that big and I didn’t have that much in them; it was just mainly time, and I was just trying to help the individual… Like the pool, spa, landscaping company, I think that one did have a building that went with it, so he bought me out of the building, and that was 200k-300k; it wasn’t a lot.

The plumbing company – I think that was about a $150,000 payout, just lump sum kind of a thing. He had worked it for five years, and then I just had a lump sum at the back-end, and I collected a paycheck along the way as well; I don’t know, $800/week, or something like that that I collected off that company during the time.

Joe Fairless: How do you identify an opportunity that you wanna get involved in?

Greg Dickerson: From a business standpoint, usually it was somebody that would just come to me; they just kind of fell on my lap. Amazingly enough, a lot of the deals that I’ve done in my career that made a lot of money – they just fell on my lap. The first hotel that I ever did that kind of launched my high-end real estate and construction background, it was my next-door neighbor. He was going to buy this hotel with two of his friends, they were gonna tear it down and build 8-bedroom oceanfront rental houses, which at the time would do about 150k/year in rent; the land was worth about $400,000, or at least that was their purchase price, and you could build those houses for about 600k-700k at the time, turnkey, furnished… So you’d be in them for a little over a million and they would do 150k in rents. You can do that math real quick, they were just really good investments.

They got cold feet, and I was his next-door neighbor; I had bought a lot next door to him to build a house on, and that’s how I met him. He owned a bunch of Dairy Queens down here and hotels, and he told me about the deal and said his partners were backing out, would I like to do it? I said, “Sure.” He said “Give me ten grand, and cheer! That’s all I have in it right now for earnest money.” So I took the $10,000 deposit to his attorney, I got the contract; it was for 1.2 million for three oceanfront lots.

A friend of mine who was a realtor had a client, so he brought a client to the table that I flipped all the lots to, made 80k on that, just flipping the lots to him once a hotel was torn down, and then I built him three 12-bedroom rental houses, which were the largest houses ever built in Nags Head at the time. Those things ended up doing about 240k in rent, so I gave him a really good deal. I built all three houses for cost + 150k, flat fee, because I built them all at the same time.

I think he ended up with $800,000 in each of the houses, I sold him the land for 1.2 + 80k, so 1.3. So each of those houses, he had about 1.5-1.6 in, land and house, and they were doing 250k/year in rent.

Joe Fairless: Wow.

Greg Dickerson: Yeah, it was pretty incredible. He kind of retired on that deal. He was a Pella window distributor in Virginia, and he sold that company and got into the real estate game for that.

Joe Fairless: And then probably lost it.

Greg Dickerson: Yes, in 2009 he got wiped out.

Joe Fairless: Yeah, yeah. So how do you structure an agreement with someone who has an opportunity? Maybe it’s the — did you say hot tub company, did I hear that right?

Greg Dickerson: Yeah, yeah. It was a pool, spa, hot tub, landscaping.

Joe Fairless: Alright, we’ll go with that, pool/hot tub company. They come to you, they say, “Hey, I have an idea.” What’s your structure with them?

Greg Dickerson: In his case, he said, “We can start this business, and you can buy the hot tubs direct; it will save you a bunch of money”, because I was buying 30-40 hot tubs and pools for every one of my houses at the time every year. So basically, we just laid it out in an agreement where we were 50/50 partners. I was the marketing, investment capital, we would agree on how much capital we were gonna invest, we found a building, bought the building together, I put up the money, and we split the equity in the building, but the company made all the payments.

He found the building, it was an owner-financed deal. He got an owner to finance us for 30 years on this commercial building, that was basically a wreck. So we went in there and renovated it, and did a bunch of landscaping. I put up the money for all of that, so the company had to pay back that initial capital investment, and then we were just 50/50 partners. He ran the company, did everything from day-to-day, and he got a paycheck for doing that. We structured what his salary was gonna be, what his role was gonna be… We had a partnership agreement; it was a corporation, and we were both stockholders in that corporation.

We were 50/50 owners in that real estate, which was separate from the company; we owned the real estate personally. The company paid us, so we were landlords… And he got a salary, but I didn’t; I got equity. So we would split the profits, and I’d get a check every month from him, so that was a pretty good deal. So that’s how we did that one.

The plumbing company was a little different. He was a plumber that worked for me. It was him, and he had a helper, one truck, and he was struggling, he was about to go out of business, and I really liked him, and I was having trouble getting plumbers. This was back in the pre-2004-2005 boom… So I said, “I’ll tell you what – I’ll buy your company, I’ll pay off all your debt (he was 25k-30k in debt, something like that), and we’ll grow your company. I’ll instantly  go out and I’ll buy 5-6 trucks; if you tell me you’ve got the help and you can get the mechanics, I’ll buy the trucks, we’ll get them laddered up, we’ll put them on the road, and instantly overnight it’ll be the largest plumbing company down here in this area.”

He had the plumbers, he had the mechanics lined up. There was another company that was going out of business – the owner had a drug/alcohol problem – and those guys were all looking for jobs, so we told them what we were doing. So I bought his company, I took over the corporation – which looking back, that was a mistake; I never should have done that, I should have just started a new one. But I went ahead and took over his corporation…

Joe Fairless: Were there liens on it, or something?

Greg Dickerson: No, there weren’t any liens, it’s just that there could have been, and that was a clean transaction, because I knew all of his debts and there were no issues, but you just never know. You never know what could be creeping in the bushes, and we’ll fast-forward to that in a second.

So I bought out the corporation, I purchased the stock, paid off all his debt, bought 6-8 trucks, put them on the road, and instantly he started doing all of our work, started doing a bunch of other service work, and he became the largest plumber in the area, and went from a couple hundred thousand in a year to a million a year pretty much overnight.

I hired him a bookkeeper, coached him, put systems in place… I took a paycheck for $1,000 a week, he was paid a salary, and I owned the company at that point. Fast-forward five years down the road, he’s ready to buy it back. I sold him the company – I don’t know, it was 100k-150k, something like that, and transferred the stock back to him. This is where the [unintelligible [00:17:49].07] So after all that had happened, we go through 2009, he ends up getting put out of business. Well, one of the plumbing supply houses that I had  a personal guarantee on when I owned the company – they tried to do a clawback on me. Now, I’d sent them a letter, removed myself as a personal guarantor when I sold the company back to him, but they still tried to come after me, and I still had to dig that document up and prove the letter that I sent to them, and that they’d sent to me, removing me as a personal guarantor.

From that point on I said I’ll never do another stock purchase again. I’ll just start a new corporation, start over and let the dust settle on the other stuff.

Joe Fairless: Fascinating. I love hearing about this. And when you come across an opportunity, what does your process look like for the turnaround?

Greg Dickerson: Well, it depends on what it is. The first thing – just like real estate, you’ve gotta have an exit strategy in mind… So when you look at a company, you’ve gotta look at, okay, what is the future of this company? What does the market look like? Can it scale? And at my stage in life I’m only interested in doing something that I can scale very quickly and easy, that’s not super capital-intensive. So you’ve gotta evaluate the market, what’s the demand, how scalable is this business, what is the longevity of it, the lifecycle of it? And it may or may not even need to be a long-term plan. It could be a short-term play that’s kind of a niche market right now, that may not even be here a year or two from now.

So it just all depends on what it is, but it’s just like a real estate deal  – you say “Okay, what does the market look like? What is the demand? How can I scale this? How quickly can I scale it? What’s it gonna take from a capital standpoint? What’s it gonna take from my time?”, because at this point in the game what I supply is intellectual capital; I bring experience and expertise to the table in exchange for equity. That’s what I do with companies now. Now, I do bring capital, but not my own. There’s plenty of capital out there looking for opportunities, especially if it’s something you could scale when it comes from an equity standpoint for companies and real estate, which is what your show is all about.

So it works kind of the same way as a real estate deal, it’s really interesting. It’s just a few more different moving parts; you’ve gotta vet it a little differently, because if you’re buying an existing company, going in, you’ve gotta look at their books, you’ve gotta look at the principals, and you’ve gotta look at what they’re doing, how they operate, what their philosophies are, can you even work with these people, can they work with the people, are they coachable? So there’s a lot of factors that come into play when you’re buying or building a company, versus just doing a real estate deal.

Joe Fairless: Based on your experience as an entrepreneur, what’s your best real estate or entrepreneur advice ever?

Greg Dickerson: From an entrepreneurial standpoint, my best advice ever is pour into yourself and become a leader/delegator/motivator… Because to build a company, that’s what you have to be. You have to be able to delegate, you have to be able to lead, you have to be able to motivate people, and you have to, number one, be sincerely interested in the success of others… And the only way to do that, and to do that well, is you’ve gotta build yourself first; you’ve gotta pour into yourself and you have to become a great leader… And you do that by learning, and you do that by doing, and you do that by modeling others in the industry.

So from an entrepreneurial standpoint, that’s what I would look at first – what do your leadership abilities look like, and what do you need to do to get to the next level? From a real estate standpoint, I would say focus is 100% of the game. Looking at my own career, going back, if I could do it all over again, I would have never built a construction company; I would have started right out of the gate with bigger deals, and outsourcing everything… Because that’s what I do now – I hire builders to work for me now, I hire realtors to work for me now… So instead of doing it myself from the ground up, I would hire and outsource and leverage other people’s abilities and expertise and time, and do it that way… Kind of like I did with the companies. I just never did that in my own business. I did have the business that I put on autopilot ultimately, but I’ve spent seven years getting to the point where that thing was on autopilot. From that point on, I’ve learned to outsource and leverage.

So from a real estate standpoint I would start small, start local, pick a niche, whatever it is, whether it’s single-family rentals, whether it’s apartment buildings, whether it’s commercial, or land development – whatever you wanna do, find that niche, focus on it, outsource and build that and scale that and grow that. That’s what I would do.

Joe Fairless: We’re gonna do a lightning round. Are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?

Greg Dickerson: I’m ready.

Joe Fairless: Alright, let’s do it. First, a quick word from our Best Ever partners.

Break: [00:22:07].17] to [00:23:15].17]

Joe Fairless: Best ever book you’ve recently read?

Greg Dickerson: Recently? Principles, by Ray Dalio.

Joe Fairless: Best ever transaction you’ve done?

Greg Dickerson: Oceanfront hotel that made 520k with zero money out of my pocket.

Joe Fairless: Please elaborate.

Greg Dickerson: Yeah… So that was a deal where the guy owned a property; it had four oceanfront lots and two across the street; we were gonna do a joint venture and he was gonna throw the land in, I was gonna bring the money to build the houses, and I was gonna do the building, and we were gonna split the profits. He had a small note on the properties that needed to be paid off. This was pre-2009, probably 2007-2008, somewhere in that timeframe, before the crash.

Well, somewhere around 2008 I started sensing something was off, and I came to the guy and I said, “Look, let’s just sell these oceanfront lots, clear out the note. We’ll each put 200k-300k in our pocket, we’ll have the property across the street, we can develop that, we’ll have it free and clear, and hedge our risk.” He said, “Okay, great.” We were gonna build townhouses or something across the street.

So we do that, I ended up putting 351k in my pocket. This is a joint venture agreement; I didn’t have any money. This was just a joint venture agreement. He owned the land, I was gonna do everything else. So we sold the oceanfront parcels to a developer out of Virginia, and I put 351k in my pocket on that. Then we had the property across the street, and as I started going along on that same thing, I said “Look, let’s just sell this. We’ll put cash in our pocket and move on, we can do some other deals.” So we sold that – that was another 125k each.

Joe Fairless: That was his land?

Greg Dickerson: It was his land.

Joe Fairless: And your role was to build, but you suggested “Let’s just sell it without building”?

Greg Dickerson: Exactly.

Joe Fairless: And when he said, “Well, sure, I’ll sell it, but hey… Get out of here. This is my land, so I’ll get all the profits”, what did you say to that?

Greg Dickerson: Right. So that was at the end of the deal, when he looked at how much money I made, but… I had to tear down an oceanfront hotel, I had to settle a lawsuit that he had with a previous partner that tried to develop condos… This was a hotel that got destroyed by the hurricane, and he tried to turn it into condos; I told him he couldn’t do it, so he went down a two-year path with somebody and I had to settle that lawsuit with them, get the thing torn down, and then I brought the buyer to the table.

So there was a lot of value that was created, but he did say that at the end of the deal; him and his attorney, both were like “You know, you could have hired a realtor to do all this for you for a commission.”

Joe Fairless: [laughs]

Greg Dickerson: I said, “Well, that’s easy to say”, but I did it, I did it quickly, made it happen, and it was an interesting thing. So that was probably the easiest money I’ve  ever made in my life.

Joe Fairless: What’s a mistake you’ve made on a transaction?

Greg Dickerson: Probably another oceanfront hotel where we had a seller that tried to back out of the deal, and it was an escalating market; I had the property under contract for 4 million dollars, it was worth 6 million… The week we were supposed to close, they had other developers that found out that I had the property under contract, went backdoor to the sellers, offered them two million dollars more than I had the contract to pay, so they told us they weren’t gonna sell us the property the week that we were going to the closing table. And instead of just going to the closing table and forcing them to close, I filed a lawsuit instead. That took two years, $250,000 to settle, but we won, and we got the property, and it all worked out… But I should have just went to the closing table.

Joe Fairless: You should have went to the closing table, but they wouldn’t be there… Right?

Greg Dickerson: Well, they might have. What the attorney said through the process was if I had showed up to close, they probably would have just done the deal. So you never know, but I should have at least tried… Because the thinking was they would have probably went ahead and closed. And they were sophisticated. This was a family that had sold property to Walmart in their history, and they’d owned this hotel for a long time, so they knew what they were doing… And they were rolling the dice, thinking that one of us was gonna die, or give up, or quit over the two-year period of dragging the lawsuit out.

It was pretty cut and dry. When we went to court, we won hands down. The jury – it took them five minutes to fill out the paperwork and come back, and we bought the property, so they still got their four million dollars.

Joe Fairless: Okay, that’s an interesting story. What is the best ever way you like to give back?

Greg Dickerson: I love coaching people, helping people grow their business, helping people learn from my mistakes, and my lessons that I’ve learned. I did it all the hard way from the ground up; like I said, I didn’t go to college, I’ve built it all through hard work and through hard lessons, and educating myself; I am self-educated, and I’m a constant, life-long learned… But I love to pour into people, I love to help other people build companies, do real estate deals, become successful, and avoid the mistakes and the pitfalls that are out there. I just hate to see the horror stories out there when people get in over their heads and they just don’t know what they’re doing.

Joe Fairless: On that note, what’s the best place the Best Ever listeners can get in touch with you?

Greg Dickerson: My website is GregDickerson.com, and all my info is on there. Greg@GregDickerson.com is my e-mail, and 434-326-3903 – that’s my mobile number. I can answer it, call me anytime. I’m completely outsourced, and I run the roads, looking at deals and creating opportunity, and I’m always available.

Joe Fairless: Greg, I loved our conversation. I loved hearing about how you have invested and built business in real estate and outside of real estate, how you’ve applied those lessons to what you’re doing now, and how you’re focused on personal development. What is the best ever way you develop yourself personally? …I should have asked you that.

Greg Dickerson: Mostly through reading and listening to podcasts like yours. YouTube… There’s a lot of great information out there, but mainly for me it was reading. I don’t have one song in my iPhone, it’s all audiobooks… And I never have. I’ve got an iPod, 80 gig, old-school iPod with a dial on it; I have never, ever owned music. I’ve always owned books on tape, books on CD, books on the iPod, and now books on my iPhone, and I listen to them whenever I drive, I listen to them when I’m walking, exercising… That’s what I do – I constantly pour into myself, read, listen to other people, talk to other people… I do a lot of listening and a lot less talking when I’m networking. I seek out others, I look for the wisdom of others, and I’m always trying to learn from others.

The best books I’ve ever read, where it all started, was Rich Dad, Poor Dad, The Power of Positive Thinking and Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill. Those are my three first books that really opened my eyes to business, entrepreneurship and the ability to do whatever you set your mind to.

Joe Fairless: Thanks a lot for being on the show, I enjoyed our conversation. I hope you have a best ever day, and we’ll talk to you soon.

Greg Dickerson: Alright, thanks for having me, Joe. I enjoyed it.

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Best Ever Show Real Estate Advice

JF115: Buy Smart and Buy for THESE Reasons

Today’s Best Ever guest talks about the importance of buying right and buying for the right reasons. Like these! Let’s go!

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Jim Duncan’s real estate background:

–        Real estate broker based in Charlottesville, Virginia

–        Partner at Nest Real Estate Group

–        Been broker since 2001 and active thought leader on real estate trends and technology implementation among other things

–        Ranked in the top 50 real estate agents in region for last 8 – 10 years

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Joe Fairless