Vacation plus rehabs doesn’t equal humdrum work…out guest turned it into an adventure. The whole family goes to the property selected for rehab. Cosmetic upgrades, paint, and other easy expenses are put into the property while the family rocks! Hear how else he is investing in real estate!
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Doug Larson Real Estate Background:
– Real estate investor for 17 years with being full-time for 11 years
– Rentals, fix and flips, land, & lease-options in Hawaii, California and Utah
– Bought and sold over 100 properties
– Philosophy is not about collecting a certain number of doors, it’s about financial independence balanced life
– Based in Park City, Utah
– Best Ever Book: The Progress Paradox
Click here for a summary of Doug’s Best Ever advice: http://bit.ly/2oK5QYa
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Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, 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 fluff.
With us today we have a real estate investor who’s been investing for 17 years. How are you doing, Doug Larson?
Doug Larson: Hey, I’m doing great. Thanks for reaching out, Joe.
Joe Fairless: My pleasure, and nice to have you on the show. A little bit about Doug – he is a real estate investor, as I mentioned, for 17 years, with 11 of them being full-time. He’s done rentals, fix and flips, land, lease options, and he invested in Hawaii, California and Utah, where he is based in Park City. He has bought and sold over 100 properties.
Doug, with that being said, do you wanna give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and what you’re focused on now?
Doug Larson: Late 1990s I was a college student and working on a traditional path. I saw an infomercial, late-night TV [unintelligible [00:03:01].07] No money down! Make millions while you sleep!”, you know the routine. I just thought, “You know what? I wanna do that. If there’s really money to be made, then I wanna do it.” I ordered the course and read through it like three times, and kind of dabbled in it. I made some phone calls; I probably looked like a fool on the phone, but eventually when I moved back to Southern California, I bought a house in [unintelligible [00:03:24].04] that was my first live-in-flip. I live there for a little over a year, I made some money on the resale… I thought, “You know what? I need to do this on purpose.”
At the time I really wanted to move back to Hawaii, where I had attended school. So I went back over there, I lived on Maui for five years. I had a day job, but on the side I also did four single-family residences, lived-and-flips [unintelligible [00:03:49].13] Then I also renovated and sold a condo.
In 2004 I met and married a wonderful woman from Utah, and I decided to move to Utah – I did have some family that lived up here – and I decided to do real estate investing part-time.
The first couple months were a little rough in Utah, just trying to get a feel for the lay of the land, and I actually started investing in the Park City market, because it was very similar to Hawaii; not the temperature, but the same kind of buyers, the same kind of homes… There’s their second homes, third homes, you have kind of a retail buyer that’s not constrained by the “Oh, it’s gotta qualify for an FHA loan”, and those kinds of things… You know what I mean.
So I started investing up there and it worked out really well after the crash – they kind of licked their wounds – and I have branched out into other spots, even back in California. It all worked out really well; I lost some money in the downturn, but we did not default on a single property. We just ended up losing a lot of money, but we still came out the other side doing okay, and life is good.
Right now we’re doing mostly rentals, land, a few wholesales… I do two or three flips a year in Utah, in California… The ones in California I call adventure flips.
Joe Fairless: Why adventure flips?
Doug Larson: Well, I live in Utah, so to do something out of state, you either have to have a lot of boots on the ground and organize things by phone, or you can go down there. This last summer we went down and picked one up about five miles from the beach, in North San Diego County, ocean-side. The whole family came down, and we lived in the property… More like camping, really, but… We went to amusement parks and the beach and all that kind of stuff. We lived there for almost three months while I was managing contractors and things. It really was a lot of fun, it was an adventure.
Joe Fairless: What type of condition was the property in?
Doug Larson: In good condition, just dated. All the cosmetics… I think we spent about $45,000, and probably two-thirds of that was labor with subcontractors.
Joe Fairless: Okay, it was enhancing it, it wasn’t anything major… It’s interesting that you turned a flip out of state into, as you call it, an adventure flip. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a vacation, but it was an extended road trip with your family. That’s pretty cool, I hadn’t thought about that. What made you think of bringing the whole fam and moving into the house that you were flipping?
Doug Larson: Well, before my oldest – who is now 10 – was even in kindergarten, we did three fix and flips in the San Diego area, while still technically living in Utah. It’s just the market that I grew up in, I know it, I understand it, and beyond that, in some of those nicer areas there’s a little more upside. There’s people who really appreciate the turnkey, and maybe for living there, the doctors and lawyers – they don’t get their hands dirty. They see something turnkey and they’re like, “Hey, you know what? I know it’s 50-70k more than this nasty fixer-upper down the street, but I’m willing to pay for that because I just want turnkey. I wanna move in and not have to worry about stuff.” I really appreciate that in those kinds of markets – Hawaii, Park City… Certain parts of Utah will allow for that, but California – I just love it and it was an excuse to go and visit…
I did three of those in 2010-2011. The last one I sold in 2012, and then we just decided we wanna do it again. My wife wants to do it in Florida now. I’m like, “Okay, honey… Maybe we will, but maybe not this summer. We’ll see.”
Joe Fairless: Have you thought of doing the flips based on where you wanna spend time?
Doug Larson: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a big criterion. If you’ve read The Four-Hour Workweek, or the E-Myth (The Entrepreneur Myth), or books like that where they talk about — and I don’t agree with every little thing in all those books, that “you owe it to your business to get to this level” or something, but I do like the fact that they talk about “your business works for you, and not the other way around.” Make sure that it fits your lifestyle and the things that you really wanna do in life, instead of your business owning you.
There’s a lot of things that I think I’ve done, properties that I’ve had that helped with the lifestyle design and not just “Oh, will this make me money? You have to work yourself to the bone…”
Joe Fairless: Well, adventure flips – and I’m gonna keep using that term because I like that term – is one way of having your business work for you and not the other way around… What are some other ways you structured your business to align with that?
Doug Larson: I would say the move to Hawaii in the first place and the kind of lifestyle that I had over there was certainly conducive to that. As they say in Hawaii, “Any time off is time in Hawaii.” Everybody has to have a job still, everybody works and they’re busting around doing things, but hey, if you’ve got two hours off, you’re at the beach in Hawaii.
Things I’ve done here in Utah… In Park City there’s this couple neat condos up there that have quarter share rentals – almost like a tiny share, but they’re quarter shares, so you have 13 weeks. I was able to purchase about five of those at different times over the last ten years. They had day use privileges, so they were an investment, but we could also go up there, and I’ve made money on all of them except one. Collectively, I’ve made money more than that money would have made sitting in the bank. They’re between 40-60k dollars for these quarter share units, but you get access to this five-star resort. They’ve got owners lounges, full kitchens, pools and hot tubs, sauna steam room, and you can go up there and just spend the day like you own the place, but you can also get the revenue from renting the property out. You can use their management system and it’s a pretty hands-off thing.
I also own some recreational property quite a bit East of here – about an hour and a half East – and we go out there, we’ve got a couple of little mini-cabins, we spend time with the extended family and we play with quads, and go fishing and stuff like that. And again, I think those are good investments; maybe not as good as some other investments, but they help the overall freedom and lifestyle factor. They give you some fun, and it’s not just drudgery.
Joe Fairless: I’m glad you mentioned some of those specific examples. For the quarter shares, which I haven’t come across that term, but you said it’s just like time shares, but you rent by the week, right?
Doug Larson: You get the quarter share of a unit. You actually own 13 weeks. They have a schedule and they say “These are your 13 weeks.” Your weeks come up around Christmas time – those are the golden weeks – and you [unintelligible [00:10:08].04] for your unit, Christmas and New Year’s, and also President’s Day weekend because it’s a ski resort. It’s kind of a unique kind of a time share, but I’m only buying these resale; I would never buy one retail, because there’s just too many commissions and other things involved. But you buy these on the secondary market and they actually work out for [unintelligible [00:10:25].15] investment. The return on investment might be 5% per year, but if it’s incorporated into your lifestyle and the money is doing more than just sitting in the bank – at what, half a percent these days? – then that’s good to me, and it can really help to give you some more fun, freedom, adventure, rather than again just, as I say, toilets and termites.
Joe Fairless: Yeah. For someone who is interested in doing quarter shares, you said three of them have worked out well enough, but one of them you lost money… What’s the difference between the three and the one?
Doug Larson: I think there were actually five in total; I remember I bought two at one point from a bank that was selling some after they foreclosed, and I think one did not… We lost about 7k on that one. The only reason why we lost is because we sold it – I really needed to raise some capital for something else, and I could either borrow at hard money terms, or I could sell one of these units, and there was somebody that had said they were interested, and I said “Oh, what the heck, I’ll just sell that.” So I did, and we lost a few grand on it. But again… Vacation money.
The other ones… If you average them all together, we came out ahead. My wife’s on board, and anytime it’ll make sense we’ll probably go buy another one, but we’ll see how it goes and how it fits into our lives. We’ve got three kids now, so [unintelligible [00:11:37].22]
Joe Fairless: The recreational property – you called that it an investment, where you have a couple cabins, so I assume you rent those out?
Doug Larson: I don’t actually… I just let friends and family stay there. They’re not income-producing, but I sent out letters to people who had property on water – there’s a really nice stream out there – and I actually got responses… I sent maybe 20 letters and I got responses from about 5 people who said they were interested, and I said “Well, what the heck?”, so I bought five different parcels that all are kind of in a similar area, and they’ve got water access, and good fishing, hiking, biking, off-roading and things like that. Eventually, we’ll probably market those.
I think a couple weeks ago we had somebody on that talked about investing in raw land, and I was very intrigued in his method of doing it, but I figured it works for me.
Joe Fairless: Are those five parcels connected?
Doug Larson: No. Actually, two of them are connected to each other. The rest of them are not, but they’re within five miles of each other.
Joe Fairless: Okay. What did the letter say?
Doug Larson: Probably the standard thing – “Hey, I’m interested in buying your property. I see you own this five-acre piece. I like it if something’s on the water, like yours is. Here’s what I can pay.” I don’t think I say “Can’t pay retail”, I just said, “Here’s what I can pay for your property.” And then they called back.
I actually got one person who called that was very irate, but anybody who sends out letters knows that. I don’t do a lot of wholesale letters and cards and yellow letters and things like that, but I knew what I wanted, I had the tax record and just printed things out… I’m glad I only offended one person.
Joe Fairless: You put the amount that you were willing to pay in the letter, so every letter was different?
Doug Larson: I think I said “per acre”. One was a four-acre, one’s a five, one’s a ten, one’s a twelve-and-a-half… So I just said, “Here’s what I want you do to”, and I had them call me back.
What I was hoping was that maybe some of them said, “Oh, by the way, I own this one next door” or “The neighbor next door might be willing to sell as well”, or something like that, so they could kind of have something to pass along. But I think I said, “per acre.”
Like I said, I had a pretty decent response. There’s was a lot of “Don’t want to” as far as property goes, especially if they’re delinquent on their taxes, or they’re just getting old and they just don’t have a use for this property anymore.
Joe Fairless: You sent it out to roughly twenty and you got five responses?
Doug Larson: Yes. You could say six if you count the guy who swore at me.
Joe Fairless: Yeah… [laughter] You definitely got six responses. When someone calls irate and they just are laying into you, what do you say to them?
Doug Larson: I say, “Well, sorry I offended you, I didn’t mean to do that. I’m just looking for some recreational property for me and my family. If you ever do change your mind, you can certainly give me a call back.”
Joe Fairless: [laughs] And what did they say?
Doug Larson: I can’t even remember. I don’t think he was still very happy.
Joe Fairless: Got it. So the five people that called you interested – you bought all five of their properties?
Doug Larson: I did, all five. I see a good potential for resale on these properties and making some money. I did have some ideas about improving them, with mini-cabins as well, but I just got so involved in other things that I haven’t taken that to full fruition. But it’s one of those things [unintelligible [00:15:02].17] legacy properties in the meantime, and hopefully appreciation of the asset in the meantime, and we’ll just see how it goes.
Joe Fairless: What do you attribute having a 25% response rate to on that direct mail?
Doug Larson: Again, I think if you find the right motivated sellers and you push some of the buttons, you’re gonna do well. I know that’s the case when wholesalers talk about their [unintelligible [00:15:25].12]. I attended a meeting very recently where one wholesaler said that he sends out 125,000 tickets of mail every month, and it’s “We’ll buy your home, we’ll buy it in any condition”, and those kinds of things. They get a 2% or 3% response rate with housing, and the people who do call are motivated.
Out there, I would say, these properties are not bringing in any income. They are mostly older people who’ve owned them for a long time. I didn’t necessarily look at tax records as a stipulation, but there were a couple of them once I pulled all that information up and I thought, “Oh, they’re delinquent a year or two”, so they’re probably getting tired of owning them, and sure enough, those are some of the ones that did respond back and said, “Yeah, it’s an offer… I’d be willing to sell.”
If they’re not paying their taxes, and their taxes are $100/year, then they could probably use a couple thousand dollars, right?
Joe Fairless: Yeah, exactly. How did you determine how much you were gonna pay per acre?
Doug Larson: I just called sold comps; there’s a lot of property for sale, but there might have been a dozen similar properties that had actually sold, and I just said, “Okay, if that’s what I can get it for, then I’m gonna reduce it by about half, and see if I can get the properties for that.”
Joe Fairless: You look at sold comps by the acre and then you divided it by two and that was what you were offering?
Doug Larson: That’s right.
Joe Fairless: Of those five people you closed on, how many of the five did you pay above that 50% threshold?
Doug Larson: I don’t think.
Joe Fairless: None of them negotiated with you, and you didn’t budge with any of them?
Doug Larson: I didn’t budge… A couple of them asked for a little bit more, and I just said, “Well, I’ll take a look at it”, and I was pretty firm on my prices. I just said, “Here’s what I need to pay. I really like your property…” I never insult anybody about their property. I never say, “Oh, it’s a piece of junk because of this or that.” I just say, “Hey, I really like it, and here’s what I’m willing to pay.”
Joe Fairless: Doug, based on your experience as a real estate investor, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?
Doug Larson: I would say networking. They say it’s easier to make friends than money, and it’s easier to make money with friends. By friends – it doesn’t have to be the guys that you’re hanging out with every weekend, but when you network at real estate clubs and when you’re online on some of the forums and you’re making connections and contacts, people begin to see what you’re really like, and they know you, like you, trust you, and you can make deals happen.
Most of my other deals, my rentals and flips – it’s about relationships. I don’t really have to search very hard to find deals. I’m not out shaking the trees very much, because a lot of deals just seem to come my way as long as I’m networking, talking to people and telling people “Hey, I’m looking for a rental right now, under $150,000. I wanna be all in with repairs at 150k, but it needs to rent for about 1% of the purchase price… Like $1,600/month. It can be anywhere from this point to this point, this city to this city.”
I’m also looking for flips and I’ll go up to $350,000 or $400,000 on purchase price, so long as there’s $100,000 margin. As long as you’re specific like that, you get in front of somebody’s face and say, “Here’s what I’m looking for”, eventually stuff just comes your way.
Joe Fairless: If you’re at a real estate meetup that you are attending for the first time, you walk in the door, what’s your approach at the meetup?
Doug Larson: Good one. I think everybody is kind of like, “Hey, hi. What do you do? Hey, what’s your specialty? Hey, what are you looking for? What can I help you with?” and that’s kind of my emo as well. I come loaded with business cards, and sometimes I’ll circle a couple things. The business card says, “I buy land, I also like fix and flips”… I might actually write in pen on 20 business cards specifically what I’m looking for: “I want to buy now, under $350,000 flip” and almost like they took my card and wrote something on it for them to remember later.
I get a million business cards, but as you’re going back through your pockets when you clean them out, you’re like, “Oh, cool, here’s this guy. What was he looking for? Oh, it’s right here.” And then they can go, “Oh yeah, I do remember this guy… He did tell me that’s what he was looking for.”
Joe Fairless: That’s a great tip, thanks for sharing that. Are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?
Doug Larson: Sure man, let’s do it.
Joe Fairless: Sweet. Alright, first a quick word from our Best Ever partners.
Break: [00:19:47].07] to [00:20:29].08]
Joe Fairless: What’s the best ever book you’ve read?
Doug Larson: Do I have to pick just one?
Joe Fairless: You’ll kill the format of my show if you don’t. [laughter]
Doug Larson: The Millionaire Next Door, The Progress Paradox and How Much Is Enough? Okay, I’m sorry, that was three.
Joe Fairless: You said them so fast! Give me one.
Doug Larson: How about The Progress Paradox?
Joe Fairless: Alright, I’m gonna put that on my list. What’s the best ever deal you’ve done?
Doug Larson: I think 2011 I was down in San Diego and I was working on one of those adventure flips I mentioned, and a real estate agent up here in Utah called me and said, “Hey, I’ve got this deal… It’s a land deal, I would totally buy it, but I’m a little capped out on cash right now, and they need cash and a quick close. Income property, $50,000; they’ve just dropped from 100k [unintelligible [00:21:15].11]” and I said, “Send me the info.” They sent it, I ended up buying it for 38k. A little bit of legwork, I found out some of its issues, [unintelligible [00:21:23].01] and things like that.
Long story short, I got all those things cleared up, I was all in for about $40,000. I sold it a year and a half later for 190k, so a pretty good flip.
Joe Fairless: Pretty good flip indeed, I love that! What’s the best ever way you like to give back?
Doug Larson: My wife and I have been adopted three times, by three awesome kids, and we give a lot of time and energy to them. We’re also pretty active in church, in helping and teaching adults and youth, so… It pretty much takes up all our time.
Joe Fairless: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made on a deal, or just any mistake that comes to mind on a deal?
Doug Larson: On a deal… A specific deal, probably over-improving. The biggest mistake was believing the hype of 2002-2006 and that things were always going to go up. I think we all knew the music would stop somewhere, but just not how fast and how hard it was going to drop. I would say one particular deal – in buying into that hype, I invested in a condo up in Park City, and the wheels fell off during construction. I could either lose 25k earnest money, or just go all in. I went all in, and I lost close to 90k.
Joe Fairless: What do you do differently now?
Doug Larson: [laughs] Well, I wouldn’t buy that, that’s for sure. Again, it really is all about the numbers, and good, solid fundamentals. Make sure you’ve got cash flow, make sure you’ve got a plan A, plan B, plan C. Plan A – if it’s gonna be a flip, that’s great. If that doesn’t work, can you rent it? Can you lease-option it? Do you wanna live in it, maybe? What is your plan B? Plan C is “If I really had to get out of this thing really fast, with my lowest price, am I gonna lose my shorts? What are the other options? Can I wholesale it to somebody else? What are the other things?”
Have that all mapped out before you begin. If you know the fundamentals, it should tell you what to do.
Joe Fairless: Where can the Best Ever listeners get in touch with you, Doug?
Doug Larson: On LinkedIn, but I don’t really go there much, I’ll be honest. I’m on BiggerPockets, and I’m there at least a couple times a week. I’m giving some advice and talking to people, so if somebody wants to find me, they can find me there.
Joe Fairless: I have really enjoyed our conversation, as the focus has been — like you said earlier, your business has to work for you, not the other way around. We talked about your adventure flips, where you move your family for three months into a house five minutes from the beach. The move to Hawaii, the recreational property, the direct mail within that, how you acquired those five properties, and how you priced it out to offer the properties in the direct mail piece, as well as a networking tip, where you write in blue ink on the business card exactly what you’re looking for.
Doug, thank you for being on the show… Some interesting stuff, a different type of conversation than we usually have, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I hope you have a best ever day, and we’ll talk to you soon!
Doug Larson: Thanks, Joe. Good talking with you!