Michael Zuber: Retirement from One Rental at a Time
Speaker 1:0:01Well, it's not real estate investors, entrepreneurs and agents. You're in the right place. Unlocking the secrets to real estate investing and entrepreneurship. Welcome there. That titanium vaults posted by RJ Bates for third. Here's RJ.
Speaker 2:0:26Welcome to the titanium vault. I am your host, Rj Bates. Today I'm sitting down with Michael Zuber. Michael, are you doing today? Why don't you take a second to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do in real estate investing.
Speaker 3:0:40I will. So a, I'm a, I'm the boring guy, right? I'm the a buy and hold landlord and been doing this for for 15 years or so. But uh, I think what the audience would like to hear about is, is I rode this wave from a single rental house 15 years ago through the most interesting real estate cycle we've ever had. And came out the other side with 175 rental doors and, and financially free and in retired on a, on March 16. So now it's time for me to give back. And that's why I reached out to you and knowing you have such a great listener base and said, you know what, I got to see this guy wants to talk to me.
Speaker 2:1:18Well, first of all, let me congratulate you on retiring. That is fantastic in certain laws. Um, and the second thing is, is you're definitely not the boring guy. You're, you're what everybody wants to be. Okay. So, uh, that is, that is an awesome accomplishment. So let's, I guess let's go back 15 years ago. So you had one rental property, uh, what, what did you do from there to get you to where you are today?
Speaker 3:1:46I guess there was kind of multiple phases and we'll sort of walk through them and you take me where you want to go, RJ. So 15 years ago, really the first, let's call it 12 to 18 months, we were, uh, we were just buying single family homes, right? It was a, if you can rewind the clock and remember what the real estate cycle was like, it was pretty much like it was today. It was a seller's market. It was appreciating. Now as we went forward, it was obviously appreciating it, an unhealthy clip. But when I started it was, you know, single digits kind of, kind of Nice, just just like today. So we got to a point about five or six properties, five houses in a single duplex. When we started to notice that the real estate market was getting out of control because we couldn't really afford or our models just wouldn't work.
Speaker 3:2:33So this is 2007, 2008. Um, and we had a choice. That was the first choice we had. I, I think real estate test you all the time and there's all these little off ramps that people could fall for. And I think that was our first test. You know, do we, do we get tenure to buy even though we don't think things work? Do we just stop and you know, because the market's crazy or, or do we do something else? And we actually, um, we chose to do something else. So the first decision point for us, um, when we had those six units were to do a 10 31 exchange. So if you think about it, we sold houses that were in hindsight over valued and took all of that equity that we were given. And we tend 31 them in this small apartment buildings, uh, anywhere from, yeah, from five to 13 units.
Speaker 3:3:26So yeah. So for about, I think that took about 12 months, maybe 14 months. But in essence we went from, from six properties, seven doors to talk to over 60. And um, you know, that was the first Aha moment for us is that we use that, uh, that 10 31 exchange moved the equity, no tax hit, leveraged all of the that to, uh, to add more rent. And it was crazy. Cause if you remember 2008, we actually sold that first house we bought for two 63 and it rented for the same 10 95 when that we started, you know, when we bought it and we bought a five unit building for two 23, so 40 grand less that rented for $2,000 more. And I thought, I, I thought something was broken. And the fact is that five unit buildings or commercial in the year, they're on different commercial structures and all that funny financing of 2008 was on one through four units. And you know, I can see it clearly now in hindsight, but when we started it was like, you know, I don't know what we're doing. I just, I just know I can't buy any houses so we might as well go somewhere else. And yeah, so that's, that was, yeah, that was the first thing we did that turned out to be an off ramp that we didn't take and we moved our equity and just kept kept going forward.
Speaker 2:4:46So for everybody who's listening, what market are you buying these houses in?
Speaker 3:4:50Yeah. Oh, I'm sorry. Uh, I live in silicon valley, however, I invest in the Central Valley. So Fresno, Madera, it's about about three hours from where I live. I have a saying, you know, live where you want and invest where the money makes sense. Yes. So that, that makes sense. The Fresno market makes sense as an investment. The Bay area where I live is, has been stupid for a long time and frankly today is insane. So yeah, I live here.
Speaker 2:5:16I will ask you a couple of questions about that later on. It's funny. Um, I did not know that you were, you're investing in the Fresno market when we were talking and you're actually the second person that, um, I've had on in the Fresno market. Um, I also had don Costa on, and I don't know, I don't know if you're familiar with him or not, but he's a huge rehabber. I'm out there. He does, I think, uh, I don't know. I think he's trying to do like 200 flips this year in the Fresno market. Yeah. So, uh, a small world, you know, I don't think there's that many people in the Fresno market, but somehow I found two people. Um, so all right, so you did the 10 31 exchange, you, you increase your amount of doors and that was in the 2007, 2008 when the market started, started to recover. What did you do then?
Speaker 3:6:09Well, you've actually skipped the third step. So if you remember 2008 to 2011, the real estate market crashed. Right? Um, so we sat tight, I call it a pause button. It was the first real pause button we've had in our investment career, uh, for about 18 months. So we didn't do any acquisitions and then we started getting greedy. Um, I dunno about you RJ, but I've read every book I can find on real estate and the ones that were written by actual investors, the one phrase that stuck with me that I never wanted to say was I wish I bought more. Right? So we bought everything we could write in anything from single family homes up to an 18 unit building, a couple of 10 unit commercial buildings. So we took as much advantage of the downturns we could. And that's what got us from this 60 or 65 doors up to 175 cause we spent two and a half years buying during, during the, um, collapse, frankly.
Speaker 3:7:06Okay. How were you finding those? So that, uh, it was, I wished I had some secret. They were in the beginning. They were all right out of the MLS. I'm not, I'm not a real estate agent, don't have any special access, don't, didn't have reo agents feeding me leads. Uh, anything like that. At the start, I obviously became known as a pretty decent buyer who would close on, you know, ugly property. So near the end I was getting some, some calls from, from agents going, hey, my buyers flaky, would you like to close it? And this is the price. And you know, sometimes we said yes, sometimes we said no. Um, but yeah, just, uh, just uh, you know, I'm probably like a lot of your listeners, I have no special access. I don't have some secret handshake or something. And in fact, I'm three hours away from the market I live in, right. Or invest in. So, um, you know, it takes time, patience, execution. But, um, it's certainly possible.
Speaker 2:8:00So you were finding these deals off the mls. How were you financing them? Cause I, I think that's fine that a lot of people look at this and they say, yeah, that's great, but you must've had a ton of money. And, and I don't have that much money, so how am I ever going to retire? So how were you finding ways to finance these?
Speaker 3:8:17So, um, well let's, let's just answer that question in detail, right? So we started this downturn. We owned a bunch of real estate, right? And those are all financed traditional bank lending, you know, many of them with 10% down. So take that off the table. But I remember trying to go back and buy that first reo property, real estate owned or bank foreclosure, whatever, whatever you're listens. There's no it as, and we tried to take it to a bank and I kid you not, they laughed at us. And here's the reason they laughed at us. Cause I don't know if your listeners know this, but in 2009 real estate investors, we're the enemy, right? Right. There was no bank that wanted to talk to you if own more than four, forget about it, right? They always talked about this mythical 10, forget about it. Um, you know, and, and we owned a lot more than 10, so, so we were out of luck.
Speaker 3:9:06So, you know, again, it was one of those choices, right? You can either just sit on your hands, you could, you could scramble and by cash, which means you're only going to buy one or two or you could figure it out. So we spend a lot of time looking for what the industry calls hard money lenders. So we found a local hard money lender who would, who would finance, uh, at 70% of the purchase price. And um, that's what we did. All right, so they, so we had to only come up with 30% and during the crash we were buying stuff, you know, some stuff sub 50 k. So you know, the deposits that we had, the down payments we had to come up with are actually smaller than when we started, which is kind of funny. Right? So that was that way. And then that only lasted so long because you're right, we only had so much money.
Speaker 3:9:50So we got through, I don't know, eight or nine of those over a year, 14 months, whatever it was. And then I had to come up with something else cause there were still opportunities. So by this time a lot of friends and family started to figure out what we were doing. And you know, we, we talked about real estate all the time and, and many of them were disappointed with what they were earning in the bank. So we ended up doing some, um, I guess it's called private money, right? Lending with friends and family, right? Because we were taking private money from family, we wanted to be extra careful. So we implemented a process of by fixed lease and then refi. So we would buy a property for cash again, call it 40 grand, all of our own money. We would, uh, we would do the make ready somewhere between eight and 15 grand on average, all our money.
Speaker 3:10:41Then we would stick a tenant and lease it up and then we would go to a private lender when somebody in our friend and family network and get all of our money back. So we were able to take that, call it $50,000 and use it over and over and over again. Because we were sticking very secure first trustees and, and notes on these beautiful, you know, completely repaired properties and we were, we were paying 10%. So, you know, our friends and family loved it and very secure. Um, that's, that's how we, we kept going when, when our money was running out.
Speaker 2:11:15So when you're paying the 10%, how long are you creating those notes? Are you paying interest only or are you also paying principal on that? Good question. They are interest only in 10 years. Gotcha. And then what is your goal at the end of the 10 years to refinance with a traditional bank? Was that, was that what your intentions were or, or to send 31 exchange those?
Speaker 3:11:37Uh, I would say our intention was, you know, when we, when we wrote the papers, we weren't going to pay them off via bank refinance. Okay. I think there's every chance in the world that we may sell one of our apartment buildings and take all that cash and pay, just pay them off and just own them free. Clear. Right. The fact is, you know, we have options and um, but our plan when we did this was we were, we were like, come on, thanks Cathy. This stingy forever. What we'll eventually go back and get a bank loan and right. You know, be happy. So,
Speaker 2:12:08so I mean basically what you're doing, what you were doing back then is similar to what say someone in my position does today. Um, I will take either a hard money loan or a private money loan to purchase Rehab, then get the tenant in place. And then I refinanced out with the traditional bank and that's because today the banks are now more relaxed than they were back then were. We're no longer the enemy at this point. So that, that's an opportunity for me, which wasn't available to you back then in 2009. So that's why you were having to do it the way you were doing it back then. So after, after you did that for awhile, I guess through 2011, what changed after 2011 for Your Business?
Speaker 3:12:58So what we saw a, at the end of 2011, it might've been 12 was again that the market changed right in your, and we can say this because we were always in the market. I looked at the real estate at the mls every day, right? Just to, just to, just online, right? Sam found some agent, look, looked at the mls and what what we saw was, I'll call them hedge funds. I don't know who they were. They could have been big money guys. They just came in and started buying everything right out of the mls. So where I was finding diamonds everywhere, um, it changed almost overnight, um, where we would get three or four phone calls a month, right? Hey, help me with this deal. It just completely evaporated. And you know, suddenly prices started going up, supply started to dry up and lo and behold, real estate suddenly was a positive thing. Right? There was a five year period where every article I read real estate was negative. And now it's been a couple of years and, and real estate's been appreciating and in some markets is above where it was in 2005, 2006. So, um, it, it's funny how momentum and an opinions can drive behavior. So
Speaker 2:14:04my watch, I, I've seen that even, you know, I have not been in real estate as long as you have, but I've even seen that we're, um, articles and certain people with that sit in certain positions, they can, they can persuade people to have this opinion about what's happening in their market or, or what strategies they should be using. Um, just based off of, you know, one or a couple of people's opinions. So it is, it's funny how that, that kind of works that way. So in those years, from like 2012 to today or, or until the moment when you retired, were you guys still able to source deals from the mls or you have to find them another way?
Speaker 3:14:53Yeah, we've only sourced, it's, it's probably, it's probably sad on my part probably, but in reality of all the transactions we've done, we've only sourced two transactions, not via the mls. Right. We've never done mailers. We've never done any other things. So just to, just so it's, people don't think I'm hiding anything. During the peak of the distress. I bought one property off an auction site online just was the highest bidder in one, right? Just like Ebay. Uh, and then second, I was fixing a 10 unit building that I bought via the mls when the owner or the bank, excuse me, of the, the, that own, the one next door that also for closed came over and said, do you want mine? And I'm like, of course, why wouldn't I? Um, you know, so those are two that I haven't bought via the mls, but everything else been via the mls. Even today. Uh, I've made, I think I made three offers this morning. Um, and all of them are via the mls.
Speaker 2:15:47So you're the man that retired from buying properties off the mls. It does happen. I know. It's kind of boring. Honestly. I, I know you keep saying it's boring, but there's nothing boring about that. The, there's someone like me, I mean, I'm, I'm blown away that you've been able to do that. I mean that because so many people tell you, you can't find deals on the mls,
Speaker 3:16:09but, but they do it
Speaker 2:16:11that are there. I mean, they are, you just have to be readily available and, and always searching and finding them. I mean, I buy deals off the molasses all day, every day. I mean, like you said, I mean, I literally have a position in my company, which all that person does is search for deals on the MLS does. Yeah. So, yeah, it's about sticking New York criteria, making sure that it hits those numbers. It doesn't matter where you find the deal. Amen.
Speaker 2:16:43Yes. Uh, if people that tell me that all the time, I get sent emails and stuff like that, where they're like, we're looking for good deals and it doesn't, it can't be off the mls. And I'm like, why? Why, why, why you turned it down? I don't get it. So you want, you want to find something that has equity after you rehab it and it cashflows as long as it didn't come from the MLS. Okay fine. I'll take the ones off the mls, then you can have the other ones don't look, they're all up there. Less competition better. Yeah. And so, so I, I guess at this point in time you have 175 units, is that correct? That's correct, yeah. And how many of those are single family homes?
Speaker 3:17:28Ah, I, it would be, it's going to be an estimate. It would be close. I would think we own 30 somewhere between 35 and 40 single family homes. We probably own half a dozen duplexes, couple of tries. And then the rest are what you would call small commercials.
Speaker 2:17:44Awesome. So what for someone who only invest in family, what's the biggest difference between single family and trying to go into that multifamily commercial? What is something that you can give the listeners a bit of advice on how to transition to that?
Speaker 3:18:05That's a great question. So I think there's a couple of things you just should appreciate ahead of time. First and foremost, the art of putting a deal together doesn't change. Okay. Whether you're negotiating a single family home or 18 unit building, it's all the same stuff, man. So if you're good at negotiating with sellers and talking to them and doing inspections and all that stuff, it's all the same stuff from a buying perspective. Absolutely the same. The lending perspective is different and frankly better. Uh, and it's frankly what's saved us during the crash. So I tell I'd shared with you earlier how we 10 31 to everything, uh, out of houses into apartments. But what saved our bacon was, um, we had to put commercial financing on those in commercial financing is you're no longer treated as the buyer, right? When you buy a one through four, the bank's evaluating you when you buy five and above, they're evaluating the building.
Speaker 3:19:06So you have to put real down payments, right? So that, just to use the example earlier, right? We sold that house, that first one we bought for two 63. I'm sure the buyer came in and put less than 5% down. Right. They just had funny financing from countrywide or some other lender and it went through. But when I bought that, I bought that five unit building for two 23 $40,000 less. I had to come in with 40% financing, right? 40% of the purchase price. So I was protected in the bank was protected. Right. So the commercial market is real loans, um, and then the is probably twice as much. Um, so that's, that's one difference to appreciate. You're not going to come in and do most commercial buildings and do the whole, you know, five or 10% down. That's not going to happen. Uh, and that's why I like the 10 31 idea into your earlier question.
Speaker 3:19:59I fully expected to 31 out of some of these houses we bought into more units over the next year or two cause it just makes a lot of sense. Uh, and then the other, the other thing to appreciate is after you own it, um, commercial buildings have higher turnover. They have, yeah, more expenses. Right? You suddenly own the water and gardens and no. So your expense calculations are a little different than a house, right? When a house you, you can, the tenant pays utilities and all the water and all that. At least in most markets. I think when you own an apartment building, suddenly that big greenery that, that green belt, you got it. You have to mow and you have to, it's like, oh my God, that stuff's expensive. Right? Yeah, that's, that's probably, I guess that's, that's where I'd start. That's the difference.
Speaker 2:20:44Gotcha. So my next question is for who built this for 15 years while working a full time job for other people that are kind of in similar situations. How did you manage building the portfolio? Did you hire a property management company? How did you manage the books and, and all of those types of things while working at full time job?
Speaker 3:21:09Yeah. So first and foremost, if you're going to do this and work a full time job, you have to get very clear on what your competitive advantages, what, what's the thing you're going to do. So I had two things that I was uniquely good at or I uniquely wanted to own. I wanted to source capital, right income from my job or, or whatever. And I wanted to find deals. I didn't want to be dependent on anybody else outside of that. I outsourced everything. So we had a property manager from day one, right? We own a single house and we had a property manager and pay them 10%. It's just, cause I didn't want to deal with the hassle. I didn't want to run credit. I didn't want to any of those things. I want it to be solely focused on finding deals in securing capital. And frankly, we're still that way today. We do, we did four and it actually still do, we did do our books every month. Um, but that's just because we're, we're accountants and that's kind of numbers things and, and um, but we do a manager, or at least run checks and balances against the, the books, right? Money's money. And we want to, we want to make sure our money's being used wisely. And there's no funny business going on, but we never managed anything. Never ran a credit check, never painted a building,
Speaker 2:22:20none of that stuff. Gotcha. So, and that's very interesting. I mean, if you look at this, I mean you've basically broken it down for our listeners who, who sometimes look at this and, and I get it all the time from people where they say it's impossible for me to achieve this kind of financial freedom. But I mean, you've worked a fulltime job. You found the deals off the mls and you found a way to retire herself doing this. And really the only thing that you did was find a, find the capital to buy them and find the deals. I was in all reality. I mean, most people when they think about becoming a real estate investor, they want to find the deals because that's kind of the fun part, right? I mean, you want, you want to find the deal. Um, I mean that's kind of what being the investor is, is finding deals.
Speaker 2:23:16So you, you really broke it down to where it seems so simple. Um, and I mean it was over the course of 15 years and there's so many people that sit there and, and they don't think that themselves, that hey, in 15 years I could retire if I just start doing it this way. I mean you started with one and you slowly built it up. Um, that's very impressive. I mean congratulations to you and your wife on, on, you know, being able to achieve that. Um, I always like to ask people what is their why, why, why did, why did you feel this was the path that you should take? And Yeah, I mean you essentially at some point in time it Kinda had to work two jobs. I mean, you had your full time job and then you were also being a real estate investor. So what was the driving force behind wanting to do this?
Speaker 3:24:13Well, so first and foremost, I applaud you for asking that question cause that's when I talked to new investors. That's typically what I want, where I start. Um, so my why was really just a burning desire, really almost, I call it being desperate. I grew up in a family situation where money was, I'm not plentiful. Many experiences that, uh, were, that's still sort of stick with me to this day where money was the problem, right? The missing thing. Uh, and I never want it to be there. Um, so I mean, I can still close my eyes and, and feel that. So that's, that's a why that I still have today and why I'm still looking to grow this. Uh, but it was the ability to do that
Speaker 2:24:53what I want, when I want, anytime I want.
Speaker 3:24:56It was more than just the words. Right. Um, so that's why I, that's why I was up at 6:00 AM every day looking at the mls, right. For 15 years straight. And I'm still doing it today. Right. Even though I'm financially free and don't have to do it, I'm still up at 6:00 AM without an alarm clock because I spend the first two hours of my day looking for deals and following up on things and, and doing that kind of work. Right. So it takes focus and diligence and effort. And you know, that's where I think a lot of people fall down is they get all excited, right? They're almost bouncing around the room with the excitement, but as soon as it gets hard or you know, it gets in the way of something else to like fall apart. Uh, and then the other thing I think I want the other listeners to realize is for the first 10 years, I'll have to admit, I wasn't sure this was going to work out.
Speaker 3:25:43Sure. I knew my net worth was going to be better, right? There's no question after 10 years you could see your net worth being improved. But after 10 years it was like, well, you know, maybe we covered our mortgage payment on our house, but I can't retire that way. I got all this other stuff I want to do. Um, but it was those final five years and, and sacrifice. And we never took a dollar out of our real estate business and did anything except buy more real estate. We didn't buy fancy cars, didn't take vacations. We sacrificed like crazy. Uh, because we were committed to this and then those final five years and we just, it just exploded. Right. So it turned from a trickle to a stream to, oh my God, we're, we're done. So, um, that's where I think a lot of people, you know, they, they're in it for three years and I'm like, why can't I retire? I'm like, this is not a get rich quick. Who, who lied to you and told you you'd be done in three years. Right. I took every penny and then some for 15 years and you know, it took us that long. So I to think you can do it in three is insulting to me.
Speaker 2:26:43That's funny. So now that you're retired and you are financially free, Yep. Where do you want to be five years from now?
Speaker 3:26:53Uh, that's a great question. And I'm now what, what am I, two and a half weeks being retired. I am thinking about that and maybe I'll, maybe we'll have another call in a couple of weeks when I have that answer, RJ. But right now I can tell you what I want to do this year in 2018 first and foremost, I'm trying to help a thousand people start a real estate investing or at least get interested. And I'm doing that Vmi re a youtube channel called one rental at a time. It's basically this story that you've just heard and little three to five minute videos. Um, and I'm using this subscriber functionality of Youtube to track. I think we had 36 people as of this morning. Um, so I'm trying to get that to a thousand. That's goal number one. Goal number two is, um, I believe flipping is a full time job and never did it because I already had a couple as you pointed out.
Speaker 3:27:48Uh, but I found deals over the years that would have been great flips. So I'm going to try to flip two to four properties this year because guess what? I don't have my daytime job, so I'm going to give it a shot. Uh, and then second, I am actually getting my real estate license because I want to help more and more people who do have full time jobs, at least in the Fresno area, start that. Ultimately, my goal is not to be a real estate salesperson, ultimately is to open a brokerage aimed at investors. Uh, I have found that there's lots of great real estate agents, but they're there mainly focused on owner occupants. And my goal cause I can have my own goals now, is to open eventually a brokerage. Uh, you know, at least a 90 if not 95% focused on investors. So that's, that's what I'm trying to do this year. Where do I want to be in five years? I, I if I made up anything today, I'd be lying demon. And if you watch my videos, I don't do that. So I don't know, but that's what I'm going to do. That's what I'd do in 2018.
Speaker 2:28:47That's fine. That sounds like a great goal. So a thousand people this year, you want to help get started in real thing. Best thing. I'll put a link to your youtube channel and the show notes for people to subscribe to that. Um, that's an awesome, awesome gold man. I mean, that's, that's why I do this podcast is to try to spread the word to people. Um, uh, every time somebody tells me that, you know, hey, I listened to an episode and, and man, it changed the way I thought or it made me get started in the business and nothing makes me feel better than that. So I love hearing that feedback and, and thank you for starting that and then having that as a goal for this year. Um, because like I said, your story is incredible. Uh, the fact that you've broken it down so simple to someone who worked a full time job but the hose off the mls and found freedom. Uh, yeah, that's definitely a story to be told. Very cool. Thank you for the opportunity. Absolutely, man. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us today. Um, like I said, I want to put a, your youtube channel link in the show notes and maybe we'll get you some subscribers on there. Thank you. And uh, yeah, anything else you have for the listeners?
Speaker 3:30:04No, just, just realize that real estate investing can get you there. It's a, it may start slow, but um, it absolutely is possible. Don't give up.
Speaker 2:30:13Absolutely. It's not a get rich quick scheme. Yeah, there you go. It's the long drive and take massive action. Thank you buddy. All right, take care. Thanks again. Bye. Bye. Good stuff man. Good. Got It worked out. Thank you very much. Easy to talk to. That was a, that was a cool story, man. Now congratulations. I really do mean that. That's um, appreciate that. It's awesome that you and your wife have been able to achieve that. But
Speaker 1:30:44thanks so much for listening to the titanium vault with your host gene banks. The third for more info and to stay up to date, visit www.podcast.thetitaniumvault.comandonfacebook.com/but titanium vaults, if you enjoyed the episode, please rate and review. And we'll catch you next time.