October 1, 2018

JF1490: Build A Successful Lawn Company & Start From Scratch With Real Estate? With Brent Bowers

Brent had a successful lawn care business in high school while he was working on getting his real estate license. He left the business to do real estate full time at a very difficult time, in 2008. Eventually, he left real estate behind to join the military. After the military, he got back into real estate and started doing well with wholesaling. We’ll hear today how he approaches wholesaling and what he does to succeed. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!


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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. With us today, Brent Bowers. How are you doing, Brent?

Brent Bowers: I’m great, Joe. How are you doing today?

Joe Fairless: I’m doing great as well. Nice to have you on the show. A little bit about Brent – he’s got ten years of real estate investing experience. He has pretty much automated his wholesaling business. He also does some flips… He bought his first house in April of 2007, and since then has helped a whole bunch of homeowners get out of troublesome situations by buying their properties. He’s based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and his website is in the show notes page. With that being said, Brent, will you give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?

Brent Bowers: Yeah. I had a super-strong lawn landscape company when I was in my senior year of high school, and my father came out and kind of joined me in the business. I was working on getting my real estate license in about 2004-2005, and the hurricanes came through Florida, it kind of derailed me for another year or so… And then it seemed like I got my license right at about mid-2008, and then I went into it in about 2009, left the company I had built, and moved to West Palm Beach, Florida and started trying to do some real estate right at the fall of the market.

Things were quite rough, so I was like, “Well, I’m gonna go back to school. How do I do it?”, so I joined the military and didn’t really look back for several years. The military sent me to school, paid for a bachelors degree; they pretty much paid for all that, and [unintelligible [00:04:35].07] officer, and then I started dabbling in some real estate some more, and it just seemed like we just started buying rentals everywhere we were going. We were just buying all these rentals, and raking up all this debt, and then slowly paying down. I just knew there was a better way to pay down that debt, so we started wholesaling houses kind of haphazardly.

We were searching on Bigger Pockets one day, which is an extremely cool website (and I’m glad it came about), and I ran into a guy named Tom Krol, and took his course on wholesaling. He pretty much gave me the Ray Kroc version system of wholesaling. Here we are, a couple years later; we’ve done probably 80-something transactions in the last 24 months. We’re flipping now, we’re renovating houses, and the wholesaling is pretty much automated, but we like to do a couple flips a month. I prefer to stick with one only, but it seems like the deals come and we just keep doing them.

Now we’re taking the profits and purchasing raw lands, and seller-financing it at affordable rates to people that wanna own land. That’s kind of our business in a nutshell. I’m really building the raw land side now. That’s what I’ve been focusing on in the last couples months, and… Here we are.

Joe Fairless: Well, I’m looking forward to talking to you about the raw land stuff, because that’s something that I find really interesting, because I don’t do it, and I’m sure there’s a lot of listeners who’d find that really interesting.

Before we dig into the raw land stuff, you said 80+ transactions in 12 months – that’s gotta keep your team busy, and you mentioned… 24 months, sorry; I love misquoting people, to make things interesting… Okay, 24 months. 80 transactions in 24 months. Either way, that’s gotta keep your team busy… So what are some things that you have put in place in order to establish this system that you have with your wholesaling business?

Brent Bowers: Well, it was almost forced plays. I had to build a team, because as an army officer, which I’m completely out of the army now… I got out May 7th, with an honorable discharge, I did all my separations, left on great terms… But let me tell you – it’s a lot less stress in the real estate business, and a little bit more profitable. My last day was May 7th, 2018, so we’ve been doing this full-time about three months now, and things are rolling… But I was forced to put systems in place because I was constantly out there in Virginia, Kentucky… I didn’t actually deploy in the last couple years to any combat zones, but we were doing a lot of field time prepping to deploy.

So after leaving the field, I was in Kentucky, Virginia and I had to hire a lead manager. I was getting all these calls from my direct mail and my marketing that we were doing, and I was just trying to do all this closing over the phone, almost virtual wholesaling, which — it was working, by using 123notary, and an attorney, and title companies… But I just needed somebody that could do pretty much belly to belly sales. That’s when I found this wonderful person named Jen. She actually lives right down the road from me. I found her on the NextDoor app; I pretty much put an ad out for her: “We’re  a small real estate company, looking to hire. I need a lead manager.”

I called her a lead manager basically because I needed her to be an acquisitions manager, a disposition manager, and also hold the buyers and sellers’ hands from beginning to end – almost be a transaction coordinator as well. So that was pretty much my first hire, and I was so blessed to have found her. She has really helped me build the business… But it’s just forced systems. We had a system, and just hiring people and finding people to help  – a good realtor, a good attorney, a good title company… I hope I answered your question… In a super-long way.

Joe Fairless: You did, you definitely did. One thing that surprised me is I think I heard you say that you put an ad for this position on the NextDoor app. I didn’t know you could do that.

Brent Bowers: Yup. It’s like a little classify — you can do classified ads on there. It’s really the only time I’ve actually ever used it, except for one other time when I found a missing dog in my neighborhood. We put him on there, and that’s how we found the owner. But yeah, she answered the ads, super-professional, I liked talking to her on the phone, and I just knew it was gonna be a good fit. I invited her to my house, I let her meet my family.. And like “Look, we’re doing a couple transactions a month, we make this on average; would you like to join the team?” That was almost two years ago now.

Joe Fairless: Wow. How much do you make on average per transaction?

Brent Bowers: On average – our average assignment fee is somewhere around $15,000 to $20,000.

Joe Fairless: And then how much of that is profit, would you say, after all of your overhead?

Brent Bowers: After overhead – it takes us about probably $3,000 to acquire a property, and what I mean by that is it costs us about $3,000 as far as overhead and marketing for each transaction. So we spend about $3,000/transaction, so if we make $13,000, it’s $10,000 profitable, and then I pay my team out, and all that… But somewhere around $10,000 is what we net per transaction. That’s our typical assignment when we get a property under contract, and then we sell it to one of our cash buyers.

We have quite a robust cash buyers list, and it took me a couple years of working my butt off to get those cash buyers, but that’s how we get a higher assignment fee.

Joe Fairless: Your team is doing wholesale deals, but then you also have some fix and flip deals that you’re working on… When do you determine that it’s a fix and flip instead of a wholesale deal? Or rather how do you determine that?

Brent Bowers: It’s a great question. We try and do – like I said – at least one a month, but when we have an extreme amount of meat on the bone… Like, if I know we can make at least $35,000 to $45,000,  I don’t feel good on my heart when I see a cash buyer pay an assignment fee of 45k-50k. However, I don’t feel bad if I take the property down myself, renovate it, list it with my realtor, stage it and all that.

Generally, we try and make somewhere around 35k-45k for our flips. We average somewhere around $50,000 a flip; that’s been our last four anyways… But that’s about the number.

If I know it’s gonna be  a 10k, 15k, 25k assignment, that’s no problem whatsoever, but if it’s more than that, we generally will buy it and renovate it.

Joe Fairless: And why make the business decision to focus now on raw land and seller finance that raw land, versus continuing to scale your wholesale and fix and flip business?

Brent Bowers: Well, that’s a great question, and I almost feel like “Okay, am I spreading myself too thin with the wholesaling and the flipping and the land?” I always had a passion for land, I really like land, and Mark Podolsky says that there’s no three R’s: you don’t have the rats, the rodents or the renters. Not that I’m calling — I mean, I kind of am [unintelligible [00:11:42].10] renters in the same category, but we’ve had rentals for years and we’re actually… One of our four flips right now – I shouldn’t say the four, it’s one of the flips – we’re actually renovating a 19-unit apartment complex that we are gonna hold… So we do a little rentals too, but I like the land because it’s a lot less stress; it’s really cool, it’s unique… It’s dirt, no one can steal it. I really don’t have to hold insurance on it, because nothing’s gonna burn down… Other than liability insurance.

No one can steal anything, the contractors aren’t stealing materials, and it’s just — when someone comes in and we do the seller financing, we carry the note for them. They can come in with a small down payment, generally hopefully the down payment covers a little bit of our purchase price… But there’s really no maintenance. I don’t get calls from tenants, I don’t get calls from the city, I don’t get calls from the people downstairs because the people upstairs are stomping too loud… It’s just so low maintenance.

We’ve got several notes coming in from our land, and I don’t really have to manage it other than my assistant picking up the checks from the mail, and then inputting them into our note-tracking software. So it’s simple, and it’s cash-flowing.

Joe Fairless: Since it’s seller financing, you do get some of that cashflow on a monthly basis, so it’s starting to work for you; after you shift your focus away from that, you still have some money coming in. Was that another factor?

Brent Bowers: Yeah, for five years pretty much. We generally run it out for about 60 months, holding the financing… So I know that when my assistant does the paperwork and we do a land contract, I know for five years we’re gonna get paid on this property. I just pray they don’t default… Some people like when they default; I personally don’t. We’ve had that experience before, where we resell the property again… Yeah, it really helps the bottom line, and our ROI just goes through the roof; however, it’s just a sucky feeling whenever you know that someone’s going through hard times and they can’t pay for their land anymore… But yeah, I generally know that for five years these payments are gonna come in, so we can just continue doing these every single day or every single week, and just build such a portfolio that each one works for five years. It’s just amazing.

Joe Fairless: Will you tell us about the last deal that you did?

Brent Bowers: The last land deal that I did – this one’s kind of a funny one; it’s actually the one that I’ve had to take the property back. We bought this little piece of land, non-buildable, for $225. It was only 4,900 square feet. It was actually in my old neighborhood in Colorado, and I went and paid the taxes on this thing — and I didn’t even have to do it, because I had probably another two years left to do it… But the guy just wanted to get rid of it. He wasn’t doing anything with it, so I was like $225 – I gave it to him, paid him, and then I went and caught with taxes up. The taxes were like $700, so more than what I paid for the land… So I had maybe $1,000 into this property.

I put an ad on Craigslist, seller financed lot, this neighborhood, non-buildable. I had multiple calls on it, and I was just shocked, because this is non-buildable land. What did these people wanna do with it?

One guy wanted a garden, one guy wanted to park vehicles on it… So I ended up meeting the guy that wanted to park vehicles on it. I told him, I was like, “Dude, you’ve gotta check with the city. I don’t think they’ll allow that.” He gave me $1,500 cash on the spot. He was like “I don’t care, I want it.” So I was like “Well, I’ve gotta give you some type of receipt”, so I wrote him up a receipt and then he had said “Basically, I wanna pay this thing off in a couple months.” I was like, “Okay, perfect.” No interest, total price is $5,000. That was the last time I ever saw the guy. He didn’t take my phone calls anymore, didn’t answer e-mails, didn’t answer text, and I called his wife’s phone… He disappeared for six months.

I told my lead manager, I was like “Listen, if we don’t hear from him by December 25th, we’re going to sell this property again.” We already had another buyer lined up, they had called us on it and they were willing to pay $5,000 cash right away. It was a neighbor. They wanted to put a shed on the property.

So here comes December 25th, and we hadn’t heard from the guy. I waited till January 2nd, they gave us a $5,000 cashier’s check, and we literally made somewhere around like a 2,100% return on investment.

Joe Fairless: Hm… Still never heard from him?

Brent Bowers: Yes, I unfortunately did. About January 26th the guy’s uncle called me.

Joe Fairless: He passed away.

Brent Bowers: No, thank God he didn’t die, but… “My nephew has been in jail. He wants to know how he can keep making payments on his property” and I said “It’s no longer his property. We sold it about 20 days ago. I’ve been trying to get a hold of him. I’ve mailed him, I’ve e-mailed him, I’ve texted him… Nothing. The guy disappeared for like seven months, so unfortunately it’s no longer his property.”

The uncle said “Okay, no problem”, and hung up. But it made me feel bad, it really did. It’s like, “Man, this guy just spent $1,500 and went to jail.”

Joe Fairless: The wholesaling business compared to buying raw land and doing seller-financing – which one’s easier to find deals?

Brent Bowers: Oh man, I think they’re both easy to find deals if you create the systems. When you’re going after property that people aren’t paying taxes on, or it’s just rundown (the wholesaling), it’s almost like they’re two different beasts, but the deals come on both of them if you create the systems and have the coaches to teach you how to do it. I’d say volume – we could probably get more raw land; however, the wholesaling may not be as much volume. We could probably get ten pieces of raw land and maybe seven or eight wholesale. However, the wholesales are much bigger money, wholesaling houses.

But you also are competing with a bunch of other real estate investors that want the houses. The cool thing about land is not a lot of people do it because it’s not huge chunks of money; you’re not pulling $94,000 profits. When you pull a $94,000 profit on your flip, the land is not that big of a profit and it takes longer, if that makes sense. So maybe the land is not as sexy.

Joe Fairless: When you’ve gotten into these new business models – wholesaling, raw land – I’ve noticed that you mentioned someone you learned from. In wholesaling it was Tom Krol I’ve interviewed him on the podcast I think a couple times, and it raw land it was… Who did you mention?

Brent Bowers: Mark Podolsky.

Joe Fairless: Mark Podolsky, that’s right. Yeah, sorry, my brain froze up. I’ve interviewed him like three or four times on this podcast. How do you think about investing in your education? …because I doubt they trained you for free, but correct me if I’m wrong… And if I am correct, then you paid for education – how did you think about it?

Brent Bowers: I love it. You know what? I went to so many of these real estate seminars, dropping 5k here, 5k there, but I think it was a little bit different when you have more along the lines of a coach, that’s a little bit spaced out. Tom sets his up perfectly. He spaces it out to like eight weeks, and kind of the same thing with Mark Podolsky. They space them out, and I feel like that was part of what really made me successful, and also the student was ready, finally – I was finally ready to commit and do the freakin’ hard work that it takes to do this. It’s all simple, but it’s not easy. It’s hard work.

I get up at 4 AM every single morning, and I’m still usually working at 6 or 7 at night. I take some time to put the kids down to bed, eat dinner with my wife, but it’s a grind. But I would pay for the education over again, I would pay double for it knowing what I know now, because you’re gonna pay one way or another. You’ve paid through just the pure grind of it, making mistakes and costing yourself money, or working for free to learn from another flipper, for people that don’t have money…

I know flippers out there that have ten crews. I wish I would have known these guys when I was 18-19 years old; I would have pushed the broom for them and power wash their houses and painted it for them for free if they would have just taught me some of this… But I didn’t think to do that. I kind of took the easy route, I paid a coach to teach me. And I didn’t just have the cash lying around… It was stressful. I maxed out credit cards, and negotiated, and made payments, and didn’t have money to mail after that…

I remember Tom Krol telling me “Don’t join my program, because you don’t have the money to market.” I still did it, I still joined, but it took door knocking, things like that. So absolutely, none of this was free, and I am so glad I paid for the education, because I think it accelerated and it gave me an opportunity to get out of the military and stop being away from home so much… And it’s quite lucrative. It’s very hard work though, and the people I see that don’t make it are not willing to do the hard work and work smart.

Joe Fairless: I’ll make sure I send this interview to both Tom and Mark, since you said you would like to pay double, so maybe they can get a check from you for the difference there…

Brent Bowers: [laughs] Don’t tell Mark that; I’m still paying [unintelligible [00:21:19].10] to Mark. But Tom Krol is paid off, you can tell him anything you want. [laughter]

Joe Fairless: What’s your best real estate investing advice ever?

Brent Bowers: Oh, man… Educated yourself, be coachable, and get up early. I read The Miracle Morning – I can’t remember the dude’s name that wrote it, but I’ve read The Miracle Morning about three years ago, and that really just resonated. For about three years now I’ve been getting up at 4 AM, and from 4 to 7, before my children wake up, and my wife, I wake up, I make coffee, I already have it ready to go, just press the button.

Then I read the Bible, my quiet time for like 30 minutes, and then from pretty much [4:30] to 7 – that’s the power hour. That’s buildings systems, and improving systems, and doing the couple tasks I wanted to complete right off the bat… Kind of like eating the frog first, the hardest thing, because the e-mails are not coming in, and the phone is not ringing… Sometimes it does ring a little bit before seven, but it’s on Do Not Disturb, so I really keep focus. No one’s taking my attention away from the task I’m trying to complete… So I’d say that’s my best advice – get up early; these billionaires, they get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, so that’s why I get up at four, because I figure I wanna get a jump on them, too.

Joe Fairless: I love that mentality. That’s great stuff, I’ve never heard it put that way. We’re gonna do a lightning round. Are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?

Brent Bowers: Sounds good.

Joe Fairless: Alright. First, a quick word from our Best Ever partners.

Break: [00:22:55].15] to [00:23:35].13]

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

Brent Bowers: I’ve recently read The Greatest Salesman In The World. That book really just touched my heart when I read it.

Joe Fairless: I at one point had all of those rules memorized, and I recorded it on an app, and I would just play it over and over while I was running. That’s an amazing book.

Brent Bowers: Yeah, I wanna get the hard copy; I actually listened to it on Audible. It was just such a great story, too. Short little read, but yeah, I’d like to get it on hard copy. I feel like I get more when I read things, rather than listen to it on Audible.

Joe Fairless: Best ever deal you’ve done, that we haven’t talked about?

Brent Bowers: December, I’m sitting in my garage, making some cold calls, because I had to get away from the kids, and I cold-called this property, the guy yells at me, he’s like “What are you doing calling me?” I just kept my composure, and it turns out he was an old retired Air Force guy. We got to talking about the military, and I just kept working out, just taking his beating, and I was just being very respectful. Not timid, but respectful… And he just thought I was a scam. So the guy hung up on me, and I called him back… We kept building relationship.

I had an offer for his house at 135k, he said “No, I’ll take 124k”, and I said “Really?” I was just so shocked. Then I had to follow up with him for another couple months. I literally just would show up to this guy’s property, because he was driving from South Dakota to Colorado Springs, so I was trying to catch him there, and I kept missing him…

And one day he called me back and said “Let’s do the deal.” So I signed the deal for 124k, bought the house… We put about 25k into it, so we had roughly 150k-155k, and then we sold the thing for like 265k about a month later. So after all expenses, utilities, insurance, closing costs, realtor fees, staging fees, all that, we made a $94,000 profit after everybody was paid. That was one of my best deals. I’ve got some others, but that was a good one… And it was pretty cool, because this guy – I checked up with him while we were doing the renovation – he had some important-looking documents in the mailbox that I thought he’d be interested in… So I got his forwarding address from him and he just appreciated that so much.

He told me he was actually going to preach at this church the next day, and he asked if he could share what we had done for him, and bought his house… And he was just praying that we’d make a profit… And I’m telling you what – his prayers were answered, because we darn sure did. That was actually just this July. That was probably the most recent one.

Joe Fairless: Oh, that’s cool. It’s a good story for everyone, for multiple reasons. What’s a mistake you’ve made on a transaction?

Brent Bowers: I don’t make mistakes.

Joe Fairless: Of course not. Perfect!

Brent Bowers: I’m kidding. Oh, man… Not following my instincts. I don’t get too cautious on most properties, but when I don’t trust my gut, I always sorely pay for it. And I’d like to say another one, too – when someone tells you they have a brand new roof on a 4,500 square foot house, and you’re in Florida and lead manager doesn’t get on it, or your realtor doesn’t jump on it just to check – bad mistake. It was a brand new roof, but it was a fly by night company that did it, and it was about a $9,000 mistake. Luckily, it still was a profitable deal, but it sucked to make the mistake.

Joe Fairless: I was gonna say, that sounds like a very specific example, like it might have happened very specifically to someone we know.

Brent Bowers: Yeah. [laughs]

Joe Fairless: What’s the best ever way you like to give back?

Brent Bowers: We give to our church. We have a REIA that we do on the first and third Tuesday at Third Space Coffee on North Academy in Colorado Springs. We have a bunch of new investors, old investors… I feel like we give a lot of value, me and Colin Smith with Solid Rock Realty; he’s my partner with our REIA… So we are constantly helping new guys get started. That’s all free.

We bring in CPAs, we bring in attorneys, we bring in flippers, we bring in hard money lenders, we bring in private money lenders… And then just giving [unintelligible [00:27:47].19] It says we have to in the Bible, and I think that helps us a lot. We’re partnered with the Lord, and that’s how we give back.

Joe Fairless: Best way the best ever listeners can learn more about what you’ve got going on and get in touch with you?

Brent Bowers: Yeah, my company is called Zech Buys Houses LLC. You can google that. We’ve got a bunch of parcels of land, we’re seller financing… If someone wants to go to vacantlandofthefree.com and mention this podcast, we’ll give you 15% off of your down payment and your monthly payment. I’m ready to sell some land.

Joe Fairless: That’s awesome! Well, I might be buying… [laughs] If I can find a way to cashflow it, I might be buying… Or maybe I just want a place to put a shed up somewhere.

Brent,  I really appreciate you spending time with us and sharing the different business models that you’re in. Thank you for what you did for our country, to keep us all safe, and your role in that, first off and foremost… And then from a real estate standpoint, really interesting to hear how you’ve gone from wholesaling, building that model, and now focusing on buying raw land, doing seller financing, and how you’re getting deals and how you approach learning about each of those businesses.

Thanks again for being on the show. I hope you have a best ever day, and we’ll talk to you soon.

Brent Bowers: Thanks, Joe.


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