June 4, 2020

JF2102: From Military to Millionaire With David Pere


David Pere is a full-time active duty Marine and the founder of “From Military to Millionaire”. He has bought and sold 54 units, holds 13 rentals, and is a general partner in a 146-unit apartment. He discusses one of his deals that he had a headache within creative financing and shares what he would have done differently. David also goes into his process of mailing to absentee owners.

David Pere Real Estate Background:

  • Active duty Marine
  • Started investing in real estate in 2015
  • Founder of “From Military to Millionaire”
  • Has bought and sold 54 units (one of them being a 40 unit), holds 13 rentals, and is a general partner in a 146-unit apartment
  • Based in San Diego, California
  • Say hi to him at: www.frommilitarytomillionaire.com 
  • Best Ever Book: Like Switch 

Click here for more info on groundbreaker.co


Best Ever Tweet:

“Stuff isn’t always going to go your way, don’t invest money you can’t afford to lose.” – David Pere


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, where we only talk about the best advice ever, we don’t get into any of that fluffy stuff. With us today, Dave Pere. How are you doing, Dave?

David Pere: I’m doing well, brother. I appreciate you having me on. I love your show.

Joe Fairless: Well, I thank you for that, and I’m glad to hear it. First off, you’re active duty marine, so thank you, sir, for everything you do, and you and your colleagues letting us have this time to be free and have these conversations… So first and foremost, I have a lot of respect for you and all of your colleagues.

Dave started investing in 2015. He’s the founder of From Military to Millionaire. He has bought and sold 54 units, 40 of those 54 being a 40-unit property. He holds 14 rentals and is a general partner in a 146-unit apartment community. Based in San Diego, California. With that being said, do you wanna give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?

David Pere: Absolutely, brother. As you mentioned, I mentioned the Marine Corps in 2008. Sometimes, I would say a lot of the world, like it’s a great thing, sometimes I’d say too much of the world… But I had a lot of experience just with people in different cultures. In 2015 I was a recruiter in the Midwest. Someone handed me the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I told them I don’t read, kind of joking… Like, “I am a marine… What do you think? I’m hard-headed.” And the guy literally pulled a CD disk out of his pocket and was like “Well, you spend a lot of time driving in your car, so here you go.” And I was like “Ahh, he got me. I’ve gotta listen to this.”

Within three months I had closed on a duplex, house-hack – living in one side, renting the other, doing that good thing… And then about six months later I got orders to Hawaii. I was like “Man, it’s a lot more expensive over here.” I got a bunch of offers declined, I couldn’t find anything that worked to buy… So I just kept buying in Missouri. I started a long-distance thing. I had the duplex, then I bought a single-family that we did the BRRRR strategy before I knew what that was. We renovated it, then we rented it out, and then a few years later — we didn’t refinance, we pulled a HELOC on it, and we used that HELOC to buy a ten-unit.

I then bought a 40-unit, did some  stuff on it, I got rid of the 40-unit, turned around, flipped a house… So during this, I’m partnered on a couple of flips in San Diego, small partnerships here and there made some money, and then flipped a home in Missouri… And then I’m currently under contract on a duplex; so that’ll be 14 and 15 that I just plan to hold indefinitely in that little market.

Then a general partner came in the last few months. So the big trend for me is just trying to balance being a full-time marine, traveling all over the place, with investing in various markets, with a lot of just sight unseen stuff, building teams, and networking, and relationships. So that’s a little bit about me… I’m just continuing to grow all of that.

Joe Fairless: Let’s talk about that 40-unit, since you’ve taken that full-cycle… Tell us about how you’ve found it, what the business plan was, what you bought it for, what did you put into it, what did you sell it for… All that good stuff.

David Pere: We bought this thing for about 150k down. We bought it at a 2.795, with some great financing options. So that one’s just kind of a strange ordeal. Realistically, that one wasn’t a huge profit. That one ended up being something that we got out from under, because it was a deal that didn’t quite work out to what it was supposed to be… So that’s probably the one deal in all of this that — I haven’t actually lost anything on it yet, but I got out from under, because it just did not work out.

So the guy didn’t uphold his end of the contract, things went super-sideways… And in essence, a year and a half later in a fun legal battle I was trying to pull all of our original capital back out of it.

So I may say full-cycle on that one, but that was the one big mistake — it’s funny, because one of your Lightning Round questions is “A big mistake you’ve made on a transaction”, and that was gonna be my answer to that…

Joe Fairless: [laughs] I sniffed it out right out of the gate.

David Pere: Yeah, so that’s good.

Joe Fairless: That was just dumb luck on my part.

David Pere: No, it’s totally good. I thought about bringing all that up before we got on the call, but… In essence, the gentleman that I was under contract with – there were things that were very clear in the contract, like “This needs to be done by this date” or “Seller owes buyer this”, and it just didn’t happen.

Joe Fairless: Like what? What’s an example?

David Pere: The roof needed to be replaced by the 90 days after closing, or seller owed buyer $100,000.

Joe Fairless: Okay.

David Pere: 120 days into the deal, it’s December and I’ve got commercial tenants — it was a mixed-used; it was 25 residential, 15 commercial on a four-story building in the South-West… And in essence, the two commercial tenants on the fourth floor broke their lease, because come December they have a leaky roof and no HVAC, and the two things in the contract were “Replace the roof and put HVAC on the fourth floor.” And it’s December in the Midwest, so it’s snowing outside, and I have a wedding venue and it’s 45 degrees inside this building; we’re done. Some crazy stuff.

There were four units that were in the contract; they were supposed to be finished with renovations by 45 days after closing, and when we brought the city inspector in, he’s like “We’ve put a cease-work order on this four months ago” and they finished it without a permit. So all of those walls needs to be removed, that plumbing needs to be removed,  and the guy was basically like “Well, the contractor said I had to finish them.” “Um, they’re not finished.” “No, they’re done.” “No, no. They have to be finished up to code…” So it’s things like that.

What we did was we just basically offloaded it and we said “Hey, we want our down payment back, plus–” Because it had been cash-flowing up until we lost the commercial tenants. At that point, the guy had had 30 days to pay us for the work he hadn’t completed, and we were just getting the same “Oh yeah, I’ll get to it.” “No, that’s not quite how this works.” So we broke the contract, asked for the down  payment back, got told it was non-refundable, and we have a court date set for July, finally, to finish all that out…

But I guess the biggest thing I would say for that, if we’re talking as far as lessons for your listeners, because I have no problem being the guy to talk mistakes, is document everything… Even if it’s a phone call, follow-up with an email “Hey, this is what we agreed to you while negotiating on the phone call. Please reply to confirm.” Because there’s one or two emails that I should have sent, that I didn’t…So we have “He said/She said” addendums to the contract, that were made afterwards, that there’s just no record of… Which isn’t gonna screw me, but it’s gonna make things very difficult.

Joe Fairless: Yeah.

David Pere: So I would just say document everything like that, and… Hey, stuff’s not always gonna go your way. Don’t invest money you can’t afford to lose… Because this didn’t stop me. I’ve bought three more rental units since then, flipped a house, and partnered up on a GP for a big apartment complex… Because it was money I could afford to lose.

So don’t go in over your head, and just have a plan. Stuff’s gonna go wrong, don’ let it stop you from investing.

Joe Fairless: This is interesting, because it’s creative financing, and that is talked about in a positive light the majority of the time when you’re talking about real estate transactions. In this scenario, because it was creative financing, it did not work out, because there was another party involved due to the creative financing… Whereas if it had been traditional financing, then you wouldn’t have that person involved. But on the flipside, you would have had to get the work done yourself, and get it budgeted and get it financed, or some sort of financing or cash out of pocket and do the work.

So my question is if presented another deal, that’s a very close cousin to this, other than it’s just a different seller, how would you structure it to make the deal work? If it would be creative financing, then what are some things that you’d make sure you had in place?

David Pere: That’s a great question, I love that. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, because the reality is looking back, you can kick yourself about all the things that went wrong, but if I knew everything I knew going forward, I would probably still close on that property. I don’t know any other way that I would have gotten 4%. This is in 2018, where interest rates were not as low as they are now, but 4% interest for the duration of the loan, and interest-only for the first year – those are some pretty competitive terms for commercial financing in 2018.

Joe Fairless: How long was the loan?

David Pere: I had eight years to the balloon payment, but it was amortized for 25…

Joe Fairless: Got it.

David Pere: But those are some fairly competitive terms for commercial property, and the deal – at the time I bought it, it was only 80% occupied, and it had a lot of room to grow… And it was below market. There was a huge value-add.  It was a really cool property, it had a lot of history in the town, a lot of people knew the building… I don’t know that I would change the fact that I bought it, and honestly, given the same options going forward, I would probably still do it. For sure, the first thing I would do is all of the “Do this by this date, or owe this much money”, I would escrow all of that cash upfront. I would say “That’s great, but I want all of this into the escrow fund, so that if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, I still get my cash.” And you can do the work out of the escrow fund, that’s totally fine, but it’s getting escrowed, so we don’t have a “Oh yeah, I’ll get to it” payment. That would be the first thing I would do.

The second thing I would do – and this is a little bit on the smaller scale – is I would bring my personal management team in immediately. And this might just be a personal thing because of the experience, but the manager seemed incredible when we took over the place. I just didn’t realize that the manager was getting an under-the-table commission portion of the sale. So while the manager wasn’t terrible, they weren’t nearly as good as they made themselves out to be… So going forward, I’d probably just say “Hey look, I trust you. You look awesome,  you seem great, that’s wonderful, but my team is gonna take over this going forward, because I know them, I trust them, and no matter how good you seem, I’m taking a risk on what you might be like after the fact, while they’ve already been tried and tested.

So those would probably be the two biggest things I would change. And as far as the creative financing, I’ve bought other properties and they’ve all gone really well. I think it’s less of the financing model and more of just the people involved, that can sometimes be the make or break… Which is unfortunate, but I guess maybe I would just do a better job of background checks… But even then, the few references I had and the little bit of a track record I had in town, the gentlemen checked out, so… I don’t know if maybe I just got unlucky, but it is what it is.

Joe Fairless: On the flip side, what deal have you made the most money on?

David Pere: The most money I’ve made probably so far is my 10-unit, which I still own. The 146 will ultimately end up being the most money, but it’s just a little bit newer in the cycle… So the 10-unit – this is Missouri prices, so it’s fairly affordable, but it was valued at 240, I bought it at 212, and it was under market rent, and I got the bank to bring in 86% financing, seller to carry ten, and I came out somewhere in the 4% to 5% range for down payment. So I was able to get in super-creative, super-low… This was my third purchase, so I still was fairly strapped for capital. I was still in the “Please help me so I can save for money.” So I bought it and it cash-flowed about  $1,200/month on average from day one. So about 100% cash-on-cash return. And we’re up to about $1,600/month that it cash-flows.

At the 18-month mark I refinanced, paid off the seller financing… And I didn’t pull cash out really for myself, I pulled just enough out to cover my down payment… So at this point, 2,5 years later I’ve got nothing in it, I have no seller financing, I’m at about 69% loan-to-value, and I’ve got $92,000 in equity, and it cash-flows about $1,500 to $1,600/month.

Joe Fairless: Wow… That’s a grand slam.

David Pere: Yeah, it was awesome.

Joe Fairless: How did you find it?

David Pere: Ironically, I was mailing out to absentee homeowners about duplexes. And basically, I got this phone call, and he was like “I got your letter.” I’m like “Oh, awesome.” He’s like “I don’t wanna sell my duplex.” And my first thought was like “Why are you calling me? Thanks… You just didn’t have to–” Anyway.

Joe Fairless: [laughs]

David Pere: He’s like “But… I have this other property.”

Joe Fairless: He could have been lonely.

David Pere: Yeah, it may be. If it was during quarantine, I’d be much less skeptical.

Joe Fairless: [laughs]

David Pere: But he says “But I’ve got other properties.” And I’m like “Okay, great. What do you have?” And he shot me a couple different things, and they just didn’t really work. I was like “Okay, that’s cool… If you ever come across any other multifamily, or–” At this time I was still looking for duplex, single-family properties…

Joe Fairless: Yeah.

David Pere: He’s like “What about 10-units?” “Well, I’m interested. Talk to me.” And he gave me a price of 235k, and we went back and forth on it… And then we went under contract at 225k, which still would have been a great deal for me… But throughout inspections and stuff we were able to negotiate a little bit more of that down. So it all worked out. He was great for seller-financing, and the cool thing is – I don’t know that he understood paper, or that he really just didn’t need the cash, but when I refinanced, he let me go no prepayment penalty, no nothing. So ultimately, over that year-and-a-half I think I paid like .75% interest on my seller financing to him, because I had only paid down 1.5% of the seller financing by the time we refinanced, and he didn’t ask for interest on any of the remainder. So it was basically free money for me to buy a property, so it was pretty cool.

Joe Fairless: Yeah. You were mailing out to absentee owners about duplexes… Will you describe the process that you used?

David Pere: Yeah, I’m a pretty simple guy… So I just go into ListSource and I just really dive down into a specific zip code, or you can even draw out on a map a square block or whatever that you want… And you can just narrow down in there to absentee homeowners. As you know, people who don’t live in the home, but they own it… And you can pick out equity percentages, you can pick out age of the property… And basically we were just mailing out to people who had owned the property since right around the crash or longer; so the people who had owned it for at least ten years, who theoretically would have at least 40% equity hopefully, and be able to negotiate a little bit… Because I knew that I was gonna try to at least get some angle on the seller financing, whether that was 100% seller finance, or part of the down payment… Because I was in the bootstrapping phase of the business.

So I had narrowed it down to length of ownership, equity percentage being over 40%, absentee homeowner, and really at the time I just put 2-4 units because I didn’t know anything about the commercial stuff and it was kind of intimidating to me… So the 10-unit was a stretch for me going as a first property, but the numbers made sense, so I just let myself jump off the cliff. I guess that would be the short answer to that.

Joe Fairless: What did the note say? And was it a postcard, was it an envelope with a letter inside of it?

David Pere: At this time I was not doing mass, so I literally had a yellow piece of paper, and I remember I had  a 24-hour duty shift which we do in the military here and there, and I sat at this desk during that 24-hours and handwrote 110 letters of “Hi, my name is David Pere. I’m a real estate investor in your market, and I’m interested in your home at Such-and-Such address. I can close fast, please contact me for more information.” And I got a great return. I probably got 19% or 20% callbacks on all those handwritten letters. They were in blue inks… I would throw one or two pennies in the envelope, I would throw a picture of my family in the envelope, and I would hand-sign every letter… So I’m sure every single one of those got opened. But I’ve learned very quickly that that is miserable; so I never did that again.

At this point, if I’m driving around and I might see a property that looks like it has a ton of potential, or if I’m targeting a specific home or two, I’ll handwrite everything. Otherwise, what I did was I basically found a font that looked somewhat like my handwriting, and I’ll print that out on paper and then I’ll sign it in blue ink… And I still to this day will hand-address the envelopes, because I think that definitely speaks volumes for how much your envelope gets opened. And I still stuff in  an envelope and go; I’m not sending thousands and thousands of mailers out, but that’s kind of my go-to. My open rate has definitely dropped. It’s probably 5%, maybe on a good day 10%…

Joe Fairless: You mean your response rate?

David Pere: My response rate, yes. Sorry.

Joe Fairless: Okay.

David Pere: But I would rather send 500 and get 10% responded or 5% responded than handwrite 100 of them (that takes me two days) and get still less responses in the grand scheme of things, even if it’s a higher percentage.

Joe Fairless: The picture of your family – are you wearing a military outfit?

David Pere: It depends on where I’m mailing to. When I lived in Hawaii, for instance, that didn’t really hold any weight, because everybody around the base was military. So I would just go with a normal picture, like a fun in the sand, beach, Christmas photo that I have of us, all in pajamas, on the beach, and Christmas stuff…

Joe Fairless: Okay.

David Pere: If I’m mailing somewhere like the Midwest though, where they’re very military-friendly, then yes, it’s generally gonna be something with — either in a Marine Corps shirt, or hoodie… I generally don’t enjoy the uniform; there’s just something about that that seems kind of cringy to me as a service member… But I will at least have a picture where I’m in a big, very obvious Marine Corps hoodie, with the family. So it’s more focused on the family than the military service, but maybe some subtle hints in there.

Joe Fairless: What about the pennies? Is there a reference there in the note to why pennies are included?

David Pere: No, I totally should do that though. That’s a great idea. I should put a line in there that just says —

Joe Fairless: No, don’t do it — what you’ve got is right; don’t let me mess it up. I’m just asking questions.

David Pere: [laughs] So the pennies, for those of you who aren’t listening – it’s really just because if you’ve got an envelope in the mail and something was rattling around in it, would you open it?

Joe Fairless: Or I’d call the FBI… [laughs]

David Pere: Yeah, one or the other. But hey, the FBI will open it and tell you what it says, so either way you’re gonna read what I wrote.

Joe Fairless: [laughs] Okay, that’s cool. I’m glad that you talked about this in detail. It’s a way that can help others get their letters opened and noticed. Did you ever consider having an assistant who’s time is $10/hour or much less to write those?

David Pere: I actually have several virtual assistants for various things. I have yet to make my administrative one write my letters for me… But I will tell you  a funny story from a good friend of mine, who basically ran a letter sweatshop out of his office. If you ever get him on the show, I apologize [unintelligible [00:21:33].21] Basically, he had 2-3 marines come over, and he would provide alcohol and pizza, and they would spend eight hours handwriting letters in his house. It was only scalable for a month or two before he couldn’t convince anyone else to come do it anymore… But that’s probably my favorite.

This guy probably put out 2,000 letters one weekend, and he had six guys over, and basically was just like “I’m providing alcohol, I’m providing food… This is gonna be fun.” But no one ever returned, so he said it wasn’t worth the relationships he might be ruining.

Joe Fairless: [laughs] Well, he’s given them food and alcohol…

David Pere: I would do it, but I might be crazy. Taking a step back, based on your experience, what’s your best real estate investing advice ever?

Joe Fairless: Man, just get out there and do it. I tell people from the military — I have a safety net, so I’m allowed to take really big risks, in my opinion, because if all else fails, I’ve got housing and food and clothing etc. taken care of, and a fairly stable job. Basically, when I tell people my favorite advice, this is always like “Learn, network and take action”, but my best advice is get out there and take risks, but just make sure that whatever risk you take  won’t break you. It doesn’t matter how many times you fail as long as you’re able to recover from that risk. And as long as you’re  not gonna get broken by whatever risks you’re taking, the pay-off will always end up being bigger in the long run.

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

David Pere: I am ready for the Lightning Round.

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

Break: [00:22:58].23] to [00:23:34].17]

Joe Fairless: Alright, what’s the best ever book you’ve recently read?

David Pere: The best ever book I’ve recently read – I would have to go with either Like Switch, which is a book dedicated completely to how to build relationships through body language… It’s another FBI agent writing a book about body language, but it’s a super fun read, and really intuitive, and just little things you can do to make yourself a little bit more likable.

And I’m just gonna plug Big Debt Crisis by Ray Dalio, because I’m reading it right now, and it’s fairly applicable to where we’re at in the economic cycle. It’s a heavy read, but it’s good.

Joe Fairless: Yeah, I will buy Like Switch. I have not heard of that, and I am looking forward to reading that. What is the best ever deal that you’ve done? It doesn’t have to be monetarily, because we’ve already talked about that, the 10-unit… But just best ever deal. If it’s the 10-unit, then that’s fine, we can move on.

David Pere: That’s a good one, but I think the best ever deal I’ve done – this is gonna be super-cliché, because we already  mentioned the actual deal-deal… It’s gonna be the word “networking”. I have gained more out of whether virtual or in-person relationship building, so I would venture to say that the relationships I’ve built are probably the best deals I’ve ever made.

Joe Fairless: Best ever way you like to give back to the community?

David Pere: Free content and helping others. I’m out here just trying to help others avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. So if I can help someone avoid a  mistake or answer a question for them, that’s the easiest way for me to add value.

Joe Fairless: And how can the Best Ever listeners learn more about what you’re doing?

David Pere: My social media handle is @frommilitarytomillionaire, but if you google “military millionaire”, I’ll pop up all over the place… And the hope is just to help other service members, vets and normal people learn how to build wealth through real estate and entrepreneurship.

Joe Fairless: Well, Dave, thank you for being on the show, talking about your 40-unit and the creative financing and a couple things that you do differently if presented a similar opportunity like the escrow fund, as well as bringing your own management team to the property immediately, regardless of how well the pre-existing team checks out.

And talking about 10-unit too, the grand slam 10-unit – that’s phenomenal. Congratulations on that. And then also talking about direct mail, too. Lots of really interesting and actionable items from this conversation for everyone, myself included. Thanks for being on the show. I hope you have a best ever day, talk to you again soon.

David Pere: Thanks, brother. I appreciate it.

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