January 9, 2021

JF2321: Altus Investment Group With Kevin Dugan

Kevin started his journey down the real estate road by reading “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”. He left his full-time W2 in tech sales in September 2019 and is now a full-time real estate investor with 7 years of investing experience. He now has a portfolio that consists of 25 rentals and is a general partner in a 208 unit deal. He is currently the managing partner of Altus Investment Group, a fast-growing private equity firm with 35AUM that specializes in acquiring,  repositioning, operating, and selling residential and commercial properties that are underperforming.

Kevin Dugan Real Estate Background:

  • Left his full-time W2 tech sales job in September 2019 and is now a full-time real estate investor
  • 7+ years of real estate investing experience
  • Portfolio consist of 25 single-family rentals, 208 unit General Partnership side, and Limited partnership
  • Based in Los Angeles, CA
  • Say hi to him at: www.altusig.com 

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Best Ever Tweet:

“People should buy based on how much cashflow a property will produce” – Kevin Dugan


Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, how you doing? Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Joe Fairless. 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, Kevin Dugan. How are you doing, Kevin?

Kevin Dugan: I’m doing great, man. It’s an absolute pleasure to be on here with you today.

Joe Fairless: Well, it’s a pleasure to be speaking with you too, and I appreciate that. A little bit about Kevin, he left his full-time W2 tech sales job in September of 2019, and now he’s doing real estate full-time. He’s got seven-plus years of experience in real estate. He’s got a personal portfolio of 25 single-family rentals, and he’s a general partner and a limited partner on a 208-unit. He’s based in Los Angeles. With that being said, Kevin, you want to get the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?

Kevin Dugan: So you kind of hit all those bullet points on the head. I’ve been in real estate for a little bit of time now. But the traditional story, read Rich Dad Poor Dad back in the day, got inspired to run a business. Real estate was kind of the foundation, and then I bootstrapped on weekends and nighttime while working that high paying tech sales job. And then now I run a vertically integrated real estate firm based out of Chicago, but 100% remote from Los Angeles. So we have property management, general construction, investments, and it’s all based on cash-flowing rental properties.

Joe Fairless: Please talk more about your vertically integrated company.

Kevin Dugan: Number one, it’s a lot of work to create something from scratch out of state. So for a lot of people out there, property management’s definitely a challenging aspect of the business, but essential. It doesn’t get as much notoriety as some of the other elements, like raising capital or finding the deal. But that’s a strong component of what we do. We self-manage all the properties, and the properties for our clients. Also to add additional value, the general contracting component is really critical because that’s how you buy a discount, and then rehab, and create value into the property. So that’s something that also is another component. And then the last is more the fun part of finding a deal, presenting to investors, and actually nurturing client relationships to help them meet their financial goals. So we have all those components in-house.

Joe Fairless: You live in Los Angeles, and the company is in Chicago, correct?

Kevin Dugan: Yeah, that’s correct.

Joe Fairless: And the company manages your own single-family rentals, plus I think I just heard you also manage your clients’ properties, correct?

Kevin Dugan: Yup. That’s correct.

Joe Fairless: And how many properties is your company managing?

Kevin Dugan: It’s about 50 right now.

Joe Fairless: All in Chicago?

Kevin Dugan: All in Chicago.

Joe Fairless: What’s your connection to Chicago?

Kevin Dugan: I don’t have a real connection initially… But my friend who started me in real estate eight years ago now, he was from Gary, Indiana. He approached me and asked me if I want to flip houses out there in Chicago. I said, “The numbers make sense. Let’s go for it.” So we started that in 2012. Did that for about two years; it’s very difficult to run a flipping business from across the country, right off the bat. In 2015 I switched to rental properties. So that’s kind of the shift towards what I’m doing now.

Joe Fairless: You said you were working weekends and nighttime while having a sales job. Sales hours, at least from my experience, tend to be all over the place, depending on when your clients are able to meet with you. Do you have a significant other?

Kevin Dugan: I do, I have a girlfriend.

Joe Fairless: Did you have a girlfriend at the time?

Kevin Dugan: I did. Balancing that can be challenging. [unintelligible [06:28] kind of wheel of life distribution.

Joe Fairless: It wasn’t quite round, was it?

Kevin Dugan: No, no. It was like you distribute more towards the work end. But I’d also seen a lot of lessons where by it’s not all about the work. The work will always be there, the money will come if you put in the effort and energy into the right space. Relationships are really important. So I was always cognizant of it, but maybe I couldn’t give it my full attention. So it’s a juggling act, for sure. Challenging.

Joe Fairless: Any tips for someone on a wheel that’s a little lopsided right now, for how to just get through that time knowing that eventually, that wheel will smooth out a little bit?

Kevin Dugan: Yeah, for sure. So one big thing in life, in general, is communication. So if you are able to communicate effectively your current state – and maybe this state is a temporary transition – to your significant other, your friends, your family, they’re understanding that everybody has different types of hustles that are going on. So communication is really big. But also just effective scheduling, trying to block out specific times where you can hammer out specific projects or jobs. And I still struggle with this right now. But having specific blocks where you can accomplish goals allows you to frame your 24 hours every day a little bit more structured.

Joe Fairless: Let’s talk about the deals. 25 single-family rentals over a period of six or so years?

Kevin Dugan: Yeah, so the rentals started in March 2013. So about five and a half years.

Joe Fairless: Five years. Okay.

Kevin Dugan: Yeah.

Joe Fairless: You have them in Chicago. Tell us about how you qualified Chicago. I heard how you got introduced to the Midwest, but how’d you qualify of Chicago? Why did you double, and triple, and quadruple down on the Chicago market?

Kevin Dugan: So Chicago is a massive metro. My general advice, generally speaking, is to follow the numbers and follow the people. And that’s a moving target right now, especially with everybody’s relationship to COVID, and the work at home relationships. So people should have more focus on demographics, like where’s the best population growth, job growth, where the wage is going up, where it’s going down, the traditional stuff. Chicago doesn’t necessarily fit that mold.

Joe Fairless: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. People are leaving Chicago.

Kevin Dugan: They are, but I invest in the suburbs of Chicago. And I specifically invest in Section 8 housing. So it’s been one of those elements where Chicago is the third-largest metro in the US, there’s the massive railway that goes through a lot of Illinois, there’s a lot of major corporate headquarters there… So technically, yes, there’s an exodus, but it was slower; it may be increasing now. But a lot of what we do is kind of the outside of the traditional Chicago mentality; it’s like suburbs of Chicago.

We’ve found that we buy rental properties out there that cash flow very, very well and perform above the 1% rule and it’s just a really solid target market that we’re in, within the larger Metro of Chicago.

Joe Fairless: Let’s talk about the first deal, and then I want to ask you about the last deal that you’ve purchased, single-family home-wise. So the first deal, what were the numbers?

Kevin Dugan: So the first deal, way back in the day with my first business partner, we were buying at 50k, putting about 50k all-in, and selling at 170. So fix and flips.

Joe Fairless: Okay, so the 25 single-family rentals – that wasn’t your first hold, though. That was a flip, right?

Kevin Dugan: Yeah.

Joe Fairless: Sorry. I didn’t communicate correctly. Tell us about the first of the 25 that you currently have in your portfolio. That purchase.

Kevin Dugan: Got it. So I still have it today, it’s appreciating in value, it cash-flows really well, so I’m just holding on to it. That particular property purchased at $75,000, and it was a traditional loan. So I didn’t feel adventurous enough to start rehabs and go through the whole construction process again, because it is technical, and not being on-site requires a lot of trust. But that property I bought [unintelligible [00:10:25].05] turnkey, ended up being more of like lipstick on a pig type situation, and hence the motivation for bringing in my own construction crew. So $75,000, and it rented for $1,650 at that time.

Joe Fairless: That’s pretty good.

Kevin Dugan: That’s really good.

Joe Fairless: And that’s Section 8, you said?

Kevin Dugan: Section 8.

Joe Fairless: Okay, what are the challenges associated with Section 8, if any at all?

Kevin Dugan: It’s definitely a more technical manage, for sure. And the world is about people, everything in this world and life is about people. So you have to understand that there’s a gradient to everybody on that program; there are those who are taking advantage of it, which you want to avoid. There are those who are kind of stuck and lost, but there are a lot of people who need that program – seniors with disabilities, single-family mothers with some sort of illness, or many children. There’s a lot of reasons why people would need assistance from the government where you need that help to be able to get back on your feet, to gain more momentum, to live the life that you want to live. And so it’s very detailed in like really knowing who the person is, reading between the lines of what their credit shows, and determining whether they’re going to be a good household and family that will take care of the place for a long time.

Joe Fairless: When you say reading in between lines, that’s got to be an art plus a science. So take a page of Tony Robbins’ book, right? It’s got to be an art and science. So can you educate us on the art and science of that?

Kevin Dugan: So there are simple items such as presentation. How does the person carry themselves? When they drive up to the house, is their car in shambles? Are they looking like they’re in shambles? Are their kids wild? Or are they well put together, are they respectful? Do they seem like a person that would treat the home like a great place? And then, of course, you ask a lot of questions about their background and why they’re moving, you get referrals to confirm what’s going on. You want to make sure that their story fits, and then you want to make sure that any red flags are covered. So if there are any types of potential evictions – that’s a huge one; you don’t want to go through that process, especially in that non-friendly eviction state like Chicago. That’s a place — especially when you have the eviction moratoriums that’ll last six months or a year. So it’s really having a conversation with the individual and just seeing like, “Hey, what’s their circumstance? How eager are they to move? Why are they moving?” And then making sure that there aren’t any holes in their story.

Joe Fairless: You bought that in 2015? How many times have you turned it over for a new tenant?

Kevin Dugan: That particular property, I want to say we’ve turned it over either once or twice.

Joe Fairless: Once or twice, okay. So that’s great, I would think, because that’s got to be the main expense. And I did some quick math; the 1,650 divided by 75,000. That’s 2.2% on the cash flow rule. So you crushed it on that.

What, if any, the challenge has come up for this property in particular, since you’ve owned it the longest as a buy and hold?

Kevin Dugan: So as I’ve mentioned before, lipstick on a pig. That particular property on surface-level looks fantastic; new floors, newer cabinets, backsplash, painted rooms, semi dated bathroom, but fairly clean. But come to find out there are a lot of issues hiding behind the walls. So that particular property was built in ’56, and with a lot of older homes, people need to look out for galvanized pipes; those will probably break around the 50 to 60-year point. So you want to make sure you get all the galvanized out whenever you can. But this one had a bigger issue – the sewer line collapsed. So the water is backing up through the entire house, we had to like excavate, we had to tear up all the new tile in the kitchen. This is a couple of years into it… And basically, we replaced that mainline out to the street level. That was a big adventure, especially…

Joe Fairless: Especially what?

Kevin Dugan: During the wintertime.

Joe Fairless: Oh, man…

Kevin Dugan: Yup, yup, yup, yup, Chicago.

Joe Fairless: The Chicago winter.

Kevin Dugan: Chicago winter. So lesson learned… And then on top of it that house had termites. So we started seeing little holes up in the ceiling; come to find out there’s like a massive termite infection on that property. So that’s one of those places where definitely have a third-party inspector come in. I still remember when I bought the house, [unintelligible [00:14:41].03] the doors, the doors didn’t close. I’m very big picture at times, and those details missed me when I was looking through this “beautiful” house.

Joe Fairless: So you didn’t have a third party inspector?

Kevin Dugan: On that one? No.

Joe Fairless: No. Okay.

Kevin Dugan: That’s for anybody first buying stuff – definitely get it.

Joe Fairless: How much did the sewer line collapsing and resolving cost?

Kevin Dugan: Fortunately, at that time, we had an in-house crew, so it’s probably about 5,000. But it was more the massive headache of having a tenant in there; we had to get them into a hotel. It was like a three-day process. And that was just the changing out of the sewer line. That wasn’t the initial exploration of why is there mold constantly behind the sink, what’s going on behind the sink, and this other wall over here. So it took us some time to decipher what was going on there and actually find it.

Joe Fairless: Tell us about how you already had an in-house crew on your first deal. Now, I know that you did fix and flips, so that’s probably where it originated from. But will you just talk about that evolution?

Kevin Dugan: So let me kind of take a step back. The first two deals were purchased as turnkey. The third one I purchased, I’m like, “Okay, I prefer to start building equity into these deals if I buy them at a discounted price.” So we started sourcing out all kinds of different contractors. I’ve gone through probably at least 10 at this point. Don’t hire anybody from Home Depot — or not Home Depot, Craigslist; stay away from Craigslist… For the most part; I can’t say that completely, but Craigslist has been a bad experience.

So this crew that I was able to [unintelligible [16:06] they were actually inherited from a GC that was a referral to us. That GC ended up moving to Arizona, left his crews, and then I kind of inherited them. So I’ve been working with them ever since. So they were able to help us out on this one. But it’s a process. Definitely, if there’s any type of red flags with your contractor, give them one warning, never overpay them past the work that they’ve done, and make sure that you have that leverage of the money; it will keep them motivated.

Joe Fairless: What’s your worst Craigslist experience?

Kevin Dugan: There have been various; some were more to the quality work, and especially doing things [unintelligible [00:16:44].16] is pretty challenging. But we had one guy that he spoke a big game. And that’s one thing about Chicago, people talk fast, but maybe don’t perform the way that they say they can talk about. And a lot of people, like contractors in general, say that they can do everything. And that’s an initial red flag, like, “Okay, you can’t do everything.” That’s very difficult to do.

But we had one guy who basically was falsifying the work that he did, sending us bad pictures or pictures that made it look like he was doing it, but it wasn’t actually installed. He asked for prepayments beforehand… This was one of my business partners [unintelligible [00:17:15].21] and he ended up stealing like close to $5,000 in labor materials. So… Tough.

Joe Fairless: Let’s talk about the last single-family home that you purchased. What are the numbers on that?

Kevin Dugan: The one I just closed on is an interesting project. We have three we’re closing on right now, but it’s already 90% completed. It’s just the original owner didn’t finish the electrical decode. So we’re buying it at 150k or 165k. We’re planning to put about 50k into it and sell it 290k. So it should be a really quick turnaround, like literally, like three weeks in, out, listed back on the market. And so…

Joe Fairless: Okay, so that’s a flip.

Kevin Dugan: Yup. Oh, a rental property?

Joe Fairless: Yeah, a rental property.

Kevin Dugan: Got it. Got it. So on the rental, one that we have right now my client actually picked up an amazing deal. I was under contract for it at $72,000. It fell through because it was right at the beginning of COVID. Literally, all the banks froze up because they couldn’t trade the paper anymore. And because of that, another [unintelligible [00:18:19].08] to offer, that deal fell through. So my client came in, she offered $50,000 cash and bought it at $50,000. We put 40k into it, so all-in 100k, and we’re going to get about $1,950 in rent on that.

Joe Fairless: How about the last one that you bought? The 25th property in your portfolio.

Kevin Dugan: Let me think about that one.

Joe Fairless: You’ve got a lot of transactions. I get it.

Kevin Dugan: Yeah. I lose track of them at some point.

Joe Fairless: You’re a big-picture guy.

Kevin Dugan: I really am, yeah… Which is the difficult part of being a vertically integrated company across the country. So the last one we bought was just a small townhouse. It was like $52,000 on that, super-light rehab. We changed our investment philosophy; as opposed to doing deeper rehabs right now in the current state of the economy to just kind of like doing a two-tier, almost what you see in multi-family. So we bought it 52k. It’s currently rented at $1,466.

Joe Fairless: Okay. And what do you mean by two-tier?

Kevin Dugan: So you can go all out with the rehab… I really love to definitely solidify the infrastructure. So like all the electrical plumbing, I want to make sure that’s just done the first time; HVAC, roof, like all the major systems, you want to solidify that. But then there’s like how far you can go with the kitchens, how far you can go with the flooring… So as opposed to doing flooring throughout the entire place, we’re like okay, let’s just do flooring in the main areas, carpet in the bedrooms… Instead of doing like super-sick cabinets and backsplash in the kitchen, let’s hold off on that type of rehab for phase two on a five-year period if we want to sell it as a portfolio or something like that.

So we started with the sticky backsplash from Amazon, which gets the message across for the kitchens; kind of resurfacing kitchen cabinets… So just ways to cut costs where maybe it doesn’t add as much benefit. But we’ve already done the major rehab where the house is still above; it creates a good energy for the resident to want to live there for a long time.

Joe Fairless: Will you give some other specific examples of how you’re saving money on the rehabs, but still making them look good from an aesthetic standpoint?

Kevin Dugan: Yeah, for sure. Vinyl’s really big; I highly recommend it to anybody who has a rental. Vinyl nowadays is a slam dunk, it’s pretty much bulletproof. So you can go that route. Let’s see… Same thing – as you’re doing more and more rehabs, the easiest thing to do to save on time, which is equivalent to money, is to try and do repeated material costs; we paint every house the same color, floors are all the same, cabinets are all the same. So that just helps eliminate the decision-making process.

When it comes to vanities, you can actually pop off the top of the vanity if the actual structure is good. You can keep that. With mirrors, you can put trim around the mirrors, that we’re finding… So there’s a lot of ways you can kind of recycle the old infrastructure and allow for the house to have a nice resurfacing, but not spend brand new costs on it.

Joe Fairless: That’s really helpful. And looking at that deal compared to the first buy and hold… Let’s put aside the economy and a pandemic, just for a moment let’s put that aside. What, if anything, did you change in your process, from the very first buy and hold to the last buy and hold? I know one of the things is now you have a third-party inspector. But what else, if anything, has been changed?

Kevin Dugan: Just my level of education across the board has changed. So my understanding with general construction — like, I never wanted to be a general contractor, but I understand the fundamentals pretty well. YouTube is a fantastic resource. For anybody out there, you can pretty much find anything. But what’s changed is having people in place that can kind of take on those specific responsibilities, so that I can take a step back and try and work on more of the bigger picture stuff.

We’re still in a growing phase right now, but I definitely have key team members that I can rely on to help push projects forward and make sure that they’re getting done with the quality that we needed to get done.

Joe Fairless: Speaking of big picture, what’s next for you?

Kevin Dugan: Right now continuing to build out the residential turnkey business that we have; since the product is good, there’s a lot of demand for what we have. We have a firm belief that this product will perform well and be desirable through the current type of recession we’re in… But I’m also trying to think about where the world is changing long-term, especially as people’s relationships with real estate is changing drastically, office spaces are changing. Retail has been dying; it’s going to come for reform. Hotels are in a lot of distress. So there’s a lot of commercial asset classes that I’d like to diversify into. But I need to not get — excited is a bad word, but be cautiously optimistic knowing that the world constantly goes through change.

Joe Fairless: Taking a step back, based on your experience, what’s your best real estate investing advice ever?

Kevin Dugan: I’m really big on cashflow. I truly believe that people should buy based on how much income that produces as the foundation. And you can make more money as a flip or development, but those really depend on market timing. You don’t want to miss timing, because you can lose your shirt, and more, if you missed out on a big asset class. But if you buy with cash flow in mind, you’ll be sitting pretty.

Joe Fairless: About how much cash flow does 25 properties earn on an annual basis? Buy and hold at this level?

Kevin Dugan: Net or gross?

Joe Fairless: Net.

Kevin Dugan: Net. There’s leverage on these, so it’s roughly in the $12,000 to $15,000 range. It’s complicated because I’ve been under multiple entities/structures… So I made things more complicated, like way too big picture. It should have been simple.

Joe Fairless: So about 12k a month or so?

Kevin Dugan: Yeah.

Joe Fairless: $180,000 a year is a great nest egg, that’s for sure. And some people might think well, “Okay, that’s great. But what’s your exit? Because are they appreciating? And if not, then do you just never plan to exit?” And clearly, 180k, then maybe there’s no reason to exit. But is there an exit plan?

Kevin Dugan: Yeah, there’s definitely an exit. The beauty about real estate — when you have enough cash and you free up your time, that’s where you get a lot of power. And I’ve gained my most momentum since doing real estate full-time. So that’s number one – free up your time, and you free up a lot. But yield is something that will continue to be searched for, especially in this unknown economic climate. So it’s very realistic to group a set of these together like a portfolio sale. I see a lot of it going on right now where people are just grouping together single-family homes. So I never plan to exit out of this cycle; this would be a great cycle to exit on. I like the cash flow for stability, but there are countries looking for high-interest rates, high-yielding, performing properties. They can also be resold to other people, and the tax benefits are also beneficial as well. So you get a lot of appreciation by just holding. And then there’s a lot of benefits to holding real estate [unintelligible [00:25:05].11] selling it immediately.

Joe Fairless: I love the tax benefits almost as much as I love dogs. It sounds like you’ve got a cute dog in your room too, so that’s… [laughs]

Kevin Dugan: She has a sensitive stomach, so I’m not sure what’s going on.

Joe Fairless: Oh, man… I raise you a sensitive stomach, and see you two sensitive stomachs; my dog just has a really sensitive stomach, so he’s got twice as sensitive as yours. I guarantee you. He’s on a hunger strike right now. It’s the only dog that I know of that does hunger strikes. We’re going to do a lightning round… Are you ready for the best ever lightning round?

Kevin Dugan: Yup.

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

Break: [00:25:40][00:26:20]

Joe Fairless: Alright, best ever deal you’ve done.

Kevin Dugan: A more recent one; pushed on it for a long, long time. I put it over the asking price. Basically fix and flip, offer 125k, put $100,000 into it, and got it under contract first day for 350k. So three and a half months, really solid product.

Joe Fairless: Best Ever way you like to give back to the community.

Kevin Dugan: Big on education. I really believe that it’s something that we all need and it’s something that I can actually contribute. And I like to help people just open their eyes to the power of real estate.

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

Kevin Dugan: I’m definitely more active on LinkedIn and Instagram. You can find me @KevinKDugan, or shoot me a text at 310-988-5081.

Joe Fairless: Kevin, thanks for being on the show, talking about how you’ve built your portfolio, getting into the specifics of your vertically integrated company, how that came about, the amount of money that is made on deals, and some lessons learned between the first buy and hold and the 25th buying hold. Appreciate you being on the show. I hope you have a Best Ever day, and talk to you again soon.

Kevin Dugan: Thanks a lot Joe. Have a good one.

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