Bruce started his real estate journey by buying and repositioning single-family units and worked his way into the multi-family market. His company, Bakerson, now focuses on legacy ownership, making sure that his clients have a solid investment to pass on to their future generations.
Bruce’s dad owned a bakery and employed his family members. It’s no wonder that his own company now centers around family values too. Legacy ownership doesn’t have to be about status and social rank. Instead, one could build something of value to pass on to their children while also teaching them how to make a living.
Bruce Wuollet Real Estate Background:
- Owner of Bakerson, & full-time multifamily syndicator
- Over 18 years of real estate investing experience
- Bakerson has bought thousands of individual units, repositioned them, and sold them
- The personal portfolio consists of 250 units
- Track record of 16 multifamily – 850 units and transacted over 2,000 single-family homes
- Based in Scottsdale, AZ
- Say hi to him at: www.bakerson.com
- Best Ever book: Life is Magic by John Dorenbos
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Best Ever Tweet:
“As an individual, I’m not so concerned whether I’m remembered, but I do want to pass on the work ethic and what got us where we are” – Bruce Wuollet.
Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, how are 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, Bruce Wuollet. How are you doing, Bruce?
Bruce Wuollet: I’m doing fantastic and improving. Thanks for having me on.
Joe Fairless: Well, I love that phrase, ‘I’m doing fantastic and improving.’ Fulfillment is in the progress that we make, and I like that a lot. Bruce is the owner of Bakerson and a full-time multifamily syndicator. Bakerson has bought thousands of individual units, repositioned and sold them. He’s been investing for 18 years. He has a personal portfolio of 250 units, and he’s got a track record of 16 multifamily projects consisting of 850 units, and transacted over 2000 single-family homes. He’s got some experience, needless to say. Based in Scottsdale, the Phoenix metro area, Arizona.
So with that being said, Bruce, do you want to give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?
Bruce Wuollet: Absolutely. So currently we’re doing multifamily repositioning. We started out in single-family, worked into multifamily, buy fix and sell, and our current focus is legacy ownership. And I look at legacy as not an image, but something we can pass on to future generations. So our current focus is to acquire and reposition the class B multifamily workforce housing, with really a supreme focus on the residents, because that’s ultimately our customer. So we focused on taking care of the resident, who takes care of the property, which maintains the value and takes care of Bakerson and the investors. That’s our primary focus at the moment, and it seems to be getting a lot of [unintelligible [00:04:36].11] right now.
Joe Fairless: A couple of questions about that, and then we’ll get into some of the stuff you’ve been doing specifically. Legacy ownership – you said, it’s about passing it on to future generations. Why is that important to you?
Bruce Wuollet: I grew up in a family business in Minneapolis, a bakery business, and that’s where the name Bakerson comes from. I tell everybody that I’m an SOB, I’m a Son Of a Baker. I started working with my dad at 11 years old. I worked there for 15 years alongside of him and seeing what he did, and decided the idea is great, but I didn’t care for working in the food industry so much, I wanted to get into the business world; I tried a few different things.
But what I noticed there is my dad was very gifted at having a business with family involved. And then when we were at work, he was my boss, but when I was at home, he was my dad. And it was a cool dynamic. And when I first started my business, I didn’t want employees, but slowly but surely my kids grew up, and I’ve got a son and a son-in-law who work for me, a daughter who works part-time for me, and then a brother-in-law. So it’s been in the family. So I’m thinking, “Man, if I could help them create a better life, that would be fulfilling for me and then they can do with it and hopefully, create something for their children.”
And when I’ve been to these conferences, specifically, IMN conferences, I’ve ran into quite a few legacy owners, and some of them are second and third-generation multifamily owners. And I just think that’s really cool. They’ve taken it to a whole new level, they’ve taken what they’ve learned and applied it. And I like to tell people that none of us are complete geniuses that we seem we are; we do something great, we’re pretty proud of it, but realize all of our success is on the back of the thousands of generations of people that have gone before us, that have created what we, to this point, we add on to with our bit and hopefully do something special.
Joe Fairless: There’s a contrarian perspective, and I’d like to get your opinion and thoughts on it… And that is first generation makes the money, second-generation loses money, and third generation’s just on drugs doing something else. How do you protect against that?
Bruce Wuollet: Yeah, and I am familiar with that. The other thing that people know as far as generations go, you are loved for one generation, remembered in two and forgotten in three. So as an individual, I’m not so concerned about whether or not I’m remembered, but I do want to pass on the work ethic and to remember what got us to where we are. I watched my dad work his tail feathers off growing up, and a ton of respect for that. And he didn’t give us anything; everything we got, we had earned. So [unintelligible [00:06:58].26] in the people that work for me, and everything they get is earned, nothing is passed on. There’s not a free car sitting in the driveway ready for them to take it to high school. That kind of life does not exist in my home; they work for it and they prove it, and they earn that spot. And then with that work ethic, I’m hoping they can pass it on to the future. Because what happens with some is they try to live vicariously through their children and give them a life they didn’t have. I don’t want to give them a life, I want to give them an opportunity and then they can work that life to their benefit, as opposed to just give it to them… And I think that is the difference. And you’re right, most businesses do not make third generation; when I see those, that’s highly motivating when I run into those people.
Joe Fairless: So your thought process is, “I’m going to attempt to protect or mitigate that from happening by leading by example. And then because it worked for me,” I’m speaking as you, because when you saw your dad working his tail off, you have that same approach, and your thought process is by showing others that they’re going to pick up on it and by not giving them things, except for opportunity to accomplish things, and they’ll pass it along.
Bruce Wuollet: Yeah. And then if they don’t, by that time I’ll probably be long gone, so I won’t see it anyway. But that’s the attempt. And what they do with it, I guess they do with it. And I have to remember also, once I hand the business off to the next generation, it’s going to change. There’s people that they bring in their own skill set, their own ideas, their own vision, and it’s going to look different with a new person at the head of it, and I have to accept that. It’s going to change, and hopefully for the better. And if they ask me for an advice or an opinion, I’ll certainly share it, but I’m not going to meddle if that comes to that. Or maybe I’m here until the day [unintelligible [00:08:35].24] I don’t have a plan to exit at this point, so I may be in it indefinitely. We’ll see.
Joe Fairless: Let’s talk about something else you mentioned which is, you have a supreme focus on the residents. So we’ll talk more tactics now. How does that tactically come to life?
Bruce Wuollet: When I’ve walked the properties — the reason this is motivating for me is when we buy properties, we’ve purchased a few in Phoenix and Tucson from [unintelligible [00:08:57].27], and I see how they treat the residents, and a simple math tells me that a resident that pays you $700 a month, in five years is a $42,000 customer. And that’s a lot of money. That’s a good commitment of their income to you; you’ve got to treat them with dignity and respect.
I had an experience at Apple computers where I spent just a fraction of that on some computers, and all of a sudden I get these calls from these business development team, and they give you free courses and all of a sudden, you’re like a superstar because you bought three laptop computers at one time in your company name… And that’s awesome. That’s a great way to treat your customer.
So then how do I do that? When we go on-site, up here, I could walk around the property and people ask, “Are you the owner?” And I tell them, “Yeah,” and then I ask them, “Do you like it here?” They say yes or no. And if they say no, I find out why not, and share that with management. And I think it’s important that we create a sense of community, and all we’re asking for them is to live in peace and pay their rent. Very, very simple. You live in peace and pay your rent, we’ll treat you with dignity and respect. If you don’t do either one of those, there’s certain things we have to do to take care of those matters.
And we’ve had co-operatives which were completely crime-ridden with prostitution, we had one that [unintelligible [00:10:11].03] it was a drive-through pharmacy, because there was so much drug distribution going on in there. And police officers told us, “You’re crazy to buy this property,” and we did. And 12, 13, 14 months later, I didn’t meet with the police, but they met with the property managers and said “Man, whatever you guys are doing, we love it. Keep it up.” To me, that’s impactful. Now we’ve made a difference in the community as a whole by getting rid of the problems.
And the saying that I like to use is “if you get rid of the trash, the rats will leave”. So that’s how it works. If you get rid of the problem, people leave with it; get rid of the trash.
And the other thing is we hire third-party property managers, but we have made sure they’re always on top of the resident calls. If there’s a work order that comes in, it gets handled as efficiently and as quickly as possible. These are never ignored. It’s a pet peeve — if I walk onto a property and somebody says they have a leaking shower, which shouldn’t happen to me, but as a property we’re touring to buy… And they had wrapped a plastic garbage bag around the faucet because it was running into the wall, and it was causing a problem… Then they say, “Oh, it’s been like this for a month. They just won’t come and service it.” If that happened at one of my properties, we’d have a discussion with the property management and say that you need to take care of them in a timely and immediate fashion.
Joe Fairless: What’s timely?
Bruce Wuollet: Well, respond within 24 hours to any call. If it’s an emergency, obviously sooner. It depends on the magnitude and the level of the problem is. If it’s something that’s health and safety, it has to be fixed immediately. And people need to be accommodated, if there’s issues inside the unit that they really couldn’t sleep there, you’ve got to put them somewhere for the night, worst-case scenario. Everything has to be responded within the 24 hour period, at least to respond that we’re on it and then get the work scheduled and get it done as soon as you get through your [inaudible [00:11:49].
Joe Fairless: The property where the police officer said, “Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it right”, you turned it around – how many units was that property?
Bruce Wuollet: 75 units.
Joe Fairless: 75 units, okay. So you’re buying a 75 unit drive-through pharmacy, and you, at some point in time when you were about to buy it, the police officer says, “Don’t buy it, you’re crazy,” and then at some point in time, after you purchase it, they say, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” Tell us the step-by-step process as best you can during this conversation for how you were able to turn that around and get that type of compliment from someone who previously said you’re crazy for buying it.
Bruce Wuollet: Well, I can only speak to the feedback we got from our property managers; I didn’t personally walk the property and evict residents or deal with the residents, since we have a third-party—
Job Fairless: Strategically though, how do you go about implementing the plan?
Bruce Wuollet: The first thing is excessive 911 calls to a unit. If there’s excessive 911 calls to a particular unit or about a particular unit, those people will have to leave due to health and safety; you’ve got to make sure that you’re following the law, Landlord-Tenant Act of Arizona; but if there’s a lot of excessive 911 calls, they have to go.
Joe Fairless: So is that something you look at in the due diligence, you always go to the police station and ask for a police report, or how do you determine that?
Bruce Wuollet: No, that’s usually after the fact. Once the property is purchased, our property managers are part of the Arizona multifamily, and you can get reports directly from the police department on call to your units as long as you’re going through the program for safety, from multi-housing. So when they’ve gone through that, they get a direct link to a community action officer, and the community action officer gives them direct reports regarding that particular property. So we require the property to go through the training; it’s free training put on by the state of Arizona, and you go to the training and your property get certified as crime-free multi-housing.
Joe Fairness: What’s an excessive amount of calls?
Bruce Wuollet: I guess I don’t know that number. That’s what they’ve told us, that when there’s excessive amounts, they deal with it. So I don’t know if that’s one a week or one a day or one a month. I guess I don’t know that answer. That’s a good question.
Joe Fairness: Okay.
Bruce Wuollet: And then the other thing is the timely payment of rent. And we don’t take cash; they may have paid cash previously, but when we go through the audit of the books, we require them to make payments and make timely payments, so we can collect on back rent, past dues. And the property managers we use are very diligent on—everybody is treated the same; it is due on the 1st late and late on the 5th. And then the clock starts ticking and they get a 5 day notice, the 10 day, and so on.
So they follow that exact—every resident gets treated exactly the same, regardless of their level of how long they’ve been there, who they are, what’s the situation. Obviously that’s changed with COVID right now, the process has changed, but they’re always on top of the newest changes and mandate. But to follow that, to follow through is the biggest thing; and don’t let that get behind, because that can be a problem. If you start to ignore that or not take care of that, that person if they go 4 or 5 months without paying, they’re not going to catch up; they’re just going to walk out.
Joe Fairless: You said you don’t take cash. So do you have a certain system that you like to set up with each of the residents so that it’s more automated?
Bruce Wuollet: Yeah, there’s an online payment system that’s preferred, and then they can pay checks at the office or mail them in, but the preferred method is online payment systems.
Joe Fairless: Okay, so those are two components of turning a property around – looking at the 911 calls and seeing if there’s excessive amount for a unit. Also making sure people are getting caught up or you’re evicting them, given a non-pandemic world. What else, strategically, do you do to turn around a 75 unit?
Bruce Wuollet: The other thing is a lot of traffic, foot traffic through the property. This particular property [unintelligible [00:15:30].04] fairly well, so we didn’t have that issue. But other properties that we purchased haven’t had fencing, and so there’s a lot of foot traffic walking through the property. And lighting is a big issue. At night, there are certain corners and they walk through, they do their drugs sales, for example.
Another property in Tucson, 74 units, it had a lot of that kind of traffic. We put in some LEDs, a pile of LEDs and lit up the property. We did not fence it off, we left it open, but controlled the traffic. WE added more and more lights and trimmed back the trees in the bushes; it reduced the traffic considerably, that people began to walk around, because it was so lit up in the courtyard in the corners.
And then at times, we’ve had to patrol, foot patrol, walk around, because there’s people that are not to be on property that have been trespassed. Another thing is there’s people that don’t live there, you can trespass them and then they’re not allowed back unless they have a specific guest they’re visiting. And the property managers are fairly good at asking the right questions, like who are you, what are you doing here, who are you visiting, and which unit are they? And then once they get that, they know whether they belong or not.
And I’ve experienced that first-hand when I was walking around the properties, there was a small group of people sitting in this corner and I asked them what they were doing, they said, “Oh, we’re just hanging out.” So I went and told the manager, “Hey, there’s some people [unintelligible [00:16:41].22] “Oh, we’re from this area.” But she went over there and I walked over there with her, and she asked a bunch of questions, [unintelligible [00:16:46].09] And those people got up and left. They kind of asked the same questions I did, but in a more — very specific question. What are you doing here? Who are you with? Oh, what unit are they? Did you stay here or are you just visiting? Are they home right now? Can we go talk to them? And after a while they realized that they’ve been caught and they get up and leave. We’ve been very, very persistent on that foot traffic, especially in a higher crime neighborhood, where you can have more issues like that.
Joe Fairless: Thank you. That’s very helpful. From landscaping to lighting, and to the types of questions to ask as well. You said that your properties are managed by third-party managers, I’m going to give you a scenario that might be a nightmare for you, but I’d like to hear how you’d work through it. Your current third-party property managers are gone, they decided not to be in the business anymore. So now you have to hire a new third-party property manager. What questions do you ask them that have allowed you to achieve the success that you’ve achieved within multifamily?
Bruce Wuollet: That happened to us, and it’s pretty interesting you mentioned that, because we had a person that left with no notice. So we were really, really smart and we decided “We’re going to set up our own property management company. “We hired a broker, hired some people, and well, that didn’t go so well. So we closed the doors on our vertical integrated property management company.
Joe Fairless: Why didn’t it work?
Bruce Wuollet: Just the amount of resources to put to it. We didn’t have the right people in place. I hired them based on emotion, they said the right things, without knowing who they were. It started really good. For 90 days, it was phenomenal. Well, then a person got in over their head and she didn’t admit it, and we just thought, “Oh, we’ll just keep helping her.” But pretty soon, we were doing all the work, but yet paying her to do it. And we just said, “This isn’t going to work. Let’s just focus on what we do best. Why don’t we find properties and we position property managers that have 10s of years of experience with this, and pay them to do the work, instead of trying to find that person in-house?” So our expertise is finding good deals; that’s really, really what we’re good at.
But in that scenario, what did we do? Because that actually happened. So then we ended up hiring another company we’re using right now… And the prior relationship with one of the individuals helped, but the question that you would ask is “What are the properties in the area are you managing? How many units in this market are you managing? What class are they?” Is it all Class A and this is their only class B property? Then it’s probably not a match, as an example.
The other thing is I’ve asked to visit with other owners that have used them and state their experience, and then I’ve asked to tour the property… And one of the strongest recommendations we got is through the local brokers. We spend most of our time in Tucson, and there’s really three major, major brokers there. If you just interviewed them and just say, “Hey, who are the best property managers in town and why?” and then when you get a name, you’d ask them, do you know these people? What do you know about them? What do you like? What do you not like? And nobody, no matter how good they are, nobody checks every box. There’s always some area of growth that they could have. And you just decide, is that an area you’re willing to leave that gap, or is that one that needs to be bridged before you hire them? As you know, it’s impossible to get somebody to check every single box; they check most of them and you decide, “Okay, that’s the one with a gap, but that’s one we’re willing to stomach or willing to cover ourselves or work with them on.” But those are probably the biggest three things; tour the properties, talk to the owners and visit with local brokers.
Joe Fairless: It’s really interesting that you identified finding the area of growth and being okay with it or not okay with it, that the individual of the property management company has… Because that makes me think, well, if I’m doing my research and I have not identified where are they a little short on or where could they improve, then I need to keep digging. Otherwise, I’m going in with blinders on and I’m going to be surprised by something that will hurt the business.
Bruce Wuollet: Oh, that happened. We didn’t; we went in with one of the property managers that we were recommended. We didn’t do any due diligence on them, and we hired them. And then after some months, they’re doing cash basis accounting, our CPA said “You’ve got to do accrual,” so we did accrual accounting and uncovered, between two properties, $90,000 of unpaid bills.
Joe Fairless: Oh.
Bruce Wuollet: And that gave us a stomachache. And the total units on that was just over 200 units between those two buildings. That gave us a stomachache, we lost some sleep. “Okay, what happened? Where did it go?” Then we accounted for it and we had to contact the people and put a plan together to pay them back, right?
Joe Fairless: Wow.
Bruce Wuollet: Because, as you know, when you’re repositioning your properties, the liquidity is very low, while you—actually, maybe you wouldn’t know, but in the properties we buy, sometimes we run them down to 20% occupied or 80% vacant while we’re repositioning them. And when you have a bill like that come over, it’s a headache. So I talked to our attorney and went through that and he said, “Bruce, did they do the work?” “Yes, they actually did the work.” “Did you receive benefits?” “Yes, we received benefits.” “Then you’ve got to pay the bill. You can go after them if you want.” So we thought about it and I said, “You know, I [unintelligible [00:21:44].14] Let’s just pay it, do the best we can to move on, replace them and mark it up as a learning experience.” That’s what we did.
Joe Fairless: Wow.
Bruce Wuollet: Yeah, that was quite the scare. So yeah, we have had those type of horror stories and I can do a whole show just on those if you wanted someday.
Joe Fairless: That’s an interesting point, cash versus accrual-based accounting, how important that is.
Bruce Wuollet: Yes. If it’s logged as soon as it comes in, it won’t get missed. But if it’s just put in a file and once you get the money you start pulling the bills out of the file cabinet, well, if it’s 90 days, the vendors are upset. And that’s when we finally got wind of it, because they started reaching out to us directly, “Whoa, what’s going on?”
But the good news is now we have a process where that won’t happen again, that we have an agreement with our current property management company that when a job order comes in, it gets sent up to the regional manager. And any work that’s done without approval from the regional manager is not a liability of the property management company. And they agreed to that. And everything they do is very open, we get weekly reports instead of monthly. So with that, it’s how do we mitigate that in the future and we’ve set up new systems to keep that from happening.
Joe Fairless: Taking a step back, looking more big picture, what’s your best real estate investing advice ever?
Bruce Wuollet: Make sure you properly do due diligence on those that you work with. I think that’s the biggest thing. People say what they’re going to do and then do what they said they’re going to do. That’s really the best thing I can offer.
Joe Fairless: And we talked about different ways to do that as it relates to property managers. We’re going to do a lightning round. Are you ready for the best ever lightning round?
Bruce Wuollet: Yes, sir.
Joe Fairless: Alright. First, a quick word from our Best Ever partners.
Joe Fairless: Okay, what’s the best ever book you’ve recently read?
Bruce Wuollet: Life Is Magic by Jon Dorenbos.
Joe Fairless: The best ever deal you’ve done.
Bruce Wuollet: The 34 units in Tucson was an amazing experience.
Joe Fairless: Why?
Bruce Wuollet: We bought it with the intent to do a 24-month return, we turned it in 11 months and we made profit, the investors were happy and the owner that bought it thanked us for selling him the property.
Joe Fairless: The best ever way you like to give back to the community.
Bruce Wuollet: I’m very involved at our local church. We volunteer, and so I give back to our local church here in Arizona.
Joe Fairless: And how can the Best Ever listeners learn more about what you’re doing?
Bruce Wuollet: Three ways. https://bakerson.com/, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or they could call or text me at 520-808-9111.
Joe Fairless: Bruce, thanks for being on the show. Thanks for talking about your experiences, repositioning properties and getting tactical to give us some tips for how to do so, and also how to qualify third-party property managers and some lessons learned along the way. I hope you have a best ever day and we’ll talk to you again soon.
Bruce Wuollet: Alright, thanks. Hopefully, they gathered at least one golden nugget out of that. I appreciate your time.
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