July 16, 2021

JF2509: Going the Extra Mile to Close the Deal with Nick Brown


Former gym owner Nick Brown bought his first investment property by finding and contacting the owner on Facebook. From then on out, he was dedicated to doing the nitty-gritty side of investing to ultimately acquire 575 units today. Nick has a get-it-done mentality and talks about what he had to do to get there that others won’t do. 

Nick Brown Real Estate Background:

  • Lawyer by trade but currently a full-time real estate investor
  • 7 years of real estate experience
  • Portfolio consists of 575 multifamily units and approx. 20,000 sq. ft. of office space
  • Based in Camden, ME
  • Say hi to him at: www.averyinvestments.me 
  • Best Ever Book: Flip the Script


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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. 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 fluffy stuff. With us up today, Nick Brown. How are you doing, Nick?

Nick Brown: Hey, doing well. Thank you so much for having me, honored to be on the show.

Joe Fairless: Well, it’s my pleasure. And looking forward to our conversation. I was just fact-checking Nick’s bio before we got going, and I said portfolio consists of 171 multifamily units, he said, “Actually, we’re up to 575.” I said ,” Okay, well, that’s going to be helpful for our conversation.” Looking forward to hearing how you went from in the hundreds to 575.

But a little bit more about Nick, and then he’ll get into more of his background. So he’s a lawyer by trade, but currently a full-time real estate investor; he’s got seven years of real estate experience, his portfolio consists of now 575 multifamily units and approximately 20,000 square feet of office space. He’s based in Camden, Maine, a state that my wife very much wants to get to, but we haven’t been to yet. And with that being said, Nick, do you want to give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?

Nick Brown: Yes, absolutely. So I’m from Mississippi originally, I went high school there, I went to college there, and shortly after I joined the US Coast Guard. I was thinking I was going to be in Miami, being on the water by the day, Miami nightlife by the night, and they promptly sent me to Portland, Maine, where I’ve never seen that much snow in my life.

But anyway, I finished my tour on the Coast Guard, had met my partner while I was there, and she later became my wife, and then ended up going to law school… And through that period, shortly after I got out of the Coast Guard, we started a gym business. And we were living in this 10 by 10 room, we didn’t have a shower, didn’t have a kitchen, so we were basically living off of this two-stove burner and a little dorm room fridge, and then every night after we got off work we’d go down to the town [unintelligible [00:02:19].16] and pay for quarters for seven minutes of hot water. And we did that pretty much every day for a year while we built the business.

And through that, I hated paying rent. And I knew I wanted to vertically integrate, I knew I wanted to buy a piece of real estate, move my business into a building that I owned. So I started talking to one of my clients at the gym who was into real estate, and had been super successful, and I just started popping questions off of him, sort of trying to figure out how to move forward with it.

I’d found this building where — it was abandoned, completely abandoned. There were squatters living in there, I broke into it a couple times to check it out, and ended up talking to the bank… And since I talked to my mentor, I was like, “Hey, how do I get this building?” And he said, “Well, go to the Registry of Deeds and figure out who owns it, and figure out who has the mortgage.”

So I did that, I found the owner, found that KeyBank was the mortgagee on the building, and ended up finding the guy; his name was Peter Simpson. I contacted KeyBank, I said, “Hey, I noticed this property is in foreclosure. Can you tell me a little bit about what’s going on with it?” He said, “Well, we’re trying to take it to foreclosure, but the judge won’t allow us to move forward because we haven’t been able to properly serve it; we haven’t been able to find him.”

So I was like, “Okay.” So I just got on Facebook, found the guy, typed his name in, and sure enough, he popped right up. He had moved to the British Virgin Islands, he was a boat mechanic down there… And I just shot him a Facebook message and said, “Hey, I’m looking to buy your building in Rockport, Maine. Would you be interested in working on a deal if I can figure out the bank side? ” And he said, “Yes, absolutely. Whatever you want to do is fine as long as you get that off my back. “ I said, “Alright.”

So I went back to the bank, I talked to my mentor a little bit, and I just made them a super lowball offer, the one that made my stomach hurt so much that it actually took me two phone calls to make the offer. But he ended up taking it, and that was our first deal in 2013. We basically bought the note, exchanged the deed in lieu of foreclosure for forgiveness of debt, and we had the title to the property. So we bought that with every single dime we had saved, scraping by, living in a 10 by 10 room, while we were running the gym. And convinced the local lender to give us a loan for $250,000 to build a new facility and renovate the duplexes on the property. So the first deal in 2013, seven years ago, or eight years ago now, was a headfirst dive into the deep end of real estate.

Joe Fairless: Bravo on the resourcefulness. Let’s talk some specifics. The lowball offer, what was it?

Nick Brown: $60,000.

Joe Fairless: Okay, and what were you buying? Describe the actual infrastructure of the building; you described the building, but tell us more about the building, please.

Nick Brown: Yes, so it’s one acre, right on Route 1 in Rockport, great location, pretty central area. And it had a 4,000 square foot commercial building on it and also had a fourplex on the building. The fourplex was really small, and the commercial space was pretty dilapidated. So essentially, we were buying it for, we were going to convert the fourplex into a duplex, and then rip down the old building and build a new one.

Joe Fairless: That’s an ambitious plan starting out.

Nick Brown: Yes, looking back, I realize that. And I was 25 at the time, I had no idea what I was getting into. Really luckily I had some great friends, my dad, he’s an engineer, he taught me how to do some stuff, and I was pretty comfortable around construction; I’d framed houses in high school, I was comfortable around [unintelligible [00:05:36].07] I knew how to do a lot of the trades, so I was pretty comfortable and just cocky enough to think that I can take that on. But we ran out of money about 75% of the way through it and [unintelligible [00:05:46].26] the next year, then eventually got it done. And at the end of the day, we were all in for around $330,000. The next year, it appraised for around 465k, so we were able to do a cash-out refi, get all our cash out and roll that into the next deal.

Joe Fairless: The two phone calls it took you to make the offer – will you elaborate more?

Nick Brown: Yes, it’s pretty funny. I called the bank, KeyBank, and I said, “Hey, who do I talk to about buying a note?” And they put me in contact with their Asset Recovery Manager. And I called her and I was ready to make the offer. I was ready—

Joe Fairless:  It wasn’t the same guy that you were talking to before?

Nick Brown: No, it was my mentor that was sort of walking me through how to do all this.

Joe Fairless: Oh, okay.

Nick Brown: So I got in touch with the Asset Recovery Manager at KeyBank, and I had it in my gut, I was going to say, “All right, $60,000 is going to be my offer.” And I said, “ Hey, listen, would you guys be interested in selling the note?” And I really wasn’t expecting her to say yes. I don’t know why… But I wasn’t expecting her to say yes. And she said, “Yes. What’s your offer?” And I was like, “ Uh, I don’t know. Let me call you right back.” [laughter] I totally chickened out. So then I got off the phone, I held my breath, and I was like, “Alright, just call back and just make the offer.” And I called back, and  I said, “We’re in the $60,000 range.” She said, “Okay, let me talk to our people and I’ll get back in touch with you.” She sent me an email saying they accepted the offer.

Joe Fairless: Just like that?

Nick Brown: Just like that.

Joe Fairless: How long did it take for her to send you the email?

Nick Brown: It was very soon after. Maybe the next day or two.

Joe Fairless: Next day or two. Okay. So you were waiting with bated breath?

Nick Brown: Oh, man. I thought they would come back at 120k or 150k. We were ready to go up to 80k or 90k on it.

Joe Fairless: Did you know what the current note was, how much it was for?

Nick Brown: It was like $244,000.

Joe Fairless: And you knew that going into it before you made the offer?

Nick Brown: Mm-hmm. Yup.

Joe Fairless: Okay.

Nick Brown: We pulled the court docs and got a copy of the complaint.

Joe Fairless: Okay, smart.

Break: [07:40] to [09:42]

Joe Fairless: You had a mentor before you bought the property. How did you line that up, and why did you line that up? Both questions, please.

Nick Brown: Well, a mentor is sort of a strong description at that point; he was more of a friend and—

Joe Fairless: Okay.

Nick Brown: I noticed that he was driving M5 BMW, and he was coming in at 10 o’clock in the morning… I’m like, “Alright, what does this guy do for work?” So I started talking to him, and—

Joe Fairless: He was coming in at 10 o’clock in the morning to—oh, your gym?

Nick Brown: To work out, exactly.

Joe Fairless: Okay, got it.

Nick Brown: He was interested in what I was doing in the gym. Our concept was relatively new to that area. We were doing group training classes, sort of functional fitness-type stuff, and he was intrigued. So we hit it off and got along great. And he was asking me about this, and I was telling him I wanted to get into real estate, and asking him how he did it. He was telling me stories. And it really started out as a friendship, just me saying,  “Alright, how do I do this? ” And he walked me through it. And then as that progressed, the friendship became more and more involved, and now we talk just about every day and I just consider him my mentor.

And so the relationship back then was more a friendship, but today, I would say he’s a mentor; we talk just about every day, and it’s just developed over time. He’s just a local guy in the Portland market, has done a ton of deals over the last 30 years, and just taught me the basics for sure. But he’s one of the most creative financial minds that I know.

Joe Fairless: What value have you given him? Besides good karma. Anything else tangible that you’ve given him?

Nick Brown: Yes, this is always on my mind, is how can I help him out? And I am always trying to connect him. And one example is – when I graduated law school, I was at a big firm for a little bit, and was just bemoaning it, and I could see the writing on the wall that this was not going to be for me. So I reached out to another friend, a member of the gym, who was an attorney and owns 11 assisted living facilities. I took him up for a round of golf, and three holes and three beers later he offered me a job to leave the big firm, come work for him, and I did; I left and went to work for him.

He was looking to expand his assisted living facility portfolio. And my buddy Matt, my mentor, had a building in a great location that he really didn’t know what to do with. So I connected my now boss and my mentor together, got them in the same room. They knew each other, pretty small town, but they’d never done any business together; but I made the connection. Both my mentor and my boss were very comfortable with me, so me sort of coordinating that has led to both of them doing six deals, over $30 million worth of deals in the last four years. Also, he owned a Walmart in our town, and had like 20 years left on the lease, rent escalators in every year; great deal. And that was for the highest-grossing Walmart’s in Maine.

So I had a 1031 guy that needed to put about $20 million to work, so I just connected Matt to the 1031 guy, he ended up selling it at a five and a half cap. So if it doesn’t line up with what I’m trying to do—because what I’ve noticed with mentors, especially this one… He’s in a different phase of life, right? He’s got four kids, he’s putting his last one through college, he’s almost 60 years old, and he’s playing a different game now. He’s had a lot of success over the last 30 years. And me – I’m 34; I’m getting after it, I’m trying to do deals, I’m willing to take a little more risk. So him and I, I don’t know that we’ll ever do a deal together, simply because our philosophies are not lined up right now, and where we’re at with life. So when I come across an opportunity that I think lines up with where he’s at philosophically, I try to shoot it his way.

Joe Fairless: 575 units, you’ve closed on a couple transactions fairly recently. Talk to us about those transactions please.

Nick Brown: What a roller coaster. So a lot of these deals we had under contract right as COVID kicked off. These were heavy value-add deals; we had a 200 unit in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and we put that thing under contract I want to say late March of 2020. This was a 60% occupied property, so we were going into it knowing we needed a bridge loan. But all the bridge lenders around that time ripped the carpet out from everybody.

Joe Fairless: Yes.

Nick Brown: Nobody was doing deals. And I had $100,000 earnest money about to go hard, and I did not want to lose that. So four days before closing – we were supposed to close July 9th, and on July 5th I get a letter from the lender basically saying we’re pulling out of this deal. And it has nothing to do with the strength of lender, it’s simply market conditions; pulled the rug right from under us. Seller went irate, he had been very difficult to deal with anyway… So we basically doubled down. We knew it was a great deal, we knew we had a good team put together, we had all the money raised, but we scrambled, we found another lender, we ended up closing that deal 45 days later by the skin of our teeth.

Joe Fairless: What do you mean doubled down? What did you do? Did you double your earnest money?

Nick Brown: We doubled our earnest money.

Joe Fairless: Okay.

Nick Brown: Yes.

Joe Fairless: So now you have 200k hard non-refundable.

Nick Brown: 200k hard, non-refundable. Yes. And that describes 2020 for us, at least that one deal… But that was the worst deal, I would say. I actually wrote a blog post about when to force a deal… And I would say that the last six months we found some really good deals. We stress-tested them, we lowered our criteria to COVID to make it more conservative… But I think when to force  a deal is when you have to force a relationship. Because the sellers are distressed, properties we’re buying are usually heavy value-add opportunities. So the sellers are probably having the worst day of their life. So if everything is not going smooth, it’s usually a relationship thing between the buyer and the seller.

And that’s what lessons I’ve been sort of learning over the last six months, is if you’re got to work with these guys; it’s not going to be as smooth as it was in 2019 to work with guys. People are not as patient. They’re not collecting rent. So it’s just been rocky with the sellers, because the properties [unintelligible [00:15:32].29] they are stressed out. And they want us to close, they want to know that we can close. That sort of describes 2020 and how we got there in every single deal.

Joe Fairless: How did you find the 200-unit that was 60% occupied in Tulsa when you’re not in Tulsa?

Nick Brown: Well, I served as a board member of a capital company out in Tulsa, so I was out there every quarter, meeting these guys to go over their business and see how to move forward. So I became interested in Tulsa while I was visiting out there. I thought it was really interesting market. Tesla was looking at moving a plant there. Amazon put it in a distribution center; Amazon’s putting distribution centers everywhere around for now, but there’s a lot of growth happening in Tulsa, so I started using Reonomy, and we started pulling data on all multi-families in a certain area, 100 units or more, and just started cold-calling, sending emails and sending postcards. Basically, looking.

We just refinanced. We are on a pile of cash and to [00:16:28].19] talk about it. The seller in this particular deal had a broker that he had been whispering prices to, pocket listing… She reached out to us, we ended up putting the deal together and put it under contract shortly thereafter. So I would say it was a pocket listing mixed with cold call.

Joe Fairless: Was it the cold call or was it the direct mail that originally connected you with the owner?

Nick Brown: Direct mail. If I recall it correctly, we emailed the guy directly. He ended up forwarding the email to his broker, and the broker reached out to us.

Joe Fairless: Okay, so it was an email, not a mailed out piece that was sent, snail mail?

Nick Brown: Right.

Joe Fairless: Okay. Cool. So you got the email addresses for the owners that own property that fit your criteria, you emailed them an email that says you’re just refinanced, sitting on cash, and if you have a property that you want to sell, let me know. And then the owner, in this case, forwaded it to the broker they were loosely working with, and that broker she got back to you, and you all were able to get the deal together.

Nick Brown: That’s exactly right.

Joe Fairless: Okay, what about the other deal you closed? How did you find that other deal and how many units was it?

Nick Brown: It was a 34 unit in Columbia, South Carolina, in September of 2020. That was a broker deal. It was a pocket listing for a broker we’ve worked with before; it was actually pretty simple, with the exception of lending. We raised the money in about a day, our offer was submitted and accepted right off the bat. It was a pretty vanilla deal once we got lending lined up. And then we did a 76 unit right outside of Charleston, South Carolina; that was — it had a 50% occupied building where the seller had started developing an additional 30 units on the property, so 46 were occupied. There were 30 vacancies that were half-finished and they just wanted out. Essentially, the guy — it had just turned into a huge dispute in the family and they wanted out.

Joe Fairless: Huh.

Nick Brown: We found that property because my partner was looking at it, checking on one of our other investments, took a wrong turn and drove by this complex; went home, pulled it on the registry, got the address, tracked down the owner, called them, made an offer on it, and met with them the next day.

Joe Fairless: When you track down the owner in that case—I know your partner did it. But when you track down the owner, is it a phone call? Is it an email? And regardless if it’s phone call or email, what do you say?

Nick Brown: Yes, it was a phone call. And I just say “Hey, I drove by your building, I just want to first of all confirm that you own it. I pulled [unintelligible [00:18:53].29] We’re investing in multifamily in this area. Have you guys thought about selling? If you have, we’d love to sit down and chat with you about it.”

Joe Fairless: And you had a meeting with the owner the next day?

Nick Bron: That’s right.

Joe Fairless:  Wow.

Nick Brown: Yes. And they said “Yes, actually, we have been thinking about what to do with this property. A lot of the family is a little bit distressed about how to move forward with it and nobody wants to put any money into it.” Essentially, what had happened was the patriarch of the family had started this development and died, and then left it to his children, and the children were trying to decide on whether to carry it out or sell it.

Joe Fairless: What did you buy it for?

Nick Brown: $2.5 million. And then we have another $1.5 million set aside for cap-ex; we were all in it for $4 million.

Joe Fairless:  Okay. And just for context, where do you see the value going once you’ve implemented your business plan?

Nick Brown: Right across the street, we own an 18-unit. We bought that in 2019 for $720,000. It just appraised for 100 grand a unit. So in this demographic, in this area, we think there’s no reason why the 76-unit won’t also appraise for 100 grand a unit. So we’re looking at $7.6 million.

Joe Fairless: Yes, that’s better than with 1.5; that is quite the return. All in for $4 Million, and 7.6 is the valuation after you’ve done your business plan. I hope that happens.

Nick Brown: So do we.

Joe Fairless: How long of a timeframe do you anticipate that being?

Nick Brown: We’re [unintelligible [00:20:24].06] 24 months; we’ve got the current team, we have—they’re carrying out the value-add; we have two other deals with and they’ve done a phenomenal job. We had 63 units in Goose Creek, South Carolina with the same group, and they are turning over about eight units per month, and we have a waiting list on the rentals. So if they can move at two-thirds of the speed they’re currently moving on the other units, then I’m very confident we’ll hit the 24-month mark.

Joe Fairless: Is the number one way you get owner information through Reonomy, or is it by going to the county website and looking up the owner that way?

Nick Brown: Actually, we were doing a lot of heavy lifting on deal flow in the beginning, but recently, a lot of deals have just been coming to us through other sponsors or other folks that are looking to slice off a piece of equity by bringing the deal to us. We get a lot of deals through our Facebook group, My First Million in Multifamily that my partner started about six months ago; we just throw it out there and we say, “Hey, we’re looking for partners, looking for deals. If anybody has any that fits this criteria, shoot us an email.” And that’s how we’ve been doing a lot of it lately. There’s only 24 hours in a day, right? And we’ve got about five pretty heavy value-add projects going on right now. So we’re not really looking to bring on that many more heavy value-add. If we do a deal, it’s going to be a stabilized core asset. Mostly because we’re just not looking to spread ourselves too thin with a value-add stuff.

Joe Fairless: Taking a step back and just thinking about your approach to real estate investing, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?

Nick Brown: The answer to that question really depends on where you’re at in your journey. If you’re starting out, then you’ve got to figure out what you’re comfortable doing and you’ve got to do a deal. Me, I feel like I got lucky, because I was just naive and just cocky enough to think I can pull it off. And that ended up building up my confidence that I could actually do this, that I could do another deal, that I could do it and build a team. If you’re sort of through that phase and you’re comfortable doing deals, you’re putting in offers and you’re closing deals, then I would say, “Focus on what it is you want”, and try to identify what is it you want and draw your day. If you could draw your perfect day, what does that look like? And then reverse engineer that process so that you can create that.

Because what I’ve found myself doing was after I got comfortable doing deals, I was just doing all the deals. If I found a deal, I was going to do it. I was not very good at saying no. So I ended up with this little bit of a hodgepodge portfolio where we had to sell some stuff… They were all pretty good deals, it just didn’t make much sense. And I was spending a lot of time, at least in my mind, with an appropriate return on that time. So at that phase in my career and life I needed to really hone in on what it was I wanted.

Joe Fairless: We’re going to do a Lightning Round. Are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?

Nick Brown: I am.

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

Break: [23:13] to [25:15]

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

Nick Brown: Oren Klaff, Flip the Script. When I first started raising money, I believe I came in too strong. This book changed my perspective. Klaff does a great job of bringing your mindset to your audience.

Joe Fairless: And I’ve interviewed Oren on this podcast; I don’t recall what episode it is, but if you just Google his name and my name, that interview will come up. I can’t recall his book that he started—his first book. It sounds like he’s written another book, because I don’t recognize Flip the Script. But the first book is a powerful book, it’s something that completely changed my perspective on how to approach conversations. And I didn’t agree with all of it, and I didn’t follow all of it, but I got a lot of lessons that I applied from his book in what I do.

What deal have you lost the most amount of money on?

Nick Brown: I’ve been pretty fortunate that I’ve not lost any money in real estate. I think that’s the product of staying true to our criteria. However, I usually get kicked in the nuts when I go into another asset class. For example, I dipped my toe into the stock market, I bought Landis Holdings at $16 a share, it went up to $29 a share, I thought I was a genius, and then it promptly went down to $8 a share, and I lost $10,000.

Joe Fairless: Pitch Anything was the Oren Klaff book, by the way. And I stay away from the stock market too, by and large, unless  — during the pandemic, I put some money in, because I saw that there was an opportunity…

Nick Brown: I hope it was GameStop [unintelligible [00:26:44].08]

Joe Fairless: Oh man, wouldn’t that be sweet. No, it was Delta. How can the Best Ever listeners learn more about what you’re doing?

Nick Brown: I’m on Instagram, @Bosley_dad, or Facebook, Nick Brown. Or check out the Facebook group, My First Million in Multifamily.

Joe Fairless: From the resourcefulness with your first deal to the most recent deals, there is an underlying theme of getting it done and getting things done in a way that others won’t do or don’t know how to do. So even if they know how to do it, it’s just actually sending that message to the guy in the British Virgin Islands about his property via Facebook, and negotiating that with him and the bank in a type of transaction you’ve never done before. That, and then fast-forward to most recent deals where your business partner just stumbled across the South Carolina property and getting a good transaction completed because you all reached out to the owner, and it didn’t sound like other people did, at least not at that point in time, other people weren’t doing it. And then you saw the opportunity.

So it’s inspiring, especially during a time when investors say it’s hard to find good deals that make sense. And here we are with some case studies for how to do that, and some things that you can replicate. So thanks for being on the show. Thank you for sharing those stories and those examples. Hope you have the best ever day and talk to you again soon.

Nick Brown: Alright, thank you so much for having me.

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