Nate Barger continues the conversation today on mindset, comfort zone, and goal setting. He’s talking about how selling drugs helped him learn how to scale his investments, the moment he realized he was over-leveraged, and how he made his way out of being nearly bankrupt.
Nate Barger Real Estate Background:
- Full-time real estate investor
- 16 years experience
- Actively involved as syndicator, apartment owner, hotel owner, warehouse, office
- 1500+ current doors
- Owns over $100 million assets under management
- Four hotels including a Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott
- Based in Cincinnati, OH
- Say hi to him at: www.NateBarger.com
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Ash Patel: Hello, Best Ever listeners. Welcome to the Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever Show. I’m Ash Patel, and I’m with today’s guest, Nate Barger. Nate is joining us from Cincinnati, Ohio. And Best Ever listeners, this is part two of an episode that we started yesterday. Nate was also a previous guest interviewed by Joe Fairless. So if you google Joe Fairless and Nate Barger, all of these episodes will show up.
Nate, thank you for joining us, and how are you today?
Nate Barger: Man, thank you guys for having me so much, man. I’m excited to be here.
Ash Patel: Awesome. So, we had a great conversation yesterday, and we pushed on some topics – mindset, comfort zone, goal setting, helping other people… Today, I want to deep dive into your story. So you started out with dealing drugs, going to prison… Give me your real estate journey. What was the first deal? What did you do?
Nate Barger: So I had knew a little bit about construction. My first deal actually, I was trying to find something legit. I was trying to find a way to make money. I was selling drugs. I just was lost. I must have failed 30-40 times. I’m talking about lose all my money on trying to start a business and lose all my time. So I had this roofing company and one of my buddies called and said, “Hey, this lady called. She needs a roof. Go over there, her house had caught on fire” and it was on Ward Street, I still remember. I think it was 4046 Ward Street in Cincinnati. This had to be ’99. I went over there and I was so green, I didn’t even see the opportunity. I gave her a bid for the roof and then told my buddy, “Hey, yeah. It caught on fire.” He said, “Sell it.” I was like, “Okay.” So I asked her. That was the first house that I got.
Well, the guy I ended up partnering with, I ended up putting money into the house, $20,000, $30,000, and he ended up selling it for $90,000 and not giving me any money. So that was my first real estate learning deal. So needless to say, I knew that there was money to be made in real estate, but I was too busy selling drugs and trying to find something to do selling.
So by 2004, I was so tired of selling drugs, the Feds were watching me… I cried out, man. Life was so unfulfilling to me. I had everything that you think you could want financially. I had money, cars, women, a nightclub, traveled all the time… But I was depressed, because I couldn’t be myself.
So I cried out to God to stop selling drugs, and he showed me real estate. So three days later, I started buying real estate. So I bought my first single-family house — it was really in a bad neighborhood. It was Lincoln Heights. I don’t know if you know Lincoln Heights, but that’s the worst neighborhood. So I bought a single-family home and I was just on fire. My first year, Ash, I bought 13 properties, I did cash out refi’s over $350,000. I was doing a BRRR and I didn’t even know it.
Ash Patel: How were you getting financed? Just traditional financing?
Nate Barger: Well, back then it was a no doc NINJA loan.
Ash Patel: Oh, that’s right. That’s right.
Nate Barger: No income, no job, no asset. So I remember one time, an underwriter, they said. “Well, how do we know that you own this?” I had a sole proprietor, like Nate’s Custom Contracting, or something. “Well, how do we know you own that?” I said, “Well, I don’t know. Here’s my bank statement” and they said, “Get us a business card saying you’re the owner.” So I said, while we were on a conference call, I said, “So you want it to say, Nate Barger, owner?” [laughs] That’s how crazy it was back then. So I went and had a business card printed up and sent it to him.
Ash Patel: Just one?
Nate Barger: I think I sent him the proof. I didn’t even get a mail. They just said, “Give me the proof” and I sent it out to him.
Ash Patel: The good old days.
Nate Barger: I scaled quick, because I was on fire, because I went from selling drugs full time, wanted to do something so legit. So my first $1,000 I made legit was, to me, felt better than my first million I made selling weed. So, by 2008, 2009, I didn’t know anything. I was just buying, buying, buying, buying, buying, buying, buying. I didn’t understand real estate cycles. I didn’t really understand finance. I didn’t go to school, I went to prison. So by 2010, I was bankrupt. I lost everything. Chapter 7, I called my buddy Mike [unintelligible [00:04:28].18] up, and got Mike on the phone, and we started negotiating with banks, and started getting short sellers…
Ash Patel: Okay, hold on. So things are going well, you’re cash-flowing on all these properties, and then the economy collapsed. And then renter’s just stop paying?
Nate Barger: No, I overextended myself. I was all over the place. I didn’t have a clear direction. I had two big industrial buildings. The leases on them were cross-collateralized with some real estate. I had a 56-acre junkyard. I had construction equipment that I financed. I just was overleveraged. My residential real estate did good. Through the recession, it actually did better, because rent started going up, and even though the occupancy in Cincinnati dropped from 93%, 94% to 89%, really effective occupancy was 95+… Because you’ve got to think there were all these buildings that went to zero that skewed it, and made it look like it was lower, but really, if you had units, man, I remember, back then I was buying buildings… Because what happened is, when I went bankrupt, I went and told one of my investors. He had a couple million with me, and I thought he was going to be, “Thanks for coming over, and I’m going to go down and talk to the attorney with you.” So it really was a great time back then, and I really did not give up through that. And that is what I want to talk to you guys about today. Never giving up.
Ash Patel: There’s so much I want to talk about. Okay, so you’re way, way overleveraged, and people are starting to foreclose on you. Things are getting bad. Most people at that point are like, “Damn. I screwed up. What am I going to do next?” And what did you do? You went to the bank, and started negotiating?
Nate Barger: I didn’t have any other option. I got four felonies. I’m 29 years old. I don’t look very good. So what was I going to do? Go get a job somewhere? This was all I knew. It was, go back to selling drugs or figure this real estate thing out. And I came home and one day, and my wife, she looked at me and she was like, “You’re just stressed out,” and I said, “Look, honey. We’re going bankrupt.” I was like, “What?” And she was like, “Okay, I’m going to go get a job back.” I was like, “You aren’t getting no job back.” That gave me the fuel that I needed, because that was our agreement.
Ash Patel: And that’s your why.
Nate Barger: That was my why, and that gave me that rocket fuel you were talking about in yesterday’s episode. Then I went to one of my big investors who had $2 million with me, and we went down here to Robert Guerin, who was my attorney (a great bankruptcy attorney) and he said, “You can’t be here. You’re one of [unintelligible [00:06:51].24]” I said, “Man, this is my friend. This ain’t my creditor.” I was, “Duuhh!!” And I said, “Hey, don’t worry. Look, I’m not going to miss a single payment. Your money is good.” What I was doing was I was going in BRRRR back then. So my investor’s money was safe. I never missed a single payment and they never lost a single dollar.
I didn’t include them in my bankruptcy. And since times were so bad, the banks didn’t even show up back then. When he saw I did that, he was like, “Nate, you could have really just included me in the bankruptcy.” I was like, “No, I wouldn’t do that, man. You worked hard for your money.” He ended up giving me another $3 million.
Ash Patel: Wow.
Nate Barger: Never give up. Guess what I did with that $3 million?
Ash Patel: Apartment complex or [unintelligible [00:07:33].17]
Nate Barger: I started buying more apartment complexes, and started negotiating with the banks. Mike was borrowing the money from them and buying the mortgage notes on my property. So now, I own Mike, who owned my investor… It’s just [unintelligible [00:07:46].18]
Ash Patel: Nate, what period of time was the pressure on about, “Okay, what am I going to do? What am I going to do?” And what period of time went by before you’re like, “Okay, here it is. I’m good?” Because again, it’s really simple, man… Like, was it a day, two days, a month, months?
Nate Barger: You’ve got to think, it was all relative to me going back to prison, and I promised myself one thing. I was in solitary confinement for 30 days in prison, and I promised myself, I said, “If I ever get out of here again, I’ll never be sad a single day in my life.” And that’s how I’ve lived every day ever since.
Now, again, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t lost loved ones, but that means that if I’m going to spend this day – and it was forever going after today – does it benefit me to at all spend it being angry or sad or upset? I want that day to be a memory, that was part of my life. And I want you guys to view your money the same way. Don’t just go spend your money and get rid of it. Spend your time; your time is more precious than money. Be cautious with what you do with your time.
Ash Patel: Yeah, incredible advice. And I wish I could do a lot of what you’re saying. I’ll make an effort to get better at that.
Nate Barger: You do. Every Monday night, man. I love seeing you, brother.
Ash Patel: Okay, so you go to the banks, you renegotiate this debt, and just like you talked about with the hotels, you look for opportunities, and you wanted to buy more. So the investor gave you money… You guys just went on a buying spree of really cheap assets.
Nate Barger: Yes, I’m like a 400-and-something credit score, and I hear these people saying, “What do you do if you don’t have good credit?” I’m like, “Man, not only did I not have good credit, I was bankrupt.” You go find somebody who’s just got good credit. You go find somebody that’s got money. But what do I have? I had the will and desire to succeed, and I studied and studied and studied, and that’s why I know so much about real estate today, because I never wanted to not know something again, whether it was regarding real estate cycles, the economy, how the Feds work, how the banking system works, how interest rates move, how rents move, how much it cost to build. I wanted to know absolutely everything, because I never wanted to fail again. I didn’t want to take my family through that, my friends through that.
Ash Patel: You were overleveraged before the 2008 crash. You bought construction equipment, all kinds of stuff. Did that weigh, in the back of your mind, on your decisions thereafter? Because you’ve got $3 million now, and you’re buying like crazy. Are you still going back to buying industrial buildings construction equipment? Or are you a little smarter this time?
Nate Barger: Laser-like focused. Not only that, but you’ve got to think I was a drug dealer. I made millions of dollars, man. I was bringing in [unintelligible [00:11:58].02] every week, and I was making a lot of money. I was getting a suite for 575 and selling it for 1,600. So, I was making a lot of money, and I look back and I said, “Man, all that money I had, I had nothing”. I had nothing that I could even go sell.
Ash Patel: You learned how to scale. The very first time you and I met, I was blown away how you went from a little to a lot in such a relatively short time. I’m like, “Man, how did you learn how to scale?” And you’re like, “Dealing drugs” And I’m like, “I don’t get it”. You’re like, “Man, I was moving major weight back then.” It wasn’t like a small-town drug dealer. So you had a giant multi-city operation.
Nate Barger: No, no, [unintelligible [00:12:41].26] 300 pounds isn’t really a lot. It seems like it; and I only had five people that sold weed for me. You just give one of them 100, and you give the other four 50, and then you have your money back in two or three days.
Ash Patel: And that taught you how to scale, leverage?
Nate Barger: Well, I had them one time, they wanted to give me 4,000 pounds. But then I had to think about, “Man, how am I going to get that? How am I going to move that? I’m going to be hot.” I’m in my comfort zone, right? But everything you think about is the solution. The harder the solution is to come up with, the more money you’re going to make. So for me, scaling was just looking at it and figuring out what we needed to grow. I already had this investor that was willing to give me money. Then I had other investors that were willing to give us money. We had an abundance of deals. I already had a property management company. We just needed to do more of it, and I needed to focus on the one thing that I’d learned that did well through the recession, and that was residential multifamily.
Ash Patel: Nate, one of the things people struggle with, and especially people with a background like yours, they kind of want to do it all, right? And you grew up without a lot of money, and it’s hard to give your profits away to a property management company here, an accountant, a receptionist or an executive assistant. Was that difficult for you?
Nate Barger: That was very difficult for me, and I’m going to tell you guys, I’m going to tell your viewers what helped me get over that. One day, I was sitting there and I told you, my wife had a house up in 40 minutes outside of Cincinnati she had built right when I met her, and I had a house down in Cincinnati, right around campus, and I would stay there. And I would work until midnight, and I’d wake back up at four or five. And we were married, we were newlyweds. I said, “Well, if I come up there, I’m only going to get three hours of sleep. I’m going to get 4.5 hours sleep if I don’t have the—.” Some nights I didn’t go home.” I was like, “I can’t keep doing this and I need to grow. I have a system, and I’m starting to make margins.” I’m understanding what margins are. So I was like, “I don’t have the money to bring somebody else in.” So what I’m going to do is I flipped piece of property, and I took the profits off of that, the 40 grand that I made; I put it in an account. I said, “I’m not going to touch that money. That’s going to pay for the person that I’m going to hire to help become a property manager.” And they came in and they made me $80,000 to $90,000. That year I was like, “Whoa.” I was like, “You can hire humans and they just make you money.” So I was like, “I want a human farm.” You know, it’s like farming corn, but you’re farming humans.
So I realized how to start doing that, but then the one thing that really helped me let go of things — because nobody’s going to do it as good as you. But if you don’t let go, you’ll never have any peace of mind. I sat there and I drew out a diagram, and I said, “How much is my time worth right now? How much do I want my time to be?” And the way you do that is you figure out what your yearly is, and you divide that by 2,200 hours to 2,300 hours, and you’re going to come out with it. That’s what got me into hotels, too. When we made a decision, we were making over $1,000 an hour each doing apartments [unintelligible [00:15:39].06] tell us, “Man, I want to do that, man. That’s crazy, man. We’re making all this money. Blah, blah, blah.” And I said, “Okay, Mike, I’ll be fair with you. Give me 20 minutes, I’m going to run some math.” And I called him back, and I was like, “Holy crap!” Because I knew the numbers. And it was over 30,000 hours what we were going to make doing hotels. So I said, “Mike, we’re doing hotels.”
Ash Patel: And this is hotels, post-COVID.
Nate Barger: Post-COVID, yeah. Now, it’s even better, because there’s better opportunities. But it’s knowing what your time’s worth. And if you’re sitting there and you’re doing a job that you can hire somebody to do for $20 an hour, and you’re telling yourself, “Well, yeah, I’m going to make $400 an hour doing this”, you’re lying to yourself, man. You’re never going to get that $400 an hour. Like, right now, the thing that keeps me focused — I can go find some wholesale deals, make $100,000, $200,000, $400,000, $500,000. The thing that keeps me focused though, is knowing that if I keep track of all my hotels, where I’m going to be at?
Ash Patel: Say that again. If you keep track of your hotels—
Nate Barger: If I keep all my track, focused towards my goal,—
Ash Patel: Right, right, right.
Nate Barger: —my five-year goal, right? You’re talking about making hundreds of millions of dollars, but you’re never going to get there if every day you piddle around, and you stop, and you call over here… You can’t. You’ve got to have a laser-light focus.
Ash Patel: And that laser focus is hitting your goal of acquiring a certain dollar amount of hotels.
Nate Barger: It’s focusing on getting the hotels. And the problem with that is when you’re buying hotels, you’re not making money. You’re building equity, but you don’t realize the equity or apartments are anything. So you’ve got to be disciplined, and first, you have to have that passive income. Because once you get the passive income, you’re not worried about money anymore; then you can really focus on the things that are going to bring you in a great deal of money.
Ash Patel: Once you hit your hotel goal, what’s next?
Nate Barger: Well, it’s really giving back to people. That’s more important to me than hit my goal on hotels. Because my money is good. I’ve got enough money, I don’t have to work again if I don’t want. I’m not saying that to brag, I’m just telling you. My passive income is good. I live off of a percentage of my passive income; the rest I just stack or reinvest. It’s really helping change people’s lives, man. I’m hoping to reach people.
I’m hoping to make 2,500 people—well, I’m not saying hoping. I’m going to help make 2,500 people millionaires by 2025. We’ve already started. So that is my goal. I hope to crush that goal. I hope to have a bigger impact than just that, but just to reach tens of millions of Americans and show them, “Look, maybe college isn’t for you. Maybe it is, okay, but maybe not.” If that is not, I don’t know why we don’t take cognitive ability test and figure out what people’s natural aptitude, what they’re naturally good at; instead of going to waste four years in college.
Now, if you want to be a doctor, you’ve got to go to college, man. I can’t help you with that. But if you want to learn how to become a millionaire in real estate, I can show you in five years how to do that starting from zero.
Ash Patel: Nate, you went through 2008. What if another 9/11, 2008 happens again? How do you prepare for that? How do you not be overleveraged? And what are you personally doing, knowing that at some point, the economy is going to trend lower?
Nate Barger: It’s really having a reserve. The biggest thing that kills you when you’re buying a multifamily is not having the right amount of reserves. Like, “Oh, the roof went bad.” Like, I already knew that was going to go bad when I bought it. “Oh, the boiler broke.” Like, “Good. Replace it then.” I don’t care. That money is already budgeted. Anything that we see that could happen in that property in the next five years is already budgeted. So if that hot water tank, we feel like it’s going to bust—look, if I’m going through 100-unit complex and the hot water tanks are all 6-7 years old, eight years old, ten years old, I know I’m going to replace 50% of them over the next five years. So what does that cost? What does that value? Set that money aside. Then we reevaluate that every quarter. How much of that money did we burn through? Are we on track? Do we need more money? If we need more money, then what do we do? We up the reserves per unit, and you make sure that your year five is always met. So you’re really looking out next year. You’re looking out five years from that. You’re always forecasting out “How much cash do I need?” And I’ve got plenty of money already in the bank, waiting for that stuff to happen. So we’re different. When we buy property, we’re trying to spin this money in the bank as fast as possible, because the quicker we can spend it, the faster we’re improving that property, the quicker we’re able to move them rents up to where they need to be.
Ash Patel: That is awesome. Nate, if you can go back and talk to the Nate Barger that was year one in real estate, what advice would you give him?
Nate Barger: Man, I don’t think you could have talked to that idiot. I don’t think there’s anything you could have told him.
Ash Patel: Well, not so much in life, but I want real estate advice.
Nate Barger: Oh, man… Understanding basic jobs. How basic jobs drive the housing market, and what areas to buy in> Because back then, I was just buying anything that was cheap, because that’s all I had. But if you understand the basic jobs and you understand where the movement is going to be at, you will make so much more money.
Understanding what new build costs are, what current inventory levels are, what vacancy rates are, at what point are they going to have to start building to meet demand… Once they have to start building, how much does it cost to build, and if you’re buying a property way down here… Like you’ve seen that post I did the other day, we bought that for $450,000, put $1.4 million in it, $1.85 million all in – it’s worth $5 million. Guess what? I get an email at [7:55] this morning, one of our bankers said they need to talk to us, and I’m thinking, “Man, this can’t be good.”
So we talked to him. They said, “Hey, man. We want to refinance and give you guys some cash out.” So here I am, thinking something’s going to be bad, but it’s really understanding what areas to buy in. Once you understand what areas to buy in, the properties are going to go up in value overnight. While you sleep, you’re going to make your money.
Ash Patel: Nate, you talked a lot about basic jobs, and I got burned, for a couple reasons. One, I didn’t know to look for basic jobs; and two, I had a giant ego, where years ago, everything I bought just turned to gold, and then other people started saying that, so I actually started believing it. And I bought a bunch of auction properties in Ripley, Ohio.
Now, going into this, I knew that they’re closing the power plant there. There’s a couple of factories that left. Schools were going to [unintelligible [00:24:51].01] abandon buildings. I mean, it was bad. But again, I thought, “Dude, I can buy these buildings cheap. I’m good. I’ll turn them around, like I always do. I’ll just find tenants.” And man, that didn’t work out that way. I got burned. And you and I had a conversation later about basic jobs. Can you give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about what you mean when you say basic jobs?
Nate Barger: Yeah, so basic jobs are jobs that are not service jobs in a community. The way I like to explain them is a couple of different ways. I’m going to give you an example, if that’s okay.
Ash Patel: Yeah, please.
Nate Barger: So let’s say we go out, me and you, find some real cheap land out in the country, this farmer gives it to us for a buck an acre, we get the people, the Amish people, that build really cheap. We get them to build a house, really cheap, beautiful houses, right off the highway. Everybody stops in, they look at the houses, and they leave. Nobody buys them. Me and you look at it, we say, “We know what the problem is. We need a gas station.” Put a gas station in. “Nobody’s going to buy this without a gas station; they’re going to run out of gas.” Put a gas station in, they come by, they get gas, they look at the house, they leave. Put a restaurant in. Put a bank in. Same thing. Grocery store. They continue to come and they leave. Those are all non-basic jobs. Those are only essential. So nobody bought that house because now we put in a power plant — or let’s say we put in a Honda plant behind us. Boom! Manufacturing plant. Durable goods has about 8.6 to one. So for every one durable good job, you’re creating 8.6 more jobs, okay? Those are direct and indirect jobs.
So now, these people come start buying all these houses, now you need more houses, and now, you need the bank. Now you need a restaurant. Now you need a grocery store. So those are basic jobs. Think about jobs that bring money from all over the world and bring it right down here, into where you live at. The ones like the gas station – all it does is really rotate money around. The gas station – the guy gets money before going to a gas station. He goes down the street, he eats at the diner. The lady at the diner comes to buy gas, then they both go to the bank. So those are non-basic jobs. If you can identify the basic, you can make massive amounts of money in real estate.
Ash Patel: Yeah, and I did the exact opposite. So I wish I heard that story before I made that mistake, but it was a good lesson learned.
Nate Barger: No, wait, wait. One other thing I need you to think about – if that one job creates eight jobs, think about it… If that one job leaves, it’s taking eight jobs with it.
Ash Patel: Yeah, it’s a good point.
Nate Barger: It may take some time, and it comes quicker than it goes, but it’s going to happen. Thus, look at Detroit. You look at Flint, Michigan. Look at Austin, Texas. Look at the ones where you have new jobs coming. Look at the ones that lost a lot of jobs. You have an over-supply of housing. You don’t need it. You have way too much, prices crash. You don’t have enough – prices shoot up.
Ash Patel: Nate, we’ve learned a lot today. I want to thank you for being on our show for the third time. We’ve taken up a lot of your time, so thank you very much for joining us.
Nate Barger: Man, thank you for having me, man. I appreciate you, brother.
Ash Patel: Yeah, and Nate, tell the Best Ever listeners how they can get a hold of you.
Nate Barger: Man, you guys can go the BRRR Invest on Facebook. Nate Barger on Tiktok, on YouTube. Go check my videos out, man. I’m going to show you everything you need to become a millionaire in the next five years.
Ash Patel: And I’ll vouch for the Tiktok users. Nate’s very entertaining, very knowledgeable; follow him on all the social media platforms. Nate, thanks, brother. Great seeing you again.
Nate Barger: Thank you so much, man. I appreciate you, brother. Tell Joe, I said hi, man. Thank you guys for putting this on, and thanks for having me as a guest, brother.
Ash Patel: Will do. Best Ever listeners, thanks for listening and have a best ever day.
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