You're listening to the REI Marketing Nerds podcast, the leading resource for real estate investors who want to dominate their market online. Dan Barrett is the founder of Ad Words Nerds, a high tech digital agency focusing exclusively on helping real estate investors like you get more leads and deals online, outsmart your competition and live a freer, more awesome life. And now, your host, Dan Barrett.
Dan: Alright, I'm here with Michael O'Hara; Mike, how are you?
Mike: Doing well, thanks Dan.
Dan: So, Mike, I have here, so your website is SellMyHomeCleveland.com and you are investing in the Cleveland Metro area. Are you from Cleveland originally, is that where you've lived your whole life?
Mike: No, I'm actually born and raised in Hawaii and so I invest remotely from Hawaii in Cleveland. [0:01:05.0]
Dan: Oh, okay. I remember this now. Okay, now this is familiar to me. Okay, why, if you live in, I have to ask this question. So you live in Hawaii, clearly you prefer Hawaii to Cleveland, so why do you invest in Cleveland, why was Cleveland the market for you?
Mike: I get this question all the time. So, when we were looking for market, we would love to invest in Hawaii but you know, the price point is so high here. We started looking at other markets and we were looking in the Midwest because we like the price points and then we landed on Cleveland. We liked what we saw there, we like the fact that Amazon was building out a second distribution center so we thought that was a good sign, and we liked the revitalization that is happening in the city in Cleveland and just a lot of cool things happening as far as new restaurants popping up and housing that is happening. So, yeah, so we really were impressed with what is happening in Cleveland. [0:02:11.5]
Dan: Did you go to Cleveland in order to make that decision or was everything purely virtual, done remotely.
Mike: No, we actually flew, my wife and I flew to Cleveland at the end of 2017 and got on the ground there and drove around the city, we actually got in a car with a realtor and he just showed us around the different neighborhoods and showed us all the pretty remarkable things that are happening there in the city and really enjoyed ourselves and spent about maybe a week there just kind of getting a feel for the city. So yes, we were on ground before we did anything.
Dan: Yeah, how has running your business so virtually kind of changed how you invest or how you think about investing? Because I imagine that there are a lot of benefits to that but there are challenges to it as well. [0:03:05.9]
Mike: Yeah, certainly. I think one thing that it has done for me doing it remotely is that I've been forced to use other people. I have been forced to build a team versus you know, if it was here, if I was doing it in Hawaii I would be doing a lot of this myself but you know, I've been forced to build the business in terms of building a team and so that's been good because you know, it offers an ability to scale. However, being remote is challenging as well, of course I cannot see these properties, I have to rely and trust on other people and you know, sometimes that can be a challenge and so, but having that team has been critical.
Dan: Yeah, I mean, it's funny because, I think I tend to want to just do this stuff myself because I'm like, "Well, I could just do it, it's fast", you know, and I kind of have to work on delegating but I think it's pretty cool that the whole virtual business model kind of forces that on you. It forces you to have a model that can scale from the beginning even if you don't really need it yet which is pretty neat. So when you talk, do you talk to sellers yourself at all? [0:04:23.9]
Mike: I do.
Dan: So when you talk to sellers are they like "Well, come round and see me", do they bring it up, or does it not even come up?
Mike: Yeah, it just came up, I recently spoke with a seller two days ago and the person assumed that I was local to Cleveland and when I told her that I'm not she got a little wary and I can understand that but I told her that I work with a great team that's on ground there and I gave her a couple numbers to reference me. I've worked with these people, I've done deals with them and so, yeah, it does come up. [0:05:05.0]
For some people it's not a problem, for most it's not a problem because they're just more concerned about selling their property but every once in awhile they try to get their minds around the fact that I’m all the way in Hawaii trying to buy their house in Cleveland and for some of them, they just want to do a little bit more due diligence on me which is understandable. I think that's fine.
Dan: I think you should just tell everybody that like, you're like "Hey, like here in Hawaii everybody dreams of moving to Cleveland" and that's what we all want and you know, that'll make everyone feel good, it would be fun. Cool man, so why don't you kind of take me back a little bit. What got you started in real estate investing, how did you get into the industry?
Mike: For sure, so I started looking at investing in real estate because I was looking for something to help supplement my income. [0:06:01.0] So I felt like real estate was a great vehicle because it allows me to continue to do what I do for my job but also work on it as well and then wanting to really develop a passive cash flow situation for myself and my family and so that's how we started doing it and started to read a lot and go on blogs and podcasts and books and then we identified the Cleveland market and we took a dive in, we took a pretty big leap into real estate investing but the whole motivation behind it was so that I can continue to do what I do for my job, I love what I do, I actually pastor a church, community church here in Hawaii and so that's my passion work and real estate helps me continue to do that. [0:07:04.3]
Dan: Wow, that's awesome. So are you, you basically are part-time investing, part-time pastoring, how do you balance the two?
Mike: So that's a…that can be challenging because over the last 18 months the real estate side has certainly picked up as far as deal flow and doing deals and so the good thing about investing in Cleveland is that they are 6 hours ahead so I can do a lot of my work in the morning, early morning here in Hawaii and it 's midday there and by the time they're closing up I can shift over to my local ministry work here and do that as well. So that's been an interesting dynamic just having that time difference and a lot of it came down to just really blocking off my calendar and saying "Okay, here's…I need to take care of this for the ministry and then here's the real estate things as well." [0:08:02.2]
Dan: So when you…give me an example of what does your calendar for the week look like? How specific are you when you block it out? Do you say I'm specifically working on this task or do you just have big chunks of time blocked out? How do you do that?
Mike: I do…so I do blocks of time that I dedicate. So for example, Monday mornings I dedicate that to real estate all the way up until noon and so I have three large chunks throughout the week that I dedicate to real estate and that's usually in the morning like I said, they're 6 hours ahead so I need to catch them before they close up shop there and then in the afternoons usually around lunch is when I dedicate my time to the work of the ministry.
Dan: What do you find is more time consuming, the ministry work that you do or the real estate business? [0:08:57.7]
Mike: Overall it's probably more the ministry work only because that's my full-time job and the real estate kind of ebbs and flows as far as busyness so of course if I'm in the middle of trying to close a deal and trying to get things set up with title and escrow and all of that, then that can become a busier time but then there are times in between, kind of a little bit of a lull and not too busy but I think the ministry work for sure takes up more time.
Dan: Yeah, and you also are balancing that with family life and everything too. I mean this is something that I've been thinking a lot about because I've kind of like, my main business and I've got my family life and my music and I'm starting a side business and it's always that question of how you prioritize and how you balance things, it can be pretty difficult. But it seems like you found a really nice way to split the difference between the two which is pretty amazing. [0:10:00.8]
Mike: Yeah, I think, and I'm always trying to tweak that and like you said, I have three kids at home, a wife, so it's…the kids are in soccer and activities and so I’m trying to always find that good balance between work life, family life, spiritual life, health, just physical health, mental health. So yeah, always trying to find ways to balance that and then to develop those areas.
Dan: So marketing-wise, when you were first trying to break into that Cleveland market how did you start, what was your process for chiseling your way in there and starting to get leads?
Mike: So I started with a website and because I knew that, obviously being so far away, this was going to be a primary way in which people were going to find me. [0:11:06.0]
So I started a website, I got a website going but I knew I needed to put some marketing muscle behind it and so that's where I engaged with you, Dan, at AdWords Nerds and so I started off with a pay per click and then started getting phone calls, starting to get people contacting me through the website and started to develop a pretty good deal flow through that. So that was really almost out of the gates was get the website up and then start with pay per click and I didn't start doing the website and everything until the end of 2018 because before that I owned and was managing remotely an apartment building in Cleveland and so that was my main thing and then I sold the building and started to think "Hey, I'm going to start doing a little bit more active investing as far as flips and wholesaling and so forth. [0:12:10.6]
Dan: So what's your experience been with the web leads in general…like…have you done any direct mail at all in Cleveland or no?
Mike: I have but that, I only sent out one round of mailing and that was only for...I wasn't looking for motivated sellers I was actually looking for cash buyers. So my motivated seller leads have only come through the website.
Dan: Okay, cool. What's your impression of the quality of the online leads? I think it can vary sometimes but people generally say that online leads are going to be kind of a higher motivation level. Do you feel like that's true or for you are they just kind of like, "Well, they're leads like any other", I mean what's your take on that?
Mike: I feel like the online leads, the leads that I'm getting is that they're warmer than if I were to reach out with a postcard because it's that warm, kind of inbound phone call, right? [0:13:10.4]
Because they're, by the time they get to me they have filled out two forms, they've looked at my websites, so by the time I get their information they're pretty warm, they're wanting to do something versus if I was calling them out of the blue, you know, and I've done that too, I've done some cold calls and they're…for the most part those people, they're not, they're just a little surprised that they'll get a call. So the quality of leads coming through the website I think are pretty high because they're looking for me. [0:13:49.7]
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Dan: So your website, we said this before, so it's SellMyHomeCleveland.com, right? I was looking at your website before we jumped on the call and I think something about it that I really like is you've got the picture of you with your family, you've got a picture of you on the About Us page, it's clear when I'm looking at the website who I'm going to talk to, who I'm being asked to sell my house to, right? And it's very relatable, you just look like a really nice person. I mean, it's like you...it just comes across as "Oh, I feel very comfortable" with this process, right? [0:15:00.7]
And I think that's a huge part of it, I think a lot of investors go for this really kind of corporate veneer to everything and I actually think it turns a lot of people off. I think if people want to go check out Mike's site, SellMyHomeCleveland.com, I think you did a really good job of…your website, you went with Investor Carrot, right?
Mike: That's correct.
Dan: Okay, and I think you've done a really good job of customizing it and making it your own so I think that might be a big part of it too.
Mike: I mean that was one thing that they were recommending as far as Investor Carrot and maybe something I kind of knew intrinsically too that…because there are a thousand Investor Carrot websites out there but they're all just kind of a generic template and that's fine but to do something…I wanted to make people feel like "Hey, I'm talking to a real person on the other line". I talk to all the sellers at this point, I don't outsource it to anyone else so it's me that they talk to and they want to get that feel that "Hey, I'm a real person" and we’re all trying to make it in this life and if we can help out each other, fantastic. [0:16:14.0]
Dan: And I think too, especially for you, because you're remote it's almost more important for you than anybody to make that personal connection, right? And I think it's, I just think you've done a really good job doing that. Let me ask you…because you've had to rely on people that are remote from you, I do too, my team is all remote although I know where they live so I can come and break their legs if I have to, but I'm in Connecticut, half my team is in Connecticut, half my team is in Pennsylvania but they're all remote from us, right and there are challenges to that, both in hiring and managing the team and…there are a lot of advantages but there are a lot of downsides. So what's your experience been working with people remotely and having to hire people and manage people and all that? [0:17:03.7]
Mike: For the most part it's been a pretty good experience and I think it was…a lot of it was just getting on the phone with them. Because a lot of times you can tell the chemistry right? There's competency, can they do the job and then there's also chemistry, do I like this person or can I work with them, and so a lot of that was just getting on the phone with them, talking, hearing about what they're up to but then at the same time then you have to take a chance, right? You have to take a small step forward with the person, do a case study or test them out and see how it performs and then you continue to build from there and so…of course I've met my share of jokers too but because I go slow and I try to get a feel for the competency and chemistry I can easily say "thanks but no thanks" to people but others I've been able to build a great relationship with. [0:18:08.3]
Dan: So if you were talking to somebody that was…they're an investor and they're kind of in a similar situation to you where they're struggling in their local market and they're thinking about going virtual, what would your advice to them be? Do you have any advice for someone in that position?
Mike: I guess my main thing would be to…if they're looking at a certain market, I would encourage them to take a trip there and it probably wouldn't have to fly as far as I did to get to Cleveland unless they're in Hawaii as well but I would encourage them to get on the ground, just engage a realtor who would just be able to show them the neighborhoods and give them a feel for the city that they're looking at and I think that's the first part because I think for me a lot of it is…because you can look at demographic studies and numbers and data and that's good but I think there's something about getting a feel for the market. [0:19:05.3]
There's something that you kind of, it's more caught than taught and I would say that would be the first step if somebody's looking to get out of their local market and go remote.
Dan: Well, it's awesome man, I think you've built just such a cool business and all these cool relationships and I just, I'm very envious of the work/life balance you seem to have so that's awesome. So if people want to learn a little bit more about you or learn about what you're doing in the investing space, where should they find you online?
Mike: They can of course reach out to me at SellMyHomeCleveland.com and reach out to me, my number is there, my e-mail is there, and I would love to connect.
Dan: Cool, and you're totally willing to let all the REI Marketing nerds couch surf at your house when we come to Hawaii, right?
Mike: Yeah, you know, I have a tent that I can put in the backyard and…[ 0:20:04.4]
Dan: I literally was going to buy a tent for my kids, my sons are 3 and the oldest is just about to turn 5 and I was going to buy a tent for us to camp in the backyard and my wife was like "Look, we’re just not camping people, I don't know what you think we are right now but we're not camping people" and so I didn't but I am…sooner or later I will do it and I appreciate the offer very much. Mike, thanks so much for coming on man, it was an absolute pleasure getting to talk.
Mike: Yeah, same here Dan, thank you.
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