Jay Helms is a real estate investor and host of the W2 Capitalist Real Estate Podcast and popular Facebook Group. He’s built a 300 unit portfolio across 5 states as a side hustle while working a full-time job. His motto is Earn. Invest. Repeat.
Jay and his wife got into real estate investing during a chaotic corporate merger. Now, he’s passionate about helping other W2 earners build greater wealth through real estate investing.
What You’ll Learn In Today’s Episode:
- Buying right is crucial to your investment. While financing and managing are also important, mistakes in those areas can be corrected. You can’t change the price you pay for a property.
- Jay developed his real estate portfolio to supplement his W-2 income due to uncertainty in the workplace. Having just lost his job due to coronavirus, the lesson here is poignant. Having a portfolio of cash flowing assets can help you survive during tough times and thrive in tough times.
- As a passive investor, it’s can be tough to let go of control. We’ve said it before and we’ll likely say it again, you need to vet your sponsors and their deals thoroughly before investing, and you need to keep your finger on the pulse of the project.
Ideas Worth Sharing:
“The markets at a tipping point.” – Jay Helms
“Between now and December, I’m really just stacking up dominoes and waiting for them to fall.” – Jay Helms
“Usually the path to success is where you don’t want to go…run towards pain.” – Jay Helms
Resources In Today’s Episode:
Books Mentioned In Today’s Podcast
- The Twelve Week Year by Brian Moran
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Mark: Today’s guest is a real estate investor and host of the W2 Capitalist Real Estate Podcast and popular Facebook group. He’s built a 300-unit portfolio across five States as a side hustle while working a full-time job. His motto is earn, invest, repeat. I’d like to welcome Jay Helms.
Jay: Mark. Thank you very much. That was good, man. Can I outsource you to do all of my intros?
Mark: I’m getting better at it.
Jay: I know it’s short and sweet but you got the voice, you got the voice for sure.
Mark: I hang around with voice actors.
Jay: So, you know how to enunciate.
Mark: I get annoyed when they don’t do it right. So, I may be picked up what I want them to do in my head, but now I’m practicing it.
Jay: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. That’s good stuff. Any pointers you want to give me? I’m open for it. The other day. I saw this YouTube video about a guy. Sometimes I get so excited about what I’m talking about. I’ll start stumbling over all words.
Mark: I stumble over all my words, even when I’m not excited.
Jay: That’s good. That’s good.
Mark: Well, it’s great to have you on the show. Thanks for joining. I’ve admired your podcast, the W2.
Jay: The W2 Capitalist. Yes sir.
Mark: W2 capitalist podcast. So, you started with a W2 job, hence your podcast title.
Mark: What were you doing and how did you drift into real estate investing?
Jay: To real estate. So, my entire W2 career has been IT. I grew up being a support tech weenie, you know, put the propeller hat on. I’m a total nerd. And then I migrated from the technology side of the piece into more of operations and customer sat and then into sales. And that’s where my most recent W2 job was. But about 2000, I want to say 2010, my wife and I had the opportunity. We were living in Birmingham, Alabama at the time we had the opportunity to move to Pensacola.
And that really forced me to work from home. And it was a work from home job, but it was one of those where I traveled quite a bit. Sometimes it was overnight trips. For the most part, it was get up before the sun. I’m going to be home after the sun goes down kind of thing. And the next five years we went through a series of acquisitions and we would get bought by a company. And then a couple of years later that company would get bought by a bigger company. And I don’t know if you’ve ever been part of an acquisition before.
Mark: I never have.
Jay: Regardless of what kind of lipstick they try to put on that pig, they’re just ugly,
Mark: Are they ugly, because people get downsized.
Jay: That is part of it, that is one of the things, I was laid off. So, we’re recording this in middle of June. I was laid off May 1st due to COVID. Now the executives of that company say that they downsize because of COVID. But that company had done some merger acquisition and I felt like there were some overlap and they use that as an excuse.
But to answer your question, the reason I got into real estate investing, we wanted to find out something is we got acquired. We didn’t know what was going on. The merger was going absolutely horrible. I was like, man, I got to figure out a way to get out. And I didn’t want to go to work for anybody else. I was like, this is not going to work.
And my wife and I had stumbled upon some sites talking about real estate investing and we started diving into it and we had always had that itch. We’d watch some HGTV shows, they’re flipping the sexy part. And we’re like, we can do that. We’re not flippers. We’re not wholesalers. And those are two things that we try to do. And then we stumbled upon buy and hold. Where we’ve really focused on multifamily.
Mark: Buy and hold multifamily.
Jay: Yeah. Well we’re now a multifamily. We started in single family.
Mark: Single family. Okay.
Jay: Our very first property was a 600 square foot, one bedroom, one bath house in Pensacola that it was in a region, a fine area, but it was a foreclosure and we bought it for 22,000.
Mark: Cool. Good starter.
Jay: We put nine grand into it, a new roof, paint flooring, all that good stuff. And right away, it rented for $600 a month.
Mark: Amazing. Wow!
Jay: And it had the best tenant that we could have ever started with. She worked for a local technical college helping students who went through their program get jobs. She approaches me one day. She goes, “Hey, if I ever have issues with like plumbing or electrical HVAC, do you mind if we use the students to come over and check out the house.”
Mark: No way.
Jay: He goes, “The only the only thing that you had to pay for is parts.”
Mark: That’s amazing. How did you pull that off?
Jay: I got lucky, man. When she moved in as our tenant, we did not know that about her. We knew where she worked. We didn’t know her role there, or she had the capability to pull those people in. And I was like, no, I was like, that sounds freaking incredible. You know, let’s, let’s do it in the, there is a licensed whatever the trade was that would be with the students this okay. You know, make sure you do that, but saved us tons of money.
Mark: I can imagine. Wow!
Jay: Or not rehab, but maintenance. She stayed there for about 18 months. We don’t have that property any more, but she was still our tenant.
Mark: I always think it’s important to have a good first experience because it’ll get you excited and passionate about this asset class. It sounds like you had a great, phenomenal first experience with that tenant. If nothing else.
Jay: And I’ll say this. I like to tell that story because it is the everything’s unicorn and rainbow story. What I call is my fault start or our fault start is I actually bought a single-family house in 2006. With the idea I was single at the time I was going to live in it. I was going to flip it.
Mark: So just to back up quickly, what year was the other house?
Mark: Oh. 2014. So you had a previous one. Okay. Got it. So, back-up 2006.
Jay: 2006, I bought a house. It was a 1958 ranch style, three-bedroom, two bath single guy. It had not been touched since it was built. I’m talking about brown stove, pink and blue bathrooms.
Mark: And where you?
Jay: I was in Birmingham at that point.
Mark: Birmingham, Alabama. Okay.
Jay: Yes. So, I bought it. Of course, now we all know that was the high of the market. And then we got the chance to move to Pensacola. And if I tried to sell the house in 2010, when we moved. I would have had to go to closing with some money and I didn’t have any. So, I turned it into a rental. Great place. It was probably the second best neighborhood in Birmingham and got top of the market rent for it. Class-A neighborhood, not Class-A property, but Class-A neighborhood getting top of the market rent.
Jay: And I’m thinking, this is incredible. Do this again. But then I noticed that, our bank account was not really growing like it should. And I started doing some numbers and doing some math and actually, Googled. How do you cashflow a rental property? I think that’s what it was. And come to find out that house was costing us about $300 a month to keep.
Mark: You’re kidding me. The Birmingham one?
Jay: The Birmingham one. Yeah.
Mark: Top of the market rents. But just top of the market rents didn’t cover what you paid.
Jay: Because I bought it wrong.
Mark: You bought it wrong. Did you buy it wrong or did you, or did you finance it wrong or did you do Both?
Jay: No, I bought it wrong. I think I financed it right. It was one of those where it’s a hundred percent financing back in 2006.
Mark: That’s why your negative cash flow, you had no equity in it.
Jay: No equity in it. And it was way overpriced, but I wanted to get in. I wanted to do it right.
Mark: I’m sure in the last two years, there’s tons of people that just wanted to get in in the last year or so. And so, bought something and hopefully they’ll ride it
Jay: There are people right now that are doing that. And the moment I stopped looking for acquisitions and started trying to sell some of our stuff is when every Tom, Dick and Harry would come up to me and said, “Hey, man, I hear you’re in real estate investing. I want to get into real estate investing too. Let me do it. What I need to do?’ And they would bring in these properties and I would look at them with them. And I’m like, here’s why I wouldn’t buy that. Or here’s what I would offer on that. And they’re like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I said, “Okay.”
Mark: Alright. I need to buy that.
Jay: I’ve figured out over the years that if everybody’s talking about you need to buy Bitcoin, you’ve missed your window.
Jay: So same thing with real estate is that if you just hear and read between the lines and who’s asking and what they’re asking and what they’re talking about, the market’s at a tipping point.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah.
Jay: You got to be having those conversations. You got to be panning those feelers out there to be able to do that.
Mark: Right. Right. Cool. So then did you eventually move into multifamily?
Jay: Yes, our next. Wasn’t our next, it was like two or three acquisitions. After that we had a duplex went from that duplex into a 42-unit apartment complex and as a general partner. So, me and four other guys are general partners on it found the deal, raised the money it’s operating very nicely now. It was a bit of a struggle at the beginning, because it was like 50% occupied.
Mark: Oh wow!
Jay: We got a deal and we knew there was just really no way we could go wrong.
Mark: How did you find your partners? Did you go through like coaching or something and networking?
Jay: Yeah, there are four of us. Two of us, me and one other guy we had never done anything of that size. So, we started looking together. We had like-minded interests. We were connected by a mutual realtor. He was working with a realtor. I was working with the same guy and that realtor had the wherewithal to say, “Hey, you guys are saying the same thing. I think you guys should meet.”
So, we went and had some cervezas and ate some Mexican food and just talked. And from there we said, “Alright, let’s go, let’s go start looking. Let’s see what we can find.” And we found a deal, put our deal packages together. And we started talking to some guys that are in the local area here in Pensacola that we knew had some experience with this type of asset class. And we approached them a couple of different ways.
They finally said yes and helped us raise money and close the deal. And matter of fact, it’s like we’re running a relay race as we’re now three years into this and it seems like you’re one, I had the baton and running with it and then we’ve pass it off to another guy and he’s running with it now. But the property is now stabilized as cash flowing very well.
Mark: Great. And you said it’s in Pensacola?
Jay: This one’s actually in Mobile, which is about an hour 30 from Pensacola, Alabama.
Mark: It’s in Alabama?
Jay: Across the state.
Mark: Okay. And have you stayed with those partners?
Jay: Yeah. I’m a limited partner on two other properties.
Jay: One it’s 172 units in Greenville, South Carolina. The third one is 109 units in Waxahatchee, Texas, which is just South of Dallas.
Mark: Are you completely passive?
Jay: Yeah. And those two deals Waxahatchee in Greenville. I’m completely passive. I gave him my money and every month or every quarter or depending on the distribution, I just money shows up in my bank account. It is freaking amazing.
Mark: That’s nice when you actually do these types of rehabs. It’s nice when you too invest in as a passive investor in some of these and just have no responsibility.
Jay: I had always made fun of passive investors. To me, there are different levels of being passive. But if you’ve invested in something, you need to have your finger on the pulse. So, it’s not completely passive, but these two operators have definitely opened my eyes to what it means to be a passive investor. And I like it.
Mark: If they’re trustworthy and if they deliver.
Jay: They are. And that’s the thing, there are a lot of syndicators out there. People who will pitch you everything. Like, Hey, you’ve got to give me 25 grand to go through my course before I’ll present a deal to you, which is just crazy.
Mark: It’s insane.
Jay: You got to get to know. You got to build relationships with them. And for these two syndicators, I got to know over the course of a year before we actually did a deal.
Mark: Nice. And that’s probably warranted.
Jay: Absolutely it really taught me. Even now, if I were to go to a bank tomorrow and wire some money, I’m still going to be shaking at writing my signature. Because it’s a lot of money.
Mark: Yeah, you’re letting go of it. And you don’t know if you’re going to see it back.
Jay: You’re put in somebody else’s hands. But these two operators have definitely shown me how to do it, which is why I wanted to get involved with them because I knew at some point in time, I wanted to get back on the general partner side, finding deals, putting them together, raising money. And I wanted to see how they did it.
Mark: Do you have like a specific criteria that you look for? Do most of the properties, you look at fit a certain profile of value add or certain age. Do you look in certain markets? It seems like you’re in the Southeast.
Jay: I focus on the Panhandle of Florida. So, from Mobile, Alabama to Jacksonville, Florida, just because I can get on the interstate in about 10 minutes and be anywhere in that range within about four hours. Mobile is an hour West and then Jacksonville is four hours East. I can try to find places where I could get to in plain real quick. But I grew up in the Southeast.
I spent the first 15 years of my W2 career in Mobile, serving those clients in Mobile all over South Alabama, all over the Panhandle of Florida. My W2 helped me get to know these markets and I was driving them anyway. So, I want to stick to at least for now stick to what I know when I’m finding deals now. As I’m getting out there and telling people, Hey, now that I’m doing this full time. Here’s what I’m focused on.
And I’m looking for Class-B, Class-C properties. Something that’s probably 25 to 45 years old in a good neighborhood. Value add is always enticing. But what we’re going through right now with COVID and essential what the economy’s going to do. I talked to one of my bankers yesterday and he’s like, look, we’re scrutinizing everything now. He goes, if you bring a value-added deal, we’re going to pick it apart.
Right now, nobody really knows until July 31st, when the stimulus checks or the Cares Act or whatever it’s called expires. We don’t know what Congress is going to do. So we’re just waiting. But if you have something in any circle, but if you have something send it to me. I’ll take it. So it’s good. I think there’s going to be a buying season that happens somewhere around Christmas, maybe early next year. But right now, between now and then.
Mark: Realistic, I’m sure different markets in the country are having a different experience.
Jay: Oh yeah.
Mark: I know I’m in Austin and LA and there just seems to be a disconnect between what sellers are expecting. They’re expecting 2019 pricing and buyers are like, no, we’re in a different world. You don’t get it.
Jay: And it takes some time to adjust. It’s not like the stock market. The real estate market. It just takes some time. That’s why I like it over stocks.
Mark: I have this theory that you can’t time the stock market, it just moves too fast. All it takes is the click of a button and you could buy or sell a stock, but selling real estate is a pain in the ass and it takes you about six months to a year. So it moves at this glacial pace. And as a result, that’s kind of a good thing because when the market starts to shift, you could kind of get ahead of it.
Jay: Yes, absolutely.
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If you like the show, please subscribe and give us a five-star review. I like doing it. And more importantly, in an era of unprecedented hype over real estate investing, my goal is to be a truth teller. Real estate is not as easy as it’s made out to be, but you can do it. If you can get past the hype and get to the truth. My aim is for this show to help with that. Anyway, let’s get back to the show,
Mark: But you’ve got these criteria and you’re investing in mostly your own backyard or region that you know, and it happens to be a region that has really positive demographic trends, population growth, job growth,
Jay: All the above. And this is a positive thing that comes out of COVID is that Boerne is now the number one move to state in the US. Texas was number one, but then Florida took it over.
Mark: The old people chose Florida over Texas.
Jay: Yeah. We have so much beautiful, more beautiful beaches. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the beach in Texas.
Mark: No, I haven’t.
Jay: It’s nice. It’s nice. But they’re muddy. It’s dirty water. It’s real close to the Mississippi River.
Mark: You taunt.
Jay: I am. I didn’t really mean to do that, but I realize. I mean, Texas got crappy beaches.
Mark: They think they’re so big.
Jay: Everything’s in Texas is big.
Mark: And fancy.
Jay: Except for your beautiful beaches are not there.
Mark: Muddy beaches.
Jay: I didn’t mean to taunt you, but I guess I am. And I’ve been to both. And there’s a reason why people in Louisiana, in Texas drive all the way over here just to go to our beaches.
Mark: To go to the beaches. Yeah.
Jay: Because there are just so much more beautiful.
Mark: There’s an investor out here in LA who has been investing in Florida actively and he’s a pretty well-known investor. His name is Bruce Norris. And one of his theories is Florida is the state of choice for baby boomers retiring because it’s affordable. It’s warm weather, nice weather. And I guess the income tax, no state income tax.
Mark: And he said, here’s why I invest in Florida. And I’ll probably get some of this not accurate. Because I haven’t heard it for a couple of years. But the average 60-year-old American requires one medical professional. The average 70-year-old American requires three medical professionals and the average, 75-year-old requires like seven medical professionals. So not only are the aging population moving down there, they require a mass of medical support as well. So, the population is growing. I thought that was somehow interesting.
Jay: I never thought about that but that’s incredible.
Mark: So, we’re in this COVID time. How are you handling it? What are you thinking about real estate wise? Are you taking a break? Are you planning your next move?
Jay: So, like the banker that I talked to yesterday. And I’m kind of pausing and waiting. The only thing right now, between now and December, I’m really just stacking up dominoes and waiting for them to fall. And by that, I mean, I’m building a relationship with the owners. Who’ve been in the game for a while and they’re about ready to retire and building relationships with potential investors
Mark: What was the most challenging deal? Do you have a deal you’ve done? that was a good story and challenging and educational?
Jay: Yeah. So, I bought a property off a tax deed auction.
Jay: It was in Pensacola. We still own it today. We’re getting some title issues cleaned up. This was a couple of years ago though. So, it’s taken awhile to get the title cleaned up. Hopefully in August we can put it on the market to sell it. But I bought this. It cost me seven grand.
Mark: No way. Just the property.
Jay: Well my initial cost was seven grand.
Mark: Seven grand.
Jay: That’s how much I paid for the tax at the tax deed auction, which Florida is a tax deed state, which means if somebody doesn’t pay their taxes three years in a row, then it goes up for auction. And if I win the auction, I own the property free and clear. As long as there are no liens or anything like that on the property. Well, this one, I was lucky. There were no liens on it. I didn’t know that. I bought it, went to drive by, I thought it was empty.
Mark: And this is a single-family house?
Jay: Well, it was a mobile home actually.
Mark: Oh, I see.
Jay: A mobile home. And I didn’t think anybody lived in it. I drove by and I was like, man, there’s no way anybody’s living in the thing it’s pretty trashed. I drove by there one night and the lights were on inside. I was like, okay, somebody’s living in there.
Jay: Yeah, there you go. I call my lawyer and I say, “Hey, here’s what I did. I need your advice.” And he says, “Alright, we’ll get into a time machine. Go back to right before you bought that call me. And I’m going to tell you not to do it.” It’s funny. Bust my balls. That’s fair. I got myself in this situation. Now I need you to get me out of this and what I do. He goes, “Are you sure somebody is living there?” I was like, “The lights were on.” He goes, “That isn’t anything.” He said, “Call the power company.
They’re not going to tell you whose name it’s in, but just ask them if it’s on and if it’s paid for, because if it is that typically means somebody is living there.” I said, “What happens if they’re living there?” He goes, well, “You have to get them out or you have to get them to start paying rent. That’s why you bought the thing.” He goes, “You need to get them under a lease. Do a month to month lease. In the meantime, I’m going to run a title report on this property to see what you got into. Make sure there’s no liens on it and make sure that somebody don’t come knocking on your door for a 10 grand settlement or anything like that.”
I said, “Okay”. There were no liens on the property, what not. The reason why it went to tax deed auction was the guy who owned it, inherited it from his father. But the son who now owned it had been in prison for like three or four years. So being in prison you can’t pay for it. Well, the guy living in it was definitely squatting. He was squatting in there. He’d been squatting in there for a while. Now to tell you what kind of individual this was. He was stealing his mom’s disability check to buy supplies, to cook meth in the backyard.
Mark: Oh my God. Now this was the son who had been in jail.
Jay: No, the son was still in jail.
Mark: His son was in prison. This was an associate of the son or totally unrelated?
Jay: I don’t know if they were related or not. I don’t know if they knew each other. If this guy kept walking by and saying, Hey, there’s nobody in this house. Let me go live in there. I don’t know. But yeah. We found all kinds of paraphernalia.
Mark: I’ve heard meth properties are good deals.
Jay: Well, this one’s turned out to be a good deal.
Mark: Performs well.
Jay: You got to clean them up though. I was going in this thing and I’m alright “I’m going to pay 7,000 for this property, we may spend 10 or 15 cleaning it up and then we’re going to rent it for five or 600 bucks a month. But I got the guy on a month to month lease. Month two, he doesn’t pay. Shocker. I threatened to evict him. He doesn’t even take me up on it. He just moves out. He destroys the place when he leaves. We ended up demoing the mobile home and there was a block building next to it. I think it was something like seven and a half tons of debris that we removed from that property.
Mark: Seven and a half tons?
Jay: Yes. It was a lot.
Jay: So, we ended up demoing everything and putting a used mobile home in there. So, into that property, what I thought was going to be a $7,000 purchase price is now 40,000. I’m into it.
Jay: We’ve had a renter in there ever since 600 bucks a month is what they’re paying and we should be able to sell it for around 65.
Mark: Okay. Nice. So, you stabilized it.
Jay: Yeah. We’ll definitely make money off of it. It just didn’t turn out the way it was.
Mark: Yeah. You got a big surprise.
Jay: Yeah. One of the properties, I do have a concealed weapons permit and it is one of the properties that I definitely made sure I was carrying every time I went over to it. And that’s what I asked my lawyer, I said, “What I do knock on the door and say, hey, I bought this property. Now you’ve got to sign the lease.” I said,” How do I enter this situation?”
“Well you send him a certified letter. And on the certified letter, make sure that you’re carbon copying me and notify me notate that I’m your lawyer.” And he says, “Make it certified. That way you know he signs for it and give them your number, tell them you got to call him.” So that’s what we did. And that happened. So great learning experience. I don’t know that I’ll ever do another one of those again, but one thing, the other silver line. We’re going to make a little bit of money off of it. Not as much as we were planning.
The other thing, the silver lining there is every time we were over there during the renovation and stuff like that, it’s on a quiet street. There are kids riding their bikes up and down the street. This was by far the worst house on the street and who knows how they or what they would have been exposed to if that scumbag would have been living in there. So, it gave us an opportunity to really clean that area up.
Jay: That’s the worst one yet.
Mark: That’s the worst one. The closest I’ve had to that is I like to buy cabins ever since I moved from Ohio to California. I like to go up to the mountains. There are mountains outside of LA and it’s just these like pine forests and rural and there’s a big Lake and it’s awesome. And so as soon as I could, I bought a cabin and I would get guys that were up there to renovate them. And I don’t know if it was meth, but it certainly could have been no work got done. And I think we got one of the guys moved in to live in it.
Anyway, I have this thing called multifamily psychotherapy. What’s a trait you possess that has served you best both in real estate and in life.
Jay: I think Mainly just doing the right thing. Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.
Mark: Yeah. Good.
Jay: If I can summarize it that way.
Mark: I love that. That’s great. And I’m not the first to say this, but you do right by people. It’s good business.
Jay: I have to give credit to my parents. They raised me right. They taught me right. They still parent me to this day and try to. I’m over 40 and they still try to do it, which is, which is fine. That’s why they’re there and doggone if they don’t have some good ideas in their wisdom.
Mark: Is there a trait that holds you back what do you need to work on?
Jay: Yeah, I’m a little too conservative when I underwrite deals. When I look at properties, I never want to lose anybody’s money mine or especially the investors. So, when I underwrite ideals, I underwrite them pretty conservatively, very conservatively actually. With the idea, there’s enough meat on the bone that we’re going to make money regardless of what we run into. So, I think that has paid off. It’s just one of those lagging indicators. So, if I did not have that trait about myself, I might be in a world of hurt in about a year if I’d been buying in this last six months to a year.
Mark: And yeah, I think there probably are people in a world of hurt right now. And they’re unfortunately there will continue to be, but I kind of have a hunch that you won’t really hear as much about it as you’re hearing about all their successes over the last five years. Alright. Finally, how important is mindset to your success?
Jay: Tremendously important. A lot of folks talk about mindset. I’ve talked about mindset a lot. It’s not necessarily just my mindset, but it’s the people that I choose to keep around me to help me stay focused and help keep that mindset.
Mark: Excellent. Have you ever heard that phrase, that psychologists say that you are basically the average of the five people you hang around most?
Jay: Yeah. My wife likes to joke how I’m just a kid and I’m like, well, I do hang around a five, three and one year old, most of my day. So yeah, I’m running around yelling, poop and pee pee and just to get them to laugh, they’re doing the same thing to get themselves to laugh as well.
Mark: That’s your mastermind group?
Jay: That’s it.
Mark: Your mastermind group is a five-year-old.
Jay: And a three-year-old and a one year old.
Mark: That’s good. Are you ready for our question round?
Jay: Let’s do it.
Mark: And now our question round.
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