In this episode, Mike Simmons shares awesome information about his house flipping business.
Having an accountability partner in this business can make all the difference in the world. Mike’s wife was his main accountability partner that kept him in line and working to make his business a success.
Keys to finding and approaching a mentor:
Mike shares how he found a great real estate agent to find him deals.
He also reads the copy of the post card that he uses to generate lots of leads and the criteria he uses for generating his mailing list.
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Danny Johnson: Today, Mike Simmons from JustStartRealEstate.com joins us for an information-packed show. Mike’s a good friend of mine, never holds back when it comes to great actionable advice. He began investing in 2008, flipping single-family homes. He since changed up his game and primarily wholesales houses to investors all over Michigan.
Today’s show covers a lot of ground; some of the great takeaways about the importance of having an accountability partner in this business as well as exactly how to find and approach a mentor, in a way that will get them to want to work with you even if you don’t have much experience. Learn how Mike found a great real estate agent that finds him lots of deals. He even went as far as telling us exactly what his postcard says that he uses to generate tons of leads. Enjoy the show. [music]
All right. Hello, everybody. This is Danny Johnson of Flipping Junkie Podcast. Hope you guys are having a great day. I’m super excited to have my guest on today. His name is Mike Simmons and he is a house flipper, fixing flipper and also podcasts with the Just Start Real Estate podcast. He’s a good friend of mine. I’ve known him for a while and I’m super pumped to have him on the show.
How are you doing, Mike?
Mike Simmons: Hey, Danny. It’s good to be here. Thank you. I appreciate those nice intro.
Danny Johnson: Yeah, thanks. So, tell the audience a little bit about yourself and the fix and flipping that you do.
Mike Simmons: Yeah, no problem. So I am a real estate investor here in Michigan. And started back in ‘08, which was you know like the worst time in the world in real estate if you’re like a homeowner or just like a regular average home buyer, but for real estate investors, it was like kids in a candy store, if you remember back them.
Danny Johnson: Oh yeah.
Mike Simmons: You know, if you had something you’re fixing and flipping long-term or something, you might’ve got caught in the middle there.
But for me, I was starting out and I didn’t have a lot of money. So when everything crashed and everything was basically a fire sale, I jumped in at that point. It was just dumb luck. It wasn’t like I didn’t calculate that, but that’s just when I finally got the nerve to jump in. Everything crashed and I was able to start investing and start picking up properties because everything was so cheap. And Michigan is unlike other states where real estate is kind of inexpensive here even in the good times.
So, when everything kind of crashed, I mean, it was like dirt cheap. It was incredible what you could pick up really nice houses for, and I got kind of lucky that way because I think of the buy-in was what it was in 2005, for example. I might have struggled a little bit more how to figure out how to do it because when I started, I didn’t have a bunch of private investors and things like that.
I actually, my first deal, I financed it with traditional mortgage through a mortgage company and then just like pooled all of our savings and credit cards and like pooled money out of savings account and things in. We would kind of went all in, my wife and I, on the first flip. You know what, it went really, really well.
But I don’t know, it would’ve been a different story I think trying to get approved for the loan and things. I mean, it was a $40,000 house we bought and it was a house that costs like 120 a couple years earlier. So, we were in pretty good position to buy this house and then resell it for a profit because the profit margins were, you know, they were lower but so were the buy-in prices.
So, that’s kind of how we got started and then from there, I had a really good mentor and I had some really good advice starting out. And I was able to take that one small first success and just propel myself forward with private investors and all kinds of things. So it went really well from that point forward.
Danny Johnson: Yeah. The power of that first deal, like just getting to that first deal is what is so difficult for everybody. But once you do it, man, it just opens up so many doors and so many possibilities. Yeah, and you know, I’ve talked a couple of times before about – oh, I actually talk about it quite a bit, you know, whenever it’s always sort of a trade-off.
So when you got a hot market, it’s a lot harder to find the deals but it’s real easy to sell them. And then when you have a market, like it was in 2008, it’s a lot easier to find the deals but then you’ve got to consider longer holding cost and possibility of having trouble having someone be approved for a loan afterwards.
Mike Simmons: Yeah, no doubt about it. That’s what… [clears throat] you know, it’s funny people would say, they’ll ask me, “Is this a good market or a bad market to invest?”
I’m like, there is no such thing. It’s just you just have to change your approach. Every market is good and every market is bad depending on, I guess, how you look at it.
But they’re all… “you can invest in any market as long as you don’t just ignore what the market is doing. Figure out what it’s doing and adjust your model to that, and it all works.”
I mean, these guys have been investing for 30 years. Try telling them, you know, there’s some markets that you can’t invest and they’ll laugh at you.
Danny Johnson: Absolutely. Yeah, then things trend. You know, it’s not like one day like tomorrow all the sudden it’s just going to be gone. You know, you can see it coming from a mile away. And so, it’s just being sure that you’re not sticking your head in the sand and just thinking everything is hunky-dory and buying up stuff at the same prices if the market is starting to turn, you just start to buy at lower prices. And I think, you know, it’s also good that when you started at that time, I’m sure that you learned how to be really conservative, right?
Mike Simmons: Oh, yeah. I mean, you know, I’m way more of a risk taker than my wife is and she is my partner in this and was then, too. And man, you know, I always joke around. It’s not really a joke but it’s funny. If that first deal had not gone well, we wouldn’t be talking right now.
I wouldn’t be an investor because she just would have said, “Absolutely not.” So, she’s real nervous about it, she was, she’s not now. Now, we’re buying and selling houses all the time. She really like doesn’t even play close attention to the actual ins and outs of the houses.
But back then, it was like we pushed in literally all of the savings we had and we went into credit card debt pretty deeply to do the first one. And had that went south, man, it would have been a really tough conversation to try to talk about doing the second one.
Danny Johnson: I bet. You know, that was a sort of a sink or swim sort of situation for you.
Mike Simmons: Yeah.
Danny Johnson: Did you doubt yourself at any point in that or were you just thinking positive and saying, “I’m just going to make this happen”?
Mike Simmons: I didn’t doubt myself at all. I’m sure my wife had her doubts because she’s just a conservative person, you know. She just sort of like doesn’t ignore the potential downside, where I sort of am more likely to ignore the potential downside and just forge ahead. I really wasn’t that nervous. I was only nervous because she was nervous.
And at the time, this was when all of like the house flipping shows were getting real popular; you know, flip this house and all that. And you watched those things and we had to stop watching them because yeah, they turned out well most of the time, but the nightmare things that happened everyday gave her new fears of like, “Well, that could happen. I never thought about that.”
So we literally had to like make a conscious effort to we’re not watching these shows anymore because they’re freaking her out. They didn’t really freak me out. I’m way more of a risk taker but yeah, they were freaking her out so we just totally stopped watching those things.
Danny Johnson: That’s awesome that you got that balanced with your wife because I feel like I’m more like you are and I’d probably go out there and make all kinds of big mistakes if my wife wasn’t there to stop me and she’s always invested with me. We had been a partner in the business and really done a lot. You know, the funny thing is, I will ask her all the time for advice on things, right?
And we joke about this all the time but typically I’ll say, “Oh yeah, you know, well, thanks for the advice. I don’t know if that’s how I want to do it.”
Mike Simmons: Yeah.
Danny Johnson: And I give it a couple of days. You know, my father also flips houses and I’ll call him and ask him for advice and he’ll tell me basically the same exact thing that my wife did and I’ll go back to her and say, “Yeah, you know my dad said this and I agree.”
And she’s like, “That’s what I told you two days ago.” You know, it’s like it’s all the time that happens. It’s hilarious but…
Mike Simmons: Yeah. You know, it’s funny when we started out too. I mean looking back it’s kind of silly but when we started out, we didn’t tell our friends or family what was going on because we were so… even this for me, this was true too.
I was so worried about negative opinions of what we were doing. And back then, if you remember, like every newscast, every article in the newspaper was about real estate is terrible and people losing their houses and losing their life savings. It was like gloom and doom.
So we didn’t tell anybody because we didn’t want to hear negative opinions of what we were doing. We thought, you know, it could kind of shake our confidence here a little bit, so we didn’t tell anybody. And then as it went on, we were flipping more and more houses, we still really didn’t bring it up because our family is like blue-collar, traditional, get a job, get in a union, work for 30 years and retire. We didn’t think they’d get it.
So one day we were at, I think it was Thanksgiving dinner and they got a phone call at my house. Well, a couple of weeks prior, I had been contacted by the Detroit News, the local like big newspaper here in Michigan, and they wanted to do an article on us, so I said, “Yeah, sure.”
So they came out and interviewed us, took some pictures at a house we were flipping and I kind of figured it would be a blurb on page 12 of the real estate section. So we get a call and it came out that day or the day before, whatever, the paper, and it was my uncle saying, “Hey, you know, Mike’s in the newspaper.”
I heard my mom on the other. I just heard her sigh of it. She’s like, “What? He didn’t say anything. What? All right. I’m going to talk to him.” Hung up. She’s like, “You know, you’re on the front page of the Detroit newspaper?”
Danny Johnson: Oh wow!
Mike Simmons: A full-color picture of my wife and I and about flipping houses. I was like, “Oh yeah, well, we flip houses. We didn’t tell you.” It was kind of crazy. It was just us being a little paranoid about what people would say, worrying about what everyone thinks.
Danny Johnson: Well, that’s crazy. I thought you meant by not talking about it. You just didn’t talk about it like they knew that you were kind of doing it on the side but you just didn’t talk about it. So they didn’t even know at all that you are doing it.
Mike Simmons: We didn’t tell. No.
Danny Johnson: Wow!
Mike Simmons: No. Just crazy. Just being ridiculous. I mean, it seems silly now. I mean, I podcast and I talk about it. I get up in front of REAs and talk and I’m open about everything.
But back then, we were just so worried that they were going to say we were making a huge mistake that it would like freak us out, so we just didn’t tell them. And then we just dinged it around too after that. After it went very well with the first couple of houses, we just didn’t really get around and saying anything. We live like an hour away from our parents, so it’s not like we see them all the time.
So yeah, it was just kind of funny. They found out because we were featured in the newspaper.
Danny Johnson: All right. So if your family and friends didn’t flip house, you know, what’s the backstory like why did you decide to get in into investing in real estate?
Mike Simmons: Well, I was on the long-term plan. You know how some people go to college for 10 years to get their degree? I sort of feel like I went in the same path with real estate.
I got interested back in the early 2000s. I was working for an automotive company. When you’re in your 20s, you don’t think about retirement and if you’re smart, you do. But if you’re not, you think about it later in life when you’re getting a little closer. So when I was in my early 30s, I started contemplating because I hated my job.
And I started thinking “How am I ever going to retire? What’s it going to take?”
So you start doing the math and figuring out, okay, cost of living increases and so forth. I’m going to have to work until I’m 150 at this rate, like I’m never going to be able to retire, right? The numbers aren’t working out.
So I started thinking, “I’ve got to learn about investing. Learn about investing.” What are you going to do? Stocks, right? Trading stocks and day trading back then was very popular.
So I started researching stocks and how to invest in the stock market and day trading and things like that. Getting on the internet night after night after work and when the kids were in bed and stuff and reading about this stuff, it was like reading insurance, like handbooks. Like it was the most dry, boring. I had zero interest but I was trying so hard to learn because I knew I needed to do something and I would always end up on like ESPN.com or something. I always got my attention diverted because I hate it and it was boring me.
Danny Johnson: Yeah, that’s the point where you realize like maybe this isn’t what I should be doing.
Mike Simmons: Yeah, exactly. But if you type in like investing and how to invest and things and you google it, eventually you’ll get to real estate investing, it will pop up at some point; maybe not first page but it will pop up.
So then I’m like “Oh, real estate investing. What’s this?”
Started reading about it. That held my attention.
I was really excited about it, the more I learn. And I was one of those people that went into like forums and read success stories. You know, I could read success stories for hours and hours and hours. I just absorb it and then I started getting books. I was really into it but I just didn’t pull the trigger and do anything about it for like 6 years.
So finally, I got to the point where I told my wife, I’m like, “Listen, I want to do this. I know it makes you nervous. They’re having a local boot camp. This local guy who’s an investor is having this weekend boot camp. I really want to do it.”
Now, it was like $2,000 to get into this boot camp, which was just an obscene amount of money for us to think about spending on something like that. Somehow, I don’t even know how I did it. Somehow, I convinced her that we should do it. We did it and I knew what would happen. If we spent that kind of money on a boot camp to learn how to do something, there was no way my wife was going to let us not do it. If we’re going to spend that kind of money, she was going to be relentlessly pursuing me to make sure that I’m doing it.
So, it was sort of like one of those things that I knew if I could get her on board, she would be like way behind it. So, we did. We learned a lot. Not sure if it was worth $2,000, but what it was good for and what it was important for is that was the springboard that launched me into investing and honestly, if it would’ve been $10,000, looking back, it would’ve been more than worth it because every penny I’ve made has been a direct result of actually taking that first step and getting going.
So, I’m a huge, huge fan and cheerleader for people who want to learn and even pay for training or pay for mentoring or coaching because you can’t really look at necessarily with the price you’re being charged although some people charge obscene amounts and you got to be a little careful.
But if it makes you take that first step and you actually start flipping or wholesaling or buying rentals and you launched that whole thing, you know, what’s the cost? So $2,000 to make the money that I’ve made in the last 8 years, it’s more than worth it.
Danny Johnson: You know, I have to ask you. Well first though, you know, I completely agree and actually I laid my foundation with a course. I think it was on eBay for $150.
Mike Simmons: Okay.
Danny Johnson: And that course was probably new, it was probably either $500 or $1,000. but I got it on eBay for like 150 bucks and that laid the foundation for all of the basic knowledge of the business. And I’m sure my kids even subconsciously like they know a lot more about flipping than they think other than from seeing what we do because they listen to those CDs with us in the car for so long.
Mike Simmons: Oh, wow! That’s awesome.
Danny Johnson: Yeah, we burned those things out, like we listen to them over and over and over… They even had sayings like some of the things that were said in those audio CDs that were like funny to them because it look. So they would always like say things for years like some of the clips from those audio CDs.
But the thing I wanted to ask you about the course, you know, so here’s something I’ve noticed a lot and I’m sure you’ve noticed as well where somebody will get a course. They will get training, go to a boot camp or whatever and directly afterwards they’re like super excited to get going. They’ve gone through the course. And rather than taking those first steps, they go and get another course.
And so how did you feel when you were going through that first training that you did and then afterwards what made the difference, why did you not just go in and start getting other courses or did you buy more courses?
Mike Simmons: No, I didn’t. I tell people all the time when they ask me, I am all about paying for training, paying for knowledge to accelerate your learning. But I will say I am not one of those people that can say, “How did I spend $15,000 in courses before I did my first deal?” I spent to 2 grand on a boot camp and I knew, to answer, you asked me 2 questions: how did I feel during the boot camp and why didn’t I do that.
The reason I didn’t buy more after that is, like I said, we spent 2 grand on a boot camp. If I would have told my wife I was going to spent $25 on a book after that, she would have said, “For what? We just spent 2,000 on a boot camp. It was a 3-day long, 8 hours a day boot camp. What could you possibly need?”
The greatest thing in this business is an accountability person or partner or somebody that you can bounce ideas off them. She was really, really good and still really, really a good accountability partner for me because she won’t let me forget. If I say I’m going to do something, she won’t let it go until she knows that I did it, which is great because I can be unfocused and I can be a little bit of entrepreneur fever kind of a thing where I have a different idea every day and I get unfocused. So she’s really going to focus me that way.
And during the boot camp, I was excited. We didn’t know anything like we were as green and new as we could be. I mean, I had read books and things but there was a lot of gaps in the information when you read books and things like that. So we were just absorbing it. We loved it.
You know, looking back now with the experience that I have, the content was pretty light but it was enough to get us off our butt and it allowed us to meet people and the mentor was accessible to me after the boot camp. So I felt like I had support in somebody that I could go and ask a question to if I really needed to know something specific that I was trying to do. It was great.
I mean, like I said, it was a lot of money but I really do credit that mentor and that coach with literally all my success. I mean, he was really a good mentor but he was a great motivator, and he was really good at making you think big and making you believe that you can really do this.
And I think that’s the problem that most new people have. They want to do it, they believe that other people have done it. They just don’t really believe that they can do it. They really don’t.
I mean, they might say, “Yeah, I believe I can do it,” but why aren’t they taking that first step? Why aren’t they taking action? They really don’t believe they can do it. And having someone who’s there to like kind of help you get over that fear is really priceless, in my opinion.
Danny Johnson: Absolutely. And some people will say, “Well, that’s great. I understand that and I believe that.” But how do you find a mentor? How do you find somebody and get their attention and have them want to help you?
Mike Simmons: Yeah, it’s a good question. My guy was local. I don’t think they have to be necessarily be local, but in my case it was helpful to me because he was tangible. I could go and see him and talk to him and then spend time. But the best way, in my opinion, to do it especially if you don’t want to spend a lot of money is start attending your local real estate investing groups and network.
Meet people. Be genuine. Be nice. Don’t be asking for things every 5 seconds. Don’t be trying to take people’s time up. Just be interested. Be yourself. Offer to help people. Offer to give them any assistance because probably you don’t have… I’m just going to go out on a limb and say most people don’t’ have an abundance of money when they’re starting to spend and they don’t have any knowledge.
So the only thing you can offer someone that might be of interest to them or useful to them is your time. So if you can find a way to make yourself useful to a local investor who’s doing it who’s actually involved in the business and successful and get to know them and try to offer them some value and like I said, that might just be your time and ask them for help. Ask them if they would mind mentoring you, maybe just being someone you can call once in a while, not all the time, and ask questions of. And try to find someone local that you can somehow provide value too that can help you.
Now, if that isn’t an option or if you don’t want to do that or if you really just like want to get started immediately and have someone coach you right away without you having to invest that time, there’s plenty of people that you can go to and pay online. The problem is, for every one really good conscientious person who will provide value, there’s probably 100 people who just are trying to take your money and they really don’t know what they’re talking about.
So it’s like going to a mechanic. If you don’t know anything about cars, how do you evaluate a mechanic? It’s hard. References, talk to people. Get involved in communities like Bigger Pockets or listen to podcasts and start getting a feel. There’s a lot of really good people out there. I mean, a lot of really good people who really will help and they can help you. You just need to find the right one and sometimes that’s the challenge.
Danny Johnson: Right. And I completely agree with trying to find somebody local if you can. One way to do that to narrow because there’s probably likely seems like there’s even thousands or tens of thousands of investors in some of the bigger cities.
Mike Simmons: Sure.
Danny Johnson: And so you go to some of these REA meetings and you’ve got to realize the majority of people are new and haven’t done a deal and there are some people that are doing some deals. And I always highly recommend taking the time, get out of your comfort zone, and talk to other people.
And when you do talk to somebody else and you ask them, “Have you been flipping and how long you’ve been flipping?” But then also, after talking for a while ask them who in town do they know that does the most deals of anybody else that they know.
Mike Simmons: Yeah.
Danny Johnson: And after talking to quite a few of people, you’re going to start hearing some of the same names over and over again. Those are the people that you really want to spend the time trying to get to work with you. And Mike’s advice on offering value to them, that’s huge, because active investors get ask all the time from people to help them out.
Mike Simmons: Sure.
Danny Johnson: And what’s in it for them? They’re busy. You know, everybody is busy. They’re not going to take the time and say, “Yeah, okay. Sure, let me do that. I don’t know you and I don’t know exactly what you want from me and everything, but let me stop everything and help you.” I mean, it’s not going to happen. And so, offering value. An example of that is just even something as simple as, “I’ll hang bandit signs for you for free.” You know, it’s just…
Mike Simmons: Yeah.
Danny Johnson: You know, things like that. And I always advise if you can lay your foundation with a course or training that you can study yourself and then start doing marketing from motivated sellers, and I’ll tell you what, if you’ve got a lead or two that comes in that seems even remotely decent and you take it to one of these guys, they’re going to listen to you.
Mike Simmons: Oh yeah.
Danny Johnson: “I’ve got this lead, I don’t know how to work it. Can you help me work this and maybe I can wholesale it to you.” You know, that kind of thing is going to make them stop and spend some time with you because there’s a potential deal for them and a new source of deals for them if you can start wholesaling to them. And then getting that relationship is worth a lot more than that one lead or something.
Mike Simmons: Yeah, absolutely. If you can bring someone a lead, like you said in that specific example, you’re separating yourself from the dozens and dozens of other people who approach them all the time wanting something from them.
Now, you provide real value, right? You’re giving them something. You’re offering them the currency that they need in their business. So if someone brings me a deal that I can do something with and they say, “Oh, by the way, I’d like your help. Can you give me advice? Can I wholesale to you? Can you maybe come out and take a look at this property?”
Now, all of a sudden, I answer the phone and I’m a little bit more interested in working with them because they’re not just taking and taking and taking. They’re trying to provide some value to me, too. Just that alone will separate you from almost every other person who approaches them.
Danny Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. To get into a little bit more of the actual flipping that you do, would you be willing to go ahead and like walk us through how you’re typically getting your leads and then how you’re analyzing those leads and then sort of the process that you take all the way through to fixing it and selling it.
Mike Simmons: Yeah, no problem. Actually, you know, one of the reasons why… you know, I have a podcast like you talked about at the top and I haven’t been as active with my podcast.
I sort of took a few months off because my business went through a huge metamorphosis in the last 6 months. Huge. I spent the first 7 years or so in this business flipping houses. I’m doing a lot more wholesaling at this point than I’m doing flipping houses, but I would love to walk you through a process of flipping house because that’s what I’ve done for years, that’s what I know the best.
So, the way that I found deals prior to like, say, the last year was through a realtor. I had one realtor who I worked with exclusively. He sent me deals. He knew what I was looking for. He could send me kind of pre-qualified, pre-screened leads from the MLS and that’s how I was buying all my leads. Nowadays, I’m doing a lot more almost exclusively direct marketing to find leads and that’s been hugely successful for me. So, I don’t know if you want to get into that specifically or just more like a high level.
Danny Johnson: Right, like a high level and then we can delve into certain parts of it with questions that people might likely have. So with the realtor, what kind of relationship was that? Or more importantly, how did you tell them or coach them and telling, you know, finding the right leads from the MLS to send to you? Because I’m sure you didn’t want everything off the MLS that’s coming to you.
Mike Simmons: No.
Danny Johnson: And what was the process of like looking at what he sent to you or she sent to you and making offers on those?
Mike Simmons: Okay. So, it started out when… actually it was my first deal. I went on to, I believe it was Zillow and like looked in the… it was a town called… it doesn’t really matter I guess for your listeners because they don’t know the town, but the town name is called Warren here in Michigan. Warren, Michigan.
So I went onto Zillow and tried to look up all the houses that were for sale or sold in Warren and then just started making a big list. And what I found was they were the same realtors coming up time after time after time that had sold houses in Warren. So I just sort of took that list and went down the list and started bringing people into the house that I was flipping that first house and basically interviewing them to sell it. So I found someone who had done just a ton of deals in that area, interviewed and brought him in, told him what I’m doing. He sold that house and then that was sort of what started the relationship.
And then it was just constant communication, I would say, “Listen, this is what I’m looking for.”
And then they put you on like that drip email thing where you basically get a ton of houses coming to your email and the vast majority were no good. So, I would pick out the ones that did make sense, communicate back to him.
There was just a lot of feedback that I was giving him. “This is why I pick these houses. This is why these other houses don’t make sense for me.”
Maybe they didn’t have a basement or maybe it didn’t have a garage, whatever the case may be, or it’s just out of the area that I want to be in. So we started like refining it, refining. So every time he sent me a list, I gave him feedback and then he’d send me the next list, I would give him feedback. So we just filtered it that way over time.
I worked with him for almost like 7 years basically that I was flipping houses. So he would send me the leads. Once I found the ones that I liked, I had a full-time job, so I would go after work with a flashlight and a notepad and just start walking through these houses, going into the basements and a lot of them didn’t have electricity. So it was just these crazy adventures and that was when my wife had no interest, took no part on that.
She’s like, “I’m not going into any basement at 10 o’clock at night or 9 o’clock at night when I can’t see what’s going on.” And there’s a lot of walking through spider webs and stuff but I would just bring a flashlight and just go to these houses and take notes.
Then, I was part of a mastermind at the time. The mentor, the guy that I did the boot camp with also had a paid mastermind monthly, a closed membership mastermind, and it was full of all kinds of like the people that you talk about you want to find when you go to these REAs, these open REAs.
It was just chock-full of serious investors. Everybody in there pretty much knew what they were doing and knew what they were talking about. So I would go back to these meetings and say, “Hey, this is what I found. What do you think? And these are the numbers I came up with and what do you think about it?”
So I got a lot of really good feedback from those people in the early days when I didn’t really know what I was talking about. So I would walk through the notepad. A lot of times I would have something for that group. Meet me at the house, if I really thought it was good one. And walked through it and just checked my numbers and kind of explained to me how they see it and how they’re calculating the rehab, which is really huge in the beginning. I mean, there’s a lot.
You can go to a realtor to find out what the house should be worth after repair and a lot of realtors have no clue what that even means, so you have to coach them up a little bit on that. But they can get you that information. They have access to the sold comps and it’s just a matter of understanding the philosophy, but they can get you that. What they can’t tell you is renovation cost.
Most realtors, the vast majority don’t know. They’re not house flippers. They don’t really have that experience. That’s key information and it’s a component that you can’t be off/on a lot or you’re going to lose money, especially in Michigan where the buy-in price is 40 and maybe the sell price is 70 or 80 and it’s going to take 15 or 20.
There’s not thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars that you can afford to be off like these flipping shows where their renovation budget is 40,000 and it goes up to 80,000 and they still make 100,000. It’s like, what? Like in my world, you’re off by double, you’re losing a ton of money.
So, you know, we’re real careful about that stuff. We got help and eventually I learned obviously how to quote rehab as far as contractor. So I made tons of mistakes in the beginning. The first time I hired a contractor, one in Craigslist. Got like 10 names, you know, 10 people responded. I made an appointment for each of them at the house, like every hour I would have a new person coming. So I had like this 10-hour schedule for that house.
So I went there in the morning. First person didn’t show up, okay, well, it’s a bummer but okay, no big deal. Second hour, person didn’t show up. Third hour, the guy showed up, went through the house. Seemed like a good enough guy. The fourth hour, nobody showed up. Fifth hour, nobody showed up. Sixth hour, the person showed up, showed the house, great. And then nobody showed up after that but I was there for the whole 10 hours and I was like…
Danny Johnson: Yeah, I’ve been there before.
Mike Simmons: Oh, my god! What a huge… like one of the best things I can do to get people their life back is I tell people, is when you hire a contractor, if you go onto Craigslist or however you’re doing it, it’s good to get references first of all. That’s the best place to start but if you don’t –
Danny Johnson: Yeah, screen them on the phone, right?
Mike Simmons: Screen them on the phone. But if you’re going to meet with them, I always tell people, “I don’t care if you meet with one or you meet with 10 contractors, you schedule that timing exact same time for everybody.”
Show them as a group. Yeah, some contractors won’t like it. Tough, tough. Because I don’t want you sitting at a house for 10 hours. Show the whole group, find somebody from that group. But back to what I did, so I found somebody, one of two people.
I picked the guy who was like closer to my age, seemed like a good guy. We got along pretty well. I liked him personally, seemed like a good dude. Did the renovations. Didn’t do a bad job. I paid him. We were done. Moved on.
I got a call a week later from the electrical contractor, “Hey, I never got pay. You owe me a thousand dollars.” I was like come on, I paid the general contractor.
They’re like, “Well, you may or may not have, but we didn’t get paid and so we’re going to put a lien on your house,” which is terrible when you’re trying to flip a house, you can’t have a lien on it.
Danny Johnson: Absolutely.
Mike Simmons: So I negotiated with him. I got the price down. But it was the thing that taught me that a release of lien is critical when you have a general contractor, to make sure that all the subcontractors get paid.
So release of lien, getting those things signed, that’s really important. You should make sure you’re doing that. But I got through that process. Of course, my contractor didn’t respond or answer the phone when I called to say, “Hey, why didn’t the electrical contractor get paid?”
He sort of just dropped off the map, so I couldn’t use him again. Ended up finding someone on the next property that I used for years after that. But that first experience was tough because I didn’t even know what they were talking about when they said they didn’t get paid.
I have like a canceled check that you can see, it got cash, like I know I paid it and they’re like, “Listen, you paid the general contractor. He never paid us. He took your money and left.” So it was an education on what a contractor can do to you if you’re not careful.
Danny Johnson: Right, absolutely. And that’s sort of the importance of getting that mentor or getting a course that has a lot of these details that you don’t get or kind of skip over when you don’t have some sort of planned education where it covers everything from the start to finish.
But in finding a contractor, I find that you have to be patient and have to take time. Don’t get tired of looking for a contractor. Because when you have a great contractor, like you just said, “I found another one I used for years,” when you do have a good one and you keep him for years, your life is so much better because when you have cruddy contractors you’re worried about, you have situations where the subs don’t get paid. Your life is miserable and you start wondering if you want to even be in the rehabbing business anymore.
Mike Simmons: Yeah. I think what helped me out was my day job. I was like a project manager. That was my function. So I was really comfortable and I really kind of enjoyed timelines, budgets, you know, overseeing projects like I was all about that.
So, I think that my background helped me find and maintain a contractor for a long time, whereas some people are uncomfortable talking to contractors or maybe confronting them from time to time if there’s an issue, or like questioning the timeline or questioning the things that inevitably come up during a rehab where there’s some extra cost associated, things pop up that could’ve maybe been identified early on. A lot of people are super uncomfortable with that whole process.
Danny Johnson: Yeah, that’s a problem.
Mike Simmons: So, I wasn’t. It’s a problem because contractors will make or break your business on some level, right? I mean, you have to buy right and you have to sell right and all that. But contractors can really just kill a deal with poor work, you know just taking off with your down payment or whatever the case may be.
So there’s a lot of dos and don’ts when it comes to contractors and one of them is: don’t give him all the money upfront, don’t him 50% of the money upfront. And you’d be surprised. It sounds ridiculous but people still do it. I still hear horror stories in my local market of people who give all the money upfront and then never hear from the guy again.
Danny Johnson: And a big one – a really big one I hear all the time too is somebody will get a contractor they’ve never used before, never checked references or anything and give them a decent amount of money to start.
They start and they go through and before they repair rotted trim or replace trim or repair the walls, they go through and spray paint the whole inside of the house and then come and say, “Hey, I’m halfway done, pay me the half of the amount.”
Mike Simmons: Yeah.
Danny Johnson: You know, they did what they could do in a day that made it look like they did a ton of work and are wanting pay and people fall into the trap saying, “Oh, yeah. He’s already kind of like look how far he is into this.” and then they leave. They take off and go to another job where they can get another half upfront. Obviously, not all of them are like that.
Mike Simmons: Sure.
Danny Johnson: You just have to be careful and have a good contract to have this contractor sign that states how everything is going to happen and a draw schedule based on work completed in the proper order.
Mike Simmons: Yeah, that’s huge. That’s really an important thing, having a contract that your contractor signed. Now, does it mean they won’t skip out? But it helps ensure that they’re going to do what they say.
It will also make sure that all the agreements are on paper and clear upfront because there can be an awful lot of “Well, that’s not what we talked about. That’s not what you promised” on both sides, right?
You can say that as the investor, “Hey, this isn’t what you said.”
And they say it back to you a lot of times too, “This isn’t what we agreed on.”
So you should have things in writing when it comes to real estate in all aspects.
But the other thing is, it’s very important, is make sure that you’re there. You have to be at the project all the time especially when you’re new. Now, if you’ve been doing this for a while and you’ve had a contractor for years and there’s a level of comfort and trust, that’s a different story especially in your first couple of deals.
You can’t just set them up and give them their down payment and walk away and not go back for a few weeks. You need to be there like, if not every day, every other day so they can’t pull the wall over your eyes and say, “Hey, we’ve done all this work.”
You’re there every day. You know what’s going on. It’s a lot harder for them to fool you when you’re there every day.
Danny Johnson: And I suggest doing random times too. Because when I was working a full-time job and I was flipping part-time, they were always like during lunch hours or something, there were times that people expected me to stop by and so you don’t kind of see what the reality of things are, maybe they are not showing up until 11:30 in the morning when they should be there trying to get this job done. They’re working some other job at the same time. And you got to have your schedule so that you keep it on schedule because holding costs can kill you on a deal, depending on the price range of the house and everything.
Mike Simmons: Oh, yeah, for sure. For sure. And you’re talking about the timeline every day, it’s just so hard for things to get completely out of hand. You’re too involved. Some people just aren’t involved and they avoid it because they don’t like that interaction. They’re uncomfortable directing people. You just have to get over that if you’re going to do this.
Danny Johnson: Right, yeah. And that’s something that, you know, it’s just a matter of like you can’t think “Well, I don’t think I can do that” and just not get into the business. It’s something where you’re going to get out of your comfort zone at so many levels in this business –
Mike Simmons: Oh, my gosh!
Danny Johnson: Talking to sellers, talking with contractors, dealing with contractors, confronting them if there’s an issue and all those things you just kind of have to learn how to do. But look at the potential like what other business can you make such a huge profit on one deal.
Mike Simmons: It’s the greatest business in the world but if you can’t or won’t get out of your comfort zone, it’s next to impossible. And everyone’s comfort zone is different. I wasn’t uncomfortable confronting, directing, managing rehab crews.
Really, my discomfort and the thing that I struggled with the most was the networking side of it. And as much as you may want to think or somebody may think, “Why do I need to network? I’ll just find deals and I’ll deal with contractors,” you really need to network because the real key to this is when you start making those connections with, for example in my case, private investors. Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Like my world opened up like you wouldn’t believe once I started networking and finding private investors who are willing to fund my deals.
So the first deal that I did, I made $15,000. It was a $40,000 buy-in, like a $75,000 or $80,000 sale price, $15,000 rehab, and then other costs, holding cost and things, I ended up making like 15 grand. But what was important was my mentor said, “Tell everybody. Go to meetings. Start a Facebook page. Put pictures up. Have a video up. Blog about, like tell the world. Everyone who will listen, tell them what you’re doing.”
And I did exactly that and it attracted certain local investors in my area who said, “Hey, you know, I really like what you guys are doing. I’m following you on the internet or I saw you talked at this REA or I was, you know, whatever, and I really like you guys. I’d like to get involved in your next project. Let me know what you have coming up.”
And from those kind of conversations, the first deal we did, we said… I told you we want 100% in as far as the rehab with our own money and we used a bank. Every deal after that, like literally every single deal, I didn’t put a dime on my own money and for nothing, EME nothing. And it was just the greatest like weight of scale on the world. But if you’re not willing to go out and talk to people and network and meet people and tell them what you’re doing, it’s going to be very hard to scale and do it full-time.
Danny Johnson: Right. No, I absolutely agree with that. So we’ve talked about how you were finding deals with realtors or a realtor and then getting the property and handling the contractors and things like that. So how you were selling these houses?
Mike Simmons: My realtor would sell them, too. So he was helping me buy them and then sell them at the end of the day. And that’s a process too because the first go-around, it was like the guy who I was using as a realtor was like a traditional realtor.
He wasn’t, you know, maybe like an “investor-friendly realtor.” I sort of had to make him investor-friendly. So, there was a lot of educating him on, you know, I don’t necessarily need to get the very top, top, top dollar if it’s going to mean I sit on this house for 6 months.
I would rather get less and sell it in 30 days than hold onto it for 6 months and get an extra $5,000. So, that was a little bit foreign to him. Most homeowners are like “I need to get this because, you know, they’re almost underwater” or whatever the case may be.
As an investor, speed is your friend. You need to get in and out of these as quickly as possible. So, I had to kind of go through that process of putting things up on the MLS that are way too, you know, I was asking way too much. I was taking his advice and then we slowly worked it into.
I would say, his name was Rob, I said, “Hey Rob, what do you think this house will sell for once we’re done renovating it? “I think it will go for 150.”
And I would say, “Does that mean it will go in 30 days for 150 or it could sell for 150 at some point if we find the right buyer?”
And he’d be like, “Well, you know if you find the right buyer, you could get 150 at a go.”
What is the 30-day price? That’s what I’m interested in. So there was a lot of those conversations and he’d go, “Well, you know for 139 we could sell it in 30 days.”
Well, that still met my profit goals and I’d say, “List it for that. You know, let’s get out of this and quick.”
I wasn’t the kind of person who would go real, real high and then systematically drop the price. And I also have never done the thing where people go list it incredibly like way lower than you want and get a bidding war started. I’ve never had the faith that there’s going to be a bidding war, so I don’t list them real low. I list them at the higher end of what I think is reasonable and then give myself a little bit of flexibility.
In my opinion, my business, I never go for like to get every single dollar out of it. But I always think that I should be at least somewhere reasonable to the high end maybe because I know that when people go to look at my houses, if they’re looking at 10 houses that day, mine’s probably going to be the nicest. It’s freshly renovated and I think that it’s going to leave a big impression. So I can afford to ask the higher end of the good of what it should be, but I’m never trying to set the market price with my houses.
Danny Johnson: Oh, yeah, absolutely. That talks a little bit about some of the big problem I see with a lot of newer investors with. You know, they tend to get in and start fixing it up as if they were going to move into the house.
You know, they don’t have an intention to move into the house but they feel like it should be up to a level where they’d be interested or happy moving into it when you should never do that. Really, what you’re doing is finding the best finishes and fixtures that makes your rehab nicer than the competition you’re going to be dealing with when you put the house up for sale.
Mike Simmons: That’s a great point. That’s such a good point. Contractors and over renovating are the two things that will kill you faster than anything in this business, in my opinion. And I’ve known more people who have burned themselves with the type of renovation they’ve done than gotten burned by contractors, believe it or not. It’s so true. When you buy a house to flip, especially when you’re new, you really, really need to go visit other open houses and see what the houses in the neighborhood look like in comparison to yours.
And for me, where I was flipping houses at the beginning, granite counter tops were absolutely not necessary. People think, “Oh, you put in granite and high-end fixtures.”
No, you don’t. Because if you put in brand new materials at the level that is expected in that neighborhood, that’s all you need. At some point, you’re over renovating. So you can take a house that should have an after-repair value of $150,000 and you can put in gold fixtures and granite marble everywhere, you’re not going to get much more than 150.
There’s a limit to what a house will sell for no matter what you do to it. And the worst thing you can do is go, “Well, I wouldn’t necessarily want for like counter tops in my house, I would want granite.”
That’s great. But in this neighborhood, a brand new Formica counter top is all they expect. They don’t even really appreciate much more than that, but it’s new. You know what I mean? Like new trumps expensive almost all the time.
Danny Johnson: Absolutely. And you find that real quick? Like when you go and look at the competition, most of the time you’re not dealing with the whole lot. It’s not very difficult to make your house look a lot better than the rest of them. It could be as simple as like a back splash, you know, for the kitchen. All the other houses don’t have them and you put in a nice mosaic glass tile, spend maybe $200 or $300 on it. But that’s as much as we do a lot of times and it just makes it stand out.
Mike Simmons: Absolutely. I mean it’s just so true. When you look at the other houses in the neighborhood that are for sale, chances are, all of them or the vast majority of them haven’t been updated since the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and so your brand-new countertop, your brand-new cabinets are going to just blow their mind when they see it.
Whether or not you spend 3,000 or 8,000 on the cabinets, it’s going to be irrelevant to them. So you can’t overdo it for the neighborhood. Some neighborhoods require higher-end fixtures and that’s fine and higher-end cabinets and things like that, but you have to know that because the same mistake can be made when you put in low-end finishes to a high-end neighborhood house, you know, you’re going to burn yourself that way too, nobody will buy it.
Danny Johnson: Absolutely. Let’s move on pretty quickly to, you know, you have mentioned before you were getting most of the deals through realtor or real estate agent. So what are you doing now for most of your deals?
Mike Simmons: Now, for all of my deals really, I don’t even go on the MLS anymore. I’m kind of stubborn that way. I found something, it works better. And I’ve kind of went back to the MLS a few times in the last 6 months and never really find what I want. It’s more of a hassle. So I’m doing direct marketing, primarily postcards out to homeowners to people that I find… I buy the list online. It’s no secret list source.
It’s a common place that people go to find lists. And I pulled lists of homeowners in certain cities that I deal in who meet a certain criteria which are equity. So I mail people who have high equity. And I also mail people who are over a certain age because what I find is, I get most of my deals come from people who are a little order, say 50 years and older.
Instead of marketing to everybody because a 20-year-old who just bought a house is not going to sell it. They’re not in a position. They don’t have the equity. Equity sort of implies that they’ve been in the house for a while, so those tend to be the older folks. So I mail directly to age and equity. It’s pretty much that simple. And we’re doing a lot of mailings here and I’m getting a lot of deals. I’m really turning about 4-6 houses a month at this point.
Danny Johnson: Wow. And so you’re not focusing solely on absentee owner with that, right? You’re just doing –
Mike Simmons: No, I don’t even care. I don’t even differentiate. I’m mailing both absentee and people who live in the home. I don’t find that it makes a tremendous difference. I don’t know that absentee owners are necessarily way more motivated and as a matter of fact, the vast majority of my deals come from people who actually live in the house still.
Danny Johnson: Wow. Because you get a lot more competition with the absentee owner because everybody is mailing to them. So, you said postcard mailings, right? What’s the gist of your postcard?
Mike Simmons: I keep it real simple. I’ve refined it over time but, you know what, I’ll read one to you. Actually, I’ve got one in front of me. I’ve got a stack of them. Because when you do a lot of postcards, you get a lot of returns.
On the front it says, I mean, I have a couple variations but this one that I’m looking at says, “I buy houses!” Big bold black letters then it has the address and the return address.
On the back, it has the homeowner’s first name and it says, “My name is Mike and I would like to buy your house located at (whatever street). Please call me at your earliest convenience.” Then I have a voicemail number that’s there. All my calls go to voicemail. And on the right-hand side, I have a couple of bullet points: No realtor fees. I buy your house as is. No repairs necessary. Close when you want. No inspection.
So that’s basically what my postcard looks like and at the bottom, I’ve added a couple of things because you get a lot of calls from people who say all they want to know is “how did you get my information?” Like that’s all they care about. So I added a little blurb at the bottom that says, “I obtained your address using county records.
This information is available to the general public.” So that cuts out a lot of calls that I don’t have to return or listen to. It saves me a little bit of time. And then it just says, “If you want to be removed, give me a call and I’ll remove you.”
You get a lot of people saying either (A) How did you get this information? or (B) Please take me off your list. It sort of eliminates those 2 calls.
Danny Johnson: That’s really smart to do it that way. And you know what’s funny because I do have a story from years ago when I was sending out a lot of postcards. I was also doing my website stuff and I had my website I think it was on the postcard. But I noticed that I started getting a lot of traffic from this guitar forum, you know online.
And I was like, “Why are all these people coming to my website about buying houses from this guitar forum?”
So I go over and I did a search for my web address on there or my name or something and I found a post and this guy saying, “You know, I got this postcard from this guy and I’m trying to figure out what it’s all about, you know, he wants to buy my house. It’s not for sale.”
And he was thinking like it was some kind of scam or something. And it’s just funny to read all the responses to that post in that forum where people are coming up with all these crazy stories and ideas and everything about why I’m sending him a postcard.
And one person even said, “I did research on him and he’s some big shot attorney.” It’s like that’s not true. [laughs] And all this kind of stuff and it’s like… They’re talking about all this and my phone number and my email address; all that stuff is on the postcard. Like all it would take was a phone call. You know what I mean? It was just hilarious.
Mike Simmons: Well, it’s funny when you send someone a postcard to buy their house. The very responses you get, you get everything from, “Oh, this is great. It’s just what I need. I’m very excited about selling my house.”
I’ve gotten my life threatened on voicemail because people take it very personal like, “Hey, why are you contacting me? Why are you focusing on my house? Why are you so interested in my house?”
And I’ve had to call some of these people back and say, “Listen, I send out thousands of these per month. I’m sorry. I don’t even know exactly what address you’re calling from. You have to let me know. I send out so many of these.”
They think like I’m sending out one postcard to them and I’ve been like watching their house for months. It’s just funny the way they think.
Danny Johnson: Yeah, that can be hard too because they’re sitting there threatening you and then you have to get their address so that you can take them off the list.
Mike Simmons: Yeah, exactly.
Danny Johnson: They’re doing all that threatening and then they don’t want to give their address because, you know.
Mike Simmons: Totally. And the funny thing is some people will call up and the voicemail will go, “Hi, I received your postcard. Never send me one again. (click).” It’s like, unfortunately you’re going to get one again because I don’t you who you are.
Danny Johnson: Right. That’s always tough. So we’ve covered a lot of ground in this episode. It was a whole bunch of great information. I guess just a real quick question you know as far as do you have a book that you’ve enjoyed lately that you think that the Flipping Junkie listeners out there would be interested in?
Mike Simmons: Let’s see. I’m looking at my bookcase right now. Let me see what I’ve looked at. I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s still here, I stood up.
This isn’t real estate but there’s a guy that I really enjoy reading his stuff. It’s all good stuff and it’s related to business, not necessarily real estate specifically, but it’s Dan Kennedy. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Dan Kennedy. Dan Kennedy is the best.
The last one that I’ve read that I really enjoyed was “No B.S. Wealth Attraction for Entrepreneurs.” You know, he’s got the whole series of No B.S. for whatever, (insert the topic). But I love Dan Kennedy. I think he’s awesome and I always get a lot of good stuff when I read his books. So that’s somebody I would definitely recommend everyone read.
Danny Johnson: Awesome. Appreciate it. And how can all the listeners out there find you?
Mike Simmons: You can find me at the podcast, website is Just Start Real Estate. So you could email me at [email protected] You can also email me at [email protected] It’s a great place to get a hold of me and if anybody is interested, like I said, I’m doing just a ton of wholesaling right now in Michigan. It’s a great market for rentals for sure but flipping, people who are doing things out of state or even in the state of Michigan, shoot me an email. Let’s talk and see if it make sense for you.
Danny Johnson: Great, great. And we create show notes on the page of flippingjunkie.com and so the notes for this show and links to resources that we mentioned in the episode can be found at flippingjunkie.com/podcast/mikesimmons. So if you go to flippingjunkie.com/podcast/mikesimmons, you will find information about everything that we talked about.
You know, I really enjoyed having you on the show, Mike, and I think everyone’s going to get a lot of out of it. So, thanks so much.
Mike Simmons: Good. No, I appreciate doing this. I love being on this side of the microphone. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot less stressful for me. I know how you feel on that side. It’s a fun time to be on something like this and like you said, we’ve known each other kind of a long time now actually. So, I’m happy to be a part of this and I really look forward to hearing the episode.
Danny Johnson: [music] All right. I hope you enjoyed that episode as much as I had in interviewing Mike. He’s a great guy. I learned a lot of stuff from him. If you want to learn more about flipping houses, check out flippingjunkie.com and be sure to subscribe for more great information that I sent in the email newsletter. And also check out leadpropeller.com. Those are the real estate investor websites that we provide other real estate investors. Anybody that’s known me for a while has known that most of my leads come from my house-buying website and we provide those websites for other investors at leadpropeller.com. Check it out.
Mike- with regards to your mailing list criteria… if equity is your main criteria, why would age matter? Why limit it to older people? If someone is 40 and has high equity, wouldn’t they be a prospect too?
Great question. Equity is what I’m looking for, but I also know that 99% of the people that I have purchased properties from, sellers, have been 45 years old and up. You want to always build your business on the rule not the exception. So in my business, I send out 15,000 mailers per month. I want every one of those postcards to go to the 99% age group that I sell too. I don’t want to send postcards out to a demographic that is in the one or two percentile. It’s more of a way to filter as well to try and narrow down my marketing efforts so that every postcard that goes out has a higher probability of landing in the mailbox of somebody who is interested in selling the property.
Great answer, Mike. Thanks for chiming in.
Ah! That makes sense. No sense paying for all those unproductive postcards, postage, mailing list, etc. Thanks!