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There Is a Reason for a License – I Stand Corrected

by Ben Leybovich on March 11, 2014 · 76 comments

  
Real Estate License

I believe in saying “sorry” when it’s warranted, and I am big enough to acknowledge when I am wrong; except when talking to Brandon Turner – not because I don’t want to apologize to Brandon, but because I am never wrong when I talk to Brandon… :)

I rolled out of bed this morning and thought to myself – today is a good day to say “I’m Sorry.”  You see, I’ve written several articles in the past few weeks questioning the wisdom of obtaining a real estate license as it relates to investing.  Indeed, while I acknowledge that the essence of this discussion is in so many ways a function of the precise path you choose for yourself within the sphere of Real Estate Investing (license is more helpful to do some things than others), on balance I do believe that a license is a distraction.

WHY I BELIVE THIS

Without going into great detail, since I’ve outlined my perspective elsewhere, let me simply point out that license, whether used in a traditional sense or as a cost-controlling element in investing, encourages the type of income that we refer to as Earned Income – income generated by trading services for money.  Representing buyers and sellers is an activity which results in earned income.  Furthermore, the proponents of licensure as a benefit to investing argue that when flipping houses, the ability to represent yourself in a purchase or list your product at the back door creates transactional savings which add to the bottom line.  Point taken – no argument.  Lest we forget, however, that activity of flipping/wholesaling in and of itself is a vehicle for earned income generation…

Now – in my estimation, what we do as fundamental investors is we buy income-producing assets to generate stable passive cash flow.  We do this specifically for the purpose of getting away from needing to generate earned income.  As such, while I agree that there is some value to being licensed, it is indeed a distraction if you define your ultimate objective as Financial Independence, which is a function of Stable Passive Cash Flow!

Related: Is a Real Estate License Necessary?

I HAVE A LICENSE

Why?  Well – as I mentioned in the past articles I hardly ever use it.  I do not typically trade dollars for hours – this goes against my religion.  I buy multi-family assets which are typically off market, and in this way having a license is meaningless.  And in those instances when another agent brings me a deal, I allow them to keep both sides of it; they’ve had to work hard to find something that fits my criteria and I am not about to nickel and dime them.

So you see, I really do not have the need for a license in by business…

EXCEPT FOR THIS

Once in a while, one of my tenants wants to buy a house, and since it’s no skin off my back I will generally represent them.  One transaction such as this pays for the annual dues of keeping a license, so I keep the license.  Thus, having argued to the contrary, I must admit that there is one good reason to have a license for a fundamental investor…

BUT – only if you own the type of rentals that attract tenants who will potentially be able to purchase a home, which is a function of stable employment, sizable income, and reasonably good credit history.  As you know, I wrote two articles recently which put into question the rationale behind purchasing property at the bottom of the market.  I tend to have a global perspective on Real Estate – everything is inter-connected and inter-related, and this is another example of such.

I see three benefits of being at the lower end of the market.  One – providing clean housing to the bottom segment of the tenant market, which is a good thing.  Two – low entry point.  Three – higher cash flow as function of low entry point.  That’s it.

Related: Having a Real Estate License as an Investor

On the other hand, I see many benefits to operating in segments of the market other than the bottom, which run the gamut financing options, ease of management, appreciation, ease of liquidation, etc.  The ability of the unit to attract tenants who are on track to the eventuality of home-ownership is just another little notch in the same belt…  I won’t say no to commission which comes to me with very little effort on my part!

Thoughts?

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{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

Adam Schneider March 11, 2014 at 6:19 am

Ben,
Here’s my cost benefit analysis of the real estate license discussion:

Benefits
1. MLS Access, MLS Access, MLS Access
2. Transactional savings on personal purchases and sales
3. Compensation for outsourcing referrals
4. Industry knowledge
5. There are other small ones, but the above are the big boy factors

Costs
1. Time
2. Money (small compared to Benefits)

** I hear the argument that you need to disclose more as a licensed broker. This one always seems odd to me because it almost sounds like people are saying they want to do business in an unscrupulous manner. This just doesn’t hold much water. If I’m doing business with someone, I want to be upfront about everything.

So, to me it’s a no-brainer decision with the caveat being what type of investor one wants to be and if the time to take the classes and get the license is worth it for the casual low-activity investor.

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Adrian Tilley March 11, 2014 at 9:01 am

Adam,
I don’t think the issue is wanting to be unscrupulous, it’s that if you don’t have your license, you don’t have to disclose it (obviously) and you look less like a pro who might take advantage of someone and more like a normal guy.

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 9:44 am

Right on Adrian – license represents horse-power, which to a regular uneducated seller/buyer is sort of intimidating. This is not impossible to overcome through relationship-building, but…

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 9:42 am

Adam,

If you buy houses to wholesale and flip, then a license might make sense. Though, I wouldn’t do that kind of work if you put a gun to my head…

Thanks so much for commenting!

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Lisa DuFaux March 11, 2014 at 6:33 am

Good article, Ben. I generally agree that doing retail transactions as an agent is a distraction and that isn’t why I have my license. I do fix and flips to fund my long term hold properties. Having my license is so helpful that I can’t imagine doing this without one. I wanted to point out some additional benefits that you didn’t mention.

You did mention the benefit of adding to the bottom line on my own transactions. Getting a commission on the buy side and saving on the sell side can easily add $4,000 or more to my transactions. But there are a couple of other advantages that are even more important to me. I see a lot of questions and blog posts about how to accurately determine ARV. I can do this quickly and easily with MLS access so I don’t have to rely on other agents or public information (both of which may be very questionable.) Also, through my MLS board I have access to a tax database that allows me to search and export my own lists (absentee owners, estates, etc.) No list brokers! Finally, it is very convenient to be able to let myself into any property that I want to look at without having to arrange a meeting with the listing agent.

I can understand how the value of a license is limited for your business model but for those of us with a need to earn income through flips, I think the benefits are much greater than any drawbacks.

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 9:46 am

I do not disagree – sort of :) Keep an eye out for my next article Lisa – nxt Tue.

Thanks so much!

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Walt Payne March 11, 2014 at 6:49 am

It makes sense that keeping a license may not be worthwhile, after a certain point. But the educational value alone would seem to be there for a new investor. And depending on the what and where of your business model it may make a lot of sense early on just to help avoid crossing certain legal boundaries. Especially since classes are available quite inexpensively.

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 9:49 am

Walt – I am not sure what educational value you see in licensure. They teach basics of agency – not even basics of salesmanship. Not sure that you couldn’t learn all that and more here on BP; in fact I am sure that you could!

There might be benefits to licensure, but education is hardly one of them in my opinion…

Thanks so much for commenting!

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Walt Payne March 11, 2014 at 11:07 am

I suspect that depends on the where and when of it all. I am considering getting a license because it fits my current business model, and I think the following supports my statement as far as a new investor.

http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/re/documents/frec_syllabus.pdf

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Alan Mackenthun March 11, 2014 at 9:05 pm

I disagree. The licensing courses and continuing ed requires cover state specific forms and law. They do cover some marketing strategies. BP is great, but it doesn’t usually get into the detail of state specific requirements. I don’t enjoy taking time to do the contining ed, but I do learn things and it is ‘good for me’ much as I hate to admit it.

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Mark Ferguson March 11, 2014 at 7:29 am

You knows thoughts on a license Ben. I will add one more additional benefit that was not listed in the comments. Speed. If a great deal comes on the market, I can make an offer on it in hours as an agent. Investors without their license may have to wait a day or two while they set up a showing and wait for an agent to write up a contract.

I will trade hours for dollars all day long if the hourly wage is high enough. :)

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 9:50 am

I love you Mark. You are wrong – but, I love you!

Next week’s post is for you. Stay tuned to next Tuesday :)

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Mark Ferguson March 11, 2014 at 11:17 am

Don’t worry Ben, I will have plenty of ammunition although I will be in Mexico next week thanks to my hourly income. :)

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Dude – I would go to Ukraine before I go to Mexico… lol

Have a great time

Alan Mackenthun March 11, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Beat me to the punch Mark. I mostly buy from the MLS. When I see a deal I need to have an offer in the same day or it invariably is too late. Besides, I very much appreciate seeing houses on my way to or from home or wherever I’m going. I don’t have to feel bad for making someone go out of their way just for me to see a property that I may not be likely to buy anyway. At the same time, I don’t have to wait for the agent to draft contracts or figure out how to work with a tif. I can draft the contract as needed immediately and use all e-signatures.

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Martin Cortez March 11, 2014 at 8:40 am

Ben – I also have struggled to justify maintaining my license, but I have to agree that the benefits outweigh the costs in time and money. I do believe the greatest benefit of all is being able to come up with accurate comps (ARV) on a property.

In my market, there are several companies that pass themselves off as wholesalers who try to convince investors they are getting a great deal on a property. I visited one of these companies and was given a list of properties and their estimated ARVs. When I ran my own comps I was shocked to learn that these numbers were greatly inflated. They were using houses in the area that were 1,000 to 2,000 sq.ft. larger and some even had swimming pools where the subject property did not!

You make your money when you buy, and having accurate comps is a must.

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 9:53 am

ARV doesn’t matter when you buy a 6-plex or a 60-unit. I understand that to those in the SFR game a license represents value. Keep an eye on my next article :)

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Leslie A. April 26, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Ben,

Value of multifamily properties is strictly based on income. Is that correct?

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Ben Leybovich April 27, 2014 at 5:45 am

Leslie,

Small multi – kinda; large apartment complex – absolutely!

Brandon Turner March 11, 2014 at 8:47 am

Hahaha never wrong when talking to me, eh? Shall I remind you of the last time we talked and you were convinced that Charleston Heston was the name of a 13th century Chinese poet who overthrew the Spanish government? (Okay… maybe that was a dream and you didn’t really say that.)

I have no argument for you today. I have no license, though sometimes I wish I did. I’m not too torn either way.

Nice post! Though… If that was some sort of apology, I’d like to see some tears with it next time.

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 9:55 am

Paragraph 1 of your comment: hahahahaha
Paragraph 2: hahahahaha
Paragraph 3: hahahahahahahahahahahah
Conclusion: I love you Brandon :)

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Dan March 11, 2014 at 8:52 am

Realistically, everything we do is trading $$ for hours. It’s more of a matter of how many $$ for each hour. Even “passive” real estate involves some time, whether you manage it yourself or have property management. There is no way to remove yourself entirely from the equation, but if you are able to make several thousand dollars for each hour as opposed $20/hr, it makes it so much more worth it.

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 9:56 am

Dan – watch out next Tuesday. My next article will address your present comment – I think :)

Thanks so much!

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Adrian Tilley March 11, 2014 at 9:04 am

Ben,
I’m confused by your distinction between passive and “earned” income. As someone else pointed out, you’re always trading dollars for hours, some are just more long term than others. I believe they’re all taxed the same, so I don’t see a difference there.

I got my license initially because I was buying a new personal residence and selling my current one – I realized the license would save more than $20k in transaction costs between the two, and being an attorney the licensing process is easier.

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 9:58 am

Adrian – it’s not my distinction; it is the IRS.

Please come back next Tuesday – my next article will explain my perspective.

Thanks so much!

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Mark Ferguson March 11, 2014 at 11:23 am

Ben I think you are caught up into thinking paying a lower tax rate is the ultimate goal when making the most money is the ultimate goal. One last example and I will wait for next week.

If I make $20 an hour through investment income and I pay 15% taxes than I take home $17 an hour.

If I make $100 an hour regular income and pay 35% Taxes i take home $65 an hour. Do I want $17 an hour or $65 an hour? You may say the $100 an hour is not passive, but I can delegate and hire people to make it just as passive as the investment income.

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Yes – if you only place value on activity in terms of $$, which I believe is a mistake :)

Jordan March 11, 2014 at 9:37 am

Apology accepted. What we all need to realize is different strokes for different folkes.What might be right for you may not be right for some, what we can do is give advice on what makes us successful and if it helps another then we know we have done our job. Thanks to biggerpockets for this constant dialogue that feeds are brain daily. No way is the right way or wrong way, Sometimes in life we have to make some mistakes to learn the way. We all are on a journey to successville, so thank you all for being great navigators along the way!

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 9:59 am

Hahah!

Different stokes for different folks is fine by me. And yet, there are certain unavoidable realities. Come back net Tuesday morning Jordan – I think you’ll like my next post :)

Thanks indeed for reading and commenting!

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Serge S. March 11, 2014 at 11:20 am

Ben – nice article and great points. While I agree with you that earned income is not our friend I disagree that a license is unnecessary. In fact I find it invaluable in my business for the following reasons:

MLS access – this is absolutely critical. No matter what my investing profile may be, I can see everything that is pending, what other investors are paying for a similar asset class and historical closed transactions in a very defined market. Even if I’m purchasing off market, I can narrow down to the street and see what every owner is into their properties for. This is invaluable information that is not easily attainable publicly.

Claiming active investor status – when I was making earned income via a corporate job, my wife attained her license. This helped us make the argument to the IRS that we were active investors and thus offset our earned income with passive RE losses. True there are other ways to achieve this goal but having a license is the most persuasive way and allows you to document numerous more hours spent in RE. This tax deduction is one of the most powerful tools for the couple that is building a passive RE business while working a full time job.

Portfolio reallocation – No matter how long we intend to hold our RE, portfolio review and reallocation is a critical tool. Selling our worst performing assets, 1031 exchange to assets with higher returns and moving into different asset classes. When selling and making these decisions, it is critical to have full control of those transactions. I want to list my own properties with no reliance on others. The transactional savings are an added bonus.

You once said to me that no RE is really passive. Thus we are in fact trading our time for money. Having a license gives us numerous benefits with little costs.

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Serge – thanks for jumping in!

1, We’ve spent at least 4 hours in the past week on the phone discussing valuation of income property. Not once did market behavior come up. Why – cause it doesn’t matter. You know what IRR is necessary in order to compel you to deploy capital. Doesn’t matter what the marketplace is doing and how it’s behaving – irrelevant. People are free to be stupid… License is a non-issue from the stand-point of valuating income assets.

2. SFR – absolutely. But, that’s not what you will ever do, nor I. Why – too much work :)

3. Representing yourself – the benefit is the savings; agreed. However, there are draw-backs, and you know this. So, whether a license is good in larger transactions is ???

4. Tax – may be, but this is only an issue with very high earned income and rather sophisticated portfolios. Most newbies do not have either “problem” :)

We can pick at it and at the end of the day, unless you are going to be out there generating commission sales or flipping 10-100 houses, benefit of license is very much in question…

BTW – been talking to your poor wife. She gets like no help – be honest now…

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Serge S. March 11, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Ha Ha … my poor wife enjoys the side income:) I personally am also not interested in RE sales activity but wifey likes being a part of our transactions.

I do agree with you that valuation can be done without regards to much other than IRR. BUT there is a lot of inside information that can be gathered using the MLS and other sources that will provide a clue as to both the sellers motivation and to the prevailing cap rates offered in your respective market. I always want to know what other investors are buying and the cap rates they are absorbing in the context of my deal. All my transactions are filtered not only to meet my personal IRR goals but to outperform or at least meet the market return. This is critical as it forms my exit strategy, i.e knowing that investors are buying at 8 cap gives me comfort that my exit is sound if I’m buying at 10 cap.

Like you said, to each his own. I just think the cost and time involved in obtaining a license is very minimal compared to the benefits. For many like you there simply may be no benefit and in that case no need. For many others the benefit is very real. There is no right or wrong answer.

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Ben Leybovich March 11, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Absolutely – knowing the going CAP is helpful. Ask 5 portfolio bankers – done! Somewhat easier – no?

At the end of the day we speak the same language Serge :) Call…

Giovanni March 13, 2014 at 11:32 am

@Ben I would disagree with your statement that “market behavior doesn’t matter” in most cases outside of short term flips or wholesaling where the holds are less than 90 or 180 days.

Just because the IRR on a deal looks goods doesn’t mean those results will materialize. That IRR is based on the income and proceeds you project and if you’re buying at the top of the market cycle and yet expect nothing but rainbows and unicorns you may find that the leprechauns stole the pot of gold and the unicorn lands on you pointy side down.

One of my mentors, Tom Barrack over at Colony told me that knowing where you are in the cycle is the most important thing in real estate investing. I only wish he told me that before I got involved in a condo conversion in 2006!

Ben Leybovich March 17, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Absolutely – I agree Giovanni!
When I say market behavior doesn’t matter, I mean at the front end. I will buy only at the terms that work for me, or I won’t buy. In this sense market behavior doesn’t matter. At the exit, market behavior is the blanket into which we are trying to insert out proposition :)

Totally agreed!

RoyN March 11, 2014 at 3:24 pm

“Earned Income – income generated by trading services for money.”

Ben:
So what is a syndicator, but perhaps a melange of real estate agent and financial broker with a suite of salesmanship and perhaps a sprinkle of vision and wisdom?

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Ben Leybovich March 12, 2014 at 8:36 am

Ahh Roy – but while it is true that I will be trading dollars for hours as a syndicator, I will also be gaining substantial portion of CF and Equity. That, in fact, is the key to why I am willing to do the work – there’s going to be some earned income, some passive income, and some wealth… In this case, I see earned income as the added bonus and not the key to the strategy. Thoughts?

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RoyN March 13, 2014 at 6:41 am

I concur Ben, but wanted to illustrate that trading of service for income is frequently inevitable. Nothing wrong with a little labour, provided the remuneration is satisfactory.

Even when you reach the scale where you never lift a tool or market an offer – there will be people for those things – you will still need to “work” a little to manage those people … unless you recruit a manager who has that rare combination of ambition, insight and loyalty.

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Ben Leybovich March 13, 2014 at 6:57 am

Roy – agreed. But, there is work, and then there is WORK…

We agree :)

Brian Gibbons March 12, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Ben I love you but you’re a commercial guy not a residential guy.

I would hire a CCIM all day long. That designation is grueling.
But being licensed in Residential Investing, well I go talk to sellers that are listed and ask if they want a plan B (selling on terms instead of cash) in case their listing does not sell. Soooo, no license for me.

Your stance is soooooooooooooooo Commercial on this issue of being licensed.

I’m holding my breath til Tues…. :)

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Ben Leybovich March 12, 2014 at 5:27 pm

I know what you do sir :)

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anthony cecchini March 12, 2014 at 5:40 pm

I have not been getting on here too often since I have been so busy with work but the first blog i jump to is of course to non other than Bens. You must have taken your creativity from playing music instruments and transposed it into writing since your articles always catch my eye. Of course the controversial tone also makes them interesting. cheers!

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Ben Leybovich March 12, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Haha In other words Anthony – I am always in tune…lol

Well, not quite but I thank you for the kind words. We need to do something about you getting on BP more often, though :)

Thanks so much!

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Mark March 13, 2014 at 8:45 am

Get your license. I wholesale houses outside the MLS and I would say I passed up over 100k in extra income last year (earned or not) that I could have put towards advertising my wholesale business. If your going to go see a house and take the time to do it and you realize it doesn’t fit your buying criteria, why leave $$ on the table?? I list it right then and there and 95% of the time another agent sells it. It’s a no brainier to have a license unless, as the article stated, you own multi’s and you don’t need it. By having a license I can research the cash sales, hot neighborhoods, investor friendly realtors and more. For the cost of a license, it’s a no brainier.

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Tyler March 13, 2014 at 9:23 am

Mark- can you clarify how you passed up over $100K in income last year? I’m thinking about getting my license and would appreciate hearing you expand on your perspective.

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Mark March 13, 2014 at 11:23 am

Yes. Most of the leads you get through wholesaling are not good leads, the margins just aren’t there, BUT, they are pretty good for listings. I average 2-5 leads a day during summer and I went through all my leads last year that I should have converted to a listing and they would have equaled to about 65-70 or so. Considering that, I should have sold at least half of those and 100k is easily doable. Plus, I’m not even talking about helping people buy a home, which I hate but would have done if I could get both sides of the commission.

Your license just makes it easy for you to do things, talk to people, hear whats happening around town because all reators talk, getting in places… You can’t go wrong. The guy who wrote this article has about the ONLY scenario where you really don’t need a license because If i was buying a multi-family to hold, I would have the realtor do all the work who listed it.

I just listed 7 houses last month that called my buy line. The homes were actually too nice to get the margins so I just listed them. I already sold three of those this month, well some other realtor did, and my total commission when I’m done will be about 5500. Now what would happen if I just decided to pass that up.. I would have taken the time and NEVER made any money. Time is $$$ so the key to doing wholesale today, in my opinion, is to be flexible and know when to convert a home to a listing so you can keep the cash coming. In a day where inventory is very low in most places, a listing makes sense for many.

One thing I have learned about business is to solve your cash flow problem first and then learn to expand and grow. The guy in this article has solved his cash flow with rentals and like i said, he has the ONLY scenario where I think have a license would be a waste.

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Tyler March 13, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Thanks, Mark. I appreciate your detailed response. Great info and very encouraging.

Mark March 13, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Your welcome. Just keep in mind, many wholesalers will walk over a house because it doesn’t fit their 65% minus repair minus profit model and make ZERO. You have to have cash coming in and listing a home can get you $1000-$4000 relatively quickly with very little work on your part other than listing paperwork, a sign (which some office provide, and a lock box (which all offices normally provide).

I see some wholesalers show checks of 1500, 3000, 5000, and thats great they made a check but I could have made that with a listing with less work and worry about showing and finding a buyer for my wholesale. As a listing the whole world can now look at it with the lockbox code. :-)

Give you a quick example. I have a wholesale deal closing next week that will net me $2500. If I had just listed it, I could have made just as much with less hassle showing it. My minimum commission is $3000 and I get 70% of that if I share with my broker or $2100. Not much difference, less hassle and all I have to do is send it out to my buyers list before I even enter it into the MLS.

Good luck.

blaise p March 13, 2014 at 9:22 am

Good timing on this article. I do not have a license and agree with your rationale for not having one. However, my attorney and urban planner have been pushing me to get a license. I am working on a development project and have been purchasing all the properties off market. I do not need comps because it is easy to determine what the properties are worth to my project. When the project is completed, I will likely sell it (mostly commercial) and the argument is that I stand to make a large commission if I am licensed. Your thoughts?

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Ben Leybovich March 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I am glad the article helps Blaise!

Thank you for reading indeed!

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Jordan March 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm

@Mark is it me, Did Ben write this article solely on the fact to debate that having a license is not a good idea? Everyone idea about having a license been downplayed. I think what’s important is what works for you. There is so many ways to invest and make money. Life is about taking risks and making mistakes, no matter how hard you try to avoid them, you will make mistakes. All the knowledge in the world cant teach you that.How will you ever learn if you dont try it out? If I try it and it doesnt work, then I try something else, eventually I will hit the jackpot.

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Ben Leybovich March 13, 2014 at 4:21 pm

That is a good attitude Jordan. BP exists to soften the blow, not to prevent it…

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Mark March 13, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Is this at me Jordan? If it is i don’t really get your post. Where has anyone talked about life’s risks?

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Elizabeth Incrocci March 13, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Hello, this is a great discussion – one that I am currently struggling with. However, two issues I have are:
1-When you have a license, you do have a fiduciary duty to the client that you don’t have as an investor. If you are an agent, doesn’t this create more potential issues when buying from a seller ?
2-If I belong to a real estate brokerage, they do take a commission split on my activity, which can be a substantial amount of money to pay out.

Any advice or clarity on these issues would be fantastic, as I am struggling with what do to!

Elizabeth

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Ben Leybovich March 13, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Elizabeth,

1. Yes! I struggled with this for a long time before getting a license. However:
a) As an investor, you should not be taking advantage of a seller either. As such, if the seller is willing to take a loss because this creates more value to them than the dollar amount of the loss, then you are good. Be honest…
b) I carry a license because I don’t buy SFRs. IN my life I deal with other investors – sophisticated people who actually appreciate the value of me being licensed. Who are you going to deal with?

2. Absolutely. So – you earn the commission (actually it’s the broker’s commission and they pay you a chunk) – pay a good chunk to the broker – then pay earned income tax…what a drag.

Mark Ferguson, who likes to take the other side of this argument, owns the brokerage. If that’s your ultimate goal then we need to be having that conversation since there are inherent structural advantages to acting as an agent/owner…Hope this helps :)

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Lisa DuFaux March 13, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Just to clarify my earlier response (which somehow ended up as a separate post instead of a reply.) I didn’t mean to imply that you are free to take advantage of a seller – that’s not the way to operate whether you have a license or not. I am very above board and that was my point. As a buyer, even with a license, you tell them what you can do for them and it either works or it doesn’t. Having a license doesn’t add any obligations to you as a buyer.

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Lisa DuFaux March 13, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Elizabeth, I think you are confusing acting as an agent with acting on your own behalf. Yes, if you represent a seller as a listing agent, then you do have certain reponsibilities (“fiduciary” is too strong a word, at least in Florida real estate law.) If you are a principal in the transaction (i.e. buying for yourself), you just disclose that and you have no more obligation than any other buyer. I have never encountered any issues in this area. On your second question, there are a lot more options with brokers than there used to be. I have my license with a firm that charges $35 per month and a $300 transaction fee on each purchase or sale. That’s it – no other commission split. I am a firm believer in having a license as an investor as you’ll see in my earlier post.

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Anita March 13, 2014 at 5:59 pm

@Lisa, great information. I’ve been researching to obtain or not a license. I am in California and the main reason to obtain is to sell some of my properties and save all that big money in commissions. If I become an Agent, do I have to work for a Broker or can I do without? Also any idea how much will cost the license fees for the year?
Thanks a lot!
Anita

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Lisa DuFaux March 14, 2014 at 6:09 am

Real estate law is state based so I can only speak to Florida. Here, yes, you do have to put your license under a broker. It costs me about $800/year to keep my license. That covers membership in the local board of Realtors, MLS access and electronic access to lockboxes. Your local board of Realtors should be able to give you an idea of what it would be in your area. Best of luck!

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Bob March 13, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Good comments. And logical. My three cents.

My view is that serious investors don’t need a realtor’s license. Because you need to decide if you’re an investor or a realtor. If you’re an investor or a landlord. You need to be investing, not selling. You need to be investing. Not managing properties.

I’m a state certified appraiser, broker, licensed instructor, and a court admitted expert witness in three counties. We have an appraisal firm, brokerage and a property management company. I don’t even find my own investment properties or personally manage my own.

Earning and maintaining a real estate license is scary easy and inexpensive. In 2005 I completed the week long realtor’s course in a day and a half. Passed the Florida state exam in 33 minutes. Now I’m a realtor. O.M.G. Scary as heck. Tragic really. Earning my broker’s license was more challenging but no biggie.

Try earning and maintaining an appraiser license. A certified appraiser’s license. Not a licensed appraiser. Florida did away with licensed appraisers years ago.

By example, did you know that it takes six (6) years of education and experience just to become eligible to take the Florida certified appraiser state exam? No fast track. No short cuts. Six years. No exceptions. The pass rate for first time exam candidates is 39%.

Why more investors don’t include appraisers as part of their team is puzzling. Use them under the broker hat or a consulting SOW. Not necessarily just to perform a serious valuation.

Investors need to invest. Use ONE broker only. No real estate associates. A state certified appraiser who happens to be an active broker. No one else has that value proposition.

One with a 4-year college degree. One with designations and-or certifications (MAI, CCIM, SRA, etc.). And a lengthy verifiable CV. Sign an exclusive. No exceptions. Then sit back and relax. Or roll the dice.

Cap rates, IRR, yield rates, cash-on-cash, leverage, blah, blah, blah. Learn that in a day. Three comps and a cloud of dust. An 8th grader can do that. It’s the qualitative side. The….ah ahs! And the Ohs! The empirical evidence based on data extracted from the market.

Try this: Ask your realtor to extract and support a cap rate for your property type from the local market. And include a Level B marketability study with the analysis.

Leave real property expertise to qualified geographically competent real property experts. With a professional killer website. Mimsre.com

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Mark March 13, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Lol. Really? It must be very dark in your world.

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Bob March 14, 2014 at 6:18 am

@Mark. Be a playa. Not a playa hata.

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Mark March 18, 2014 at 11:08 am

I don’t hate Bob. Its all good.

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scott March 14, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Ben,
When you say low entry points providing clean housing are you referring to the very blue collar workers and hourly wage workers I deal with in Philly. These folks ALL are credit challenged and will be renting for the nest zillion years.

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Ben Leybovich March 14, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Lol sounds like you will have stable cash flow for a zillion years Scott :)

Thanks so much for reading!

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IJ March 14, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Ben,
Another provocative piece I enjoyed reading. Thanks for sharing; and what a great wealth of information in the comments that follow as well. I love BP.

IJ

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Ben Leybovich March 14, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Thank you IJ!

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Mehran Kamari March 16, 2014 at 9:22 am

Great article Ben!

I completely agree with what you’re saying about the earned vs passive income aspect the whole “license” debate.

Aside from that, as an out of state, residential (1-4 unit) property investor, it’d be nice to have access to the MLS to run my own CMA/have access to the up-to-date data only privy to those with direct access. My agent is on point with providing me this information though! I wonder if it’s better that I don’t have access to it, I’d probably be stuck on the MLS all day and not leveraging his skills/abilities.

If I was actually physically in the market, I’d like the license just to be able to get in all the properties I want to evaluate without having to triage with my agent. I’d still prefer him to write the offer/handle all the details afterwards though!

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Ben Leybovich March 16, 2014 at 10:42 am

Oh Mehran – come play in commercial. Problem Solved :)

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Shaun March 16, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Wait you talk about not wanting to do active work for money, yet you say it is worth having your license just to help the occasional tenant find a house?
Holy crap! Can’t think of a more time intensive low paying use of your real estate time than that! Plus are there any more annoying people to deal with than first time homebuyers? I’d rather shoot myself in the eye with a nail gun personally…

BTW I have a license and if I had a resident ask me to do that I would tell them I would find them a great buyers agent, make some calls and refer them to someone that actually likes doing that. My brokerage then gets a 25% referral fee that is truly passive income since after that phone call I don’t have to do a thing.

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Ben Leybovich March 17, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Shaun – I call it customer service. They trust me and my code of ethics and business is to walk someone through the entire path so long as they reach out and ask. It is truly not much skin off my back and for the time I put in the pay is good enough. Besides, this is about relationships…

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Shaun March 17, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Ben do not misunderstand I commend you for helping out your residents like this and I think it is great that you work to preserve the relationship even though you are (hopefully) ensuring they will never be your direct customers again.

What surprises me (especially based on your general opinions about a license otherwise) is that you feel it pays okay based on the time and effort you put in.
Seems like working with buyer clients would involve a fair bit of prep work searching for appropriate properties, carting them around to look at all of them (then have then b*tch and moan if the bathroom doesn’t have a double sink, or there isn’t enough land if they ever wanted to buy a horse or the dinning room isn’t big enough to seat 20+ if they want to have big dinner parties even though they only own paper plates and novelty plastic mugs from their trip to Sea World when they were 11), then putting in offers, doing the negotiations and nursing everyone to closing.
So what are you making like $1,500 on these? Just a guess taking a quick look for general house prices on Zillow for Lima and figuring a 3% commission with a broker split (Didn’t have the impression you have a broker’s license so I’m assuming only a sales person one) and buying at the high end of the bulk of the stuff I’m seeing.

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Ben Leybovich March 17, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Shaun – I know what you are saying. In this case, we are under contract currently. I never looked at it this way, but I am earning about $450/hr. on this. But, again – this is mostly a relationship thing with the commission money being only a small bonus :)

Shaun March 18, 2014 at 9:23 am

$450/hr of work for a buyer client?
Did I grossly underestimate the size of the commission or are you saying that you only spent 3-4hrs getting things done?

Ben Leybovich March 18, 2014 at 9:34 am

lol Shaun – both :) My take is a bit under 3k on this one, and by the time it closes I will have roughly 6 hours in it.

Eric March 27, 2014 at 1:37 pm

I have a license. I did it for my personal knowledge, as I am an investor and a landlord. After I received my license, I realized there are many additional advantages. The main one is one you mentioned, I can sell my tenants a house. Almost all of my 24 renters have the means and ability to buy a house. A built in ‘farm team’.

Since I have so many renters, and many of my friends know about it, they have asked me to manage property. Some have asked me to help sell or buy a home.

And when I want to sell a property, I have a built in discount coupon.

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