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Pushing Back Against the Gurus (& Why It’s So Important)

6 min read
Andrew Syrios

Andrew Syrios has been investing in real estate for over a decade and is a partner with Stewardship Investments, LLC ...

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One of the things I like the most about BiggerPockets is that it has created a low-cost hub for aspiring real estate investors to learn the fundamentals without either starting from scratch or paying some of the exorbitant costs of the various real estate gurus that had come to dominate the real estate education space in the late-’90s and early-’00s.

Of course, BiggerPockets is also a good place for seasoned investors to brush up on their knowledge or get specific questions answered, but that’s beside the point of this article.

Good Gurus, Bad Gurus, and BiggerPockets

Now, I certainly don’t want to bash all gurus. The term “guru” itself is a bit mushy after all.

Jeffrey Taylor (or Mr. Landlord), for example, is one of my favorite real estate educators. Some might refer to him as being a guru or perhaps riding the line a bit.

By an extreme standard, the writers here on BiggerPockets could be considered gurus, even though most of us are here to simply build our reputation, credibility, and “brand,” as well as just contributing for the joy of writing and educating. A few have a book to sell but not much more than that.

Certainly, there’s a spectrum of sorts when it comes to gurus. And the best place to start when evaluating them is John T. Reed’s helpful guru rankings (although I don’t necessarily agree with all his rankings and BiggerPockets doesn’t necessarily endorse his views either).

Related: What’s the Difference Between a Coach and a Guru?

That being said, many gurus back then were charging several thousand dollars for what amounted to a few three-ring binders. Or sometimes over $10,000 for a “weekend bootcamp” and two free “coaching calls” or something like that. While some of them were legitimate, many were overpriced and some just outright absurd.

On the other hand, BiggerPockets charges $20 per book and most of the other content is free.

man sitting at desk working on a computer

Unfortunately, it would seem that gurus are making a bit of a comeback, particularly on social media. Again, major clarifications are in order.

Most of the real estate investment folks out there are just trying to build their network and credibility—and perhaps sell their book or podcast. And paid-coaching is not, in-and-of-itself, illegitimate. But still, I am starting to see more and more of that expensive coaching and the like being offered.

And many are using some of the same talking points as before. Talking points that Drew Sygit so helpfully pointed out in his list of “13 Tell-Tale Traits of a Scammy Real Estate Guru” here on BiggerPockets. No. 6 really rang true with me: “They avoid talking about risk.”

Indeed, many of them make it sound like investing in real estate is the modern-day equivalent of receiving manna from heaven.

The perception of risk-free investing that many gurus were selling is one of the reasons I’ve felt so compelled to emphasize my mistakes and the challenges we’ve experienced while growing a real estate investment company—be it regarding property management, due diligence, just in general, or with regard to specific deals that went sideways.

I’ve been joined in this effort to provide a more realistic look of what real estate investment is like by Sterling White, David Van Horn, Whitney Hutten, Engelo Rumora, Brandon Turner, David Greene, and many others here at BiggerPockets.

Even Joshua Dorkin would make the point that you should expect to probably lose money on your first flip! BiggerPockets is certainly doing its best to bring a little realism to a great—but by no means easy—business.

But for the gurus who charge thousands of dollars for this, that, or the other, real estate is basically a sure thing as long as you follow their “one ‘secret’ technique” (No. 2 on Drew Sygit’s list of guru warning signs). Indeed, many such gurus aren’t even predominantly real estate investors (if they are at all) but are effectively full-time gurus.

Related: Ultimate Beginners Guide to Real Estate Investing

Why We Should Push Back More

Again, this requires some nuance. Many so-called gurus aren’t that bad. But particularly for the more egregious ones, we should do our part to make it clear that 1) there are better and cheaper alternatives for education, and 2) real estate investment is far from being easy riches.

Yes, I still firmly believe real estate is the best investment around, but it takes a lot of hard work and plenty can go wrong.

close up portrait of a very skeptical curly haired woman staring at your eyes straight

We should do what we can to guide people away from expensive and often scammy “education” toward the much more affordable, collaborative, and higher-quality stuff you’ll find here at BiggerPockets or at many REIA groups, etc. These gurus often make us look bad as an industry and charge people way too much.

But another reason to push back has come to light recently, as well. Often these gurus pitch their product by making it sound like they are just swimming in money:

  • “Make a fortune in real estate.”
  • “Travel the world in a gold-coated G-5 jet while your tenants pay your mortgage.”
  • “How to invest in real estate without doing any actual work!”

Or something else along these lines. (Yes, I know I peppered in a little hyperbole.)

In a previous article, I discussed the various restrictions being passed or proposed against landlords and real estate investors throughout the country. What inspired that piece was a recent proposal in Kansas City for a “Tenant’s Bill of Rights.”

The first draft basically made it illegal to screen tenants for evictions or felonies. (The law was passed, but the screening restrictions were softened and made reasonable.) It was readily apparent listening to many of the various tenant’s rights activists that they had the strong perception that landlords were all rich and most of the rent these tenants paid went directly into the landlords’ pockets.

This perception is by no means new, but it’s also very incorrect. As I pointed out in that article,

“There seems to be this myth that property owners just sit back and collect checks. In reality, the primary way most property owners make money is by equity build-up through appreciation and principal pay down—not cash flow… For high-priced, coastal markets, this is basically a universal truth. This is less true with multifamily than single family houses. Although according to CBRE, the national average cap rate (which equals the annual profit of a property bought if there is no financing) was only 5.2 percent for infill and 5.49 percent for suburban multifamily properties in the first quarter of 2019. The cash flow is nice for the long-term investor, but it’s not exorbitant, and it’s by no means the primary way real estate investors work toward becoming wealthy.

“Furthermore, the stereotype that investors make a fortune off poor people in bad neighborhoods is simply untrue. Ben Leybovich has made an extremely strong case that houses bought for under $30,000 simply do not cash flow, because the operating costs exceed the rental income. The evidence is overwhelming that one needs to be a specialist to succeed in such areas.”

Most of the operating income, especially for single family houses, goes to the operating costs and debt service.

no-network

It may be difficult to convince tenant activists that most landlords do not make much in cash flow (unless they have no debt, in which case they could just as easily by stocks with that money). But instead, they mostly build wealth slowly through principal paydown and appreciation.

We can start by actually saying these things (as well as pointing out that almost every landlord used to be a tenant at one point in their life)!

Not only will this benefit new investors by giving them a realistic view of what they’re in for as well as how real estate investment (at least on the hold side) builds wealth so they don’t go in with false expectations, but it will also help stem the tide against much of this new legislation—much of which seems to be based on a misplaced resentment.

It’s impossible to say for sure, but I’ve become more and more convinced that one of the unnoticed contributors to this sentiment is the gurus online, shouting about how much money they make, how easily they made it, and how for a simple fee of $3,000/month or whatever, they’ll let you speak to them on the phone for 30 minutes and read their super-secret blog or something like that.

The guru marketing campaigns you see littered about Facebook and the like have seeped into the culture at large and convinced a substantial number of regular folks that a handful of super-wealthy landlords live a life of luxury off their rent while doing virtually nothing else. It’s false.

But perceptions matter more than reality when it comes to passing legislation.

I’m not generally one to pick fights, but some pushback is in order here. No, it is not easy to make a fortune in real estate. Those who say it is are lying.

No, it is not free money, and your tenant doesn’t just “pay your mortgage for you.” It requires a lot of hard work and wise investments. And no, if real estate investing was so ridiculously profitable, you would not waste your time selling coaching.

For any sort-of-gurus out there riding the line, please think twice about the way you present your products. And for the rest of us real estate investors and landlords, even if it’s just some Facebook comments, responses on Twitter, a few blog posts or podcasts or whatever, we do need to start pushing back against the gurus.

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Do you have any personal experience with “gurus”? 

Share the good and the bad below!