Meet the Investor: Interview with Full-Time Investor, Landlord and Realtor – Scott Ficek

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I love when I have the opportunity to meet investors with different backgrounds. A full-time investor, landlord, and Realtor, Scott has a great deal of experience that should prove to be inspiring and helpful to any new landlord. He has had his share of difficult deals and has also experienced the benefits of being a landlord. Read on and learn how in just a few short years, he was able to quit his job and become a full time real estate investor.

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Meet Real Estate Investor Scott Ficek

How long have you been investing in real estate?
We bought our first commercial property 5 years ago. We did our first flip 4 years ago, and then went heavily into residential real estate 3 years ago.

What attracted you to becoming a real estate investor?
My wife, Amanda, and I decided that we wanted more control and the possibility for larger returns in our retirement program than just 401ks’ and IRAs. My father was a general contractor all his life. Growing up I always watched him in his projects and ventures and was fascinated by it. I worked many summers during school (first high school then college) in construction, so I initially thought I would do flips, but after the first one, we realized it was too large of a risk and time commitment for our new family. We decided that owning investment property would still bring the returns and I could use my experience, but the risks were lower.

How did you get started investing?
Amanda and I first got into investing about 5 years ago when my father helped us buy an office condo he was selling by carrying back a 2nd mortgage. About a year later we did our first flip (known as a rehab back then!). In about 5 months, we made about $50k on the project, but it was a tough way to make money considering I was working there every weekend and several nights a week. This was while I working a 60 hour per week full-time job and having two children under the age of 2 in the house.

After we sold the flip, we decided to slow down and buy a house that needed work (do a slow flip). While buying this new property, we were referred to a Mortgage Broker that ironically specialized in investment properties. He turned us onto a realtor that he partnered with to find investment properties. We bought a duplex and a 4-plex shortly thereafter. The next year we bought 15 more units and last year we bought 5 discounted new construction town homes.

Tell Us About Your First Deal . . .
When we bought the commercial property, I knew nothing about owning property, being a landlord, or tenants. Thankfully, we were able to find great tenants that signed 5 year leases and never called about anything! It was a big learning experience as I needed to quickly get up to speed about all the financial management that comes along with owning more than just your home.

As an investor and advisor to other investors, what are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made or seen others make?
Wow! I think there are many that I have made and seen other people make. Let me give you just a few:

  1. Not doing enough of my own analysis or due-diligence when buying 15 units in one year. I should have demanded that I see more, inspect more, spend more time in the properties, and frankly I should have even walked away from a couple of the buildings.
  2. You need to make sure you have cash reserves or the property(s) generate enough cash flow to ride out having multiple vacancies and/or having to do renovations on a property just to get it rented.
  3. I have seen many new investors buy too much too quickly and then become overwhelmed. I manage almost 30 units by myself while having a full time job, because I have become accustom to handling that volume. Many people can’t. Many new investors don’t realize this is a business and you must put time into running it as such.
  4. Another big mistake that I made in the early years which cost me literally $1000s was being too lenient or too naïve or to forgiving on tenants paying their rent. You must set a policy on how you deal with late payments, no payments, and when you will start an eviction and stick too it.

What is your investing focus (area of expertise)?
I like renting to students and middle income families. I like owning 4-plexes with 1-2 bedrooms each that have architectural character. I keep them in nice condition where I would live in any of my units. My other focus now is helping new investors buy investment property and then supporting them with my experience to make them successful.

What do you look for in an investment?
Now as a Realtor, I have taken all the mistakes that I made as a buyer/new investor and try to prevent my customers from making the same ones. The Mortgage Broker I started with 4 years ago is still my informal partner. We built a spreadsheet that ranks investments based upon several criteria and we do not buy anything that falls below those criteria. If the finances work, then we look at location, condition, neighborhood, etc. Lastly, I like to cluster my properties (and those of my clients) so that you are not driving all over the city to get to your properties. 14 of my units are within 1 mile of each other. Five more are 20 miles away, but are within 2 miles of each other. The others are close to my house or my office so they are where I normally travel. I recommend the same for my clients.

How many deals have you done in your career?
Probably 30 or so.

Do you have your real estate license?
Yes. Late in 2006, I decided to leave corporate life as the Director of Information Systems for Caribou Coffee and become a full-time investor and real estate agent with Keller Williams.

What advice would you give to a beginning investor?
I see many people read all the books, buy all the tapes, go to seminars, and then never do anything. I tell interested person I meet: “You need 2 people that you can trust: A Mortgage Broker and a Realtor. Both must own investment property and both must work primarily with investors.” Then just do it. What is the worst that is going to happen? You hate it; you sell the property 6 months later for a loss of $10-30k. At least you stepped up to bat!

What was your toughest deal?
Personally it was a duplex that I bought and closed on the last day of the month. The previous owner had found a new tenant who was supposed to move in that day. Well, the previous tenant said she never intended to move and was refusing to vacate the property. Here I had just closed less than 2 hours earlier, the new tenant was sitting out front in her moving van, this irate previous tenant was refusing to move out, and the unit was suppose to be totally repainted before the new tenant could move in.

For one of my customers it would be where he bought a boarded, bank-owned property in Minneapolis. We were closing in 10 days and received notice that the City was having a hearing to discuss the demolition of the building! We had to go in front of the City Council with our plans and timelines to convince them to not tear down this building my customer just bought!

What would your dream deal be?
Every deal (either for myself or my customers) has some surprise/headache. Some are large; such as the furnace needing to be replaced at my new duplex just 4 months after I bought it. Some are small; such as having to make 12 phone calls at closing to find out who has the keys for the property! A dream deal would be to have smooth sailing with no issues.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the rest of us?
Owning investment property is really not as hard as it looks if you have assembled a team of people you can rely on and trust. You don’t have to be perfect at every time or initially, you just have to learn from your mistakes and stick with it. Owning investment real estate is a “Get Rich Slow” method.

Additional Information:
Scott Ficek, a realtor with Keller Williams Integrity Realty has been buying and managing investment property for over 5 years. He currently owns 28 units in 15 buildings including duplexes, 4-plexes, townhomes and single family houses. He manages these properties himself, making him a valuable resource for his clients. He can be reached at 612-281-5419 or visit his website at http://www.mnirea.com.

About Author

Joshua Dorkin

Joshua Dorkin (@jrdorkin, Google+) founded BiggerPockets.com when he saw a need for free, trustworthy information about real estate investing online. Over the past 12 years, Josh has grown the site from self-funded hobby to full-time job and passion. Today, BiggerPockets brings together over 600,000 members, housing the world’s largest library of real estate content, iTunes’ #1 real estate podcast, and an array of analysis tools, all geared toward helping users succeed.

10 Comments

  1. Mortgage Info on

    “Best advice for beginners…”

    Right on…people are so worried about what might happen that they never take risks. It’s why there are so many people with big dreams that never become more than that. Sometimes you just have to say, “Who cares? It’s just money” That can be hard to say, but it’s no joke…whether it be $100 or $100,000…you’ll be happier if you gave it a shot and lost, than if you never tried.

  2. A very interesting article until I read… “He currently owns 28 units in 15 buildings …” “…He manages these properties himself…”

    Seriously? Scott must have a lot of free time. I own 7 rentals and it’s a lot of work at times… I tried doing it on my own but gave up… Get a decent property manager and just pony up 5-9% for the benefits is my best advice.

    -Jason in Vegas

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