Success, Revealed: How 5 Real Estate Rockstars Built Their Investing Empires

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You’ve read their comments and seen their faces…

When they describe their latest $100M apartment building deal on the BiggerPockets Forums, you wonder, who are these guys, and how did they get where they are?

Introducing the top Forum posters of BiggerPockets — Joel Owens, J Scott, Bryan Hancock, Jon Klaus and Bill G. — here to share with us some of the wisdom they’ve acquired over decades of real estate investing.

Learn creative financing methods, a great strategy to get your spouse on board with investing, the awesome business book no one talks about, who holds a third level black belt in karate… and much, much more!

Investors: Get out a pen, take some notes — and don’t forget to leave all your burning questions we didn’t cover in the comments section below!


How I Bought, Rehabbed, Rented, Refinanced, and Repeated for 14 Rental Properties

This is the dream right? Going from zero to 10+ rental properties, providing stable cash flow and long-term wealth for you and your family, and building a scalable business model to boot! Learn how this investor did just that, in this exclusive story featured on BiggerPockets!

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Joel Owens

cutmypic (1)Joel Owens is a principal broker and investor who transacts and invests in commercial real estate nationwide. He works with clients, buys property himself, and also works with passive investors who are looking for a return.

Tell me about your very first deal.

A 20-unit apartment building where we did a mortgage wrapping around the seller’s existing loan. 100% owner finance.

Tell me about the biggest real estate disaster you’ve ever found yourself in.

A 20-unit apartment building. I didn’t have the experience, and the seller misrepresented the financials and paying tenants of the property. I had to evict about 70% of the complex and they trashed the units.

I found out later the seller was not collecting all of the claimed rents and was subsidizing the books with their own money to make the project and numbers look healthier. After some time I gave the property back to the seller.

When in your investing career did you find BP?

I found it originally back when Josh had a one page site over 10 years ago with a few Bank Foreclosure links listed on it. Fast forward 4 to 5 years later, and I came across the site again, but it was different, with a Forum and all kinds of interesting features it did not have before. I joined back up and engaged in the Forums, became a moderator… and the rest is history.


What’s something no one on BP knows about you?

I have studied martial arts for decades and I am currently a 3rd degree Black Belt. I love that the workouts are always different, which keeps it fun and you constantly learn.

What’s the biggest myth out there about real estate investing?

That it’s EASY. Information sellers, gurus, etc. promote the myth that you can do deals with no effort over and over again. You have to be passionate and dedicate yourself daily to learning and growing to constantly hone your skills to the next level. Average people make average money because they are not willing to do what it takes to become excellent in facets of their life.

Related: 5 Dangerous Real Estate Investing Myths Beginning Investors Believe

Instead of making excuses why you can’t do something, you find a way to get it done. I can’t tell you how many people have called me on the phone and ask how I do things. Many say that is just too much work — and isn’t there an easier way? There is an old saying that the smarter and harder you work, the luckier you get. You can’t climb a ladder with hands in your pockets.


Please answer the following question straight from our Forums:

How do you get your spouse on board with real estate?

If you are wanting to get your spouse on board, you need to first make sure all your finances are in order. You should be having a financial meeting multiple times a month. People tend to not like talking about spending money, but it is important to know what is going out and what is coming in and getting a breakdown where possible savings can be had.

Then you can grow that money larger and start investing in real estate versus carrying high interest credit cards and loans, living a life you might not be able to afford and living week to week. Once your spouse sees positive changes happening, it usually is easier to get them on board completely.

J Scott

J Scutmypic (2)cott is a full-time real estate investor who specializes in rehabbing single family homes and building new construction “spec” houses. J and his wife Carol started investing in 2008 and since then have purchased, rehabbed and resold nearly $25M in residential real estate.

Tell me about your very first deal.

My first deal was a single family house that I purchased in August 2008. The intent was to rehab and resell it (flip it). The rehab took about twice as long as expected, we went over budget by about 50% and after not being able to make a quick sale, we got scared and decided to rent it out instead.

The rental turned into a lease option, but after two years, the tenants took off in the middle of the night without telling us they were leaving. We did a second major rehab (which was much easier, as we had done a couple dozen rehabs by that point), and made a quick sale. After two and a half years, we made a small profit on that first house.

Tell me about the biggest real estate disaster you’ve ever found yourself in.

I purchased a property in another state with a partner. He found the deal, and based on his numbers, it was going to be a “home run” deal. Unfortunately, he was off on his rehab estimates by about 50%, he was off on his ARV by about 20% and he went about 6 months over schedule. Ultimately, what started as a home-run deal ended up losing us money. It wasn’t a “disaster,” as we only lost a little bit of money… but it certainly felt like one, given that we were expecting about $100,000 profit when the deal started.


What’s the awesome real estate or business book you’ve read that no one seems to know about?

The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. The book is about a business management philosophy that focuses on determining what bottlenecks your business is experiencing, and then removing those bottlenecks to get your business to run more efficiently and profitably.

What would you tell your newbie investor self if you could?

Do more deals! When we were first starting out, I didn’t have self-confidence in my abilities and turned down a lot of deals because I didn’t believe we could be successful on a larger scale. In retrospect, I wish we would have purchased every good deal that came across my desk the first couple years — we probably would have done an extra 200-300 projects by now.

What’s the biggest sacrifice being an entrepreneur requires?

Most people think being self-employed means you can work whenever you want to. While that’s true to a degree, there’s the added responsibility of sometimes having to work when you DON’T want to. Because you don’t have a boss setting boundaries on your time commitments, it’s easy to find yourself working too much sometimes.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?

Speed reading. I’m an exceptionally slow reader, and given how much reading I do, it makes me terribly inefficient.

Please answer the following question straight from our Forums:

What motivates you daily to do your investing job?

Setting a good example for my kids – when they see my wife and I able to build a business that allows the family to be completely free to pursue our goals, they learn that they have the opportunity to do that for their families one day.

Bryan Hancock

cutmypicBryan Hancock has 12 years of investing experience across a wide variety of product types, including multifamily, residential buy-and-holds, exotic strategies, and most recently development projects. He considers himself more of a money manager and has spent the last 5+ years building syndications and private equity funds to share the returns from his projects with passive investors.

Tell me about your very first deal.

My first deal was my primary residence I purchased in Fort Worth in 2003, which we later converted to a rental. We still own the property and it cash flows quite well.

Tell me about the biggest real estate disaster you’ve ever found yourself in.  

I’m pretty conservative and do a lot of diligence on projects before I invest. Thus, the worst deal I have done to date was a subject-to purchase I made in about 2007 that had all of the correct paperwork to go with it. However, the seller decided to threaten me with a lawsuit anyway, and I decided to just deed it back to them at the market price at the time. This was the one and only time I have been threatened with a suit in my investing career; hopefully it’s the last time.

If you weren’t investing in real estate, what would you be doing?

Probably watching UT sports of some kind, especially during football season.


Have you met other BP members in real life?  

Yes, many of them. I visit Dallas frequently and visit with folks up there. Many people come down to Austin and we meet up too. We have invested with people from all over the world as a result of BP, some of which are in Israel and Singapore.  

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?  

The gift of learning to work hard from my parents.

What would be your dream real estate deal?  

I would own a several hundred unit apartment complex. Hopefully we’ll be able to execute on one of these in the coming few years.

Please answer the following question straight from our Forums:

What stresses you about investing and how do you deal with it?  

Dealing with contractors is stressful. I generally try to find projects good enough where even if they screw up royally on budgets or time, we still come out well.

Jon Klaus

cutmypic (4)Jon Klaus has been active in real estate for the past 20 years, but became more serious about his investing career starting in 2008. He’s tried his hand at everything from office buildings to flipping to new home builds. He currently resides in a ranch (to which he’s added a pond, small lake, cabin and shop), where he enjoys spending time with his family.

Tell me about your very first deal.

My first real estate deal was in the early nineties, probably the end of 1992. Of course, I was a newbie, and I didn’t have resources like there are today. I’d read a few books on real estate investing, I think one of them was one of Wade Cook’s early books on assumable mortgages and wrapping them to resell them to an owner-occupant buyer, which was what I was looking to do.

One Friday morning, my agent called me that there was a 4-bedroom, 3-bath that had been originally priced at $69k, dropped to $59k, and that day had dropped to $49k — and she said the sellers were motivated to go. I assumed the mortgage, sold the house Sub2, got it back when the buyer defaulted, then sold it again for a decent profit. I was hooked.

To hear the whole story, watch my video here.

Tell me about the biggest real estate disaster you’ve ever found yourself in.

Fortunately, I’ve never experienced a financial disaster. I’ve had a few bad tenants that have made life miserable for a while, but have learned that great tenant screening and investing in quality properties help ensure against bad tenants.

Related: 26 More Epic Insights All Real Estate Investors Need To Think About

You have $30k and $30k only to invest in real estate. What do you do with it?

Down payment on a rehab/flip that might look like this: I put in $25K, a private money lender puts in $100K. Buy a house for $70K, rehab for $55K, sell at retail for $170K, for a $45K gross margin, maybe net profit of around $30K.


What’s something no one on BP knows about you?

We’ve adopted 5 kids.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, how do you pass it?

Playing with the kids.

Please answer the following question straight from our Forums:

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor/coach ever gave you?

“Follow opportunity, not necessarily your own preconceived idea of a business plan.” – Rich Weese, from BP

Bill G.

Bill G. retired at 52 from his business in the financial arena that specialized in mortgage brokerage and lending together with real estate operations and remained active in areas of consultation, generally just “paying it back.” He has served in government as a bank examiner for the F.D.I.C and as a Commissioner of a large Public Housing Authority while active on the personal investment side with hands on experience for 40 years now.

Tell me about your very first deal.

My first “deal” was really purchased as my home after getting married, more of a gift than I realized then. It was a small two bedroom on a Contract for Deed with no money down. Such was common then in my area, as it was more about renting to stable tenants than about any real intent to sell; yes, I didn’t have a clue. A Realtor who was a close family friend assisted me, and I sold it a couple years later having improved it. That gave me some “seed money” in my pocket, and it all began from there, I suppose.

Tell me about the biggest real estate disaster you’ve ever found yourself in.

One incident was in a partnership arrangement on a grocery store, where a partner was stealing inventory to supply his other store, sales were to go to the purchase of a seller financed note. It almost went to court, but I got that partner out and salvaged the deal. Lesson learned on several fronts, but one was being on a lending side while partnering in the transaction. Stay away from those convoluted deals!

What is your favorite creative financing strategy?

Seller financing has always been my specialty, getting an owner to participate, pledging other assets, co-signing notes in a way that can sweeten a deal, solving problems and using private money. It’s the use of assets that make transactions creative, not so much the type of transaction, just getting out of the box legally and ethically.


How do you gain credibility when you’re new?

Credibility begins with following up and doing what you say you’ll do. It doesn’t take years of experience to tell someone that you will do something and then do it. Just don’t let the mouth overload your shoulders.

Start with small things: I’ll get the lawn mowed by 5:00 p.m. or I’ll have the materials there by 7:00 a.m. Learn how to take responsibility for small things and build up to greater obligations, but above all, carry through with what you promise to do. Then you will build credibility.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, how do you pass it?

Should be obvious, my “free time” is spent on BP! It’s addictive.

Please answer the following question straight from our Forums:

What is it about real estate investing that appeals to you?

Having been more in the finance arena, my work put people in homes, into business, gave folks a new start, an opportunity. I contributed to the community and my real estate ventures were a vehicle to carry out a civic minded need, which happened to be very profitable.

While I began thinking about the money, it soon became obvious that it was really more about guiding others — and the money became secondary. If you really love what you do, the money will come.

What’s your favorite piece of wisdom shared above? What would you like to ask?

Leave a comment below!

About Author

Allison Leung

A career writer, editor and blogger, Allison serves as the Director of Content for In the past, she has channeled her passion and curiosity for all things real estate into her jobs by working in real estate law and heading a blog about real estate market trends. Don’t ask about her dog, Ace, unless you want to see approximately 500 photos of his (adorable) face.


  1. I agree with Mr Williamson.
    It is nice to see you putting such a great group of investors together to answer questions and make it clear that everybody has had similar experiences as these men. The defining differences in these men varies from one to the next no doubt but the similarities are the things that most interest me. To pick one piece of wisdom I would have to go with the adage the loosely translated basically said that through your efforts you make your own luck.
    I am jealous of of all those pictures of the dog though, I never took the time to take a picture of much of anything, and many is the time I would have like to of had a few of a good dog or horse or even a good friend but that was something I just didn’t do.

    • Allison Leung

      Hey Gary:

      Thank you for the kind words. I agree — the differences are obviously apparent, but the underlying similarities are fascinating. And hey… if you need some extra dog pics in your life, I have an abundant collection. 🙂

  2. Anil Samuel

    Allison, Great job bringing some of the senior leaders of BP together in a open and honest forum for those with less experience to get a sneak peak into how those leaders got started, what makes them successful, and how to create a huge impact in our local community. I love the fact that I have so many mentors though I have not met them all in person, but they are consistently willing to assist people that are far less knowledgeable than they are! That is a rare characteristic in this day and age. Most people only want to help someone if there is something in it for them. I look forward to more posts that provide an insider look into “a day in the life of an experienced RE Investor!” Thanks again, your blog post was impeccable.

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