Grant Cardone is Both Very Right and Very Wrong: Let’s Pick Apart His Advice

by | BiggerPockets.com

When you get to be pretty smart and rather accomplished, you find yourself in somewhat of a danger zone. The danger is represented by the fact that your prior successes tend to back you into a tunnel-vision perspective on life and business. Because you know what has worked for you in the past, you can fall into believing that the same will work in the future, that your way is the only way, etc.

Well, it doesn’t take a genius to note that everything in life changes over time, that life and everything in it is cyclical. And if so, your perspective and frame of mind necessarily and proactively must evolve.

One way to help facilitate this is by surrounding yourself with smart people of differing perspectives, and one vehicle to accomplish this can be a mastermind group. I am fortunate to have many, many smart people on speed dial, and last week I had the pleasure of spending time with two of the smartest guys I know.

The setting is Hawaii, Honolua Bay on the Island of Kawaii. Do you recognize these two gentlemen?

In case there is any confusion, the one with the out of control beard is Brandon Turner, and the other is our good friend Darren Sager. On Darren’s plate is a gluten-free waffle. He loved it, and it helped him maintain his figure, which, considering his age, is no small thing.

While in Hawaii, Darren turned 50. Happy Birthday, Darren!

He looks fantastic, doesn’t he?

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What Did We Discuss?

We talked about lots of things. It was a very productive getaway, indeed. One topic, in particular, comes to mind, and it is this:

Grant Cardone loves to offer advice that folks shouldn’t mess with houses and small multifamily and should go to the big stuff right away. Brandon, Darren, and I talked about this in detail, and in my opinion, we have to accept that Grant’s advice is both very wrong and very right at once.

In this article, we will explore both sides of the argument.

Why I Think I Can Help You

Brandon, Darren, and I talked a lot on the subject, but of the three of us I may be most equipped to speak to this. I started with single family residences (SFR), and it only took four of them for me to figure out that structurally SFR as an asset class is a fool’s game. The numbers are not there, and the management infrastructure is a nightmare.

I switched over to small multifamily in 2006 and stayed there for about eight years, working with everything from a duplex to 10 units. I remember looking at some 24-40 units, but never pulled the trigger on those; something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t sure what felt wrong about these at the time. I know now.

And nowadays I syndicate apartment communities.

So, this conversation is right up my alley because I’ve stood on every step of this ladder and have internalized the benefits and drawbacks of each. I am hoping you find value in this.

Related: Why You May Have Grant Cardone’s Concept of “Massive Action” Dangerously Wrong

Grant Cardone is Right

Let me start out by saying that structurally, Grant is right—going bigger is simply a better idea by any investment return, OpEx, and CapEx line item.

Investment Returns

This is a long—in fact, very long—conversation. But the term I want to coin today is #exponentiality. In simple terms, a 1% return on a basis of $100,000 is $1,000. But, the same 1% return on a basis of $10M is $100,000. Now, I’m not sure about you, but I’d rather get paid $100,000 than $1,000.

Thus, in terms of the amount of money being made, this is not a contest—go big or go home. Cardone is right here.

Management

I’ve written about this on the BiggerPockets blog as well as mine, but as it relates to management the truth goes like this:

A professional property management operation is one that has a construction arm, legal department, and an accounting/reporting department. This is an operation with well-tested systems, which come from years in the business and thousands of units under management. This is an operation with deep commercial contracting relationships, in-depth knowledge of and relationships with the representatives of the municipalities they operate in, etc.

In addition to the above, a professional management infrastructure for apartments involves payroll for on-site employees and a regional manager overseeing them.

Now, the thing to understand is that all of the above costs money, and in order to underwrite this cost, the project needs to be of a particular size. Let’s just call it “large.” Such a property manager as described above knows that you can’t afford them on a 40-unit, and they can’t afford to service you properly on a 40-unit. So, they are not interested.

I will address in a bit why this is such a problem. For now, let’s just say that there are only two options available to you from here: You are forced to either do the property management yourself or hire the gal or dude at a local real estate brokerage office who handles 100 units for small-timers. Neither of the above is a particularly enviable circumstance. In fact, I did it for a decade—and, well, no freaking more!

Cardone is right here as well: Go big or go home, as it relates to property management.

Construction Efficiencies

We only buy value-add deals. Why? It’s a separate conversation as to why, and if you want to have that conversation, we can, in another article. For now, let us agree—we only buy value-add deals.

That said, there is a lot of construction happening in these deals. And with construction, we have issues of material cost and sourcing, labor cost and sourcing, and project management.

Relative to project management, we are right back to talking about management, and the same realities exist—either you are pulling your hair out to keep subs on task, or someone else does it for you. On a small project, it has to be you because you can’t afford for it not to be you. On a large project, there is enough income to pay people so you can have a life.

So, here again, going bigger makes sense.

Then there is the issue of sourcing materials. Do you think you can get better pricing on kitchen cabinets and granite if you do 4 units or 100? How about flooring and paint? How about fixtures? And how about labor?

Two months ago, we closed on a 98-unit. It was at that time called Silver Tree. Now it’s Canyon 35. You can read about it here.

As we speak, work is going on:

I can tell you that we can do a 1×1 apartment at a cost of about $7,350 if the bathtub does not need to be resurfaced—and $7,550 if it does. Add to this about $100 for 2×1 and about $300 for 2×2. This includes new cabinets in the kitchen and bath, granite for kitchen and baths, underhung sinks throughout, appliances, lighting and plumbing fixtures, hardware, paint, and all of the labor.

There is absolutely zero chance I could touch this pricing remodeling a small multifamily. And in SFR, if you are good at what you do, you’ll spend $8,000 on the kitchen alone, more if you go with granite. That’s if you are good!

So, once again, Grant is right—going bigger affords efficiencies.

Financing

Dude, I’ll tell you what. The most difficult financing to obtain is residential mortgages for your 4 units and less. The qualifying process is akin to a colonoscopy. They look at everything and they look everywhere.

Not much better is commercial portfolio lending. It’s definitely better but still requires personal recourse, and while more emphasis is placed on the asset, the bank still looks at you quite personally.

Related: BiggerPockets Podcast 108: Building a $350 Million Real Estate Empire Using the 10X Rule with Grant Cardone

On the other hand, with the big stuff, the options for financing are endless, and the qualifying process is easier. Why? Because they look at you, but not really. They know you can’t and won’t repay the debt if things go badly, so they focus on the asset and who will be managing said asset.

The thing is, lenders won’t even think about loaning to you if you think you can manage the asset yourself—it’s a professional job that a professional should do. They know that professional third party property manager will be managing the project. As such, the lender is underwriting the property manager more than they underwrite you, which takes me back to the earlier discussion: If what you’ve bought is too small to afford/attract professional management, this is a problem in a lot of ways, including the debt.

By default, this pushes you into larger assets since this type of a professional property manager will not manage small stuff.

Grant is right again—go big or go home.

But… Grant Cardone is Wrong!

Here’s the thing. Any suggestion that a newbie who can’t tell a rafter from a footer, who’s never signed a lease, who’s never qualified for a loan, who’s never experienced the joys of eviction, and who’s never written a business plan much less executed it should stick his/her nose into the big stuff is insane at best, criminally misleading at worst, and big-time guru on balance.

It’s not like you know anything about construction. It’s not like you can raise $5M from partners. And, most importantly, it’s not like you know what a good deal looks like.

And something else you don’t know is how much mistakes in real estate hurt!

So, What Should You Do?

I have no idea. I don’t write articles to give you answers. I write to make you think. And all I can tell you is what I did and what my friends did. You figure it out from there.

I can tell you that I learned from making mistakes. I could not conceptualize large apartments any other way than growing into them. But I eventually arrived at a point in my intellectual worth that now enables me to play in the big leagues. I still have a portfolio of small multis, but likely not for too much longer.

My partner Sam Grooms is a CPA with a Deloitte pedigree, who can see stories in numbers that 99 percent of people just aren’t able to see. Aside for syndicating with me, he seems to always have two flips going on. And now, he is starting to teach as well since we are doing a live event in Phoenix in January.

Darren, aside for being a hugely successful realtor to the investors, is continuing to stick to his model of buying extremely well-located small multis in Northern Jersey, close to transit and with the eyesight of Manhattan. He is of the mind that fewer doors equal more cash flow. Works for him!

Brandon Turner makes good cash flow on his portfolio, buys mobile home parks, and writes books that generate very good residual income.

Both Darren and Brandon invest with me for diversification and access to other markets—and for the fact that both of them are kind of maxed out with how much they do, and it’s time to diversify into more passive forms of cash flow.

You see, everyone has angles. Everyone is diversified with activities and revenue. Whether it’s classical training or trial and error, all of us study and learn. One thing none of us did was jump into large multifamily right away.

What do you think? Is Grant Cardone’s “go big or go home” principle feasible for newbies?

Weigh in with a comment!

About Author

Ben Leybovich

Ben Leybovich has been investing in multifamily real estate since 2006. His area of expertise is creative finance. Ben works extensively with private as well as institutional financing. Ben the author of the Cash Flow Freedom University and creator of a cash flow analysis software CFFU Cash Flow Analyzer.

42 Comments

      • Mike McKinzie

        Ben, you mean like the blog where you said that people can’t make money on $30,000 rentals?? I am so sick and tired of that class that I won’t buy anything under $100,000 except for a flip. A new roof, water heater, HVAC system all cost the same, no matter if your get $500 a month in rent or $2,500 a month in rent. I just redid 2 bathrooms in a rental, $25,000 for a complete, down to the subfloor, refurbish. But it added $50,000 to the value and the house will be sold next year for around $650,000.00. (How stupid am I? I own a house worth $650,000 that rents for $1,800 a month. On the other hand, I only paid $90,000 for the thing) That’s called WEALTH!!

    • Sam Grooms

      Mike, I completely agree with you on appreciation. Which is why we do the value-add and force some appreciation up front. This gives us good cash flow, which is rare in today’s environment. Cash flow is what gives you staying power to realize the wealth creating appreciation you mention. Without it, most people would be forced to sell before they can realize it, as soon as a capital improvement cycle comes up or a market downturn happens. So once we have the cash flow, along with our abnormally large reserves, we’re able to hold on for as long as needed for appreciation.

      • NJ Ram

        Well said Sam! Let me also point out the appreciation on a MUF complex. When NOI goes up, both wealth and cash flow are great! For example, acquire a 100 unit $8MM complex, spend $1MM on renovations, increase rent by $100 on each unit, and now you have increased cash flow by $120,000, and your rehabbed complex is worth $12MM (a $3MM appreciation)! Now that’s serious wealth creation 🙂

  1. jeffrey gordon

    We are planning our movement from 2-4 unit portfolio into larger MF with onsite management. Trying to do some research on how folks see minimum unit size and/or value/revenue classes when looking at say 12-100 unit range propertys. We are looking for “light” value add/Re-Positioning opportunities in about 10 US markets maximum with a likely focus in 1-2 to for first investments. I would appreciate direction to any content on this issue of what unit count parameters we might research.

    • Sam Grooms

      Jeff, it’s all about what the top-line can support. Most markets require 100 units for a full time property manager and full time maintenance personnel.

      However, if your rents are higher, it takes less units to be able to afford your personnel.

      With 12 units, its highly unlikely you’ll have onsite personnel, no matter the market. At 50 units you could hire a part time manager and part time maintenance. However, the problem with part time labor is that they are almost always looking for full time work. You’ll have high employee turnover.

  2. Chris Nelson

    Ben, thanks for this article.

    I think most people who read this were probably looking forward to the end of the article, to see what was sure to be your declaration of the bullet-proof approach, the one-size-fits-all, the step-by-step action to take, etc., etc.

    So I appreciated the part where you asked the question, “So, What Should You Do?”, and then stated that you have no idea, and that you write articles, not to give answers, but rather, to make people think. Which is perfect! In real estate, there is so much to think about, and consider, and analyze, etc., and its in all of our best interest to listen to other’s experiences, of what they did, and how they did it, and then determine our own best next steps, given our own personal situations, talents and abilities.

  3. Jerry W.

    Ben,
    Good to not only see you back in the saddle, but poking the bear again. We all need that thing in life that makes us look forward to tomorrow. Now since you are smoking this thing I was meaning to ask you about your advice about not buying a house to live in and for sure not buying a really nice house hehe. Intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom eh? Hope all is well for you and your family.

  4. sri ram

    Ben,
    As usual nice article. I listen to Cardone once in while and as you pointed it out everyone does not have that kind of cash flow or cash sitting around. He is a good salesmen for his products and he has plenty of cash flow too so he has to park it somewhere. I am in the same boat, as you have done already trying to put money into a larger deal.
    Keep it going and have a happy thanks giving to you and family….

  5. Dante Pirouz

    Ben, I used to think you were just a “crank” trying to rain on all the newbies and their parade with your posts full of very blunt and direct talk, but that was when I myself was a newbie and didn’t know how right your opinions are!

    Now that we own 15 units, I am preparing to purchase my next property and what you bring up in your post is spot on in my experience so far. The issues you discuss here of whether it is better to purchase a bunch of cheap fixer SFRs or go for a larger multi (which even with 15 units still seems intimidating to me) is right in line with my thinking (we own a few SFRs but have moved up to small multis).. I am currently negotiating financing with a local portfolio lender and they are just as nervous and nosy as my regular residential lender. I thought a portfolio lender would be the answer to everything but recourse lending is obviously too much of a pain to allow you to grow your business as quickly as you’d like (and I actually love filling out endless forms and have a strong W2 paycheck).

    So my question is what advice would you give an investor who is at the 10-20 unit level who wants to grow their portfolio to allow for pro management and economies of scale? Is there a minimum unit # that we should be looking for, do we have to do the next deal as a syndication (I prefer to keep the control of the deal in house), should we put our capital in someone else’s syndication deal…would love to hear your opinion on how you jumped to the next level in your business development!

  6. Michael Kistner

    Great article Ben!

    I’ve always felt the same way. I understand Cardones point but that’s because I’ve experienced the headaches and frustrations with SFR. But at the same time it really is a great way for newbies to start. House hack, learn some creative financing strategies, and then look to scale up.

  7. Randy Smith

    Great article Ben!

    I am very new to investing and I just read Grant Cardone’s book/sales tool that suggests only buying large multi family units. I was about to send in my $10,000 before my wife reminded me that we’ve agreed on starting with single family residences.

    I’m planning on stubbing my toes a bit on the small stuff while I build some “real estate investing experience capital.” I suspect it is better for a new investor to lose on some small investments before going all in.

    Best,
    Randy

  8. Brian Burke

    Cardone is right. Its way better to be doing large deals. But it’s also better being an adult where you get to do all kinds of great things as opposed to being an infant that can’t even feed yourself without adult assistance.

    But we are not born as adults. We are all born as infants and we must learn to crawl, then walk, then run, then ride a bike, then drive a car.

    So this is just a right of passage issue. If you can survive SFR you are probably ready for small multi. If you survive small multi you are ready for mid-size multi. If you survive that, you are ready for large multi.

    You might think it’s great to go straight from no deals to large deals. But you’d be scared to death if infants were racing up and down the roads in their Teslas.

    • Kevin Moules

      Brian thanks for your additional insight. I read stories here on BP of folks jumping right in large multis and I guess if I were young and single i would have more guts to do that. However, having wife and kids and just starting out is not the right time to go big or go home as they say. Hard enough for my wife joining the journey with me on going after small multis would not want to bust my toe on a large multi property. Those could end the game before even starting.

      Also, I see what you did there with the Tesla 🙂 Hopefully Ben caught that.

    • Louis Sulek

      Uncle G throws around 32 units as some kind of magic number. Ben suggests 100 is the magic number as this is when pro on site property management is apparently sensible. I would like to think that between 5 and 100 units there are perfectly good ways to secure permanent on-site management, even if not as straightforward as hiring highly reputable big management companies. Maybe it’s my newbie optimism talking here but to me it just comes back to finding deals no??

      • Ben Leybovich

        Well, this is nothing to argue about. It’s a numbers question. In order to support a certain OpEx load, the PM being part of that load, a specific minimum gross is needed. I am sure that with $3,000 rents you could support professional management on 40 units. The thing is – you are not buying $3,000.

        Cardone recommends the following, and I happen to think this is very valid – go where there are no cranes in the air and re-positioned rents are $800 – $1,200. It’s where people can afford to live and where you will not be compressed by Class A new construction.

        Well, at that rate you need 100 units. Nothing much really to discuss there. It’s just math 🙂

  9. Kevin Moules

    Ben, why are you always on point?! You know why I like your articles, because you don’t say your way is the only way or the others guys way is the only way. No, you write your articles in ways to be thought provoking and allow us youngsters to expand our mind a little as we try to learn this business. There is no one way to skin the cat as they say. I think jumping into it Grant Cardone style is a little bit of putting the cart in front of the horse. I say start with small multis and go form there. Thanks!

    • Ben Leybovich

      Grant is a motivator. He has to be in order to sell, whatever it is he is selling that day. He has to get you to “condition” so he can sell you.

      That condition is a state of mind where you believe you are better, smarter, faster, and more capable than you really are. You believe, and then you buy.

  10. Mark Davidson

    Great article. It mentioned that buying less than four units is horrible to qualify for. One way to beat this is to owner occupy one of the units. Then, the banks will throw money at you. You might even get 100% financing.

    One major caveat is that all four units have to be under one roof!

    The issue for me was always that my spouse was unwilling to sacrifice for a short while. “You mean you want to move us to a 900 SF 2/1?”

  11. Thomas Cox

    Great stuff Ben. Grant is Great. Love listening to him. Loved your input. I think his best advice is SAVE SAVE SAVE then invest big. My goal is to purchase a new property every other year. We bought a 10 unit in 2017 and are looking now in 2019, Question i have is do you have any advice on

    HOW to look for those properties?

    or
    Event those 8-15 unit properties?

    thanks a ton for your work.
    Carry on my friend .

  12. Nate Santillanes

    Ben, great article, thanks for the advice. Question on your rehab budget which is sharp for the level of finishes. I find that flooring represents 50-55% of an overall material budget when I use a mid level LVP throughout an entire unit. What flooring product are you using these days?

    • Ben Leybovich

      Nate, it’s difficult to price these things at a small scale. My flooring is about $1.50 all in. This includes taking up existing flooring, floor prep, new product and labor. This is not pricing I could ever touch even remotely if it weren’t for scale…

      The same is true for granite, appliances, etc.

  13. Roy Johnson

    Swing for the fences. Go big or go home. The numbers dont lie. And I agree. A newbie is one thing but a newbie who has done his homework is another. This is not quantum physics.I call it a simple game we all learned asa kid follow the leader. There is plenty of books out there so you can get a step by step blueprint on how they did it. Get 10 different blueprints. All of successful. Each of them has 1 or 2 suttle differances that are helpfull. Take them devise a gameplan based on your opinion of whats right or wrong what will work what wont go for it. Have wide background, contractor, building inspector hifhly certified, interpersonal communication skill. Management and Marketing degrees. Gauranteed within 2-4 weeks crash xcourse Ican learn ins and outs of any business and run it properly and improve on it. Not braggin if you can back your play

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