Real Estate at 10,000 Feet Up

By Bill Ham, Author of Real Estate Raw: A step-by-step instruction manual to building a real estate portfolio from start to finish 

Photo by David McBee

I will never forget my first business/real estate mentor. I was set to taxi the plane out to the runway on a flight to Carrabelle Florida. My passenger for the day was a wealthy real estate investor and developer named Lee. I was flying him to FL for the afternoon because he was in the middle of developing a new condominium community on a prime piece of waterfront real estate. I had watched him negotiate and purchase this a few weeks prior on a separate trip that I flew him to Florida for.  

At this point, my real estate career didn’t exist at all. I was a pilot flying for a medical supply company in Macon, GA. Lee was a friend of the owner of the company I worked for. The owner had invested in Lee’s next development and had given him access to the plane (and me) to take him down to the development site when he needed. At this point in, I was working on my flying career, but I was slowly getting the real estate bug. Little did I know that in less than a year from that fateful flight, I would be completely out of aviation and full-time in real estate, never to look back. 

As we taxied out to the runway on a beautiful spring day Lee said something that would change the course of my life forever “what’s that button for?”  

That was it. With that one simple question, the trajectory of my life changed, and I didn’t even know it yet. What I did know was how to be creative. He asked me what some gadget on the plane’s dash was for and I instantly created my first mentor. I looked at Lee and said… “I tell you what, you seem interested in flying and I am interested in real estate and business, let’s trade.” He looked at me with an odd expression and said, “what in the world are you suggesting?” I then described how I could give him free flight lessons on our weekly flights to Florida if he would answer my questions and discuss business with me once we got to altitude and put the plane on autopilot. This bargain was the one that catalyzed my intention to go into real estate and business for myself.  

I understand that you may not be a pilot and able to trade free flight lessons for real estate advice, but you do have something that is of value, you just need to figure out what it is and get creative. Just like I traded those flight lessons for education, you need to find ways to be valuable to someone who can teach you real estate. There have been days that I thought I was going to have to stand on the side of the road with a sign that says, “will work for education”.  

Once you are willing to do what it takes to get a mentor in place, you need to take the next logical step. Find a mentor. There are many places to find mentors. One great place is your local REIA (Real Estate Investment Association). There are many people that have a tremendous amount of experience at your local REIA. Start your search there.  

Most people find mentors through networking. Networking is something that you must be doing all the time. It is not something that you do only at a networking event. It’s a lifestyle. Look for people that are doing deals in your area. When you meet them, offer to take them to lunch and YOU PAY. Even if the mentor is already rich, don’t think that they should take care of you. When first establishing a relationship with a new mentor don’t make all the conversation about you or what you need. Make it about them. Find out what they need and then come up with a way that you could be of use to them.  

For example, at one point I was trying to learn more about commercial retail space. I don’t know much about this type of real estate, but a friend and business partner of mine does. I asked him to show me some of the ropes and he said he would. The first task he gave me was to see if I could lease out one of his vacant units in a strip mall. If I can find a tenant, he will let me be a part of the leasing process and I will get a firsthand education. Cold-calling local businesses to try and get a tenant would not seem like the best use of my time, but it was if I wanted to get that information. Remember the “work for education” part? I am willing to do whatever it takes to find teachers and business partners and you should be too.  

About the Author 

I am a multifamily owner/operator and Chief Operating Officer at Broadwell Property Group. Through my companies, I seek to purchase and manage a currently growing portfolio of commercial multifamily real estate.   
In 2005 I quit my job as a corporate pilot and went into real estate full-time. I had closed only one deal. A duplex. It was cash flowing about $300 a month. I started my entire real estate carrier with this one duplex and a life savings of $10,000. Not much.   
My first 402 units were completed with some form of creative financing such as seller financing and master lease options. Over the years I built a large portfolio of real estate consisting mostly of apartments. I built a management company that operated the portfolio. At the peak that company was comprised of 16 employees and managed over 1000 units.   
Over the years I had many successes and many failures. Some small and some big. I have made a lot of money and I have lost a lot of money. I have seen all phases of the market. The up cycles and the down. The good times and the bad. I have survived them all. Knowledge and skills are only passed on by those who survive.   
The information I offer you on this site is my own. It has been tried and tested over a long career in the real estate business. Everything here has functionality that you can use, not untested theories. I have been successful with everything I teach. You can be too.