223 See It to Be It : Real Estate Industry (w/ OJ Gordon)

On the twelfth entry of our See It to Be It podcast series, Amy C. Waninger speaks with OJ Gordon about his entering the real estate industry from the insurance industry and the unique role he’s taking on in doing so. OJ also suggests that people interested in getting started or learning more about the industry look into getting involved with the local chapter of their National Real Estate Investors Association (REIA). Check out the show notes to find out more!

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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. Now, look, every now and then we try to mix it up for y’all. So look, dependency and consistency is really important, but even within those lanes of consistency, you gotta have a little bit of variety, you know what I mean? You don’t come home and just eat the same thing every day, or even if you do–you know, you got a meal prep thing–maybe sometimes you put a little red sauce. Maybe sometimes you put a little green sauce. You know, you gotta just, you know, mix it up from time to time. Maybe sometimes you grill it. Maybe sometimes you saute. Maybe sometimes you rotisserie. You gotta just–am I hungry? Yes, I’m hungry, y’all. My bad. Listen, check it out. We have another entry for y’all from our See It to Be It series. Amy C. Waninger, CEO of Lead at Any Level as well as the author of Network Beyond Bias, she’s actually been a member of the team for a while now, so shout-out to you, Amy. Yes, thank you very much for all of your work here. And part of her work has been in driving this series called See It to Be It, and the purpose of the series is to actually highlight black and brown professionals in these prestigious roles, like, within industries that maybe we–and when I say we I mean black and brown folks, I see y’all–may not even know exist or envision ourselves in, hence the name of the series, right? So check this out. We’re gonna go ahead and transition from here. The next thing you’re gonna hear is an interview with Amy C. Waninger and a super dope professional. I know y’all are gonna love it. Catch y’all next time. Peace.

Amy: Hi, OJ. Thank you so much for joining me today.

OJ: Hey, thank you for having me. Glad to be here.

Amy: Oh, it’s great talking to you again. So you’re one of my Network Beyond Bias success stories because you and I met at my very first ever industry conference when we were both in Hawaii for the CPCU conference, and you were part of my “I’m gonna talk to three people today if it kills me” program, and we were both sitting front and center at a big session, and I think I turned to you and said, “Hi, you’re sitting front and center too. We should probably talk,” or something really dorky like that, and then we became friends from that. So you were one of the people that I kind of collected at that conference just because I forced myself to talk, and I’m so glad I did.

OJ: And I’m glad you did as well, absolutely.

Amy: Well, thank you. So we’re gonna talk today about your entering the real estate industry–and the role that you’re taking on is a little unique from what most people think of in terms of real estate, so can you tell me first what it is that you do, who you help and how you help them?

OJ: Sure, absolutely. So my primary focus is helping people who have real estate problems. So folks who have repairs that they can’t make at their home. They have code liens, tax liens, debt that they can’t pay off, or for whatever reason they need to get out of the home that they’re in and they don’t have a solution that traditional real estate can help [?]. So for whatever reason they can’t put this house up on the market. They can’t make a profit selling that house on the market. Planning unique solutions to help them get to where they want to be.

Amy: And so this is–like I said, it’s kind of a special situation that you’re creating, a special opportunity that you’re creating for yourself. Can you tell me how you got involved in this and sort of what about it appealed to you?

OJ: Yeah, absolutely. So as you know I work in insurance, and there are many times where you run into a situation where there’s something not covered by a policy, and that could be a $10,000, $15,000, $100,000 problem, and when someone has an issue like that and they’re not able to get financing or fix the problem, you know, it becomes a safety issue where they’re living in a home that’s potentially unsafe, they’re living in a situation where, you know, no one should be living, and I got into insurance because I wanted to help people, and for the most part we can. There are tons of things that are covered, but in those situations where something isn’t covered and, you know, there are people who feel helpless, they don’t know what to do, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to [?]. So I started looking into different solutions, and I actually met a couple real estate investors who were like, “What? That’s exactly what we’re looking for.” I was like, “Why would you want this house that has, you know, $30,000 worth of damage? There’s a mortgage on it. There’s all these issues,” and they were like, “This is exactly the situation that we’re looking for. We want to help people who are in these situations, because we want to get them living somewhere safe, and we want to take that home and put in a position where someone can live in it again.” So it just really appealed to me. You get the opportunity to help people. You kind of get to be thrifty and take something that was broken and fix it, and just, for those reasons, this industry really appeals to me.

Amy: That’s fantastic. So I recently moved into a new home about three years ago, and it had a lot of problems that we weren’t anticipating. You know, we knew it would need a new roof for example. We didn’t know that within the first year of ownership we were gonna lose our water heater, our HVAC system, our sump pump, you know, and have problems with some other things, and so I can see how very easily, even without, like, a traditional insurable loss–like, you know, there was no fire, there was no flood, right, it was just wear and tear on a house that had not been maintained for 20 years–and, you know, it was expensive, and we were already sort of maxed out on the mortgage, and so, you know, we had to kind of take out a second mortgage. It’s really embarrassing to say, but we had to take out a second mortgage to pay for, you know, several thousands of dollars worth of repairs to a house so we could live in it, ’cause you can’t live in a house in Indiana without heat, right? You can’t live in a house in Indiana, you know, that’s leaking carbon dioxide into your house. So, like, we had real problems, and people don’t have a lot of reserves. A lot of people are living paycheck to paycheck. I know that’s been my situation for most of my life. You know, it’s really easy to get upside down really fast, not just in your mortgage but in your monthly expenses, and then to have somebody who can come in and say, “Hey, I can help with this.” You know, “You’re not gonna be homeless. You’re not gonna lose money on your house.” I can see where that would be a really welcome message for folks who are struggling or who are concerned about those things, because I can see how, you know, just a lot of people are just a few thousand dollars from disaster. I know I’ve been there many times in my life.

OJ: Absolutely.

Amy: So it’s wonderful what you’re doing. So what’s something–I know you have already alluded to this a little bit, but what’s been the biggest surprise to you about this industry? Something that you weren’t expecting when you first got into it?

OJ: So actually, the thing that surprised me most was, you know, you hear about real estate investors and you’re like, “Oh, they’re these slimy people and, you know they’re just trying to make a quick buck and, you know, they’re gonna offer you way less than what your house is worth,” and that’s kind of the stigma, and there are a few bad people who do those kinds of things, but for the most part everyone I’ve come across has really just wanted to help people. You know, whether it was me first getting into the industry and wanting to learn, people were willing to take the time out of their day to explain things to me, to walk me through processes. Their main focus is not how much money I’ve made, it’s how many people did I help, and I think when you can go to bed at night knowing that your main focus is how many people we can help, you can sleep well, and it really kind of changed this thing in my mind. I was thinking, “Oh, man, I’m gonna be one of these slimy real estate investors,” and really it’s not that. You know, there are many times where a person doesn’t need a real estate investor. They just need a real estate agent or, you know, they don’t need either one of those things. They need help managing their cash flows, right? They’re just spending too much on their discretionary spending, and that’s taking away from their needs. And just being able to have those conversations–like, I went and got my real estate license also so that I could help those folks who need, you know, a traditional solution. And, you know, I partnered with some credit repair and some budgeting specialists who can talk to people about money management and focusing on taking care of their needs before going out and, you know, spending on things that they want, and that’s really been able to help people, and it’s just an amazing feeling knowing, “Hey, you know, I might not have made any money today doing this real estate investing, but I’ve helped someone, and this thing that I’ve done is gonna benefit them and it’s gonna benefit their kids for years to come.”

Amy: That is wonderful. And it’s always a shame to me when somebody says, “I was surprised by how nice people are,” or how much people want to help, because we–I think so many industries have a bad reputation, right, that people are only out for themselves, you know, they’re snakes in the grass and they’re just waiting to attack, you know, and I have found too, as I’ve shifted my career a few times now, that there are always people willing to help. If your heart’s in the right place–and you do have to be careful about it, right? Because there are some people who are out there looking to take advantage, but I would say probably 99% of the people that I’ve met at different stages of my career, when I’m ready to take on something new or make a jump or learn about something new, 99% of the people I meet are genuinely helpful, genuinely want to have a positive impact and, you know, show me something that will help me move forward.

OJ: Right, and I’ve been fortunate to come across those people and really–in the real estate industry you kind of hear, you know, it’s cutthroat, and I have not encountered that. I’m really–maybe I’ve been lucky. Maybe this is just the norm. But I’ve been fortunate to meet people who are genuinely interested in helping me to develop, helping me to learn what I needed to know so that I could help more people.

Amy: That’s fantastic. So if somebody’s not in real estate today and they’re interested in getting started or learning more, what resources are available to them or where would you suggest that they start?

OJ: Sure. I would suggest find the local chapter of the National REIA. Here in Orlando there’s CFRI, Central Florida Real Estate Investors. It’s a nonprofit group that focuses on real estate investment education, you know? There’s an ethics course that you have to go through, and it’s really designed to help real estate investors who are starting off in the business start making the right decisions for the right reasons and to be well-informed, and it’s a great way to just network and meet with people who have been in the industry for a very long time, meet people who have just started, and kind of be able to pick their brains and partner with them and figure out how you can come together to find solutions for folks. So definitely get involved with the local chapter of your national REIA.

Amy: And REIA is a Real Estate Investors Association? REIA.

OJ: Right. Correct.

Amy: Okay. And so just to be clear about this, you didn’t take–I’m gonna pick on Trump University. You didn’t take a Trump University $30,000 real estate course to figure out how to do this, right? You went and talked to people who were really doing this every day who are in it for the right reasons, who are highly ethical and willing to help you without thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in investment. Is that correct?

OJ: Absolutely correct, and don’t think that you have nothing to offer, right? So my background is in insurance, right? Well, if you’re buying homes you need insurance, so knowing about the insurance industry–and, you know, I’ve been an adjuster and I’ve been writing estimates, so I have, you know, building [trades?] knowledge, and, you know, bringing whatever you have from whatever it is you do can benefit you, right? Like if you’re an accountant, well, you’re gonna need to be able to keep track of a lot of moving parts and a lot of numbers, so that’s a skill that’s needed. You know, if you work with your hands–if you’re an electrician or a plumber or a carpenter, these are skills that are needed to get these homes up to code and make them safe for people. So, you know, having that trade knowledge is something that’s tremendously beneficial. So this isn’t limited to, you know, white collar jobs, blue collar jobs, anyone can do this.

Amy: That’s excellent, and I love that message, that you bring what you have and you find a way to contribute and people are there to help you and guide you and partner with you along the way.

OJ: Absolutely.

Amy: And, you know, that builds such a sense of community in an industry, when you know that you can’t know everything, right? The accountant is probably not gonna be the plumbing guy also or, you know, vice versa. So I think that’s a wonderful message, and I think it’s important for people to realize that so many skills are transferable from one industry to another, and it sounds like this is an industry where maybe more than usual skills are transferable in.

OJ: Absolutely.

Amy: That’s wonderful. So what are your thoughts on where this is headed in the future? Is this industry gonna need more people, or do you see this as a short-term set of problems that maybe in five to ten years will sort of take care of itself? Like, what do you see as the talent needs going forward?

OJ: So just like the market is cyclical, the real estate investing needs are cyclical, and so this isn’t something that’s going away. People need to live somewhere. Anyone can come across a real estate problem. Like, when I bought this house, Matthew hit in Florida and destroyed, you know, pretty much everything in my backyard, and I did not realize how expensive fencing could be.

Amy: And you’re an insurance guy. You should know how expensive fencing can be, OJ. Come on! [laughs]

OJ: And so I had a huge lot, right–the house sits on a third of an acre, and most of it is the backyard, so I was actually deployed helping folks who had damages at their home and I find out “Hey, you know, your fence is down,” and I have a pool so I can’t leave holes in the fence because that is a huge liability issue. So I called around to get some folks to kind of get me an estimate, and the first guy called back and said, “You have 321 linear feet of fence and two gates,” and I just knew. I was like, “Oh, man. This is terrible,” and, you know, he quoted me a price, and, you know, if it hadn’t been a catastrophe, that was not something that I would have been able to do. And so, you know, I know how real these problems are, these things that come up are. And the policy I had didn’t have a ton of adjacent structures coverage, and so, you know, the policy was only gonna cover a small portion of it anyway, so I had to pay for that fence out of pocket, and if I had to charge that to a credit card and make those payments, that would have been tough for me. And so I realized just how tough it is when those unexpected events happen, and sometimes your insurance can’t help you or, you know, the things that you were counting on just don’t work out for whatever reason, and it’s, again, just something that isn’t going away. This is an industry that will be here. As the market changes the needs change, and so we’ll be here finding solutions for folks.

Amy: So I want to take a step back for a minute because, you know, insurance–and I’ve worked in insurance for 10, 12 years now, right, insurance is one of those things that people hate paying for and they hate using it, right? Because if you’re using your insurance it means something horrible has happened, and it’s something that we think, “Okay, I want my premium as low as possible because the threat of having a claim is a remote possibility that we don’t really know how to calculate,” right? We don’t know how to calculate that risk. What are the odds that I’m going to use this? We’re afraid to use it sometimes if it’s, you know, a minor thing. Who can people–let’s talk about prevention for just a second. Who’s the best person for someone to talk to when they purchase a house or even if they’re renting about what kind of coverage they need and what they should be paying for coverage? Because that sounds like a first step to preventing getting yourself into this sort of a financial crisis to begin with, right?

OJ: Right, and so if you have a financial planner, that’s someone who you should talk to. There are agents everywhere. Go talk to an agent. You know, I sold insurance when I first got into insurance, and the way I look at insurance is you pay me your premium and I give you peace of mind, right? So I need to make sure that this policy that you’re purchasing is going to give you that peace of mind, and so when you’re purchasing insurance you shouldn’t start off with how much premium you want to pay. You should start off with “How much coverage do I need to have peace of mind?” Right? So if you have a home that would cost $300,000 to rebuild if there was a total loss, total fire, and you only have $50,000 of insurance, you do not have peace of mind. You are not going to be able to rebuild that home, right? And so you just want to talk to your agent and talk to your financial planner. Understand the costs, you know? You don’t have to become a builder, right, but understand the costs associated with rebuilding a home or, you know, if you’re getting an auto policy, right, if you cause an accident, right, there are financial implications. You could end up liable for thousands of thousands of dollars of someone’s medical bills, lost wages. You could be hurt and not be able to work, right? And so these are situations that your agents and your claims professionals come across every day, and, you know, I’ve been on the liability side, and I’ve seen where someone, you know, got hit by an uninsured driver and had $10,000 of uninsured motorist coverage but $50,000 worth of medical bills, and, you know, they were trying to keep their premium low, and you’re not doing yourself a justice by saving $20 in premium when that $20 in premium is tens of thousands of dollars of additional coverage, and you don’t know when you’re gonna have an accident. That’s why people call them accidents. You don’t know when you’re gonna have a fire. You don’t know when these unexpected events are gonna come. If you’re purchasing a policy, don’t do it because a state says you have to do it. Don’t do it because, you know, your mortgage company is saying you have to do it. Do it because you understand that this policy is gonna provide peace of mind in a time where you need peace of mind. The stress of going through these things, right, is overwhelming sometimes, right? And just having, you know, a professional on the other end who can say, you know, “Hey, I know what you’re going through. These are the things that are gonna happen and, you know, here’s how we can help,” is tremendously beneficial.

Amy: Absolutely. And, you know, higher premiums don’t mean better coverage.

OJ: Right. Read your policy. [laughs]

Amy: Read your policy, but not just that. Shop it around, right? Because I had–so when we moved into our house I went through the insurer that I had on our old house, and I won’t name names, but we’ll call them Company A, and Company A, my premiums on my new house were about $4,000 a year, and my coverage was I want to say about four… no, it was about $500 worth of coverage on just the house, and about a year later I decided I was gonna shop it just to see because it was coming up for renewal, and I got coverage through Company B, and Company B was $1,300 a year, and they estimated the rebuild cost of my house at over $700,000, and that’s what they insured me at. So I was paying a lot more–I was paying three times the amount that I could have been for about half of the coverage with the first company versus the second, and it’s all about how much do they know about your area, how much do they know about the kind of house that they’re insuring, how much do they know about the risks and the likelihood of risk where you live, and how good is their math, right, when they’re running those numbers, and so I think it really pays for people to talk to different companies and find out, because if I thought when I bought myself–I didn’t pay $700,000 for my house, but if I had thought when I bought my house I needed $700,000 for the replacement cost coverage, I would not have insured it for $450 or $500,000, right? Because the other thing that happens that people don’t know–and I don’t want to go off on a big insurance thing, but the other thing that happens that people don’t know is if you do have a total loss and you’re under-insured, you don’t get all the money your insurance company promised you at the beginning.

OJ: Right. So there’s that [?] percent co-insurance and [?] the cash value. Right.

Amy: Right, so if you have a $200,000 house, let’s say, and you have $100,000 worth of coverage on it, and you have a total loss, your insurance company will say, “Well, you know what, it’s a lot more common to have a $100,000 loss on a $200,000 house than it is to have a $100,000 loss on a $100,000 house,” right? “So we’re only gonna pay 50% of your policy payout, or 80% of your policy payout, because you weren’t insured to the full amount of your home.” And so not only are you not getting the full value of your home, you’re not even getting the full value of your policy at that point. You really want to make sure you’ve got full replacement cost on your home.

OJ: Right. So, again, start with the amount of coverage that you need and then shop based on the coverage that you need. So compare apples to apples, right? ‘Cause one company, like you said, could offer you–like, let’s say Company A offered you $400,000 worth of coverage for the same $700,000, right, and then Company B said, “Hey, we’ll offer you, you know, $700,000 worth of coverage for $1,000,” right, you’re getting the same coverage, right, but if Company A was saying, “Hey, $1,300 a year for $700,000 worth of coverage,” and Company B said, “$1,000 for $400,000 worth of coverage,” you’re paying a lower premium, but you’re also getting less out of the transaction, definitely. Your starting point should be “How much coverage do I need?” And then shop around, and always say “Hey, these are the limits that I want. This is the coverage that I need. How much are you charging for that amount of coverage?”

Amy: Yep. Absolutely. Thank you, OJ, so much. That is so helpful, and I see several spinoff topics on this conversation, because I think it is important, and I think people really don’t understand this. Insurance is kind of a black box, right? I pay a premium and then I pray I never use it, and we need to be more educated consumers about that, definitely. So I wanted to ask you a little bit, any other recommendations for our listeners about what they might want to learn about this industry or where they might go, you know? Articles or places that they might just show up and read or listen to learn more.

OJ: Sure, sure. So there are tons of podcasts out there about real estate investing. There are seminars that happen throughout the year, but some of those seminars are thousands and thousands of dollars. I wouldn’t recommend that you pay thousands and thousands of dollars starting off, especially not knowing if you’re gonna dive in full-time, right? You don’t want to spend $30,000 on something that might be a hobby, right? But just definitely reach out to folks. So if you get involved in your national REIA there are Facebook groups, and just reach out to folks who are in the industry and talk to them. I mean, the best value that I’ve gotten is just conversations with folks and learning things that I never would have thought about, right? I remember one conversation I was having with a guy named Bill Cook, who’s a really successful real estate investor, and we were talking about mobile homes, and it was like, “Well, why would anyone want to buy a mobile home,” right? And he shared with me that during the recession that was the best investment that he could make, because people were calling him and saying, “Hey, I need somewhere to rent, and I can’t spend $700 or $800 a month. Do you have anything for $450?” And his phone is just ringing and ringing and ringing, and he had nothing in his inventory that he could rent for $700 or $850 a month, and then he got into investing in mobile homes, and he was able to now provide clean, safe housing for folks who couldn’t afford $700 or $800 a month, but they could afford $450, and it was a smaller investment for him, right? Instead of buying a stick-built home you buy a mobile home, right, the costs are way different, and so he could make that work in his business model and help folks out who needed somewhere to live. And so, like, just having those conversations and understanding that, you know, you might have a preconception or you might be thinking of something in a way that is gonna prevent you from helping people, and just really having those conversations and being open-minded.

Amy: That’s fantastic. I would like to ask you to finish this sentence. “I feel included when ________.”

OJ: The people around me are laughing.

Amy: Well, OJ, I can tell you that I am so happy to have you in my network and count you among my friends. I have so much fun talking to you, and I think the world of you. I think that you are on just this meteoric rise, and I expect great things from you. You’re somebody that I want to, from the moment I met you I wanted to invest in you personally, because I wanted to see what you would become and what you would do in the world, and so I want to thank you for letting me be a part of your journey and thank you for joining me today.

OJ: And I want to thank you for having me. It has been truly amazing getting to know you and seeing all of the wonderful things that you’re doing and all of the value that you’re bringing and all of the awareness that you’re bringing just on the side. We had a conversation about intersectionality, and there was a talk on intersectionality here in Orlando, and I went, and, you know, I figured “I’m a person of color. I kind of understand other folks,” and it was astounding how much I didn’t know, right? And so just kind of–that conversation with you kind of inspired me to kind of go and learn about different groups and, you know, I actually had a mentor who identifies as a gay man, and I had no idea, and we were having a conversation surrounding intersectionality, and he confided in me, “Hey, you know, I’ve been a gay man for my whole life, and I don’t share that with people because I’ve been ostracized.” And, you know, here’s a guy who’s, you know, in his 50s, right, who doesn’t feel comfortable being himself or expressing himself. And I had known him for quite a while and didn’t know this about him, and it was kind of humbling to have him share that with me and realize that, you know, while I may have had my struggles, there are other people who are experiencing different struggles, and, you know, there are conversations that need to be had so that those people are empowered, right? And it was at that talk about intersectionality that, you know, we kind of talked about identity privilege, and I didn’t realize how much identity privilege I experienced, and it was really eye-opening that, you know, here I am as a minority, but I experience identity privilege, and there are things that I need to do to empower those who don’t have the same identity privilege that I do, and so I want to thank you for just bringing awareness to me and inspiring me to kind of go out and learn more, because it really is important.

Amy: Thank you so much for saying that. I think one of thse most powerful things that we can do as people, right, not as managers, not as coworkers, not as in whatever role but just as people, is ask questions and give each other the space to share, because it’s in those spaces where we learn and we grow and we really build connection. And, you know, in the talks that I give I always tell people, “Look, if you think no one in your inner circle is LGBTQ, there’s a really good chance you’re wrong about that. And it’s not that they’re not there, it’s that they’re not comfortable talking to you about it.” And the same goes for a lot of other identities too, right? You know, I know a lot of white people who will say, “Oh, I’m friends with–you know, I have lots of black friends,” which is always a sign that they don’t of course, but when you ask, like, “Who?” You know, it’s usually somebody at work that they kinda sorta know, and, like, “Have you ever talked to them about their experience being black in the workplace?” “Well, no.” I’m like, “Well, you’re not a very good friend, are you?” [laughs] Wouldn’t you want to know what that experience is like for your friend? So no, thank you so much for opening yourself up to those conversations and for sharing so much of yourself with me. I’m just honored to know you, OJ. I really am.

OJ: Thank you. The feeling is very mutual, Amy.

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