CREPN #182 What Wealthy CRE Professionals Do That Most of Us Do Not with Doug Marshall

CREPN #182 What Wealthy CRE Professionals Do That Most of Us Do Not with Doug Marshall

CREPN #182 What Wealthy CRE Professionals Do That Most of Us Do Not with Doug Marshall

What are wealthy CRE Professionals doing that most of do not?

Doug Marshall is the principal at Marshall Commercial Funding.  Additionally, he is a CCIM, author and a returning guest to CREPN Radio.  In this episode, he shares five points he learned from his commercial real estate clients that have changed his financial fortunes significantly for the better.  And more importantly, how you too can leverage your relations with your commercial real estate clients.

For the first 24 years as a commercial real estate professional, I was on the never-ending hamster wheel of low paying jobs.  I was living paycheck to paycheck. I was just barely getting by financially.

My financial situation went from bad to worse when I decided to make the transition from banker to mortgage broker at the age of forty-six.  I was hired by a mortgage brokerage firm as an independent contractor which meant I received no salary and no health insurance. I didn’t even receive a draw.  I was totally without a safety net and that first year I made a whopping $7,000. I quickly went through the little savings I had and started borrowing against the equity in my house.  To say that time in my life was emotionally painful is a huge understatement.

The next four years I saw steady gains in my commission income but not enough to live comfortably, let alone put money aside for retirement.  During my fifth year as a mortgage broker, I came across the Albert Einstein definition of insanity. “Insanity is doing the same thing over again, expecting different results.”  I kept asking myself over and over again, “I’ve been working at this company now for five years and I’ve barely scraped by financially. What makes me think my sixth year will be any better than my first five years?”  And the honest answer was, I couldn’t expect my 6th year to be any better than the previous five years.   

Something had to change

I realized something had to change.  After much consideration I decided I needed to take the great leap into the unknown and start my own business.  So at the age of 51, I started Marshall Commercial Funding which turned out to be the best business decision I ever made.  For the first time in my career I was making good money. Boy that felt really good. But even so I knew there was no way that I was going to retire well.  

You see I could do the math and I understood I was too close to retirement to make up for the hard, lean years.  I realized it was very likely I may never be able to retire at all.

But I also realized that my clients were doing quite well financially.  Their liquidity and net worth were growing rapidly. That is no exaggeration.  I have a number of repeat clients and I saw how their financial strength increased dramatically from one year to the next.  It was an amazing thing to watch! And I knew at that point that the only way I was going to retire well was if I started investing in commercial real estate.  That was the only way of getting off the hamster wheel.

My financial situation improved dramatically

So, twelve years ago I started investing in commercial real estate.  And my financial situation has gone from very bleak to very good. Because of my real estate investments, my net worth and liquidity have grown dramatically.   

Not only could I retire if I chose to, but I could do so comfortably.  The passive income from my rental properties when added to my future Social Security checks significantly exceeds my personal expenses.  Today I am one of a small group of investors that owns several rental properties valued at over $50 million. So that’s my story.

Most Americans aren’t going to retire well

Why am I telling you this? I believe that many of you listening to me right now, are either living paycheck to paycheck or you realize that you aren’t going to retire well.  

Here are a few recent statistics:

  • 40% of adults can’t cover a $400 emergency expense with cash
  • 45% of adults have nothing saved for retirement
  • 63% of Americans at age 65 are dependent on Social Security, relatives, friends, or charity
  • 80% of Americans believe they will not have enough saved for retirement

I understand why most Americans would have a difficult time saving for retirement.  But those of us who are commercial real estate professionals we have a distinct advantage over most people.  Every one of us, reading this, in our own way, contributes to the success of our clients. But there is no reason why we can’t go along for the ride.  

And that is what some of us have done.  Do you want to know what wealthy CRE professionals do that most of us do not?  They invest in commercial real estate. Now throughout this reading, I’m going to ask you to raise your hands or sometimes to nod your heads.  I’m doing so because I need your feedback. As practice, by a show of hands, how many of you currently own a rental property?

Which brings me to my first point:

Point #1 – There is real wealth to be created in owning commercial real estate

Those who just raised their hands will tell you owning CRE creates wealth.  It’s not a myth. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. It actually works. My book, Mastering the Art of Commercial Real Estate Investing, shows you how to do it.  I’m going to give you a couple of tidbits from the book today to get you started on learning how to build wealth and grow passive income.

For those of you who didn’t raise your hand, this is my goal for you today: When you done reading, you’ll know what’s holding you back and you’ll know the steps you need to take in order to achieve financial freedom.  

Today I am going to share with you 5 critically important points that have the potential of being life changing. Actually, I’ve already shared the first point: There is real wealth to be created in owning commercial real estate.  

The second step to achieving financial freedom is this:

Point #2 – The savings generated from active income, i.e., your day job, will be invested in assets that generate passive income.

So we are all on the same page, let me define what I mean by financial freedom.  Financial freedom is achieved when your monthly sources of passive income consistently and substantially exceed your monthly personal expenses. When that day happens you no longer need to work for a living.  Congratulations! You’ve stepped off the hamster wheel.

Passive vs Active Income

But notice I said passive income.  What is passive income? Passive income is cash flow received that requires little to no effort by the recipient to maintain it.  Another name for passive income is mailbox money because it comes in the mail without lifting a finger. Here are some examples of mailbox money.

  • Annuities
  • Book royalties
  • Dividends from stocks
  • Owner distributions from rental properties
  • Pension
  • Social Security checks

The source of passive income I believe hands down has the best opportunity for creating wealth and growing passive income is commercial real estate investing.  

Active income, on the other hand, comes from performing a service. Your day job is a perfect example of active income.  In order to receive a paycheck, you must perform a service. So what you do for a living is a form of active, not passive income.  

Two obstacles to investing in passive sources of income

But there’s a problem.  We may agree intellectually that we should invest in assets that generate passive sources of income, but most of us will fail miserably to put our plan into action.  Why? Because other purchases like a new car, an exotic vacation or a nicer home will tempt us to spend our money elsewhere. If that doesn’t cause you to stumble the next obstacle does: You’ve been brainwashed and incentivized to put your savings into an IRA or 401(k) plan.  And what types of assets do you normally purchase for these types of accounts? Stocks and bonds that generate little or no passive income.

The benefit of investing in assets that generate passive income

Some of you are thinking, “Why is it important to generate passive income.  I’m very happy with the return I’m getting on my 401(k) or IRA?” Right? Fast forward to the day you retire.  If your assets are in stocks, bonds, precious metals, land, art, collectibles (anything that doesn’t generate passive income) how are you going to live off them?  You will live off them by slowly liquidating them over time. Right? What happens if you live longer than your assets do? You’re toast. You end up being like the vast majority of Americans who will eventually end up dependent on Social Security, friends, family or charity.  

Not so with commercial real estate.  You do not live off liquidating your rental properties.  You live off the passive income generated from your rental properties.  And this passive income slowly builds over time. So when your passive income from your rental properties coupled with your future Social Security checks consistently and significantly exceeds your monthly personal expenses, you have attained financial freedom.  In other words, you could live to be 120 and you’ll never run out of money.

So the second step to financial freedom is to invest your savings generated from your day job into rental properties that generate passive income.

The third step to financial freedom is this:

Point #3 – Everything we really want in life is on the other side of fear.  

Think about that statement for a moment.  Is it true? I believe it is. Remember that first kiss?  How about the first time you did anything well? A solo, a speech, an athletic endeavor?  Do you remember that fear you felt that gave way to relief? And then to joy? Those are examples of doing something that you really wanted to do well, and you overcame your fear and did it.  

I believe the number one reason we don’t invest in CRE is fear.  Fear of failure is all about looking foolish in the eyes of your family and friends if things go wrong.  I get it. I really do. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Those of us who are reluctant to invest in CRE need to adopt a different mindset of, “You either win or you learn.” In everything we do, we either win (we make the right decision) or we learn an important lesson so next time we have a better outcome. Sometimes your investment is a home run, and sometimes you learn what not to do so next time has a higher probability of being a success.

An example of overcoming the fear of failure

In 2009, a group of like-minded investors banded together to purchase a 56 unit apartment that had been taken over by the bank.  Do you remember what was going on in 2009? We were in the depths of the Great Recession. The real estate market was in a freefall.  Everybody and their brother was running away from real estate in 2009 and here we were thinking about buying an apartment. What were we thinking!!  Had we lost our minds?? Was I fearful? You bet I was! But I kept looking at the numbers and it made sense to me. Eventually I decided to proceed and looking back on it now, it was the best investment I’ve ever made.  For every dollar invested we received $6 dollars back in owner distributions or in increased equity. But before I could invest, I had to get over the fear of failure.

Winston Churchill quote

Some of you are being held back from investing because you too are fearful.  Winston Churchill said it best when he said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”  To succeed in life, we must realize that everything we really want in life is on the other side of fear. Does that make sense?

So the fourth point we are going to discuss is this:

Point #4 – The best way for most of us to invest in CRE is as a passive not an active investor.  

How many of you are thinking some like this: “Fear is not holding me back from investing in commercial real estate.  My problem is I don’t have the time, the experience or the financial resources to be investing in rental properties. I’ve got a day job that keeps me plenty busy without adding this additional stress to my life.”  So who is thinking something like this?

But this is where you’re wrong.  Dead wrong. That thinking assumes that the only way to own rental properties is as an active investor.  An active investor is the person who makes all the important decisions, what to buy, how much to pay for it, how to finance it and manage it.  To name just a few. True, this is one way to own CRE. But many times, the active investor, also known as the managing member of an LLC, or the promoter, or the syndicator or the sponsor, can’t do it without passive investors, also called equity partners, who provide the capital needed for the down payment.  

Not everyone can or should be an active investor as it requires someone who has the time, experience and resources that many of us don’t have.  But if we want to retire well all of us should strive to be passive investors of commercial real estate.

In the past 12 years I’ve invested in 10 rental properties as a passive investor.  My only responsibility has been that I provide some of the equity to purchase the property.  I leave all the decision making to my real estate sponsor. I’m more than happy to have someone else make all the decisions while I get my monthly owner distributions.  It’s kind of like the best of both worlds, don’t you think?

So the best way for most of us to invest in CRE is as a passive, not an active investor.  Does that make sense?

The fifth and final point I want to make is this:

Point #5 – To succeed as a passive investor requires finding the right active investor to invest with.  

Be wary of real estate syndicators

Where do you find the “right” active investor?  You have two choices. You can go to one of many online crowdfunding sites and choose one.  But you must qualify as an accredited investor. But the real problem with using a syndicator from a crowdfunding site is that you have no idea the character of the person you’re trusting with your hard-earned money.  

One time I was considering an investment opportunity with a syndicator.  On the surface everything looked legit. But I was having problems determining how much money the real estate sponsor was going to invest in the property.  They kept sending me pages of details about their proposed offering, but nothing explicitly stated how much they were personally investing in the property. So I point blank asked.  The answer: none! Not a penny. So if the property went belly up, it would have no financial impact on them personally. Not only that, they were making handsome fees up front coupled with a very generous fee split with the equity partners when the property was sold.  It was a win, win, win for them! This was an excellent deal for the syndicator but they were treating their prospective investors like chumps. They were structuring the deal so they made out like bandits while incurring no personal investment risk if things went badly.    

I’m sure there are many fine real estate syndicators that you can do business with.  But I have no sure-fire way of determining who is honest and who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Who is offering a fair fee split for their services and who is gouging their investors? It’s sometimes hard to tell.  The point I’m trying to make is this: I’m wary of syndicators that I do not know personally and you should be too.

The best and easiest way to choose an active investor

But here’s the best and easiest way of choosing an active investor to partner with.  And they are right under our noses. They are our clients. For me it was an easy choice to determine who I would trust with my investment money.  I do all my investing with one real estate sponsor that I’ve known for about 25 years. He’s not only my client, he has become a friend and a 7 year member of my book club.  I know his excellent commercial real estate investing track record. I know that he is a man of integrity and because of that I trust him. So in 2007 I asked if I could invest with him and he gladly said yes.  He said yes because I had financed several of his properties over the years and he had come to know that I was good at my craft and someone he trusted and liked. And now when he invests in a new property I am one of the first people he asks to invest with him.  Better yet, I’m given first shot at doing his financing.

As a passive investor you let someone else make all the investing decisions except for one: Who do I want to trust with my money?  This decision is very important, maybe the most critical of all the decisions you have to make about investing in commercial real estate.  

Ask your clients these questions

So how do you go about finding the right client to invest with?  It’s really a no-brainer if you’ve been a CRE professional for a number of years.  Ask yourself these questions. Of all my clients:

  • Who consistently brings me their business?  
  • Do they think of me as a valuable team member?
  • Do they trust and like me?
  • Of these clients, which ones invest with equity partners?
  • Final question: Do I trust and like them?

Raise your hand if you have someone in mind?  So the next time they contact you to use your services, ask them if you could invest with them.  You won’t know if you don’t ask and if you ask I bet they’ll say yes. Why wouldn’t they say yes?  They use your services because they consider you the best in the business or they would go somewhere else.  Right? And investors who team up with equity partners are always looking for new sources of investment capital.  The worst case scenario is they say no. If that happens, don’t take it personally. They have their reasons which probably has nothing to do with you.  Instead, go back and review your list of clients and go through the process again. Rinse and repeat until one of your clients enthusiastically says yes.  

So the fifth and final point I want to make today is: To succeed as a passive investor requires finding the right active investor to invest with.  Does that make sense?

Summary of 5 points

We talked about:

  1. There is real wealth in owning CRE.  It’s not a myth.  It’s not a get rich quick scheme.  It actually works.
  2. The importance of invest your savings in assets that generate passive income.
  3. Don’t let fear stop you.  Understand that everything we really want in life is on the other side of fear.
  4. Most of us should invest in CRE as a passive, not as an active investor.
  5. To find the “right” active investor, invest with a trusted client who values your service and would be eager to have you as an equity partner.

Final thought

I want to leave you with this final thought: If I can do it, so can you.  I wasn’t able to start investing in CRE until I was 55 years old! That’s a very late start and yet I am now able to retire well. So if I can do it, so can you.  

Imagine for a moment that you start investing a modest amount this year with one of your favorite clients.  As the years progress that small equity investment will grow, slowly at first but before you know it, it will be a tidy sum.  Now imagine if you invested a small amount every year between now and retirement so that when you retire you have 20 or more these investments.  Where do you think you’ll be financially when it’s time to retire? Yep. You’ll be able to retire in style.

Call to action

This brings us to my original point: I began my talk by expressing my hope that when you walk out of here today that you would know what’s holding you back from achieving financial freedom.  If what I’ve said today describes your financial situation, either you’re living paycheck to paycheck or you know that you’re not going to retire well, then I want you to do these 3 things:

  1. Take a moment right now and identify what’s holding you back;
  2. Right now, determine what one thing you need to do to move the ball forward; and
  3. Consider buying my book.  On your table is a book card which identifies the book’s name and author so you can go to Amazon to purchase the book.  And if you’re skeptical that this book or any book for that matter can help your financial situation, then I encourage you to download for FREE the introduction and the first 2 chapters of the book.  You can do that by going to the URL found on the back side of the book card.  If after reading it, it resonates with you that this book might be helpful, then buy the book.  It’s as simple as that.

This is my 3-step plan for you to become financially free.

Thank you so much for your time and attention.  

Source: Fed survey shows 40 percent of adults still can’t cover a $400 emergency expense, Sarah O’Brien,, May 22, 2018; 20 Retirement Stats That Will Blow You Away, Matthew Frankel, CFP (TMFMathGuy),, January 26, 2016.

For more go to:

J. Darrin Gross
[email protected]