Matthew Gregory - Birmingham’s King Flipper

Matthew Gregory - Birmingham’s King Flipper

Birmingham's King Flipper

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1:17 - Matthew getting into real estate 4:39 - The mindset from his first to his second deal 6:24 - What were Matthew's early goals? 15:09 - A normal day in the life of Matthew now 16:51 - How Matthew finds his deals 22:06 - Mistakes and lessons he's learned along the way 28:35 - Airbnb business perspective FULL TRANSCRIPT OF THE PODCAST AUDIO:Matthew Gregory: Yeah, because you could borrow 125% of property values then all day long. I mean, and I had bankers willing to give me as much money as I wanted, but I was still kind of young and new in the business. So I just kind of took it pretty slow for... My standards are pretty slow. Spencer Sutton: Sure. All right, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Birmingham real estate investor. And I'm one of your hosts, Spencer Sutton. I've got Matthew Whitaker with me. Welcome, Matthew. Matthew Whitaker: Awesome. We have two Matthews today. Matthew Gregory: Yes. Spencer Sutton: That's right. We have got a great guest, a special guest. We're excited to have Matthew Gregory on to the podcast with us today. So Matthew, welcome to the show. Matthew Gregory: Hey, thank you so much. I'm happy to be here. I'm excited about it. Matthew Whitaker: And I want everybody to know the name that I hear more than any other name in Birmingham real estate is Matthew Gregory. So we've never met, so I'm super excited to have you on. You have a fabulous reputation around town and I just, I am so excited to hear more about your story. Matthew Gregory: Well, I love this business. I love our city. I love what I do. I really do. And yeah, that's great, man. Matthew Whitaker: Tell us how it started. I mean, how in the world did you get into this crazy real estate world? Matthew Gregory: So me and my wife got married in 1997. I was 21. We bought our first house in early 98 and it just happened to be a fixer-upper. It was in Huffman on the Eastern side of town, Zelle, Mark Lane over there. It had the overgrown bushes, it had the shag carpet. An old person's home who had died, the kids inherited, the kids lived out of state. So really flipping wasn't really a known thing that I knew of at that age. Matthew Whitaker: What were you doing at the time? Where were you working? Matthew Gregory: I was 21. My mom is a business owner at the time and I was working with her, trying to kind of find my way. I was always very ambitious, but I didn't know exactly where to take it. My stepdad had bought some properties in California and I would hear him talk about his rentals and like, man I'd like to do that. And he had flipped a few properties in Houston. And so when he moved to Birmingham I would ride around with him, kind of show him the area and he would talk about real estate all the time. So it kind of intrigued me. Matthew Gregory: So anyway, so we bought the first house, it was an FHA loan. We moved in and kind of were weekend warriors. Worked every weekend on the house. And probably two months later I was at M South bank and I saw a poster that said open an equity line. I was like, Hey, I could try that. So they came out and appraised my house and it was like 25 grand in equity. I was like, man, in just a couple of months, 25,000 equity. And we'd probably spent really just maybe 12, 1500 bucks. And I was like, man, I could really try to do this with other properties. So my wife and I talked and we bought another house about two or three months later in Southside of Holland Avenue. Matthew Whitaker: What did you use to buy that? Like the home equity line? Matthew Gregory: Well, yes. Partly, yes. Yes. And a lot of maxing out credit cards back then. Spencer Sutton: Okay, okay. Good. Matthew Gregory: Anyway we could. Matthew Whitaker: That's ambitious. Matthew Gregory: It was definitely... What now? Matthew Whitaker: I said, that's ambitious. Matthew Gregory: Yeah. It was definitely a stretch. We bought that house and we actually moved into that house and we rented our house out. So I've turned my house into a rental and I bought the new house, moved into it and started rehabbing it. And it was a struggle, I didn't even know anything about remodeling really. Again, I've just had some ambition. I felt like I had, maybe I was on to something. So then we kind of rehab that house over probably six months and then I got access to a bigger equity line. And that house probably, I think we had like 85 grand equity in that house and that's really how it all got started. So I started flipping full-time in 2000. Matthew Whitaker: That's great. And talk about just kind of the mindset, I mean, as you go from your first deal to your second deal, like some things... Talk about just kind of getting started and the whole mindset as you went through this. Matthew Gregory: I mean, you spend a lot of evenings sore, because I was doing all the work myself, kind of learning. I didn't even have YouTube back then or Google. So my older brother is a builder, so I would call him and ask him questions. He was always willing to help me answer the questions and a lot of trying to repair things and learn how to do things and redoing things sometimes. And just, I really didn't know what I was wanting to do other than I wanted to do this over and over and over. And I didn't know how easy it would be to find the houses. I mean, it was really early on. Like I don't even think that there were ways of searching property on the internet then. You would call a realtor or you would drive by houses and knock on doors. Matthew Gregory: So anyway, I just figured that if I could do it twice I could probably do it a third time. I really kept it kind of simple. And then probably in 2001, I imagine, I think we did probably six or seven properties. And I sold them all by owner, ran ads in the paper every Sunday. And I would have my own open houses and I would call loan officers, mortgage companies and try to get them to help push my houses to their buyers who were qualified. And that's kind of really how it started. Matthew Whitaker: It's funny. When I got started, it was very similar. I used the home equity line of credit, Spencer swindled me and I bought my first house from him. I still own that house, by the way. Spencer Sutton: It must've been a great house. Matthew Whitaker: So you can tell what a good deal it was. But I was like you, I mean, I was kind of a night and weekend warrior, using a home equity line of credit to buy and just kind of... One of the things, I'm interested, like what were your early goals? Like my early goal was just survival. I wanted to do this full time for a living, but when did your goal, how did your goals change over your career? Matthew Gregory: I think probably in my second year I wanted to do one house a month. If I could do one house a month and if I could make 20 grand per house, man, I would never ask for anything else. Life would be so good. I mean, at that time it was hard to even imagine having a life like that. And then once I got to that point pretty quickly, I was like, man, I can do two houses a month pretty easily. And the build up confidence, I always maintain great credit. I always was bankable. So I never went the hard money route. I never went the... Thankfully I didn't have to borrow money from other investors. So because I was bankable, I built relationships with local bankers and man, I was off to the races brother. I was going to two houses a month for probably a year or two and then just kept amping it up. And then and in 08 I was never over leveraged. I was always real careful with borrowing money. We live like broke people for a long time to save money. We tried to build the right way. Matthew Whitaker: Spencer, I don't know why you're nodding. You're acting like, yeah I did that too. Spencer Sutton: I was like, yeah this is my story right here. Matthew Whitaker: You were over leveraged. Spencer Sutton: I was just thinking, Matthew, as you were talking about this, I was like, man, this was in the mid two thousands. You could find money. Like bankers would give you so much money. Matthew Whitaker: That's why Spencer had that nice new truck. He would just back up to the bank and they would just dump money in the back of it. Spencer Sutton: We're buying rentals and refinancing. Matthew Gregory: My wife is a great money manager and she really like put a lot of pressure on me not to over leverage ourselves to be real safe. Yeah, because you could borrow 125% of property values then all day long. I mean, and I had bankers willing to give me as much money as I wanted, but I was still kind of young and new in the business. So I just kind of took it pretty slow for... My standards are pretty slow. And then probably I think before 08 hit, I think I was probably doing maybe 40 houses a year and then 08 hit, and I recognize we had problems really fast. Like I felt it. I saw it because I was in the marketplace. And I still had buyers wanting to buy, but the lending just dried up overnight. Matthew Gregory: So the first thing I did, man, is I called a few of my bankers and I said, hey, I want to refi what I'm holding right now and get some money out. And I'm going to turn these into rental properties. And I did that, man. If I had waited another month or two, I would probably be out of business, but I did it so fast. I tend to act pretty fast when the need is there. So I moved really quick. I refied some properties, got as much of my cash back out, turn those into rental properties. And then I lucked up and I had some properties that were on the market that were in the USDA areas in the outskirts of town. And those houses kept selling and people were getting loans for them and qualified a hundred percent loans. Matthew Gregory: So I felt like I was the only person who kind of picked up on that. So I started buying houses in the Penson, Clay, Moody areas, even Odenville and Springville. And those kept selling. So in the downturn, I just stayed in those markets for about a year and a half, even two years maybe. And then I think other people started picking up on the USDA loans. So about that time is when I kind of started venturing back out into Birmingham and money started getting easier to borrow for buyers. And then I started amping it up again. Matthew Whitaker: So you went pre-recession from about 40 annually. Matthew Gregory: I think 40 is probably the highest number I got to. And I'll be honest with you, I should know these numbers better. I try not to focus on the past too much. I'm always looking ahead. But probably 40 was, probably in 07 was my biggest year. And then it's by 40 houses, maybe 8 million in retail sales. So I was doing cheaper houses then also. Spencer Sutton: I was about to ask you, where were those houses? Where were most of your houses? Matthew Gregory: They were well anywhere from Roebuck, Hoffman, Grayson Valley Clay, Penson. not much in Trussville, Some in Trussville. Irondale, a lot in Irondale, mainly the Eastern area town. Matthew Whitaker: So you went from 40 during the recession, how many homes did you maintain that 40 pace or did it go down? Matthew Gregory: No, no, no. It probably dropped to 10 or 15 in 09, I guess. 08, 09. And then everything's sort of picking back up slowly. And so I bought my first Homewood house. Man, I wish I had all these dates better, I'm so sorry I don't, but probably 2010, I bought one in West Homewood. It turned pretty quick. And then I started buying some houses in Edgewood, Vestavia, Mountain Brook, places like that. I started building back relationships with banks because that kind of dried up a little bit. And then here we are, it's wide open now. Spencer Sutton: And for our listeners who are hearing this, like as he's talking about the Eastern part of town, he's talking his initial where he was buying houses, we're talking C class, maybe some B class, B minus areas. Matthew Gregory: Yeah, exactly. Matthew Whitaker: But then in 2010, when he mentions Homewood, we're talking A-class properties. He starts moving into A. And I remember, I mean, Bruce Glenn actually told me the story about that first Homewood house. It was kind of a big step for you to buy a Homewood house. Matthew Gregory: Yeah, yeah. It was an empty house. It had been empty for like 10 years, in rough shape and yeah, I was kind of scared about it. I was intimidated. And I'd never done a project that big, other than our second house of Holland Avenue, it was an old historic home. So it was a big project, but this was definitely the biggest project I had done as a flip and it went great. I had my own crews, I'm a licensed builder. So I try to do as much in-house as I can. I do sub out, even then I subbed out electrical plumbing, heating, and air and roofs. But other than that, we try to do everything else in house. Spencer Sutton: So give the listeners an idea of scale, like 40 was kind of what you hit pre-recession. Matthew Gregory: Okay. So it was 40 houses that were ranging in between a hundred, and two hundred grand. Which was probably about eight million in retail sales. And 2020, I did 29 million in retail sales. So probably about 90 houses. So now I'm doing several, I probably did two or three houses last year that were million plus. And a lot of four or 500 grand houses. Matthew Whitaker: Where are these houses? Matthew Gregory: Vestavia, Homewood, Mountain Brook, Hoover, Inverness, up and down 280, even Pelham. Really just all over town. But I still do a lot of the Eastern area houses also. The 150, 250,000 houses, Trussville, Clay, Grayson Valley, Moody, Leeds. Kind of wide range of buyers is one I'm kind of catering to now. Matthew Whitaker: Well, what's interesting is, and we often give this advice on the show is you started out in a niche and then as you mastered it, and of course the recession and all that, but as you mastered it, you started moving in and adding more different types of business. So I would never suggest somebody go look over all of Birmingham and find a house to flip. You need to master- Matthew Gregory: An area. Matthew Whitaker: Yeah. Master an area first, and then you can go on and master other areas. Question, what does a day look like for you? I mean, how many miles do you have on your truck? Matthew Gregory: So I would like to act like this is all me by myself, but I built a really good team. My wife helps tremendously. We have a staff in our office who kind of helps, I keep up with everything. And then I've got three project managers who go from house to house, to house every day, checking on the guys, meeting vendors, meeting subs, and yeah, I'm still out in it. I'm crazy enough to really enjoy this. I love the hustle and bustle. I still do, I pick out the granite and the light fixtures and the paint colors. And I really enjoy those things. My wife helps a lot with that also. Once you have one crew who does 50 to 75 houses and they know exactly what I want and how I want it done, they kind of, it gets easier. Matthew Whitaker: Do you change those up? Like, do you change the paint colors per house, or do you have kind of like a standard package that you do? Matthew Gregory: We kind of have a standard package based kind of on the price range. But on the more expensive houses, it is definitely more custom. But a lot of exterior white painted brick and I've got to burn out on that honestly, but it keeps selling and people want it. There's a lot of shades of white, so they might look very similar, but truth is they're all kind of different. Spencer Sutton: 90 houses is a lot in 2020. I mean, especially as tight as our market is. I mean, we were talking before the show. I mean, everybody wants houses. So, thinking about our listeners, thinking about real estate investors out there trying, talk to me about how you're finding your deals. Matthew Gregory: So that's where I've been so fortunate and so blessed, is I do zero marketing. So I've tried to, I've spent 20 years trying to do the right thing, trying to meet the right people, build relationships with people, and it really is a people business. I get a lot of leads from realtors. I let them relist the properties. I'm not greedy. I try to be somebody that they want to work with. I try to be a person that people want to do business with. And I think that that kind of helps me stand out a little bit. Yeah. I mean, I'm very, I do all the acquisitions myself. I do all the buying. I don't have anyone else who helps with that part. Matthew Whitaker: When you go walk a property to buy it, I mean, how long do you take to walk the property or do you just walk through it? Matthew Gregory: I'm in and out. It's pretty quick. Yeah. Have I ever missed things on a walkthrough? Absolutely. But I've learned to what I want to look for, that I know might be a big ticket item. Matthew Whitaker: What you can't miss, like what are the items that absolutely you can't miss? Matthew Gregory: I have before, and it's very unfortunate. Foundation, water proofing issues, aluminum wiring is always a problem. But a lot of times, if a house is totally torn up or if it's partially torn up, it still needs the same things. It's going to be flooring. It's going to be kitchens, it'll need bathrooms. There's not a huge price difference on the rehab, but yes, structural problems are obviously a problem. And I've bought several, several houses with structural problems and I actually enjoy those houses because I've built a few crews that kind of catered to houses like that. Matt Caldwell, do you know him? Yeah, he does all my social work. He's a great friend. Good guy. Matthew Whitaker: His dad did some work for me back when I first got started. And then I met Garland and, I guess his uncle was Neil, but. Matthew Gregory: I don't know Neil, but yeah. Matthew Whitaker: Or maybe that was the Aldrin football player. Maybe I'm getting it all confused. But yes, I do know who Matt Caldwell is. Matthew Gregory: And then, so I've built a team of people like that, who I can just call on if I have problems and have them come check it out. Matt's great about coming to check a property out if I have questions. And it still happens where I'll see things that I've never seen before. So it's good to have people like that in your phone that you can call. There's no way I can know everything. So it's going to be really important if you're going to be in this business or any business to have somebody in your phone who can answer your questions. You don't have to know everything. You just have to know people who know everything. Matthew Whitaker: What I'd love to know is, you talked about kind of knowing people. I mean, do you invest in learning? Like do you still like to actively learn new things around this business? Matthew Gregory: So yes, absolutely. I'm involved in a few masterminds. I'm flying out to Breckenridge at the end of March for one. What I study more is kind of how to treat people, how to better myself. As far as real estate, obviously there's a lot I don't know. And I'm okay with that. I do think that I've got a lot of experience and I've done just about every kind of deal you can do. And I know what I want to do and what I don't want to do. Early on I did buy quite a few rentals. I would come home every night and the rental part is what would have me stressed out. I couldn't sleep because I had residents who weren't paying. I had mortgages on all those properties. So that's when I kind of realized that for me personally, being a landlord, isn't what I wanted to do, especially in those C,D areas. Matthew Gregory: But I know a lot of people who do great with that, I don't think everything is for everybody. So I really feel like I was born to do what I'm doing. Would I like to do other things in real estate. Yes. And I'm working on that now trying to venture out into other things. It is a tight market for every part of real estate. So it's kind of hard to do a lot of venturing out right now. But I do love what I do and I still enjoy it so much. I still haven't arrived where I want to be so I'm still hungry. Matthew Whitaker: That's great. Still chasing that dream. That's the thing I like about real estate. I mean, I told you that I just wasn't built, my personality was more built for grinding. Before we jumped on the show and that's why I started the property management business, but it sounds to me like you enjoy going from deal to deal, to deal, which that's the reason I never could sleep. The resident doesn't pay rent, doesn't bother me one bit. But when a house isn't selling, that's the thing that's bothering me. So it's interesting that real estate has so many different flavors and whatever you enjoy, you can do. I mean, it has so many different things if you love real estate. I'd love to hear about some mistakes and kind of lessons that you've learned over the years of flipping houses that you think you can pass on. Matthew Gregory: Yeah. So, like I mentioned earlier, until you're pretty experienced looking at a house, I would definitely, I don't know if you have time in this kind of market to make offers with inspection. But I do think that I would definitely take somebody who's pretty seasoned with you to look, maybe a mentor or partner who could kind of walk you through some deals. Because I've seen a lot of people have been one and done in this business, are two or three and done, who have lost a lot of money. I've made mistakes, but I've made less mistakes by watching other people make them, kind of learning from watching other people make mistakes. But yeah, I have bought houses that have had issues that I didn't even pick up on, yes. And I just suffered through it and I learned. Matthew Gregory: I've had some properties where I lost money on. In 2007, I bought a beach house. I was going to flip and I lost 250 grand cash. And yeah. So with that, I learned, I felt in the pit of my stomach that I did not need to buy that house. And I wouldn't have guessed that. My wife was like, I don't think we should buy this house. I was looking at the profits we can make end up writing a big check at the end to try to get out of it two years later after paying $5,000 a month payments. So I would say getting over leveraged is a huge mistake. I would say not inspecting properties, I would pull your own comps because there's a lot of opinions on what a house will pull, and sometimes realtors might be trying to help, but might not really understand the area. Matthew Gregory: That's why I do think it's important to kind of learn one area really well and try to focus in that area. I've always kind of created my own comps because I'm doing so many houses in all those areas. There's been many times where I have sold a house and the lender would email me the appraisal and my comps are the only comps on the appraisal. So I'm big into staying in my areas and I've done 150 flips in Crestwood. So I'll go in one area and just focus on that really hard. What advice I would give is, I would check the comps. I would try to stay in the same areas if you can. Not get over leveraged. Matthew Whitaker: So I don't need exact numbers, but I want to know how you look at a deal. Do you look at it as like profitability per dollar invested? Do you look at, hey, I want to make X number of dollars. Not numbers, just curious about how you think about a deal when you're looking at it. Matthew Gregory: So the way I do it is probably unlike anyone's ever taught somebody to do it ever. Matthew Whitaker: Well, it's working. Matthew Gregory: So I don't have the notebook and I don't go and figure out the exact rate of return and all that. I keep it simple, man. Like I just look at the deal. I see what I think I can get it for. I come up with a price on what I think the rehab would be and then I put comps and see what I think it'll sell for. And if I'm happy with that margin, I buy it. And if I'm not, I don't. I think that if you get too caught up, you can analyze something to death. So I think that if you, depending on how long I'm going to have a crew tied up and how much money I'm going to put in the house. If I had two houses side by side, and one is a five week project with a $50,000 rehab, and one is a 90 day project with a 100,0000 rehab, I'm going to want to make more on that 90 day project. Matthew Gregory: So I try to do that as much as I can in this market. I can't be too picky. So I have fallen into the trap of just buying houses to keep my crews busy, which happens sometimes when you scale up. We've worked very hard on deals and I've made very little money sometimes, and that's heartbreaking. So in 2020, my goal was to not get caught up in the numbers. I wanted to get caught up in the profits, like really try to do profitable deals that made sense. And so I did fewer houses in 2020, but made more money. So that definitely is the best way of doing it if you can. Matthew Whitaker: Yeah. I think a lot of people get caught up, especially in the house flipping world with the number of deals. And it really is- Matthew Gregory: I was that guy too. I'm guilty. There's just- Matthew Whitaker: Yeah. Me and Spencer used to do it. Matthew Gregory: I'm ambitious, I'm competitive. But you learn and I learned that that might not be the best way doing it. Matthew Whitaker: That's not the indicator of success doing deals. It's about how much money you make at the end of them. And working less, I mean, doing more deals, you work more- Matthew Gregory: That I have not figured out yet. Matthew Whitaker: How do you look at comps in a market like today where it feels like everything's still kind of- Matthew Gregory: Changing? Matthew Whitaker: Yeah, and going up. I mean, are you like, Hey, I've got to set this comp at, or do you say, I know I can sell it for this, and I might be lucky to get this. Matthew Gregory: I think this market has made average real estate investors look like rock stars. Because they'll buy a property and think, okay I'll put 50 in it and it'll pull 300. In reality, they put 90 in it and it pulls 400. Because this market has been changing so fast, values have increased so fast that, I'll play that game some too. So like, I know that my office staff makes fun of me all the time because I'll buy a house, they'll ask me what the ARV is. And I'll tell them something. Then by the time it's finished, I'm 25 grand higher. Matthew Whitaker: This place is nice. Matthew Gregory: Yeah. So, that has helped us a lot too. So I feel like there's always... The way I've played it is it'll pull at least this amount or more. And I don't even want the agents to come look at the house while I'm rehabbing it. I want them to come in at the very end, when it's staged and clean. And they always come in and say, hey, I know I've told you it pulled 399, but I'm thinking it'll pull 449. It's like, that's what I wanted to hear. Let's list it. Spencer Sutton: Tell me this, and you mentioned kind of venturing out and doing some different things. And you mentioned, I think maybe before we got on here or on the podcast that you've got some Airbnbs in downtown Birmingham. Talk to me about your thought process about getting into the Airbnb business. Matthew Gregory: So I fell in love with the building, which is the worst thing to do in real estate. So I needed a way to make it work. My wife and I bought the old Oak restaurant building downtown on 18th, near the Alabama theater. It had three lofts, a restaurant and a dining room in it. We bought it and turned the kitchen and the dining room into more lofts. So it's got five lofts now. And while we were transitioning it into that, the build-out on the restaurants to lofts and getting long-term residents out. We put one of the units on Airbnb and it started doing really well. So we turned other two long-term resident units into Airbnb, and then probably a year later had the kitchen and the restaurant moved out and turned that into Airbnb also. And it's doing great, man. It's been fine. It is like running a business. So it's not as easy as the long term. If that's easy, I don't care, but, it's not easy either. I don't think, but it's mailbox money. Matthew Whitaker: That's right. I mean, all you got to do is buy a house and the money just starts flowing. Matthew Gregory: But it made sense for me because we already had a personal staff who helped us clean. We already had people, staff who could do the maintenance and all that. So it's been a great venture for us. We love doing it, it's fun. I don't know if I want to be that guy to have 50 Airbnbs, but for us and our building, it works great. And I think that we're, our gross is twice as much as what it would have been with long-term residents, but we also had to pay utilities and cleaning and stuff like that. But in the end it works better for us. We can enjoy the lofts also. Our kids can go up there and enjoy it. Family and friends go up there. We built a rooftop terrace. That is really cool. So it's been fun and I love downtown, man. I love Birmingham. Spencer Sutton: All right. Well, this has been great, Matthew, do you have anything else? Matthew Whitaker: Now, this is awesome. Matthew, thank you so much. Matthew Gregory: And I appreciate, y'all. Matthew Whitaker: Love having you on the show. People are going to love this, so thank you. Matthew Gregory: Thank you so much, man. Spencer Sutton: Matthew, if people wanted to get in touch with you, how would they do that? If they just want to reach out and maybe pick your brain a little bit? Matthew Gregory: Okay. You can call me 205-965-3148. You can Facebook me, Matthew Gregory. I've got a YouTube channel. I'd love people to get on there and check it out. It's Matthew Gregory. Yeah. I mean, with all that you can get me. Spencer Sutton: Yeah. And definitely make sure you check out the YouTube channel. He has put out some great content, some quality content on these flips. Matthew Gregory: It's been fun, man. Spencer Sutton: Yeah. It's great. I've enjoyed watching it. Matthew Gregory: I appreciate that. Spencer Sutton: All right, everybody. So if you haven't subscribed, go ahead and do it. Leave us a review on iTunes and then share this episode with your friends. I mean, the people that we're interviewing, Matthew, definitely this has been a great episode. They're just giving tons of great advice. So we'll be back next week with another episode of the Birmingham real estate investor.