Writing this out is a form of therapy as well – our business is going through some major transitions right now, a lot of it I can’t talk about. Don’t worry – all will be revealed in due time. There is a lot of uncertainty – the direction I thought we were headed as recently as 3 weeks ago turned out to be the wrong way. Now a lot of tweaking is being done behind the scenes as my husband and I carefully choose our next steps. I’m not depressed about it – I believe that businesses have to make adjustments to survive and thrive. Good People Good Homes has been around almost 8 years, we’ve grown. I joke with Steve that it’s a good thing real estate is fool-proof because we’re a couple of damn fools! We’ll be fine. It’s just that I’m such a goal oriented person – I conceive of a dream, I visualize it in my mind until it becomes as real to me as this laptop I’m typing on. As of now, I no longer have a clear picture in my mind on which to focus. Perhaps by retelling the story of our past, it will help me to visualize this new future.
We were never real estate people. We were media people. We met at Emerson College in Boston, a school famous for its broadcast communications programs. I was on the radio long before I even got to college – I started on the air in 1985 at age 14, a freshman in high school sneaking onto the local college radio station because I was bored and loved music. I must have been good at it because by the time I could legally get paid to work I had a job at a commercial radio station – I ran the board for the 1986 World Series broadcast! Yeah, it went between his legs.
Steve was a TV guy. Master control, camera operator, video editor, lighting – everything but in front of the camera. When my radio career started taking off I followed the jobs, and he followed me, God bless him. That’s how he got his entrepreneurial spirit – getting a job in TV is about as hard as getting a job in radio (nearly impossible) so he found himself starting companies to do freelance work.
Fast forward to 2007 – I was the on-air Music Director at WKRZ, one of the most highly respected pop radio stations in the country. That’s how we ended up in Wilkes-Barre. Steve had worked his own freelance video and photography company, tried out someone else’s production company in Allentown, and finally ended up doing web work for the public media conglomerate in town, WVIA.
How we became real estate people. Here’s a secret: media jobs don’t pay all that much. Yeah, I was doing OK at KRZ. Better than a lot of my radio colleagues across the country. I had made it to Assistant Program Director, but somehow couldn’t get promoted to lose the “Assistant.” Most radio people in my situation would have sent out on-air demos and resumes and took that promotion at another radio station in another town. But, like I said, KRZ was one of the most highly respected pop radio stations in the country. Even though my salary was nothing to brag about, it was good. So good, that I would have actually taken a pay cut to move somewhere else and be a Program Director. I just didn’t see the point.
Steve had been suggesting for years that maybe we should buy real estate. His mother had a 24 unit building in Reading, Massachusetts that provided her with a very nice living, a later a very nice retirement. WVIA was never his dream job, and there were rumors of layoffs on the horizon. That’s why we signed up for that free Real Estate Riches seminar at the Woodlands Inn & Resort.
Their formula was intriguing. Buy a rundown property, fix it up, put a tenant in it. Refinance that property, use the money to buy another one, rinse, repeat. And for a mere $8,000, they would hold our hands and show us how! I looked at Steve. I had $8,000. Actually, I had close to $10,000 in the bank, money I socked away from all my talent fees when I made public appearances for KRZ at nightclubs and car dealerships. Then Steve said something that started the chain reaction that became Good People Good Homes, LLC , “You know, $8,000 is a down payment on an apartment building in this market.”
Think and (hopefully, someday) grow rich. It took us almost a whole year to close on that first property. We found a very nice Evangelical Christian real estate agent named Deb W. (Steve and I are lapsed Catholics, this was our first close friendship with an Evangelical and it was an interesting anthropology experiment!) The first time we met Deb was at the Friendly’s on Kidder St, where she interrupted our lunch to break up a fight amongst some teenagers by quoting Scripture.
She took us all over Wilkes-Barre and Scranton that year. Almost all of the listings were ridiculously overpriced for the condition they were in. Most were vacant – they needed work before they could even be rented.
While we waited for a property that met our criteria I dove into the books recommended by Real Estate Riches at their free seminar. One was Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, the other, Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. To say these books were life changing would be an understatement - I highly recommend them to everyone who can read! They changed my mindset from that of a put-upon employee who can’t get promoted to that of an entrepreneur who cuts her own path through life.
I have a copy of Napoleon Hill Think And Grow Rich Every Day that breaks down the original book into daily meditations. I read each day’s entry as part of my morning routine. Hill wrote Think And Grow Rich in the post-depression era of the 1930s, having interviewed the Fords and Rockefellers of the world about their secrets to success and boiled those interviews down into a distinct formula of success. A big part of that formula is visualization – seeing yourself already in possession of riches, feeling what you feel, stepping into the role of the person you intend to become.
The person I intend to become is a trim, fit, confident woman with a perfect manicure who rocks a white pantsuit and runs a real estate empire. I haven’t become her yet, but I’m working on it daily.
When I visualized that real estate empire, I saw a group of buildings in Wilkes-Barre that had once been boarded up blight brought back to life. I saw nice apartments filled with young professionals and families. I saw a city that was becoming more racially diverse finally embrace that inevitability with open arms. I saw art, music, culture, street fairs. That’s where I came up with the name Good People Good Homes. I thought I could facilitate that dream.
Part of me still believes this is possible for Wilkes-Barre. The economic downturn of late 2008 took its toll, and the drugs and crime that moved in to serve a willing customer base derailed that vision of mine. Will new leadership make this vision possible again? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, back to 2007…
The private real estate auction: a cautionary tale. I nearly bought an entire block of apartment houses on Sambourne St., one of the notorious ‘hood streets of South Wilkes-Barre. There was an auction at Genetti’s that Deb & I went to. I had my eye on a little double block on South Franklin. Steve actually knocked on the door and the tenant let us in. It was two units, 2 bedrooms each side and needed A LOT of work. There was a wall crumbling in the basement! She was paying $450 in rent. I was going to offer them $40,000 for it - I was so naïve then! But not as naïve as the New York City-based investor who outbid me and paid $70,000 for it! Even in 2007 he was out of his mind.
But a whole city block – I could put on my own street fair! The minimum bid was $50k. I put up my paddle. 55. 60. 75. 85. 90. 100. $100,000 going once. Going twice. SOLD to the redhead with kaleidoscope eyes! (Later I would figure out where to get the $100,000. Don’t blow my groove!)
Lucky for me, the owners were at the auction, and rejected my bid. Even though I was the highest bidder, they had a minimum price they would accept. We arranged to meet them privately, with my husband in attendance, and walk through the properties. There were seven units total, a free standing triple unit, and four attached row homes. The triple needed a LOT of work but the row homes were in good shape. They would accept no less than $150k for the package. Our contractor convinced us not to buy – the triple needed way too much work for that price. The attached row homes would have little resale value. And the neighborhood…. Well, let’s just say it had a reputation, even though I kind of liked it. Reminded me of college when my friend had an apartment in Boston’s Roxbury section and I felt badass taking the orange line to the ‘hood to hang out on the stoop with him and listen to Public Enemy.
We eventually did buy into the club and became bona fide real estate investors. But more about that next Sunday in a blog post entitled “How It All Began 2 – Electric Boogaloo.” If you understand the reference, we should totally play ‘80s music & movie trivia at a bar sometime. If I can find a sitter.