When Seth Wilson says, “The devil is in the details,” he is talking about more than just flying U.S. Air Force jets. He’s talking real estate. Wilson, who recently published an Amazon bestseller relating his combat experience in the National Guard and his experience in real estate from starting with nothing to building to building a huge, multimillion-dollar commercial real estate portfolio, owns Sierra Whiskey Properties (SWP), a Kansas City-based investment firm that specializes in acquiring undervalued multifamily assets that can be repositioned to what Wilson refers to as “the large middle market.”
Wilson said that his favorite strategy in real estate is one that nearly every investor can leverage effectively: looking for properties that need “love and attention, which usually translates to money and management.” He said that in most cases, the properties he purchases do not have anything “terribly wrong with the property itself” but can be better managed or maintained in a way that makes them more attractive to SWP’s target market, the middle-market tenant. Any investor who is clear on the details about exactly what his or her target market wants, whether targeting renters or buyers, can apply this approach by looking for those devilish details.
Think Realty talked with Wilson about his strategies and stratospheric business success, which includes taking his real estate investing from seller-financed mobile home sales to seller-financed million-dollar buildings. Wilson identified three things in particular that investors can learn by taking a really close look at the details of their chosen real estate strategy:
1 | Know Your Market
SWP has a clearly defined focus: middle-market tenants. “We know everything about that population,” said Wilson, adding that this clarity about his goals and what his target market wants means that he can usually make a same-day offer on just about any property that meets his investing criteria. A solid knowledge of details is crucial for pilots, and it turns out it is crucial for investors who rely on speed to get in ahead of the competition as well.
2 | Be Tenacious, Creatively
Wilson explained that his story is not that different from anyone else’s in the National Guard or in business in general. However, he said, where he stands out is in his tenacity. Wilson simply sets his eyes on a goal, then does just about anything he can to achieve it. For example, when he decided to get into real estate initially he had “nothing but a good credit score,” which he learned would not let him flip houses (what he wanted to do at the time). He spent 18 months saving money while training for the Air National Guard, then found an unusual niche market: seller-financed mobile homes.
“People who want to buy mobile homes don’t necessarily have the money for a cash down payment and they also cannot necessarily get a loan,” he explained. While Wilson began selling mobile homes, he continued to refine his “battle plan” for real estate investing, soon realizing that he far preferred the ongoing cash flow associated with owning middle-market rentals to the one-time payouts associated with flips.
3 | The Deals are in the Little Things
In his book, Wilson compared relatively small issues, such as failing to install the right kind of drains at the base of a property, to really big mistakes, such as failing to flip every single switch in a plane at the right time. A switch that is “literally one inch long” nearly caused Wilson a disaster during an incident in Yuma, Arizona, he recalled. He describes the incident and what he learned from it about real estate years later in his book.
“As a pilot and a real estate investor, you find yourself in what feel like horrible situations from time to time, especially when you’re getting started and every bump in the road – major or minor – feels like a horrible situation. When I encounter these situations, I always find that the answer to the challenge lies somewhere in my military experience,” Wilson said. “It might not seem like the two connect, but they definitely do.”