Bryan Blankenship describes himself as a “boring Ohio guy,” but the “general contractor at heart” is much more than that. With multiple roaring real estate investing businesses that literally run the gamut of the industry from retail fix-and-flips to commercial development, and a thriving turnkey rental property organization, Blankenship is anything but boring. With a story that begins, “I was homeless at 19 and had made my first million in real estate by 26,” he is full of surprises, focus and plenty of insight and praise for his home market in the state of Ohio.
Putting Down Roots in the Industry
While most real estate investors eagerly espouse the concept of investing where business is good, changing that location when appropriate and living wherever you please, Blankenship has a very different philosophy. He has traveled all over the country, starting out at 19 in Florida after leaving Ohio because it was “too dull” and moving from state to state, including stays in Illinois (where he met his wife) and Colorado. “I came back to Ohio, though, because I know it better than anywhere—and anyone—else. I can feel the pulse of the market here.”
Blankenship’s investments in the Midwest are located mainly in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas where, as he describes the situation, “There is a ton of revitalization [that has] been underappreciated for a long time.”
It’s easy to hear the pride in his voice as he notes that these two cities represent markets in which it is “easy to sell and buy” while you “show off the area and surprise people” with the potential. He added, “There is not a lot of speculation in this market– just real, raw math.” While Ohio tends to get lumped in with the rest of the Rust Belt in most investors’ minds, the rental market in that state is particularly steady because, in Blankenship’s opinion, the state is unlikely to ever experience the type of dramatic appreciation so many other attractive markets eventually undergo.
“Any market can overheat to a degree when you’re dealing with flips and retail, but a rental does not truly lose value in an up market or a down one,” he said. He added that when people do lose their homes when the market weakens – which Blankenship said in his experience will happen about once a decade – there are more people looking for rentals. And in a strong market, your property is appreciating and still cash-flowing as well.
Blankenship also noted that in Cincinnati and Dayton, in particular, institutional investors are only just beginning to buy up properties in large volumes, as they’ve previously been focused mainly on acquiring properties in markets like Florida and Atlanta. “Now as those markets start to show signs of overheating, they’re going to states [like Ohio] where rentals are going to perform forever,” he said.
There’s No Place Like Home
When Blankenship left Ohio at 19, he describes himself as headstrong and stubborn, like a lot of individuals at that age. However, when the 19-year-old found himself homeless and more than a thousand miles from home, he did something most probably wouldn’t have: He went to work, and he didn’t call home. He stayed in homeless shelters, got a job at a local beach resort and saved every penny he could while still volunteering at the local soup kitchen where he sometimes ate. When he had saved enough, Blankenship left the area and moved around, meeting and marrying his wife and eventually winding up back in Florida, where he started a computer company.
“The idea was to put the money we made with the computer business toward purchasing rental properties,” Blankenship said, adding that they never bought any Florida rentals when most other investors probably would have. (From 2003 to 2005, that state was showing double-digit appreciation nearly every year.) “I could never feel the pulse of that market,” he explained, adding that things were too exciting in the Southeast at that time. “I like boring, consistent, reliable results every time. What I was seeing then felt too much like gambling.”
With that experience under his belt, Blankenship moved back to Ohio and founded his first real estate business. He admits that Ohio is not always a tropical paradise, but insists that the decision to live and work in his own backyard is integral to his personal success. “Being a general contractor, I like to touch things, change things and make things better,” he said. “Sure, it’s winter and 18 degrees right now, but I absolutely love it every single day, and in March it will be 58 degrees and everything will be lovely again.” And, of course, the real estate market is “lovely” year-round.
A Personal Twist on Giving Back
That desire to “make things better” manifests itself not just in Blankenship’s desire to personally inspect and manage his properties and those that he manages for other investors, but also in his philanthropic work. The investor recently acquired a small commercial building with four units that he is working to convert into a services unit for veterans and homeless individuals. “It’s actually where I went to the doctor when I was younger,” he recalled, adding that while he supports other charitable organizations, “I really wanted to work with something a little more hands-on, that I can change or fix if necessary.”
Blankenship plans to outfit each of the four units in the building to address four distinct issues that many veterans and homeless people encounter. “The first unit is to help them find jobs,” he said, noting that this facet and a mental-health counseling facet will work closely together along with a third jobs-training element. “Whether you’re fresh back from a war or you’ve been homeless and told you’re worth nothing for the last few years, that’s really big,” he said. The final aspect of the service will involve assisting participants with transportation to job interviews and medical appointments and staying personally involved with shut-ins who cannot get out of their own homes. Like many real estate investors who take a personal interest in aiding veterans and the homeless, Blankenship notes that a lot of the people who come through his doors will be good fits for his own business, in which he is nearly always hiring.
“Being in construction, there are so many jobs from actual construction to cleaning to clerical, and if they have any of those skills, not only will we be able to hire them directly, but we’ll have a network of other potential employers in place as well,” he said. The project is a team effort throughout his company, with all employees on board. “It’s definitely one of our biggest core passions.” Given what he’s done with his other passions (230 turnkey sales and flips, not counting partnership deals, in 2016 alone and a fully automated, closely supervised system for buying, holding, selling and managing turnkey real estate investments in the Midwest), what Blankenship’s newest passion means for the Ohio area is certainly exciting.