Almost 15 years ago, identical twin brothers Kelly and Chris Edwards found a historic house in Raleigh, North Carolina, that their real estate agent advised them not to buy. But they borrowed $5,000 from Dad and bought it anyway. The slanted floors were only the beginning of the repairs that kept them busy after work and on weekends. Six months later, they repaid their loan. Then they bought a second property—a fourplex, also in bad shape. Today they still own both rental properties.
“There’s so much risk involved, but you just have to put one foot in the boat and one on the dock and shove off to get some momentum,” says Kelly Edwards, co-founder and managing principal of The Edwards Companies.
In the beginning, the Edwardses only knew “how to swing a hammer” but didn’t mind getting their hands dirty and figured they could learn how to renovate on their own or hire contractors. Their school-of-hard-knocks education continued as they gained knowledge on selecting reliable contractors from a sea of not-so-great ones. Now they own four real-estate-related companies.
Educating the Edwardses
The brothers credit their MBAs and banking experience with giving them the expertise to analyze financial statements and make solid decisions. When one professor said employees can no longer depend on companies to provide until retirement, they vowed to be self-employed. After banking, they moved on to construction jobs and contemplated when to take the leap. The economic downturn forced the answer when Chris was laid off.
“We went from thinking, ‘This is a great long-term buy’ as far our net worth is concerned, to ‘We need to make money now,’” says Chris, also co-founder and managing principal of The Edwards Companies.
“We knew that if we wanted to do this for a career, we had to diversify our portfolio.”
The downturn was a challenging time to start a real estate investment business, not made any easier when the Edwardses saw employed friends wearing three-piece suits and driving BMWs while the brothers drove beaters. So they stuck to their strategy, mainly buying properties to hold with a few flips thrown in, while “not participating in the downturn of the economy” because they didn’t plan to sell and they didn’t plan to give up.
“We don’t want to sugarcoat it at all. It was very difficult. We worked our tails off,” says Chris. “There were days where we were like, ‘Whoa, have we made a bad decision?’”
They hadn’t. Both their net worth and income continued to grow. Today their four businesses employ 10 people and have contributed to restoring historic neighborhoods around Raleigh. As the brothers like to say, they like making “old stuff old again.” Also, a renovation television show highlighting their interest in historic homes is in the works.
Finding a Mentor
Years ago, the brothers spotted a successful investor and sought him out. They approached him at a meeting, introduced themselves and took him out for dinner. That led to a productive mentorship.
“Now we have him on speed dial. We call him and talk every few weeks,” says Kelly.
The brothers are happy to return the favor and help others who want to try the real estate investment business. But they see many people hesitant to begin, so they were glad to see one real estate agent acquaintance buy a property through underfinancing.
“That’s one of the key secrets to getting started in this business—you’ve got to get creative with your financial frame,” says Chris.
“Unless mom and dad are just giving you a million bucks to go buy a rental property, the banks aren’t always keen on lending it,” says Kelly, who adds they’ve found success buying from retiring landlords.
The brothers advise that all you can do is ask to buy a property and hear one of three possible answers: “Yes,” “No” or Hell, no.”
Growing Their Business
The Edwardses continue buying investment property; they have 51 units and flipped four in 2016. In addition, they added their father’s business to their portfolio in 2012 with the purchase of an agency now in four locations. It provides cash flow, a steady customer base and a quality staff, which allows the brothers to continue to grow their rental property business. Edwards Capital Partners is the investment arm, where they offer a consistent 9% return secured by real estate. Their fourth business is Orange Elephant Painting and Restoration, which the brothers call “the painting company we could never find.”
Orange Elephant will soon go national. In 2018, the Edwardses plan to launch the business across the United States as a franchise, based on the experience they’ve gained through volume.
“We’re now handling the renovations for a national hedge fund that buys property, about 25 a month, and we’ll have two to three weeks to do a $20,000-$30,000 renovation, and so our company, Orange Elephant Real Estate Associates, is handling that piece. It’s just kind of a neat tie-in to how we started, looking for contractors and burning through them. Now we are the contractors,” says Kelly.
This move brings them full circle when it comes to construction. They started renovating without much knowledge of repairs, and today they run a construction company. It fits their philosophy and the advice they give to other investors: be confident that you can figure out what you don’t know.
“You may not know the next 10 steps. You may not know the next five. But you can figure out that first step,” says Chris. “So, you’ve got to get started. Otherwise, five years passes you by.”
From the Orange Elephant website, homeowners and landlords can get quotes and schedule work.
“As a landlord, who would you rather handle your property maintenance, turnovers or painting?” asks Chris.
The Edwardses’ experience renovating property and hiring contractors drove them to build a reliable, convenient restoration company. They understand how valuable it will be for landlords to go on the Orange Elephant website and fill in any needs—such as “replace five switch plates and paint three rooms” —and instantly get a price and set a date.
The future also includes the brothers’ television debut. While various Hollywood production companies had their ideas about the show’s theme, the brothers are sticking with their Southern roots and highlighting their brand of revitalizing old properties in downtown Raleigh.
“It’s like anything—be true to yourself and who you are,” says Kelly.