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Rookie 100 Why Brandon Encourages to Start Small and Scale

Brandon Turner owns a lot of real estate. Some are single-family homes, but much of his portfolio is small and large multifamily properties. Why did he go into this niche and does he see value that many investors simply overlook?

Brandon hits on some key aspects of becoming a successful multifamily owner, diving deep into topics like why rookies should start in small multifamily, how to find a mentor and build partnerships, what to do before you jump into multifamily, and looking for value-add opportunities. One piece of advice he is very adamant about is that multifamily isn’t that much harder than single-family. If you already own a single-family rental property, buying a duplex, triplex, or quadplex won’t be that intense of a learning curve for you.

If you’re a rookie who has been successful in small multifamily, it may be time for you to start tackling those 10+ unit deals. Brandon also touches on this and shares stories from his fund, Open Door Capital, where they’re pursuing VERY large multifamily deals.

Ashley:
This is Real Estate Rookie, episode 100.

Brandon:
In my opinion, there is almost no difference in difficulty between a single family house, a duplex, triplex and fourplex. I guess you have four units versus one but it’s a 2% difference in difficulty.

Ashley:
I am Ashley Kehr. I am here with Tony Robinson. We are so proud today to have episode 100 of the Real Estate Rookie podcast.

Tony:
This is such a big accomplishment. What’s even cooler, Ashley and I were looking at the rankings for the podcast before we hopped on today, we were number 29 on the business podcast. That is such a crazy thing for me to see our name up there with Dave Ramsey, Gary Vaynerchuk, Amy Porterfield.

Ashley:
Brandon Turner, David Green.

Tony:
Brandon Turner, David Green. It’s just so cool to see the response to the Real Estate Rookie podcast. It just honestly makes me feel that much more excited to keep this thing going to make it better for the listeners to provide more value.

Ashley:
Thank you guys so much for listening to us twice a week now on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We appreciate all of you and love watching you guys on the Facebook group on Instagram and just all over the place, getting your deals done and continuously growing and surpassing me and Tony and no longer being rookies anymore. It’s been a real honor and so awesome to be a part of this podcast and hopefully help you guys become the best investors that you can be. Today, we have a very special treat for you guys. We have, drum roll, please, Brandon Turner on.
This is the first time we’ve had him on the Real Estate Rookie episode. We’ve been saving the best for episode 100. Today, even if you are not a rookie, you should be listening to this because it is so awesome to listen to the foundational skills that a rookie real estate investor should have. Sometimes as you go along in your investing career, it is so easy to forget some of those foundations and some of those very basics of real estate investing. Everybody should be listening to this episode.

Tony:
Brandon’s literally written books on how to manage properties, how to buy properties. Today, we brought him on to talk about multifamily. He and Brian Murray have recently released, not one but two volumes of books on becoming a multifamily real estate investor or a volume one focuses more on the small multifamily and then volume two focuses on large multifamily. We spent the majority of the conversation talking about the smaller stuff but Brandon just does a really phenomenal job of breaking down why small multifamily is such a great investment class for folks to focus on, how to find those good deals, how to analyze them and just how to be effective in that space, in that world of real estate investing.

Ashley:
It’s also a super easy episode because Brandon just knows exactly what we want to ask and goes ahead of it. These books actually are released today. You can go to the BiggerPockets Bookstore and purchase these books too if you guys are interested in reading them. Tony and I actually got them the night before these recordings and I started reading one of them and just awesome information and very different from the other books that Brandon and Brian have written. I highly recommend you guys go check them out and make sure you check us out on YouTube to subscribe to our channel where we post videos weekly that are tailored specifically for rookie investors. Brandon, welcome to the Real Estate Rookie podcast. You have now pulled off the quadruple effect, been on all four BiggerPockets podcast.

Brandon:
Woohoo! It’s the best day of my life, I promise. Thank you guys for having me.

Ashley:
Give us the quick 30-second overview of who you are and what you do. I’m sure most people know but there might be that one person that doesn’t.

Brandon:
Sure. I actually grew up in Eastern Europe where there was a lot of conflict going on. I’m just kidding. No, I was born in typical Midwest family and I ended up moving out to Washington state and I bought a house and I was… 2006, I guess it was. They would give anybody with a pulse a house. I got a house and I rented out the bedrooms and I was like, “This is cool.” I was living basically for free. Then I sold it and I made 20 grand and I was like, “This is way better than law school, which is what I was studying for.” I dropped all my plans to go to law school. Instead, I decided to get into real estate, started flipping houses, buying rentals. I got heavily into now small multifamily properties, which are duplexes. Actually, my first rental was a duplex and then triplexes, fourplexes five. Then I bought a 24 unit. Now today I’ve got, I don’t know, 2,000-ish units total across the country. It’s been a ride.

Ashley:
Also the co-host of a BiggerPockets.

Brandon:
I also talk sometimes on a podcast once in a while. That also happens. I write books. I got a new book coming out.

Ashley:
That’s what we mostly want to talk about that today in how rookie investors can get into multifamily. I just want to tell you real quick, before this episode, you came on to record with us, Tony and I were looking at the podcast charts and it is just amazing the growth that the BiggerPockets Real Estate podcast has had. Congratulations on that. That’s really cool.

Brandon:
They tell me that you are growing significantly faster than we are and faster than we ever did, which means that you’re going to eclipse us at some point and take over. I fully expect it. I’m waiting for it.

Ashley:
We’ll take a congratulations when that day happens.

Brandon:
Whoever loses to a billion downloads has to get a Nickelback tattoo on the lower back. Whoever loses gets the Nickleback tattoo.

Ashley:
I think you’re already getting that when you lose to Britt on the Instagram challenge.

Brandon:
Well, I’m not going to lose. I won’t have it. I’m re-upping this contest so that you guys have to get it.

Tony:
I already have a Nickleback tattoo. I already won. Brandon, we’re actually here to talk about your newest book. You’ve got a lot of books you’ve written to help rookies get started. We’re here to talk about multifamily today, which is super exciting because I think if more people understood the different ways that they can get started in multifamily, they might just go that way to begin with. For those of you that are listening, for those of you that are watching on YouTube, we’ve got, not one but two books on multifamily that Brandon co-wrote with Brian Murray. Volume one is about small multifamily. Volume two is about large multifamily. If you’re okay with it Brandon, we’ll maybe spend the most of today’s conversation talking about the smaller multifamily since the rookies might be able to grasp that a little bit easier.

Brandon:
I totally agree. By the way, just for those wondering why is there two volumes, one, because it would be 700 pages if it weren’t. Two, because as we were trying to break down how to get into the multifamily and what that looks like, I’d mentioned like, “You can manage it yourself if you want to.” Brian, would be like, “Well, there’s no way I would ever manage myself.” I’m like, “Well, if you’re going to buy a duplex.” He’s like, “Well, sure, if you’re going to buy a duplex, but if you’re going to buy an 80 unit.”
We started realizing there’s two completely different types of businesses here. There’s small multi and large multi. Book one volume one is all about small multi. It’s perfect for today. It’s the smaller deals, duplex, triplex, five unit, maybe a 10 unit. Then the other book, volume two, is really about how to put together big deals, big syndications and things like that.

Ashley:
Brandon, why do you think someone as a rookie investor should start out with a smaller multifamily instead of just taking the big jump and going after the big fish and starting out with a large, huge property?

Brandon:
That is such a good question. There are, I don’t know, you call them real estate pundits out there or we could call them gurus, but they say you should not start with anything under 100 units, just jump into the big stuff right away. But question for you too and anybody listening to this show who’s ever invested in real estate before, have you ever made a mistake ever on a real estate deal? All the time. When I think back to my early deals, especially, I’m just like, “Oh, what was I doing?” I remember this occasion, true story. I hope the person who bought this house never listens to this episode. My very first house I ever bought and I fixed it up. There was this problem.
The area was Western Washington. It was a swampy area that they built into houses at some point back in the ’70s. The foundation was rough on a lot of these houses. This one had a sloping floor that basically rose in the middle of the living room. From the middle of the living room to the edges of the living room, it was about, we’ll call it an inch difference, which might not seem like a lot, but when you’re trying to lay down laminate flooring, it’s way too much. You can’t even fit the laminate together. It’s just too much of this bump in the middle of the floor. I’m like, “Oh man, how do I fix that?” Now, a smart contractor or person who knew what they were doing with real estate would have been like, “Oh, we go underneath and we just lower that part of the foundation or raise the other stuff up.”
I’m like, “No, that’s too complicated.” I went and bought 50 bags of concrete. I literally just mixed concrete and filled it in on the area on the side. I don’t know how much weight I added to that house but now it’s a flat floor and it weighs a million pounds and it took me way longer than it would have just been to lower that foundation. Anyway, mistakes. When we’re just getting started, you don’t know what you don’t know. On that mistake, if somebody had to go fix that right now, I’d probably cost them five grand. If you were to make a mistake on a 100-unit apartment complex, it might cost you $5 million. Do you want to make your mistakes on a $5,000 mistake or a $5 million mistake? That’s why I think people should start small and then scale.

Ashley:
Even if you’re not going to be doing the maintenance or doing the rehabs or anything like that, there are still things you need to know about overseeing a property management company or overseeing a contractor that’s doing these repairs. You still have to know something. You will learn that real estate can be sold as something passive but it is not always passive, especially if you’re going to be the owner of the building and not just a limited partner on some syndication deal. I think right there, that was a great example. Thank you, Brandon.

Tony:
Brandon, I want to clarify something. I get your advice on why maybe starting with 100 units isn’t the best move for a rookie real estate investor. Say I have zero deals, do I need to start with a single family residence or can I make my first real estate investment be some small multifamily? What’s your thoughts on that?

Brandon:
In my opinion, there is almost no difference in difficulty between a single family house, a duplex, triplex and fourplex. Yes, you have four units versus one but it’s a 2% difference in difficulty. You’re learning the same thing. It’s the same process. Maybe it costs a little bit more to buy the multifamily the fourplex or the triplex than it would be to buy the single family but maybe not. Multi-families are funny in the way they’re priced. Sometimes houses are way more expensive than multifamily even. I would say if you’re going for four, three, two or one unit, they’re all the same. I would go as large as you can afford because you might as well. You’re likely to get more cashflow out of the more multifamily anyway. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily start with a 10 unit.
Now all of this said, when I say you shouldn’t start the bigger deals, there is a caveat I’ll say here. If you can harness somebody else’s mistakes, you can bypass that. This is the way around it. Let’s say somebody wants to jump into my 25-unit property, I’ve got a few like that size range multifamily. There’s just a lot of things you don’t know specifically how much repairs and maintenance and capital expenditures costs. CapEx, by the way, everyone doesn’t know what it is. It’s like saving up for reserves for replacing refrigerators every 10 years or replacing flooring every five years. It’s like the money you set aside knowing you have to fix big things. Not knowing how much repairs, maintenance, CapEx, all that cost and the other miscellaneous fees. That can cost you tens of thousands of dollars on the bigger deals, maybe hundreds of thousands.
If you can harness somebody else’s mistakes, meaning a very close mentor, not you paid some guru to give you a course, but a close mentor that you can work with or even better a partner, you can bypass that. For example, let’s say your first deal, you want to buy 25 unit, great, go partner with somebody then who’s bought multiple 25, 50, 75 unit properties. Then they’re going to tell you all those things you don’t know. Then you can start at that level and you can skip a level. If you were playing, remember Mario Brothers, the original Super Mario Brothers, you start at level one, move upward. You could literally start on level five but you have to go with somebody who’s gone through level one to five before. That’s the exception to the don’t start small rule or start small rule.

Tony:
Let’s drill down on that a bit, Brandon, because I think everyone’s probably gotten the message from, “Hey Tony, Ashley, Brandon. I love what you guys are doing. I want to partner with you. Can you please mentor me?” How does someone actually find that person that would be willing to work with them and mentor them through that process?

Brandon:
It’s pretty easy. For the low price of $99.97, you can have your own mentor. It’s really great. You can write your checks to me personally now. I love getting rid of the word networking and getting rid of the word mentor. Let’s just replace those words with friend. Go to the question, how do you make friends? I’m like, “Okay. Let’s think about my daughter, Rosie. She’s five. What does she do to make friends?” She goes to a place where there’s other little kids and then she walks up to them and she says something like, “I like your dress.” She adds some value to their life. She builds a relationship with them. The same thing, adults are the same way. We just get all weird about it. We’re like, “Hey, will you be my mentor?”
Then it’s an awkward, uncomfortable situation. Just be like, “Hey, what are you doing?” Talk to somebody who’s done more than you. Now, how do you find those people? Local BiggerPockets meetups mainly. Local conferences if you can find a conference. They don’t have to be local but it sure is nice to be able to go out to lunch with somebody. I would not recommend necessarily just be like, “Hey, can I take you out to coffee and pick your brain for two hours?” Because somebody that you want to sit with that’s super high level and been doing lots of big multifamily, maybe they don’t want to go to coffee, but if you can provide some value… In fact, I’ll tell you a story. Kyle was my mentor, so to speak, friend as I built my entire portfolio. Kyle was a small multifamily owner.
He owned a few single families and he owned a bunch of small multi-families, sixplex, fourplex, duplexes, et cetera. When I first met him, it was because I was painting a house for him. My friend Adam was renting from this guy, Kyle. Adam was like, “Hey, I got to paint my landlord’s house this weekend. Can you come help me?” I was like, “Sure.” This is when I’m 20 years old or 21. I just bought that first house. I go over there and I just help him paint this house. I never painted a house in my life, but I wanted the whatever $5 an hour my buddy was going to pay me to help him. Anyway, so I started talking with the landlord who shows up, this guy, Kyle. I started saying like, “I am interested in real estate too. How did you get into this thing?”
Just asking questions, “How’d you buy this? Well, how did you even know where to buy it? Why did you buy in this area?” Just simple questions. We ended up talking in the kitchen of that house for two hours as my buddy is outside in the hot sun painting that house. We built up a little friendship. Then at the end of the day, after doing the job, this landlord guy said, “Well, guys, I have another house if you want to paint it.” My buddy was like, “No, thanks. I’m busy. I can’t do it.” I was like, “I’ll do it.” I painted a house. This guy, Kyle, says, “How much?” I was like, “I’ll do the whole thing for 300 bucks.” $300 to paint an entire house, top to bottom, trim everything.
I didn’t care about the money. I’m trying to build a relationship. I’m trying to add value. What can I do to add value to this guy? Now, Interesting thing, I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this before. I’m glad I didn’t do it for free. We always say, “Work for free for somebody.” But notice how working for free for him would have changed the dynamic a little bit. One, he probably wouldn’t have liked that. It would have been awkward for him, “I don’t want to take advantage of this kid.” He probably would have found somebody else to paint his house if I was insistent on… Instead, I just made it a really, really good deal for him. Now, it was a transactional thing. He paid me a little bit of money. I don’t know.
I just think that there’s something valuable. People are always asking me to work for free. I’m like, “I don’t know what I would have you do for free.| But if they’re like, “Hey, I’ll build you a website for 150 bucks. This is nine examples of websites I’ve built before that are really, really, really good. This is 10 times cheaper than you get it elsewhere. I just want to provide value to you.” I’d be a lot more likely to take them up on it than a free website. That makes sense? You guys found that?

Ashley:
Because then you don’t feel like you’re owing them something either in turn like maybe a conversation later to help them with a deal. You don’t want to feel like you’re owing them anything. Then there’s also some expectation. If the website really sucks or isn’t good, then you can say, “You know what? I paid them 150, I should say something.” But if they did it for free, well, they did it for free. What can I expect? I can definitely relate to that. I think with the whole mentor thing is build a relationship with that person. It can be friends. It could be you doing work for them. Build that relationship with them. I’ve had someone that’s been mentoring me recently and I met him, I think, for the very first time last fall.
It’s almost been a year and we were at a couple events together. I talked to him every single time and I made a point of it. Then eventually a relationship grew and that’s when we decided that it would be a good mentorship. I could bring him value and he could bring me value. I think that’s a great way to put it is to be their friend, build a relationship. If somebody has a multifamily deal they want to look at and they have found a mentor, what are the things that a rookie investor needs to do before they actually decide to jump into a multifamily building? The thing I think of first of all is the property management. How different is the property management from a single family, two family, three family, to a 16 unit? Is there a big difference there?

Brandon:
This actually goes back a little bit to the difference between the volume one and volume two of the books that we wrote is because a lot of people have asked and I even questioned in the beginning, how do we want to define small versus large? It was, well, large, five unit and above. I was like, “Well.” The difference between buying a five-unit property and a four-unit property is not very different. I’ve bought five units. I bought four units. Maybe the financing is a little different but the approach that you take is very similar. You’re probably going to manage it yourself. You’re probably going to hire contractors that work on houses. If you’re going to hire a property manager, you’re going to hire a local property manager just takes care of it.
A 5 unit, a 10 unit, a 4 unit, 3 unit, it’s all the same. When you get into a 100-unit property or even a 50-unit property, that’s a totally different approach, completely different approach. You’re not hiring just necessarily the local property manager who’s taking care of all the single family houses. You’re probably hiring a larger asset manager or a national property management company that only does multifamily. Your financing is very different. Your approach is different. The way you run your business is different. Everything’s different. Specifically when it comes to managing, it’s the approach. If you’re going small multi, the approach is either, A, you got to manage it yourself, which is not that complicated.
One of my previous books was all on managing, but it is work and it does require systems and processes and people and checklists and knowing what you’re doing. The fastest way to fail at real estate is just to not know what you’re doing and try to jump in anyway. The smaller deals you can manage very similarly. Just managing four tenants takes a bit more work than managing one. Managing 10 tenants takes a bit more than managing 4. Those multifamily tend to require a little bit more landlording. I don’t want to make any judgements here but typically, I found that… I’m going to totally make a judgment here, but people who live in multifamily tend to be a little bit poor.
They have less money and because they have less money, they tend to have more difficulties with things like paying rent. They have to decide between paying their rent late and paying their water bill. It’s the natural course of things. Where if you rent into a high end $800,000 house, that person’s probably a doctor and they’re fine. They’re going to pay their bills probably no matter what. Now, are there exceptions to both sides of that? Of course. There are really good small multifamily tenants and there are horrible single family doctors. Generally, it just requires more involvement. I once had a fourplex where it was two units upstairs and two downstairs. The downstairs person called because the upstairs people… Watch it, two quick stories.
One, because they were having relations in the middle of the night way too loud. That was an issue you don’t run into with single-family houses. They were having just their mom and dad time too loud on the floor above them. Then a different fourplex, maybe it was the same one but the other side, the people upstairs were leaving their garbage out on their back porch, above the lower porch because they’re top and bottom. Maggots were just falling down, raining down on the bottom people. You don’t get that in single family. Definitely more management is there but it’s not impossible. It’s just a system you got to learn. Did that answer that question?

Ashley:
Yes, it does.

Tony:
Just one follow-up in addition to that, Brandon. How do you, as the landlord, manage relations between the different tenants? How do you solve those problems? Is that something that you write into the leases? Is it like a strike one, strike two, strike three thing or you kick one of the tenants out? How do you keep the peace when you’ve got four people, five people, six people living so closely?

Brandon:
It’s a balancing act, I’ll say that. Secondly, I have a lot of now experience with this. We realize things like, what do you do when a tenant has maggots raining down the other one. You aren’t going to read that in a book but you have to figure this stuff out over time. That said, so we rely heavily on the lease. We love making the lease the bad guy, not us the bad guy. That’s one of our rules in landlording is everything’s in the lease. We have a very good lease. We make sure that if a tenant, for example, has garbage on their back porch, it’s easy to be like, “Hey, in your lease on this section, on this page, it says you can’t have garbage on your back porch.” We’re going to need you to get rid of that.
If they don’t within 3 days, then we’ll send them a 10-day notice to comply, I think it’s called. If they don’t after that, then we can evict them. That never happens. Most people are pretty good about when you call them and tell them to knock it off. Now, sometimes you just have conflict between tenants where there’s one guy just hates the other one. This might sound bad but 99% of the time, those work themselves out without us getting involved. They’ll call and complain. Then we’ll say, “Okay. Noted, we’ll put it in the file.” But we don’t typically take a lot of action on that stuff initially, unless one person clearly has a problem.
They’re parking in the wrong parking spot or they’re leaving garbage out all over the place. We’ll deal with those things. But a lot of the personality issues like, “That person’s just a jerk and they’re mean to me. They looked at me funny.” That stuff, you just ignore it and it just goes away. They take care of it themselves. Again, maybe that’s a wrong approach but it seems to work 99% of time.

Tony:
I asked that question because I know that one of the things that a lot of rookies get caught up on and makes them afraid from actually pulling the trigger on that first deal is managing the property and dealing with the tenants. If there’s some good tips you can share, I think that goes a long way. You wrote a whole book on property management as well. People can pick that up but that’s more questions on it.

Brandon:
Very much so. It’s a learnable thing. Now, people get scared away from landlording, especially rookies. They’re like, “Oh, but what if this happens or this happens?” I remember this is how I found BiggerPockets. I didn’t start the company despite some people think that. No, I came later. Josh started in his basement. It was a forum where people ask questions with one another. I remember typing into Google because somebody, I think what my dad said that if you get into real estate, your tenants aren’t going to be able to pay rent sometime. Then you’re not going to able to pay it. You’re going to lose your property and end up homeless, was basically his message to me. I was like, “Oh, you’re right. I don’t know how to do that.” I went to Google and typed in what to do when tenants don’t pay rent.
I found this laundry list of things that could be done if that happens. It was on a little, tiny forum called BiggerPockets. What it told me was there’s answers to all these problems, all these, what are you going to do if this happens? There’s an answer to every one of those. You’re a real estate investor. You’re not unique. There are millions of us out there. It’s like you think you have this unique problem that’s never happened before. No, it’s happened before probably thousands of times to different landlords. When you have the largest real estate investing website where people just talk about that stuff, you figure this stuff out. First of all, understand there’s answers to everything that you might come across. Secondly, don’t manage yourself if you don’t want to.
I don’t think most people should manage. One of the mistakes I made early on was that I ran all my numbers. When I ran the numbers on my properties, I ran it with 0% allocated towards property management. Why would I hire a property manager? I could do it myself, which makes sense, I guess, when you’re getting started. My only goal was to get out of my job but what that does is that locks you into a life where you have to manage in order to make the deal a good deal. For example, I have a property, let’s say, that makes at the end of the day, $150 every month in cashflow. I’m like, “That’s pretty good.” But as soon as I hire a property manager, that’s going to cost me 150 bucks a month. Now, that property makes $0 a month.
My financial freedom is dependent upon me being a self-employed entrepreneur, which is the exact opposite of what I got into real estate for. Had I, instead, accounted for that $150 for property management or whatever it cost, then ran my numbers with that included and then only bought properties where property management was allocated and it still made sense as an investment property. Sure, I maybe would have bought a few less properties but probably not. I would’ve just gotten a little better at finding better deals. Then today, I would have saved myself 5, 6, 7 years of changing toilets and painting rooms at 3:00 in the morning and dealing with tenants calling me angry. I’d avoided all that. It was a rookie mistake but a lot of people make it.

Tony:
It sounds like it started with the underwriting portion. Had you just included that property management expense in your initial analysis and underwriting of the property, you could have avoided that. I guess that brings me to my next question, Brandon, when we’re trying to analyze multifamily properties, is it a different process in looking at a single family? If so, how and what’s your advice for rookies that want to correctly analyze multifamily and not forget some of those important expenses?

Ashley:
Brandon, as you go into that, can you define what CCC is too that you explained in the book? I think that will tie into that.

Brandon:
Let me start with CCC and then I’ll move into underwriting because that’s part of the CCC. CCC is a crystal clear criteria. A lot of people get into real estate and they’re like, “I want to buy real estate.” I’m like, “Well, good for you. What are you going to do with it? What do you want to do? “Real estate.” That’s as far as they can think because really what they want is financial freedom. If you’re looking for a job, the goal is money. You want to pay your bills. But if you just go tell everyone, “I’m looking for a job.” Everyone’s like, “Well, good for you.” But if you were like, “Hey, I’m looking for a job as a medical device salesman somewhere in the Cincinnati area.” All of a sudden people go, “Do I know anybody in Cincinnati that can help that? Do I know anybody in the medical field that can help him?”
The more specific you get with your criteria, the more likely people are going to want to help you, the more likely you’re going to be able to target the right things you want. That’s what the CCC, the crystal clear criteria is. It says let’s get real specific on what it is you want so that you will increase your chance of getting it. The five points of the CCC are number one, what location are you going to buy in? This is in no particular order. There’s no, one of these is more important than the other. But you just got to define where you want to buy down to the neighborhood if you can or zip code. Not just Cincinnati but I would say, west Cincinnati or west Philadelphia, born and raised on the playground.
You had to pick your area, right location. Then obviously start studying that area. When I say that, start looking at lots of deals that are on realtor.com or Zillow, start going to Craigslist, find out what things red for in different areas. Where are the good school districts? Talk to local landlords in the area. You’d be like, “Why do you invest there versus here? What do you think about this?” Because at the end of the day, in today’s crazy market, it is so hard to find good deals. The way you find good deals today, especially on market deals is you find them by knowing something that everyone else doesn’t know. For example, oh, this property, it’s only a three bedroom but it’s got a basement. We could add two more bedrooms to it. I know that in this area, section 8 pays $2,200 a month for a 5 bedroom versus only $1,200 for a 3 bedroom.
We can get more than double the rent because we knew that about our area. That’s a thing you know about your area that nobody else seems to maybe realize. That’s how you find good deals. Anyway, number one, location. By the way, everyone listening to this, take some notes on this because it’s important. Number one, location, number two, property type. What are you trying to buy? A single family, small multi, medium multifamily, large multi, mobile homes, mobile home parks, townhouses, condos. What is it you’re looking for? Define that and get really clear on that. Now, I’m not saying you have to say, “I want to buy a three unit property,” because then you’re going to miss the four unit that comes up or the duplex. That’s why I like to say either you’re buying single family or you’re buying small multi, 2 to 4 or medium multifamily, maybe 5 to 20, and then larger multi would be 21 plus.
Those are just my quick and easy determinations but you can define them otherwise if you want to. Number one was location. Number two is property type. Number three is condition. Do you want to take on a fixer-upper, a burr property or a fix and flip? Do you want to do that? Or do you want something that’s just paint and carpet, cosmetic fixer. Do you want a full gut rehab? Do you want to demolish and build new? Do you want something that’s already done, like turnkey is ready to go. Define what you’re willing to take on. The better deals tend to be at the fixer-upper level but they also require the most amount of experience, time and it’s higher risk. All right. Next. That was property condition. Let’s see, condition, location. Let’s see. Next one was, I call it profitability.
In other words, what makes it a good deal? Define that number. I want a 10% cash on cash return. In other words, I want to make 10% the first year on my money. Great. Or 12% or 8%. For me, I typically say like, “If I was a rookie, I’d be good with 7%, 8%, 9%.” As an experienced investor, I try to shoot for 10%, 12% today. I try to find a little bit better deals but in the beginning, getting started is better than nothing. Finally, the last one would be price range. Are you trying to buy a $100,000 property or a million dollar property? Now, when you’re going at it, you’ve got a really clear picture of what it is that you want. I’m looking for a small multi in west Cincinnati and I’m looking in the $100,000 to $300,000 range because that’s about what I can afford for my down payment.
I really want something that could be a cosmetic fixer. I don’t mind getting my hands a little dirty. Now, you go to an agent and you tell them that or you start direct mail marketing or something like that, you’re going to have 100 times better chance of landing a deal because you’re so specific with that. All right. That’s crystal clear criteria. Let’s shift that over to deal analysis. When I said profitability, I said something like, “Hey, I want an 8% return or I want $200 a month per unit. I want every unit that I buy to have $200 a month in cashflow.” Which I would say is generally on the high end for multifamily. But let’s just say you want $200 in what I call pure cashflow. We can dive into that in a minute.
The great thing about real estate is that it doesn’t have to be an emotional thing. It’s a math game. Remember this everybody and tattoo it on your forehead in reverse. You see it every morning when you wake up. Every property has a number that makes it work. Every property out there has a number that you could pay, a purchase price you could pay that would make it work. As an investor, our job is very simple. Identify what it is we want, go after them and then work backwards to find that number that makes it work and then make an offer. In other words, define what you want and get leads, analyze them, pursue them. Then most of the time you’re going to get rejected. I get rejected. It’s like high school prom all over again. I get like nos left and right.
But eventually I get a yes. That’s how I built my entire portfolio. Small deals, medium deals, big deals, it doesn’t matter. I work that same process. Underwriting or analysis, for whatever reason they say underwriting when we get to the bigger deals. It’s got more syllables. It’s for smarter people. Underwriting is the process of analyzing a property to find out how much you can pay for it. It’s very similar to single family, I guess. There’s the same things. You got your mortgage payment. You get your taxes. You get your insurance. You got repairs and maintenance. You got capital expenditures. We talked about that earlier. You got all these expenses. Now, the difference is what those expenses are. I’ll give you one example and probably the most important example. We talked earlier about recognizing hidden value.
Here’s one of the best hidden values you can get when it comes to small multifamily property. This one tip is going to make a lot of people a lot of money. Listen to this. multifamily properties, typically, the water bill is paid by the landlord, typically. If you want to a duplex, typically the water bill is paid by the landlord, but not always. The difference is are the water lines separate? The water lines that go each place, are they separate or are they all together combined? If it’s all together combined, it’s difficult to charge the tenants for water because you don’t know how much this guy used versus how much this guy used. Yes, you can split it and tell people to each pay half but then you get conflicts of like, “Hey, that guy’s running his bathtub all the time. I only take quick two-minute showers.” I don’t like dealing with that.
It’s possible. But if you can separate the water meters on a multifamily property and then shift that over to a tenant… In my life, I have never seen a tenant make a decision based on who pays the water. In other words, a tenant will choose a place based on the rental price, whether or not you include water or not. There’s no difference to most tenants. It’s ridiculous but it’s just a human nature is to compartmentalize all these expenses in their life. They’re not thinking, “Well, this property is a $1,000 a month but I got to pay a $200 water and electric charge. It’s really $1,200. This one is $1,100 but everything’s included.” They’re just thinking $1,100 versus $1,000. For whatever reason, that’s what I found over and over and over.
What I like to do is find properties where I can separate the water meters, bill that back to the tenant or have them pay it directly. Now, one of the largest expenses is now no longer on you the landlord. It’s now on the tenant, which can add $200, $300, $400 a month on your small multifamily to your pocket without really hurting anything whatsoever. That’s an example of where the difference between single-family and multifamily is knowing things like that, knowing why the water bill is different, knowing if taxes are worked out a little bit differently, knowing that the mortgage payment might be different.
Typically, on a larger multi you’re going to do a 20-year loan instead of a 30. Again, I don’t want to just sit here and plug a book but that’s why when people ask the difference between why we wrote The Multifamily Millionaire versus just How to Invest in Real Estate, I wrote or the book on rental property investing, it’s because this goes into those details that apply specifically to identifying and analyzing small multifamily and then larger multifamily. Was that a long enough answer? That was a 10-minute rant but there you go.

Ashley:
Do you think there is an option for more value add on multifamily compared to a single family? You said separately meter them. What about even adding [] or charging for parking spaces or storage space in a multifamily? What do you think are some of those value adds that people should be looking at in a property when they go to look for this multifamily, other ways they can make income?

Brandon:
There is things like that. There’s the storage, the parking, all that. I think all that’s good. What I like to focus on though, I’ll explain it this way. There’s A class, B class, C class, D class areas, we call them. Then I like to say, there’s A class, B class, C class, D class properties, which means an area might be a C class. It’s a little bit lower end, a lot of payday loan places around there. That’s a C class. A D class is where there’s that plus getting shot usually or there’s a lot of crime and violence and sexual offenders. Then B class is it’s pretty good. I like it. Blue collar, maybe a little upper blue collar or even white collar. Then A class is there’s a Starbucks on the corner.
There’s a Trader Joe’s right there, a Sprouts. It’s that kind. Okay. Knowing that, we’ve got A, B, C, and D. We also have A, B, C and D properties. Then we have A, B, C, and D tenants. I’m going somewhere with this. There’s quality of your location, quality of your property and quality of your tenant. I believe that the quality of your tenant is first of all one of the most important things you can ever do in real estate. The better tenant you have, the less problems you’re going to have, less evictions, less drama, more stabilized cash flow. They take better care of your property, et cetera.
The quality of your tenant is the average of the quality of your property and the location. In other words, if you have a C class property in a C class area, you’re going to get a, what class tenant? Probably a C class tenant. If you have a C class area but you do an A class rehab on it and make it an A class property, make it just a nice property. You’re going to likely get a B or maybe even an A minus tenant. You’re going to get a nice tenant. Another way to phrase it as even people who live in C and D class areas, they still watch Chip and Joanna Gaines on HGTV. They still love fixer-upper. They still watch The Property Brothers. They still want that house with the light gray repost gray walls from Cheryl Williams.
They still want that. The great thing is to do that level of rehab doesn’t take that much money than to just do a normal landlord-friendly rehab. It’s thinking through what do people want? What makes this a nicer property? In fact, sometimes it can be even cheaper. There’s things you can do cheaper that just work. For example, using, what are they called? Those mason jars for lights. You hang some mason jars with a light bulb inside of it and everyone’s like, “Oh my gosh, so bougie.” It’s a mason jar. It’s 12 cents. It’s just thinking that way. To go back to your question, what are the things people can do to have additional income?
Make your property nicer than all the other ones in the area. This is where there’s a ton of opportunity because I would guess 95% of all landlords out there are thinking, “How do I get the cheapest, crappiest possible way I can get this thing done?” If you’re just a little better than that, you’re going to have a significantly better property. In an area, for example, where I invest heavily, Grays Harbor, Washington, our average unit will rent for, let’s say, $800 a month. But if I have a nice property, it’ll rent for $1,300 a month. I’m not kidding. It’s that big of a swing difference because they can’t get that quality in that location but they want to live in that location.
They will pay significantly more for a nicer quality property, more than the $50 I’m going to get from storage or the $25 I’m going to get for a parking spot in that area. I’m going to get way more just by doing a good job. Then by keeping those people because I’m a good landlord, it cuts down on vacancy which is the silent killer of cashflow. Again, long rant off my soap box.

Ashley:
Well, that’s why we had you on so we didn’t have to do anything.

Brandon:
Exactly. I want to make this easy for y’all. After [inaudible 00:39:18] I’ll go for 20 minutes.

Ashley:
Okay. For the next 20 minutes, can you talk about how do you actually find multifamily deals? When you go on realtor.com, you’re not going to see 20 unit apartment complexes listed. Where should a rookie investor go to try and find deals or just off market, where should they find them?

Brandon:
You mentioned 20 unit, actually about the line where I usually see where things shift from realtor.com. If you have a 10 unit, most people are going to list the 10 unit on the MLS with a real estate agent. They probably shouldn’t, but they do. That’s very common. You get larger than 10, 15, 20 units. Now, they’re going to be doing it in the commercial world. The commercial world is very interesting when it comes to multifamily, because it’s the way that single family and small used to be.
What I mean by that is this. Back in the day, let’s go back like 40 years, but pre-internet. I was not alive then. I don’t think either of you guys were either. The way that real estate was done, is you have brokers and all these towns. Broker Tony and you’ve got broker Ashley, work at different brokerages and then broker Brandon. I have the cooler name broker, Brandon. You got the alliteration.

Ashley:
BB.

Brandon:
Yeah, BB. They call me BB. Broker Brandon, I get this, a guy comes into my office says, “I want to sell my property, my house.” I say, “Great.” I write down all his details and I put on a piece of paper. Then, if I want to, I fax it over to Tony, because I liked Tony. I say, “Hey, Tony, I got this property, it’s for sale. Do you have any clients that want to buy it?” But I don’t really like Ashley very much, so I’m not even going to send it to Ashley. We’re just not buddies like I’m buddies with Tony. That’s not true.
That’s how the world worked. Then the internet changed that. Now the internet made it so like everyone’s deals just kind of go on the MLS, which is what we call it, on single family. Anyone can kind of look at it, any agent can find any property. Commercial is not there yet. Commercial is still broker Brandon is going to send an email over to broker Tony and say, “Hey, broker Tony, I got this deal. Do you have any clients that want to buy this thing?” That’s how that the commercial world still operates.
Then if it doesn’t sell in that transaction, because none of my buddies, as a broker, none of my buddies have a client that want to buy it, well, then maybe I’ll go put it on what we call the LoopNet or those other sites that we’ll list them more publicly. But it’s still very relationship based, in some regards, very like shady still.
How do you find them? You build relationships with commercial brokers. That’s it. You find out who are the top two or three commercial brokers in your area? Just ask around, find out who’s doing the most volume, the most sales, helping buy the most of those commercial properties. Sit down with them, interview them, find out your favorite one. Who do you jive well with? Who seems to be awesome? Then have them get you connected with those deals. That just takes work, takes relationships. Because those brokers, they get hit by a lot of people who say they want deals, you got to prove it, that you can actually pull it off.

Tony:
Brandon, I’m glad you said that last point about proving it. Before my partners and I moved into the short term rental space, we were actually looking to get into apartment syndications. We were looking for 50 plus units kind of like the Louisville area, but we had a very difficult time getting inroads with some of the brokers in that market. It’s for the reason that you said, it’s still kind of like a good boys club where there’s a very small, tight knit community where if you haven’t done three or four deals already, it’s kind of hard to have them really take you seriously. What would be your advice like as a rookie investor, how can I show them that I’m serious? How can I show them that I’m someone they should actually send one of those pocket listings to?

Brandon:
That’s a great question. I like to frame it kind of like, imagine I’m a real estate investor who lives in Maui, who has a podcast and writes books. I also invest in real estate. And some guy comes to me and he says, “Hey, Brandon, I really want invest in real estate. I would love to do it. I just want to buy any real estate in the area. Help me find a deal. Will you please?” I’d be like, “Good for you.” Hey, pat him on the back and say, “Good for you.” But somebody comes to me and says, “Hey, Brandon, I’m looking for a condo in Maui. I’ve been looking for the past few months, here’s like three examples of something that recently sold that’s exactly what I was looking to buy. I’ve actually got a preapproval already from the Bank of Hawaii. They’re actually gonna pre-approve me for this condo already. I got the down payments already saved up. I’ve got 180 grand sitting there ready to be deployed. Can you help me find a condo? Can you point me in the right direction?”
Which of those two people am I going to take more seriously and have a good conversation with? Obviously, the person who’s prepared has proven that they’ve done all this work and effort upfront to… I believe they’re actually going to close. Because here’s what a broker doesn’t want. A broker to the one to put together a deal with newbie, John, and then newbie John backed out at the last second. Because that makes broker Brandon look like a moron.
Now I look irresponsible and I can’t bring a good client to the table. You’ve got to convince the broker that you’re legit. That’s the way you present yourself in everything you do. Literally from the car you drive, to the way you talk on the phone, the way your email looks, to the way your presentation looks, to the way your criteria is defined, all of that stuff. And the way you’ve analyzed deals and underwritten, all that matters.
Furthermore, if you can get somebody else to vouch for you, if somebody came to me and said, “Hey, my buddy Bill is pre-approved, has been looking for months. He’s awesome. He’s got his numbers down. He wants to buy. Can you point them in the right direction?” I’m way more likely to help that guy as well.
Finally, some of it just comes with experience. And this is another reason I recommend starting with a small multi. Because a small multifamily, you can buy those on realtor.com or you can find them on the MLS. If you’ve done 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 small multifamily deals and you go to a broker and say, “Hey, I’m looking to buy a 12 unit or a 20 unit,” he’s going to take you way more seriously because you’ve come with all of that background and you present it well. It’s really about making the broker feel confident that you are a closer, you can actually make it happen now.
True story, then I’ll let you guys ask another question. We struggled… I have a company called Open Door Capital. We buy large multi-family properties, primarily mobile home parks, but we’re also now raising for a big apartment, a huge apartment complex deal, over 500 units that I’m working on. And also a another big apartment deal and some self storage. Anyway, we buy a lot of stuff. But the first year, we would make offers and consistently get rejected. We would talk with brokers and consistently they would give the deal to other people. Even if we paid more, even if we offered more, they would give it to other people. Because we didn’t have a track record. We didn’t have that.
But then we got a deal and we got another deal and we got rejected a lot more than we got another deal. Then we got another one. Then we started noticing this trend that all these brokers started coming to us first, before they went to other people. Because we have now established a track record. Now in the past month, I’ve gotten more properties under contract, we’ve got more properties locked up in the past month, than the past 15 years of my investing career combined. We have over $100 million locked up right now.
It’s insane. And it’s just coming so quickly and we get way more of our offers accepted even when we’re offering less than other people. Because now we have a track record. Bottom line is, it builds slowly. You got to scale up. That’s why I love starting with small multi-family. If the eventual goal is large, start small right now and get some deals under your belt.

Ashley:
Well, congratulations on that. That’s really exciting for you.

Tony:
Yeah, it’s amazing.

Ashley:
Just what’s happening the last month.

Brandon:
It’s terrifying. I’m like, I don’t even… I’m terrified.

Tony:
Not to one up you Brandon, but Ashley and I actually have a billion dollars worth of real estate we got tied op just last-

Brandon:
Dang it.

Tony:
… week too.

Brandon:
I know. I get it. I get it. You guys are just killing me in every area of life. I appreciate that.

Ashley:
I do have a very recent story that I wanted to share, that kind of related to what you just said about building relationships with brokers. Well, very recently, I just started going after commercial deals and I actually found the property, then I brought on a broker. We had an existing relationship. I had actually bought his dad’s portfolio three years ago and his dad had done seller financing for me, so he took me on because he knew that I had worked this great deal with his dad and everything ended up fine.
Well, when it came time to put my offer in, I hadn’t had to prove anything to the broker that was helping me, but the seller, his brokers were not convinced of me at all. I had to get two bank letters stating that I’ve financing from two different banks. My one loan officer, he wrote me the sweetest, nicest letter ever. It was like a personal reference, rolled into that I could get financing for this. They wanted preapprovals, which you don’t really see in the commercial side.
They checked out my website, they checked out the podcast, they checked out my Instagram and it was like, I was vetted and long story short, I didn’t get the deal. The other person’s offer was a little bit higher. But it was just really amazing to me, the hoops I was jumping through, to try to get this deal done. It was all those seller’s brokers telling, they were saying like, “Before we even give this to our buyer, we want these things. We want to show him.” That was just really crazy.

Brandon:
That’s cool. It reminds me of like another… You mentioned like the guy you bought his portfolio from him. That’s another cool thing about small multi-family properties, is that typically if you own a small multifamily property, you probably own lots of small multi-buyer properties. It’s not something that people typically just like randomly stumble across buying accidentally, like houses are. Because people turn their house into a rental all the time. But with multi-family, if there’s a landlord who owns a multi-family, they probably own multiple ones.
Why is this important? Because it means that every time you talk to a multi-family owner who owns a property, ask them the question, “Do you have any properties in your portfolio that you don’t like right now, or that’s causing you drama or a headache?” As you do your marketing, your off-market marketing, or every time you drive by multifamily in your area like, “Oh, there’s a duplex right there. Let me find out who owns it.” Pull up like the Deal Machine app on your phone, which is an app that tells you who owns the property and you can send them a letter right from the app. Pull it up. Find out who it is, call them. “Hey, I drove by your duplex and I’m looking to buy a small multifamily property in the area. Do you have anything that’s causing you a headache right now?”
Almost every multifamily owner I know, every real estate investor who owns a lot of property, they have these headache properties that have been driving them nuts for months. It’s not quite enough of a problem for them to actually go lift it with a broker. But it’s enough of a problem that if you ask them, “Do you have any problems causing you a headache?” They might be like, “Actually, yeah, I do got one. But you probably wouldn’t want that.” “Huh? Tell me more.” That’s how you can land more deals. Just that.

Ashley:
That’s great advice for if you’re trying to find off market deals on Prop Stream or other software, it’s so easy to find who owns… Like if you click on one address, it’ll show you all the linked properties to their name or their LLC. Then just, if you’re already buying a property from someone, just ask, “Are you selling anything else?” You’ll be amazing. How many things come to you? I think I ended up over two years, I bought half the portfolio the first time. Then the second time, I bought the rest of it. And there was only, I think, one vacant lot that I ended up not purchasing of his whole portfolio. It was a great opportunity.

Tony:
That’s cool.

Brandon:
That’s especially true for rookies. This is one thing that I think people oftentimes they’re like, “Well, I’m young or I’m new to real estate. I don’t have [inaudible 00:50:23] experience. Why would an older investor want to like some of their property?” Because you’re young and excited about real estate. They’re like, “My kids don’t care about real estate. Screw them. This youngin’, whipper snapper over here, they’re all excited.” They’re thinking, “They remind me of me when I was their age. I want to help them out and I’ll sell my home.”
It’s such an asset when you’re a rookie, to be the learner, be the excited person, be the person that’s just out there scrappy and young and helping and doing what you can, because the older generation, there’s a lot of them right now that are retiring. The baby boomers that own all the real estate America. You can get seller financing from them, you can get them to sell you their portfolio without real estate agents. So much opportunity out there.

Tony:
Well, Brandon, thank you for giving so much information on how to find good, multi-family deals. Because from firsthand experience, I know that that’s a challenge for people that are trying to get started. What are maybe some of the other downsides to come along with trying to break into small multifamily? Or just maybe having a small multi-family portfolio that you don’t typically get when you’re working in the single family space?

Brandon:
I mentioned earlier, that landlording typically requires a little bit more effort and you have to put a lot more time into it. Also, landlords are, I know this is a shock to everybody here, but landlords tend to be cheap. It’s like, “Well, I got to fix that toilet because it’s leaking. I’ll just get a big bottle of Calc and just like rub it around the outside of the toilet. That’ll keep all the water in.” That never works, it just rots the floor.
I find that with small multi-family properties, especially, the repairs that have been done in the past have typically been done pretty shoddily. Is that a word, shoddily? It is now. And it’s shoddy work. It’s deferred. A lot of deferred maintenance, because the landlords are just being cheap. So one of the reasons that they sell their property, because it’s like a cycle where it gets worse and worse, because they don’t fix their property right, which attracts a lower quality tenant, who doesn’t take care of the property right, so it breaks down even further. They don’t take care of that.
But that same reason why it’s a downside of multifamily, is also one of the reasons why multi-family has so much opportunity. Because that’s rampant, it’s widespread. When you can buy those types of properties that are struggling and you can go fix that toilet and the floor on the toilet correctly, so that the seal is right, now, you just fixed the problem long-term, that’s going to get you more rent. Not that toilets get you more money, but just as an overall nicer property, there’s just so much opportunity there. Then you can increase the rent, which makes the property value worth a whole lot more. Yeah, it’s awesome. There’s a lot of good things there.

Ashley:
Well, Brandon, thank you so much for coming on today and giving all of us rookies so much value. Can you tell everyone where they can pre-order the new books or order it and where they can find out some more information about you?

Brandon:
Sure. You can get the books, the Multifamily Millionaire, volume one and two at biggerpockets.com/store. Biggerpockets.com/store. You can pick it up there. There’s a bunch of cool bonuses you get when you buy it from BiggerPockets. When you buy it from Amazon, which comes out maybe a month from now or something like that, Amazon will have it as well, as well as like audible. But right now, you can get it on BiggerPockets and you get a bunch of bonuses. I promise everybody here, the bonuses are worth just as much, if not more than the actual book. I’m not going to go into all of them right now, but there’s some really, really cool stuff that I’ve spent unbelievable amounts of time lately building to add in for bonus content. Because I want people to buy it quickly and to get it from BiggerPockets and to change their life with it. Again, biggerpockets.co/store. You follow me in more places at Instagram. I’m like a 13 year old girl on Instagram. You’ve seen me there. I post a lot. Beardy Brandon. Beard with a Y, Brandon, on Instagram.

Ashley:
What about TikTok yet? Is there a TikTok yet?

Brandon:
You know what? I do have a TikTok. It is BeardyBrandon, TikTok. But if you want to see my dance moves, you’re not going to see them there. I mostly just post my Instagram videos over on TikTok.

Ashley:
Okay. Well, thank you so much, Brandon, for coming on with us. You’ve hit all four episodes now.

Brandon:
Thank you.

Ashley:
I guess it’s time for BiggerPockets to create a new podcast now.

Brandon:
[crosstalk 00:54:16] We need a name for that. Is there like a hat trick. Don’t they have a name like… What’s the thing when you win a Tony Award?

Ashley:
I don’t know.

Brandon:
You have an Oscar, you have a Tony and you have a Grammy, what’s that thing? You know what I’m talking about?

Tony:
Yeah [crosstalk 00:54:31].

Brandon:
The guy from Hamilton, I think is one of the few that’s actually done it. There’s a few people who’ve done it. Anyway, whatever that is, I’m that. Apparently. Thanks for having me, guys.

Ashley:
Yeah, thank you so much. We’ll talk to you later, Brandon. I’m Ashley at Wealth From Rentals and he’s Tony at Tony Jay Robinson. We will see you guys back on Wednesday.

 

 

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Rookie 100 Why Brandon Encourages to Start Small and Scale is written by Real Estate Rookie Podcast for www.biggerpockets.com

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