You’ll Lose Money Buying a House Now
- Brandon Turner is a 36-year-old real-estate investor who says he’s worth $10 million.
- He’s the Instagram star behind BiggerPockets, which gives real-estate tips to millions via podcasts.
- But even he admits that buying a random property will lose you money in this hot market.
Brandon Turner is, in his own words, only “niche famous.” A cross between the self-help guru Tony Robbins and the stock-picking whiz Jim Cramer, but for the millennial crowd, Turner easily flips between the roles of motivational speaker and investment evangelist.
He preaches a simple mantra: Buying up homes and renting them out can be a path to wealth and financial freedom for the masses and an escape from a 9-to-5 grind that, for many during the pandemic, has become all-consuming.
It has garnered Turner a devoted following amid a DIY investment boom cluttered with Reddit stocks, cryptocurrency, and Robinhood accounts.
Over the past decade, the now-36-year-old has attracted 250,000 followers to his Instagram handle, @beardybrandon, and created a hit investing-advice podcast on the media platform BiggerPockets that’s earned over 100 million downloads and is the No. 1 real-estate show on iTunes.
That might still only amount to “niche fame” in a world of social-media megastars, but it has led to big money.
Though he started out as a small-time real-estate investor, Turner estimated that over the past year and a half, his nascent real-estate investment company, Open Door Capital, has raised close to $100 million, much of it by soliciting his social-media base. The firm has used that cash to acquire about $200 million of property so far, he said. In September, he added, he raised his largest real-estate fund yet, topping out at about $25 million in just five days.
Turner’s net worth has swelled to about $10 million and counting, he claims. On his current trajectory of fast-growing affluence, he imagined he could one day be a billionaire (though he might give up accruing wealth before then, he said, to focus on charitable endeavors).
Just as the rise of the meme stock signaled the public’s discontent with the Wall Street establishment, the success of both Turner’s podcast and Open Door Capital reflects a similar sentiment in real estate. Rather than park their money with professionally managed funds with long track records or real-estate stocks and mutual funds that have multibillion-dollar market caps, Turner’s listeners have turned to him for a game plan to realize profits on their own. An increasing number have ventured even further from the mainstream, pouring money into the charismatic outsider’s real-estate firm instead.
“Podcasting builds trust and credibility at a scale unheard of in human history,” Turner said. “When you listen to hundreds of hours of somebody and learn how they progressed in their investing and learned their mindset and how they manage problems and people, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I’d give money to that person.'”
Behind the big promises and Turner’s glossy, Instagram-filtered life on the Hawaiian island of Maui with his wife and two young children, however, is a starker reality.
Open Door Capital charges higher fees than established, institutional-grade real-estate investment funds, Insider found. Meanwhile, the relevance of Turner’s investing advice in his role as podcaster has been challenged by record appreciation in the residential market over the past year, making some of his most foundational strategies, such as buying a home and renting it out, far more difficult to accomplish profitably.
Turner conceded that a shift has taken place.
“Real estate has gone from something you can do as a mediocre investor to something you need to be an expert at,” he said. “In 2012, any property you bought would make money as a rental. Today if you take a random property, it will lose money.”
Although he has racked up hundreds of thousands of views on platforms like YouTube with podcast episodes titled “Brandon Turner’s 10 Lessons That Led to a $50M+ Portfolio” and “The Millionaire Formula: 10 Steps to Hit 7-Figure Net Worth,” Turner insisted that listeners come to him for education and inspiration, not guaranteed money-making formulas.
“We don’t shy away from the fact that this is hard,” Turner said. “I don’t think we mismanage expectations. I think people realize this is a business. It will take work.”
As Turner’s followers labor to follow his road map to riches, Turner himself has turned to another strategy for his own investing. Since it was founded in 2018, Open Door Capital has focused on buying mobile-home parks, an obscure segment of the real-estate industry that Turner says has helped it outmaneuver rivals in a heated property market.
“I’m so niched down,” Turner said. “Blackstone can’t compete with me.”
Turner got his start in real estate without ever planning to go into the business. The son of a meat cutter and a day-care worker, he grew up in a suburb north of Minneapolis and graduated from Northwestern College in Iowa in 2006, first in his class, he said.
He was unsure about his career path and wound up settling in western Washington state, where his wife, whom he met in college, was from. They took up residence in the town of Aberdeen, which is perhaps best known for being the childhood home of the rock star Kurt Cobain. Turner said the couple bought a house where they planned to live for about $80,000, renovated it, then realized they could flip it instead for a profit. Turner said he wound up netting about $20,000 on the deal, enough to pay for his wedding and reduce some of his student debt. He was hooked and abandoned ambitions to go to law school.
It was a moment when he realized that real-estate investment could become a lucrative and less time-consuming alternative to a traditional full-time job that dominates people’s lives.
“You will work 100 hours a week for the next 60 years and probably go through three wives,” Turner said about why he soured on becoming a lawyer. “I started thinking, ‘That’s not something I want to do.'”
It was before the financial crisis and lending rules had grown lax, allowing homebuyers and investors alike to secure mortgages large enough to cover virtually the entire cost of a house purchase. Turner said he took advantage, next snapping up a two-family home that he said he later discovered was the house Cobain lived in as a young child. Turner and his wife resided in one of the units and used the rent from the other to cover their mortgage, living essentially for free.
It was the beginning of what he now casually calls “house hacking,” a strategy in which a buyer scrounges up the cash to acquire a home they might not otherwise be able to afford and stays afloat, or even nets income, by renting out an additional unit, a spare bedroom, or even part of their living room.
Turner began to build a portfolio of residential properties he rented out for monthly income and started to buy, renovate, and flip homes for an even quicker payoff. When the
hit and it became difficult to get the high-leverage loans Turner depended on to finance his burgeoning portfolio, he adapted. He said he was lucky enough to have friends and family he could turn to for money to cover down payments, and he took out high-dollar mortgages from hard-money lenders who charged above-market interest rates. Turner put the costs of thousands of dollars of repairs he made on the properties onto credit cards.
It was a risky strategy, but Turner said it paid off. If he purchased a home for, say, $100,000, then sunk in another $20,000 to repair it, he could generally find a tenant willing to pay enough in rent to refinance the property with a conventional bank mortgage for at least what he had put in — and sometimes more. It led to him coining another term he frequently cites on his podcast: the “BRRRR strategy,” which stands for buy, rent, rehabilitate, refinance, and repeat.
By the time he turned 27, he said, he was earning $3,000 of passive net income a month from his portfolio.
“I thought I was retired,” he said.
It was around that time when he stumbled onto BiggerPockets, the real-estate media company that now produces his podcast, while surfing the internet for resources to learn more about real-estate investing.
The site’s mission, to create an online community, educational materials, and other tools and content for real-estate investors and those striving to break into the business, was just what he was seeking. He soon began blogging for the site and was the first full-time hire brought on by its founder, Josh Dorkin. In 2012, Turner began his podcast and in the years since has become its most popular star.
He’s compensated as such. Turner said he earns “a six-figure salary” from BiggerPockets to host his show, which generally airs two or three times a week, and makes even more from annual royalties he collects on the six real-estate investing books he has released through the company’s book-publishing arm.
Turner said he has also received an ownership interest in the company, which is based in Denver and now has over 40 employees.
“I have a little bit. I’m told not to tell how much,” Turner said. “Enough to keep me engaged.”
Most of his wealth and income at this point, though, is connected to his real-estate investing.
Known for his trademark bushy beard, Turner comes across as unpretentious, approachable, and unfailingly upbeat. He speaks with a slight lisp. He says he shows up to work on Maui, where he moved with his family three years ago, most days in board shorts and
. In his spare time, he surfs, sings, plays guitar in a band, and practices Brazilian jiujitsu.
His Instagram feed is interspersed with motivational mantras, real-estate investment formulas, and pictures of his seemingly idyllic — and increasingly affluent — life. A recent photo showed him and friends aboard a private plane and lounging at a posh hotel on the water.
“I’m kind of like the success story at BiggerPockets. I’m almost like a picture of what’s possible,” Turner said. “People tend to, I don’t want to say idolize, but gravitate towards pictures of an ideal. They want to personify an idea of where they want to get to. People see that in me.”
Another recent post shows Turner running barefoot on a Hawaiian beach at the edge of the surf with the breathless caption: “If you’re waiting for the fear of the unknown to subside… you’ll be waiting forever. So feel the fear… acknowledging it. It’s there. Then, do it anyway.”
For many of Turner’s followers, though, market conditions, not fear, are what’s holding back their efforts to emulate his success.
Erica Soto-Johnson, a 38-year-old copywriter and aspiring television writer in Los Angeles, for instance, said that in the past few years she and her husband, an actor, began listening to BiggerPockets podcasts, including Turner’s. They became interested in house hacking — buying a two- or more unit home to take in rental income and help pay their expenses. But such properties in the city have risen to prices that are out of reach for their $146,000 combined yearly income, she said.
It has left them with a dilemma: Choose between Hollywood aspirations or real-estate dreams.
“It would be ideal to do it here, but it would be more affordable in another city,” Soto-Johnson said, adding that she and her husband have begun contemplating a move to Texas, where his family lives, or upstate New York.
Another Turner and BiggerPockets fan, Roman Shaposhnikov, a 34-year-old EMT who lives in the New York City borough of Staten Island, said he has spent thousands of dollars over the past year or so conducting due diligence and putting down small, nonrefundable deposits on a series homes he has considered purchasing as an investment. None of the deals ultimately made financial sense, he said.
Most recently, he found a home in Caldwell, New Jersey, that was in need of repairs and was priced below market value. Though the deal was promising, it too fell through.
“It didn’t pencil out,” Shaposhnikov said. “I just couldn’t make enough money to make it worth it.”
It’s much the same story around the country.
Recently released data from the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller US National Home Price Index, for instance, showed that home prices nationally rose by a record 19.7% year over year in July.
Not only must investors battle a raft of regular buyers in this frenzy, but major Wall Street investment firms, pensions, and sovereign-wealth funds have also moved in, pouring billions into single-family homes in order to get into the very same business of renting them out for profit. They have wellsprings of cash and economies of scale that individual or small-time investors often can’t compete against. Other huge companies such as Zillow have also moved into iBuying, the business of flipping homes for a profit.
And although rents are expected to increase amid rising inflation and a national housing shortage, it hasn’t kept pace, so far, with home-price appreciation. Average gross returns on single-family rental homes — which don’t factor in operating costs such as maintenance, insurance, and other expenses — fell to 6.3%, according to data from the real-estate analytics firm John Burns Real Estate Consulting. That’s the second-lowest yield in the past 37 years.
Neither Soto-Johnson nor Shaposhnikov blamed Turner or BiggerPockets for their difficulties. And both said that listening to the podcast improved their financial habits and awareness. They, and other Turner fans, point out that most of his advice, unlike the proliferation of costly seminars on real-estate investment or coaching services, is free or low cost. BiggerPockets charges a modest $390 yearly subscription, giving users access to a proprietary network of other real-estate investors and professionals and investment tools such as calculators that help members crunch whether a deal will work out financially. Much of its content and podcasts are available for free.
For Turner, if an investor is flailing, they’re simply not latching onto the right strategy or mantra.
“What I teach people is to really narrow your focus, I call them the ‘crystal clear criteria,'” Turner said, describing a process of homing deeper into a particular geography, property type, and price point to find success.
For those who find themselves stymied or without the time to invest on their own, Turner has another option.
Sprinkled in his Instagram feed are pictures of properties Open Door Capital has acquired, funds it has raised, and not-so-subtle messages to prospective investors.
“Are you tired of hearing about these closings and not being a part of it?” Turner wrote in an Instagram post in August. “Invest with us!”
Turner has raised five funds in the past two years, according to statements he and Open Door Capital have made and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He has raised additional investor money for the acquisitions of two apartment complexes, one in Houston, and the other near Vail in Colorado.
If Brandon Turner went to a pension fund or an endowment for money, rather than the public, they would say, ‘Are you kidding me?’Lance Pederson, a managing partner at Verivest
In September, the company announced that it had raised its fifth fund in a matter of days.
Although the firm had sought to solicit as much as $30 million in its two most recent previous funds, both topped out in the mid- to high teens, according to Turner, making the most recent fund, which has $25 million of commitments, its largest yet. Open Door Capital accepts investments only from accredited investors.
Turner’s said that Open Door Capital has poured roughly 70% of the cash it has raised into mobile-home parks across the country. While sophisticated institutional investors have become major owners of office buildings, retail shops, hotels, multifamily-apartment properties, and now single-family homes, few have tried to build a substantial market share of mobile-home properties, meaning there’s less competition in that segment of the real-estate market.
Having such a defined specialty also allows Turner and his team to go a “mile deep,” a term he uses frequently on BiggerPockets podcasts to describe the process of developing a very specific expertise and knowledge set and exploiting that mastery as a competitive advantage.
The company now owns 23 parks with about 3,100 units, Turner said.
In an online forum hosted by BiggerPockets, some prospective investors have groused about the fees that Open Door Capital charges.
Insider spoke to a potential investor who said he had considered putting money into the firm’s funds but was turned away by the charges.
According to the person, along with an investment prospectus for Open Door Capital’s fifth fund that was examined by Insider, the firm hits its investors with myriad charges. There’s a 2.5% fee on the purchase price of any property it acquires, 2% of any loan it uses to refinance a property it owns, 2% of the sale price of any property it sells from the fund, and 7% of the annual gross revenues it reaps from the properties it owns.
“Many of the individual fees seemed to push or exceed the upper limit of what I was used to seeing,” the prospective investor said. “Any one fee that is higher than average is not a deal breaker. Two or more can be.”
Experts who have studied the expanding constellation of small but growing investment funds like Open Door Capital and how their fee structures compare to funds managed by established investment firms agreed that some appeared excessive.
“These fees compared to other investment opportunities are definitely a bit higher than one would expect,” said Lance Pederson, a managing partner at Verivest, a firm that specializes in verifying the performance of middle-market real-estate investment ventures. “If Brandon Turner went to a pension fund or an endowment for money, rather than the public, they would say, ‘Are you kidding me?'”
Pederson also noted that mobile-home parks were a management-intensive business and that some additional fees could be forgiven when considering all the work that is generally necessary to reposition and rehabilitate such properties, especially across the wide geography where Open Door Capital has scooped up deals, spanning from Alaska to Florida.
Pederson said that Open Door Capital’s fees were far from the most onerous in the new world of social-media-fueled fundraising.
The fees, however, show how lucrative it can be investing at the scale of Open Door Capital. Turner and his partners at the firm stand to earn hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars from the charges alone, money they’ll take in regardless of whether their funds ultimately perform as expected.
Turner’s track record is hard to evaluate in other ways. He declined to disclose any specific parks his firm had acquired. He attributed part of that reluctance to the recent experience of a friend of his in the investment business who, Turner claims, purchased a mobile-home park and raised rents, only to draw the attention of local media and the ire of the community.
“They put his name all over the news as the evil landlord,” Turner said. “People showed up to his house and sent him hate mail and threats. I don’t want to ever get in a situation where people know what I own.”
An examination of one mobile-home park that Turner announced on Instagram that he’d acquired reveals why he might be sensitive to public knowledge of his holdings. In January 2020, Turner trumpeted in the post that he had closed on a park in Superior, Wisconsin.
“Whoop whoop!” Turner said in the caption.
From the aerial photo Turner posted, Insider identified the property as the Homecroft Mobile Home Park. That park drew attention this year when NBC News reported that a family of five living there had been served eviction papers on Christmas Eve.
Chris Larson and his fiancée, Kirsten Brokaw, had fallen behind on lot rent, fees, and tax bills after Larson lost his job as a truck driver and Brokaw had a stroke and couldn’t work, the report said. Larson was cooking lasagna for them and their three young kids when they were served the eviction notice, it added.
Property records show that a limited liability company purchased the park for $7.75 million in January 2020. The LLC’s mailing address, given to Insider by the city assessor in Superior, matched what corporate records show as Open Door Capital’s PO box in Maui.
Turner did not respond to questions about his ownership of the Homecroft property and the eviction report.
Whatever the risks, the success of Turner’s fifth fund suggests that many investors aren’t perturbed and that he’ll continue to elbow his way into the bigger leagues of real estate investing.
Turner said he recently met a veteran real-estate investor at a conference he attended and explained to the person the tens of millions of dollars he was raking in from his social-media following.
“The guy’s jaw hit the floor,” Turner remembered. “He’s only been involved in this world of real estate involving hedge funds and suits and ties. I haven’t worn a suit in 10 years. It just shows this shift in the power.”