A few days ago I was joking about the Realtors who are running their offices out of the hotel lounge here in Florida where I am staying. Myself along with few others in the group I am here with have been approached numerous times now with offers of incredible deals and limited time offers of prime deals that were too good to not even consider. On one hand I can’t believe that these guys are allowed to operate here by the hotel management and I had a feeling I wasn’t getting the entire picture. By the way, the hotel itself is a dump – shame on the Hilton brand.
According to the hip bar tender there are a few in the group who actually are living in RVs that are parked across the road, they had essentially lost everything after investing their entire lives blindly into contributing and selling parts of what eventually became ground zero for the start of the largest Real Estate bubble in history, Florida was where it all started and in many aspects where it continues today.
I ran across one of them yesterday again and offered to buy him a beer – not to hear another one of his desperate pitches but rather to hear his story... he took the bait and here is what he shared over the next hour or so:
“Jack” as I name him here out of privacy is 46 and was actually born in Calgary AB, he graduated high school and spent 2 years at Queens University pursing Marketing and Communications before dropping out in 1989 to pursue a career in Real Estate in Toronto. It didn’t take him long to get his license to sell Real Estate.. things were coming together, he was a multiple national award winner for several years running with Remax, soon he was married and by age 28 had his first child.
His wife being American, they eventually made the move to South Florida where he became American and got re-licensed as a Realtor in Florida – this was around 1999 and the market had just began to pick up momentum.. he went from 2 sales a month to sometimes 6-7 sales / month, things were going so well that his wife became a licensed assistant and they started investing much of their earnings into continuously higher leverage rental condos. At their peak they owned 18 condos with rental incomes exceeding 20k / month on top of selling houses. Jack and family had dreams of ocean front property.
Jack explains how efficient local real estate boards and state boards were at monopolizing the control of information, sales numbers and other key point metrics that supported the exploding markets. Mortgage Brokers and Real Estate Brokers worked in the same offices and every migrant, retiree, family and investor that arrived to Florida were flagged immediately through their friends at the major banks. Conservative Republican policies during the Bush era made it even easier to get people into houses – mortgages were now becoming available to anyone that could walk in on their own two feet to a mortgage brokerage, NINJA (No Income, No Job, No Asset) loans were rampant.. the banks didn’t care, they were up to their own game themselves selling toxic mortgages to people without any form of verification and packaging the loans up and re-selling them as bulk asset backed investment products (This formed the eventual basis around which the 07/08 financial crisis was created). Jack explains that he was smart enough to see the fraud everywhere but was caught up in the momentum of it all.. every taxi driver, gardener, gas station attendant etc. were buying, flipping and renting – everyone was a real estate investor and the speculators, brokers and salesmen were enjoying life on the beach.
Jack and his family never imagined anything different.. until the empire that they helped created turned on them and threw them under the bus.
Everything came to a halt rapidly, Jack claims he saw the cracks appearing in spring 2007 about 6 months prior to the widespread panic that spread throughout the State as Wall St crumbled. At this point they owned 11 properties with 1 on in the midst of being renovated for another flip. They put 8 up for sale and eventually the other 3 as Jack claims he started to see more and more cracks appearing in the market. They managed to sell 5 for profit leaving them with 8, they made the decision to re-invest profits from the 5 sales into renovating the remaining 8 quickly in hope of increasing their competitiveness on the market. Jack laughs as he explains how during the fall of 2007 and shortly after vacating the renters and preparing for renovations he watched CNNs coverage of Lehman Brothers closing their mortgage entity BNC Mortgage.. behind the scenes the industry was already panicking and he was trying to stay as far ahead of the impending tsunami that he felt was fast approaching. But it was too late, the bank tried to re-call loans to his Real Estate investment business – money that had already been partially invested into uncompleted renovations on his remaining 8 properties.
The evaporation of liquidity was rampant, Jack likened it to the foundation under a house completely dissolving into thin air allowing everything on top of it to crumble and fall in a matter of seconds. Jacks creditors were relentless, real estate sales were now 0 / month and their cash flow had completely evaporated. They started missing mortgage payments, his business declared bankruptcy early on after failing to sell the 8 new renovated units. Without cash flow Jack and his wife resorted to progressively more and more desperate measures to save face – they had committed financial suicide by investing everything they had into the same assets, in addition neither of them had any formal skills nor training in anything else. Jack shares a well known saying amongst his friends – “what does a Real Estate agent do if they can’t sell houses? Drive a taxi!” Jack says his marriage quickly crumbled and his wife became more and more resentful for “leading” them both to complete failure half way through their lives. The divorce was quick and his wife had a family to take her and their kids in, Jack was now saddled with the failure of his business, loss of income and now loss of family and court ordered support payments which he simply did not have. Jack says he declared personal bankruptcy in 2010 and worked as a bar tender at the hotel that his former Broker owned – the same hotel he is sitting in telling me the story. Unlike Jack, his Broker fared much better than the rest of the 80 plus agents that once worked under him. Jack finishes by explaining how after a year as a bar tender and watching the market slowly recover he decided to resume selling under a discount brokerage which his former broker owns an interest in (The rave down here in South Florida). Being a discount brokerage they do not have offices etc to provide, luckily for Jack he is able to prospect and work his clients under the auspices of the Hilton brand while the owner turns a blind eye.
Jack now lives in an RV with a few other sales men including a BMW sales man (he points him out across the room). The RVs sit on property owned by the hotel where they live essentially rent free. Jacks decision to foolishly invest everything into one basket, his failure to really find any useful skills to use in life (plan B) and original mistake of dropping out of Queens in the first place he says ultimately ruined him. Bankruptcy took whatever else remained.
Jack says he is hoping to eventually move back to Canada.. he watches the markets closely north of the border and tells me that when he eventually manages to get back home the last door he will walk through is into the world of real estate – Jack is 100 percent certain that the bear is waking up in Canada, he has seen this story from start to finish already. Jack wants to start a boat / recreational storage business in Calgary.
Jack finishes the 3rd beer on my tab. He congratulates me on my career accomplishments – tells me to get my head out the real estate gutter and says with a smile on his face: The world is full of fools who buy the overpriced junk we are selling!
True story (as told by “Jack”) If you don’t believe me make a trip down to South Florida and see for yourself!
Good luck Jack!