In many ways, the real goal of getting into real estate is to get out of it somehow. Seventeen years and 1000+ flips later, San Antonio TX flip goddess, Melissa Johnson is desirous to move her life in a different direction. Make no mistake though; this goddess is still going to rock the real estate investing world. In this conversation with Monick Halm, Melissa shares her continuing passion for real estate and her new thrust in helping other female investors and entrepreneurs achieve the success that they want and deserve. In all her years in real estate, Melissa has accumulated valuable lessons in work-life balance, delegating tasks, hiring team members and more, which she also shares in this episode.
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Beyond Flipping: REI Wisdom From 1000+ Flip Goddess, Melissa Johnson
I am super excited to have with me Melissa Johnson, who has been crushing it in a lot of areas of real estate, especially flipping. She’s been flipping houses in San Antonio, Texas since 2003 and has done over 1,000 house flips, which is incredible. Anybody interested in flipping, pay close attention. She knows what she’s doing. She also has built a portfolio of rental properties and real estate notes. She wholesales too. All of this while raising five children. She provides coaching, support education for other high-level real estate investors nationwide. She’s the Cofounder of the San Antonio InvestHer Meetup group and an active member of the Forbes Council on Real Estate and the National Association of Women Business Owners. I love that she has a heart to help other women. We share that mission. She’s a soul sister. She’s dedicated to the success and empowerment of women in real estate and in business. I’m thrilled to have her. Welcome, Melissa.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited.
I’m excited to have you. You have been in the game since 2003. How did you get started in real estate investing?
A short story. I was working in a cubicle job. It was pretty boring stuff. I liked the people that I worked with, but it was very corporate. I worked for a defense contractor and the person I was dating at the time who I later ended up marrying, his father was doing real estate. We started talking about it and he was talking about how great it was seeing his dad having this amazing lifestyle, traveling around his RV and having all these doors and all this stuff. It got me excited about it because I’d never been like an entrepreneur. It was in there somewhere, but because of the way I was raised and everything, I never tapped into that. When we decided to do it, it was like an adventure and it was about the lifestyle and the freedom that could provide for us. That’s how I got started with all that, being fired up by other people and seeing with my own eyes what that life could be like. It was very motivating.
What was the first deal that you did?
The first deal, we got it from a mailer. We had these crappy postcards that had these dollar signs falling from the sky and the lady called us from it and we went and checked it out and everything. It turned out it was a burnt house. It had been on fire and instead of the people taking the insurance money and fixing it up, they bought another house and moved away. The house had been sitting vacant for a while with all this fire damage. There was like a whole bunch of stuff with it. I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember they lost the deed and all these other stuffs and then attorneys had to get involved. We ended up flipping the deed is what it was. We flipped the piece of paper on it because he wanted to buy it, fix it up and whatever. It was like all the difficult things at one time. We learned a ton from that, but it was very challenging for a first deal. We were all excited. We’re going to buy this house, we’re going to fix it up and it’s going to be so cute and everything. It’s like, “We’re not going to do that, but we made $15,000,” or whatever it was on it. After that, I was hooked.
You essentially wholesaled that deal and made a nice profit. That’s awesome. What was your first flip when you did a flip?
Our first flip, it was another burnt out house. I remember that was Kentucky Avenue and we got this house, it had fire damage too, and we rehabbed it, fixed it up and sold it. I will never forget selling that first flip. It was crazy going through that whole process in and of itself. A fire damaged house having to find a contractor or making sure permits were right. Safety issues were addressed. When we sold it, when we got the check, I was like, “This was my entire salary for a year at what I was making at the cubicle job. This is awesome. Why am I still in the cubicle?” When you’re not used to that. When you’re used to getting a paycheck, your paycheck every two weeks is like $1,200 or $1,500 or whatever for me at the time was. You get a check for $35,000, it was like, “This is awesome.”Learn to let go. Trust your team to do handle stuff for you. Click To Tweet
Now, 1,000-plus flips later, what’s your current focus? What’s your current investment strategy?
I’ve backed off the flips. I love doing flips. I love doing the transformation. I’m a creative person. I’m also an artist. That part, I love and enjoy, but it is very time-intensive. Time’s at a premium, especially right now. Kids are home and now with school starting and homeschooling kids and all that crazy stuff, I’ve put flipping to the back burner and focus more on wholesaling. Also, I went through a divorce and so I ended up losing a lot of properties that I had for passive income, like rentals and notes and things that I created over the years. I’m looking to replace a lot of that passive income too. I’m focused on that. I launched a coaching program for female entrepreneurs. In any business, it doesn’t have to be real estate, and focusing on that right now, taking all that and being able to help others has been satisfying things to do lately.
We had flipped at the beginning of our career, but it’s a job. It’s very active and I’m much more about the passive income streams.
It changes as you get older. Your goals and stuff change. Now, I’m looking more towards the future. I don’t want to keep doing this forever. Eventually, I would like to retire, rest, sit back and get my rent payments and my interest payments.
Flipping and wholesaling are great to get you the chunks of money that you can then put into the long-term stuff.
That’s where I’m heading right now.
I want to ask you a question that I ask all my guests and this is my favorite question because I feel like we get the most gold on this one. What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but we all do. That’s the thing. We make mistakes and then we learn from them. I can think of several things, but probably right now, one of my biggest mistakes has been I would say letting my personal life get too crazy to where it was making it hard for me to concentrate on my business. That’s a danger when you’re going through things personally, and this is in the past, it affects all aspects of your life and especially if you’re a business owner. That was a big thing for me. The thing that I learned from that was that I can have those things separated and I need to be aware of when it’s happening when I’m losing focus. That’s been a difficult thing for me.
Another thing too, a big one for me was just realizing where you’re strong and where you’re weak. We have a tendency, especially as women, we want to do everything and we think we can and that we should be able to handle everything. I held onto a lot of things for a lot longer than I should have instead of delegating them. It is something that I learned a lot from and I became a master at delegating. That definitely was a big lesson. Being able to hire the right people to do the things that I’m not good at. Just because you can do certain things, that doesn’t mean that you should be doing them.
As an example, I was doing all the bookkeeping forever for our business because I have a background in that, but that isn’t where I should be spending my time. That was a big lesson learned like, “You’ve got to start letting things go. You’ve got to trust the people on your team. You’ve got to trust the people that you hire or delegate to, to be able to handle the stuff and what the right systems and processes, trusting that they can follow those and that it’s going to be okay.” That was a big thing for me.
Those are both huge realizations. With regards to doing the things and knowing where you’re strongest and where you’re not so strong and delegating, that’s definitely something that I’ve been focused on. I’m trying to stay as much as possible in my zone of genius and then hiring people who are in their zones of genius to do that work that’s not in my zone of genius. Having them do what they’re awesome at and what I’m not so great at. Even if I’m okay at it, it’s much better that I focus on the things where I’m great and they’re great and let them do the work.
It’s tough letting things go too, especially when you build something. When you build a business and it’s your baby and then you’re trusting somebody else to handle your baby for you.
You still have to oversee it. That’s another mistake I learned. You can’t delegate and go, “Take care of it. Goodbye.” I learned that the hard way as well. You have to still keep your eyes on it. Trust, but verify. What are you most proud of?
What I’m most proud of is being able to take what we had and grow it. When we started, it was the two of us at the time, we operated that way for probably thirteen years. It was a long time just the two of us. We didn’t have anybody. We did everything. We took all the calls. We managed all the projects. I managed all the notes, the rentals, the bookkeeping, the projects, the marketing. We did all that, just the two of us. It was a lot. When we started a software company, so my husband at the time, we decided, “You go start that, get that going. I’ll keep the flipping business going.” It was a great time for me to step in as the leader of that company and grow it. Hiring people, growing a team, learning how to do all that. Before, I had never been a manager at any of my jobs, I was never a supervisor, I was never a leader or anything like that. There was a ton of learning involved in that, but I was up for it and grew it into an eight-figure business. I was proud of that. I did that. I hire these people and we did a lot of good deals that were very profitable without a lot of stress and strain.
To what do you attribute your success?
I attribute my success to the people around me. I know that I could not have done any of that stuff by myself. I hand it to my team, the people that were working with me to be able to do all that.
It’s a team sport, but you built that team.
I always look at it as a, “We did this thing.” There’s no way I could have handled all that by myself.Hire for fit and culture first before anything else. Click To Tweet
What advice do you have for building a successful team?
The first thing, I would say if you’re looking to hire people or bring people into your organization, hire for fit and culture first above anything else. That was a hard lesson I learned. I had tried to hire people initially because I didn’t know any better. I’d never been a manager or a leader or anything, so I had no frame of reference. I didn’t know. It was like, “We need to plug somebody in the spot.” I ended up hiring all these cogs in the wheel people for a while and it never worked out. We sat down and took the time to go through and dig into what are our core values, what is our mission and what are our goals at a much higher level than it had been with me and my husband at that time. Before, it was all about what he and I wanted, but now there was a team and we were trying to build it into an actual company. That’s more people involved, more input and things like that.
Figuring out what all those things were, what are our core values, what is our mission and stuff, but then plugging people in that fit into that was important. I’m honest with people when I hire them. It’s like, “Here’s where we’re at. Here’s where we want to be. This is our culture.” It’s like you’re reading people like, “Are you comfortable here? If I drop a curse word, what are you going to be like? Are you okay with that? Sometimes I have a potty mouth.” I do these like snarky things in my office. I’m not a mean person, but I enjoy that humor. If you aren’t down with that, then maybe you shouldn’t be working here.
I don’t want people who are easily offended. We have a very open culture talking about things and I always want input from people. That’s another big thing when you’re hiring is to hire people and letting them know that you want their input. They’re part of that team. Don’t be afraid to come to me with a suggestion to make something better or a different way to do something. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, if I don’t want to do that, I’ll tell you why, because maybe it’s something we did in the past and it didn’t work for this reason. Open, good communication and hiring people that are willing to be that way or who are already that way is big. A cog in the wheel does not work.
It’s also great that you created a culture where that’s okay because in a lot of cultures, that’s not welcome. What do you wish you’d known at the beginning that you now know?
I would have to say I wish I would’ve known, one, that it’s okay to ask for help, and two, probably how to delegate. We went way too long trying to do too much ourselves. It created a situation where our lives completely revolved around the business instead of the other way around. Now my focus is I want a lifestyle business. I want to be able to work when I want to, to travel, to be with my kids. That’s what’s important to me and I served that rather than having my whole life revolve around running this business that drains me of all joy in life.
That’s the whole point. Ultimately doing real estate and getting yourself financial freedom so you can be free and have a lifestyle you desire as opposed to being a slave to a business.
I was that way for a very long time and it’s like, “I’m getting tired and burned out and getting old. I got a whole lot of kids and a lot of things happening here. I need a break.” I wish I would have hired people a lot sooner or made that move to take things off my plate a lot sooner than I did.
It is time for our famed end of show Trinity, which is a brag, a gratitude, and a desire. Before we do that, what is the best way for people to connect with you and find out more about what you do.
I have a website. It’s TheMelissaJohnson.com. There’s info there about who I am and what I’m doing. I’m also on LinkedIn and Facebook as Melissa McRay Johnson. I don’t know why that’s on there like that. People always keep putting me like that and it’s like, “That’s my name, but I don’t ever go by that. It’s just Melissa Johnson.” My Facebook business page is @MelissaJohnsonREI. People can go there. On Instagram, @MelissaJohnson8 is where I’m putting out a lot of content, things about how to grow your business if you’re an entrepreneur, things to watch out for, personal development. There’s a lot of that stuff on there.
Now it is time for our famed end of show Trinity. What is your brag? What’s one thing you’re celebrating?
My brag is launching the E3 coaching program. That’s the three E’s, to Encourage, Educate and Empower female entrepreneurs. I’m very excited about that. I’ll be launching a challenge with that soon on Facebook.
What is one thing you’re grateful for?
I am grateful for a lot of things, but right now, because of the season of my life that I’m in, I’m most grateful for the love and support and the friendships that I have in my life right now. I feel like I’m surrounded by very supportive people in my network that are the best women. I have met so many amazing women like you and all these other great women that I’ve been talking to. It’s like you need that. I need that right now. It’s been great.
Last but not least, what’s one desire?
If I have one desire, it would be to be able to reach women. I would love for women to feel more empowered, to make decisions on their own. I’ve been talking to a lot of women with coaching and stuff, and there’s this fear almost of making a decision about doing something and there’s all this other like, “I have to talk to my husband about this,” which I understand. That’s a respect thing. I’m not dogging on that at all. Having the courage to make a decision to make a change for yourself and not worry about what anybody else thinks or anybody else’s approval or anything like that. For women to feel empowered to do those things, there are a lot of women out there that want to take the next step but are afraid to, and maybe they don’t feel supported doing that. I would love for that feeling to go out and that’s why I do what I do because I want to create a ripple effect. I want to empower and help somebody so that they’ll go out and do that for somebody else and keep that going. It’s so important. I’m raising four daughters. That is something that I’m very invested in. All my girls are power women.
So shall your desire be or so much better than you can imagine under grace and imperfect ways. Thank you so much, Melissa, for being on the show. You can connect with her at TheMelissaJohnson.com. You can connect with me at REIGoddesses.com or @REIGoddess on all the social, but definitely go on the website and find out more about our events. Get free training on how to get started in real estate investing, even as a busy professional woman. You can download a copy of my new book, Investing in Real Estate from $1 To $1 Million: Investing Strategies for Every Budget and Every Goddess. There are a lot of goodies there. Definitely check out REIGoddesses.com and subscribe to the podcast, share with all your friends and join us next time for another real estate investor goddess interview.
- Melissa Johnson
- San Antonio InvestHer Meetup
- LinkedIn – Melissa McRay-Johnson
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