The Real Estate Locker Room Show with John Carney
JC 010: How to Identify the Perfect Insurance Agent with John Mark Tichar
Announcer: Welcome to the real estate locker room show with John Carney. Did you know that investing in real estate is a team sport? Join John and his guests as they explore the intersection of the business of real estate and athletic competition. The goal for this show is to grant you direct access to the real estate pros that are closing profitable deals and growing their businesses. On the Real Estate Locker Room show, we are getting in the ring with successful investors, developers, operators, and all of the industry professionals to learn what it takes to achieve on-going success. Now it’s time to kick-off and level up, with new ways to grow your real estate business.
John Carney: Welcome back to “The Real Estate Locker Room Show.” I’m your host, John Carney, coming at you today from Cleveland, Ohio. Today on the line, we’ve got a great guest, John Mark Tichar. He is the Vice President, Real Estate Sales Leader and shareholder at the Oswald Company’s headquarters in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. So, this is a valuable team member we’re going to be talking to. We’re going to be talking about insurance: John Mark works on the high commercial end, multi-family and commercial projects.
John Mark graduated from John Carrol University in 2005 and began his working career for a real estate developer and contractor called Woodfield Homes, West of Chicago, in a town called Rockford, Illinois. There he managed a construction schedule and subcontractors of five to ten projects every six months, valued between three and five million.
John Mark also provided property management and asset management services to investment property. During his time with Woodfield Homes, John Mark spent his off time looking for his own investment properties and focused on distressed and foreclosed single-family homes in the Rockford area. His first two deals yielded 25K and 20K in equity respectively, while providing cash flow: positive cash flow. It was during his time on construction projects, managing investment property and eventually owning investment property, where John Mark found his passion and true calling for real estate development and real estate investing.
Prior to joining Oswald Companies, John Mark worked in financial services, both in insurance and wealth management, so he has a lot of experience there. And over the last seven years at the Oswald Companies, he’s had the opportunity to apply his real estate background skills to service the unique risk management and insurance needs of his clients, established real estate developers and investors.
Welcome to the show John Mark, and thank you for taking the time out of your day to share your story with our audience and join me. How are you doing today?
John Mark.: I’m doing great John, thanks for your time and thanks for the invitation to be on your show. I’m looking forward to it.
John Carney.: Perfect. Well let’s kick this off. I like to ask our guests a question to kind of get the conversation going. This is the Real Estate Locker Room Show, so we’re going to ask you a sports related question and tie that into the business of real estate. Growing up, was there one particular athlete that you admired? A professional athlete or an amateur athlete that you looked up to?
John Mark: There was. My first love in sports is baseball. I’ve played basketball and football as well, but baseball my first true love from a sports perspective. And I was a catcher basically my whole entire young career as a baseball player. Mike Piazza from the Los Angeles Badgers was my favorite player. A little-known fact about Mike Piazza is that he wasn’t even drafted into major-league baseball. He was identified outside of the draft by a scout and was invited to try out for a team. So he basically came up through the ranks of baseball to become one of the baseball greats. It’s just a great story of persistence and never giving up on your dreams. Those are some of the characteristics that I liked about Mike Piazza.
John Carney.: Looking back at that particular athlete, I remember Mike Piazza’s playing days. He really put catchers on the map, so to speak, especially in the national league. Was that story inspiring to you as a young athlete, looking up to Mike?
John Mark.: It was inspiring. He’s a guy that just did a great job. His job day-in and day-out was very consistent, and as I was growing up he was the catcher to emulate. He was just a great role model that I thought would be good for me to portray myself against and emulate to the best of my abilities.
John Carney.: We’re going to now jump over to the nuts and bolts in the real estate side. But I like to draw the comparison between the business of real estate and the business of the team aspect, and just go back to what we learned in our younger years competing on teams. Because it’s very much a team-driven industry, and you have insight into how commercial developers and property owners and operators work at a very high level, and you’re a valuable player on their team by offering the insurance solution, would you give us a little bit of the background on how you settled into that niche in the real estate game?
John Mark.: Yea, part of the bio that you read discusses my, or shows my early involvement right after college. As a college graduate, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do exactly after college, and I had started to read books in my spare time about business. One of the themes that kept on hitting me, just kind of in my gut, and just a thought that I could never shake, was real estate. At that time, I didn’t know what that meant or what that looked like, but it was just a concept that I thought really resonated with me.
And so, during my years working at Woodfield Homes, I learned a lot on the fly, through just consistent application: getting up out of bed and going to your job, and doing to the best of your abilities, and learning on the fly, and just through that time I really came to enjoy and loved the game of real estate. And after that, when I came to Oswald, in the insurance base, it’s just such a niche driven industry.
If you want to be very successful you’ve got to focus in on a niche. Or firm is the fiftieth largest insurance broker in the country, so we have a lot of niches in private equity, construction, manufacturing and whatnot. We didn’t have a big presence in real estate, so I just decided to put to use my experience, both with the job at Woodfield, managing investment property and then eventually owning my own investment property. The foundation I think of any real estate operation in the country really, is what I experienced, and understanding the fundamentals and the foundation of what those operations look like. I feel this has really set me apart against my peers. And basically, I would contribute my success to just getting out of bed every day and hustling for business. There’s no silver lining or silver bullet that I think puts people on the map right away. It takes time and consistent persistence. So it’s just the daily application of using the work ethic that I’ve been blessed with, and going out and developing relationships and being a trusted advisor, and just over time being able to win over clients based upon my attitude and the extra things that I bring to the table that’s different than my competitors.
John Carney.: So, showing up and consistency is what is driving your success at the moment. Do you look back at when you made a change? In your down time when you were working in your first job for the construction company, you could have sat around on the weekends and gone to baseball games and hung out with your friends, but you chose to go out and dig up properties, and then put in the time and energy and money, your own time energy and money, those three precious resources, into fixing up these homes and running them as a business. So, do you believe that that experience just helps you identify with your clients better, especially on the insurance side?
John Mark.: Absolutely. I think one is: I get respect from my clients, having known my background and the fact that I got my hands dirty and have actually gone through the act of real estate investing versus standing on the sidelines like maybe other advisors and talking about the philosophy of real estate and of investing and how it should look which is a lot different than getting your hands dirty and having done it.
Understanding the ups and downs of real estate investing and the cycles and the challenges that everybody faces on a daily basis is what really sets me apart.
It was really when I started managing my boss’s investment properties. It was a small company, Woodfield Homes, and I worked with the owner on a daily basis. I got the manager’s investment property, and I applied the financials to an Excel spreadsheet and just looked at projected expenses. I applied projected appreciation over a period of time, and the math was just a compounding effect and was just a powerful calculation for me. And it just really gave me a very deep impression, a very good impression of real estate. I think that was the visual that I needed to really have the lightbulb go off and say “I know I like this business, but now I get to see the power of real estate financially and what it can mean from a lifestyle perspective.” That really made me come to just really love the business.
John Carney: So, that’s a great experience early on, and it sounds like the principle of Woodfield Homes was there as a sounding board and a mentor, if I’m reading between the lines, is that correct?
John Mark.: Correct, yes. I mean, he basically had this investment property and I went out and it was sitting vacant, just because it wasn’t part of his core business. I saw an opportunity to collect an additional six or seven thousand bucks a month in rental income. It was a multi-family property. So in my hours working for him, I would hire his subcontractors, and we would go fix up this property and get it rented and then I would sign leases with the tenants; I would manage the cash flow and the expenses; I would handle tenant issues; any move outs I would get them re-leased, so it was just a very hands-on experience for me. I didn’t read a book about it, I didn’t go to class for it, but it was just an example, or an experience that was the best way for me to learn. That’s the best way for me to learn, is just by doing it on a daily basis. And every day you learn something new and you apply little nuggets of learning experiences, and you apply those going forward and slowly things continue to get better and better, and you get better at your job.
Your right, that was spot on. He was a great mentor, it was a great opportunity for me to even get into that, have that experience. So for that I’m grateful for his willingness to let me run with those projects.
John Carney: Yes, that’s a unique opportunity that, now that we’ve dug into it a little bit more, sounds like you created your own opportunity: you created the opportunity and ran with it. It wasn’t given, it was created. I love stories like that, it’s very entrepreneurial. What I’m interested in sharing with our listeners right now is that you have that story, and you mentioned it’s kind of a smaller scale investment property. You have the opportunity every week to meet with your clients who own much larger operations on the commercial side. Can you talk a little bit about the parallels you see between an investor starting out with a few small, single family homes or a multi-family, and scaling that into something large? And do you see the team players that the larger operators have as identical, similar, different? Could you give us a little bit of insight into what you’ve learned just by playing at such a high level?
John Mark.: Yes, I think you kind of hit it on the head there: the team is the same. The actions are the same and the only difference is the number of zeros after the comma. If it’s six zeros, or nine zeros, or twelve zeros or what have you, that’s the only difference. But the fundamentals of property management: tending to tenant needs; having an attorney draft up a solid lease agreement that promotes tenant flexibility throughout a term of the lease; working with a local banker, or if you’re a more sophisticated operator, working with friends and family and or other sources of equity and debt to achieve the financial results.
Having a good team around you: a property management team and contractors that you trust, that you know do quality work, that don’t cut corners and that you understand the costs up front, so that way you’re not looking at a job after the fact and racked up an extra ten thousand dollars in costs or what have you.
Working with an insurance advisor to help you understand the multitude of risks that you face on a daily basis. Some of which can be mitigated through daily best practices in your operations. Others tend to be much larger that you want to have financed by an insurance company.
And so, whether you’re starting on two properties or two hundred properties, you hear a lot of stories about people getting into it just all of a sudden acquiring 100 hundred over the course of a year, or stories like that, which I think is great. But the number doesn’t really matter, it’s the quality of the investment that matters, and it’s the quality of the team that you have around you. It’s the quality of your experiences that if you have those, that allows you to scale quicker and better. And you get through that learning curve quicker with a better team.
If you don’t have a good team around you, you’re going to be struggling with your experiences, wondering why you’re experiencing what you’re experiencing, without a good team.
And so, to your point: it’s a team sport, whether you’re just starting out with a trusted banker, like I said before, or trusted attorneys and contractors, or taking those resources and creating an in-house department encompassing all those various needs as a real estate investor. So, in my opinion, the difference is, as I’ve said it in the beginning, the number of zeros.
John Carney: And to get to the larger number of zeros, everyone starts somewhere. And the nice thing about this industry that I like, or the business of investing, is that it’s unlimited based on everybody’s personal motivation. Give us a brief summary of the importance of understanding your own risk profile, and then why having the right insurance agent who understands that risk profile is critical. I’ve had experiences where, early on in my investing career, insurance was a business expense, but it’s one that you always look to minimize, right. It’s very important but people always try to minimize that because it’s a business expense, it affects the bottom line. So, give us a little bit of professional advice on the best approach to insuring your real estate portfolio.
John Mark.: Yes, I’m certainly happy to do that. Let’s just be honest, insurance is not the most exciting topic to talk about, right? You don’t sit around the cocktail parties talking about your insurance agent or insurance policy. I totally understand that. But you’ve hit it right on, insurance is a line item in your operating budget, right? Just like legal is, and just like your interest rates are on your loans. You can argue the same thing from a lender perspective or your accountant or your attorney. But from the insurance side of things, I think the number one thing for an owner to do is to take the topic seriously, first off, and then secondly, shortly after that, is to really take the time to stop for a moment and think that these risks out there, that they could happen to you.
A lot of people sit back and say, “that’s never going to happen to me, that won’t happen to me.” I think a really true statistical investor will actually take the time to help you understand how that might happen to him or her and what they could do to mitigate that from even happening in the beginning. So, I think the best way to do that is to team up with an advisor who knows real estate.
When I started looking at houses in Rockford, Illinois, the first thing I asked my mortgage broker, or banker, as well as real estate agent is, “Have you worked in real estate before?” And the only key members that I chose to work with in those areas are people that have invested in real estate before. Whether they owned real estate at the time was irrelevant, but the fact that they actually took the time and invested their time and their money into real estate told me that I’m dealing with somebody who absolutely understands each step of the process. And so that should be the same thing with your insurance advisor.
Whether your insurance advisor invests as a private or silent investor in deals, or has a small portfolio on their own, I think you need to take time to interview them and understand their experience in real estate, because you’ll come across a lot of insurance agents that are generalists. They’ll walk into a manufacturing company and act like they know manufacturing, and they’ll turn around and walk into a non-profit and act like they know the intricacies of a health and human services organization, and then private equity, and so on. You just want to make sure that, while it’s understandable to have a diverse book of business, you want to make sure you’re working with someone who has the majority of their book in real estate. That way they can bring to you the information that is meaningful for you, and making you aware of things that you may not even be thinking of in the first place. Because you don’t know, and that’s the job of advisors, to inform people of what they don’t know, to better educate them on how to manage those risks going forward.
So I think, as an investor, capital is very intensive, a capital-intensive business. You’re constantly leveraging your dollars, so the financial risks that you take, and risks that might come about with your lenders, investors, financial loss to the organization, then you have your physical loss from the properties, with acts of god that just – wind and fire and hail and so on.
And then you have the operations risk of property management and tenant risk and understanding how the tenants are taking care of the property. And that boils down to your lease that you have with the tenant and ensuring that they’re carrying their own insurance that will indemnify you and protect you based upon their negligence. So, there’s a number of risks that an owner has, and has to manage on a daily basis.
And the insurance advisor just becomes much more valuable than just a broker. Somebody who’s going out into the insurance marketplace. You know, you fill out an application, you get a bunch of quotes, that’s not statistics. That’s not complex. It doesn’t really show any expertise, it just shows that you can go through a process. But then turning that information into business conversation, specific to real estate investing – that’s the piece where I think there’s true value of an insurance advisor.
So I would just encourage all the owners out there to work with an insurance advisor that is in the real estate investment business, and take it as seriously as you would your accountant. Because the last thing that you want to happen is a 50, 75, 100 thousand, one million dollar claim situation that is totally unforeseen, that kind of hits you out of nowhere. And you go to your insurance agent, they haven’t talked to you in two years, and you say, “Hey I got a claim.” And they say, “Hey, it’s not covered.” Then you have a bigger problem than you would have originally. So, that’s just my perspective when it comes to insurance and it doesn’t have to be time consuming, you don’t have to spend hours and hours and hours on it. You have to find the right person who can understand and be that advisor.
John Carney: John Mark, that’s great. That’s a great summary of why investors need to put some time and effort into sourcing the right insurance provider and advisor for their team. Important stuff. Alright, before we wrap this up, I’ve got a couple more questions for you, we’re kind of getting down to our two-minute drill here at the end. You’re a motivated, hard-charging person, and you manage to get a lot done with the same 24 hours we all have. Are you a big reader? Are there any books on business, or books on sports that you’ve read that you’d refer people to?
John Mark.: Yes, I think a couple of books come to mind that I have read in the past. I mean, I think we all know the book ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ is a popular book that people mention. But there’s a couple other books.
‘The Millionaire Next Door’ is a great book, it just talks about daily application of financial discipline and the notion of cutting up your credit cards; that’s kind of an extreme example, but it’s applying due discipline to your financial situation and ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ is a great example of that.
Another great book that I really like, that really resonated with me (I kind of view myself as an underdog in a way) is a book called ‘Talent is Overrated’, I think Jeffrey Colban is the author. He mentions Tiger Woods in his book. About how, in order to be the best at your game, it takes time in that arena. So, in Tiger Woods’ situation, really quick, he racked up more hours by the time he was ten years old than most golfers racked up by the time they were 23 or 24. And that allowed him to be that much more dominant in the field, because at the age of ten or twelve, he was light years ahead of everybody else. In part because of his dad and then just his personal drive. So there’s a lot of ways to make up for talent and the book called ‘Talent is Overrated’ is I think just a great read.
John Carney: Thanks for sharing those, I haven’t read either one of those. I’m an avid reader, and I’m compiling a list, especially through talking to all the guests that I’m very fortunate to interview on this show. So, that will be included on the show notes of my website.
John Mark.: Nice.
John Carney: Is there anything that you do: a daily habit or a practice that allows you to train to be successful in your business and in your life, that you can share with our audience?
John Mark.: Yes, a couple of things. I have to be able to work out at some point during the week, or on a somewhat consistent basis. I think with the pressures of business, and the high-pressure sales environment that I work in, you want to have broad shoulders and you have big goals ahead of you that the company depends on you for. And so you’ve got to be able to de-stress, think through the day, process the day and just get it all out, so that way when you start the day the next morning, you’re kind of starting it somewhat from a fresh perspective.
And then I’m actually an introvert. So the way I recover and reenergize is by actually being by myself and just taking a few minutes to sit and process my day. I’m a scotch guy and a bourbon guy, so I’ll have a glass of that and maybe write in a journal of some kind and just reflect. The other tip is just to duplicate my successes, but more importantly, learn from my failures going forward.
John Carney: Thank you for sharing that. That’s good, sound advice for everybody who’s working on journaling, or a little bit of quiet time to meditate or reflect on the day. Well thank you for joining me in the Locker Room today John Mark. Where can the audience find you to carry on the conversation? Tell us a little bit of where you live online.
John Mark.: Actually I’m not a big Facebook person, although if you go on my profile there’s some pictures that I posted of me and my girlfriend recently. But I don’t spend time commenting on other people’s posts or looking at the feed there. I am active on LinkedIn and my full name is John Mark Tichar. So you can look me up on LinkedIn. You can also shoot me an email at email@example.com. I would be happy to connect with folks and network if anybody is interested.
John Carney: Alright, there you have it folks. I truly hope that you picked up some actionable advice regarding insurance for real estate from John Mark Tichar. Make sure to check out the Real Estate Locker Room Show on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play and hit that subscribe button to ensure that you never miss out on all the pro-tips from our guests.
The mission here is to help you elevate your real estate game. And if you like what this show is all about, I’d be really grateful if you would leave us a five-star review on iTunes or your preferred podcast platform, wherever you get your podcast every week, so that other like-minded real estate investors just like yourself will be able to find us easily. The post-game report show-notes, links and additional content related to today’s episode will be available on my website: johncarneyonline.com/podcast, and while you’re there, feel free to drop your email into the newsletter signup form so that you can receive the monthly newsletter and other tips, tricks, hacks and good stuff related to the business of real estate. Remember to stay focused on your goals, have fun and stay in the game. I’m your host John Carney and until next week, work hard, play hard and profit hard. Thanks again for joining us again John Mark.
John Mark.: John Carney it was a pleasure thanks for having me.
John Carney: Perfect take care, thank you.