Automating Your Real Estate Business

Automating Your Real Estate Business

Episode 17:

Mark J. Podolsky (AKA The Land Geek) is widely considered the Country’s most trusted and foremost authority on buying and selling raw, undeveloped land within the United States.

He has been actively investing in Real Estate and Raw Land since 2001, and has completed over 5,200 unique transactions. Mark’s company, Frontier Equity Properties, LLC, is an A+ rated BBB real estate company.

Mark has achieved this level of success largely due to his core business philosophy – “Happy Customers Guaranteed.”

Mark is the host of one of the top rated podcast in the Investing Category on iTunes aptly title The Best Passive Income Model. He is also the host of the Land Geek Podcast- Work Smart. Earn More. Learn How.

Mark, welcome to the podcast, buddy.

Chris Prefontaine. I'm so happy to be here. Thank you.

Well, I'm psyched to have you on. I made a note, nothing to do with the questions I wanted to ask you. In 1991, I actually had listened to an Earl Nightingale tape, I don't know if you remember him.

Sure, of course.

Earl talked about a gentleman in the depression that went around and stuck hand-written signs on people's lawns because no one had any money and no one would finance land. He would put the sign out, pre-sell it and collect the difference. I went off and started talking to landowners and putting “To Be Built” signs in their yard. They went around building homes on the vendors dime, and the landowner would wait for their money. That's how I got started in my real estate days. That's interesting that you're all about land. I love talking about land.

That's crazy. My land model is a little different, but it's really. It's really fun.

I would think it'd be different than that. Mark, do this then. I wanted the listeners to get to know because, again, I love talking about land and every aspect of it. Take us behind the green curtain, if you will, and give us some context of them as far as the when, how, and why you got started in this whole land deal.

Right. I started off as a very unhappy, pretty miserable investment banker. I was working with private equity groups doing mergers and acquisitions for middle-market companies, typically $5 million to $500 million, so nothing too crazy. I had a 45-minute commute to work and back. I was micromanaged. I had no control. I worked long hours. It was high pressure. I would get the Sunday blues anticipating Monday coming around. I'd get the Friday blues anticipating the weekend going by really fast and having to be back at work on Monday. So my firm hires this guy and he's telling me that on the side he's going to tax deed auctions, he's buying up raw land, and he's flipping it online for a 300% return on his investment.

So, Chris, I'm looking at companies all day long, and a great company, a great company, has 15% evened out margins, or free cash flow. That’s a great company. Your average company is at 10%. I look at companies all day long less than 10%. I'm from St. Louis, Missouri. I don't believe him. I'm the Show-Me State. So we go to New Mexico together. I've got $3,000 saved up for car repairs. That's all I've got and he says these properties are really cheap. There's no one in the room, it's $2,000, and I buy up 10 half-acre parcels in New Mexico at an average of $300 each. I do exactly what he says, I put them up online, they sell for an average of over $1200 each. 300%. He was right.

I take all that money, I go to another tax deed auction. Again, there's no one in the room. I start buying up all these properties pennies on the dollar. I do the exact same thing. The next six months, I made over $90,000. I go to my wife, I'm like, “Honey, I'm going to quit my job and I'm going to invest in land full time.” And she says, “Absolutely not.” She's pregnant at the time. So I said, “Fine, fine.” I started my land investing business on the side and I quit my job 18 months later once the land investing income exceeded the investment banking income, and I've been doing it full time ever since.

That's awesome. I always love the foray into the business from all the people we have on. For the people out there listening, Mark, many people are looking out for a plan B.  I'm curious, when your wife said, “No, no, no, no, no,” did you have a number you said, “Okay, I gotta hit exactly my yearly amount.” What was your safety transition if you will?

I really felt comfortable at about $200,000 a year to quit, because I'm kind of a conservative guy. I thought, “Well, if all goes to hell, I can save half of that.” We can live on half, I can save half, and we'd be okay while I figured out what else to do. Because I didn't really know how long the land investment business would last. Part of me was like, “This is just a lark.” Eventually competitions going to come in, the margins are going to shrink. This can't last very long. Well, it has. It turns out I didn't realize how big the market was and how few people were doing it. I was just always very conservative in that way.

I love it. I love it. In the big picture … do you stick to land?

I only stick to land. What's that cliché? I'm an inch wide and a mile deep.

I love it. I love it. So now they have kind of a background, and I think you answered some of this, but what would you say comes natural to you in business in general? Because maybe that answers a lot more of why you made the transition, too. I don't know.

As far as business, I've always loved selling and loved sales. That part has always come naturally to me. I love transferring my enthusiasm for whatever I'm doing to somebody else and watching them take that enthusiasm and run with it. That part kind of came natural to me. The analysis part I've always loved. I loved looking at a P&L and doing a recast of earnings and seeing this is really the earnings. What are really the earnings? And kind of solving that puzzle, if you will, and looking at cash flow statements. Some people are like as soon as you state numbers their eyes get real sleepy, but for me it's always like what's the real number here? That part was always kind of fun to me, as well.

Well, it's a cool statement to the niche you're in is that you are a numbers guy and obviously the things gotta work and it's gotta work at a high, high level return-wise. You already brought that up. Again, huge confirmation what the potential is in the business. You mentioned watching people grow and teaching people what we do, I gotta say the biggest confusion for some of the people when they call us, I'm sure you get this, “Why the heck are you teaching? Why don't you go out and do deals? What happened?” And I'll say it again on this publicly, look, if we do it right — and I'm sure you'd agree with this and I want to know your opinion honestly — if we do it right and we build our business like a business not a job, what the heck would I do for five days? That's what I tell them. I love doing what you said. I love teaching people, doing deals and seeing them grow. It's incredible. I don't know if you share that opinion, but I'm assuming you have your business dialed in pretty good where you're not working 80 hours.

Well, I work two hours a week.

Source: pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

[bctt tweet=”“I only work two hours a week.” – @thelandgeek”]

That's awesome.

And I joke to my wife, I'm like, “I'm going to write the two-hour work week and be like Tim Ferriss.” It's 90% automated with software now, and so really I'm just doing a little bit of managing and looking at reports. It's just kind of a machine.

And yeah, I feel the exact same way. My land investment business really helped five people: myself, my wife, and my three kids. I never got like a thank you note from a land investing customer saying how the land investment changed their life, but the people that I've taught that have been able to retire their spouse, they were able to quit their job, they're able to travel the world because you're able to do this model from anywhere in the world. Like you, Chris, I can die today and feel like, “Okay, I've made my impact on the world.” I've changed enough people's lives where I feel really good about that. That is really the most gratifying.

Now, there is the practical side of it like if everyone's doing it, won't you create your own competition? The answer, I think, is no. There's billions of acres of land. There's very few people doing this. It's not sexy. Nothing is easy. It might be a simple model, but it's not easy so not everyone is going to do it anyways. You have to have an abundance mentality. There's enough for everybody. You, me, a billion people could start doing businesses, investing, whatever it is, and we'd all be just fine. There's plenty for everybody.

I agree. We work with some what we call joint venture partners around the country and recently this week someone — I think they're three hours from me — said, “Do you think that's a problem?” I said, “You could be in my backyard and we probably won't run into each other. There's plenty of business. Don't worry about it. If we trip over each other, you'll get an extra deal from me. Don't get caught up in it.” Abundance. I know. On that note, you do work with a whole bunch of students, a whole bunch of investors as clients, some are sure super experienced, I'm sure some as green as green could be. What do you see as the biggest obstacle, Mark, to someone doing this particular niche, if there are some that you can think of?

I think the biggest obstacle is them getting out of their own way. I really think that's just with any business. My business has some unique obstacles. It might be county research or figuring out the comparable sales or scrubbing a list, those types of things. I can walk you through my mode, but, essentially, there's going to come a point a time in any good business, you're going to get kicked in the teeth and at that point you gotta make a decision am I going to get up or am I going to stay down on the mat. You've gotta love it enough or you gotta have enough faith, or you gotta persist through those times when it's hard. For whatever reason, we always try to avoid the things that are uncomfortable. It's very weird. We all know what to do. We all know how to do it. It's the actually execution of it that's so hard because our brains don't want us to be uncomfortable. We don't want to go outside our comfort zones. And, unfortunately, in business, you have to do that if you're going to grow.

Source: Dev Dodia on Unsplash

[bctt tweet=”“Get out of your own way.” – @thelandgeek”]

Absolutely. You talk about getting kicked in the teeth, my opening in my book, which I think shocked my wife, was when I got kicked in the teeth, to use your words. I know every single person I've had on here — and I'm sure you too with your podcast — have made mistakes along the way. But also those successful kind of standouts don't allow the getting kicked in the teeth or even a big, big getting kicked in the teeth define who they are and typically jump back in the trenches and come up smelling even better. Is there a time when you kind of got kicked in the teeth that you want to share with us?

Yeah, absolutely. I probably get kicked in the teeth daily in some way. One of my worst deals was this deal in Treasure Lake, Pennsylvania. I negotiated with this Property Owners Association in the county for about three years. I'm flying back and forth. It's an overdeveloped community. It's gated. They've got two PGA-rated golf courses. They have three lakes. There's million dollar homes in there. It's beautiful, but they've got 1,000 lots that are just sitting vacant and no one's paying the POA fees, they're not paying the taxes.

So I go to the county, I said, “Look, I'm going to do a workout with you. Give me the lots. Just give them to me. And while I own the lots, I don't pay POA fees, I don't pay taxes, and I'm going to sell them for you because I'm good at this.” For three years there's a lot of fear. “Who are these people that are going to come here?” The locals are like, “Oh my gosh, we're not going to get a tee time. We're going to have to wait in line at the post office. This is going to be terrible.” Finally, I convince them. I'm like, “Look, you got all this dead money. Let me make it live.”

Now it's 2007, I get the deal and I buy 1,000 lots for $50 each. In the first year I made about $100,000 in the deal, but then 2008 rolls around and I'm stuck with all these lots. I have, for the first time, egg on my face because I couldn't fulfill my promise to the county and I couldn't fulfill my promise to the POA that I'm going to sell these lots. If I just had a mentor and an extra set of eyes on this that would say, “Hey, Mark. Don't take down all 1,000 lots. Why don't you just take 10 at a time each month and as they sell, you buy 10 more. You do a take down deal.” I went, “Oh, that would have made sense.” So it was a very humbling experience.

Source: Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

[bctt tweet=”“If I had a mentor, I would have seen that it didn’t make sense to take on so much risk.” – @thelandgeek”]

After that, I have a mentor and mastermind groups and I'm always kind of learning or curious. Until then I thought, “Oh, I'm the smartest guy in the room.” Anyone could have made money in real estate from 2001 to 2007, right? It wasn't me. I wasn't real smart, I just got lucky. It was quite a blessing to have that happen.

I echo that. I echo that loudly because of my own situation which I remember like it was yesterday. It was February of 2008, but I'll let the people grab my book and dive into that. They'll have a fun read to say the least.

You mentioned mentors and then that one little lesson. We could both sit here for an hour, and say, “If I didn't have a mentor, here's what it would have a cost me. If I didn't have a mentor, here's what it would have cost me.” And then take it to the next level, all the mistakes in the learning you and I have gone through — I call them expensive seminars — that we can share with our students. I mean, how valuable do you think that is? I just think you can't put a number on it, I don't think.

You can't put a number on it. It's so silly. You know it's the beauty of reading. I can read “Angela's Ashes,” and I don't have to experience abject poverty to understand what that's like. I can read the book. If I can just follow exactly what you've done and learn from your mistakes, I don't have to make the same mistakes. Why should I do that? I'll just smart cut it. It's the easiest, simplest thing in the world to do, and yet, again, I think it comes down to abundance mentality or just having that faith in yourself that the best investment I can make is in myself. If Chris and Mark can do it, I can do it.

I was taking some notes literally before I jumped on this interview with you for my upcoming event and I just made a note to myself. I don't know how I'll speak about it and some of the students will hear this, and that is — going through my list — the people who have spent the most on mentoring and coaching and immersed themselves in it in the most aggressive way, they're the top people cranking $300,000 to $400,000 in their first year with us. This mentoring thing, we could spend so much time on, but I just encourage everyone to make sure they visit the show notes for your information when they get done with this. Because if you want to go ahead and be the best, best, best, best, best, best at land, well then go to the best in land. It's very simple. You and I say it's simple, but hopefully everybody will latch onto that and have some phenomenal success with you.

Speaking of that, let's assume the student gets out of their way, the student latches on to your shirttail and says, “Great, let's do this.” They get through the initial whatever that may be for your programs. What does that mean if they say. “Great, Mark. Now I want to ramp this up. I want to bring things to the next level.” What does that typically look like for them if there is, again, such a level in your business?

Yeah. The next level is more offers and having a virtual assistant team and doing exactly what I'm doing. It doesn't matter the human being that's working each phase of this business from county research to due diligence to marketing and closing and creating the contracts. It's how strong is your system. Luckily, we've solved a lot of this with our software because our software automates so much of the business on the front end and the back end. And there's a way to automate your Craig's List postings, your Facebook posting. So a lot of it's solved with these geeky tools. Again, there's never been a better time in history to be an entrepreneur with all the tech tools. That's really all it is. If you want to get bigger, you just have to have that infrastructure in place to handle the additional deal flow and just make more offers. It's literally a numbers game.

Yeah, I agree. Similar to ours, obviously. Almost everything in real estate. So basically scaling with the right system, and again that goes back to the mentor thing. You have the system that works, plug in. It's kind of if A then B, if B then C. It's not vague or ambiguous.

It only took me four years to figure it out.

I hear you. Same with us. Well, 26 years I could say. If you could help the listeners — on this conversation here with land — avoid maybe the more expensive mistakes besides that we mentioned, getting out of their way, having a mentor, etc, is there something else that it would be and if you could maybe share with them to help them avoid it?

Yeah, absolutely. One of the biggest mistakes we see people making, and I actually have an e-book on avoiding land buying mistakes, but one of the big ones is just confirming that your seller actually even owns the property. Don't take their word for it. You gotta do your due diligence. You have to follow the chain of title, make sure they actually own the property.

Source: Helloquence on Unsplash

[bctt tweet=”“Confirm your seller actually owns the property. Not doing this is a big mistake.” – @thelandgeek”]

That's pretty simple, but I could see a newbie missing it.

Yeah, you see a newbie missing it. Also, do they own back taxes? How much back taxes are owed? Because if they owe a lot of back taxes, then that's going to destroy your margin or you have to renegotiate that deal. For example, I offer you $1,000 for your property, Chris. You're like, “Great, $1,000.” I start doing due diligence, you owe $500 in back taxes. I have to come back to you and say, “Look, the most I can pay you is $500.”

Yup. I love it. Predictable, right? Predictability and a little bit of lessons learned. Speaking of takeaways, by the way, you had mentioned to me that you've got one of your giveaways and I'm going to throw it in the show notes, but you reminded me when you were talking there, can you mention the Passive Income Launch Kit so they understand what that is when they see the show notes?

Yeah. The Passive Income Launch Kit is just going to be a very detailed walk through of our business model. It'll kind of show you step-by-step exactly how to run the business, and then we have a bunch of videos as well. Some roundtable podcasts, as well. Listening to students and their journeys so you can avoid the mistakes they made and hear how they went through it, as well. It really gives you a full 360 degree view of the land business.

I love it. I appreciate that. For the listeners, I'll mention it when we close out, but make sure you go to the show notes. Mark, since 2001 obviously some serious years with a nice debacle right in the middle as we just both alluded to, obviously you talked about getting kicked in the teeth. You've had some huge successes or you wouldn't be here. What do you consider to be one of your bigger ones?

Well, I made $5 million in one deal in Nevada. That was a big one.

I'd say that's slightly big.

That was nice. I started buying up sections of land from the railroad and took those 640-acre sections. I subdivided them into 40's and, again, Mark wasn't that smart, just the timing of it. I was buying those in 2003 and selling them off. There was such a lust for these 40's. Every year the prices kept going up and up and up. It was insane.

Well, here's a question for the listeners. It begs this question. If Mark on his bigger one did $5 million, do you think perhaps maybe you could get a deal or two out of Mark's system in the next year or so that would make a big dent in your pocket book? Just food for thought with those kind of lessons and that kind of track record.

Mark, let's switch gears if we can and kind of dive into more of the entrepreneurial individual mode. Tell us two, three, maybe four, whatever you have in mind, productive things that you personally do every day to be the very best in your niche? And/or you might have some personal things that you do in there that you know are super important that you repeat all the time.

My wife will tell you I'm OCD. I'll tell you I'm disciplined, Chris. I have a very disciplined morning ritual. I've got three kids, so I like to take them to school and I like to hang out with them in the morning, so I get up early. Usually I get up at 5:30-6. The first thing I do is basically I get into my office and I do my workout. I workout and I workout really hard. I do a high intensity workout. And during my cool down, because I'm kind of sweaty, I meditate using Headspace for 20 minutes. Then I sit down and I journal for about five minutes. I do a gratitude journal every morning, the things I'm grateful for and what's going to make the day great. I write down if I can just accomplish these three things, it's going to make the day great. That's how I start every day of the week.

Mondays and Fridays I don't work on the business. I read, I do self-development, I'll take a seminar or class or whatever it might be. I also consider it my terminal days. I always say to my wife, “If this is the last day of my life, and I don't know if it's going to be or not, how do I want to spend it?” It's usually like my wife and I will have a date. We'll go for coffee. I'll pick up the kids from school. I'll hang out. I'll help them with homework. Nothing very fancy. It's not partying. It's really deepening relationships. So those days on Mondays and Fridays I really enjoy those days, as well. I work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday on the business. For me, those are kind of the way I stay productive.

I love it. I love it. I used to tell the kids, and I talk about it a lot, that work-discipline is an interesting one. I talk about it all the time in different formats, but I used to tell them if you discipline you literally can do anything you want. I mean, literally. You can go be the best at whatever it is you choose if you have those. What you just went through is similar to what I call the power of one daily discipline meaning, another thing you just said without knowing it that if we win every day, we put together enough wins we win the whole year. You just kind of said the same thing without knowing that I had that. It's really cool. I mean, every single highly successful person, real estate or not, has some shape, form or fashion of that discipline built in. I'm curious and I want the listeners to hear, you said in passing I think it was relative to the meditating, Headspace. Is Headspace an app or is Headspace something else?

No, Headspace is an app on, I think, iPhone and Android that actually is a guided meditation. It's this guy that's got this really cool British accent and he kind of walks you through it. Look, am I a good meditator? Probably not, but I try.

I ask, because I use one called Calm, C-A-L-M. Interesting. I'll look that one up.

Okay, so I've done Calm. Calm is great, but this one has packs, like productive pack, anxiety pack, relationship pack. There's all these packs. He talks about things. It changes it up. And then there's all these different techniques to help you with your meditation like just nothing like, “Oh, I'm thinking.” And then you get back to the breath. Like, “Oh, I'm feeling.” And then you get back to the breath. It's a little bit more in depth.

I love it. I'm going to look it up and I appreciate that. I made a note myself. You know this, you have some podcasts. I learn so much just in the interviews and I take more notes than probably anyone. I appreciate that share. That was neat.

Yeah, yeah. Of course.

Mark, obviously with all that discipline and you're a driver obviously. Most of the entrepreneurs I have on are just constant learners. What's your next challenge or your next thing that you're looking at mastering, if there is one? You talked about some indirectly already with meditating and discipline. What else are you looking to master next?

I just started a new software company called Geek Pay. It's a start-up. It's a true start-up. It's scratching my own itch for what I need to do as far as automating my payments for my notes, but I do owner financing. So it's a set-it-and-forget-it system., but it can also be used for orthodontists, plastic surgeons, for lawyers, for private money people, auto dealers. There's all these little niches that I can go after. And so, for me it's like a new challenge. How do I break through and how do I start building this software business? A real, true, start-up, for me, that's going to be the new challenge. How do I do this?

That's neat. I love going public with goals, which you just did, so we're going to watch you and keep an eye on that launch. What book are you diving into right now? Do you have a book or a CD or magazine? I don't know if you're an avid reader, but what are you on right now?

Oh my gosh. Okay, so let me just go to my list here. Right now, for fiction I'm really loving “Ready Player One”. I love this book. I have not finished it and I'm listening to it on Audible. I grew up in the '80s. It's all these '80s references. It's a really great book. So, “Ready Player One.” “Homo Deus” by Yuval Noah Harari is a must read. It's a phenomenal book and I highly recommend it. I'm almost done with “The 5 Second Rule” by Mel Robbins. It's not a great read, but it's kind of interesting just for procrastination or anxiety or just these cognitive hacks where you're having a hard time getting up in the morning, go five, four, three, two, one, launch. You just do it. You ignore your feelings and you just go. You don't let your brain get in the way. So I really like “The 5 Second Rule.” “Procrastinate on Purpose”, Rory Vaden. “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson is phenomenal.

Love it.

I'm still working on “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius and “Ready Player One.”

“Ready Player One” was the first one. I was going to have you repeat that. Okay, good. Very good.


Thanks for that and thanks for sharing on that. I've got a couple other things to ask you, and I super appreciate your time today. Let's say there was a magic wand or let's call it a reset button and you press it and go back and hit the reset button and start over. What, if anything, would you do differently round two and why?

I'd get a mentor right away. I wouldn't mess around with trial and error. I would have just found the person that I wanted to be at 25 years old and just held their briefcase for a year and learned as much as I could from them.

Man, I can't tell you. It's like I cue this up every time, but again almost every person I interview says that, with few exceptions and for good reason. We've all gone through what you and I just had an open chat about.

Okay. Here's my last question for you. Let's for a second imagine that you're standing in front of a big auditorium and there's all kinds of brand new real estate investors there. They kind of battle their way through the same fear, anxiety, risk and uncertainty about whether or not they put their toe in the water in the right pool to become a real estate entrepreneur in some shape, form or fashion. What would be the two or three strategies that you'd recommend they focus on to really hammer home their success?

The first thing I would have them do is really get a full education on the business. After that, I would have them reverse engineer what they want to do in that business and their goals. The goal setting is key. Lots of effort without goal setting is kind of like trying to hit a moving target. If I want to make $200,000 a year next year, I want to reverse engineer do I need to make a day in order to hit that goal based on a closing rate of say three to five percent? And then just work backwards from there. Every single day there's no ambiguity about what you need to do to reach your goals. And everyone's going to have different goals. I've got some people, they're happy making $5,000 a month passive income. Pays for their mortgage and the vacations. They just work two hours or three hours a week doing it. It just depends on you. But I would say as a newbie you need to be crystal clear about your goals, crystal clear about your why, because you will get up, you'll keep persisting when times get tough.

Source: Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash

[bctt tweet=”“Lots of effort without goal setting is like trying to hit a moving target.” – @thelandgeek”]

Yeah, the reverse engineering is so key. I want to highlight that. Whether it's you or I or someone else, we can't get along with every single person. Whoever the audience is picking to coach them, if the person can't help them do that, I'm going to tell them get someone else. There is a simple, predictable, proven pathway with all great systems, and with yours and mine certainly. So reverse engineer it. If you don't see a clear path to that, find someone else that can help you do that because that is so predictable. I love it. I love exactly how you said it.

Mark, our time's wrapping up, buddy. That was super awesome. Really, from the beginning to the end. I know so many times when I'm being interviewed, whether it's radio or podcast, afterwards I'll think to myself, “Man, I wish he'd asked me this,” or, “I wish I'd thought of that.” So that we don't miss anything here for our listeners today, any last thoughts on your end or comments or anything you'd like to share? Also, what's the best way to reach you, by the way, so I don't forget that, as well.

Yeah. I always like to end with a Zig Ziglar quote. “If you'll do for the next three to five years what people won't do, you'll be able to do for the rest of your life what other people can't do.” I love that.

Yeah. One of my favorites, for sure.

And then the best way to reach me is If they email with the subject line Chris Prefontaine podcast or something like that, we'll send them for free the $97 Passive Income Launch Kit. But you've got that link anyways.

Yeah, I'll throw it in there. But those of you that want to jump right on there now, literally, Okay, Smart Listeners. My closing thoughts here. You can listen to this over and over. I hope you do, but in order to truly, truly experience a quantum leap, you've gotta take action. Mark, threw out four, five, six, or eight direct things for you to take action on and a whole bunch of indirect, so grab one, two or three of them. Grab the Passive Income Launch model, for sure. Put into place some of the discipline things he mentioned. Grab the Headspace app. Anything like that, but do something with this information because it's nothing without you taking action. And then go simply take action. Implement.

Mark, thanks for sharing your time with us today. We all have the same 168-hour week, and those hours go by so, so fast and are so valuable. Thanks for being on today. Much appreciated.

Thanks, Chris. I really appreciate it.

Ways to contact Mark: