March 2, 2024

glamping site might sound like a fun real estate investment idea, but how feasible is it? Does it offer enough cash flow potential as a short-term rental property? How do you get a building permit for a unique structure like a geodesic dome!? Today’s guest managed to launch the very first glamping site in his area and make some killer cash flow, but not without jumping a few hurdles along the way.

In this edition of the Real Estate Rookie podcast, we pick the brain of award-winning music producer Garrett Brown, who first decided to get into real estate because of the schedule flexibility it offered. After starting out as a realtor and spending time around investors, Garrett’s eyes were quickly opened to the huge earning potential of investing in real estate. Using the capital he generated from a house flip, Garrett was able to get into the short-term rental space—combining his newfound passion for real estate with his background in hospitality. Today, he talks about his most recent acquisition—a three-door glamping site sandwiched between two regional attractions outside Houston, Texas.

If you’re looking to buy your first short-term rental property, you won’t want to miss out on all that Garrett, Ashley, and Tony unpack in this episode! They’ll discuss their favorite ways to estimate rehab costs, how to find the perfect market for your short-term rental, and the importance of delivering a first-class guest experience as an Airbnb host!

Ashley Kehr:
This is real estate rookie episode 289er.

Garrett Brown:
I like unique things and I’m really good with hospitality. And as I started running numbers and crunching everything over like a month or two, it was a pretty obvious choice for me personally and my own situation. It does take a lot to run the glamping site and to build it up, so it took way more time of my own time than I thought, but I was prepared for that. I saw that the cash flow and the other benefits of it, of what I could do, building some equity and building unique cash flow places was going to just blow just a traditional investment out the water for me. That’s when I pivoted to go to that route and it all made sense and has worked out great.

Ashley Kehr:
My name is Ashley Kehr and I’m here with my co-host Tony Robinson.

Tony Robinson:
And welcome to the Real Estate Rookie Podcast where every week, twice a week, we bring you the inspiration, motivation, and stories you need to hear to kickstart your investing journey. And you know what? I love being able to host a podcast like this because we get to hear so many amazing stories, but every once in a while there’s a guest that comes on that just like selfishly, I’m so excited to talk to you because they’re working on something that I’m also working on and I get to pick their brain. And that was today’s episode for me.

Ashley Kehr:
And I’m actually upset that I ended the recording because Tony went on to ask a ton more questions that we should have had some kind of bonus content. Maybe that’s just going to be our rule until the guest actually completely leaves the show, we just keep rolling and recording for some bonus content.

Tony Robinson:
Today we’ve got Garrett Brown, and Garrett, he’s actually a music producer based out of Houston, Texas, and he’s worked with big name artists like Jhené Aiko, 2 Chainz. He named some other really big name artists that he’s done work with, but he’s also got this passion for real estate investing. And so everybody gets to dive into Garrett’s story and how he’s using his music business to fuel his real estate business.

Ashley Kehr:
And before I mention all the great things about Garrett, I just want to tell you guys that Tony was also in the music industry at one point. And there is a YouTube video, so I challenge you to go ahead, take a deep dive.

Tony Robinson:
And if you find it, just DM it to me on Instagram. When I was working my first W2 job out of college, I was a manager at a warehouse and had a team of, I don’t know, 80 people. And I share with them that I had this YouTube video also, and I was like, “If anyone finds it, I’ll get on the line and I’ll work with you guys for a shift.” And someone found it the very next day.

Ashley Kehr:
Oh, really?

Tony Robinson:
I don’t know how they found it. But anyway, I ended up working half a day online with my team members that day.

Ashley Kehr:
And what the worst part of it is, it’s actually not that bad. I thought it’s very bad and it wasn’t that bad.

Tony Robinson:
Hey, I think 20 year old Tony was doing some pretty cool stuff.

Ashley Kehr:
We have Garrett on today and we’re very excited about the different strategies that he touches based on, because he has tried a handful of them. He started out flipping. Had a couple fouled deals that didn’t make their way through, and then a very nice successful flip. Then he started doing condos where he purchased a handful of condos and turned them into short-term rental, and then two that were long-term rentals. And then from there decided to transition his strategy again into something that aligned more with his degree, which was hospitality management. I’ll let you guys take a guess as to what strategy that was.

Tony Robinson:
And Garrett, he shares a really, really cool strategy, one that I’ve never heard anyone share before about how as a brand new investor, he was able to estimate his rehab costs. And it was probably one of the most genius, simplest ways I’ve ever heard anyone share about estimating rehab costs. Then he also goes on to talk about why he spent almost an entire year looking for the right city to purchase his Airbnb. And he talks about his conversations with different cities and different counties and his process of eliminating the locations that didn’t support his business goals. Just throughout this entire conversation, Garrett dropped a lot of really good nuggets throughout.

Ashley Kehr:
Well, Garrett, do you want to start off just telling us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in real estate?

Garrett Brown:
Sure. My name’s Garrett Brown. I’m from Houston, Texas. I own a music studio and I’m a music producer by trade, but I have been in real estate now. I’ve been a realtor for about six years now. And I’ve been a real estate investor now for about three years. Started doing a typical realtor route, learning the ropes of that. And then once I started meeting a few different pe… I’ve heard about or… I didn’t even really see what all could be done through real estate investing at the time. All I knew was, get a client, sell a house, buy a house, and then I would go from there. But once I had somebody reach out to me about real estate investing, I found bigger pockets and went from there. And it was definitely a life changing moment for me.

Tony Robinson:
You kind of answered my question, Garrett, but I was going to say, did you become a realtor with the expectation of that being a stepping stone towards becoming an investor or was becoming a realtor just a way to generate some extra cash?

Garrett Brown:
It was just a way to generate some extra cash. I was looking for something that was real flexible within my music schedule because I record pretty much 07:00 PM to midnight, 01:00, 02:00 AM every night. And during the day I didn’t have much, but I also traveled some. I was looking for something that was a little more flexible that I knew would be able to build up some cash over time to really get me where I wanted to go. I do have a hospitality management degree. That’s what I went to University of Houston for. I wanted to eventually maybe own a bar or a music venue or something along those lines. I just wanted to get my feet wet with it. But I never planned on becoming… Really going down the path of where real estate investing is the thing that I found as the tool that is very vital for me going forward.
And so once I got into it and going, it just played itself out. And I started meeting people when I was working with investors and I was seeing what they were doing on deals and how much they were making and all these other things. And I was like, “All right, I think I need to take a step back and figure out some things because I think they’re doing it a little better than me.” Because I’m not a real salesy guy either. Realtors, I have a big tremendous respect for them, especially the ones that are really good. But it’s a very salesy thing, especially when you’re calling for sale by owners, calling expireds. I was doing all that and it definitely was just not exactly up my lane. I wanted to be a little more, use my hospitality degree and be a little more unique with where I was going and really try to build some financial freedom and long-term wealth for me and my family going forward.

Ashley Kehr:
Before we go any more into the episode, what does your portfolio look like today and how many deals have you done?

Garrett Brown:
I’ve probably done, I’ve done… I’ve failed at two flips, finally had one successful flip. I’ve had a buy-in, live-in flip basically that I did. And then I had three condos that I was short-term renting and long-term renting for quite a while. But then at this very second I’ve sold most of that. And then I have a pretty major glamp site that we just launched and we’re trying to expand going forward from about an hour away from Houston near one of the major lakes called Lake Livingston. I have a 426 square foot geo-dome, like a fully luxury on grid, commercially permanent geo-dome. I have a ranch house on there that’s worth about 500,000 that we’re going to rent out very shortly. And then we have a couple other sites we’re adding onto the glamp site, adding a really special one in August. And then we’re trying to expand from there and add a wedding venue and some other things as we go forward with it.

Ashley Kehr:
I can’t wait to get into all of this, but let’s talk about these different strategies. What made you start with flipping?

Garrett Brown:
Just really because… One thing I love about real estate and once I got further into it, I realized how diverse there was and I was having a little analysis paralysis because it was like do I want to find a storage unit? Do I want to flip a house? Do I want to do Airbnb and do more of the hospitality side? Do I want to do just buy and holds? And I really got more into flipping first just because a lot of the investors I was working with were doing flips. And so I really was able to learn a lot from that process. I would go walk the properties with them. I would go to random… There would be investor list and wholesaler list that would send out, “Hey, we’re having an open house 01:00 to 03:00 this day, all you investors come to this house.” And I would go to the house, really not the intent of purchasing it, but I would go to just walk the property, work on trying to get my rehab costs. I’d have my own little spreadsheet that I was working off of.
I got lucky a couple of times and had a contractor actually walk some places with me that they would give me their idea of what it thought it would take. And I would just go to some of these open houses and just listen to what other people were saying too. Because a lot of these were some of the bigger investors in Houston and they would be walking around pointing out things and I would just listen and I would hear what they would say, “Oh this is going to cost 1500 to do this toilet thing,” or whatever like that. And I was just mentally taking notes. And I went to 20, 30 of these in the first few months with no intention really of buying. I didn’t have the financial means to buy anything, but I was just getting all this information to really learn rehab costs and what was really going to make me comfortable going to that next level of actually putting in an offer and putting up my hard-earned money that I’ve been working for so long that I was so nervous of deploying.
But once I actually started putting out offers, all that stress went away because I saw the ability of what it would actually generate if something went through with a well deal and just trying things.

Tony Robinson:
Garrett, we’ve interviewed… You’re episode 289, so we’ve had 288 conversations up until this point. And I don’t think a single person has ever said that they’ve gone to open houses just to hear what other potential investors are saying the house might need when it comes to rehab. What a simple yet super effective way to estimate your rehab costs. Because I feel like for a lot of new investors, that’s one of the things that really gets them stuck is that if you’ve never done this before, it’s hard for you to ballpark what amount of money you might spend to buy and renovate a home. Obviously, once you’ve done it a few times and if you’re buying with inside your buy box, you know exactly what it’s going to cost. Like Ash, I’m sure exactly what it costs to renovate a duplex in Buffalo. I know exactly what it costs to renovate a three bed, two bath in Joshua Tree.
But if it’s your first time doing it, there’s a lot of question marks there. You also mentioned about getting the GC to walk with you, but just one other follow up question on this listening. First, how long were you at these open houses? Were you just there the entire time and just letting people come through and then were you actually having conversations with the other investors or were you just a fly on the wall and taking notes? Just walk us through the tactical side of how you actually got information out of that open house.

Garrett Brown:
Sure. It really started when I was going with other investors or going with investors as an agent, trying to find different places and they would point out things. But once I started to get on some of these wholesale lists, there’s a couple and people in Houston that they get there… There’s some of the biggest wholesalers out here, they host tons of open houses where it’s, “Hey, first investors to show up, whoever makes the best deal that day, you’ll get the property-vibe,” like cash only, all those things like that. I would go there. At first I was a little more nervous. I wasn’t trying to be obvious that I didn’t know what I was doing and things, even though looking back, that’s so naive to think that way. But I would go maybe 30 minutes, 45 minutes and I would just walk around and act like I knew what I was doing. I wouldn’t really talk to many people. Every once in a while I may get into it, but a lot of these people were looking at whoever was in the house as their competition and things like that. But it blew my mind.
And I noticed this from doing residential retail sales, that people go into houses and they just talk out loud and they don’t realize that I may be listening or buyers are walking in saying all these things. And the opposite side is you got to be real care… And I tell my buyers, when we walk into houses, you need to be real careful what you say out loud. It was similar on the investor’s side. People were just like… They would be walking in a bathroom, they would look up and be like, “Oh man, you see that? Oh, there’s a leak right there. Oh, that’s going to be a good $5,000.” And I was just taking this all into account. And after I got a little more comfortable with different investors and the terminology and all my own research through bigger pockets and just trying different spreadsheets people put online. There’s a tunnel online, especially in Texas, there’s different contractors or people that do rehabs that will put out a free spreadsheet of what they estimate this cost for a new window here.
And that may not be the exact answer, but it gave me a good guideline to where I was going to go when I started walking properties on my own that I was actually considering buying. And then I had at least a ballpark to know, “Hey, doing this toilet and having to fix the tile, to go to LVP, it might be in this cost.” Because I heard somebody talking about, that they thought this 1200 square foot house was going to cost, I don’t know, $6,000 to put new flooring in or something. And I was just taking these little bits of information and I would go put it into my spreadsheet or I would update the person’s spreadsheet that was… Maybe it was a national spreadsheet. I would maybe try to, “Okay, they thought that windows… And this person, he did his in Georgia, but he thought his windows were going to be this amount. But I’ve gotten other information from some of my own bids from other contractors or seeing people talk about it that the windows are actually probably going to be closer to this.” And so I may go change it.
And I would always add that extra cushion on top, knowing that everything is always more. And I saw this from helping investors, that everything always goes more expensive than you… Very rarely does a flip or anything go under budget.

Tony Robinson:
No way.

Garrett Brown:
Once I realized that, I was like, “Oh, I probably need to add a 20% buffer on top of this too, while I’m doing it.” It was just really getting bits of information. And I had analysis paralysis probably for the first year or two because I was just so nervous like, “Oh these guys, they’ve been doing it, they got cash funds to do it. Even if they fail they’ll be fine. And if I fail, my cash funds are gone.” But once I do it and I saw regular Joes and Jills doing the same things I wanted to do, I knew that there was a way I could make it happen. And I really just needed to put my feet in the fire and probably start making offers and have a few failed deals, which is what happened to learn, “Okay, this isn’t going to work, but I learned a lot from it.” Nothing like that is a failure. You can’t fail until you quit. You can only take these as lessons from all your losses or all your tribulations that the next one, eventually… You’re not going to make that mistake again.
When you start making consecutive mistakes, that’s when there’s an issue and that needed to be corrected. If you make one mistake and you can nix that in the bud from the beginning, then that is how your journey should be going. From what I’ve seen from the outside.

Tony Robinson:
Garrett, you had a lot of really great information there. And I definitely want to keep the conversation moving because I feel like we could talk about this for a while, but just to clarify for all of our rookie listeners. You weren’t going to traditional open houses for properties that were listed on market. You were going after open houses for wholesalers. And the reason you were able to get so much more information is because typically wholesalers are not selling to retail buyers, they’re selling to other investors. If you get a household of investor, that’s how you’re able to be this fly on the wall and really get insights from all these other investors. But dude, one last thing you said. I wasn’t even planning on bringing this up, but you said it enough, I got to make a comment on it. You talked about the mistake piece and it’s so funny, Garrett, because I have a son, he’s 15 and just being a teenager, you tend to do dumb things.
Just your brain chemically is not where it’s supposed to be yet. And even though you look like you’re 21 years old inside, you’re like eight. And I tell my son all the time, I was like, “Dude, it’s okay if you make a mistake. Life is all about making mistakes.” Because I want to give him the confidence that making mistakes is okay. But just like you said, it’s like when you make the mistake, you get the lesson, but you don’t apply that lesson to your life, that’s when you start getting in trouble. So many good things. Ash I feel like I can go on a tangent, but I know you’ve got some really cool ways, Ashley too, about analyzing or estimating rehab costs. You tell people to put stuff into their card on Home Depot and all that stuff. Can you just talk about that? Because I think that’s another really helpful way for folks that aren’t maybe able to get into open houses with wholesalers.

Ashley Kehr:
There is two ways that I learned construction cost and how to even do a rehab. And one of those ways was going onto Lowe’s and or Home Depot and basically going room by room, “Okay, I’m going to remodel a bathroom, I’m going to need a vanity.” Look it up on Home Depot, how much does a vanity cost, a basic vanity? Then I would take that and I would link it into a spreadsheet where I would have, what it was, how many I would need with the link to the actual website if I wanted to go back to it. And then how much it cost. And then I would be able to have a total at the end of least my materials. And of course, as I was starting out, there was things I did not know, okay, “How much grout do I need for this many square feet of a bathroom to put the tile in or whatever? What’s the finished grout? How much will I need?” Things like that.
But at least it’s got me started with somewhat of an estimate, going room by room and laying out every material that I would need. And YouTube was a big help with that too. And the second thing that I would do is, I hired a partner, someone who knew rehab and construction. I gave him some equity in the property in exchange for him to do some of the labor and to let me basically follow him around and try to be of assistance. To this day he will say that I was not very helpful, but I can do some things now. Those were the two ways that I learned about estimating rehab, is from taking on a partner who had experience and then also just finding out the materials. And then the labor part was a lot harder for me because I feel like it really does fluctuate a lot as to what it actually can be. Now we’re very diligent at keeping track of, “Okay, what are current rates for getting flooring installed? How much are we looking at a price per square foot?”
And we try to use the same vendors. Every once in a while most bid it out just to make sure that our vendors are staying honest, things like that. But it definitely helps when you can get your preferred vendors where our painters… We know every two bedroom, one bathroom unit, that doesn’t have horrible wall damage, it’s going to cost us X amount or around that each time. And that makes it so helpful to be able to go and estimate. Even for apartment turnovers, doing rehabs on those, what those costs are going to be.

Tony Robinson:
Before we go on, because you sparked something inside of me, because the thing that I always… I Loved your approach, the thing I always thought about, “I got to figure out what material I need to do whatever job that is.” And you could watch a YouTube video, but I thought, “With technology today, there’s probably an easier way to do this.” I opened up ChatGPT, I said, “Give me a step-by-step action plan for removing an old toilet and installing a new one. This is my first time doing this, so please assume I know nothing about plumbing.” ChatGPT said, “Sure, here’s a step-by-step action plan to remove an old toilet and install a new one. Tools and materials you’ll need.” And then it goes on to list eight or I think there’s 10 items on here that I’ll need. And now I have a list of things that I can go shop for on Amazon to try and understand what that cost is. There’s no excuse now for anyone-

Garrett Brown:
It is a good idea. Very good.

Ashley Kehr:
And then the next thing you put it in, “Can you build out a rehab template for me with everything on it?”

Tony Robinson:
Exactly.

Ashley Kehr:
Garrett, with your spreadsheet though that you had, did you develop it over time instead of just taking the one you found online and sticking to that. Are there things that you noticed that maybe on some of these templates you found online that weren’t included that you think everybody should have?

Garrett Brown:
That’s exactly what I did. I would take the template that I liked. I tried four or five different ones, seeing what was on there and things. And I took the one that I liked the most and over time would definitely adapt it to the things I learned, especially case specific to the areas I’m in. In Houston, Texas, we have a lot of foundation problems because we’re so close to the ocean and just have a very wet soil for lack of better words there. One thing that I think in my area that I noticed was that a lot of foundation costs, it was a more prevalent thing and it was something that I needed to account for more going into houses. Because once we would find out, especially working with a lot of investors, I saw this that they would work on the foundation portion and then the foundation would mess up all the framing for something or the foundation would crack some plumbing that needed to be there and then it would add onto all these costs.
But it really just came from… And I did similar things to you too with the Home Depot and Lowe’s. Because Home Depot and Lowe’s, they’ll come out and give you a quote for things, especially certain sub things or new tile. And it’s most likely going to be a little more expensive than more of a local sub. But you can take some of these numbers and I was getting loc… I would call flooring companies that were more local and say, “Hey, what is your rate for in installing LVP in a X, Y, Z style house? What do you do for labor?” And some of these people, these subcontractors especially will give you what their estimate is on… Painting’s a good one too, “Oh, usually we charge around this per square foot.” And they’ll be able to give you an idea that does have some variation.
But once you start calling some of these different people… I would pretty much would try to call three or four subcontractors on, especially all my early flips that I was trying, even though they failed. I would have three or four subs come out sometimes. I’d stack them up and I’d try to not let them see each other coming at the same time. Even though a competition level, might have been good. I’m not sure on that. That’s more of a psychology thing there maybe. But I would get multiple bids from different subs for a foundation or a roof or plumbing or something like that. Because subs, you’re more likely electrical. Subs are more likely to be able to get a quote out of them at least to learn from it and see. And I would give… Even if it was a new sub, I would go on Facebook groups.
I’m really big into Facebook groups in Houston and how I met a lot of people and I’ve had different deals. There’s a couple really big ones in Houston and some of these may be newer subs or newer people trying to start their construction business. And they may not have the rapport with a lot of these investors, so they may be willing to come out and give you a free estimate. Will you want them to do the work? That’s up to you to do due diligence and trust your gut and have multiple bids and maybe try to talk to whoever you can. But try to talk to some of these newer subs and newer contractors out there because they’ll probably gladly come walk the property and give their opinion because they’re looking for new business. Don’t be in the business of wasting people’s time, I would say, because that reputation will travel very quickly with you. But there’s a fine line between really giving somebody a legitimate shot to give a bid or wasting somebody’s time. And I think I did a good job of it.
I did have one contractor, I had him walk a place with me twice and by the second one it fell through. He got a little irate with me because he walked it and wasn’t as happy because then he’s, “I’m wasting your time.” And it was like, “No, I definitely didn’t waste your time on purpose. It’s just the deal fell through. My hard money lender pulled on the second one. I appreciate you a lot and that’s fine.” And we haven’t crossed paths since and we don’t do any work. But that is something that has happened out of it. But most of the time, 95% of the time, the subs or whoever has been great. And I have able to take some of these quotes and really understand what I was going through going forward. And even when I was building my glamp site, I knew what probably the LVP was going to cost putting in the geo dome.
I knew what tiling a bathroom, I had a general idea of what it would cost. My budget was pretty spot on. I did go a little over budget of course, but it was pretty spot on for building something unique because I had toured all these places and talked to so many people and I did have that analysis paralysis. But there was a good side of it too, because I got so much information. And when I was ready to dive in… I could have dove in a little earlier, but I had way more confidence in everything I was doing, so it was a lot easier.

Ashley Kehr:
When was that point that you decided to dive in and actually purchase that first flip? How did you feel confident enough? And you mentioned that on the one deal it fell through because of a hard money lender. Is that how you were able to get the first deal is you found a hard money lender?

Garrett Brown:
Yes. I had two flips fall through and a lot of it came because I started telling people I was going with these investors. I was the realtor on them. I knew what they were making. I had a very clear idea of, okay, being a realtor’s good, but there’s a lot of time for trade. I was driving everywhere calling expireds. Once I saw what the investors were making on some of these HUD close and all these HUD forms and things like that, I decided to start trying to find my own deal. I started telling people actively within music. I never really crossed the two between music and real estate. Most people that I knew, I did music, didn’t know I did real estate because I was worried about, “Oh, this guy’s failed at music. It doesn’t matter what he did in his past. He has platinum records and stuff. It obviously didn’t work because now he’s trying real estate, he’s wants to be a realtor like everybody else.”
I was nervous thinking that, “Oh man, people are going to think I failed at music.” And like I said, looking back, that was a very naive take because once I started telling people, “Hey, I’m doing real estate now. I’m trying to find some investments and if you know anybody that has a house let me know.” Sure enough, a few weeks later I had a friend within music call me, a friend of a friend was wanting to sell a house. They didn’t want to be there anymore. It had flooded a while back, but they were able to fix it up some through flood insurance, but they still wanted it to… They had a great deal on it. I went and saw the property, gave them an offer. I gave them exactly what they wanted because it fit all the numbers I was running.
And then we were all the way through, I was so excited it was going to be minimal. I’d probably have to put 15,000 into it. We got very close to the end and then out of nowhere my title company calls me who I’d used multiple times for a lot of deals. And they say, “Hey, there’s an estranged brother that’s claiming title onto this house as well too.” And they didn’t find it on the first search and some other things like that, but they’re like, “The deal’s not going to be able to go through because he’s not signing off on it.” And it was just this whole mess of, I was going to have to do all types of attorney things and the profit wasn’t going to be worth it, so I backed out of that deal. I lost my earnest money deposit.
I could have fought it and done some other things, but it wasn’t that much of a earnest money deposit in the end. I think it was about a thousand bucks or something. The house was only… It was a hundred thousand dollars house, so it was about a thousand bucks. I lost it. But I learned, okay, there needs to be way more checks going into this, but I need to ask the friends like, “Hey, there’s not a chance that somebody else owns this property or anything like that.” I never even asked that. I thought, “Oh, this is a friend. She seems like she owns everything. She didn’t bring up that there may be a brother that may have a claim to it.” I lost that deal. Then we went on to another one, found another one. Same contractor, I brought him, I had a couple other contractors walk that property. And when we went to walk it, everything was working out. I landed the deal, this was February 2020. I had a hard money lender lined up, COVID hit hard money lender backed out. They were so nervous about everything.
I think I had to put maybe 80% down or something of the cost with the rehab and everything. But then they backed out during March and said, “Oh actually you’re going to have to put up 60% or something now if you want to get it.” And this is also when I got real nervous too. I’m like, “Oh, COVID is here.” Everybody, especially in the real estate industry, we have no idea what’s about to happen on the realtor side too, so we backed out of that deal. Hindsight, I wish we would’ve found a way to get that money because obviously the market shot up and it was in a great location. Lost that deal. Hard money pulled out. Eventually I was still working with some client of mine.

Tony Robinson:
Garrett, let me just ask really quickly, because you have these two attempts and both are quote, unquote “failures” right? You’re not able to get them to the finish line. At any point between that first deal or that second deal that didn’t go through. Are you saying to yourself at any point, I don’t know if this real estate investing thing is for me?

Garrett Brown:
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. It goes back to that lesson of… I was down for a little while. I come from the music industry where it’s a very no based industry. 99% of the time I’m hearing no. It got me down for a little bit, but once I thought about it, I was like, “I’m not going to allow that to happen again. It was not my fault.” I did everything right on the deal. The deal, it was going to be a great deal. I was going to profit on it. It was going to be the first one. Just because I dropped or… Just because the ball was dropped on some random relative being there through title or however it slipped through the cracks. Eventually, once I got out of my day of like, “Oh man, that sucks. I lost the deal.” I realized, I was like, “Well, there’s nothing that I personally did. I need to just keep trying.”
Then I went to the next one and then same thing again. I was real upset about it for about a day or two. And then I sat there and I’m like, “It was nothing that I did.” And then in the month or two later, once the… The market was still skyrocketing, I looked at it and I was like, “I actually called a great deal.” And that gave me even more confidence to go. And then, so maybe three or four months later, I was walking a client with a property. She was about to buy it in an area that I knew well that I grew up in. I saw a for sale by owner a sign. And I got a lot of my realtor deals calling for sale by owners to begin with, so I was very comfortable with it. Gave them a call. They said, “Hey, we just want to get rid of the house. We want 115 for it. You can come walk it tomorrow. It’s not in great shape, but it’s not in bad shape.”
I walked the deal, I walked the place. I knew what those houses would go for because I had a client that was working in that exact neighborhood. And we’d done tons of research in different houses in there, so I knew where profit could stand. I knew I could sell it for about 225, we could probably put 40 to 50,000 in it. And we ended up doing all that. I had a hard money lender helping me out, we had to put down 80 or we had to put… They funded 80% of the cost of the place. They funded 100% of the rehab. We were able to pay them back. I’m a realtor so I’m able to save on commissions luckily. But I still ended up making about 40,000 profit. Bought it about 115, about 50 into it. And then we sold it at about 225.
And then once that happened, that really started… It told me two things. It told me, one, I didn’t really want to flip houses. Liked how it went, but I also knew that I started… I wanted to take this money and go into short-term rentals or long-term rentals more because there was a lot of stress going in with the flip, but it turned out well. I got a lot of learning lessons and some upfront capital to really spark everything going forward. But it did teach me that maybe flipping wasn’t my favorite thing because even dealing with the sellers was… They were real cool overall, but there was just some different nuances that I didn’t really like working with sellers and that.
And then they would come back and, “Oh, you said you were going to do this on this day.” And “Oh, your hard money lender is… Can we close tomorrow?” And just different things that got on my nerves for a lot of different reasons. And so I was like, “Actually I want to be more in charge of what’s going on and really build the long-term wealth,” as opposed to a quick buck that I get taxed majorly on and have to go in and find a new place. And now I need to call more for sale by owners and all that, which I’m not a fan of, but it does work well. That’s what I ended up with there.

Ashley Kehr:
Garrett, you talked about that you have the degree in hospitality. Is that what made you shift into the short-term rental with your geo-dome or did it just happen at chance? Can you talk about that transition?

Garrett Brown:
Sure. I always knew I wanted to do something in the hospitality industry. I’ve been a waiter forever. My first job was… I was 16, I was busing tables and things like that. And so I always wanted to maybe have a restaurant and I’m into music, so I was maybe a music venue. But as time went on, after I flipped that house, I decided that I was like, “Okay, I want to try something a little different.” I bought my own smaller condo in Houston, Texas. I got it for around I think 115 or 120. I was going to live in it. It was going to be my owner occupied and I wanted to… It wasn’t in bad shape, but I knew there could be some remodeling to it that would bring it up. I got that condo. But then at that time I was like, “Okay.” I was working with a landlord not far from that condo. He had three smaller condos. It wasn’t in a great part of town, but it wasn’t in a bad part. And I was helping him rent the places out every year and do some other things.
He got towards the end and he would be calling me, he said, “Hey, I think I actually want to sell the condos. Can we put them up for sale instead now?” And I started doing a little research into it and I knew what he was able to rent it out. And I knew a lot of that information already. He wanted to list them for 70, he had three condos, he wanted to list them for 70,000 a piece. I was able to talk him, say, “Hey, let me buy them, I’ll buy them for…” We end up settling at 59 per condo and I got a small blanket mortgage to cover that. I put about 25% down on it, which is in the $40,000 range. And those places each… I had two of them on long term that were renting for 900 a piece. And then I had one that was doing short term that was making… It varied each night, but it was making about a thousand or 2000 per month. Once all the big money from BlackRock and all these people came in, this was like 2019, 2020 when this was going on.
Once all the big money came into Houston and it already was starting to ramp up all those condos, just a basic condo, the prices all shot down because they were coming in and they were having 30, $40 condos that were just as nice as mine in a better part of town. And I couldn’t really keep up. And so I knew that there was was a way that I could use my hospitality degree to my advantage because I think one thing that a lot of short-term rental host misinterpret is the amount of guest experience and hospitality that actually goes into running a short-term rental. Especially a very successful one with all these different rentals out there now. It’s not just a, “Hey, put some furniture in it and after that it’s hands off and everything’s going to go great.” I knew that that was an advantage I could take. I started running numbers. I was like, “Do I want to sell these places and buy a small townhouse closer to town with maybe I could get ADU in the backyard or a garage apartment.”
Or do I want to try… I was watching Rob’s channel, I was watching Kai Andrew’s channel, a few different people like that. And I was like, “Maybe I could do something with this glamping idea. I like unique things and I’m really good with hospitality.” And as I started running numbers and crunching everything over like a month or two, it was a pretty obvious choice for me personally and my own situation. It does take a lot to run the glamping site and to build it up. It took way more of my own time than I thought, but I was prepared for that. I saw that the cash flow and the other benefits of it, of what I could do, building some equity and building unique cash flow places was going to just blow just a traditional investment out the water for me. That’s when I pivoted to go to that route and it all made sense and it has worked out great.

Tony Robinson:
Garrett, and your dome is beautiful. We got a photo of it here and maybe we can drop it into the show notes for people to check out. You did a fantastic job with it. But something you mentioned that really stood out to me is that a lot of new investors don’t realize the level of hospitality that goes into being an effective short-term rental host. Can you maybe give some examples of where you’ve seen maybe other Airbnb hosts drop the ball and how your background, your degree in hospitality management has maybe allowed you to separate yourself from the competition?

Garrett Brown:
Sure. There’s a few examples that immediately stood out to me before I even got further into it. Because I’ve traveled a lot for music and we’ve stayed in a lot of Airbnbs. I’ve gone to California for a few extended months and just booked a long term Airbnb. And I’ve also had shorter stays too. And I noticed that the ones that… Me and my girlfriend were traveling, the ones that we always really, really loved and would bring up later on would be little touches to hospitality. Whether it was a simple note with a small snack basket, just how receptive they were to us or how responsive they were. Anytime we had questions verse when I stayed at other places where it was obvious like, “Okay, this guy or this gal got a place and they just threw a bed in it.” I stayed in one Airbnb that the pictures, it wasn’t even the same furniture when I walked in, it was completely different. And it was a good price and some other things like that, so I didn’t raise a stink about it or anything.
I just rolled with it and stayed there for what it was. But I just remember thinking this is a sign that… And I’ve stayed in a lot of places like that, whereas it was obvious that the person just thought that they could throw some furniture in it, and that was pretty much the end of it. But the places that I knew, and from my hospitality background, because I’ve worked in event management, I’ve worked in hotel management, other things, the guest experience is so critical for a successful STR, especially in today’s market where there’s just so many choices and people can stay wherever they want. There’s short term rentals, there’s hotels, there’s other glamping and camping sites. There has to be something that really brings the guests back to you and really makes them feel like they were more than a guest, that they were your family or something staying there. And I really wanted to provide that to people when I was going forward with it.
And I would work on making systems to make sure that there would be special things there. I always ask them, “Hey is there a special occasion you’re celebrating?” Anything like that. Just so I can find out whatever extra information I can get from them to help make their stay even more memorable. Because the word of mouth and people putting out social content over your stay and people really talking about other things and leaving all these reviews is going to skyrocket your STR business. Because otherwise that word of mouth and that feel that they get from it is just not going to be there. And they’re going to have no reason to be a return customer or to tell their friends who are very likely to do similar things as them. Because people love social currency in the United States. To be able to tell somebody that, “Hey, I got this really cool place that I stayed that not many people have heard about or not many people have stayed at. And it was awesome. It was one of the best vacations we had.”
You’re not going to get that if you just throw a bed into place, say, “Hey, here’s your code to get in the door, have a good stay. Let me know when you leave.” I wanted to just make sure I separated myself as much as I could in that aspect.

Tony Robinson:
Garrett, a few again, really insightful things that you called out here. I think that the first thing I want to talk about is the fact that you said your glamp site is in, you said Lake Livingston, not too far from Houston. I have personally never heard of Lake Livingston. And Ashley, have you ever heard of Lake Livingston in Texas?

Ashley Kehr:
I know Houston pretty well and I’ve never heard of that.

Tony Robinson:
And the reason I ask that question is because people always come to me and say, “Hey Tony, what city or what market should I buy my next Airbnb in?” And there’s always these big national known locations. You’ve got Disney, you’ve got Joshua Tree, you’ve got Zion, you’ve got Smokey Mountains. But what I’ve been telling folks is that every single state has some local regional draw that’s going to bring people in. And I think you’ve done a great job. I want to talk a little bit more about the glamp site, Garrett, to give folks a better understanding of what it is. First, I think if you can define what the dome is and how it differs from a traditional tent. And then also just talk about the build out process. How long did it take for you to build it out? Did you have to get this permitted? Are you on septic? Are you off grid? Are people showering with a bucket of water? Give us the insights and then if you can at the end just share what the numbers look like from a revenue or profit perspective.

Garrett Brown:
Sure. Glamping, I still struggle with this, I think it’s glamorous camping. Could be glorious camping, luxury camping basically. When we were going into it, I looked for a place for about a year or so before even finding the right place, because I really wasn’t sure. I knew it needed some special attraction there. I knew I wanted it to be near Lake Livingston. And there’s also Sam Houston National Forest right by, which is one of four national forests in Texas. I wanted to be really particular where I was going because I wanted to be very close to these destinations. Because I knew I couldn’t get exactly on the lake because there’s so many HOAs there that building a dome was going to be pretty much impossible to find an area on the lake that was going to allow me to build it.
But most of them have deed restrictions that you can’t build a home under 700 square feet or different things like that. We were trying to decide between if we wanted to… I visited different glamping sites. I went to off-grid geo domes. I went to on-grid places and I knew pretty instantly that I wanted to do on-grid. One, because I didn’t want to mess with the compost toilet and some other things like that. And I also knew that I would rather have less sites on the… I have 10 acres, I’d rather have less sites on the place and be able to charge a more premium. Because I went to some places that had 40 domes on two or three acres or something insane. And I knew instantly that’s not something I wanted to do. I was looking for different places. I didn’t have a mortgage at the time or anything. And I was hoping I could find a place that I could owner occupy a nice house, get the land with a 5% down conventional loan and then build out on the site while I lived there for that year.
You have to occupy the house for a year. I knew I would live there and it was fine because I was traveling at the same time, touring and other things. I was able to finally find a place that was… After about eight months, putting in different offers. Some things didn’t work out, they wanted 600 for this place. I was able to get them down to 550. We put about 5% down. The house we’re turning into an STR in the next few weeks. We’re working on it right now. We’ve put about 50,000 in renovations into it. But we wanted to make sure that the geo-dome, which we built out… The geo-dome built out was about $150,000. But that also included, we put a septic tank in, we put a water well in. We ran our electric poles back there. And this is also these, the septic, the well… And well the electric, we have to add one more pole, but those are all going to tie into our next site that we’re building at the back of the property.
We pretty much put the dome in the middle of the property. And then our next big one that’s going to be… We consider our real, real big project, it will be easier to get those utilities out there because we’ve already went halfway into the land and started that process. And now we just tie in the septic system and trench out the plumbing and we tie in the plumbing over there. The build-out for the geo-dome was a little more expensive than we wanted it to be, especially with road infrastructure too. But this is also going to make our next build, which we’re trying to complete by August, much cheaper going into it. And right now, if we list the geo-dome, my mortgage is about $3,000. We just changed our insurance from just regular home insurance, we changed this to proper insurance.
It almost doubled, but they’re insuring the dome, they’re adding commercial liability insurance on top of this. They insured the house. And so now my mortgage is probably going to go up to probably closer to 3,500, 4,000 in there, especially with some tax increases. But just running the geo-dome, we plan to… We already just launched… About a couple of weeks ago and we’ve already had 12 different bookings come in. And so we’re already pretty much have hit our mortgage for that. Once we rent the house out in the next week or two, we expect that to add on another three or 4,000, so we’re looking at it between probably five to 6,000 profit between these two sites. But once we triple down and add our next site, which is a really spectacular build, it’s probably going to shoot up to probably into the 11 to 12,000 range per month because that site is going to be very, very free and clear from a lot of the typical expenses that I’m already having to do by having the house and things like that, so we’re pretty excited for it.
And it took a while to find the right piece of land. I didn’t do a 1031 out of the condos or anything like that because I knew it was going to take time to find the right piece of property. I didn’t want to just rush and buy something. And it did, it took me quite a while to find the right piece and find the right county. The touch on the permitting process, I did have to get a commercial permit using my realtor knowledge and just calling. I would call local contractors and I called the permitting departments for all the counties around. There was about three counties that I was looking in between. And I would call contractors and say, “Hey, what’s it like permitting in this county?” And some people would give me an answer. I’d call another contractor. I’m like, “Hey, have you built anything in this one? What’s it permitting in this area?” And then I would call the permitting departments as well to tell them, say, “Hey, this is what I want to do. I want to build a geo-dome. Is this possible?”
And they’re not going to be able to give you a yes or no answer because there’s so many nuances to it. But if they’re immediately like, “Nope. No, we’ll never.” Like, “No, no.” then it’s probably not the right county. And there was one county nearby that was like that. Once I found the county that I’m actually in, I could tell that they were more… Lake Livingston, I used to go there growing up. My dad’s boss used to have a lake house out there, so we would do retreats out there and other things. I always knew that that was a place, it’s the second-largest lake in Texas actually. It’s a man-made lake. Most of the ones in Texas are manmade. And so I knew that they had a history of short term rentals where people would go up there and they weren’t going to outlaw it anytime soon. I was able to get with San Jacinto County, which is the county that I’m in, I told them my idea and they just like, “Hmm, that’s interesting. Just let us know whenever you get to it and we’ll take a look.”
And talking to contractors, they also told me that, “Hey Sanchez, this county is going to be way easier to work with in some other counties.” And I was able to, with my geo-dome. I use specific domes who they actually provide for… I think I paid $2,500 and they give you stamped architecture plans to that geo-dome. And this made everything so much easier getting it permitted. Because even the county even said like, “Hey, we usually don’t even get this much detail in our plans that we get from people. This is impressive.” And I’ve had some different things come up, even just adding more sites. There’s been some ADA compliance issues that have come up. I had a local architect that has helped me with site design plan to push through these next phases of what I’m trying to commercially permit all the way. But just having my architecture plans, having the design and being able to… I’ve worked with the county commissioner and other things.
I always make sure to tell them, “Hey, I’m going to be using local contractors, local cleaners. We’re going to pay our hot taxes, the hotel occupancy taxes we’re going to be providing… People are going to be coming into restaurants.” All these other things like that. We’re trying to make this a mutually beneficial relationship and bring more people to this beautiful area that you have and really try to… I don’t want to say sell them, but you need to tell them what good things you’re bringing to the county as well so they can see like, “Hey, okay, this is actually a good idea for us too to get into this business.” And it’s been a experience for them because I’m the first… There’s other unique sites, but I’m the first geo-dome anywhere near Houston and I’m the first glamp site really near any of these lakes or anything. There’s other more rural RV parks and campgrounds. But trying to do what I’m doing, they’ve learned a lot in the process with me. But just doing this due diligence before really helped me make sure that I was in the right area.

Tony Robinson:
Again, Garrett, so many great nuggets here and I love your process of just picking up the phone and calling the county to understand their policies because I think that’s something a lot of people miss. But something you just mentioned that made me think of something, when you said that you’re the first dome to really be in this area. How do you underwrite a unique structure like that when there’s no other comparable properties in that market? What strategy did you use to try and ballpark how much revenue and potential profits you’d be making?

Garrett Brown:
That was definitely one of the more difficult things and that’s one of the reasons… If we’re speaking in just equity and appraisal value and things like that. And then how I was able to determine that it was going to be profitable to put it there. That’s one reason why I wanted a very solid house structure on the property that I knew I could… I bought, it needed some work, but it wasn’t a ton of… It was a lot of cosmetic work and I knew that I’d be able to bring this house up higher in the market so I’d be able to maintain some more equity. Because building the geo-dome, there’s probably not much equity that I’m putting into the dome because all the infrastructure that I’m putting in will come back for me. But appraisers are going to look at this and have no idea where to put it at as far as that term, if I get ready to sell this down the line or anything.
But I knew that between… I used AirDNA and other areas that I could see… AirDNA’s data is pretty good, but it’s been skewed in the last couple of years. And it’s also, like you were saying, this is a unique build, so it’s hard to get data on this type of structure being the only one there. But there are a couple of smaller unique builds, maybe 45 minutes away that I would go on Airbnb and Vrbo and just look at what their occupancy was for the next month and see what they were charging and see how many reviews they had the past month. And I can’t remember what the exact percentage is, I don’t know if it’s 20 or 30% of people leave reviews on places or maybe just a little less. But I would go in and see, “Hey, they only had one review over the past three months.”
This area might not be good because you can tell they’re not getting a ton of bookings here because you’d see more reviews on these different places. But once I was able to find some areas that I’m like, “Okay, this pocket that I’m actually in, it’s a little closer to the Houston side, they still get a ton of…” I’m seeing all these different unique stays. There’s like a Treehouse maybe 30 minutes away. I would see what their occupancy rates were. There’s a yurt that’s maybe 45 minutes away. I would see what their occupancy rates were and then I would just look in the general area that I was in to see. And during the COVID boom, everybody was booked out even further. But once the next year passed, I would take it more with a grain of salt. Like, “Okay, they don’t have any bookings coming up in a couple of months, but what does their month look like right now?”
And it’s all taken with a grain of salt, because none of these are definitive answers and tell you like, “Oh, this is a great market.” Or, “Oh, hey, they didn’t have many reviews. That’s a terrible market.” I also knew that buying within two pretty decent regional attractions between Lake Livingston and the Sam Houston National Forest, that if I can provide some type of really unique thing that hasn’t been there, people visit these places all the time. I just have to capture that market and figure out how I can get them in. Even if there is no real great examples of what I’m trying to do. I just used all that and put my brain together crunching numbers, and it’s been very close to what actually has came about with my occupancy rates and things.

Ashley Kehr:
I think Tony and I are going to have an evening of Googling geo-domes.

Tony Robinson:
I’m one step ahead of you. I got Lake Levinson up right now. I see Lake Conroe on the other side.

Garrett Brown:
Lake Conroe is another one that I looked into. There’s different reasons why I chose against that. It’s a little more expensive and few other reasons. But there’s a lot near Houston, just being from here, that I knew of growing up that people like to travel to.

Ashley Kehr:
Well, Garrett, thank you so much for sharing all of your information. My business partner, Daryl, has wanted to do a dome for so long. And so he’s going to love this episode and maybe you’ll give him the motivation and inspiration to actually take action on that idea. Okay. I’m going to take you to our rookie exam. What is one action thing rookies should do after listening to this episode?

Garrett Brown:
I’d say join different Facebook groups in your local area and go to some of these meetups and go try to find some… And just talk to more people. Talk to more wholesalers, talk to whoever you can and see what’s really out there. How I even got further in this is when I finally started interacting with more people and learning what areas I can go to and find out about these open houses that are out there. I got on mailing list. And don’t be afraid to just put yourself out there and try to connect with people and put your information out there for people to send you stuff and go to some of it. Don’t just look at it and go, “Oh, okay, that’s cool.” Actively try to make it a part of networking and learning different things and really put yourself in the fire.

Tony Robinson:
All right. Question number two, what’s one tool, software app or system that you use in your business?

Garrett Brown:
I use Lodgify right now for my property management and it’s really, really cool. Has a lot of really cool features and I do definitely think very highly about that. And then honestly, I use the BiggerPockets calculator a ton when I was really learning how to rehab stuff. I don’t want to be sounding cliche. What BiggerPockets really did once… I didn’t know anything about investing. And once I found the site, it was like, “This is wild.” And the calculator, it really does help you really analyze some things going forward. And though you may mess up on some numbers, but it is a better calculator than 99% of the things I’ve ran into. And even if you don’t have the pro membership and things like that, I’d have a couple a month that I was just trying and once I got the pro membership, I was doing 10, 12, 13 calculations every single day, just running up as many numbers as I could to really understand the market and it taught me a lot

Ashley Kehr:
And it’s very user-friendly. Every single spot where there is to put it in a number, it tells you what this number is, where to find it, what does it mean, why it’s important for your analysis too. I definitely love the BiggerPockets calculator reports. Okay. The last question, Garrett, is where do you plan on being in five years?

Garrett Brown:
Five years, I’m hoping to take my glamping operation and everything I’ve learned from building geo-domes and my next unique build and take it to a few other places around Texas or around the country. And then also I’m planning to build a wedding venue not too far in the far future and really hoping to maximize that and probably add some different unique stays near the wedding venue. And I’m hoping to just really build the luxury camping industry near Texas in particular. Maybe a few other areas from there and really extrapolate it to what I’m hoping it will be.

Tony Robinson:
Well, you’re well on your way, Garrett, your question with this one so far.

Garrett Brown:
Appreciate it.

Tony Robinson:
All right, before we wrap up, I want to give a shout-out to this week’s Rookie Rockstar? Today’s Rookie Rockstar is Eric Tuberville. And Eric says, “I’m super excited. This is my second investment property. I just went under contract on it and it’s 13 acres plus a cabin. It’s going to be a short term rental, then going to put some glamping sites on it, a couple of tiny homes and possibly some more spots for campers and RVs.” Eric, congratulations and obviously you’ve got Garrett now as a role model in terms of how to make that thing kill it when you take it live. Congrats again, Eric. Super happy for you.

Ashley Kehr:
Okay. Well Garrett, thank you so much for taking the time to come on here with us today. Can you tell everyone where they can reach out to you and find out some more information?

Garrett Brown:
Sure. I appreciate y’all having me. It’s definitely a honor and a bucket list thing to be talking to y’all. My real estate channel that I do all types of glamping knowledge and things is Nice Flipping Choice. You can find me on all different platforms like that. And then my glamping operation is Cameron Ranch Glamping, it’s named after my brother that passed away about 14 years ago. Feel free to shoot me a message. And I love interacting with people. I don’t have many people that like talking glamping and things, so I’m always open to talk shop with anybody because most of my friends are not interested in it.

Ashley Kehr:
You mean none of your friends want to go glamping?

Garrett Brown:
They want to go glamping, but they don’t want to talk about the, putting in a sewer and things like that.

Ashley Kehr:
They just want to show up and it’s ready here.

Garrett Brown:
100%. But I appreciate it. Thank you.

Ashley Kehr:
Thank you everyone for listening to this week’s episode. I’m Ashley @wealthformrentals and he’s Tony at @tonyjrobinson. Make sure you are a part of the Real Estate Rookie Facebook group and join the other like-minded investors to talk about glamping or whatever strategy you are interested in. We’ll see you guys on Saturday with a rookie reply.

 

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