There are many ways to build InFlows of cash through real estate investing, and understanding the various opportunities available will make you a far more savvy investor.
Today, our guest on today’s episode of In Flow is the admirable Sharon Vornholt, and she’s sharing her extensive investment knowledge with us — including some discussion on probate.
Sharon Vornholt is the owner of Innovative Property Solutions in Louisville, Kentucky, and is truly a role model for the next generation of female investors. Previously, she owned a home inspection business for over seventeen years and has enjoyed investing in all aspects of real estate in her spare time for over a decade.
Originally a rehabber and buy-and-hold landlord, Sharon found a way to thrive during the recession by becoming an accidental real estate wholesaler. In this episode, we dive into how to position your business to thrive in any economic market and discuss the importance of all aspects of real estate investing, right down to probate.
Today more than anything, Sharon is known far and wide for her probate expertise. Often times, property heirs don’t know what to do when left with a property after the passing of a loved one and that’s where Sharon comes in. Sharon discusses the importance (and ease) of lead generation, the need for educating real estate investors about this often overlooked aspect of property, and why probate is perfectly suited for women.
Our host, Michelle Bosch, dives into how Sharon was able to pivot from one successful career to another, and we discuss the importance of being flexible in your career and finding joy in your daily life and work.
By choosing a career which provides you joy as well as a stable income, you will set yourself up for long-term, sustainable success.
Listen and enjoy:
In this episode Michelle and Sharon discuss:
- The importance of probate within the larger real estate market
- How to pivot your career, regardless of your age
- The importance of finding joy and fulfillment in your life and career
- Why women are ideally suited for probate
Find out more!
- Subscribe and rate our podcast on iTunes at: http://www.michellebosch.com/itunes
- Android users can subscribe and rate our podcast at: http://www.michellebosch.com/android
- Follow Michelle Bosch on Instagram to see what she’s up to: https://www.instagram.com/michelleboschofficial
Connect with Sharon
- Connect with Sharon on her website: http://www.innovativepropertysolutionslouisville.com/
- Learn more about probate investing here:http://www.probateinvestingsimplified.com
- Get tools and tricks to help you get started in probate investing here: http://www.louisvillegalsrealestateblog.com
Michelle: Hi. I’m Michelle Bosch, real estate investor, mom, wife, and host of the “InFlow Podcast.” And I’m passionate about helping women invest in land and apartments. Join me each and every week for real estate investing strategies and interviews with thought leaders that will leave you inspired and ready to step into flow for inflows of cash, inflows of ease, and inflows of grace in your life. Now, here on YouTube are the video versions of my podcasts, and in order for you to get my latest information, please go ahead and subscribe. And now, let’s go. Welcome to the “InFlow Podcast.” I’m your host, Michelle Bosch, excited to have today Sharon Vornholt. Did I pronounce that correctly, Sharon?
Sharon: You did.
Michelle: Okay, perfect. She is the owner of Innovative Property Solutions in Louisville, Kentucky. She owns and operated a successful home inspection business for over 17 years, wow, while also investing part-time for over a decade. She was originally a rehabber and a buy-and-hold landlord. When the market crashed, you say here, that you became an accidental wholesaler.
Michelle: And I know that you are also, which is one of the main reasons why I was super excited to have you today here on the show, you are also the go-to person if you want to succeed, if you want to learn everything about this very well…or little known niche of probate. So, welcome, Sharon. I’m excited to have you here. Welcome to InFlow.
Sharon: Well, I’m so excited to be here talking with another female real estate investor.
Michelle: Yes, yes. Yes. We were just discussing before we started and chatted with Sharon that, you know, she’s been in real estate for quite some time, and for a long time, you know, not very many women in the space, and we’re excited to now be role models for the upcoming generation of women investors. So, Sharon, so tell us, how did you start in real estate? It says here you started on the home inspection. Did you just wake up one morning and you decided, “This is what I’m going to do?” Like, how did you get into real estate?
Sharon: Well, I had the home inspection company and started that in 1991. And so around 1998, you know, I met a lot of realtors in that business. And one of them said, “Do you want to go to a REIA meeting with me?” And I said, “What’s a REIA meeting?” Because I only knew real estate from a realtor perspective. And I actually went to my first meeting and I was hooked. I mean, I’ve been a regular since that time. It’s funny when I look back on it now, but there weren’t women in real estate investing and I just went, “Holy smokes, there is this world of opportunity.” So I continued to invest. I invested part-time just for 10 years. So I had a plan, you know, because the other business was very demanding, we’ll just say that.
And so I would buy a rehab or do a rehab or two and then buy a rental, buy a rehab or two. So I was trying to do two things at one time and probably my biggest regret is that I just didn’t do real estate fulltime sooner. But in 2008 it was kind of…well, you know what happened in 2008. It was the perfect storm. So that was when I shut down the home inspection business and I went full time in real estate because the whole world was on sale.
Michelle: Exactly. It was a great time to go shopping.
Sharon: It was a great time to go shopping. But here was the problem was that I had just closed my business which had supplied me with W-2 income and I didn’t, even with that aside, I didn’t want to buy houses and rehab them, go through those months and then have them sit a year on the market. But I looked around and the people that were still doing that had jobs. So I had some people on my list. A couple of them were engineers, they had good jobs. So even though, you know, they had the ability to hold those houses, so that’s when I literally called somebody up and said, “Listen, I just bought these couple of houses. Would you want them because I don’t want to rehab them?” They went, “Oh, yeah.” And I thought, “Boy, was that easy.” So it was only because I had all those 10 years of relationship building. That’s the only reason it was easy. And I’d never intended to stay a wholesaler, but it just kind of happened.
Michelle: Yeah. And it’s exactly kind of like what we do. You know, you don’t have to do anything to the piece of land, you don’t have to build, you don’t have to rezone, you don’t have to subdivide or aggregate even though those are, you know, strategies as well. But our box is just like, you know, find it cheap, sell it below market value so that there’s still skin in the game for someone else, and make some money, and move on. So I totally get it. Now, what is your current focus right now?
Sharon: Still wholesaling. But it’s funny, I was talking to another female investor the other day, we were talking about pivots. Well, she was doing a giant pivot in her business after rehabbing and wholesaling, and I said, you know, “People kind of look at you like you have two heads when you decide, “Well, I’m going to go over here and do this.” So after, you know, 2010 I started the “Louisville Gals Real Estate Blog.” Then about 2013-ish, I started the podcast. And one day I just looked up and said, “Where’s my joy?” And my joy was in teaching. And it was like, “But I can’t just stop being really active over here. Well, wait a minute, maybe I can.” So I just got somebody to kind of take over that part of the business. I was still in the deciding thing. So I’m over here, you know, really focusing on coaching and things. I’m still in the middle and I finally one day was like, Oprah says, “Pick a lane.” And I said, “Okay, I have to pick a lane.” So I picked the education side, simply because that’s where my joy was.
Michelle: Yeah, I totally get it. And, you know, sometimes as we mature also as investors, those pivots are normal. They will come. We focus on land and did land exclusively between 2002 all the way to, you know, 2009 when we decided, “Oh, my gosh, we are in January at the bottom of the market here in Phoenix. We need to start transferring some of our cash, you know, cash and cash flow profits from the land space into single-family homes and build up a portfolio of single-family homes for buy and hold.” Then in 2016, we were like, “How can we continue to turbocharge passive cash flow?” You know what I mean? And that’s when we started multifamily.
So I think it’s kind of like a natural evolution, you know. And as we have gone in each of those different asset classes, always that’s the very first question is like, “Is this the path to joy?” And for my husband, I know you’ve known of him for some time and he already, I think, came to that much, much sooner than I did. And so, we started also educating and teaching others on our land flipping technique and so on. So tell us about the opportunity because I know now you are incredibly, you know…you have specialized in a specific niche which is probate, and you have kind of mastered that and simplified it in order to be able to multiply the profits in that space. Can you tell us a little bit about that opportunity? Why is it an opportunity? We come across, you know, probate cases in the land space, and how do you go about that?
Sharon: Well, sadly, you will never run out of leads with probates. Every month, there is a new group of people that pass away. But the reality of it is that those heirs that the executors or the people in charge, they have the business of settling the estate, and that almost always includes a property. And I found that over time, well, you know as well as I know that if you don’t know how to market you don’t know… Everything starts with lead generation. So you don’t need to know how to negotiate or do any of the other things until you know how to generate leads.
Michelle: Find the property.
Sharon: Yes, that was always my thing. Even from the home inspection company, I was really good at marketing and generating leads. And when I came across probates, I was in real estate, probably about 9 or 10 years before I first discovered. Imagine in 2008, I would have virtually no competition once I discovered that niche. And then, of course, we start educating people so it gets a little bit fuller, but the reason I love probates is because, at the end of the day, we need leads. The, okay, the leads every month in every city in the country, you have leads. But they are a little bit specialized because you have to…well, there are over 3,300 counties in the U.S. and every county is a little bit different, but the basic process is the same.
So one of my biggest challenges was in the beginning was educating real estate investors about, “Hey, it’s not creepy or weird. These people have to sell the house. You know, they have to pay the creditors.” So unless it’s been directly inherited, they fall into two categories. Well, actually, there’s pretty houses and then there’s the dogs, and then there’s the ones in the middle, and that’s the only part of this that’s ever market-driven. Like now it’s a seller’s market, and you can list anything on the MLS. So the middle goes over to what I call the pretty house side. But it left the market change a little bit. There was a time, Michelle, when I was buying houses that needed paint and carpet and three repairs for wholesale prices, so… But probates, in general, is not market-driven, and that’s why it is an evergreen niche.
Michelle: Yeah, I love that. I love the evergreen… Now, how do you find the leads? You said you’re good at marketing. In the land space, we do direct mail. What do you do?
Sharon: Direct mail. It’s direct mail. So I just cringe every time a man tells me he cold-called someone. And I’ll say, “Listen, somebody’s mama died. Don’t do that.” You have to be… You know, it’s like, “Okay, this is really basic human relations.” But yeah, so direct mail. I am a big proponent of direct mail.
Michelle: Do you do postcards or do you do letters?
Sharon: Letters. So I believe very strongly that with probates, and I use postcards for everything else, but I do white computer-generated letters that are mail-merged, that are personalized so that they know that you are speaking directly to them. And there’s none of this putting them in invitation envelopes so they think they’re getting a sympathy card. Use a number 10 white envelope. And this is a case where these people are…they’re in a tough spot and they want to know they’re dealing with somebody that can seal the deal. You need to show up as a professional.
Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I like that. That’s exactly the route that we take. We have a lot of, you know, students that sometimes want to deviate from that and they’re like, you know, “I want it to be handwritten for the personalizing,” but that doesn’t show me that you can close and that you’re able to perform and bring this closing to the finish line. We always want to come across as professionals, so totally, totally get what you’re saying there. Now as far as, okay, so where would someone that wants to start looking into this go get leads? We find them from counties, we find them from list sources like AgentPro247, we get them from, you know, sometimes from title companies if you have good relationships with them. Where do we find out about probate leads? Where do you source them?
Sharon: Well in a lot of areas. And, you know, I’m not a fan… And I know about AgentPro247, it’s not available in my area. In Chicago, they have a service called ChicagoDealVault where you can get leads. What I tell people is Google probate, plus your county and your city and just do a bunch of Google searches. A lot of areas are online. I had a student in Houston, and he said, “I just don’t know where to get these leads.” And I said, “Well, let’s Google them,” and it came right up, “Harris County probates.” So you have to do… And this is the part where it’s both good and bad. It’s good for the people willing to do the detective work because they find the leads. This is where most people go, “I’m not doing that.”
So they may be online. You can check for a notice to creditor. Some counties, they actually publish the notice to creditors rather than an actual probate notice, but in my area, for years, I thought it was horribly low tech, but in the newspaper on the same day, every month they publish the leads. But guess what? It has all the four pieces of information you have. So you can give that off to somebody. In some areas, I have a student in New Jersey, he has to go to the courthouse. So that’s the worst thing you want to do. But there are lead sources, but here’s been my experience with some of the well-known lead sources. A lot of times they’re working obituaries. They’ll say “Oh, this lead is so fresh we’ve not yet gotten the executor information and all that.” Well, this is because the probate hasn’t been filed. So this is something else I tell people, “Don’t do that. Don’t work obituaries.”
Michelle: Now for example in the land space we need a personal number, we need the name of the owner, we need the mailing address of the owner. It would be nice to have the size and the value, but that’s pretty much it and we can run with that. Do you find that easily then, like, in the notices to creditors? Is it electronic or do you have to then bring it from a paper format into electronic to send out your mailings?
Sharon: It depends. A lot of places the information is online. So with probate, you need four pieces of information. You need the name and address of the deceased because you want to know if they have property and if it’s a property that you want, and then you need the name and address of the personal representative because that is the decision-maker, that’s the person that can sign on the dotted line. Now, where I see some counties, it’s almost like they make it hard on purpose. They’ll have all the information but leave out the executor’s address. And then you get into this whole thing where you’re trying to skip trace and you go online… Sometimes, like in my area, you can go on to online records. A lot of places you can go on to online records, and they’ll have the information for your county.
So in one area you could go and you could look at the will, but that’s a really big time suck. Don’t do that, because that’s really fun, but it’s like, “I hate my Aunt Mary. She’s not getting anything but a dollar.” But yeah, so on the bottom of that file, though, they would attach the probate record, the opening of the probate, and it would have all the information. But you just have to look, you know, look online, check… I got incredibly lucky. I didn’t realize it, but I actually called my probate court all those years ago and said, “How can I get a list?” That’s the question, “How can I get a list?” And they said, “Oh, they’re published in the newspaper in the classified ads, you know, like foreclosures, once a month, but I don’t know what the date is.” And I said, “I’m good. I’ll call the newspaper,” and then they told me exactly when to look. But, you know, most people just go, “I don’t know. I don’t know where to look.”
Michelle: Yeah, you give up too soon. Absolutely.
Sharon: They give up.
Michelle: Now, so say you have your list, you contact the people, they call, you know, you send them a letter, they’ll eventually call you. And at that point, there’s probably some negotiation, some relationship building or, you know, you put that property under contract is what I’m thinking. And that all sounds simple, but it all has…you know, until you’ve done it, there are steps that go into it, and now you’re ready to market. And you’re marketing, I’m assuming, at below market value and that’s why you’re able to sell quickly. What’s the strategy?
Sharon: So in Kentucky, it’s pretty much the same way you would do any other deal. Now I know if you are in California, they’ve added a whole bunch of steps to complicate things. But most cities are pretty simple. The one thing that I learned very fast on my very first probate deal is if I were going to, and I don’t know if…can you double close in Phoenix or…?
Michelle: Mm-hmm. Yeah. We can.
Sharon: Okay. So we can double close here. And most of the time I like a clean transaction so I’ll just pay the little bit extra, double close and then resell because my buyer is always another investor. So my normal procedure would have been on a wholesale was I would go buy the house and then I would market the house and then get both the contracts and send them over to my closing. We use attorneys here. But the very first probate deal I did, I did that way, and then I found out that the family had attempted to do the probate themselves. So it had to be all started over and it took five months and I had to keep going back and getting an extension on the contract.
So after that big fiasco, what I do now is when I get the initial contracts, write the contract with the seller, I immediately send that over to my closing attorney and he checks to see if everything’s in order. And then I’ll go with that and sign my buyer but I put a clause in my contract that says about the closing, that says, “Closing will be this many days upon court/attorney approval to close.” That way you don’t have a dead contract, you don’t have to go back and get an extension and hope that they’re still on board because Michelle came over and offered him $500 more or so.
Michelle: More. Yeah.
Sharon: Yes. But I learned that the hard way but I learned that lesson.
Michelle: What is the typical, let’s say, discount? Like, are you able to get at 60 cents, 70 cents on the dollar a home? Like, what is, like, usually that spread?
Sharon: Well everybody works on…and they start out with that 70% formula but I have found over time that you’re almost always…these people, they may have a brand new furnace, they may have put a roof on 10 years ago, and they may have orange shade carpet and metal cabinets so they may need… I mean, you know, because this person, they did the basic big upkeep of the house but they never updated anything. So it’s been my experience that realistically you’re going to need to get a distressed property for about 50 cents on the dollar so that you can… When I do this, I figure very conservative comps and I figure repairs high. There’s the what-ifs.
So that’s why…people say you need this giant buyers list. I say, “No, not if you’re doing a good job. You need a handful, maybe five or six.” And they buy everything and, literally, I would call them from the porch and say, “I’ve got a house I know you’d buy here. I’ll give you a 24-hour head start and seed my…” They’re always vacant. So I can put a lockbox on it. That’s another thing I get in my contract. I don’t want to put a lockbox on the house. So I usually have a contract within… I would get really nervous if I hadn’t sold it in a couple of days. It’s like, “Oh, my gosh, something’s wrong.”
Michelle: Yeah, did I get the pricing wrong? Am I off there? Yeah, I can see that. What do you attribute, Sharon, your success to? What do you think has been the key ingredient?
Sharon: Oh, I think just staying in the game, for one thing, not getting discouraged, but I think it all boils down to marketing. And I believe that women, especially when it comes to probates, I believe they’re uniquely suited for the probate niche because… And I’m not saying that men aren’t because I have a lot of men that are really good and that, you know, that have learned. They’re really good. But I think women, they just kind of pop out, as you know, the ones that are moms, they just have a certain compassion and understanding and like, “You’re my child, I love you, but I’m actually going to kill you right now.” You know, it’s that, but it’s that whole… It’s a different way of looking, you know, at things. And I think too women are…they find it easier.
For instance, if I were going to look at a house and they said in the conversation, “My mom passed away.” When I would go in the house, I would look for visual clues. And that’s what I teach people to do. So if I go in the house, and there are lots of cookbooks, I’ll say, “Oh, was your mom the cook?” Or, “Was your dad the golfer?” There’s golf clubs in the corner. It’s about putting yourself in that situation, starting a conversation because they all want to talk about the person that’s passed away. You gotta be a really good listener. And I think once you get really good at just saying, “Tell me about the house,” or, “Tell me about your mom,” the rest of it just goes smoothly.
Michelle: Yeah, I can see that. And you’re right, our ability to empathize, you know, based on the situation and just create that rapport, we can be uniquely suited, you know, really…not that men, like you said, are not great at it and don’t have it, but there’s this, you know, intuition, this ability to connect, you know, and so on and so forth, that I can see how it can be valuable and very, very useful in this niche for sure. Sharon, because the InFlow Podcast is not just about inflows of cash, but also about inflows of ease and grace in your life, I wanted to ask you, what do you do on a daily basis to get in the zone, to get inflow to go ahead and produce the cash, number one, but also to bring that faith and spirituality into your life? What do you do on a daily basis?
Sharon: Well, you know, I fall off the wagon every so often like everybody, but I find that if I can meditate in the morning and ground myself, it’s really helpful for me because let’s face it, this business and life is stressful. So if you can start off with, I don’t have one of these, “I get up at 4:00 in the morning” and, you know, I had a marine telling me the other day, “Okay, you need to be up at 4:00,” and I’m going, “I’m not doing that. It’s just not me. I’m just gonna tell you right now, I’m not doing that.” But I get up and I like the practice of journaling. I try not to schedule myself, right, like, you know, make it at least 10:00 or 11:00, something like that so I can try to get grounded and start my day off right. Because if you don’t put it down in your calendar, it isn’t going to get done. And I fall off the wagon periodically but I’ve always come back to that because you don’t want to be all, you know, upset and stressed out all the time.
Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. The same here. I wake up and I need my hour of power, which usually comes after I’ve dropped off my daughter at school and then I can be like, “Okay,” you know, from that grounded center space really go out there and feel powerful and rest in the strength of that, you know, feeling centered and so on and so forth. What are three pieces of advice that you would have for a woman starting out right now and that wanted to get into, you know, the investing game in real estate?
Sharon: Well, I think they need to understand that marketing is the main thing they need to get really good at first. They’re really in the…the second thing would be that they’re in the problem-solving business that just happens to involve houses. So if you can get really good at marketing, really good at communications… And I don’t think you need to be… People say, “Well, I don’t have really good sales skills.” Well, that’s certainly important but I think being on a human level, being able to look someone in the eye and talk to them, I think that is more important.
And then the third thing is where I see people fall off the wagon, and certainly, I was guilty of it in the early years is follow up. Gosh, we found that maybe 80% of your deals will ultimately come from follow up after other people…maybe they’ve said no to you, and you follow up and their other person fell through or whatever. But I think you have to have systems and I think you have to look at it as a business. You really do.
Michelle: Yeah. Great. And what would be the best way for someone to learn about you? I know that you have a course, “Probate Simplified” I believe it’s the name.
Sharon: probateinvestingsimplified.com. They can check out the course certainly. If they go over to my blog, the “Louisville Gals Real Estate Blog” I have some freebies over there. I have a marketing plan template that they can download for free to build out their marketing plan. It was the one I used with private coaching students for years. I still get people that say, “Can you help me do this?” but you can totally go step by step on how you do that. And I have a probate investing starter kit over there which has…it has a graphic for how the process is laid out and the exact moment you can buy the house. There’s a sample letter in there and there’s a, like, a quick terminology part which is boring but you need to be able to speak the language, you know. When they say these words and you don’t know what they are, you need to know what the words are.
Michelle: And that was at louisvillegalsrealestateblog.com. That’s where people can go?
Sharon: Yes, obviously in 2010 we knew nothing about naming anything.
Michelle: No, but if it has traction, and it’s very well indexed and it’s great SEO, I mean, people will find you, you know?
Sharon: They do.
Michelle: So yeah. So thank you so much, Sharon. It was a pleasure getting to know you and getting to learn a little bit more about, you know, how you go about probate. And I have even, like, ideas for myself, you know, how can I transfer some of the things that we discussed here to our case in the land space and so on and so forth. Because even within land, that could be another segment before you even go more into the niche, you know, of just being an incredible problem-solver for families that need it. And because people are not…you know, once they hit the first obstacle of perhaps not finding that piece of data, they give up, that means that there’s more opportunity for us to actually reach that person and solve their problems. So, thank you so much. It was a pleasure. And yeah, I look forward to talking to you. And maybe if I ever have any probate questions, I’ll definitely come back to you.
Sharon: Well, yes, do that. And thanks so much for having me on.
Michelle: Yeah. Thank you so much, Sharon. Take care. I hope this episode left you feeling inspired and ready to get inflows of cash, inflows of light, and inflows of faith in your life. I welcome your reviews on iTunes. Please leave me a review and help me create an amazing community of women in flow. Thank you, as always, for sharing your voice by going to michellebosch.com and joining the conversation about this show. And while you’re there, grab a copy of my “Ten Commandments to Living a Life In Flow.” You can also follow me on Facebook @michellebosch and on Instagram @michelleboschofficial. Thank you very much, and until the next one.
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