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January 26, 2021

Financial Freedom To Serving Others With Mark Kenney [Ep. 033]

Listen to Mark Kenney talk about acquiring 47 properties and 8,000+ units to achieve financial freedom. His focus has now shifted to teaching others how to build wealth and giving to charitable causes. He has a family approach to bringing people together to make deals happen!

Table of Contents:

Attaining Financial Freedom Through Multifamily

Attaining Financial Freedom Through Multifamily
Photographer: Jason Dent | Source: Unsplash

Darin: Mark Kenney, his wife, and two children live in Dallas, Texas. He owned and managed a technology company before investing in multifamily. Mark has already reached financial freedom from his 8,000 plus apartment units, but he keeps pressing on. His focus has shifted to one, helping others grow their wealth through multifamily investing, and two, giving back to charities.

I started in real estate about three years ago. Like many people when they get started in something, I focused on getting educated. So I read a lot of books, listened to a lot of podcasts, and joined a mentorship group. And then I went out and I wanted to network with as many people that have already done it. I started to look for different meetup groups to go to.

Mark and his wife, Tamiel, have a meetup group in the DFW area and the day that I went, it was actually at their house. They were kind enough to invite everybody in the house. I met some great, great people, both syndicators, and passive investors. It was just a very welcoming environment. And what was nice was nobody came up to me and tried to get me to buy something or join or anything. It was just all about networking, getting to know other people. So I'm looking forward to this conversation. Mark, just to start, how many properties and how many units have you invested in multifamily?

Mark: It changes pretty much every week. We had a couple of closings a week ago, and we're closing today, so it's been pretty active.

Discover How To Save Taxes and Build Wealth

Think Multifamily

Mark: We have probably 47 properties right now, about 8,000 units, thereabouts, we have a couple that is selling as well. So it's kind of where we're at right now.

Darin: That's crazy. I think that's the most out of anybody that's been on the show.

Mark: There are more. I heard someone the other day say they have, some group, they have 150,000. I'm like, "I've never heard anyone with a 150,000." But we've been pretty active. The beginning of last year was active and then after a few months they were slow. And then we ended up having two closings on December 30th, which is always nice during the holidays. So it's pretty much a changing number regularly.

Darin: That's a huge number though, 47 properties. I mean, some people that are listening to this, just can't get their mind around it. So you and your wife started a company called Think Multifamily. Talk about what that company is all about, what you guys do, what's your focus, that sort of thing to achieve financial freedom.

Mark: Sure. So we've been syndicating for a while and we never really had any plans of being on the education side. And then just through some circumstances, people were coming to us and asking us to do the meetups and webinars and things like that, and we started doing that and fell in love with doing the coaching, education side of things. We do have events as well. The whole idea is that we have two big aspects to it. One is the educational side, coaching. We've been through a lot of transactions, we've seen a lot of things, so try to share experiences with other people that want to syndicate like us, or people that want to invest.

Financial Freedom Through Family Syndication Group

Mark: And then just as importantly, it's called the Family Syndication Group and the name is on purpose because we have a very family environment. The community's cool, people end up helping each other, where a lot of people I know, some groups, they kind of compete against each other. Doesn't happen in our group.

The idea is that some things you do well, some things you don't probably do quite as well and, or, don't like. So you can come in and be part of a group where you work on those things that you like and you do well, and those things you don't like, you don't necessarily have to work on. That's kind of the whole thing. And people will come and work in every aspect of it and that's allowed us to do a lot of deals.

Darin: That's awesome. So if I was to break out those two components that you brought up, education. I think you guys have free meetup groups, that's a way to educate people, and then you also have conferences. And I don't know if you do that once a year or more.

Mark: At least twice a year.

Darin: And both of those events are held in Dallas? Is that correct?

5 Step Process Ad

Mark: They vary. The last one we did was in Dallas and the one before that was in Vegas, so it will vary.

Darin: So those are conferences, and are those for one day, two days, three days?

Mark: So we do two distinct conferences. One is called the Fire Summit. It's two days, going through the 14 steps of acquiring deals and syndicating, things like that. The other one is a deal analysis workshop. It's two and a half days.

Fire Summit

Mark: So you bring your computer, work through deals together and we go through all the different aspects of it. So very, very hands-on. The first half of the day is more of a beginner, so if you're not a beginner, you don't need to probably come to that. And then the other two days we're going through deals, end-to-end, as a group.

Darin: Awesome. How many people typically attend these events?

Mark: So the deal analysis we try to keep to 100 people, just because it's very technical. We had more in the last couple, but we had more than that, that signed up. So during COVID, our event was August, so we had a lot of people that signed up, but we streamed it.

Kind of last-minute in the last two weeks. A lot of people said, "I think I'll stream it instead." So they weren't physically there, but we still had a good group in the room. We had enough where we had to get a second room. And another Fire event, it will vary, 250-ish or so. So not huge. We charge a little bit more than some of the other people if you want to say. We don't try to just get people in there as well.

Darin: Fantastic. So that's the education, and in addition to that, you have the free meetup groups. How often do you guys do the free meetup groups in Dallas?

Mark: Typically, monthly, but that has changed a bit with COVID. We have not been doing them actively, frankly. So it's been less, but monthly. We don't have it just in Dallas, we have about seven or so across the country.

The Structure for Financial Freedom

Darin: Listeners, if you are looking to get out when these guys open up the doors again to doing free meetups, I would highly recommend going there and meeting some of these folks. Really good people. And also, check out the conferences on their website. Is your website thinkmultifamily.com?

Mark: It is. We have a fair bit of free content too.

Darin: On the website there is?

Mark: There is, and then YouTube and those things like that.

Darin: Fantastic. So now the other side of it, the Family Syndication Group, that's really where you start having people sign up and become part of the group and start going after trying to find deals and work together to close deals. Is that correct?

Mark: That's correct.

Darin: So help me understand how you guys structure deals because you alluded to it right in the beginning that Family Syndication Group. Some people are very good at one area and not as good as other areas or don't want to participate in that. And so, my understanding from talking to other people is that there may be even more people in the GP group that specialize in one area or the other. Can you talk through that?

Mark: That's right. So typically, our whole goal is to try to get somebody into syndication if they want to, as fast as possible. I do all the coaching. So we don't have sub-coaches like a lot of other groups do. I love doing it and being able to do it and it's worked out well. The idea is that if you come in, most people are like, "Hey, I need to be able to do all the different aspects of a deal before I get started."

Honing Your Skills Towards Financial Freedom

Mark: And that's fine if you want to do it all on your own. But if you're open to partnering with other people, which most people are, then I tell people to try to focus on a certain area. You've been built a certain way, right? Maybe people are good with numbers, other people are like, "I don't like numbers. I don't like talking to people." So you have a varying level of skillset right off the bat. So we try to hone in and develop that one skillset as fast as possible.

And what we've seen is, many examples where someone comes in, they work on one area, let's say, for example, they're hunting deals, they go find deals. And then they're like, "Hey. Well, I don't have any money for earnest money, I've never raised money." And then the second deal maybe they have a little bit of cash where they can put some earnest money down on a deal, or when they can start trying to bring in friends and family for capital, and then they can start signing loans. So it's kind of a progression where the whole idea is that you want to recoup as much of your investment as possible, as fast as you can, and if you keep waiting around until you know or you think you know every aspect of syndication, it's just too long, in my opinion, to get started.

Darin: Right. It's a challenge for sure.

Mark: Yes. On the last count, we had like 78% of the people that got into a general partnership in six months or less. So it's a high percentage and it's really because of the structure of the group.

Darin: Yes, that's fantastic.

Focus Is Key

Darin: I went the other route where I did learn everything. But I've been on other podcasts and they're like, "What was the hardest part?" I was like, "Every part was hard, man, the first time you do it." It was scary and it was hard. Whether it was calling brokers or going on property tours or doing the underwriting, whatever, raising money. But once you did it, you got through it and you learned.

But having gone through that, I look back and I'm like, "There are a lot of different components to this. And what do I like and what do I not like, and where do I want to focus?" And so, it sounds like you have that open right from the get-go that somebody can come in and just focus on one little area and then partner with other people.

Mark: Yes. Part of the reason for it too was I did IT before. I was IT, had an IT company and I saw the same thing with developers and functional people and business. And everyone's like, "Hey, everyone needs to be well-rounded." Some companies I was at, they were taking developers and making them try to be functional and try to make them do sales things and I'm like, "End of the day, it's great to be well-rounded, but they don't like it, they're not good at it." I'd much rather have somebody that's a specialist in a certain area, just like a doctor. They're more valuable in my opinion if they're a specialist.

Darin: I get it. I've read a lot of self-development books, I go to a lot of conferences, not just real estate but entrepreneurial.

Leverage From Somebody's Experience

Darin: And I hear over and over and over again, focus on your strengths and either hire out your weaknesses or partner on your weaknesses, versus trying to build up your weaknesses, but more of your focus where you're strong. So that makes a lot of sense.

The other thing that's different from some other groups is that it seems like you are in almost every deal. So one of the key components, and I have people reach out to me on Instagram and others that want to get into the market and they're asking for advice, and I say, "Look if you want to play in the large scale multifamily," and I might be wrong here but I tell people, "I don't think you're going to win a deal unless you partner with somebody who has experience."

So you can do that by going to meetup groups and building relationships or joining a mentorship group. But it sounds like people that join your group already have that baked in right from the get-go, like they're going to focus in their one area and the experienced guy is already there, it's you. You're going to be in the deal. Your balance sheet, your experience, your resume is already part of the deal.

Mark: Yes, it's an option. Unlike a lot of groups, we don't have a lot of rules. Our number one rule is don't be a jerk  and you should be okay. That's a rule, but we don't have all these other kinds of rules.

Darin: I didn't hear that one when I went to the meetup, and luckily I got in and out without getting called on it.

Mark: It's an option if people want to partner. I don't partner on every single deal.

There Are No Rules in the Family Syndication Group

Darin: So it's not a requirement, it's an option?

Mark: There's no requirement at all, or no unwritten rule, like some groups have these unwritten rules and such. But if you want to, first of all, be in the group and leverage the group, you're more than welcome to do that.

If you say, "Well, hey Mark, I want you to sign on a loan. I want you to be on the webinar when I'm with investors. And I want you to raise capital. I want to tell the seller that you're going to be my general partner on the deal as well and be on the seller call," and those type of things, I will do that.

I haven't done it in every deal. A couple of deals not interested in, frankly. And people can do their own deals. We don't have these restrictions on how they structure a deal. They can structure a deal however they want, they really can. If I'm not a partner, it's none of my business how you structure a deal, it's not. So that's kind of the way we've been set up.

Darin: One of the things I loved that you said was the whole reason you got into this side of the business, you were already syndicating deals before, but you had people coming to you and saying, "Hey, can you help me? Can you help me? So can you help me?" And you started by just having a meetup group and helping some people, and then you started to make it more structured and offered a program. You said as you started to do that, that you fell in love with it. So talk about why you enjoy it so much.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Mark: I don't know, because originally both my wife, Tamiel and I were both like, "No, we don't want to do this." We seriously did not want to do it. We were already syndicating and liked doing that. I think the biggest thing I like about it is I've learned a lot by doing it. I've done 55 deals or so, thereabouts. I just found that a lot of the other people out there don't necessarily teach every aspect of it.

We want to teach the good, the bad, the ugly, bad things that have happened to us, things that we messed upon. Things don't always go perfectly, so we want to teach those aspects, which I didn't think other people were doing. I thought deal analysis as far as some of the people, the way they teach that it was very, very weak, frankly. So we spent a lot of time on that.

And then the end of the day was, I was in a position where I was doing pretty well for all practical purposes with an IT business. I was 90 plus hours a week, slept three hours a night. I mean, just a pretty rough personal thing. And I didn't eat very well, I didn't exercise, I didn't do anything other than work and I was stressed out all the time.

Didn't spend any time with Tamiel, so it caused some issues. So I was in a position where a lot of other people probably are like, "Well, I make decent money." And my dad provided for me, I provided for my family, but I was missing a big component. I knew it was time, really, with the family.

Financial Freedom Means Time for Things That Matter

family time for financial freedom
Photographer: Alberto Casetta | Source: Unsplash

Mark: There are other people out there just like me that are professionals that probably make good money and think they're doing what they should do. But at the end of the day, there's a lot more to life than just working and making money.

So for me being able to see other people that are brand new to syndication come in, get a deal, I'm way more excited about that than me closing another deal. I mean, it's just great to see. And then we start seeing people that can quit their job. Now, are they sitting on the beach? Typically, not. Our group hasn't been around that long, but we do have several people that have left their job and they're in a position where they have a lot more free time to spend with family.

Then be able to build a legacy for their kids, like we're trying to do with our kids. To try to get their eyes open that there are other options out there. You don't have to do real estate if you don't want to, but there are other options out there. And to get into a position where you're getting cash flow coming in, regardless of whether you're working or not. And when I had an IT business, I had to work to make money. Even though I had people working for me, everyone that had clients, they wanted me on the projects, and it was just a never-ending thing. So it's seeing the people change their life is really what is making me fall in love with it. Then the community piece of it. When I did IT consulting, I was brought in for a lot of problems.

Having a Community Matters

Mark: I probably didn't even know if you were married, had kids, or anything. And I don't say I didn't care, but I kind of didn't care. I was there to fix problems and that's what you're paying me for. No personal aspect of it at all because I was just too busy. Every 10 minutes I spend doing that I could be doing work and getting work done.

So with the Family Syndication Group, all our friends are from the group, they are. I mean, we go on vacation together, we went on a catamaran together with some people there, we went to Florida for Christmas with some people from our group. We have a couple coming in out of town today from our group. So all my friends, family really, are from the group now and we hang out. Pretty much every Friday night we go out with a group of people and things like that.

So that part of it, which back in the day I would say wasn't important to me or I thought wasn't important to me, has now become a very critical piece of my life and it's changed my life. That's all from Tamiel because I was like, "Community? Who cares? Let's do transactions." She's like, "No, we need community. We're going to go on vacation together." I'm like, "What? Who wants to go on vacation together?" And now, I'm a believer.

Darin: That's awesome. Well, sometimes you got to bite the bullet and start taking advice from your spouse, so that's fantastic.

Mark: I'm learning that. 25 years.

Darin: I'm still trying to learn that as well, believe me. At a much, much, much smaller scale, I learned that after my first syndication deal.

Financial Freedom Leads to Helping Others

Darin: I have another business that I trade loan portfolios, but after doing the first syndication business deal, what I learned, and going back to what I like and what's gotten me charged up is almost when I looked at it and I said, "You know what? When we make this deal more profitable and we increase the value, it's not just Darin Batchelder and my family that's going to benefit." We have 44 limited partners and so we're helping grow the wealth of those 44 other families. And then they have children that they could talk to about it. And so it has a dramatic impact, in addition to all the tenants, improving the property for them as you rehab the property.

But you went a step further to coach people and help people go after it, actively. There's a way to make money and then there's a piece of just being a good human being that gives you just joy for helping other people. Now, you guys have a profitable business by an education business, conference business, but it sounds like in your heart, for you and Tamiel, it's way more than just building up the profitable business, you guys are building long-term, lifelong friendships.

Mark: It is. And frankly, the education piece isn't something we need to do, we can just syndicate. So people think we're just in it for certain reasons. No, we don't have to do it from a financial standpoint. But it's building the family as you said, but now some of our kids. So Christmas, we went to Florida and someone in our group actually came and brought three kids with them, and then our daughter was there, our son was there.

Extending Friendships With the Kids

Darin: Where in Florida were you?

Mark: We went to Fort Lauderdale, and man, it got colder over Christmas than I anticipated.

Darin: I was down there for 14 years. I was in Fort Lauderdale, then a town called Parkland which is a little bit inland between Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton. I always felt bad for the people coming down there between Christmas and New Years' because it was a kind of potluck, you either get nice weather or you get a little cold front come in.

Mark: Yes. Christmas Eve was nice and that and then it got kind of colder.

Darin: So you were saying that your kids, you were down in Fort Lauderdale and I think you were about to tell a story about how maybe one of your kids was impacted in buying real estate.

Mark: Well, Fort Lauderdale, not necessarily, it's just that we had another family that came with us. They brought their three daughters. We stayed in the same place and we're friends with them from the group, a mortgage broker. It's the whole idea of getting not just the parents together and getting the friendships. Living life together if you want to say, now the kids also are developing relationships and spending time together, and hopefully, those are lifelong relationships they can develop.

Darin: That's fantastic. You talked earlier about the good, the bad, and the ugly. I agree, most people in meetup groups and conferences and podcasts, wherever, are all talking about the good, and there is a ton of good and from my perspective, just the leverage and the tax efficiency with these apartment deals is unheard of and is just so attractive. But a lot of these deals don't run on a straight line.

Hiccups Before Financial Freedom

struggles before financial freedom
Photographer: Roland Samuel | Source: Unsplash

Darin: There are hiccups along the way. Maybe share one circumstance where you guys had a challenge on a deal and how you overcame that.

Mark: Right. So we've had different challenges on different deals. I'll share the biggest challenge and the biggest heartache, if you want to say, of my business career. There were a couple of lessons learned, so there's something to come out of this so you can not do what I did on this deal.

Darin: Well, that's the whole thing, leverage other people's knowledge, right?

Mark: That's right. Someone had an event and they said, it was like a last-minute thing, he said, "Hey, do you want to come up on stage?" There was a panel and I said, "Sure, I'll come up." They gave me an option to share a good story or a bad story and I'm like, "Good stories, that's what everyone wants to share, but there aren't as many lessons learned, typically off that." So I'll explain this story.

A partner that I'd done a couple of deals with, this was several years back, and then he had a deal he already owned and he had a partner in there. The partner wanted to get out for, he claims, various reasons, to go up and buy in New York where he lived and things like that. This is a property in Georgia. And so I syndicated, bought that guy out, the partner, and we did a couple of things. We kept the LLC. There are some reasons why we did that or whatever. And then my partner was also a property manager in a property management company for several years. And he was doing a good job on the two other properties we had together.

Everyone Experiences Challenges

Mark: Well, on this deal, pretty quickly things didn't start adding up. I flew down there a little less than two months after the takeover, to check on the progress. It had a huge, huge value add. It's a rough, rough area as well of Georgia. And progress wasn't there and things like that. Well, at the end of the day, he appeared, I'll just say that, to be in collusion with a couple of vendors, work that was done, things like that.

We removed him. And we had a board of directors which was great. We had five people including him. It provided the ability for us to remove him as manager of the property. And as soon as we did that, then we started having all kinds of liens placed against the property from about 10 months before I or any of my investors were involved in the deal. These liens were from 10 months previously. They had paid, like a 1,000 invoices from this one company, we painted this wall, did this and that. There was no way we could prove whether it was done 10 months later. We hired a forensic accountant to go through the books and things looked fishy for sure, we were in litigation. He passed away during litigation.

Darin: Who passed away?

Mark: The partner. This is one of those stories where you're like, "You can't make this stuff up," and it goes from bad to worse. Two big things for me out of that. We caught him quickly, so we had our eye on the ball so that part. And people were like, "Well, how could someone do that?" I'm like, "Well, people at multi-billion dollar companies steal money and they have all these controls in place."

LLC Liabilities Before Financial Freedom

Mark: We took action quickly, but it was having an LLC liability. I get asked of this a lot from people. They say, "I'm buying." Actually, just pretty recently, in the last two months someone said, "I'm going to buy this property and we're going to use the same LLC to save on taxes and things like that." And I don't care how squeaky clean it is today, it doesn't matter. You can get everything you want in a contract, it does not matter. Any of those creditors are going to come after the LLC.

We had another thing with this guy, there were no investors involved in this deal, but it was an LLC that he had and we had it together and he ended up doing something and we ended up. We removed him. All right, he's removed. So I'm in mediation on something I didn't even do, at all, because he's like, "I'm not showing up, you kicked me out of the company."

So people say, "Oh, what of all the things you could do?" It's like people are people. People say, "I trust this person. I do that." People can do stuff. And how this could have been mostly avoided, probably 98%, by setting up a new LLC. But we ended up taking over the LLC, the mortgage, things like that, so that's one.

Darin: So let me jump in here just to share something with the listeners. So typically, the new buying group is going to come in and form a new LLC and that new LLC is going to purchase the asset. But at times, people will buy the existing LLC. And one of the benefits of doing that is that the property tax agencies don't end up taxing it differently.

Lesson Learned From Business Hiccups

Darin: Typically, when a new buying group comes in and buys the asset with a new LLC, you might see the valuation on the property jump pretty dramatically.

Mark: Just a little bit.

Darin: Yes, pretty dramatically in some jurisdictions, right? So that is one of the benefits of buying the LLC, but with that comes any liabilities associated with that LLC that you're buying, whether they're disclosed or not disclosed, come with that LLC. So you're buying that and so that's what happened with Mark in this situation is that he purchased the LLC. The business partner was saying everything was on the up and up, but there were a lot of undisclosed liabilities that he and his team had to work through afterward.

Mark: Yes, very, very good point. And the whole idea is I would never do that again. I got burned obviously. Somebody will be like, "I did it and it was great." Well, at the end of the day, it could be great, it could not be great, and as I said, you can put everything you want in a contract of who's liable and things like that, but it does not matter.

You've probably seen it too, we'll get a lawsuit where someone slipped and fell or whatever it might be and it's like the year before we bought the property. We have a new LLC and everything, but it's like they're going to go after whoever they can. And we have our attorneys say, "Hey, we didn't own the property." So just to be aware that people are going to chase whoever they can chase, attorneys will, it's just reality.

Darin: It's a great point and it's not one that I've heard somebody bring up.

Imparting Lessons From Challenges

Darin: I've heard people bring up that as an option, I don't know anybody that's done it and I surely didn't know anybody that had a huge issue as you did, so I appreciate you sharing that.

Mark: Another guy had the same issue. It wasn't for real estate though, it was for a medical office. So I talked to him and we were talking about different things. And so it was a medical building he was buying, a practice, and the same thing, some liabilities that were there and not disclosed.

Darin: So you said you learned a lesson. Earlier you said one of the things that you liked about coaching and building up the group was that you'd been in a lot of transactions and you've learned a lot. And that's another thing I want to share with the listeners is that look, this guy, Mark, is involved in 47 properties, over 8,000 units, and he still is learning. You don't stop learning in this business, there are always new obstacles, new challenges and it's great to hear from somebody so experienced that you're still out there to learn the next thing.

Mark: Yes, and the best way to learn, as you mentioned earlier Darin too, is by doing. So when coaches aren't doing deals anymore, and that's fine if they choose not to do that, but to me you get rusty.

Darin: Right. Absolutely. When you bring in your students, and listeners, listen to this, you're getting educated right now, but at some point, your student has to take action.

Mark: That's right.

Darin: There are certain people that come in, you help educate them and help them towards financial freedom.

There Is No 100% Certainty but You Can Still Try

Darin: And even if they form in that one little niche, they could stay scared and not pull the trigger and not jump in on a deal. You're never going to have 100% certainty.

Mark: That's right. Going into it, I was like, "Yeah, a 100%. Every single person's going to do it," and then reality sets in a little bit that you can do all the things you want to do. And there are life events that happen for people too, so I don't discount those. But the biggest thing is whether you have a skill, if you're good at something and nobody knows it, it's useless. So that's why we try to have an environment where people can meet together.

We do events too just for our group, not open to the public. And then anybody that joins gets all the contact information for every single person in our group. They can start meeting that way as well because we have people all over. So they can meet and start developing those relationships. You're going to gravitate to people that either has a skillset that maybe you're looking for, or you just click with them for whatever reason.

Darin: People are people, right? There are certain people that you just click with and certain people that you don't. Sometimes you can't even really explain it, it's just like go and meet people that you want to do business with. Let's jump back to where did you grow up and what was your childhood like before financial freedom.

Mark: I grew up in a smaller town, maybe like 15,000-ish people. It was Owosso, Michigan. Some people might know it because my old barber was on the national news about shutting down and stuff like that, Karl Manke.

Mark Kenney's Childhood

Photographer: Markus Spiske | Source: Unsplash

Mark: That's how Owosso is probably famous now in the last six months. It was kind of all over, so it was crazy to see that. But he was my barber for 15 years too. So I grew up there, one of seven kids. I have an identical twin.

Darin: Where do you fit in?

Mark: So I'm a sixth of seven but by 12 minutes. So I have a twin brother. I used to give him a hard time before that, I was older than him, when we were kids. Now I'm on Central Time, he's on Eastern, so I tease him that he's older than me now, by a bit. My mom didn't work until I got a little bit older. I mean, outside the house. With seven kids, is more than a full-time job.

My dad was a firefighter and worked at a lumber yard. Then he became the fire chief, which was a pretty good accomplishment for him, but he's tied in with the city. We had pretty much food and a place to live, but no extras. I mean, we were buying our bikes when we were 10 years old, buying shoes and clothes and all those types of things.

And my dad, he was handy, so he would be gone sometimes a 100 hours a week, literally, three days, three 24 hour shifts, and then 30 hours at the lumber yard would be 100 hours a week he'd be gone. And then even on weekends and things like that, he was working on the cars, fixing toasters, TVs. He'd have mirrors in front of TVs all the time because he was trying to see if it's coming on, and just things like that.

A Big Driver That Pushed Toward Financial Freedom

Mark: So growing up I'd tell my mom, I'm like, "I'm never going to have my kids go through this." And don't get me wrong, I felt loved, I mean, I was loved. And we had a lot more than a lot of people in other countries and even probably here in the States. We had food and things like that, but the whole thing of my dad spending all that time fixing stuff all the time, I mean, fixing a toaster for two hours. I thought a toaster cost like $500 when I was a kid, because why do you spend two hours trying to fix a toaster? But I get it. He didn't buy anything for himself, neither did my mom, so it was just a matter of not having the funds.

That was a big driver for me. So my brother and I were always like, "We're never going to be in that position," and things like that. It caused me to look at things probably a little bit differently. My dad was one of 13, so we didn't have anybody in the family entrepreneurial or anything, so we never really had it modeled.

But my twin brother and I were both like, "We're going to work for ourselves and we're never going to be like cars breaking down all the time." I think I asked my dad like twice before in my life, that I remember, for money and probably forgot the way the first time went, so I asked another time. It was more of a very long sigh and whatever. So money was a big driver for me. And I'm not saying that's right or wrong, I'm saying it was a big driver for me.

The Spirit of Giving Back

Mark: And then eventually you get to the point where yes, money is important because it takes money to do things. People are like, "Money doesn't mean anything." That's not true. You have to have money. We give a lot of money to charities for orphanages and the sex traffic industry, what are you going to do if you have no money or time?

So there is a reason for it, but your focus hopefully changes at some point in time to where it is giving back and you want to give back and you feel good about giving back. I never knew if you want to say, throughout my life, whether I would feel really good about giving stuff away. I didn't, because I was so much to the point where I felt like I didn't have stuff as a kid and I wanted my kids to have stuff, which is a balance now obviously. But it is great to be able to give things away and then feel good about it.

Darin: Sure. When did that shift?

Mark: It's been several years. I would say probably 10 years. And I was very well into adulthood before that shift, but my wife, Tamiel always had that in her heart. We also adopted our daughter. I'd say she's been more towards those types of things, giving back. She's been to Nigeria a few times and things like that. So she's helped me a lot, really opened my eyes that don't be close-minded just about yourself and things like that. And I wasn't making money to go buy stuff for myself, I wasn't, it was more like, I don't know, it was a comfort level that if I don't have money I'm going to freak out.

It's Never Too Late to Achieve Financial Freedom

Mark: I don't want to be in a position where I'm just scared and nervous like, "Can I provide for my kids? Am I going to have a place?"

Darin: It's always a balancing act, right? You could be wanting the shiny car or the Ferrari. Or it may not even be that, it may just be that you want a number in the bank and it's a security thing. So both our wives can help us try to meet in the middle somewhere. But how young were you when you first thought to yourself it's going to be different for me, I'm going to start my own thing, success for me is going to be different than what we were growing up with?

Mark: I mean, probably seven, eight years old. Like I say we didn't have that financial freedom. And then when my brother and I were 22, we were still in college, we ended up buying our first real estate property. It was a duplex. It was one of those things, we're both very analytical, both CPAs, both were in IT and we were like, "Hey, this makes sense. I can touch it, I can feel it. People need a place to live." It just made sense to us. We didn't know what we were doing, we didn't.

Darin: But you figured out a way to take action at the age of 22. I got to tell you, 47, I was 47 three years ago when my wife and I bought our first duplex, and I had plenty of funds, I did. It wasn't going to change our lifestyle, but I was still scared because it was something new.

Surrounding Yourself With Like-Minded People

Darin: I didn't understand all the different facets of it. Once I did it, now I'm like I could buy a duplex or a fourplex or eight plex, whatever, with no problem. But it was scary and I'm sure other people are scared to make that jump because it's not like putting $5,000 in the stock market on one stock. Even in a duplex, you're putting down some decent money and so it's a little scary for people.

Mark: It is and it was a little unsettling for us because our dad, because he's handier than both my brother and I were, but we would take him out on these property visits, tours, whatever you call them and it didn't matter. We concluded after a year of doing that with my dad that it didn't matter how cheap property was, it was never a good deal, never.

And we had an offer on a deal, the first duplex, and I still remember this. This was 25 years ago. I remember we were sitting at Hardee's, I remember the time of day, I remember everything. My dad talked me out of it and then that's where after that my brother and I concluded that we're listening to the wrong person and we stopped taking him on tours with us. We got a property about two months after that and told my dad after we closed, said that we'd bought it. He wasn't helping us financially either, but he was helping us vet the deals.

Darin: What's huge though is that you hear over and over and over again surround yourself with like-minded people, but it's so true. After I bought the duplex, I joined a multifamily mentorship group. Then all of a sudden I was exposed to all these people that had done 100 plus unit deals, 150 plus unit, 200.

Sacrifices to Achieve Financial Freedom

Sacrifices to Achieve Financial Freedom
Photographer: Jiyeon Park | Source: Unsplash

Darin: They're like, "Darin, man, you can do this." And I'm like, "How do you do it?" But if I just relied on friends and family who hadn't done it, just like your dad, they would have probably talked me out of it. And so that's key.

Mark: He's never bought a property. I mean, a home residence, but he never bought a property. So I'm like, "Why am I listening to him?" I respect him for sure and he was trying to protect us. I knew he was.

Darin: I believe that friends and family, they're not in it to do you harm, they're trying to protect you from the unknown. But they don't have the knowledge to be able to provide that guidance.

Mark: That's right.

Darin: So talk about some sacrifices that you made along the way. You started an IT company, worked 90 hours a week. That's a huge sacrifice. But then when you got into real estate investing, more a larger scale on the multifamily side, some of the sacrifices that you had to go through.

Mark: I've worked a lot since the beginning of my career. I did consulting, so I worked at whatever it is now big four.

Darin: Which one? I was PW.

Mark: I was KPMG Consulting.

Darin: Okay. I was on the audit side with PW.

Mark: We worked a lot, so I was always used to that. I figured that's just the way life was. My dad worked a ton, I was working a ton. I saw everyone else that I worked with, work a lot. I'm talking insane, insane hours. I mentioned a little bit it caused a lot of problems when I had an IT business.

Real Estate vs IT Business

Mark: I started in 2008 as well and people were like, "Oh my goodness, you started in 2008?" But I did well with it. I had customers and things like that, more work than I can handle. But it caused issues with, in particular my wife, Tamiel, because I still spent time with the kids. But I didn't spend much time with my wife. So it caused my issues and she's like, "Hey, you need to do something different." And I'm like, "Yeah, in my spare time? I mean."

One, I was petrified of not being able to make as much money as I'm making in my IT business, that was a huge thing. And I didn't have to, to survive and probably have an okay life for sure, but petrified of that. The other one was Tamiel was not involved at all in the IT business, but she loved real estate.

We were buying multiple properties, two to four units, and she loved it. So I told her, "You're going to have to help. If you want me to do this, you're going to have to help." And she did and the sacrifices in particular, when we were syndicating, where I was working all these hours and then trying to find a deal. So it took us about a year to get our first deal just because of everything.

Darin: Which is pretty typical. It's very unusual for somebody to try to get into the large scale multifamily and break in and get a deal in three months. It's usually nine months to a year and a half.

Mark: It is. I tell people the same thing.

Advantages of Having Financial Freedom

Mark: We have people that have done it much, much faster, we do, but there's some luck involved in that too, right place, right time. So that was trying to do that on the side if you want to say in addition to the IT staff. And then I got to the point after we had several deals, where I kept scaling back my IT business.

That was one advantage, I could take less stuff, work, and things like that, cut it down, where I cut it down to zero, and felt like I could do okay. And then that was fine and then when we started the education piece, oh boy, if people think, "Oh, I'm going to go off." I can tell you, Tamiel and I were working like my IT days actually for a couple of years.

Darin: Building it up?

Mark: Building it out. And people might look at the end and go, "Okay, well I can do." Yeah, that's fine. If you want to do it, go ahead and do it. I mean, it's great, we need great educators out there for sure. But we made some sacrifices for sure with the kids. We were trying to homeschool them at the time as well and then traveling.

We were traveling away from the kids. People are probably going to think we're bad parents, we missed my daughter's 10th birthday, actually on her day, because we had an event we were at and things like that. We did stuff for her after, but I mean, I'm not suggesting you go off and do that. We were traveling a lot, we were working like crazy, we were spending a lot of money really with nothing coming in.

It's Scary But Do It Anyway

Darin: Investing?

Mark: Investing money and nothing coming in. So you sacrifice sleep and other components, but I wouldn't change it. I'm not just saying that either. Yes, it was very, very rough, it doesn't mean that things don't still come up, but my life right now the way it is versus the way it most likely would have been if I continued my IT business. It's a completely different life financially, personally, family, everything.

Darin: That's fantastic. So a few things. One, you used the word petrified several times and I want the listeners to understand that. It's like look, everybody I interview has been scared at some point. So it's a matter of in the midst of that fear, how do you push past it and take action? You were scared, you were petrified, but you still took the chance, you still took action and started to focus more on the real estate and start leveling down on the IT side, and you said you wouldn't change it for anything.

You didn't mention this word, it's one that rings home for me. I think you sound like a guy that would appreciate it if the journey is unknown what it's going to turn out like. But it's the journey, when you learn and when you're charged up. Yes, the success, the scorecard comes later when you finally have a conference and people show up and pay you, but it's all that drive to get there is the exciting point.

Mark: And doing it together. I mean, it's helped a lot to be able to have Tamiel work full-time with me. She's really good at a lot of stuff I'm not good at and she likes doing it and she does those things.

Mark Outside Real Estate

Photographer: Victor Freitas | Source: Unsplash

Mark: Having Tamiel involved so much in the business has helped the whole journey.

Darin: You're very fortunate because it seems like at least from talking to you and being around you guys that you guys both enjoy the business and you complement each other. At times, that may push a couple apart, the stresses involved with starting a business together, and instead, it seems like it's brought you guys even closer together.

Mark : Our marriage, the last few years have been the best it's ever been and we've been married 25 years.

Darin: Praise the big man upstairs. So what do you like to do outside of work?

Mark: I work out a lot. Most people are like, "I hate working out." I love working out, so I work out a lot. So that's a big thing for me.

Darin: It's a routine? Do you do it at the same time every day?

Mark: It depends if I drop my daughter off. I always do it in the morning. It's always in the morning. I'm consistent. In whatever it was, 2020, I missed two days or whatever that was scheduled and travel or whatever. I mean, you don't have to do those things. That's one and then I like hanging with the kids. I like movies and I like cars for whatever reason. My dad grew up liking cars and I grew up as a little, little kid loving cars.

Darin: Awesome. Fixing cars or just buying and driving cars?

Mark: Not fixing them. I saw my dad do that, so no, not fixing them. I remember stories of, no joke, 13 degrees outside. Our parent's generation, they're tougher, man.

After Financial Freedom, What's the Next Big Stretch?

Mark: My dad's out there in 13-degree weather and no gloves on, no hat on, snow, working on the car, bloody knuckle, I'm just like, "My goodness." And I'm sitting there going, "Man, I never want to do that." I don't want to work on them, just like them. I like cars.

Darin: Well, he showed you a hard work ethic.

Mark: Both my mom and my dad. Both very, very hardworking.

Darin:  I mean, he was working 100 hour weeks and chief of police, plus the lumber yard, plus when he got home doing all the fix-me-up type of stuff. Although you guys probably didn't necessarily appreciate that, it formed a work ethic in you.

Mark: It did. For sure, it did. So those are the main things. And just hanging out with friends. We go out for a bit with friends, just for dinner and things like that.

Darin: Fantastic. What's your stretch goal, man? I don't even know, like if you have 47 properties and 8,000 units, what's the next stretch goal to keep that journey alive, keep that excitement alive?

Mark: The excitement I think will stay there as long as people are continuing to do deals in the group. I would say we haven't done the goal setting for 2021 yet, which is we're behind obviously. Tamiel and I typically do that as far as it's the number of people we want to help more than the number of people if you want to say.

If we can keep that 87%, 90% of the people doing deals in six months or less, that's great. For me, it is more about giving back now.

Being the Best Student

Mark: I do want to make a lot more money and give back to the sex traffic industry, which is a huge thing in our heart and the orphanages and things like that. So I have some goals around what I want to give back and things like that. As far as deals, not as much on a piece of paper. It's a fault if you want to say. I've never been great at putting goals on paper, I'm kind of more just let's go do it. And I think it's really because I don't want something to monitor against and say, "Oh, I didn't hit my goal."

But I have a fitness coach and things like that too and I have to check in with him every Monday and things like that. So I can tell you accountability wise, Tammie's like, "Why do you keep using him because you know what to do?" And I'm like, "Yeah, but I can tell you every Monday I have to check in what I did." And I tell him, "Dude, I'll follow 100% what you're telling me." And I'm not trying to be whatever.

Darin: The best student. You just tell me what I got to do and I'm going to do it.

Mark: Everything he tells me, and Tammie's like, "Oh my gosh, you can't have the extra piece of whatever because he didn't tell you to have it?" I'm like, "No, I'm not going to, because I'm following." This dude lost 200 pounds, the guy training me. He's like a bodybuilder right now.

But anyway, if we can keep doing something similar to what we're doing now and have the percentages high, people doing deals, we did a few thousand units in 2020, keep doing that.

Shifting Mindset Towards Financial Freedom

Mark: I don't have it where we're like, "I want to have 50,000 units," things like that. Mine is more like I want to have certain numbers where I can give back to less fortunate people, that's one of the main things.

Darin: That's awesome. Maybe make a stretch goal for an amount to donate. So I had somebody I went to coffee with, not real estate related at all, he's got a completely separate business, and he's like, "Darin, man, I just need to make this much. I don't need a fancy car and I have a nice house, I don't need a bigger house. I just want to get here." And I was like, "Well look, I think that you can provide much more value than that and you can make much more money than that."

And he's like, "But I don't need all that money." And I'm like, "Well, you don't have to spend it all. Take whatever percentage, you could take half of it, or 75% of it, and give it away, but think about all the different people that you can impact that you wouldn't have been able to impact had you not grown it to that point."

So I applaud that, that you've already shifted in your mindset that all right, I don't need to go from 8,000 to 20,000 just so it's under Mark and Tamiel Kenney's portfolio, but that brings in extra dollars that I can funnel to other areas to have an impact. That's huge.

Mark: Yes. I think the other thing that I always struggle with too, I never used to buy anything for myself. I always felt guilty about doing it, probably more from childhood has more impact on you than you probably want in certain aspects.

Keep Being Humble Even After Achieving Financial Freedom

Mark: I was driving a car that was 10 years old, my kid's like, "When are you going to get a new car?" And then I did, but I think it's okay to have things, it is, if you want something. I'm not saying just go out and buy whatever you want whenever you want, especially if it's impacting your other duties or financial obligations. But it's okay sometimes to buy stuff for yourself, and that was a big thing I had to get over.

Darin: Yes, I agree. Sometimes that helps you impact somebody else. People want to learn from other successful people and so there is a humbleness or modesty that can happen. But some people gravitate towards visibly successful people. I'm not saying go out and buy the shiny car or the big house just to attract other people, but people do want to learn from other successful people. So people want to reach out to you, Mark, what's the best way for people to reach out to you?

Mark: Yes, just on my email. It's mark@thinkmultifamily.com.

Darin: Awesome! What's the next event?

Mark: We had two events towards the end. We had one in 2020, in August and November, and now we're working on it for next year. There's a little bit of political unrest and there's also some of the restrictions and things like that, so we're trying to play that out right now.

Darin: So the best way for people to stay in touch with that would be to check out your website?

Mark Kenney: The website will have it, correct.

Darin: Well, Mark, I appreciate you coming on the show. Listeners, I hope you enjoyed that one. Until next week, signing off.

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Darin Batchelder

Wealth creation through real estate provided me with a new passion to get the word out and let others know that they have an alternative to investing in the stock market.

If I can inspire and educate just one person to take action that results in life changing wealth creation then the work to launch and grow this podcast is well worth the effort.

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