If there was ever a ‘grandfather of using virtual assistants for real estate investing’, it would be Tim Mai. However, don’t ever call Tim ‘grandpa’. He was just an early adopter that has laid the groundwork for many others to follow. In this interview, Tim does a deep dive into not only how he uses VA’s in his business, but how all of us can consider implementing virtual staff to help take our businesses to a new level. It’s a great FlipNerd.com Flip Show episode…check it out!
Mike: Welcome to the FlipNerd.com Podcast, this is your host Mike Hambright. And on this show I will introduce you to VIPs in the real estate investing industry, as well as other interesting entrepreneurs whose stories and experience can help you take your business to the next level. We have three new shows each week which are available in the iTunes store or by visiting FlipNerd.com. So without further ado, let’s get started.
Hey, it’s Mike Hambright with FlipNerd.com. Welcome back for another exciting VIP interview where I interview some of the most successful real estate investing experts and entrepreneurs in our industry to help you learn and grow. Today I’m joined by Tim Mi, Tim is a real estate investor, an author, a speaker and he’s one of the first well-known investors to use virtual assistance in his real estate investment business, many years back. So he’s gone on to teach lots of others how to use virtual assistants. And today we’re going to talk about just that how to use virtual assistants in our real estate investing business. It’s interesting stuff, I myself use virtual assistants and I think it’s a great way to help scale your business up. Before we get started though let’s take a moment to recognize our featured sponsors.
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Hey, Tim welcome to the show. Good to see you.
Tim: Hey, Mike thanks for having me on the show.
Mike: So it’s an interesting… well we’re going to talk about virtual assistants here in a second. I know you see the power of it because you were one of the first early adopters and it’s so wide spread for people to use virtual assistants. It will be interesting to talk about your perspective on how to use them, I think that’s what a lot of people struggle at first is how to find them and then what can they do and what can they not do. But before we dive into that why don’t you, you have an interesting story of how you got started in real estate and how you even came to the US and things like that. Why don’t you tell us about Tim?
Tim: Hey, it’s true, I’ve definitely had a pretty wild childhood right. My brother and I came here to the US from Vietnam when I was 12-years-old. But what happened was we had to escape out of Vietnam and the reason why we had to escape out of Vietnam is because after the war ended in 1975 the Communist Government took over and you can’t just leave Vietnam. And in order for you to escape. My whole family had tried to escape out of Vietnam like many time. I remember when I was about 6-years-old, you know our whole family where trying to escape and we got caught and the whole family got put in jail.
Mike: Oh, wow.
Tim: And then when my brother turned 18, you know, the way it works over there when you turn 18 they automatically draft you into the military. And so a lot of boys will either escape out of Vietnam or they’ll cut off their fourth, yeah, their index finger so that way they can’t pull the trigger. So yeah, that’s how my brother and I decided to leave Vietnam. And, you know imagine this right, imagine like you’re on a 24 foot fishing boat and there’s 37 of you. I was the only child on the boat so it was super tight, we’re literally like sardines on that boat. And we floated out at sea for seven days and six nights. And on the fourth day we got hijacked by five pirate boats. When that happened I was so scared I was like what’s going to happen to us.
Mike: How old were you Tim?
Tim: I was 11 at that time. I was asking my brother like what’s going to happen to us I’ve heard so many horror stories about how when pirates hijack your boat they’ll rape the women and they’ll throw the men off the boats. And then they came over and they took whatever they could find, they stripped the adults and whatever they could find they took and luckily they left us on our way after that. And then we made it to a Malaysian refugee camp a few days after that. And then fast forward, I was in the refugee camp for a year and then I came to the US when I was 12. And I came here to Houston and my brother and I used to live in this little two bedroom apartment that was housing subsidies. And at any given time there were like 8 to 12 other single guys living there. You know, as an investor I think about it now we should have rented a duplex or a four-plex and subleased some of those rooms out to those guys.
But there the types of guys that probably wouldn’t pay you the rent anyways because they’d rather be in jail then out of jail because at least they’ll get feed. I mean, I can tell you like so many days I came home from middle school open the refrigerator and there was literally nothing to eat. It’s like a whole one gallon of water, that was all there was in the refrigerator. And so fast forward a little bit, I was blessed enough to finish school and after school I actually moved up to Richardson in Dallas to work for an IT company up there. And when I was there I thought, yes I’ve made it, I achieved my American dream. The dream that my parents had for us to come to America the land of opportunity, get well educated and find a good job. Isn’t that what all of our parents wanted for us? And so when I was working there I thought yes I made it and then in April 2002, so after two and half years of working there they called all of us into the office and said, you’re all fired. The company is filing bankruptcy and we’re laying everybody off in 60 days. And so, I mean I was crushed I was like oh man what am I going to do now. You know here I thought I made it. And now I have to start over again. And then it’s like what am I going to do next. At that time the IT industry was very hard to find jobs after the .com bust. And so I’ve always wanted to have my own business, so I start to look to what can I do. And luckily there was a free real estate seminar in town. And so I decided to attend that seminar and at that seminar they told us that for $3,000 they’ll teach us how to get rich in real estate with no money down, no credit, and no experience. And I heard that I was like, yes this sounds like me. I was pretty new too.
Mike: Do you remember who it was?
Tim: It was Robert Allen the One Minute Millionaire book.
Mike: Yeah, okay.
Tim: So if you look at the back of that book I’m actually listed on the back as one of the Millionaire Egos. Which is a part of that program that they did to launch the book. And so I did that, you know I was so skeptical, I was like man if what if this doesn’t work. I have my credit card that I can put this $3,000 on but if it doesn’t work how I am going to pay the bills when that comes, right. You know, but somewhere in the presentation they share with us that you know over 80% of self-made millionaires invest in real estate. And so it’s like, wow I want to be a self-made millionaire. And if that’s what other self-made millionaires do then that’s what I need to do. I need to follow their footsteps.
Long story short, I didn’t not make it work, in 30 days. It actually took me six months of door knocking on pre-foreclosures to finally get my first deal. And so however that first deal that I did I decided to rehab it make a little bit over $50,000 on the deal so it made the whole six months’ worth while. And obviously it got me hooked into the whole world real estate investing. And since then my team and I have bought and sold well over 500 properties right here in Houston. We really just grown a lot. And you mentioned about virtual assistant. In 2007, I decided to… I have some assistants already but I decided to hire another assistant. So I placed an ad on Craigslist, I got 120 something like applicants, like people interested. And I interviewed three and I hired zero. I was like, man so I was talking to a friend of mine, who was an Internet Marketer and told him about, man I’m trying to hire and assistant and got all those people interested I couldn’t hire any of them. And he said, “Well Tim I have 21 virtual assistants in the Philippines.” You might want to look into that. I was like, “Really how does that work?”
I mean, this is like beginning of 2007 like virtual assistants was non-existent in the real estate market industry. And so I started looking into that I went on Google and did some research and found this website called VA4U.com, the number four, the letter U.com. Which is a designate bank kind of website for virtual assistants. And that’s where I hired my very first virtual assistant. And what she did for me was, all she did was calling, for sale by owners and getting the seller questionnaire forms filled out. Her job was at least ten seller questionnaire per day that was it. You know, I figure the cost per lead you would have been like less than two dollars a lead or something like that. It was very inexpensive. That first virtual assistant I was paying her $800 a month. And so from there we grew from one virtual assistant to 11 virtual assistants. And I found out that very first one that I hired, and she became a manager to manager my other virtual assistants, has been taking the money that I pay her to pay the other virtual assistants and kept them. And delayed their payments and told them that I wasn’t paying on time.
So obviously, I let her go, and restarted a new team. And at one point I grew a virtual assistance team to 30 fill-time and over 20 part-time doing a variety of different things. At one point in my business I decided to also provide the pre-foreclosure list here in Houston. So they were working both my real estate business as well as my foreclosure list business. And for some of the listeners might have heard, because, at one point I had my virtual assistants calling whole sales all across the US looking for deals. You know, and it’s funny because I forgot what year I think it was 2007 or 2008, I don’t remember. I was speaking at an event for Mike Collin’s Rehab List and a few of the attendees in the audience said hey I’ve been getting calls from virtual assistants that’s so cool how you do that.
Mike: So at that point where you buying houses virtual like across the country.
Tim Hi: Well what we did was we found wholesalers with deals we blasted out to our list suppliers. And like one of the things that is sort of commonly now with co-wholesaling and FLEX Option I was also the person that invented FLEX Option it didn’t excite before me. I evented the FLEX Options to be able to gain the right to market these wholesale deals. And so I’ve done a lot of stuff with virtual assistants.
Mike: Well the great thing about it is it starts to open up opportunities, of ways you can scale your business or go into new things that makes it cost effective.
Tim: Yeah, definitely.
Mike: So in our real estate investing business let’s talk a little bit about what the typical roles are or responsibilities that you have for virtual assistants take care of. And then after that we’ll kind of talk about some of the things that you may not feel comfortable outsourcing through a VA.
Tim: Right, so you know I have a VA that answers my calls live. And so that VA basically do all the pre-screening, all the pre-negotiation, and then also run comps to see like if it’s a hot lead or not. You know, if it’s a hot lead notify our acquisition people right away. So that way we can act on those leads much faster than the ones that are to so hot.
Mike: And to clarify tell us where you’re using virtual assistants from. You’re primarily hiring them Philippines, correct?
Tim Hi: Correct yeah, most of virtual assistants are well they live in the Philippines, but like for example one that takes my calls from sellers he is an American or Caucasian American who happens to live in the Philippines. But, yeah virtual assistants are just any assistants that work outside of your home/office or office/office.
Mike: And so that was one of my questions in my experience I have virtual assistance on my team the common, probably area where folks are a little hesitate to have virtual assistants is taking lead calls. In my experience because it’s such a valuable it’s such an important part of your business you don’t want there to be any concern from the sellers perspective that they’re talking to an overseas person.
Tim: Right, well I mean this is where like having a good virtual that speaks English really well… like I have had Filipino virtual assistants who there’s no way that you tell that they were not American like has the American assent you know speaks much better English then I do. And like for me I’m too concerned because if I was taking the calls like the seller want to know whether I live in the US or not because I have an accent by default anyways. But yeah having someone, what’s more important the where they live and the accent is what’s more important they can understand the sellers well and the sellers can understand them well. Because the question of where they’re from really doesn’t come up.
Mike: I think part of it is when you say to understand them you’re talking about, can understand like geographically or can understand kind of they can be kind of sympathetic of their situation.
Tim: You know a combination of both but just can understand them like what they’re saying. And some of that has to do with cultural differences. So like they’re saying one thing but the assistant might not understand what they’re trying to say. So just understand like the American English. Because and so that’s the most…
Mike: And text and English are that.
Tim: Like my virtual assistant he’s really cool. He even speaks Spanish as well. And so the seller only Spanish he can also communicate with them as well. A lot of time when we think about virtual assistants we tend to box them, like we box them like oh they’re supposed to be you know Filipino or Indian. They supposed to have these accents and that’s not true at all. You can find any kind of ethnicity that happens to be virtual. Like in my case with I mean here’s a real as American as he can get that lives in the Philippines. So once you get yourself out of that box and you can then begin to then like well who you want to hire. Do you want to hire an American, do you want to hire a Hispanic person, like they’re all available virtually for you to hire.
Mike: Right. So talk some more about some of the things that… so you have them taking our lead calls, doing some initial screening, and kind of walk through your whole business model like of the roles that they can play. And then let’s talk about what you typically don’t feel comfortable outsourcing.
Tim: Man, there’s really nothing that I don’t feel comfortable outsourcing. I have my virtual assistants everything from taking the lead call, to running the comps, to buying stuff for me so where my virtual assistants have my credit card information, subscriptions. And I still like to have someone strong on the ground. I think that for the virtual assistants to negotiate like the whole deal over the phone I think can be a little bit tricky. And so I like to be where they pre-negotiate as much as the can, the get the sellers within a certain range. Like, if we know that 80% ideally the virtual assistants would be able to identify like 80% chance this is a deal. And then I’ll acquisition people here in Houston can then go meet with them and get a contract from there. But, I’ve done it where the virtual assistants even got the deal on the contract as well. So that’s not limited to that.
It’s just especially like in market and a lot of it has to do with the market that you’re in too. We’re in a market right now Houston is like super-hot there’s lots of investors you know whenever you go look at a property there’s other investors that are going after the same property as well. And so you got to be on top of it a little bit more. But in the slower market where we didn’t have as much competition you know the VA did most of the work. And so I treat my virtual assistants not much different than an in house assistant. And some of my virtual assistants they’ve been with me since 2007. So they’ve been with me for a long time. And yeah, I treat them just like another staff. And like there’s really nothing for me anyways there’s nothing that I care to hold to hide from them hold from them or not comfortable for them to do.
Mike: Talk a little bit about how you oversee like some of the tools that you use to oversee, some of the common tools that they use. And then maybe training, how you do things virtually that has to happen no matter where somebody works I guess.
Tim: Right, so you know Skype is our main communication tool. So me to communicate with them. When I do training I’ll get Skype and do a screen sharing and just train them through that and just record that session. And then from there they can watch it from there, you know future virtual assistants can watch it from there. So Skype is or primary tool. And then same thing when they’re taking incoming calls, we have a Skype phone number for them. So as the business owner they have the Skype Manger accounts which allows us to then add you know the Skype accounts underneath us and we can control the phone numbers. But my virtual assistants over there answers the calls, they will get Skype numbers or phone things directly to them. And so Skype is a tool that we use a lot. And then for like hiring and testing them out we’ll take them through you know SurveyMonkey to like to pre-screen them and have things for them to do like record a video and post on YouTube and let me know like why we should hire you like that. And then we’ll also get them on Skype to do different test. I don’t do the hiring process anymore. My main virtual assistant does, she’s the one that interviews and hire the virtual assistants. But yeah, she’ll do different kind of test like if it’s a role we need them to somewhat be sufficient with technology and computer use. We’ll tell her like okay you’re going to open up Excel go to this website copy and paste the content of that Website into this Excel form and sort column B by ascending order.
So you know, we don’t care that they necessarily know how to do that, they know how to do that that’s great that tells us a lot about their capability. But if they can like quickly go on Google and search how to do that then we’re fine with that. And of course different roles like I have programmers that are virtual assistants also. So their testing is a little bit different or we’ll tell them okay I want you to have create a small program that prints these numbers out on the screen, and see how they do that. But depending on what role we’re having for we’ll have different kind of test for them.
Mike: And talk a little bit about one thing real estate investors that are very frugal always want to know about the money part of this. So talk about you know kind of a range of what pay virtual assistants based on let’s just say the administrative type folks that you use in real estate business.
Tim: Right so there’s many, you know I have a pretty wide range of how much we pay our virtual assistants. It depends a lot on several different things. Number one, obviously it depends on what they do. And the second it depends on where they live. So if they live in little village somewhere were there living expenses is a lot cheaper than if they live in a main city like Manila, where the living expenses are a lot higher. You know the one that lives in a small village expects a lot less in pay. So like, for example, I have virtual assistants from $250 a month to $1,000 a month. And so it’s a pretty wide range. But you know I guess generally speaking so that $600 a month, $500-$600 a month is very common. And also too it depends on if you’re hiring them directly and managing them verses if you’re going through a call center like a staffing solution type service. If you’re hiring them directly, and you’re managing them directly obviously that’s a lot cheaper than if you go through a company. If you go through a company typically it’s going to be $800 to $1,200 a month.
Mike: Okay, well we’re getting towards the end of our time here Tim. Tell us where fast where some common places are for that use to recruit virtual assistants.
Tim: Yeah, so a lot of our recruits because we haven’t established virtual assistant base, a lot of our recruits are just referrals. Like church referral is one of my favorite places to recruit virtual assistants. But we also place ads like on Craigslist in the Philippines as well. But there’s other services like oDesk, Virtual Staff Finders are great services.
Mike: That’s what I use.
Tim: We used to use oDesk a lot when we were managing when we wanted on monitor like their work, oDesk as a software that basically take a screen shot of their computer and in a few minutes. And in the beginning we used to do a lot of those kind of monitoring. But we found out it was just a lot of work just monitor that. It was just to micro-management for us. And so moved our model to where it’s like everybody has sort of a result thing they need to produce, and so we manage the results more so then minute to minute. But those are couple of different tools. We use this service call Remitly to pay them. I used to also use Zoom.com to pay them, as well. But Zoom changed their business model they don’t take on business clients anymore it’s only friends and family that sends money.
Mike: Whose the other one again Remitly.
Tim: Hey, Remitly so Remit, R-E-M-I-T-L-Y.
Tim: Remitly; and it depends on how much money you’re sending over there. You have just a few virtual assistants those kind of services is sufficient. But like when I used to have, you know I mean 30 virtual assistant I used to send a lot of money at a time, I would use this service called PNBRCI, that’s Philippines National Bank Remittance Centers. And they have PNB is I think it’s like the biggest bank in the Philippines. They have these little sort of money transfer remittance center around the US. And Houston there’s one that happens to be not that far away from our office. And so I used to go there and send 15, 20 thousand dollars at a time for much cheaper than if we were just like wire them the money.
Mike: I use PayPal. Although I sometimes get complaints about the fees are coming out of their end.
Tim: Yeah. PayPal’s more expensive for them.
Mike: It’s very easy for me just send from my phone or wherever I’m at.
Tim: But Remilty is the same thing. It’s very easy I mean they have a website. It’s also very inexpensive for both parties. Yeah, so those are the tools that we use.
Mike: That’s awesome why don’t you just maybe take a minute just to share the biggest reasons why VA’s for real estate investors that are not using virtual assistants right now. You know, some of the biggest reason why they should consider that.
Tim: So I mean if you’re brand new and you haven’t done a deal yet. Then having virtual assistant does make as much sense for you. I suggest you get focused do a deal make some money then you can afford one. But if you have some money hiring a… you got to look at from a cost per deal basis right. Like that’s how I look at it. I budget my cost like out of 1500, ideally I don’t have to spend more than $1,500 in marketing to get one deal. So if I’m paying a virtual assistant let’s just say $705 a month that means that in two months that virtual assistant bring me one deal. Out of them making cold calls to for sale by owners, to the landlords. Then that’s worth it for me. So I looked at it from that perspective. And they can do so much for you. They cannot just take your income and cost of your marketing but they can do outbound calls to different leads as well. And so yeah, you’re paying them, you know typically $3.00, $4.00 an hour. And so if you make at least $7.00, $8.00 an hour. You know then having them doing, you know paying someone $3.00 to $4.00 an hour to find more deals for you makes a lot of sense.
Mike: Great. Well hey Tim thanks so much for sharing your insights. We’re going to share I’ll put some of the links we talked about today down below the video for folks to learn more. And if folks want to learn more about you and some of the stuff you’re doing. Where should the go?
Tim: So our website is prosperitygroup.com which is a local Houston real estate investing group. And you know we flip houses here in Houston and we also run a monthly networking meetings. And we also do a seminar to teach other people on how to wholesale and flip houses once a quarter. So you know typically February, May, August, November, is when we do our seminars. So I’d love for you to come out you know check it out.
Mike: Tell us that site one more time.
Mike: Okay, perfect awesome. Well hey, Tim thank you so much for sharing time with us today it’s good to see you. I know I’m actually going to see again in a few weeks I think.
Tim: Yeah, Mike, thank you for having me. Thanks everybody for listening in.
Mike: Thank you Tim, have a great day.
Tim: All right you too.
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