In this episode, I interview Gaylene Lonergan, a successful real estate focused attorney, and owner of Lonergan Law Firm PLLC and agent of First Western Title Company – the largest independent title company in America. We discuss why women are such a minority in the ‘investor’ side of the real estate industry, and what she’s doing to change that. Gaylene has been a leader for more than 25 years, and we discuss her experience with real estate bubbles and cycles, and perhaps what we can expect in the near future for real estate investors. We also discuss Gaylene’s role leading a large real estate investing club for women, and the role she’s playing to help support women in real estate investing. Don’t miss this great interview!
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 experiences 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 Flip Nerd.com. So without further adieu let’s get started.
Hey, this is Mike Hambright. Welcome back to the Flip Nerd VIP Show. Today I have with me a very special guest, a good friend of mine, Gaylene Rogers Lonergan who is a real estate attorney. She owns a title company and a number of other things, and has some great insights. She is a big supporter of women in real estate investing and we have a lot to talk to her about that. So thanks for joining us today.
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Mike: Hi Gaylene, welcome to the show.
Gaylene: Oh, hi, Mike; thanks for having me.
Mike: It sounded kind of Canadian, not show, I said show. Okay, anyway, I’m glad to have you on. We’ve been talking about it for a while and I’m glad you could join us.
Gaylene: I’m glad we could finally get together.
Mike: Good. Well I obviously know you very well, but why don’t you tell all the folks that are watching us or listening is a little bit more about you.
Gaylene: Okay. Well I am a board certified real estate attorney, both residential and commercial. I graduated from law school n 1983, which means I’ve been practicing law longer than I like to admit, but a little more than 30 years–all in real estate. I graduated from Texas Tech, came to Dallas. And in 1983 Dallas and Texas was in the middle of a big oil and gas boom, and real estate boom. And even though I didn’t know anything about real estate–I think I’d taken one course in real estate in law school–I started pounding the pavement looking for a job, and they were looking for lawyers to do real estate because they couldn’t keep up.
So I said, sure, I’ll give it try. And then I spent the next three years drafting construction and development loans. Then I spent the next two years modifying those loans, and then I spent the next two years foreclosing those loans. And I am one of the few people who stuck with real estate during that really major downturn, which gave me a great education and a good hold to go forward with my career.
Mike: So a lot of investors that got wiped out, are you saying there are a lot of attorneys that just stopped focusing on that as well?
Gaylene: Yes, a lot of real estate lawyers became bankruptcy lawyers in 1990.
Gaylene: For about a period of three years you couldn’t get a real estate loan approved unless you had so much other capital to put up. I felt sorry for the big banks that I worked with a lot because I’d look at the bankers and the real estate lenders were sitting there working crossword puzzles.
Mike: Yeah. But at that time, Gaylene, you were with a larger firm, is that right?
Gaylene: I was with a large firm until about 1990 and then I went to work for one of the big–you know, all of the Texas banks failed and by 1990 we really had very, maybe one or two Texas banks left. And I went to work for one of the big banks that came into town and learned a lot about retail development because for the next ten years I handled all of the legal work for their big bank branches.
Gaylene: But it was a great education, too.
Mike: Do you think in terms of real estate, I suspect when the real estate markets kind of cycled down probably a lot of the . . . I knew you were in years past when the market started to take a downturn you started to plan up your litigation business. I mean, you kind of saw the bubble; you knew what was going to be on the other side of the bubble. I guess a lot of folks probably didn’t know that in the 80s; they hadn’t been through many real estate bubbles, up or down.
Mike: And so you had the foresight to know what was coming.
Gaylene: Unfortunately I lived through that horrible time and that was a really major real estate crash for Texas. Luckily this last time wasn’t so focused in Texas; in fact, we did pretty well out of the downturn in 2008.
Gaylene: But in 2005 and 2006 I could see it coming, and I started preparing actually for it by 2007. So I try to position myself to do litigation, bankruptcy, short-sale work, loan workout, short sales, because I knew that was coming.
Mike: Yes. Well we were talking a little bit before the show about how there just aren’t really a lot of women–not just in real estate investing, and not that they don’t exist. Obviously they do exist. When I tell my wife that she gets mad at me and I’m like, well, I’m just the messenger here. Because she works very, very hard in our business, and there are a lot of women who are in this business, so don’t get me wrong. But it tends to be predominantly a male type of industry, in the investor community, which is a shame.
But I know you’ve worked hard as a real estate attorney. There probably are not a whole lot of real estate attorneys either, so talk a little bit about what you see happening over the last 30 years in your career in terms of women being more involved and kind of your role in trying to get women more involved in real estate investing and the folks that support us.
Gaylene: Sure, Mike. Like I said, when I came out of law school in 1983 there not only were not very many women real estate lawyers, there weren’t many women lawyers. I think there were about 12 percent of the lawyers in Texas at that time were women; and like I said, luckily for me, because I love doing real estate; that’s the attorneys that they need at that time. But I had to deal with a lot of male attorneys thinking that I wasn’t tough enough to do real estate, which makes me laugh now.
But as the years have gone on, yes, more women are getting into it. But then I had some women here about five years ago after my practice had kind of shifted into working with more real estate investors, I had several women come to me that said, “Look, Gaylene, we would like a venue that we can learn more about real estate,” and it’s like the same concept as high school girls that go to all girls schools. The data shows that they are more apt to come out and be successful and be aggressive when there aren’t men around. They just, I don’t know, you guys just intimidate us, I guess. I don’t know. They just said, “We’d like to have a venue where we can learn more about real estate investing and ask questions and not feel intimidated.” And so, we started a group of just women investors meeting once a month, and that’s been going on now for about three years. Every year, particularly now that real estate is kind of back in vogue, we have a lot of women who are very interested in it and are doing a lot of successful things. And there are a lot of very good women contractors out there.
That used to be extremely rare, and still is fairly rare. And so we just try to introduce women to other women in real estate so that they can help each other be successful. And I have many women real estate investor clients now that are learning from the process from step one and being very successful at it.
Mike: That’s great. And your club, the women’s part of the club, I can’t say that I’m aware of another women’s club, but they’ve got to exist. But you have a pretty good sized club. I know for a lot of clubs not everybody comes to every meeting, but about what’s the size of your women’s club?
Gaylene: We have about 200 women that are members of the women’s club that share information online. And then at our meetings you’re right; people have to live, and life gets in the way sometimes. But we probably have from 30 to 50 women come to the meetings. Over here, near my office, and they get very upset with me if I skip a month, which sometimes my life gets in the way, too.
Mike: Those types of things tend to be right at prime family time for a lot of folks.
Gaylene: That’s right.
Mike: So that just is what it is. And so, why do you think, I mean, through your club what do you think is changing now to get more women into the business than there were the past?
Gaylene: Well, I just think a lot of it is perception.
Gaylene: Everything was negative in the media for the last several years about real estate. Even though here in Texas we weren’t in that situation, a lot of it was perception that they just didn’t think that it was a good time to invest in real estate.
I also think the clubs in general kind of went through a kind of ebbing period right after 2008. And so, now the excitement on real estate is back and so there are a lot of different opportunities for them to get education, and I think that’s one thing. And of course women are becoming in a large part in many families the primary breadwinner and the primary decision maker on financial matters.
Gaylene: So I think that also has kind of spurred them well, you know. I’ve always been interested in real estate. I’m going to go try this, because it looks like it’s a great way to work hard and to build wealth, which you and I both know that it is.
Mike: Yes. It’s interesting; I think probably there are a lot more women involved than people think. I know in my specific example I tend to be kind of the face of our business, even though my wife has a prettier face than I do. But we couldn’t run our business without her efforts and she just tends to be more the financial side, which is obviously critical in the real estate business.
Mike: And the sales side, which is obviously critical in the real estate business. She referred to herself at one time as the puppet master and so I don’t know what that makes me, but . . .
Gaylene: Yes, but I think you’re right, because I’ve worked with several of your franchises as well and they are a husband and wife team.
Gaylene: And I think that a lot of times that works out very well for a couple.
Gaylene: It’s a great business for you guys to work together.
Mike: Right, I agree. So in terms of what’s going on in the market right now, obviously a lot of folks know I’ve been asking everybody the same question, so if you’ve been listening to some of our shows here you’ve probably heard me ask this question a few times before. But when I have an opportunity to talk to experts I love to hear their opinion. What do you think is going on in the market right now? I think things have tightened up everywhere that I’m aware of across the country in terms of deals being a little more scarce and hedge funds have been buying stuff up and paying ridiculous prices, which puts some deals out of reach for guys like me and folks that I work with. But what do you think is happening in the market right now? And since this is not your first rodeo, why don’t get your crystal ball out and tell us a little bit about what you think is going to happen here over the next year or two?
Gaylene: Well, I think you’re right, Mike, that it has kind of tightened up. I think last year there was a little bit too much exuberance early on. And I think you’re right; it caused the hedge funds to come in and start paying up too much for properties.
And also, I do a lot of short sale negotiation, and this last year has been very difficult to get the banks to work with us on the short sales, because they have this idea that the properties are worth more than they are.
Gaylene: But I have seen some promising things at least from the deals that I’m seeing here in my office. It’s kind of a related topic, but I heard that people are now starting to get divorced because they can afford to now. Okay?
Mike: Wow, that’s interesting!
Gaylene: They stayed together from 2008 because they couldn’t afford to be divorced. Well, I think the same sort of thing is having an impact on the real estate market, beginning to now, because there are still distressed properties out there.
Gaylene: But people for whatever reason have been holding onto them I believe.
Gaylene: Okay, so I believe what I’m seeing in the last month or so is–
and I don’t know about you guys–but more calls coming from those type of people as the result of a divorce situation, some different things. And it looks to me like maybe the market is, the requirements on lending are loosening.
Gaylene: We knew that was going to happen. I mean, it’s just a cycle.
Gaylene: We’re kind of headed towards I think the mid-cycle of that.
Gaylene: So, even though I don’t think we really learned a lot from our past, hopefully we’ve learned not to take it to the excess, but to be happy with the good deals–not the great deals.
Mike: You know this is America; I don’t think anybody’s ever going to not do things in excess. It is crazy when you start to see some things happening that you just can’t believe. Are we really going to, is that really going to happen again? You know, people just don’t learn from it.
Gaylene: That’s right. When I was sitting in 2006 closing deals with no money down, you know, 100 percent financing with no money down, and the difference in $50 on a payment made the difference of whether the people were going to close their loan or not, I said, this is 1985 all over again. And sure enough; I just couldn’t understand how that could happen again. But it will and it did and it might again.
Mike: It will; I’m sure it will. Yes. Well tell us a little bit–I know you have a lot of pride, too, for being a certified woman-owned business. So tell us a little bit more about what that means and what it means from a business standpoint and I guess maybe what it means to you?
Gaylene: Oh, absolutely. Women business owners are another area that is really taking off and women in real estate are right there along with it, too.
I’ve been a certified woman-owned business for, I don’t know, ten years now. I started off on my own in 2000; I’m the sole breadwinner of my family. I had a six-month old baby at the time, and for the last 14 years she’s fought my law firm for attention, quite regularly. So it’s really, I’m very proud of it and you have to be at least 51 percent owned to be a certified woman-owned business. Of course, I’m a 100 percent owned business.
Gaylene: And that is done through the Southwest Women’s Business Council here in North Texas and it’s a very active group of women as well.
Mike: So it’s a group essentially, association?
Gaylene: Right, absolutely. And there are women attorneys, women law firms, all different type of women in that association as well.
Gaylene: They have a–in fact it’s coming up–they have a trade show just like just about everybody else does, and it’s a great opportunity to go out and see all the women that are making headway in business.
Mike: Yes, that’s good. And I know you’re proud of it, too. And I know you work hard.
Gaylene: Well, yes. The older I get the tougher it’s getting, but yes, law is not a business that is a 9-to-5 business.
Gaylene: And my clients, that’s the thing; I really got into my own firm so that I could help individuals be successful in their business. I did work for a big firm and worked for a bunch of big corporations and did work for them, but never got the satisfaction that I get now of helping individual investors start off from scratch and become successful. That’s really very rewarding.
Mike: Yes, because I guess they are real people at that point. A lot of time when you’re working–I’ve worked, not in law, but for big companies, too, and you start to make very academic decisions and it’s like, well, you never think about who it’s going to impact good or bad, or anything. So I know that’s one of the things that I appreciate in being an entrepreneur and owning our company is that we get a chance to meet more entrepreneurs and individuals and see how things impact people.
Gaylene: Right, well that is one thing I did discover early on when I was in real estate, is that you have to be a people person because you’re talking to your clients, lenders, surveyors, title companies.
Gaylene: You’re kind of the gate keeper of the whole thing, and so if you’re not a people person forget it. When I go home at night I don’t answer the phone because I’ve talked to enough people during the day.
Mike: Yes, I can understand that.
Gaylene: But I enjoy it; I spend most of my day on the phone or my clients have this great tendency to just drop by. I allocate about two hours at least every day for drop ins, because they just know they can come in and I’ll take time to go see what they’re current issue is and visit with them or make sure that what they need is taken care of.
Mike: That’s great. I don’t know if we’ve mentioned it already, but obviously you’re also the owner of a title company, you run a title business that serves the investor community. And why don’t you talk a little bit about the title business, just at a high level for somebody that, you know . . . I do obviously a lot of work through title companies, but I never really think about it from the business side. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how that’s a fit with your law practice, and then educate us on the title business.
Gaylene: Right before I started my firm, for about a period of six years, I worked with the National Underwriter as a commercial closer and attorney. And I got a great education in title. Well then when I started my own firm in 2000 I initially started out just doing law, and then like I said, I started working with investors. And I kind of gave it some thought and it was like, well, what I really need to be is someone to whom an investor can come and have all of their issues dealt with. And so I became what’s called a fee attorney, which is I have a title closing office and I have a relationship with one of the underwriters.
Right now I’m with the largest independent agent in Texas, Capital Title, and thrilled to be with them. So I’m a closing office for Capital Title. And essentially it’s very synergistic with my real estate law practice where I can help a client all the way from helping them form their LLC and get started and then I help them with their contracts and I help them with all of their closings. And so, they don’t have to deal with three different people on the transaction–they don’t to deal with a lawyer and a title company, because I’m right here helping and overseeing all of that.
Gaylene: So it’s been a very unique niche that I have. I have maybe two or three other true competitors that are lawyers, real estate lawyers, as well as a title office. But that was kind of my goal, to create a community of real estate investors, and I call it Ms. Rogers Neighborhood. So if you’re one of my clients I’m going to take care of you on your title, on your legal matters, on any litigation that you have–any of that. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with a new party; we take care of them.
Mike: That’s great. And why don’t you talk a little bit about the title industry. I know there has obviously been mass consolidation over time; just how that’s changed over the last, let’s say, five or ten years.
Gaylene: Oh, yes. A little bit before the 2008 issues came up the title industry really started changing. Of course the title industry up until very recently I used to consider the title industry about 20 years behind. Everything was very paper intensive. The technology was really slow in coming into the title industry. But because of some things that happened with the downturn and what not there has been a major consolidation. So really there are only about five, if that, major underwriters now–if that, and maybe even less than that.
Because, one holding company now owns five or six of what used to be independent underwriters. So the choices for a consumer have really lessened because the key is what the underwriting standards are for the title company.
Gaylene: And I’ve always tried to deal with a title underwriter that understood about real estate investors, didn’t think that they were somebody that they didn’t want to deal with, that they didn’t want.
Gaylene: And that got kind of hard right after 2008, quite frankly, because everybody wanted to blame the investor for what happened, and that’s totally wrong to have done.
Gaylene: Anyway, that’s why I like Capital. They’re very aggressive, they understand about business. And they are also large enough, because I’ve had the misfortune of being with a small local agency that wasn’t sufficiently capitalized and had financial problems. So now I’m with the largest independent title agent in Texas–in the country actually–and so I don’t have to worry about their financial standing and I don’t have to deal with a behemoth underwriter that says it’s my way or the highway.
Mike: Right. And it’s interesting; I think a lot of investors realize this after you’ve been in business for a while, about how hard title companies that we work with work to get deals closed.
Gaylene: Well, you don’t know what’s going on in the background.
Gaylene: You just know that you’re supposed show up at your closing or sign your papers and that’s it.
Mike: The buyer at my end, whether I’m a buyer or seller, we know that, but of course you know we work with people that it takes some wrangling to get them there or it takes them providing some additional information and it’s more effort than a traditional home seller that’s selling a house.
Gaylene: [inaudible 27:29] with you guys, with your sellers there’s almost always some title issue. A lot of times there’s a probate, somebody has died and that’s why they want to sell their house.
Mike: Or liens against the property.
Gaylene: Taxes that haven’t been paid.
Gaylene: There are some pretty colorful [inaudible 27:48] that have come out of the last ten years of doing this with them.
Mike: Oh, yeah.
Gaylene: But then occasionally there is the lucky investor that, you know, their first view out of the chute is totally clean. I’m dealing with one right now, and I’m like, you need to understand that this is the exception not the rule.
Mike: Right. And what’s interesting in this business and it’s really the same for you, too. I always tell everybody I work with this; it’s a tough business to scale because every time I buy a house from someone or every time I sell a house to someone that’s the first time I’ve ever worked with that person.
Mike: I could do a million transactions and the millionth one is not that much easier than the first one.
Gaylene: That’s correct.
Mike: And you’re dealing with a different agent every time, a different lender every time, a different appraiser every time. And you can’t just say to somebody, hey, you know how we did the last twenty, let’s just do it like that. It doesn’t work that way.
Gaylene: That’s why it’s nice for you to have your own, you know, to try to use your same title company over and over, because that’s at least one constant that you’ve got.
Gaylene: I try to put that across to my clients. We can make your life a little bit easier because we know you–we know how you work at least. We may not know how your seller works, and we may not know how your lender works, but we know how you work.
Mike: Right. Awesome. Well, Gaylene, tell everybody how they can find you, the Lonergan Law Firm and how they can find your women’s club.
Gaylene: Okay, well the Lonergan Law Firm; we’re right here in the heart of North Dallas, right at the intersection of 75 and 635–12801 North Central. I’m right here in the lobby of our beautiful building, and my phone number is 214-503-7509 or you can reach me by email. It’s a great way to get hold of me, more so than a phone. And my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And then like I said, I have the women’s club; it’s a part of Texas Real Estate Investors’ Circle, and you can go onto MeetUp.com and just type in txreicwomensgroup and you’ll get all the information about us and how to join us and when our next meeting will be.
Mike: Great, and we’ll have links for all that stuff below the video here, so folks can easily find you. Well thanks so much for joining us, Gaylene. I appreciate it.
Gaylene: Well thank you, Mike, and I appreciate you having me on.
Mike: Absolutely, and I’m sure we’ll be talking to you again soon.
Mike: Have a good day. Bye, bye.
Gaylene: Bye, bye.