Financial freedom is one of the best things one can achieve in life. But it takes grit and hard work to actually bring this into realization. Mark Owens recalls how he was just looking to generate some extra income when he stumbled upon the beauty of rental units. Since his first purchase, Mark has been an active real estate investor in Baltimore for 15 years and has been enjoying the time of his life – not being tied down to a specific work schedule. Learn more from Mark as he shares with us how he went from being a homeless junkie to spending most of his days worry-free from financial burdens.
Listen to the podcast here:
How Mark Owens’ Dark Past Led To A Bright Future Of Financial Freedom
I’m joined by Mark Owens who is a very special guest. He is from Baltimore, Maryland and he has done a ton in real estate that we’re going to get into. I’m excited to have you on the show, Mark, how are you doing?
Thanks for the intro, Jamie. I appreciate it.
Mark, why don’t we start off with understanding for our readers who you are, where you are, what’s your portfolio looks like? We don’t have to get into too many specifics of that right off the bat but why should we listen to you?
Everybody shouldn’t listen to me. It depends on what your goals are. If your goals are you want to work a 40-hour, 50-hour workweek for somebody else for the rest of your life, make them rich and follow the poor dad philosophy then don’t listen to me because I’m the opposite of that. If you’re looking for a way to develop some freedom, wealth, decent income while working a little bit then maybe you should listen to me. I didn’t start that overnight. It wasn’t like an overnight success. It took years to get where I am but I want to give you a quick, high-level overview.
In 2001, I was in the IT business making decent money. In 2002, I bought my first rental in the Hampton area of Baltimore City. 4011 Falls Road was the first rental property that I bought. Over the next couple of years, I started to buy more. In the beginning, I didn’t know any other real estate investors. This is 2002, there was no Meetup.com or Facebook. I don’t even think Google was around. I was still using the IO and Web Crawler. If it was, I didn’t know about it. There was no Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg was still poor. I think Rich Dad Poor Dad was still poor.
Things were different. I was trying to figure it out. I started wholesaling a few years into it. I made a bunch of money wholesaling. I kept buying rentals. After a few years in the real estate business, I was able to walk away from my IT job. Ten years into real estate, I was able to do nothing and just live off my rental income. I did more. I didn’t stop there. I kept doing more because you get bored sitting around the house. The truth is that you could be 45 years old making a couple of $100,000 a year sitting on your ass doing nothing and you’re not going to be doing much because all your friends are still at work.
When they’re not at work, they can’t afford to go do anything anyway. If you call up your friends, “Do you want to go scuba diving on the Cayman Islands for two weeks?” They can’t afford it. You start to have different friends because it’s hard to relate to the people that are still stuck in the rat race and you’re starting to meet other people that aren’t, that found their way out. Your friends start to change.
I’ve experienced that myself but maybe not on the same level or anything but I went part-time at my work in 2015 and I resigned. I haven’t said that on the show. I had a lot of respect for my coworkers, this is not bashing them. We’re not speaking the same language anymore. I can relate to what you’re saying. We’re on different tracks mentally.
I kept doing the real estate stuff and I discovered this BRRRR thing that everybody has probably heard of. I took that around 2005 and I figured it out on my own. I did a video about how the whole thing came about and how I figured it out. Once I figured that out, I was able to scale my business a lot faster and larger with very little or nothing out of my pocket. That changed things. Fast forward to the beginning of 2021, I had a little over 100 rental units and I’ve sold 2/3 of them the first six months in 2021. I wasn’t intending to do it. My wife is a nurse. She still works. She loves her job.
I’ve been trying to get her to quit her job, buy an RV and travel around the country for a few years. We own a condominium in the Cayman Islands so I’d like to spend a lot more time there. COVID has put a damper on that but I get to go back in January 2022. I’ve been trying to get her to quit her job so we can travel around the country. A couple of years ago, I convinced her like, “Let’s buy an RV and get used to it. Go spend some weekends in it and get used to the whole thing.” She finally agreed to that and then I got a call at the beginning of 2021 from a real estate wholesaler.
He sent me a text message asking if I knew anybody that had any 10 to 20-unit apartment buildings for sale. I own a few or did that were in that range. I called him up and asked him, “What are you looking for? Who are your buyers?” He had some qualified New York buyers that wanted to pay in my opinion, top dollar and I wasn’t going to have to pay the 6% real estate commission. That alone saved me tens of thousands of dollars. I ended up selling those guys an 18-unit building, a 14-unit building, a 13-unit building, a dozen garages. I sold another California buyer a 7-unit building and a 3-unit building.
I’ve got a few thousand units leftover and no debt, a bunch of money in the bank. I’m still trying to convince my wife like, “Let’s get out of here.” I don’t want to wait until I’m like 70 years old and I need a walker to walk to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I want to do it now. I’m still pretty old. She started considering quitting her job. I’ve been trying to get her to look into this travel nursing thing and she had no interest in it and then she started looking into it. She said, “I’m going to go with a travel nurse.” Two weeks later she got a job. I’m from Baltimore. Now I’m in Charleston south Carolina.
She got a thirteen-week contract. I’m in my camper. We’re at a campground. She is at work doing the nurse thing, which she enjoys. She loves it. I encourage her to do that. If you like doing it, keep doing it. I wouldn’t want to do it. I’d be like the nurse from hell. I would be in there like, “Quit your whining. You still got one leg.”It's very easy to get caught up and forget about the end goal. Where are you headed? What do you do when you get there? Click To Tweet
I’m more of the suck it up buttercup thing with my daughter. I’d be like you.
She gets to do that. During the day, I get to go do whatever I want and stuff. I’m saving the stuff she wants to do for the weekends and the evenings. During the week, Monday through Friday, when she is at work, I’m doing the things I want to do like hiking on the trails and maybe go to a museum.
Our reader base is note investors but for the most part, people are after what you have. Time freedom.
To me, that’s what it’s all about. People have asked over the years like, “You got 100 units. Why don’t you get another 100, 200 or 300? Why are you stopping?” This is personal. This is the way I feel about it. It’s not right or wrong. I got enough. Let’s say that you’re going through a buffet and your plate is full of food, more food than you need. Are you going to go grab another plate and fill that one too? You’ve already got more food on the first plate than you can even eat. I’m there. I have enough. I can go buy a $300,000 car. It’s not going to make me any happier than driving my Jeep.
In fact, I’ll probably feel stupid for buying it because the truth is the only people that care about your car are poor people. People that get money, don’t care what you’re driving. I see it all the time. A guy is 25 years old and he made his first $100,000 and he runs out and buys up $80,000 car. You’re not impressing anybody. People that got money think you’re stupid. You got to take in that $80,000 and bought a couple of rental properties and had your tenants buy your car. That’s the way I do. For me, I got enough money where I’m making enough money where I know that making more isn’t going to make me that much happier.
It could make me less happy because it increases my responsibility, the things that I have to do and I’m responsible for and the stress that it creates offsets the extra money that you’re making. I found that balance that works for me and I’m making numbers up. If I make $300,000 a year, that’s a good balance for me. Some people might feel like they need to make $600,000 and that’s okay. Some people might be happy making $50,000 and that’s okay too, wherever your balance is. I found my balance. My balance isn’t chasing more money. I found a way to do the things that I want to do when I want to do them.
If I’m going to go out and spend $50 on a steak lunch by myself, I can do it. That’s enough for me. That’s what I was looking for was the freedom. We’re all looking for money at first. After you start making $100,000 or $200,000 a year, you start to realize, “I’m working my ass off. I’m not much happier than I was when I was making 20% less than I’m making now. Why should I keep chasing the money? What is it that I want to do with my life? What do I want to do? How can I make it so that I can do that more and work less?” That’s what I’ve been doing.
Money is a critical piece to where you are. It’s not an unimportant thing.
Money is very important but only to a point.
It shouldn’t be the end goal. That’s one of the big struggles people have. You seem happy and content but you’re not lazy.
I think of a lot of analogies. Some people get pissed off. I’m going to say something that might be offensive to some people and if this offends you then I’m sorry. I used to be one of these guys. I was a little fat. If fat people are offended by that sorry. I’m a little chunky and I’ve decided I want to start losing weight. I was at 225 at my highest weight. That might not sound like a lot but I’m not a tall guy. I’m five foot six. Every year I shrink a little bit. Getting old sucks. You get shorter and your ears keep getting bigger. You lose hair where you want it and you start growing it where you don’t but it’s better than the alternative.
How much do you want to lose? Do you want to weigh 70 pounds to be anorexic and die? You got to find a weight that works for you that you feel comfortable with. I’m 190 pounds. I lost 35 pounds and I’m good with that. I wouldn’t mind losing another 5 or 10. I feel a hell of a lot better than I did when I weighed 225. I can tie my shoes. It’s the same with money. How much weight do you want to lose? How much money do you need to make? You’re not going to lose all your weight. You’re going to disappear into nothing. Do you want to make $1 billion dollars a year and then have no free time at all where you’re a slave to your job and making the money and you don’t have time to spend with your family, children and spouse?
We pick an investing strategy and we get wrapped up in the how-to, which is important. You know how to BRRRR and buy properties. There is a lot that we’re not going to get into on this episode that you know how to do. It’s very easy to get caught up in that and forget about the mindset or the end goal. Where are you headed? What do you do when you get there? If you don’t mind, let’s dive into your background a little more. Do you have people who work for you? Do you run the show yourself? How does that work?
I’ve always self-managed my properties and I’ve got people but I don’t pay them every day but when I need them, I pay them. My HVAC, carpet guy and lead inspector.
Are all your properties in Baltimore?
That is correct.
You’re running the show but you’re not working a ton of hours.
Maybe three hours a week on my rental business. I have a few dozen units free and clear. I don’t have any notes or anything. Everything is autopay. It’s one of the things that I have done that makes my life easy. It’s about every single thing I have is a lot better.
I know you do some mentoring, we can get into that. That’s where you are. Let’s rewind. I know you went back to 2001, 2002 already but let’s go a little further back if you don’t mind and dive more into your story.
I’m going to talk about stuff that has been embarrassing for most of my life and a part of my past that I tried to hide from people because I didn’t want it to be judged on the person that I was in the 1980s. When I was a kid, I got kicked out of high school in my senior year. I was a drug addict. When I was seventeen years old is when I started shooting cocaine and heroin. I was a seventeen-year-old junkie. By the time I was in my early twenties, I was robbing drug dealers. If I’m going to rob somebody, I’m robbing a drug dealer. I tried stealing and stuff like that.
Stealing sucked because you got to steal something then you got to find somebody to buy it. They’re not going to give you what you think it’s worth. It’s easier to a robbed the drug dealer and get the drugs directly and their money if they got any. I started doing that. That whole lifestyle came to a screeching halt in 1989. I robbed the bank in Philadelphia, a couple of dozen stores in the Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Harford County area. I got locked up on September 8th of 1989 in Baltimore City on Monument Street. I ran a red light in a stolen car at 1:00 in the morning.
I ran out of the store at a motel room in Pulaski Highway I was staying in. I robbed the store. I went and bought some drugs. I’ve got a friend who I’m still friends with and we’re on our way back to this motel to get high. I couldn’t wait to get high because as junkies we had this need for immediate gratification, which is your enemy for succeeding in anything in life. I ended up getting locked up. The truth is I tried to get out of this lifestyle. I’d been to drug rehabs not only in Maryland but in Pennsylvania, Virginia and California. I got kicked out or walked out of half of them. I had been locked up in Maryland, Pennsylvania. I did 60 days in Florida for a strong-arm robbery, which was dropped to theft.
I tried different girlfriends, religions, AA and NA. I tried everything I could think of and nothing was working. I’m in jail. I got armed robberies in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Harford County and Carroll County. I got a bank in Philly and I got another street robbery in Pennsylvania. I’m thinking I’m going to go to jail for 100 years. I wasn’t done. I’m like, “I’m going to try to escape from prison. You’re going to have to shoot me off the fence. I’m not done.” I always thought that I was going to either OD or get shot. I wasn’t expecting to spend years in jail. I wasn’t going to do it.
It’s like, “You’re going to have to shoot me off the fence.” That was my mentality. I had nothing to lose. I attempted to escape out of Baltimore County Detention Center on October 2nd of 1989. I was so close to getting out of their escape-proof jail. I got the thing off my window. The only thing between me and the street was a piece of plastic about a half-inch thick. I had a four-foot piece of steel that broke off a bunk bed that I was using to pry that out. Unfortunately, one of the guards outside saw it, heard the noise and called us. They caught me and take me to lock up where you’re locked in a cell by yourself for 23 hours a day.
I got a six-month sentence on lock up, which I didn’t even care about. I’m already locked up. I get a private cell. Here is the point. My attorney comes to see me. I’m going to use some language here that might be offensive to some people but I’m giving you a heads up. I walk into the room. I sit down on this steel table and he comes in and he sits across from me. He looks at me and he says, “What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re already in jail. Can’t you even stay out of trouble in jail? Don’t you realize that if you do what you’re supposed to do, you can be home by the time you’re 30 years old? You’ll be young enough to start a whole new life.”When you live a life where you exceed your own expectations, that's an amazing life. Click To Tweet
He looked at me and he said that and I felt stupid. He gave me some hope. I could start a whole life. That was never part of my equation. I had never even considered that because I had tried AA and NA. Over the course of the next day, things changed in my brain. I was like, “I don’t have to get shot off the fence. I don’t have to get prison. In fact, I can consider prison rehab. I’m not going to prison. I’m going to rehab. This is going to give me an opportunity to work on myself and figure something out so that maybe I can be home by the time I’m 30.”
Your whole perspective changed.
He gave me hope when I didn’t have any hope. It’s funny because now that I’m coming out with this story that I hid for so many years, I called him up. He is still alive and he is still a lawyer. I found him on Google and I found out he is still an attorney in Hartford County. I called him up and the lady answers the phone and she says, “Is he expecting your call?” I said, “Probably not. I was his client years ago.” She put me on hold and he got on the phone. I said, “My name is Mark Owens and I was one of your clients. I wanted to let you know that you said something that made a huge difference in my life.” I relayed the story that I said.
That’s what you said to me. I said, “You gave me hope, a different direction that I hadn’t even considered.” As a result of that, I’ve been married to my high school sweetheart for years. I have an amazing son that graduated from Alabama and has a job working as a first-year analyst for an investment bank in Charlotte. I’ve got an amazing business. I’m a respected member of the community. I’m healthy. To me, I have an amazing life. Everybody can have an amazing life. When you live a life where you exceed your own expectations, that’s an amazing life. It’s not a comparison. I’m not comparing myself to Robert Kiyosaki or Grant Cardone. I’m looking at where I was many years ago. To me, that’s an amazing thing. Everybody can do the same thing.
I wanted to tell him to let him know like, “You made a difference in my life.” He was blown away by it. I didn’t know it at the time but he had me on speaker. This whole office heard the conversation. I can see him getting home and sitting down at dinner with his wife that night and hear him say like, “Guess what happened to me at work?” I want to backtrack a little bit because this is something else that happened. Years ago, I looked up the cop that locked me up. The one that caught me in the stolen car. I looked him up on Facebook. I found him. I sent him a Facebook message like, “Do you used to be a cop in the Eastern District of Baltimore City?” He didn’t respond. I don’t blame him.
He knows who I am. He got a commendation. It was like the arrest of his career. The FBI was looking for me. He saw the couple of dozen robberies. It was a big deal for him. I sent him another message. He locked me up in September 1989. “I want you to know that you saved my life. I want you to know that I’m sorry for all the stuff that I did. I regret all of it. Now, I have an amazing life and it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for you.” I still get emotional talking about it. He messaged me back. Now, we’re friends. I got his phone number on my phone. We talked on the phone.
My point is it’s never too late to go back to your past. If you did something to somebody that was wrong and you know it was wrong and it’s like it affects you, you should call these people or send them an email or text message and say, “I want you to know I’m sorry. I don’t expect anything from you but I want you to know that I regret what I did.” It’s also never too late to call somebody up and thank them for something that they did. Somebody said something that maybe it was a teacher or a coach or a neighbor or an uncle. Somebody says something and years later you look back and you realize that made a significant difference in your life. You should call them and let them know. It’ll make you feel good.
Let me fast forward a little bit. I’m in jail. I get off a lock-up and while I’m on lock up, I’m thinking, “I’m going to figure this out. I’m going to get my life together. I don’t know what I’m going to do but I’m going to have to do something different.” I get off lock-up and I find a book on top of one of the tables and I picked it up and it was called You Can If You Think You Can. I looked at the back and the author’s name was Norman Vincent Peale. I know his more famous book was called The Power of Positive Thinking. I read this book. Take control of your life and become the person you want to be. I’m like, “It’s right up my alley. I’ll read this. I got plenty of time.”
I started reading that book and halfway through it, the author convinced me that I could take control of my life and be the person I’ve always wanted to be if I believe that I can do it. I smoked cigarettes at the time. You could smoke in jail back then. I’m like, “I’m going to take control of my life. I’m going to start right now. Fuck this cigarette.” I quit smoking. It was in the middle of the day. I had a half pack. I had this guy, Frank, which was one of my jailhouse bodies. I was like, “Frank, take these cigarettes. I’m done.” It was for me to prove to myself that I’m not playing. I’m taking control of my shit.
I’m the captain of this ship. I’m steering the boat. That book changed everything. Once I believed in myself, it changed everything in my life. There were three things that happened. First, the hard stop. A cop locks me up. The second thing is the attorney plants a seed. It wasn’t a 180 because a 180 means you’re going back to where you came from. I didn’t want to go back there but it was a course correction of maybe 20 degrees or something. It took me somewhere where I was never expecting. The cop stopped me. The attorney gave me a new sense of direction. The book gave me the fuel to get there because I believe in myself. We can all relate to this.
Let’s say you’re in a Home Depot parking lot and you get into some altercation with somebody. You know like, “We’re going to start swinging. We’re going to be fighting.” You got two ways to look at it. You can look at it like, “This guy’s going to kick my ass. I hope he doesn’t punch me in the face. I hope it doesn’t hurt.” You already lost. You can start walking towards the guy thinking, “I’m going to tear this guy’s face off. His kids aren’t even going to know who he is when I’m done with him.”
You still might get your butt kicked but the chances of winning are significantly greater when you believe in yourself. There were times in my previous life where I got into altercations with people. I’m not a big and tough guy but I got into altercations with guys that were significantly bigger and had significantly greater potential of violence than me. I fought them down.
Physically, you should have lost.
They see in my eyes like, “I don’t care what you do, I’m coming.” They can sense that and they walk away. You can do anything in your life like that. You can say, “I’m going to take down that apartment building. I had nothing and I come from nothing. I grew up in a poor family with a poor man mentality. I’m going to get 100 units.” There is nothing stopping you when you believe in yourself.
This message is phenomenal especially from what the country has been through in the last couple of years. It varies based on your personal situation and which state you’re in. Some people have had it great and other people have had rough years. It’s all about perspective. I ruptured my Achilles. That was challenging. My car broke down. For me personally, I’m like, “I don’t even want to talk about any of those things.” I’m bringing it up because it’s almost embarrassing because compared to what you’ve been through, it’s a joke. You’re not into the comparison thing but it makes me realize to get my perspective right.
I’m going to share the way that I see that because I’ve had the same problems you have. It almost sounds depressing but it helps to put things into perspective for me. If something bad happens to me, the day I get in a car accident, my wife gets in a car accident or a tenant trashes my house. It’s very easy to get upset with that. I realized that if I make it home tonight, I’m already home. If my wife makes room and we go to bed tonight, we’re all still alive and breathing and our son and dog are good, it’s a good day. If I can make it home until the end of the day and give my wife a kiss good night, it’s a good day.
None of that other shit matters. That’s the way I see it. I even take it a step further and I’m sure you’ve had this happen. You wake up at 3:00 in the morning and you can’t fall back asleep and you start getting pissed off. It makes it even harder to fall back asleep. I realized, one day I’m not even going to wake up at all. When I wake up at 3:00 in the morning and I hear my wife next to me snoring a little bit and I see the dog in the other room. I’m like, “I’m glad I woke up because one day I won’t. Everybody that I love that I can see is here and they’re doing well.” I usually fall right back asleep. It’s changing your perspective. One of the things that happen can make so much of a difference in our lives.
I saw a clip from an interview. If I give you $1 million, would you be happy? People are like, “Yeah.” If I give you $10 million, would you be happy? “I would.” The one caveat is you can’t wake up. You don’t wake up to receive it. When you wake up in the morning, why don’t you feel like you received $10 million? You should because you’re saying that is more important than receiving $10 million if you’re dead. Every day you should wake up and cherish that more than the $10 million.
I’ve asked people that. If I asked you, “Do you want $1 million?” You’re going to say, “Sure,” and I say, “But the caveat is you’re going to die two days from now. Do you still want $1 million?” We might be dead in two days anyway. Your time is more valuable than the money is.
How did you go into the IT world?
That was no easy trick. After I got out of prison in ‘94, I went to the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. I went to college for a couple of years in Hagerstown in prison. I got my two-year degree in Business Administration. I got out and I went to UMBC and majored in Biochemistry. I got a job working as a lab technician. This is a poor dad moment right here. The boss comes in. There were 30 people that work there and they get the rumor mill and all that crap. The high school shit for adults. Everybody was talking about there should be layoffs. It’s going to close down. The business isn’t going well. One day the boss walks into the lab and says, “Everybody in the break room.”
I’m thinking like, “Here he goes.” We go in a break room and he says, “I know about the rumors. I know what everybody’s thinking but we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to ride this out together. Things are going to get better. Everybody is good.” On Friday, he laid off a third of us. I was in the third and I’m like, “People will get shot. I went out and bought a house that night. “You told me my job is good and two days later, you lay me off. This is stupid.” I get a job working at W.R. Grace as a consultant and a lab technician. Two weeks before Christmas, they laid off 130 people including all the temps except for me.
I’m watching guys that had been there 25 years put their stuff in a box and walk out the door and I’m still standing there watching them. As all this is going on, I’m looking through the newspaper. Before there was Craigslist and all, the newspaper is where you want to look for a job. I started looking for lab jobs and there were 2 or 3 lab jobs. There were six pages of computer jobs. I’m looking at the six pages of computer jobs. One year experience, $90,000 a year. These people aren’t even that smart. They work here. They are not that bright. They are not smarter than I am.
I switched gears and started doing the IT stuff. A friend told me, he says, “Don’t waste your time getting a degree in Computer Science. They won’t even teach you how to hook up a printer. Get a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification. That will open the doors for you.” I started taking those classes and then I got a job working with a help desk at Mason. A few months later, I lost that job. My boss calls me into her office and I’m a temp at that time. She says, “Mark, I’m pleased to announce that Mason would like to offer you a permanent position.” I said, “There is something I got to tell you. I got some background.” She said, “It shouldn’t be a problem. Hold on.”
She gets on the phone. She is talking to HR. I could see her eyes filling up a little bit. She hung up and she looked at me and she said, “Mark, I am so sorry.” Within fifteen seconds, two guys pop in the door behind me. They’re like, “Mr. Owens, you got to go.” They escorted me to my desk. I didn’t have anything there, a couple of pens or whatever. They take me to the elevator down 25 flights and then they walked me out to the sidewalk. They’re like, “See you.” I’m looking up 25 stories at my office window overlooking the beautiful downtown Inner Harbor. Half an hour ago, I had a great job and then I’m in the street with nothing.It's never too late to go back in your past. It's never too late to call somebody up and thank them for something that they did. Click To Tweet
My brother got laid off from Mason.
It was a wake-up call. I deserved it. I wasn’t a victim. I did a lot of bad things and I’m paying the price. That’s part of the game. I played the game. I lost. I wasn’t upset about it. One door closes, another one’s going to open. I found a better job paying more money and learning more stuff. Within a few years, I was teaching these Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer classes at colleges all over Maryland for a company that taught all over the United States. I was teaching all over Maryland some in Pennsylvania. I also started teaching internet security at the NSA at Fort Meade. They’re the ones that invented all the shit to hack into stuff and I’m teaching them internet security.
They’ve all got top-secret clearances and they have to get background checks.
They didn’t check me. I was in the server room at Fort Meade playing on the servers and they’d never checked on me, which doesn’t make any sense.
On the background, not for the Department of Defense or anything like that but was it because you had a time gap between the criminal history and the future companies that does not run background checks on you?
They didn’t run background checks. There was such a demand for people doing it that didn’t run. It might not sound like a lot of money but I was getting paid $100 an hour to teach these classes in the year 2000. $100 an hour was a little bit more in 2000 than it is in 2021. This is my mindset. I’m not saying this works for everybody but this worked for me. I started making good money, $130,000 to $150,000 a year. Years earlier, I was sleeping in abandoned houses in California and Florida. I was sleeping under a bridge and eating Christmas dinner in a homeless shelter.
Now, I’m making all this money. You would think that I would take that and go run out and spend it on stuff. I had the opposite. I’m like, “I’m saving this because I don’t know how long it’s going to last.” I know what it’s like to be 1,000 miles with nothing to eat and nowhere to go. I don’t ever want to be like that again. I saved a bunch of money. With the money that I saved, I had to invest it in something and that’s when I started buying rental properties. I want to give you some advice. There is nothing new that I’m going to tell you but stuff that worked for me. Live below your means. My wife and I still own the townhouse that we bought in 1996. In fact, we were living in it.
If my income went up 50%, my standard of living went up 10%. I didn’t raise my standard of living to match my income. I took that extra money and I invested it in other cashflowing assets. You can buy notes, rental properties or another type of business that preferably has more of a passive type income to it. That’s what I started doing. By living like that and realizing that having an expensive car or a $900,000 house isn’t going to make me any happier than my townhouse. If you’re able to realize that and admit that to yourself and say, “It’s not about trying to impress other people. It’s about what was good for me in my long term.” The chances of having the type of freedom that I have are significantly greater.
I see these wars on Twitter and other places where cutting expenses versus increasing your income, which one is more effective? If you don’t increase your income and you only cut your expenses, it only goes so far. I was like, “Why is this an either/or? I don’t understand why we’re arguing about this.”
You could do both. If I start making another $50,000 this year, I’m not going to increase my cable TV channels to another 150 channels. Why am I going to spend that money? I’m not watching the 100 channels I already have. Some people feel they have to spend that money. Here is an example. This is what I ask people. This is how you can tell where somebody is going to go in their future based on the way that they answer this question. It’s always subject to change as they get more information.
The question is, “If I gave you $1 million, what would you do with it? You’re going to hear people say, “I’m going to get a new Tesla. I’m going to get a bigger house. I’m going to go on vacation. I’m going to get my teeth fixed. I’m going to do this and that.” They talk about what they’re going to spend and buy. If somebody gave me $1 million and they said, “What you are going to spend it on?” I’d say, “I’m going to get about eight houses in Belair-Edison. I’m going to own all eight of them free and clear. After all of my expenses and everything else, I’m going to make $5,000 a month.
I’m going to take that $5,000 a month. I’m going to get buy that car and watch what you’re talking about. I’m still going to have eight houses. I’m going to be getting that $5,000 a month every month for the rest of my life. When I’m dead, my kid gets it.” It’s the same amount of money but a different perspective. What are you going to do with it? That’s where most people get lost. It’s that need for immediate gratification. I want it now. That’s the enemy investment and that’s the enemy of your long-term prosperity. When you want it and you can’t wait, you’re setting yourself up. You’re your own worst enemy.
In the 2002 timeframe, were you putting any profits and cashflow back into the business?
Yeah. I did that for years. Even when I started wholesaling and I was making hundreds of thousands a year wholesaling, I was staying in my house. I started to realize that I’m more interested in experiences. I wanted to pay for my son’s school. My son went to the Boys’ Latin. It’s a private school. It’s pretty expensive. His senior year was $28,000 to $29,000. I wanted to pay for that. I wanted my son to go there. When he graduated from high school, he went to school in Alabama. We had to pay out-of-state tuition and he joined a fraternity. We paid for everything. It was about $60,000 a year. We’ve paid for his school.
We were done paying for everything before he even graduated and we did that fast. We didn’t get any loans or anything like that. By keeping our standards of living below what we needed to, we were able to do things like that. We own a condominium on the beach in the Cayman Islands that we own free and clear. Those are experiences for me. That’s my happy place. People are going to drive by and say, “Look at Mark’s condo.” Very few people even know I have it. It’s for me. It’s not to impress anybody. It’s something that I wanted that I got. It took years to get there. A lot of people don’t have the patience for it.
It’s very easy on a show to blow past the fact that this took many years. Even your mindset shifts, you listed three clear moments but those were over years. I’m not downplaying any one of those things but it wasn’t a two-second thing. Now, Mark is 100% a changed man. It was a process.
I wouldn’t recommend anybody go through the process I went through.
People can learn from you. That’s one of the easiest things to take away from this. It’s a no-brainer.
When I do coaching and stuff like that, I can’t make anybody successful. I’m a personal coach for working out and stuff like that. I can tell you what to do but if you don’t do it, it’s not my fault. When I get clients for my coaching, I’m not a motivational coach. Don’t pay me and then expect me to motivate you to go do something. If you want that, go see Tony Robbins. I’m not going to motivate. After you see Tony Robbins then come see me.
The only thing that we can do in this time that we have together in these shows is we can shorten people’s learning curve. It doesn’t take you ten years to learn. You can learn in a week. Listen to somebody else that’s already done it. Listen to what Jamie has done in the note buying arena. I don’t know a thing about notes but if I wanted to learn how to do it, there are two choices. One is I can maybe try to figure it out. I don’t even know where to buy them. If I do buy them, how much should I pay for them? What if they don’t pay me, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to discount them? I can listen to you and say, “Jamie, you’re in a note buying thing. I want to do this.” I can shorten that learning curve and the shorter the learning curve is, the more money you’d make.
That’s what I’ve done as well. Not that I’m the all-time guru or model for notes by myself but I had the same approach that you’re talking about. “I can figure this out.” Meaning, other people have done this first, why am I reinventing the wheel? I can take bits and pieces of information from this guy and gal, put them together and figure out what works. It’s more about taking ownership of your situation, taking responsibility for your future and focusing on action, progress and solutions versus problems, which are real. You’ve had a ton of problems in your life. It’s a mindset perspective shift. If you would be up for it, we need to bring you back on at some point.
If I can say something that’s going to make a positive impact on somebody’s life, it’s well worth my time.
There are so many rabbit holes I’d love to go down but we are at a time and I know you’re not as busy as you used to be because you’ve got this time and freedom.
I have some coaching clients. I’m not looking for more. I’m not trying to promote myself but I have a call.
You’re not pushing anything on anybody or anything like that. Where can people reach out to you or find more about you?When you believe in yourself, there's nothing stopping you. Click To Tweet
I have a Facebook group called Mark Owens REI. There is a page in a group. The page is a placeholder. Join the group. There are a bunch of videos on there. I put stuff on. I’m not trying to sell anything. It’s stuff that I put out there in hopes that somebody will get something useful out of it. That’s probably the best place to find me. My email address is Mark@MarkOwens.com if you need to hit me up for something. You got a quick question or something, that’s probably the best way to get in touch with me directly.
I’m sure you have a big network in the Baltimore area for real estate specifically. What I’m gathering from this whole episode is mindset and perspective which is so much more important.
It’s everything. If you’re looking specifically for investing stuff, I started at Maryland Investors Network on Facebook years ago. There are 17,000 people on it. I got rid of it. I gave it to a friend because I was trying to simplify my life. I got rid of the Google group and a couple of Facebook groups that I ran because I want to focus more on enjoying the rest of my life and not getting constant notifications about people complaining about somebody’s posts or something.
You’ve been very intentional about focusing on quality over quantity in a lot of facets of your life.
When I was in a different lifestyle, I’ll use girlfriends as an example. I’m more quantity than quality where I might have three different girlfriends in the weekend. As I got older, it was more quality. My high school girlfriend that I was in love with, I broke up with her and maybe a year before I get kicked out of high school because I knew the direction I was heading. I knew I’m going to jail and a bad guy. I knew she was going to go to college and have a wonderful life. I broke up with her. It crushed her. I felt terrible for years. When I’m in Hagerstown prison, I wrote her a letter.
I wrote her when I was in Baltimore County Detention Center. I was one lockup. I was like, “Here is how I turned out.” She wrote me back and she said she saw a picture of me on the wanted poster like a drawing. She said it looked like me. She figured it was me. Fast forward many years later and maybe six months from getting out of prison, I sent her a letter saying, “Here has how things turned out. I’m doing great. I got my head on straight. There are a lot of drugs and all in jail but I didn’t open any of that stuff.” She wrote me back and said, “That’s great. I’m glad to hear it. Don’t write me anymore.” I wrote her another letter.
You don’t seem like a guy who takes no for an answer.
I thought I’m going to tell her everything I’ve always wanted to tell her but didn’t have the balls to tell her to get this off my plate. If she doesn’t respond, that’s cool but at least I was honest with her and told her what was going on with me at that time because I made up some bullshit. When I broke up with her, I said, “I heard you’re messing with some other guy.” I knew it wasn’t true but I needed to tell her something and I wasn’t mature enough to figure it out in my head at the time. I knew it wasn’t going to work and I wasn’t sure exactly why.
I told her all that stuff. A couple of weeks later, I got a letter from her saying, “On a second thought, we can be pen pals.” A couple of months later, she came up to see me. I got out of jail a couple of months later. We were living together a month or two after that. Two years later, we got married. She is an amazing woman and a decent person. This is a problem that my wife has but she is not alone. She is with another 250 million people in this country that have the same problem. They see obstacles and they stop.
They’re like, “I can’t do it. There is an obstacle.” I’m like, “There is a way around that. I’m going to either go over, under it or knock it over or we go around it. There is a way around that. You don’t want me to write you anymore? I’m going to write you more letters.” I got kicked out of drug rehab. I hitchhiked to Florida. If I want him, I was going to go to jail for violating my probation. I’m like, “If I’m going to be on the run, I’m going to go to Florida. At least it’s warm there. If I’m going to be homeless, I’d rather be homeless in Florida than homeless in Baltimore in December.” I get down to Jacksonville, Florida.
I got no money. I got no job. I got nowhere to go. The homeless people tell you where the missions are at, where you can get your free lunches and all that stuff. You start talking to them. It was an amazing community. I’m thinking like, “I don’t want to live like this for the rest of my life. I don’t want to be living under a bridge and eat in homeless shelters so I got to figure something out.” There is a problem. If I go get a job then I can’t eat because the homeless shelters are serving lunch and stuff and I’m going to be at work. If I get to work, I can start getting paychecks in two weeks but I can’t wait two weeks to eat. What am I going to do?
What I used to do is sometimes I’d go into grocery stores and I would walk around with a cart and I’d throw food. I go near where the bathrooms are at. I grabbed something out of the cart and take it to the bathroom and eat it. You got to eat. That’s how I would eat. I couldn’t do that 2 or 3 meals a day. The thought occurred to me, “Why don’t you get a job at a place that sells food?” I got a job at a hotdog stand. I was a hotdog-eating MoFo. It was on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. It looked like the Inner Harbor of Baltimore.
It was bought by the same company with the shops and all that stuff. I got a job making the hotdogs at a hotdog stand. I found a crackhead mailman that was renting rooms. I started renting a room from the crackhead mailman. You got to live around stuff. When you have these obstacles, there is a way around them. I’m going to tell you how I used to steal cars. I don’t know to hotwire cars. I didn’t want to carjack people. I didn’t want to turn it into that drama thing because then the police are looking for you. If you steal a car, they’ll find you when they find you.
I started calling in pizza companies like carryouts. I did this in Pennsylvania and Maryland. I would find an apartment building in the area, get the address and this was back when they had payphones. I put the quarter in and call and say, “I want to order a large pepperoni and onion pizza delivered to 4300 La Plata Avenue, Apartment G.” I hung up. I’m going to sit across the street from it. Half an hour later, there comes the pizza guy. He pulls up, jumps out, runs in with the pizza and they always leave their cars running. I’ll hop in his car and take off. Sometimes there would be another pizza in there. I get a pizza and a car.
To be clear, you’re not recommending that anybody go out and do that.
I’m saying that there is always a way around the obstacles. That’s my whole point of saying this. You want to buy an apartment building and you got no money, that’s not an obstacle for me. I don’t let those things stop me.
There are so many lessons and golden nuggets to take from this. This has been good, Mark. This has been a phenomenal episode. We need to get you out there more.
I appreciate that. If you’ve watched all my other stuff, I’m very sincere. I want to make a difference and a positive impact on other people’s lives. For me, the way I get paid is when I have somebody that I don’t even know and this happens regularly. They send me an email or they run into me somewhere and they say, “I heard you speak somewhere and you made a difference in my life.” That’s the payback. That means more to me than if somebody pays me a couple of thousand dollars.
Somebody pays me a couple of thousand dollars, the truth is, in a month from now, I do not even remember what I spend at all. Somebody comes up to me and says, “You made a difference in my life.” A month or years later, I’m going to remember that. Every time I remember it, it makes me feel good. I’m at a point in my life where that makes more of a difference to me than the money. That’s why I love doing these to make a difference.
It’s very easy for us to lose sight of the fact that it’s all about people and relationships.
Your reputation is so important. I’ve talked about this in other forums. A few years ago, my appliance repairman calls me up and asks me if I want to go out to lunch with him. I’m like, “Sure.” Who doesn’t want to go out to lunch with their appliance repair guy? We go out to lunch and he says, “Mark, I’m selling my business in January. I’m going to have $1 million. Do you want to borrow it?” I guess he didn’t do a background check. He didn’t do a case search. I’m flattered. I looked at him and I said, “Glenn, I’m curious. You’ve been selling appliances to investors all over Baltimore for years.” He told me I was the only one he was asking. I was like, “Why did you ask me?” He said, “Your tenants were your reference.”
I’m thinking like, “My Section 8 tenants are my references. This is going to get real interesting.” He says, “When we go deliver appliances to other landlord’s houses or do repairs, the tenants are always, ‘My landlord doesn’t fix shit. My heat didn’t work in six months. My refrigerator hasn’t worked in three months. He doesn’t do anything.’” He says my tenants always speak highly of me. My tenants love me. He says, “If you’re going to treat your tenants like that then I know you’re going to treat me like that.”
That’s another important thing is that I’ve talked about in other things is it doesn’t have to be an adversarial relationship. My tenants are my customers. If you had a restaurant, do you see your guests as an adversary? I want my guests to be happy. I want them to enjoy their experience. I want them to come back and tell all their friends. I see my tenants as the same thing. You can be a dick and nickel-and-dime to death and all that stuff. In two years, they leave and now you’re stuck with a vacant unit or you can be nice to them and they stay there for many years. That’s my philosophy. I’m selling a product. My product is housing and they are my customers. I want happy customers.
Mark, I want to thank you for coming on. This has been phenomenal. To our readers out there, don’t forget to go out and do some good deeds. Take care of everyone.
- Mark Owens
- Rich Dad Poor Dad
- You Can If You Think You Can
- The Power of Positive Thinking
- Mark Owens REI – Facebook Group
About Mark Owens
Mark has been an active Real Estate investor in the Baltimore Maryland area for the last 15 years. With over 100+ rental units, Mark Owens has made a name for himself in the Baltimore Real Estate investor community.
Mark purchased his first rental unit in 2002. At the time, Mark was self employed and was looking to generate some extra income to pay the bills in case he wasn’t able to work. Only intending to purchase a couple of units, he quickly became addicted to the cash flow and deals he was acquiring.
Five years after purchasing his first rental unit, Mark was able to quit his full time Computer Training business and became a full time Real Estate Investor. Now with over 100+ units, dozens of rehabs, and numerous wholesale deals, Mark hasn’t had to work a regular W-2 paying job in over 10+ years.