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If there is one thing that I have learned over the last two decades, it’s that in order to be successful in the real estate business, you need to be creative. That’s what I want to focus on today, creative real estate. Creativity is important in any business, it’s just especially important in real estate. If you’re not in this business yet, well, here is a heads up for you.

My name is Cameron Dunlap and I’ve been investing in real estate for a long time. Two decades to be exact. I’ve been involved in a number of different transactions in several different markets. One of the main reasons why I’ve seen and done so much is because I focus on creative real estate strategies. From time to time, you’ll even hear others refer to me as the “Transaction Technician” because I am constantly coming up with creative ways to get things done and make things work.

I use two of my most valuable creative techniques for finding properties and determining the market value of each property without having to physically see it. That’s what I want to share with you today.

Let me tell you a funny story. I got involved in real estate because I saw an infomercial late one night that convinced me I could easily make money in this business. Yes, an infomercial. I thought I could handle everything on my own, and that’s exactly what I did. The first property I invested in was a rehab deal about 4 hours away. Smart thinking... I spent 8 hours each weekend driving to the property and then spent the remainder of the weekend making repairs on my own. The real estate agent told me it would take about 5 weeks to complete the project, but it took a lot longer than that; about 13 weeks longer. It didn’t take me long after to realize that I should be spending my time finding ways to make more money because the more deals I find, the more money I knew I could make.

I didn’t lose money on that first deal though. I actually walked away with about a $12,000 profit. That’s more than most people make on their first deal, so at the time it was worth every minute I spend on that house. This wasn’t my only challenge either. As I’m sure you know, the challenges never stop, but because I’ve seen and experienced so much in the last several years, I have had the time to perfect my skill set. Now, I spend a lot of time teaching other  investors the right way to do things, so they avoid the pitfalls and make money

Right now is one of the best times to buy and sell real estate because the value of property has dropped dramatically in the last 15 years. Even though the market has pretty much evened itself out, it’s going to be a while before real estate prices get back to where they were. This is huge because there are a number of discounted properties in every market. There is no better time to snatch up some of them and make a profit. You don’t need to spend the time finding these deals though. There is a much easier way to accomplish this, and it’s simple. Have someone else find them for you. These people are formally known as bird dogs or house hunters and they will save you a lot of time and money. It didn’t take long for me to realize how valuable these bird dogs were to my business. In order to grow my business, I needed something that would attract new bird dogs, train them to find only the types of properties I wanted, help me manage the property submissions, and track my payments to my bird dogs. I used creative real estate to come up with a way solution that could fulfill my needs. That solution is known as iFlip.

I realized that as more and more bird dogs submitted properties, I had too many vacant properties to research on my own. That’s when I came up with a way to locate the property owners using a skip trace. I also built a system, now known as ‘Find The Seller’ so that any investor can easily locate a property owner. This is yet another great example of a creative real estate solution.

Once you find a potential deal, you need to determine its value so that you can make a profit. So many investors end up paying too much for a property and lose money they should be putting in their pocket. It is very important to know how to much a property is worth and how to determine its actual value. The value of a property is not what it’s ‘worth.’ It’s what a buyer is willing to pay for it, so at this point you really need proof of what other buyers paid for the property. Another important thing to know is which active properties are currently on the market. In most cases, active properties can show more about property values in an area than properties that had already been sold.

Let me give you an example. (Yes, you could pay an appraiser to do this, but the more money you can keep in your pocket the better, right?) Okay so, you found a deal that shows in the comps it’s worth $150,000 after repairs, but there’s a comparable house being sold for $120,000. You have got to be aware of that because otherwise you’re going to pay $30,000 more for a house that should have sold for $120,000. This is why we have to look at active properties as well as sold properties. Whether it’s $2,000 or $30,000 that’s money you shouldn’t be spending if you don’t need to.

One of the last things you need to look at is the cost of repairs. I have been using a simple strategy to help estimate my repair costs. Feel free to adjust this strategy as needed. That’s another reason why I use it; it’s easy to change. I start by categorizing the property according to its condition.  Most properties are bad, really bad, or awful. If a house is bad, that usually means I’ll have to re-paint, replace carpet or lighting fixtures, replace the cabinets, or make other more basic repairs. Really bad properties usually mean the basics and the roof needs fixing, the A/C unit or heating system needs to be replaced or the landscape needs sprucing up. Now, awful properties need all of that and new windows, siding, electric, plumbing, or other non-cosmetic repairs. Once I categorize the property, I take the total square footage and multiply it by $20 if it’s awful, $15 if it’s really bad, and $10 if it’s bad. This may seem almost silly to you, but it really works. It’s a really creative real estate solution that has allowed me to estimate repairs without having to even step foot in the property. Investing out of state would be so much more difficult without this strategy.

I use these creative real estate solutions all of the time, and if you can integrate them into your business too, you’ll have the upper hand over your competition.