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Book review: Dave Whisnant’s Complete Real Estate Investor Program

For years, readers have been asking me to review Dave Whisnant’s program. I asked him for a copy. No answer. I asked readers for a copy. They kept offering me electronic copies which I rejected for fear of violating copyright laws. Finally, a reader sent me a hard copy.

Dave Whisnant

Whisnant is an Atlanta attorney who apparently has switched to full-time real estate investing. He reminds me of a younger me. I found myself saying, “Oh, yeah. I used to think that.” Generally, I think he knows what he is talking about and is correct. In part, he needs to gain some more experience and wisdom. And he needs to tighten up the ethics somewhat.

Pre-foreclosure?

He seems to be a pre-pre-foreclosure guy, but he is really more multifaceted than that.

Fixers

Whisnant also pushes fixers a lot. He says his family has been renovating and reselling homes for 25 years. Then they became luxury home builders in Durham. I did not find that part of his book very persuasive. Sounds like they did too much restoration type work. It’s not cost effective in my experience and observation. Whisnant seems to figure this out during the book. On page 172, he wistfully notes that it’s probably a lot more profitable to do much less fixing and move on to the next property sooner. “…The numbers really do not lie,” he says, as if he is reluctantly letting go of his childhood religion.

The typical fixer does far too much and although Whisnant acknowledges this, he still cannot stop himself from lengthy discussions of all those non-cost-effective improvements you can make to a house. Ignore all that. [See my book Fixers for more details on my take on it.]

Oversells a bit

He oversells his program a bit, calling it “bulletproof.” Nothing is bulletproof. He also makes the common guru mistake of claiming his methods will work everywhere. In fact, the Atlanta market is quite different from markets like California and Northeastern metro areas. He speaks of FHA and VA loans and “dirty thirty” houses (fixers with sale prices in the $30,000 to $39,000 range). He might as well tell investors in those areas how to hunt Mastadons. He also frequently refers to “torn up” houses—a Southeastern-states-only expression.

Phony

I was turned off by numerous admonitions to be phony. “Fake it before you make it,” he urges. Speak poor English if the seller does. “Act like an experienced investor even if you’re not.” Frequently, Whisnant seem to say that he lied to a seller or buyer and that’s what you should do. For example, on page 64 he tells a tenant to whom he is trying to sell a house that the price is “under market value.” On the next page, he brags that he “got top dollar for that house.” I don’t begrudge him getting top dollar, but you cannot lie to the buyer.

He says to do that time and again in the book, although he seems to feel guilty about it as the book goes on. “Make sure it’s the truth,” he adds at such points later in the book. Unfortunately, the context indicates that it generally is not the truth and he offers no advice on how to deal with that. I suspect that Whisnant’s approach works if you tell the truth, but that you would do fewer deals per year as a result. Tough. You have to be truthful.

‘Good’ agents & lenders

Whisnant has an odd faith in “good” agents and loan brokers. He gives the impression that there are only one or two “good” loan brokers in an area and you must find them. He also has some goofy theories about small and large real estate brokers. It is helpful to identify good people in the business as you go along, but I would not say that such people are crucial as Whisnant seems to.

How much use an investor makes of agents and loan brokers is a function of your strategy and the current market. Also, like many investors, Whisnant hates appraisers and lenders who do not say what he wants to hear. For example, he denounces lenders who demand “excessive” documentation. The only loan brokers he wants are those who fight ferociously against “excessive” documentation, low appraisals, rejections, etc. If the broker tries too hard to please demanding borrowers like Whisnant, he will find he has lots of borrowers and no lenders. The broker is a middleman. He must please both sides.

Credit repair

I was disgusted with Whisnant’s advice on credit repair. He says to challenge the negative things on your credit report, although he makes no mention that you need a legitimate reason to do so. Send each challenge in a separate letter, he says. He says that if you challenge and the credit bureau does not respond within 30 calendar days, they must remove the challenged item. Then he says that they often cannot meet the deadline for bureaucratic reasons and you win as a result. “Our hope is that the letters will get lost in the shuffle.”

In other words, if you play lawyer games, you may be able to force credit bureaus to report falsely that you have good credit when, in fact, you are really a scumbag who reneged on his promises to many creditors. The obvious moral way to repair your credit apparently has never occurred to lawyer Whisnant: Pay off your darned overdue bills.

Seller finance

Whisnant is a big booster of seller finance. Me, too, when appropriate. It’s not always best. But his arguments are specious. For one, he say the seller will not have a “guaranteed return” if he sells for cash instead of taking back a loan. Huh? He can buy a certificate of deposit with cash. They pay a guaranteed rate. When you do seller financing, you get a “guarantee” from Joe Schmoe—if he doesn’t slip a non-recourse clause in.

He also says installment sales lower tax rates—a golden oldie argument from ancient times when selling for a lump moved you into a higher bracket. Speaking of oldies, he also has the old chestnut about borrowing $1,000 against your own pass book savings account then doing it again at several other banks to establish credit. That hasn’t worked since George Bailey was head of the building and loan in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Crystal ball

Whisnant believes in crystal balls, or at least that’s the implication of his many admonitions to invest in “hot” or “growth” areas. Reminds me of Will Rogers’ advice to buy only stocks that go up. No one can predict future appreciation rates anywhere.

Hard money loans

I have long heard about “hard money” loans. It’s apparently a guru word. I thought it meant loans where they cut a check to someone at closing as opposed to seller loans where they just take less. To Whisnant, it seems to be some sort of loan sharking operation with interest rates of 15%, five points at closing, 1- to 2-year terms, and 65% loan-to-value ratios.

Early signs

Whisnant says to find sellers who’ll sell cheap by contacting those who are evicting, condemned home owners, boarded up or neglected house owners, probates, sellers with materialmen’s liens against them, divorcing couples, and Section 8 owners.

He uses a lot of direct mail techniques to contact possible cheap sellers. He offers a “Landlord Maintenance Tip Sheet” to get in the door with likely rental property sellers. He says you write up the tip sheet by taking some information from a “good home repair book.”

He also has telephone and face-to-face scripts of what to say and how to answer questions from sellers. Californians using his system need to be careful about the two California laws (California Civil Code §§1695 and 2945) that pertain to approaching people against whom a notice of default has been filed. As with other investors I recently wrote about, he found that females are better at getting to talk to a seller face-to-face. There may be some safety and discrimination issues doing that.

He disses property-wanted ads, but says he has a new idea to try them. They work OK when done correctly.

Lease options

Whisnant pushes lease options. I am almost the only one who denounces them. I was surprised to see that he did not say you should attach a full purchase agreement to the option to be sure it is enforceable. He just has the single paragraph that non-lawyer gurus recommend. And he makes no mention of the numerous legal concerns that I identify in my book Single-Family Lease Options.

Good advice

He has much good advice that I have also given. Keep contracts simple to avoid scaring off the other guy. Treat agents well to keep them on your side.

Unlicensed brokerage

Some of Whisnant’s deals sound like unlicensed brokerage. On page 104 he tells you to say, “I am getting paid for matching up a seller and a buyer. This is along the lines of what an agent does, but I am acting as a principle in the deal so I do not need a license.” It ain’t that simple. He expresses little concern that this might be brokering without a license. He makes no mention of the possibility that such a deal might also be considered an illegal net listing (broker keeps all sale proceeds above a certain amount) in some states.

Motivation

His motivation chapter has some good stuff like write down your goals, but it also has a lot of psychobabble and nutty “mental laws” on how to brainwash yourself to success. My book Succeeding talks about self-confidence, persistence, and such. It does not turn you into a one-man cult.

This originally appeared in Real Estate Investor’s Monthly newsletter.