How to be the Picasso of Real Estate… or Push it Like Picasso

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By Mark Vosylius

I was blessed to grow up with a loving mother who was also a prolific artist. However, she was a traditionalist—someone who painted exactly what she saw. And so while she did not see eye to eye with Picasso (pun intended), she knew that you have to first be able to paint “exactly what you see” before you can go off and be different, like Picasso. That comment really stuck with me, and if you believe it, eventually helped shaped my real estate world view. I’ll explain more about Picasso in a minute.

As things stand now in my world, I find it difficult to find cash flow properties. I believe they are the bedrock of a good real estate portfolio, but in the present economy, I’m forced to look for people who are investing outside “the box” and using techniques that are not, in a sense, traditional. Which means I need to be creative and keep my eyes open to new and different strategies.

For example, I met a lawyer a few months ago who invests in real estate in Malaysia (yes, Malaysia!). I’ll call him Perry for the purpose of this article. So I thought to myself, What can I learn from Perry . . . and about Malaysia? Then I boldly put on my REIN hat and thought, And, in return, how can I help him? Instead of me just figuring out how he can help me, the question is, how can I help him? This is what I have always been taught at REIN, and I like to think of it in terms of synergies, where by helping each other, two people can achieve a combined outcome that’s greater than either person could have achieved alone. I needed to be creative and draw a line that connected us somehow, like an artist, although I’m learning that even that way of thinking is “traditional.”

The driving force for me to even be considering investing in Malaysia is that I am finding it difficult to find cash flow properties here in Canada. In other words, I wouldn’t be bothered talking about Malaysia if I could find properties locally, right? The challenge that I’m faced with is forcing me to open up my mind; to be a sponge and hear how other people do it. It’s challenging my traditional way of how I invest and manage my portfolio. And so I think about the challenges Perry has had to overcome and solve. How does he manage it—the collecting of rent, ownership responsibilities, legal work, building maintenance, and so on—from so far away? He saw an opportunity in an area that I would never even consider. He obviously does not think like me or invest like me. The reality of what Perry sees is different than mine. I am beginning to think I am a traditional investor, and he is the Picasso. And I am challenged to wonder, what does he know that I do not? But our common canvas, so to speak, is real estate.

Now, fundamentally, I believe that everybody is looking for the biggest return on the smallest investment. This thought is what motivates me when I’m trying to figure out how I can help someone. Whether it be an opportunity in Malaysia or Canada, when I am confronted with something new, I make it a point to step back and think. I force myself to be bold and shake off my traditional way of thinking. So in this case I think, What if I can show Perry the same kind of return for Canada, using the knowledge I have? This kind of thought is always in the back of my mind when I meet someone. I may be naive, but I think business people in general, are all looking to improve their lot in life. And so if I have a way to do that, why not tell them? I have found that good real estate investors are deal junkies—they always want to hear about another deal. In my life when I meet people who are interested in what I do, I tell them, “Well, I have three properties in Barrie and I do this and that, and I would love to hear what you do.” This is all about connecting, which is the heart of networking. And real estate is about networking. Period.

But let’s get back to Malaysia—and Picasso. This investor has opened my eyes. I now have gotten to know him. So in my traditional way of thinking, I was prepared to tell Perry all about how he can make money in Canada, and boom: he starts telling me about a guy who I will call Grant. Grant has invested with Perry in Malaysia, but he also has properties in—wait for it—Meaford, Ontario. Perry tells me that Grant wants to build 22 condo units there, and he asks me to help Grant if I can. So I meet Grant for coffee and I learn that he lost a $100 million on a deal ($100 million, folks!). I ask him how the hell he lost that much, and he tells me he’s the guy who started the ATM machines. He says he got the patent and took the technology to Malaysia, but the technology got stolen. It sounds bizarre, but I park it in the back of my mind. I ask Grant for information on the Meaford deal, and he agrees to send me the paperwork.

When I receive the paperwork and look through it, I see the names of the seller’s lawyer and developer, and I can’t believe it. I know them—very well (the lawyer helped me close a deal last year)! Grant needed some time and money because it was way past closing for the property. So, with Grant’s permission, I call the lawyer and the owner. I explain to them that Grant is a genuine guy and just needs until the New Year to work things out. I negotiate an extension for him. Now Grant and I are talking more. And that $100 million he lost? Well, he’s getting most of it back now.

So because I helped a friend of a friend from Malaysia and have “proven” myself, you should hear what Perry and I are talking about now . . . wow. (A story for another time.) And this is just what happened after one recent networking experience!

So it’s networking at a level that can surprise you. You might already have your set plans on how to make money in real estate, and it’s all nicely packaged in your head; traditional things like buying and selling cash flow properties. Then along comes some guy with a totally different perspective, and you still try and stick to your same way of making money. In my case, I had thought that I could help a guy in Malaysia, but lo and behold he knew someone else, who I had connected with, and twists and turns later, I have a new investing partner. It’s like a Picasso painting, all jumbled up. But wait—it’s not jumbled up. It only looks jumbled because I can’t see the traditional lines, I can’t make out what he is doing. I can’t see the reality of what he was painting, I can only see what I know: the nice, simple lines. The stuff that makes sense. Perry’s Malaysia painting looks like a Picasso to me, I can’t make sense of it. But a traditional painter and a Picasso all need to use a brush, and that brush in real estate is networking. It’s what connects us all. The more you turn to networking and grasp other people’s psychology without leaping to judgments, and by being genuine and authentic when you meet people, you will build relationships. And always project a sense of confidence.

Frankly, when I first met Perry, I was somewhat intimidated by him. After all, he was investing in Malaysia and I was just some guy investing in Barrie! But we shared the common canvas of real estate. He saw in me the love and passion I have for my work, he connected to that, and he brought me Grant. I helped Grant, and now Perry and I are talking great opportunities (and, yes, Grant is involved). What I mean to say is that I have a certain set way of thinking how to find other joint venture partners or other investors. I think they look and act a certain way; it’s all very nicely packaged like a clear-cut oil painting of a vase with flowers. But the reality is that life is like a Picasso: all jumbled up with some straight lines and some things that, on the surface, look like they make no sense at all. But, in the end, it all works. Beautifully.

To be a successful real estate investor you have to think outside of the box—push it like Picasso pushed reality. Think so far outside the box that you don’t even have a box anymore. I’m not saying you’re in box, more like you’re in a cube that’s inside a triangle and you’re out at sea sinking in the ocean (or something like that) and you need to get to land. Real estate is not traditional, it’s creative in ways you cannot even imagine. You need to understand and think that you have something to offer, and then let your mind run wild with how you can grow. It is limitless actually . . . just use your imagination. But this creative thinking takes courage, humility, and guts because everyone understands and supports something they can understand; everyone can look at The Mona Lisa and “get it.” But it takes an outside thinker to “get” Picasso. Many times when you throw a new investing idea at someone they will tell you, you are nuts . . . but remember, that’s what they told Picasso.

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