Venkat Avasarala - Electrical Engineer Turned Real Estate Investor


Venkat came to the United States back in 2002 to get his Masters Degree. After spending 14 years in the corporate IT space as an Electrical Engineer, Venkat pivoted to real estate investment to be able to take control of his career and future. He started in real estate by acquiring 20 single family properties in the Dallas area over a 3-4 year span. Today, his company Stryker Properties is focused on Class A apartments in Dallas, Austin, Denver, and Phoenix. During his time in real estate, they've accumulated over 5000+ units in the various asset classes and work with over 3000+ accredited investors. Venkat shares with us how he was able to pivot from IT to real estate, why they are making the shift in real estate investing strategy, why they choose the markets they are investing in, and the lessons he's learned as an investor along the way.

In this episode hosted by Mike Swenson, we discussed:

  • Venkat's goal of replacing his income with a passive income out of real estate when a mass layoff happened in his IT company
  • The importance of starting with a single family home or a syndication, and why it is important to start with a side hustle
  • Why he starting with the Dallas market and what made him decide to move into the other markets
  • The trick of finding and serving people who are doing well in life, comfortable, have bank balance, and whose makes more money each year
  • How Venkat partnered with someone to buy his first property where he saved 50% to 60% of income
  • What are the important things to look for in a partner
  • Treating your investors right by showing transparency where you share periodic updates of the good and bad news
  • Having curiosity and obsessing over knowledge











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 Read the full transcript here:

Mike Swenson
Welcome to The REL Freedom Podcast where we inspire you to pursue your passion to gain time and financial freedom through opportunities in real estate. I'm your host, Mike Swenson. Let's get some real freedom together.

Mike Swenson
Welcome everybody to another episode of REL Freedom talking about building wealth, gaining time and financial freedom through opportunities in real estate. I am your host, Mike Swenson. And today we are going to be talking about a lot of different things as it relates to multifamily real estate. And so our guest today we have is Venkat Agha Sarala. And he was electrical engineer and then pivoted to 14 years of corporate IT, and then real estate. So we'll let you share current numbers of what you have right now. But you're investing in Dallas, Austin, Denver and Phoenix and you live in Dallas bought and sold a tonne of units with a tonne of value. But really what we want to make sure that you the listener learns is how do I get started? How do I take those first few critical steps, maybe I'm doing something in real estate, and I'm looking to shift to doing more larger multifamily real estate. And so Venkat is going to be here to share with you those key steps so that you can get to the heights where he's at, you can get to the properties and the assets under management that he has. So thank you so much, Venkat, for coming on the show. We're so excited. Thank you. Thanks for having me, Mike, share with us a little bit about your initial journey here getting into real estate, how that happened. And we'll take it from there.

Venkat Avasarala
So I'm originally from India, South India. And then I came to United States as a student back in 2002, to pursue my master's in electrical engineering, with the VLSI chip design, like it's pretty hot right now not so hot back then. So couldn't land a entry level job here in that, because all those jobs went to South Asia at the time, Taiwan, China, whatever. So people did, and then I went into it. So I ended up spending 14 years incorporated it. Four years into it, I quickly grew into the manager position and senior leadership and all that. And then 2007 is when I you know, they started laying off people and everything. Because we were setting up to go into a big recession. We didn't know at the time. So one day, I was just going into my work. And then I see emergency services. And then as a walk towards the building, I started hearing loud cries and all that said, Okay, Something is definitely wrong. And then it was like 845 ish, nine ish. And then people on the ground. This is a large MNC we're talking about right? So turns out they're doing mass layoffs. Right. And that really impressed on me. It's like, look, this can this can happen to me, right? So what's happening there is they're outsourcing some 300 jobs on that particular day from us to Asia. And they're replacing these older professionals who've been working on that same old steel technology. And they're not at the age where they can upskill and all that and they're just replacing with some some cheap labour from outside, right? Well, look, I'm not blaming, blaming anybody for not doing it. Everybody got to do what they got to to to maximise their investors, returns and to stay in business, right? It's just part of the game. But what dawned upon me is like these folks, where would they go? Who will they hire on the old technologies that they've been working in it? Right? I mean, they're working on some mainframes. Now. It's, nobody uses mainframes, right? So then I told myself, yeah, I will, I will not let this happen to me and my family, right, I won't be this vulnerable. And I was like, in my early 20s, at that time, so it heavily impressed on me. So I went into single family at the time. Mostly, I bought properties on MLS, some I rehab, some I already bought rehab, because I had a very busy job. But I didn't use that as an excuse. I started building a portfolio of single family homes around the rim of 635. In DFW, where I can just get on steady fire, I can hit all my properties, maybe do right. So after 20 Fannie Mae said that there are no more loans for you, I can take private loans, but it was not very feasible, returns wise. So that is how I started with a simple goal that look, if I get laid off, if my wife's get laid off, we still eat and we pay all our bills and doesn't have to drastically reduce our lifestyle. That was just a simple goal. And I was able to hit that goal in like about three to four years, where I'm replacing my income with my passive income out of real estate. And real estate was very kind back then the values of that, that we were paying was nothing compared to what what they're worth right now. And there was a very good cash flow taxes, insurance was very low. It was it was a great time to own that. And then by 2015, I see quickly that it's becoming hard to operate these things and then I pivoted to buying multifamily A multifamily also known as apartments, apartment complexes, right. So they cost a lot and I didn't have the cash for it. So I went into the syndication route until they died. I was $252 million. I started slow. My very first race was $1.2 million. It took about three weeks. So you hit it up on family, friends, and then referrals. And then you grow network and that kind of thing. Now, we're advertised still now. So yeah, I did multifamily. I bought a bunch of properties, mostly in DFW, but I have properties in DFW and Phoenix too. And then it has run its course. So basically, everything was good until 2019. And then, so these are BNC class properties. These are workforce housing. So basically, these are your people who makes 40 to $75,000 income people, right? The workforce of this country, and had a tonne of fun. And then in 2020, when the pandemic rolled in, that is the demographic which got disproportionately impacted because they don't have a lot of money in the bank. They live paycheck to paycheck. And they paid the price and I paid the price right but for being their landlord, right, so I quickly realised that you know, what if I want to be successful in life, and if I if I want my investors to be successful in life, I need to figure out a way to cater to the effluent, the people who are doing well in life, right, because their life, the people who have college degrees, high skilled labour influencers, right? They're, they're doing really, really well and it's getting better by the year. So that is when I decided to exit that workforce housing, so sold about $350 million worth of portfolio about 3500 units. And then I started building apartments. So now I'm building about 4500 units, and mostly in DFW and Austin. These are Class A affluent neighbourhoods and all that and the plan is to bail leads up stabilise and sell. And I do that with my investors, right. But I run the show, but I have a lot of investors backing me do these deals, and soon I'll be going into ownership of businesses, operational businesses, and I have my reasons for that. So it's a progression, what I tried to do is to stay ahead of the curve, don't want to overstay my welcome, should no writing on the wall, you shouldn't realise when it's about to be over, the party is about to over and leave before the party's over, not Apple.

Mike Swenson
That's in a nutshell, as we my journey, just kind of looking at this, you know, it's quite overwhelming to see all that you've accomplished. And so to remind people, things are going to change, the economy's changed, the markets changed. And you've adapted to that and done so well. And also reminding folks that this is also an evolution, most folks start in single family properties. And so if you're looking at this thinking, Okay, do I have to build and develop Class A properties, luxury property starting out? No, you don't have to do that you can start in single family just like you did, and work your way up. And I think for a lot of people, they get overwhelmed by successful stories of people that have you know, 1000s of units and hundreds of millions of dollars, but reminding it started with one single family home, that's how you get started as one single family home, whatever that might look like. Or maybe you decide to start on the syndication side by putting your money into a syndication, but at the same time, that's that's how it starts.

Venkat Avasarala
No, absolutely. Look, it's really important that you have to start right, don't get into analysis paralysis, and please don't compare yourself against you, you should compare yourself today versus yourself yesterday. That's the only comparison you had to be do and make that one person improvement. Like as you go, right. And that, that that means that adds up to something significant down the line. But the fact of the matter is that look, everything that we want in our lives, right, let's say housing, energy, health, insurance, kids education, everything is just growing in price, right? I mean, that what you have to pay for them has been exponentially going up your salaries are not keeping up with it. Right? So be who's upon you to be an entrepreneur, have a side hustle, and maybe one day it will just replace your main income and then buys you financial independence and you know, financial freedom and a peace of mind. Right so that you can provide for your family you don't have to stress about the money because look, half the half the divorces in this country happens to the money it's as simple as that right? So it's putting enormous strain on the people in this country where you just depend on job look, I'm not against job I started with job look my capital form because of job I'm so thankful for all my employers that they hired me and and kept him for that long allow me to accumulate capital so that I can be an entrepreneur. This is not me bashing jobs at all. But I just don't really think ancestors like you will know when you and that's going to go away.

Mike Swenson
So talk a little bit about choosing these markets. You Started with Dallas, obviously, because you're there and you're familiar with it, which I think is less than in and of itself. For some people that always think the grass is greener on the other side, maybe just start with the market that you know, well. But as you developed into the other markets that you're in talk about kind of that thought progression and what made you decide those markets? And maybe what made you decide not to choose some other markets you were considering?

Venkat Avasarala
Absolutely. See, you need people in anything, right? You want to run a retail business and operational business, anything you got to be where the people are, right. And Dallas is one of those rapidly growing cities we have about what 7.8 million population and it's not like, I'll be around for the year 2100. But apparently, Dallas is projected to be the most populous Metro in the whole country with some 33 million people. And we are at 7.8 right now. Right? And that's one thing and then we need because the route I chose was real estate, right? So what that means is that I need to provide housing and that kind of thing. And I'm a landlord, right. So all landlords are not treated equally in all states. There are some states which are landlord friendly and some ways they're not right, and Texas is one of the very fiercely landlord friendly state. And then I live here right and then I live here so all these three things, it makes it a slam dunk for me to start my business in DFW and whatever I do, I try to do it in DFW because I it's hard for me to find better market than DFW and Austin, I stay away from Houston, I have my reasons, mostly weather related. But us DFW and then Austin is a boomtown. These are the two locations Phoenix and Denver. Oh my god. Again, population growth, very low property taxes and insurance over there. And then approximately to California people leaving California by hordes, they're finding their way into these metros. And then where is like a nicer market, right? I mean, the high income market, even, like I have a C Class property in Denver, and for two bedroom, they pay like what 1900? Almost. And that is what I get from my class a property in Texas in Dallas. All right, so that just tells you, right? The trick is find people who are doing well in life, who are comfortable, who have bank balance, and whose makes more money next year than this year, find who those are, and serve them. It's as simple as that no matter what you do.

Mike Swenson
Yeah. So how do you get into the design? So you know, like you mentioned, your background being being C class properties, wanting to make that shift as a result of the the last couple of years here? How do you work with developers? Because it is it's a different type of property. It's a different type of market. And for some people, it's enough of a learning curve, or they're like, I don't I don't want to deal with it. I want to stick with what I know, well, but you embrace that rolled up your sleeves and jumped in. So what did you have to learn about kind of the higher end a class property market?

Venkat Avasarala
One thing is for sure changes, external things will always change, we cannot control it, we just have to change for it. And we have to stay on the right side of the change, right? Like I was saying, right? It had just stayed back with single family homes, their negative cash flow, right? Negative cash flowing, like their rent is lower than their PII at the moment, right. And then now that they're just hoping that one day it will appreciate maybe it will maybe it will not I don't know. But that's not the right way to build wealth. Again, the whole point is try to replace job and negative and negative cash flow is not going to pay bills, you have to pay it. Right. So changes after now I embrace that philosophy. And tomorrow, let's say if sending rockets into the space is in fashion, it's attainable and achievable. Guess what that is exactly what I'll be doing. I'll be competing against Elon Musk, right? That is the kind of mindset I have. And, and I pivoted from my electrical engineering to it. And I started with single family, I pivoted to multifamily ownership workforce housing and then I pivoted to ground construction, and then about to pivot again to owning operational businesses. So I want as soon as you start one business, you'll you'll be a lot smarter, you know what it is running business stakes, you will get exposed to tax legal legal legality, how the p&l, how to read a p&l, how the project cash flows, you will know all these things, most of these skills are transferable. And now there is domain knowledge, which you absolutely know nothing about. So that is when you work with a mentor. Right? So you bring in a mentor or a very experienced partner. So for example, there is no school teaching how to build apartments, right? I mean, there's no scope already. 2020 I decided I saw the writing on the wall. I said that look, I haven't really the workforce housing and I want to build apartments to you say that MCAD you can easily buy a Class A property but they cost a pretty penny, right? They don't cash flow, right? They're expensive. Usually insurance companies pension funds, they own them. And I will say You know what, I'm not going to compete with pension funds and try to buy class ever I'm going to build it. But problem is I never built anything. Well, how do you solve that? So now you partner with somebody who has done it and do it all over again in Slate, right? So I was able to find people who have that experience and bring him into bring them into the team. I still run the show, but you know, I can actually borrow their experience their contacts, I never buy anything on MLS when it comes to the sites because the only sites you can find on MLS and people's mailing lists or something or rejects, right, basically, for the most part, I want class eight, right? I'm building in Frisco downtown Frisco is like, there is no nicer place than Frisco and Hall of DFW I'm building in downtown. I'm not supposed to be in that. But I got in there because of my contacts that I have developed and enter into that old, old boys club and get those kinds of things, right. So you need to find out a way to get into an industry, right? That is the key and make it a win win partnership. You don't have to keep all the dollar that you make, you can you know 100% of 00 5050 cents of $1 is 50% of $1.50 says I'd rather make 50 cents than 100% or zero. So that is the kind of mindset so basically, by partnering and bringing people into the team, it's interesting

Mike Swenson
You mentioned Frisco because the the last time I was in Frisco was about two weeks before the COVID shutdowns. We were down visiting some friends of ours that moved from Minnesota. And so I remember seeing construction back in 2020. in Frisco I would imagine it's grown a bit since then. Oh

Venkat Avasarala
My god. Yeah. PGA here, Universal Studios are moving here. Every single day there is news about Frisco Plano area, right? This is this is it. And I've been three projects in north of DFW in Collin County, Denton County which is like the cream of the cream of the crop in comes to DFW.

Mike Swenson
Now you talked previously about you raising money with your contacts, right with your your group of people that you've got your accredited investors. And so talk about the process of raising money from people even to for people that aren't looking to do a big development project like yourself, but maybe they are looking to raise money for a duplex or something smaller. What I've learned is, you know, there's a huge responsibility there to make sure you're providing graded investments, you have to take care of them for them to come back. So talk a little bit about the raising capital side.

Venkat Avasarala
No, absolutely. See, that's one skill, which is 100% transferable, no matter what, where do you put in the future, right? I mean, everything needs capital, you can't do anything without capital, unless you are like an influencer or whatever. Right? So I started out by partnering with somebody, my very first property right, I started with Scratch. I mean, I have some single family. And some of that skill set is transferable, right, because it's the same sheetrock carpet, the tenant dealing with tenant leaves and all that, right. So that skill is transferable. But single family I did with my own money, I didn't raise any money. But I was working right. So I was living below my means. And both me and my wife, right? So we saved like 50 60% of our income. But that is what I tell to the young people, right? Don't, don't go chase all this luxury goods and all that just live like a popper, in the early stages of your life. Delayed gratification is the number one predictor of how well you're going to do in the future. Right. So that is what I did with my money. And I did all my single families cash flow coming in, so I had some money to start with. But then again, I didn't have 1.2 million in cash to buy the $3.5 million property, my very first probably 100 unit property. So what I did is I partner with somebody who has done 3d And so far successfully, so you have to add them, you cannot just partner willy nilly with anybody. So capability is very important. Integrity is very important. Background is very important. So we have to wait, it's a process, right? You keep the word out saying that guys, this is what I'm trying to do and have crystal clear clarity on what your vision is, what is it that you want to do? And what where you need help with that you have to articulate and I used to share that with lenders, title companies, property managers, and although we don't know, I don't know who they know, right, but now they know that Venket is looking for a person who will fill that gap. So I got an introduction that way, so we hit it off. And then I told them to look, I'll work for a third of the compensation. A third, you keep the two thirds out of 100% of the work, but you watch over me I will prepare the deck I'll do the pitching but you will be there right by my side everywhere I go correct me on the on the way. So when I did approach it this way and when I invited people to the webinar and sell them on the pitch, look work at the pleasure of working in it that is all where we live and always the PowerPoint presentations and all that so I brought out that soft skills, how to talk to people conflict management, how to pitch all those skills from my IT career into this and then I put together a presentation answer people's questions and I'm and do a tonne of research, you should be knowing what you're doing, right? Otherwise, it's just even not ethical to put people's money at risk, right? So gain knowledge, have somebody really experienced on your team and hone in on your pitching skills. And people get 1.2 million. That's the beauty of this country, right? I mean, the capital is readily available. And you cannot save this for most of the world. Right? So it was so easy, right? We raised $1.2 million. A lot of people kind of tried to put the cart before the horse is like, you know how, yeah, I don't want to I don't want to do anything. Unless I know I have the caches. So no, it's never works like that. No, no, first find the opportunity that everybody would want to be in it. You know, obsess over that. And money will come. Of course, you have to work for it. But it will come

Mike Swenson
Now kind of a nitpicking here going into the detail of raising the capital, out of curiosity, where did these folks have their money currently, before they decided to invest in real estate or these people that may be invested in other real estate projects, or they've never invested in real estate before? And you've got to share with them the value of investing in real estate.

Venkat Avasarala
Most of my investors actually park the look, I'm from it, right. So most of the people who gave me money are in IT background, that's usually the case, right? I mean, because they are the ones who can better relate with me than anybody else. Right? I don't have doctors I have I do have business owners, I do have retirees. But I would say overwhelming majority, like 60 65% of my network is alrighty people. Now, it pays really well. And but the thing is, that won't leave me time to do anything else. Right? I myself was a victim right? Before I got started with investing, I used to go to my 401 K. And when it's time to allocate my money to two different forms, I used to sort on the Okay, which funds perform the best last year. And I picked the top three or four 500 Central Federal Reserve. And that's it, okay, I'm done. It's like, we don't want to waste our brain power on picking investments and all that. But we rather spend all the time on job, right, doing complicated stuff. It's fatigue, when it comes to our own personal finance. And, and I know that I mean, because I was one of them. Right? So that is what people were doing. They had some 401 K's department in the cash. Sometimes some people dabble with stocks, and they give up as soon as they lose some money, because stocks is a whole different ballgame. It's not for everybody, right? So these are the different conditions, and they are just they don't have any more cash flow. They don't have any way other to build unless they work. There's no other way they're making money. Right? So I talked to them and said that look, this one work, one day, that chart might go away. Right now they're talking about AI automation, outsourcing. And you don't know what the future brings. But you don't want to be so wonderful. So you need to have this additional way of making money, either cashflow or appreciation or whatever other than your single family home. Right. So that is how I pitch to these people. And then I was I was, it's very straightforward, right? I mean, I don't need to convince people a lot. Now risk is very important, you have to clearly articulate, there's nothing without risk. And now you without risk, you can give money to Uncle Sam and make about 5% yield. But this is as high as it's gonna get right. Because it's not going to be like that forever. Once they increase roads, it will go back to near zero again, right. But inflation is 3%. And that's where I'm going to cut it. So you need to make 15 20% 25% You don't need to double your money every six months or a year. But something like with the 20% clip, if you can consistently do that you will do really well. So that is that is the vision I have shared with my investors and it resonated very well with them,

Mike Swenson
Then obviously, the next step is you have to produce what you say you're going to produce. Once you've done that it lends itself well to say, Okay, this project is done. Here's the next project, you know, they talk about how much harder it is to find a new customer versus retain an existing customer, you now have a customer invest in your deal, the best thing you can do is have that deal do well. And then you've got them for the next one. And the next one the next one.

Venkat Avasarala
Yeah, I mean basically, it's it's a couple of things, right? Obviously, the operational excellence has to be there. So you need to walk the talk. The second thing is how you treat their investors right you you don't have to treat them like kings and queens but you just treat them how you would like to be treated by others. It's as simple as that. So what that means is transparency, right? A very periodic updates and shared good good bad and the ugly don't keep people in the dark and just throw all the random the bad news at one time. So because it happens quite often right like where the sponsored cannot pull himself or herself to share bad news and they try to delay delayed delayed delayed and then once here, let it go and people are like But I thought everything was going well what is happening and they probably will never invest with you, right? Most people here are understanding, right? Like, look at this interest rates, I mean, who would have predicted that they will raise interest rates that fast and that high, right. So people will understand, but you have to share that from both your wins and losses on a date, or at least on a monthly basis, if not daily, right. So that has to be done. Now, when it comes to the operation excellence, right? Remember how I said that you need to partner with somebody who have done it several times before. That's one aspect of it. And the second thing is having curiosity and absolutely obsessing over knowing anything and everything in the domain. You need to have a mindset that there cannot be anything I know, I won't get there in first week or first month or even a first year. But I would say a couple of years, you need to know everything about the domain, everything. You should be able to talk things very intelligently at lands with anybody in that domain, let's say multifamily, right, you need to know everything. So once you have that knowledge, once you once you're just consuming knowledge and getting obsessed with it until you get there. It helps you make right decisions. It's not rocket science. We're not saying sending rockets into space here. This is just managing apartments, single family homes, building stuff and all that right. So but without knowledge, everything looks like daunting, right? So that is what I would say be very curious, obsess over getting knowledge, talk to people read stuff, pay mentor, if you have to, if there is a mentor available in a certain thing, you know what you're buying there 2030 years of wisdom for a fee. I wish there is a mantra for everything in life. You know, it's like you you just gained 30 years of life. Right? So that is that is a wide deck and I spend money quite a bit on I don't spend a whole lot of money on marketing, maybe I should. But I spent a lot of money in learning. If somebody wants to teach me something I want to pay. Okay, when can I learn?

Mike Swenson
Have you ever heard the phrase, you're the average of the top five people that you hang around? While Real Estate Agents, I'm excited to increase your five with you. We're launching the real freedom investor agent tribe to help you get educated and connect with others to build your real estate investing journey, and also to help you along the way as you're working with real estate investors. So come check it out on our website, real Go to the store, we have a membership. We have a mastermind group and private coaching to help you stay accountable to your real estate investing goals. And to make sure that you connect with like minded people to accelerate your progress. And to cheer you on along the way. Check it out real Click on the store. There's so much good stuff here that you shared. I've got a full page of notes as I love to take notes when when you're talking. So for people that want to reach out to you and learn more, because we're at our time here, how can they do that?

Venkat Avasarala
Well, they can go to my website, I do have some newsletter if you want to stay in the know on a talk about economy, what's working, what's not. Again, the idea is to share those kinds of things, actionable things, insights, if you will, right, because they don't say this on you on news, they only talk about sensational stuff or the views or whatever, right? But you have to see what's under the hood, what's driving what's causing what and so that we can predict, you know, we can predict what's going to happen and position ourselves to take advantage or what's going to come our way. So yeah, the best way is to go to my website at Stryker str YKE, our all one word, and then you can send in my newsletter or you can drop me an email at Ben cat V as in Victor E n k t at striker prop as dry k e r t r o I condense properties into prop strike or That's the email domain striker properties is the website.

Mike Swenson
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on and sharing. It's fun to see all the kind of different places you've dipped your toes in the water over the years, all that you've learned and you're still continuing to iterate and get better and better and, and provide better investments for your investors and grow your portfolio. So best of luck to you in the future. And thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you



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