Dealing with legalities is taxing, but it’s vital for the legitimacy of your business and the safety of your assets. That’s how Landlord Law School was born! Its founder Bonnie Galam is also the Founding Attorney of the Galam Firm. As a real estate investor herself, Bonnie helps other investors tackle different aspects of being a landlord, particularly the legal side, bridging the gap between lawyers and landlords. Bonnie tells host Scott Carson that the legal stuff could be much cheaper if only people were just more proactive in investing time, money, and focus. Listen in on this informative and eye-opening episode to learn more!
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The Landlord Law School: Bridging The Gap Between Landlords And Lawyers With Bonnie Galam
I’m Bonnie Galam of the Good Bones Real Estate Investing Podcast. I am so excited to be joining you on the Note Closers Show. Scott and I talk about my program, Landlord Law School, asset protection and how you can be proactive with your legal stuff rather than waiting for problems to pop up. I can’t wait for you to dive into the show and thanks for joining.
I’m excited to be here and jacked up to have a new podcasting real estate friend joining us here on the episode. She is a rock star Real Estate Attorney, Legal Educator, Landlord and Investor. Too many real estate attorneys out there aren’t investing. This is one of the greatest things. She helps real estate investors tackle all the different aspects of when it comes to being a landlord.
She’s an owner of a seven-figure self mains rental portfolio and she’s a Real Estate Attorney licensed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and the Founder of Landlord Law School and The Galam Firm. She’s also the host of a podcast, the Good Bones Real Estate Investing Podcast. You’d want to check it out. She’s a mom to two toddlers, so you know she’s good at juggling balls in the air. We’re glad to have the awesome Bonnie Galam joining us here on the show. What’s going on, Bonnie? How are you doing?
I am doing great. I’m so excited to be with you on your show.
I love the podcasting world when it comes to real estate investors. I think we all are the top 1% that understand leveraging time and relationships and bringing out the best in each other in a lot of cases.
I love that the podcast has been a surprising platform for it to do that. I created it because I wanted somewhere to rant. I had all these legal problems that were coming up and I had nobody to rant to. What I wanted was somewhere that I could put that out to the universe. Eventually, it grew into meeting new people and having a space to have conversations with them. Especially with the timing of starting during the pandemic was nice because the coffee dates and the lunch dates were put to the wayside. The podcast ended up being a nice little outlet for being able to network and meet new people like you.
Ranting, I love that. It’s such a great definition for a lot of podcasts.
I am one of those, usually 1 or 2 episodes a month or what I call the legal rant episodes.
Part of the reason I thought it’d be great to have you on here on the show is you being an investor and then also an attorney and you admitted there has got to be some things that get under your skin. If you had to put your top 2 or 3 things you rant about and things that drive you bonkers when talking and working, whether they’re investors in the industry or seeing stuff, what are those things?
I’ll give you the top two. The first, being that legal stuff is the only thing you have to go to when things are going wrong. The legal stuff is so much cheaper and easier if you’re proactive with it. I think a lot of people see lawyers as problem solvers, but we’re also problem preventers. Being able to use your attorneys to create good contracts or to create a whole strategy for your investing business is a lot more powerful and a lot cheaper than coming to us down the line to clean up messes or to get things that you may have DIY-ed, tidied up after the fact. You usually know they need to be tied up when a problem happens. When a tenant gives you an issue, a contractor blows or something needs to be enforced, you want to make sure that stuff is good beforehand.
Number two is that a lot of real estate investors think they’re investors. I hate the term. It’s what we use as an industry, but I think we’re entrepreneurs. What we’re doing is a business and when you switch that mindset, you realize, “There are a lot of things I have to do as a business owner, but that’s good.” It gives us a lot more power, control and opportunity for growth when you think about all the different facets of being a business owner. I hate the word real estate investor and I also think it poo-poos on the legal stuff, which is my number one thought as the lawyer because I see this stuff go wrong for real estate investors all the time where they’re like, “I thought it was going to be easier than this. I didn’t think I needed to worry about that stuff.”
In the note world, borrowing and sharing contracts is a big thing or not understanding how title and order of lien priority work out. You don’t want to be finding that stuff out down the line. You need to uncover and unravel and realize that you don’t know what you don’t know and you need to start finding experts or building out a power team who can help support you as you’re going through that discovery process.
We should be REE versus REI.
I try only to use that word in my podcast. I’m like, “We are real estate entrepreneurs.” It’s not great for SEO. I realize every now and then I’ll pull the curtain behind me, “We’re marketers.” We want to work with more people and it’s not from a selfish place. I genuinely want real estate investors not to screw stuff up. If I want them to find it, I have to call them, “What are you guys looking for?” If you search real estate entrepreneurs, you might find some of my stuff.
We always thought to start with the end in mind. As you grow, there are expenses. There are things you’ve got to put in place to protect yourself. A lot of investors do things on the cheap. They step over dollars to save a nickel a lot of times. “I’ll do that contract myself. I’ll recycle the same contract that’s been around for twenty years.”
I shouldn’t tell you about some of the contracts that land on my desk. I’m like, “Where did you find it?” More often than not, the bad ones are like, “My buddy from a REIA or my investing buddy from the other side of the country gave me their template.” I’m like, “This is garbage.” It’s one of the things you don’t want to be penny-wise and pound cheap when it comes to the legal stuff because I tell my clients, “There are no cheap legal mistakes.”
You want to make sure that ship is straight, but also you want to have a solid foundation. It’s a lot easier to scale. From a mindset perspective, you’re a lot more confident scaling if you know you’ve got a solid foundation that you’re building upon. I love using the analogy of like, “You don’t want to be building a house of cards.”
You might be able to get it a little bit up, but at some point, that thing is going to topple over. We can build something that’s not structured on a solid foundation. The reality is that foundations got to include the legal stuff. You’ve got to know deeply your exit strategy, whatever your investing strategy is, and you also need to know like, “What do I need to do to make that legit?”
In real estate, I’ve never seen a deal going exactly as it was planned out to be, whether it was rehabbing a property or foreclosing on a deal. This whole world has been full of monkey wrenches thrown into a lot of things with the foreclosure moratoriums and eviction moratoriums. People are struggling out there. What are you seeing with your clientele? Are you seeing trends popping up with what you’re doing on the legal side?
There is a lot of garbage coming to market for top dollar but the risk that comes particularly here in the Northeast, where I’m located, is that we still got pretty strict eviction moratoriums that are planned to be phased out by the end of 2021. That makes things like tenant due diligence when you’re buying tenant-occupied property all the more important.
If you don’t know what questions you need to ask, then you got to make sure your realtor or your real estate attorney knows those questions to ask for you. One of the things I hear all the time is, “It’s a regular transaction.” I’m like, “Famous last words.” It was a regular transaction because a lot of people don’t always see the value in working with real estate attorneys, especially in a non-attorney state.
I know some states have mandatory closing attorneys and some don’t. I don’t work in a mandatory attorney state, but there’s still a pretty heavy attorney culture because our realtor form contract is total garbage. We’re like an insurance policy. We’re extraordinarily cheap in the scheme of lawyer land. We’re there to ride along and make sure everything stays clean from start to finish. Look at what each role everyone needs to play. What does your lender know and what role do they need to be playing in the deal?
The same thing goes with your realtor. Your realtor is the one who should be evaluating the dollars of the deal. Is this going to help cashflow? Where’s this market going? How can you evaluate the asset itself? When it comes to the terms, legalities, contract and due diligence, that’s where having a real estate attorney can add a lot of value, especially for newer investors.
I’ve got people who do a bajillion deals a year and they’ve been doing this for 30 years. They were probably close to as much as I do. Maybe they haven’t seen all the horror stories because they don’t get the backend of that, but they know what they’re talking about when it comes to the terms that they are seeing over and over again. For a lot of newbies, it’s worth the extra expense to make sure that you know what you’re talking about and you know what you’re signing.
I love the fact that you’re licensed both in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Pennsylvania takes about twelve months to foreclose. You’re not doing foreclosure work or are you doing it?
If you were doing foreclosure work in New Jersey, it takes two years-plus to foreclose in that state. It’s a little difficult.
It’s a much longer process. I’ve got some clients who are foreclosing on tax liens and things like that, but it’s not the bulk of my practice. It is a long foreclosure state that if you were to look at the auction history, it probably has three years’ worth of postponements on top of it. It may not be if you’re looking to do note investing at the top of the list. It’s probably towards the bottom of the list of the 50 states to do note investing in for that reason.
That’s not to say that I don’t have note investors or people, particularly in the private money space. That is a big area in this area. I’ve seen some wild situations or one-page promissory notes. I’m like, “This is not enough.” I don’t get paid by the word, but trust me, you want to have certain things in there that are going to protect you.
You see this because people try to go cheap and they don’t want to spend a couple of hundred dollars to have an attorney review a document or they don’t want to take the time. It’s an investment in their business long-term. We had Brent Buscay from Laughlin Associates talking about how people are using LLCs. They use the same LLC for everything they do. They’re co-mingling funds, deals or regular 9:00 to 5:00 businesses and things like that. That’s a recipe for failure at some point down the road.
That’s like, “Do not pass go. Pierce the corporate veil.” You wasted money forming that LLC to begin with.
All your hard work is gone because somebody sued you. You didn’t do it right.
It’s one of those things. When it comes to LLCs, no matter what your investment strategy is, I always say, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” If you want to have the protections that come with being a business, then you got to act like a business and you got to have that separation and corporate formalities. It’s not as simple as going and paying $125 to your state to form the LLC and then you set it and forget it. I wish it was that easy, but for better, for worse, it’s not. That’s not to say that it’s hard. It’s just not as simple as some people think it is. I’ve seen a lot of sloppiness post LLC formation.
Let’s talk about you as a real estate entrepreneur. Have you always been interested in real estate? Is it something that you wanted to do all the time or was it something that evolved?
A mix of both. I have always been interested in real estate. I remember as a kid sitting in the living room, going through the MLS book and circling all the cool houses back when it was a book before Zillow. For my birthday, I would take my Borders gift card and we’ll buy house blueprints. I loved real estate. When I went to law school, I went thinking I was going to be a criminal lawyer. I don’t know where in my head that. I was like, “This is where I’m going to go.”
I’ve always loved real estate. My husband, who I met while I was in law school, was already a real estate investor. Eventually, it evolved that was like behind the scenes doing a lot of this work. I was like, “I like it. I’m better than this lawyer that we’re paying for.” Since I was working for the government, I couldn’t do anything. We’d have to do an eviction and we’d have to hire someone else because I was a useless government attorney.
I had a great time. I was a criminal prosecutor for 3 to 4 years, and it was probably the most fun job I will ever have, but it was not sustainable. The pay is bad working for the government. That is a chapter that has now closed. I wanted to create a law firm that worked with real estate investors the way I wanted to be worked with. I saw the ways that our attorney was surprised billing and there was no real understanding of the business part of what we were doing. For a lot of this stuff, there’s a business option or a legal option.
When we had a non-paying tenant, no one was ever suggesting, “Why don’t you do Cash for Keys? Why don’t we talk about maybe seeing if they want to leave early? Let’s get a mutual lease termination in place.” It was like, “Yes, evict.” I’m like, “That’s not good for me, the landlord, and it’s terrible for the tenant. This doesn’t make sense.” I saw that it was because they were only looking through things through the lens of a lawyer. What can they bill for? What can they go to court for? Let’s take that retainer. I was like, “That’s not how I want to work.” That is not how I work. I work on flat fees. That way, there’s some cost predictability. I’m like. “We sit there, and we analyze what’s the rehab budget going to be and what is our closing costs and everything.”
The lawyers like, “We’ll see you at closing. Whatever the invoices that I submit are what you owe me.” I’m like, “That doesn’t work as a real estate investor because we’ve had those bills.” Where we’re like, “It should be $1,500 to $2,000.” You’re like, “$3,700? Where did that come from?” It never felt good. It didn’t feel integrity and it felt lazy to me.
There are plenty of attorneys who bill hourly, but I’m like, “Let’s think about this. What is the value of this product based on something other than attorney time?” I also felt like it was a conflict of interest. They had no incentive to get things done quickly or efficiently because then they wouldn’t be making money doing it. I was like, “How do we find a number that meets in the middle and make sense for everybody?”
It’s a value of your time, but it’s also the value of those relationships. You’re approaching it as a business owner. How can we help save our client money and be still be effective with these outside-the-box alternatives to litigation? The simple things, cash or keys, deed in lieu, mutual termination, at least. Those are great things, but not everybody knows about them because they’re used to going down one singular path.
That was a big reason why I had created the Landlord Law School. I was like, “I need somewhere for this to be cheap and accessible,” something where it’s like an ongoing resource that they can turn to and say, “I’m coming up with this issue with this tenant. How should I navigate it?” Give them different ways or different options and say, “This is where you want to go. You’ve got three different templates over here.”
It’s one of those things where I felt like there was this gap in terms of what lawyers were saying and how things were operationally happening for landlords and investors, more generally, on the ground. It’s very easy for lawyers to preach from the mountain top of like, “This is how it should be done.” I’m like, “What if we tried to settle it? What if we tried to shorten this?” That’s where the greatest value of time is usually for investors.
It’s like, “How do I make this end as quickly as possible?” Whether it’s doing a deed in lieu, some consent agreement with a tenant avoiding eviction or even if you’re firing a contractor or something, how do we make this end as quickly as possible? Nothing happens cheaply when you extend it. The lawyer fees and the holding costs go up. All of that stuff gets extrapolated and then it spirals. For me, I was like, “How do I make this as quick as possible across the board?” The only thing that is more valuable to real estate investors than the money is their time. That’s the way I looked at it from a real estate investor first and then a real estate attorney second.
Some of the best counsel I’ve ever gotten was from my attorney on a variety of things. I’ll give you a great example. I’ve bought some stuff in Florida that we ended up foreclosing on. We’re in the process of rehabbing the property. We go to closing and somebody threw an $8,500 mechanics lien on the property and they never did the work. They’re out there searching for foreclosures to throw a fraudulent lien on and hoping we would settle versus paying. I learned a long time ago not to do that.
One of the best advice is over encumbering the property to tie up the equity in case of these fraudulent liens in a lot of cases. That was one of the most valuable things. Me and my real estate attorney do that. This is why we have you on because you’ve got such great counsel, tools, and tactics for people. Let’s talk about the Landlord Law School. Tell us more about that. Tell our readers that because I think it’s so valuable of what you’re doing.
Landlord Law School came to be when the eviction moratorium happened. It was something I was simmering onto the back of my head, and then when COVID happened, I was like, “This needs to come to life on me. No more toiling about it in your head. Landlords don’t have access to due process anymore. We have been completely stripped of our access to the courts. What’s the alternative?”
It was what I was doing in our own investing business, which was we had tenants who told us they couldn’t pay rent. For some of them was a matter of waiting for the unemployment to come in and they got right back on track. For them, we’re like, “Let’s set up a payment plan and spread out that 1 or 2 months over the rest of the lease.”
Some of them were like, “We’re going back to our parents’ house. We want to get out of dodge.” “Great. Lease termination. You’re out.” For us, we’re like, “I’d rather have a vacancy than a non-paying tenant that I can’t get out.” We also did Cash for Keys on some people who are non-paying and they may be needed a little bit of extra help to go somewhere else. I get that. Cash for Keys doesn’t always have to be like bribery. It can be like a gift to be like, “I know you’re going to have costs associated with this move.”
Those were the first 3 or 4 templates that went up on my website. I was like, “Do you guys need this stuff? Here it is.” It grew to over 30 templates, 30 video lessons on how to legally protect your investment in the business, how to manage your investing business, how to grow your investing business. As protection, which is loosely what this is about, it sold as LLCs, trusts and period, that’s it.
From my perspective, LLCs, trusts and insurance are only there to catch you when things go wrong. They don’t do anything to prevent it in the first place and that was my whole thing like, “Let’s prevent this stuff.” I’m like, “How do we get good contracts in place for partnerships, contractors and private money lending? What is lending? What is this whole thing that we’re either on the front end or the backend with?”
Giving them this education. I’m like, “If I could teach a law school course on real estate investing, what would it be?” That is Landlord Law School. I’m like, “It’s the price of one law school credit.” I always am like, “I’d rather you have a mortgage loan than a student loan.” If we can get this as a crash course, but then an evolving and growing database, resource and template library for you to turn to at the drop of a dime, then that’s where there is a lot of value because you’re not waiting for the lawyer. You’re like, “This situation popped up. I know I’ve got a template for that to deal with it.” It’s been well received. I’m very excited by it. It’s like my little baby. It’s my side project from my firm.
I love that you’re taking your knowledge between the ears and replicating where it’s easy for people to get ahold of and maximizing your time and replenish the fact that you’ve got the training videos talking about that. It goes a long way. Not everybody knows what they don’t know.
Everyone called it sloppiness. You said, “They don’t know what they don’t know.” I’m like, “Let’s talk about fair housing.” Even like the ADA. There are action steps at the end of each episode. Look in your state, what the laws are on X, Y, and Z. Everything we talked about. That way, you have your own legal database of things, action steps like security deposit protocols. There are all things in there. They don’t know what they don’t know. It’s not a problem.
I think a lot of the education in the real estate investing business is focused on exit strategies. It’s like, “How do we start in this exit strategy? How do we execute on that exit strategy?” It’s important. We can’t have the legal stuff if we’re not doing this stuff, to begin with. I felt that there was this gap and sometimes there’s even bad information floating around, particularly in Facebook groups. God, help me when I see some of the things in Facebook groups.
Clubhouse rooms have got to be the worst.
I deleted Clubhouse. I couldn’t handle it. I was like, “Who are these nobodies? You have no qualifications.” The room I was in was a whole bunch of realtors who had never owned a piece of real estate themselves. I’m like, “I’m going to lose my brain hearing about this.” If you want to talk about mindset and all that stuff, have at it. Anybody can have a piece of that pie, but when it comes to the execution of it, I’m like, “If you haven’t walked the walk, then you shouldn’t be talking the talk.” There are a lot of those people on Clubhouse.
Facebook groups give bad counsel because you’ve got so many people in there from different arenas, but the Clubhouse stuff, I haven’t been on there in a while and I’m thinking about getting rid of it. I’ve listened to it and it’s the same people on there over and over. I’m like, “If you’re on here all day long, it tells everybody you’re not doing a damn thing. You’re not doing any type of real estate except spouting filth or bad advice.”
I’m not a fan of Clubhouse.
Let’s talk about that you’ve got the show. Let’s talk about your podcast a little bit because you’re doing such a great job, besides you venting on there, the Good Bones Real Estate Investing Podcast. Share a little bit with our audience about some different things you’re covered on there. You had me on as a guest to be on there. You’ve got some other amazing guests.
The podcast was a space where I wanted to talk about the legal stuff and I tried not to keep it dry, boring and sound like what’s that guy, Ben, who was on the dry eye commercial. It was a space to talk about what it looks like real estate investing, but then with the legal spin. I like to bring on people like you who can talk deeply about a niche, and then we can have an actual substantive conversation about like, “What’s the legal stuff that comes up in your business?” I find that on a lot of the other podcasts, it was like, “Tell me about the stuff, successes, favorite deals and all of that.”
There wasn’t ever a voice about what does that looks like operationally and legally? What are you doing to protect yourself? That was the conversation I wanted to have. I tend to have like 1 or 2 rant episodes a month. I’ve got a Q&A where I get questions from my Facebook group community. I tend to have one guest a month to go deep on many different topics. I’ve had house hackers on there, long-distance real estate investors, I got you, the note master. I have another interview coming up with a woman who does wedding venues. She doesn’t even consider it real estate investing. I was like, “This is real estate investing all over the place. You’re putting Airbnbs all over the farm. We need to talk about this.”
That’s like drama to the tenth in real estate with all the emotions involved with it.
I wanted to have this space to talk about the legal without being like, “Here is the law.”
I listened to some episodes and that’s why I was like, “Let’s get you on to talk about it.” It’s one of the most important things and I think people struggle with it. They nickle and dime it. I think people are also the unknown too scares a lot of people off and taking action, especially with what’s going on in the last several years. You said something at the beginning about crap being overpriced and you need to know what’s going on with that in the legal stuff. With people leaving, foreclosures and all this other stuff, you’ve got to know what’s going on in your specific state and market, so you’re not doing something stupid legal-wise.
Real estate investment has gotten popular. I’d say in the last several years, this area has exploded with people who are interested in it and for a good reason. There are great tax benefits. It’s fun and it’s a great way to make a good amount of money in a lot of different ways. No matter what your interests are or where your strengths lie, there’s a way you can make money with that doing real estate investing. Over the last several years, we’ve had interest rates go below 3%, moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions and we’ve had a number of things that have affected and even the limitations on travel. How are we getting documents notarized at closing? That was an issue for months at the start of this.
Being able to navigate all of that, but also recognize that those are things you should be thinking about and take the pulse of it, but also understand what the pulse of that means. It’s not enough to be like, “I found the pulse.” You have to be like, “This feels fast. This feels slow.” Sometimes that takes a little bit longer time, but I think you’re probably safer investing when you have a sense of the market where you are either acquiring properties, acquiring notes or whatever the case may be.
You mentioned you and your husband are both attorneys and real estate entrepreneurs.
He is a full-time self-manager and an accountant by background. He does have his real estate license and that’s largely for us to have our own MLS access and to open our own doors. He is not doing that in a career-type path.
What are you guys focused on? What’s your bread and butter that you like looking at and investing in?
I like midsize multis. I’d say like 4 to 10 units near campuses. We don’t call it student housing. We don’t have agreements with the campuses, the colleges or anything like that, but most of them are in Philadelphia. Most of our houses are within 2 or 3 neighborhoods. By aiming to niche down that much, when something comes to market, it takes half a synapse of brain energy to be thumbs up, thumbs down.
There have been a lot of thumbs down. We were big investors in Philadelphia over the last few years. We’ve had a lot of New York money coming into it and a lot of foreign money. That’s been ongoing for ten-plus years. They’re buying for numbers that don’t make sense in a lot of ways, but for them, it’s a safe place to park their money. They’re not even looking for cashflow. They’re looking for a stable currency to park their money in.
It’s been trickier to grow over the past few years. I’d say when we first got started several years ago, you could go to an auction and it was a matter of how much money you could bring and you walked out with whatever you wanted. Now, there’s not even a deal at an auction. If there were one, you’d be beating against people who are willing to pay insane amounts of money. One of the things we’re working on more is sourcing our own deals off-market because it’s not coming through MLS and auctions. For the last few years, when we’ve been focusing on having our two little kids at home. It’s been okay to coast a bit but we are itching for a deal.
The thing is, you know what you want and you’ve got multiple sources of income coming in with what you guys are doing. You know exactly what you’re looking for and what makes sense. Philadelphia has been a hot market and I think we’ve had a couple of realtors on and sometimes it is over-priced. You have that money. It’s like what we have here in Austin.
A lot of money is coming in and overpaying for stuff. They’ve got cheap interest rates, 0% financing or money costs that they can overbid on stuff. As real estate entrepreneurs, we always got to make sure we’ve got a good return on our investment with our money as well. Bonnie, this has been great. What’s the best way for our readers to connect and reach out to you, whether it’s the podcast or to get your legal counsel?
There are two places that I like to hang out most reliably. The first is the Good Bones Podcast. The second being my Instagram. Believe it or not, I love hanging out on Instagram. That’s at @BonnieGalamEsq. If something happens and you’re like, “This is infuriating,” you will get in the moment live thing.
There are no client names. I’m always maintaining confidentiality. I went on a huge long rant about as-is sales and nobody understands what they are. Otherwise, hit me up on my website. I always do a free discovery call for real estate investors. Free fifteen minutes of my time to talk about where we’re going and how I might be able to help you out.
Check it out. You will not go wrong. Bonnie, this has been a pleasure having you on the show. Looking forward to having you on in the future as we get some different types of rants going. How’s that sound?
I’d be happy to run with you anytime, Scott. Thanks for having me.
Everybody, take advantage of the Landlord Law School and what she’s offering up there. Bonnie knows her stuff. There’s nothing better than getting counsel from an attorney, but an attorney who also understands the mindset, understands what you’re trying to accomplish and has your best interest in mind versus getting billed for hours. Go out, take advantage of it and we’ll see you all at the top.
Thanks so much.
- Good Bones Real Estate Investing Podcast
- Landlord Law School
- The Galam Firm
- Brent Buscay – Previous episode
- @BonnieGalamEsq – Instagram