Sensei Starts from Zero

Sensei GillilandSo why does a successful martial arts instructor and school owner, one who already was making a very comfortable living, decide to stretch himself and learn a new industry and take on another full-time profession?

“What it boiled down to is that I own a handful of martial arts studios and it provides a very comfortable living, but I knew it wasn’t enough to provide for a comfortable retirement,” he admits, adding, “I knew I needed another income stream.”

At the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey, Sensei was attracted to the possibility of buying coin-op car washes, but after reviewing several business opportunities he realized a common connection between all of them: He who controls the land controls the business.

So instead of purchasing a business, he decided to tap into his home equity and buy more real estate. His first deal was hardly a slam dunk: “I came across a probate property in Fort Myers, Fl. I found it through a real estate broker that is investor savvy. It was right in my price range, $42,000, and I had the 10 percent required down, which basically wiped out my bank account.”

Consequently, the bold investor funded his first rehab with credit cards! “The property required $17,000 worth of rehab work.”

It was a gut-wrenching time. He recalls feeling alone and not having anyone turn to for guidance and support. Nevertheless, Sensei maintained a warrior mentality. He was determined to see his project through. “I was relentless, I understood the concept, but I was relying on a team I didn’t know,” he recalls and admits, “I was hoping and praying the job was getting done.”

In the end, Sensei says it took about nine months to get the property fixed up and sold. “I made a little more than a $9,000 profit and felt ecstatic.”

Knowing what it feels like to be left out on your own during negotiations and after the sale, Sensei became sensitive to the needs of individual investors and decided to take his passion a step further by pursuing real estate education in the form of seminars and books. Once he learned the important aspects of the business, he began to rehab and flip houses. After five years of experience as an investor, he began turning distressed properties to other rehabbers using wholesaling techniques.

His passion for helping new investors also stems from the fact that he started from zero 20 years ago as a renter, so he started the Los Angeles Real Estate Investment Club.

“I knew I wanted to buy a home, I knew there were benefits, but I didn’t have a clear understanding of the power of homeownership. I rented with my wife for six months and we finally landed a wholesale deal. Of course, at the time I didn’t know it was a wholesale deal. I just knew it was a good deal,” he says with a chuckle.

It was a whirlwind year for the newlywed: “I got married, had a baby, bought a home, and invested in a rehab, all within the first year!” But the transformation from renter to wealthy investor didn’t occur overnight.

“We bought our home with built-in equity. Then, we renovated the house giving us sweat equity. Next, we were able to leverage the equity to pay off some bills, and eventually to buy an investment property.”

Sensei was a patient, yet persistent investor. As he started fixing and flipping and wholesaling properties, he began to move his funds into buying and holding properties in and out of the state.

When asked if he thinks it is better for investors to utilize numerous investment strategies simultaneously, he exclaims, “No!” He warns that a beginner investor has to first figure out: ‘What is my need?’”

He explains further: “What most people NEEDED during the real estate boom were income streams. What they WANTED were wealth-building retail property. Today’s market proves me right. I believe investors should first build real estate cash machines through buy-and-sell techniques, then create wealth through buy-and-hold strategies, unless the investors already has a strong income and savings.

When asked what tips he has for readers, Sensei recommends that individuals interested in real estate attend the Los Angeles real estate investment club and my Riverside real estate investment club meetings and seminars regularly in a niche they are interested in so they can become educated about investing. His two monthly club meetings, appropriately named 12 ROUNDS (just like the sport of boxing), provide a great opportunity for investors to determine what their “need” truly is.

Undoubtedly, it takes time to master any new skill, whether it is martial arts or real estate. Sensei Gilliland proves that even if one starts from zero, if an investor is diligent, patient and persistent, they will eventually earn their black belt in not only of real estate, but of in their own destiny as well.

Sensei Gilliland is a husband, father, real estate investor and entrepreneur. He is also the founder and CEO for Black Belt Investors and co-founder of Riches In Niches, real estate companies that offers investments, education hard money lending and consulting. To learn more about Sensei sign up for his free Newsletter by visiting or call 951-280-1900.

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