First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Shaun Martin: Thankfully, my family and I have stayed healthy to this point. My in-laws in California do worry us as they are well into their 70’s. However, they are careful, so to this point, they have not caught COVID-19. My parents are in New Zealand, where the response has been quite different than to the response in America. Of course, I am still concerned; however, there are far few cases in New Zealand. My wife and I have had periods of anxiety and stress-related to the uncertainty around COVID. We do not understand truly how contagious it is and how many people are affected. Knowing this accurately would help us understand a little more about how the economy might be affected.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Watson Buys
Shaun Martin: I grew up in New Zealand, the youngest of 3 boys, with 2 amazing parents. I graduated from Auckland University, in New Zealand, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Sciences. I majored in Physical Therapy, so spent the first 2 years of my adult working career in a private practice working on sore necks, backs, knees etc. I permanently moved to the states in the early 2000’s and soon after started a Medical Equipment Company. My Health Science degree gave me a great insight into the needs of both health care providers and patients. This insight helped enormously, and I was able to create a successful, albeit small company. The company primarily provided oxygen and CPAP machines to patients.
In 2008 my wife and I decided to start investing in real estate. We bought a single-family house in Denver, Colorado. The first Denver house we purchased was in 2010. We kept buying property “part-time” By 2016 we were terribly busy, so we decided to sell the medical equipment company so I could focus on real estate full time. Our Real Estate Company was founded roughly the same time we bought our first rental property to afford us the protections granted by an LLC.
How does Watson Buys innovate?
Shaun Martin: The real estate industry has a lot of room for innovation. The majority of the processes used today are exactly the same as they were 50 years ago. Buying or selling a house? Most people reach out to the good old realtor. Now I am not saying this isn’t good; however, there is always room for improvement. At Watson Buys, we spend a lot of time and energy learning exactly what our customers want and need. We specialize in buying off-market deals, and many of these are foreclosures or properties that were inherited. If you search online for information, there is a ton of information telling people what they need, and this information has also been the same for 50 years. An example of us innovating was actually reaching out to people and saying, “What do you need from us?” As simple as it sounds, it was amazing the response we got from people and how these responses lead to us making albeit subtle, but highly useful changes for all of our customers.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Shaun Martin: We buy houses off-market, so most of the deals that we do are one on one. We have implemented guidelines by the CDC. It has allowed us to perform more of our functions remotely, which we were always pushing for. For example, we loved doing initial property inspections via video call; however, many people selling their house wanted to see us face to face. Now they are much more open to video conferencing and online signings. We have had to double-check our processes to make sure the correct follow up is performed however the silver lining to COVID 19 for us is we can use technology more completely and have become significantly more efficient in the number of deals we can process.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Shaun Martin: The most challenging decisions that we had to make were actually made a lot easier by doing nothing. Initially, many investors thought the sky was about to fall. I mean the stock market lost 30% of its value in 6 days! There were many discussion on whether or not we should sell some property. However, in the end, we decided not to and to this point we are glad not to have done so. We have gone back to our original plan and will continue not to act or react acutely on a day to day news or market conditions.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Watson Buys in the future?
Shaun Martin: There is no secret sauce to how I cope with stress and anxiety. I like to get a good night’s sleep, which for me is bed at 10 and up at 5. I try to eat well. Eating well involves making healthy choices which we all know what they are just sometimes we choose to ignore them. The more healthy food choices I make every day, the better I feel the next. Finally, a great way to help with anxiety and stress for me is physical exercise. I get this almost every day by getting out on my mountain bike. I set my phone to only ring if it’s my wife, just in case of an emergency, and after that, I just focus on my surroundings as much as possible.
On a day to day basis in the office, I like to make sure I spend an hour a day planning my day. I do this to keep me on track. At the end of the day, I can tick off the things I have accomplished. It is very easy to be busy all day, get a ton done, but not understand what is was you achieved. By focusing on my daily plan, I can measure what I have achieved. Seeing the things I have achieved reduces my stress and anxiety.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Shaun Martin: My competitors are Zillow, Opendoor, Webuyhouses.com and webuyuglyhouses.com. These are million and billion-dollar corporation. They are much larger than me. However, what I lack in size I gain in maneuverability. I can react to market conditions, pivot accordingly and make huge quick gains. Another advantage is I can implement policy and procedural change quickly and efficiently, allowing me to provide the customers with what they want and need speedily. Some people will argue that larger companies have more buying power and bigger discounts, however, in all my careers and businesses, real estate, physical therapy and medical equipment sales, I have not found this to be the case. I could always buy equipment as cheaply. If someone calls me I know saying “I need to sell my house fast” I always have the ability to fund and close on the deal.
Your final thoughts
Shaun Martin: I like to believe that if you work hard in America, you will be given the opportunities you want. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of inequalities that will take a long, long time to equalize. Like anything I believe consistently working towards a common goal, be it within your family, at work or in the greater community, we can all move in a positive direction.
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