We recently caught up with Seon John and Shawna Bennett, an Atlanta-based real estate investor couple who has worked with Groundfloor on several projects. We chatted with Seon and Shawna to learn about their journey into real estate and what their biggest piece of advice is for prospective flippers.
How did you get into homebuilding/the real estate industry?
Shawna: I got my start about five years ago with wholesaling after finding out about the industry through friends. I took an online course and joined some local real estate associations, and just started working and learning as much as I could. I completed my first flip three years ago, and in the process met Seon!
Seon: I began working in real estate in 2010 in my hometown of New York City. My very first deal took almost one whole year to complete, but after I took home six figures from the transaction, I was hooked. In 2013, I moved to Atlanta, in part because I was drawn to the real estate possibilities here. However, I didn’t have a lot of connections in Atlanta and I quickly realized that I’d need mentorship and professional support in order to succeed. So I joined “HouseJerks,” a real estate networking community, along with a few other Atlanta real estate investor networking associations. As I was networking online, I came across Shawna’s Instagram page and I “slid into her DMs” to ask if we could work together. She was in the process of completing her first flip, I offered to help, and the rest is history! We’ve been inseparable ever since.
How many projects have you completed? How many are you currently working on?
Shawna: We’ve completed 35 projects so far, and we currently have 13 active projects. Of those 13, Groundfloor is financing 7 or 8 projects. We’ll have some additional projects starting soon too, as we have several properties still under contract.
Seon: The projects we’ve done really run the gamut – we’ve had deals ranging from cosmetic condo renovations and budgets of $20,000 all the way to full new construction builds and budgets of $1.8 million. We are always pushing ourselves and pushing the limits on what we can do.
We’re also in the process of building our dream home in Buckhead, an uptown neighborhood in Atlanta. This is the first home that we’re designing, building, and then living in together, so we’re very excited. Construction is already underway – when it’s finished, it will be 12,000 sq ft, and we’re estimating it will be worth about $6 million.
What are some of the key things you take into consideration when you are completing a real estate project?
Seon: I’d say the biggest thing for us is location. We prefer to be very hands-on with our projects, so we focus our work in and around the Atlanta area. We take note of where we’ve been getting good deals, then look for more properties in the same area. This also helps our contractors maximize their work since projects tend to be clustered together geographically.
Atlanta’s housing market continues to be in high demand, and the city is home to a variety of different neighborhoods and communities where good deals can be found, so we don’t foresee venturing too far outside of the Atlanta area in the near future. Of course, a good deal is a good deal, so if we find something that looks worthwhile in another location, we wouldn’t say no!
More generally, I’d say we strive to push the limits on every property we renovate or build – we always look for the things we can do to enhance the property and add luxury and comfort.
Has your business been affected by the larger supply chain/macroeconomic issues? If so, how?
Shawna: It definitely has! Like everyone else, we’ve seen prices go up and lead times extend out months. Windows, for example, are at about a 2-3 month lead time currently – and that’s if you’re lucky! We’ve also seen labor costs skyrocket, as the wider economic issues combine with the usual summertime price increases. Finally, we’ve experienced a number of delays in obtaining permits from the city – we’ve waited as long as 9 months for permits for some of our properties.
With all of these challenges, it’s more important than ever to be liquid, to have the flexibility to roll with the inevitable punches. Groundfloor’s deferred payment structure and unbeatable loan products have enabled us to do just that.
The two of you have developed your real estate work into a brand called Flippin Love. Can you tell us more about that?
Seon: Shawna and I created our brand together called Flippin Love (on Instagram at @flippinlove) to showcase our journey as a young Black couple in real estate. We chose the name because not only do we flip houses together, but flipping is also how we met and fell in love. Now, we own several businesses and have completed over 30 flips together – with more on the way!
Shawna: We honestly never started out in real estate with the intention of creating a brand based off of it. We both simply fell in love (literally and figuratively!) with real estate, and people began taking notice. In this industry, you don’t usually find many people who look like us, who are as young as we are, and who have experienced the success that we have. We hope that by sharing our story, we can show others that anyone can get started and create their dream life with real estate.
Seon: People have always been drawn to us – Shawna and I have a natural chemistry together that people pick up on and vibe with. Recently, we had the opportunity to renovate a kitchen with Vox Media and KitchenAid for an episode of Design Minded. It was an amazing experience, and afterwards we got contacted by producers about other opportunities. Now, we’re in the process of getting our own Flippin Love TV show! We’ve been incredibly fortunate and we can’t wait to see what comes next for us.
How did you find Groundfloor?
Seon: We were initially planning to use Groundfloor to finance our dream house. While that was unfortunately outside the scope of what Groundfloor lends for, we took note of how responsive the team was and the effort they put into trying to make something work. As it happened, we were looking for financing for two other projects at the time, so we decided to go with Groundfloor. And here we are, eight projects in and counting!
What has been your experience working with Groundfloor?
Seon: Nothing beats a Groundfloor loan! Honestly, if I could do all of my loans with Groundfloor I would. The process is so seamless, it’s almost like working with someone right there next to you. It’s clear that Groundfloor is committed to helping you get the deal done – so if they can’t make something work, it’s probably because it’s not a deal to be done.
Shawna: We also really love that Groundfloor doesn’t require monthly loan payments. This gives us so much flexibility and helps us keep things on track. We’re also big fans of the Loan100 product – 100% LTV with 0% down has got to be the best offer around!
What are some of your goals for your business in the next few years?
Shawna: The biggest goal we have for our business is something we’re calling 1,000 Doors. In the next 3 years, we’re on a mission to create 1,000 “doors” – whether that’s a door to a single-family house or a door to a condo unit. We’re excited about this goal because we think it’s really a win all around – for us, for the homeowners or renters, and for the contractors that work with us.
Seon: More generally, as we continue to grow our business we want to get more types of projects under our belt. The next phase for us right now is to expand into condos, high rises, and apartment buildings. We want to eventually do a little bit of everything.
We also manage a number of rental properties and we plan on adding more, especially given current economic conditions. While flipping homes is great, you essentially have to stay working all the time in order to make money. Our rentals help generate passive income so we don’t always have to be nose to the grindstone.
If you could give a newer flipper one piece of advice, what would it be?
Seon: My number one piece of advice is to find a partner or partners. Especially when you are just starting out, don’t focus so much on the idea of turning a huge profit. The experience you’ll get and the lessons you’ll learn along the way are just as valuable as the money you could make. If you can, try to partner with someone who has more or different homebuilding experience than you, as they will bring new perspectives or wisdom to the table. Partnering with others also makes sense from a financial perspective – you can often negotiate better terms or rates when you have another person on board. Then, once you have gathered a trusted team of people around you, you can focus more on pushing the envelope with your projects.
Shawna: I agree. Start out slow – I’d recommend starting with smaller, more cosmetic renovation projects like I did. It was a good way for me to get a feel for how things work and how to manage everything. Other than that, I’d echo Seon’s advice to find a partner. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Partner with others, learn from them, and just keep pushing onwards and upwards!
Thanks Seon and Shawna! It's a pleasure to work with you!