12 July 2021

On today’s episode, Robert Leonard chats with Sean Pan to talk about what hard money is, the approval process of such loans, its difference from traditional financing, its common fees, and red flags to avoid in a potential lender, and much, much more. Sean Pan is a real estate investor and hard money lender based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He invests in single-family renovations as well as out-of-state rental properties. He is the host of “The Everything Real Estate Investing Show,” where he interviews the top investors in the area and hosts a meetup group with over 2300 members.



  • What hard money is. 
  • What the process of being approved for a hard money loan is like and how it differs from traditional financing.
  • What the common fees associated with hard money are and why it can be an expensive option for financing.
  • Where Sean thinks the dynamic between real estate and capital markets is right now. 
  • What the most important things to look out for when getting a hard money loan and the major red flags to watch out for in a potential lender.
  • What the most common misconceptions/ myths about hard money from both experienced and inexperienced investors are.
  • What the benefits of investing out of state are.
  • How to find markets to invest in and what to look for exactly.
  • What the hardest part about investing long-distance is.
  • And much, much more!


Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.

Sean Pan (00:02):

And honestly, once we tell you that we approve this deal, we’re going to do our best to make sure it closes. Whereas for the conventional side, there are many reasons why they can just cancel on you at the last minute, and I have seen that happen.

Robert Leonard (00:16):

On today’s episode, I chat with Sean Pan to talk about what hard money is, the approval process, its difference from traditional financing, its common fees, and red flags to avoid in a potential lender, and much more. Sean is a real estate investor and hard money lender based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He invests in single-family flips, out-of-state rental properties, and is the host of the Everything Real Estate Investing show, and one of the Bay Area’s top real estate meetups. We’ve touched on hard money loans briefly in quite a few episodes in the past, but we hadn’t done a true deep dive into them yet. So my goal with this episode was to provide you with a true masterclass on hard money loans and to provide a resource that you can refer back to any time you have questions or want to learn more about hard money.

Robert Leonard (01:07):

Also, a quick reminder about the fee for the show. We do not run ads to promote the podcast, the show only grows if you guys share it and tell your friends. So the fee for the show is exactly that. For every episode you like, share it with one friend. You don’t have to share it with a million people. That would be awesome, and I’d love it if you did, but you can pay the fee by sharing each episode you like or get value from with just one person. And I’m confident that that’ll be every episode. So don’t forget to pay the fee, guys. It really helps the show to grow and allows me to bring on the best guests for you all, and it allows me to keep producing content that is completely free.

Robert Leonard (01:51):

All right. Now, without further delay, let’s get into this masterclass on hard money loans with Sean Pan.

Intro (02:01):

You’re listening to Real Estate Investing, by The Investor’s Podcast Network, where your host, Robert Leonard interviews successful investors from various real estate investing niches to help educate you on your real estate investing journey.

Robert Leonard (02:23):

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Real Estate 101 Podcast. As always, I’m your host, Robert Leonard. And with me today, I have Sean Pan. Welcome to the show, Sean.

Sean Pan (02:32):

Hey, Robert! Thank you so much for having me on your show.

Robert Leonard (02:34):

Give us a quick rundown on your background and your story.

Sean Pan (02:37):

I’m a real estate investor, hard money lender, and agent-based in the Bay Area. Been investing for about five years now. Before investing, I used to be an engineer. I used to work on satellites for defense contracting companies. And eventually, I decided that I didn’t want to stay in this industry for the next 30 years of my life, I wanted to try something new, try different businesses. And I tried several different businesses, many of which didn’t go through. And I found that real estate investing was probably the most consistent way for an average individual like myself to get into something to then become financially successful.

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Sean Pan (03:07):

So I started attending meetup groups, I started purchasing out-of-state rental properties, I eventually started flipping homes. And then, because I created my own podcast, YouTube videos, and meetup groups, I now work as a hard money lender to help others and basically fulfill their dreams by giving them loans to help them flip their houses.

Robert Leonard (03:23):

You were working in a career as an engineer that a lot of people consider the normal route of success. Did you face any adversity or criticism from friends, family, peers, when you made that transition out of a career that a lot of people would consider the pinnacle of success to what you do today?

Sean Pan (03:40):

I think my family was really opposed to me leaving my full-time job as an engineer to pursue real estate. But luckily, I had some pretty decent success with some of my flip projects and I was making some decent income from my passive rental properties. So leaving was ultimately my decision and I made it understood that I knew what I was doing so I could leave without feeling too bad. I was getting a lot of opposition really when I was starting real estate investing. They were saying, “Hey, why are you messing around with all this stuff? Just focus on the job, save your money, invest in stocks here and there. Why are you buying a property out of state, you’ve never been to this area before?”

Sean Pan (04:11):

That was where I always got the real opposition. And then once I was able to prove that I was making some decent income through those investments, they got off my back a little bit in trusting me to do whatever I wanted to do.

Robert Leonard (04:22):

How did you deal with that mentally and just fight through that when you’re getting all that criticism? What did you do personally to make sure that you could still be successful?

Sean Pan (04:33):

This is kind of interesting, but I’m an only child. My parents split up when I was really young, so I was pretty much independent since I was a little kid. And I realized that whenever I wanted to do something, I think the default answer that most parents would give you is no. So for example, I want to go on a trip to Yosemite with my friends, I had just got my license, I was maybe 16, 17 years old, and I was going to go travel with my friends for a weekend over in Yosemite and camp out there. And of course, my parents said, “No, it’s not safe. You need a chaperone or something. We don’t trust you to drive that far away,” but I just did it.

Sean Pan (05:03):

When I came back, I was healthy, and they said, “Oh, okay, I guess he’s responsible. We can trust him.” And so from then on, they never questioned my decision to go out. So it was very similar here. I realized that for my parents, if I asked them, “Hey, can I invest out of state?” They would probably see a lot of negative things. But then I realized like, “Okay, I understand the numbers, I need a good team. Let me just go out and do it. I’ll try it. Worst case scenario, I’ll lose some money.” And so I did it, it was profitable.

Sean Pan (05:24):

A few months after I had seen that I was getting consistent rent checks, I was able to go back to my parents and say, “Hey, look, this thing works.” And then they’re like, “Oh, that’s amazing. Congratulations.” I feel like parents in general, they don’t want to confine you, they love you, they just want to make sure you’re safe. So as long as you can prove that you’re capable and that you can come out okay, then they’re going to be very supportive going forward.

Robert Leonard (05:44):

How old were you at that point when you made that decision and they were questioning what you were doing?

Sean Pan (05:49):

I’ve been trying to do different businesses since I was like 22 or 23 years old. I worked as an intern at first at an engineering company. At the time, I was excited, but then I saw just how sad my coworkers were, and that’s where I realized I needed to make that transition. That’s the first time when I flirted with the idea of leaving a full-time engineering role to start my own business. And I think that was the main time when my parents were really like, “No, just focus on your work, get paid, move up the ranks.” But then that’s in the back of my head, “I’ve got to leave this place.”

Sean Pan (06:19):

So two to three years, that was that whole transition of finding something that I could be really good at and solidify my path and the timeline to actually leave. It still took me maybe four to five more years since that point before I actually quit my job and then worked in real estate.

Robert Leonard (06:35):

How old were you when you decided to quit your job?

Sean Pan (06:38):

I actually left two years ago. So I was 29 years old when I officially quit my engineering job.

Robert Leonard (06:44):

Awesome. I just left my full-time job actually on my 26th birthday, so five months ago from when we’re recording this. It was literally on my 26th birthday, [it] was my last day. So I’ve been through a similar situation and experience pretty recently.

Sean Pan (06:59):


Robert Leonard (07:00):

Thank you. I want to spend a bit of this conversation talking about hard money. We’ve had a lot of investors on the show, we’ve had a lot of agents on the show. We’ve had a couple of people talk about hard money, but not a ton. So I want to do a masterclass on hard money, really talk about all of that. And then later in the conversation, we’ll talk a little bit more about what you’re doing personally, some of your deals, and those types of things. But first, I want to talk about hard money. So let’s start with terminology and the concept of hard money and we’ll dive into your projects later. What exactly is hard money?

Sean Pan (07:36):

Hard money loans are loans based on a hard asset. So instead of basing it on your personal credit, we’re going to be basing it on the property itself. That’s the main gist of it, because you don’t base it on your credit. We base it on property. It’s a bit of a higher-risk loan. We don’t really just sell these loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, we usually hold onto them or sell it to a group of investors. Interest rates for hard money loans are typically going to be in the maybe 8.5 to 9.5% range. And they’re meant for short-term flips, honestly.

Sean Pan (08:06):

Like if you’re buying a rental property with a hard money loan, well, at least a [bridge 00:08:10] loan of them where it’s short term, it’s high interest, it probably won’t work very well because every year you have to refinance or something like that. But it’s really a good way to get into a property because we close quickly and we’re able to help you buy a property even when you normally wouldn’t qualify for a loan.

Robert Leonard (08:23):

I want to talk about that benefit of how you can qualify and how you can get approved. And we’ll talk about more of the benefits in just a second, but one of the main benefits is what you just mentioned, and that’s how you can qualify and how you could be approved for a hard money loan. So walk us through the process of being approved for a hard money loan and how it differs from traditional financing.

Sean Pan (08:45):

So, normally with traditional financing, there is this acronym, DTI, [which] stands for debt-to-income ratio. That thing determines how much a lender will be able to give you for a loan. Your DTI ratio is basically how much debt you have to pay on a monthly basis. So they add up all of your recurrent debt like your minimum pay into student loans, your minimum car payments, all your minimum credit card payments, and of course your principal, interest, taxes, and insurance for every property that you have, then they divide it by your income. So that’s your income before taxes. And that debt-to-income ratio usually has to be at around 43% or 50%.

Sean Pan (09:23):

As you can imagine, if you try to get a big loan, that debt number is going to be really high and then it won’t give you enough for the income, and you just can’t get loans. As a personal story, when I was trying to flip my first property, I already had this house here in the South Bay, I already had some other rental properties. I was making a decent income as an engineer, but I still didn’t have enough income to then buy another property to flip. So this property was in a great part of the Bay Area, it’s in Sunnyville, it was probably worth 950,000 as is. Now, I was able to get it for $865,000.

Sean Pan (09:57):

I knew that if I flipped it, it’d be worth $1.2 million. So there was a good deal right there, but because I wasn’t able to get the loan, I normally wouldn’t have been able to get this property. So that’s why a hard money loan is able to go in there and help you buy that property. So how do you qualify? Instead of me asking for your W2s, your tax returns, and going through everything and making sure you have this solid debt-to-income ratio, what we do is, one, we check your credit score because you want to make sure you’re still a good borrower. Two, we do check your bank account because we want to make sure you’re able to successfully complete the project.

Sean Pan (10:31):

And then three, of course, we eye the property itself. So when we still do appraisals, we sometimes do something called a BPO, which stands for broker’s price opinion. So these people don’t have to be like licensed appraisers, but they can go inside, take a look at the property, give us a valuation. And from there we can tell, “Okay, is this a good deal or not?” And then basically, from that point, it’s just paperwork, and it takes 10 to 14 days of closing the property once we approve it.

Robert Leonard (10:54):

Other than just the approval process and the considerations during underwriting for a hard money loan, what are the other benefits to using hard money over traditional loans?

Sean Pan (11:04):

Like I’ve mentioned, we closed relatively quickly. We can close in 10 to 14 days. And honestly, once we tell you that we approve this deal, we’re going to do our best to make sure it closes. Whereas for the commercial side, there are many reasons why they can just cancel on you last minute. And I’ve seen that happen. Some of our clients, in fact, they’re buying rental properties and they’re about to close, and then for whatever reason, the lender just doesn’t perform. So then they come to people like us because we can close quickly. And we’re pretty certain that we can close on time.

Robert Leonard (11:32):

What types of situations are right for using hard money?

Sean Pan (11:35):

Probably the most common reason that you use hard money is if they’re trying to buy a flip property. So they’re trying to get into a property and they’re in and out within a six-month timeframe. Mostly because hard money loans do cost a lot of money, and they do have like a one-year term. So after the one-year mark, you either have to pay off the loan or refinance the property.

Robert Leonard (11:54):

What situations don’t you want to use it [in]? Rentals? What else? Is there anything else?

Sean Pan (11:59):

You can’t use it for owner-occupied properties. Generally speaking, if you’re trying to get a bridge loan just to buy your next home, a hard money lender probably won’t give you the loan. And mostly, it has to do with their licensing. Most licensing, you need an NMLS license to lend to residential owner-occupied properties, but for ours, they’re all business-purpose uses. So you’re doing this as a business to buy a property, fix it up, sell it.

Robert Leonard (12:24):

So what are the requirements for you as a hard money lender if you’re lending this money for a business purpose, not to residential? You mentioned NMLS, do you not have any requirements like that?

Sean Pan (12:35):

We have something called a CFL license. It’s in the same realm where we’re lending for properties, but we’re not letting it for owner-occupied use.

Robert Leonard (12:44):

We just spent some time talking about all the pros of hard money. So now I want to spend some time talking about the downsides. One of the biggest downsides that I’ve seen in hard money is the cost of hard money debt. You talked about it, you mentioned that it’s expensive, you mentioned some of the interest rates. Talk to us about the common fees associated with hard money and why it can be an expensive option for financing.

Sean Pan (13:11):

Yeah, that’s a fantastic question. The most common terms that you’re going to hear are rates and points. Whenever you’re shopping for a hard money loan, people always ask, “What are your rates, and what are your points?” So the rate is your interest rate. These calculations are pretty simple because they’re all interest-only loans, for the most part, which means that you’re not paying like a principal portion on this balance. So let’s say that your loan is for $1 million and I quote you a rate of 8.5%. So if you’re going to ask me how much do you pay every month?

Sean Pan (13:39):

I’m going to tell you, “Well, it’s not that hard. If your loans for $1 million at 8.5%, that means that every year you’re going to be paying $85,000 in interest. And then your monthly payments are at $85,000 divided by 12.” So it’s a pretty easy calculation. The points, that’s synonymous with an origination fee. Lenders typically charge between one and two points, and what that means, it’s 1% or 2% of the loan amount at closing. So even though we’re giving you a loan for, let’s say, $1 million, again, if we charge you one point, that means that we’re going to charge you $10,000 in origination fees.

Sean Pan (14:15):

Basically, what that means is, on day one instead of giving you $1 million, we’ll give you $990,000, but then claim you owe us $1 million on the backend. Other fees include processing fees. So again, on the backend, we have a team, they’re probably doing an appraisal, they’re doing internal evaluations, or they’re just processing your stuff. Those fees are usually around $1,500 just to due every loan. If you are getting a rehab loan… The good thing about these hard money loans is, there’s often a rehab component to it if you need more leverage. But if you want to get a rehab loan, we do something called a feasibility study, and that’s where we get your scope of work from your contractor and we break down the line by to make sure that everything makes sense, and we make sure that your contractor isn’t writing numbers are way too high or way too low. That study does cost another $650 as well.

Sean Pan (14:59):

So these are some of the fees that you can have when you are getting a hard money loan.

Robert Leonard (15:04):

Other than just the generally high costs of most hard money, what are the other downsides of using hard money?

Sean Pan (15:11):

I think just the higher interest rate makes it a riskier tool to use. It’s like a scalpel, if you use the scalpel the right way, you can save lives, if you use a scalpel the wrong way, you can take away lives. Hard money allows you to have a lot of leverage. It gives leverage to people who normally won’t qualify. And what that means is, like in my previous example, if the deal didn’t go through, my income probably couldn’t service all the debt that I have, I wouldn’t be able to pay for my home, I wouldn’t be able to hit for rentals and pay for an extra property if it was just my income alone.

Sean Pan (15:41):

In fact, for the most part, when I’m using a hard money loan, I’m losing money every month, but I’m okay with that because I know that when I sell the property, I’ll make it all back and then some more on the backend. But, what if the market turns on you? If the market turns on you and you have too much leverage and you’re not able to support the payments, then it can be very, very bad. Also, if you end up in a position where you can’t sell the property for whatever reason, you’re delayed, you’re just losing money every single month, and then you might have to refinance.

Sean Pan (16:06):

Well, if you get to a point where you’re past that 12-month mark and you’re not able to refinance for a reason, then that’s also bad too, they could foreclose on you. So short-term debt is a risk. High-interest rate is also a risk. But these are just factors you have to have in calculation before you get into a project.

Robert Leonard (16:24):

Were you a flipper before you became a hard money lender, or were you a hard money lender before you became a flipper?

Sean Pan (16:30):

I was a flipper before I became a hard money lender. So in fact, the company that I work for now was my hard money lending company. And that’s why I feel like I’m really good at this particular role and I enjoy it so much. As an engineer, you’re always working on things and I didn’t relate to it, there was no synergy, I didn’t feel great about selling this product. But as a hard money lender, I see it from the client’s perspective. I know what it’s like to be a borrower, I know what some of the struggles are for. New borrowers, what are some things that they don’t know about?

Sean Pan (16:55):

So I’m going to talk to them about it and be like, “Hey, candidly, here’s how things work.” And now I understand it from the lending perspective too. So it’s a lot of fun.

Robert Leonard (17:02):

Warren Buffet says that being a businessman helps him be a better investor and being an investor helps them be a better businessman. Do you feel the same way about being a flipper and a hard money lender? Are they symbiotic and help each other out?

Sean Pan (17:14):

Yeah, absolutely. And actually, the really cool thing about my role now is, I’m talking to investors every single day. I’m getting to hear about all the cool projects that they do. And of course, that’s also building my own personal network. So in the future, if I have a deal in the city of Los Angeles, I can actually ask one of my clients, “Hey, do you want this deal?” And we could potentially work together in the future.

Robert Leonard (17:31):

So when you say you’re a hard money lender, I want to actually dive into this a little bit, because you just said that you work for somebody as a hard money lender, and that a little bit caught me off guard. It’s not good or bad either way, it’s just I had misinterpreted it myself so I’m wondering if the audience might as well. So I want to drill in a little bit. I was originally thinking that when you said you were a hard money lender, I thought you took your own money, say you had $100.000 in the bank and you were lending that out as a hard money lender yourself.

Robert Leonard (17:56):

I didn’t realize that it was for another company. So I want to talk about that a little bit. What does that look like? What exactly are you doing? What is the company like? How does this whole process work for your role?

Sean Pan (18:07):

Absolutely. Yeah. I left my full-time role as an engineer two years ago, but then after about a few months of me trying to be a real estate investor, wholesaling deals and flipping deals, I had built up this podcast, this audience, this YouTube channel, and the meetup group. And so the hard money lending company that I used for my projects reached out to me and said, “Hey, you have this audience of real estate investors, why not work with us and help them fund their deals?” And so that was perfect for me because it was synergistic with what I was doing already.

Sean Pan (18:34):

So my podcast, YouTube, meetup groups, I was doing for fun, then now there’s a purpose. So yeah, I do work for a company now. It’s a salary plus commission-based, and it’s honestly like a dream job because again, all I do all day is talk to investors. So that’s basically what I do full time.

Robert Leonard (18:48):

That was one of the pieces that I was wondering, is it salary-based, is it commission? You mentioned it’s salary plus commission. So is it commission-based because you’re essentially selling loans to investors, you get a commission on those “sales”?

Sean Pan (19:00):

Yep, absolutely. But because it’s in this role, it’s not like a full-time W2 where I have to sit in an office and work 9:00 to 5:00. It honestly is like being a real estate agent where the more business you do, the more you get, except now there’s a base as well.

Robert Leonard (19:15):

Are there any issues, and I’m assuming the answer is no given that you’re doing it, but what are the considerations with being an agent and being a hard money lender? There are no conflicts there or any issues with that from a legal perspective?

Sean Pan (19:27):

Not really because it’s not like I’m an agent and doing their loan, first of all, they’re completely separate. And also, I think right, now I’m mostly focusing on the lending side anyway, so no issues?

Robert Leonard (19:37):

Could you be the hard money lender and the agent on the deal?

Sean Pan (19:41):

I think so because if you think about it from like a revenue perspective, I think there are some agents who are also their lenders, so there’s no issue there as far as I know.

Robert Leonard (19:51):

We talked a bit before about the situations that are and aren’t right for hard money, like flipping versus rentals. But how about the investors themselves, which investors are hard money right for and which investors are hard money not right for? Is hard money good for newer investors or should it be left alone until investors are a little bit more experienced?

Sean Pan (20:13):

That’s a great question. Honestly, many of our investors who use hard money loans are first-time investors. And the reason they use hard money in the first place is just because they can’t get into a deal through conventional financing. So if you have this amazing deal and you can’t get financing, then what do you do, just not take the deal? No, you use your hard money loan and you risk it, but you get in there. There are also really sophisticated investors who do millions of dollars of profit every single year, and they still use hard money loans because they want the leverage.

Sean Pan (20:42):

They know that the hard way loan, they can do three or five deals at the same time, whereas if they were to do the conventional route, it would take them 30 plus days to get the deal in the first place and they could only get maybe one or two. So it limits their ability to scale and do more projects. So honestly, I’ll say in terms of who is not for, it’s probably not for someone who has a hard time keeping up with the payments. There are some investors out there who call me and they want 100% financing, they want to wrap in the entire construction budget, they also want to wrap them, all the interest payments, basically going in with no skin in the game.

Sean Pan (21:12):

I say [for] those investors, it’s probably not right for you. If the deal goes sour in any way, you’re going to be in a lot of debt. And honestly, it’s going to be a really, really risky loan for us. There are also some investors who are like, “Oh, what’s your minimum for a down payment?” I say, “Well, for new investors, probably 20%. We’ll give you an 80% loan on the purchase and 80% for the rehab budget. And they say, “Hey, I saved exactly 20%, is that enough?” And I said, “Not really, because we still want to see if you have six months of holding costs. We want to see that you have at least six months of reserves to pay for these interest payments, and we want to see that you have enough money for closing costs too? If you have no money left, what are you going to do if something goes over budget? You’re going to be in a very bad situation.”

Robert Leonard (21:52):

With hard money, is there any flexibility? You mentioned interest rates before, the length of the term, down payment requirements. Is there any flexibility to that? Does it have to be a year? Does it have to be 8%? Does it have to be 20% down? Talk to us a little bit about the flexibility of hard money versus traditional financing.

Sean Pan (22:10):

Yeah, that’s a great question. There’s definitely a lot of flexibility in the hard money lending space. Because hard money loans are mostly like private loans, there’s a lot of negotiation, especially on the bridge side. Let’s say you have a competing bid, like, “Oh, this other lender can give me this loan for half a percent cheaper.” You don’t have to automatically assume that they’re the best ones to go with. Let’s say you like working with this particular loan officer but their terms are a little bit worse. You can totally go to another loan officer and say, “Hey, I have a quote from another lender, here’s what they’re able to give me. Can you match or beat it?”

Sean Pan (22:40):

And for the most part, if they want your business, they’ll work something out with you. So that’s also another reason why hard money lending is really cool because there’s lots of flexibility in the space and we’re able to basically win a lot of loans because we’re able to be flexible and work with the borrower to find out what’s something that they really want and work with their terms.

Robert Leonard (22:58):

I recently had three hard money loans. They weren’t traditional hard money like you’re mentioning here, but they’re a kind of spin on it. And one of the things that I did was that mine were interest-only, but there were no payments due until the loan was refinanced. So once the loan was refinanced… So I didn’t have any monthly payments. And the reason I was using this, I don’t flip properties, but I was actually doing a BRRRR, and so I used it to acquire the property. During the BRRRR process, I didn’t have any monthly payments, but the interest was still accruing. And then when I go to refinance, out of those properties, you have to make that payment of whatever the interest would have been.

Robert Leonard (23:31):

So you’re not skipping out on the payments, it’s just, instead of paying it monthly, you pay in the end. Is that something you guys do frequently with your hard money?

Sean Pan (23:38):

I would say not frequently, but it is a negotiating point. Some people, they want to wrap in those payments in fill-in. Honestly, again, I haven’t done it yet for any of my clients, but for the most part, they’re okay with making those monthly payments and contributing to their construction budget. But I think for like super large projects where they’re doing large development and they want to preserve as much capital as they can, then that could be a negotiating point. But again, with everything that you asked for, it could mean that something else increases in price. So yeah, I would say it’s not a super common thing that people do.

Robert Leonard (24:08):

When you say you’re lending this money, whose money exactly are you lending? Do you work for just one guy who made a billion dollars selling his tech startup and now he has a bunch of money and he hired you and a bunch of other people that just say, “Hey, go lend out my money”? Or, I’ve heard that there are companies that just raise money from investors that invest into this pool essentially, and then it’s invested out or lent out and those investors get a return. What type of money are you lending out?

Sean Pan (24:37):

We’re an established company, we’re called Conventus Lending, a nationwide hard money lender. The CEO created this company about six years ago, he’s from Wall Street. And I think raised funds from his investor group. And that’s like our operating capital. So, that’s how we originate the loans. And then once the loans are originated, we then take those loans and then sell them on the backend too large hedge funds that buy these products in bulk. Again, we’re an origination company, what we do is we’d go in there, we create loans, and then sell them off.

Robert Leonard (25:04):

One of my personal concerns with using hard money loans right now is that I’m not overly confident that I’d be able to refinance out of the hard money loan into a traditional loan or some other long-term financing in six or 12 months when I needed to due to changes in the market. How are you currently thinking about this dynamic with real estate and capital markets where they are right now?

Sean Pan (25:30):

That’s a good question too. And I think that’s a risk that a lot of investors have to take. Most of the people who use hard money loans aren’t refinancing into conventional loans, generally, it doesn’t happen that way. Most people who get a hard money loan try to sell it, but they’re also concerned about the same things. They don’t know if the market’s going to shift on them in the future. So that’s why I think the more sophisticated investors, they’re obviously one, like they’re not buying properties on the market, they’re buying properties off-market, trying to find them at deep discounts. So at least they have that buffer there. And then two, they also don’t like to over-leverage. So generally speaking, the newer investors like to go to 90% of the purchase and possibly 100% of rehab, but the more experienced ones sometimes go for 80% or even 70%.

Sean Pan (26:07):

If you go lower in that leverage, you actually get a lower rate too. So they’re like, “We don’t need that much leverage, we don’t want to put ourselves in that much risk.” So a combination of buying properties off-market and getting lower leverage is what’s going to help them, I guess, stay less risky in their investments.

Robert Leonard (26:22):

As an investor yourself, are you personally worried about the market climate right now when it comes to using hard money or are you still happy to use it on your own deals?

Sean Pan (26:32):

Happy to use it on my own deals if the deals make sense. What is scary right now, especially with this overheated market, there are a lot of new investors who are hyper enthusiastic and they believe that the market is going to continue to climb forever, but that’s not going to be the case. And especially with new investors, they don’t have that source of deal flow, they don’t have agents they can talk to, wholesalers have given them super great discounts, and they are often looking at the market and overbidding. I see that as a lender, they’re saying, “Sean, I had this deal. It’s on the market. I’m going to get it for 100K over asking, and it’s probably going to be worth like $400,000 above what I’m going to pay for it.”

Sean Pan (27:03):

And I look at the numbers and I’m like, I don’t know, man, these comps don’t seem that great.” But they’re super confident about it. Sometimes we have to tell our clients we can’t do a deal because it doesn’t appraise well. And to protect our size as lenders, we need them to put in more money for a down payment. Again, some investors are really excited and they’re willing to do that, but I guess it’s my opinion that if you’re a new investor, you need to be very careful with these short-term transactions. You never know what’s going to happen in the next few months and you don’t want to be in a situation where you bought at the top of the market and now you’ve to sell at the bottom.

Robert Leonard (27:33):

I would summarize that problem with just being emotional. And I think you see that in a lot of different types of investing. Any time, really, that you bring emotion into money, it typically doesn’t lead to good decisions. Do you think being a hard money lender and a flipper, does it help you be less emotional as a flipper? Because you know the hard money side, are you able to think of it a lot more objectively and not get emotional and not get super excited about deals and just really keep an even keel about it?

Sean Pan (28:02):

Yeah. But also I’d say, it’s a little bit different for me right now because before I thought I’d have to do everything myself. I’d have to buy the property myself, get a loan myself and project manage it all myself, but now that I’ve been working in the industry, my network has increased significantly. I now know people who, if I get a good deal, I can have them bring in the funds. I now know people who can project manage the deal. I don’t have to worry as much as I did before. And I’ll say, there are always opportunities out there. So I feel like I’m better now. Basically, for people who are brand new, they get really emotional because their deal source is so limited that when they get something that’s off-market, whether it’s a good deal or not, they want to jump on it just because it’s off-market.

Robert Leonard (28:40):

If someone listening is interested in hard money and they might want to give it a try, what are the most important things to look out for when getting a hard money loan? What are the major red flags to avoid in a potential hard money lender?

Sean Pan (28:53):

You want to make sure that you’re able to close. So getting references is pretty important. When I was doing my very first deal like I mentioned, the Sunnyvale deal, we actually made $300,000 in profit on a very first deal, but it almost didn’t go through because the hard money of the company that I used, almost didn’t close my project. And at the time, I was also using a broker too. So not to knock on brokers, but the brokers aren’t the direct lenders, so they’re going to charge you maybe 1% above what the direct lender would charge you. And then since there’s no direct communication with the actual hard money lending company when things go sour, you have to talk to your broker, and your broker has to talk to the lending company. And so there could be some miscommunication there or there are delays in communication.

Sean Pan (29:31):

Basically, the hard money lending company, the broker decided to put me through with, they asked the title for something weird. Are you familiar with what mechanics liens are?

Robert Leonard (29:42):

I am.

Sean Pan (29:43):

Mechanic liens are if you do work and you don’t pay a contractor, the contractor could slap in the mechanics lien on the property so you can’t sell it without paying on a lien off. This hard money lending company wanted the title company to guarantee that I as the borrower could not put on a future mechanics lien. The tile company was like, “We can guarantee that there are no current mechanic liens when you close from the previous owner, but we can’t guarantee that me, the new borrower, won’t put another one on there.” There was a lot of back and forth between the company and the lending company and almost made the deal not go through.

Sean Pan (30:15):

That caused a lot of stress for me. Apparently, I managed to work it out a few weeks later, but there’s a lot of stress for me. I was scared that this deal wouldn’t go through, and then my earnest money deposit would just be gone because we can’t perform. So that’s probably the most important part, make sure your lender has a good reputation, maybe you have a friend that’s used them in the past and that they can close for sure. And they don’t just back out at the last minute at the closing table.

Robert Leonard (30:39):

What was the solution that they found?

Sean Pan (30:41):

They escalated it to the VP, both parties, they had the upper management talking with each other, and then they worked something out.

Robert Leonard (30:49):

What did you learn from that experience that you’ve taken to future deals that you’ve had?

Sean Pan (30:54):

Honestly, working with agents or working with any companies that are really good at communication matters a lot, because honestly, my broker ghosted me. When things were looking really bad and we were almost not going to be able to close, he stopped picking my phone call. As the lender myself, I’m like, “That’s super unacceptable.” You need to be able to talk to your clients and be communicative about what’s going on in this situation. Even if it’s not good news, just let them know, “Hey, here’s the updates.” Don’t ghost me. I think that’s super important.

Robert Leonard (31:23):

Would you have been able to use a different hard money lender to get that deal closed if that one hadn’t been able to perform?

Sean Pan (31:29):

Possibly. Possibly. At the time, I didn’t know anybody, that’s why I used a broker in the first place, and they charged me an extra point. That’s like a big struggle that I think a lot of new investors have, they don’t have a good network, they don’t know who to use for hard money loans, and end up using someone that’s cost a lot of money, and they probably can’t perform.

Robert Leonard (31:48):

What are the most common misconceptions about hard money that you hear from investors that have never used hard money before, or maybe even experienced investors? What is the most common myth or misguided opinion about hard money?

Sean Pan (32:02):

The most common misconception is a little bit what I mentioned before, [which] is that hard money lenders want to give you 100% of the financing for the entire deal. There are so many new investors, actually, there are a lot of teachers, gurus, and programs that tell you, “Hey, you can get into real estate investing with no money down.” Now, that may be true if you’re more creative, if you bring in a partner, but they’re saying, “Oh, I can go to a hard money lender and just get 100% financing from purchase, 100% financing for my construction. I can wrap in those monthly payments into the loan so I’ll have no money out of pocket.”

Sean Pan (32:33):

There are actually some companies that do that, but they charge you a lot of money, possibly to 12 to 50% for the rate, and then four to five points for the origination fee. Is a lot. And generally speaking, I don’t know how long they’re going to be there for, no idea.

Robert Leonard (32:50):

I want to transition now to talk a bit about your personal investing. I know you’re a long-distance investor and I love that because I am too, and I believe very strongly in long-distance investing. Since you live in California, my guess is that that’s the reason why you started investing long-distance, but tell us a bit about why you decided to invest out of state?

Sean Pan (33:13):

Sure. I guess I’ll give you a quick story. I live in the South Bay in the heart of the Bay Area. When I bought this property here for my own personal use, the average cost for homes in this area was around $750,000. But a few weeks ago, the house down the street from me sold for $1.2 million. This place is for appreciation, but the same property that’s now worth $1.2 million, can only rent for around 3,000 to $4,000 a month. If you think about it in the percentage rules, this is like the 0.3% rule. It’s nowhere near the 1% rule that most investors want to see. Whereas I can take $100,000, buy a property over in Florida that now rents for $1,000 per month, and hit the 1% rule.

Sean Pan (33:53):

Because it hits the 1% rule, it pays for my principal, interest, taxes, and insurance. It pays my property management, it pays for any miscellaneous, maintenance, or repairs, and I still get cash flow at the end of the month. So that’s basically why I started investing out of state. I’m able to get cash flow out of state and not so much here in the Bay Area. Also like I’ve mentioned before, I can’t get a loan for another $1.2 million home. I don’t earn that much money from a salary job to be able to qualify, but to buy properties out of state for $100,000 property, all I need to do is qualify for an $80,000 loan, which is much simpler. And so that’s why I started investing out of state, I wanted the cash flow and it’s easier to get into more properties this way.

Robert Leonard (34:34):

The most common questions I get asked about long-distance investing is, how do people find markets to invest in? If you’re listening to this episode and you haven’t already listened to episode 84 of the Real Estate 101 Podcast with Neil Bawa, I highly, highly recommend you go back and listen to it. The episode was called Data-Driven Real Estate Investing with Neil Bawa. But Sean, tell us how you answer that question when you’re asked about how to find markets to invest in? What are you doing to find those markets and what are you looking for exactly?

Sean Pan (35:04):

It’s actually really funny that you mentioned Neil Bawa because Neil Bawa and I are both from the Bay Area, I know him pretty well. I’ve attended his meetups, and I actually had him on my own podcast as well. And actually, from that podcast, he did probably mention the exact same things about how you use data to find different markets. So we do something very similar. At the end of the day, we want to buy in the place where the population increases because if population increases, then suppose the occupancy increases, and when the occupancy increases, then rent increases. So then you have a property that appreciates in value and has rent potential increases.

Sean Pan (35:35):

And you don’t want to be in a place where you have like population exiters, because that means that less people are going there. There are less jobs, less money, and then you have less friends. We look at the same metrics, we go on So, we look on the, I think department of numbers, to look at the jobs reports and see which areas have an increase in jobs. Right now, those numbers are all messed up. Last year, there was like -12%, -30% because of COVID, now it’s +50%, +20% because of the resurrection from COVID. But normally, if you have a place where jobs increased by over 2% per year, then you’re in a pretty solid environment.

Sean Pan (36:14):

If jobs increase, then you’re going to have more time for people to go in there, and we have more population, again, more occupancy and whatnot.

Robert Leonard (36:23):

What have you found to be the hardest part about investing long distance?

Sean Pan (36:28):

The hardest part is finding the team members, for sure. You need to have people that you can trust. The most important person is your property manager, because they’re going to be with you for the long run. Your agents, yeah, they’re important to help you find the deals, but it just can come and go. It’s not that big a deal because you can find different sources of deal flow, finding a good property manager who is going to be with you for over a decade, I think that’s hard. So you need to do a lot of vetting to make sure you have the right guy before you pick them.

Robert Leonard (36:53):

So how are you doing that? Let’s just say you’re looking for a new market to invest in, are you finding the city first and then analyzing that city and saying, “Okay, I’m going to invest here.” And then finding a property manager that works good there, or are you making sure that there’s a property manager there first before you decide that you want to invest in the city?

Sean Pan (37:11):

We actually look at the markets first. If the market is really good, there’s a good chance that there’s probably at least one good property manager there. We hope so. I guess in the worst case, you can always create your own property management group there. But we’d look at the markets first, make sure that it’s a great area to invest in that fits our criteria. And then actually the next thing that we usually do is we go on BiggerPockets, to be honest. We go to BiggerPockets, talk about the city, ask if anyone has any new referrals to any good agents or property managers. People are very responsive on BiggerPockets and they would tell you, “Hey, go talk to this guy, go talk to this guy.” And then from our perspective, we do that.

Sean Pan (37:44):

We call it everyone on the list, we suss out who we want to work with. There are some people who are just really bad with communicating, they don’t want to talk to you because they’re too busy, and some are really nice, and some are very active and showing you good deals. And of course, once you have a good member on your team, you can ask them for referrals, be like, “Hey, who do you recommend as a property manager?” And from there, you can then build out your other team. You can then build out your contractors, inspectors, and all that stuff.

Robert Leonard (38:11):

When you are looking for that property manager, what is your process? What are you doing to find one that’s actually good?

Sean Pan (38:18):

Honestly, it’s doing a lot of phone calls and just asking the typical questions you would ask any property manager, be like, “Well, how many properties do you have under management?” I guess, “Where are your fees at?” Honestly, it’s just talking to them and making sure that you guys are a good fit. I think for anyone that actually does the exercise and calls them, you’ll know right away whether someone’s a good fit or not. There are some property manager companies that only have their assistants talking to you and their assistants aren’t really knowledgeable about anything and they’re like, “Oh, I’ll to get back to you. I’ll have to get back to you.” And it’s hard to communicate with them.

Sean Pan (38:47):

Whereas some other property managers are really good and they just spend hours on the phone with you. So I prefer that one because I like over communication over under communication. You can also ask like, “What are your processes like? Are you going to mail me a check? Is it going to be a direct deposit?” All of these things matter.

Robert Leonard (39:02):

Yeah. It’s funny, I give a similar response, people ask me, “What do I need to ask somebody? Give me a checklist of questions to ask an agent or a property manager for long-distance.” And I can do that, I can give them questions to ask. And those are important, a lot of times you want those answers, but the biggest piece at least for me oftentimes is, how do you feel about that conversation? And that’s not something that I could like tell you, I can’t say, “This is how you should feel about it.” It’s just like, “How did you feel talking to this person? Did they seem like they knew what they were talking about? Did they seem ethical? Did you like having a conversation with them? Are they somebody that you think you’d want to work with?”

Robert Leonard (39:35):

These types of things, there’s no number, quantitative thing that you can put behind it. You just have to see how you feel. And it’s hard because feeling is so subjective and your gut could be wrong, whereas numbers barely lie, at least if you ask the right questions. And so I think that’s the hardest part is just really knowing whether you can trust somebody and going off of your gut feeling.

Sean Pan (39:58):

Yeah. What if someone gave you like the perfect answer, but they just sound super monotone, robotic, and they seem unenthusiastic with working with you? That’s probably not somebody I want to work with anyway.

Robert Leonard (40:07):

Exactly. That’s a great point. And it’s also, actions speak louder than words. Like you said, somebody could give the perfect answer, but if they never answer their phone, if you’re calling them, let’s just say you ask somebody 10 questions, they answer all 10 perfectly right. They seem brilliant, but you have to call them 10 times to just get them on the phone once. It’s like, is that really the person you want to work with?

Sean Pan (40:28):


Robert Leonard (40:30):

What has been the hardest part about long-distance investing for you?

Sean Pan (40:35):

Here’s the thing, long-distance investing isn’t that hard once you get into it. So I guess the hardest part is starting in the first place because before you buy your very first out-of-state rental property, it’s super scary. There are so many unknowns out there, you don’t know who you can really trust, you don’t know the market really well. You hear all these crazy things like, “Oh my God, now there are some crazy tornadoes. Oh my God, in Florida, you have crazy hurricanes.” Well, in California, we have earthquakes too, but we only think about it because we live here. So I think that’s probably the hardest part is just getting started. And then, of course, finding your team, because that’s the way it takes a lot of work.

Sean Pan (41:09):

In fact, right now my girlfriend is under contract for a flip opportunity in Texas. We have some projects over there, like some long-term rentals, but we actually want to flip this one and we’re thinking of possibly going there and being the GCs ourselves because we want to get that experience of flipping more houses. But we’re basically creating a whole team from scratch because we’re not from that area. So thinking of, “Okay, who are we going to call for an electrician, a plumber, a painter,” that’s a lot of work. And then I have to make those phone calls. So that’s probably another difficult thing is setting up that team once you decide on the place you want to invest in.

Robert Leonard (41:41):

Do you typically go to the location and see all the properties that you’re buying long distance?

Sean Pan (41:45):

Definitely not. So I invest in Jacksonville, and I’ve gone to Jacksonville one time in my life even though I have several properties there. I went there one time just to meet the team and see the properties that have, but I’m not an inspector, I’m not a contractor, so me physically going there and looking at a wall, it doesn’t really do much for me. I could look at the report and then, okay, that’s good enough, I know what I’m getting myself into. I send the inspector report to the property management company, so they know what kind of repairs need to be done. I look at the invoices, I pay, and it’s all good. So yeah, I rarely go to the cities that I invest in, unless there’s something fun there, but usually, I don’t.

Robert Leonard (42:19):

It’s funny, I feel like I’m talking to myself in this because it’s literally almost the exact response that I would say, and I talk about that all the time. I’ve never been to the cities that I invest in, and there’s no real point in me going there because I don’t know what I’m looking at anyway. My background’s in finance, accounting. I don’t know anything about construction, so there’s no point in me being there for the inspection, or the walkthrough, or anything like that because I don’t know what I’m looking at anyway. And so I’m always going to rely on a professional who knows what they’re looking at. I hire them. They tell me their professional opinion, and that’s what I’ll do. Just like you said, I’ll read the reports and I’ll make a decision based on that. And that’s exactly what I would do whether I was there or I was at home. So for me, it’s the exact same thing.

Sean Pan (42:56):

Yeah. Normally we do the same thing. I think for this particular property in Texas, we’re going to fly out there because it’s also going to be a cool experience. We’re going to be there working with the GCs as they remodel the entire place. And it makes for great content too. So my girlfriend and I both have YouTube channels and it’s obviously very nice to have that visual of like before, it looks terrible, after, it’s great.

Robert Leonard (43:17):

What do you wish you had known about long-distance investing before you got started?

Sean Pan (43:21):

Honestly, I don’t have too many like progressive [idea] about my long-distance investing. Whatever I learned, I learned and I don’t think I’ve made any real solid mistakes yet that I wish like, “Oh man, I wish I had done this back in the past.” But I’ll tell you, but for flipping houses, I’ve made some serious mistakes on that point. One thing that I would go back in time and tell myself is, you can over-leverage on one project, you can go 80, 90% on one project, but if you’re new, don’t get four or five projects at the exact same time, because that opens you up too much market risk.

Sean Pan (43:53):

If one project goes down, usually most people can withstand that blow, but what happens when four or five projects go down at the same time? It’s very painful and it hurts a lot. So yeah, if I go back in time, I’ll tell myself that, “Hey, hard money loans are there for you to leverage, but you’re also able to leverage on multiple properties at the same time. Don’t do that unless you’re super experienced, you have a good crew in place and you have a lot of finances to back you up in case all the projects go south at the same time.”

Robert Leonard (44:18):

What are the return numbers look like on your long-distance investing properties? You can share as much or as little detail as you’d like, but I’m curious to hear, and I’m sure the audience would love to learn what are the returns that you can earn from long-distance investing, specifically cash-on-cash and maybe cash flow?

Sean Pan (44:35):

We typically try to target a 10% cash-on-cash return on our properties. The way that I calculate is, all the cash that I put into a deal like down payment, closing costs, minor repairs upfront, we’re getting around 10% in net income. So that’s after paying for your property manager, after paying for your property insurance, taxes, and mortgage. And also after taking into account that you’re going to have some vacancies, and taking into account that you’re going to have some repairs down the line, whatever’s leftover, that number on a yearly basis should be 10% of what I put into the project. I don’t have an exact example to give you right now with numbers, because honestly, we have so many different projects that the numbers vary wildly.

Sean Pan (45:16):

But in general, we want to get 10% after taking into account the fact that every month your mortgage is getting paid down, so you have debt pay down, and the fact that your property appreciates over time, that total return ends up being around 20% every single year. So it’s actually pretty nice. I guess that’s the measure we go for. Usually, me speaking, we get around two to $300 in cash flow every single month per property or per unit. I think that’s like a minimum there.

Robert Leonard (45:42):

Are you buying single-family, small multifamily, larger multi-family, what types of properties are you buying in Jacksonville or even other markets that you invest in?

Sean Pan (45:51):

We’re in several different markets now, and we’re in the one to four-unit space. We are trying to go into the higher like commercial-building space, but we found that everybody wants to get into multifamily right now. I think it’s like the thing, everyone’s like, “Oh my God, multifamily is so resistant to all the downturns, even during COVID did really well.” So cap rates on the multifamily space are extremely compressed. In fact, we can get more units by buying single-family properties than we can buy buying a large multifamily asset, which doesn’t really make sense because multi-family properties, in general, are more risky than single-family assets, yet we’re able to buy a single-family cheaper. So we’re staying that route until things change.

Robert Leonard (46:29):

I love listening to podcasts, reading books, articles, and all kinds of things like that, but I’ve learned over the last few years that it’s more important to take action on those things than it is to consume more of those things. So before someone listening to this episode continues onto the next episode in their podcast player, what is one action step that they should take after listening to the show?

Sean Pan (46:52):

Great question. I always tell people to join meetup groups. So meetup groups are a form of action, even though you’re not actually investing, but the thing is you’re becoming more intimate with the crowd, get their sense of community, and they’re also going to hold you accountable if you say, “I claim that I’m going to get a deal in the next six months.” Six months go and they’re going to look at you and say, “Did you get the deal yet?” They’re also going to be able to help you with all these miscellaneous questions. Like here on this podcast, you’re asking me questions and I’m answering them, but what if our listeners out there and they have a specific question, and I didn’t mention it on the podcast, who are they going to go to?

Sean Pan (47:21):

They can’t just go to another podcast because I might say the same thing, but they can go to a meetup group and then potentially meet another hard money lender there and ask them something that they don’t know. So I say, go to meetup groups, they’ll definitely help you out in the long run. And yeah, I think just go from there.

Robert Leonard (47:36):

Before we wrap up the show, I want to give you a chance to tell the audience where they can go to connect with you.

Sean Pan (47:43):

Robert, first of all, thank you so much for having me on the show today. If any of you guys do want to reach out to meet about hard money loans, you can reach out to me on Instagram @im_seanpan, that’s S-E-A-N-P-A-N. You can also reach me by email at sean, I also have a YouTube channel, Sean Pan REI. And my podcast, which is Everything Real Estate Investing Show with Sean Pan. So similar to your show, I’ve had over 230 different people come on the show and give great advice. So if anyone wants to learn more about real estate investing, particularly if you’re based in the Bay Area and you want to learn how other Bay Area investors invest, check out the show as well.

Robert Leonard (48:19):

Awesome. I’ll be sure to put a link to all those different resources in the show notes for anybody that’s interested in checking them out. Sean, thanks so much for joining me.

Sean Pan (48:26):

Thank you so much, Robert. Appreciate it.

Robert Leonard (48:28):

All right, guys. That’s all I had for this week’s episode of Real Estate Investing, I’ll see you again next week.

Outro (48:34):

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