Four years ago, Alan Swanson left a lengthy career in manufacturing operations to pursue a new full-time passion: real estate.
During that time, the Lancaster County investor has put together 27 residential deals in Central Pennsylvania and Baltimore County, Md., including three properties he flipped.
Carter McCue, a car dealership manager in Lebanon County, caught the real estate bug last year thanks to a bevy of cable television shows geared toward home rehabilitations.
A part-time investor, he is closing in on double-digit transactions, including six residential properties he owns in Dauphin and Lebanon counties.
And there is Harrisburg native and state worker Donna Mick, a part-time investor with two rental properties in Harrisburg and Campbelltown. Mick has had an eye on the midstate market in recent years and is out to make real estate a bigger part of her life and income stream.
Other than being real estate investors, the three have something else in common: They are members of the Landlord, Investors Master Mind Group.
A byproduct of a men's Bible study, the LIMG is a Harrisburg area real estate club that aims to provide a networking outlet for current and prospective property investors. It also caters to other professions tied to real estate, including agents, appraisers, brokers, lenders and a variety of contractors.
The goal is not only to put them all in the same room but also to address questions or concerns new investors might have about real estate or the local market. It's also about keeping experienced investors apprised of market trends, getting advice from other industry experts on deals they might be in the process of executing or adding a few new contacts to their network that could expedite a future deal.
"(Real estate) is not just for rich people," said Judah Hoover, co-organizer of LIMG, who works full-time as a real estate investor and mortgage broker.
LIMG grew from a church group of about 15 or 20 people eight years ago to 500 under Hoover's leadership.
Through a recent partnership with Zack Wiest, CEO of Paxtang-based PA Deals LLC, LIMG is now up to about 600 members. PA Deals is a real estate investment company that focuses primarily on buying and renovating single-family and multifamily properties, then selling those properties to buy-and-hold investors.
"It's for people who want to be successful and know they can be and just need help connecting the dots," Hoover said of the club, which meets twice a month. "We give people the nuts and bolts of what is working today."
About 65 percent of members have never actually done a real estate deal, he said. They want to, and that's what brings them out.
"Most want help. They are so nervous about making a mistake," Wiest said.
Of those who have done deals, most have done fewer than five. It's a select few outside of Hoover and Wiest — Swanson included — who fall in the class of seasoned real estate entrepreneurs.
LIMG has grown with the addition of the second monthly meeting this year, Hoover and Wiest said. One is a more general meet-up session, while the other is a deal review meeting.
Among hot topics for people getting into real estate is securing financing, Wiest said.
"They want to know: What are private lenders? What is creative financing? A lot of people want to do it but have tarnished credit or can't qualify under stringent (lending) guidelines," he said. "We offer insight into seller financing, lease options and working with private lenders."
Having face-to-face access "cuts the learning curve," he said.
"It's not just the content. By attending meetings, you are immediately introduced to a team of real estate professionals that would take someone years to build," Wiest said.
Swanson, McCue and Mick all said contacts made through the club quickened the pace for them.
"I don't know where I'd be without it," McCue said.
Every one of Swanson's business partners has come out of the club setting.
"Everyone has a link to a group of people they use and are willing to recommend," he said.
Hoover and Wiest are not making much direct revenue from the club. Membership is free, and there are a few events in a year where speakers come to sell a book or other materials.
They make their money on the back end and outside of the club, like other active members.
"We are able to get in front of more deals and grow our business," Hoover said.
Club members put aside competition, McCue said.
"Even though we're in a small area and we're competing for deals, there is enough inventory out there for everybody," he said. "If we do well, everyone does well. We employ local contractors and buy local materials. It has a cycle effect."
Renovating and getting more properties occupied not only lifts profits for investor and ancillary businesses, it also helps local taxing jurisdictions.
"The landlords benefit, too," Mick said. "I have learned how to better care for my tenants and how to reduce my costs when someone is evicted. The main thing they teach you is how money works."
To further grow awareness and membership, Hoover and Wiest are working on a new website and developing more of their own content.
"The larger we grow, the more impact we have," Wiest said.
That could mean more collaboration on service projects or even joint purchasing efforts to mitigate areas of blight in communities such as Harrisburg.
To monetize the club, the organizers are looking to hold an annual residential convention, with hopes of attracting regional investors and others from across the Northeast.
"Knowledge is not power. Action is power," Hoover said. "We want a sizable chunk of Americans to own a few pieces of real estate. If we all try to take good care of our properties and try to invest here, encourage others and help them to invest, we can have a positive impact and take the next steps forward."
• The Landlord, Investors Master Mind Group meets the fourth Thursday of each month at the Holiday Inn Harrisburg East on Lindle Road and the second Tuesday at the Blue Ridge Country Club on Linglestown Road. The Thursday meetings are at 7 p.m., while the Tuesday deal reviews start at 6 p.m.
• The majority of LIMG members are from Cumberland and Dauphin counties, though the club attracts others from surrounding counties, including Lancaster, Lebanon and York. Organizers estimate that club members own about 25 to 30 percent of rental properties in Harrisburg.
• Organizers are contemplating a name change for the club.