Dale and Sara Huber stand in their conference room at 330 S. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. next to a map pinned with over 500 properties.
“The biggest thing I learned was that two of your most valuable assets were a happy team and raving customers.”
- Dale Huber, Owner of DS Huber Real Estate Group, Mid Michigan’s Premier Real Estate Management Company
NAMES: Dale and Sara Huber
BUSINESS: DS Huber Real Estate Group and DS Huber HVAC & Maintenance Group
POSITIONS: Owners and (for a short while longer) operators, various positions within both companies.
1. How did you start in the real estate business?
Sara: When we were first married, I used to ride along with Dale on weekends while he took clients out on home tours. We also began investing in our first rental properties. Dale and I did everything ourselves with the first handful rentals: we shingled our own roofs, installed our own flooring, painted countless ceilings, floors, cabinets, and walls; we did our own woodworking, cleaning, plumbing, electrical work, windows, siding... you name it, we did it! What a great experience, but man were we glad to give that part up. When our rental portfolio grew too large for us to do the handiwork ourselves, I began helping out in the office with tasks like paying bills and taking care of paperwork. Pretty soon, it turned into ownership of a property management company, which had me learning pretty quickly about everything it takes to run a business.
Dale: Believe it or not it all started due to a late night infomercial. It was way back in April of 2004, I had this fantastic beautiful young lady I was marrying in July. I was working for Discount Tire Company and even though this was a fantastic company to work for I didn't like the fact that I had to be there between 45-55 hours a week and be away from all of the fun that we would have when I wasn't working. Sara was a teacher so she had the summers off and it was a drag thinking about working and not spending time together.
I was looking for something.... and one night there it was, this man was standing on a yacht talking about some real estate program that would make you an overnight success.... you would have all the money and time you ever needed. I was enamored with the potential of what he was talking about. Instead of making a move on his program, I looked into what it took to get a real estate license and was in class a couple of weeks later. I took the real estate class in early May, passed the exam on June 1st and was up and running. In the midst of heavy wedding planning, Sara was comfortable with me quitting my long term career with Discount Tire Company the Friday before we get married, with the plans of selling real estate full time after out honeymoon.
Over the next 13 years we became an overnight success!
2. What did you do before you started working in the industry and what lessons did you learn that you still apply today?
Sara: I taught Latin and Classical Greek at Lansing Catholic High School for 11 years before I left teaching to raise a family and help Dale out with the fledgling property management business. One may think that Latin and business are strange partners, but studying the classics and being a teacher have given me some great tools. The strict schedule of an academic day has really helped me with my time management. The days that I don’t plan for are hectic and stressful for me. I’m also surprised at how much teaching is like running a small business.
People think that they will get in to the field of teaching a subject that they love and that is all they are going to do, but there is so much more “business” to it. The good news is, though, that there is no need to reinvent the wheel in order to run your business. There are so many great resources out there--keep looking, learning, and doing your homework! Other great lessons: Keep on learning! I am always looking for new ideas. Teachers never stop learning more about better ways to teach OR better things to teach about, and business owners never stop learning better ways to run their business; Establish some basic habits, so you can spend your brain power on the hard problems. I encouraged my students to expand their Latin vocabulary as much as possible, to make a set of core words a “habit” so they did not have to spend time looking things up in the dictionary as often while reading Latin; the same principle applies to doing business.
If you can establish good basic habits and “memorize” basic information, you will have the brain-power to solve the tough problems because you are not bogged down in the basics. Another one is to know your history. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor did it did not collapse in a day. Even great civilizations come to an end when they no longer fit in with the world spirit.
Dale: When I left the farm in 1993, I took my first real job with Discount Tire Company. Over the decade plus of managing for them I learned a lot. The biggest thing I learned was that two of your most valuable assets were a happy team and raving customers. It is far more expensive to get a new client or customer than it was to keep an existing one. This leads us to focus on clients for life. It makes a lot of sense to invest time and resources into your existing clients and when things go wrong, let's face it we are all humans so sometimes things go wrong invest in correcting the mistake verses just moving on.
3. What would you invest in, if you received a 1 million dollar windfall?
Sara: I would love to invest in another local small business. I would also put a large chunk back in to our own business, plus add some investment properties to our personal portfolio.
Dale: This is easy, we have had a lot of success with single-family residential real estate, we know it well and have done very well with it so we would do more of what has worked so well for us.
4. What are some of the high points and low points that you have experienced in this industry?
Sara: I think we have been extremely lucky to have started out during an economic downturn. Dale began his career as a Realtor just as the market peaked, and then the mortgage crisis hit us. He took advantage of the situation and joined the team of a broker who specializes in working with foreclosures. He was fortunate to have already gotten his feet wet in the rental market, we met some investors who were in a position to use Dale’s expertise to procure some of the foreclosures flooding the market, along with a large amount of properties that people just did not want to be stuck with any longer. Having experience in buying and selling homes to others and a personal rental portfolio for buying and holding has allowed us to take advantage of both the high points and the low points of the industry.
Dale: The high points are many. We have celebrated many milestones over the past 18 months. By far, the biggest high point is that I am so blessed to have a fantastic team to work with. We thought when we had 3 or 4 on the team and we loved working with them we had it was great, now that we have topped 20 it is even better.
We have created many friendships within our business family and enjoy spending time working and also playing together. We are also very excited as we are actively adding new divisions to our company. We have our cornerstone Residential Property Management, Real Estate, recently added HVAC & Maintenance and coming soon Financial Services. We are laying the groundwork to open our Jackson office and become part of the Jackson community this year with plans of other mid-Michigan cities to follow. With the addition of these divisions, we get to add more great people to the team, positively affect more people in the community and touch more lives.
Being such a positive person I don't see many points as low but learning opportunities. Sara and I learned early on as we got foreclosed on the very first property we ever purchased. We learned a lot from that experience about purchasing the right properties, cash flow and many other lessons. We are happy to say since that one, on the hundreds of other properties and transactions we have been involved in we have never been in default on any other properties. We have had a few setbacks as we have tried to form certain partnerships in the past.
5. If you had one super power, what would that be?
Sara: The power to be in two places at once! Business owners who are parents are spread ultra-thin. If there were two of me, we’d have very happy children and an unstoppable business.
Dale: As much as I love to snuggle in and go to sleep if I could choose one super power it would have to be the ability to not sleep. I know it is not as glamorous as flying, being invisible or teleporting, but It would be nice to have that 1/3 of our life that we spend sleeping back to spend doing what I love. Life and time are precious and I would love to be able to make the most of every second I have on this earth vs sleeping them away.
6. When you have stressful days, what do you do to relax?
Sara: I step away from my desk and enjoy the presence of my children! Taking a break and learning something new is a form of relaxation for me.
Dale: Fortunately, we are surrounded by a great team, so the stressful days are few and far between. My current form of relaxation is spending time with Sara and the kids making travel plans for our journey across the country this summer and talking about what we are going to accomplish and do as a family over the next year. We have found ourselves investing our limited free time over the past few months learning about such things as full time RV living and most recently plant based eating... you have got to love Youtube.
7. What is something that people would find very interesting about you? Something that would shock someone enough to say, “I did not think you would know, be interested in or engage in that.”
Sara: That’s a hard one for me--I don’t find myself super interesting. Possibly that I am a classical scholar turned real estate mogul who now runs a successful business. When my favorite uncle learned that Dale and I were investing in real estate and running a property management business, his remark was one of surprise: He said, “Sara, you never struck me as a Capitalist!”
Dale: I have over the past 5 years enjoyed beekeeping. For those who know me it would be a real shock to learn that I had an anger problem and went through anger management. For those that know the life of indulgence I have had with food would be shocked to learn that my family and I converted to a plant based eating lifestyle.
8. What are some of your greatest accomplishments?
Sara: Earning a master’s degree is one. Having a hand in building our business is another.
Dale: I sit back on almost a daily basis and am amazed at what I and we have been able to accomplish. 25 years ago coming from a small poor farming town and dropping out of college after one semester, I would have never imagined or thought what we have put together today was possible. First and foremost, I have to say my biggest accomplishment is my family. To have such a beautiful intelligent wife and 3 great well rounded kids. Next would be all of the great relationships we have with our business family. There is so much love, admiration and appreciation for everyone on our team. To be able to put together a team of this magnitude is a great accomplishment. And finally we have had great business accomplishments, to have such a successful business that provides all the great things for my family and I and to be able to provide a career to nearly 20 other families is amazing.
9. How do you balance running a business and taking care of a family?
Sara: Sticking to a schedule during the workday. Also making sure that I schedule times to NOT work, which is just as important to schedule what I do during work hours. After I left teaching, I really enjoyed being “on my own schedule” for a while afterward. Once I became fully entwined with the day-to-day business, it took me a couple years to remember my academic training and fall back to a schedule. Having task lists do not help because they are not finite enough. Scheduling my day from the time I sit down at the desk to the time I leave to pick up the kids at school is what helps me keep my work life and my family life under control. The other big lesson is one that has really become clear to me recently: our business is here to serve us, and not the other way around. Especially since I do the majority of my work from home, it is easy to become tied to the desk for umpteen hours a day and forget that there are three beautiful children, a wonderful husband, a supportive family and countless friends who are deserving of my time, and spending all of my time at the desk is not going to serve anyone well in the long run.
Dale: Our family is part of the business. We truly are a family business, our entire team knows our kids and we know most all of the spouses or significant others and kids of almost all of our team. It was a hard balance in the early days. We have always tried to involve the kids in the business in order to spend time with them. Elizabeth our oldest knew everyone at Menards, the bank and the courthouse before she was 5-years-old.
10. What would you tell someone who is interested in investing in real estate?
Sara: Do it! It is very rewarding and you will have a great long-term investment. Make your money work for you! But first, find a great agent who knows the investment market and with whom you like to work with, and learn from them. Network with other investors in the area. There are some great groups, both local and national, to learn from.
Dale: This could be and entire book! Here are a few key pieces; Keep it simple and do it. We see so many times someone wants to get involved but can't take the jump. It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the programs and information out there. Find someone who is doing what you want, provide some value to them and learn as much as you can. It takes time, don't get frustrated if you are not a millionaire in your first week. Much of this advice is not only applicable for real estate investing but can be used for success in many ventures. Success in general starts with changing your thinking, read some good books, there are many out there. Get your finances in order, have a budget and plan for your money and executing on your chose plan.
The Hubers can be reached at 517-507-9993.
"People In the Know" asks questions that provoke thought and encourages others to dream. Let us know who you think we should "know." Contact us at 517-372-8466 or rinarisper.tncp@gmail. Log on to www.tncp.net.