Sean O’Toole of PropertyRadar. After a successful technology career in Silicon Valley, Sean purchased and flipped over 150 residential and commercial properties, nicely exiting the market before the credit bubble burst. Combining his technology and real estate experience Sean launched ForeclosureRadar in 2007, well before most realized a foreclosure crisis was coming. The service was quickly recognized as the nation’s best foreclosure information source and helped tens of thousands of real estate professionals succeed in a market which was otherwise devastating. Sean’s mission to help the little guy succeed in the real estate market continues with the launch of PropertyRadar.
Bruce and Sean talk about the special gift and tradition that led to his early fascination with being an Entrepreneur. Sean’s career in Silicon Valley and his early days as a real estate investor.
- Why did he start PropertyRadar?
- Million dollar offer to do what??
- Who does Sean follow or pay attention to?
- What is next for PropertyRadar?
- New employee??
Narrator This is the Norris group’s real estate investor radio show the award winning show dedicated to thought leaders shaping the real estate industry and local experts revealing their insider tips to succeed in an ever changing real estate market hosted by author, investor and hard money lender. Bruce Norris.
Bruce Norris Thank you for joining us. My name is Bruce Norris and today once again joining us is Sean O’Toole, CEO and founder of property radar. Hope you enjoyed part one of our interview last week where we talked about how a special gift from his parents at age 10 led to Sean’s early entrepreneurial spirit that would evolve into the great company he leads today. And I hope you enjoy part two. So yeah, before I actually started foreclosure radar, we were tracking all of the foreclosures just for my own business. I did I made a million bucks on a commercial deal. And I said well heck with these residential deals, I’m gonna attract commercial deals. There weren’t very many. So I started tracking more and more foreclosures and tracked all of California looking for another million dollar commercial deal. Right
Sean O’Toole million dollars profit commercial deal. never found one that that did lead me to tracking a lot of foreclosures. Even in 2006, we started to see the numbers go up so rapidly that the first half of, well the first few months of 2006, I was getting rid of the rest of my inventory. And then I was as I was watching these numbers, just skyrockets, I kept collecting the data, even though I decided I wasn’t going to buy I just felt there was value there. And I had employees doing it for me that I didn’t want to fire and so I kept collecting the data and hey, maybe I’m wrong, maybe the markets fine. So just kept collecting, I got concerned or I got to the point where I thought that this was going to be some sort of systemic event. And I actually wanted to like a big short, like I wanted to put a a million bucks. against New Century, Countrywide and a handful of these other companies that I was just seeing their, foreclosures explode. And nobody was talking about it. And I said, well, boy and their stocks were high and I’m just like when this blows up, right, there’s there’s a huge opportunity here, a broker friend of mine, was a top broker actually met with I think, met with a couple of these folks and ended up talking me out of it and said, hey, these guys are hedged. They know about the problem. It’s not going to create any problems for their business are going to be a bunch of foreclosures, but it’s all well in there, kind of operating parameters and they’re taking steps to deal with it. So yeah, otherwise it’d be sitting on a private island. kitesurfing. Right now. If I’d made that bet, and I would have been in it a big short movie instead of the other guy.
Bruce Norris That’s right. But you know what? What you did really what you did with what you knew, and it’s interesting, you did it after you were, you stopped being a buyer at the trustee sales, you really revolutionize the access to the data. Because prior to that, that was the 40 thieves. And sometimes in some counties, it was five, it was very small group of people that pay a lot of money for the information. And the information wasn’t always the best information. So honestly, when you came out with foreclosure radar and the process that you had, and the accuracy it had, it really changed the game and allowed a lot of people to participate. Yeah, just coming from a computer background, they took a very different approach to it. Right? I just, and this this was true when I was doing the business too, right. I automated a lot of my title research. I built a database on each property, you know, we can probably look at 50 properties for every one we would buy, right? And no, that’s kind of the nature of trustee sales like that’s one things people don’t get like it ticks used to be really efficient. And I said, well, geez, I can use my computer skills to be really efficient. And I can do this better than the other guys. You know, that’s really what that came out of was that those years of experience, I always joke with my friends in Silicon Valley that the smartest thing I ever did was leave Silicon Valley and actually go get real world experience and solve my own problems rather than somebody else’s. We subscribe to it. And at the time, prior to that, we were probably paying 20 times for less accurate information. So yeah, unfortunately, it turned out there was 100 people at the sales instead of five. But yeah, no, not everybody was happy with me for sure. I had one. I had one customer offer me a million dollars to turn the service off in one county for one year. Oh, wow!
Sean O’Toole And it was just a couple of weeks after I’d signed my deal with the California Association of Realtors, saying we would provide access for the whole state. Right And so actually, no way I could even entertain it.
Bruce Norris That guy thought it would be a profitable million dollars to spend if you would just stop telling people what what is out there. That’s pretty funny. So you had, I mean, foreclosures obviously exploded and then went through a natural process where they started to deplete, and very wise move to go. Not Not that you’ve eliminated following foreclosures, but you also changed from foreclosure radar to property radar, because now, there were lots of other games in town to play for as investors or agents and having access to all that information was a really big deal.
Sean O’Toole Yeah, it was kind of, you know, my original vision. Because again, you know, when I first started foreclosure radar, there was like, 40 guys buying foreclosures. Yeah. I said, Well, you know what, this is gonna be my first module, right? And what I want to do is I want to build a Bloomberg terminal for real estate and try to do For the real estate market, but Bloomberg and others did for stocks and bonds and commodities, where you get this, you know, near real time information on those markets. We’re still nowhere close. Like, I mean, I think we’re doing a great job with public records. But in terms of that big decision, right, there’s a long way to go and real estate, we still the markets still rely on these indexes that, you know, kind of run weeks to months behind, and especially with COVID right now, right? It’s been hard to get data out of the county recorders office. That’s really, you know, one of the core problems is just how antiquated that whole process and system is, when I went to property radar was just kind of going back to that original mission kind of more around being a property information service, which is not really where we ended up now.
Bruce Norris You said it’s not where you ended up now. I mean, we’re still definitely in the foreclosure business, right. We’re still definitely in the property information business, but most of our customers today, Aaron has shared some of this with me and I My light bulb went on, honestly, I have a really good idea, you know, because of the data, that you are going to be able to provide it, say in Florida, I mean, I’m going to create a really cool niche. And I’ll be able to dive down and find a very specific client that I’m excited about. I kind of can’t wait to experiment with it. Awesome. excited to hear that. Yeah. Well, though, that is, you know, I never expected I’d end up being a marketing service. But, you know, we still don’t all the rest. But again, that is where the majority of our businesses today and it’s folks are doing really well with it.
Sean O’Toole What what’s interesting about both of us is that we have looked beyond where we are to figure out what’s coming in advance. And so when you left the foreclosure business, you know, I had written the California crash, and I don’t think we even knew each other at the time. So I’m looking at charts and you’re looking at a set of experiences. You know, like when you sold the property and people were getting a loan, there’s no way they should ever get. And so we left the building early and saved our capital. A number of years ago, I sent you an email telling you I was going to write something about a 2% mortgage rate coming. And do you think I’m absolutely nuts didn’t mean I wasn’t going to do it, but I wanted to run it by you. And then you had actually said, Yeah, I think that that’s coming and kind of used the Japan model.
Bruce Norris So I wanted to lead into Who do you pay attention to, as far as you know, information wise, you know, is there like Ray Dalio has been an interesting addition to me because I am enthralled with he has gone back 500 years to find patterns. I’m still you know, I have to read everything he writes three times just to get it but I also respect his process. He’s humble enough to go You know what, I’m not going to on my own come to the best conclusions and so he has like an idea merit accuracy. That’s his word to where he’s got the brightest people. And they’re all free to give their opinion and batted around. The only goal is to come up with the best idea. So I have a lot of respect for that process. And you and I, you know, sometimes we’ve disagreed, but because we respect both of our processes and our intent, it makes it much easier to listen to something that you were sure you knew. And have somebody you respect say, I don’t think it’s right. So I guess I yeah, I wanted to know, who do you pay attention to? Who do you Who do you read or listen to this think about? Am I needing to make some corrections and what I thought was true. It’s kind of constantly somebody new. Like, I’m always looking for those voices of clarity and sanity, but you usually, unfortunately, folks usually end up having a schtick. No, Yes.
Sean O’Toole Like, they you know, it’s just it’s hard. Like, we all are a product of our upbringing, lots of things right. And we’re seeing that play out on a very big scale right now. I think when I first came across Ray Dalio, like that was super interesting stuff. And it kind of added to my catalogue. And I will definitely still pay attention to him when it comes up. You know, when he has something new Eric Chance and was really, I-tulip was really interesting to me back in 2008.
Bruce Norris Yeah,
Sean O’Toole I plan on I think there was some things that he helped me out with a ton. I think there’s some things that, you know, in hindsight, I think he didn’t get the fundamentals wrong. And I think one of the things that’s so hard, right, economics is a Bachelor of Arts. It’s not a Bachelor of Science. And I think for good reason, right? There are so many factors that to look at everything we can possibly look at in a day and try to say, Oh, this is what’s going to happen. There’s no way we can take in all of the inputs and really consider Everything, right? So I’m a big believer that history actually doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes.
Bruce Norris Right
Sean O’Toole Which isn’t my quote. I think that Eric had that. But I think it actually maybe comes from somebody else. I believe that I think that there’s a lot of lessons in history, but I don’t think we’ll see. You know, those same things going forward. Right. The things that into this is where I hear a lot of what Ray Dalio saying, you know, he’s basically saying that we’re very close to a change of world order.
Bruce Norris Yeah.
Sean O’Toole With the U.S., you know, falling by the wayside, losing our reserve currency, which has just huge disruption in our written all over it. And China coming up to take our place. Yeah. And I see a lot of signs that could definitely happen. I also don’t know that. I’m as convinced as soon as he seems to be at least alluding to he hasn’t said anything particularly like most of us that give our opinion. about what’s happening. The rest were pretty good about using probably and likely.
Bruce Norris Yeah, well, I think I think because of historical point of view, what he is saying is that with regularity, a reserve currency loses its reserve currency status eventually. So that’s that. Not only that, and he says it starts with the decline in education. Yeah.
Sean O’Toole Right. And it kind of ends with a people that are fighting amongst themselves. Yes. Which is definitely where we’re at. Right? Like, that is the pattern that happens, right. So and the other side of that pattern, right is as they start to focus on education, and investment, and those kind of, you know, those things, right economies rise, China has been very aggressively focused on education and investment. And those things where, you know, frankly, we’re getting a little fat and happy more bickering about stuff that we shouldn’t be bickering.
Bruce Norris Yeah, I completely agree. I had an experience after 9/11 where I went to the first baseball game that was in Anaheim stadium after 9/11. There was, you know, crowd of maybe 35-40,000 people when I, you know, national anthem was going to be sung and everybody dutifully stood and for the first time in my life, I watched 40,000 Americans sing, it was moving, because I looked around and I realized we all got it, at least at that moment, we got it. We were the same. And it was touching, you know, and I, you know, I wish we could kind of return to that. And as you know, at the I Survived event, every time I end the meeting, saying I, what I wish for is that every politician, instead of being a democrat or republican for the next four years would be an American first and that would solve a lot of stuff. It really would.
Sean O’Toole Yeah, no kidding.
Bruce Norris I was gonna,
Sean O’Toole I think we got to get to a three party system, right? You get a two party system and it just naturally leads to them. going farther and farther in opposite directions, you get three parties, you have the ability to find agreement on things, and the best ideas as a party will get glommed on to by another party without it being a. We believe this, you believe that? So therefore, we can’t agree thing. Yeah. You know, what was interesting, and I guess we’re pretty closing close to running out of time. We have five minutes. Okay. I walked around the library, one not library bookstore. There was actually still one in Riverside. So I walked around it. And it had all kinds of Title Headings. And I just felt like I wrote them all down. And I did that because I wanted to, I wanted to think about which of those titles Could I actually write a book on that would be of benefit to my fellow citizens pretty humbling experience. It was Yeah, it was one. What it told me is that I’m really reliant on others online. And ability to conclude some things. So we know when I listen to some people that are historians dawns on me, I am never going to get there. I’m never going to go, which you know, whatever you studied, that’s like somebody I really respect that’s come to conclusions that I can I can relate to, to just realize I’m kind of reliant on you’re being honest and get and and when you’re writing that book. And there’s, you know, there’s just one category, that I’d say that I feel like I could write that the more and more I know, the more humble I get about what I don’t
Bruce Norris know what’s the great quote like the wisest men realize how little they know. Yeah, well, that’s or you know, or even that they know nothing like that. I’m attracted to that. That scholar, there’s no doubt about it out there when I listen to people, and I think I you know, they know more than I’ll ever know. And then they come out with you know, I’m telling you what I’ve concluded thus far. There’s still four more, you know, and I really appreciate that because, to me, that’s, that’s a guy that’s got my attention. I really don’t like experts that basically studied something for three weeks and that they got it.
Sean O’Toole I got it.
Bruce Norris Yeah. Oh, no. So you know, there’s 500 hours of new video uploaded to YouTube every minute. Oh, my gosh. So there is more video uploaded to YouTube, then you could watch a day, and you could probably watch life or them for sure. Then you could watch in your entire life. Yeah. So I think I think that’s actually a real core bit of our collective anxiety. At this point. I think our parents probably thought they had a pretty good grasp of what was going on in the world, right? Because there was only three new shows. Maybe you like a See versus NBC versus CBS.
Sean O’Toole But right, they all pretty much kind of said the same thing. And we all kind of had that same shared perspective. And now is so many voices and so many perspectives and things like Q ANON and things like that, right? Like the disparity of our individual views is growing so quickly Had a really interesting encounter in a taxi cab in China. The driver spoke very good English and was super friendly. And like, I didn’t even know if I could like ask this question without like the secret police coming out and grabbing me. I said, so are you aware of censorship? Are you aware that there’s a lot of things out there in the world that you don’t get to see? And he laughed, and he’s like, he said, He’s like, we’re not morons, right? We all know how to use a VPN we can look at whatever we want to look at. And I went, Oh, my God, like that was revalotry. It’ll be like, I didn’t think that that was possible. This is a taxi driver to not like an executive or you know, something else. And I said, you know, it’s not a problem for you. And he said, he goes, No, he goes, it’s great that the state controls what we see because it keeps descent down and we’re happy. And we’re all pulling in the same boat and correction. And I was like, Okay, I’m not, I’m not saying I buy into censorship at all. But it was like, that was a really unique, interesting perspective to say. Yep, we know there’s censors, censorship, but we want to win as people and we want to do well, and therefore tamping down the dissenting voices so that we can all row in the same direction will make us more competitive and allow us to beat you. That’s what I heard.
Bruce Norris Okay,
Sean O’Toole And I don’t think they’re wrong.
Bruce Norris Yeah, that’s a big price to pay. But it was a great question. Yeah,
Sean O’Toole I’m not saying we should pay it. I’m just saying that, you know, if you’ve got an enemy all rowing the boat in the same direction, and you’re not, that’s the problem.
Bruce Norris Well, I guess that’s why go back to that. That one moment where we were all singing the National Anthem, I thought, okay, we know we have that capacity. And we’re
Sean O’Toole right.
Bruce Norris And we’re really great when we do it. And man, I don’t know what the event is. It’s going to say we’re back in that boat, and we’re going to sing together. But I hope we get there. I really do. And I think we need to for sure. And I hope it’s a positive event that gets us there. Not a negative because they’re a really bad things that could get us. I hope it’s not through that. Yeah.
Sean O’Toole Hope we find that place sooner.
Bruce Norris So last question. So what’s what’s the journey for property radar look for for the rest of the year? You’re you’re in what states now and planning on going to, to a national level at what point yeah, we’re in five states, Arizona, Nevada, California, Washington, or Right now all hands are on deck right now pushing for getting us national. You know, we’ve been ingesting, refining data for almost two years. This is a place where we’re very different than other companies, because most companies just load the data and resell it. But we do a lot of work. And I think that’s one of our core differentiators. It’s been hard. We are close. I expect we’ll open a beta up to a selected group of folks in just the next few weeks, then we should be national in the next couple of months. Aaron’s excited about being a part of it really is that’s very cool. Yeah, thank you for for letting him come hang out with us. Awesome. Okay. Well, this ones worth watching because he, he literally is a business genius. And he goes around and he basically becomes part owner of a business that he has no intentions of being there. But he’s probably the most important person because he changes the processes to successful business. You know, he takes it it doesn’t matter what he is camping camping world, as you know that giant American flag that’s that’s Lemonis, you know, yeah, that’s him. So he gets he goes into businesses and and that analyzes them and say, Okay, if you want me to be part of it, I have to have 100% control. I’m going to put this much money up, to be honest with you that I when I when I first talked about because I was wanted, I always thought you know what? You and Sean would be a pretty cool team. I really always thought that and when it came when it came up, I said, I think I think that you should do that because to our business. You will have already been Lemonis you’ve been the Prophet you have set all the things in place, that you don’t have to be here 40 hours a week. You don’t it was pretty cool that I was able to watch that show and see that I, I had my Lemonis and Aaron, who was able to set the Norris group up. So we look like Goldman Sachs. And he can still do that for for very, very few, you know, hours, which is pretty cool. So I’m just I’m excited that he gets to be part of what you’re up to. And I think you’ll enhance the result for your company. No doubt about it. Do you know the you know the show the prophet?
Sean O’Toole I don’t.
Bruce Norris Oh, you gotta be kidding. Well, that’s basically you got to watch that show. There’s a guy named Lemonis.
Sean O’Toole I watch almost no TV. No for sure. Lots of lots of great conversations going on. He’s just, he’s just such a great ball of energy and light and yeah, and tons of knowledge and experience too. So we love having him.
Bruce Norris Yeah, he’s a team builder. My my favorite thing is whenever I used to go where he was known, and I was not Then they go. Oh, you’re Aaron’s Dad. Oh my God, we love him. That’s just the best. That’s the best. All right, john. Hey, thanks for taking an hour and being with us. I really appreciate it.
Sean O’Toole Yeah, no, thanks for having me. Great. Always chatting. Thanks Bruce.
Bruce Norris Okay, we’ll see you soon.
Narrator For more information on hard money, loans and upcoming events with The Norris Group, check out thenorrisgroup.com for information on passive investing with trust deeds, visit TNGtrustdeeds.com. The Norris group originates and services loans in California and Florida under California DRE license 01219911. Florida mortgage lender license 1577 and NMLS license 1623669. For more information on hard money lending, go to thenorrisgroup.com and click the hard money tab.