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Interviews with real estate millionaires: Alfonso Cuadra

Note from My Smart Real Estate: We continue our interviews with the real estate investors and developers to understand how they started their real estate investing journey, how they do it currently, their tricks and tips for real estate investing. The below interview is with Alfonso Cuadra.

The story of Alfonso Cuadra is truly fascinating. A refugee from El Salvador, Alfonso dropped out of high school and left home at 15. Became a father at the age of 17. Started his business at 19 and took it to a multi-location enterprise by the age of 21. Lost almost everything in 2001 at which point he turned his life around with self-education around real estate investment. Currently, Alfonso's portfolio spans close to 500 doors. In addition, Alfonso is an international speaker, mentor for many new real estate investors, and author of the book "From The Ground Up!"

In addition, Alfonso runs a YouTube channel with lessons for real estate buying and investing:

Learning from real estate investors through their stories is key to understanding how they think, how they started investing, and how they managed to multiply their wealth.

Alfonso Cuadra

Multi-unit investor, international speaker, mentor of real estate investors, author of the book "From The Ground Up!"

Ontario, Canada

Real estate investment portfolio: close to 500 doors

My Smart Real Estate: Hi, it is very nice to meet you. Thank you for your time today to meet to discuss your past investment career, your approaches to investing, and how you look at the current Canadian market real estate market when you think about the future. I'm really excited to meet you. In my blog, I try to educate people that real estate investing is something that can help them achieve their financial goals, and change the mindset of the average person who doesn't know much about real estate. And I'm really pleased to meet you. I've read quite a few articles and listened to your podcasts with other people and your story of real investing is truly fascinating. It's really a pleasure to meet you.

Alfonso Cuadra: It's a pleasure. My favorite thing to do is to inspire people to take action. And yeah, it's a pleasure to meet with you and to see everything you've done in your blog. What's the name of your blog again?

My Smart Real Estate:

Alfonso Cuadra: All right, well, we should put the link in the comments below. So yeah, alright. Hey, you know what, I love meeting anyone that's that interested in real estate. And that's, that's my passion.

My Smart Real Estate: Right? Yeah, personally, and so that, you know, I'm still working nine to five and trying to learn myself and put my thoughts in the blog. But my key goal is also to inspire other people. So the first question. I know you've already discussed this with many people, your first steps, and how you started real estate investing. But just to inspire our listeners, can you give a bit of the history? What brought you to real estate investing?

Alfonso Cuadra: Okay, so immigrant to Canada, okay, I came from war-torn El Salvador, I had a bit of a tough time integrating into school growing up here. When I immigrated to Canada, I came here as a landing refugee ultimately, fell with the wrong crowd as a teenager, and I ended up going down a very dark path, and ultimately dropping out of high school, and leaving home at 15. So at 15, I was on my own. If you go through the internet, you'll probably see stories of me when I talk about being homeless. And that's a big part of my life. I'll never forget it. And I'll never forget that dark place that I was in. Ultimately, what changed my life for me is I became a father at 17 years old. That was the moment I discovered purpose. And in my opinion, a purpose powerful enough will make you unstoppable. And my objective from the very beginning was simply to make my daughter proud. As a 17-year-old father, I went back to school, got a job, and realize that $5 an hour wasn't going to cut it. As a result, I started a business. From my locker in high school; it was a clothing business. I turned that business into a physical location when I was 19. By the time I was 21, I had stores all across Canada, and I fell in love with being an entrepreneur. The issue that had was number one, I had no financial literacy, I had no concept of running businesses. And you know, I was very much a consumer. And so when things were good, I was doing really well. And when things were bad, I was doing really bad. So, shortly after 9/11 2001, we had a market correction. That almost took me out. And so I started to educate myself, you know, I started to follow other wealthy people and started to see what they were doing. And I realized that I was very vulnerable, number one, not having multiple streams of income. Number two, I was very much a consumer, not an investor. So I had to convert and transform my mind to be an investor-focused individual. And then the common thread amongst all wealthy people was real estate. And so I decided, now 23 plus years ago, that I was going to transition from just being a one-stream entrepreneur to having multiple streams of income. And specifically real estate, I was going to build one stream that was Armageddon proof. And that's why I chose real estate and specifically multifamily. I love the economy of scale, in the idea that you can spread the risk amongst multiple units. That seemed very logical to me. And that's when I started about 23 years ago. And we fast forward to today, where I own apartment buildings all across Canada, hundreds of units. And now I'm in a position where I'm teaching others to develop and create their financial freedom. And that's what I am most passionate about, you know, when you asked me to do this interview, I'm like, let's do it. Like, you know, that's just another opportunity to share the knowledge with the world that financial freedom can be attained. And in my humble opinion, it can be attained faster through multifamily real estate.

My Smart Real Estate: Thank you so much. And I know reading your other interviews, you're saying that the book that has changed your mindset was Rich Dad, Poor Dad? And I know many people, as you mentioned, read it, like 20 million copies sold, but not too many people actually take action. So why do you think that is? And what would you tell two people who read the book, but didn't take action? What would be the first step?

Alfonso Cuadra: Go back and re-read that book? Well, you know, it's like a movie, right? You can watch a movie multiple times. And depending on where you are in your life, it's gonna hit you differently. Right? And, to some people that just simply might not resonate, or the belief just isn't there, right, that you can have control over your life. Right? There must be some blockage. The first thing that someone needs to understand is, what is their relationship with money? And where does that come from? For example, when I grew up, we never talked about money or finances at home, we never talked about credit. And I grew up with an unhealthy relationship with money. Very unhealthy. And so I needed to transform that because you will sabotage yourself. You know, people talk about procrastination, not taking action. You know, they read all these books, and you know, people say procrastinate, we hear that word, procrastination. So, here's my opinion, procrastination doesn't exist. It does not exist. The truth is, that just doesn't mean as much to you as you think it does. It's not a priority for you. You don't care for it, right. And so that comes from having a purpose. I shared the story of when I became a father at 17 years old. That was an impactful moment for me because I discovered the purpose. A purpose powerful enough will make you unstoppable. Now, when you read the book, and you have a purpose, there is no procrastination. Because it becomes a priority, it becomes a must, that I should do this. And so when it becomes a must, you're unstoppable. And when the "why" is not strong enough, when you haven't developed that belief, and you have an unhealthy relationship with money and finances and success, for sure, you're not going to take action. Right? So I suggest reading the book again. But go back and do the work, the personal work, right? And see where you're at, and where you are? Where are your finances, there's a reason that you have the results that you have, and it is usually because of the actions that you've taken or not taken. Right. And, you know, I'm more interested in the person that says, hey, I read the paragraph, the first paragraph, and I acted on that first paragraph, and I came back and read the next paragraph than someone that reads a whole book, and it's like "oh, that's a great book."

My Smart Real Estate: Yeah, yeah, definitely. That was probably the case for me. Because the first time I read it was maybe 15 years ago. I didn't act, it's only after time, you start realizing that general life working nine to five will provide something but sometimes not enough. But everyone grows to it. Some people grow very quickly and they realize it at 17. Some people realize that at 30. In your opinion, for a person who is only starting his career or her real estate investing, you're saying that multi-units are the way to go. If the person does not have a lot of money to invest but really wants to dip their toe into this water, what would be your suggestion? How do they start?

Alfonso Cuadra: Well, first of all, everything starts with education. You know, most people don't know how to identify a deal. If I had the best deal in the world, and I put it right in front of you, I said here, this is the best opportunity, you will hesitate, you will not be sure, you will ask other people because you yourself don't have the level of real estate education to be able to identify if that's a good deal or not. And so that's where everything starts. It starts with getting educated, you need to learn how to identify a deal, you need to learn how to analyze a deal, you need to learn how to negotiate a deal, you need to learn how to put a deal under contract, you need to know how you're going to raise the capital. Everything else falls into place. Right? You are attracting the right people, the right circumstances, the right ideas to match the person that you're becoming because you are becoming an investor. The most important thing about real estate and you mentioned something earlier, is the lack of capital. Well, there's something in the real estate business that is called intellectual currency. Right? It's what you know. So if you spend time learning how to identify deals, learning how to put deals together, you increase your intellectual currency. And so the more intellectual currency you have, the less actual currency you'll need. Right? Meaning you attract the right people, the right money because you have the right deal.

My Smart Real Estate: It's an interesting approach. I understand what you mean. So people will come to you with the money if you're an expert. That's a good approach. I've seen that.

You have a lot of projects, and right now you have, as you say, hundreds of doors under investment, but you also look for that capital. And you always seek private investors, in addition to getting investment money from banks. And you also mentioned that you provide some kind of training. So if a person would be a bit shy to start on their own, do you provide that joint partnership? Or do you let people invest small amounts in your properties and you manage those properties, but people will still have a chance to learn from you just looking at what are you doing? Real-life?

Alfonso Cuadra: So the answer is yes. To all the above. Okay. I suggest if someone is interested; if anything that I've said here today resonates with you in any way: the next step would be "Hey, go check me out on YouTube". Because on YouTube, I have a YouTube channel, you can subscribe. I have 1000s of videos content that is free. And I'm always providing value as much as I can to people. If anything I say on my channel resonates with you the next step would be "Hey, contact me". And then let's have a conversation. Let's see where our paths align, and anything is possible. I've worked with people all across North America, I've helped a lot of people create wealth and create financial freedom for themselves. And I'm not a pushy guy, you know, it's very simple. If you feel that anything I say resonates with you, you just reach out. Okay.

My Smart Real Estate: Then another question that I have and, probably, that is on the minds of many people, again, mostly those people who really want to start investing, but there is always something that keeps them away. And one of the key things right now is the uncertainty in the Canadian market with people saying banks will raise the interest rates and maybe there will be a decline in prices. What's your outlook on the next few years for the Canadian market?

Alfonso Cuadra: The real estate was always too expensive. When I started back in 2001, real estate was too expensive. Back in 2005, real estate was too expensive. Back in 2009, real estate was too expensive. Back in 2015, real estate was too expensive. Back in 2019, real estate was too expensive. Back in 2020, real estate was too expensive last year. Real estate is too expensive today, like at the end of the day. It's true. We have markets, things fluctuate with markets. And, you know, it's really you, you know, where you are in the market. And what we need to also realize is there's inflation happening as well. And real estate is the best place to hedge against inflation. The only time people lose is when they have to sell the property. And so that goes back to the first comment that I made about education. If you learn, if you have the right education and you understand real estate fundamentals, and you stick to the numbers, you will never have to sell so you can have a dip in the market. But you're not selling. So it's really irrelevant. And if you stick to multifamily, people will always have to pay the rent, people will always have to live somewhere. And if you're a buy and hold investor, you shouldn't be worried about what happens to the market. Right.

My Smart Real Estate: You're basically reducing the risk by making sure that the income keeps flowing. So the cash flow is there. And if the market is booming, and the prices are so good, you may always sell it and realize the capital gains, so it makes sense. And have you ever engaged in developing your own properties, or you were just buying the already built ones?

Alfonso Cuadra: The majority of my deals have been buying older buildings. Most recently, in the past couple of years, I've started to buy newer buildings from builders, right, new apartment buildings. And then I really enjoyed that experience. And so now we're in the process of developing as well. So we're developing apartment buildings from scratch. So you know, it's just a transition. It's not like I'm advising people to start there. But it's a good place to be after so many years of dealing with older properties, where now we can buy into some or have some newer assets under management.

My Smart Real Estate: And for your new developments, which provinces are you're currently targeting?

Alfonso Cuadra: Currently, it's Ontario, right, we have a new build or the new product that we have is primarily in Ontario. But we are looking at some development opportunities. For example in New Brunswick, maybe some things out West. Nothing has materialized yet, but for the most part, it's Ontario.

My Smart Real Estate: Okay, make sense. And the last question before we finish our interview: do you have any learning courses outside of YouTube channels that people can officially attend?

Alfonso Cuadra: Yes, I do. But again, I don't like to force people to come. Like you would never see a Facebook ad with my name on it. It's basically I built my entire business, my real estate, everything through attraction. I like to attract people. And if anything I say resonates with you - connect with me.

My Smart Real Estate: Make sense. Okay. I will do that probably myself. Definitely. Very excited about your career and I am curious to really learn more about your current projects and learn from you. So thank you very much for the interview.

Alfonso Cuadra: This was fun. Definitely. Thank you so much.

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