On any given night at a firehouse near Dayton, Ohio, 3 firefighters sit around the kitchen table between calls, a routine they’ve refined during the past decade. They drink coffee. They tell jokes. And as though they were tossing around stats from the big game, they talk about their real estate investments.
“If you came into a firehouse and said, ‘I just spent $60,000 dollars on a truck,’ no one would bat an eye,” says Jonathan Willis, the fire lieutenant at the Dayton-area firehouse. “But if you said, ‘I just got a great deal by spending $50,000 on a house,’ they would look at you like you grew a second head. People think we’re nuts.”
He and Michael Krapf and Zachary Ruschau—firefighter paramedics at the firehouse—have refined the art of buying single-family homes in order to create long-term financial security for themselves and their families. Like so many landlords who manage a portfolio of investment properties while working full-time jobs, they rely on Cozy.
A few years ago, Jonathan started reading about how buying and renting out single-family homes compares to investing in the stock market. At the firehouse, he explained what he learned.
“I bought into it pretty quickly,” Michael remembers. Last year, he purchased 3 rental homes, and he plans to buy more in the next few years.
Zachary invested in real estate first; he bought a farm with his father. When they sold it, he used the funds to buy a single-family home he would turn into a rental. Buying the house scared him.
“Money was tight,” he says. “And I was in charge of the entire process—the management of the contractors, the leasing, everything.” Now he owns 35 single-family properties, and he plans to boost that number to 100 during the next few years.
Experienced real estate professional Scot Rife helped the 3 firefighters start buying homes, by securing their loans and finding the right properties. Eventually, he and Jonathan became business partners.
When Scot first suggested using Cozy, Jonathan was skeptical. But other property management tools were expensive, and Cozy was free. And most of them didn’t have any tenant screening tools, which convinced Jonathan Cozy was the best choice.
These days, Scot and Jonathan set up Cozy accounts for each of their real estate clients who buy investment properties. Most of the time, their clients continue using Cozy to collect rent and screen future tenants well after the purchase.
“We see Cozy as an extension of our team,” Scot says. “Cozy helps make our business model sustainable, because it’s an easy tool for our clients to use.”
Scot and Jonathan call what they create for their clients “system based management,” a way for real estate investors to use existing systems, including Cozy, instead of hiring a property manager, which can be expensive.
“System based management” also saves landlords time, something that’s important to the firefighters. Even though they have some down time at the station, every minute counts.
“The whole Cozy system—getting the automatic email saying the deposit is starting, then the deposit going right into your bank account—doesn’t involve driving to pick up checks and make physical deposits,” Zachary says. “That’s a huge advantage.”
Because of the intense pressures of their firefighting jobs, Jonathan, Zachary, and Michael deeply trust one another.
“We rely on each other just to make it home,” Jonathan says. “I know if something happens to me, they’ll be there. The seriousness of our commitment to each other is far greater than any deal on a house.”
That bond helps them celebrate each other’s real estate victories, he says. “We have a perpetual state of gratitude for what we’ve built.”