Name: Joel Rubiera
Company: Edge Real Estate
Hometown: Chelsea, MA
Dream Job as a Kid: Running Back for the Dallas Cowboys
I know your career has been a winding road. How’d it begin?
I was born in Boston, raised in Chelsea. My parents got divorced before I started Middle School. My paternal grandma would come to visit from the Dominican Republic, spending lots of time with us, and we grew very close. During their divorce my parents decided to relocate my younger brother and I with my grandmother to the Dominican Republic. I lived there for 8 years, completed middle school and high school, worked with my uncles in their businesses, but eventually I ended up applying for college enrolling in UMass Boston and moving back to the States.
In the Dominican Republic, on my mothers side, my uncles were successful entrepreneurs who owned their businesses — a motel, cable company, restaurants, gas stations, super markets. I would find myself comparing them with my family back in the States who were hard at work in the 9 to 5 world. It became clear to me that the lives my uncles lived was the life I wanted to strive for; owning my own time, obtaining financial freedom, and in the process building something that was my own.
Why real estate, though?
I’ve always liked the tangible aspect of real estate. Being able to touch, feel and look at a physical property. When I was working with my uncles abroad, I remember feeling a sense of pride at the fact that I was walking into our family business. At the time, I knew I wanted to own my own business, I just had no idea what exactly that would be, but I knew that real estate would have to be involved in some way. Whether it was leasing or owning, I would need real estate to house the business. That same realization is what brought me to the conclusion that real estate itself was the business.
So were you torn a bit between going back to the Dominican or staying in the United States?
100%. Moving to the Dominican Republic was a rough transition, but it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. I was very hesitant about moving back to the States because I was comfortable and enjoying myself. In the DR, the path I saw was to follow my uncles into their family business, work hard, and hope to be able to come into my own one day. The States, on the other hand, represented me putting a stake in the ground for my own independence, and an American college degree represented more possibilities. Here I was as an 18 year old having to make a decision that would impact the rest of my life, and I bet on myself, took the leap of faith, and headed back to the States.
How did you begin in Real estate?
I got my real estate license at 20 while I was in college. My uncle's girlfriend at the time was a broker/owner of a real estate agency in Chelsea and I began to work for her.
How did you get your first property on your own?
When I graduated college, I found out about an opportunity that would allow me to fast track qualifying for a purchase. If I obtained an offer letter for a job within my field, the bank would use that letter to meet the two year income requirement. My major was finance and economics, so I took a job opportunity that presented itself with Citizens Bank and was able to purchase my first three-family residential building.
So that job at the bank lets you buy your first property at a young age.
Yes, I became a landlord at 23. I was scared shitless, but it worked out.
That first transaction, that first taste of the business, must’ve been all you needed to keep going.
Yeah. I bought the property and repaired it with the help of my uncle who was a handy man. I rented it out and eventually started cash flowing. It felt good to have that extra cash at the end of every month, and on top of that the property value increased a significant amount the first year.
And you’re still at the bank at this point? What happened next?
Yeah… The business relationships at the bank helped my real estate agency pipeline. After several years I wanted a change. A colleague left the bank and was happy working at LogMeIn, a software company. She got me an interview, and I landed the job. This company had a great work environment, I mean they had beer-cart Fridays for god’s sake! They were growing fast. I was getting promoted every couple months and making good money which I would use to buy more real estate.
After a couple years at LogMeIn, I was ready to get back into real estate, but I got a great job offer for good money at another company. I figured if it worked out I could use the extra money to advance my goals towards real estate independence, if not I could go back to LogMeIn or get another job until I was ready to branch out into real estate on my own. I was at the company for a difficult 8 months before I got let go.
Towards the end, I was really struggling with the prospect of staying in the corporate life any longer. I remember one visual that struck me to my core… I was in the office pulling an all-nighter, the sun was coming up. This is by Haymarket, Canal Street, right by the TD Garden. I see one person come out of the train station, then a couple more, then a couple turns into a hoard of people. It felt like a zombie movie! The rush of people going into work. I was like...man! Talk about the rat race. Everyone rushing to work, earpieces in, heads down, backpacks on. It just gave me such a picture of the whole thing. That was it for me, I was done! No matter what happened, I was going to put my focus into getting back full-time in real estate, and shortly after I was let go. It was a sign from the universe.
Did you make the switch to real estate at that point?
Yes, I was in my late 20s, recently moved in with my girlfriend (now wife). I owned 2 properties, sold one and bought another under her name, so we were up to six units. I started reading more real estate books, going to networking events and seminars, looking to better understand the investment side of things. I channeled all of my energy into investing in myself and figuring out how to make real estate work full-time. I was like, “there’s no f*cking way I’m not going to make this work.”
How did you go about getting into deals?
Door knocking, online resources, reaching out to my existing real estate network. One of my first deals was a wholesale from door knocking, today I’m still friends with the investor who bought that deal from me. I made like ten grand on that deal, and I was like oh wow, it worked! At another door knocking I met an owner who was literally about to lose his house to the bank. I made a deal with him on the spot and was able to save him from foreclosure. That was my first flip project. There were many sleepless nights. It was very stressful.
And is this when Edge Real Estate was born?
Yeah. I was 29 at the time, I’m 35 now. I remember I was in the middle of wedding planning and had just walked away from my sales job to pursue real estate full-time.
Do you consider that team you put together to be your biggest advantage?
Yes, It definitely is. I started as a one man show wearing all the hats... over the years I have been lucky enough to find like-minded people to bring on to my team. The team now includes 2 engineers, an architect, interior designer, a book-keeper, accountant, an attorney/trusted advisor, videographer/marketing, and operations manager.
How do you find and keep good contractors?
Through referrals.. And I keep them by a mix of things, like paying them on time, and being open and direct with communication and timelines, so everyone is clear on expectations. Many times a bad contractor will say they can take on a job when they already have a full workload, in the end nobody wins that way. When I come across someone that is honest and says, “No, I can’t take that on right now,” that’s a good sign…I’ll be keeping them in mind for future work.
And you’ve been able to gradually peel away some of those “hats” you talked about earlier, right?
Yeah, I initially started as an Agent/Broker, then I added rentals, wholesaling, flipping, and now new construction. At one point I was doing it all at the same time. Until I realized it was unsustainable and I had to choose what I wanted to focus on and delegate the rest. I first started by delegating existing clients to other brokers and eventually my own listings, so I could focus on finding and overseeing my deals. Eventually the deals, the contractors, the day-to-day volume also became overwhelming and that’s when the project management team came in and the rest followed.
What do you want to do more of?
Continue to improve my team and systems to tackle bigger deals. I also love traveling and having new experiences.
Design-wise, how do you get inspiration in this space?
Travel for sure. Anything that catches my eye. Hotels and restaurants, seeing different textiles, color elements, and designs. I take mental notes. And now I have the interior designer who is key.
How do you find the capacity to spin up these new projects, though, when there’s already so much on your plate?
More than ever, I’m a believer in partnerships. Say Andrew [O’Kane, O’Kane Marketing co- owner] for example has a cool idea for an Airbnb. I find the land, he manages it, that sort of thing. I like putting deals together, building it and collaborating with other people who share the same vision.
If you had to pick a neighborhood on the outskirts of Boston that you think will pop by 2032, what would it be?
COVID screwed it up, but Lowell has a cool scene, big college campus, nice downtown… Lynn is under the radar. Lynn reminds me of Somerville and South Boston back in the day; it has beautiful graffiti art everywhere and a vibrant scene. Amazing restaurants. Water views . There's been longtime rumors that there would be a T-line extension connecting to Lynn. I would say Salem is hipster and historical but Salem is really hard to get in and out of. New Bedford has beautiful Brownstone buildings, great Creole/Portuguese food. Plus, it has a ferry port that takes you to Martha's vineyard! The commuter rail is currently being extended to New Bedford.
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