Paul Esajian, owner and CFO of FortuneBuilders, was just a bartender in New York City 11 years ago, struggling to pay his $1,000 rent month to month.
For about a year, Esajian worked and enjoyed life in The Big Apple. Soon, he realized bartending wasn't going to help him achieve his goals.
"[A friend and I] went to Barnes and Noble and got a bunch of books about real estate and read through them while working." Esajian said. "We started going to seminars and that's where we started, and where we continue to learn the business of creative real estate investing."
This creative real estate investing -- an unconventional method of buying and selling real estate -- has helped Esajian and four friends strike it rich, and in 2007 even landed them a two-yearlong featured spot on A&E's hit TV show Flip this House.
The five TV stars, and additional representatives, now run FortuneBuilders, a real estate investment education company based in California.
Esajian and his troupe are sending representatives to Bryan-College Station Thursday through Saturday to conduct 90-minute "Find and Flip" seminars designed to teach the average Joe how to flip houses -- purchase run-down, dilapidated or foreclosed homes, revamp them, and sell them for big profit.
Bill McGuire, president of the Better Business Bureau in College Station, advised locals to be wary of the seminars.
"They are just baiting the hook in the first 90 minutes," McGuire said. "If someone wants to stick around it's going to cost them money."
The "Find and Flip" preliminary sessions are offered as free introductory courses, Esajian said. Interested attendees can then pay a $197 fee for a three-day training seminar two weeks after the introductory session.
Esajian said seminars of this caliber for $197 is "unheard of."
"We focus on what we do well, and that's find a property and improve it so that we can improve jobs and cause economic stimulation in the area," Esajian said. "What we teach is residential redevelopment. Neither you nor me have the money to buy a house and then sell it. We teach how to find investors and borrow money. It's a formula with a series of information."
Esajian said seminar attendees are trained in marketing, wholesaling and rehabbing.
"Just because a home is for sale doesn't mean it will match our formula," Esajian said. "We teach and train on marketing strategies on these types of properties."
A cost for further investments in the program was not immediately clear. Esajian likened money spent on the real estate education to attending college.
"How can people do this with no money or credit? The same way people go to college to learn to get a job," Esajian said. "You have to identify and find leverage money because when you start, you don't have any. You have to find investors and treat them like a bank."
Esajian made clear that "riches aren't going to be dumped in your lap" after attending the seminars. He said it takes work, and each person will essentially decide how to make the education work for them.
"I wouldn't say it's not for everyone," Esajian said. "Who am I to say that if you have a goal you can't do this? If you want to do it, do it. If you don't, don't."
McGuire, a banker for 22 years prior to his post at the Better Business Bureau, said if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
"Most of the folks [who will attend the seminars] are regular people interested in making money, and that's what their focus is," McGuire said. "But these [FortuneBuilder representatives] are going to get into their back pockets."
McGuire said he has known people in the community who can be considered house flippers.
"Part of their livelihood is buying a house that has been run down, knowing they can go in and fix it. They do the labor themselves ... and sell for more than it was worth in the dilapidated condition ... But these people know what they are doing."
McGuire said that the Better Business Bureau does not want to see people get "injured" in learning how to flip houses from the FortuneBuilders.
"You have to know what you're doing and these people are going to show up and they don't," McGuire said. "They're looking for the people who were born yesterday."
• Seminars are Thursday at the Hilton Hotel and Conference Center at 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Friday at the Best Western at 1920 Austin's Colony in Bryan at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.; and Saturday at the Holiday Inn on Earl Rudder Freeway at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Interested persons are asked to register beforehand by calling 800-385-4358.
Esajian said he is available via email to answer questions at firstname.lastname@example.org