Small biz: Frustration spawns online community for real estate investors

Seven years ago, Joshua Dorkin was a real estate investor looking for advice on the properties he owned. He went to the library. He went to the bookstore. He searched online.

“I realized online was going to be the place where I would get the answers, because I had very specific questions,” Dorkin says. “Unfortunately with the sites I found, their focus was on upselling you. Essentially their goal was to sell me on some gurus and get me to buy their course or their boot camp.”

Out of that frustration emerged, a site where real estate investors could share concerns, pose questions and get answers. started as merely a discussion forum. Dorkin, a former Realtor with a background in building websites, then sought to add more features and model it after, the social networking king at the time. Today, boasts 85,000 members and attracts roughly 300,000 unique visitors a month. Dorkin describes the site as “a place where novices and experienced individuals alike can come together to learn, make deals, network and do business.”

I checked out the site and found topics ranging from a landlord asking whether he, or the tenant, should be responsible for replacing a faulty shower head; to a poster asking for advice about investing in properties out of state. The site also has 12-15 regularly contributing bloggers, property listings, investment-capital offerings (and requests) and other features.

Dorkin says one of the site’s most popular areas is a deal-analysis forum where prospective investors are able to share the financials and get feedback on a property they’re thinking of buying.

“Savvy investors understand there’s always going to be another ‘deal,’ but novice investors often have shiny-object syndrome and don’t necessarily realize that,” Dorkin says. “It’s a quick way to lose your shirt if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

BiggerPockets makes most of its money from advertising. Basic memberships are free, although there are paid memberships ranging from $5 per month to $15 per month that allow those members to pitch deals on properties, services or investment capital.

Dorkin, 36, says the site is profitable, helped by the fact that the only full-time employees are he and his wife, Julie, who keeps the books. He also has a part-time Web developer.

“Every penny I make above and beyond my salary we just plow it back into the business,” Dorkin says. “The business is growing. It’s doing very well.”

It also helps that while the real estate market in general has shown little sign of recovering anytime soon, investor activity has been strong. Data from Campbell Surveys and Inside Mortgage Finance indicated 34 percent of competed home sales in January were paid for with cash, far above the 10 percent in a typical market.

“The beauty of our site is this: If the market’s great, people have money, and they say, ‘Oh, let me go pick up some investment property,’” Dorkin says. “If the market’s terrible, unfortunately some people are going to lose their houses and go looking for help. They come to our site, too. So ultimately whether the market’s good or bad, BiggerPockets has a strong foothold in the space, and there’s a need for it.”

In late March, Dorkin sought to parlay BiggerPockets’ website community into a live gathering, as he hosted the BiggerPockets Real Estate Investing Summit & Expo at the Colorado Convention Center.

His motivation for the live gathering was the same as his reasoning for launching the website: “I’ve been told by far too many people who come to my site that they just spent some fortune on some boot camp or some real estate training course only to have it be an upsell for some other garbage,” Dorkin says.

“I want to prove it doesn’t have to be that way,” he says. To that end, Dorkin required all his speakers to sign “no-upsell” agreements. “They teach, they talk; they don’t have a table at the back of the room with something to sell. It’s been a challenge finding speakers who don’t think like that. A good chunk of them are folks who have been on BiggerPockets and understand my mission.”