Mark Choey

Meet Mark, the founder, and CEO of Highnote, a presentation and proposal platform designed specifically for service providers. With a background as a top-producing salesperson, team and brokerage leader, computer engineer, and product designer, Mark has a unique insight into what it takes to create great software for service providers who don’t have time to design.


Investing 101: Real Estate Expert Matthew Ma on Creating Passive Income & Generational Wealth

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Having just one job is pretty exhausting for most people, but Matthew Ma isn’t most people. As a business owner, eXp broker associate, podcaster, and investor who invests in more than 3,600 units (and counting), he seems to have endless energy when it comes to real estate. We’re delighted he found time to sit down with us for a chat!

Hi, Matthew! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. Can you start off by telling me a little bit about yourself, and how you got into real estate?

Sure. I came from a tech background, I’m a tech guy first. I started in the tech industry when I was 18 years old and I did that for 15 years while simultaneously doing real estate (which I started at age 24). 

“I help educate my clients on using their investments to grow equity and passive income.”

I also bought my first home in San Francisco at 24 years old. I initially became an investor in San Francisco because I saw real estate as a way to grow generational wealth and build passive income. I was actively learning how to build equity, how to add value, and how to turn those investments into something. During that time, I was also helping other buyers and sellers invest in multi-unit apartments.

I got my real estate license in 2007 and I started focusing on real estate sales. I even became a lender at one point because I wanted a better experience for my clients, especially investors, as I noticed a lot of lenders were just doing loans; the client was just a number.

I was ultimately able to create a better client experience while helping my clients buy, sell, and complete 1031 Exchanges. I also did their loans so they could make smart investment choices and build up their multi-units and investments. I helped educate them on how they could use those investments to grow equity and passive income.

You really hit the ground running with real estate at an early age! Then you became a broker, right?

Yes. I became a broker in 2014 and then I opened Avant Real Estate Group in Burlingame, CA. We grew that to 14 agents and did over $200 million in sales volume.

Then I started asking myself how I could go from local to global. I had a desire to make people’s real estate experiences better through the use of technology. How could I utilize my skill sets in tech, real estate, and investing in order to create a global company while helping agents create multiple streams of income and learn how to build generational wealth through multiple paths in real estate?

“I wanted to make people’s real estate experiences better by using technology.”

One of the things I did was move my brokerage to eXp Realty so that I could create a global team and utilize tech while building sales teams. I could help educate people using marketing, sales, and tech to grow their business, whether that business was real estate or real estate investing.

We’ve seen recently, especially since COVID, that people are now able to work from home and hire globally. I always worked from home in the tech space, so I was very much used to that idea. I thought, why can’t real estate be like that? So that’s what I created. Once I had that global mindset, it all became a lot more fun and less liability, and it was a bigger challenge to do something on a bigger scale. So that’s how I stayed passionate in real estate. My passion essentially became helping agents and investors grow their portfolios.

“My passion became helping agents and investors grow their portfolios.”

There are so many different ways to invest in real estate. How do you advise your clients so they can choose the route that’s best for them?

I let them know that there are generally two routes they can go. They can go the old-fashioned route and buy a house to rent out, receiving income every month from tenants. Or they can go the syndication route. I own a syndication company (Avant Asset Management) and we have over 550 units out of state. We’re actively looking to buy another 500 or 1,000 more this year. The thing that is appealing to many people when they go this route is that you’re a limited partner. We help by doing everything, we give you quarterly returns. A lot of people want to take that more passive option because time is of value, and a lot of people don’t have time anymore. They don’t want to deal with all the risks and unknowns so they work with me, a trusted operator, who guides them across different spaces.

Can you dig a little deeper about what real estate syndication is?

Sure. Basically instead of an investor buying a single family home on their own, maybe the syndication company buys a five unit or a 10 unit property, or even a 250+ unit property. That investor can get family and friends to pool their money together as an investment and they can get a commercial loan on top of that. So instead of investing in a $500,000 property alone, they’ve all invested in a $40 million property. That’s something they couldn’t buy alone.
Then the limited partners (shareholders) work with an asset management company (syndicator aka operator) that works with property managers, contractors, and CPAs to analyze all the data and hopefully make really good decisions regarding the property, for instance ways to add value over time. For example, they might decide to remodel 50% of the units and increase rents by $100 to $300 per door. In addition, they take in tax strategies from CPAs like cost segregation using accelerated depreciation. Syndication is still a big unknown for a lot of people, and many are wary because they don’t quite understand who the operators are or how they’re doing it all. But when they start to see the results, they understand that it can be a really great option for investors.

Do you use HighNote to communicate with the investors you work with from across the globe?

Yes! We use HighNote for buyer presentations, listing presentations, real estate syndication presentations, eXp presentations, and onboarding. We use HighNote to present everything they need to know in a nice, easy format that the recipient can follow. We basically say “in order to do anything you want in any category, here are the steps you need to take.” We try to design our HighNote presentations so they’re very easy to follow. And utilizing the analytics behind HighNote makes it easier to understand where we are in the process. For example, is the recipient engaging with what they just clicked on? What’s working? What’s not? What can we change so that it’s improved? What can we track over time? That’s one of the things I really like about it.

“We use HighNote for buyer presentations, listing presentations, real estate syndication presentations, eXp presentations, and onboarding.”

I talk to my agents about HighNote and I have them utilize it so they can create really good presentations. But on the opposite end, it’s a nice experience for my clients. If they see it, they don’t have to ask me every single question because I already thought about what they need and put it into the presentation. They just need to go through it. 

With onboarding, if there’s 20 items I need to share, I’m not going to email the recipient 20 times or message them 20 times. If they have the HighNote presentation divided into different segments where everything is broken down step-by-step, they can follow along at their own pace. 

All of this works great for me because I’m not having to spend my time manually telling them every single part of the presentation. 

At the end of the day, HighNote helps me deliver my presentations in a better platform and it delivers them through a better user experience. It helps me provide that value to my clients and my investors while getting my message across. It helps me get more listings and more investors.

Can you elaborate a little more on how you use the HighNote analytics?

I’m trying to constantly improve my presentations. I can see what’s working and what people are looking at by looking at the analytics.

“HighNote’s analytics let me know what’s working and what people are looking at.”

My main focus is obviously selling real estate, but part of that is really understanding how I’m designing my business to create better experiences. Whatever content and videos I can include that make it easy for the recipient to understand the subject matter is great for me. And if I can get them to send it over to their friends, that’s even better!

You also host a real estate podcast. Tell me about that!

I have a podcast called The Truth About Real Estate, which I created about one and a half years ago. The point of the podcast was to really dive in deeply and share the real truth about all aspects of real estate.
I hear a lot of things that are superficial and spoken at a high level, like someone saying they sold a $100 million property but never saying how they did it. So I share all the steps of how to do it, what works, what doesn’t work. I always let my guests know that the audience is really about diving deep so they can get a good understanding of real estate and investing. So if you listen to the podcast, you actually hear me asking a lot of hard questions. The reason I do that is so the audience can get a good understanding of what they’re doing and all the pain points the guest has gone through. They didn’t just wake up and do everything perfectly; they ran into a lot of issues, because we all do! So we like to talk about how to break through those barriers and the challenges that the guest can give insight to.

It’s really been a lot of fun creating it because I get to talk to real estate experts (residential and commercial), lawyers, flippers, lenders, and developers. I get to speak to people from all over the world; not just people in the US and Canada, but also in places like Vietnam and Australia. It’s really great to hear about everyone’s experiences. And it’s all about real estate. A lot of people enjoy being guests on the podcast because they say it forces them to answer questions they’ve never even thought about expressing before.

As we all know, the market has been pretty crazy the past couple of years. What has your advice been to investors during this time?

I’m a conservative type of investor and I look at things differently. I don’t just look at my market. I look at it from a global standpoint of investment strategy and sometimes advise my clients that it might not be the best time to buy in certain areas. Some of those reasons might be the price, rent control policies, or estimated rental amounts.

“There’s still a lot of investment opportunity, but you have to understand the markets and sub-markets, and how to utilize them.”

That being said, there is still a lot of opportunity – even in the San Francisco market. But you have to understand the markets and sub-markets, and how to utilize them. For example, someone might not get a good CAP rate but they decide to buy anyway because the property is in a good location and they’re hoping to buy into a future equity position. But the risk might be that they’re stuck with rent control, or with certain policies that aren’t great for investors. It’s tougher when you’re in a very tenant-friendly city and state, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create value and upside. It just means you have to really understand how to do it. 

Other investors might decide to go out-of-state, where they can get better benefits on the property – cheaper cost per door, higher cap rates, less risk per unit, better cash flow. But they also need to ask themselves what the forecasted income growth is for the community, how landlord-friendly the city and state are, how tax-friendly the state is, what tech companies might be moving there. They need to consider the likelihood of natural disasters happening, and research what the rents have been for the last five years. 

“Investors should learn to pass on properties that might not work for them. Don’t take the risk unless you can afford the risk.”

And even though interest rates have been going up a lot doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to buy or a bad time to sell. It means work harder to find a better opportunity if the numbers don’t work for you. Learn to pass on properties that might not work for you. Don’t take the risk unless you can afford the risk. 

It’s all a personal choice, but my job is to help drive that by showcasing what the opportunities are. 

Thank you so much for your time, Matthew! It’s so interesting to hear about the many ways that you’re involved in real estate and investing, and how HighNote is helping you succeed in so many different areas!

Are you looking to earn passive income and build generational wealth? Or are you just looking for a great new podcast? All of that (and more) can be found on Matthew’s website!

…And if you’re a real estate agent looking to take your business to the next level, click here to get started with HighNote!