Seminars: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Ask 10 people how they feel about seminars and you’re likely to get mixed reactions. For some, seminars provide a valuable tool for further education on topics not …

Ask 10 people how they feel about seminars and you’re likely to get mixed reactions. For some, seminars provide a valuable tool for further education on topics not effectively covered by traditional educational institutions. For others, seminars are a black hole into which they throw their money in the hopes that they will learn the magic secret to wealth and happiness.

Real estate and investment education top the list of controversial seminar programs, and it’s no small industry. More than $2 billion is spent annually on real estate education and seminars, according to Real Estate Investors.tv. Many aspiring investors pay upwards of $5,000 to $20,000 for weekend or week-long “bootcamps” to figure out how they can tap into “real estate riches” and access “other people’s money.”

Full of buzzwords and empty promises, many of these seminars draw large crowds. Yet in the realm of real estate education, seminars are one of the only places where investors can get some hands-on training in real estate investing. The key to being a savvy investor is being able to filter through the good, the bad and the ugly of real estate seminars—before you spend your money.

The good

There are plenty of great seminars out there. Often these are put on by investment clubs, local professionals, title companies or universities. A good seminar will probably cost $200 to $500 per day and involve a knowledgeable expert in a specific field.

Good seminars focus on current topics and specific and applicable skill building. Seminars that provide hands-on learning are typically the best. Most of the information in seminars can be found somewhere in print. However, some people find more value in a live presentation than in reading a book. Just be aware of what that live presentation is really worth.

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Some of the best and most qualified speakers in the world make $100,000 to $250,000 for a speaking engagement. With an audience of as little as 1,000 people, that amounts to $100 to $250 per person to cover speaking costs.

The bad

Bad seminars almost always involve the regurgitation of basic information and the prospect of big dollars. Investors can pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for material that would be better found in a book or on the Internet. Investors shouldn’t overpay to hear a lot of speaking about the investment lifestyle when what they need is to learn the right fundamentals.

Although the information may be sound, these bad seminars are able to make money by providing an emotional boost for investors. Do yourself a favor: Save your money. If you are going to become a successful investor, sooner or later you’ll realize that motivation stems from action, not emotion. If you wait around until you feel motivated to hit the gym, you’ll never get there. If you head to the gym diligently, you’ll see some results. Results are what drive sustainable motivation.

The ugly

Does anyone else see the irony in charging $15,000 for a seminar on no-money-down techniques?

There is a group of seminar speakers and promoters that have discovered selling what they call “education” to the masses is infinitely more profitable than actually investing themselves. If you don’t believe me, check out John Reed’s guru ratings. You may be surprised what Reed has uncovered in his investigative reporting on some familiar names in the seminar business.

Recently, Money magazine published an article about a real estate seminar company. I was particularly interested in the personal consumption habits of the company’s owner. The article talked about his 22,000 square foot home and his Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley and company jet. That sent up red flags for me. Why? Because someone who would spend more than $100,000 on three cars, when they can only drive one, clearly does not have the mentality of an investor.

What is clear to me is that most aspiring investors don’t really want to be investors. They want to be spenders. Thus they are attracted to seminars promoted by flashing expensive cars and homes that promise fantastic returns with little effort. So let me say this loud and clear: Great returns with little to no effort are not sustainable. It can work for short periods of time when markets are really hot. However, I am a firm believer in the saying that “a fool and his money are soon parted.” In essence, people who make their money through luck typically find a way to give it back. That’s why it’s not uncommon to hear about lottery winners who win millions and then lose everything.

In my opinion, 99 percent of the people willing to pay $15,000 for a week-long seminar are going to make lousy investors. They’d be better off using that money to actually purchase a property. The education they will get from doing one transaction should far surpass what they’ll retain from any seminar.

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