Running A High-Octane Offense for Success in Real Estate with Tone Robinson – Ep 276

The Fastest Way To Build A Six Or Even… Seven Figure Real Estate EMPIRE! 

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There’s a saying in sports that the best offense is a great defense. But can the same be said in real estate? Even if you’re a passive investor, you need to be looking for a combination of off-market, distressed, and on-market opportunities. You need a team that can help you make the deal happen. You need crews that can get the properties market-ready, and you need managers who can help deliver consistent returns.

For this conversation, I’m thrilled to welcome my good friend Tone Robinson. Tone is a wealth builder, investor, speaker and author. We’ve known each other for 25 years, and we played college football together long before either of us entered the world of real estate.

In addition to owning his own portfolio, he provides an array of services to people who want to be passive investors in the Cleveland area. In his book, The Offensive Playbook: 9 Rules for Guaranteed Real Estate Success, he empowers the reader to go beyond the surface and build a great team to help implement a winning investing strategy.

In this episode, Tone walks us through how he helps investors, the rules you need to follow to have success in real estate, and why education is much more important than trying to predict any market.

Key Takeaways with Tone Robinson

  • How Tone works with people who want to become passive investors in the Midwest.
  • Why it’s so important to know what you bring to the marketplace as an investor and understand the trends in that market before you dive in.
  • How Tone finds, secures, and manages contractors to reduce risk where possible.
  • Why Tone got interested in real estate from a young age–and why his reasons probably apply to you, too.
  • What makes the Midwest so great for entering into real estate right now–and what you can do to get your boots on the ground.

Tone Robinson Tweetables

“Everybody's predicting whether the market's going to go up or go down and what's going on in real estate. The most important thing is just educating yourself about the market that you're looking to get into and what you want to do.” - Tone Robinson


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Josh Cantwell: So, hey, Tone, listen, man, so excited to have you on Accelerated Investor. Fellow Yellow Jacket, man, it’s so good to have you on. We’ve been trying to get you scheduled up for a while. So, thanks for jumping on.


Tone Robinson: Man, I appreciate the opportunity. Looking forward to get catching up with you. Absolutely.


Josh Cantwell: Yeah, man. As you guys heard in the intro, me and Tone have been friends for going on 25 years now. We played college football together. He played running back. I was blocking for him. I played tight end. Sometimes, it was a little bit of a play-action. They’d fake the ball to Tone and throw it to the port tight ends once in a while.


Tone Robinson: It was a passing offense.


Josh Cantwell: Yeah, that’s right. And we’re going to talk a little bit about playing offense in real estate today. So, Tone, why don’t we just start, man? Like, tell the audience about what you’re up to? What are some projects that you’re working on, some deals that you’re working on? What are you working on in today’s market that you’re excited about?


Tone Robinson: Man, I appreciate you asking. It’s a good time to be in real estate. The market’s very much booming. Most investors are doing well. And so, I’m really, really excited about helping my clients grow their portfolio. One of the things we’ve been working on the last few years is helping our clients grow their portfolio here in Northeast Ohio using our multifamily strategy. And so, a lot of our clients are buy and hold investors. And so, we work different strategies for different investors. So, we’re really excited about that.


We recently just had a bus tour. We brought in some outside investors from outside of Ohio to see some of the different properties in different areas of the city, east and west, and kind of gave investors a firsthand view of what the market is like and what you can acquire properties for and what kind of return is possible and things of that nature. So, the bus tour went really, really well. We’ve got great reviews. And so, we were happy about that.


Josh Cantwell: Got it. So, Tone, help the audience understand a little bit more about how you’re helping investors. You guys not only own your own portfolio, but you guys also do management, kind of a fleet of services. So, if somebody did want to invest in Cleveland, maybe they live in California or they live somewhere else and they wanted to actually hire you, give our audience the presentation or the quick pitch about what are all the services and things you guys do for clients who want to be passive investors.


Tone Robinson: Oh, man, that’s a great question. That’s really a layup, I appreciate.


Josh Cantwell: I just handed you the ball to offensive line, made a hole so you could drive a truck through it, man. All you got to do is run.


Tone Robinson: My man, I appreciate that. Yeah, so that’s really a typical client for us. Most of our clients want to be passive investors. They don’t want to deal with the day-to-day and hands-on approach to real estate. So, those clients really look to us in our fleet of services for what we’re doing as far as helping clients from A to Z, from acquisition to acquire some off-market and distressed properties along with some on-market opportunities. Most investors know that the returns are a little better off-market, sure, right? And so, we are actively looking for those opportunities with our field crews. And so, we’re helping clients on the acquisition side. Once we get them acquired, we’ve got a few crews that are doing renovations and getting the properties market-ready.


And so, once they’re market-ready, we’ll turn them over to our management team and start to manage the property and just get that long-term cap that they’re looking for, that long-term return. So, we’ve got a pretty good team that we’ve put together over the years. It took some time to get there as anybody in real estate knows, but it’s been a great journey, and we’re happy about where things are going.


Josh Cantwell: Fantastic. Love it, guys. You can check out, T-O-N-E Robinson dotcom. There you can find everything that Tone does, from speaking to his books to his property management to his suite of services. We’ve got a lot of people that listen to this podcast from all over the country. Many of you know, maybe you’ve heard the recent podcast I did with Daren Blomquist, my friend Daren, who’s the VP of Market Economics at We talked on that podcast about why the Midwest is so profitable for both flip investors and for rental investors. And so, if you see that from Daren and you’re like, wow, the Midwest is a great market, I want to get it in the Midwest, but maybe you live somewhere else, then Tone is maybe a bridge to help you get into this market and make some investments there.


Tone, you’ve been in the game a long time, just like I have. You’ve created a niche for yourself. You’ve been super successful. Your strategy is not only your own rentals but also managing for other investors. Why don’t you talk a little bit about your book, The Offensive Playbook: 9 Rules for Guaranteed Real Estate Success? Again, my audience can download that book for free at But there’s a few of these that are kind of your favorites, a few of your best practices, if you will, the guarantees, the things that you have to do to do it right.


Tone Robinson: Absolutely.


Josh Cantwell: Maybe the top three or four, what are some things that you feel with your experience that investors, the rules they need to follow to have this guaranteed success in real estate?


Tone Robinson: That’s important to ask, and I appreciate you asking. So really, the number one rule is self-assessment. As an investor, as a beginner, or as an experienced investor, you have to know what you bring to the marketplace. And so, really understanding the market that you want to get into, whether it’s a different city or a different market than where you currently live, you can certainly do that, but it’s important to do some homework on those market areas and see what’s going on in those marketplaces. What are the trends in the market? Everybody knows as we learned in school, real estate follows the macroeconomic environment.


Josh Cantwell: That’s right.


Tone Robinson: Who do you hear in your head right now?


Josh Cantwell: Packard. Snell. Come on, man, yeah.


Tone Robinson: Absolutely, yeah. So, real estate follows the market, and so, it’s important to kind of understand the trends and where things are going and what you as an investor bring to the marketplace. You asked earlier about what are some folks who are looking for passive investment? How can they look at the Midwest and be successful? It’s really important to have that bridge, which is that boots-on-the-ground person that can give you those assessments off-market that will bring some great returns to your portfolio.


And so, just number one, I would say, understanding the marketplace and yourself and what you bring to the environment as an investor. As a West Coast investor, the market is different West Coast as far as pricing. It’s eight, ten times what it is typically in the Midwest or Cleveland. And so, bringing those West Coast dollars to Cleveland, you can buy 10 properties for what you can buy, one for in California. So, the Midwest is really important for that. Markets like Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis are really important.


Number two, one of the other rules that I find is kind of really understanding the market, the market valuations, where your returns are going to come from, and how to manage that process. Property management is really where you can lose your shirt, managing the contractors and that sort of thing as anybody in real estate knows. So, kind of understanding the market and where things are going, where those trends are going, and then finally have an exit strategy. It’s not a good investment unless you have multiple ways to get out of the investment, right?


Josh Cantwell: Totally play action, man. We can hand it off to the running back like you throw it to a guy like me in the middle who wasn’t that fast, but sometimes I was open, or you could throw it deep to Papishak or one of the wideouts.


Tone Robinson: That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time Papishak.


Josh Cantwell: Yeah. Me and Tone dropping some names, some guys that we play ball with. It’s been a while, but we’ve stayed in touch, it’s been good. Tone, so exit strategy being buy and hold for two to five years and sell, keep long term and refi. What do your investors most commonly do? I know you guys are doing the property management stuff, so they’re trying to keep these for long-term cash flow, right?


Tone Robinson: Sure, absolutely. So, most of our clients are what you would call in today’s world were investors. So, they’re buying, renovating them, and kind of following that strategy for long-term growth, like you mentioned. Most of our investors are using the BRRRR strategy, where they’re looking to have long-term gains for two to ten years to kind of realign some of those returns over time. It’s kind of tough to get over 10% in the market nowadays unless you’re doing some alternative strategies. And so, they’ve consistently done a little better than 12% or so, in my opinion. And so, that’s been attractive for most investors who are looking for some of those returns to kind of hedge the inflation.


Josh Cantwell: That’s right. That’s great, Tone. My assessment in real estate has always been that the number one risk is contractor risk. Yeah, right, you laugh at me. Well, there’s so many people are like, well, what about the risk of inflation? What about the risk of interest rates going up? I’m like, what about getting your shirt totally ripped off your back by a contractor? We’ve lost money on some deals. It’s always been because of a bad contractor, such an important. So, any thoughts or comments that you have on finding, securing, and managing contractors because that to me is meant– right now with our apartment complex, just take our Cleveland portfolio, we’ve got a $6.5 million CapEx budget right now. We do a great job with contractors, we’ve got a great VP of construction. It’s the only place that could give me heartburn. I’m not really worried about inflation or interest rates as much as I’m worried about taking contractors. So, how do you manage them? How do you look for them? How do you help your clients manage that risk?


Tone Robinson: Man, listen, I’ll tell you that that really is the magic pill to the business. There is no magic pill. It’s a daily grind. So, what we’ve been able to do over the years is we’ve been able to have a steady stream of contractors and handyman that we’ve been able to rely on to kind of do some of the smaller maintenance items. And then when it comes to the largest scale projects, just really having a project manager that can oversee the project. And that’s been the biggest thing for us is kind of overseeing that person in that process to make sure we have good people that are boots on the ground.


For us, for our multifamilies, we’ve got great plumbers and electricians and folks that are boots on the ground that we can call. And sometimes, if we’re a little late, they’ll hang out at the house for us. That’s really all about relationships. And so, just having those relationships built over time certainly matters in this business. Everything in real estate is about relationships. So, just being able to have those over time kind of has helped us be successful as far as managing the portfolio that we have personally and some of our clients.


Josh Cantwell: Got it. Yeah, I love it. And I would just add, look, if you could eliminate half of the risk with a contractor, meaning buy the materials yourself, so giving a piece of advice to our audience.


Tone Robinson: Of course. Man, for minimum expectation.


Josh Cantwell: You buy the material, like get a list from the contractor of what they need. You might not know everything about plumbing, so if you need some sort of diverter valve and you’re not sure what the heck that is, just get a list of everything that they need, go buy it. The materials are on site. You’re going to get the best price. There’s not going to be any markup.


Tone Robinson: Absolutely, correct.


Josh Cantwell:  And let you just simply provide the labor only, right?


Tone Robinson: That’s correct. That’s been a strategy we follow for a long time.


Josh Cantwell: Yeah, I love it. I love it. Tone, let’s back up for a minute. You’ve had a lot of success building your portfolio, you’ve coached and mentored people, you’re doing bus tours, you have clients from all over the country and all over the world investing in Cleveland. But this didn’t all start yesterday, you started somewhere. And often, the start is not super smooth. My start was certainly not smooth. And I’ve had a couple of hiccups along the way. So, tell our audience a little bit more about your start, now you got going.


Tone Robinson: Well, it’s an interesting story, man. I mean, you certainly can relate to– my journey is I kind of got an interest in real estate in college, being in a marketing class with Pierre David, a professor at that time.


Josh Cantwell: Pierre David, I haven’t heard that name in 27 years, yeah. Wow.


Tone Robinson: He’s the chair of the department now.


Josh Cantwell: Really?


Tone Robinson: Yeah.


Josh Cantwell: When you think about marketing, I don’t know if he knew a lot about marketing back then. Hopefully…


Tone Robinson: Well, I mostly took his classes for finance, but he used to just tell these crazy stories about contractors that were on his property, working on his house for two or three days and couldn’t figure it out. And he’s like, “Well, sh*t, I got a Master’s degree. How come I can’t figure out this plumbing issue? This guy’s been under my sink for three days.” So, he would just always tell these interesting stories about real estate, and he was teaching a lot of finance classes, like I mentioned. Just kind of an interesting question I asked at one time of, if you’re teaching all this, why aren’t you doing it? And he said, “Well, I have real estate to supplement my salary as a professor because I want to be involved with my daughters and my kids growing up.” And so, for me, that kind of started my pique and my interest in real estate. And I wanted to find a way to pay back Sallie Mae once I graduated.


Josh Cantwell: Right. Student loans, I had a couple of those.


Tone Robinson: Absolutely. So, I bought my first rental property the week I graduated undergrad.


Josh Cantwell: Did you really?


Tone Robinson: I did. I bought a three-unit. That was my first…


Josh Cantwell: Wow.


Tone Robinson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I was house hacking before it was…


Josh Cantwell: You got started right away. You’re like a week I’m going to graduate. I’m going to graduate, get my diploma, walk away from football, and buy a house.


Tone Robinson: Absolutely. And so, I’d already been working at the bank for a time while I was in college the whole time, working at MBNA, which turned into Bank of America. And I had different roles at that time, but just learning about credit, learning about banking procedures and basics and things of that nature kind of gave me some of those real-world basics that you don’t always get in college. And so, once I started taking some of those independent study classes with Pierre David about real estate, it really kind of piqued my interest. And so, once I bought that first three-unit, that was a way to pay back some of my student loans and still keep my job at the bank, which I was now full-time at, so I end up staying in banking for 15 years. And I always had rental property on the side. And when I started a family, I always, hey, I need to get more property, more property.


Josh Cantwell: I love it.


Tone Robinson: Yeah, man. So, that was kind of my journey. And so, after I wanted to make a transition and really get out of banking and kind to do my own thing, I started managing property. That’s kind of what I knew best was real estate and finance. And so, I start managing my own property and start managing property for others. And it was a slow grind at first, kind of doing some of those nitty-gritty maintenance items that nobody wants to do, but we kind of built our team over time and built our portfolio. So, we’ve been in management full time for 12 years.


Josh Cantwell: I love it, I love it. Tone, now that you’ve had success, I’ll put these two questions together. What kind of advice would you give our audience? We’ve got an audience of multifamily investors. We’ve got some single-family residential investors, intermediate to advanced that are looking to get into multifamily. Based on your experience, your journey, what you actually saw on the field, what kind of advice would you give them, maybe? Or what advice would you give your young kids about real estate? What advice would you pass along to your younger former self that you think, hey, I would have done more of this or less of that? And then I also want to know your favorite memory from playing football at BW. So, let’s start with the advice, and then tell me about your favorite memory.


Tone Robinson: Okay, got it. So, a wise man is one of those things we kind of as we’re coaching others, we’re also learning, right? And so, that kind of gives me the opportunity to reflect and look back on my journey a little bit as I’m also helping other people. And so, as far as advice, the best thing I can say is be creative. The market has its ups and downs like we’ve mentioned and just being creative and kind of understanding the market and where things are going, where the trends are going, but stick to your strategy, stick to your particular strategy that works for you and your family. That’s the most important thing. You can obviously do a ton of things in real estate from wholesaling to multifamily to apartments to everything, single-family, but you have to stick with what works for you and your family. And so, that’s most important. Following the trends, educating yourself about the market, but also doing what works for you and your family. And then, also, most importantly, have an exit strategy.


Josh Cantwell: I love it.


Tone Robinson: Yeah, just kind of following those simple rules that I kind of learned over time has been helpful for me and my clients, and we’ve kind of followed the playbook. You don’t reinvent the wheel. So, we’re just following the playbook. And so, that was the reason for the title of the book, of course, my love of football. So, you asked about my favorite memory from BW. On the field or off the field?


Josh Cantwell: Let’s start with on, but since you brought up off, I’m curious to see where that goes, considering something happened off the field. Let’s talk about on the field first.


Tone Robinson: Okay. On the field, so I have two, the first is, as you know, we play it on a hard as* AstroTurf back in the day. It wasn’t the Sports Turf that they have today.


Josh Cantwell: Oh my God, that turf, like, I mean, I still have scars on my elbows, on my knees.


Tone Robinson: So, that’s where I was going with it. That’s exactly what I was going with this. So, one of my memories was seeing other guys get these turf burns, that they have their skin ripped off. So, I always wondered why, guys– and then they would be out for a week because then they get an infection and all of that, right? And so, I’ve never wanted to get a turf burn, so I always wear long sleeves and high socks. I didn’t get into my sophomore year, but I got one turf burn, and from then on, I was done. No more turf burns to me. I covered up head to toe.


Josh Cantwell: Nice. And you’re so fast and still have the shakes. I love it.


Tone Robinson: The shakes, everybody knows me for having the shakes. So, my best on-field in-game moment was, I guess, against John Carroll getting about 20 carries and having a good game, and we beat John Carroll.


Josh Cantwell: Oh, yeah, I remember that game. I was blocking my butt off for you, man. I probably blocked 90% of the time that game.


Tone Robinson: Man, listen, of your memories, really one of the things you missed, and I did get an opportunity to play a little semi-pro after college, so I got a little bit of that camaraderie, but what you missed most from not playing the game is just the camaraderie with all of the fellas, being on the bus rides, the pizza night before the games.


Josh Cantwell: Yeah, right. We watched Fantasia one night. Remember Friday night, Packard…


Tone Robinson: Always Friday night.


Josh Cantwell: Put on Disney Fantasia for the team meeting and we’re not eating pizza and watching…


Tone Robinson: Always pizza.


Josh Cantwell: To get ready to play a game the next day.


Tone Robinson: Always pizza. Why was it always pizza?


Josh Cantwell: I know. There was nothing else we could eat besides pizza. It was always just the same.


Tone Robinson: Always Friday night, high school game.


Josh Cantwell: Once in a while, it was Disney movies. I didn’t get it. What was he thinking?


Tone Robinson: No idea, man. But we always had a pretty good team, so I guess it worked, right?


Josh Cantwell: Right. Yeah, we always did pretty good. That’s right, we did. We always had a pretty good team. That’s fantastic stuff. Tone, listen, man, it’s absolutely fantastic to catch up with you. My audience, listen, there’s so much you can learn from Tone. Go to, T-O-N-E Robinson dotcom.


Tone Robinson: That’s a branding name.


Josh Cantwell: You’re going to love it. Tone, any other kind of parting shots, words of advice that you like to give our audience before we wrap up today?


Tone Robinson: Real estate, like any industry, has its ups and downs. It’s one of those industries, like we mentioned, that follows kind of the macro environment. And so, everybody’s predicting whether the market’s going to go up or go down and what’s going on in real estate. The most important thing is just educating yourself about the market that you’re looking to get into and what you want to do. I used real estate as a tool for more generational wealth for my family. So, yeah, that was the title of my next book, The Power of Generational Wealth. And we use real estate as a tool like money, as a tool to build generational wealth for my family and for other families and the clients that we work with.


And so, the Midwest is providing great returns for our clients, and it’s been a great market for some time and for folks that are looking to get into real estate. Whether you’re anywhere in the marketplace, the Midwest is a great start because of the low barriers to entry. It’s got great pricing to get in and use them for under $100,000 or more or less, as you know. And so, whether it’s multifamily, single-family, obviously, apartments in commercial are a little larger, but those opportunities exist in the Midwest. And if you’re looking for a bridge to get your boots on the ground, certainly look us up, DTS Property Management, and for our clients who are looking for private client services, So, I appreciate the opportunity.


Josh Cantwell: Oh, jackets, look at us, man, 25 years later, still hanging out and talking. Man, Tone, it’s been great having you on today on Accelerated Investor. Man, thanks for being here.


Tone Robinson: I appreciate the time. Thank you. Check you soon.

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