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Tackling real estate: a career-ending NFL injury opened Than Merrill's eyes to new opportunities.

Starting a second career is never easy. But when you're transitioning between two very different industries, like professional football and real estate, you may face challenges you never expected. For this reason, former NFL safety Than Merrill has grounded his journey to real estate success in continual education.



In the brief span of time since leaving the NFL, Merrill has become a real estate guru, building one of the premier real estate investing companies in the nation. He also co-founded a real estate education company, helping people build wealth as a sought-after speaker and coach. Now, he's masterminding projects with his crew on the television show, Flip This House.

Merrill's success in real estate came about only after what many considered a career-ending tragedy. Yet the same drive and vision that allow him to speak of major obstacles as potential positives have helped him become a dynamic innovator in the real estate world. Not even a faltering housing market intimidates him.

Transformation out of Setback

Upon graduating from Yale, Merrill's NFL career began in 2001 with the Chicago Bears and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After a promising start, a knee injury took him out of the game in 2003 and forced him to reconsider his future--a future that wouldn't involve football. It took him nine months to convalesce, but in that time, he chose a positive attitude and made a life-changing decision.

"I said to myself that I was going to prepare myself for life after football. I realized you're only given a certain number of times when you can focus for, literally, nine months on a career, and 1 knew I had better take advantage of it," he says.

He liked the idea of working in real estate because of its profit potential and the opportunity to work with people. In addition, the marketing aspects of the business gave vent to his creative side.

He began reading everything he could on investing and real estate. It didn't take long for him to see the money to be made flipping houses in New Haven, Conn., and took to the business with gusto.

Today, the company he began, CT Homes, is a multimillion-dollar business that has sold more than 350 properties in three years in urban and suburban neighborhoods through redeveloping multi-family properties, single-family homes and apartments.

Don't Fear the Market

Remarkably, his business still thrives in spite of a grim market for numerous reasons, No, I being market and investment savvy.

"We've always invested against the trends," he says. "If you're a follower of the way other people invest, you're too late."

The same holds true in a market that has spiraled down so quickly that it has taken the attitudes of many with it. Merrill has an upbeat outlook, expecting things to get better in a couple of years. In a cyclical economy, he says, successful investors know that the troughs are when you buy.

"Right now, we're buying a large number of bank properties in bulk and taking advantage of what's happening in the market. We're always focused on buying our properties the right way--distressed properties that have equities--so the day we close on them, we can sell them for a lot more. You have to know how to find those deals. Most people don't know how to find them and they rely on a realtor. We go after the property before."


Increase Your Knowledge, Increase Your Success

Hearing Merrill's wisdom and business acumen, you might think he has years of training at the best schools. However, he credits his most influential lesson to something he learned in football: Improve yourself and learn something new every day. He has since dedicated himself to rigorous self-education.

He has a quirky ritual of sorts that he uses to further this goal: his "power hour."

"I get a cup of coffee, turn the phone off, get up early and have a focused hour where I have no phone calls or e-mails and, literally, just learn, look at a new opportunity or new ways to drive traffic online, and just sit there and try to come up with an overall plan for education," he says.

Once a month, he looks at his weaknesses and creates projects around those, finds the biggest obstacles, and figures out how his team can clean them up. Then, he moves on to the next project.

Flip This House

Merrill's television show, Hip This House, allows viewers to watch each step as he works on a renovation project. Anyone who has seen the show knows the suspense, as it appears the investors in each massively complex project cannot possibly turn an eyesore into a lovely property in time and with a profit. Yet, in almost every single episode, Merrill's resourceful and creative team pulls through, and the property sells for far more than the original price.

The television crew found Merrill when executives wanted a company that had flipped more than 50 properties. After filming him for one day, they made him an offer to do a show.

He says the show is an accurate depiction of what he and his crew do on a regular basis. "There's nothing scripted," he says. "They turn the cameras on and we talk, and they make the show flow, so it's pretty realistic."

New Investors

Watching Flip This House is similar to watching a virtuoso violinist perform--Merrill's team makes something complicated look fun and easy. It has inspired many people to get into the business of flipping houses. Merrill encourages anyone wanting to get into real estate to realize that they are going to have to do the hard work of seeking out their own investments in the early stages.

He spends much of his time on new investments, deciding which ones to make (though they come to him more often now) and advising new investors to take special care to choose the wisest ventures.

'The best thing you can do is time block, so set aside time each week for new opportunities. I usually spend one to two hours a day looking at new opportunities," he says.

Second, don't be afraid to take risks, even when you feel surrounded by skeptics. However, he cautions, naivete can cause problems as well, so it is best to use a critical eye while "exercising your risk muscle."

He jokingly refers to his first big venture, a failed restaurant, as his "MBA" because he learned so much from it.

"I know 100 percent that if 1 hadn't been involved in that failure, I wouldn't be successful today," he says. "It was my biggest failure but also my biggest success."

Knowing Whom You Can Trust

Merrill also says he wouldn't be where he is today if not for the strength of his relationships. He started CT Homes with his childhood friend, Paul Esajian, a construction expert and master of the creative side of their renovations. Surrounding himself with family, friends and people he has worked with athletically has heavily affected the company's success.

"The No. 1 most important thing has been finding likeminded individuals," he says.

His natural penchant for interacting with people in a positive way is one of the things that drew him to the people-oriented business of real estate.

Keeping Creative

Merrill jokes about his tendency toward attention deficit disorder, as though it were merely a mixed blessing he has made work for him in business. He thinks many successful entrepreneurs have it or aspects of it, but the difference is that they learn to channel their focus when their rapid-fire brains are processing many new ideas at once.

He uses a program called Mindjet, brainstorming software that allows him to take all of his ideas and pour them out, then organize them in a logical flow. He can look at each business or income stream and break it down into specific areas and projects.


"My head is continually thinking of new things. At times, things go unfinished or I start too many projects, but that's also the reason we've been so successful--I've learned to cope with that and use it as a positive and not as a negative."

With his productive mind always on to the next thing, Merrill wants to continue investing his time in people and running his business smarter. "So many realtors work harder and focus on their business all day and all night, trying to make an extra buck, instead of stepping back and looking at how to change [their business] to be more successful," he says.


Than Merrill's Success Strategies

* Never stop learning. Merrill has a daily ritual he calls his power hour. "I get a cup of coffee, turn the phone off, get up early and have a focused hour where I have no phone calls or e-mails and, literally, just learn. ..."

* Don't be afraid to take a risk on something you believe in. Do your homework first, but don't hesitate to go against the trends if you feel strongly about a financial decision. "We've always invested against the trends," Merrill says. "If you're a follower of the way other people invest, you're too late."

* Be open to new methods of achieving success. Merrill spends one or two hours every day looking at new investment opportunities.

* Think of failures as opportunities. After an injury ended his NFL career, Merrill used the nine months of recovery time to research a new career. "I know 100 percent that if I hadn't been involved in that failure, I wouldn't be successful today," Merrill says. "It was my biggest failure, but also my biggest success."
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Author:Fon, Holly La
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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