It was far from instant success when then University of Iowa senior Nathan Drew began a career in real estate in 2008. But lessons he learned after buying three lots east of his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, paid for itself in experience.
“I lost money doing it, but I got a lot of real estate knowledge going through the building process,” Drew said. “Had I not done that, I think it would have been difficult for me to even get started in real estate.”
Drew owns Drew Realty where (in his words) it is rocking and rolling in Des Moines and moving forward in Omaha and Kansas City.
His journey took off at the University of Iowa, after his father emailed an article about the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory (BELL), a comprehensive business incubator on Clinton Street in Iowa City. Drew was attending the University of Kansas at the time and already envisioned a career in real estate. The article from his father — his family lineage was packed with attorneys, not real estate agents — raved about the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and the BELL. Drew was especially interested in having a student office on campus.
“I thought that was so cool that I ended up transferring to Iowa so I could get into the entrepreneurship program, apply for a student office, and try to work on a business plan for real estate while I was an undergrad,” Drew said.
For him, the most beneficial part of being involved with Iowa JPEC was meeting regularly with Lynn Allendorf, director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. Drew won money here and there at pitch competitions, but he credits Allendorf for keeping him moving forward and getting his company started.
“I learned the actual formation of a business plan,” Drew said. “People have ideas of starting companies, but actually sitting down and doing it, the University of Iowa and the JPEC program have that figured out.”
Drew returned to Des Moines after graduating from Iowa with a BBA in marketing with a certificate in entrepreneurship in 2008. In 2016, he earned an MBA from Iowa in business administration.
Drew altered his focus in real estate, even though there was nothing wrong with his original business plan as a senior in college that consisted of building houses for active seniors looking to downsize in small-town Iowa. The timing, however, was terrible. The beginning of the construction phase of his first two houses coincided with the beginning of an economic recession. Few people were purchasing homes and banks refused to loan money for new construction or land development.
Instead of letting the houses sit while he paid interest to the bank, Drew turned them into rental properties. And he transitioned from builder to buyer.
“All this land has gone back to the banks and all the developers have gone broke, somebody needs to sell the lots and land because the banks can’t keep it on their books in perpetuity,” Drew said. “That’s when, as a 24-year-old, I started brokering bank-owned lots and land.”
Drew is 36 now and he spends most days with his new-found virtual pal, Google Earth, and its satellite imagery of the entire globe. He pays close attention to sewer maps as he scouts for more real estate.
“You have to have sewer for most suburban-style development,” Drew said. “I track all the future development land around the Des Moines Metro and I also track all the developed lots so I’m able to put reports together with developers and equity partners.”
Drew is the lone employee of Drew Realty and his only physical office is in Des Moines. His focus target range for brokering land is in areas where he is sure to be home for dinner.
Drew and his wife, Staci, have four daughters, all 5-years and younger: Veda, Poppy, Scout, and Bodhi.
Need proof that things have come full circle for Drew? On April 22 he will speak to a class of undergraduate entrepreneurs at the University of Iowa. The site of the presentation — the BELL — still holds a special place in his heart.