In 2018, my wife and I bought four rental units in three months. That might sound daunting, but here’s the thing: I’m absolutely convinced that this is something anyone can do. Here’s how we did it.
Let’s rewind about 4.5 years.
It was 2015. I had just turned 23, I was single, and I was broke.
Like…super broke. I had thousands of dollars in student loan debt, and somewhere around $800 in my bank account.
I had roughly 6 months left until I finished up college, and had just accepted my first “big boy” job about 350 miles away from where I currently lived.
It was scary. I was terrified. But I accepted the offer because:
A) someone was willing to give me a $40,000+ salary without a degree
B) see point ‘A’.
No really. That was my only criteria.
I didn’t have money. Someone was offering money. I accepted said money.
And so I loaded up all of my stuff into a U-Haul and drove the 350 miles to Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Halfway into my drive, I already realized this was a poor decision. Stopping at the gas station, it cost $150 to fill up the moving van, as I was getting a whopping 8 mpg. The entire trip cost me $450, more than half of my available cash reserves (I wasn’t smart enough back then to know that relocation assistance was even a thing).
Regardless, I made it.
For the next two weeks, I couch-surfed on a buddy’s aunt’s pee-stained couch. It was something straight out of an inner-city New York apartment. It featured lumpy, uneven cushions, with metal springs sticking out and all. My back has never hated me so much.
Eventually, I found two roommates, and we moved into an apartment together, sans pee-stained couch. I was still so broke, that I had to borrow money from my parents to be able to pay the $700 application and deposit fee.
‘Almost’ smart enough
After about 6-months, I felt a little bit more financially stable.
I now had $2500 to my name, had paid back my parents for lending me apartment money, was really starting to get into a groove at work, and enjoyed living with my roommates.
One day, completely out of the blue, I decided “I’m going to buy a house.”
It wasn’t even, “I’m going to buy a rental property.” No, it was “I’m going to buy a house, because I’m an adult, and that’s what adults do.”
I guess back then, in my mind, “adult” meant at least 18 years old + “big boy” job.
So that’s what I did. I started house shopping.
I’m a fairly decisive person, and so I knew I wanted at least 3-4 bedrooms, a 2-car garage for sure, and a decent-sized yard.
Again, at this point, I wasn’t smart enough to realize that this property could be used as a rental. So I put absolutely no consideration into location — distance from schools, distance from shopping, malls, and restaurants, etc. I didn’t think about re-sale value. Nope. None of that.
Thinking back to it now, it makes me cringe. (Spoiler alert: it worked out okay.)
But I found a house I liked, that had a really good floor plan for hosting parties (my main criteria — remember, I was 23), a nice-sized yard (re: parties), was far away from town (re: parties), and was right in my price range (so I’d have enough money leftover for parties).
And so I pulled the trigger. I made an offer, we haggled on price a little, but we finally settled on $147,000.
I remember getting the call from the realtor and he said, “Congratulations! You’re about to own your first house!”
I was elated.
I had just bought a house!
My excitement was quickly diminished when the realtor continued to say, “Next, you’ll need to take $1000 earnest money down to the Title Company sometime this week. And then your down payment should be somewhere around $4,000 – $6,000 at closing.”
Stupidly, I remember myself saying, “Okay”, having no clue what he was talking about, and then hanging up.
Too embarrassed to flash my ignorance and ask what “earnest money” was, I had to Google it.
I had been so caught up in the process of buying the house, that I had entirely forgotten about how I was going to pay for said house. I honestly didn’t realize that I was going to have to bring $6,000 to the table, in order to be able to close.
I sold everything.
Anything and everything I could think of. While most people are buying new furniture and decor for their house, I was selling anything of value to pay for my down payment.
The big ticket item, at the time, was my beloved motorcycle.
I was 23, remember?
In the long run, it worked out to be a much better investment selling the depreciating asset to buy an appreciating one.
The lightbulb moment
I remember the lightbulb moment that occured about a week later, while eating dinner at my uncle’s house.
He asked, “So are your roommates going to move in with you and help pay your mortgage?” Why hadn’t I thought of that? My roommates knew that I had been looking for a house, but I hadn’t actually told them that I had bought something yet.
I had two perfectly-qualified renters already lined up for me!
Three short weeks later, I signed the papers, and became a homeowner.
Tasting the blood
Saving the master bedroom for myself, and living for free, I rented out two of the bedrooms for $350 each. Within a few more weeks, I found a third renter on Craigslist and had all the bedrooms filled.
With a house full of tenants, paying me a total of $1050 each month, it more than covered my mortgage of $830. In fact, it covered the entire mortgage, all the utilities, AND it paid for lunch.
The first of the month, as those rent checks rolled in, it was better than Christmas. And I continued to collect rent for the next two years.
Fast forward two years into the future, and my life looked a lot different: I was newly married, had grown up a decent amount, had learned a ton about real estate, and I was hungry for more. I had tasted the blood in the water, and knew that I wanted to continue what I had been doing, but on a larger scale.
It had come time to sell my home. My wife and I had decided to move into her home instead, and so we listed mine by owner. The picture below shows my wife and I, the day before it sold.
You may be asking, “Why did you sell it, rather than keep it as a rental?” Well, good question. At the time, we didn’t understand either. We both just felt that it was time to sell, and roll that money into something else.
Looking back now with hindsight, we can see that it was the perfect move.
You see, the day of the sale, I walked out of the Title Company with a check for $40,000. That was $40,000 given to us, using other people’s money.
Up until that point, that was the most amount of money I had ever held in my hand. I couldn’t sleep for three days, because I just kept looking at the numbers in my bank account, not believing it was actually real.
My brain was racing. I kept thinking to myself, “How can I do this again?”
So here’s the truth.
I got lucky.
I did nothing special. With my first home, anybody could’ve replicated what I did. I just happened to pick a home in a decent area, in an appreciating market, and rented out bedrooms. The model I used was by no means unique to me.
But I knew that if I wanted to do this as a real side-gig, and maybe full-time someday, I was going to need help or training of some sort.
Driving home from work one day a couple weeks later, I heard an ad on the radio about a Real Estate Seminar coming to town. It was free, and so my wife and I attended, along with her sister and brother-in-law.
Ultimately, it was a massive sales-pitch. The information they gave over the course of the three days was actually very beneficial. However, at the end of the seminar, they try to sell you HARD to purchase their $40,000 ‘Mastery’ mentoring program. They touted it as having all the “secrets” to Real Estate, everything that you needed to unlock your potential. Deep down, it just felt wrong to me.
My wife and I decided to skip the program, as it would’ve taken every last drop we had just earned. Rather than spending $40k on a mentoring program, that could be used as down payments on multiple properties. My wife’s sister and brother-in-law decided to purchase the program. (As of this writing, they still have yet to purchase any properties through the program.)
Feeling somewhat misled, my wife and I decided that networking other avenues would prove more beneficial. We happened across a local group of Real Estate Investors that meet up one evening per month. We started attending these meetings and gained loads of information. But most importantly, we caught the vision.
Being surrounded with other investors and entrepreneurs, we finally had the support that we needed to hit the ground running. I remember Lexie leaning over to me in the middle of one meeting, and whispered, “Let’s make it a goal to do one deal before the end of the year.”
The first deal
So we started looking.
We felt like we weren’t finding anything worth sinking money into. Until one day I came across a ‘For Sale’ listing in an obscure Facebook group. It was a home for sale about 35 miles away, in a smaller town. The home had been built in 1920, needed some work, but was priced really well.
But here’s the kicker:
There was a mobile home parked in the backyard of the house, included in the sale. The listing price was $104,000.
I called the listing agent immediately, and set up a showing as soon as possible. We were walking through the property less than 3 hours later.
During the walk-through, internally I was a giant ball of doubt and emotion. “Is this place livable? If we buy this, will we be able to renovate it? Are we really doing this? Will this place be rent-able when we’re done?” All of the fear and doubt that any one individual could possibly feel, I was feeling at that moment.
But I took a step back, ran the numbers through my head one more time, and told myself, “This place makes sense.”
So we made an offer.
10 days later, we had an inspector come out to take a look at the place. He found a lot of issues, but nothing that we felt we couldn’t handle. So we used the inspection report as an additional bargaining tool, and re-negotiated our offer.
We dropped the offer from $104,000, down to $93,300. And they accepted it.
Three weeks later, after spending every night and weekend fixing it up, we had it renovated and ready to rent.
The house rented for $850/month. The trailer in the backyard rented for $767/month. Our mortgage on the property is $623/month. Each and every month, we make a net cash flow of $994. This property was a slam dunk.
And here’s the best part of all: Because I had just sold my home a few months earlier, I technically didn’t own a primary residence any longer (my wife had purchased her home prior to us being married, and she was the only one on title). We used creative financing, took advantage of a first-time homeowner program, and purchased this rental as my “primary residence” with only 5% ($4,665) down. Annual ROI on this property, even after accounting 20% for vacancy and maintenance, is a staggering 204%.
Try beating that in the stock market!
The second deal
With deal #1 under our belt, and two units cash-flowing nicely, we were hooked.
We weren’t nervous anymore. We had the confidence that we had done it once, and could do it again.
Real Estate consumed my thoughts for the next few weeks. Every spare minute was spent looking for new deals, analyzing properties, and running the numbers.
Believe it or not, deal #2 was found on Zillow!
Asking price was $140,000. Because it had been sitting on the market for more than 30 days, and we weren’t bringing a realtor to the table, we were able to negotiate the price down to $133,000.
At first glance, numbers on this property did not make sense. The left unit was renting for $550/month, and the right unit had been sitting vacant for months. I’m sure this was the main factor that scared off other investors.
Diving further, we had found that the current tenant had never had her rent raised in the 4 years that she had been living there. And the right unit, currently sitting vacant, was significantly nicer than the home we had just remodeled for deal #1, currently renting at $850/month. Not to mention, this duplex featured covered parking, neither of which our other units had.
And so we moved on it.
Unfortunately, we had to evict the first tenant once we acquired it, as she quit paying rent.
But within 3 short weeks, we had rented both the left and right sides for a whopping combined income of $1650/month.
While not quite as profitable as deal #1, net annual ROI on this guy still hit 49.4%.
Looking for deal #3
6 months ago, we made a goal to acquire a single unit by the end of the year. We’re now the proud owners for 4 units instead.
While we absolutely felt, and still do feel, inadequate in our knowledge and experience, the best thing for us has been to jump in with both feet first and get on-the-job training instead. Rather than falling into analysis paralysis, and never actually pulling the trigger, we’re striving to do what nobody else around us is willing to do, in order to reach financial independence.
While deal #3 hasn’t been locked down just yet, we’re currently in negotiation on a nice 4-plex, located just a mile down the road from our other units. Fingers crossed that it’ll go through.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Real Estate is absolutely attainable with concentrated effort and drive. If I could go from an being an ignorant 23-year-old, practically stumbling into real estate, to where I’m at currently with a little dedication and devotion, you can too.
We’ve upped our goal significantly, and hope to acquire 8 more units this year.