So, you want to invest in real estate, eh? Of course you do—that’s probably why you’re perusing this website. The problem is that real estate investing can be overwhelming. It can be hard to know where to begin, which is why I wanted to write out a list of actions that you can take right now to land your first deal in 2020.
Focus on Self-Education
Education is absolutely critical in everything you do. You take a driver’s education course before earning a driver’s license, attend baseball practice before playing your first game, and date somebody a long time before deciding to get married.
Why would you ever consider jumping into what may be the biggest purchase you’ll ever make without doing your homework?
“There is nothing like a good book” is a statement I would have scoffed at five years ago. I didn’t like to read at all until I realized how much I could learn by reading.
Here’s a short list of my real estate-related recommendations:
Blog posts are an excellent place to find answers for a specific niche or topic. Often somebody will write a few thousand words dedicated to one topic in the REI realm. These take just a few minutes to read and can provide an excellent breakdown of what you need to know.
Here are a few of my favorite beginner blog posts, depending on what you’re looking to do:
Reading through forums is a great way to learn from the experiences of others. BiggerPockets, for example, has a huge real estate investing forum. I guarantee that almost any question or scenario you could possibly run into has been asked on that forum before.
The amount of information and experience floating around forums like this is incredible. You can use these forums to find the answers to questions you have, solutions for problems you stumble upon, or simply to learn what other investors are doing in your area.
Forums are one of my favorite places to fill in any knowledge gaps I may have. Anytime you have a question, go see how it was answered on a big forum.
Obviously, you need to ensure the people answering questions on these forum posts have some level of credibility, but most of the time it is easy to spot the difference between a good answer and a bad answer.
Always consult Google!
This is the single greatest way to find answers—ask the search engine that has all of the answers. There are millions, billions, maybe even trillions of answers on Google. People have been producing content on blogs, podcasts, forums, published journals, and social media networks for years. If you look hard enough, you’ll find the answer to your question on Google.
When I was first starting out, I would write down any questions I thought of while reading a book. Then I would jump on Google at the end of the day and type those questions into the search bar. Lo and behold, I always found my answer.
Google is the most incredible tool for finding answers and solutions, but there is a secret to unlocking its power.
This seemingly under-utilized secret is that in order to find the answer you’re looking for on Google… you have to ask the question.
Yes, I know. It sounds simple, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t ever stop to see if they can find the answer to their questions online. Don’t give up so easily, do your research, and find your own answers!
If you happen to ask one of the extremely rare questions that Google doesn’t appear to have an answer to, be sure you post the answer somewhere online once you find it. That way the next person with your question can find the answer on Google.
See how that works?
Podcasts are an incredible way to learn a new skillset. At this point, you can find a podcast on just about any topic you desire.
I love to listen to podcast episodes while I’m working out. It’s a great way to maximize my time in the gym, and I love being able to squeeze a little extra education into my day.
One of the best things about podcasts, in my opinion, is that you can pick and choose which episodes you want to listen to based on what you want to learn. Nine times out of 10, the title of the episode will tell you exactly what the podcast is about, and you can surf between podcasts to find an episode on exactly the topic you want to learn about.
You also get to leverage other people’s experience by learning how they achieved their goals. A good podcast episode relays their story, struggles, successes, and what they would do differently so that you can sidestep these potholes and achieve success more quickly.
Obviously, since this article is focused on real estate investing, I am going to point out some of my favorite REI podcasts. Be sure you tune in to some of these on your next drive, workout, or jog, and comment down below to let me know which podcasts you’re listening to!
- The BiggerPockets Podcast
- The Best Ever Show
- Investor Mindset
- The Military Millionaire Podcast
- The Millennial Real Estate Investor
I love audiobooks! I listen to a book on Audible just about every time I get in my car. Every day on my commute, I listen to books, which means that I listen to around 40 minutes of a book each day.
When you add in drive-time related to running errands, going to networking events, and other time spent listening to Audible, it is no wonder that I’ve listened to over 150 books in the last four years!
Now, add in the physical copies of books that I still read, and that’s a lot of content I’ve been able to consume in recent years.
You owe it to yourself to give audiobooks a shot—they may just change your life.
Other Successful Investors
I shouldn’t need to elaborate too much on this, but listen to those who have paved the road before you. All the networking in the world isn’t going to help you if you “know it all” and don’t actually listen to the people who have already succeeded with the investment strategy you want to pursue.
Link up with experts in your field, and absorb everything you possibly can from them. You will never be disappointed by the amount of time you spend listening to the truly successful people around you, but you may find it disappointing if you spend that time talking instead.
I talk too much, so I’m going to reiterate this one more time, for myself, as well as for you if you need to hear it: Shut your mouth, and listen to the subject matter experts around you!
YouTube is an excellent tool for learning new information. It operates as a search engine because it is owned by Google, which means you can ask, “How do I do XYZ?” and YouTube will be able to find you an answer. A lot of times, I prefer to watch a short video, especially when I’m trying to learn how to do something, rather than read an article.
You would probably rather watch somebody replace an alternator than read about it. It is easier to understand how to set up a studio for recording by watching a video, rather than reading about the proper placement of key lights, fill lights, and audio interfaces.
The beauty of watching videos on YouTube is that it combines both auditory and visual learning methods, which makes YouTube one of the best ways to learn a new skill and gain information. You can follow many different YouTube channels and may find that the same information resonates more or less depending on the creator.
For example, my YouTube channel has some solid videos on the VA loan and other military-related topics, but BiggerPockets, Graham Stephan, and many other YouTube creators have top-notch videos on an array of other real estate investing information.
Online courses are a great way to learn a new skill, too. Much like YouTube, these courses appeal to both auditory and visual learning styles.
You need to be careful about how you choose to purchase online courses, however. Some people produce a course with the intent of helping as many people as possible, while others produce a course solely to make money. Obviously, both instructors would like to bring in revenue, but you need to watch out for coaches that are primarily motivated by profit.
A $97 course produced by one person may have just as much information as a $397 course—so be sure to do your due diligence on the instructor and curriculum before signing up for a class.
Other Successful Investors
Learning a new skill can be difficult and time-consuming, but you can take a shortcut on your path to success by learning from the successes and failures of those who began before you. This is the same concept as learning by reading books, watching videos, and taking online courses—except you are going straight to the source.
Learning from successful real estate investors is a great way to gain experience and real-world knowledge. One of the best ways to do this is to donate your time to help that investor. Work as free labor for them, help them find deals, or assist them in making valuable connections and expanding their network.
You may need to sacrifice your time or get creative in order to get close to other successful investors, but it will be worth it.
Now, asking, “Will you be my mentor?” in your introductory message to them will not wield the results you desire.
I know, because I get this question quite often, and my first thought is, “I don’t even know you, and you’re asking for my most valuable asset— time. What’s in it for me?”
This may sound harsh, but you need to realize that the people who you want to receive mentorship from are very busy. If they were to drop everything to mentor all of the people who asked, they would have never become successful in the first place because they would have had no time to work on their business.
It has been said many times before, but your network is extremely important. You will ultimately rise to the expectation of your network, or fall prey to it. Surround yourself with high achievers, and you will achieve more. Surround yourself with schmucks, and… well, you get the point.
One of the biggest networking mistakes I see people make is focusing on what they can get out of an interaction, instead of what the other person needs. If you focus on giving and adding value to other people’s lives, you will invoke the law of reciprocity. This law indicates that when you give a gift to somebody, they will naturally want to return the favor to you. As counterintuitive as it sounds, you will get more out of a relationship by giving value than by asking for things.
You need to focus on building relationships with people, and then mentorship will become a natural byproduct of the relationship.
Building your network is one of the best things you can do to enhance your real estate investing experience. Having a group of other investors act as a sounding board for your ideas will help you avoid making bad purchases. You will be able to learn from their successes, as well as their failures, and this advice will pay off for years to come.
You may also gain access to their network of professionals if they are investing in the same market you are. Can you think of a better referral than one another successful real estate investor gave to you?
Social media is a relatively recent development that has opened many doors for networking.
Thirty years ago you would have needed to see somebody in person or call their house phone and leave a voicemail in order to schedule a meeting. You could also have sent them a postcard or letter, but that would inevitably have further complicated the process of coordinating a get-together.
Twenty years ago, cellphones began to bring the world closer together.
Today, you can use FaceTime to video chat with someone halfway around the world. The amount of networking that can be done in Facebook groups, Instagram messaging, Zoom video group chats, and other social media platforms is incredible. There is virtually nothing stopping you from networking with other investors—no matter where you live.
Utilize this technology to build your network, and don’t be afraid to document what you’re doing on social media. We call this content marketing—instead of going out and networking with people, you can create content that attracts people to network with you.
Meetups and Events
You need to attend local real estate investor associations, meetups, and other events to surround yourself with as many successful investors as possible. These are great locations to network and learn from other investors—try to find people who are successful in the areas you want to be, and build relationships with them.
If you remember to focus on building relationships and adding value, rather than focusing on what the other person can do for you, your network will grow exponentially.
Also, if you can’t find any good meetups or Real Estate Investor Associations (REIA) in your area, start your own!
Build Your Team
Real estate investing is a team sport. You need to build a team full of rock stars if you intend to become a successful investor. After all, there is only so much you can do on your own.
Here are a few of the people you may want to engage with, and good ways to find them.
Deal finders are the people on your team that will help you source properties for purchase. The more deal finders you have in your network, the more deals you may stumble upon.
Real Estate Agents
Having a good real estate agent on your team is beneficial for finding and purchasing real estate investments off the multiple listing service (MLS). These aren’t always the best deals, but they may still be worth your time.
I like to find quality real estate agents through either Realtor or Yelp reviews online. It is definitely a bonus if these agents invest in real estate, but not a necessity.
A wholesaler is somebody who finds off-market properties, puts them under contract at well below market value, and then assigns that contract to another investor for a fee.
This makes them some of the best deal finders to have in your network—their entire job is finding good deals to bring to other investors like yourself.
A bird dog is anybody who can help you find deals. This could be a mail carrier, coworker, friend, etc. There are many ways to get these people to help you find deals, but they all boil down to networking and telling people what you’re looking to purchase.
The more people that know what you’re looking to buy, the more likely somebody is to bring you an awesome deal. You could give them a gift for this referral, or even bring them into the deal to learn something new.
Property managers are a hard nut to crack. There are a lot of mediocre property managers out there, so be sure you interview several before making a final determination on who to work with. Often, the best way to find property managers is through referrals—but definitely still interview them.
Don’t fall for shiny offices and professional looks—verify their track record and carefully read the terms of their agreements. Here are a few questions you need to ask.
- How long have you been in business?
- How many units do you manage and what type?
- What is your compensation structure?
- What services do you offer?
Ensure they are compensated on gross rents collected and do not receive income when the unit is vacant. That will incentivize them to fill vacancies quickly. Also, watch out for hidden fees—if they take the first month’s rent for getting a property filled, that is no different than the unit being vacant for a whole month.
You also want to understand how they are prepared to handle various repair issues that come up, as well as periodic maintenance checks. Maybe they can even help manage your bookkeeping. Understand how they will be able to benefit your business, as well as their limitations.
One of the most important pieces of the real estate puzzle is financing. Sorting out financing options ahead of time can expedite the loan application process when you get a property under contract. There are many different ways to secure financing, but to simplify things, I’m going to touch on just a few of them.
Traditional bank financing is an easy way to purchase properties, provided that you have 20 to 25 percent of the purchase price available for a down payment, a low debt-to-income ratio, and a decent credit score. You can find these loans by talking directly to lenders or by utilizing a mortgage broker to shop around for different lending options.
Pro tip: Download the application ICBA, a simple app that can help you immensely. The app has a single search bar in which you plug in your desired location, and it will give you a list of local community banks nearby.
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Referrals and networking are the best ways to find a solid bank or mortgage broker.
Other People’s Money
Other people’s money (OPM) is a great way to finance real estate transactions. You can form a debt partnership with them and purchase real estate while paying them back at an agreed-upon rate and schedule. Or you can form an equity partnership where you split the deal, equity, and cash flow.
The beauty of utilizing OPM is that there are no banks involved, no credit checks, and you can structure the deal in any way you desire.
The best way to find OPM is by building your network.
Hard Money Lender
Hard money lenders are most frequently utilized for fix and flips but can be used for other types of investments, as well.
Most hard money loans come with higher interest rates; however, they can be funded very quickly and are backed by the property itself, as opposed to a borrower’s credentials. Often, you can borrow money with only 10-15 percent down, and they will cover the renovation costs, too.
Networking and asking other fix-and-flip real estate investors for recommendations are the best ways to find some good hard money lenders.
A good contractor is like goldâhard to find and extremely valuable!
The best way to find a contractor is through referrals, but I can tell you from personal experience that it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. I once had a contractor referred to me by two successful house flippers, and unfortunately, his business expanded too quickly and imploded. I unintentionally became the Peter that got robbed to pay Paul.
The truth is that you need to stay on top of your contractors. You need to pay them after verifying the work was completed, scrutinize the materials being purchased, and keep them on schedule.
Once you find a good contractor, treat them well and hold onto them as long as possible.
A certified public accountant (CPA) or other tax professional is a great asset to your team. Having an aggressive, intelligent tax professional on my team has saved me tens of thousands of dollars over the last few years.
You want a talented CPA that can give you advice on how to pay less in taxes over the next few years through proper tax planning. A CPA that can help you aggressively hold more money back from taxes is a great investment, and the more quickly you reinvest that money, the better your financial picture becomes.
As with much of the above, referrals are a great way to find a talented CPA who specializes in real estate investments. Otherwise, you can search Yelp reviews, Google, or local REIAs to get some names to call. Then simply interview them and see who you get along with the best, who seems the most knowledgeable, and who will provide the most services to help you save more money on your taxes.
Then, reinvest the money you would’ve otherwise been paying to Uncle Sam.
Nothing you read above matters if you fail to take action. I’m not going to run around screaming at you to take massive action and to do so immediately. I am, however, going to show you some actionable steps you can take to move closer to pulling the trigger on an investment property.
Choose a Market
I could dig into the millions of different ways to analyze a market, but the bottom line is that you need to choose something you’re comfortable with.
Build Your Team
You read the section above about who needs to be on your team, and why—now go build those relationships!
Look for Deals
Multiple Listing Service (MLS)
I recommend you do some research and find a solid real estate agent. Have this agent set up an automatic MLS search to find property that meets your criteria. Once set up, this system will automatically email properties to you as they come on the market.
Admittedly, the MLS will not generally have the best deals, but it is easy to use and a great place to start. I have found some well-performing investment property this way.
Driving for Dollars
Driving for dollars is another tactic to find deals, and it can easily fit into your schedule. The easiest way to do this is to take different routes to and from work on your commute.
The goal of driving for dollars is to get to know a neighborhood. In this way, you can become familiar with which areas are growing and which may be in decline. You want to keep your eyes peeled for the ugliest houses in nice or growing neighborhoods.
Write down the address of any house that has some promise, and then you can send them a letter to mention your interest in the property.
Direct mail is the process of sending letters to property owners and asking if they are interested in selling. This is a great method to reach a lot of people with minimal effort. I purchase my lists from ListSource, because there is no limit to how specific of a list you create.
It takes more time, but handwriting these letters will produce a much better response rate—roughly 18.75 percent vs. 7 percent, in my experience. My rule of thumb is to write letters by hand if I’m targeting specific houses, but for larger mail-outs, I print to save time.
Whether you handwrite or print, always do three things to improve the response rate:
- Sign the letter—this will show you still handled all of the letters.
- Always write the “To” address on the envelope by hand. This will increase the number of letters that get opened.
- Insert a photo and/or business card into the envelope—this builds credibility and adds a personal touch.
Referrals are a great way to get your hands on the best real estate investments. The key to referrals is to ensure that you build your network. As you meet more investors, you will be introduced to wholesalers, flippers, buy-and-hold investors, agents, and a myriad of other people.
Putting your feelers out there for real estate and building a community full of people doing the same thing will have very positive effects. I have found that the real estate investment community is full of helpful people, and deals are always being offered back and forth within that community.
Talking About What You’re Looking For
Everybody needs to know that you’re in the real estate investing business. You want to be the first person that pops into their mind when they hear that somebody has a home to sell. Don’t be afraid to talk about your “hobby” of investing in real estate with everyone you cross paths with.
Have you ever seen one of those yellow signs around town that says: “We buy houses” or “Sell your house fast”?
These are called “bandit signs,” because a lot of cities have passed ordinances to ban them. I have not used bandit signs in the past, but I’ve known several investors who had luck with them. The key is to keep the message short and loud.
Facebook Ads/Google AdWords
The marketing and advertisement world has changed so much in the last decade. These changes have made it possible to write Facebook ads that directly target your specific city or zip code. Instead of a bandit sign, you can create a Facebook ad announcing, “We want to buy your house in Springfield, MO,” and blast it to every Facebook user in that area.
This might cost a little bit more, but it is an effective method to reach large numbers of people.
Google AdWords allows you to research which words and phrases people commonly search. As a result, you can write an advertisement that will show up using the keywords that best meet your needs. Google is used for a lot of online searches, and there aren’t many better ways to get in front of your niche than with keyword advertisements.
Buying your first real estate investment can be a little intimidating. You need to take small steps to get more and more pot-committed in order to propel you toward your goal.
This is one of the reasons being in a mastermind group is so powerful. The people in your group will challenge you to outline your most important next step and hold you accountable for carrying it out.
You need to analyze enough deals that you begin to understand what makes a good deal, what makes an OK deal, and what makes a bad deal. Once you understand this, you need to start writing offers.
The old adage is that no more than one or two out of every 10 offers you write will get accepted. If you’re getting more than this figure accepted, you are most likely offering too much money.
That being said, find some deals that make sense and write some offers. This will get you committed to taking the next steps and digging into the due diligence on a property.
Remember, writing an offer doesn’t mean you’re trapped in the deal. If you find something during the due diligence period that doesn’t add up, you can renegotiate or break the contract.
Think of this like asking friends to run a marathon with you in three months. The majority of them will say no, but if somebody says yes, you are now committed to training and making it happen. If you get injured or your friend bails, you won’t have to run the marathon. But if all goes well, you will achieve your goal.
The moment you have a property under contract, reach out to the lenders you built relationships with earlier and get the financing process started. In a perfect world, you should already be pre-approved for a loan. Regardless, pick up the phone, reach out to your lenders, and get the ball moving to get your financing lined up ASAP.
Also, ensure that your lender schedules the appraisal for the property in the very near future.
Get in touch with your real estate agent immediately and schedule a home inspection—the most important step in conducting your due diligence. You also need to validate utility reports for the last year, property tax data, trash expenses, leases, and any other services associated with the property.
Have your insurance agent give you quotes for homeowners insurance, and definitely don’t be afraid to shop around. I used USAA for years, but at the time, they didn’t insure commercial properties. Then, I got several quotes and finally settled on State Farm for my 10-unit building. I asked them to give me a quote for my other properties, too, out of curiosity, and it ended up being cheaper for me to move all of my real estate investments to the new insurance agent.
If possible, you should have your property manager walk through with the home inspector. This gives them insight to exactly what needs to be repaired, and the inspector may even give them some pointers for cheap fixes. This is also a good time for your property manager to get a copy of every lease or pass out estoppel agreements to validate rental terms for all tenants.
Whether your property manager walks through with the inspector or not, you will want them to review the leases for every current tenant.
Put an emphasis on slashing expenses the moment you take ownership of the property. If you can save $100 per month by switching to a dumpster instead of individual cans, that is a huge win. Cutting $100 per month from your expenses is money that you get to keep even if the unit is vacant. When you increase the rent by $100 per month, that’s great, but you don’t get any benefit to that when the unit is vacant.
You should improve your income and cut your expenses simultaneously after closing on the property. Just don’t fall into the trap of getting so wrapped around income that you forget to focus on your expenses.
You need to “upgrade hack” every possible repair. Upgrade hack is a phrase coined by David Greene in the book Long-Distance Real Estate Investing that explains a great trick for getting maximum value anytime you need to replace items in your units.
For example, if your furnace goes out and it is going to cost $1,800 to replace it, why not spend the extra $200-$300 for a high-efficiency model?
To upgrade hack this problem, you would buy a higher-end furnace instead of the lower-quality one most people buy. Let’s say it costs you $200 more to buy a high-efficiency, high-quality furnace installed. If that furnace only saves you $10 per month in gas on your utility bill, it is an annual savings of $120.
The high-efficiency furnace will pay for itself in 20 months, and most furnaces last at least 15-20 years! Assuming this furnace lasts 20 years, you would have saved $2,200 in expenses by upgrade hacking. The best part is that a high-quality furnace could easily last you five to 10 years longer than the more affordable ones, which saves you even more money over time.
By the way, on average, a high-efficiency furnace will save you 25-30 percent of the costs you would be paying on a lower-quality unit, which is way more than the conservative numbers above.
If you have time and knowledge but no money, find a partner with capital and work together. When you boil it all down, there are three things you need in order to be a successful real estate investor: time, knowledge, and money.
If you can form a partnership with somebody who complements the areas you’re lacking in, that will drastically improve your ability to scale and become a real estate investment powerhouse.
That being said, don’t just partner with anybody—you need to know and trust your partner. Ensure you are on the same page and agree to terms for making decisions and dissolving the partnership before making things official. That way, if things don’t go as planned, you’ve already made decisions about how to resolve issues before emotions get in the way.
Congratulations on achieving your first big success—now keep it up. Repeating these actions until you have mastered the real estate investing game is a trademark of successful people. Repetition helps you perfect a task, and you need to practice these skills continually to improve.
The book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000-hour rule. This rule states that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master in any task. I’m a big fan of this book and the examples the author uses to validate his point. If you take nothing else away from this book, you should note that the more you practice, the better you’ll get!
One Percent Better
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy explains how small steps toward improvement every day will compound into massive success. You don’t have to make drastic changes to your life—just focus on improving a little bit each day.
Most Important Next Step
The trick to supercharging your productivity is to identify the most important next step (MINS) to achieving your goal, and then do it. If your goal is to buy your first rental property, your MINS might be to find a real estate agent.
In order to find a real estate agent, you may determine that your MINS is to ask three successful real estate investors for referrals. Now that you’ve gotten those referrals, the next step may be to interview these agents and determine who the best fit is for you.
If you knock out your MINS first thing in the morning, no matter what happens that day, you will have moved the needle forward. This is how you supercharge your success.
Now that you have a little momentum, don’t stop. Keep that momentum building and continue to find deals, write offers, and purchase solid real estate investments. In a few years, you’ll look back at where you are and wonder, “How did I get here?”
That answer looks a little different for everybody. But it generally boils down to learning, networking, and taking action—repetitively and persistently.
Set Goals That Propel You Forward
An example I like to use is how I have gotten myself into triathlons and other crazy physical activities. I would ask a few people at work, “Do you want to run an Olympic-distance triathlon with me next month?” If they said no, then I may or may not have done it. But if they said yes, I was stuck!
After a friend agrees to train and compete with you, there is no backing out. The need to follow through and not let your friend down will drive you to complete the goal of finishing an Olympic-distance triathlon (or whatever your goal may be).
Find ways to motivate yourself to succeed so that on days where you “don’t feel like it,” you will have a more compelling reason to push through and continue making progress.
The Bottom Line
Look, you know what you need to do to land your first deal this year. You know how to find the way around any obstacles that come into your path. You even know where to find the answer to any question you don’t have the answer to (hint: Google).
Now, you need to decide that you will buy that first property this year, learn everything you can, network relentlessly, and take consistent, calculated action to achieve your goals. Don’t let yourself down!
What are your real estate investment goals this year?
Let us know in the comments below!