4 Women With 4 Very Different Lives Reveal How They Made Money In Real Estate
From a novice house flipper to an investor with nearly 15 years of experience.
There’s a good reason why millions of folks tune in every week to watch Fixer Upper, Flip or Flop, Rehab Addict, and This Old House. Whether they’re interested in house flipping, renovations, or programs that focus on real estate agents, Americans clearly have an obsession with the housing industry and the careers that revolve around it. But it’s not just the television shows that captivate us. Real estate is the most favored investment among Americans, according to GALLUP News. In fact, 34 percent of people say it’s the best long-term investment out there.
To better understand how people are making money in the housing market (and debunk some major television misconceptions along the way), we chatted with four women who have made impressive sums through all sorts of real-estate projects. Whether it’s a side hustle or their full-blown career, here’s how real people—not television stars—are doing it.
Nichole Stohler, 44, Entrepreneur
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona
Occupation: Entrepreneur, Multi-Family Home and Hotel Investor
Number of properties: 1 hotel and 3 houses
Years in real estate: 8
Money made so far: “We quadrupled our initial investment in 2012 within four years.”
What attracted you to real estate? We were two years into being married; we really had no money, so I was spending a lot of time reading personal finance books and through that process, I came across Rich Dad Poor Dad. I signed us up right away to go to a real-estate seminar to learn about investing, and we jumped right in.
How did you get started? We found out that the university in our town owned several properties, but didn’t want to manage them, so we got them all on seller financing. We didn’t have to take out loans, but we did have to come up with down payments, and we used credit card advances to do that. We didn’t really know what we were doing. The reality is that the seminar gets you hyped up, but they’re not about practical management and what really goes into it. There were so many pieces we didn’t understand.
We were not successful at it. We ended up having to give the properties back, we lost money during that time, and we had debt from the credit card advances. I was waking up at night, not being able to sleep, wondering how were we going to climb ourselves out of this hole. Our solution was to sell our house, and move in with my parents.
We didn’t invest again for a long time. Then in 2011, I got the bug again and thought we could do a better job. We’ve been successful the second time around, but we’ve never forgotten what we went through in the beginning.
“I was waking up at night, not being able to sleep, wondering how were we going to climb out of this hole.”
Is it important to have a partner? I don’t think it’s necessary, but it helps to share the workload.
The most rewarding part: Helping people. My husband is really proud of one of our property managers. He made some mistakes earlier in life, and served time in jail for nonviolent crimes, so no one would give him a chance. My husband saw he was a hard worker and someone with leadership skills, so he helped him learn the ropes. And when we sold that property, my husband highly recommended that same gentleman to the new owners, they took him on, increased his salary, and now he’s managing three properties.
How much money you need to get started: Are you going to live in the property, or do you already have your own primary residence and you’re going to buy it solely as an investment property? That’s a really important decision because if you’re going to live in the property, you can get a FHA (federal housing administration) loan, VA (veteran affairs) loan, or a loan with very little money down. If fact, a VA is zero money down.
It depends on the market, but right now you need around 25 percent of the purchase price down. For most of the country right now, you could figure around $200,000 for a house, and you’ll need 25 percent of that. You’ll also need some reserves.
Best tip for beginners: Real estate is well, well worth it, but it’s not perfect, so get your expectations at the right level. Plan for a slow build—maybe one property a year.
Also, ask for help. Most other investors will help you—go to a community group or a Meetup. And BiggerPockets.com is hands down one of the most valuable free resources for anyone looking to invest in real estate.
Keisha Blair, Landlord
Location: Ottawa, Canada
Number of properties: 3 (2 in Canada and 1 in New York)
Years in real estate: 10
Money made so far: It’s afforded me the type of financial freedom where I know if I needed to take time off I could. After my husband died, I took a one year unpaid sabbatical and real estate was behind that. And one of the reasons I can afford to put my three kids in private school is because of real estate.
How did you get started? I got started a decade ago when I realized employer pensions just weren’t providing what they could be. We started investing in real estate to make up for that gap. At the time I wasn’t really into the idea of stocks. I was more interested in tangible investments that I could see. Real estate was one of those tangible assets I could drive by every day and look at. We started small with just one condo that was in our area that wouldn’t be hard to get rented because it was in an area that was close to schools, parks, bus stops, and several amenities.
Is it important to have a partner? I started out investing in real estate when my husband was alive. We did it together. [After he died] I decided to keep [the properties] and go it alone. I kept all my investments and it’s the best thing I ever did. I would encourage single women or even those widowed to consider real estate as an investment. It can be done alone.
“When life suddenly takes a turn, you’re like, thank god I have these investments. Women should think about diversifying their investments. It’s always good to be prepared.”
The most challenging part: After my husband passed away, it was really challenging. He would do most of the work in terms of the property and maintaining it. He was also a CPA, so he would do the accounting come tax time. I ended up hiring a property manager. It was more expensive, but more convenient.
The other thing I find challenging are vacancies. Let’s say you have a vacancy for six months, you have to carry the property for that long without getting any income. And with vacancies comes turnover and having to get the property ready again for new tenants. Turnover is costly.
The most rewarding part: The flexibility to take time off, to take care of young kids, or to pursue other interests or careers. I didn’t even go into it thinking about these things, but then my husband died when I was just 31. When your life suddenly takes a turn, then you’re like, thank god I have these investments because these will help me take care of the kids. Women should think about diversifying their investments. You never know and it’s always good to be prepared.
How much money you need to get started: You need to have sufficient funds and a financial cushion. There are various ways to do it—leveraging, refinancing, HELOC (home equity line of credit). But whatever it is, don’t leverage yourself too much.
It’s hard to pinpoint a figure, but you need to have enough for the down payment and maintenance. For maintenance, I set aside a small amount like $150 per month. Just enough so that if something happens, if there’s an emergency, I can finance it.
You should also budget for three to six months with no tenant. In most cases, you end up with a property without tenants and you can’t advertise for tenants until after the closing date, so that sets you back maybe four months—worst case, six months. You may find out they’re not ideal and you have to turn them down because you think it might not work out. I’ve had to forgo the income just to be able to find the right tenant.
Best tip for beginners: My best advice is to look into areas where property prices are not only increasing, but will also be attractive to renters—around universities, near businesses, in the downtown corridor. Even though it tends to be a bit more expensive, it definitely works out because the risk for vacancy and turnover is lower. And I never invest in a property I wouldn’t live in.
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