In the previous two installments of the three on three interview series the focus was on a specific investment strategy or type of business (spec-building & flipping & rehabbing distressed property), but this one will focus on a group of people, successful women in real estate. Real estate investing is often regarded as a male dominated business, but more and more often women are making it to the top of their respective markets. I was lucky enough to find three experienced ladies willing to share their insights:
Sharon Vornholt – Sharon has been investing in real estate since 1998. She owned and operated a successful home inspection company for 17 years. In January of 2008 she took the leap of closing her business to become a full-time real estate investor.
McKellar Newsom – In 2007, McKellar Newsom recognized the investment potential of the collapsing real estate market and started acquiring foreclosures in targeted cities. In 2009, she moved to Tennessee to be closer to her key investment cities of Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis. Newsom also holds property in Bozeman, Montana, Akron, Ohio and Columbus, Ohio. Since 2007, she has completed over 50 real estate deals and currently holds 27 rental homes.
Karen M – Karen is part of a family owned, real estate development company based in Orange County, CA. She started out in real estate as an Executive Assistant in the early 80’s, when interest rates were at 21.5%. Ignoring the advice of “experienced” agents saying it was a bad time to get into real estate, she got her license and became one of the top producers in the office that year.
Finding Success as a Woman in Real Estate
1. How and when did you first get involved in real estate investing and what has been your favorite investment strategy?
Sharon: I have been a real estate investor since 1998. I owned and operated a successful home inspection business for 17 years, and it was during that time I began investing in real estate. In 2008 I closed my home inspection company and became a full-time real estate investor. I got hooked on investing after a Realtor friend took me to my first local REIA meeting. Over the years I have done some rehabbing, owned some rentals and now I am a full-time wholesaler as well as a blogger and internet marketer.
McKellar: In 2006, I was a stay-at-home mom, raising my daughters and thinking that life was pretty well set. My husband, Chris, worked in a family mortgage business and planned to purchase the company. One day, Chris came home worried that Greenpoint Mortgage had closed its doors. Over the next few months, we watched as lender after lender went belly up. When Chris eventually decided not to purchase the family mortgage business in 2007, we had to survive on half of our previous income. We quickly landed “I’ll do anything” jobs.
We were at a crossroads. You can’t live on savings; you need cash flow. To replace our lost income, I started looking into buying investment real estate while Chris focused on finding a better job. I read a library of books on investing, listened to CDs and signed up for professional coaching to learn how savings can bring in cash flow.
In 2007, I started making offers on foreclosures in Bozeman, Montana where I lived at the time. Most of my offers were denied because housing prices in Bozeman were high. I thought I might find better investments in other places. I researched and found cities in the southeast and southwest. To extend our dollars, I flipped houses and poured the proceeds into cash flowing rental homes. In 2009, I moved to Tennessee to be closer to my investment cities.
Since 2006, the “oh no, we better do something” year, I have completed over 60 real estate deals and currently hold 27 rental homes. Due to investment property, my families’ income level today is double our pre-2006 level.
Buy and holds are my favorite investment strategy. I like to use my experience as sweat equity in LLCs that purchase real estate for investors with little time to research.
Karen: In 1987, after marrying a successful contractor that specialized in building steel buildings, we decided to change course and get into something that appealed to us both, developing office space. In 1993, I decided to get my General Contractors license too. Over the years, we’ve developed general and medical office buildings, medical/dental clinics, retail/office condos, small office parks, plus a residential subdivision, and our personal homes. Our strategy is somewhat different from others, in that most of our business is in developing projects (from concept through design/build, and leasing of space for investors, when needed). We then sell the completed projects to investors, and/or owner/users. Though our son has been on our job sites since being born, he’s joined us as an official partner, licensed in real estate. He also does our building designs and architectural visualization.
2. As a woman have there been any obstacles that you have had to face that men typically do not? Have there been any advantages?
Sharon: I don’t think that on the whole there were any big obstacles due to being a female. In the beginning it sometimes felt like the door to the “good ‘ole boys club” wasn’t completely open to the women investors in the group. But looking back, I believe that there just hadn’t been very many women that were active real estate investors in the group up until that time.
Having started out in the home inspection business in 1991 which was completely a male dominated field, I would have to say that entering the field of real estate investing was a piece of cake.
As far as advantages, I think there are some. Women are naturally very good at building relationships and finding solutions to problems.
McKellar: I have been lucky in that being a female investor hasn’t been much of an issue. As a female investor, however, I don’t like to look at abandoned houses without another person with me. I think if I were a male (and substantially larger), I would feel more comfortable going into vacant buildings alone.
I think I have had an advantage being a female investor, especially a married one. I have been able to focus on investing while my husband gets regular W-2 income, which is good for stability and loans.
Karen: I have had one or two instances where there were people who very obviously didn’t like dealing with a woman. I didn’t take it personal, but asked my husband to work with them. In regards to construction, men have always been more prominent, but more and more women are getting into the business, and some actually do the physical labor. I don’t actually work on jobs, but I do know exactly what’s happening in every phase, go to the job sites, and work with subs, etc. Overall, in most business dealings I’ve found that if you know what you’re talking about, people are very receptive. As to advantages, I think women have a natural ability to be able to gain trust, build relationships; and network, which is invaluable in this business. Another is that women have better functional design instincts.
3. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to a woman looking to get started in real estate investing?
- Become a master at marketing. Develop a marketing plan and follow it every month. If you don’t have leads coming in the door you won’t have a business.
- Follow up relentlessly on your leads. Be the person that is still there when everyone else has thrown in the towel.
- Be yourself and never compromise your values to do a deal. Your reputation is your biggest asset in this business.
McKellar: My biggest piece of advice I would give to a female (or male) investor is to learn about the numbers. Set up a system for analyzing property using the numbers. Don’t make decisions by guesswork and intuition alone. I now help other investors build cash flow through real estate. My female investor clients seem more apt to look at a neighborhood or house and like the property based on initial impressions without focusing on the returns and numerical data first.
Karen: KNOW your market, your niche, you profession, etc. Know what you know, and have confidence in that. Take authority when needed. Don’t be shy about admitting what you don’t know, and asking for help when needed. If someone tells you something can’t be done, don’t believe it, find out for yourself. Be persistent! (I was one of the few people, when the State of California was issuing vouchers on their rent payments in the 90s, which was able to get a rent check) Do a good job, show integrity, and you’ll earn respect.
And there you have it…three women who have found great success in real estate investing. Real estate investing is unique in that there are many ways to become successful, so anyone who is willing to put in the work and stay focused can succeed. A huge thanks to Sharon, McKellar and Karen for sharing their insight and experiences!