The Real Key to Success is Cheating. Here’s How (and Why) To Cheat…

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Remember that kid you used to play games with who always cheated?

Whether it was poker, Monopoly, Pogs, homework – whatever – he/she use to cheat.

(Maybe that kid was you?)

Cheating is looked down on by a lot of people… and rightly so.

  • Cheating in games: bad… no one will like you.
  • Cheating on your taxes: badder… you might end up in prison.
  • Cheating on your wife: baddest… you deserve a punch in the face.

(alright Grammar Nazi… sometimes I make up words. Deal with it.)

However, there is one area of life I’m going to encourage you to cheat at… and that’s real estate investing (or “business, to be a bit more general).

Yep, whether you are planning to flip houses, wholesale deals, buy rental property, invest in a Subway, build a tech startup, or any of the million other ways to make money in this world, some cheating in business can actually help you find more success and it’s totally legal – and acceptable – to do.

What The **** Is He Talking About?

No, I’m not suggesting you cheat a motivated homeowner out of their equity or lie your way into borrowing money on a non-deal. This kind of cheating is bad and lying is probably worse.

So what am I talking about?

Simple: using your unfair advantage. 

Your unfair advantage is just that… something that you possess that you can use to help you succeed that other’s don’t have.   It’s something that sets you apart, makes you special, makes you powerful.

It’s unfair.

And it’s awesome.

An unfair advantage is what gives you a leg up on the competition (where did that phrase come? It’s kinda creepy if you think about it).

Why Cheating is the Key to Success?

Each week Josh Dorkin and I sit down with a successful real estate investor on the BiggerPockets Podcast. We talk about how they got started, the successes and failures they’ve seen, the lessons they’ve learned, and the things that brought them to where they are.

And every single one had an unfair advantage, something that set them apart and helped them succeed.

You can tell it’s an unfair advantage because it’s written in (sometimes) condescending comments on each of the show notes pages. People saying things like:

  • Yeah… sure it’s easy when you start with daddy’s money.
  • Yeah, it’s easy to flip houses when your spouse is working full time bringing in income.
  • Of course he’s successful, he had a college major in finance.
  • I bet if I had started at 21 I’d be successful too.

You can tell by the tone of these comments … it feels “unfair.” These people didn’t get there on their own, but they “cheated.”

How dare they!

Here’s the Truth…

The truth is –

EVERYONE has an unfair advantage. The key to success is finding, and harnessing, yours. (Tweet This!)

Yes, that’s a Tweetable quote. Yes I expect you to Tweet that. Come on. Everyone’s doing it.

So yes, these successful people cheated. It’s unfair.

And you should too.

You have an unfair advantage in your life. Something that is going to make you succeed. Something that people are going to complain years later when you are a guest on the BiggerPockets Podcast “well sure, of course they succeeded because they have …”

And in order to succeed you need to identify what it is and then harness it.

Examples of Unfair Advantages

Let me give you a few examples of unfair advantages so it might help you identify yours.

  • Having a job that pays well.
  • Having a job that allows flexibility on time at the office.
  • Having parents with extra cash.
  • Living in an area that has low price properties.
  • Living in an area that is quickly appreciating.
  • Knowing rich people.
  • Knowing successful real estate investors.
  • Being young.
  • Being able to “hustle.”
  • Having success in a prior business.
  • Being able to do your own labor.
  • Having a nice nest egg of cash in the bank.
  • Being a BiggerPockets Pro member.
  • Being really good at math.
  • Being really good at sales.
  • Inheriting a property from a deceased relative.
  • _________________ (go ahead and add another one. I’m sure you are thinking one in your head right now.)

This is just quickly off the top of my head and doesn’t represent even 1% of what could be possible. There are SO MANY unfair advantages that, chances are, you have several. Maybe a dozen. Maybe more.

So, next time you are tempted to say “hmmm, must be nice…” about someone’s success… stop and remember that they are not successful because of that unfair advantage, they are successful because they learned how to use it. 

That’s the key.

That’s why this kind of cheating is okay.

What is MY Unfair Advantage?

When I first got started, I had no money.

None.

In a way… I still don’t.  and this disadvantage became my largest unfair advantage.

You see, by being broke, I was forced to hustle. I couldn’t rely on my cash to help out. I had to learn how to invest without a lot of cash.

Furthermore, I had a few other unfair advantages, like:

  • My parents had a small line of credit on their house that I was able to borrow.
  • And I lived in an area with low prices.
  • And I found BiggerPockets.
  • And I learned how to do my own labor. I can solder a coper pipe, install drywall, frame a wall, fix a roof leak, paint any wall, and pretty much do anything else that needs to get done.

These were all unfair advantages that I had when getting started. They were things that helped me stand out from the competition, get more deals, get more cash flow, quit my job, and find the moderate level of success that I have.

I know people say (even after reading this list…)  “sure… must be nice to live in an area with cheap prices.” or “sure… must be nice to have parents that are generous” or “sure… must be nice to know how to install drywall.”

Shut up.

Seriously. If that’s you… understand that it’s only jealousy talking.

You have unfair advantages as well – things that you  could use, right now, to take your business to the next level.

How to Get More Unfair Advantages

Here’s the best thing about unfair advantages:

They are not just things you are born with.

Sure, some of them are. Some things you have absolutely no control over. But 99% of unfair advantages are something you control, can change, and can add.

Yep. You can add unfair advantages to your life.

When I first got started, I didn’t know which end of a hammer to hold. I didn’t know what a copper pipe was, the difference between drywall and a stud, or how to paint a wall without it looking like a 3rd grader did it.

I knew nothing.

However, I understood that I was lacking cash, experience, mentors, and pretty much everything else I wanted to succeed. So I decided to add some skills to my resume, starting with construction skills.

I picked up a copy of “1-2-3 Home Improvement” from Home Depot and slowly learned how to do my own work. Those skills helped me keep the costs down on my early investments, which helped me buy more deals, quit my job, and more.

You see, I added an unfair advantage to my situation and harnessed it to success.

Where to Go From Here

I’m not suggesting you go out and learn how to solder a copper pipe, build a wall, or paint a room.

This was my unfair advantage, but it doesn’t need to be yours. Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, abilities, positions, locations, gifts, talents, and friends.

Use them.

Yes, it might be cheating- but it’s okay.

Cheat a little.

Find what you have that no one else has and make it work to your advantage.

Then absolutely crush it.

Finally, the last thing I’m going to ask of you:

Share with me what your “unfair advantage” is below in  the comments. I’d love to see a huge list of how different people are going to “cheat” to win.

(and oh… if you liked this post, do me a favor and share it on your Facebook or other social network!)

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About Author

Brandon Turner (G+) is the BiggerPockets.com Senior Editor and Community Director. He is also an Active Real Estate Investor (Flips, Apartments, and Buy-and-Hold), Entrepreneur, World Traveler, Third-Person Speaker, and Husband. Come hang out with him on Twitter!

39 Comments

  1. I call it honesty instead in my case. Bought 12 condo units in 1984 from a builder. He was selling each at 30k. Approached them told, if I can save them 100k, will they give me half!!!
    They were honest, told them If I buy all as a package, they will save in taxes 100k. Bought all for 250k with 50k dn, sold for 750k after 15yrs, and one who bought sold for 1 million!!
    I was absentee landlord 2000 miles away. Tax assessor told my property as worth 400k, and appeal was another story.

    • Brandon Turner

      Hey Kris, thanks for the comment! Yes, honesty is a HUGE advantage in business, because it’s the precursor to trust, which all good business is built upon. Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. “I know people say (even after reading this list…) ”sure… must be nice to live in an area with cheap prices.” or “sure… must be nice to have parents that are generous” or “sure… must be nice to know how to install drywall.”

    Shut up.:”

    YES!!

    It is amazing to me how many people who sit around and do nothing can blame everyone but themselves. If you sit around all day, doing nothing, it is not Obama’s fault, it was not Bush’s fault, it is your fault. It is amazing to me to hear the long list of things someone will blame their lot in life on. Obviously there are a few exceptions, but almost no one in life who is successful does not work hard. If a successful person is successful due to 80% hard work and 20% luck. there are two types of people, those who respect him for the 80% and those who do nothing but focus on the 20%. I try to ignore anyone who would see the 20% instead of the 80% in my life.

    • ” I try to ignore anyone who would see the 20% instead of the 80% in my life.”

      By this I mean I try not to associate with people who see the 20%, I am not successful enough yet for anyone to look at me with much jealously

      • Jeff Collins on

        It is so much easier to say ‘I can’t’ instead of ‘I can’. If more people had the attitude that they could, they would succeed, or at least look for ways to succeed. I was just dealt a setback in my plans to invest in real estate, but decided to double down my efforts to get in the game. I just have to work harder to get started. The naysayers need to as well.

  3. Love the concept that led to this blog… which was why I read it. It’s nice to be unconventional for the sake of making the world stronger… and I appreciate the thought and energy that went into this post.

  4. My unfair advantage.

    “…yeah, it’s easy for you. You have a database of 2,000,000 homeowners and 22,000 lenders that have registered at your website and you get 300 new leads everyday – must be nice to cherry pick those deals.”

  5. I, thankfully, have a lot of unfair advantages, but the one that led to all the rest is the fact that my father was a business owner. If you grow up in a household where you are constantly hearing about how to run a successful business, and all the challenges that go with that, it’s almost inevitable that some of it will rub off on you.

    I knew from a pretty early age that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I’m very grateful to my Dad for teaching me everything he knew. I would not be where I am today without him. Great article, Brandon!

    • Sharon – a quick question about entrepreneurs as this is a question my wife and I have debated…are people born entrepreneurs or do they learn how to become one? My wife believes people are born that way, but I believe people can learn to be entrepreneurs. Maybe this has already been discussed on BP, or it could be the beginning of a new discussion.

        • I think there are people who can work tirelessly to make millions, and are less averse to risk, but I believe one can learn from an entrepreneur. I have always thought that I was not entrepreneurial until recently I sat next to a guy on the plane. He told me about his entrepreneurial endeavors. He also told me that I could learn how to be an entrepreneur. I decided then and there that I would learn how to make money, and I have chosen REI as the means to do so.

  6. Hey Brandon…really like this post. My unfair advantage:

    I’m young (21), will have an education in accounting and finance, live in a very desirable area (Boston) and have a solid job. I look forward to using these to my advantage in the real estate world. I have the ability to use an FHA loan to owner occupy my first property, which I hope to buy within the next year and a half.

    Thanks for forcing me to think this way!

  7. Ok…., My unfair advantages, determined by your criteria are…..:
    1. An economics degree.. Us wonky economist types see things others don’t, before and while they are happening. Not after
    2. I started when I was 12, working in my dads Development business, hauling wheelbarrows full of whatever. Over the 45+ years since, I have learned how to outwork ANYONE in whatever I do.
    3. My wife, whose sharp accounting mind keeps our reserves and cash available way ahead of when we need it.
    4. My trust in God, but that’s for another forum!!

  8. I know there’s something in this article I can disagree with,,,I just know there’s something…

    May be not – you’ve outdone yourself on this one my friend. I concur – people waste time judging other’s “luck”. Get off your ass and make some luck!

    As to me personally, I got nothin’ – just a dumb landlord…

    • Ben I would expect you to disagree with “Being able to do your own labor” as an advantage. I list this as one of my advantages, but when I listen to you, I’m always challenged to manage my time better. I don’t enjoy doing the work or being away from family, but at times I guess I value the dollars I can save more. I hate saying that, but my actions prove its true. In some ways, being able to swing a hammer can be a disadvantage because it allows me to value dollars over time. I can’t add time to my life, but I can always make more money.

      • I think being able to swing a hammer lets you see better what hammer-swinging is needed. The only reason I was brave enough to buy my rental was a background in rehab to see that the obvious issues (pee-infused carpet! mold! water-damaged subfloor! toilet sinking into the floor), were really only 3/4″ deep, primarily caused by a one-off event (burst pipe due to unwinterized plumbing).

  9. I really enjoyed this article Brandon.My unfair advantages?

    1. My ability to problem-solve.
    2. My willingness to tackle something completely new and foreign (which I think is a big deterrent to most people and keeps them from achieving their goals).
    3. My father and two other relatives are in the construction industry and work in the market I’ll be buying in.
    4. Bigger Pockets. I used it to my advantage the other day when I was searching for a way to come up with a down payment on my first property. I didn’t have the cash, but felt there must be a way to fast-track a down payment somehow. I eventually came across an article about self-directed retirement funds. Since I’m already self-employed, I’m eligible for a solo-401k (another advantage). I’m setting that up right now and will be using some old IRA funds toward that first (and second) down payments. I’ve also started networking with some great investors who have provided some valuable information.

    I know there are more unfair advantages, but that should make a nice start! Thanks again for your insight.

  10. Great article Brandon. I am a real estate (ghost) blogger and I consider BiggerPockets one of my unfair advantages! I get tons of ideas for articles here. I don’t plagarize but it sparks my imagination for ideas. I wish I could reveal who I write for so you could check them out… but then I’d have to kill you (and everyone else who reads this) and that would send me to prison, like cheating on my taxes. Bad. Thanks again!

  11. Maria Giordano on

    I wish all investors would read this especially the newer investors or those just wanting to get started. Then they could learn to tap into their hidden talents and resources instead of complaining about their lack of funds, what a poor area they have to invest in etc… It was my husband who dragged me kicking and screaming into real estate. He’s a physician who loves real estate and like most physicians had zero time to invest. We also had virtually no money thanks to a bad business deal with his brother that left him over a million dollars in debt. We were never going to be able to build our nest egg or retire. What we did was leverage our contacts. All the other physicians and associates we know had money and could help us build our real estate business. Our first year we did fourteen properties between our flips and rentals with the majority being flips. I now love it and run the real estate business while my husband stays a busy doctor. It’s easy to make excuses, it’s not always easy to figure out how to make a business work!

  12. Love this! Someone once told me I was lucky to have recently graduated college. Right, because it had nothing to do with working 3 jobs to put myself through school and not having a life for the 6 years it took me. Absolutely just luck!

    After much thought, my biggest unfair advantage is my mum. (Awww…) No seriously, she taught me that I can do anything I want with a little know how and a lot of determination and stubbornness. She taught me how to paint and stain and make my own curtains and all sorts of other DIY stuff. And she’s always up for some labor trading. You help me paint, I’ll bring my son of a lumberjack husband over with his chainsaw and clear out your lake view. It’s all good!

  13. Brandon this is probably my favorite article I have ever read on the blog. I believe I have several unfair advantages, but the one that jumps out to me the most is my ability to be comfortable talking to anyone. I can speak in front of a large crowd, a small group of people, or any individual. I am best on my feet and impromptu speaking is something I have always enjoyed. This blog post made me really think hard about that ability, because it was something I was good at I have undervalued it my whole life. I think using it to its fullest potential would reward me in ways I have not yet imagined. Thanks for the reminder!

  14. Brandon:

    The metaphorical expression, “getting a leg up,” is rooted in horsemanship. Although many equestrians use mounting blocks or steps to climb aboard their horses, these aids are not always available. In such cases, a horseback rider might ask another person to give him or her a leg up.

  15. Thanks Brandon for one of those “ah ha” posts, where how you look at things after the post is different than before reading.
    My unfair advantages
    – Local job growth
    – Reading is my hobby, I’m a “learning machine”
    – time affluence – I’m a stay-at-home Mom
    – a compelling “why”, as in why I invest in real estate: first and foremost for my own financial independence, but also because my young children are able to participate and build business skills as they participate in purchasing, renting, renovating properties.

  16. Brandon, at the risk of asking you to do too much work, a neat addition to this post would be to go back through all the podcasts and name the unfair advantage of each one of the guests. :)

  17. Douglas Larson on

    Brandon, Great article!
    The headline sure grabs attention. I think “cheating” and “unfair advantage” are such harsh terms but you absolutely nailed the fact that every successful business model builds on a unique focus or set of skills that gives them an advantage in the marketplace. IT IS NOT WRONG OR UNETHICAL to leverage one’s unique skills and resources to create a very successful niche in real estate or any business sector.

  18. What an interesting perspective, I hadn’t thought of it that way before, Brandon. Hmm, my “unfair” advantages are…
    1) My parents have been landlords since before I was born, so I grew up learning why it’s important to screen prospective tenants, how to paint, how to answer calls from prospective tenants, etc.
    2) I’m good at math.
    3) I’m a structural engineer (see item 2 above), and am married to an engineer too. That means we can look at buildings and notice items that might be major structural issues that others would miss, or look at items and realize they are not a big deal while others would think there’s a major structural problem. This also means we know how to fix those problems, which leads me to…
    4) I’m married to a guy who’s very handy and knows construction. He did construction when he was in high school (tile, drywall, framing, etc.), so he’s saved us a ton on labor as we were getting our house and our first rental property, and he’s taught me to do some of it too!
    5) We’re young…ish. Is late 20s and early 30s “young”?
    6) We have good jobs, but are working diligently at investing so we can quit them!
    7) And maybe most important: we’re NOT hedonistic or materialistic. So many people our age are spending their money on all the latest gadgets, trips, cars, clothes, etc. I have no desire to accumulate lots of “stuff” and don’t care to “impress” others. We have lived pretty spartan lives so that we could save every extra penny we could toward down payments on rentals. It’s worked!

  19. Abel Vazquez on

    I never thought cheating could be good but it sure made sense in this article. Well my fair advantage is my drive. I know It sounds like a cliché but the fact of the matter is that all the areas in my life where I am or was successful in was because my stubborn drive would not let me quit it seems like I can let down everyone in the world bit none compare to when I let my self down. I think it sounds selfish but when I harness this energy I feel like nothing can stop me from achieving my end in mind. I have learned to leverage of that energy to do positive changes and actions in my life and I think ultimately I do it because my end in mind behind every thing I do is for the well being of my family. CANT STOP AND WONT STOP! Great article by the way.

    Abel

  20. Brandon,

    Great article, you really hit home with this, for years I really felt guilty for having an advantage. Many people used to tell me “well you only have this or that because of your parents.” This really made me feel I needed to detach from my family to work to be successful on my own. Then I came to myself. When my parents were flipping houses in the 80’s, as pre-teens me, my brother, and cousins had to do the demo and work with my dad and uncles as they did the work. I know I had no choice to do the work, but I learned so much.

    Never feel guilty about using your competitive advantage as I was. Now those lessons I learned when I was young really help me estimate repairs. I think about how much further I would be if I would have thought about this earlier in life.

  21. I’m brainstorming;
    I have lots of “unfair advantages” (excellent education,excellent reading skills, good computer skills, friendly and people generally like and trust me, background in construction, etc).
    I’m NOT interested in the money-risking side of real estate investment, but I do really enjoy the people side (talking to tenants, solving problems, etc). I also enjoy being around elderly folks (one of my friends just turned 99). I have a job that pays well but also leaves me with quite a bit of free time, often in large blocks of time. I might work 1-2 weeks straight, then have 2-3 weeks with only 4-5 days of work, and I often travel.
    I keep feeling that somewhere there is an odd little niche that my skill set would fit perfectly Probate property manager (is there such a job)? Pre-inspector for out-of-town purchasers (yes the house exists, but seems to be occupied by the Hell’s Angels)? Oncall local property checker (not dealing with the day-to-day property management, but able to go look at a property in person if there is an issue).
    I live in San Diego & often travel to San Francisco for work.
    Any ideas?
    -Deanna-
    (ps – not interested in multi-level sales. I’m pretty darned happy, and have enough money, thanks).

  22. Leonid Sapronov on

    Brandon, great post. However, I would argue that a lot of people who complain about these so-called unfair advantages, should realize that they have them too. Don’t live in a cheap market? I don’t either, but thanks to BP, I’m working with people who do. So I can’t complain about this problem anymore. Don’t know about some aspect of REI? Use BP and work with people who will gladly share information with you. Ok, can’t complain about lack of knowledge either. Shoot, I’m running out of things to complain about… I’m starting to miss complaining. :-) Of course, some things you have to work on a little more to achieve, but a lot of it is sooo easy.

    And another point that somewhat irks me is the whole notion of what’s “fair” and “unfair”. Within a context of a board game, those things are easy to define. However in life, there aren’t really any rules. You hear kids complain sometimes “that’s not fair!” Well, why is that? You start talking to them and realize they are just upset because they don’t have something. But why is that unfair? Who is to make that call? There is no fairness in life because fairness is an artificial concept defined for very specific situations. In life, you are dealt the hand you are dealt and you try to make the most of it. You can be jealous, you can be bitter, you can be lazy, but if you want to succeed, you better forget the word “unfair” – it’s one of the most dangerous words out there :-)

  23. Not getting hung up on minor things of perceived importance.

    “I’ll keep it short and sweet: Family. Religion. Friendship – These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business.” – Charles Montgomery Burns

    :)

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