Reflections from a Real Estate Investor: If I Could Go Back . . .
What would you do if you could go back and do it all again?
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This is my favorite question to ask those who have found significant success in any field because they’ve been there, they’ve seen the choices, made the actions, and lived with the results. Today I want to share my thoughts with you on what I would change (and do again) if I could go back and do it all over, as well as get your thoughts on the question as well (in the comments below)
Obviously, the question is meant to stir up conversation and teach others from experience – not fall into a lengthy debate about the “butterfly effect” and how our past mistakes make us who we are so we wouldn’t change anything. Of course we can’t actually go back. The point of this question is to help those who have not yet been there to learn from past mistakes and successes of those who have been down the road so they can grow faster.
So without further suspense, If I could go back I would:
1.) Start Sooner
This is probably the first and most obvious answer most investors will give. While I started significantly earlier than most (at the ripe old age of 21) I still wish I would have started earlier. No, not buying property. If anything – I probably jumped in too soon for that.
However, I wish I would have started focusing on real estate investing sooner, growing in knowledge before jumping into the game. I never gave much thought to real estate investing until I stumbled into it with my first personal home. I made mistakes starting out that I may not have made had I known more before my first purchase.
The point: You “start” investing long before your first purchase. So start now.
2.) Connect faster
During my first few years as an investor, my wife and I were on an island. Not a real island like Hawaii (I wish) but a metaphorical island where we were the only ones we knew investing in real estate. Most of my friends were too busy getting drunk or going to college to engage in any sort of serious conversation about the financial world, and most adults I knew were lucky to even own a home. I began getting involved at BiggerPockets and found a wealth of information and connections – but I still didn’t have anyone local I could talk with.
The problem wasn’t with my location, the problem was me.
I didn’t find any local investors because I wasn’t looking. It wasn’t until several years in that I met other local investors and began engaging face-to-face with them. I discovered a vast treasure trove of wisdom and information that can only be found through experience. I found a local mentor (who I still talk with daily) and began discussing deals, strategies, and stories over cups of coffee.
The point: Make an effort today to find these local investors and connect with them. They will become your closest friends, allies, and business partners.
3.) Stay Away From Stupid Debt
I once believed that debt was a tool and could be wielded like a sword for great power. I’d do the math and see that I could save X amount of money by applying for this credit card or that line of credit. I even fell for the “save 10% by opening up a store credit card” trick. I thought I was too smart for the credit card companies. The thing I didn’t take into account was my own weaknesses and unforeseen circumstances.
I now see debt a little different.
Debt is like a sword with no handle. It does have a lot of power and can magnify your purchasing power, but it can cut you up quite a bit in the process. If I could go back, I’d stay away from stupid debt (credit cards, store credit, and maybe even student loans) and change my belief that there is “good debt and bad debt” to “bad debt and worse debt.”
To steer away from the hypothetical, let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. One of my first flips was funded primarily using hard money and credit cards. I maxed out several Home Depot credit cards while remodeling the home (a technique I’d read in a book from a guru). I saw this debt as “good debt” because it was 12 months interest-free. (I’m sure you’ve seen the same promotions.) However, Home Depot and CitiBank (the bank behind the card) are not stupid nor generous. They understand human nature.
When prices began to drop suddenly I was forced to refinance the home and turn it into a rental. The bank, however, would not include the Home Depot cards into the refinance and as a result I carried that debt for a long time – paying huge amounts in interest and severely affecting my ability to get future mortgages.
The point: Get your credit in shape now and stay away from credit cards. You are not smarter than human nature and the inevitability of unforeseen circumstances.
4.) Stay Away from Renting to Family and Friends.
I’d read it a million times. It made perfect sense. I understood the concept.
However, I still did it.
To this day – I still regret it. When you begin obtaining rentals – you will have family and friends looking for a place to live. This never turns out okay. I’m sure you’ve heard that lending money to family or friends almost always turns out bad – but renting to them is even worse. It creates a “slave-master” type of relationship and often ends with a severed relationship. The landlord will always be the greedy bad guy.
The point: NEVER rent to family or friends.
5.) Make a Plan
Not everything I did at the start was a mistake. A lot of things I’m actually quite happy with and I would do again and advise others to do the same. Perhaps the most important was creating a plan.
Like, an actual written plan.
Having a written plan is like having a road map – it shows you the best way to get from A to B and keeps you from easily deviating to C, D, or Z.
When I decided that I wanted to invest in real estate for the long haul (and retire by thirty) I made a mathematical plan that would get me there. This plan simply penciled out my strategy to buy small properties until I could “trade up” for larger ones. In essence, it was my Monopoly strategy on paper.
Sure, there have been deviations from this original plan due to inevitable changes, both internal and external, but overall I’ve followed the spirit of it and as a result am actually much further along than my plan had suggested.
The Point: Write down your plan, then simply follow it.
What About You?
No matter what stage of investing you are at (newbie, pro, or inbetween) what are some lessons you can share from your journey?
If you could go back -what would you change? What would you do the same?
Please let me (and the BiggerPockets community) know by adding a comment below! I look forward to learning from your past as I hope you can learn from mine!