BiggerPockets Radio Podcast 002: Starting Out with Karen Rittenhouse – Subject To, Direct Mail, and Investing from a Woman’s Perspective

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Today we’ve got another great new BiggerPockets Podcast interview to bring to you, packed full of actionable tidbits and great conversation. Each week, we will be bringing you incredible real estate investing tips, training, and interviews with actual investors who are in the field, and who are making it happen. You can listen to the show online (below), download it later, listen on your smartphone, or via iTunesall for free.

On today’s show we talked with Karen Rittenhouse from – an active real estate investor, author, trainer, and all-around great gal. Karen’s started investing in 2005 and has acquired well over 150 properties during her investing career. On this podcast, she shares with us exactly how she did it, and how you can use the same strategies to begin (or improve) your investing career.

Read the transcript for Episode 2 with Karen Rittenhouse here.

Listen to the show below – or if you have iTunes, please click this link to listen on iTunes (NOTE: iTunes listens help BiggerPockets move up in the iTunes charts, allowing us to reach more people!)

In This Week’s Podcast, We’ll Explore

  • Why rentals are just like little oil wells – and how to get started owning them.
  • How Karen bought over 150 properties, most without ever getting a mortgage.
  • Dealing with sexism in the real estate field.
  • Using the “subject-to” strategy to invest with no (or low) money down.
  • How Karen made $9200 when purchasing her first project – with no money down.
  • The two most important steps to avoid making mistakes.
  • Karen’s technique to find motivated sellers and how to get deals from non-motivated sellers.
  • Why Karen is changing her strategy to adapt for the future… should you?
  • The most important first step for new investors.
  • Karen’s fear when beginning – and the phone call that made her think she was going to jail.

Links from the Show:

Books Mentioned in the Podcast

Tweetable Topics:

“I don’t mind there’s a 1% in this country – I just want to get there” Click to Tweet!

“Real estate investing works no matter where we are or what we’re doing. The checks still come in.” Click to Tweet

“Rental properties are like “little oil wells” – no matter where I am – they keep pumping.” Click to Tweet

“When talking with motivated sellers – don’t go in to close a deal. Go in to solve problems.” Click to Tweet

“Without a good plan – it’s easy to quickly jump to the next shiny object.” Click to Tweet

“You’re not going to get rich quick. It takes time – but the rewards you’ll reap long term are huge.” Click to Tweet

“You never forget your first… (real estate deal!)” Click to Tweet

“When it comes to marketing – everything works – just do something.” Click to Tweet

“You’ve got to think bigger than a 40 hour work employee” Click to Tweet

“We’re in the business of helping people – and we get paid for it. It doesn’t get better than that.” Click to Tweet

“There’s never been a better time to be in real estate” Click to Tweet

Karen Rittenhouse, along with her husband Jim have 11 employees, a real estate investing business, a full service real estate agency, a property management company, a coaching and training business, a lending company, and Karen has written 3 books on real estate.

Connect on Twitter: @KSPerspective
Karen’s Profile on BiggerPockets

If you missed the link above, listen to the show here:

About Author

Thanks for checking out the BiggerPockets Real Estate Investing & Wealth Building Podcast. Hosts Joshua Dorkin & Brandon Turner strive to bring top-notch educational content and interviews to our listeners -- without the non-stop pitch prevalent around the industry. With over 180,000 listeners per show, the BiggerPockets Podcast has become the biggest real estate podcast in the world. But don’t take our word for it. We’re the top-rated and reviewed real estate show on iTunes — check it out, read the reviews on iTunes, and get busy listening and learning!


  1. Kudos to both Karen and the Bigger Pockets team! As a new investor, I recently started following this site and I can’t tell you how surprised I was today to see a podcast featuring one of my coaches, Karen Rittenhouse! Karen and Jim are great, well-respected coaches in our area and I am thankful that talented folks like her contribute to sites like this so we can all learn! Great site, Bigger Pockets, and well done, Karen!

    • Hey Tina and thanks for the comment! Karen is definitely one savvy business-woman and sets a great example for other ladies to follow. I want to welcome you to our little place on the web and hope you’ll join us over on the social networking side of our site at

      Otherwise, keep listening to the show (our first episode with Marty Boardman was just as good), and if you can, do leave us some feedback on iTunes so other potential listeners can learn about this new source for great real estate investing info!

  2. Melodee Lucido on

    YAY Karen, you ROCK (on a guitar :>) !
    What a great podcast!! Thank you Josh & Brandon for this gift.

    It sounded so much like my heart and dream—though you are much further along your plan than me. I love what you say about the helping people and the mothering mindset. It just comes naturally. Some of my male investor friends call me the Pollyanna or the “investor with a heart “(poor, poor silly woman). lol

    I believe that it is more fun to work from the perspective of helping others. I love what I do so much that sleep is an annoyance. Karen, your story is inspiring.

    I am wondering though, Karen, why would you sell off some of those props now when the market is still lagging. Why not wait til things pick up in a while when you could get more for them? Your success is hugely evident, I’m not questioning like I know better; just wondering.

    This podcast made my day! Thanks so much!

    • Melodee:

      Thank you for the wonderful feedback! I’m thrilled that you got so much from the podcast. Mothering, when done right, is the best thing in the world!

      No, I must have said something confusing. We’re not planning to sell anything we own. We’re just not planning to buy more properties this year to hold. As I mentioned, we bought 68 houses last year and I’m sure the influx will continue! This year, our plan is to flip or wholesale most of what we come across rather than holding (which has been our pattern in the past). We will use the money from selling the new leads to pay off the properties we’re currently holding.

      I agree with you, this is still not a good time to be selling for retail.

      Thank you for leaving your comment!

    • Hello everyone,

      Josh, Brandon, great Interview! There is WAY too much hype in the real estate investing niche. If there’s one thing I can live without, it’s another expert pitching how to ‘get rich in real estate.’ Your no hype approach is a breath of fresh air. I’m looking forward to more from you guys.

      Karen, it was very interesting to hear how you grew your Real Estate Empire from such humble beginnings. Too many times, the focus is on the present state of the expert’s business. While very exciting and profitable, it can overwhelm many beginners. Your story reinforces the old proverb of, ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.’ It also highlights the importance of baby steps, and how opportunity starts to gravitate towards a person the more action he or she takes.

      Thanks, and best wishes in health, wealth and happiness,
      Ray Toulany

      PS: Love the ‘Oil Well’ analogy.

      • karen rittenhouse

        Raymond –
        I love to share because I absolutely know that anyone can do this business. I started out sitting at that desk with NO experience, just a dream and a desire. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Real estate investing is an elephant that no one can possibly understand in the beginning. Just start and keep biting!

        Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and here’s to your tremendous success!

        • Kenny Anderson on

          I’m catching up on the BP podcasts, and Karen I have to say that I was fascinated and inspired by your story. Great job once again Brandon and Josh for bringing inspiration! Karen, I will be sharing your story with my wife because our story is very similar to yours. I’m sure you will add more fuel to the fire. Thanks and I will be checking out your website.

  3. Thank you, Karen! I laughed, I took notes, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing what you had to say. It was so good to hear the female perspective; I’m studying RE investing and on the verge of jumping in, and I am exactly that same scared person in my little home office. It’s so encouraging to know you were there, you didn’t end up in prison, and everything worked out so well for you.

    Thanks again, and best wishes to you!

    Sheree from Atlanta

  4. Hi Shanequa:
    Not sure what you mean by “finance out.” But, yes, we sell anytime we have a qualified buyer and get our asking price! We have had lease-to-own tenants eventually get their own financing and cash out – we have had retail buyers come along when the properties were put out on the rental market – and we have flipped some of the subjec-2.

    Hope this answers your question! Thanks for asking.

  5. Hi Karen,
    Very motivating podcast. I am always inspired by successful women investors. I love that you show that you can be kind and helpful, while still making a great life for yourself.
    I do have a question, I may have misunderstood. Was the first condo you bought a subject to and she gave you a check for the remainder that you said you didn’t want to pay for? Or did you get your own mortgage on it?
    Thanks and take care,

  6. I am in the very early stages of real estate investing. Currently its all about research and educating myself. I was happy to find was inspired by the podcast that Karen took part in. She has a great success story, and is willing to share the information and knowledge she has gained since she started. If you haven’t listened to it yet, do so!
    Long Island, NY

    • Thanks for the comment, Dave! I’m also a Long Island guy — nice to meet you! Do jump in and join us on the main part of our site at where you can connect and engage our almost 110,000 other members.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the show and hope you’ll check out the first one and the others we’ve got planned. If you get a sec, please do leave us some feedback on iTunes — every review and new rating helps us out!

      See you around!

  7. Karen –

    I finally got a chance to listen to your podcast. Thanks for sharing your story. Someone once asked me if I felt being a woman had any affect on my real estate investing career. My response was:

    “Everyone was always willing to share information and mentor me along the way. However, I always felt like the door to the “good old boys club” wasn’t quite open all the way. I couldn’t quite get all the way in the room”.

    I think that this has changed over the years since I began investing in 1998. Women have finally made their mark in this business. I would certainly hope that is true for women today.


  8. Well done Karen, Brandon and Josh! This is the first BP Podcast I’ve heard and I’m blown away. The back and forth between everyone is so great. I laughed, got inspired, and got some valuable nuggets. Congratulations on your success and all those oil wells!

    John Fedro

    • Hi Tara:

      Hard to say for sure because we don’t track as closely as we did in the beginning, but over 50%, for sure. Even things we think came from referrals or other leads often end up being from a mailing piece someone received along the way.

      Thanks for asking and I’m glad you enjoyed the podcast!

  9. Karen Thank you so much,
    Not only hearing a woman’s perspective but hearing honest and sincere information together with a soothing voice is so refreshing !
    Sorry guys but sometimes I am really tired of stereo type males in this industry. I think “woman’s touch” will make this industry better 🙂
    I have to admit, I listened your podcast several times.As a single mother, I can relate everything you say, as a woman I can relate every hesitation you had.
    Although I have been in this business for awhile, after I listened your podcast, I started to interested in Subject to properties. I also listened a speaker at my Investment club meeting and I take these coincidences as a sign and planning to learn more 🙂 Thank you so much Karen and you wish you the best.
    Josh and Brandon, Thank you so much to you too, you provide endless sources of information through your website and podcasts. You are very grounded, humble and you make so much sense, which we all know this is very hard to find in this industry !
    Figen M.
    P.s. I will subscribe itunes and leave you a rating

    • karen rittenhouse


      So glad that you found the podcast and that you enjoyed it! This business can be so overwhelming, especially in the beginning, but the rewards over time are amazing.

      Let me know how I can be of help to you going forward.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      To your tremendous success!

  10. Karen,
    You had mentioned that this yr you are not purchasing buy and hold properties, but focusing on wholesaling. How is the wholesaling going as far as deals closed in 2013?

    • Hi Tara:

      We’re focusing both wholesaling and flips. Since we have enough for our portfolio, now we want to get those babies paid off!

      Both are going very well. Thank goodness for the banks lending again and buyers being back in the market. We’re doing about 2 flips per month and have done about 30 wholesales.

      How’s your business going?

        • Yes, a lot of direct mail, as well as internet marketing, our websites, networking at investor meetings, etc., etc. It’s a large combination that we’ve done consistently for the past 8 years. It all builds and grows to the point where we have divisions in our offices to handle many different buying/selling strategies!

      • Hi Karen,

        I enjoyed your Podcast as well! Would it be good to market to sellers specifically for Sub2 deals, such as sellers who’s mortgage have an LTV of 80-95%?

        Also, 30 wholesales is a fantastic number! May I ask how many mailings a month you sent out for that conversion rate? thanks so much!

        • Hi Brian:
          It’s hard to market specifically for Sub2. You never know who’s going to respond to your mailers, so it’s best to be prepared to offer on whatever shows up.

          A year ago, we were sending about 7000-10,000 marketing pieces per month. It’s increased every year. This year, we’re sending about 15,000 marketing pieces per month and we’re buying 8-10 properties per month. As you can imagine, our profit jumps exponentially every time we increase our marketing. If you don’t have enough leads, you’re not marketing enough.

          Thanks for your question!

  11. awesom interview, and information to say the least. Love your business model. (similar to mine and my wife’s. You and your husband sound like us when it comes to “Good Debt”, and “how am I going to buy grociers?” Yes, I’m the numbers guy, she’s the safety and security gal…LOL.

    I live in Greensboro, where can I find information on becoming a student or do you hold seminars here as well?

    Thank you.

  12. Karen Rittenhouse is awesome! She is very knowledgeable and to see a woman in real estate investing is very inspiring! Thank you Karen for sharing your story, it is a true inspiration to me and I appreciate how you took your time to connect to us, especially to the women in real estate. It gave me a huge wake up call to let go of my fear of that first caller and just do my best. Keep up the great work and I hopefully I will get the chance to meet you in the future.



    • Tunisia:

      Thank you so much for the kind words!

      To help get over your fear of talking to sellers remember, it’s about them, not about you. You’re simply listening to their story to see how you can craft a solution to their need. If you can, great. If you can’t, you offer whatever help you can give and move onto the next client. It’s never about taking, it’s always about adding something to the lives of the ones you come in contact with.

      When that is your mindset, it makes talking with sellers exciting because your goal in life is to help.

      Wishing you tremendous real estate success!

  13. My name is Lee Essick and I have been a part of Karen Rittenhouse’s Mastermind team for over two years now. I cant even begin to tell you how much of an inspiration she has been to me both in education and motivation and as a mentor!! In the time I have been with her, I have established my company, bought numerous houses, and am well on my way to financial independence. Thank you Karen for believing in me and I will ALWAYS support you, what you have done for me and others, and your mastermind team of investors. God Bless! 🙂

    • karen rittenhouse

      Thank you so much, Lee, for taking the time to share that here.

      I am thrilled to be a part of your amazing success. Students like you are the reason I do this and your enthusiasm for this business feeds me right back.

      To your continued success!


  14. I’m still stuck on the fact (maybe I’m wrong) that the seller gave you a check to buy their house?! They actually paid you to buy their house? WOW!

    I’ve listened to this podcast several times as well and it seems so fresh every time! I am still stuck at what my goal is (my end game)…but I’m a bit closer now to figuring that out, thanks to this podcast!

    Thank you.

    • Kim:
      I know! The first time you can’t believe it – later it becomes disappointing if you don’t get a check! Getting a check is not uncommon!

      Contact a local closing attorney. Ask how often a buyer has to write a check at closing. It is not that uncommon. We simply prefer when they write it to us!

      Thanks for listening to the podcast and for taking the time to leave a comment.


  15. Hi Karen,

    I listen and listen to this Podcast again and again. Everytime, I learned something new.

    Could you help me understand the Subject to.

    Do you have the seller sign the warranty deed to deed you the title?

    You also mentioned you never had bank to call the note due even the title changed. Does that mean if I sell a property, I don’t have to pay the bank back immediately. I can hold on to the money and pay the bank every month if I decide to do so?

    Again thank you so much for the Podcast! Great work!

  16. Eve:
    I was searching through old emails and came across this missed comment from you. I’m so sorry for my late reply!

    Most of the purchase subject-to transaction is handled just like any other purchase except that the financing doesn’t change. Yes, deeds are transferred. The property becomes ours and transfers to the name we specify. The mortgage, however, stays in place.

    Now, by law, the banks have the “right” to call the loan due. They are not “obligated” to call the loan.

    Always be sure to continue making all subject-to payments as specified and on time.

    Anytime we sell the property, we absolutely pay off the loan in full. No, you may not keep the money after you sell the property. The loan is a lien against the property and, once that liened property is sold, the loan against it must be paid off.

    Again, I’m sorry about the delay but I hope this answers your question satisfactorily.

    To your success!

  17. Hi Karen,

    I happened to come across your BP Podcast by chance through an internet google search as it is no longer listed under the podcast list in Itunes. Thank you so much for all the information your provided regarding a ‘woman’s perspective’ in a male dominated industry. I happen to be wondering about the success rate of women in REI and felt reassured when I found your podcast. Also, the information you gave regarding marketing and mailings was especially helpful.

    Thank you!

    Silvana G.

  18. Karen:

    Thanks for sharing so much from a women’s perspective. I am learning so much on bigger pockets. As a female jumping into real estate investing, you just gave me more confidence and motivation.

  19. This was such a wonderful podcast. Thanks for sharing Karen, it was great to hear from a woman’s perspective. I was laughing so hard when you were relating your starting out story and fears — that is so me! I over worry everything, but it sounds like your cautious approach has really paid off for you and kept you from costly mistakes (and federal prison haha). Thanks again, I’m really looking forward to reading your books.

  20. Martin Garcia on

    I’ve only been listening to the podcasts for the past few weeks and came across references to podcast #2 with you, Karen; I was glad that I went out of my way to download it and listen on a recent trip. In your experience, is it too late to approach a seller once the property is scheduled to go to auction? I don’t want to bother him/her and give them false hope if there’s no chance of getting them caught up on their mortgage.

    Thanks for being a part of the community and sharing your expertise. Your story is really inspiring !

  21. Hi Martin:
    Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed the podcast!

    I’ve found that it’s never too late to contact a property owner unless the property has been sold. We purchased the house we live in 6 days before its scheduled auction.

    Good luck to you and here’s wishing you tremendous real estate investing success!

  22. Hi Karen,
    Great podcast….thanks for sharing!
    You mentioned in a previous reply u are sending about 15000 direct mail pieces a month? Are you using a shotgun type approach where you target certain neighborhoods/zip codes and just keep mailing them?

    • Hi Tara:
      Our mailings are very targeted. The target does vary somewhat, however, over the years.

      When building our hold portfolio, we targeted specific zip codes and neighborhoods where we wanted to own long term.

      For flips, we target a larger area and go by mortgage balance, specifically free and clears. Right now, we are sending to the highest selling zip codes in our area.

      Great questions! Hope you’re having tremendous success!

      • One of your students made a nice comment about you and your coaching… your coaching for local people only? I live in Iowa and my partner and I are actually looking for a coach/mentor at the moment.

        • Hi Tara:
          Our coaching is actually local. I highly recommend finding a local mentor, if possible, because real estate is a very local business with values, codes, restrictions, laws, etc.

          I do, however, offer one-on-one sessions at $99 per hour. Please let me know if you’re interested in a call. — email [email protected]

          Here’s wishing you tremendous investing success and thanks so much for asking.

  23. Great podcast! Lots of helpful information especially for a newbie like myself, thanks for sharing it! I have listened to a few podcasts and @karenrittenhouse has lots of important information and not to mention she is a funny gal (Federal prison, caller id US goverment…too funny!).

  24. Hello Karen,
    I just listened to your podcast, a little late to the party 🙂 Im working my way back to earlier podcast. I really enjoyed it! I am a new investor and a mother of two toddlers under the age of two and working very hard at my real estate business, whew! Something you said really resonated with me in your podcast and that was that you wanted to build generational wealth. I dont find many discussions on this subject but I always think about it constantly, I just have no idea how to start or achieve it. I am passionate about achieving this goal. I think there is a difference in a successful real estate investor and someone that has positioned him/herself for generational wealth. Can you please share any advice, books, etc on moving in the direction of generational wealth? Also you mentioned finding a local mentor if possible but it is very difficult for me to attend local meeting with young toddlers, any suggestions I really feel I need a mentor. Thank you for your time.

    • Hi Rose:
      And welcome to real estate investing.
      Buying and holding rental properties is the greatest way to create generational wealth. The properties last, the land never goes away, and you pass both the property and the cashflow onto the next generation.

      Don’t talk yourself out of getting to local meetings. I’m sure there are times you get out. Schedule for yourself once or twice a month when you get a sitter so you can attend meetings. You learn so much there, from the language of this business to who in your area is actually doing the business. It’s also the place you will probably find your mentor.

      I don’t know any great books – I never found any. But I did write some! And I believe the one I wrote for landlording would be of the most help to you. It’s on Amazon – The Essential Handbook for Landlords. There is much to know if you plan to own rental properties. Also, here’s a post I wrote on starting out in real estate investing:

      There are books put together here on BiggerPockets that have tips and tricks from multiple successful investors. The information you get on this blog is some of the best out there, and new everyday.

      Thank you for asking. I certainly wish you tremendous success going forward. Be patient with yourself. You won’t be rich in a year, but every year you will know more than the year before and you’ll have amazing investment strategies to teach your little ones.

  25. Hi Karen, old post, I know and I’m wondering if this will get a response.

    I was hoping to hear on the podcast more details about how the subject-to deals work. For example you mentioned that you asked for $9,200 from the seller to purchase her condo. You also mentioned that you showed the sellers how you can offer more using sub-2.

    Is there anyway to show an example of an “average” deal that you would do and include some life-like numbers?

  26. Hi Link:
    Subject-to is simply taking over the existing financing on a property. When you do, the seller’s existing loan amounts show on the HUD1 in lines 203 and 503.

    Don’t really think there’s an “average” deal. Simply figure your numbers as you always would. If the seller owes more than that, they need to pay you the difference or you can’t purchase the property.

    You can offer more if you can take over existing financing because you don’t have the added expense of getting your own funds. You can pass that savings on to your seller.

    Each state has different laws regarding subject-to purchases. Find investors in your area who can help you with the process and, most importantly, find an attorney in your area who is familiar with this way of buying and who has the necessary paperwork and skills to get you through.

    Thanks for asking!

  27. Paul Santos

    Hi Karen,

    Listened to your podcast twice. I like the fact that you are doing real estate agent, property manager, and investment. You are hitting all three main real estate disciplines and clearly enjoying it as well!

    Best of luck, and would love to see you back on an updated podcast.


  28. Yasmine Bisumber


    Thanks so much for being a part of BP. Your podcast is great. Again thank you!

    It means so much to me to have a resource such as BP. I think I speak for all seasoned and new/aspiring investors when I say we couldn’t pay enough for a place such as Bigger Pockets.


  29. Mia Orr

    Karen your podcast was so helpful! I love to see women flourishing in a male-dominated world like real estate investing and hearing your story is incredibly inspiring to newbie female investors like me. I listened to it twice!! I really enjoyed hearing how you focus on finding ways to help your buyers and sellers solve problems and how you worked through your fears to get your first deal. It’s awesome to hear how you can help others while simultaneously building a legacy of wealth for your family- you’re living my dream! When are you coming back to do another podcast? I would like to hear more details about your first deal.

    • karen rittenhouse

      Thank you for your comment!

      I’m thrilled that you enjoy the podcast so much, and that you took the time to let me know.

      Real estate investing is definitely a people business first and helping others is so rewarding, in so many ways.

      Here’s wishing you tremendous real estate investing success!

  30. Michelle Cobbs

    Great podcast Thank you Josh, Brandon, and of course Karen love to see women in the industry. Love how you explained using a checklist of asking price with deductions on how you ended with your offer. I will be listening again to get some notes. Thank you


  31. Tony H Truong

    Hello Karen,

    I just finished listening to your podcast. I have to saw I really enjoyed it! love hearing about how you got started. Very modest and down to earth. I am in the starting phase and is learning about owner financing and just sent out my first set of direct mail.

    I haven’t been very successful. A lot of people don’t know what owner financing is and they only want traditional form of payments. Any suggestion?

  32. willie morales

    Hi Karen

    Just heard this podcast again a day ago great info and insight, my question is how do you assure the seller you will make the payments? do you show a proof of funds to them? How can you take away a fear like that?

    Thank you

  33. Todd Higgins

    Hi karen,
    Great podcast, I really enjoyed it. I aspire to do the same type of investing and hope one day to do it full-time just like you.
    I was wondering what are the typical terms as far as how long you ask for the home owner to hold the mortgage on the “subject to” terms. I am vary interested in learning the details about the subject to investing.

  34. Julie Marquez

    Wow, Karen and BP, that was a great podcast! I’m pretty much going backwards on my podcast playlist, but this one is so great and so relevant. I want to just have 15 properties for passive income for retirement. I am at 1 now, and I’m in search of my next deal. I love real estate, and now I’m worried I will want to keep going and going. You are a great inspiration and you are doing great work, thanks for sharing your story Karen!

  35. Warren Sterling

    Hi Karen,
    I listened to your podcast a long time ago and I had to review it recently. I am curious….what would you do if your marketing campaign pulls multiple properties with the same mail to: name and address?

    Send the postcards anyway? Send a personalized letter vs. generic postcard? Not send anything at all?

    Thank you for your response in advance,


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