Log In Sign Up
An Immigrant’s Impressions on Opportunity and Real Estate Investing in America

An Immigrant’s Impressions on Opportunity and Real Estate Investing in America

4 min read
Erion Shehaj

Erion Shehaj is the founder of Investing Architect and a managing real estate broker at Signature Houston Real Estate...

View profile

As a Guest you have free article(s) left

Join BiggerPockets (for free!) and get access to real estate investing tips, market updates, and exclusive email content.

Sign in Already a member?

When I was just ten years old, I witnessed the fall of communism in Albania.

I vividly remember a detail that has stuck with me through the years.

One afternoon during those tumultuous days, pamphlets were distributed throughout the city that cryptically read: “At nine o’clock tomorrow, kiss someone you love.” It was a foreshadowing of the mother of all protests that ultimately overthrew one of the most brutal dictatorships in Eastern Europe. A crowd like a swollen angry river overcame police forces, their guns, water canons, teargas and police dogs to tumble down the bronze bust of the dictator that ironically waved at a God he denied and tried to extinguish.

Fast Forward Thirteen Years.

I was in my last year of college and I found myself in a small real estate office in Houston interviewing for a job.

The broker proceeded to tell me that they had a real estate and a mortgage department in their company and asked me which position I was interested in pursuing. I apologized and asked him to describe them for me in greater detail. I had no idea what he meant by “real estate” or “mortgage”. In communism, the state owns everything and everyone is employed, housed and “provided” for by the “benevolent” state. Therefore, there was no private property, no transfer of ownership and as a consequence no real estate market.

I shared those snippets of my life because they have shaped my worldview in general and how I view real estate investing specifically. From my observations I’ve found that most of us appreciate perks, opportunities and lifestyle through contrast. For instance, if you didn’t have an abundance of food growing up, you’re more likely to appreciate that abundance and not take it for granted when it is present in your life.

The same happens with opportunities.

When “what’s possible” has always been so, it’s hard to truly appreciate the magnitude of that opportunity. That’s where my perspective as an immigrant who grew up in an isolated communist country can provide some much needed contrast to identify the often underutilized opportunities that are available in the United States.

All the Opportunity You Can Muster

This may come as a surprise to many of you, but throughout most of the rest of the world your circumstances typically dictate your economic level for the rest of your life.

For instance, if you’re a house painter in Eastern Europe your income is capped at “what a painter makes.”

As a result, many wealth building tools, such as owning income producing property are simply out of your reach throughout your life. Contrast that with my first hand experience in the States where house painters with little education, capital and experience have been able to build amazing businesses grossing over seven figures a year. Through no favor other than hard work, discipline and hustle. That snowballs into wealth moves they can make by acquiring property, investing in securities and building a legacy they can pass on to the next generation.

The fact that this scenario is possible for everyone that is willing to do what it takes to achieve it, blows my mind every day. Especially when on the same breath, I hear people (who were born in this environment) complain about the economy, the government, high taxes, the recession, job availability and all the rest.

The Head Start of Starting Young

Last summer I went back home on vacation and met with a friend of the family that just put a contract on an apartment. He was in the process of securing a mortgage and proceeded to tell me that in order to issue the loan, the bank was requiring him to collaterize every property and automobile he owned. That was on top of a 40% down payment and the proposed interest rate on the loan was 7.25%. When I returned, I helped a young gentleman fresh out of college purchase their first home even though all he had to support his income was an employer letter stating he’d been hired.

There are very few things in real estate investing (and life) that are more valuable than time.(Tweet This!)

If you have the maturity to start early enough there’s no limit to what you can achieve. Imagine a young woman in her twenties purchasing a 3-4 bedroom home with a low down payment, living in one bedroom and renting out the rest to roommates. Or purchasing a live in duplex and renting out one of the units to tenants and any remaining bedrooms to roommates. That one move alone can create six figures of wealth and five figures of income in just over a decade. Guess what? What she was able to do is basically impossible in most of the rest of the world. And what percentage of young people in this country take advantage of it? If I say 1% I’m probably half wrong.

Related: How to Start Investing In Real Estate at a Young Age (or a “Young at Heart” Age)

Easy Does It For Everyone

The real estate investing space is inundated with folks looking for a magic formula to get rich by next Friday with no money or credit.

They buy endless foolproof “systems” and seminars to flip themselves into Babylonian riches.

But this isn’t strictly an American phenomenon – people have been trying to find shortcuts to wealth throughout human history all over the world. What makes these attempts exceptionally foolish in these country are two facts:

  1. There’s a far simpler way to do it and
  2. It’s available to everyone.

Let’s say that instead of following in the path of an A&E reality show, a 45 year old couple opts for something much simpler: Buy a home every other year over the next decade. They work hard and have the discipline to pay themselves first and get to keep a portion of his earnings. After a year or so he has enough money saved for a down payment so he buys a home (instead of a Beamer that plummets in value faster than it does 0-60), move in and live there for another year. At which point they purchase another property and rent out the first. They rinse and repeat the process 5 times getting wiser each time. By the time they’re 55, they owns their primary residence plus 4 rental properties outperforming 90% of the Joneses in their age group.

This isn’t some sophisticated strategy – it’s as boring and plain vanilla as it gets. It doesn’t require much money – probably 20-50k in total over the five purchases.

It does, however, require someone who pays attention, knows his priorities and who has the mental fortitude to install and follow some simple disciplines.

Is that you?

Leave me a comment below and let’s talk.