10 Truths Nobody Told You About Getting Started in Real Estate

by | BiggerPockets.com

For this week’s post, I wanted to give you an overview of the top 10 things nobody tells you when you’re first starting out in real estate.

You see, personally, I was introduced to the real estate industry with unrealistic expectations, and I have found other people who have had very similar experiences.

I was told that in one deal, I could make more money than I could make in an entire year at my day job, and though this is true, most of the time wealth is built slowly, and real estate is no exception.

The following is a realistic depiction of what to expect in real estate. I hope it helps you!

1. The Industry Is Known For Delayed Gratification

Real estate can be one of the most lucrative industries to get involved in; however, in most people’s experience, it takes time to build. Paydays in real estate can take months or even years (look at development, for example) of planning and working to make happen.

It is very common for things to fall through or to get delayed, whether it’s the seller backing out, funding issues occurring, or renovation time turning out to be longer than expected.

Be prepared to learn patience.

Your hard work will definitely pay off — it just may take a little bit of time for things to pop!


2. There Are Well Over 100 Ways to Make Money in Real Estate

Real estate is probably the most diverse industry in the world. If you think about it, it touches every component of human experience.

Where do you work? In a building.

Where do you live? In a house.

Where do you buy food? In a store.

Typically when people are first starting out in real estate, they feel as if their only option is to get into fixing and flipping houses or wholesaling, but these really aren’t their only options. There are tons of ways to make money in real estate!

For a complete break down, Brandon Turner did an excellent job of it here.

Related: Warning Newbies: Stop Wholesaling Now!

3. Real Estate Is Harder Than You Think

A lot of the time real estate investing is associated with late-night infomercials that promise a life of riches, fame, and glory for no money down and with minimal work.

The truth is, though, that this couldn’t be further from reality.

Real estate takes work — and a lot of it!

In order for you to be successful in real estate, you need to be in the mindset of working hard now, so that later you can reap the rewards.

Real estate is a definite way of building wealth, but if you want “easy” and “get-rich-quick,” I’d suggest you look elsewhere because you’ll simply end up getting hurt and losing money.

4. The Most Important Step Is Learning to Run the Numbers Accurately

Something I regret is not taking more time to really grasp the numbers and common formulas used for determining and evaluating deals. The more math you understand, the better your assessments and ultimately, the better of an investor you are.

If you were to take 3-6 months when first starting off and do nothing but run comps and evaluate potential investment deals, it would give you a foundation stronger than most people have in real estate.

There really isn’t a greater skill set you could have in this industry.


5. Every Single Market Is Different

A lot of people make the mistake of believing that there is a “one-size-fits-all” approach to real estate, and it simply isn’t true. Where I live in the San Francisco bay area, a lot of the time your investment strategy in neighboring markets needs to change drastically, even if they are within 5 miles of each other.

To be success, you have to master your local market.

For example, bandit signs may be a strategy that would work in certain parts of Oakland, CA. (It’s home to some pretty rough areas. My sister used to live there, and one time there was a shooting right outside her house — on Christmas day, no less!) But they definitely don’t work in Mt. View, CA (home to the Googleplex).

Real estate truly is a local game. Learn the quirks of your market first, then start implementing acquisitions.

6. Most “Real Estate Education” Out There Is Bogus & Simply a Means to Make Money Off of You

The best education I have found concerning real estate has always ended up being free of charge. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t some good paid material out there, but the vast majority is just straight up fluff.

There are people out there selling education on real estate who make more money on their education programs than they actually do in real estate.

Don’t buy into their gimmicks!

To be very frank with you, BiggerPockets has everything that you would need to know concerning real estate, 100 percent free. A better alternative to purchasing an education course is getting involved on the forums here, rubbing elbows with seasoned investors in your area that you find on the site, actually doing deals.

You have the power at your fingertips. Use it!

7. You Don’t Actually Need a Real Estate License to Make a Living in Real Estate

It’s a misconception that you have to hold a license to “do” real estate in any fashion. Though there are some major perks to having a license, real estate investing can be done entirely as a simple buyer, avoiding all the training and costs associated with being an agent.

Don’t let things limit you!

If you want your real estate license but don’t have the time or money to invest in it right now, just get proactive about investing and learning the industry as a whole and worry about the credentials later.

Disclaimer: You cannot list or show a home or act in a fashion that depicts you as an agent if you are not licensed. Don’t deceive people!

8. The Place to Begin in Real Estate is Finding a Mentor in Your Local Market

The place to begin for someone starting in real estate is to find a local expert who can show you the ropes.

What does that look like?

It looks like you giving them value and serving them with your time in exchange for knowledge.

It takes work to make it happen, but this honestly is the best thing to pursue first.


Related: How to Rock at Finding a Mentor in Real Estate: The Definitive Guide

9. It Can Take Over a Year to Begin Making Money in Real Estate

Are you prepared for that kind of commitment? It’s definitely worth it if you are!

It legitimately may take a year of studying or a year of grinding (or both) before you reap the fruits that real estate investing has to offer.

A lot of gurus like to sell the success but not the struggle behind it.

Success is hard. Otherwise everyone would have it, right?

The truth is you have to be willing to put in the work to get it. There are no easy roads, just better ones — and real estate is one of the best!

Be committed.

10. Approach Your Real Estate Interest as a Business, Not as a Hobby

The last thing I want to leave you guys with is to value your time and commitment to real estate. Structure it as if you had a boss who could fire you for screwing around and messing things up.

Too many people get involved in real estate thinking it’s “fun” and then soon find themselves in trouble because they weren’t organized or serious enough.

Don’t jeopardize your opportunity! Treat your real estate endeavors with care.

Related: Overcoming Inaction, Direct Mail, and Becoming an Successful Wholesaler with Tim Gordon

[Editor’s note: We are republishing this article to help all of the newbies who have found BiggerPockets more recently. Let us know what you think with a comment!]

What else would you add to this list?

Leave your insights in the comments below!

About Author

Jaren Barnes

Jaren Barnes is passionate about what the BiggerPockets community has to offer and is very active in his local real estate market. Come say hi to him on Twitter!


  1. Great post @Jaren. Each of your 10 items deserves a whole post (or book). So many people are introduced to the business by some guru’s ‘Make a Million Dollars Overnight with No Money Down’ pitch so your 10 points are critical to deprogramming their minds and preparing them for the reality of real estate investment.

    I would have put #6 first because gurus are in the guru business. Their current pitch may be the real estate flavor of the week but it just as easily be in franchising or multi-level marketing or any sector that they could spin into an easy money story. That said it is a great business model for the guru. Why not have people pay you 5 or 10k (or 15) to learn how to be your bird dog hoping that you’ll deign to do one the home run deals they scour the country for?

    If I ever did a course it would be ‘How to Become a Millionaire Real Estate Guru’. Operators are standing by…..

  2. All very true. I have been to a few of the “hype me up” seminars, and they are great for that, hyping you up. They do open you to new ideas, which you can then get information on your own. They are also great for networking, but are very expensive.

    I recent wrote a review on my blog about a Dave Lindahl boot camp I went to last month.

    Many people think it is easy to make money. I have friends that say (stupid) things like this to me, “If you can find a deal where I can make a quick $50K, let me know about it”. Sure I will, after I put the money in MY bank account.

    The truth be known, even if you gave most people a deal like that, if they were not already in RE, they would think about it for a month and it would be gone 29 days before that.

  3. @Jaren

    Re: #4 – Comps and Running numbers

    – How would you recommend a newbie go about the process?

    For example, when I was looking at houses in my area, I would use a site like Redfin or Zillow and compare the prices of recently sold and others for sale, trying to find ‘comps’ that I thought matched, with more emphasis on houses that sold. (Although I’d consider ‘Zillow’s estimates’, I generally tried to focus more on the objective data – sold for prices and for sale prices.)

    And then, would you run numbers to see what your IRR would be and compare that to other markets? And then decide if the IRRs met a criteria (ie. 10% Cap Rate) that made the investment ‘safe’?

    Is there a sample scenario you could describe or point me to an article that you think covers this the way you’d do it?


    • I was wondering the same thing. I am also new at this, still looking for my first deal and learning a little about marketing. I think I am good with numbers in general, but the real problem is to understand what are the important numbers here.

  4. @Jaren
    I just happened to read Chapter 8 “The Flip Formula” of J Scott’s Book on Flipping Houses and he actually gives a step by step run down on how to do comps (thereby pretty much answering my previous question).

    Basically, look for properties within a half mile / sold within 3 mos as ‘comparables’ – then either subtract or add from the comps ‘sold price’, depending on whether the house you’re looking at is more or less desirable based on different characteristics (ie. If target has more bedrooms, then add X amount to the sale price of the comp; if target has fewer bathrooms, then subtract X amount from the sale price of the comp, etc..) What your left with is an estimate of what your house should sell for (after rehabbing).

    Anyways, seems like a pretty solid way to figure out comps!

    If you have any further advice, I’d love to hear it, especially if you go deeper into IRR or ROI, etc.


  5. Re: #7 – investors can act as their own agent to list and buy property without a license as long as they are a principle in the transaction. A real estate license is only required when you are providing brokerage or property management services for someone else.

  6. Marlene Diaz on


    Great advice. I especially liked item #9 It Can Take Over A Year To Begin Making Money In Real Estate.

    I’ve been researching/studying on BP for months, and also studying for my RE license online. I feel more prepared than I did when I started, and I still have much more to learn. In contrast, a couple I’m friends with just purchased & rehabbed a grade C property, next to a war zone. They’re trying to sell in a rental neighborhood. They’ve already had two price reductions, with no takers. The lesson here is – Conduct your due diligence (#4 The Most Important Component Is Learning To Run The Numbers Accurately.) It may take longer to find a good deal, but that is the goal.


  7. RE #7 John is correct. If the home is yours you can advertise and sell it yourself (at least in my state). If you plan to sell yourself it’s money well spent to sit with a Real Estate lawyer for an hour or two. They can set you up with the contracts you will need.

    Bob Luce – Iowa Realty

  8. Nice!
    #4 is awesome!
    “If you were to take 3-6 months when first starting off and do nothing but run comps and evaluate potential investment deals, it would give you a foundation stronger than most people have in real estate.”

    Anyone starting should read this article- at least this line.


  9. Sara Cunningham on

    Jaren some really solid advice, and very well written. Makes so much sense and you manage to condense a whole lot of info into the article too. I,m not a newbie but must admit I didn’t really do enough work on the numbers side at the beginning,or enough now either. I think I have been really lucky and not been burned too badly. We did rehab a house in a C neighborhood and couldn’t sell it so we ended up doing Owner Finance on it which worked out great. Didn’t know about Bigger Pockets back then either just managed to research and figure out options as I went along. This forum is awesome for picking up ideas and networking. Thanks for the post.

  10. Hey Jaren, Didn’t I run into you at a house in Concord last summer? The homeowner called both of us (competitors) back from our marketing letters and scheduled us to view his house at the same time? You look kinda familiar.

    • Jaren Barnes on

      Hey Jason! I don’t think so, I’ve primarily been working in Alameda and Santa Clara county, but if your local I’m totally down to meet up! PM me if you want to do coffee sometime!

  11. Ifayomi OmiMeje

    As a newie to REI (I lost money on my 1st deal) and to the BP site, this article was right on point! Thank you for reposting! The best (take away) “truth” in this artcle for me is “truth” number 4! Based on the fact that I lost money on my 1st REI because I didn’t know/do the numbers, “truth” number 4 is great advice that I will definitely take heed to. Btw…the rest of the article was informative and insightful as well. Thanks again.

    Until we connect again…may we ALL have Bigger Pockets!

  12. Peter Mckernan

    Hello Jaren,

    Great article! I believe people should look at real estate as a business, especially knowing in business a startup can take more than two years to create the steam the business owner thought would happen. In business, real estate, blogging, or anything else in life, it takes time to grow something from the ground up. Keep the expectations practical and have patience.

  13. Brendan Majev

    This is a good one. #4 and #5 are especially true.

    #4… Literally NO ONE is exempt from this. All those banks that lost money during the subprime mortgage crisis? It was because they screwed this up this step and got too aggressive on underwriting. Even when you think you’ve got a great deal, remember that you are most often the buyer for one reason: you are willing to pay more than anyone else. You absolutely must be able to tell someone else (who isn’t a real estate investor) WHY you were willing to pay more for a property than anyone else… that starts with the numbers.

    #5… Yes. A hundred times, a thousand times, yes. This applies even across asset types… I work in commercial multifamily real estate. You’ll notice that the first two words of that rule out residential investing. They also rule out many other aspects of the industry: office, retail, industrial, self storage… the list goes on. Know your market well before you invest… this ties into the WHY you were willing to pay the most.

    A good article, better than most.

Leave A Reply

Pair a profile with your post!

Create a Free Account


Log In Here