Personal Development

What I’ve Learned Since Buying My First (Maggot-Infested) Property 10 Years Ago

Expertise: Personal Development, Business Management, Real Estate Investing Basics, Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Finance, Flipping Houses
120 Articles Written

I remember one of the first properties I bought nearly 10 years ago. It was such a dog. It was a turn-of-the-20th-Century home that had been turned into a duplex. It was large and grand but needed a LOT of love. I mean seriously. It was terrible.

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When I walked into it the first time, I remember seeing things I couldn’t believe — remnants from tenants who had lived in it and were evicted. Their parting ways were obviously made for reality TV, as they literally put raw ground beef into the floor vents. There was ketchup and mustard on the walls and trash everywhere. The place literally smelled like a mix between a trash factory and rotting, pungent, smelly summer body odor. Not to mention the maggots. There were maggots, too.

But no matter how terrible the house was, no matter how bad she smelled, or what kind of a nightmare I had to deal with, I was in love with this house. And how could I possibly know? It was my first investment property — and actually, the first property period I’d ever bought.

During this deal, we encountered all sorts of issues — from a crazy business partner who would leave for days on end, to the guys who I ended up having work for me who came from the day laborer place down the street, to the guys who ended up renting it out, and sort-of-almost buying, then not buying, then moving out. The project involved stone foundation work, dealing with old wood floors, and creating functional space. We struggled with what to buy for rehab materials and what not to do during the renovation.

Related: My Journey to Financial Freedom: Invaluable Lessons Learned From a 17-Year Love Affair With Real Estate

It was a wild ride. It was insanity. It was NOT how the deal was supposed to go. It was an education. And a train wreck. And a life experience. It was the start of my real world real-estate MBA — mainly the how-not-to section.

But this experience helped shape me. It toughened me. It made me fear getting into deals just a little bit. It taught me lessons financially, on how to do business deals with others, and just in having the right people on the right job working together.

Now more than ever, I spend time with new investors from all over who are interested in the same things: stability, cash flow, wealth building. That’s why we all got into this business in the first place I think. As I sit here finishing up a little time away from working crazy days, I am enjoying the trip down memory lane, thinking of these first few deals we bought. It’s amazing to think about all the effort, learning, and time it took to do those first few deals.

If you are a newbie reading this post, wondering what its going to be like, let me just tell you: You are preparing to get into all kinds of things you can’t even imagine. You might not be swinging a hammer. Or maybe you are doing all the work yourself.  Today you might now know how to view a foundation for issues, but you better believe over time, life lessons and deals will teach you.

And just because you have funds sitting in your bank account doesn’t mean you should buy real estate, either. It just means you have the opportunity to do so.

Tim Ferriss’ podcast is one of my favorites, and one of the things he asks his interviewers is, “What advice would you give your 30-year-old self?” I’m not too many years past 30, but I think the exercise still works for us to think of the real, tangible lessons we’ve learned.  And I want you to think on it for yourself, your family, and your business, too. Thinking of the deals we have done and the lessons we have learned, and wondering what would have been helpful for me when I was starting out is a worthwhile activity.

Be Ready For the Long Haul

It’s not a sprint. It might be today — to get to title, close on a deal, view a potential property, or pay for unexpected expenses — but investing is NOT a sprint. Be ready to ride the ride, and take the experiences and turn them into more and better deals.

The long-term investor is thinking about long-term wealth building, cash flow, the structure of their business, and how to best use their resources. Make sure you have really thought through what kind of business you want, and make sure you’ve created a real business plan outlining how you get there.

Build an Awesome Business You Enjoy

I can’t imagine doing what we do everyday if we didn’t enjoy it. I love looking at properties, doing deals, working through numbers, haggling, and negotiating. It’s so much fun for me. If these aren’t things you like to do, make sure you have people around you on your team who do like then. It’s important to enjoy what you’re doing.

Related: The Top 3 Real Estate Investing Mistakes I’ve Made (& What I Learned)

Just think, "If I get up for the next __ years doing this job, am I ok with that?" If you aren't, you better be thinking about how you can change it. There are so many facets of real estate that you can get into, from being a real estate agent, inspector or wholesaler to being a turn key investor or flipper. Just because you are an inspector doesn't mean you can't be an amazing buy and hold investor. It just means you need the right team around you.

Roll, Build, and Do With the Best

This year my Kansas City Royals won the World Series in baseball. It was momentous for the fans, the city, the team — it was just awesome. The office staff, players, and coaches had spent years and years building an incredible system to grow talented and hard-working players into a world class championship-winning team.

Don’t sell yourself short. Winning doesn’t come by chance very often. And I’m not into the lottery. I am into having the best people on my team — people who care, who share similar values, and who get what I’m trying to accomplish (because I’ve laid it out, and understand it myself!).

As you approach each and every deal, don’t be afraid to run forward — but also allow yourself to look back to all those other places where you can draw experience, knowledge, and the wisdom of others.

Now go get those next deals!

Investors: What was YOUR very first deal? What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned since then?

Let me know with a comment!

Nathan Brooks is the co-founder and CEO of Bridge Turnkey Investments, a Kansas City-based company renovating and selling more than 100 turnkey properties per year. With over a decade of experience in real estate, Nathan is a seasoned investor with a large personal portfolio and a growing business portfolio. Just last year, through Bridge Turnkey Investments, he helped investors add over $12 million in value to their real estate portfolios. Nathan regularly produces educational content to fuel his passion for helping other people learn about and find success in real estate investing. He has been featured regularly on industry podcasts such as the BiggerPockets Podcast, Active Duty Passive Income Podcast, Freedom Real Estate Investing Podcast, Fearless Pursuit of Freedom Podcast, Titanium Vault, The Real Estate Investing Podcast, The Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever Show, the Good Success Podcast, FlipNerd, Wholesaling Inc., The Real Estate Investing Profits Master Series, Flipping Junkie Podcast, Flip Empire podcast, Think Realty Radio, and more. He is a sought-after speaker and writer and can be found on stage regularly at events across the country.

    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Ahh, the good ole smell of maggot infested houses… smells like money! (Or a money pit sometimes.) And Go Royals!
    Nathan Brooks Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Ahh yes! I am sure you know that drill as well 🙂 And man, ROYALS!
    Jerry W. Investor from Thermopolis, Wyoming
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    My first pure investing deal was great and I learned very little. A guy had a property that had an IRS lien on it. He offered it to me and another guy for the price of the lien. Neither of us had the money and the other guy had very bad credit. We joined forces and bought it using my credit and his know how. It turned into a about a 20 year partnership. I bought him out 3 years ago this month. I learned much more when my partner moved away and i had to take over running the business. WOW Thanks for the article. As to my best lesson, it is that is better to let a place sit empty than to rent to a bad tenant. Even good tenants can have bad things happen to them, but bad tenants bring the bad things with them.
    Mindy Jensen BiggerPockets Community Manager from Longmont, CO
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Jerry, what a great quote! “It is that is better to let a place sit empty than to rent to a bad tenant. Even good tenants can have bad things happen to them, but bad tenants bring the bad things with them.” So true. This is a great lesson in why you need reserves.
    Nathan Brooks Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    I love how you summed this up Mindy … and yes, amazing even though using OPM is amazing and life changing, you have to have the reserve just in case.
    Mike Lemieux Multi-family Investor from Somerville, Massachusetts
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Excellent post Nathan! Our first duplex was a nightmare from bugs, to garbage bags of old clothes I extracted from the wall. You can’t make lemonade without the lemons 😉
    Nathan Brooks Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thanks Mike … wow, sounds awful … but usual at the same time 🙂 How did it come out? Did you get out of it for what you expected?
    James Green Wholesaler from Waldorf, Maryland
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Great article.
    Nathan Brooks Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thanks James! Thanks for reading …
    Lily Tee from Monterey Park, California
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thanks! Very helpful 🙂
    Brandon Brown Rental Property Investor from Nashville, TN
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thanks for sharing Nathan. I just bought my first property and the big lesson I learned is don’t be in a rush, rushing can lead to bad decisions and maybe even bad deals.
    Account Closed from Los Angeles, CA
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    rushing is a bad thing thats true!!!
    Nathan Brooks Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Brandon … I love that you have taken action here, but also are making sure you do your due diligence. Both are really important!
    John Barnette Investor from San Francisco, California
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Made about $75,000 on a loft flip. MAGGOTS in thr kitchen sink, dog urine messed up floors, literally about 1000 nails in walls in patterns, spray painted windows from inside. REO before the crash. 2006 if I recall. Neighbors said the owner was a crystal meth mess. Luckily didn’t make it there….to my knowledge. Just easier to buy in San Francisco. Ha. My second flip. First flip not nearly the drama and actually lost a few thousand bucks when all said and done. Maggots can bring good fortune. 🙂
    Nathan Brooks Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    John .. that’s amazing man! $75k flip period is a great one for sure. We have bought a few of those “turd” properties over the years, I definitely know the excitement of opening a few walls to something some surprises 🙂