Real Estate Investing Basics

How to Avoid the Dreaded Shiny Strategy Syndrome (& Keep Your Retirement Plans on Track!)

Expertise: Personal Finance, Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Development, Real Estate Investing Basics
39 Articles Written

Before the internet, real estate investors had to rely exclusively on advice from investment books that often were written decades ago. The strategies and advice may have been effective when they were originally written, but they would not work in a drastically different economic cycle. For instance, if you read a book written in the 1980s or 1990s that told you to purchase investment real estate with no money down, you would find it impossible to apply that same strategy a decade later when investment loan guidelines had changed substantially.

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Furthermore and most importantly, the advice in those books was a one-way broadcast. The author wrote what he wrote, and there was no way for you to comment, get any questions answered, get feedback, or start a discussion with people around the country who had already achieved (or failed to achieve) the results you were after.

Fast forward to today.

The internet brought with it a wide democratization of real estate investing information. Let’s take BiggerPockets — the leader in the space — as an example. On this platform, you can not only access content from experts in various investing niches, but you can also comment on those ideas and get your questions answered by the author or other readers, as well as by the community as a whole on the Forums. In addition, you can “vet” different strategies with people who have played the game before and can share the results with you.

This is a wonderful thing — for the most part.


Related: How to Avoid Shiny Object Syndrome in a World of Shiny Investment Opportunities

Options Lead to Inaction

As psychologist Barry Schwarz wrote in his influential book The Paradox of Choice, instead of increasing our sense of well-being, an abundance of choice is increasing our levels of anxiety and wasted time: “Whether your choice comes down to trivial things like breakfast cereal or important things like investing for retirement, an overwhelming amount of options can lead to complete lack of action.”

In real estate investing, the idea that despite all the choices at your disposal, the perfect strategy is just around the corner can lead to paralysis by analysis. That is, you are so busy researching that you never actually execute on any of those ideas. The cost of this inaction to the average investor can be devastating. If you substitute a decade of execution with a decade of research, worry, doubt, and more research, it can cost you over a million dollars in net worth and six figures in passive income.

But although paralysis by analysis happens to some, it doesn’t happen to the majority of you. The condition that is most likely to derail your path to financial independence is what I like to call Shiny Strategy Syndrome (SSS).

Shiny Strategy Syndrome

The plot usually takes the following path. Let’s say you are a successful professional with good income whose goal is to reach financial independence through real estate investing. After researching different strategies, you come to the conclusion that a long-term investment strategy focused on quality assets that you methodically pay off over the next 10-15 years is the right fit for you. So you get a game plan together and start executing.

A year later, you own 2-3 cash flowing properties, and everything is going according to plan.

Then one morning, you read an article about someone who’s killing it by flipping houses. Next thing you know, your long term plan now seems like a slow motion plan, and you want to get on the flipping fast lane. Although that strategy isn't a good fit for your personality or risk tolerance, you convince yourself that your duty is to make your money work as hard as it can. So not only is flipping the right thing to do, it's the moral thing to do.

Fast forward a year, and you come to the realization that the strategy was not a good fit for your long-term goals. You may have made a little money, but you couldn’t sleep at night. It was something about your risk tolerance not aligning well. Time to get back on track with your long-term plan.

Then one day, you listen to a podcast episode that has you convinced that quality assets aren't the way to go. You can accomplish your goals so much faster if you invest in mobile homes or cheap houses in Detroit or turnkey properties with 20 percent returns or…

By now, you see where I’m going with this.


EVERY Strategy Works

Here’s the truth that nobody ever tells you: EVERY strategy works!

Any of those strategies you read about — long term investing, flipping, mobile home parks, $30k homes in Detroit, turnkey properties, new construction properties, multifamily, subject to, owner financing land — they all work, and they’re all effective — for someone. You name it, and I can show you someone making serious money with it. In some cases (cheap homes in Rust Belt), the people making the money are the people selling you the properties, but that’s beside the point.

Now, here’s another fact you’ve probably never heard: While all strategies work for someone, most of them won’t work for your goals.

Related: Don’t Let Shiny-Object-itis Kill Your Real Estate Investing Career

It is critical that you get very clear about what it is you are trying to accomplish and who you are as an investor. If you want to get rich in 90 days, a long-term strategy is not going to work for you. If you are a conservative investor, flipping homes will drive you crazy. The strategy you use is just a tool — and like most tools, they’re good at performing a specific job. The trick is to figure out what the job is you need to get done so you can select the appropriate tool for it. And once you figure it out, the secret is to stick with the execution despite the tempting siren calls of the next shiny strategy that claims to solve your problems.

Here’s a rough illustration of what strategy hopping can do to a long-term investor’s quest for financial independence:


In conclusion, the democratization of information spurred on by the internet has been incredible for the real estate investing space. Not only do you have access to the ideas of an incredible brain trust from all over the world, but now you can also get valuable feedback and experiences from the community as well.

You should take advantage of all these new ideas delivered through blog posts, podcasts, and webinars to educate yourself about the pros and cons of every strategy.

But once you get clear about what you’re trying to accomplish and your investor profile, pick the right tool for the job and see it through to the end. Avoid Shiny Strategy Syndrome; that will strand you in the “desert” and cost you valuable time and money.

Investors: Have you ever been plagued by Shiny Strategy Syndrome? What strategies help you keep your eyes on the prize?

Let me know with a comment!

Erion Shehaj helps successful professionals achieve financial independence using the Blueprint Real Estate Investing™ strategy. By comb...
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    Curt Smith Rental Property Investor from Clarkston, GA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    this is undoubtedly great advice. but the Atlanta market changes every 18 months. When I see new and experienced investors doing is they don’t change as the market changes and either they end up over the cliff or their deal profit drops or just gets to be a tremendous amount of work. so when I’m talking to new people yes I say the same thing that you do but once you’re doing deals I also say look over your shoulder and make sure the market isn’t turning on you because you gotta stay one step ahead of change. 🙂
    Chad Carson Investor from Clemson, SC
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Hey Curt, I agree about staying one step ahead of change. It’s crucial. But I think core principles & strategies don’t change much for real estate investors. For example these general strategies will probably work for a long time: – Buy low, sell high – Buy with long-term financing that creates positive cash flow today – Only use low-risk financing – Use positive cash flow to accelerate loan payoff How to achieve those investment principles will surely change often. What it means to buy low may change. How much positive cash flow we can buy may change. But the good stuff is fairly consistent. Warren Buffett is the best example of this. He’s had only a couple big core strategy shifts over the course of his career of MANY decades. The market has changed like crazy, but he still seeks to buy solid companies with a margin of safety.
    Curt Smith Rental Property Investor from Clarkston, GA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Oh Hi Chad, thanks for commenting on my comment. LOL Your over arching is true no doubt as well. But new folks need the extreme details, which DO change: – what zips to look for deals. In a hot market like Atlanta this is always changing. – What house type and price range, also always changing – rehab finish. True is strategy depending (pre-hab, full rehab, just rental) A live example from our path over 5 yrs. – bought off (the house candy store) for 1 yr in top high school districts but super cheap houses, as renals. – Wall Street, Chinese, CA’ers came to town forcing us out in 18 months, so we moved out 45 minutes to 3/1’s and 3/1.5s, still light fixup into rentals. – The 45 min out 3/1’s went up in price, so we moved to double wides on their own land near or in small towns yet close to good jobs. Rent to own, seller finance to up the quality of the renter and to still achieve near zero landlording effort. – Did the doublewides buying with cash for almost 2 yrs, inventory meeting our rules dried up (inventory today is in super rural too far from jobs), so now we moved back to stick built bought with porfolio lenders. – Buying stick builts in a hot hot jobs county still with cheaper rental inventory that allows for 22% cash on cash all said and done. … I’m certain that in 18 months that county will have dried up and I’ll have to move to what I’ve at that time determinied to be next hot (and easy) deal type. Note, certainly no new person, rarely do I hear of experienced investors being this adept at jump top of wave to top of wave. Just saying, buy low, sell high yes, but new through experienced need specifics and thats where the advice HAS to be based on current market conditions (that’s always changing). Another true story from my REIA: a flipper works the same zip for years. Now complains he’s just breaking even on his flips… Hmm (I think to myself).
    Tom LeBorgne Involved In Real Estate from Denver, North Carolina
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Newbie question. When you get 22% cash on cash returns are you including any principal paydown in that number or just using cash flow in the numerator?
    Curt Smith Rental Property Investor from Clarkston, GA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Hi Tom. Only sellers and brokers include equity pay down to puff up numbers. “Cash” on cash means stuff you can spend each month. 🙂
    David C. Investor from Hillsboro, Oregon
    Replied over 4 years ago
    So you described me almost exactly to a T, from what I have so far, to what I’m considering next. Thanks much for the article. I’ll at least give my next move a bit more thought and consideration.
    George Krischke Real Estate Broker from Honolulu, HI
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great advise to stick with the long term plan and don’t get sidetracked. I see some that fall prey to the shiny strategy syndrome in multiple areas of their life. I would like to add that at least for myself I still like to diversify my real estate investments to spread the risk and have multiple income streams at respectively different risk levels, as long as overall risk for my whole portfolio is manageable. Rather than switch strategies, I look for opportunities to employ repeatedly a few strategies that I’m comfortable with. For myself that means: 1.) I like to accumulate some more short term vacation rentals (I’m in Waikiki) that produce higher rental income but are somewhat more volatile to tourism fluctuations. And, to balance the risk, 2.) I still like to accumulate more rock solid steady rentals that don’t impressive with cash flow but are easy to manage and have 0 vacancies. And, 3.) I still like to do a couple of quick fixers that might end up good candidates for a possible 1031 exchange into 1.) or 2.) above. 4.) I like to pay off in full one loan each year on my older rentals to increase overall cash flow when the internal rate of return makes sense to do so. Key is to stick to your plan and don’t get in trouble with overleveraging. ~ Aloha
    Chad Carson Investor from Clemson, SC
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Like that plan, George!
    Douglas Larson Rental Property Investor from Salt Lake City, UT
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great post and most of us are guilty of trying new things, whether they just look so shiny and easy or perhaps it’s because our local market changed or the national lending trends tightened or whatever, and we suddenly have to adapt. You bring up the most important concept though, which is that each shiny strategy can work, so we must be clear about our goals and also our strengths and weaknesses. Then, we find a niche that fits us well and work it as long as we can.
    Carol Frome Rental Property Investor from Bennington VT
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Terrific post!
    Chad Carson Investor from Clemson, SC
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great post, Erion! Home made illustrations are the best too:) I like to use those from time to time.
    Steve Vaughan Rental Property Investor from East Wenatchee, WA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    No wonder so many new folks are overwhelmed, right? I still have a hard cover copy of Robert Allen’s infamous No Money Down from 1980. It was clean and simple: strategies to buy a house for long-term wealth with little to none of your own money. Then do it again! In this world of the mile wide but inch deep internet, we have to keep our eye on our goal and stay focused. Thank you for reminding is of this and also for your awesome!e illustrations!
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great post. The cover pic looks like me…. a wild-eyed redhead with stars circling my head. Seriously, some good info in your post as well as in the comments.
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, MO
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great article! And I love the graph too. The Shiny object syndrome is a killer for sure
    Bart H. Currently work as a Computer Security Officer from Savannah, Georgia
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Like you mentioned in the post, RE strategies are tools. Which tool (or strategy) will get me to my destination? I may have to use several of them because the as the market changes, so may my strategy, but the goal (destination) stays constant. I’m new and thought I was going to use exclusively the tool of ‘subject-to’s’, but I’m seeing that I may have to use others to get me to my destination. I’m glad to know that all of the strategies work, you just have to be consistent when using them.
    Tom Shepard Investor from Brentwood, Tennessee
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great overall advice, however, I think you need to stay agile enough to take advantage of opportunities that will end up enhancing your overall strategy. My wife and I are working our buy and hold strategy, however, we are working on one flip with a partner that will allow us to propel our strategy forward faster for the rest of 2016 and into 2017. Definitely agree to sticking with what works for you once you find it, but also a firm believer in not passing up slam dunk opportunities. Being flexible and agile while maintaining long term focus is a great strategy in and of itself!
    Diedrick Nagle Rental Property Investor from Golden, CO
    Replied over 4 years ago
    The Paradox of Choice, fantastic read and I love this quote from the article… “Whether your choice comes down to trivial things like breakfast cereal or important things like investing for retirement, an overwhelming amount of options can lead to complete lack of action.” As a new Investor I appreciate this guidance, thank you for the article.