5 Ways the Military Prepared Me for Real Estate Investing

5 Ways the Military Prepared Me for Real Estate Investing

5 min read
Megan Greathouse

Megan Greathouse is a St. Louis-based entrepreneur, working toward financial independence while raising two young children. Megan’s primary path to FI is buy and hold rental properties, but she is fascinated with learning about and experimenting with all sorts of passive income streams.

Experience
Megan began her career as a public affairs officer in the Marine Corps. After four years of active duty service, Megan transitioned to corporate America, working in brand management for a large consumer goods corporation.

She began investing in real estate in 2017, focusing on small multifamily rentals and flipping a few properties to build capital along the way. She left her corporate job in January 2019 to focus on raising her two young children and building her real estate portfolio. Megan currently owns 10 rental units in St. Louis.

Press
Megan shares her experiences as a real estate investor and entrepreneur by contributing to the BiggerPockets Blog. She has also been interviewed on the From Military to Millionaire podcast (hosted by David Pere) and the Your First Real Estate Investment podcast (hosted by Tony Robinson). Megan documents her journey on Instagram @parttimeempire and hosts a popular monthly networking meetup in St. Louis to bring real estate investors and professionals of all experience levels together to learn and share about the local market.

Education
Megan earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (public relations focus) from Saint Louis University, and a Master of Business Administration (marketing focus) from Washington University in St. Louis. She also completed various leadership courses during her active-duty service in the Marine Corps.

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If you haven’t served in the military yourself, chances are you know someone who has. Every year on Veterans Day, our nation honors those who have served. As a military child and former Marine myself, I use the day to reflect on all I gained from my experiences with the military.

The Marine Corps challenged me physically and mentally. It taught me how to lead. It allowed me to travel. Now, a couple of years into my journey, I realize that it also prepared me for my entrepreneurial endeavors.

Read on for five ways the military influenced my investing career.

How the Marine Corps Made Me a Better Real Estate Investor

1. Courage

Many would-be investors find themselves paralyzed by fear. Worst-case scenarios of failing and losing large sums of money can keep even experienced investors awake at night. (In fact, I wrote an article about ways to overcome fear and begin the investing journey.)

The military taught me that courage isn’t the absence of fear but the ability to act despite fear. Joining the military also showed me that regularly doing scary things helps me to remain even more calm with each new experience.

I was full of butterflies before I headed to my first summer of Officer Candidate School (boot camp for officers), as well as when I showed up at my first duty station and as I boarded the plane to go spend six months in Afghanistan.

I was nervous before buying my first rental property, too. But by then, I had some experience with doing things that scared me.

Oftentimes, new things are scary simply because they are unknown. The more often you try new things, the less anxiety-ridden those experiences become. This isn’t just true in business and investing—networking with new people, trying tough new workouts, and traveling to new places can all be ways to practice pushing your comfort zone.

If you want to get into real estate, but you’re filled with fear, make trying new things a regular part of your life.

Female trainer assisting woman to climb a wooden wall

2. Bias for Action

In any endeavor, whether it’s reorganizing your closet or jumping into real estate investing, the first step is the hardest. It can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to get started.

How do you know what the first step should be? When should you take that step? What if you don’t have all the right information?

In the Marine Corps, we were taught to build a plan up to about 80 percent and then just go. During training exercises, we were given strict time limits to review the information we had and draft our plan. Once that time was up, we had to take action.

The lesson here was that, in life, we never have 100 percent of the information. We never have a perfect set of circumstances. Those who are victorious are those who are comfortable taking action and then learning and adjusting along the way.

If you’re waiting for the “perfect” real estate investment to come along, you’ll never find it. Find something good, and then take action!

3. Endurance

It’s easy to see how endurance can be associated with the military. I know my time in the Marine Corps included a healthy dose of long runs, obstacle courses, hikes with heavy packs, and field exercises.

During tough physical training, our instructors often reminded us that you can do anything for 60 seconds. The saying would morph to fit the timeline we faced.

“You can do anything for 10 minutes.”

“You can do anything for 30 days.”

Related: How Giving Back Can Help You Invest in the Future

Endurance doesn’t just apply to physical tests. Any mentally or emotionally challenging task requires endurance to see it through, and real estate investing is no exception. At some point in every investor’s journey, there will be a moment (maybe several) when it seems everything is going wrong. A renovation will go bad, or tenants will stop paying rent, or an unexpected capital expense will hit.

Having the strength to learn from mistakes and keep pushing forward is crucial to making it through those challenges. Endurance is the difference between the investor who built an empire and the guy who tried once and walked away.

Afghanistan

4. Leadership

Leadership is complex and multifaceted. People spend entire careers studying the topic and honing their leadership skills. For the purposes of this article, I’ll focus on two leadership lessons I’ve taken from the military and applied to my real estate investing career.

  • To lead is to serve. As a Marine officer, I was taught that officers eat last. A leader is not there to be served but to serve and support those in their charge. I bring this into my investing career by striving to take care of my lenders, agents, contractors, tenants, and fellow investors. This means showing respect, helping others succeed, and seeking win-win situations in my professional relationships.
  • Leadership isn’t a popularity contest. Servant leadership doesn’t mean I run my business like a charity. While I seek to give respect and earn respect, I also try to remember that leadership isn’t about being everyone’s best friend. A leader must maintain high standards for themselves and those around them. That sometimes means saying “no” and sticking to your policy, no matter how much you may want to be liked by your tenants and colleagues.

Whether you have two rental houses or 2,000 units, you must be a leader in your business to keep your real estate investments on track.

5. Financial Foundation

It’s a common misconception that military service members make next to nothing. Look up current military pay scales (which are easy to access online), and the base pay rates do appear meager. In their first year, a newly enlisted servicemember makes right around $20,000 per year. A newly commissioned officer (someone who has completed a four-year degree) makes just over $38,000 per year—25 percent less than the $51,000 per year average of college graduates in 2019. (1)

However, base pay rates are just one piece of a rather large array of pay and benefits that servicemembers receive. On top of base pay, servicemembers also receive an initial allowance to buy uniforms, free health care, and free housing on base or a housing allowance to live off base.

In certain instances, during deployments or other situations involving “hazardous duty,” servicemembers are exempt from taxes and earn additional incentive pay. Finally, there are many programs that offer educational and real estate-related benefits to those who have served.

Related: 8 Ways the VA Loan Serves & Protects Veterans

In my four years of active duty, I took advantage of a college loan repayment program that wiped out my undergraduate loans, made completely tax-free money plus hazardous duty pay during a six-month deployment to Afghanistan, built a positive net worth by living below my means, and qualified for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

After the end of my active-duty service, I continued to make money by serving in the Reserves while using my GI Bill to get an MBA for free. That MBA led to a corporate position with a six-figure salary.

Finally, I bought my primary residence using a VA loan that required 0 percent down, allowing me to put more cash toward my real estate investments. So, while it may surprise some people, the Marine Corps gave me an immense leg up in building the financial foundation from which I began my investing journey!

The Botton Line

These five things are just a few of the ways my military background has helped me as a real estate investor. Now, take the opportunity to think through how your background has prepared you to invest.

We all have experience and advantages that can be applied to real estate investing. Find yours, and use them!

Sources

  1. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/compensation/pages/new-graduates-job-offers-up-but-salaries-mostly-flat.aspx

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