How I Went From $0 Net Worth to Qualifying for $1M in Real Estate Financing in 2.5 Years

How I Went From $0 Net Worth to Qualifying for $1M in Real Estate Financing in 2.5 Years

8 min read
Scott Trench

Scott Trench is the CEO and President of BiggerPockets. Scott has dedicated his career to helping ordinary Americans build wealth in part through real estate investing. Since joining BiggerPockets in 2014, Scott has authored the bestselling wealth-building book Set for Life and joined Mindy Jensen as co-host of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast.

Experience
Scott is an active real estate investor in the Denver market, currently managing a private portfolio of about $1.5M and holds his real estate license as a Colorado broker.

He is a perpetual student of personal finance, real estate investing, sales, business, and personal development. With this knowledge, Scott stays active in the BiggerPockets Forums and has contributed hundreds of articles, market analyses, and files to BiggerPockets.

He hopes this will provide other investors the tools they need to repeat his results in just 3-5 years, giving them the option to go anywhere they want in the world, work any job, start any business, or finish out the journey to financial independence and retire young.

In addition to real estate, Scott enjoys skiing, rugby, craft beers, and terrible punny jokes.

Press
Scott has contributed to several personal finance blogs and podcasts, along with traditional news outlets including Time, CNBC, and NBC. Find out more about his story at JoeFairless.com, MadFientist, and ChooseFI.

Education
Scott graduated from Vanderbilt University with degrees in Economics and History, Corporate Strategy, and Finance.

Read More

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?

I just talked to a lender that prequalified me for over $1 million in financing. This is a conventional mortgage broker—not a friend, not a family member. This is a loan at the best rates available.

That’s $1 MILLION.

I don’t earn a ridiculously high salary, and I don’t have a tremendous amount of cash.

In this article, I want to talk about a reward that I did not foresee when I started investing in real estate. I want to talk about how I went from a position of approximately $0 in net worth just two and a half years ago to a position in which I am able to single-handedly purchase around a million dollars in real estate, right now, using conventional or even FHA financing.

For the foreseeable future, at least until I screw up badly or the economy collapses, I will have no problem getting access to real estate financing. This is in sharp contrast to most of my white-collar peers, for a reason that I will convey below. Please note that this article is written for investors who aspire to build real estate wealth while working a full-time job, not folks who are more on the “entrepreneurial” side of real estate investing, who fix and flip, rehab, or manage properties full-time.

See, the two things that hold most would-be part-time investors back from investing in real estate are their cash position and thus their access to financing.

In my opinion, accumulating cash is actually not too difficult. I chose to do it by systematically saving $20,000 of my first year’s wage income of just under $50,000 per year (yes, after paying taxes on that income), working hard at my job and changing jobs to earn more money over the last few years, and investing passively in index funds. While that may sound hard to some people, the fact of the matter is that pretty much anyone who works a median income job in a city that isn’t LA, SFO, or NYC can give themselves a great shot at saving up the down payment on a rental property in under two to three years. It could take less than one year if they house hack, as I did here in Denver while earning less than $50,000 per year. For example, conventional lenders will typically only lend to first-time investors if the investor can bring 15-25% down (15% on a single family rental or a duplex and 25% on a triplex or quadplex). That’s $45,000-$75,000 in cash on a $300,000 property. That’s a challenge for many people, but not for a big saver with a few years in the workforce.

real-estate-investing-easy

Why Many People Can’t Qualify for a Rental Property Loan

If you are a saver, you will eventually have no problem coming up with the cash to put 15% to 25% down on rentals with conventional financing. But if you make the choices that many Americans make with regards to consumer spending and the purchase of a first home that stretches you to your financial limits, you will be hard pressed to make a significant rental property investment in the next few years.

What does this mean in reality? Consider the following example:

Joey makes $85,000 per year and has $40,000 in lifetime savings outside of his retirement account. His lender tells him that this qualifies him for a maximum mortgage loan of approximately $400,000. The reason he is qualified for that amount, at maximum, is because the debt service, including principal, interest, taxes, and insurance, on a $400,000 loan is about $2,500 per month, or roughly 35% of his monthly paycheck.

So what does Joey do with this information? Well, he buys a $440,000 primary residence, putting roughly 10% down, and stretches himself to his absolute financial limits to live in the best home he could possibly purchase. Unfortunately, this wipes out his ability to save cash (a huge chunk of his paycheck goes to his mortgage), his current cash position (used for the downpayment), and his ability to get access to future financing (his debt to income ratio is maxed out, and lenders will no longer offer him credit unless he increases his income)!

Fast forward a year or so, and Joey now decides that he would like to achieve early financial freedom in part through real estate investing. He goes to his lender, and his lender tells him this:

“I’m sorry, but you will need 15-25% in the form of a down payment AND enough income such that you can cover both your home mortgage AND the rental property’s mortgage. It may be quite some time before we can offer you a loan for a rental property – come back to us in several years when you’ve saved up enough to get started.”

Joey is in a really bad position to begin investing in real estate. The reality of the situation is this:

If Joey wants to buy a second $400,000 property as a rental, he will need to accumulate $60,000 to $100,000 in cash to qualify for a loan. 

Folks, this is the position that many BiggerPockets readers are starting in! They earn solid salaries, but have little cash accumulated and debts, like a mortgage, that inhibit their ability to borrow. Joey is forced to buy tiny rentals to get started, rentals that will have little impact on his overall financial position and that may not be available or desirable to him, depending on his location. These rentals will produce income and wealth that is insignificant relative to his wage income and are more likely to annoy him than encourage him. Unless Joey has equity in his home and is willing to leverage that to invest, he is a long way away from building significant passive income from real estate.

Related: The Tax Implications You MUST Understand Before House Hacking

The Less Painful Route to Bank-Financed Rentals

But, I, Scott Trench, have avoided this predicament.

How, you ask?

By buying my first home as a house hack.

Unlike our poor friend Joey, I do not have any trouble accumulating cash or getting access to future financing. I’ve saved thousands of dollars per month compared to folks like Joey for years by house hacking and having my tenants cover all of my mortgage. I have passive real estate income. I have cash AND access to financing, all I could want.

When I go to the lender, you know what he tells me?

“Mr. Trench, I see that you have a wage income of $______. This income qualifies you for a mortgage of hundreds of thousands of dollars on its own as an upper-middle-class wage-earner at a respectable corporation.

Additionally, in your case, your current mortgages do not count against this income because the payments, including principal, interest, taxes, and insurance, are wholly offset by the rents your current properties receive. In fact, because we allow 75% of the gross rents your properties command to count towards your income, your current properties actually increase your ability to borrow.

Let’s add an extra couple hundred thousand dollars to your purchasing power.

Oh, and Mr. Trench, I forgot to mention. Did you know that because you are landlord with two years of experience, verified by your tax returns, that you can actually use the expected rent from a future property to count towards your purchasing power? That’s right, if you buy a property with four units and each unit is estimated to command $1,500 in rent, we can tack on 75% of that rent (or $4,500 in monthly income) to help you qualify for a loan?

Let’s add yet another extra couple hundred thousand dollars to your purchasing power.”

My eyeballs exploded when I saw the amounts that my lender was willing to offer me for my next purchase(s). I can, right now, buy property at well over seven figures in value (using a combination of low-down-payment loans like FHA and 5% down conventional), assuming I house hack (move in and put down 3.5%-5% on one very expensive quadplex and purchase one much less expensive duplex or single family). Of course, I plan to remain conservative and am looking to purchase properties under $600,000 this year—but wow!
life-on-half-income

Financial Freedom the Easy Way

I, with my experience as a house hacker landlord, find it very easy to get a loan at a great interest rate. Shockingly easy. Joey will find it extremely difficult. My ability to buy real estate is perpetually increasing and is, at this point, basically limited only to what I can bring to the table in cash, cash which is relatively easy for me to accumulate with each passing month due to my low expenses from house-hacking, and rental income from my previous property. Joey cannot get a loan without another co-signer, unless he can convince a private lender to give him money, likely on unfavorable commercial terms with high rates and origination fees. Joey is limited by his inability to save and his weak cash position. I am not. Joey may never get started and will have to fight very hard to get his business off the ground. I can offer on property worth more than Joey’s house every single year if I like.

Had I not house hacked and used my first large loan to help me generate rental income, I might be in Joey’s position struggling to save and earn more. My first rental purchase would likely be years away and/or a very small property in a less-than-desirable area (unless I was willing to sell my home and start over by house hacking–unlikely if I was settled into my home). I would not believe myself to be “conservative” in looking to purchase property priced as high as $600,000. I would not have the option to purchase property approaching or exceeding seven figures in value.

This is not an argument against buying a nice home. I intend to buy a nice home one day. But that purchase is at least a few years away. I’ll buy the fancy home when my house hacking income can easily cover the mortgage payment. My argument is to delay the purchase of that first home, at least for a few years, while one becomes a landlord the easy way, through house hacking. Or, at the very least, buy a home at a price point so conservative that you could easily buy two, and make a second property as a rental.

Related: Am I Missing Something, or Is Real Estate Investing Really Not That Hard?

Get the process started with a rental property that cash flows reasonably before buying a long-term primary residence at the upper bounds of your purchasing power. Put in your first year or two, and watch opportunities multiply in front of you. Do whatever you need to do to buy a solid rental property, large or small, and put yourself in a position where you can use the rent from your current and future purchases to help you out with your next purchase.

Then, when you have passive income, plenty of cash, and a proven track record, buy the nice home if desired.

If you can get started and set yourself up over the next few years such that you can save thousands of dollars per month and use your current and expected future rental income to purchase property, you may find real estate investing to be easy, fun, and automatic rather than something almost unattainable. Too many folks on BiggerPockets are spinning their wheels trying to get into real estate investing because they used up all of their purchasing power on a primary residence. In fact, the only set of circumstances that allows folks who buy their first homes to invest is when they experience a lot of appreciation on that home very quickly. That’s a big gamble to take, and that financial benefit would only be exaggerated if it were a rental property. If you do decide to max out on your first home purchase, you might find that financial freedom through real estate is decades farther away than it needs to be.

Looking to set yourself up for life as early as possible and enjoy time on your terms? Scott Trench’s new book Set for Life, slated for release April 23, 2017,and can be preordered on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other fine booksellers! Whether you’d like to “retire” from wage-paying work, become less dependent on your demanding nine-to-five, or simply spend time doing what you love, Set for Life will give you a plan to get there. This isn’t about saving up a nest egg. It’s not about setting aside money for a “rainy day.” Set for Life is an actionable guide that helps readers build the accessible wealth they need to achieve early financial freedom.

sfl blog image
Has access to financing been an issue for you as you start your investing journey? Any success stories related to house hacking?

Let me know your opinions and experiences below!