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THIS is Why You Hear About People Losing Their Shirts in Real Estate (& How to Be Different)

David Greene
15 min read
THIS is Why You Hear About People Losing Their Shirts in Real Estate (& How to Be Different)

Learn to invest! For the small, small fee of $20,000, we can teach you everything you need to know about how to flip homes, quit your job, and find financial freedom in three months! Tell that boss where he can shove it and start making money from this sailboat we are showing you a picture of because that’s what every human being secretly wants to do, and we can help you be one of them!

Sound familiar? This is pretty much how every real estate investing seminar/coaching program starts off. Literally as I am typing this now, my Youtube channel is being interrupted by someone wanting to show me the “secret” to “unlocking” several millions of dollars in real estate “profits.” I mean, how lucky am I that this person who can pull money off of trees is willing to share his/her secret system with ME? Looks like that chain letter I forwarded back in 4th grade really was a source of good luck. Who would have known?

These advertisements drive me nuts. They target the absolute worst target audience to be getting into real estate investing and appeal to the worst parts of them—their greed and desire to create wealth without taking the time to build a foundation. They’re vultures that prey on the naive, ignorant, and vulnerable. It makes my skin crawl just typing about it.

Now, full disclosure here—I have clients who pay me to coach them in investing. I do teach people how to invest in real estate, and I get paid for my time. However, there is a really big difference between what I spoon feed my clients over the course of a year and what a seminar jams down their throat over the course of a week. And THAT is what I want to speak to you about today. There is a right way and a wrong way to learn this business, and how you go about pursuing your education has a lot to do with how successful you will be. It also has a huge impact on the way you end up viewing real estate. Ever wonder why some people talk about real estate as if it is the love of their life, full of passion and excitement, while others spew venom and bitterness about how it’s all a rip off?

I used to wonder, too. Now I know it has a lot to do with how they started their journey and what their expectations were in the beginning.

Our Unique Hardwiring

The more time you spend in a particular environment or engage in a particular activity, the better you get at it. This is because our brain starts to pick out patterns we didn’t see at first. Additionally, our brain also remembers what worked in various scenarios we’ve encountered in the past and knows where to go to find those solutions in our mind when we encounter similar experiences in the future.

This is something I’ve learned a lot about in law enforcement. As a cop, my partners and I have to make really fast, really high stake decisions in very short amounts of time, often with very little information available to us. It’s incredibly stressful and far from the ideal way to make decisions of great significance. As a result, our brains learn to find answers to the particular problem facing us as quickly as they can.

I am an instructor for my department, teaching officers how and when to use varying levels of force to protect themselves and the public. One of my duties is to look at different scenarios, see what officers did, and look for ways to help them improve their performance. I mention this to provide some background as to what I’ve learned after digging into how our brains work and why they work the way they do.


Related: 6 Ways of Thinking That Determine Investing Success

A large key to why we make the decisions we do is because under stress, our brains look for the solutions that have gotten us out of similar stressful situations in the past. Officers who tend to lean on their ability to talk their way out of anything try just talking louder when they get stressed as opposed to taking action. Others officers who learned to anticipate their opponent’s next move (perhaps with a sports background) are more likely to assume the suspect is going to do something dangerous before they have a good reason to believe so. This is how we as humans are programmed to work.

What I’d like to point out is, you are also a human, and you are also likely to lean on your past experiences when facing stressful situations today. Did you grow up with helicopter parents who never let you fall? When you face financial difficulty, your first response may be to think about who can help you out by giving you some money. Did you learn to walk away from a situation before it got worse? Your first response may be to cancel a deal going bad before you’ve considered every option at saving it.

The better you know yourself, the more likely you’re able to prevent your own bad habits or experiences from sabotaging your investing career.

Now that I’ve spelled all this out, keep it in mind as we discuss two different types of people interested in real estate investing and how their experiences and levels of success can vary wildly.

The Desperate Investor

The desperate investor is in a bad place to find success and may not know it. Lacking the traditional tools to find success in real estate investing, they are usually trying to put the cart before the horse. Real estate investing is a great way to build wealth, but it really works best when you already have a little bit of money to work with. Starting a fire from a small flame is pretty easy. You just keep adding wood until the flame reaches a point you are satisfied with. That’s the same way adding homes to your portfolio when you have some good equity (the flame) works.

Starting a fire from scratch is a totally different story. Ever seen the movies with the guy using the small, skinny stick on top of some dead leaves on a rock? Twirling it rapidly between his hands until the friction causes some heat that leads to smoke and eventually a flame, he successfully builds the fire he wanted from nothing.

What the movie doesn’t show is in real life, you’re probably doing this until your hands bleed, certain kinds of sticks won’t even work, and all the leaves around you might be too wet to work with. Investing with no money at all is kind of like that. You’re going to work yourself to the bone “networking” and learning. You’re going to need to find the right kinds of people, not just any person, just like not just any stick will work. In addition to that, the homes around you might not even work for the purposes you want them to! The leaves around you might be too wet and won’t work for fire starting.

Let’s be honest. How long are you going to keep rubbing your palms raw before you give up and walk away? The majority of people might find better success just looking for a cave somewhere or finding someone else to share a fire with instead. Nobody tells the desperate investor this is the way it is, and they pay the price for it. The desperate investor lacks the tools to get started.

I’ve used the analogy of real estate investing being like MMA fighting before. These are the people in bad shape who don’t even know how to throw a punch, and someone is telling them in three months they can be the bully on the block and beat the guys who have been training for years. It’s just stupid. It’s beyond stupid, it’s ridiculous. But no one tells them that so they don’t realize what they are getting into.

The desperate investor doesn’t have experience.

The desperate investor is curious to learn about real estate because they don’t know much about it, but know it can make money. They don’t understand the terminology. They understand the concept of “risk,” but they don’t know where those specific risks lie. The desperate investor doesn’t know the rules of the fight and has never taken a shot to the gut. They don’t know how to respond to the wave of emotions that are going to hit them. Real estate can bring pure excitement. It can also bring deep fear. The desperate investor doesn’t know the right way to respond to these emotions because they haven’t been around this enough.


The desperate investor doesn’t have knowledge.

The desperate investor is trying to learn how real estate works while simultaneously making money at it. Would you want to learn how to fight while also in the cage match? No way. You train in a safe environment where you can perfect the skills and learn the techniques without getting hurt for a long time before you step into the cage. Trying to learn while you’re trying to earn at the same time is a recipe for disaster.

The desperate investor doesn’t have contacts.

Obviously, contacts are important. They help you find deals, right? Well, yeah, but they also help you save deals. Having contacts you can reach out to when the HVAC goes out and the contractor says you need a new one is pretty big—especially if you know someone that can fix the one you have and save you $5k. Knowing who to call when things go wrong is a huge part of successful investing. The desperate investor doesn’t have this yet. They are trying to meet these people while also buying properties.

Would you be looking to the stands to find a good coach to help you in your fight while the other guy was actively chasing you around the ring trying to hurt you? Not a good time to find support.

The desperate investor doesn’t have money.

This one is actually pretty big. I know there are a lot of people who tell you that you don’t need money to invest in real estate. That’s true, you don’t. But you do need something. If you don’t have any of the other things on this list, you should definitely have the money!

The desperate investor is trying to use real estate to make money. In my opinion, real estate works much better to grow money than to make money. Real estate is probably one of the safest things you can invest in. There are failsafes everywhere to help you from losing capital—as long as you have reserves. Reserves are important, really important, and if you don’t have money, you won’t have reserves.

Ultimate fighting is scary, but it’s not insanely scary because there is a referee that can step in and stop the fight. If you are trying to invest with no money in reserves, you have no one to step in and bail you out if you’re knocked out and still getting hit. This could lead to a real estate coma or even your investing death. Investing with no money is foolish and a good way to make sure you end up hating real estate.


Related: The 13 Tell-Tale Traits of a Scammy Real Estate Investment Guru

The desperate investor doesn’t have a general idea how real estate even works.

This one may sound dramatic, but it’s true. Real estate can be complicated stuff. There are unique terms, there are lending standards to learn, there are repairs to understand. There is a lot of stuff. If you want to start growing, you need to have a basic idea how the whole thing works. If you don’t even have that, you can’t expect to have a good experience starting out.

This is literally the worst kind of situation to find yourself in when trying to break into and learn a new field, yet these people are told by gurus they can make millions doing this!

The Ideal Investor

The ideal investor is someone who understands how real estate works. They understand the risks involved, and they are comfortable with them. They have a skill set they believe will serve them well in this business, and they have confidence they can use it successfully. The ideal investor has enough extra income to cover any unexpected expenses and doesn’t worry about losing the whole property due to unforeseen circumstances or a run of bad luck.

The ideal investor knows people in the industry who can give them a competitive advantage.

At the very least, they know people who can let them know if something smells fishy. The ideal investor doesn’t know everything, but they know how to find out what they don’t know or who to ask. This gives them the confidence to move forward into uncharted territory with confidence. They know that things can go wrong, but they believe they can solve these problems. In essence, they “know what they don’t know.”

The ideal investor is looking to grow wealth they’ve already created.

They have developed a skill set from their current occupation or life experience that allows them to learn, grow, and adapt to whatever is thrown at them. Their life is likely arranged in a way that is conducive to their investing. They have a strong debt-to-income ratio and plenty of disposable income to invest without worry. They aren’t going to bed hoping the deal goes well or their kid won’t eat, and even if a deal doesn’t go well, they are grateful for the learning experience.


The ideal investor is in a position in life where they already control their finances through controlling themselves.

They don’t make bad decisions out of uncontrolled greed, and they don’t make bad decisions out of fear they can’t pay the rent if they don’t flip another house fast.

The ideal investor has a lot the desperate investor doesn’t, right? They are primed for success, whereas the desperate investor is all but destined for failure. These skills and resources the ideal investor possesses that the desperate investor doesn’t makes all the difference when it comes to how their experience is going to be.

What’s Your Motivation?

Your motivation is going to be what determines which type of investor you are. To put it simply, if you are determined to really learn how investing works, you will take the time to build your foundation before jumping in that fight. You will understand the terminology, understand how the numbers work, know who to go to when things go wrong, and feel pretty comfortable sustaining yourself if your property has an eviction, lawsuit, or unexpected expense.

If you are motivated to get money fast, you’re probably destined to fail. Real estate is a get rich slow game. If you need money right away, it will affect your judgement, and you’ll find yourself making questionable moves. These are the people who start off with good intentions but burn others because they really need to close a deal to pay their car note. They don’t pay their contractors because they don’t have the money to. They change the terms at the last minute and try to pull the wool over your eyes because they are desperate to get paid.

If you are motivated by fear of being broke or selfish greed, real estate investing is not for you. This is not a quick buck game or a get rich quick scheme. And you know what? Those gurus who are telling you that you can make $100k in two weeks with none of your own money are targeting YOU. They know you will make questionable financial decisions because you don’t have the patience to build the foundation necessary to do well at this—and they want to capitalize on that before someone else does.

It’s really the equivalent of going to a drunk guy at a bar who feels like superman and telling him you can make him an ultimate fighter in a few weeks.

The drunk guy believes what you’re telling him because his judgement is impaired by alcohol. Is yours impaired by financial stress? Fear of losing something? Lack of patience in the pursuit of quick success? There is a reason everyone says that success takes time. Over thousands of years, it’s been proven true consistently enough that it’s universally understood by everyone, as long as they are in a sober and humble state of mind.

The gurus and rip-off seminars are banking on the fact they can appeal to the worst part of you. They are in essence ripping you off by teaching you how to conduct business in unhealthy ways that will likely lead to you ripping off others. The whole cycle becomes ugly, and those people rarely ever succeed.

Take a minute and think about it—if you had the secret to make millions off of a few deals with none of your own money, would you be telling others about it? Were the gold miners in the gold rush screaming to all the others when they found a deep vein of gold? If someone is telling you they can teach you to knock anyone out with one punch, you should be a little skeptical of that. Bruce Lee wasn’t even doing that—and you’re not Bruce Lee.


The Ideal Roadmap

So if we know all the ways not to try and get started, what’s the way to do it correctly?

It’s really simple. Focus on learning before earning. Take time to learn the fundamentals. Don’t walk into the gym and try to master the cool-looking, super rare and hard-to-pull-off moves. Learn the basics first. Learn how to block, how to protect yourself, how to not make mistakes. Learn who the best fighters are, watch them, and copy what they do. Really train yourself on the fundamentals and get good at them before trying to learn the cool stuff.

Learn the jobs of each person involved in real estate. Get a good idea of what your agent is actually doing for you when you ask for something. Find out what motivates them and what bothers them. Ask what is realistic to expect from them.

Learn how contractors make money and what they actually do. Learn what materials work best in what situations and how much these things cost. Find out where other investors buy their materials and find out which specific materials they are using! Learn what prices other are paying and why they are rehabbing a specific way. Ever look at a house and know it was a flip right away because it looks like all the other flips you’ve seen (bonus tip—it has a lot of grey tiles and flooring with light and white cabinets/counters)? That’s because flippers know what materials appeal to the largest numbers of buyers, and they target them! You can learn this by watching long before you ever do it yourself.

Learn what lenders need to approve you for a loan. Find out what their formulas say you need, then go out and adjust your personal finances to conform to them. Take advantage of the time you’re learning how real estate investing works to get your own financial house in order.

Learn what books other real estate investors read. We all talk to each other. We all mastermind. We all get excited about stuff and blab about it. There is a reason we are all talking about the same stuff. The cream always rises to the top, and we are into the very best! You can be, too, even if you’re not ready to get in that cage match yet. You can still develop the heart and mind of the warrior.

Related: 80 Percent of New Businesses Fail. Here’s How to Beat the Odds.

The Simplicity of Success

I promise you, success is so much simpler than you think. You may wonder if it’s so simple, why don’t more people find it? Because it’s simple, not easy. A redwood grows high by a very simple process. It gathers sun from the sky, nutrients and water from the soil, and it just keeps going in the very same direction (up) a little bit at at time over and over and over. That’s it! Most success works this way. People quit because they give up when it’s not easy.

Well, I’m glad it’s not easy. If it was easy, more people would find it and then it would become harder to compete. That make sense? The fact that it takes a while to get a foundation built in real estate is why more people aren’t competing with me and I’m able to buy houses easier, faster, and cheaper. It’s also why I’m comfortable telling you the “secrets.” It’s simple, but it’s hard.

If you’re here on BiggerPockets, you obviously care about your education. You are doing the right thing. My challenge to you is to step it up. Do MORE of the right thing. Learn more. Grow more. Give up more in the pursuit of this. Sacrifice more of your comfort to save more capital. Test the limits of your comfort zone by meeting people in ways you don’t really like to.

Remember in the beginning of this article when I explained how our brains are trained to find solutions that worked of us in the past and repeat them, especially in times of stress? Ask yourself if your past responses were really the best way to respond now. Ask yourself if the way you’re doing things now is the same way the successful people are doing it. Ask yourself if you are sabotaging your own success with what’s comfortable.


The Danger of the Shortcut

Many people have told me what I’m saying isn’t the only way to find success. They ran ahead before they were ready and lost their fight. Guess who takes care of all their clients now? The redwood does.

When I first got training in personal combat, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. People were putting me in arm bars and I had no idea it was even coming until I realized my elbow was ready to snap and I couldn’t outmuscle them. I didn’t understand which positions on the ground were advantageous and which were problematic. Do you think it was tough to beat me? Guys half my size were destroying me.

It wasn’t until I learned the fundamentals that I could protect myself. It wasn’t until I could protect myself that I learned to start taking the offensive. Once I reached that point, I felt comfortable putting myself in dangerous situations where it could get physical and not be scared of what could go wrong. I knew what I didn’t know before. I was ready to get in the game.

My first deals were full of similar experiences to my first combat training. I didn’t know I needed to look for special assessments on property tax bills until I ended up closing on a property with some I didn’t even know existed.

Just like I didn’t know which positions were advantageous on the ground, I didn’t know which properties I could negotiate aggressively and which ones had no breathing room. See how that works?

Taking the time to learn before you earn is what determines what kind of experience you’ll have when you’re investing. Being introspective and asking yourself if the way you respond is really the best way to respond is what determines how quickly you’ll learn and when you’ll be ready to get started.

Real estate investing isn’t complicated. It’s pretty simple, all facts considered. People don’t quit because it’s too complicated. They quit because it’s not easy and success doesn’t come fast enough. Don’t be a statistic; be an investor. Build your foundation before you get in the cage.

We’re republishing this article to help out our newer readers.

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How are you preparing to become a real estate investor? If you’re already investing, is there anything you wish you’d done before jumping in the game?

Let me know with a comment!

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.