Real Estate Investing Basics

Investor Spotlight: Prioritizing Financial Stability & Time Freedom—& Attaining It in Under 2 Years With Erin Helle

Expertise: Mortgages & Creative Financing, Flipping Houses, Mobile Homes, Buying & Selling Houses, Landlording & Rental Properties, Business Management, Commercial Real Estate, Real Estate Marketing, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Personal Finance, Personal Development, Real Estate Wholesaling, Real Estate News & Commentary, Real Estate Investing Basics
11 Articles Written
Mother Carrying Son And Daughter As They Play In Park

Erin Helle served in the Army for 14 years but wanted to design a new life once her two daughters came into the picture. She sought time freedom but also wanted to show her daughters what hard work looks like. To accomplish both, she landed on real estate investing—and purchased nearly 20 doors in less than two years. 

Name: Erin Helle

Age: 33

Location: Monterey, California

What were you doing prior to real estate?

I served in the U.S. Army 2005-2019 as an Engineer Officer. I excelled and loved every minute of it, shattering glass ceilings and paving the way for women who would come after me.

However, shortly after having my first daughter, I was put on orders to deploy the same month as my husband. At that point, I knew the Army was no longer going to work for me. I resigned and then joined the Army Reserve but was released when they found out that I have a heart condition.

What got you interested in real estate investing, and how did you get started?

I got out of the Army to take care of my two little girls and wanted to create financial freedom for my family. I loved the flexibility of real estate investing (REI) and the ability to scale it. I also loved that it would allow me to build a business that I could tangibly hand down to my girls and something that they could watch me build!

I was determined to be successful and show my daughters the value of hard work and creating something to be proud of. Yet I did not want to be tied to a 9-5 job and be told where to be and when to be there. So, I embarked on a quest to figure out exactly what that looked like.

Related: BiggerPockets Podcast 372: Flipping and Rental Property Investing 2,000 Miles Away with Erin Helle

Navigating the terrifying but incredibly fulfilling journey of buying my first rental property led to the realization that I loved chasing the deal, negotiating, and building a solid future for my family. Fast forward and—along with my husband—we purchased 19 doors in the first year and a half, and our business earned six figures during the first full year of operation.

I now own over 30 doors and have a portfolio valued at around $2.4M. I also coach other investors and serve as a real estate agent.

Female real estate agent holding house and keys

Related: Investor Spotlight: Firefighter Chasing FIRE Locks Down 50 Doors in 1 Year Featuring Kyle Robertson

What is your real estate investment plan and preferred investing strategy?

My investments are diverse. I've purchased single-family and multifamily with various intents, including buying and holding and fixing and flipping. My plan is to build a portfolio that cash flows $20,000 per month.

How much did you have to invest when you first started?

About $150,000, including IRAs.

What was your first deal?

A new build single-family home that is now a long-term rental.

How many deals have you done to date?

50

What is the most important part of a deal for you?

Cash flow and appreciation.

Related: Investor Spotlight: From USMC to FIRE With Just 5 Properties Featuring Dion McNeeley

How do you know if a property fits your goals?

By now, I can tell within about 90 seconds if it fits my criteria. I look for positive cash flow, low vacancy, and appreciation (path of progress). I run a cash flow analysis but also analyze markets before even looking at properties. I then have property managers help me determine rental and vacancy rates and the type of tenant it will appeal to.

What red flags do you look out for when purchasing property?

Unknown info about the major systems, high vacancy rates, high crime, and property managers who say they "won't manage properties in that area."

How has real estate investing changed your life?

In Every. Possible. Way!

Related: Investor Spotlight: $10K per Month in 4 Years & Retired at 31 With Ryan Chaw

It has allowed me to earn a living from home (which is great for a military family who moves around often!). It has allowed me to feel very secure about our future. It has given me confidence and purpose. I have truly found my place in this industry, and I am so grateful!

What’s your “why”—the reason you pursued real estate investing and your drive to keep going when things get tough?

My family—financial freedom and the ability to travel the world and support my Army Special Forces husband is what it’s all about.

What should people consider before getting involved in real estate investing?

Listen to those who are successful. Find a mentor or a coach, and commit. Take action, make offers, and follow your dreams.

How did you find out about BiggerPockets? How has it helped you?

I’ve been listening to the podcast forever. I can’t even remember how I actually found out about it.

BiggerPockets has helped me in so many ways! Importantly, it’s provided a way to connect with other investors and see that others are out there doing it, too—which is inspirational. I can always find an answer to my questions through this community.

Is your real estate investing journey similarly inspiring? Share here for a chance to be featured in the next Investor Spotlight!

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    Beth Henson
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Erin, I remember your episode well ! Thank you so much for writing this, reading your responses- i felt like i would answer the questions nearly identically !
    Bryan Tecson
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Very inspirational! Need this to keep me pushing to my end goal! Love this! Thanks a lot! If you don’t, I’ll connect with you Erin regarding the refinance part of the BRRRR. More success to your business!
    Josh Rowland Real Estate Agent from Colorado Springs, CO
    Replied about 1 month ago
    The comments are inspiring, but there's absolutely no meat in the article... no action steps or story of how it happened, what types of deals you did, who you learned from, what type of funding partners or anything substantial.
    Stan Wu Virtual Assistant from Bend, Oregon
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Josh: I have learn BP is more of driving traffic to the site with quick articles, where one is encouraged with morsels to find something substantial. I fall for the bait often.
    Jessa Claeys Managing Editor from Denver, CO
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Thanks for reading and for this constructive criticism. We'll keep it in mind when publishing future editions of Investor Spotlight. For more "meat" in this instance, consider checking out Erin's guest appearance on the BiggerPockets Podcast by visiting biggerpockets.com/show372.
    Howard Chen from Sacramento
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Jessa is a real person!!!???This whole time I thought Jessa was BP’s version of Alexa from Amazon 😅 nice to meet you Jessa, and thank you for the work you put in, to give us wonderful curated content!
    Jessa Claeys Managing Editor from Denver, CO
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Hiii 👋🏼I'm real! Thank you for reading!
    Brett Tvenge Rental Property Investor from Phoenix, AZ
    Replied about 1 month ago
    What markets are you investing in?
    Sisee Adams Rental Property Investor
    Replied about 1 month ago
    That's my question too. Not too much information in this article.
    Aalap Sharma Investor from Fremont, California
    Replied about 1 month ago
    +1 to that
    Joe Colmen New to Real Estate from Ventura County
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Lets be mindful, this took place over 7 years ago....
    Ryan D. Rental Property Investor from San Jose, CA
    Replied about 1 month ago
    The article is dated 28 Oct 2020.
    Chryssa Rich Investor from Boise, ID
    Replied about 1 month ago
    I’d like to know if you would have been able to do the same without your husband’s salary as a fallback while you ramped up your real estate portfolio. Any advice to those of us going it alone without $150k cash to start?
    Gina Medrano New to Real Estate from Cliffside Park, NJ
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Super inspiring! Especially with everything you were juggling at the time. It’s posts like these that keep me excited about my future. Awesome way to represent for the women as well!
    Lauren Hoekstra New to Real Estate from Los Angeles, CA
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Thank you for your honesty in disclosing the cash you had to start out with. On BP I’ve come across many examples of successful RE investors that start off with 40k or less, but less clear on how to get started when you have more sizable savings.
    Gil N. Surveyor from Poughkeepsie, NY
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Good success story. But I didn’t learn anything. I was hoping on some blueprints or steps on how I’m frustrated wondering what I’m doing wrong been in the game now since 2013 and only have 3 sfr not making enough yet to let go the 9to5 Ugh. Thanks anyway
    Bobbie Lehnhof Investor from Gilbert AZ
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Very inspiring!
    Tim Robinson Realtor from The Hague, Netherlands
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Thanks for sharing Erin! Love your story and wish yo continued success.
    Nate Buffington
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Erin, what has been your experience using property managers for your buy and hold strategies? Any pros or cons?
    Robert Haney Investor from Sugar Land, TX
    Replied about 1 month ago
    I agree with the "not much meat" comment. I doubt much activity is/was in the "home" location of Monterey California. - How many different locations were there? - How long stationed in each location? - Or is most investment done in one or two locations long distance from the military location? - How develop multiple rehab teams long distance? - What percentage cost is property management? - What horror stories do you have?
    Greg Hamer Real Estate Agent from Carmel, California
    Replied 29 days ago
    I'm a realtor in Monterey, and i can guarantee that the property locations are NOT in Monterey. :)
    Michael Sharp from Utah
    Replied about 1 month ago
    I agree no meat on the bone. Terrible article. I'm retired military, I will say this was kindergarten work. I own apartments. I am not very active because I hear I bought thousands of doors my first year from everyone. No telling how or where just they did and it can be by anyone. I've bought the books, listened to hundreds of bigger podcast. I got one quadruplex. I cash flow it. I have 800 credit score. I can't find zero lenders out of 27 tried for another one. There needs to be way more in depth knowledge given. I am tired of hearing I did it and you can too. That's not answering the question.
    Christopher B. Investor from Southeast, MI
    Replied 13 days ago
    I'm willing to help Michael, sharing how I started, where I am, and how I plan to move further.