Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice

Want to Be a Millionaire? Find a Mentor and Work for Free!

Expertise: Personal Development, Commercial Real Estate, Real Estate News & Commentary, Landlording & Rental Properties
66 Articles Written
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How to Become a Millionaire Through Real Estate Investing

In the past, I’ve written about the powerful benefits of finding a real estate mentor or paid coach. I stated that there are two paths within the mentor route:

  1. The most well-known is the paid coach. Most of us are aware of paid coaches who charge a fee to train you and get you from zero to potential real estate hero. I described how I have spent $25,000 on two separate occasions to hire a paid coach, and both were worth every penny.
  2. The less popular route these days is to find a “master” and be their “apprentice.” While this was a very common model in the Colonial Era, it faded almost two centuries ago as we entered the Industrial Revolution. But I think this is a powerful and viable option for real estate investors who want to get to the next level.

Below is a portion of what I said about master-apprentice-style mentorships.

Master-Apprentice Mentorships

In prior centuries, the master-apprentice relationship was a great way to learn a trade. A young apprentice would offer his services to a master at no charge, and the master would teach him his trade and sometimes provide room and board. This relationship commonly lasted for seven years.

Much of America was shaped by people who learned trades from these types of masters. Though this practice is uncommon today, it is certainly one way to learn about commercial real estate.

If you are in a position to do so, you may want to find a master in the field of your choice—say, a multifamily or self-storage owner/syndicator—and ask them to teach you their trade. But don’t approach them with that pitch.

Everyone is busy, and you’ll likely get a “no.” I’d recommend that you invite them out for coffee to get to know them a bit (and you should buy). Tell them you’d like to eventually get into a business like theirs, and ask them if you can provide your services to them for free.

Tell them you are good with X (whether it be spreadsheets, research, administration, SEO, direct mail, grunt work, or something else). Say you’d be happy to help them out in exchange for the opportunity to hang around their office and get to know what they do.

If you get a good response, they’ll likely be skeptical of your willingness to follow through for long. They’ve probably had offers like this before. So don’t make the offer unless you’re committed. You may want to make an initial time commitment and/or agree to take on certain projects.

Once you have secured this role, go the extra mile. Provide the timeliness and quality of service that they wish they had from their own staff. Do it like you’re doing it for your own company or as if you were being paid on commission for quality. Do more than is asked and think of ways to serve them that they haven’t even thought of. (There’s a great book by Barry Farah called Customer Success that details this level of service.)

Related: How to Find a Good Mentor in Real Estate & Business

Make yourself indispensable to the boss if possible. At some point, you may get an unexpected check—or job offer! At the least, you will hopefully be given a sneak peek at what they’re doing and an opportunity to learn more. This boss may even eventually become your business partner or allow you to buy the business from him someday.

If you want to go down this path, the first thing I’d recommend is that you look closely around your own community. Ask for references at local real estate meetups or real estate investor associations. Look online to see who is based in your city. You may be happily surprised.

If you can’t find who you’re looking for locally, you may have to widen the net. This might include a visit to a regional player or maybe someone farther away. Browse BiggerPockets’ forums or contact someone you see on a crowdfunding site or elsewhere online.

If you’re flexible and really committed to this path, you may find that you would be best served by finding the perfect master wherever they may be, doing a trial run with them, then moving to their location to make the most of the relationship. This would certainly speak volumes to the mentor, by the way.

Finding the right unpaid mentor may take a few tries, but I believe that your persistence will pay off.

Work in Real Estate—in Any Capacity

In another post, I explored a separate path to real estate world domination: getting a job. Yep, a real J-O-B. Working for the man.

I realize this isn’t a popular path on BiggerPockets (you free-spirited entrepreneurs, you!), but I’m just saying it’s a route that many successful people have followed over the years.

Let me tell you about a successful real estate entrepreneur who took BOTH of these paths before she launched out on her own, eventually becoming a real estate mogul.

Real-Life Example: From Russian Immigrant to Real Estate Millionaire

Inna Rubinchik’s name is synonymous with luxury real estate in San Francisco. Inna is in the top 1 percent of leasing agents in a fiercely competitive market in the city, but she began her journey in a very different place.

Inna was born in Russia. She moved to the United States with just a suitcase at 14. Inna got a degree in accounting and then a master’s in taxation. Afterward, she went to work for Deloitte in 2004.

Working a “Good Job”

By 2008, she was a senior tax consultant. Her team found a massive tax-saving opportunity for a large international client, and they spent an enormous amount of effort researching how to re-file years of their tax returns to save the client millions of dollars.

When the big day came, her team rolled out their ambitious strategy and waited for the CFO’s reply. He summarily shrugged and moved on to the next item of business, dismissing the team’s hundreds of hours of effort.

Wanting a Better Job

Inna knew right then that she did not want to be in that position again. She wanted her life and work to count. This was about more than just money.

She decided to take control of her destiny by launching out on her own. Inna spent about a year walking the streets of San Francisco, wondering what to do next.

She determined she wanted to get into real estate. She had a sense that she wanted to be an asset manager, but it was 2009, and the market was in the dumps. She ripped several pages out of the phone book and began circling real estate investment companies. She started researching each one.

Trading Unpaid Labor to Acquire New Skills

This resulted in 40 emails to local firms. She told them who she was, detailed her education and experience, and explained why she was approaching them. She ended each email by requesting an unpaid internship.

She said, “I know the market is in the gutter right now, but it will come back someday. When it does, you will have a fully trained, dedicated team member who is positioned to help your firm grow.”

Related: 10 Entrepreneurs Share Their Most Memorable Mentor-Taught Lessons

Inna received four responses. This turned into three informational interviews, but most interviewers were unsure where she would fit in.

In the last interview, she sat in a conference room with seven partners of the firm. They asked her if she would commit to a 90-day unpaid internship. They would re-evaluate their relationship after that.

Learning the Ropes

Inna started the next day. In a short time, the firm saw her value and began to pay her $1,000 per month. Then, $2,000. Eventually, they raised her monthly pay to $6,500. She worked at this firm for five years, from 2009 until 2014.

She said they taught her everything she knows about real estate. This included how to underwrite a property, how to work with brokers, the acquisition and onboarding process, and much more. Inna helped her team manage a billion-dollar, high-end office portfolio.

The firm ultimately acquired a 25-unit luxury property. Inna was pregnant with her first child and needed flexibility at the time. They allowed her to take over the management of the property, which included marketing, sales, and leasing to tenants, among other things.

Finding Success (& Happiness!) Through Real Estate

Two years later, with a jolt of entrepreneurial enthusiasm, she launched out to start LeasingAgent415, a leasing division for Zephyr Real Estate out of their prestigious Pacific Heights office. She later moved LeasingAgent415 over to Compass.

Inna is currently the No. 1 leasing agent in San Francisco. She was the "2018 Apartment Association Leasing Manager of the Year," and she is currently the president of the Women's Council of Realtors.

She has been involved in more than 200 transactions, totaling over $25,000,000. She leased the highest-priced luxury condo in San Francisco for $23,000 per month in 2015.

Inna was educated in accounting. She practiced in taxation. But she found her calling and destiny through boldly seeking out an unpaid mentorship.

Today Inna is her own boss, and she is achieving the financial freedom that many others only dream about. Though she started off at the bottom, she’s made it to the top. She was willing to sacrifice in the short-run to reach her long-term goals.

The Bottom Line

We all love seeing the downtrodden reach the top. It was built into our nature.

But I also love this story because it demonstrates the combination of two paths to real estate mastery and success. And it reminds me that there are so many roads that lead to wealth in the realm of real estate.

Inna had two degrees, and it would have been easier to stay on course in a job she disliked. Who would have blamed her—especially with the cost of living in that city and the fact that real estate was out of favor in 2009?

But Inna sacrificed.

She left the career for which she had been educated and trained. She invested a year to think hard about her future. And she was willing to work without pay for as long as it took to learn a new business, add value to the firm, and pave a road for a profitable future in real estate.

What are you willing to sacrifice to reach your goals?  

Share in a comment below!

 

After graduating with an engineering degree and then an MBA from Ohio State, Paul started on the management development track at Ford Motor Company in Detroit. After five years, he departed to start a staffing company with a partner. They sold it to a publicly traded firm for $2.9 million five years later. Along the way, Paul was Finalist for Ernst & Young's Michigan Entrepreneur of the Year two years straight. Paul later entered the real estate sector, where he completed 85 real estate investments and exits, appeared on an HGTV Special, rehabbed and managed dozens of rental properties, developed a waterfront subdivision, and started two successful online real estate marketing firms. Three successful developments, including assisting with development of a Hyatt hotel and a multifamily housing project, led him into the multifamily investment arena. Paul co-hosts a wealth-building podcast called How to Lose Money and is a frequent contributor to BiggerPockets, producing live video and blog content on a weekly basis. Paul is the author of The Perfect Investment—Create Enduring Wealth from the Historic Shift to Multifamily Housing (2016) and is the Managing Director of two commercial real estate funds at Wellings Capital.

    Scott Rogers from Neenah, WI
    Replied 2 months ago
    Great article. Find a mentor is definitely the best way to shortcut the learning experience. The trick is always to make sure you provide value to someone whom you are looking at as a possible mentor.
    Oleksandr Ivanovskiy Rental Property Investor
    Replied about 2 months ago
    Glad to hear the person from my neck of the woods achieve success.
    Karen Young Investor from Greenville South Carolina and Lihue, HI
    Replied about 2 months ago
    Another great article from Paul Moore!
    Inna Rubinchik
    Replied about 2 months ago
    The best part of the story is that I currently take apprentices myself! #LeasingAgent415
    Paul Moore Rental Property Investor from Lynchburg, VA
    Replied about 2 months ago
    Thanks for all the comments, everyone. And thanks Inna for being a great case study!