Sarah Weaver lives with intention, reacts with flexibility, and practices patience. It’s how she managed to acquire 15 units and travel the world as a digital nomad. It’s why agents hire her to coach them. It’s how she started a company to fill a need in her industry. It’s how she earned the financial position to be able to pursue properties in the Smoky Mountains, an area that would have been out of reach for her just a year ago.
But her journey wasn’t always smooth sailing. 2020 was a particularly transformational year, she explains on an episode of the BiggerPockets Real Estate Podcast. She admits to doing things the wrong way before learning to do them right. She wasn’t sure how to navigate her relationships with real estate agents or how to narrow her focus to the right investment strategy. That knowledge was, like Weaver’s success, earned through hard work. Now, she has carved a path that other long-distance investors would feel lucky to follow—and there’s a lot to learn from her story.
People sometimes ask Weaver how she grew her wealth so quickly. She says it wasn’t easy — but it was most certainly intentional. “I think one thing that I can say with confidence is I live really intentionally,” she says. “Was there a lot of tears and setbacks and frustrations? Absolutely. But I woke up and I was really clear on what my goals were and I didn’t let the little things knock me down.”
In 2015, Weaver wrote in her journal that she wanted to be location-independent. Within eight days, she had a job in the real estate industry that allowed her to work remotely. “And that was this ‘aha’ moment of manifestation. And so, ever since then, I’ve just been really diligent about writing down what I want in life and then not really taking no for an answer.” She knew she wanted to live in Buenos Aires. So three years ago, she bought a one-way ticket to Argentina. When you’re intentional about the life you want, you understand that obstacles are par for the course—and you don’t let them turn you around.
Where to Start
A lot of success in real estate comes from starting with the resources you have. Weaver was living in Denver, Colorado, in 2017. The area was cost-prohibitive for her at the time, so she drove to Kansas City, knowing she could get a better price. “And so I house-hacked in Kansas City in 2017.” She went from single family to duplex to fourplex, house-hacking in different markets each time. It was never an accident that she would become nomadic. She built her investment strategy intentionally for that lifestyle.
Co-host of the BiggerPockets Real Estate Podcast, David Greene, echoes that a lot of success in real estate and business is built in small steps. “It’s that incremental systematic progress where you’re not trying to just knock your opponent out in one punch,” he explains. That kind of patient escalation is something that Weaver has done very well.
The Perks (and Challenges) of Long-Distance Investing
“I think long-distance investing is the absolute way to go even from day one. People ask like, ‘What do you do if something breaks?’ And I say, ‘It’s great. You don’t do anything.’”
Doing nothing, however, requires a lot of proactive work. “ I have what I call the vendor list. And so I don’t just have one plumber. I have five plumbers because of course the day that something happens, the plumber that you love and trust isn’t available. And so that list is crucial.” She starts working on that list as soon as she’s confident she’ll close. It’s how she self-manages all of her 15 units from thousands of miles away.
Doing nothing also requires that you do your due diligence, she says. “You have to have a team on the ground that you can trust. And so that’s where investor-friendly, investor-savvy real estate agents are absolutely clutch. You need to trust them, but just like online dating, you trust but verify. And so I like to have video tours. I walk the neighborhood on Google Earth. There’s lots of steps in my due diligence process that make long-distance investing possible.”
And though it might go without saying, strong WiFi is crucial. Weaver recommends setting up in a new locale on a weekend day to ensure you can get consistent internet access during the week.
Though distance can be an obstacle, it also has its perks. Living abroad allowed Weaver to keep her expenses low, save more of her salary, and go from three units to 15 in just 68 days. “And when that happened, I woke up and was like, “Wow, I did it,” like I exceeded my lean F-I number or lean financial independent number. Meaning all of my expenses are more than covered by my rental income. I can easily leave my W-2.” It was always the end goal—and now it’s a reality.
Navigating Relationships with Agents
Working with agents can be difficult even when you’re not in a different time zone. Investing from abroad presents an even greater challenge. But ironically, when you invest from a distance, you rely on your agent the most. Weaver says choosing the right agent is part of the puzzle, and having flexibility in your expectations is another. “Ideally, your agent is also an investor, or at least understands investing,” she says. She asks probing questions when interviewing a real estate agent, such as:
- What does your lead generation look like?
- What does your portfolio look like?
- Have you ever done a BRRRR before?
Learn about the different types of agents and how to find the right investor-friendly agent that knows your strategy and your market in this free, on-demand webinar with Anson Young, Investor-friendly Real Estate Agents: The Hero on Your REI Team.
Once you have a good agent, you should, of course, try to keep them. This means setting crystal clear criteria so your agent can confidently find what you need. For example, when Weaver was in New Zealand pursuing a deal in Omaha, she provided her agent with incredibly detailed criteria. “He knew to give me purchase price, current rent, market rent, estimated rehab, taxes, and insurance.” And that information made it easier for Weaver to evaluate the deal.
Maintaining your agent’s trust also means putting your money where your mouth is. “One of the quickest ways to be sent to the bottom of an agent’s list is to tell them your crystal clear criteria, the agent sends you that deal, and then you don’t write an offer on it.”
It’s important to be respectful of your agent’s reputation and time. If they’re going to reach out to their contacts for you and find off-market deals that meet your criteria, you need to be certain about what you want and willing to write an offer when you find it, or it will reflect poorly on them. Weaver also has different expectations of how her agents spend their time than she would from a residential agent. “I actually don’t make my agents walk a property unless I’m under contract,” she says, because their time is spent hunting deals.
Check out Agent Finder to find the right investor-friendly agent, fast.
Choosing the Right Investment Strategy
Weaver’s success was only possible because she focused on one strategy at a time. Currently, she’s finding a happy medium in the medium-term rental strategy. “If you have someone who’s willing to book your place for a month, two, maybe three months, they want it fully furnished. You, the landlord, cover utilities, and you might not get as much rent as you would on Airbnb, but there’s less turnover. There’s guaranteed income,” she says.
This strategy also allows investors to evade local ordinances that restrict the number or type of short-term rentals allowed, which have become popular in Western states, particularly Colorado.
Weaver says she’s had success listing her units on Facebook Marketplace and FurnishedFinder.com. But Airbnb can also be a reliable place to find medium-term tenants. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says more people are reserving rentals for a longer period because the pandemic has led to more remote work. In the fourth quarter of 2021, 22% of the nights booked were for stays of one month or longer.
Filling a Market Need
Investors often have the unique ability to recognize the unmet needs of other investors, and that’s the idea behind Weaver’s newest venture. “I am now filling a need in the market. I started a company called Arya Design Services, and we help investors either revamp or fully launch their Airbnb. We can buy all of the furniture remotely, have it sent to the unit, and people on the ground can put it together, or you can fly my team in to furnish it themselves.”
It’s just another example of the opportunities that can present themselves when you live with intention, react with flexibility, and practice patience.
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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.