Real Estate Investing Basics

How Adopting 7 Kids at Once Led Me to Launch My Real Estate Investing Career

8 Articles Written

The truth is that I did not get involved in real estate in a meaningful way until later in my life. I have been a chiropractic physician for 29 years, but I'm really an entrepreneur at heart. I have started or purchased six multi-discipline medical clinics in my career and have been involved in a number of other businesses. None, however, have matched the combination of relative safety and potential returns afforded by real estate. Still, for some reason, I could never pull the trigger and launch my real estate investing career.

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Unfortunately I sat on the sidelines for a number of years. I hoped to get started but never did. Like many of you, I read Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad and a few other real estate books, but it wasn't enough. Looking back now, I can point to several life events that lit a fire under me and finally got me off the bench and into the game. Over the past few years, I have flipped a couple houses, owned a small apartment complex, developed a large commercial retail strip center, syndicated a 125-door multifamily townhome complex, and am just finishing the co-syndication of a large self-storage deal.

I am in my 50s and wish I had started earlier. No matter your age, though, if you are procrastinating like I did, hopefully you can use one or more of the following five steps to get started.

5 Steps to Launch Your Real Estate Career

1. Find your passion.

Twenty years ago, my wife and I became interested in adoption. We had two biological kids at the time and wanted to adopt a third child.

While working with an organization that facilitated the adoption of Eastern European orphans, we heard about a sibling group of seven Russian children that the Russian government was going to split up and send to three different countries. My wife decided she would make it her personal mission to find a family that could keep these siblings from being separated. The idea of someone taking that many kids into their home blew us away, and we made a list of all of our friends and acquaintances that we thought might be able to afford such a monumental task.

The Russian government announced they would be separating the children in a few months. As the date approached with no takers in sight, we began to ask ourselves if there was any way we could adopt them ourselves. It’s a very long story, but fast forward to August of 1988. We were told at the U.S. Embassy that we had completed the single largest adoption in U.S./Russian history (at a single time). It was a big culture shock to bring seven Russian speaking kids into our home for sure. But the real shock was just around the corner when the financial reality of our decision began to hit home. Nine sets of clothing, nine bikes, nine soccer teams, nine college educations, nine weddings—you get the picture. The financial pressure began to build.

I rapidly set out on a course to produce more income. I started or purchased six different medical clinics. I developed an athletic club, which eventually grew to 1,500 members. I purchased a sports performance enhancement franchise. And we even started a coffee shop/deli. Some produced more cash flow than others, but the one problem all those businesses had in common was that they took immense amounts of my personal time. I was fairly successful at creating additional income, but I was killing myself. My family life was suffering. I quickly realized working 70-80 hours a week would not work.

There are few things that I am more passionate about than my family, so I threw myself into a massive search for ways to create passive income. It was this search that eventually led me to real estate.

You can do the same thing. Figure out what you are passionate about. Focus on the end results. Get fired up and use that passion to fuel your real estate dreams.


Related: If I Started My Real Estate Business Again Today, THIS is What I’d Change

2. Harness fear.

As humans, nothing makes us react quite like fear. Fear comes in all shapes and sizes. There are literally hundreds of types of fears and phobias—fear of pain, of disease, of injury, of tight spaces, of rejection, and of failure, to name a few. People will do just about anything to avoid their fears. If they are forced to face fear, they go into “fight or flight” mode or they are paralyzed by fear and do nothing at all.

Fortunately, a random encounter with a couple of patients changed my investing mindset forever.

It was March 6, 2009, and the stock market was in the final throes of its great crash. I walked into a treatment room, and there sat a patient with tears streaming down his face. It was odd because this was a big burly guy who had just retired from a local factory and was a pretty tough character. I soon found out he was not crying because of his back or neck pain but because he had just lost almost all of his retirement savings in the stock market.

Apparently, this gentleman had taken his retirement payments as a lump sum and had recently dumped it all in the market. As he sat on my exam table, he explained how in a few short days, he had lost more than 70 percent of his retirement savings, and those savings had taken him 40 years to amass! I am not usually at a loss for words, but nothing in my medical training could have prepared me for that moment.

A couple of days later, I was seeing another patient. Mrs. Smith (not her real name) was a 50-something retired school teacher and seemed to be in a better mood than normal. I noticed her cheerfulness and asked her why she seemed so happy. She went on to explain how she and her husband had taken all of their retirement funds out of the stock market about a year previously and had used the funds to buy rental property. Their rentals were leased, and frankly, they were really enjoying retirement. Fortunate to have gotten out of the market when they did, this new landlord was not affected by the downturn in the markets at all.

I had really never trusted the stock market. I mean, with the almost-daily headlines of one major bank after another caught cheating their clients or gaming the system somehow, this lady’s message really hit home with me. Even so, I had always been too afraid of missing out on that once-in-a-lifetime Amazon or Microsoft stock pick to shift my investing away from the stock market. Right then and there, it finally hit home.

When it came to real estate, I was afraid to make a mistake that would cost me money. Since I was not sure when or where to start, I just sat doing nothing for years. I had “analysis paralysis, ” but I realized I was much more scared of ending up like my first patient, crying in a doctor’s office somewhere having lost the majority of my retirement.

I finally made a commitment that real estate would be my investment vehicle of choice.

3. Find your motivation.

A few years back, an MRI revealed I had a torn rotator cuff, torn labrum, and arthritis in my shoulder. Decades of occupational abuse and years of chasing baseball scholarships had taken their toll. My orthopedic physician announced I could either give up my chiropractic career immediately, or in about four years, I would need a shoulder replacement. Suddenly, I was heading toward for an untimely retirement.

I was shocked. I had dedicated the last 29 years of my life to helping people heal. My entire identity was tied up in being a healthcare provider. At the same time, Obamacare was rapidly eroding away my practice of two-plus decades. I had no idea what I would do, but knew I needed a plan and needed one quick.

After much angst and a considerable amount of prayer, I decided it was time to jump in with both feet. I still have a medical practice, but am working full-time on a plan to exit healthcare as soon as possible. Even though I didn’t recognize it at the time, life circumstances helped me find my motivation.

Each individual has their own unique mix of life experiences and desires that fuel their drive for success. For some, it’s the thought of a penniless retirement. For others, it is the commitment to never let their children grow up in poverty (like they did). Some people say that success is a lake home or traveling the world. Others have an altruistic motivation to give back to those less fortunate.

There are 1,001 books on ramping up personal motivation. For me, however, it boils down to a very simple concept: Focusing on my goals 10 times more than I focus on the roadblocks. Every time I run up against what seems like an insurmountable roadblock, I pull out my list of goals and focus on what I want to accomplish. Time spent focusing on what matters most turbocharges my motivation levels. The roadblocks seem to work themselves out.

What’s your motivation?

Related: How to Jumpstart Your Investing Career as a Multifamily Deal Finder

4. Hire a mentor.

Every athlete from t-ball to the big leagues has a coach. They need someone they can learn from who is more experienced. Someone who knows the ins and outs of the game. It’s no different in real estate. If you are serious about learning the craft, you need to find someone to teach you the ropes.

When I finally got serious, I hired a mentor. I knew if I spent my hard-earned money on a program, I would take it seriously. There are lots of mentors and training programs on BiggerPockets. For me, I knew the more expensive the program, the more commitment I was likely to have. I am not talking about a weekend seminar with a few handouts. I chose a company called 37th Parallel Properties. Their program is a comprehensive year-long mentorship. It includes visits to real assets across the country (much like getting an MBA in multifamily investing).

Don't get me wrong—not everyone needs to pay for a mentor, but don't attempt to go it alone. Learn from someone else's mistakes. It's one of the many reasons I am such a big fan of BiggerPockets. You can learn so much just by hanging out in the community and reading the advice of experienced investors. Whether you hope to invest in single family homes, self-storage units, large multifamily communities, or mobile home parks, there is always someone with expertise willing to share.

 5. Leverage the experience of others.

Maybe you don't need to change careers like me. Maybe you just want to use commercial real estate to turbocharge your portfolio. Maybe you just want to be a passive investor and have very little interest in toilets, tenants, and trash. If you are an accredited or sophisticated investor, syndicated deals may be the best approach for you.

Some companies offer syndicated real estate investments. They specialize in sourcing lucrative real estate assets and packaging them up for passive investors. They typically underwrite the project, perform all due diligence, line up debt, and complete the purchase. The companies then operate and oversee these assets so that their investors can realize great profits minus the headaches.

Choosing a company that you feel comfortable with is the key to any syndicated investment. While it is a much quicker way to jump into the fray, be careful! Take your time and choose the specific deal and syndicator carefully. Ask lots of questions and always check references.

So, what is holding you back? What’s it going to take to get you off the sidelines? Don’t procrastinate like I did!

Hey, if an old chiropractor can do it…

What motivation led to your first investment? What did your journey there look like?

Take a moment to share what it took to make your first real estate investment!

Dr. Brian is a practicing Chiropractic Physician and a co-founder of Wellings Capital, a commercial real estate syndication company. He just finishe...
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    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, MO
    Replied about 2 years ago
    That is something else, and adoption is a great thing that is sorely needed! Great job!
    Brian Robbins Dr from Danville, VA - Virginia
    Replied about 2 years ago
    @Andrew Syrios Thanks!
    Alex Hamilton Property Manager from Baton Rouge, LA
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Great Article it really inspires. Just one term or strategy I’m confused about. How do you Syndicate a real estate deal or investment property.
    Brian Robbins Dr from Danville, VA - Virginia
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Real estate syndication is when a person or company locates a suitable investment property. Negotiates a price and contract. Puts down earnest money. Lines up all contractors and inspectors to perform due diligence. Arranges the debt and takes care of all paperwork. And after all is ready packages up the deal and offers the opportunity to investors to participate in the project and become fractional owners. The syndicator then will oversee the running of the property for the life of the investment. They are responsible for sending quarterly distributions to their investors and regular updates. Once investor goals are met the syndicator oversees the disposition of the asset returning the investors equity plus any profits or may 1031 into the next investment. The SEC has rules governing who can and can not invest in these types of projects depending on what method the syndicator chooses to promote the investment opportunity. It is mostly a vehicle for busy professionals to passively invest in commercial real estate deals without any of the headaches of ownership or management….no toilets, tenants, or trash calls at midnight! Hope that helps!
    Paul Moore Investor from Lynchburg, VA
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Brian, Your story is such an inspiration. I’m glad you shared it here!
    Brian Robbins Dr from Danville, VA - Virginia
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Thanks Paul!
    Whitney Sewell Rental Property Investor from Roanoke, VA
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Great article Brian! Thank you for sharing about your adoption journey. As you know adoption is a big part of our family. I can’t imagine bringing home seven at once.
    Brian Robbins Dr from Danville, VA - Virginia
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Thanks for the kind words Whitney. I hope real estate helps both of us affect the lives of many orphans in the future. All the best!
    Andrew Leedom Investor from Chesapeake, Virginia
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Great to see you on Biggerpockets Brian, thanks for sharing your story and some nuggets of wisdom you have picked up along the way!
    Brian Robbins Dr from Danville, VA - Virginia
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Hope it was helpful Andrew. Cheers!
    John Cassel from York, PA
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Great article, keep them coming! I love your story. Currently I am working on closing my 2nd triplex in the last two months and am looking to step up to larger properties maybe 10-50 units. I don’t have 9 kids like you but since having my first kid he has become my motivation moving forward. Thanks again for sharing your story!
    Brian Robbins Dr from Danville, VA - Virginia
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Isn’t it amazing John how those little guys can light a fire under us to do things we might not otherwise? Congrats on the triplexes!
    Lana Lee from Philadelphia, pa
    Replied about 2 years ago
    First of, as an immigrant from Russia I have a deep gratitude for this truly heroic deed! Not only you gave this children the ability to stay together, you also gave them new caring family, which every child wants. On top of that, you gave them the opportunity for better life in this country! And secondly, your career is impressive! Chiropractor is the only kind of doctor I go to. My husband and I recently perchased a couple of rental properties, but the kind of RE business you doing, I can only dream of. Going to learn more about syndication. And we just have to read your book. Is it already published and is there an audio version? I just need my keep my eyes on my 3 kids, that’s why audio would be helpful! Wish you all the best!!!
    Brian Robbins Dr from Danville, VA - Virginia
    Replied about 2 years ago
    @Lanna Lee thank you for the kind comments. Congrats on the new properties! You are off to a great start. Every big dream starts with a few steps in the right direction…My book is on Amazon currently. Unfortunately it is not available in the audio version yet. Have just been too busy. Hoping to get that done not too far in the future. Feel free to reach out if you ever want to discuss multi family or self storage investing! Das vedanya! Dr. Brian
    Lana Lee from Philadelphia, pa
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Spasibo, Dr. Brian! I guess your kids are teaching you a thing or two about Russian language:-)
    Bryce Moore Lender from Los Osos, CA
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Awesome story Brian, thanks for sharing! Its always encouraging to hear some of the other drivers that move people into RE investment, besides just wanted ‘financial freedom’. Its a great example of what the RE can do for others in your life, not just a pursuit of getting ‘out of the rat race’, although that is also important. What markets do you work in?