Posted over 1 year ago

No BS Real Estate Investing:A 6-year diary (with numbers and photos!)

Recently,I've simply gotten sick and tired of what I like to call "over-sexification" of real estate investing.

No it's probably not an actual word,but I'm sure you understand what it means.

Old traditional ways of investing in real estate no longer excites the new generation.The media is saturated by sexy ads showcasing some sweet-talking "self-made" San Diego millionaire hanging off the window of a private jet or standing on the roof of his latest purchased skyscraper.

If you pay close attention,hidden somewhere in the whole compelling narrative is some pitch to sign up to some boot camp or buy a book this brand new genius author has just written.It doesn't take a second genius to figure out where that first genius actually make their most money,and it's not from some real estate portfolio.More likely than not,he made his money selling the boot camps or books.

Sadly,this same phenomenon has slowly but surely taken root in the BiggerPockets community.BP was the last hope of the common man,as we all ran here for refuge to escape the nonsensical bluster and chutzpah of these professional narcissists.

Many posts now appear on BP that showcase simply unbelievable,fantastic figments of some guy's imagination.People claim deals that can hardly be born out in reality and hardly backed up by math.Often,the sole purpose of these posts is to garner "votes" and "awards" on BP as well as to appear as podcast guests.

All that wouldn't bother me too much if I didn't genuinely fear for the harmful effects of such fantasies on unsuspecting newbies on the site who often feel a deep sense of inadequacy and either get discouraged altogether or dive into bad deals that wipe them out before they've even begun their Real Estate journey.

So,I decided to do something about it.Like millions of others,I'm your typical boring real estate investor,conservative and deliberate.I have built a portfolio the traditional way,1-2 deals a year for the past 6 years.But what I will do on this post is give to newbies what my sexy counterparts seldom provide them:a blow-by-blow account of how I built my portfolio,including all the numbers and photos.Zero BS.

So are you ready?

Here we go:


I am a physician.

I know what you're already thinking right there.However,unlike in the 90s,physicians no longer make truckloads of cash.These days,we make low six figures like your average IT professional or insurance salesman.In 2011,I resigned from my full time gig with my physician group and went independent.This is largely because I needed to be in control of my time.I realized the core lessons of the book "Lifeonaire" years before it was even conceived by its author,Steve Cook.More of that in a future blog post.

Anyways,I did lots of extra work in early 2011 in anticipation of a move down to Florida from Cleveland OH.

In selecting a Florida city to relocate to,Real Estate played a huge role.I settled on Jacksonville after careful analysis.I arrived in town with $90k saved up,my entire net worth in life savings at the time.


*Deal #1:

Normal 1501957339 Marsh Pt Before

I was hooked up with a realtor by a friend and she sent me multiple MLS listings that suited my criteria:


2/Location:Historic Riverside or Beaches

3/Listed for less than $200k

Remember,this was 2011,the crash had happened 3 years before and everything was on sale.That is one major advantage I've benefited from.However,I've kept buying every year:more on that later in this blog post.

I decided on a quaint duplex several blocks away from the ocean.Let's call it "Marshy".

The owner owned several on the beach and was retiring.I regret not having enough money at the time to buy more off him till today.

Purchase price~$169k

Conventional/Quicken Loans


Closing costs~$5k


Gross rent in 2011~$1700

Gross rent today~$2400

Current appraised value~$220k

*Deal #2

Normal 1501957364 Cherry St

I learned from deal#1 that i could do better with my deal making.So I decided to look deeper for even better deals and drive a meaner bargain.Everything was on sale after all,right?

Let's call this beauty "Cherry".

The owner had inherited it and lived upstairs while renting out downstairs.She wanted to cash out so she could start a hairdressing business.

Purchase price~$131k

Conventional/Quicken Loans




Initial gross rent~$1500

Current gross rent~$2400

Current appraised value~$270k


All cash depleted.

Saved up all cash flows from Deal#1 and #2.



*Deal #3

Normal 1501957389 801 Acosta

In January 2013,I was ready.

I determined that buying retail was slow Math.If I wanted to grow real wealth in real estate,I had to figure out a way to buy sick under-market deals.That was exactly what arrived in my email from my realtor.

Some very ugly duplex at the intersection of two streets in my favorite historic district was peculiar in many ways.Upstairs had amateur paint art on all walls of heavy political and religious themes and downstairs had a pole dancing apparatus constructed in one of the rooms.Obviously somebody was running an underground strip club there.

Let's call this one "Acosta".

Anyway,this was a major rehab with new roof,new HVACs,plumbing and electric.We opened up the floor plan and painted inside and out.


Cash(Line of credit from SunTrust)


Rehab costs~$50k (cash advance on BOA credit card)

Total cost~$121.5k

Monthly minimum payment (LOC and CC advance)~$1200/Paid off July 2014


Initial Gross rent~$1700

Current gross rent~$2000

Current appraised value~$230k

*Deal #4

Normal 1501957421 Cherokee

In August,my realtor emailed me a 2/1 REO listing on the market for $30k.This was in my desired area where most SFR homes were selling in the $120k range at the time.I was initially reluctant because my focus was primarily small multis.But i said "what the heck!",value is value in whatever asset class.So I made a cash offer of $26k.

It was accepted!

Let's call her "Cherokee".

The cash was composed of all rental income from deal #1 and #2 plus whatever my saved 15% of income till date came to.





Initial gross rent~$700

Gross rent today~$850

Estimated current value~$100k


Cash Depleted


Saved up all rental income from Deal #1-4


*Deal# 5

Normal 1501957448 2673 Dellwood

After Acosta,I'd truly bit the rehab bug.I realized all the money was in creating your own value and not in retail deals.Again I instinctively came to this reckoning several months before joining BP and hearing @BrandonTurner talk ceaselessly about the BRRRR strategy.

This time,my realtor played no role.I was now a hungry shark roving the waters and actively seeking rehab targets.I was browsing Zillow (I don't have direct MLS access) every night with my filters set to capture my exact location and preferred asset classes.

Nothing turned up in multifamily.It was July 2015 and the deals were drying up in Jacskonville,all foreclosures and REOs had been mopped up.But I did find an SFR on a double lot just listed same day by a wholesaler on Zillow:3/1 in my preferred location,needing "TLC" asking $99k.

Zillow always lists contact phone numbers of owners or listing agents at bottom of the listing page.It was 7:30PM,I didn't expect him to pick the phone,but he did.

I asked if I could see it and he said he just happened to be working late if I wanted to stop by.It was a 30-minute drive,but I went there to meet him at the property.An old man who lived there was a super-hoarder who had died inside the home just weeks prior.There was still a morbid stench as we both walked through covering our noses and carefully stepping over junk. I made an offer of $72k which he rejected and insisted I must buy the empty adjacent lot as part of the deal valued at $12k.He wanted all $84k or no deal.

My MAO was $75k,but I knew the market was going crazy,so I agreed.I went with him to his nearby office same night and we signed a contract.

The next morning,about a gazillion "viewers" had "saved" the property on Zillow.

I didn't care.I was under contract.

As it turned out,the title company couldn't clear title on the empty lot.The wholesaler couldn't wait and agreed for me to get out of the empty lot per contract.So ended up paying under my MAO in the end!

Let's call her "Dellwood".


Cash/LOC (SunTrust)

Rehab~$40k (BOA Credit Card)

Total cost~$112k

Monthly minimum payment (LOC & CC)~$1200/Paid off March 2016


Initial gross Rent~$1150

Current rent~$1275

Current Appraised Value~$163k



I forgot to make 2 payments on my SunTrust LOC in late 2015 and incurred late fees twice.Unbeknownst to me,the late fees were not the only cost of my indiscretion.My credit score tumbled 20 points and my LOC was frozen by SunTrust.I could now only make payments and could no longer draw cash.


*Deal #6

Normal 1501957479 4324 Antisdale

It was a "long time no see" email from my realtor that brought this one:a surprising REO duplex in April 2016!

Since Historic Riverside was now unreasonably priced and no deals there made sense any more,I'd expanded my criteria to include the neighboring Murray Hill and communicated same to him by email.

Foreclosed from an investor and listed for $115k.

Of course there were multiple offers.I'd offered full price,but once i got a "highest and best" email,I knew I had to be on top of my game or I would miss out on my first duplex in 2 years.So I made a "blow-the-rest-out-of-the water" offer of $126k.It was accepted.

I knew the numbers worked as all the work required was a new kitchen and bathroom for the downstairs unit plus a new water heater.Upstairs was rent ready.

Let's call this one "Antisdale".


Cash/BOA cash advance(75k)+all rental income+15% saved earned income(2014-2016)

Rehab~$12k/BOA CC

Total cost~$138k

Minimum monthly payment on cash advance/CC~$1400(paid off with refy cash~see below)


Initial gross rent~$1650

Current gross rent~$1950

Current appraised value~$172k

*Deal #7

Normal 1501957528 2536 Phyllis St

There is a lesson here.Both Gary Keller in "Millionaire Real Estate Investor" and David Lindahl in his awesome book "multifamily millions",spoke about taking care of people in your network in order to cement their loyalty forever.

So when I found another diamond in the rough in September 2016 again straight off zillow,I told my agent about it.I let him know that I already spoke to the seller and already agreed a price.All that was left for him to do was collect a commission!

This was an unbelievable probate deal in Historic Riverside which had languished on Zillow for 6-8 weeks mostly because this cute little 3/2 SFR was located right next to the highway (I-10W).

But there was a long term tenant in place already that was paying $850/month.They were asking $60k,I offered $55k and they accepted.


Cash/Savings+accrued rental income/cash flow

No immediate rehab


Initial gross rent~$850

Current gross rent~$975 (I raised rent immediately upon closing:30-day notice)

Estimated value~$140k

Let's call her "Phyllis".


I wanted to get out of all debt in 2017.

That was goal #1 in January 2017.Unlike previous years,money suddenly became easier to obtain.Banks were loosening up.I don't think it was a coincidence that we just had a change of parties in Washington a couple of months before.

So I refinanced the hell out of all dead equity and paid off all outstanding high interest debt.

That still left me quite a bit of cash,so I went into shark mode again looking for deals with a microscope.

At the back of my mind was a shift in strategy:I was now looking to transition to larger multifamily buildings in 2017.

*Deal #8

Normal 1501957569 5263 Alpha

So last July,I was swimming in Zillow online again one quiet evening while on vacation in the Baltics and found a fully rented 4-unit (each 2/1) close to Murray Hill listed for $150k by an agent who had been managing the building for several years for the owner who lives in Israel.

I made a full price offer while on the cruise ship in Estonia which was accepted.

I just closed 2 weeks ago.

Let's call her "Alpha".


Cash/Refy proceeds

Rehab~none immediate


Initial gross rent~$1860

Current Gross rent~$2110 (sent notices of immediate rent increase to the 2 month-to-month tenants.other two tenants still have >6 months left on their leases)

Estimated value~$230k

*Deal #9

Normal 1501957595 17901 Lakeshore Blvd

In progress...

I'm under contract for an 18-unit apartment building right on Lake Erie in a Grade A neighborhood of Cleveland.

I lived in Cleveland for 5 years so i know my Cleveland,LOL.

More on that deal once I close in a follow-up blog.

Final point to note:

In 6 years,my net worth went from the $90k in saved cash to $1.2MM in real estate.

If you comb through the above strategy carefully,you will agree you don't have to be on a physician salary to replicate it.


If there's enough interest in this post,I'll follow up with details of my refinancing strategy and why I think Cash-out-Refy is a way superior strategy to 1031 exchange in building your portfolio as well as update readers on my Cleveland apartment complex deal.

I will also explain why I think time is way more valuable than money and can provide a bigger improvement in your lifestyle than just making more money.

So what do you think?

Are there parts of my strategy you find bogus??

Let me know in the comments below.

Comments (31)

  1. Hello folks,

    Hope you all had a happy thanksgiving!

    Here's an update for you:


    You can subscribe to this blog by clicking on the "Subscribe to Blog" tab below.

    Happy Investing!

  2. @Charles A. I thank you greatly for this blog, I found it very informative and gave great insight on how you was able to grow your net worth with just 90k. I look forward to more blog post

  3. Charles,  very fine work here. Would love to read how the apt complex deal unfolded. When you mention "net worth", are you talking about the current appraised value of your RE or your equity position? Thanks. 

  4. Thank you for the numbers and detailed narrative. I felt like I was in an auditorium listening to you teach us the ropes.  This helps in understanding how you paid for deals up front and kept growing your business. This is truly a gem!

  5. Thanks for sharing such a GREAT post! I'm showing this to my wife who is a bit hesitant about using  real estate investing as a wealth building tool. 

    One quick question: For deal #3, you were all in  at $121,500 and you funded 100% of the deal using a bank line of credit and a cash advance on your credit card -- and you paid off all of that debt in just 19 months? How did you do that? 

    It doesn't seem like you did a cash out refi because your PITI is still only $300 a month? The other option is to make monthly payments of about $6,500 a month... Is this what you did? If so, did you do it by applying all of your net rent income from deals #1-3? Did you have to use any money from your 9-5 paycheck to pay off this debt? 

  6. Great post Charles! Thank you for keeping it real.

  7. @Marcus F.

    I'm glad it provided value.Makes the effort worthwhile.

    @Lindy Gaskell

    Thanks for sharing that info too.I just had a $60k hold back at closing yesterday last minute.Thank God for reserves!

    It could have been a deal breaker after all the hard work.

    I think getting competing quotes for major work can't be overemphasized.It is important enough that it could turn a good deal into a bad one overnight.

    I agree turning the building around one unit at a time is wisdom so you don't burn through all your reserves at once.

    BTW,you are one of the lucky ones.An "awesome" PM is almost an oxymoron.

    It's like an awesome girlfriend....if you ever find one,keep her!

    @Philip J. Russell

    You're welcome.

    And thank you.

  8. Thanks for sharing your wealth building story Charles. 

    Best wishes for continued success!

  9. Thank you for posting your investing story. I found it really interesting. I liked seeing how you progressed and financed the properties. And also how you found them. I think location is really important when considering what to make an offer on. Last year, my husband and I purchased two triplexes and a 6-plex. Two were distressed properties that needed work. We learned that some banks will do a hold back if there is something wrong with the property that needs fixing and then give us our money after the work is completed. We learned to get at least 3 estimates from different contractors for major work as there can be a huge difference in their prices. As people have moved out, we've gone in and renovated and raised the rents. We've improved the properties significantly. We have an awesome Property Manager managing them. Now we are considering what our next step will be. I would be very interested in hearing about your 18-unit and how that went.

  10. This was wonderful.  Thank you for taking the shine/veneer off of all the success stories. Loved your approach and honesty.  Thank you for taking the time to create this.

  11. @Shaune Faust

    Thank you.

    Glad you found value in it.

  12. I loved and appreciate this post. I've been stuck in the research phase and now currently waiting to close on a HELOC. Please continue to share your writing is easy to follow and very motivating. Much success on the apartment building.  

  13. @Eddie Aiello

    "Easier and faster" is the prevailing sexy hypnosis that sells.

    Maybe it exists.

    But millions of investors have done it our way for hundreds of thousands of years and retired wealthy with peace of mind.

    Once you're risking too many people's money in order to grow faster, you supersize your risk.

    The fall is often spectacular too.

    But they won't come on BP to write about that.

    Please continue with your patient hard work and dedication.

    I'm living proof that it still works.

    @Eric C.

    Early on, I used  a PM company. But I quickly discovered they did a poorer job than I would do myself and were charging me 10% for it.

    Since I had a relatively small portfolio located in the same area, I was able to quickly build my own team and utilize easily available accounting software to take the headache out of managing my portfolio.

    However,I was only able to do that because everything was within 30 minutes of my bedroom.

    The new apartment building in Ohio will definitely need a PM.

    So I'm taking great care in choosing the right one. 

  14. This was great! Thank you so much for posting this. We are so inundated with the Gurus and their get rich quick programs, that sometimes I second guess myself because I feel like it should be easier or faster. Your method is the way it's supposed to be, the way I've been doing it. Hard work dedication. Thank you! 

  15. Thanks for the matter of fact story of how you grew your portfolio.  As I read your blog and think about my approach, there really isn't a silver bullet to building a portfolio and your wealth.  It just takes a lot of dedication, work and focus as well as learning from mistakes.  Hopefully those mistakes aren't too costly.

    Do you manage all your properties yourself or do you use a property management firm?  If you use a firm, how did you determine which firm to use?

  16. @George Walker

    I use QuickBooks,Although it's not free,I've found it extremely useful as it makes invoicing easy and takes the pain out of tax time.

    I can also easily print out reports like P&Ls etc.

    Tenants can't make work requests online.

    If TenatCloud does all that too for free under 75 units as you say,then thats likely a better deal and i should check it out!


    @John C.

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I always believed no matter how much you make,if you don't get proper financial education,it won't matter.

    Hip-hop artists make way more than me too.

    But many will probably be broke once the hits stop coming.

    @Erik Mogan

    Rock on!

    I will be rooting for you on that first deal...


    You can do it.


  17. Awesome! Thank you for sharing your journey. While I don't agree six-figures isn't a truckload of cash (I'm in the low 30's), I like how matter-of-factly everything was laid out. Seeing it like this gets me even more pumped to eventually get my first deal. I look forward to learning how the apartment works out.

  18. Thanks for  sharing, Charles.

    I totally agree about the hyped up, sexiness of the business by some investors.  It can really screw newbies.

    Doctors should also get paid much more than they do.  I sure as hell wouldn't go through your amount of training and schooling to make the same amount of money as an IT professional.

    Looking forward to hearing about your 18 unit.

    Great work.  Slow and steady wins the race.

  19. Excellent article Charles! Thank you for taking the time to include all the details about your properties. I currently own 2 SFR's and will close on a 4plex & 3plex in September. Do you use Property Management software? I currently use TenantCloud and love it. I can upload all my documentation and the tenants can submit work requests online and payments through the website. It's free for up to 75 units. I also uploaded all my contractor information and you can message tenants through the website. I look forward to reading about your apartment complex purchase since my next purchase will be 16+ units. Good luck on your investing and thanks for taking the time to write about your experiences!

  20. @Audrey Ezeh

    I'm glad you found it useful.

    And Best of luck in your new career!

  21. Thanks for the unvarnished details. I too am a bit tired of the sensationalized success stories!  I'm in the medical field as well and I'm just starting out so this was very encouraging. Thanks very much!

  22. @John Hickey

    I know the feeling.

    In the beginning,I did do what @Steve Babiak suggested and set up auto payments.

    But at the time,I was on a tight leash and was afraid of "insufficient funds" as I needed all rent to clear before payments went out.So it's darn if you did,darn if you didn't in the end,lol.

    The "book the size of a wallet" for me is my BOA "Bill Pay" homepage.It does list what payment is due and when,just by checking when the last payment was made.

    Finally,getting dinged on the credit is never a death blow for a RE investor,simply because we deal with mostly good debt.

    My credit score is now at the highest it's ever been historically after a bunch of refy loans!

    @Andy Bailey

    Thanks too for having the patience to read through.

    I think that 5 year goal should be one of the RE ten commandments.Every investor can then re-calibrate once that benchmark is reached to re-evaluate their strategy.

    The education/info phase is critical.

    I see my physician friends who kept buying retail since 2011 like me,same 1-2 deals a year.Today,their net worth is less than a quarter of mine.

    People do perish for lack of knowledge.

    1. You can usually get a credit card to serve as overdraft protection, so that your auto-payments get covered in exchange for the fee for the overdraft coverage.

  23. Awesome stuff!!!

    I am just now in the education/info phase. To see your work, patience and dedication to your goals is truly inspiring. And your success is real proof. Thanks for sharing in such detail. I have set a 5 year outline of goals to be obtained for myself and family. I can't wait to get started!

    Thanks again for sharing and I can't wait to hear details on the 18 unit as well as more info on cash out refy!

  24. @Stephen Moore love your post.  my credit has gotten dinged up a few times also.  I'm sure that there are plenty of folks it never happens to.  You were probably looking for deals so hard that you let a detail slip by.  I'm getting ready to hire someone to do all the bills for me.  It's getting too much.  

    I have a book about the size of a wallet I carry around.  It's got all my monthly payments written down.  That works pretty well. 

  25. @David S.

    You are so right.There seems to be some unseen force that just snowballs the deals after about the 5th year and it creates the momentum you talked about.

    I think that force is compounding and appreciation.It is just reward for grit and delayed gratification.

    @Stephen Moore

    Believe it or not,I found the Cleveland deal on LoopNet.

    I then started dealing directly with the listing agent.

    I will post all the numbers on a follow up blog post once I close.

    I made an offer for the full asking price~$750k

  26. @Charles A. u used a realtor to get this 18 unit as well ? What's the purchase price if u don't mind me asking 

  27. Thanks for detailing your progression of success.  A couple of take home messages in your article.  One is that without some type of outside money (i.e. money from partners, family members, syndication, inheritance, etc.) or 50% yearly appreciation and cash out on several properties, this is a normal progression of a real estate investor. Another take home message is that after continually pounding the investments for several years, there is a point where momentum from all of your hard work comes to fruition and you make a giant leap in number of units owned/income produced.  This is the case with your Cleveland apartment complex.  Keep up the good work.

  28. @Stephen Moore

    Thanks for taking the time to read the long post.

    I self manage all my Jacksonville doors.

    I make it easier for myself by buying only in desirable neighborhoods,studiously avoiding war zones.It also certainly helps that they're all in the same area,making scalability a distinct advantage.

    Almost all tenants pay rent electronically and my maintenance guys themselves live 3 minutes away from every one of my units and have been with me from the beginning.

    I have had near zero vacancy using this strategy.

    For the 18-unit in Cleveland,it is actually lender required to have a PM agreement in place prior to closing,so I'm currently interviewing PM companies.

    To your specific funding question:I'm putting down $150k,all sourced from the cash out refy I mentioned in the post.I will elaborate further in a follow up blog if there's sufficient interest in the coming days.

    @Steve Babiak

    You are so right.

    That's a cock up I solemnly regret and can't now walk back.

    If I had to give one advice to myself 2 years ago,it would be exactly what you wrote in your comment.

    Thanks for reading.It makes the effort to write in such detail worth it to see some actually take the time to read it all.

  29. I certainly love the way u detailed this post and made it clear how real estate is a get wealthy/rich over a period of time vs overnight success are u managing these properties along with how are u funding the 18 unit ?

  30. Advice to those with a line of credit: set it up so that the lender direct debits your checking account to make the monthly interest payment in order to avoid that line getting frozen by a missed payment.