How We Left our W2’s in 4 Years with Real Estate Investing
My husband and I were always the entrepreneurial type. We started dating in 2006 when I was 18 years old. Almost our entire relationship we had some sort of side gig going, whether we were in school or working on climbing the corporate ladder. But nothing really stuck for one reason or another. I knew one day we would discover our true passion and dedicate ourselves to it. And eventually we did. Real estate investing was it. At the time of writing this, we own nine properties, under contract for our tenth property, and own a full-service brokerage. Our brokerage focuses on helping out-of-state investors acquire and manage rental properties in Jacksonville, Florida and currently manages about 200 doors in the area. This is our story of how we achieved the goal of leaving our jobs in four years through real estate investing.
I earned my Bachelor's in Marketing in 2012 and my Master's in Entrepreneurship in 2015. I climbed the ladder in my marketing career from being an intern at Sony Music Latin to becoming a Director of the largest Spanish newspaper in the U.S. Isaac earned his Bachelor's in Mathematics in 2016. He had a few different career paths from working on building the international recording artist Pitbull’s website to working for one of the most prestigious finance firms in New York City. I’m giving this background for a reason. We had no experience in real estate investing until 2017. What we did have were dreams and goals. We were both born and raised in Miami. After dating for a while, we dreamt of moving to the Big Apple, so we made a plan to achieve this goal in five years. I would continue in marketing and Isaac wanted to work in finance. He knew he would need a college degree, which led him to go purse a college degree at the age of 28. He started at a local college in Miami for his Associates in Arts and then was accepted to the University of Florida for his Bachelor degree. I wasn’t going to just sit around in a college town, so that’s what led me to get my Master's degree in Entrepreneurship. Gainesville was a necessary stepping stone to NYC. Once we graduated we both applied to literally hundreds of jobs until we each landed jobs in New York. We finally moved there in 2016 achieving our five-year goal.
Living in NYC
Our plans for living in NYC were to stay long term: buy an apartment, work hard, grow our family, and enjoy the city. After some time, we realized how much of a down payment we would need to buy an apartment in Manhattan. The apartment we could possibly afford wouldn’t even be an apartment we could grow our family in. One day we were walking our beagle and discussing our future and we both had the same idea of investing our savings in out-of-state rental properties instead of buying an apartment in NYC. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. We had an out-of-state landlord that self-managed when we lived in Gainesville. We thought that was so easy for him that we could do it! So, we started pouring hundreds of hours into learning about real estate investing. After saving heavily for a year, we acquired our first SFH in Jacksonville for $90.5k. You can read about our first deal here with an inherited tenant, which ended up in an abandonment and eviction several months later. That didn’t scare us from continuing investing in real estate. In our first year we acquired three rental properties sight unseen, took out a HELOC on the first property to use as a down payment for the third property, and learned a great deal managing three inherited tenants from over 1,000 miles away.
Pursuing Our Passion
We had such a passion for real estate investing and knew this is what we wanted to do full-time. We spent all of our spare time learning about real estate by listening to podcasts, reading books, networking with other out-of-state investors, and learning about the Jacksonville market where we were investing. This was what we wanted to do full time, but how do we go from living in the most expensive city in the U.S. to leaving our jobs and running a real estate business? Many people say they want to quit their W2’s and live off the passive rental income. That’s a goal that would require a lot of money to acquire enough properties to successfully live off of. Since we enjoyed speaking with other investors and looking for deals so much, I figured I’d get licensed and possibly earn some extra money with sales commissions. I earned my Sales Associate license while working a full-time job, and being seven months pregnant with our first baby. I was able to do this 100% remotely since the state of Florida allows you to become licensed while not being a resident. When I acquired my license, I hung it as a referral agent. We would network and send anyone that was interested in the Jacksonville market to our agent, Michael Braddock, earning a referral commission on each sale. It wasn’t a ton of money but we were saving the commissions and it felt great helping other investors achieve their dreams. We enjoyed speaking with other investors and hunting for deals and we stayed very involved with every investor we would refer. Many of those first investors became clients and close friends.
As we were networking with other investors we eventually partnered with a first-time investor from Washington state to jointly acquire more rentals. We met him the same way we met the referral clients, through blogging and networking online. Isaac worked on the details of that partnership, searched for properties, and conducted the analysis for each potential investment. In that partnership we have acquired six properties to date with plans to continue to grow.
We were really enjoying helping out-of-state investors find deals and we were also finding our calling in self-managing our own properties. Hearing stories from other investors about how hard it was to find a good property manager really stuck with us. In our earlier jobs when we worked for printing companies we learned just how important excellent customer service was. We thought if we could eventually manage properties for other out-of-state investors, treating their properties and tenants as if they were our own, we could really make a successful business out of it.
Planning the Big Move
Isaac and I knew that if we wanted to pursue a real estate business full-time, we would have to move to Jacksonville. The cost of living was less, I was licensed in Florida, and we could learn more about the city we were investing in. Although my sister grew up in Jacksonville and we knew a few people there, it was a frightening thought as we were planning to move to a place we had never spent more than two days in. We planned to move a year and a half later, which coincidentally would land in May of 2020, a few months into the most intense time of the COVID shutdown. We bought our primary home with the help of Michael, sight unseen, in January 2020. The first time seeing our home in person was when we drove up that summer in our rental car with our suitcases in the back.
After we closed on our home I started job hunting for a marketing job in Jacksonville and that allowed me to work remotely full time. Although it was a very intense role, the plan was that I would work full-time and help out on my spare time, while Isaac would focus on investing and managing rehabs for other investors. That’s when Isaac was able to leave his W2 and become full-time in real estate investing. One down, one more to go!
Starting the Brokerage
I had been licensed a year at this point and I continued referring any new investors to Michael and earning some extra income. At the same time, the investors we were referring to Michael were asking us to manage their properties. One particular client (who quickly became a friend) who we referred to Michael to help purchase their first investment property asked us to list and manage their rental. We had only managed our own properties up to this point but knew we wanted to manage for other investors so we took that opportunity and ran with it. We started the company and used a designated broker to qualify our brokerage, which is permitted in the state of Florida. Once I had my sales associate license for two years I was eligible to take the broker’s exam. I had very limited time with my demanding W2 and raising a toddler that I wanted to spend all my time with. I felt like I would never get out.
Growing the Brokerage
Isaac took the brunt of the work managing rehabs, running around to all the different properties to get them rent ready, taking listing pictures, and moving tenants in and out. I sat behind the computer every extra minute I had to do the application screenings, create processes, generate owner statements, collect rents, and everything else that comes with property management that didn’t involve me leaving my home office due to having an intense full time W2. We came up with a goal of when we reach 200 properties under management I would leave my W2 and focus on our rapidly growing company. But we also felt we were missing out on an opportunity to be more involved with helping investors acquire properties. We would send new clients to Michael when they were in the market to buy a rental and then they would reach back out to us for property management after they closed on the property. Although this was working, it wasn’t the best process. Michael had worked with us for a couple of years and saw our passion and drive and we knew he had been doing sales and property management for 15 years. We worked extremely well together and decided to partner up. Michael took a huge leap leaving a salaried plus commission job to join a startup company. It’s difficult to describe that feeling of someone believing and trusting you so much to take this leap. To say it was amazing would be putting it lightly. Throughout our venture we were also giving substantial amount of work to handymen, contractors, and different vendors, which was also incredible that we were able to employ so many people with our growing company. Having loyal vendors is essential in this business so we made sure provide consistent work to them and pay quickly.
Partnering and Leaving my W2
Throughout all of the referrals, us buying our own rentals, and doing deals with Michael as our partner under our brokerage, we did $8.2 million in deals in our first four years. I’ll link to our recap of years 1 through 3 here, which shows the details of doing $2.5 million in deals in those previous years. As Michael sold more properties, we would manage them. Growing our properties under management was vital to me leaving my W2. At the end of 2021, we had reached 170 properties under management. It wasn’t the 200 we set out for by end of the year but incredibly close. I was also finally qualified to do my broker course and exam. After several months of intense studying I passed the broker’s exam in December 2021 and became the Principal Broker for our company. A few months later in February 2021 my employment contract with my employer expired and gave me the perfect opportunity to focus on our real estate business full-time. We were at 180 doors when I officially left my W2. Our goals this year are to grow our team and achieve 350 properties under management. As I publish this it’s been one month since I left my W2 and we are at 197 properties.
In real estate investing there are many different paths to making this your full-time gig including being an agent, property manager, investor, or a combination of those. We found our own path, created a plan, and worked tirelessly to make this a reality. People that were following our journey would watch how we would set goals and not give up until we reach them. This brought us many clients, partnerships, referrals, trust, and loyalty.
Our three main goals as a company are to help our clients reach their real estate investment dreams, protecting their assets, and providing their tenants with a delightful home to live in. Focusing on these goals instead of the money has allowed us to be successful in our business. It is very gratifying when you know what you do in life impacts so many people in a positive way. I am thrilled every morning because I know I’ll be working on expanding our company and making an impact on so many people. I know Isaac and Michael feel the same. The quote on the coffee cup on my desk reminds me every day that it’s important to do more of what makes you happy.
**Huge shout out to our awesome friend/client Glenn Santos from Queens, NY for encouraging me to write this article. Your support and that of other friends is truly one of the greatest gifts we have received on this journey.**
Thanks for reading!
I’m Elenis. My husband and I acquire rental properties in Jacksonville, FL with the goal of building generational wealth for our family. Visit our BiggerPockets blog to read other articles about how we acquired our portfolio and how we self managed from out of state. Feel free to ask me any questions you have about rental property investing or real estate, I’ll try to answer as best as I can.
This article is for informational and educational purposes only. This information is not meant as financial, investment, or legal advice. While the information provided is believed to be accurate, it may include errors or inaccuracies. Consult a licensed financial advisor or broker before making any and all investment decisions.