9 rentals, 1 startup while having a W2 job and raising 2 kids
First of all, if I didn’t listen to the 1st Biggerpockets podcasts and never skipped a single episode since then, I would not have achieved what I have got today, so big shout out to Biggerpockets and the awesome community, it has been invaluable to my investing journey.
I will turn 33 this year, married, with 2 amazing and adorable daughters, working as a senior software engineer while running a real estate side business.
My portfolio consists of 9 single family rentals, that’s it. 1 of them located in Fort Mill, and the other 8 are in Charlotte. Unit cash flow is between $250 - $350 per door, average cash on cash return on purchase is around 13% and all properties are traditionally financed with 20% down, no partner (besides my wife), may be used some creative financing for some situations like applying zero interest business card to pay for renovation, other than it’s very straightforward.
So how did I get here? Well, the story started in 2009.
- 2009: 1st year in the United States for getting my master’s degree in computer science, fell in love with web design and web development.
- 2010: Graduated from school and started working full-time at a logistics company with very minimum wages (I didn’t know at the time) at around 3K a month and long-hour day (10-12 hours a day).
- Fast forward to 2012: Quitted my first job and joined a tech startup as a junior front end developer, learned a ton of stuff about writing codes.
- 2013: Got married and got to know Biggerpockets by listening to the podcasts every day while taking my wife to work back and forth. Bought my first house end of 2013.
- 2014: Bought my first rental property in Fort Mill SC using traditional loan with 20% down, it was a 3b 2.5b townhouse, after learning numerous success stories in BP podcasts.
- 2015: Bought 2 more rental properties in Fort Mill, similar sizes and still using traditional mortgage with 20% down, close to my own house so it’s easier to manage although I hired PM to take care of them for me. My first baby girl was born.
- 2016: Got a little cocky and went to penny stock trading, and thought making money was easy and quick, lost roughly 20% of my net worth during that period (not so successful experience but it was a good lesson).
- 2017: Felt a little depressed after a big loss in the stock market and thought really deep about what I should do to recover from the loss. Got to know about meditation, read a bunch of books, and started picking up BP podcasts again.
- 2018: Quitted trading and poured all my money into real estate, bought 3 rental properties in Charlotte NC, all single-family houses with 20% down mortgage. Sold the 2 townhouses in SC and did 1031 exchanges and bought 5 more rentals in Charlotte. At the same time my 2nd baby girl was born, I decided to start a side business as an alternative source of income.
- 2019: The portfolio is stabilizing, and my business started to gain some traction, so my goal for this year is to cautiously buy more properties and focus my energy on building my business, as well as save up money as the local market is getting hot.
What I have learned
Life is about experiences, no matter it was good or bad, but more often, the bad experience made us think and grow, and that is exactly why it is so important to stay open-minded when dealing with life, work and everything else. All in all, there are a few key takeaways that I want to share:
Build a good team
Everyone knows it’s important to surround yourself with successful people, the same goes with work or running a business. I was fortunate that I found a pretty good real estate agent started from day 1, who is smart and honest, and willing to teach me anything that I want to know. Like-minded people attract each other, so through my agent, I get to know my property manager, my lender and the list goes on and on. Cherish the relationship, express yourself how serious you are in terms of real estate investment, build trust over time, it will definitely be paid off eventually. For my last couple of deals, because I already know the area well enough and I trusted my team, I don’t need to be there physically to decide if I want to buy that house or not. If my agent thinks it’s good enough and the number works out, I will make an offer. By the way, know your numbers is extremely important, tools like Biggerpockets calculators could help.
If you never trade stock or do any kind of gambling, lucky for you. While I was trading penny stock during the 2016-17 period, I was so nervous almost every day and it drained my energy so much. One day I could make a few thousand dollars with just a few minutes of trading while the other day I could lose thousands, which made myself so profit-driven. I felt happy when I get a green day, but so depressed when losing money. At the end of the day, trading is a full-time job, I basically kept staring at the screen from 10 to 4 each day, looking at the candle bar chart chasing up profits, it was exhausted. But eventually what I really need is financial freedom and not to chase money every day. The book “Principle” by Ray Dalio, helped me a lot. If I am not staying open-minded, I would have lost it all.
I grew up in a middle-class family in China, and my parents are always frugal about their lifestyles. I somehow inherited those traits from them. As I grew up and become more and more financially independent, deep inside I want to prove myself I can live better, especially when I was studying aboard while my parents were in China. I bought my first car in 2014 and it was a Mercedes Benz C250, thought back that was the dumbest decision I’ve ever made besides penny stock trading just because I want to look rich in front of others. The true cost of ownership of that car is roughly $40K and I traded it after 3 years for just 1/3 of its purchase price. I could have used that money to buy other investments that appreciated. After trading in the MB, I decided to be more disciplined on my financial planning each month, I started to live off roughly 70 - 80% of my income and save the other 20% for investment, so far so good and it is totally worth it. At the end of the day, no one cares about what clothes you wear, what car you drive, you are the only person who is responsible for your financial future. And having cash is good, the market operates in cycles, the worst thing that could happen is when everything is dead cheap, but you don’t have the money. So save it up, be patient and wait.
Perseverance and grit
If you haven’t read about Angela Lee’s book on grit, you should check it out, it makes a lot of sense to me. Being successful is the process of fell down, get back up, fell again and get back up again. I worked as a software engineer, so life to me is like debugging codes. New bugs come up every now and then, sometimes they are easy ones, some are pretty tricky and take days to figure out, but I always tell myself at the end of the day they will be all solved, the only thing I need to do is to take it one step at a time and keep exploring the solution. The more problems you solve in life and in work, the more confident you will become, and the drive of helping you get back up each time is your passion, that’s why every successful person says you have to love what you do because it is very difficult if you don’t. I love building beautiful and useful software that is the reason why I can get up at 4:30 each morning to work on my side project before everyone else wakes up. And if I don’t love this stuff, there is no way I could wake up that early.
To sum up, I want to quote Ray Dalio’s words:
Happiness is about meaningful relationships and meaningful work.
I am still on my way to be financially free, it may take 10 years, it may take 5 years but that doesn’t really matter, what matters is I am becoming stronger every single day physically, mentally and spiritually. Read good books, just like Brandon Turner says, leaders are readers, I can’t express enough how much I have learned from reading books, and don’t forget to follow BP podcasts, they are always inspiring and encouraging.
Thanks again to this community, it provides me with so much wisdom and support over the years. And I hope my story could be as inspiring and encouraging just like the podcasts, feel free to reach me out if you have questions. Happy investing!