A Tale of Persistence: Here’s How I Got Started in Real Estate. What’s Your Story?

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Over the past few years writing for this website, I have watched it grow into a loving community of investors ready to help one another. It is an honor for me to have the podium to help others with my victories, as well as my challenges. This is a story of both.

I have told The Story of My First Deal on Land many times to friends, family members, and on stage; however, I rarely go into the detail as I have below. Please enjoy the story of my very first dollar in real estate.

Disclaimer: Some of the information and procedures in this decade-old story are outdated. Make sure you have complete clarity and always follow the law while investing. 

January 2002

While living with my college roommate, I discovered a real estate investing course that was created in the late 1980s. At this point in my life, I had no experience with real estate in any way, but I loved the idea of rental properties and flipping real estate for 5-figure paydays. I finished the entire course in less than a day and needed to know more.

The course I read was not enough to satisfy all my questions and curiosity, so I joined a local Real Estate Investor’s club located at Picadilly’s Cafe in St. Petersburg, Florida on Monday nights. I was impressed with this group and the level of wealth and cash-flow in the room. I vowed then and there to have Wealth and Freedom like these men and women.

The host of the meeting was a straightforward no-nonsense investor. This seasoned investor was offering a mentoring course for the low cost of $1,295. At this time $1,295 took me 2 weeks to earn at my 2 jobs, but I can say with complete sincerity that I paid this money without fear of loss. I knew that I needed help and one-on-one training from an experienced mentor so I picked the best one I could find with a successful and proven coaching track record.

While working with my mentor, I followed his audio CDs and did what he instructed. For the next few weeks I mailed postcards, knocked on doors, visited pre-foreclosures, stuffed and mailed letters, made offers with Realtors, made offers on my own, ran newspaper ads, and more. All this effort and money was spent (I mean invested) without any offers being accepted or cash-flow being created.

March 2002

Two full months and still my real estate career was gasping to take life. I was doing everything I was taught and was having a miserable time with no results.

The trouble I was having was not due to the education I was being taught by my mentor, nor was my poor success due to my lack of effort. The problem I was having was finding a niche that I could expose and cultivate for my own. I not only wanted to be in business, I wanted to thrive in business.

In my area there were countless real estate investors and seemingly only a few properties to fight over for investment. I was a very small fish in a giant pond, and I was drowning.

Jack’s Property

While at another real estate investing club meeting, I was sitting in the first few rows not knowing my business life was about to significantly improve. Towards the end of the meeting, some of the investors stood up and pitched their properties for sale. Jack was one of the last investors to go up, and then began discussing the property he was having a hard time trying to wholesale.

As Jack began speaking about his investment home, I began to run the numbers:

  • 3/2 home on 2.5 acres of land
  • Price: $43,250
  • Financing in place: 1st mortgage approx $42,000
  • PITI payment on 1st mortgage: $461.02
  • No second loan
  • Cash to close: $1,250
  • Repairs needed: $4,000
  • Potential Rent: $850
  • Property ARV (after repaired value): $100,000 to $110,000
  • 2.5 acres of land in the country

Then Jack dropped a bomb and told the group the home was a 1980 mobile home.

To that date I had never even been inside a mobile home before. Does it really matter, I thought. The numbers were solid, and it was a place to live for someone.

The deal started to sound good, really good! The 3 bedroom and 2 bathroom mobile home he described had only moderate cosmetic damages, such as small holes in walls, paint needed, old carpet and landscaping. Best part was the home came with financing in place, subject to a $42,000 1st mortgage fixed at 8% $461.02 PITI, so all a buyer would need to bring is $1,250 for the seller’s assignment fee to own this home. *Notice I did not mention closing costs. This we will discuss later.

I started to get excited, but did not want to show my excitement to everyone. I remember calmly looking around the room and nobody was raising their hands to take one of Jack’s informational flyers. I remember walking right up to Jack as he left the stage and talking with him for 10 minutes about his property and my eagerness to see it. One week later I purchased the property in Brooksville, Florida.

April 2002

Once the Deed was transferred into my ownership, I got to work. I began working on the property by removing the existing carpet and repairing the subfloor of the mobile home. This I learned through a mixture of how-to books and asking the workers at the local Home Depot.

After spackling the walls, painting, updating some lighting fixtures, and removing 6 truckloads of junk from the home’s exterior, I felt the property was ready to resell.

Educating Myself

At the same time I was getting my investing career off the ground, I furthered my education by successfully completing and passing the Florida Real Estate Board of Realtors exam and the Mortgage Brokers board exam. I passed the first time with flying colors.

Related: Is Wholesaling the Best Way to Get Started in Real Estate? An Investor’s Analysis

Selling Attempt #1 

My first attempt at selling the home was to owner finance the property by wrapping the underlying mortgage with one of my own notes prepared by a local closing attorney. I wanted to accomplish this by first leasing the home to the right buyer for 12 months to verify that the tenant-buyer was a punctual payment maker. If the tenant-buyer paid on time for 12 months, I would continue to sell to them via owner financing.

The numbers so far looked like:

  • Purchase price: $43,250
  • Sales price with seller-held financing: $135,000
  • Incoming payments: $950 PITI potential payment from future tenant-buyer
  • Outgoing: $461.02 PITI on 1st mortgage underlying from seller
  • Repairs: $2,000-$4,000 (I was doing the repairs myself)
  • Immediate profit: $2,000-$4,000 as a down payment from the new tenant-buyer
  • Monthly cash-flow: Approx $500
  • Remaining profit: Payable in 5 years when seller refinances the home

Advertising the Home

I began running paper ads and hanging bandit signs to promote my property:

** No Banks Needed” 3/2 Mobile Home on 2.5 Acres of Land. Low Down Payment. Pets Welcome. **

Immediately calls began pouring in, and I was overjoyed at the response. After just a few short days, I had narrowed my choices down to 2 applicants.

Applicants A: Low Risk

This was a husband and wife couple who wanted to owner finance for 12 months and then build a site-built home of their own. After 12 months they wanted to refinance with a conventional construction loan and cash me out. Their credit was good, and so was their consistent job history. These applicants had $2,000 to put down on this mobile home.

Applicants B: High Risk

This was a husband, wife, and 4 kids living in their grandmother’s home because the couple were currently homeless. These applicants had $2,000 to put down and promised me another $2,000 when their tax return came in. The husband was currently unemployed, and the wife had just started a cashier job a few towns over. These applicants had numerous negative remarks and blemishes in the past and more recently as well. What this family did have in excess was a sob story and cute children that I felt very sorry for.

My Decision 

The choice may seem obvious as to which is the more appropriate buyer applicant. Instead of making a rational business decision with my brain, I made a naive choice to give Applicants B a second chance in life. Plus this choice would mean I profit an additional $2,000 when the tenant-buyer’s tax return was paid. Without my mentor’s consideration, I rashly choose Applicants B as the new homeowners.

Two Bounced Checks

Right out of the gate, we were off to a bad start. The $2,000 personal check down payment and the first month’s payment check both bounced. My heart sank, then began to race. I then started thinking about the potential troubles this may bring:

  • Would these buyers pay me the money they promised? What was my recourse if they did not pay?
  • Could I believe them that this was just an accident?
  • Was I being fooled and played as an idiot?
  • Was I too young to be investing?
  • Am I an idiot?
  • How do I evict someone? What does that cost? Who can I call?
  • Is my home in danger?
  • Do I have the correct hazard insurance?

June 2002

To this date the only money I have received from these terrible tenants was the $80 for the application fees. No payments were ever made after the two bounced checks. Little effort was made on the tenant’s side to contact with me to resolve the issue.

After weeks without word and without payments, I posted a 3 Day Notice on the tenants’ door. Within hours the tenants and I were talking to each other over the phone and negotiating the terms for the tenants to stay in the home until the end of the month and leave the home just as spotless as it had been when they moved in. At this point I was just happy to be getting my property back.

The tenants were out a few days before the end of the month. The home was left in a broom swept condition.

Selling Attempt #2

I listed the property on the local MLS for a cash or conventional buyer. My main goal when starting was to bring in cash-flow; however, I reasoned that a quick cash influx would be useful to help build my cash-flow business.

Once on the MLS, the property was under contract in just three days at $95,000. The buyers were investors who planned to remove the mobile home and build a large site-built home on the 2.5 acres. The buyers were paying cash, and we could close in as little as two weeks.

Child Support Lien on the Property

While my buyers and their title company were performing their due diligence, they found an approximate $5,000 Child Support Lien from 1999 attached to the home.

At the time I purchased the property, I did not have a professional title search ran or title insurance issued on the property. I did what is called a “table closing” with Jack’s property when buying it. This is never recommended to do with real property. As a result there was a secret $5,000 lien on the property I knew nothing about; this would have been found when I was buying the home if a title search was ordered. Always order a professional title search and title insurance to help know what you are buying.

Related: The ONE Thing You Need to Do to Get Started as a Real Estate Investor

Closing

The closing went smoothly, and I walked out of closing with two checks: one for exactly $35,000 and another Realtor commission check for $4,110.

That night I went out and celebrated with friends, family, and loved ones.

My tax implications on the $35,000 were at short-term capital gain rates.

The main bullets to consider for your business are:

  • Follow your business head and not your heart when it comes to business decisions and filling your vacant property.
  • Always use a local title company, escrow company, or closing attorney when purchasing or selling any mobile home on private land.
  • Disclose your daily business updates with your mentor for seasoned advice.
  • Start considering mobile homes as profitable investments in your area.

And as always, love what you do daily.

Investors: What’s your story? How did you get started in real estate, and what obstacles did you run into? What mistakes did you make? If you could tell your beginning self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Leave a comment, and let’s discuss!

About Author

John Fedro

John Fedro has been investing in manufactured housing since 2002. John now spends his time continuing to build his cash-flow business in multiple states while helping others enjoy the same freedom he has achieved. Find John here.

5 Comments

  1. Brooks Rembert

    I’ve always been a little intrigued with mobile home investing. To me, it sounds almost like a strictly cash flow play and you shouldn’t count on any appreciation. These assumptions are based on a home in a MHP, not necessarily one on owner occupied land. Am I wrong?

    For example, there a few here in my area of Virginia that are for sale for $18,000-$20,000 with a lot fee of $350-ish per month. They would rent for probably $700-$800 per month. Is this normally what your deals look like?

  2. karen rittenhouse

    Wow, John. I was holding my breath all the way through. I knew it had a good ending so I hung onto that knowledge.

    This deal could have come off the rails and ended horribly at so many points…

    Congratulations on your perseverance and success with your first deal (way back in 2002). There’s no better teacher than rolling up your sleeves and diving in.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. Gordon Eisenberg on

    Hi John,

    Great article. Mobile homes are good opportunities. Would you still recommend getting title insurance on trailers on leased land? The trailers I have bought in the past all had clean titles and I had no problem when I registered them in my name. I am holding the titles in my name and plan to give to the buyers when they are paid off. I do not foresee any issues when the new buyer registered it in their name. What are your thoughts?

  4. Bill Neves

    Hi John. Never heard the whole story. Nice ending to an alligator safari.

    I had a vacant rental several years ago, was single, looking to do some charity work at Christmas time. I had a couple with 2 kids call me on Christmas Eve. Oh, did I mention it was snowing?

    They had only $100 deposit, had been ‘living with relatives’, were in a motel due to circumstances ‘too complicated to explain’, and would have the other $1900 deposit move in money after Christmas.

    Told them I needed a background and tenancy check. The guy literally dropped to his knees in a supermarket parking lot and prayed, thanking God that He ‘led this kind and wonderful man to them in their time of need. Please let him see that we are good people and will do the right thing.’

    Hey! I’m a religious guy. The timing was awesome! Great way to do my charity work at Christmas, right?

    Time of ‘need’less, to say, it was a similar mistake. The $100 was all the money I ever saw and moved to eviction process after 4 weeks of promises of money coming. Gave them a choice – eviction on their record or $200 to leave it clean and move immediately.

    Going with your heart is great. I still do… but wear a business hat in business decisions.

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