I’m a Successful Investor Because I DON’T Seek Perfection: Here’s Why

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I have been successful because I am good, but not great.

I am an 80% girl. I put about 80% of my effort into the endeavors I take on — because I can’t do it all at 100% effort, and doing it all is important to me! What are you losing by striving for that final, elusive 20%? Are you losing more than you are gaining?

I see a lot of the “all or nothing” attitudes. Just the other day, a poster on the BiggerPockets Forums asked, “Which path would you go down? My dream is to travel, so do I get a $100k MBA or I do buy my first house? I can’t do both!” I found myself thinking, Why can’t you do all 3: travel, MBA, and buy a house? Maybe not in the same way, or maybe to a lesser degree of perfection, but still — it’s possible to take all of those on!

While I was thinking about this, I remembered an article I read early that day from one of the blogs I subscribe to. The author was talking about one of her readers wanting to do “mini” retirements. Working, playing, then working again. With the goal of being able to work and play and not just work to “eventually” play. That he’d had a health scare in his late 20s and realized he wanted to do it all.

Related: Investing v. Working: Which Real Estate Strategy Requires the Least Amount of Effort?

How I Bought, Rehabbed, Rented, Refinanced, and Repeated for 14 Rental Properties

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What Do You Lose With the Pursuit of Perfection?

It made me think. With the desire to be perfect, what are you losing? If you are reading this article, it is because you are an overachiever; otherwise, why would you be on BiggerPockets? You are the minority who wants to be successful at something the majority would never attempt, let alone succeed at: real estate. Are you missing something? Are you so focused on one goal that you miss the other? I am successful because I am a jack of all trades, but a master at none. I am a multi-tasker who believes that doing it all is more important than being perfect in ONE area.

I have an MBA from a good school (Texas A&M Corpus), but not the best school (Yale). I worked full time during my graduate program (debt free) but only got good grades (3.2ish), not amazing grades (4.0). I have a website/blog growing at 10% a month or so, but I know I could grow it at 30%+. I am writing an ebook on self-managing from a distance, but it is taking 4+ months instead of 2+ months. I meet my husband on about 70% of his business trips for 50% of the trips’ length. And so on…

Dabbling in a Little of Everything

Here’s the thing — I get to do it all! I am a well-educated wife with a Master’s Degree. I work full time and manage 11 houses. I own 5 houses with my husband at 27 with another 2 in the works. I travel the world, and I am still building our future. I graduated from graduate school debt free and still worked, allowing us to put a decent nest egg away. Yes, I’m sure people have scored higher individually because to be honest, I couldn’t be a perfect landlord, wife, employee, student, etc. and meet a level of perfection.

While you are preparing for tomorrow, don’t forget to live today. It is important to set yourself up for the future, but you can play, too! You don’t have to be perfect. Your investments can be a third base hit, not a home run. You can go on a trip, or go for less instead of none, getting a higher education degree at a “lesser” school that still has good name and is accredited, and that’s still worth something.

Related: Not Easy, But Worth it: The Top 7 Sacrifices Real Estate Investing Demands

We can do it all. It has its stressful moments, and I don’t do as well as those who are “specialists” in one of the areas. But I have done more and am in a better position than all those specialists combined because individually, they haven’t done it all! How many people do you know who at 27:

  • Travels
  • Owns 5 houses (soon to be 7 by July *fingers crossed*)
  • Works a full time W2 job
  • Writes weekly for BP
  • Is launching a blog and business
  • Makes spending time with their spouse a priority
  • Maintains a social life
  • Cares for a cat who likes to be in the middle of it all
  • And still watches way too much TV? 🙂

Conclusion

The point is, the sky is the limit! You can do it all — it might just be at a lesser degree. You don’t have to wait until tomorrow to live; you might just need more of a taste for beer than top shelf wine. Yes, there will be moments of sacrifice needed to in order to get through a period. But that is a “phase,” not a lifestyle.

Don’t forget to live and enjoy life, too! You only have one life, so prepare for the future by being cheap in some areas, frugal in others, thrifty in most and extravagant in a few. Think the food pyramid with “splurges” at the top and “cheap items” on the bottom. The only person limiting you to perfection is yourself.

What do you think: Would you rather be perfect in a few areas or have it all at a lesser level?

Weigh in with your comments below!  

About Author

Elizabeth Colegrove

Elizabeth Colegrove is a passionate "buy and hold" investor who specializes in turning her once-negative transient lifestyle (Military) into a positive lifestyle. She self manages her entire real estate portfolio from long distance while holding down a full time job. When she isn't finding new real estate deals, she enjoys traveling, hanging out with her awesome boat-building husband, playing with her mischievous kitty, or writing on her newest project, her blog.

22 Comments

  1. margaret smith on

    Hi Elizabeth-
    You rock! Yes, I am made of the same stuff- I have called myself a “generalist” for all these years, as I usually felt that by choosing to specialize in one path, I would be cutting off the possibilities of others, so… I do a balancing act of various personal and professional activities. Sometimes, I have to admit, I make myself crazy. As I follow the real estate trail, it leads to SO MANY opportunities, with challenges of course, that one just has to learn to say No- and mean it. I love the idea of getting into the Zen of the moment- be happy whatever it is that is currently occupying you, forgetting the time and the rest of the never-ending “to do” list–and the surreal satisfaction of mastering the task. One thing– real estate is never boring, and neither is my life!

  2. Edward Briley

    Uh Dah,

    What should I do, invest money and buy a house, or use the money to get my MBA? Well the first thing is that this person should not even consider the MBA, because they do not have to intelligence to use it, if they do not know the answer to that question.
    I tell high school kids the first thing in life they should do is to buy a house if they want to get a jump on life and to be successful. The problem is that this is not taught, and many kids end up at a Buy Here, Pay Here car lot to buy what they think is their dream car until they have it a month, and it needs an infinite amount of work. So, what do they do? Ruin their credit by refusing to pay for it.
    I tell them, after you get the house, basically you can get whatever you want. Not only that, you can rent rooms and make money with it, especially at being your age. I ask mortgage brokers all of the time, if I send someone that is 18 years old to them to buy a home, would it be okay with them?
    And I always get the standard – “please do!!!”. If they cannot get a mortgage at that time, they will learn what they need to do so they can. When you put a person on that path, most will buy a home within 2 years, most within 6 months if they are 18 to 20 years old. Matter of fact, most investment Realtor’s will go out of their way to find funding for them. Many hard loan people will lend them 80%. Mom and dads jump on this and lend the teenager the 20% to put down, because they do not have to cosign for the loan. They know also that if Sally or Jim does not pay the payment, that this is a way for them to make additional income as well. In many cases it can be a parents dream.
    To me, and my thinking, at the present time, it is better for a parent to help their child that graduates from High School to get a house before paying for college, but it is possible to do both, and the property can be in the city the student is attending college in. Think about how much money this can save a parent? Plus, once the child leaves, they will not want to return home to live off of mom and dad. They will quickly realize that they have their own vehicle to have a successful life. Not only that, it may help the student (which it will) to get more money for their education, rather than having to get a loan. A house for a young adult is a no brainer. Basically they have all of the free labor to fix it up that is needed.
    Do you have to be perfect? No, matter of fact trying to be perfect may cost you a lot of money later in life. You do what you have to do to get your first house, and later in life pursue perfection on someone else’s money.
    I have heard the arguments on this all of my life. You talk about mini retirements? I have had many, plus had the time and money to find a job I wanted, rather than taking a position to settle for. I had to retire because of a knee injury. I took the retirement, and have been flipping sense. No worry about money here. My wife and I are doing fine. I retired at 56, can work when I desire, and travel like we please, while building a larger nest egg. Matter of fact, got my real estate license and soon will be working for a broker when I find one I like. Why rent, whey you can own? Again a no brainer. Anyone that tells you different deserves to be a renter their entire life, while at he same time worry about money.
    This is no college graduate explaining this to you. However, I do have professional certificates and licenses in various trades. I was a trades person, and I am not on Social Security Disability, just a 24 year retirement, however, I had many breaks in getting that 24 year retirement. I was what was considered multi-trade, which pretty much guaranteed me a job anywhere.

  3. Gregory Hiban

    Success as a buy & hold RE investor is built over decades, not years. Declaring so at 27 is akin to a stock market investor who just happened to start investing in 2009. At this point you are just asking for Murphy’s Law to pay you a visit.

    • Edward Briley

      You are correct. However, buying your own private residence when you are young is the best investment anyone can make. If you delay it is costing you a lot of money. When you buy a home, you guarantee yourself a payment that will not increase over time, and you will make money on it, even if it is no more than the cost of inflation. Only 2 things can increase, and when they increase, believe this or not, your property increases in value. They are real estate taxes, and insurance. If you own a home, and the home is worth at least 20% more than what you paid for it, get it appraised, and get rid of the mortgage insurance. If you find you owe taxes at the end of the year, ask yourself why you don’t you own a vacation home? You can go on and on about the benefits of owning a home.
      Get out there today, and figure out what you can do to buy your first home. Everyday you wait, is doing (repeat) nothing more than costing you money. If you rent, and have a 401K, borrow money from it for the down payment. Your own home is the best assurance of retirement you can have. Real Estate or land even, is a much better investment than gold could ever be. It would be hard to plant or raise food on that once of gold. Real estate can and will pay for itself. I am not saying it cannot happen, but it is difficult for even a fool, to lose by buying their own home. The buyers market is starting to slip, so you need to do it soon, if you haven’t. Retail home prices have not seemed to peek here, however, investment properties are increasing in price (foreclosures).

      • Gregory Hiban

        Buying your own home CAN be a good thing. However, if you do not plan to stay in the same geographic area (young people tend to move more), you are left with the options of selling or landlording at a distance. Neither choice is inherently bad, but certainly aren’t the most desirable circumstances.

        Borrowing from your 401K as a downpayment is a terrible idea. If you have to leave your job for any reason, the loan must be repaid in full immediately. If you can’t come up with the funds, it will get taxed as ordinary income & subject to a 10% penalty.

        Additionally, what is this, 2006? Your home isn’t automatically a good investment, as the millions of homeowners will tell you who went upside down on their homes then lost their jobs then lost their homes and had to declare bankruptcy.

        You are correct that it is almost always a better investment than gold.

        Buying a home and/or investing in real estate CAN be a good thing for some people; however, making a sweeping statement like it is the best investment anyone can make is categorically wrong. The best investment most people have the ability to make is getting the employer match for their 401K (assuming the match vests immediately). It’s not often you get the opportunity for a guaranteed 100% return on a part of your money.

        • Edward Briley

          I am sorry that I have disagree with you. Many young people at this day and time are doing very well renting their homes from a distance. Borrowing money from your 401k is fine also, even if you have to leave the job, and have to pay the 10%. I did not say borrow the amount to cover the entire cost of the house, just the down payment. So, basically all it needs to be is no more than $10,000 for the most part, which if you have to leave your job, the taxes penalty will be $1,000 maximum. You could easily make that amount up with the tax incentive you get from the interest on the mortgage on the home, closing cost etc… When you would have to leave the job, lets say you even got fired or downsized, you have a vehicle in which you can rent rooms, and last I checked here that is around $150 a week here. That is at least $600 a month, that will go along way in paying your mortgage. My employer matched my 401k up to 5% of my salary, and that was better than many pay. Even if you get them to match up to 10% of your salary, when are you going to be able to enjoy the millions you accumulate without having to pay taxes on it? 59 and 1/2 years old? You can borrow and take a small amount of that money, use it immediately in investing in real estate, and enjoy that money today. If you are somewhat intelligent you can buy a single home, flip it, make enough to pay it off, pay back the loan, if you are that concerned about it, and have more than enough to put down on another and repeat. Your exposure to a risk in paying a penalty is less than what you will gain. Do the math. I had rather buy a home, than a new car, and is much less expensive. Even if someone would have to give up an overpriced property, because they relocate, hopefully they would buy a home in their new location first. Even if not, today’s situation is, that as long is you paid your other bills on time, that is in little is 3 years you can mortgage another home, with a little effort on you behalf. No downside, plain and simple.

        • That’s just plain wrong. You can borrow money from your 401k and not pay it back upon your termination. Trust me, I did it. If you keep making the payments (you must mail them in yourself), most plan trustees do not care.

          Remember: plans WANT your money. They do not want to liquidate you!

  4. Elizabeth Colegrove

    Success is all relative! The point of this article is not how successful I am (as I write this over my lunch break because I still have a 8 to 5 job, so obviously not THAT successful) but what keeping your eyes open to all possibilities can allow one to achieve. I know many people who didn’t take advantage of the markets during the dip because they were walking down the road with “blinders on”. The point of this article is that you can do it all, just at a different intensity level.

  5. margaret smith on

    Hi – Just to get the record straight, though Mr. Briley suggests a hard money loan of up to 80% to get going–I am a hard money lender, and since Jan of 2014, am not allowed to lend to homeowners who live in the home, unless it has been my property (the famous/notorious Dodd-Frank Act). Lots of strange filters around all of this, but my gurus say- DO NOT lend to a “consumer”- and so I don’t. That leaves institutional loans for a first time buyer, which are very hard to qualify for if you are a young person with less than steady, full time, well-paid, uninterrupted work for past 2 years. Generally, no more borrowing from Mom and Dad unless they are willing to sign over an official “gift”- with all the legal and IRS ramifications that go along with that. Basically, it’s just not that easy for young people any more to purchase, sorry to say.

  6. Ed Gray

    Elizabeth- great article. I think some are missing that different ideas and perspectives open your mind to new possibilities. I for one have cherry picked ideas from all over the Internet and molded them to work for me. But I would have never found these new spins if folks like you did not share them. Thanks for sharing.

    • Elizabeth Colegrove

      I totally agree! I am a bit “crazy” and do things very “non-mainstream”. That being said the point isn’t to “copy” someone, but to put your own “crazy” plan together based on your strength/weakness!

      Look forward to reading/learning about your exploits 😉

  7. Vince Mayer

    Less than perfection,. What a concept!
    My grandson and I live together, he’s 7 years old and I’m a lot older, and he wants me to take him on vacation. He wants to go to the beach but I suggested staying in a hotel and visiting Bass Pro Shops. He is so excited about this that he keeps bugging me on when we are going. (April) Seeing his excitement is perfection enough for me.

  8. Donna Paget

    Hi Elizabeth!
    I am so excited to hear from a woman RE investor who does it all! I did something very similar with my education and I still have gotten whatever job I was going after! My hubby also did the military though he is retired now. I have also purchased (and sold) properties in almost each place we’ve been (because some of the places we’ve been were overseas!).

    We like to travel, too and I save $100 a paycheck in my “vacay” fund! Last year we went to Italy/Greece and this year we’ve already been to Panama!

    Now that we’re at a stable place since my hubby retired, I sometimes think I am even more crazy! I, also, still have the day job, but now I want to do flips and buy and holds in more quantity. I’m planning on having 100 doors in 5 years in order to have retirement passive income. Though I have the day job, I still feel successful. I’ve been reading some of the posts here and some of the nay sayers, but I’m a big fan of 1) do your homework 2) evaluate your risks 3) take action!
    Keep inspiring!

  9. Aly W.

    Great article Elizabeth, and nice to find another similar-thinker! Not being obsessed with perfection allows for so much diversity, multiple income streams, and not having all one’s eggs in one basket.

    Way to go at 27!

    • Steve Smith

      Great article and replies. This is my plan to get my daughter started. She is graduating with an Assoc. Medical Lab Tech Degree this summer, at the ripe old age of 19. She is starting to work part-time as a Tech next month as she finishes her Clinicals. Full benefits, 401 Match, etc., just like a full-time employee. I have built homes for 20 plus years. We are going to build her a duplex, of course at wholesale. Rent one side out which will cover all her expenses and mortgage. Plus if she is so inclined to she can rent out rooms on her side. Each side will be 3 bedrooms. Plus have a ton of equity from day 1. Should be able to cash out re-finance and have no money down. I also love the small mini retirements. I have done this twice already. Once moved the family to Ireland for a little over a year at the age of 35. And currently just coming out of a 6 year mini retirement. I am 50 now and have no regrets.

  10. J. Martin

    Awesome article Elizabeth! I strive to be about 70-80% good in everything I do 🙂
    I gave up on trying to be a “SuperHost” on Airbnb a long time ago because it’s too much work to make 80% of guests think it was EXCELLENT.
    I try to keep my tenants generally happy, but I don’t bend over backwards to try to make things perfect.
    I only make a presentation for my meetup group about 50% of the time, because I’m busy with my own deals.
    And have a lot of fun in between 🙂
    Keep on rockin 80% of the time!! 🙂

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