Confessions of a Hesitant Investor: How I Let Go of Excuses, Took a Chance & Started Buying Property

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My earliest memory of rehabbing a house was at the ripe age of four years old. Being too young to do heavy lifting, I dutifully walked around the family room of my father’s latest junker, sucking up cockroaches one at a time into a vacuum for hours. Thousands were creeping up the wall as the carpet was being pulled up to be replaced.

Later in life, my friends and I would trash out homes, do minor painting, and serve as the occasional day laborers to earn extra money for summer camp and trips to Disneyland. Beyond that, my father never pushed the real estate biz on us kids.

Up until a decade ago, if you asked me if I would be in real estate, I would have rolled my eyes and shaken my head. I moved to New York City at 19 to pursue the Great White Way and spent my 20s traveling the globe getting paid to perform. When my father occasionally nudged me to read one of his mentors’ books (Jim Rohn, Andrew Carnegie, James Collins, and Og Mandino), I politely accepted a copy with a knowing smile, but never intended to take the dive.

A family illness snapped me back to California in 2004. The lure of Broadway just didn’t seem to matter when family was in need. In addition, injuries and inconsistent “gigs” grew tiresome. While in New York, I was fortunate to fall into a night job on Wall Street doing acquisition and merger presentations (and I secretly like it). I learned a ton about branding, marketing, and PR and started doing jobs on the side.

Related: The Newbie Challenge: 30 Steps to Get Started in Real Estate in 30 Days

These skills would prove invaluable while I attempted to reinvent myself. I spent six months in the design and construction industry before I got an offer from another Wall Street firm. One week before I was to take the job officially, Dad offered me a marketing position at The Norris Group, a company he founded in 1997.

I was a little surprised at how quickly I said yes. I’ve always had a bit of a complex. You see, Dad has this incredible story. With two kids by 18 years old, on food stamps, having been fired multiple times and with only a high school education, he managed to make millions in the business of real estate investing. How was I ever to top that?!

I share all this because fear really got the best of me for many years. I didn’t mind being on stage in front of thousands of people, but walking in the shadows of a well-respected father and the idea of failing so publicly had me on perpetual pause.

Here are three things that helped me turn the corner and hopefully helps someone else in a similar situation.

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The Garage Sale of Life

Five years ago I was working 50 hours per week at the company, volunteering numerous hours at nonprofits, and was trying to balance that all with a non-existent personal life. I had convinced myself that real estate wasn’t in the cards because I simply didn’t have time. Or was this excuse just a copout?

Mike Cantu has a great term for something I now do several times per year because I have a difficult time saying no. He calls it the “Garage Sale of Life.” The concept is to remove the people from your life who waste time and create negativity, simplify things (that tie up funds, time and energy) and minimizing life activities that aren’t moving you forward.

Extra time is like an extra room in your house. Better fill it up fast before the universe fills it for you!

Goal writing was instrumental in getting over the hump. I had never sat down to write long-term goals before my late-night impulse buy of Personal Power by Tony Robbins. The structured goal writing session focused on short and long-term goals, and more importantly, got me thinking about why I wasn’t already getting goals checked off my list. Getting goals on paper is somehow cathartic and magical. It really put life on fast forward for me.

Aim, Fire, Ready!

Around this same time, I attended a John Schaub seminar where he mentioned the 10-house plan. Buy one house a year, and pay them off. I have no idea why this simple plan impacted me the way that it did. I think I expected myself to manage the life of a full-time flipper while doing everything else I had already committed to in life. For the first time, real estate wasn’t just a lofty goal; I knew it was something I could do.

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

I tweaked my goals a smidge and chatted with some of the people in my network to let them know I was in the market for toilets and tenants. Ready or not, deals started finding me. My goal was to buy at least one house per year — and so far I’ve accomplished that and more.

Modeling

Put down the selfie stick, not that kind of modeling.

Tony Robbins talks about looking to those that have come before to reverse engineer their success and discover a potential roadmap of our own. I put far too much pressure on myself simply because of the high level of talent in my family and those I see in our hard money loan business daily.

Inspiration and mentoring can come from a host of places. I’ve found mentors from our immediate network (including on BiggerPockets), educational events, and serving on nonprofit association boards.

I believe finding people who inspire and motivate is critical. It helps drive my “why” behind wanting success, in real estate and otherwise. Why do you want to succeed in real estate, and what would it mean for your family if you succeeded?

Just Do it

Life goes quickly. We’re never promised tomorrow. If you really want something, you damn well better make enough space in life to will it to happen. Make some space, create a plan, and pull the trigger.

Ready or not, find a way to get inspired and make your goals happen.

When did you turn the corner and realize real estate investing was the path you wanted to take?

Leave your stories and comments below!

About Author

Aaron Norris

18 Comments

  1. Great article. Particularly the “Garage Sale of Life” concept. Removing toxic friends from your life is a critical first step in achieving one’s goals. It was the most difficult lesson of my life; but also, incredibly rewarding! Like others, I cultivated many friendships in college. I assumed these would be lifelong relationships that provided many years of fun and mutual support – whew, how naïve! After college, I was vehemently criticized by these “friends” for “working too hard” and “being overly obsessive about my goals.” These were supposed to positive traits, right? I soon realized this level of toxicity was zapping my energy and promoting bad habits, so I made the decision to remove these people from my life. I didn’t know there was a term for this, but “Garage Sale of Life” makes perfect sense.

    Today I’m living 100 percent on passive income while these old acquaintances are mired in debt and living a less than fulfilling life. I would suggest that people think long and hard about the relationships in their life. Screening calls and avoiding activities because of one or two people are glaring signs of toxic relationships. It is a known fact that positive people are drawn to positive energy while the opposite is true for negative people. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been…!

    • Aaron, really great article. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves if certain people are holding us back from achieving all that we can be. Then comes the hard decision of ‘purging’ them from our life once and for all. Goal writing is a MUST for anyone who wants to achieve their dreams.

      @Randy – the negative energy from others, often is because they don’t want us to move forward, but rather stay stagnate living in fear like they are. When you move forward they feel threatened and left behind.

  2. I agree that if you really want to accomplish something you just have to get up and do it. If we always wait for the right time to do something, then it will never happen. Everyone is busy, but if reaching your goals is most important to you then you will find a way to make it happen. I have always wanted to get into real estate because I enjoy the changes you can make in others lives. Also, it offers you the opportunity to be in control of your future. This article has inspired me to do something about it.

  3. Mark Mathews

    I’ve wanted to be a real estate investor for a long time. My first attempt turned out pretty bad. I bought the best house in the first phase of a new development. I moved in, rented out my original home, did some cosmetic upgrades on the new house, and the market crashed. My plans of living in the home until the builder finished selling out phase 4 and selling at a higher price crashed and burned. I went from having half a million in equity in my first home to being upside down with a modified mortgage with increasing interest rates on way too much money. That’s where I am now.

    After that, I thought I would not be able to invest in real estate again without direct help from someone experienced, and a lot of money to invest. So, I did nothing for over 5 years.

    But the desire to be a real estate investor is a bug I just can’t shake. I watched a about 15 hours of youtube videos by Phil Pustyovsky (not sure how to spell it) RE guru. I signed up to be one of his apprentices. They called me and gave me an ‘interview.’ Then nothing. I emailed them to ask about the status of my application, and didn’t get an answer.

    Last weekend, I went on craigslist looking for FSBO, not really expecting to find anything of value. To my surprise, I found a motivated seller in a short sale position. I quickly came to realize that I have no idea what to offer or how to do all the admin stuff. So, I haven’t made an offer yet.

    Then, after finding this opportunity and not hearing back from Phil P, I googled ‘how to be a real estate investor.’ Guess who I found? Duh, BP. Now, my job is to learn what I need to do and how to do it. My goal is to be ready to make an offer by May 31.

    • Aaron Norris

      Thanks for sharing Mark. In show biz, there was a joke that you weren’t able to get an agent until you booked your first Broadway show. Magically, after that, agents seemed interested. I really do like local investment clubs because you’re networking with people with different skill sets making it work in the area you want to invest. People are very generous with their time and talent as long as its not abused.

  4. Deanna Opgenort

    My only thought would be to make a VERY firm list of your purchase criteria to avoid the “money burning a hole in the pocket” syndrome, so if you don’t get this particular one you don’t make the mistake start swinging an any fsbo that crosses your path.

  5. Jeff S.

    Great article. Had a close friend that had a very successful Dad and he apparently was intimidated too. I never understood that but such as it is.

    You make some great points. When I think about the opportunities for people today I am not sure I could do what I have done, in fact I know I couldn’t. To me it seems a tougher road now. The thing is all we can do is give it our best shot and take it from there. Where your dad might have hundreds of houses you might be great with 5 and a wife with a good job and a mellow attitude. There is no right or wrong way. Good luck.

    • Aaron Norris

      Great point Jeff. One of the things I had to cut from the article is money and what it means to different people. I have investors in my life with over 50-100 doors, but I don’t know if they know why they have that many, or the lifestyle they are hoping to create. Money for some is power and control, for others it’s simply freedom.

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