From One Newbie to Another: How I Stopped Dreaming & Started Taking Action Towards My First Deal


When I first started working for BiggerPockets, I can honestly say I didn’t know the first thing about real estate, let alone real estate investing.

I didn’t know what an FHA or 203k loan was. I didn’t know how to calculate cash flow or how to analyze a property. I didn’t know anything about “house hacking” or “live-in flipping.” All I knew was I loved those flipping shows and that those guys on HGTV were making BANK!

(I quickly realized that is actually very far from the truth.)

In other words, I was the quintessential newbie.

Related: 7 Ways TV Flipping Shows Are Completely Fake (As Any REAL Investor Knows!)

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

This is the dream right? Going from zero to 10+ rental properties, providing stable cash flow and long-term wealth for you and your family, and building a scalable business model to boot! Learn how this investor did just that, in this exclusive story featured on BiggerPockets!

Click Here For Your Free eBook

From One Newbie to Another

As a former newbie (let’s not kid ourselves here, I am still one) I understand the frustrations of wanting to get started in real estate investing, but not quite knowing what to do!

As a new investor, embarking on the path to financial freedom can’t happen fast enough.

However, let me tell you that this path doesn’t start with the first purchase of a rental property. It starts the moment you tell yourself you want a better life for you and your family — followed by action.

When you signed up for BiggerPockets or even when you opened this post, you consciously made a decision to invest in your dreams of financial freedom. That’s a huge step! It’s small when you look back on it, but right now, it’s the best thing you could’ve done.

Little actions when multiplied daily and consistently can and will create tremendous results!

So, now that you know you’re on your way to financial freedom, let’s keep going.

Looking back on my short journey as a newbie investor thus far, I can’t help but think of all the time I would’ve saved if I simply knew what needed to be done or what I wanted. I spent so much time trying to figure it out when I could’ve been taking action.


For example, for the first three to four months, I spent my time listening to podcasts, reading everything I could on BiggerPockets from articles about multi-family investing, wholesaling, flipping, and mobile home investing to those covering BRRRR, house hacking, and even commercial real estate investing. I read every forum post that caught my eye or seemed to have a good conversation going.

I learned a little about EVERYTHING, but at the end of the day found myself in the same spot where I started four months prior. No real progress. Do I regret learning what I had? Not at all. There’s a famous quote by Benjamin Franklin that I find true to its core: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

However, if I had a better sense of what I needed, I wouldn’t have learned a little about a lot of things, but a lot about a few.

What Do You Want & What Do You Need?

So, before you start reading every single blog post and spend 165 hours listening to every episode of the BiggerPockets Podcast, I encourage you to do one thing that I believe will help you decide your path.

Write down every single expense you have in a given month. Don’t leave out anything!

Rent, car payments, gym membership, food, utilities, phone bill, health, dental, baby food, fun activities etc. –anything and everything that you find yourself paying for each month.

Now, look at this number. Remember it. Say it out loud. Say it out loud again. Get it tattooed on your forehead so you never forget it! (Please do not actually do this.)

This number is, however, that important. This is what you need every month for you to maintain your current lifestyle. This is known as your Freedom Number.

Listen to BP Podcast 151: Finding Your “Freedom Number” with Clayton Morris.

Once you know your Freedom Number, you can determine the number of properties or “units” you will need in order to produce enough passive income to cover your monthly living expense (X).

# of Properties = Freedom Number ÷  Average Cash Flow Expected from a Single Unit


X = FN ÷ CF

So, if my expenses are $3,000 a month (no wife, no kids, 22 years old) and I expect to receive $350 cash flow on a property, I will need roughly 9 properties to reach financial independence. That is a beautiful thing! Now, given some properties will produce more cash flow than others, this is a solid goal to aspire to.

Like the majority of you, my goal is to achieve Financial Freedom. Some people want much, much more than me, and that’s perfectly fine. Maybe down the road I will build an empire and leave a footprint in the history books, but for now, I simply want freedom.


Related: Blogger Roundup: 21 Reasons Newbies Struggle to Close Their First Deal (& How to Overcome Them!)

Don’t Waste Your or Your Agent’s Time

After you’ve determined your Freedom Number, it’s time to figure out the next and possibly most important thing — finding out what you pre-qualify for.

I found an incredible real estate agent who has helped me so much along the way. Unfortunately, I made a huge rookie mistake and wasted a lot of his time. I had been looking at a few homes in a great neighborhood that had room for sweat equity, appreciation, and cash flow. Little did I know, I had no business looking at these homes. I was about $100-150,000 out of my league, and this ended up changing my entire game plan. (Thanks, Bill, for not dropping me as a client!)

I know the idea of purchasing a duplex or triplex is exciting and inspiring, but unfortunately it’s not always possible. Many investors I know assume everyone is making $70k a year with $20k in savings and a 800 credit score and should have no problem getting started investing.

I’m not one of those investors. You may have 3 kids making $40k/year with a 680 credit score, which might mean that duplex in Capital Hill, Denver, Colorado is a little out of reach for now.

It was eye opening for me when I called to get pre-qualified. I went from looking at 2-bed 2-bath single family homes in the perfect neighborhood to 1-bed 1-bath condos because, well, that’s what I qualified for.

Also, the majority of lenders out there will not lend without 2 years work history and a minimum credit score of 640 which may throw a curve to your investing career.

(If this happens, don’t give up! Save that money, build your credit, study your market, learn, and be ready to go when the time is right.)

Now, there are ways around this if you can get a family member to co-sign or decide to invest with a partner. It’s my personal choice for now to stay away from that. I want to have a few investments under my belt and know what I’m doing before I start sharing income, expenses, and decisions with someone else. I wanted my start to be as simple and straightforward as possible.

Note: Whatever advice, article, or book you read, please explore the options. Remember that there is no one way to accomplish your goals, and there is almost always a way to achieve what you want — it just may take a little (or a lot) more creativity.

Once you know what you can afford, it’s time to figure out where.


Know Your Market

I recently moved to Denver, CO, which is currently one of the hottest markets in America. A lot of my time has been spent driving around, walking around, and exploring on Google Maps to get a feel for this new city.

Like all cities, there are good neighborhoods and not-so-good neighborhoods. Drive 15 minutes North, you’re in the hood. Drive 15 minutes East, you’re in the ‘burbs, and drive 5 minutes West, you’re in the heart of the busy city — all of which provide their own culture, lifestyle, and investment opportunities.

Identifying your market area is crucial and takes time. You should drive through each street, look at the homes, the residents, the lawns, and the cars. What grocery stores are nearby? What’s the closest shopping center? Are there schools nearby? And most importantly, is it somewhere you can see yourself living?

Most newbie investors, myself included, will probably utilize the FHA loan, which in accordance to its terms and conditions, means you will be an owner-occupant. As an owner-occupant, this property will be your primary residence. So make it somewhere you will want to live for at least 2 years.

The great Warren Buffett said, “Only buy something that you would be perfectly happy to hold if the market crashed for 10 years.” Meaning, is the property you plan to buy going to satisfy your lifestyle? Is the commute too long? Is the neighborhood not safe? Will you dread your time there because there’s nothing to do? These are all fair questions to ask yourself. If the answers to these questions seem too daunting, it’s probably best you don’t invest there.

On the other hand, if you’re not in a financial position to have your cake and eat it too, you may need to allow some wiggle room for compromise. I know I had to.


Analyze, Compare, Repeat

You have a goal, you know where you stand financially, and you know where you want to invest. Now you’re ready to start analyzing properties!

This is the part that really excites me and shows the potential of REI. It may seem hard and intimidating, but I promise, it’s not. Also, with the help of BiggerPockets amazing calculators, it’s never been easier!

Brandon Turner also has a great video out that shows in detail how he analyzes a property for cash flow. These will explain how to analyze properties better than I can, so after you finish reading the rest of this (thank you for reading, by the way!) scroll back up and check these out.

I noticed I began feeling the most comfortable when I started analyzing properties daily. Going on the MLS and searching various types of properties in various neighborhoods to see what areas and what kinds of homes are producing the best cash flow and cash-on-cash returns really made me feel like an investor, not just a 22-year-old seeking financial freedom.

Related: The #1 Reason Newbies Go Broke in Real Estate (& How to Avoid It!)

It will help you get a feel for your neighborhood and city as well. That way, you’ll know when a property pops up what the max you can pay for is and what kind of returns you can expect. In Denver, if you aren’t one of the first to make an offer, you don’t stand a chance. That said, no matter what, always run the numbers on the property. You know what they say about those who “assume”? Well, yeah — just don’t assume.


The Truth

When I first started working here at BiggerPockets, for some reason I had this notion that investing in real estate required a PhD in Economics and you had to be 50 years old with an endless amount of cash. The truth is, ANYONE can do it. It isn’t hard, folks, I promise. If you commit to learning the basics, to controlling your personal finance, and to taking action, you can invest in real estate. It’s simple math, you just need to know what numbers to look for.

Until you get into the big leagues with the Brian Burkes, J Scotts, and Serge Shukhats, investing in real estate is essentially very basic.

In its simplest form — you find a neighborhood, find a property, do the numbers, make an offer, get the home, and repeat until freedom is reached. Each of these steps have sub-points that should be considered, and all have their own situations attached, but BiggerPockets provides everything you need and more to help you along the way.

So don’t be scared or overwhelmed with the process. Step by step, knock it out, and before you know it, you’ll be investing in your first property, then second, then third, then a few more down the road… Freedom.

(P.S. If you EVER have questions, please ask me. I will do all I can to point you in the right direction!)

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” — Henry Ford


  • Where are you in your investing journey?
  • What challenges are you overcoming now?
  • Any advice you’d add to this article?

Leave your comments below!

About Author

Zachary Gwin

Zach is our Social Media Manager on BiggerPockets and in charge of video production. He is a beginning investor looking to reach Financial Freedom through the power of real estate - helping those who need it along the way. He loves quotes, real estate, and pistachio ice cream.


  1. Bea Bugan

    Thank you Zachary, this was exactly what I needed to hear today. I am a newbie and i am searching my first property which i want to pay cash because i have no income at the moment. Today (after taking a course of negotiation) I did my first proposition to negotiate 5k down as a foreigner and they told me yes. From 55k to 50k. Next time i will definitely try harder! But the analyses were bad, just 230 cash-flow and 7,5% cash on cash ROI. (What do you think, take or let it go?) I am going to search another deal probably. It’s damn hard to find a +10% cash on cash ROI property. My questions are: Is it better to buy one rental property cash and based on this take a loan and buy one more and one more and one more, or is it better to wait, find a job, put 50k like a downpayment and take directly 250k and buy 5 properties at the same time? Big dilemma. Thank you for your advice and sorry for my english.

    • Zachary Gwin

      Sounds like you’re headed in the right direction – forward!

      It’s hard for me to say if that’s a good deal or not as I don’t know your market, goals, or situation.
      I would love to be able to give you a professional answer; however, I am not there yet.

      Post your question in the BiggerPockets forums, that way you’ll get multiple opinions and responses from our community!

      Sorry I can’t help you further. 🙁

      Let me know what you decide – I’m interested 🙂


  2. Pamela Starnes

    Taking a few months to learn a little about a lot of things is certainly not a bad thing Zach. Many people spend years or decades without any even a modicum of knowledge to show for it. The fact you are starting so young puts you WAY ahead of the game, so kudos to you. Thanks for writing and all the best to you in your learning and ventures!

  3. Tim Porsche

    Great post, love it! My freedom number is $1,200 over what I actually need to live on, that way I know I can continue to keep growing at a rate that is acceptable to me. At my current rate, if I keep getting the returns I am, I’m looking at about 4-6 years to reach my goal.

  4. Jerry W.

    Nice article but you are missing the 600 pound gorilla in the room for folks over 50, health insurance. If you work now your employer is buying your health insurance. When you quit working you have to find health insurance. The older you are the more it costs. I had a friend paying $4K per month for health insurance for him and his wife. Thats why he worked until age 65 to get medicare. They had money to live and play on, they needed drugs and docs.

  5. Darien Gaston

    Hey Zach, I really appreciate this post. Like you, I’m also a newbie investor who’s been just so amped and ready to blast off like a rocket but just not sure where to aim it. This article feels like a simple-to-follow blueprint so I feel confident in knowing exactly what I need to do next. Thanks bro

    • Zachary Gwin

      Darien, that was the exact reason I wrote this blog (got me tearing up over here lol). It’s a continual battle to get that first deal because we only know what we know till we know otherwise.
      BiggerPockets does an amazing job providing info, but as a newbie there are a lot of steps and little things that are often over looked by our writers who have been doing this for 10-20 years.
      So glad I could help out, man. Thank you!

  6. Roni Porter

    Thanks for the motivation Zach! I consider myself a newbie even though I bought 2 rentals back in 2004. I am getting educated on BiggerPockets and plan to find my next property soon. What are the numbers on your first deal?

  7. Rene Brignone

    Great article, quite inspiring. I’m a latecomer at 59 to rei but want to know the fastest way to get started towards a mere first flip,…i need to find a property, seller and buyer. Looking at properties 50% or greater below market. I want to be able to provide them at a fair to deep discount and still make a profit and assignment fee. Just haven’t done it yet.

    • Zachary Gwin

      Thanks Rene!

      I haven’t ventured into house flipping too much, but I sure want to! Have you checked out “The Book on Flipping Houses” by J. Scott ? It’s on my list of books to read and from what I hear it has everything and more. May want to check that out?

  8. Sergio Bofill

    Great article Zachary. I too have spent a lot of time reading and listening to the podcasts but at the end of the day action must be taken. Your article is tremendous in getting everything someone may be thinking about into solid actionable steps. Thanks!

    • Zachary Gwin

      Thanks, Sergio! Having professionals and investors that have been in the game for years as a resource is amazing, but when you’re that far into the game I think it’s easy to forget what exactly it’s like to be a “newbie” – all the steps, thoughts, fears, and information overload that happens.

      Figured a fresh take would help a few folks out 🙂

  9. Matthew Seckman

    Excellent article! As you mentioned, there are so many resources available (thank you BiggerPockets!) that one could easily be overwhelmed and become paralyzed. This is a great list of step-by-step items one can easily digest and use. Such a great resource! I think I will use it as a check-list.

  10. John Oyedele

    Great article Zach,
    Quick question for you. Currently I’m trying to practice analyzing properties in my “backyard” in order to get a feel for the area. Would it be considered wasting an agent’s time if all I want is access to the MLS?

    • Zachary Gwin

      Thanks John!

      I went through the same thought process as you. I think agents want any leads/ business they can get. However, having a good agent in your back pocket can make a world of difference. I think being clear with your intentions, honest, and “human” is the best policy to building a solid relationship.

      I would reach out to an agent in your area, let them know you are investor looking for “x” and they will set you up on the MLS so you can get updates anytime something hits the market.

  11. Tyrone Green

    Hey Zach,

    As soon as I saw this post I knew I had to leave some good feedback.

    If I were 22 I might feel differently, but your writing style and insight show that you are wise beyond your years.

    Too often we hear the story of how a promising career becomes null and void due to information overload. Everyone else has to start somewhere, and it’s cool that you recognize your potential at this stage.

    Looking forward to your next brilliant post.. 🙂


    • Zachary Gwin


      I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that! It made my morning 🙂

      Too often do I see members join, post their introduction, then fade off in the abyss of information to never return.

      There is a major learning curve, but I figured out that taking action (calling a lender, calling an agent, driving neighborhoods, analyzing properties, etc…) has taught me more than most of the blogs or forums I’ve read.

      Thank you again for the kind words, Tyrone. Have yourself a great day my man!


  12. Wonderful article,Zachary! Taking actionable steps is #1,always! Super excited to see what I qualify for, currently “cleaning up” my credit. One of the best decisions, that I feel, that I’ve made in my life. Thanks for contributing your wisdom!



  13. Liz Snead

    Hi Zachary-
    When I read your comment about so many newbies posting their introductions and then fading off into the abyss, I knew I had to respond! That’s been me so far but I am ready to get started. Like, yesterday! I don’t need the income so I can be discerning, I have cash of my own to invest, and passion for doing my first flip. With that being said, I’m paralyzed by the “gathering my team” so to speak. It isn’t because there is nobody to choose from, it’s that there are so many people TO choose from, but I don’t know who to trust; who to choose as a lender, how to find an agent that will provide me access to MLS, etc. I have become a member of the REIA but there are so many different chapters here in Atlanta I don’t know which one to join! I have lived here for 18 years, and and familiar with the area. So do I just cold call a lender first so that when I find a property I can act on it quickly?

    • Zachary Gwin

      Hi Liz!

      I apologize for the late response! By this time I am hoping you have made some progress!

      But to answer your question (because I know you are not alone here) I’d say the best thing to do is pick up the phone and just call. Chances are the first lender or agent you contact won’t be the “right” one, but you have to test the waters and see who feels right. Get quotes from a few lenders and see who is willing to work with you.

      Often times the people you meet at your local REIC can refer you to lenders or agents they work with. That’s actually how I got hooked up!

      The worst thing you can do is to do nothing 🙂

      Hope you all the best!


    • Zachary Gwin

      Thank you, Emilee!

      REI definitely isn’t easy, but it truly isn’t hard! It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.

      If you have any questions or need any help a long the way you have the best community (BP) and you can definitely connect with me if you need anything!

      Thanks again, Emilee!

  14. Very good read,

    very down to earth, it probably is simple but requires hard work otherwise everyone would do it. I tried to work in property a few years ago and failed miserably selling furnished and at time undeveloped rooms located in London. I did the worst thing I could do.. which is give up. But here I am a few years later reading, thinking and learning about investing in property all over again. I guess when your interested in something your interested.
    I do feel inspired by this post, well done on your success of knowledge and experience.

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