How to Retire in 3 Years Through Real Estate Investing

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That’s probably the response most people had when they read the title to this post. Retire in three years? Sure, maybe if the person was 99.9 percent of the way there. But there’s no way the average person could retire in just three years using real estate… is there?

Well, that’s the question I was asked at last week’s weekly BiggerPockets real estate investing webinar — and I took on the challenge. Here’s the gist of how I answered.

(By the way, did you know that every week I host a free online webinar to teach folks about various real estate topics? We’ve talked about how to invest while working a full-time job, how to invest using no money of your own, how to use fixer-upper rentals to make six figures, and so much more. Sign up for the next free webinar by going to This week we’ll be talking about How to Use BiggerPockets to Become a Rockstar Real Estate Investor. It’ll be awesome!)

OK, let’s get on with this discussion, because you’ve got three years until retirement and time is ticking. Here we go.

How to Invest in Real Estate While Working a Full-Time Job

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Let’s Make Some Assumptions About Retiring in Three Years

First of all, let’s make a few assumptions because I don’t really know anything about you.

I’m going to assume that you don’t need six figures to retire.

We’re not talking about buying a yacht, drinking Cristal, and swimming in cash like Uncle Scrooge. We’re talking about retirement — being able to pay your bills with passive income. So, for today’s assumption, we’re going to use $54,000 per year, or $4,500 per month.

Now, if you need more than that, that’s OK — keep listening and you can adjust these numbers on your own later.

So, we now have a concrete goal of making $4,500 per month in cash flow from real estate within three years.

I’m a strong believer in turning lofty, undefined goals (like “I want to retire”) into tangible, specific goals (like “I want $4,500 per month in cash flow from rental properties within three years”). Now that is something we can go after.


Related: Want to Escape a Soul-Crushing Job, Reclaim Free Time or Retire Early? Here Are 3 Feasible Paths to Take.

Breaking Down the Big Goal Into the # of Units

Now that we have our big goal clearly defined — $4,500 per month within three years — we need to break that down even further. What does that even mean?

Well, for me, I like to look at that number and ask the question, “How many rental units (houses or apartment units) do I need to hit that number?”

Of course, that’s going to depend on the deal. A lot of people buy real estate, and they lose money every month. We don’t want that. We want to buy real estate that is cash flow positive. That means that after all the income has been received and all of the expenses have been spent (and I do mean ALL of them, including vacancy, repairs, CapEx, management, utilities, the mortgage, and more), we should have a positive number.

How positive?

For me, I like to see between $100 and $200 per month, per unit. That’s just my target that I aim for and have been able to get most of my career.

So let’s use a number smack dab in the middle of that: $150 per month, per unit in cash flow.

So, to all the math geniuses out there, let me ask you a question:

If you needed $4,500 per month in cash flow and each unit gave you $150 per month in cash flow, how many units do you need?

Anyone? Anyone?



Right! Thirty units.

So, now we’ve taken this big crazy goal of retiring in three years and condensed it down to a goal of buying 30 units that average $150 per month in cash flow each.

Now we’re getting somewhere — but we’re not done yet!

We need to make a plan to get those 30 units.

Making Your Plan Toward Retirement

So, how do you buy 30 units over the next three years? Well, of course, you could shop around and find a 30-unit apartment complex, and BAM, you are done.

But that would make for a slightly boring video, so let’s get a bit more creative.

You could also buy 30 single family houses, but that’s a lot of work — so let’s work on a plan that meets somewhere in the middle — small multifamily properties like duplexes, triplexes, or fourplexes.

Additionally, I want to break up our goal of 30 units into three mini-goals, one for each year.

We could say that we want 10 units per year for three years — but I don’t think that’s as realistic. I say that because people tend to start a little slower and speed up over time. So I want to set our goals to reflect that reality.

So rather than 10 units per year for three years, let’s set a goal of buying just five units the first year, 10 units the second year, and 15 units the third year.

Related: How Much Do I Need to Retire?

So, we’ve taken this big, lofty goal of “I want to retire in three years” and now, to be on track to hit that, we just need to buy five units this year. Think you could manage that over the next 12 months? I don’t see why not.

But plans are useless without action — so the final step in this goal of retiring in three years is to take the action required to meet your goal each year.



Reaching Retirement

So what does it take to buy five units over the next 12 months? It’s going to take action.

For example, maybe you’ll connect with a local real estate agent and start looking now for small multifamily properties. And maybe you’ll find a duplex in a few months that gives you the cash flow you need, followed by a triplex a few months after that. Boom — you hit your year-one goal.

Of course, as we talked about earlier, not just any deal is going to work. You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. In other words, you will likely need to analyze dozens or even hundreds of deals before buying the right one that fits within your plan.

To help with that, I’d encourage you to check out The BiggerPockets Property Analysis Software at, where you can analyze an entire property in under five minutes to estimate important metrics like cash flow, cash on cash return, and more.

Finally, for those wondering “how am I going to pay for all this?” I want to encourage you with this:

If you want it bad enough, you’ll make it happen.

I bought my first 30 units using almost entirely other people’s money. Maybe you’ll partner with someone else. Maybe you’ll house hack. Maybe you’ll use a HELOC, seller financing, lease options, or one of the many other creative strategies that exist. And of course, if you want to know more about that, be sure to check out my first full-length book, The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down.

The point is: Real estate investing IS possible no matter how rich or poor you think you are. It can help you achieve your financial goals no matter how lofty they might seem. But it’s not going to happen by itself. As personal development author Jim Rohn once said, “Life doesn’t get better by chance. It gets better by change.”

So get out there and break down your big goals — and take the action steps needed to accomplish them.

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to benefit our newer members.]

Investors: What does YOUR retirement plan using real estate look like? Any questions about how to get there?

Leave your comments below, and let’s talk!

About Author

Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner (G+ | Twitter) spends a lot of time on Like... seriously... a lot. Oh, and he is also an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, traveler, third-person speaker, husband, and author of "The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down", and "The Book on Rental Property Investing" which you should probably read if you want to do more deals.


  1. Michael Trizzino

    Thank you, Brandon, this is quite inspiring. ‘How to retire on passive income’ is a vague, amorphous idea that I dwell on quite often, and you’ve managed to simplify and focus it in just a few minutes. I’m going to keep more clearly defined numbers in my mind as I start my RE journey in the coming months. I feel sheepish saying, ‘my goal is to retire as early as possible,’ but I’m beginning to recognize that having a goal to aim for is an integral part of the process, even if it sounds lofty and idealistic.

  2. Harry Metzinger

    Brandon, thanks for continuing to be a positive influence in the BP community! Your ability to break down a lofty goal into smaller, actionable steps reinforces to us all that we can achieve incredible success in real estate and in life.

    P.S. I just read The Book on Rental Property Investing. Thank you for taking the time to write such a comprehensive and well-thought-out book.

  3. Paul Winka

    Just five units in a year, aiming for $100 to $200 cash flow. Shoot, I can do that. You bucked up this little camper. 🙂 I wonder which TX or FL city would be best to fine the 2-, 3-, or 4-plex to get this process started?

  4. Peter Mckernan

    Hey Brandon!! This was great and very inspiring!! The thoughts and processes behind working towards a goal are always great!!

    Sticking goals out that are quantifiable are the goals that people reach!! That is why I like this blog a lot because you show what needs to be earmarked to get someone to that end goal of retiring within a certain amount of time!

  5. Grant Fosheim

    Aug 2013 my wife and I closed our first duplex. In Jan 2016 with a total of eight buildings, 28 units and $4400/mo in cash flow, I “retired” (quit my 9-5). Totally doable. Now I’m just trying to catch you Brandon!!

  6. David Reyes

    Great plan you got there Brandon its very likely to 7 years to 7 figure wealth which is also a big one there I loved it !!

    Thats true about the start this year my goal was to get 12 units JUST STARTING but now I have changed my goals to a more realistic one wich is to get my credit score high to get an FHA LOAN to a 4-plex mean while iam looking to learn more and looking for partners to do other deals

  7. Kris Martinez

    Great article! I love the Rohn quote and call to action, too. Follow-up question. Once you get to the $4500/month goal in 3 years and you do retire, what is your plan to continue to acquire properties? Without the active income earned from a W-2 job aren’t you essentially cutting off your supply of capital to acquire more? Rohn was big on having the right financial and investment plan. As a CPA, I am dreaming of the day when I can retire. Just a little fuzzy on what people do to continue to grow. Thank you!

    • Cameron Benz

      I think it depends a little on your numbers Kris. Obviously, if you’re going to retire, you would want to have enough coming in to be able to save and continue to invest. God knows I could do fine on $4500 month.

    • Brandon Turner

      Hey Jerry,
      It can be done! I just posted this below on this comment thread, but I’ll leave it here also. here’s some ideas:

      1.) fewer purchases/more units per purchase
      2.) Partnerships
      3.) Seller financing
      4.) Commercial financing
      5.) Portfolio Loans
      6.) The BRRRR Strategy

      Hope that helps some!

  8. I think I will have to read your book Brandon. I just cannot see how you can have the capital for three down payments in a a year, the impact on your credit score and have the lender approve.

    But others have done it so it must be possible, right? 🙂

  9. Jacob Anderson

    Well my second cousins friends mom, told her brother, that told his son, that said to his girlfriend that he can’t say anything but that this is a great article. You sure make the break down great. That is what goal setting is about! Thanks for sharing all your info and experience with us all on B.P.

  10. David Goossens

    This is basically the plan I came up with to break the 9-5 routine, but it’s a little slower than 3 years. Closer to 5-7 years. My day job eats up a lot of time and energy, but as I’ve pursued this goal, I’ve adopted the flip-flip-rental strategy to speed up the process. So far I’ve completed my first flip and hopefully many more will follow so I can get out of the rat race sooner than later.

  11. Hersh M.

    Awesome article Brandon! Are you finding properties in current market that cash flow $200/door. Thats my biggest blocker right now. I look at deals every day. I am looking at remote investing so rehab is out of question. I feel stuck in wrong time of real estate cycle. Any advice?

    • Brandon Turner

      Hey Hersh – great question. So … it’s tough. But yes, I closed on a Fourplex this month that will cash flow about $200 per unit per month. I also bought a SFR that will cash flow about $400. That said… both those are rehab deals, which is the best way to get that price. That said.. $200 per unit per month is REALLY aggressive. Like… it’s a great goal, but it’s tough. You could probably get less and still make your plans work. Look also at Return on Investment rather than just straight cash flow. Hope that helps!

      • Hersh M.

        Thanks Brandon and congrats on those great deals! Yes, I am targeting not only about $200 per door but also 10% CoC which does seem aggressive in current markets as you said. Will look into relaxing those limits. Thanks again.

  12. bob cooney

    Hello Brandon,
    This is a great article. But what holds me back is this. I do not have any background in looking at a home or apartment and seeing what needs to be replaced. If I knew something needed to be replaced I could figure it out. For example, I could look at a property and not realize if the roof needs to be replaced. I have J. Scott’s books. Any idea on how I can get moving? Thank you.

  13. Luis Melendez

    Hey Brandon great article. Actually I plan on retiring within 3 years from when i started in 2015. I use the brrrr strategy which in my opinion is the best and easiest way to get to my financial freedom number. I have 2 three family properties that cash flow a little over $1000 per month after all expenses 10% vacancy 3% repair reserve. As the saying goes you make the money when you BUY. My goal is to get to $4500 and 2 more properties will get me there. It’s crazy how I think about it only 4 properties can give me financial freedom. Keep inspiring Brandon!!!

  14. Luis Melendez

    Oh and my cash flow of $1000 per month per triplex includes property mgmt of 9% gross rents. So take that Ben leboyvich. You can make great cash flow with prop mgmt. you just have to buy right and do your financial due diligence correctly!

  15. Luis Melendez

    I invest in Hartford county. Brrr strategy is Buy,rehab,rent,refinance,repeat. so I’ll find a property that needs repairs. Whether foreclosure, short sale, auction, or burnt landlord. Buy it a price I know will get me $1000 per month cash flow after all expenses including mortgage. Fix it up. Then refinance it out and pull out some cash. So on my first property I pulled out $33k and it cash flows $1600 per month(that’s because there are no vacancies and no repairs needed since I did all the repairs on the initial purchase). So normally it would probably average out to $1000 per month at end of year but I’m very conservative when I crunch my numbers so I always factor in a 10% vacancy and 3% repair reserve on top of property mgmt, taxes , insurance, lawn and snow removal, water, electricity and mortgage. Now I just completed a similar one which I will pull out $40k and it cash flows over $1000 per month. If I get 2 more I’ll invest full time and expand my portfolio more to get my wife out of working and set my daughters future up. Isn’t real estate GREAT?!???!??!!!!

    • Jerry Poon

      Yes it is awesome. Is there a limit to how much you can refinance? I would assume you’d hit the debt to income wall sooner or later. How do you overcome that wall and continue the strategy? I am assuming you’re financing everything with loans.

  16. I think anything you can do to help toward retirement is great because the way that social welfare is currently going many retirees are really up a creek without a paddle!

    As a guy in my mid 20s I think we really need to start now!

  17. Julie Ann Ullman

    Thank you, Brandon! I thought my dream of retiring early was gone when my husband left almost two years ago. I knew I would have to split my retirement savings and that it would take forever to save enough on my own. I now have a plan that I can start focusing on Right Now to retire sooner than I thought possible. I thank God for helping me find BP and for you leading us!!

  18. We are working hard to buy our first rental property, but the process is complicated by a business bankruptcy 18 months ago so no lenders are willing to work with us. We live in a small community and I do not know anyone our firwilling to partner with us. We are doing all the right things to build our credit which is up over 150 points since the bankruptcy, and we have saved $15k to go towards our first purchase. Our goal is to retire in five years when my civil seuyrvice retirement kicks in. Any words of advice to help us buy our first property?

  19. Rachel Luoto

    WOW FI is much sooner than I thought… about to close on our first triplex with $300/door… planning to use PM and geographic arbitrage to live on $2k/mo… so I only need 4 more doors after this. I can retire in a year at 25??????

    This seems way too simple. Am I missing something? Or is everyone’s freedom number just a lot higher than mine?

  20. Cody Campbell

    Oh my gosh Brandon, this is a great article/plan. this is the plan I have for myself except I did not attach a three year achievement goal. My plan is to start by wholesaling 3-5 properties and then rehab 3-5 properties to build experience and cash flow. while I continue to wholesale/rehab my plan is to follow up with purchasing apartment complexes with 3 to 10 units each until I reach my goal of 50 units.

    I love my job at the Forest Service and plan to retire there or until they kick me out (haha), I enjoy hiking in the forest studying animals, trees, assisting hikers/campers and working the land.

    But I have a problem, a common problem.. you see I have been studying REI for over 20 years. I have been to countless seminars (Dave Delgotto, Carleton Sheets, Robert Kiyosaki, Than Merrill, Jerry Norton and many others), I have bought books, tapes, and yes I have even gone to camps. I have watched over 20 videos by Brandon Turner. I have been a member of Bigger Pockets for over 3 years and read countless articles on REI. I have gone to local meetings in my area including Renatus. I even have a mentor (Lloyd Segal), you get the point. I have a lot of knowledge, I have found the properties by doing drive by’s, craigslist, Zillow, Trulia, Redfin and other searches. I analyze the properties, I have contacted title companies to obtain PPI and contact information.
    But I never pull the trigger and make offers and put the property under contract. after I do all of the research I fizzle out. the fear of making that first purchase, getting financing and knowing what to do in the final steps has held me back for all of these years..

  21. Susan Maneck

    I started investing in 2011 and now my cash flow nearly replaces my earned income. At 61 I want to retire and was planning to retire in the next year. But right now with what is happening with ObamaCare I don’t dare. I can afford everything but the 15K I would need in health insurance under the Republican plan. According to Brandon’s calculations that would be another ten doors. Don’t think I can swing that. 🙁

  22. Erik Whiting

    Good article and very “back to basics” when it comes to making goals and simplifying them. A few things I think could be interesting to expand on…

    1) Others have asked about sources of capital which Brandon answered with a list. I’m curious about RENEWING those sources of capital. That is to say, when that 5 year balloon comes due and you don’t have the W2 job any more….you’re at the mercy of whoever at the time wants to lend and you will pay their price. In a tight market or down market, it may be very challenging to find a new source of financing that is cheap enough to sustain the $150 per unit cash flow you’ve come to expect and rely on. Figure many notes amortize over 15-20 years at most and there won’t be a whole lot of principle paid off and you’ll have to repeat the refi process at least 2-3 times until the asset in entirely paid off. The last place you want to find yourself is 5 years into a 20 year am-schedule at 6-7%, then you have to refi and the best rates are 8-10%. It’s very possible we could see rates spike in the near future, especially among private lenders. $4500 / month income is not a lot of wiggle room if rates on your mortgages all go up 1-2% within a 3-year period.

    2) $54,000/year income….I know you said adjust the numbers if needed, but this number itself fails to account for many “hidden” expense that come up when not employed. Health insurance, life insurance, disability insurances, etc. Many employers pay those and/or offer group rate discounts. Realistically, if I could survive on $54,000 today with a W2 job I ought to increase that amount by at least 20% to cover the employer-paid benefits we forget to include often.

    3) Capital Reserves. I know CapEx is included in your initial figures taken out of the gross rents, but those take time to build up and CapEx can happen any time after Day 1 of owning the property. I think everyone ought to have at least $2000-$4000 per unit UP FRONT capital reserves since no one is going to lend you any money if the a tornado blows the roofs off 5 of your houses and you’ve got several thousand $$$ of insurance deducible and you have no W2 job AND houses where the income suddenly evaporated. Insurance helps, yes! Be sure to have “loss of rents” included so your income doesn’t tank. When you are the owner of your rentals you have to take multiple steps to protect your income.

    I like the concept overall and I would enjoy seeing follow-up posts to flesh out of the finer details. Maybe a Part 2 and Part 3, etc?

  23. Matthew Terui

    One question I always have with these articles is related to the funding sources.

    “I bought my first 30 units using almost entirely other people’s money. Maybe you’ll partner with someone else. Maybe you’ll house hack. Maybe you’ll use a HELOC, seller financing, lease options, or one of the many other creative strategies that exist.”

    In many of those cases there is the issue of repaying the initial investment, right? Using OPM, HELOC, etc means you would have to pay-off the other people and your HELOC. So your cash-flow would be fully or at least partially tied up in paying back those accounts. Am I right? Or am I missing something? Then the real cash-flow would start once that “money down” is paid off.

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