If I Can Buy 7 Rentals While Jobless, Pregnant, & Raising an 8-Month-Old, You Can Too!

by | BiggerPockets.com

I’m pretty new (pretty new, as in my first time ever) at this (writing blog posts), so I’m trying to implement advice I heard from marketing genius Seth Godin, who said one should just write as one speaks, because rarely does one have speaker’s block (true, I could yap all day, especially about real estate investing). So here goes, written as spoken!

On a brisk autumn day in October 2016, I woke up in Espoo—a neighboring city to Helsinki. I had moved across the world from sunny California with our 8-month-old son Lucas, pregnant with baby number two, and our two adopted cats. Our new home was Finland, the land of a thousand lakes, the world’s shyest people, and sauna (shy people, but they don’t mind sweating cheek to cheek in their birthday suits).

So there I was, in the Finnish ‘burbs with a constantly traveling husband, a wild baby (he started climbing stairs when he was four months old and was pretty much parkour-ing before he could walk—I guess that’s what I get for marrying a guy who loves extreme sports), in a market I knew nothing about. I had zero network, no job, and was four months pregnant and scared I had made a huge mistake quitting my awesome job in Silicon Valley.

So I put on the TV, pulled out a gallon of ice cream, and started binge-watching Dancing With the Stars. Or rather, I totally could have, because I sure had a lot of excuses to, but instead I answered these three questions—and have since bought seven rental apartments ($100k-$160k each), and you can too!

Related: 6 Major Reasons to Invest in Real Estate (& How to Invest With Purpose!)

Question #1: Why?

There was a reason I had left my awesome job to come to Finland (spoiler alert: it wasn’t the butt-to-butt sauna-sweating). We loved our life in California, but our whole world turned upside down and inside out (ahem, my body certainly did) after having our first baby with no family around. A life of working high-stress 60-hour weeks only to pay a big chunk of the salary to strangers to take care of our newborn baby didn’t feel right. We thought long and hard about our life.

What did success looks like to us?

What did we want more and less of?

How did we want to feel?

What important ways did we want to use our time?

How did we want to be remembered?

The answers to these questions led us to Finland, and more importantly, to real estate investing and the freedom and flexibility it provides.

Me and part of my why

So before doing anything else, I recommend finding your why—and going beyond financial freedom in your reason. What does financial freedom enable you to do that brings you joy and purpose in life? How does it amplify who you truly are and who you want to be? I want my kids to see me do things I’m scared of, make mistakes, and learn from them. I want them to see me be true to myself and be a person they can be proud of. That’s my why. What’s yours?

Question #2: How?

Once I was clear about my why, I began thinking about how to do it. So I paid $2,500 for a guru class called “The Secret to Getting Rich Quick Through Real Estate.” NOT. There is no such thing!

I didn’t have money, I didn’t have knowledge, I didn’t have a lot of things (like my 20-something body, lol). But instead of focusing on all the things I didn’t have (like a job), I thought of what I did have. I had time, and I had mind share. I no longer had 7,000 emails burning in my inbox or client fires needing to be put out left and right. And I had a burning desire to learn.

So I started studying. But remember, I had an 8-month-old paper-eating monster at home—not a great partner for book reading. So I quit and went right back to Dancing With the Stars. Nah, gotcha again. I had heard an awesome interview with Tim Ferris where he talked about the need to ask ourselves better questions. For instance, “What would this look like if it were easy?” And for me the answer was audiobooks. My little parkour baby and I went for long walks every day (the only way he would sleep for longer than 15 minutes at a time), and that’s how I started gulping a book a week. After three months, I had knowledge. And with that knowledge, I was able to secure the first things I needed: partners with money and skills.

Focus on what you have and how that can help you get what you need.

Question #3: What?

One of my favorite things about real estate investing is the fact that there are almost as many strategies as there are investors. Since we are driven by different “why”s, that results in a handful of different “what”s. One of the books I gulped that helped me be purposeful and focused when developing our strategy was The Millionaire Real Estate Agent: It’s Not About the Money…It’s About Being the Best You Can Be! by Gary Keller with Dave Jenks and Jay Papasan. I warmly recommend it.

Related: 7 Absolute Must-Read Real Estate Books for Beginning Investors

They divide the strategy into three core areas:

  1. Criteria: What we buy (what kind of real estate are you buying: single family homes, multifamily, condos, etc.)
  2. Terms: How we buy it (establishing your parameters for buying, for example, XX% below market price)
  3. Network: Who helps us (banks, partners, other investors, wholesalers, etc.)

That’s it. Those are the three questions. So now you’re all done and can finally go back to the binge watching—except that you can’t. And if you’re anything like me, you don’t even want to. You’re too fired up. There’s just one thing missing.

Action

So many investors get caught up in analysis paralysis and never pull the trigger, even after having done all the homework and due diligence. And I get it. It’s scary. I remember the first time I went to Los Angeles. I was going to drive down there with one of my best childhood friends from Stockholm, Malin, who was visiting us in San Jose, CA. I was nervous about the drive, especially driving downtown (eeeeek!). But Malin said something that really helped. She said, “You just do it one red light at a time.” It was so simple and obvious once she had said it. One step at a time. Turn the engine on, put in the gear, push gas, steer, stop. I can do all those things. I’ll be OK. And all of a sudden, I was cruising down Hollywood Boulevard (I was stopped by the police on the way there, but survived that too).

I tell this story because it has helped me in real estate investing, and I hope it can help you too. You don’t have to know everything. Start by learning one new thing. You don’t have to have everything. Focus on what you do have, and what you can do with that.

What’s one action you can do today to get you closer to your why?

Leave a comment below!

About Author

Maria Friström

In search of balance, and financial freedom, Maria left a life of eating out, catwalks, fancy brand name shoes and a killer job in Silicon Valley for a life of Dickies and tool belts; diy-rehabbing and renting apartments in Helsinki, Finland. And she loves it. When she’s not busy keeping her two toddlers from eating paint, or piercing each other with power tools, she loves running and laughing and teaching others about real estate investing.

33 Comments

  1. Dolly La Salle

    @Maria Friström Thank you for sharing your story. I am a beginner in REI and am still in search of find my first deal. I am trying to learn as much as possible so I won’t make a bad decision. I have been buying REI books, but feel like it will take a while to finish them. I will start doing the same as you did….buying Audiobooks. I am old fashioned so I like hard cover books, but since there are so many REI books, Audiobooks seem ideal especially since I’m also a busy mom. Congrats on your success.

    • Maria Friström

      Hi Dolly, thanks for reading my article <3 I love hard covers too. But audiobooks enable me to put downtime, like driving, into good use. Good luck on finding your first deal. Sounds like you're well on the way with the right attitude. Five of my offers were declined before finding my first deal in the US, and then in Finland it took me three months to find the first one there after having studied like a nutso. It makes me think of actors in Hollywood. I heard that the average working actor goes to 64 auditions before getting a job. Sixty four! We never know which one will be a yes, so keep at it. Every step is one step closer.

      • Dolly La Salle

        Hello Maria. I was happy to be the first feedback to your first article. You were also funny in some parts of the article. I searched for audiobooks. The company Audible seems to be the most popular, but they are expensive. It cost $15 per month and you can only listen to 3 books maximum. Is Audible what you use or a different source?

        • Maria Friström

          Thank you 🙂

          Yes, I use Audible. The cost is worth it in my mind. A little tip is to deduct that cost from your taxes once you rolling with rental income. I’m not a CPA though, so double check that is okay. In Finland it is. Is there something else you spend $15/mo that you can skip instead? Like Starbucks coffee 😉

  2. Angelina Martinez

    Hi Maria. Thank you for this article. I am also a mom trying to take currently a course in real estate. I definitely know about trying to learn as much as you can with a little one. I live in California but I wanted to ask where was your first buy and how you financed this new investment?
    Congratulations on your new success.

    • Maria Friström

      Hi Angelina, I love a fellow mom investor (a.k.a. sleep deprived coffee gulper with super powers) <3 Thank you for taking the time to read my article and for reaching out with this comment. I bought my first rental while living in California, but I bought it out of state in Fort Collins Colorado. Since California is so crazy expensive, buying out of state might be an idea to look into for you too.

      There are some additional risks to consider when investing out of state, but also great upsides. David Greene's book "Long Distance Real Estate Investing" is a great resource for mitigating the risks.

      The rentals I bought after that I financed by partnering with my brother. We utilize the BRRRR method (Buy, Renovate, Rent, Refinance, Repeat), so we got a conventional bank loan (thanks to my brother, and husband). Through diy-renovations we've been able to force appreciate the value of the apartments and use that increased equity to buy the next one.

      I hope that answers your question 🙂 I'm planning to write more articles with more details on it, so stay tuned <3

      And most importantly: way to go, girl! Knowledge is the most valuable asset you can have. You're on a great path, keep it up.

  3. Cindy Larsen

    Maria,
    Great article. Love your attitude. I agree with you: decide what you want, learn everything you can and make a plan for how to get where you are going, then actually do what it takes to get there. Learn from setbacks and keep going. With that kind of attitude and determination, you will succeed.
    Cindy

    • Maria Friström

      Amen, Cindy, I’m picking up what you’re laying down 🙂 Thank you <3 I believe the biggest impact lies in our attitude. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. And going through the steps you so eloquently listed is a great way to prepare.

  4. Adam Lee

    I don’t know whether the title is relevant to the context. It doesn’t disclose any detail of the investment part. I think a lot of us when clicking the link, has an intention to see how she did it. Who knows whether she buys in Beverly Hills, San Francisco or FinLand?

  5. Jen Simbolw

    Love this article! Thanks for sharing! Im also a mommy of two and real estate investor. We just purchased our second home (one for each kid) through house hacking along train lines into NYC. I’m pumped to get another couple more under our belt before our daughter turns 5 in a few years. How did you find investing out of state? Did you know anyone living there? Who did you find first on your team that you could trust to get the rest? Again, thanks for posting!

    • Maria Friström

      Thanks so much Jen <3 I realize I left you guys hanging, wanting more detail. But I'm planning to write a whole lot more, so hopefully that'll put flesh on the bones. I'm such a newbie at writing, so thanks for your love and support.

      Yay, awesome to hear you also have two little ones, and congrats on the house hacks! NYC area is not an easy market I understand, so way to go!

      The first property I got was in Colorado. I didn't know anyone there, but my company's financial advisor recommended his realtor who had helped him get his rental properties there. By chance I had a business trip to Denver (lived in California at the time), so I stayed a couple days extra to meet with him. I also took their free class on real estate investing, and looked at a few houses. Shout out to Gregg Thomas with The Group in Fort Collins, CO who is the bomb-diggity. I trusted him whole-heartedly and after 5 declined offers we finally got our first deal without having seen the property. He recommended a property management company, and I've been super happy with them too. That's a long-butt way to say investing out of state has been a good experience for us. But I also understand how it sometimes is not. Hope that answers your questions 🙂

    • Cora Kemp-Epps

      Hi Jen, I enjoyed Maria’s article but wanted to understand your comments. I suffer from analysis paralysis. You mention House hacking along train lines. I thought house hacking was renting out rooms in your primary residence. Is that your strategy? T

  6. Erin Elam

    I too was looking for some nitty gritty with that title! LOL You mentioned that your subsequent rentals were purchased with the help of your brother. How did you purchase your first rental? What made you decide on CO? Way to leave us hanging 🙂

  7. Maria Friström

    Hi Erin,

    Oh no (covers face), I’m so sorry to leave you hanging! Hope I can flesh it out a little here, and write new articles with more nitty gritty 🙂 Thanks for reaching out and asking. Well actually, first of all thank you for reading my article. That feels really cool.

    The first rental I bought with my husband. We still lived in California and both had good jobs, so we had been able to save some money. Enough to get a loan to buy like a closet or maybe half-a-room in Silicon Valley. Lol. Our financial advisor (my company had that as a perk for new hires: super awesome) told us we were getting “killed on taxes” because we had nothing to deduct. And BEGGED us to buy property. Thanks to him I finally, on his recommendation, and because closets or half-rooms are pretty dicey to rent, went with Colorado.

    When we moved to Finland I no longer had a job, or income, so that’s when I partnered with my brother. I actually also dipped into my 401k at one point. 🙂

    Hope that answers some of your questions 🙂 Thanks again!

    • Steven Lam

      Thanks for sharing Maria. Love your blog title. And yes I want to hear more about your real estate transactions in detail. My wife and I just purchased one this year. We live in Los Angeles so it’s also too expensive here and we invested in the Mid-West instead. Looking forward to see your follow up blog with the nitty gritty details. Congrats!!

      • Maria Friström

        Hi Steven, thanks so much <3 I'm glad you got intrigued 🙂 I love talking (or writing) about it so I'm crazy excited that somebody wants to hear it. 🙂

        Congrats on your deal! Was it your first one? That's the toughest for many, so way to go! Smart to go with the mid-west. People do it in Los Angeles as well, but deals are harder to make. They're definitely not found, have to be made with things like exceptional knowledge, a low barrier to entry (willing to buy something others are not), or some other upside. Out of state is scarier, so kudos!

        Thank you so much, thanks for the love, and support. <3

    • Bryan Watson

      Hey i read all your answers and have a question on one aspect you brought up slightly with this answer. Maybe its different in Finland and i know you said you will write more on it in future but with not having a job (even with partnering with someone) was it hard for banks to give you loans?
      I didnt know if solid down payments or having that partner really cleared the banks of having no income which banks ofcourse want to see. Any insight on that would be cool to hear on how you got those loans etc . Thanks and congrats on the 7 successes so far

      • Maria Friström

        Hi Bryan,

        Thanks for reading my article and for asking such a great question. In Finland the banks can use up to 75% of the investment property’s value as security. So either you need to have something else to put down as security (for instance equity in another property) or a 25% down payment.

        The first one is really the toughest one. We used the BRRRR (Buy, Renovate, Rent, Refinance, Repeat) strategy and that freed up some equity that the bank could use as security towards the next buy. I was also able to start claim the rental income, so while jobless, not totally income-less anymore 🙂

        Does that answer your question? Thank you for being supportive. <3

  8. Kyle Harrod

    Hello fellow Scandinavian!

    We live in Norway and are looking to learn more about REI here.

    What resources did you find helpful in Finland?

    How did you seek out funding for your deal in Finland?

    I know here in Norway there will be differences but there could be some overlaps.

    • Maria Friström

      Hi Kyle!

      Oh crap, I accidentally clicked “report comment” (facepalm) . When the BP police comes to get you, you’ll know it was me. Lol. Sorry.

      Awesome, you’re my first fellow Scandinavian BP:er, high five! Not too many of us I think. Yet. 🙂 I’m not familiar with the market in Norway at all, but I grew up in Sweden. So I know that there are some similarities between Finland and Sweden but also differences. I’m guessing that’s the case with Norway too.

      In Finland I started by reading all local books I could find. I speak Finnish, which helps, because they are not available in English. I also joined the national landlord association, which is the bomb. Perhaps there is something similar in Norway? They organize meet ups, provide education, forms, a ton of free material and resources such as a blog, and even legal advice. Much like Bigger Pockets actually. 🙂

      I don’t have a job, but partnering with my brother (and also getting my husband onboard) helped me get a conventional loan from a bank in Finland. The interest rates are ridiculously low here (I got it down to 0.7%, I kid you not), so going with a bank is not a bad idea. However Norway is not a part of the Euro currency, so not sure how their rates are.

      If you’re looking to buy rentals most people who rent, rent apartments vs. houses in Finland and Sweden as well. I’m guessing it’s the same in Norway. The apartments are part of co-ops which you should learn to analyze. The Swedish co-ops and the Finnish co-ops are a little different from each other, so again, not sure about our happy neighbor in the west 🙂 But I really recommend understanding the co-op set up and finances.

      In Sweden it’s tricky to have rental properties because of rent control nation-wide. Also a lot of co-ops have rules against leasing apartments. In Finland on the other hand the market is free, and most co-ops support leasing. So you should check on how that is in Norway.

      I hope that answered your question. I’m sorry I don’t know more specifically about Norway, but if I happen to talk to someone who does, I’ll give you a shout out here on BP. 🙂

  9. Nathan G.

    This is the stuff of get-rich-quick gurus. Yes, you were “jobless” and pregnant. However, I can read between the lines and see that your husband’s salary was significant and enabled you to be a stay-at-home mom and still have enough money to invest in real estate. A standard 20% down payment would require over $180,000 to purchase these investments. Even a very conservative 5% would require $45,000.

    Your headline clearly sets the premise that others can do what you did but then you share nothing about how you managed to finance your investments. Being married to a high-income earner is not an investment strategy available to everyone.

    • Maria Friström

      Hi Nathan,

      You’re right, I didn’t share much about how I financed the investments. Because I believe that is secondary to having the right mindset, which I chose to focus on for my first article. It’s true, not everybody is as fortunate as I am, and I’m not as fortunate as somebody else. But we all have one thing in common: we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control our attitude and actions. I’m sorry to hear you feel it was mis-leading.

  10. Joann Julius

    Hi Maria,

    Thank you for sharing, as a newbie your article was very helpful especially the strategies. I realize there is more to it than that, and that that was in it’s simplest form. Sometimes simple is best at first and the details unfold as we read and learn more. I also like the audio suggestion, I didn’t think of that. Look forward to more, thanks.

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