My Journey to Financial Independence: The Story of Property #1 (of 8!)

by | BiggerPockets.com

In December 2014, I discovered a blog called Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) and learned what financial independence was all about. The only real estate deal I’d done at that point was for my primary residence.

After stalking Zillow for almost a year trying to learn the market, I figured out how much I loved real estate. I realized my passion for real estate could work FOR me after reading the entire MMM blog over a week’s time.  I quickly went from an anxious wreck when it came to purchasing properties to a determined, empowered investor.  Financial independence was closer than I’d ever thought possible!

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Starting Out

Wouldn’t you know it? Any real estate related search I did pointed me straight to this interesting site called BiggerPockets. I devoured information for hours on end. I heard stories of countless people who’d met great success on the podcast and read each of the articles in my inbox every week.

A week later, in January of 2015 I started trying to learn new markets, as Denver was a little competitive — as in, houses listed for $300K sold within hours of going on the market with multiple CASH offers $10-30K over asking price. Ha. So I turned my attention to where I used to live — a military town in Florida. Real estate there was much cheaper. A townhouse that would sell for upward of $200K here in Colorado looked more like $75-90K down there.  Since there are multiple large employers in the area, I knew I had a good pool of tenants to choose from who had reliable income.

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Related: 7 Toxic Money Habits That Harm Your Financial Future

The First Offer

After finding an incredible real estate agent through a friend, we found a 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath townhouse short sale in January 2015 that met all my requirements (at least 20% cash-on-cash return, $300+ cash flow/mo after all expenditures including management). I was able to determine those requirements by plugging into Brandon’s webinars (thanks, Brandon!). We see all the articles encouraging people to stop delaying the purchase of their first property and just do it. So I did it.

While waiting for the bank’s reply, I locked down a lender and did some more research with the HOA, as the front of this townhouse needed some work. One call to the HOA, and suddenly they’re repairing and repainting the property’s siding. The previous owners had no idea the HOA even covered their exterior and had no money to repair it themselves.

Three months went by, and the bank came back saying they needed a considerable amount of money over the accepted offer. Here’s one of the first major lessons I learned out in the field: Be prepared to walk away. Suddenly, the numbers weren’t looking so great. I had the power to walk away, and I did. In fact, I did so for two more properties after that.

The First Property

Finally, in June of 2015, I found a 2-bed/2.5-bath townhouse with a one-car garage and a fenced-in yard. It was perfect. A week before closing, our lender came back saying they couldn’t close in time due to an oversight. What?! This put us all in a pickle, as the owners really needed to get out of the property. At this point, we were able to leverage a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) to pay for the property, then do a cash-out refinance with a different lender. We closed on time, were able to get tenants in there VERY quickly, and cash flowed almost $400/month!

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Related: At Age 26, I’m on the Brink of Financial Freedom: Here’s How I Did It

4 Landlording Lessons Learned

I decided to try managing the property from afar at first — and there are a few things I learned from this:

  1. If there’s ever a maintenance call, nine times out of 10, it doesn’t mean your tenants are furious or the world is ending. I learned to cool it and take care of it as quickly as possible. I learned that if I was quick to respond and kept them updated, they were actually extremely happy.
  2. Middle of the night calls are actually extremely rare. I’ve been doing this for a year and a half now and have only gotten one call (three days ago) at 2:00 a.m. because of some pipes leaking. It was actually an HOA issue, and it was resolved within two hours.
  3. Building your team will take some time. I have a few contractors I can call whenever something happens and we have a good system, but it took a few calls to really feel comfortable and find people I could truly trust.
  4. There are SO many sites out there to help you find, screen, and set up payments for your tenants. Mine can pay rent with a credit/debit card or a direct bank transfer and are invoiced each month. It’s wonderful.

By July of 2015, I had my first rental property, with tenants settled in. It wasn’t quite the easiest route, but with clear goals came a clear path forward. I didn’t know this at the time, but I was one-eighth of the way to financial independence.

Where are YOU on your journey to financial independence? What did your first deal look like?

Let’s talk in the comments section below!

About Author

Sarah P.

Sarah has achieved Financial Independence as a result of her real estate investing. She did so in one year and has a great time blogging about her personal experiences throughout the process. She continues to invest and is currently in the process of exiting the military to pursue new life adventures.

27 Comments

  1. Laura H.

    In 26 days I’ll be closing on my first deal! It should cash-flow for about $3-400/mo with 11% COC ROI.

    When Brandon threw out a 90-day challenge on the November 23rd webinar, I didn’t think much of it. Then a few days later I signed up for a Pro account so I could run more property scenarios. Then I started going to REI meetings. Then I got my Addict award for the BP website. Needless to say, I’m hooked.

    I’m gobbling up as much landlording info as I can – comforts me to read you haven’t been bombarded with 2AM phone calls… I want to hear about properties 2-8!

  2. Jerry W.

    Sarah, thanks for the article. I really enjoyed it. I have over 30 units now and do not have even one that cash flows $300 per month. I have never lived outside of the Colorado/Wyoming area. I have experimented with doing some out of state rentals and out of state joint ventures. I have not really seen any return yet that justifies the heartburn that went with it. I was wondering how much time you spent looking before you actually bought a house and what your rents and expenses actually run a month. Thanks again for the article.

    • Sarah P.

      Hi, Jerry!

      Expenses per month are different among properties. My condos have much lower cap ex for various HOA-related reasons. So each month I stack away about $50-150 per property for that depending on age/size of property and what the HOA does/doesn’t cover. It’s about the same for repairs/vacancy depending on the rents although I have two townhomes built in the 70s that have a lot of random things go wrong (random leaks, breaker repairs, etc.) so for those I set aside $2K each year for repairs/vacancy just to be safe.

  3. Nicolas Blish

    Sarah,

    Enjoyed the post and could hear the stories in my head from your time on the podcast.

    Have you had any troubles with Special Assessments from any of your HOA’s? I’ve been considering some condos in my area but concerned that the cash flow could get eaten by the HOA every time it starts to accumulate. I like the positives of HOA properties, minimal maintenance, lower entrance cost.

    Thanks,
    Nick

    • Sarah P.

      Hi, Nicolas,

      Trouble… no. Has an assessment come up? Yes. That’s why when I invest in condos I make sure there’s a much larger margin to work with… so my condos need to cash flow even more than the normal thresholds I set.

      • Sarah P.

        Whoops! Posted too soon. I also have faith in the HOA board members and greatly analyze the HOA (many other articles on here on how to do that) to make sure it at least has a good back bone to start off with. Members either live there or own property there so voting to increase assessments usually has an impact on them as well as everyone else. If I was that worried about it I would volunteer to be on my HOA board.

  4. Pinaki M.

    Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for writing about your experience. I am looking to start out and have been researching. I’m in CA and looking to buy out-of-state. Since this is what you did too, here are my questions. How did you decide on which property to buy while living in a different state? You mentioned you worked with a RE agent, but did you fly out to see the properties too (or did you just decide based on pictures and descriptions from your agent)? You also mentioned that initially you tried to manage the property remotely. Is this something that has worked for you, and are you still doing this?

    • Sarah P.

      Luckily for me I used to live in the area I invested in first. I knew real estate was much cheaper there and had a rich rental market. I have only actually stepped in one rental property that I own down in Florida and it has absolutely been the right call for someone like me. The reason is that I stay as objective as possible. I’m extremely familiar with the neighborhoods, etc. but the agent would do video walk throughs for me and note what she thought was good/red flags, etc. I trusted her and it hasn’t gone south for me or anything. I’ve also been able to use those video walk throughs to post while marketing my properties which is nice.

      Yes, managing remotely has worked out for me thus far. The tenants call me and I call someone to meet with them. They sign the lease knowing that I’m an out of state landlord and that they’ll be responsible meeting contractors for any work orders that come through, or that they have the option for me to give contractors the code to enter the property in their absence (for which they need to give me written permission). It has been great so far, and any time there’s a work order my go-to contractor gives me a status report on how the tenants are caring for the property.

    • Sarah P.

      Honestly, my first buy wasn’t my scariest… it was for whatever reason my fourth! I thought: “Wow… is this really what I want to do?” Of course it was, and it has been a fantastic experience since then. My input is don’t be surprised if down the line you have the same feelings again. I suspect they’re fairly normal.

  5. Jiri Vetyska

    Hi Sarah,

    Great article and inspirational story. Waiting to hear about the next properties.
    I see that you are investing heavily in condos and townhomes and are achieving high cash flow numbers.
    So I was wondering if you are aware that with investment into those properties, you can easily run into some serious issues – special assessment. I have seen way too many properties with special assessment of 50% to 80% of their value which can easily ruin anybody’s investment plan. Are you aware of the risk and are you doing anything to mitigate it?

    • Sarah P.

      Hi, Jiri,

      Yes, I’m aware of assessment possibilities. We actually went through one in a complex at which I own two condos. There are plenty of great articles on here addressing how to properly analyze an HOA before jumping in, but it’s also why I don’t try to own more than two places in the same immediate location. I’ve diversified my real estate portfolio even when I’m investing in the same “area” (that being city or even state).

  6. Hyacinth Dolor

    Sarah, Good job.
    My first was a multi-family. I first learnt of financial freedom in 2005 (active investor). I am happy you are able to see some cash flow from condos. I stay away due to the eventual HOA assessment. It looks like you’ve done your research. Good luck and keep posting.

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