How to Steadily Learn Real Estate Investing (Without Lulling Yourself Into Inaction)

by | BiggerPockets.com

I’ve lost track of the number of forum posts I’ve seen by new members noting how overwhelmed they feel at the sheer volume of information there is out there about real estate investing. I often see people who get “paralysis by analysis” syndrome and can’t take the first step. Others have gone to seminars for years but still haven’t purchased their first property. And still others fret about remembering it all and are constantly paranoid that they have forgot some key detail.

There’s no magic pill for this, but I would make a couple recommendations. The first is to get it clear in your mind that you will never learn “enough” before jumping in to be satisfied. There is always more to learn. And the best way to learn is by doing. And even once you’ve done some doing, there’s still more to learn. I’ve been investing in real estate for 12 years and am still learning. My dad’s been in the game to one extent or another for 37 years, and yet he still has things to learn.

That being said, you don’t want to get started right away without having done any research. It’s important to read articles, books, and forum posts and to listen to podcasts and videos. That is, after all, what BiggerPockets is here for. It’s also important to brush shoulders with real estate investors at your local real estate club and talk to others in real estate investing and associated trades. But that kind of thing can’t be the only thing you do forever. Sooner or later, you need to actually do it.

So, for the second point of advise, if real estate investing is something you’ve made up your mind that you want to do, set a “drop dead date.” This is the date that you are going to start actively looking to buy a property. Sure, you may not find one for a while. But this is the date you are going to begin your search with the absolute intention of buying if you find the right deal.

In the meantime, you can do your research, learn the business, meet potential vendors and professional contacts, line up financing as best you can and the like. But stick to that date. Humans naturally procrastinate if given imprecise due dates. Humans even procrastinate when given too long of a due date. Remember in high school or college when you had the whole term to finish that project, so you waited until three days before it was due to begin? Don’t lie, I know you were like that as well.

Related: 5 Highly Actionable Steps to Make REAL Progress Towards Your Investing Goals

The morale here is to set a due date that isn’t too far off in the future. I would say that if you’re just starting to learn about real estate, three months or so is probably the longest I would consider waiting.

Learning How to Learn: The Retrieval-Practice Method

And the third tip I would give is to learn how to learn better. There are good ways to learn, and there are bad ways. While you’re being inundated with huge amounts of information (as most newbies are), it’s very important that you pick a good way to go about.

Enter the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel. The first big fallacy they bust is that by simply rereading or watching something, we learn it better. Not so.

“The fallacy in thinking that repetitive exposure builds memory has been well established through a series of investigations going back to the mid-1960’s, when the psychologist Endel Tulving at the University of Toronto began testing people on their ability to remember lists of common English nouns. In a first phase of the experiment, the participants simply read a list of paired items six times (for example, a pair on the list might be ‘chair-9′); they did not expect a memory test. The first item in each pair was always a noun. After reading the listed pairs six times, participants were then told that they would be getting a list of nouns that they would be asked to remember. For one group of people, the nouns were the same ones they had just read six times in the prior reading phase; for another group, the nouns to be learned were different from those they had previously read. Remarkably, Tulving found that the groups’ learning of the nouns did not differ” (Brown 13).

These types of results have been repeated on many subsequent studies.

So what does work? Perhaps ironically, one of the best ways to learn something is to employ what we use to test whether we’ve learned something in the first place—namely, a test. The authors note that “…practicing retrieval makes learning stick far better than reexposure to the original material does. This is the testing effect, also known as the retrieval-practice effect.” In one study:

“Students heard a story that names sixty concrete objects. Those students who were tested immediately after exposure recalled 53 percent of the objects on the initial test but only 39 percent a week later. On the other hand, a group of students who learned the same material but were not tested at all until a week later recalled 28 percent. Thus, taking a single test boosted performance 11 percent after a week” (31).

But why stop at just one test?

“Another group of students were tested three times after initial exposure and a week later they were able to recall 53 percent of the objects—the same as on the initial test for the group receiving one test” (32).

The authors also note, as you would expect, that cramming is effectively useless. You remember it the next day, but forget virtually all of it a week later.

Apply This Concept to Real Estate Investing

There are, of course, no tests in real estate investing like you get in school (although BiggerPockets’ quizzes come fairly close). But you don’t need a teacher to quiz you; you can do it yourself or with a colleague. One of the best ways I’ve done it is by writing. I read a book on business or real estate, and then I write an article here for you all. But in matter of fact, it’s just as much for me. And by forcing myself to remember the concepts (i.e. retrieve them) and then rephrase their points, comment on and even criticize them as well as relate them to real estate, I am moving that information deeper and deeper into my long-term memory. And anyone can start a member blog right here on BiggerPockets. This also works for other things than just real estate, which is one reason I would recommend keeping a personal journal.

I also talk to myself. I AIN’T CRAZY! Hillary Clinton is a Deep State Reptilian and Donald Trump is a Russian bot Nazi—just open your eyes sheeple! Sorry, I digress. Anyways, for those who have witnessed me doing this and possibly been so unkind as to question my sanity, let me explain myself. Although I didn’t know why this was helpful, I quickly realized that by talking over whatever concept I had learned with myself, I was forcing my mind to retrieve those ideas. Effectively, I was testing myself. Sometimes, I just explain whatever I learned as if I was teaching it to someone. (And by the way, teaching something is, as they say, the best way to learn.) I’ve heard this technique called “lecturing to the wall,” and I believe it is quite effective for cementing concepts in your mind.

Related: The 7-Step Motivated Newbie’s Guide to Finding a High-Quality Mentor

If you’re starting together with another person, you can even make this a team exercise. Teach each other what you have learned on a routine basis. When talking about your business plans, don’t just talk about what you are going to do, but explain what you’ve learned to the other person. This will help teach them, but it will really help you. Not only are you retrieving the information and thereby cementing it in your mind, you’re also forcing yourself to put these ideas into your own words and thereby conceptualizing the ideas and not just memorizing the words. How many of us can remember just repeating the lines from the text book in school without having any idea what it really meant? Don’t fall into this trap.

Throughout life, you should never stop learning. But what better way to learn is there than to learn how to learn? And once you’ve figured out how to learn correctly, you can pretty much forget about trying to learn the old way.

How do you learn about real estate investing—while making sure those lessons stick? What’s your plan towards taking action?

Comment below!

About Author

Andrew Syrios

Andrew Syrios is a real estate investor in Kansas City and a partner in Stewardship Properties along with his brother and father. Their company owns just over 500 units in four states.

12 Comments

  1. Rob Cook

    Andrew, I could not agree more with everything you shared and stated. In my experience, there is nothing more productive and effective to enhance learning, than discussion. Written or oral, both work well. And each has its own advantages and drawbacks. Writing takes longer but it creates a record you can refer back to. Oral discussion is efficient, but a one time deal. Engagement with others is also key. It forces you to be somewhat organized and disciplined in your discussion. Which forces you to get organized and think about the process and presentation more.

    Jumping in without preparation is not a good idea, but never jumping in until you are completely “ready” is almost equally bad. Or even worse. At least you could win jumping in half-cocked, but you will NEVER win if you don’t play.

    I am developing a real estate coaching business, in its final stages now, before launching it online, and the most valuable part of my preparation is, actually coaching! By the very act of discussing and coaching, I am developing my voice, my approaches, and systems for my coaching business. Waiting, instead, until I have my e-books and my real books and my canned webinars and video training courses and all that stuff, DONE, before I begin coaching or write my content and programs, is a bad idea. Not only will I not know what and how to write the programs, until after I actually practice with real clients for a year or more. So chicken and egg. I know plenty already and can coach well, right now. I will not improve my coaching and my materials until I hone it via the process of coaching lots of people! Pretty neat, and precisely coordinated with your article’s subject here. Thanks!

  2. Jerry W.

    Andrew,
    Very good article. One other way we learn well, at least I do, is by making mistakes. I can be told something, but until I end up with a house trashed by a tenant that I should have rejected it doesn’t hit home as hard. The worse the incident the better I recall it. Isn’t that a shame.

    • Andrew Syrios

      True, unfortunately mistakes are one of the best ways to learn as the pain of making them ingrains them in our memory. That being said, the wise man learns from his own mistakes, the wiser learns from the mistakes of others. I’m trying to do more of the latter and less of the former.

  3. Dale Rast

    Great advice. I have a background in instruction design, and the scientists in the field agree that the best learning method is to “learn by doing.” Of course, a newbie cannot immediately start by doing, but by rubbing shoulders with seasoned investors and professionals, observing and asking questions. That’s for basic knowledge. For the real knowledge, it will come by trial-and-error eventually. Making gradual steps is the best approach, I think.

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