How One 30-Year-Old Built $40,000/Year Passive Income in a Few Years

by | BiggerPockets.com

When Brady Hanna turned 30, he decided it was time to start building passive income.

That was six years ago. Today, he has 12 doors, which gross him around $7,700/month.

Granted, that’s not all profit. His net profit in a given year? Around $40,000.

That’s higher than the median personal income in the United States!

Here’s exactly what he’s done over the last few years, to build that portfolio.

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!

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In the Beginning

“I had stumbled across BiggerPockets and started absorbing as much information as possible. I asked questions on the forums and started listening to the podcasts every chance I could,” Brady explained to me.

How seriously did he take his real estate investing education?

“I installed a Bluetooth speaker in my shower and bathroom, so I could listen to the podcast when I was taking a shower and getting around in the morning. Over the years, I have listened to every podcast multiple times and get fired up every time I hear a new episode.”

That’s dedication.

“For my first property, I wanted to follow all of the things I had learned and was looking for properties that hit the 2% Rule.”

Now, it’s worth mentioning that not everyone agrees with following the 2% Rule. I have my own bones to pick with it, but that’s another story. Or article. Whatever.

Brady located a move-in-ready duplex for sale in Grandview, MO (which is south of Kansas City). Estimating gross rents at $1,100/month, he paid $55,000 for it.

To finance it, Brady secured a loan from a local community bank, using money saved from his 9-5 job for the down payment. “I put down a 20% down payment and was off and running.”

Early Lessons in Property Management

“I thought I was smarter than the system and figured I would self-manage to save the property manager’s fees.”

Any time you catch a case of the smug and think you’re beating the system, that’s a good time to pause for some good ol’ fashioned self-reflection. Not that I would ever discourage anyone from managing their own rentals—if they’re prepared to put in the time and learn the skills necessary to do it.

Brady advertised the units for rent, then promptly left town for two days for a trade show through his day job. Over those two busy workdays, he received no fewer than 60 phone calls from prospective renters.

“After the first week of driving out to the property multiple times for showings, I saw a property management company off the side of the highway and quickly pulled over, walked in, and hired them on the spot.”

Does it strike you that he skipped an important step there? It should.

“I didn’t vet this property management company. I just assumed that since they were close to my rental property, they would do a good job.”

If you’ve ever wondered about the first sign that a property management company needs replacing, pay attention here.

“Communication was a struggle. It was like pulling teeth just getting information out of them and trying to stay in the loop about what was going on with the property.”

That’s the sound of foreshadowing, for all you non-English majors.

Related: Sorry, But Passive Income is a Myth for Most Investors. Here’s Why.

Property #2, Property #3

After a few months of collecting rents, Brady decided that being a landlord was everything he thought it would be.

“I took out a $50,000 home equity line of credit (HELOC) against my personal residence, using my local bank. I used $36,000 to buy a single-family property through a short sale in South Kansas City. The property needed $7,000 in repairs.”

If you’ve ever bought a property with cash, you know how much easier it is to negotiate a good deal. Better yet, Brady avoided paying hefty hard money loan fees to buy and renovate the property.

He knocked out the repairs quickly and rented the house for $850/month. From there, it was simple to secure a long-term mortgage, which he used to pay back his HELOC.

“House #3 I bought off an online auction website for $23,000 cash (again, using my HELOC). I put $27,000 into the property over a matter of three months.

“I thought, man, this rental business thing is easy!”

All Chickens Come Home to Roost

If there was ever a cue for something to go wrong, that must be it.

“Around this time, I started running into a lot of problems with my property management company.”

Not exactly a plot twist, is it?

His out-to-lunch property manager was starting to cost him serious money. A tenant at his original property, the duplex, skipped town in the middle of the night. That left him with two vacant units (out of four), as his most recent property was still under renovation.

He called the owner of the property management company and fired them.

Armed with firsthand experience that he needed to do a better job screening property managers, he went back to the drawing board. “I asked for recommendations on BiggerPockets for a reputable property manager. I interviewed a couple candidates and hired our new property manager a few weeks later and haven’t turned back.”

The new company filled his vacant unit in the duplex, then rented his newly-finished single-family for $875.

From there, it was a simple matter of getting a mortgage on the property and paying off his HELOC once again.

Building a Portfolio and an Evolving Strategy

Brady has used the same strategy to finance the next seven properties in his portfolio: buy and renovate with cash from his HELOC and savings, rent it out, get a mortgage.

Or not get a mortgage, if he can help it. “I’ve taken the income from the rentals and just put it all back into the business, paying down principal on the houses. I now have a total of 12 units, and only have debt on three properties, using this technique.”

When I asked Brady what he’s changed over the last few years, as he’s accrued experience, he didn’t hesitate.

“Originally, I invested in B- and C class neighborhoods. They are not in ‘war zones’ and have relatively low crime; they’re working class neighborhoods.

“But as my portfolio has grown, I’ve been focusing on B+ neighborhoods, as they are less transient and there is less turnover.”

Why? Because turnovers are ROI-killers, which is why tenant retention is so important for landlords.

Related: 3 Real Estate Investing Strategies That Aren’t So Passive (& 4 That Are)

Landlord Cash Cushions

I asked Brady what advice and takeaways he would offer for other rental investors.

“I highly recommend having a reserve fund in place, as you never know when a bad month or couple months is going to hit your portfolio.”

All too true. It turns out Brady hasn’t just paid off most of his mortgage debt, but he’s also set aside strong cash reserves.

A recent example? He had not one, not two, but three furnaces fail in November. At an average replacement cost of $2,000 apiece, that would have been a desperate blow to someone without a liquid cash cushion.

Here’s another example:

“One of our rental properties had a small undetectable leak behind the sink for an extended period of time, causing mold to build up behind the wall. We ended up letting the tenants out of the lease, hiring a mold remediation company who also found asbestos behind the wall, hiring an asbestos abatement company, and then rebuilding the kitchen wall.”

That set of repairs, which started with a tiny leak, cost Brady $10,800 and four months of lost rents.

Final Advice: Network!

Brady explained that as the Kansas City real estate market has heated up, he’s had to increasingly rely on his network to find deals, rather than the MLS.

“Go on Facebook, and search for investor groups in your area. In Kansas City alone, there are over five local real estate investor groups that I have joined where people are posting deals all the time at a discount.

“Network with fellow investors at meetup groups, REI clubs, and talk to people you know about real estate, because you never know where your next deal is going to come from!”

You know what they say—your net worth is directly correlated to your network. Grow your network in the real estate industry, and your opportunities will grow right alongside it.

What Comes Next

In the meantime, Brady is in no rush to retire from his day job. “I plan on ‘retiring’ from my full-time job when I am 50 years old. I enjoy what I do at my job but want to retire when I am still young enough to enjoy being active in my retirement.”

Any financial targets before then, Brady?

“I am looking to build a passive income of at least $10,000/month so that I can use my abilities to help others. I plan to take a year off ‘working,’ spending time with my family, church, fishing, golfing, and working out. Once I am going stir-crazy, I plan on helping others invest in real estate and focus on larger scale real estate investments while spending time helping out in my church.”

I don’t know about you, but I think Brady’s onto something here, with this whole invest-in-rentals-and-retire-young, strategy.

What’s your strategy for building passive income? How are you planning to reach financial independence? Any tips or tidbits to share?

Weigh in below!

About Author

Brian Davis

Join Brian for a free live masterclass in October to plan your Real Estate FIRE Escape: What It Takes to Retire in 5 Years with Rentals. And bring your questions, it will be very interactive!

Brian is a landlord and long-time personal finance and real estate expert, who provides free rental resources such as a rental property calculator and free rental forms through SparkRental.com.

33 Comments

  1. Patrick gilsenan

    First, congratulations! A liveable, passive income is essentially the goal of most of the readers of Bigger Pockets. And Brady has done that right out of the blocks. So, my response is not at all to take away from his success.

    It is just a note of caution, however, on the allure of the seemingly massive ROI/DSCR on $$30,000 properties. Those who have been doing this for a while know it is possible to buy on the super low end and gain significant immediate cash flow. My only hope is that Brady is putting away a very, very large Cap EX reserve each month. I believe the blog mentioned ownership of 12 properties all purchased within the last year or two and, all I’m assuming, in that same low-end $26,000-$35,000 price point. That over the next few years he’s going to have 12 $8,000 roof replacements, 12 $5,000 sewer pipe replacements, 12 $800 water heater replacements, 12 $700 refrigerator replacements, 12 $400 oven/range replacements ($178,000 total). And those are just the known/nearly guaranteed maintenance issues that come with super low-end properties whose systems are beyond their life cycle that he will incur over the next few years. Also, unfortunately, low-income tenants also often suffer a higher percentage of financial instability, which is then pasted on to their landlord. So that tenant that skipped out on Brady in the middle of the night, leaving him with property repair costs and lost rent, will continue to repeat itself. (Not, obviously, because low-income tenants are bad people, just because their ability to pay rent can be disrupted by just one or two seemingly small bad breaks – a car repair, a slight cut in working hours, etc)

    Obviously, not all the above expenses will occur at once or if at all (though they can! But a percentage of them will and often they happened in clusters). Also, good, proactive management can help mitigate some of these costs. I also know that there are many investors on Bigger Pockets who do very well with super low-end properties. There are blogs dedicated to how to do just that.

    I simply want to insert a note of caution, particularly for beginning investors with limited resources, that while purchasing super low-cost houses can be a way to immediately pile on significant monthly cash flow, it is, ultimately, also piling on what can be an overwhelming amount of maintenance costs and financially unstable tenants that can bankrupt a rookie before he/she gets started and, if things get bad enough ultimately damage his or her credit.

    My unsolicited advice to first or second year investors would be to not do go heavily into low-end properties early (however tempting they seem!), but to more broadly diversify the risk level of their early portfolio. Certainly, go ahead and buy one or two super low-priced properties as a way to get into the business and to enjoy their large cash flow (the extraordinary cash flow of low-priced properties is really just compensation for assuming a corresponding level of risk). Then, if you are lucky enough to avoid immediate, large maintenance costs on those first two low-priced properties, use those gains to purchase more stable properties that bring a lower amount of cash flow every month but are more likely to provide consistent income with fewer deferred maintenance costs. You can then use the stable properties to mitigate the inevitable vacancies and maintenance costs related to your portfolio’s more unstable, but higher monthly profit properties.

    As, then, a beginning investor gets more experience, more resources, more lending relationships and a solid base able to absorb the occasional streak of high-dollar bad luck related to lower-end properties, more high-risk properties/seemingly higher profit properties can be added to a diverse portfolio. But piling on what will inevitably be an extraordinary amount of deferred maintenance costs and lost rents, particularly starting out, can be a recipe for disaster.

    Congratulations again Brady for your early success and I hope it continues!

    • Brian Davis

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Patrick! And by the way, I agree that very low-end properties can be very dangerous, especially for new investors. But each market is different, and I was glad to hear Brady found success with affordable properties in Kansas City.

    • Brady Hanna

      Great comment Patrick. I definitely agree with most of your sentiments and caution people all of the time not to invest in “inner-city/war zone” properties. Turnover is horrific and having to worry about your pipes getting stolen if the house goes vacant isn’t worth it.

      The houses that I have bought are in blue collar neighborhoods that have appreciated quite a bit since I bought them. I would say the houses in my portfolio average $80-90k resale in today’s market.

      Also, good advice on having a reserve fund in place, because as you scale up it only means that you are going to have more furnaces, hot water heaters, fridges, etc that go out and you want to make sure you have rainy day funds set aside.

    • Brian Davis

      Hi James, I can’t speak for Brady, but I know he was referred to them by other landlords in the area, and he talked to their current clients and asked them a lot of questions about their management practices Definitely important due diligence!

    • Brady Hanna

      Hi James, I would be hesitant to invest long distance unless you get great recommendations from people who live there on the areas you are thinking about investing in. Once you have talked to several investors that are local and you feel confident in the local team you have in place, then go for it.

      As far as finding a great PM, I asked for recommendations from other investors in the area. If you join local RE investing FB groups for the area you are looking at and ask other investors, they are more than happy to share.

  2. Hello Brian,
    This article is a good example for newbies. Please tell Brady to keep moving forward and best of luck.

    As investors, we will all at some point during our journey get a bad deal, bad tenant, or lose money. But, from each experience we will learn and progress to the next phase of real estate investing.

    From Nancy E.

    • Brady Hanna

      Hi Awet, it really depends on your bank. I waited 6 months and was able to refinance, but since have learned of other local banks in town that will refinance right away without it having to season at all, so my best advice is to call around to your local banks and I am sure there will be one who is similar. Good luck!

  3. David Hanson

    So motivating to hear this story and makes me wanna go out and buy another property right away, so thanks for sharing!

    I’m finding it difficult to find break even properties let alone cash flow even close to 1% in the suburb of Seattle that I live in and surrounding areas. Prices are so high now and even though rent has climbed quickly too it’s tough to cover all expenses and I do all my own property management. I’ve purchased at auction several times now also but competition there is fierce too and deals are very few and far between. Either I need to look further out of town which risks rentability or just be patient with the risk that I won’t find a deal for years. To get something that rents for $1500 per month would cost about $350k and those typically sell within 5 days and usually for cash. Sometimes I think a lower priced area would be cheaper but for me that means remote management.

    I do have experience with several properties already so any thoughts on expanding to areas within a couple hour drive (so I have some familiarity) and hiring a PM (after researching of course)?

    • Brady Hanna

      Hi David, if I were in your shoes I would definitely widen my net on the area you are willing to invest. Find markets where you will be able to cash flow, build up a great team you can trust, and invest there.

      At the #’s you shared above, it is impossible to cash flow and cover ongoing maintenance. Definitely worth going to other areas. Good luck!

    • Barb Barrett

      I am in the Seattle market and I agree that the price of properties is too high to support rental income. Although rents are high, apartment complexes are being built which tips the supply/demand scales. I had one unit sit empty just recently for 2 months.

      An issue is also the concentration of jobs in the Seattle core. Outlying areas will be middle/lower income commuters with higher risk.

      That being said, $1500 is too low for rent in this market.

  4. norman wright

    Interesting article; congrats on your successes. As founder and Prez of a commercial RE startup, my focus was and still is to acquire distressed property like an office building or free-standing retail building, with our office on the ground floor and the remainder of the building rented out to various business entities.
    Our company is US Equities CORP, registered in DE & CA where we’re based. We have 8 investors to date and a Board of Directors, most of whom have extensive business experience in the fields of construction, manufacturing, finance and architecture.
    Your comment is invited and appreciated. N.W.

    • Brian Davis

      Thanks Norman. I personally have very little experience in commercial, but my understanding is that the fundamentals are the same: it’s all about accurate forecasting of the numbers. Vacancy rate in particular is a huge issue, so the accuracy of your forecasts on vacancy rate can determine your success with commercial leasing.

  5. chris Pavelek

    I think it’s a great artcle. Something to think about, if home prices are very high right now, what’s wrong with sitting on the sidelines right now and waiting for things to cool off a bit? Once we get run into a soft patch in the economy again it may present some cheaper buys.

    • Brian Davis

      Thanks Chris! Regarding your question, there’s nothing “wrong” with choosing other places for your money if you don’t like the look of real estate right now. But with that said, there’s no telling when the next correction will come, how far prices will rise between now and then, and how far prices will decline when it does. It’s entirely possible that the dip will still be more expensive than today’s prices.
      Just a thought!

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