How to Build a Real Estate Empire (One house at a time!)

How to build a real estate empire ...

It started in October 2010. My boyfriend Will and I had just moved to Atlanta and didn’t know a thing about the city.

We picked a neighborhood at random – eeny-meeny-miney-moe – and rented the first listing we found on Craigslist. We struck gold.

We moved two blocks from Atlanta’s most beautiful park, a rolling greenscape with spectacular skyline views. It hosts huge outdoor concerts, festivals and farmer’s markets, and it’s less than a 5 minute walk from our front door.

Obviously, Will and I shared the same thought: This neighborhood holds an advantage that can never be replicated. There’s strong rental demand from young professionals with great credit.

So we started looking at real estate prices. OUCH! They were astronomical. We’re talking, $600,000 for a 2,000 square-foot home. Yeech.

But we don’t give up. We get creative.

Multi-unit buildings – houses that have been subdivided into two or more rental units – are cheaper. People buy their own home based on emotion: it represents their dream home. But people buy multi-units on cold calculation: does the rent justify the price?

As a result, duplex and triplex buildings in our area are much cheaper than single-family homes.

We checked the price of the 3-unit building where we were renting. Our landlord purchased the building in 2004 for $323,000. His monthly income is approximately $2,400.

Assuming our landlord put 20 percent down and has a 5 percent interest rate, his monthly mortgage would be $1,725 per month. Our landlord’s water bill – he outright told us – is $300 per month (last month he paid $320). Trash is $100 a month ($33 per month per unit). Insurance comes to $250 a month. In other words: his baseline expenses are $2,375 and his income is $2,400.

That leaves tiny room for error. If the water bill spikes an extra $25, the landlord has to cover the difference out-of-pocket. And he has NOTHING set aside for management or maintenance. In other words, his investment is “negative cash flow” – it removes money from his pocket every month.

He does this because he hopes (he speculates, he gambles) that the building will rise in value.

BAD IDEA!!!!!!!

No matter how nice the neighborhood is, Will and I are dead-set against buying a negative cash flow property. It’s a gamble. Housing prices can rise OR fall.

There’s also a limit to how many negative-flow properties you can afford. There’s no limit to how many “positive cash flow” properties you can afford – property that lines your pocket with cash every month.

In fact, if your properties put cash in your pocket each month, then the more you buy, the more you can keep buying. The rich get richer.

(Note: Don’t get angry that the rich get richer. Put yourself that same position.)

So we started searching for properties. But our neighborhood isn’t “up-and-coming.” As I like to say – with a fake Southern accent – “It done up-and-came.” Despite the housing crash, home prices are still higher than the rents they fetch.

We searched high and low. Nothing near the park could create a positive cash flow. We almost gave up.

And then we discovered the house no one else wants.

Check out Part 2 of this real estate series to learn why the house is so cheap (what’s the catch?) and to discover how we cobbled together the funds to make the deal sail through.

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31 Responses to “How to Build a Real Estate Empire (One house at a time!)”

  1. Kevin @
    17. Oct, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    This has nothing to do with your rental property, but… I’m from St. Louis and I’m happy you’re there. If you need any advice on things to do or eat (ST. LOUIS STYLE PIZZA!!!) you know where to find me.

  2. Brave New Life
    17. Oct, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Very cool. I’ve just purchased my first REI as well. Looking forward to the next posts in this series to see how it plays out.

  3. Ash @ Sterling Effort
    17. Oct, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    Great stuff Paula. I think a lot of people assume real estate investing is easy. You’ve already done a good job at pointing out some of the quirks – looking forward to the next two parts.

  4. Mortgage Free Mike
    17. Oct, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    Great tease! Can’t wait to read Wednesday’s article, even though I know the story. :-)

  5. Lindsey
    18. Oct, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    Love this and love reading about your adventures!!

  6. krantcents
    18. Oct, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    Buying income property is a research project. I particularly enjoyed the search and negotiation portions. The owning portion is okay, but not as much fun.

  7. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog
    18. Oct, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    congratulations on your first win, and may there be many more to come. value real estate investing is one of my favorite ways to generate passive income and long term equity over time as well. leverage helps tremendously, a a solid balance sheet and FICO helps gain that leverage. the other component is discretionary cash ready for investment.

      19. Oct, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

      @Sunil — Discretionary cash is huge. If I had more of it, I’d be snapping up properties left and right! Right now my goal is to buy one new property every 1-2 years. Can I do it? We’ll see … :-)

  8. Andrew
    19. Oct, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    Great post Paula!

    We view real estate similarly. Without positive cash flow, it’s a gamble. With positive cash flow, it’s a gem! Capital appreciation is icing on the cake.

    Looking forward to the post you’ve promised to write about the blogging convention. I can’t help but think of pointy eared Vulcans and Captain Picard when I think about a blogging convention, so I’m pretty curious.

  9. Andrew
    19. Oct, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Kidding aside, I think I would love a blogging convention! I heard that you met the Ninja!

      19. Oct, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

      @Andrew — I DID meet the acclaimed Ninja! We missed you …. maybe I should lobby for the next blogging conference to be in Singapore!

  10. Evan
    25. Oct, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    I am excited to hear the rest! I am interested in rental real estate just not where I want to be before I put that on the priority list…

  11. Barb Friedberg
    27. Oct, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    Yes yes, hope it’s a fixer That’s a great way to create value. good luck, i like how you think!

  12. Kellen
    31. Oct, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Ahh, but I want to live in that neighborhood so badly! :)

    Just found out this morning that a unit I thought would be available in April won’t be available ’til the end of July, and I’m having a hard time finsing anything else advertised on craigslist.

    When I was doing my (now abandoned) home search, I was all over the Grant Park area instead – I like the park more – more shade, fewer people, but people still think that it’s “dangerous” there.

  13. Margproperties
    01. Dec, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    That was an impressive post and Real Estate is been an awesome business if you invest your time and your interest. And I do just loved to be a dealer rather than a builder or retailer.


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