In my years in the foreclosure and real estate business, I bet I’ve met over 1,500 investors. These people have been at all levels of knowledge and experience. Some have become amazingly successful, while others have lost steam or experienced drastic failure. I watched people who are successful and I’ve noticed that there are certain characteristics that come with real estate investing success.
Before I outline the specific characteristics that I’ve found in successful investors, let me define what I mean by “successful investor”. A successful investor is NOT the person who owns the most properties or does the most deals, or who has the most zeros in his net worth. A successful investor is simply a person who knows what he wants – financially, personally, and in terms of what he wants to contribute to the world – and uses real estate investing as a way to get those things. For a successful real estate investor, real estate is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. A successful real estate investor works to become as financially secure as is necessary for his peace of mind and who is happy and comfortable with his investment activities.
Successful investors I’ve known include high school dropouts and PhDs, men and women of all races and backgrounds, people born into poverty and people born with trust funds, guys who started investing at 18 and those who started in their 70’s, part-timers and full timers. There is no single trait that will predict success, but there are traits that I’ve found that all successful investor have in common. Here are a few:
1. Successful investors have a plan – and work it.
It’s pretty easy to work pen & paper and figure out how to become financially independent in 2 or five or ten years. It’s another thing to wake up each morning and do the things you need to do to get that done. Somehow, your real life always seems to get in the way of your long-term goals. Successful investors battle this dilemma to get caught up “in the thick of things” by creating not just a list of goals, but a daily plan for getting there. Every day Lisa and I start with a checklist of things we need to get done that day, but also things we want to get done. Some examples will include marketing, getting letters out, or meeting sellers. What it doesn’t include is swinging a hammer.
Plans are fluid, they are always changing. Just because I plan to do something does not mean I must accomplish that task. I must sometimes alter a plan to meet a new timeline or move its priority up or down on my list because of a new crisis.
The point is that it all starts with a written daily plan that leads me to the end result. My Daily Plan typically starts at 4:30 am and terminates at 8:00 p.m. 6 days per week. Of course there are days I start later and quit earlier, but that is a “normal” day for me.
2. Successful investors network.
Real estate investing must be the only profession in the country that has no accepted curriculum of formal training. Electricians have to be licensed, Realtors have to pass a test, Attorneys have to pass the BAR exam and so many other examples exist. Since your success as a real estate entrepreneur relies SOLEY on your ability to get reliable and practical information & advice when you need it, & since the local community college doesn’t teach you how to evict a non-paying tenant, the only answer is for you to find a mentor who can teach you the ropes from their learning from the school of hard knocks. The “been there done that” school can surely help you keep from skinning your own knees. As Ron Legrand would say, “Been to that seminar”. We are currently evicting a tenant buyer who gave us a $34,000 non-refundable option deposit. Our network brought us the attorney who is doing the eviction. Sure we have an attorney or two that can do the standard eviction. But with such a large non-refundable option deposit and a few other twists in the case, they were a little gun shy. The attorney handling the case now, is so assertive, that one of the plaintiff’s is having a difficult time finding an attorney to take his case. And that all came from networking!
Choose a mentor who is knowledgeable, motivating, accessible, and is known for high ethical and business standards. Don’t abuse the mentor you choose by constantly asking for information that you could get from a simple trip to the internet. And don’t forget to thank your mentor by taking him to lunch, giving him gift certificates to his favorite restaurant, and, of course, letting him in on good leads when you find them.
One of my personal mentors is in Upstate NY. We are in regular communication, we try to talk weekly. Sometimes there is a question I may have, but sometimes it is just a quick hello. On occasion I get a lead that is in his back yard. Don’t get me wrong I am not marketing in any way in his neighborhood much less his state! Even if I was located there, I wouldn’t market in his farm area. That just seems wrong in some way. So when a lead pops up in NY, I pass it on to him.
3. Successful Investors Cull Their Herds.
When I was a teenager, I spent time at a family friend’s farm in Wisconsin. Part of his business was the raising of hogs. The hogs were always giving birth, sometimes several times a week. The farmer killed the weak, undersized, and deformed piglets before they had a chance to grow up. I was horrified!
Most real estate investors look at selling their “dud” properties with the same horror with which I view the culling the herd of pigs. They will keep a property year after year despite that it loses money, doesn’t fit the business’s goals, is a management hassle or is in an area that has become a warzone. Successful investors review their portfolios at least once a year, and get rid of their loser properties before they can damage the profits from their winners.
Late last year I bought a condo and a 3 unit building from another investor, who is also Realtor and a Banker. He wrote us a nice healthy check to take over his properties “subject to”. I hated those properties. The tenants in the 3 unit were worthless. They had (I imagine still do) an attitude of entitlement. They were owed by society a place to live, yet didn’t feel that paying me was a priority. It took about 2 months of that attitude to wear on me. Sometimes tenants think they can steal your property and hold it hostage and get away with it for free! We got rid of those properties pretty fast. Dump the dogs. I have children to give me grey hair; I don’t want my properties to do it to me. You will buy properties you wish you never would have (everyone I know has), just recognize them, dump them (maybe for a loss), move on, and stop crying over spilled milk. As Ron Legrand says… Go milk another cow.
4. Successful Investors Protect Their Assets.
What’s the use of building a huge real estate portfolio if a single lawsuit could wipe it all out? Why bother to achieve financial independence if the bulk of your estate will end up in the hands of the government when you pass on? And why is it that the average real estate investor does absolutely nothing to reduce their #1 yearly expenses – taxes?
If you chose to make investing a career, you will be sued one day. It is not something I look forward to, but it is a reality. Even if you enter into an arrangement with perfect intentions and honorable heart, someone will view you in their sights as a payday. You don’t even have to do anything wrong to be sued! Arranging your affairs to protect your assets from creditors, plaintiffs, and the taxman is tedious, expensive, complicated, and time consuming. Yet every successful real estate investor takes the time and spends the money to do it, thus assuring that their hard-earned money stay theirs and not the victim of a law suit.
5. Successful investors have a code of ethics.
We tend to think of our investments in terms of properties and cash. In fact, the real estate business is about PEOPLE and RELATIONSHIPS. Without sellers, renters, contractors, agents, brokers and so many others, I would not have a real estate business. And since your business affects so many other people, I think it’s important to decide how you are going to treat the people you come into contact with each day.
I read an article recently about Donald Trump. When he was introduced to the article’s author, the first thing he did was compliment the author on something about his clothing. It made the author feels good about himself. Later on when the author saw Mr. Trump rip a contractor who was trying to unjustifiably raise his price, he saw both sides of Mr. Trump, the sweet and the bitter.
Since there is no formal code of ethics for real estate investors, it’s up to each of us to decide how we’ll behave toward customers, tenants, sellers, workers etc. Instead of using as a measure, “what can I get away with?”, or “what allows me to sleep at night?”, perhaps the proper question is, “what’s FAIR?”. Take the time to think about your activities and how they affect people that you come into contact with.
6. Successful Investors Involve Their Families.
I have not yet met a truly successful investor who did not have the support of his (or her) significant other. Because your real estate activities generally involve spending (or promising to pay) tens of thousands of dollars at a time, and since your business will take time away from your family, I think it’s critical to sit down with everyone who’s old enough to understand and explain what you’re doing, and why, and that you’d really like to have their help or at least their understanding.
If you have a spouse who’s reluctant to support you, try sending him or her to a beginner’s seminar. Some of their natural fears may be conquered by an understanding of what you’re attempting to do.
7. Successful Investors Treat Everyone Better than They Expect to Be Treated.
What goes around comes around. If you think that your reputation as a buyer or landlord doesn’t precede you, think again. When you go the extra mile to solve people’s problems, both profit and success will follow.
This week we received a caller from a seller. She was referred to us by a realtor whom I never heard of nor dealt with. How the realtor came up with my name, I have no idea. She told the seller, (her sister-in-law) that she heard we can do deals that others can’t. I didn’t buy the house, it is still listed on the MLS, but she and I will be in contact over time. When that listing expires, I will work the deal out so everyone wins. And when that happens, I will send the Realtor a nice gift certificate so she can take her husband out for a nice meal. I think she will remember us, don’t you?
Some of my best tenant buyers come from my current buyers. And I have had more than 1 seller refer a friend to us. That is the best marketing I can get from anyone. No amount of money can replace that type of marketing.
8. Successful Investors Stay Educated.
Since I began investing in real estate full time, Illinois has passed disclosures for people in foreclosure. There are other laws that exist: the federal government makes lead-based paint disclosures mandatory and expensive to ignore. Congress has rules for capital gains taxes. HIV-positive people have become a “protected class” in terms of fair housing. One city has ordinances that dictate what months that you cannot evict people who steal your property. Mortgage money for high-risk borrowers has become harder to get. The Fair Credit Reporting Act has been revised to include landlords. Things change. Your business may be affected. Stay on top of it and meld yourself.
9. Successful Investors Find The Money Before They Need it.
Imagine this scenario. You found a deal of a lifetime. A property worth 650,000.00 in great shape comes across your desk. It needs just a quick clean job and the grass to be cut. The seller is moving to another state to be with the spouse’s mom, who is going through some health issues. They are going….PERIOD, or the spouse made it clear that their future together would be quickly shortened by their lawyer. They only owe 300,000.00 and just need 50,000 to get moved and settled in. But they want the loan out of their name and they need the cash. Well, a subject to deal is not going to work now will it?
Find your private money NOW! Find your hard MONEY now. It isn’t cheap; you will pay for it, but line it up ahead of time! A normal hard money loan will cost you a nice bit of change. 12-15% is normal, along with 5 points up front. SO WHAT!
Let’s break down that deal.
-ARV; 650,000 Cash needed 350,000 = 54% LTV
-15% Principle & Interest on the 350K is 4370.92 per month.
-Let’s say it takes you 4 months to sell it for 15% off at 552,500. The total paid on the P.I. is 17,483.76. The hard money lender also charged you 5 points on the loan, which totals 17,500. So your total cost to borrow 350k is 34,983.76.
-You sold it for 552,550 – 350,000 loan = 202,500.00
-202,500 – 34,983.76 for the cost of the money = 167,516.24 PROFIT
You didn’t want to use hard money because it costs too much? Someone explain that to me.
10. Successful Investors Pass On What They’ve Learned.
Just as successful investors have mentors, successful investors become mentors. By passing on their knowledge to novices, they keep our industry alive, give others at chance a financial independence, and get a wonderful sense of their own accomplishments. Now that’s what I call success.