So you want to be a real estate investor….

old country house
Photo by Jeffrey Czum on Pexels.

Becoming a profitable real estate investor wasn’t going to happen overnight. I also longed to find a W2 job I was really passionate about. These two things didn’t need to be mutually exclusive. The main thing holding me back was that neither one was currently happening.

Around October of 2021, my boyfriend got a copy of Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad from a friend of his who is a successful business owner and property investor. John wasn’t fully satisfied in his career at the time, and was ready to listen to some suggestions. He’d read the book before years ago, gotten into the Bigger Pockets podcasts, and then become focused on the day-to-day challenges of just being a functioning adult in society. So, having the book sent to him via Amazon from his friend, and reading it for the second time, lit a metaphorical fire under both our butts. I had never read it, and wanted to make sure this wasn’t some kind of ‘get rich quick’ scheme that he was getting drawn into. I had a solid 45-60 minutes in the car each day commuting to the school I’d been teaching at, so I took advantage of an Audible free trial and listened to Robert Kiyosaki’s wisdom as I drove back and forth to a job I was no longer passionate about.

alphabet school books
Photo by Pixabay on

This was year 9 teaching in an elementary classroom, and I was feeling quite burnt out. As other teachers all around the world have noted, the pandemic changed everything about the classroom. When we finally went back in person, the changes and overall tone of school during a health crisis took a lot of the little day-to-day joys away. But to be honest, it was year 6 that almost did me in. After that year, I tried all the things that I knew to try as an educator: switch districts, switch grades, and switch buildings. I did all the things (I have a habit of changing too many variables at once). It was a momentary reprieve and gave me something new to be excited about and challenge myself with. Moving from 5th to 2nd grade was invigorating and fun, and renewed my spirit in public education for a short time. The key phrase there is “short time.” Quarantine in the spring of 2020 was a real eye-opener for me as far as what a career could look like that wasn’t dictated by student schedules, parent demands, administration, and far-removed legislators. Honestly, although it sounds somewhat trivial, I just loved being able to use the bathroom whenever I damn well pleased. It is a seemingly small privilege that is taken for granted by most of the working world.

So, post-quarantine, I made it my goal to start a slow pivot toward a career outside of public education. It was quite slow, really, because working two jobs to support myself already took most of my spare time and left little to spend on upskilling. I knew I wasn’t going to get one rental property and suddenly quit my day job. But, everyone has to start somewhere when it comes to making a massive shift in life and career. Real estate could be my opportunity to try something different, acquire new skills, and set myself and my partner up for a retirement that was more than just collecting my state teacher’s pension.

After listening to Rich Dad, Poor Dad I immersed myself in a plethora of podcasts, a bevy of books, and kept my eye on Instagram to watch those who were investing in real-estate from the ground up, like I’d need to. My grandmother had been somewhat of a real-estate mogul in her rural Iowa town as long as I could remember, and her passing away right around this same time gave me an emotional nudge to kick it in high gear. John and I were also planning on moving to Arkansas from Colorado at the end of my school year in June of 2021. I did not have a job lined up, and had a small nest egg from selling my primary residence the year before, so I knew I’d need to be strategic and research as much as possible before making a move to get the most bang for the buck.

Luckily, the world is filled with others who are already doing the thing you want to do. There is a world of investors with different strategies and tips just ready to share their knowledge and help others succeed. The Bigger Pockets community was instrumental in my real estate education, and I’ve never listened to so many podcasts as I did in 2021. The Real-Estate Rookie show was one of the most relevant, featuring other newbies who’d started just by researching, listening, and being creative. There were so many different angles that might be worth pursuing: long-term, short-term, and even mid-term rentals (which is where I chose to take my deep dive). My grandma was a buy and hold investor with long-term rentals. That was very lucrative for her, and she was incredibly diligent with what she bought and how she bought it. However, the post-Covid housing market is a different beast than when she was buying up small single-family homes for 15k years ago.

Attempt #1

One thing about the mid-south that is important to realize if you plan to move here for a lower cost of living: it isn’t going to be as low as you want it to be. In some places, it is just as high (or higher) than some places in Colorado. The Northwest Arkansas scene is exploding. Which is great for business, great for construction, and progress in general. But it does make home purchasing much more difficult, especially for people moving here to save money. Don’t get me wrong, our current home in Bella Vista was initially cheaper than either John’s home in Arvada or my home in Greeley was. But it was much higher here than expected.

Around October of 2021, after completing our second move in six months, and finally settling into a semi-permanent home in Northwest Arkansas, I took my casual home search to a new level and actually began to make offers. Everything I kept seeing and hearing told me to just get started. I’ll learn as I go, but if I don’t get started I’ll just keep watching prices rise and everyone else doing what I’m dreaming about.

I went under contract on a cute 2/2 condo close to a university that was being sold furnished – and needed virtually nothing done to it at all. It would be perfect for a short-term rental in this college town. However, concerns began to arise. The main one was that the HOA wouldn’t allow leases under 6 months, so no short-terms were going to work. That’s when I got interested in mid-term, or “long short-term” housing that centered around the needs of traveling professionals, nurses, and even international students at the university. I had a plan! But, as we’ve all experienced, life had its own.

The thing about condos

I learned a lot about condominiums during that process. Complete transparency: I didn’t even know I was buying a condo. I thought it was a townhome when I went under contract, and really didn’t understand the difference between the two. Surprise!

Mostly, I learned that condos are risky for lenders and not always user-friendly for investors. Two weeks out from closing (after I’d paid for inspection and appraisal, of course) my lender called to tell me that it wouldn’t be lendable on the terms we’d initially discussed. Long story short, it came down to numbers: mostly having to do with rates of owner-occupied, majority ownership, and the total number of units in this tiny complex. I could’ve found some other work-arounds with different lenders, but at this point, between the HOA and the unexpected expenses with a new loan type, I decided to cancel the contract. I’m still disappointed about that situation months later, but I generally try to listen when the universe hurls signs at me to stop pushing something that isn’t supposed to happen.

Where the wind comes sweeping down the plains….

I realized that on my teacher’s salary, it would be incredibly challenging to acquire my first investment property nearby. This region is booming, in part, to remote workers moving to lower-cost of living areas (much like many other areas of the country). Between that and the gorgeous scenery and outdoor opportunities here, my original plan to move from an expensive state to an affordable one have not been as smooth as I’d hoped. So that’s when the research began on other cities in neighboring states. After an arduous few weeks digging into businesses, demographics, crime statistics, employment and population rates, and more, I landed on Tulsa, OK, as my city of choice. I interviewed a few realtors (after quite a bit of time researching them, too) and made a connection with a great guy who helped me out via video and phone calls until John and I were able to visit Tulsa in person. I went under contract twice (the first had a lot of issues that were discovered after inspection that I didn’t want to have to deal with) and eventually closed on a cute cottage in an “up and coming” older neighborhood close to downtown and right off historic Route 66. It is still a little rough around the edges, but people are beginning to clean things up and really add value to the neighborhood.

cherry street coffee tulsa
Our first coffee house in Tulsa during a recon mission

I tend to get drawn in by the charm and unique quirks of older homes. I love the stories they have to tell and the secrets they hide in their old plaster walls and oddly-placed nooks. I even love the funky original features that you just don’t find in newer homes (even when they don’t necessarily work properly). Now, I will be honest that when I walked through the home in person (after my offer had been accepted from afar) that I just figured some new paint, a few fixes, and a serious de-felinization (I’m a cat person, but damn, that was a lot of fur and litter….) of the place would make it rent-ready. This is where the fun really began. John knew how important it was for me to try and do this one “on my own” so didn’t push back too much when he kept seeing things around the property that he’d known would need addressed. All I saw was what the fireplace could be when it had gas logs reinstalled, and how much curb-appeal the bay window and shutters added.

rental home tulsa
What do you think are the features that best add to curb appeal?

I randomly decided upon a number that seemed reasonable for furnishing, decor, and fixing things up ($5,000 sounded totally doable…I’m a bargain shopper and a DIYer, gosh darn it!). That should be enough foreshadowing for you, my dear reader, to start drawing some conclusions before future posts where I’ll document just how accurate my shot-in-the-dark number was over the course of the Tulsa project.

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