Why You Should Always Get a Home Inspection

Luckily for me, one of the biggest mistakes I ever made was early into my real estate career.

It’s such a simple yet important lesson that it would be crazy of me to not devote a blog post to it.

The lesson is this: Always have a home inspection done before buying a property.  There are no exceptions to this “rule.”

Here’s how I learned that the hard way…

In my early days of investing, I didn’t have a lot of money. (Note: it’s way easier to make a mistake or take too big a risk when you are financially inflexible. We’ll talk about this a little bit later).

As a result, a lot of the properties I chose to invest in were big-time fixer uppers.  Nothing wrong with that. The problem was that I tried to cut corners every way I could to be “financially savvy.” 

This tactic backfired on me one fateful day.

A good friend of mine helped me find a property that seemed like a great deal. Together we decided that I didn’t need a home inspection done. This was our rationale:

A home inspection would cost me 500 dollars (back in the 90’s, this was a bigger amount than it is today). To save that valuable money, I wouldn’t pay an inspector — my friend and I would “inspect” the property ourselves. 

After all, we could tour the property and see for ourselves what needed fixing, right? 

For example, we could turn on the faucets to see if the plumbing worked, and check if all the lights turned on.  And since we were going to renovate the whole thing anyway, how much did it really matter?

Fast forward a few weeks…

I got a call from my general contractor who was working on the property. He told me that there seemed to be some sort of problem with the electricity. He was having a hard time getting consistent power to his tools.

Having a bad feeling about all of this, I hired an electrician to come over and take a look. He opened up the service panels and low and behold, about half of them were on the edge of crumbling. It was a fire disaster waiting to happen. 

Needless to say, the power company arrived in minutes and shut the whole operation down. In the end, repairing all the electrical panels cost me far more than the $500 for a home inspection.

If I had paid upfront for a home inspector I would have known about the electrical fiasco waiting to happen. This means that I would have either:

A: Been able to choose to not buy the property after all, knowing it would cost a lot upfront in repairs

Or B: I would have been prepared beforehand and been able to budget for the repair 

What actually ended up happening was me being completely surprised (and then panicking) and having to react without much choice.

A few hundred dollars would have saved me from all that stress, and it would have saved me more time and money in the long run.  Having the information about a property that only a professional can give you puts you in the driver’s seat of decision-making and is well worth the cost.

The Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish Catch 22

Did I decide to forgo the home inspection because I was simply being cheap? Not exactly.

As I mentioned earlier, I was a bigger risk-taker back in those days because I had way less money. There is a fine line between sensible frugality and unsensible risks. The latter was what I ended up doing.

Real estate investing is a risk to begin with — profitable rewards usually come after taking sensible risks.  On the other hand, it rarely pays to make your choices unnecessarily risky.  Trying to pocket some cash by forgoing a procedure like a home inspection is a classic example of how you can end up, in the long run, actually paying way more money and time than if you had done the more conservative thing upfront.

Bonus Lesson:

There’s actually another “rule” in real estate, related to this, that I may as well mention now:

Do not buy a property “sight unseen.”

The exception to this is if you are a big-time investor backed by plenty of funds, are buying multiple properties, and can afford to have a few of them not be profitable. I am guessing (just a hunch) that this is not the case for you.

Plenty of people buy sight unseen, whether it’s because they are living in a different part of the country or they have too much FOMO and feel like they have to put in an offer before they have time to even head out the door. 

While this can still work out alright in the end, my advice is to never (at least, with very few exceptions) buy sight unseen.

The bottom-line of it all, to quote an old-school maxim: “haste makes waste.”

In more modern terms: Taking extra risks to save money, as well as being in a hurry, are more likely than not going to backfire on you at some point. 

Summary:

  • Do not skip a home inspection under any circumstances. You are not able to fully assess everything that’s right and wrong with a property and thus run serious risks as a result

  • While it’s good to save money where you can, don’t skimp on things (like a home inspection) that will actually save you time and money in the long run, not to mention keep you and others safe

  • Avoid buying a property “sight unseen” if possible. It’s one thing to buy a gadget online; but a property is an enormous investment. Lower the risk as much as possible by keeping yourself fully informed and visiting the property before deciding to buy

The Mentality of Buying

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Buying a new property is one of the most fun parts of the real estate business.  It’s natural to feel excited — even giddy — about a “good buy” and all the potential that comes with it.

In the excitement of the buying process, it’s all too easy to overlook the “fine print.” There are unexpected costs and factors that will pop up when you buy a property.  Also, consider that a property that seems like a great acquisition may not be quite as great after you’ve done a little more homework.

I’ve made the mistake myself of getting too carried away with the emotional side of buying, only to deal with issues I wasn’t prepared for afterward (sometimes to almost disastrous consequences, I might add).

Few properties are “perfect”, and not every find needs to be a golden opportunity. Just make sure you do your due diligence ahead of time and go in with your eyes wide open.  Here are three factors that will help guide you in doing this.

  1. “Make Me Want to Land”

When I was getting my pilot’s license, my flying instructor shared with me some very interesting advice.  It’s since turned out to be invaluable in how I purchase properties.

“When it’s time to make a descent,” he told me, “your mentality needs to be, ‘make me want to land!’”

At first I thought his words were a bit counterintuitive.  After all, you need to land the plane, right?

But his point was: there are many dangers and unknowns when flying, especially so when landing. You should not actually land the plane until you have checked all the boxes that you’re safe and clear to do so. Even a small mistake could lead to regret or even catastrophe.

While buying real estate (usually) doesn’t come with the same mortality risks, there are still a number of risks involved. Especially ones that are easy to overlook in the euphoria of finding a place that “feels” right.

It’s important to stay as detached as possible all the way until the day you close on the property. You may have heard the advice “don’t fall in love with a home,” and there’s a lot of truth to that.

This doesn’t mean you need to be cynical or cautious to the point of obsession. It does mean doing your due diligence before buying and keeping your expectations neutral. Save that champagne bottle for the day you actually close.

  1. Do Some Deeper Digging

When landing a plane, I had to learn what all the “boxes” were that I had to check to make sure I was safe and ready.

Buying properties also involves boxes that need to be checked. Some of these boxes are easy to overlook or even forget.  Know ahead of time all the things you need to consider so that when you find a property you’ll have your list ready to go (and hopefully you’ll be able to check all the boxes!).

Here are several examples:

  • Migration patterns.  Are more people moving into the neighborhood, or moving out? What has been the migration trend over the years, and is that trend changing in any way?

  • Employment levels. What percentage of the people in the neighborhood are employed?  Employment is related to income, and level of income among residents in turn affects the value of the area as a whole.

  • Availability of housing. How many houses are currently available in the neighborhood?  Are there any more being built (or planned)?  A lack of available houses may indicate demand, but not necessarily.  Make sure you look into the “why.”

  • Cost of purchase vs. Market rent rates.  Is it currently more expensive to rent a home in the area you’re looking at, or to pay a mortgage?  

  • History of the property itself. If the home is cheap but the neighborhood is great, there may be a catch. Having a home inspector visit the property and taking the time to learn more about its history will let you know if there are any red flags.

Have a checkbox ready to go before you even get serious about buying a property.  It will be a valuable resource and streamline the whole touring/inspecting/purchasing process.

  1. Get a Second Opinion

One of the greatest things about investing in real estate is the wide variety of people you meet, many of whom offer a wealth of insight and experience that they’re only too happy to share with you — all you have to do is ask.

Some of the best decisions I ever made were thanks to the help of friends who were investors like me, but with more experience. Their advice was free but invaluable.  

Make sure you take the time to network and surround yourself with those who are more experienced than you. People who have been in this business a long time love sharing their insights and are usually only too happy to help.  Besides, a second (or third) opinion always helps you stay as objective as possible.

Summary

You can stay smart while buying a property and still have fun in the process. In fact, buying a new property, I’d argue, is more fun when you are empowered with the right tools and information going in.

Good investment opportunities come along all the time. Be ready to take the leap, but only after you’ve taken a good look first. Review all the checkboxes until you have no good reason not to land. 

Finally, take the time to talk to mentors and friends who you trust.  They’ll be happy to share their advice and honest opinions. Having trustworthy people to consult is not only a lifesaver, it’s a very meaningful part of the process as well.  Due your due diligence and you’ll be rewarded not just with a good investment, but with peace of mind.

Putting Together a Team

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Being part of a team is probably not the first thing you think of when you start investing in real estate. You may be doing most (or all) of the work on your own — or hiring an extra pair of hands to help out here and there.

Real estate investing, though, is a business.  And just like any good business, you will eventually need multiple reliable people working alongside you.  

These people may work for you, but they will bring with them knowledge and experience that you lack. It’s important to have an attitude of respect for these people and a sense of being part of a team — not only will you go further, you will also find the whole journey of real estate investing far more enjoyable.

Here is a quick look at the type of people you’ll need on your team, sooner or later:

Bookkeeper

Attorney 

CPA

Home Inspector

Realtor-broker

Lender 

Subcontractor 

This is not an exhaustive list. If you get serious about marketing, for example, you’ll need your own website, which will require creatives and other people qualified to help with digital matters. 

However, this list is a good starting point. 

Before going through it in more detail, it’s important to keep in mind that you shouldn’t try to build your team all at once.  People come into the picture as needs arise and as your business grows. It is a process that should happen strategically but also organically.

Bookkeeper

A bookkeeper is probably one of the first people you should add to your team (besides subcontractors for maintenance work). 

Managing data such as receipts and other information saves you invaluable time.  Also, an extra pair of eyes keeping tabs on things ensures that nothing goes awry — especially as your business grows and becomes more complex.

Bookkeeping is not a particularly specialized field, making it easy for you to train whoever it is you decide to take on.  This is a person you will be working with continually, so be sure to choose someone you are temperamentally compatible with. 

CPA

Unless you majored in accounting with a specialty in “real estate”, you will want a really good CPA.  Their focus should be helping you make the most savvy decisions possible throughout the tax year so that you don’t get hit with taxes you aren’t prepared for. 

Attorney

The existence of attorneys is evidence of the flawed world we live in.

Hopefully it happens later rather than sooner, but at some point, you will probably need at least one attorney.  If your taxes or financial situation are complicated, it may be wise to find a good tax attorney.

You may also want an attorney specializing in real estate to help you with matters such as purchasing property, leasing, and evictions. 

If you are in a situation where lawsuits are relatively likely (if you a own large, multi-unit property, for example) then you will want to find a good attorney specialized to help you with this as well.

Remember, you don’t have to find all these people at once!  Look for an attorney with a specialty that’s the most relevant to your current situation.

Realtor-Broker

A good realtor-broker is invaluable.  They will have their hand on the pulse of the market and by the time they’ve achieved their position, they have accumulated a lot of valuable experiences.

These people have the potential to not just work “for” you, but to be your mentors and advisors — those who you can look up to and learn from, especially as you’re getting started.

Lender

A good relationship with a good lender is critical if you plan to fund your purchases with a loan (which is the majority of us). Be sure you fulfill all your obligations and go the extra mile wherever you can so that they will continue to do business with you.

If you invest in different types of properties, you will need to form a relationship with more than one lender, since lenders specialize. Some lenders focus on single-family homes, while others are more geared toward commercial properties.   Choose a lender (or lenders) who specializes in your type of property.

Home Inspector

I have learned from hard-earned experience that this is a job you do not want to outsource.

A home inspector saves you invaluable time and money by inspecting the property beforehand and alerting you to any maintenance issues (and possible red flags).  A good home inspector helps you keep your eyes wide open so that you aren’t blinded by a “good deal” or become too emotionally attached to a prospect before you decide to buy.

Subcontractor

Unless you are a wiz at every type of maintenance issue there is, you will need to hire at least one subcontractor — and most likely, more than one.

Certain types of maintenance are going to be more specialized than others.  Heating and air systems, for example, are usually best left to a specialist.

Plumbing is another maintenance concern that will occupy a lot of your focus and can quickly get out of hand if not handled expertly.  It’s one thing to unclog a toilet by yourself — it’s quite another to fix a “mystery” leak that’s getting more serious by the moment.

Just like with the other members of your team, you can add new subcontractors as needed.  Treat your subcontractors well so they will want to come back and work for you again.  It saves more time and money than you might imagine to be able to depend on the same person or crew, month after month (and year after year), rather than looking for someone new.

Conclusion

Many people who go into real estate don’t realize what a “social” business it can be.  It’s important to know ahead of time that you will be meeting, interacting with and depending on multiple people with very different backgrounds and specialities.

Look at this as an opportunity to broaden your horizons and enrich your knowledge. Choose good, trustworthy people to work with and you will have many meaningful experiences as you invest in real estate. 

Outsourcing vs. DIY How to be Efficient

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Passive income should be the end game as a real estate investor, but it takes a while to get there.

In the meantime, you will need to invest both money and time (and possibly physical energy) upfront.  

But what if you’re limited in both of these resources?  Most people don’t have unlimited time or money when they start investing in real estate. 

The key is to be as efficient as possible. 

And being efficient means knowing your strengths.

For example, when I started out as a real estate investor, I did my best to save money by doing all the maintenance work myself.  (As much as I could handle, anyway). This included all the plumbing.

I am not shy about confessing that I am a terrible plumber.  I soon discovered this while working on the plumbing issues of my various properties.

It usually took hours, or even the entire day for me to get a certain plumbing task accomplished.  I may have saved money by not outsourcing a plumber, but I also lost money by spending all my time working on that plumbing project — time that I could have spent more efficiently in other ways. 

For example, I could have instead used that time to talk more with my realtor-broker and other colleagues and mentors, learning about how to find better value properties to purchase that maybe didn’t have quite as serious plumbing issues (or other structural problems). 

If I had done that, I would have been investing in my education and in my strengths (self-education and networking), which would have led to a more efficient outcome overall.

It’s okay to do some of your own maintenance in the beginning. In fact, unless you are already blessed with an impressive financial portfolio, you will probably need to do some of your own maintenance work (as well as busywork).

What I recommend doing when you start out is two things:

  1. Create a vision for yourself
  1. Identify your strengths

Here’s an example of what your vision might be:

“I want to have a team that includes at least maintenance contractors in one year’s time. By that point in time I want to only be doing less-specialized maintenance work, like knocking down old walls.  Or paint jobs.”

Having a vision (or a goal) gives you a timeframe, and motivates you to then figure out a solution.  

How are you going to make sure you can afford and manage three new contractor’s within a year’s time?  That’s where your strengths come in.

Here’s an example of what your strengths might be:

“I am really good at searching the Internet and finding the best people and the best value possible. I am good with search filters and knowing what to look for.  I’m also really good at people skills, and emailing and calling lots of people in a short amount of time.”

Having this vision and list of your own strengths in front of you, it should now be much easier for you to come up with a strategy.

You will probably realize that instead of doing specialized maintenance tasks yourself, you can start outsourcing these tasks, one at a time, to a contractor.  You will be able to afford it because you have the skill of being able to network and find people who can do a good job at a great value.  You may have to invest a little more money at the very beginning, but if it’s a good value, you will save far more money over time.

Focusing on your strengths also brings meaning to your experience as a real estate investor.  Too many people get burned out and overwhelmed trying to do everything at once, and trying to do too much right away.  Or from simply having unrealistic expectations.

In the beginning you don’t need to know everything.  You just need to know some basics.  What matters is that you have a vision and a strategy. And the common sense to know what your strengths are, what you enjoy doing, and how that translates into being as efficient as possible.

One final important thing: mistakes (including lack of efficiency) are also a part of the learning process!  Have realistic expectations and a resolve to keep learning, and I can all but guarantee that you will succeed in the long run.

Location vs. a “Good Deal”: How to Choose

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Most of us have heard the phrase “location, location, location.”  It’s a common perception that location matters more than anything — and there is some truth to that.

But what if you find a great deal in a “not quite as good” location? Is it still a worthwhile investment? 

It’s a great question that many people have asked me before. The short answer is, “it depends.”

Location for living, versus location for investing

When people say, “location, location, location,” they’re usually referring to choosing a property you plan to live in.

But when it comes to an investment property, you won’t be the one living there.  Does this change things?  Actually, it does.

You may, for example, find an incredible deal in a less-than-ideal neighborhood. Even though you wouldn’t personally  want to live in that neighborhood, there may be plenty of other people who do. The key is finding a good, stable tenant in this scenario. If you do, then you have a great situation on your hands.

Unsurprisingly though, the less desirable the location, the harder it will be to find a quality tenant for your property. So location certainly does play a factor in how well your investment comes out. 

Think of it this way:

When you are investing in a property, you want to think in terms of how you’re going to come out of the investment.  

It may be a great “deal” now, but the cost of the property is just one factor.  Does the price seem “too good to be true”?  There may be a structural problem accounting for that.  Hopefully not a nuclear reactive cesspool buried under the house — but a serious enough issue that you would need to look into.

If the price is related to the location, and the location is a less than ideal one, consider whether that may change over the years.  If you see potential in the quality and security of the area in the long term — if there is the possibility of the location value going up in the future — then it may make sense as an investment. 

The Bigger Picture

Here is a shortlist of factors to help you determine “location” versus “good deal”:

What kind of tenant are you interested in having?  More reliable and responsible tenants are likely to be in better neighborhoods (with more expensive properties). The trade off for a great deal on a property in a lower-quality neighborhood is often a less responsible tenant.  There are always plenty of exceptions to the rule, but this is the broader reality.

-Think about structure, not just location. Location matters, but you want to make sure the structure itself is solid.  If there are structural issues, be prepared to factor that into how much you will need to invest, financially. Sometimes a good deal is truly a good deal — other times it’s a red flag.

-What is the potential for appreciation? A great deal now isn’t as meaningful if the property won’t appreciate much over the years (or even loses value). 

The bottom line: when in conflict, go with “location” over a great deal. 

A good location is much more likely to keep appreciating, meaning that you will come out of your investment well.

But if you find a truly good deal in a not-as-great location that you have researched and believe you can make a good return on, whether in the short-term or long-term, then it may indeed be the right choice to go with.  Careful research and weighing of options are all part of the process of being a real estate investor.

Single-Family vs. Multi-Family Properties: Which is Better?

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When many of us hear “residential real estate,” the default image in our minds is a single-family home, perhaps with a white picket fence and a grass lawn.

But of course, there are several different types of dwellings that people (families) can live in. The breakdown between these two is pretty simple: single-family and multi-family.  A multi-family residence can be anything from a duplex to an apartment building.

The important question is: which should you invest in?

There’s no winner-takes-all answer for this one. Both have their pros and cons. I have multiple years’ experience investing in both types, and in this article I’ll go over each so that by the end, hopefully you’ll be able to choose the best option for yourself.  (Hint: you can definitely invest in both, at different stages of your career.  That’s what I have done). 

Let’s start with single family properties, since that’s the one that most people are more familiar with.

Single Family Properties: At A Glance

Single properties are defined as a property outfitted for a single family. In everyday language, a house (or a condo or townhouse). 

Of course, people are creative with space and more than one family or group of individuals may choose to occupy the same home. But the idea is that it is a structure on a property to comfortably accommodate the needs of just one family.

Typically the sellers you will deal with will be both investors and end-use sellers. Likewise, as a seller you will encounter both investors and end-use buyers. 

Pros:

Single-family properties, because they are usually smaller and therefore less costly, typically have a lower financial barrier to entry. You will usually have more financing options available as well — including an FHA loan if it’s your first time buying a home.

Single-family properties are more familiar and therefore more comfortable for most people. Many of us have lived in a single-family home for most of our lives. The thought of owning and maintaining a single house is less intimidating than owning and maintaining a large apartment complex.

You will probably find yourself dealing with fewer maintenance calls if you are leasing a single-family property. Tenants who rent a house instead of a unit at a giant complex are more likely to see their landlord as a person of modest means — whether or not that is actually true. Because all they can see is the single property they live on, they’re less likely to associate you, the owner, with being a corporate figure.  As a result they are more likely to not want to “inconvenience” you with superfluous maintenance requests.  This is a quirky bit of psychology but it’s been true to my experience.

Cons:

Since a single-family property only accommodates one family (read: one paycheck for rent each month), your income from rent dries up completely as soon as that family or individual moves out. There are no other renters/units to buffer you. You will need to find new renters as soon as possible in order to offset your monthly mortgage payment.

There is also usually no “discount per unit” when buying a family property or even multiple family properties. This is something we’ll discuss more in the next section.

Multi-Family Properties: At A Glance

Multi-family properties can come in the form of everything from a duplex (a property that houses two families) to an expansive complex with multiple units. 

The range and differences between them are beyond the scope of this article — one thing I will say, because it’s obvious, is that the simpler/smaller the property, the lower the barrier entry is to financing and managing it. A duplex, for example, is much less complicated to manage than a large apartment building. And apartments themselves come in all ranges of size and number of units.

Pros:

Although there is a higher barrier to entry cost with multi-family properties, there is a lot of value in multi-family properties once you are able to finance one.  The actual money to purchase may be higher upfront, but the potential return of investment is often better in the long run than with a single-family property. Multi-family properties may also include a “discount per unit,” allowing you a better value the more units you purchase.

Multi-family properties offer value in multiple ways. One particular benefit is having a lot of the infrastructure centralized: one roof over multiple tenants’ heads is more cost-efficient to repair than multiple roofs over multiple tenants’ heads. When tenants all live close to each other in the same complex, it’s easier to “do the rounds” with maintenance and take care of tasks.

Turnover is a reality with any rental property, but with multi-family properties, especially those with more units, you will always have remaining tenants to help buffer your monthly mortgage payment while you look to fill that vacant unit. Word of mouth spreads, and when tenants enjoy living at your complex, others often come knocking.

One final, although less obvious pro to buying multi-family properties is that when you either buy or sell, your transaction will be with another investor — not an “end user.” This means the transaction is likely to be more straightforward and less emotional — you won’t be dealing with sellers who are sentimental about their former home, or buyers who are desperate to move in even though their approved loan is less than ideal.

Cons:

You will face a higher barrier to entry with purchasing a multi-family property, and usually will need a down payment of 20% or even 30%. While multi-family properties can be very profitable, they are not always easy to start out with for this reason. “Bargains” exist, but even when they do, they will cost much more than a single-family property.

You will also be doing a lot more maintenance. One reason for this is public space: multi-family properties have common areas, whether in the form of landscaping, front desk office or recreational area (like a swimming pool). 

Also, tenants of multi-family properties are usually more inclined to make maintenance calls. They see your property as a large and “professional” outfit and expect that someone will be on hand to respond to maintenance calls quickly.  

Conclusion:

Both single-family and multi-family properties can be awesome investment choices.  The best starting place is your own financial situation and what you feel comfortable with. 

Starting out with a single-family property is usually a more conservative choice and may make the most sense. But if you have the means, a multi-family property is a very worthwhile investment endeavor.  I recommend starting out more conservatively and then trying (buying) more properties/property types as you gain experience. 

Am I Too Old to Start Investing in Real Estate?

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You know that investing is one of the most stable ways there is to make money.

You’ve also probably heard that investing — including real estate investing — is a “long game”. It usually takes years before you can make a profit doing it.  Certainly it takes years before you can become “rich” (with a few random, lucky exceptions).

Now we come to the Catch-22 of the investing world: the longer you hold your investment, the more money you will earn. But the longer you hold your investment, the less time you will have to enjoy that money (and your life), once you cash in on it.

You might wonder, “how long will it take?”  And then the next, unavoidable question that many of us are too afraid to ask:

“Am I too old to invest in real estate?”

This is a very valid question. (Some people might feel embarrassed asking it, and call it a “dumb” question.  But sometimes “dumb” questions are the best ones).

The short answer is probably not.  Which is great news, as long as you are motivated and ready to put in the work!

The longer answer is, it depends on your goals and resources.  Let’s take a closer look and see which situation is best suited for you.

The Growth-Oriented vs. Cash flow-Oriented Approach

When you invest in real estate, you can choose to take one of two basic approaches.  These two approaches are:

Growth-oriented

And

Cash flow-oriented.

Of the two, the growth-oriented approach is more aggressive (read: risky).  It means more debt and a lower down payment upfront, with the idea that in 10 years your debt will be gone, or at least your rent income will be high enough to increase cash flow. 

The cash flow-oriented approach is the inverse of that: you will pay a lot more upfront, and as a result, owe less debt so that you can instead enjoy a higher cash flow. 

Now let’s talk about goals: 

If you are younger (more than 15 years away from retirement), it makes sense to go with more of a growth-oriented approach.  If you are “older,” but are more interested in having wealth to pass on to the generation after you (rather than for yourself to enjoy), then a growth-oriented approach also makes more sense.

But if you are older and are hoping to create wealth for yourself to live off, a cash flow-oriented approach is probably best for you.

Now that you know which approach matches your goal, it’s time to talk about resources (money).

With a grow-oriented approach, you need less money, but more time. If you don’t have time (because you’re “older”), and therefore you need a cash flow-oriented approach, then you will need more money.

Hopefully you have several options at this stage in your life. It may be in the form of a retirement account you are finally able to access, or a life insurance settlement from the death of a spouse. Whatever the case, the more cash you have that you can pay towards a property, the less debt you will owe, the less risky your investment will be, and the more money you’ll then be able to generate. 

I definitely recommend using  any of these options if you have them.  A cash flow-oriented approach to real estate is not only very secure, it’s very rewarding.  If you have the resources, there’s no need to feel it’s too late for you to enjoy owning and renting properties.

Consider, also, that age is not an issue if you are able to hire a property manager to take care of day-to-day tasks instead of doing them yourself. Another good option, if you are interested in commercial real estate, is a “triple-net” (NNN) lease. In these agreements, the business that occupies the building pays for all the building expenses except the rent.  This makes things hassle-free on your end as the property owner.

Keep in mind that even if you have plenty of cash on hand at the time of investment, returns don’t happen overnight. A decent rule of thumb is, expect a minimum of 5-10 years to see the fruits of your investing labor.

“What if I don’t have ‘enough’ money?”

Let’s say you’re 60 and want to retire in 2 years with an annual income of $100,000 from your rental properties. If you have $1 million in cash and find an investment that provides a 10% cash flow return, this could be possible. 

But if you have very little in cash, your goal is going to be a lot trickier. Without cash, you will have to take on debt, and most (if not all) of the income from your rental will go towards the mortgage.  What are your options?

Besides playing the lottery (which I don’t recommend), your only real option is to invest aggressively (growth-oriented) instead. You may not like this idea at first, but consider the following:

60 years old today is not as “old” as it was a hundred years (or even 50 or 20 years) ago. Health and lifestyle are less tangible but very important factors in determining how long and how well you will live. 

Maybe you are only 50 years old. Twenty years is plenty of time for a more aggressive investment to pay off, and at age 70 you may well still have a decade or two ahead of you to enjoy the fruits of your labors. You don’t have to figure everything on your own, either.  A good financial advisor will save you time and help you figure out the best option for you.

The more limited your resources are, the more creative you will have to be with investing in real estate.  But as long as you are willing to make some sort of sacrifice, there is probably a way for you to successfully invest in real estate. 

In summary:

When investing in real estate, you need at least one of two things: time and/or money. 

If you are “older”, you probably feel that you don’t have as much time.  This means you will need more money, so that you owe less debt and therefore generate cash flow faster to support yourself.  Savings, retirement accounts and other assets are all ways you can theoretically finance a real estate purchase at this stage in your life.  

Remember that your main two resources are time and money, but don’t forget also that health and wellness are resources.  Consider if you really are “old”, and whether you feel you need to retire or have a certain amount of money by a certain age.  

6 Steps for Getting More Stuff Done

“Greg, how do you have time to do all the stuff you do?”

I’ve had friends from time-to-time remark that it seems like I get a lot done. They wonder if I have unlimited energy, or if I’m just a certain “type” of person who is able to accomplish more – while other “personality types” out there are doomed to be less successful in life.

The reality is, it’s neither of these things (although I would love nothing more than to have unlimited energy). The reason I’m able to be as productive as I am is thanks to several habits I’ve formed over the years. Or in more popular terminology, “hacks” that help me make the most of my time.

I’ve come up with 6 simple but powerful concepts that I’ve found work wonders for getting stuff done. You or anyone can implement these same tips into your routine and life and soon enough, you’ll see an increase in your own productivity.  

Just remember that it’s important to stick with it – even the most effective habits don’t make much of a difference if you burn out after a week.  Instead of trying all 6 of these tips at once, pick one or two and adapt more gradually to your lifestyle.

1. Define What You Want

Remember that old quote from the Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland”?

I don’t have the book in front of me so I’ll paraphrase in plain English: If you don’t know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which path you take or what you do.

Without a vision, you are going to get lost in the weeds pretty quickly. In my experience, people burn out, feel overwhelmed or lose focus because they don’t have a guiding goal to begin with.

Make sure you have a vision (or goal) that is clear and concrete, that you can return to every time you need to make a decision about what to do or not to do. (Some people have things like photos or quotes hanging on their walls as a visual reminder).

For years, my vision was building a more financially secure life for my family.  When I needed to schedule my day or my week, the things that I knew would help me achieve that vision took priority.  It was easier to cut out watching ESPN on the weekend because I knew that the work I was doing was helping me achieve my vision.

2. Break It Down into Manageable Steps

 Tell me which of these two sounds easier:

  1. “Make a deal with the banker this Monday.”

Or:

  1. “Do the following:
  1. Pick out ahead of time what I’m going to wear to the meeting 
  2. On Sunday night, do a quick Google search on how to put my best foot forward at a bank meeting
  3. Prepare a portfolio of my successful investments over the last two years…”

Hopefully you see my point here: it’s a lot easier to break things down into steps.

When you have a plan that’s big and broad, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start or how to prepare. You might fall under the illusion that it’s hard, or even too hard (not true). A lot of this is in your head. That’s why breaking things down into steps is important.

When writing in your task list, consider breaking bigger tasks down into smaller steps. Don’t make the steps more numerous than necessary; simple and concrete is better. The effective way to get things done is to do one thing, one step at a time.

3. Hold Yourself Accountable

At some point, it really does come down to you having to just do it.  (I don’t think it’s a coincidence the Nike slogan has become as famous as it has).

To make it easier, think of yourself as another person you respect. You wouldn’t be late to a meeting with your boss, would you?  Can you imagine yourself putting off date night just because “you didn’t feel like it?” 

It’s easier to show up for other people, because they expect us to. But we deserve our own respect as well. I know that Future Greg is very happy each time I stick to my task list and get stuff, and that he will likewise be disappointed when I slack off over the weekend.

As you show up for yourself each day it gets easier to keep doing so. If you want others to take you seriously, it’s important that you take yourself seriously.  And part of that means staying on top things even when no one else is asking or reminding you to.

4. Block Off Time for Yourself

As much fun as it is to socialize and hang out by the water cooler (or whatever the post-pandemic equivalent is), it’s important to have time and space to yourself so that you can focus. Especially when it comes to crucial tasks.

This is easier to do when you have your own personal den or office, but even if your personal space is limited, you can still make sure that you have “alone” time to work.  The key is consistency: make sure it’s the same time every day.

Many people, including myself, have found that either “before” hours or “after” hours work best.  After 9 am and before 5 pm, people will typically require your time – whether in the form of meetings, phone calls, or other demands.

But in the quiet early hours of the morning, or in the later hours of the evening it’s often much easier to block off an hour or two to really focus on your vision, and the tasks you need to do to get you there. Figure out if you are a “morning” person or a “night” person, and schedule your alone time accordingly.

5. Keep a Task List

You may protest at this one.  Task lists aren’t cool anymore, according to some of the latest gurus on the Internet.  They are “overrated.”

I’ve got news for you: task lists work.  If you feel like they’re boring or obvious, well, it’s because they’ve been around a long time and they will continue to be around for a long time for a good reason.

Your task list doesn’t have to be a generic Sticky Note sheet or piece of paper (though it could if that works for you). Some people like to get creative and use cute templates, stickers and other flourishes.  Others prefer a digital format.

Choose whatever makes sense for you and is easiest to use. Some people like to be very detailed, listing things in order of importance and including the “time of day.”  Others prefer to be as minimal as possible.

If task lists are new or less appealing to you, go with the simplest approach possible.  Make sure your task list is in a prominent place to remind you.

6. Make Use of Your Spare Minutes

“Where does the time go?”  Why, into all those spare moments here and there that we usually don’t think about!

During an “in-between” moment you might be tempted to play a phone game or do another activity that helps you unwind.  Sometimes, you do need a break. But consider just how much more productive you can be by filling those extra blocks of time with things you need to get done.  What you’ll find is that you’ll end up saving time by getting things done sooner.

In my case, I use the time I’m driving in the car for phone calls, especially with family and friends. “Windshield time” is a great opportunity to check in with others.

I listen to audio books and educational speakers while walking my dog, or doing the dishes. My martial arts instructor once gave me some excellent advice: “If you’re going to spend your time doing something mindless like watching TV, the least you can do is use that time to stretch and improve your flexibility.” His two-birds-with-one-stone approach has continued to influence the way I make the most of my spare minutes today.  

Conclusion:

I did my best to make sure this list was short, and that the action items on it were specific and clear. Simplicity and clarity are important — without them, it’s easy to lose focus. And remember…

  • Don’t try to master all of these things at once
  • Repetition is key
  • Use self-affirmation each time you stay on track
  • Have friends or family members help you stay motivated and accountable, if necessary
  • Revisit this list from time to time 
  • And finally: this is a guide, not an absolute standard. Take it easy and have fun in the process!

Should I Invest in Real Estate or the Stock Market?

(Image courtesy of Tierra Mallorca)

If you’re at the beginning stage of investing, and you clicked on this article, there’s a good chance you’re wondering, “Wait, how do I know if real estate is a better bet than the stock market?  Or is one even better than the other?”

Well, spoiler alert, I have my own bias.  I’ve built my life around real estate and it’s paid off many times over (with a bit of hard work, of course).  

That said, there are pros and cons to investing in real estate and investing in the stock market (and other assets, for that matter).  It’s definitely worth exploring the differences between them.  Much of it comes down to lifestyle and how hands-on vs. hands-off you’re willing to be.

The Stock Market: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  1. Low-to-no maintenance

Any type of investing requires you do your homework, so it’s not quite accurate to say that investing in the stock market means you just “set it and forget it.”

But that said, you will most likely have far more free time on your hands if you invest in the stock market over real estate.  

For one thing, a stock portfolio doesn’t require a team of subcontractors, a real estate agent, a potential buyer/tenant or a banker.  Then there’s the consideration that a share of stock is not a physical item, and therefore you won’t have to drive anywhere, inspect anything or run errands.

Time is a precious commodity we are constantly evaluating against money.  For some people, the time (and energy) factor means that real estate is a deal-breaker, and the stock market a more realistic choice.

  1. Reasonably Secure

I’m no expert in stock investing, so take this with a grain of salt, but at long as you do your homework upfront you are most likely to get a reasonable, if not really good return over time. Mutual funds are a particularly great way to do this: you can quickly diversify by owning a share of multiple different, strongly-performing companies.

There are so many more resources and gurus available today to help you start out on the right foot.  As long as you apply common sense (don’t buy penny stocks, make sure you diversify) then you are looking forward to a nice return in the next 20 to 30 years.

  1. The Nerd Factor

There’s a certain enjoyment that comes from feeling like you’re witnessing history in the making, and the stock market is a great place for that.

Culture and technology drive the economy, and vice versa, and the results play out on Wall Street.  It’s a fun and tangible way to stay educated on current events as well as historical trends, and to even use that knowledge and “data” to make predictions about where the future is headed.

  1. Less Money Upfront (Usually)

It’s always better to invest more than less when you invest in anything, because a bigger investment means a bigger return. But the need to invest a large sum of money can be a big entry barrier for many people. The advantage of the stock market is that you can get started with as little as a few hundred bucks.

Real estate, as we have all seen in recent years, is hardly “cheap,” and will almost certainly require you to take out loans (unless you have a nice nest egg already saved up).  There is also the cost of closing on a property, of renovating and maintaining it, to name just a few.  There are certainly more moving parts in real estate, and that includes parts that will cost you.

I hesitate to put hard numbers on things, and a decent house in a good area will be a cheaper investment than one share of Berkshire Hathaway, but generally speaking, real estate will cost you more upfront.  The downside of that is offset by cash flow, which I’ll get to later in this article.

Cons:

  1. No (Serious) Cash Flow

Investing in a share of stock means — for the most part — you make no money off it until you sell it.  Yes, you can earn dividends to cash out from time to time, but usually it’s a small return (unless you learn advanced techniques such as trading in options, these approaches are not for the average investor).

The only serious money you earn from stocks is the money you earn when you actually sell it.  It doesn’t matter how “high” your stock price rises — that rise in price means nothing until you sell it.  And once you do, that share of stock is now gone and you can no longer profit off it.

  1. (Very) Delayed Gratification

Because stocks don’t generate cash flow and only bring you money when you sell them, you will need to wait a while for the stock value to become high enough that you feel incentivized to sell.

What we are talking about is closer to decades than years, let alone months.  The main exception to this is if you decide to become a day trader, but that is something no one should try unless they really know what they’re doing (not to mention it will involve much more time and energy).

  1. Some Unpredictability

Even if you make the most educated choices possible with your portfolio, some of them are probably going to drop, rather than rise.  The economy (read: Planet Earth) can be an unpredictable thing and much of the stock market is based on assumptions made from what has happened in the past.  While there’s a good chance those assumptions will hold true, there will always be some surprises.

Of course, the same applies to real estate to some extent, but real estate is at least tangible (like gold) and people will always need a decent place to live.

The Real Estate Market: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  1. As Stable as it Comes

There’s a reason that wealth has historically been associated with land:  it’s limited and almost always in demand.  People need a space to live, whether they own it or rent it. 

Certain neighborhoods or areas do depreciate in value but overall, real estate goes up.  Look no further than the housing crash in 2008 to the housing shortage crisis nation-wide now: even when demand goes down, it comes back up again.  If you do your homework you will know which neighborhoods have the best outlook, giving you an even further advantage.

Real estate is an old game, but a solid one.

  1. Cash Flow

This, right here, is the Number One reason I love real estate.

When you buy a share of stock, the only money you can earn with it is the money you get when you sell it (including any dividends).  In other words: there is no actual money going into your pocket until you sell it.  It’s a one-time pay-off.

Compare that to real estate: You can own a house (or apartment complex), anticipate one day earning money from selling that house, and then earn money in the meantime by renting it to others.  Money that you get right now, right into your pocket.

Think of it this way:

When you own a property, it’s like owning a goose that lays eggs.  You can earn money off the eggs now, and also when you sell the goose.

When you own a share of stock, there are no eggs.  There’s only the money you earn when you sell the goose.

Of course it’s a simplistic analogy, but it gets the point across: real estate, with enough work upfront, has the potential to earn you money both now and later.  Maintaining cash flow isn’t always easy, of course, but it’s more than possible.

  1. It’s Tangible

This one is slightly more emotion-based, but I believe it’s still important.

A share of stock sits in a digital folder.  You can’t touch it, smell it, walk inside it, admire it from across the street.  There is something very satisfying, by contrast, about physically laboring and putting effort into a property, and then being able to see and enjoy the results of your labors.  

Even a new layer of paint in a kitchen, or a new fence in the backyard is a visible and pleasing sign of your progress and your investment.  What’s even better is that it can bring joy to and improve the lives of those who will reside there.

Cons:

  1. It Can Get Complicated

Real estate has many moving parts.  There will be many jobs that need to be done, and multiple people needed for those jobs, from the buying process, through the renovating and maintaining process, all the way until you decide to sell the property.

You will need to be very organized if you want to stay on top of things.  Because you will depend on others (whether it’s a realtor-broker, a handyman or a home inspector) you will need to learn how to build stable working relationships with others.  You may find yourself having to confront someone on a delicate issue every now and then.  You will also find yourself in the humble position of needing to build trust and rapport with moneylenders who are also trustworthy.

  1. Relatively Big Time and Money Commitment

By now it’s probably clear that real estate is not for the half-hearted.  You will need money upfront (forget those sketchy “no money down” strategies), and for what you don’t have on hand you will need loans.  This means taking a risk and investing some of your time in order to come out ahead.

If you outsource other people to renovate or maintain your property you will accrue additional costs.  If you decide to take on some of the work yourself, you will accrue additional time.  These time and money sacrifices are temporary as your investment becomes profitable, but in the meantime it will take a definite amount of discipline and strategizing.  

Conclusion:

I’ve done my best to be fair about the pros and cons of each of these types of investing and hopefully it’s helped you get a clearer perspective.

If you have the money and the time, it’s my personal, experience-based opinion that real estate investing is the way to go.  You may have to put in a bit more time and money upfront, but it will generally pay off faster and bigger if you keep a good head on your shoulders and know what you’re doing.

But real estate investing is a lot of work and it certainly doesn’t fit everyone’s lifestyle.  The stock market is still a great opportunity to make your money go further, and for some people, it’s the more logical choice.

The Mindset Of A Real Estate Investor

Photo by Raul Varzar on Unsplash

When you’re first learning about real estate investing, it’s easy to Google certain specific questions like “do I need a realtor-broker?” to get a direct answer. 

But what about the more psychological and yet (in my opinion) important question of, what kind of a person do I need to be to succeed at real estate investing?  

Can I really do it – can anyone do it?

Of course, this question could easily spawn a whole book.  But I don’t believe that aspiring real estate investors need to sweat this too much, nor should they have to wade through a ton of complicated philosophizing.

Based on my own personal experience and observations, I’ve distilled the answer to this question down into 6 basic points that I’ll cover in this blog post.  Here’s the shortlist upfront (note it’s nothing too surprising or controversial):

1. Patience

2. A Sense of Humor

3. Social skills

4. Self-Discipline

5. Introspection

6. An interest in lifelong learning 

1. Patience

“I thought I was a patient person until…”  is a phrase you’ve probably heard from one friend or another over the years.  “I thought I was a patient person until I got married.”  “I thought I was a patient person until I had kids.”

Well, let me add to those sentiments:  I thought I was a patient person until I started investing in real estate.

Now, nobody has perfect patience, including you and me, and that’s 100% okay.  We all improve over time since experience is the best teacher.  

Here’s what I mean by “patience” when it comes to real estate investing:

Things don’t happen quickly in the real estate world.  Properties take time to finance and purchase, they take time to renovate and maintain, and they take time to sell.  Many people and factors are involved; not everything is under your control.   You can’t predict what the home inspector or the plumber, or the new tenant, or the real estate agent are going to tell you or how they’re going to behave.  More often than not, an unexpected mystery leak or other issue will rear its head, throwing your perfect plans off course.

So the real question is: can you take all of this in stride and have realistic expectations?

In fact, I would add to the virtue of patience the virtue of resilience.  Are you good with handling multiple variables, uncertain time frames and people who are sometimes not dependable?  Can you take things in stride?  If so, you’re well on your way to being cut out for real estate investing.

2. A Sense of Humor

A sense of humor goes along with patience and resilience – I see it as another aspect of a broader mentality.

It’s so much easier to get through life – and real estate investing – when you’re able to look back and laugh at the dumb mistakes you’ve made.  It’s an even bigger bonus when you’re able to laugh, or at least have a lighthearted perspective, in the moment that the difficulty is occurring.

Having a sense of humor doesn’t mean being flippant.  You can be serious and responsible about your investment while at the same time not wasting your emotions on things that don’t matter (like the fact that the tenant you’re about to evict hates your guts, even though you gave her a second chance and she blew it).  

A sense of humor helps you detach and at the same time, see people from a kinder perspective.  “Maybe she was just having a bad day, and I had comically bad timing when I came to talk to her” – it’s this kind of perspective that can turn a bad day into an opportunity to reflect and deflect.

3. Social Skills

“But I’m not a people person!”

I’m not saying you have to love everyone you meet on this crazy planet we call Earth, but it sure helps when you are open to meeting and interacting with people on a regular basis, and have the basic skills to understand and communicate with those people effectively.

When I was sixteen years old I worked in an ice cream parlor.  As anyone who’s ever worked in customer service knows, there are all kinds of people who come through that door and some of them aren’t easy to deal with.  

For me, it was a priceless learning experience.  I soon understood that there were all types of people out there, some very pleasant while others were grumpy no matter how perfectly I scooped their ice cream for them.  I learned to observe and understand human nature and take things in stride, and I was able to apply that knowledge later on in real estate.

Think of all the people who are involved in the transaction of a property: the buyer, the seller, the real estate agents, the home inspector, bankers…

And that’s nothing compared to how many people you’ll meet when you are a full-fledged rental business: tenants obviously have a higher turnover rate than owners, so you’ll be meeting all kinds of new and interesting folks.  And don’t forget you’ll need to establish relationships with subcontractors, accountants and attorneys as well.

Your goal is not to be best friends with everyone you meet, nor to be the most charming person imaginable.  What you need are basic active listening skills, the ability to understand where the other person is coming from, and the ability to be pleasant and in control of your attitude.

Would you want to do business with a grump, or someone who is socially awkward?  Now is the time to reevaluate your own persona and make sure you are someone who is approachable and generally nice to be around.  It will take you far.

4. Self-Discipline

At first, this one might seem obvious: “of course real estate takes time and sacrifice, why would I get into it if I didn’t know that!”

I’ll tell you why: because people tend not to think in concrete terms about just what they will need to sacrifice to be successful, especially in the long run; and real estate is a long game.

Time is a precious commodity and each minute that passes is gone for good.  Think for a moment about what the minutes in your day add up to: do they add up to you honing and improving a skill, or do they add up to your Netflix “watched” list expanding?

Investing in real estate requires a lot, especially up front.  You will need to go the extra mile with doing your research and gaining vital skills to pave a solid foundation for years to come.

In my early investing years, I watched very little TV and spent most of my “free time” doing maintenance on my properties.  It wasn’t a cycle I or anyone could sustain forever.  But I eventually reached the point where my business became profitable and today I have both time and money to do whatever I want, within reason.

In other words: those few years of hard work and no TV allowed me to be in the position I am today.

So think about that the next time you find yourself unwinding with your phone or favorite show: is this something you’re willing to give up or cut back on for a few years of hard work? Would you rather have more free time and less money now, or work like heck so you can have more money and free time later? It’s a choice you need to consciously think about.

You definitely can and should still have some downtime for yourself.  But the important question is, are you ready to give up certain comforts in your lifestyle now to be successful at the long game of real estate investing?

There is always going to be a sacrifice involved.  You can sacrifice time and energy now for money and more free time later, or sacrifice future benefits by being more comfortable now.

There’s nothing wrong with the latter approach.  Some people prefer to have an easier lifestyle now, even if it means less flexibility and success in the future.  The real question is, which type of person are you?  You can’t choose whether you will sacrifice something, but you can choose what it is that you will sacrifice.

5. Intentional Living

Do you feel comfortable taking a moment alone with yourself to reflect on how you did this week, last week, or this past year?  

Intentional living means you are comfortable reflecting and reevaluating your choices on a weekly basis.  It also means you have goals for the future and are actively working towards those goals, and are flexible enough to change what you are doing in order to get there.

Some people keep their days so busy and full that they have almost no time to reflect or plan long-term.  Some people definitely aren’t as comfortable thinking about their choices, successes and failures; they prefer to live “in the moment” all the time.

It’s great to stay grounded in the present.  But if you aren’t comfortable reevaluating your choices and your priorities and taking responsibility for them, then real estate investing may not be the best route for you.  

Real estate is not for the faint of heart; you are bound to make mistakes and have setbacks.  A sense of humility and a willingness to learn about what you did — and about yourself — is crucial to finding success in the long term.  Being successful at real estate also means thinking in terms of years or even decades, not weeks or months.

Time goes by whether you like it or not.  But one thing you are able to control is making sure you plan and schedule your time now so that you will end up where you want to be.  It’s not a “set it and forget it” process either; you are constantly learning, adapting and growing.  

6. An Interest in Lifelong Learning

The best in any field enjoy what they do.  This drives them to learn more and become even better.  It’s a positive cycle.

The great news is that there are more amazing, high-quality resources available now than ever before, and many of them are free.  The Internet is full of blogs, courses, webinars and other content pulled from the rich experience of people who have gone before you.  A simple Google search will yield more information than you could ever hope to get through.

There are also excellent books written by established experts you can buy or download or borrow.  If you don’t have time to read a few minutes before bed every night, you can listen to an audiobook while driving in the car.  

Finally, perhaps the best and most meaningful way to learn and progress in the real estate world is to find a trusted mentor.  This may be a friend you know who’s been doing real estate for a while, a speaker at a real estate seminar, someone you discover word-of-mouth or even someone you meet online.  Whatever the case, look for someone who has proven experience but also wisdom and a sense of humility (and ideally, a sense of humor).  It will truly enrich your real estate journey.

Conclusion:

These six qualities are not the only things that count when it comes to finding success in the world of real estate investing. But they are an important start to knowing if real estate is the right path for you to begin with.  

You don’t need to be perfect or even great at all of these qualities (I wasn’t in the beginning and I’m still learning now).  What matters is that you see the value in these mindsets and take the initiative in implementing them in your own life.  If you do, I can tell you from personal experience that it will benefit you not only in your real estate career but in every aspect of your life.