Eugene is the Founder of The Litvak Team @ Compass — one of the top producing and largest teams at Compass.
I’m incredibly proud that my team handles all areas of real estate. We do sales, rentals, new developments and commercial properties. And while you’re not supposed to have a favorite child, my favorite part of my job is helping people build wealth through real estate investing. There are few things you can do with your money that are more tangibly transformative than real estate investing. And you don’t have to be a broker or the mustache-twisting Monopoly landlord Rich Uncle Pennybags to get involved in real estate. More often than not, the key to building wealth through real estate is simply to think beyond the status quo.
Here are a few ways to rethink real estate investing:
Think beyond your comfort zone.
I’ll tell you a big real estate secret: Half the reason buying, selling and investing seems so complicated is the jargon. The industry loves acronyms! ARM, LTV, REIT, PMI, ROI, NOI and so on. Sure, financial analysis can seem overwhelming if numbers aren’t your strong suit. But if you think beyond your comfort zone and educate yourself, you’ll find the entire business much less daunting. Look for discussion groups and websites devoted to real estate investing. Maybe even sign up to earn your real estate license, even if you plan to work with a professional when the time comes to buy or sell. Putting your fears aside and getting smart about the business is the best foundation you can build for real estate success.
Think beyond a primary residence.
Many people have a vision of real estate ownership that begins with a primary residence, and then maybe, if things go well, a vacation home, and after that, perhaps an investment property. There’s no reason you can’t own an investment property before a primary home. In fact, depending on where you live or how long you plan to stay, it might make perfect sense to rent your home and invest in a non-primary property. There are also ways to invest in real estate without holding an actual property, such as real estate investment trusts and syndicates. The point is, you don’t have to be a homeowner before you become a real estate investor.
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Think beyond 20% down and 30-year fixed.
One of the biggest myths in real estate is that you need to save a 20% down payment before purchasing a property. Some of the savviest investors I know have never paid 20% down in their lives. From FHA loans to 80-10-10 loans with a home equity line of credit (HELOC), there are options that will let you buy without putting 20% down.
Another industry standard that you should look beyond is the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. As of 2018, the average American homeowner stayed in their house for 13 years, which means an adjustable-rate loan or an interest-only loan might make better sense for your needs. It’s critical to find a savvy mortgage lender who will educate you on all of the possibilities and work hard to find you the loan and terms that meet your needs.
Think beyond your hometown.
Your investment property need not be located near where you live. In fact, if you’re taking advantage of the best opportunities in emerging markets, it probably won’t be. So how do you think beyond borders and find the right place for your investment? One of my favorite scenes in the movie A Few Good Men ends with Tom Cruise asking Noah Wyle how he knows where the mess hall is if it isn’t in the military standard operating procedures manual. Wyle’s character responds, “I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time.” That’s often my advice to my investors: Follow the developers. Follow the path of progress. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You don’t even have to get there first; just get there as fast as possible to not miss the window of opportunity.
What does that mean? Well, it can mean investing in towns that are about to welcome new commuter rail lines. Or it can mean watching distressed cities like Baltimore and Detroit. For me, it meant acting fast to buy in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, after the financial crisis. It was a time and location that gave many folks pause, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
In the end, you have to be willing to learn and push your boundaries to put the wealth-creating power of real estate to work for you.