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.
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