Real Estate Investing: My Golden Ticket to Early Financial Freedom

Santa Clara Home

I like to give credit where credit is due — In my own case, early financial freedom at age 31 would not have been possible for me had I not decided to invest in real estate back in 2012. I am absolutely certain of that, which is why I’m fine with making such a declarative statement.

Yes, it’s true that there are many paths to early FI, and through the many blogs online, you’ll find folks who did it via: index funds, dividend stocks, self-employment/business, etc.

But I must say, in my everyday life, at least 90% of the people that I’ve met who retired before age 35, did it through real estate.

What is it about real estate that makes it so darn lucrative?


Well, for starters, it’s the whole concept of leverage. As I’ve written before, leverage is a double-edged sword that cuts sharply in both directions, but for the risk-takers out there, if utilized correctly, it can shortcut your path to financial freedom by at least a decade… possibly more. Leverage is especially potent when used at the bottom of brutal bear markets. As I always like to emphasize, fortunes are made when investors are willing and able to back up the truck during the Depths of Despair.

Now, these wonderful buying opportunities don’t come around everyday, so when they do, you MUST have the conviction to load up aggressively! Otherwise, believe me, someone else will! And I’ll probably be in line myself…

Of course, this is way easier said than done… No one will ever ring the bell for you at rock bottom… which is why it’s important for all financial freedom fighters to ALWAYS pay close attention to market conditions and asset valuations.


Here’s a hint for you — Most homes out there are NOT cheap right now!


But like everything else is this world — Night follows day, summer break eventually ends, and the bear will come out of hibernation again…


When you hear the bear roar, you had better move decisively…


If you blink, you will miss it!


But if you’re fortunate enough to buy when there is blood in the streets, you’ll be able to ride that gravy train all the way back up to better days… And from my own experience, the greater the fall, the more explosive the move back up will be, no doubt!

Here’s an example of what a Santa Clara townhouse is selling for in today’s market, as of March 2016:

From Redfin:

Redfin SC


Current listing is $899,000.


Sold in 2011 for $610,000.


That’s $289,000 in appreciation… in just 5 years. An impressive 47% return on investment, unleveraged.


Let’s assume a typical, leveraged downpayment of 20%. That comes out to be $122,000. Debt service of $488,000. Neglecting all principal paydown over 5 years, that still produces a staggering return of 236%!


Now do you see the awesome power of leverage?!? Imagine if you owned MORE than 1 of these units!


In my own case, I first purchased Rental Property #2 in 2013 for $290,000. It is now worth $550,000. My initial leveraged downpayment was 20%, or $58,000. Had I not performed a cash out refi in 2015, today’s leveraged return would be 348% (again ignoring all principal paydown).



With leverage, you don’t need to walk every step of your way through the journey of a thousand miles… No! You walk 20% and then take the bullet train the rest of the way. 🙂


A single right move at the right time can change your life FOREVER!!!


Yes, I know that I’m focusing on appreciation here, but that’s only because it’s related to my own personal story…


If you live in more of a cash flow market, well, the gains are different, sort of, but not really… Instead of massive appreciation, what you’ll experience, instead, is massive cash flow… which is all really one and the same thing… The person who realizes the appreciation is going to have to convert those gains to cash flow, at some point if they want to maximize early FI… So, never discriminate! It’s foolish to fall into the trap of declaring yourself either an appreciation investor or cash flow investor.

Don’t be an idiot; take whatever the markets give you!

Appreciation is awesome… Cash flow is equally as awesome.

Anyway, back to cash flow… We’re talking about 20%+ Cash-on-Cash (CoC) returns in a down market. For a typical single family home (SFH), below $100,000, you should be able to score the following:




The cash flow deal highlighted above was a dime-a-dozen (nothing special at all), back in 2010-2013 timeframe. You could have picked something up like this all day long (or even better), in a really good neighborhood… I’m talking about at least Class B or possibly even Class A (although more challenging to find, no doubt). At $15,000/pop, ten of these babies would have set you back $150,000, to secure over $2,600/month, which exceeds my own current monthly cash flow!


Seriously, who needs a 401k, or traditional retirement account when you’ve got that?


Early FI, mission accomplished!


In either scenario, whether you were out hunting for appreciation, or cash flow, these opportunities did in fact exist… and someday, investors will probably get another crack at similar types of deals, if not better ones. Like every other asset class out there, real estate is cyclical.


Further, real estate investing is really easy to do, if you know what you are looking for in advance!


The trick is to not settle for less… It’s a game of patience (which is why so many investors fail), but believe me it’s worth the wait!


I can’t overstate the potency of leveraged real estate at the right time in the cycle… The gains an investor will make will be life-changing. There’s a reason I’m holding onto $500,000 in liquid funds right now… You’re damn right I want to take another swing at it!


Again, leverage is risky business, which is why my philosophy with real estate investing is quite simple — Unless there are an abundance of: REOs, foreclosures, short-sales, etc., I am NOT interested in buying.




Trust me, investors who get too greedy at the top of the market and leverage themselves up to the hilt will get decimated.


And yes, there will be those investors sitting patiently on the sidelines, ready, willing, and able to pick up the pieces when that happens…



The first time around, I got lucky. The next time around, it will be because of skill.


But without a shadow of a doubt, I owe my early retirement to real estate. Without it, none of this would have ever been possible.


Fight On!

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4 years ago

Have wanted to get into real estate investing but the Vancouver housing price is extremely high. One option is to invest somewhere geographically but that perhaps means spending more time to deal with the investment as you can’t “see” it. What’s your thought on investing in an area that the price is extremely high?

4 years ago
Reply to  FI Fighter

I thought Seattle might be a good option since it’s relatively close to Vancouver BC. But Seattle seems quite overheated too. It’s pretty crazy here in Vancouver, our property value assessment jumped by about 20% this year. 😐

Brian - Rental Mindset

This is the one area of personal finance that just isn’t talked about. I love your quote about the 90% of people that retired early. I would guess most people with $3M+ as well.

I wish I had some money back then to invest in these expensive properties. I’m going low cost homes in the south for $20k down. One at a time and I’ll get there!

Also those cheap areas don’t crash nearly as bad, plus recover quicker. So I’m not as worried about buying constantly. You can win in boring markets without timing in my view.

4 years ago

FI Fighter, the last RE downturn was in the 80s prior to the 2007-2008 crisis. Even when the tech bubble crashed bay area housing did not dip a lot.
So with that said; how long would you anticipate waiting for the crash again?

4 years ago

I live in Bay Area as well and bought a town home in the summer of 2014 as my primary residence. The house has appreciated ok and with prices of homes being absolutely ludicrous here, what are your thoughts on a cash out refi to hold the cash and wait for the right time to deploy? Thanks!

Midwestern Landlord
Midwestern Landlord
4 years ago

You can still win in real estate “cash flow” markets today because prices in these areas have not moved up much since the last downturn. It is a lot better though to actually live in these markets and manage the properties yourself.

Keep in mind what $500 / Mo in cash flow actually represents. It represents $150,000 in capital based upon the 4% rule. $2,000 / Mo represents $600,000.
That does not include principal reductions or tax advantages. Appreciation will probably be minimal, but it should still keep up with inflation.

4 years ago

I definitely agree with you on real estate being hard to find deals on. I live in Chicago and just close on my first duplex as house hacking. I got a good deal through FSBO by negotiating (just give myself $60k initial equity minus down payment). I definitely see its so much harder to find any good MF anymore. Do you think gold miner companies right now is the “old RE downturn” ? If yes, what would you recommend amount of NW be in gold miners (10,20 or 30%)? Is it too late to invest now? Do you also think… Read more »

4 years ago

Real estate is the most potent vehicle for achieving financial independence. I think its funny when people say that the real estate market is good or bad right now as if its all one thing. The state of real estate is far different in Muncie, Indiana than it is in San Francisco, Ca. Real estate is local and every submarket is its own conditions. One thing to remember is no matter what macro trends are happening there are always opportunities available if you look for them.

No Nonsense Landlord
4 years ago

Appreciation, and cash flow, and big wins in real estate. I am looking forward to no longer working in the cube farm. Only 113 days to independence day, 7/5/16.

My income is a bit higher than yours, but you should have more years to enjoy your freedom.

Mrs. SimplyFinanciallyFree

Real estate has certainly made a huge difference in our financial plan and I definitely saw this when I recently reran our FI numbers. In January after saving money for a few years we purchased a duplex. Prior to this purchase my estimates showed we had approx 7 years to our goal but now with this purchase and with the income we should be generating it is more like 4 years. Obviously like anything else this is not guaranteed but it will certainly helps to give us an alt income stream to save now and then to cover our expenses… Read more »

Eric Bowlin
4 years ago

Great article. I can say definitively that real estate is the reason I reached FI by age 30. I have a very similar story…as I started in 2011-2012 time-frame as well.

Keep it up!

3 years ago

Really inspiring blog! Question for you – if you have left your job, how easy is it to get a mortgage in the future if and when you want to buy another place?