Real Estate Investing For Beginners: Getting Started

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Real estate investing for beginners

A lot of modern investing is relatively hands-off. You buy a share of a stock or an index fund, then just hold it and let it grow for years or even decades. And while this is certainly a smart and simple way to invest, it’s not the only way to start investing; there's also real estate investing for beginners.

For would-be investors who are attracted to a more tangible and hands-on method of investing, real estate is a popular option. Granted, it’s not the easiest method and there can be a steep learning curve as you begin.

But the payoffs are potentially quite lucrative, and if “becoming a real estate mogul” is on your bucket list, you have to start somewhere!

Let’s go over some of the key things to know as you consider real estate investing for beginners.

Why invest in real estate?

Historically real estate has been one of the most dependable ways to become wealthy. And many of today's millionaires say it's still a smart investment, for a variety of reasons.

There are many types of real estate investments, from residential and commercial real estate to the real estate stock market.

Here are the best reasons you may want to add a real estate category to your investment portfolio.

It helps you diversify your investment strategy

For one thing, investing in the real estate market gives you a way to diversify your investments. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket" is tried-and-true advice for a reason.

There are a lot of moving parts to the economy, and there's always the chance that one can crash while the others thrive. Having exposure to several different markets helps insulate you from risk.

Your tangible assets will appreciate

Secondly, beginner real estate investing gives you ownership of a tangible asset that can appreciate.

While I enjoy logging into my portfolio and seeing my stock values increase, it's all very abstract. There's something appealing about having a physical investment that you can actually see, visit, and improve.

Real estate holds value

Since people will always need a place to live, real estate tends to hold its value as long as the property is maintained well and the area is appealing. Which makes getting started in real estate investing a smart choice.

It's a flexible option for new investors

There's also a decent amount of flexibility when you own real estate. You can decide whether to rent out your property, sell it, subdivide it, rezone it for a different purpose, and so on. That way, you can respond to changes in the economy in a way that still makes your investment useful.

All of that said, there's also a big note of caution here. Real estate can be a large and expensive undertaking, and as the housing market crash of 2008 illustrated, it's never a sure thing.

Especially when it comes to real estate investing for beginners, it's wise to proceed with caution. You don't want to stretch your finances too far before you're ready and end up with debt that you struggle to repay.

Different ways to invest in real estate for beginners

There isn't just one way to invest in real estate, so don't worry—you don't have to commit to buying a whole apartment complex right away! Here are six of the main methods of real estate investing for beginners.

Real estate investing for beginners

Owning rental property

We'll start with the traditional method: buying a property and renting it out to tenants. You can buy anything from single-family homes to apartment buildings to business properties or warehouses.

Then, you can rent it to tenants and make rental income. If you'd like a hands-on experience, you can be the landlady yourself.

If your goal is to generate passive income and the job of landlord doesn't appeal to you, then you can hire a property management firm to take care of the day-to-day logistics on your behalf. It will cut into your profits, but also save you time and stress.

Many people also like to "house hack," where they purchase a house, duplex, or other types of multifamily units, live in one part, and rent out other parts of the property.

It can help you pay your mortgage early or even cover your expenses entirely so you're essentially living there for free.

How you make money owning rental property

  • Charging your tenants more in rent than you're paying in expenses
  • Asset appreciation (selling for more than you paid when the property has increased in value)

Pros of owning rental property

  • Building equity in a long-term asset that can gain value over time
  • Generating reliable cash flow since your tenants will usually pay monthly
  • Having the flexibility to sell or use the property for something else if you decide

Cons of owning rental property

  • Assuming risk—the property may not rent quickly, there may be damages, or the property may lose value
  • Handling logistics of tenant management
  • You're responsible for expenses like repairs, insurance, property taxes
  • Can be a long and costly process to sell

Buying REITs

REITs are undoubtedly the easiest form of real estate investing for beginners, making them an attractive option for beginner investors. REIT stands for "real estate investment trust".

These are companies that usually own and sometimes operate a variety of real estate properties such as hospitals, warehouses, shopping centers, residential buildings, and more.

Many REITs are publicly traded on stock exchanges, which is how they become available to individual investors like you.

You can choose from several different types of REITs and buy shares of any you choose. Single shares tend to cost below $100 (I've even seen some below $5), making them very accessible.

So if making mortgage payments and being a landlord isn't your thing but you still think that real estate is a smart idea, REITs could be for you.

How you make money with REITs

  • Being paid dividends on shares you own, usually quarterly, from the income generated by the REIT's holdings
  • Selling your shares at a higher price than you paid

Pros of REITs

  • Ease of access—you can buy shares of a REIT on just about any investment platform
  • Historically good performance with high returns
  • Diversification—REITs typically own a lot of different properties, and your investment gets you a fractional share of the income from all of them
  • No work and low risk since you're not personally responsible for a property's success or failure
  • Money is easily accessible to cash out. Just like with regular stocks, you can sell your shares as long as there are buyers

Cons of REITs

  • Not hands-on, so it might not feel like truly being involved in real estate
  • The experience isn't different than investing in stocks
  • You don't have a say in a REIT's specific holdings
  • No investment is totally risk-free

Flipping houses

The idea of flipping houses offers a totally different take on property ownership and real estate investing for beginners.

Instead of a long-term endeavor managing renters and adding properties to your portfolio, it's meant to be a temporary one. Flipping houses can be a fun way to get into real estate for beginners if you do your due diligence.

Flippers buy houses or properties that need renovations, spend time fixing them up to improve their value, then turn around and put them on the market at a higher price. An ideal "flip" is a relatively short-term situation since the intention is to quickly sell and move on to the next.

However, due to volatility in the real estate market, it could take a while depending on if there are buyers for the property.

How you make money flipping houses

  • There's just one way in this case: selling the house at a profit

Pros of flipping houses

  • Extremely hands-on, a pro for those who enjoy that aspect and want to rehab or improve a house
  • High-profit potential—the average gross profit is about $65,000, although that doesn't factor in expenses, which can vary wildly
  • Good for those who already have relevant experience or connections in construction, painting, plumbing, realty, etc.
  • Can be a shorter-term commitment of a year or less (but this isn't a guarantee)

Cons of flipping houses

  • Lots of financial risks—the property might be more expensive to fix than anticipated and turn into a money pit for you
  • If it's not a seller's market, it could take more time to sell than you'd like and cost you even more in taxes and utilities
  • Requires lots of work and time to renovate the house and prepare it for sale
  • Money is illiquid until sold
  • Not a good idea if you don't have a lot of relevant skills or connections to guarantee that work will be done quickly, affordably, and well

Real estate crowdfunding

This one is a unique and fairly new method of real estate investing. Through real estate crowdfunding platforms like Fundrise and RealtyMogul, you can invest in specific real estate projects whose buyers are seeking loans. The platforms vet the buyers and projects to make sure they're legit before presenting them to members.

There are two basic types of real estate crowdfunding: debt or equity investments. It sounds strange to invest in debt, but it basically means that you're investing in a mortgage loan on a property, and receiving a set share of the interest as the loan is paid back.

Equity investing means you're investing directly in a property and receiving a share of ownership, in which case you'll usually receive a part of whatever income or profits the property generates.

Investing in a crowdfunded project is a level up from REITs for several reasons. First, most existing platforms require minimum investments of $1000-$5000.

Second, you'll be investing in single projects that you choose (rather than a diversified collection), which makes an individual property's success or failure a little more high-stakes.

How you make money with real estate crowdfunding

  • Regular interest or income dividends from your share of the property, usually paid quarterly
  • Redeeming shares (essentially "cashing out") when allowed after a certain amount of time
  • A portion of the profits when the property is sold if you've kept your share

Pros of crowdfunding

  • Gives you the ability to participate in big real estate projects with just a few thousand dollars
  • You get to evaluate the details of each project and choose exactly what you invest in
  • It can be very educational to familiarize yourself with loan and real estate terminology so you can understand each deal's prospectus. That knowledge can benefit you in future ventures.

Cons of crowdfunding

  • It's a new and still relatively untested space, without decades of statistics to look at
  • Risky because your investment's success or failure is attached to a single property
  • Can be a 5+ year commitment; you can't always cash out when you'd like

Real estate syndication

Real estate syndication is another way to start real estate investing for beginners. It's where investors put their money together to buy or build real estate. With real estate syndicates, there is greater buying power than investing as an individual.

They start out with a sponsor who originates the transaction. The sponsor makes money from rental management fees, monthly cash flow from rent, and capital appreciation. Sponsors solicit investors who make money from the monthly cash flow from rent and real estate appreciation.

Real estate syndication differs from real estate crowdfunding in that they focus on large-scale investments. Syndication also requires a formal investment agreement and cooperation between parties.

How you make money with real estate syndication

  • Appreciation of the real estate and rental income

Pros of real estate syndication

  • It's an easy way to get involved in real estate and earn money
  • You don't have to manage the property

Cons of real estate syndication

  • You don't have much control over your investment
  • You are required to keep your money in the investment for a set amount of time
  • You generally need to invest a large amount of money

Real estate investment groups (REIG)

Another great way to get into real estate investing for beginners is with real estate investment groups (REIGs). It's a way to combine your money with other private investors' money and then invest in many types of real estate.

However, you need to be sure about the group before investing because the group may make investment decisions in some cases.

If you want to join a real estate investment group, try networking sites or social media to find people you'd like to work with.

How you make money with real estate investment groups

  • Make money through mortgage lending
  • Earn money on your investment from the real estate, including rental income

Pros of real estate investment groups

  • You may be able to choose a REIG that allows you to be involved with the investing process, or not, depending on what you're looking for
  • Relatively easy to earn money from your investment

Cons of real estate investment groups

  • There is no guarantee of success so be careful who you do business with
  • Typically requires a somewhat large amount of money to join
  • May have fees

So, those are your six basic options. If you're interested in REITs, REIGs, real estate syndication, or crowdfunding, you can do it from the comfort of your home. For ownership or flipping, you'll need to hit the pavement and start hunting for deals!

Buying your first investment property - what to know about beginner real estate investing

If you're going with a traditional method of real estate investing that involves buying a property of your own, the next step is learning how to vet properties.

Of course, this involves a ton of location-specific factors and enough information to fill a book. That is why the next section has some real estate investing for beginners information using real estate investing books for you to check out! As a jumping-off point, here are some quick tips for buying your first property.

Evaluate your finances

Before anything else, brutally evaluate your current financial situation to decide if you're ready.

Ideally, you should have little to no debt and a lot of liquid savings to use for a down payment. You also need a good credit score to qualify for good loan rates (aka real estate leverage), and the time to dedicate to the work involved.

Do extensive research

Thoroughly research the areas and market trends in the locations you're scouting. Are houses selling well or going stagnant on the market? Is it an area that people would want to live in?

Start small

Start by looking for a smaller, safer investment to get your feet wet; don't jump into an expensive property or a major fixer-upper right away.

Part of real estate for beginners is being sure that you have the knowledge and experience needed for the task, so start small.

Get advice from someone who's qualified to help

Have someone experienced to examine the property with you to assess it for damage. They may notice things you didn't and help you to ask the right questions as you're getting started in real estate investing.

Decide on managing on your own or outsourcing

If the goal is renting, decide whether you want to manage the property yourself or outsource it. There are pros and cons to both. Outsourcing saves you time but costs money while managing on your own can be a hassle, but you keep more of the income.

Think practically for flipping houses

If the goal is flipping, take inventory of your own skills that could be useful, and who you know that might be able to help for a quick turnaround.

It's not a smart idea to start your beginner real estate investment journey by flipping a house if you have no experience with it and don't know anyone who does. It is helpful if you know real estate agents, plumbers, electricians, contractors, etc.

Know the final cost of the property

Evaluate all associated costs before buying, not just the purchase price. Which means closing costs, property taxes, insurance, utilities, repair or renovation estimates, and more. It's okay to ask contractors for quotes before you've committed to a purchase.

Ultimately, the goal is to go in with your eyes wide open, especially when getting started in real estate investing.

Real estate investing for beginners books

For more, let's turn to the experts! These real estate investing for beginners books take a much deeper dive into many of the topics we've been discussing.

The Millionaire Real Estate Investor by Gary Keller

Who better to learn real estate investing from than people who have become millionaires with it?

The Millionaire Real Estate Investor collects wisdom gleaned from interviews with 120 millionaire real estate investors.

It breaks down their strategies for success, debunks common money myths, and gives actionable advice for beginner real estate investors and beyond.

The Book on Rental Property Investing by Brandon Turner

The Book on Rental Property Investing focuses on how to build wealth and passive income with rental properties.

It covers tips for finding good property deals, financing options, mistakes to avoid, and step-by-step strategies to follow for success in real estate.

The Flipping Blueprint by Luke Weber

For the future flippers out there, The Flipping Blueprint book is a guide to the good, the bad, and the ugly (and how to make it through them all). Learn where to find deals, lenders, and contractors, and how to talk to them.

Get practical tips for maximizing profits. The step-by-step blueprint format makes this one of the best real estate books for beginners.

What Every Real Estate Investor Needs To Know About Cash Flow by Frank Gallinelli

What Every Real Estate Investor Needs To Know About Cash Flow is all about crunching numbers. You'll learn how to value a property using a wide variety of metrics, so you can make confident, data-driven decisions.

Not sure what a "profitability index" or "capitalization rate" is? Time to find out using one of the best real estate books for beginners!

The Book on Tax Strategies for the Savvy Real Estate Investor by Amanda Han and Matt MacFarland

While this might sound like an intimidating read, it's better to learn this stuff early than find yourself scrambling in April.

The Book on Tax Strategies for the Savvy Real Estate Investor teaches you how to use the tax code to your advantage while staying on the right side of the IRS. You'll be able to start smart, grow quickly, and potentially save thousands of dollars.

Real estate investing for beginners is totally possible!

Learning real estate investing for beginners is just the beginning of a long and complex journey. But if you're committed, determined, and willing to keep learning, it can be a rewarding and life-changing decision.

It's important to read books, listen to podcasts (such as BiggerPockets The Real Estate Podcast), and gain as much information as you can.

Beginner real estate investing is one way to start making your money work for you. But there are also other options to consider, such as index funds and dividend investing.

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