ITF 18 | Financial Independence

 

Today’s show is the debut of the new co-host and Financial Independence guru, Zeona McIntyre, who started small but ended up big in the real estate industry. She got her inspiration from the FI Team shows that guided her throughout her journey.

Zeona is a real estate investment mentor who builds her way through the industry by turning Airbnb listings into a cash flow generator. 

Join Zeona as she shares about herself, her experiences in doing business, and how she finally got her financial independence. Listen and enjoy the show!

Listen to the podcast here


 

An Airbnb OG Who Achieved Financial Independence By 30 With Zeona McIntyre

We have a special guest, Zeona McIntyre. She is the new cohost. She’s also on the show. What’s going on, Z?

Thanks for finally interviewing me. I’m excited.

I am excited to hear what great questions you have to ask yourself.

I’m good at that.

This is a good episode. Z is an OG FI person. She found out about FI back in 2012. Mr. Money Mustache started in 2011 and he’s the real OG. To give you a frame of reference, she was doing Airbnbs before anyone heard of Airbnb, 2011, 2012. She made a pretty good living for herself for those 4 or 5 years before they started. When they started hammering down regulations, maybe it gets a little bit harder. This was an amazing episode. It was great to learn more about you and your background and how you got to where you are. The readers are in for a real treat.

Thanks. I’m excited to share.

Without further ado, let’s bring on Zeona.

Welcome to the show, Zeona McIntyre. How are you doing?

I’m good.

As many of the readers may know, you are the new cohost of the show. As I said in the original episode, nothing against Nick at all. He was great. We realized that he was similar to me and we wanted to bring in a different perspective. Zeona, being a little bit more in the Airbnb space and being female, brings in a different mind and how you think. This is the Y chromosome that guys have. We wanted to give you guys an episode on who Zeona is, what her life is like, how she got into the whole financial independence space, and all that. Z, why don’t you start us out with how you heard about financial independence and how you got started?

I heard about financial independence from Mr. Money Mustache. He was a friend of both of ours. He’s a blogger out here in Longmont, Colorado. He started writing in about 2011 and I found him right away. Before then, I was into Suze Orman, watching her show, and trying to get an idea of how to be good about money because my parents sucked at it.

The first time I ever heard his approach, I was like, “You can retire young and you can retire at 30.” I was 26 or so and I thought, “That’s a cool goal. I’m going to take that one on. I have no idea how I’m going to do that. I’m in a ton of student loan debt. I don’t have a job.” I started reading his blog for a while and it definitely planted a lot of seeds and allowed me to believe something bigger than what I ever thought was possible. That was the first key.

Insert a little bit later, a friend of mine started doing Airbnb. At the time, I was in massage school and focused on that. Thinking I was going to have massage practice and it was going to be my side hustle. My friend said, “I’ve been trying out this Airbnb thing and it’s working well for me. You should probably try it. It’s great.” He was excited about it. For a long time, I was like, “Leave me alone. I’m doing my own thing. I have a plan.” After a year of my friend doing Airbnb, he said that he made $50,000 off of an apartment that he didn’t own in New York City that he was renting. That perked my ears up and got me started. I can break into all that for you.

Believe something is bigger than what you think is possible.  Click To Tweet

You were 26 when you first found out about financial independence and that was while you were doing the massage thing. Did you start cutting back on expenses right away? We all know Mr. Money Mustache is Mr. Frugal. Was that your first step and then you heard about that guy?

I was fortunate enough to be pretty broke already. If you’re in a college student state of mind, which is why I love younger people starting in FI, if you can start right away in high school or college, you’re already eating a lot of ramens so it’s not that hard for you to switch it over. I already thought, “I do have a car but can I bike a lot more?” Luckily, living in Boulder, it’s bike-friendly. I tried to cook at home more and adopt some of those key principles that people do with frugality. It took me a long way. That was great.

You got the savings portion down and now you hear about the guy that has some relatively passive income by doing the Airbnb arbitrage. You don’t need that down payment and all of that. Tell us what appeals you to that and how you got started doing that.

I was pretty lucky to already be in a decent position. I was renting a two-bedroom apartment. At the time, I decided, “I’m going to give this a try.” I had a roommate and she decided she was going to move out. I had this turning point where I could say, “I’ll go get another roommate or I can try this Airbnb thing out. If it doesn’t work, I’ll get a roommate.” No real lose-lose there. I had all the furniture already. She was already renting the room with my furniture in it. That was easy for me to start and try.

It was slow to get going. At the time, not a lot of people knew what Airbnb was. This was late 2012. I did start to see, “This can pay my whole rent. What else can I do with it?” I was at a point where I was renting her room all the time and then eventually starting to rent my room and go stay at other places to maximize what I could do.

You were living in the unit while you had a revolving door of roommates coming in and out through Airbnb?

Yes. I found out that I liked it. The moment someone gets annoying and you start getting their little habits that you don’t like, they’re out of there and you get a new person. Sometimes you have a break. You might have three days with no roommate and then you have the whole house, which is luxurious. It was always someone new was coming in, they were interesting, and I wanted to hear about their travels. I found it to be great.

I did something similar and I have the same results. That’s awesome. You almost house hacked your first apartment but you didn’t own the apartment. You rented it and it was covering your rent. You eliminated your rent expense by doing that and then what?

I wanted to expand but didn’t have the money for it. It was living for free. At the time, I had a little part-time job, making minimum wage. I quit the job and I was doing the BnB thing, which was great but it wasn’t enough to save a lot. I asked my dad for $4,000, which, at the time, seemed like a big commitment. My dad was not sure about it. He’s a business guy. He was excited to get into this venture. I went to garage sales and scrap together furniture and it covered the first month’s rent and deposit and I was off to the races. I went out and rented another two-bedroom apartment with a slightly better location.

This is in Boulder. It’s super cool. For those of you who may not understand this whole Airbnb arbitrage thing, we said the word a whole bunch but maybe explain it in layman’s terms.

People call it arbitrage. They also call it master leasing sometimes. Essentially, you’re the one responsible for the lease and then you’re subletting. You do it with the owner’s permission. Back then, I made sure subletting was okay in my lease. I was doing it on the side but I don’t recommend that. I recommend getting the buy-in.

ITF 18 | Financial Independence
Financial Independence: Airbnb is like real estate training on wheels because it teaches you how much turnover you can have without buying properties.

 

You always want to make sure the landlord knows what you’re doing. Otherwise, you’re going to get in a lot of trouble.

You’ll be scared all the time.

That’s no way to live. You got into the second one because your dad helps you out scraping $4,000, which is much more manageable than saving up maybe $20,000 or 30,000 for a traditional down payment. Did you get that up and running?

It was up and running but I made one big mistake. I didn’t realize this right away but I quickly found out that the owner of that unit owned the whole building. It was a nine-unit. One of the neighbors ratted me out because we all have the same landlord, which never happens. That was not good. There was a turning point there. I ran it for months and it was great and then they told me, “We don’t want you to do that. Can you leave or stop doing it?” I was lucky. I didn’t lose my deposit at all. I said, “Sorry, I didn’t know.” I then moved on to the next thing.

It was a turning point for me where I got my hand slapped and I was like, “I don’t know if I want to keep doing this.” I went to my dad and I said, “What do you think?” He’s like, “You need to go do it. Go get another place.” If he had said, “Don’t do that,” I might have been a different person in a different place. He was like, “What are you talking about? Get out there. It works. Do it again.” I’m grateful for that.

When you lose at the beginning or something doesn’t happen, you think it’s not going to work. At the end of the day, if you’ve done 100 and you’ve only lost one, you’ll say, “It’s one.” You can have 100 wins after that. You never know when that loss is going to come in. That’s cool that your dad recognized that and helped you recognize that. The first one worked out well. The second one was working well and then sucked because you got caught. What happened after your dad told you to keep going?

There were a series of having two. It was steady for me to have two to go between because then you always had a place to stay. Relying on my friends all the time got lame. I wanted to have, like, “If this one rents, I’ll leave and I’ll go to the other one.” I spent probably two years living out of a little rolling suitcase and toting around some groceries but it was worth it because I was living for free, building up savings, paying off debt, and living that life. I thought it was great. I had some bumps in the road. The next big thing that would make sense to talk about is the actual purchase. We can do the for-real deal.

Do all the research until the investment doesn't feel risky anymore. Click To Tweet

What was happening at that point is that I had moved on to this one-bedroom apartment. What I love about Airbnb is that I call it real estate training wheels because it taught me about what something can make and how much turnover and work there is without the investment of buying something. That place, I was paying $1,100 a month and that was with utilities as well. I was making between $1,700 and $4,000 a month depending on the seasonality of Airbnb. Also, living between there and another unit.

I had those ideas, “I know exactly what I’m making. I know the seasonality. I’ve been running this place for maybe a year and a half.” It was super easy when a place that was the same size and five minutes away opened up on the market. I ended up with a $900 mortgage and it was the same deal. I knew that I could make the same amount and that could cover it. It’s great to be able to go, “I can take these numbers and move it over to the other side.”

That was in Boulder as well?

Yes.

At that time, Airbnb wasn’t so regulated. Did you have to get around rules? What would happen there?

That was 2014. They didn’t put in any Airbnb regulations until 2018. It was Wild West. It was doing well. Each year was better and better. It was great. Luckily, I had an old landlord of mine who I knew was a real estate investor. It was not the first house hack but the one before that was my landlord. I went to him and said, “I’ve heard that you do loans, would you do one for me?” That was enough to get me my first loan into my place. I knew with my Airbnb income nobody would recognize that as money so I wouldn’t be able to get a loan with that. Creative financing, right off the bat.

Did you have to put any money down for that?

ITF 18 | Financial Independence
Financial Independence: Feeling retired is an interesting place to be at 28.

 

Twenty percent.

You had enough. How did you save up that 20%? Through living frugally and your arbitrage?

I also did get some money from my mother. She passed away and I had some life insurance money. It was interesting timing that I realized that I want to own because I was seeing that maybe I was missing something gaining that equity in a home too. I was getting the cashflow but I wasn’t getting the equity and I thought there was a bigger piece there.

Building long-term wealth versus something you get once and you don’t get to see it again. That’s great. That was your first purchase. Your mortgage was $900. How much were you making a month on that one on average?

On average, maybe $2,500 or something like that because it was between $1,700 and $4,000. The summer months were good.

That’s amazing, $2,500 a month on a $900 mortgage. Was that after cleaning and all that stuff or before that?

No, it’s before. Maybe cleaning was an extra $200. Back in those days, I was probably cleaning myself. There was this point with Mr. Money Mustache’s ideas that you bootstrap and you do everything yourself. I was only paying for cleaning when I was out of town.

When you’re doing your first few, that’s what you got to do. You are in every position in your business. As you start scaling, you’re growing bigger. It’s like The E-Myth. If you haven’t read that, you should read it. You replace yourself and the things you don’t like. I’m sure cleaning was one of the first to replace.

I am grateful for the cleaners but I do not like to do it.

This is working for you at this point. You’re $2,500 on $900. You’re surprised. You must feel you found a jackpot.

I was in a hard place at that time of my life. I got to the place where I felt financially independent. Some people call it Baby FI now. There was a place where I was like, “I don’t spend a lot of money and I can make $2,000 to $2,500 a month with minimal effort, maybe two hours of tinkering a week.” I felt retired and that was an interesting place to be at 28.

At 26, you learned about FI. At 28, through this Airbnb arbitrage, you hit Baby FI. Now I suspect you’re probably ready to take on a little bit more risk and maybe scale the business.

Figure the process out as you go. Click To Tweet

That was my first venture into out-of-state buying. That was September 2014 when I bought that condo and I knew that Boulder was too expensive. That condo at the time was like $162,000. Now it’s worth $300,000. I’m glad I did it but it didn’t feel like I could do that again and again. I had a friend from high school that lived in St. Louis and I ended up going out there for a wedding. At the wedding, I ended up hearing people chit-chatting, “What do you do?” I started talking about Airbnb, naturally. It was the thing, my life.

They said, “We have friends that do it. We’ve been thinking about doing it. It works well in our town.” They dropped the bomb that their mortgage was $300 a month for a three-bedroom house. I was like, “Where am I?” I was going from still renting that one apartment that was $1,100 and then I had the other one that I owned that was $900. I thought, “If I only rented it three nights a month, I could cover that mortgage.” It felt like a no way to lose scenario. I went home for two weeks and thought about it because I don’t know St. Louis at all and I feel like a crazy person. For the next two weeks, I spent buying a place. I was out there a month later furnishing my first home.

Have you ever been to St. Louis before that?

No. That wedding was not even in the city. We were out in the boonies somewhere and I ended up buying in the city. I did a lot of research online and talked to friends of friends and figured it out.

You’ve got a couple of properties in Boulder. Now you’re running this remote Airbnb business because you’ve got your own properties out there. How does that work? How did you find your cleaners? You need a pretty big team for Airbnb.

You only need a cleaner and a spare in case she’s out of town, sick or doesn’t show up and a handyman. Funny enough, the handyman that I had for Four and a half years, I had met him at the wedding. He stopped doing handyman work. It was random. We were sitting at a campsite chatting and he said he does a little handiwork on the side and I remembered that. He ended up being my handyman for Four and a half years.

The perks of talking to people.

Ask for what you want. I didn’t go a little unconventional and I don’t know that I would recommend that again. That house was a 3-bedroom and 2-bath. I was worried about having a dependable cleaner show up when I didn’t know the sound at all and didn’t have someone who could run over and help me. I decided that I would rent one room to a person at discounted rent that I would pay for cleaning. They were the house manager and responsible. I did that for the first couple of years. I didn’t earn as much as I was doing later. It’s a whole unit rental. It was nice to have peace of mind.

Did that work with the renter that you chose? Did they never skip a day cleaning? Was it all good and dandy?

Yes. I was pretty good at vetting people. At first, my mortgage was $333 and they were paying $250 in rent. I had two rooms that I was renting out between $25 and $40 a night.

That’s basically free. How much did the house cost?

ITF 18 | Financial Independence
Financial Independence: Once you buy a property, you get in the rhythm of it.

 

$72,000.

Taxes and insurance must be pretty low there, too.

Yes. Taxes were $1,000 a year. That house I bought on a HELOC but it looked like cash so you have to pay the taxes all by yourself. The insurance was $80 a month or something like that. It’s no big deal.

You got a handful in Boulder. You got one in St. Louis. Are you going all out in St. Louis? Is that an experiment?

St. Louis turned into four. I got that one in July of 2015. I was back in November 2015 buying two at the same time. I was back a year later getting one more. St. Louis paid off well for me. For the Midwest where people say it never appreciates, it did appreciate. They doubled. I’ve done well there. It’s been a great market.

It’s funny, people always ask, “How do you pick a market to invest in?” Almost every answer that I hear is like, “You meet somebody from there and you like them,” or something like that. If there are so many markets to pick, pick one. Honestly, if you have a good team member, whether it’s a cleaner or a handyman, or you hear that a property is only $72,000 in the suburbs, go for it and make it work. I love that you did that.

It’s a lot of luck but it’s also prepared luck. You do all the research so that it doesn’t feel risky anymore.

Were you scared at all going into that first one so far away? How did you feel about investing out of state?

My friend that lives in St. Louis, she’s a little more conservative than I am in general. When I was about to close on that first house, she drove by and called me. She was like, “That neighborhood, you don’t want to be there.” I freaked out. I had a couple of days or something. I was flying out soon. I called my sister. It’s another one of those turning points. I told her what happened and she said, “You are different. You do things differently than other people. You take risks. I know that you did all the research. If you’re feeling like it’s a good thing, it’s probably a good thing. Try.” Thank God because it was a great thing.

To get back on the timeline, through this period of 2012, you found out about Mr. Money Mustache and started doing the Airbnb thing. In 2014, you made your first purchase. 2015 was your first purchase in St. Louis. By 2017 or so, you had four there. Now you’ve got 6 or 7 properties between Boulder and St. Louis. Now we’re pretty caught up.

I have more properties but we don’t need to talk about them all.

We’ll be here forever if we talk about them all. Maybe update us on your portfolio. As of the end of your St. Louis, where are you at?

January 2017 is when I got the last one in St. Louis and in March 2018. Once you buy a house, the first house, it feels like a mountain. When you buy one, you’re like, “I could do 1 or 2 a year, no big deal.” You get into the rhythm about it. If you’re Craig, you can do six. He’s a crazy guy. I had this thing. I want ten and I’ll do one a year and that seems sustainable. My next one was Colorado Springs. It was one of those where somebody told me that it was a good investment market. I went for three days with a friend and toured around. We looked at eleven houses in one day and I bought one of them. I was like, “Here we go.”

Be calm and stay in a place where you don’t have to worry. Click To Tweet

What was that? Was it a duplex or single-family?

I bought a one-bedroom house. It’s weird that those don’t exist that much. A lot of times, these old houses will have that. They finished the basement out so it feels like a two-bedroom. I love Colorado Springs because most of their area is zoned for duplexes. That’s like a little-known thing. I thought about developing and having a second unit. We have a big yard and we could build something back there. This one was close to the college and that was my thing.

I started in Boulder, which is a big school of 40,000 students. When I was in St. Louis, I was in their university area. They have a great school and a big medical program. When I went to Colorado Springs, I was like, “Colorado College near downtown, let’s do it again.” That worked out for me there. I have had a place in Boulder. I’m changing my strategy. Once you do real estate for a while, you start to not just buy stuff because it’s all you can afford but you buy the stuff you like. You mature with your portfolio. I would say that’s happening now.

Are you still doing Airbnb with all these properties?

For the most part. Since COVID, which changed things a little bit, I realized that I like month-to-month rentals. I do that medium-term is what I call it. I’ll do 3 or 6 months, stuff like that. The nightly, the three days here in there, yes, it can be more money. When you get to a point where you don’t need money as readily, once you’re fine, you’re not pulled by money that way. I’m like, “Let me do what’s easy. I don’t need to do what’s stressful.”

That’s interesting. I was always under the impression that Airbnb was easier than the short-term rental. The reason behind this and you can debunk it is that vacancy is built into the Airbnb system. You put it on a website, it’s advertised, it’s for you, it’s there. With a medium-term rental, it’s long enough that there’s not a good system in place to get those vacancies filled. There’s probably maybe a weak turnover if someone’s moving out on the 30th and the next rent is not starting until the seventh or whatever. You lose in a week. Are you filling the room with the vacancies every time? That was my biggest concern.

I rent out as a full house, whatever place I’m doing. I’m not renting it by room. I do travel nurses. They don’t move in and out on the 30th. They’re like, “This one’s on the eighth. This one’s on the twelfth.” I’ve never had a vacancy.

You don’t have those 4 or 5 days in the middle.

No.

Maybe I made that up in my head. Are you finding these tenants? Is there a property manager that does this?

I’m the property manager. I used to manage. There was a period in there that I got excited about managing for other people because then it was like, “I can have 20 or 50 homes that I don’t have to own them all.” I did a lot of that. For me, scaling back and managing my seven, I’m like, “That’s easy.” When I have 25, that’s when it’s going to get hard. It’s cake.

ITF 18 | Financial Independence
Financial Independence: Learn how to use Airbnb by creating a profile and see if you want to try it for a weekend.

 

You’ve got your seven properties, all of which are self-managed and spread out through Boulder, Colorado Springs, and St. Louis. It’s wild. You manage yourself remotely in St. Louis. That’s Airbnb. That’s why it’s a little easier. You’re not going to do showings and stuff like that.

They’re all medium-term rentals. I can coordinate a showing too. I don’t even have cameras and things like that. I can give someone a door code and I can change it. There are many of these myths that I had to debunk for myself because I freaked out when I was like, “If I have to do a showing, how am I going to do that?” You figure it out as you go. It’s such a digital world, you can do almost anything from afar now.

I love the approach of you making a decision and then figuring it out. There’s a solution and it’s been done before. Every excuse in the book has been tried to be made. There’s a company out there trying to solve every excuse in the book because that’s how they make money. I love that. Some exciting news. We talked about real estate investors. What’s next?

The real estate agency, yes. I have a house for sale and I thought you were going to talk about that. I was like, “Sure, let’s talk about all of it.” Yes, I am a real estate agent and it’s fun. The thing about Airbnb management is management is the worst job. It’s the worst one of all the real estate things you can do. Yes, it was great money and it’s a great way to get started if you don’t have money. I did it. I did eight years of it. I’m good.

I want to manage mostly my own properties at this point. Selling is fun because it’s like built-in consulting. People pay you this high fee but they don’t realize they’re paying it because it comes out of the sale and you get to work with them and build a relationship. I’m loving being in that mentorship space. It’s fun.

I love it as well. That’s awesome. We pretty much knocked out your whole story. Is there something else that you want to share that we may have missed?

No. We can do another episode in the future. There’s always more.

There’s always deeper and all that kinds of stuff as well. It’s cool and inspiring that you went from a 26-year-old masseuse that knew nothing about financial independence that was naturally broke to hitting financial independence in two years or less. That’s incredible, and then realizing, “I’m not building wealth by this rental arbitrage thing. It’s a great side hustle to start. Let’s transition to this. Let me start buying my own.” From there, you started building some real wealth. Now you’re financially stable. You’re pretty wealthy. You don’t have to worry about money now. You do the things that you love to do.

For the most part, it’s great. I would sell FI to anybody.

It’s not too hard to sell. With that being said, let’s get into The Final Four. The three questions are the same. There’s one curveball question, which you don’t know that I’m going to ask you. Let’s get into the first question. What book are you reading?

I am reading The Millionaire Real Estate Agent. It’s fine but I don’t recommend it. I’m trying to get through it. It’s by Gary Keller. It’s dry. I want it to be so much more fun. There are good things about building a foundation so you can make $1 million a year. I don’t know if I fully need that. The second book I’m reading because I read a lot of books at once is The Home Edit book. It’s like a book on organizing. Every night, I look at beautiful pictures and get inspired to fix my drawers. I love it so much.

I took a little bit of time to listen to organize podcasts to try to be organized and it didn’t work.

That’s okay.

The second question is what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I’m going to go back to my dad at that time where he said, “This is working for you. Go out there, start again and keep going.” Those turning points when you want to quit, find somebody who will encourage you to keep going.

The third question is what is your why?

I always want to be calm in a place where I don’t have to worry about things. I work so much but I’m that calm. It’s one of those funny things. It’s like that fisherman story they talk about in FI all the time. It’s like, “You could be the fisherman in Mexico loving his life or you could go build this whole empire so that you can go to Mexico and fish.” I’m like, “Sometimes, why the hell am I building the Empire when I could hang out at the park?” I don’t have it all figured out, in case you didn’t know that.

That is something as you hit different levels of financial independence. We’re too young to not do anything. You can’t have financial dependents without some work ethic and something that you’d like to be productive. You want something.

It’s a balance.

It’s hard. In one sentence, how would you sum up the internet?

A place where all the knowledge lives, that’s what I would say. We finished watching the whole Harry Potter series. Everything’s magical now. I’m a super nerd.

Awesome, Z. Thanks so much for coming to the show. It’s also your show as well. Where can people find out more about you?

My website is ZeonaMcIntyre.com. I’d also say I am the most responsive on Instagram. You can search me for my name, @ZeonaMcIntyre.

Thanks again for coming on. I will talk to you again. That’s it, everyone. That was Zeona McIntyre, the Airbnb extraordinaire starting off with Airbnb arbitrage and then going into buying her own properties and Airbnb-ing those out and doing it in three different locations. One of them is miles and miles away. It’s pretty incredible, Z. What else did you have to say to the readers, some famous last words?

I want to encourage everyone to get started. Airbnb can be real estate training wheels. If you’re curious about it, make a profile today. List your place or even learn how to use Airbnb by creating a profile and see if you want to try it for a weekend. I love that it’s non-committal and you can turn it off anytime if you don’t love it.

That’s maybe a good action item. Why don’t you go list your place and maybe go take a little trip, rent it out, and maybe your rental from Airbnb will pay for your trip?

It does.

Traveling is a little bit hard now with COVID. Maybe go into the mountains or somewhere close by. Z, thanks for sharing all of your knowledge and all of your background. It’s super valuable. We’ll see you next time. All the readers, if you haven’t already left a rating, review, comment or whatever it is, we look at all of those. Please do and we’re going to try to incorporate as much feedback as we can so we can make sure that we’re giving you the best products possible. Z, thanks again. Readers, thank you all for reading. We’ll see you all next time.

 

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