ITF 22 | Financial Independence

 

Cody Berman only lasted seven months in a corporate banking job before he decided that enough was enough. He wanted to live his life now and not decades later, so he jumped into real estate investing and hasn’t looked back!

Now, through hustling and frugality, he has three investment properties, an established blog, and he’s cash flow-positive—all before the age of 25.

Tune in to this episode to learn how Cody went from learning about early retirement to becoming a financially independent serial entrepreneur. Stop sitting on your ideas, say yes to calculated opportunities, but don’t forget to maximize the good stuff in your life too.

Listen to the podcast here


 

On The Fast Track To FI With Cody Berman

Z, how are you doing?

I have had one of those picturesque perfect days so far. We got up and the first thing was we went surfing. The first wave I caught was probably the top five waves I’ve ever caught. I was like, “This is going to be a great day.” It was hard after that, but that’s okay. I got a good one. We went and looked at a sweet property, then I came home and did this. I’m going to go look at a couple more properties. It’s real estate, surfing and Hawaii. I’m pretty happy.

Are these real estate properties that you are looking for? Are you looking for it for clients or funsies?

It’s for me. I have this dream of growing up in Hawaii, being poor and my parents never owned property here. Now that they’re not around anymore, I’m like, “What does it take? I want a property here.” I have run into a few roadblocks since being here and I don’t know if it’s going to happen for me. If you’re not doing short-term rental, usually you can do month-to-month. Here, it’s a minimum of six months and they’re on you. It makes it hard. If you are in a short-term rental building, you have to put 35% down, which all of a sudden makes it crazy expensive. We are looking at all of the options, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense. I’m not sure yet.

With Hawaii, it’s too good to be true.

Sometimes you’re like, “Why don’t I have $1 million?” You always want a little bit more. I have to be grateful for how much I do have. I’m trying to stick with that.

You’re still young. You’ll get your Hawaii property.

What about you?

I’m back here in the opposite of Hawaii, which is cold Central Massachusetts. Funny enough, our guest is from my hometown. We didn’t even hardly know each other growing up because I was a bit older than him. We found out that we were both from Leicester, which is the name of the town. I coached him in basketball. We got a great guest. In terms of my updates on my stuff, I have three properties in the contract and those are going along smoothly. I’m excited to get those things going. My first property, a duplex, had two rowhomes attached to it. This is a rowhome but has a duplex on the end. They both are going for sale and I bought both of them. I can own the whole structure and the whole lot. I’m excited about that.

Collect them all. It’s like the Monopoly story.

I built a hotel on that piece of land. Let’s get into the episode. Cody is a straight hustler. He’s young as hell. He’s already slugging $200,000 down payments properties. He’s got a bunch of other businesses too. This kid is crushing it.

Cody, welcome to the show. How are you doing?

It’s going pretty well. We’re about ten minutes away from each other, Craig, in different houses. We grew up in the same town in Central Massachusetts. Things are pretty good. The weather was good. I’m working on my side hustles and making that FI life work.

It’s funny how we grew up in the same town, which is a small town. There are probably 10,000 people going to the same high school. We probably missed each other because I’m a little older than you. It’s cool to represent Leicester. I love it.

You were graduating when I was coming in. A couple of years difference but represent.

How did you hear about financial independence? How’d you get started?

I got to give a huge shout-out to my mom because she was the one who got me interested in the whole FI movement and all the figureheads that many people know. The liaison into the FI space is Tim Ferriss. She gave me The 4-Hour Workweek. She’s like, “If you’re interested in side hustles, creative thinking and stuff, read this book and tell me if it makes you think about money differently or your philosophy mindset.” I read it and I was mind blown.

The basic premise in the money part was that your money and time don’t have to be linearly related. Instead of working at some job where you work X number of hours to get a paycheck, that’s Y, maybe you’re making $20 an hour and you work 40 hours a week, that’s $100. Instead, you could spend your time building businesses, buying real estate, buying these assets that are going to pay you in perpetuity.

It’s the same hours you’re contributing toward that goal, except that goal will ultimately pay you in perpetuity, whether it’s a couple of $100 a month or thousands of dollars a month. If you start to buy enough of those assets, you could eventually reach financial independence and that’s when I stumbled on some Mr. Money Mustache, JD Roth. My mom has always followed J. Money a lot from Budgets are Sexy. The whole gang. I started diving in 2018. It’s when I started hitting FI hard.

When did your mom introduce you to Tim Ferriss? When did that start? Was that while you were in high school?

Your money and time don't have to be linearly related. Click To Tweet

That’s when I was in college. My parents were both instilling a saving mentality, but nothing crazy, nothing retiring early. It was like, “Save more than you’re spending. You should always be putting aside X percentage of your income,” that type of stuff. It wasn’t until I was nineteen that she sent me Tim Ferriss, which made me jump down the rabbit hole of financial independence.

What year was it when you were nineteen?

It’s probably 2015.

In 2015, you found out about financial independence. That’s when you head off to college, I assume too. You’re a sophomore in college. What did you do in college? Is there anything you did in college that reduced your spending and increased your income more?

For anyone reading who’s in college, you probably aren’t reducing your spending. I’m sleeping on my friend’s couches, buying the cheapest food, drinking the cheapest alcohol. I didn’t need to be doing anything in the reduce-spending category. I started what Tim Ferriss called muses and what most people more popularly called side hustles. My first one was when I started a disc golf manufacturing business called Arsenal Discs.

We created, sold and distributed disc golf discs. For people who don’t know what that is, it’s like ball golf, except you’re throwing a plastic disc into chains instead of hitting a ball into a hole. I learned so much about networking in that business, how businesses are set up, taxes, building websites, marketing, you name it. That was probably the building block for all the other businesses I’ve started to date from that original one back when I was nineteen.

Is that still going?

We slowed down with COVID. A lot of the plastics come from China. All shipments halted at the beginning of 2020. We’ve taken it down a notch and haven’t been doing much at all in 2020. I’ve barely spent even twenty hours on the business in total in 2020. It’s still active. We still get sales from every single month with our inventory. It’s been a great learning experience, more than anything. It hasn’t made me $1 million. It hasn’t made me retire. It has taught me so many invaluable lessons from different failures, successes, and everything in between.

Cody, I was curious. When you started getting into FI, did you have the goal of retirement? Because you were so young, were you like, “I want to start cool businesses and be entrepreneurial.” That’s more Tim Ferriss. He doesn’t talk about retirement that much.

It’s hard to jump back into my nineteen-year-old shoes and try to tell you what my nineteen-year-old brain would say. I was interested in early retirement, though. I’ve always been a spreadsheet nerd. I went to college for finance and economics. I’d always model out. I’m like, “If I’m earning this and my girlfriend, who I assume would be my wife, is earning this, we’re going to be able to retire in 6 or 7 years.” We both had decent careers. I was in the investing corporate banking world. I was like, “We’re going to retire, hang it up and do whatever we want after 6 or 7 years.”

The entrepreneurial bug took over and my businesses started making a lot more money than I could have imagined. I said, “Screw this. I’m not going to be sitting in this miserable job where all my co-workers are pissed off. Their families hate them. They’re working late hours and it sucks. I’m going to take this other path.” I transformed from my beginning thoughts of, “I’ll stick it out for seven years and retire. I’m going to live the life I want to.”

Seven years is short. A lot of people are planning for 40 and then maybe some people in FI are 10, 15. With seven, you’re like, “No. That’s the max.”

It helps when you’re nineteen and you discover it. Someone’s like, “I’m frugal. I spend $35,000 a year,” which might sound frugal to most people. I’m not sure exactly the demo of your audience. When you’re nineteen, $35,000 a year, I was like, “What are these people? Living in a palace? Buying the most expensive food and going out to eat every week?” That’s an ungodly amount of food when you’re nineteen.

I was like, “I can easily keep up with this lifestyle, this level of spending for 5 or 6 years to retire and save up a million-plus dollars and withdraw with the 4% rule. This is going to be a piece of cake.” That’s why I was ambitious for the seven years, even though it might sound douchey. It was because I was young and had such a frugal base to start with.

You mentioned the 4% rule. Could you go over that quickly for people that don’t know? Craig and I are probably pretty familiar.

That’s a question I get a lot from people who aren’t familiar with the FI space. The 4% rule is that you build up this nest egg in whatever investments. It could be in a general stock market, index funds, other stocks or bonds or whatever it might be. Save up this chunk of money, and it’s called $1 million. The 4% rule says that you can live off of 4% of that chunk in perpetuity with a decently high chance of success.

With $1 million in the bank, you can live on about $40,000 a year until your dying days or at least you have a high percentage of doing it. That is a rule that a lot of people in the FI community used to say, “I can take my foot off the pedal, walk away from this corporate job and still make money doing other fun things but not at the same level of capacity that was before and I should be fine.”

With this disc golf business, is that the only thing you did through college? Were there any other things that you did as well?

I had the disc golf business, that was when I was nineteen. I had two failed businesses, which was a good learning lesson. I tried to start a tutoring company and realized that I didn’t want to put the effort in and that I would have to do the legwork of finding tutors to work for me. I could skim commissions off the top of their heads. I also tried to start a clothing company. I made some initial movements. I was reaching out to manufacturers and Alibaba quickly got rid of that idea because it seemed way too complicated.

This is a whole other story. I graduated a semester early so I could travel abroad to Australia with my girlfriend, Lauren. She was studying abroad. I wanted to travel abroad and have fun. She had classes two days a week, busy schedule. Even so, I didn’t have anything to do during that time besides working the disc golf business a little bit. That’s when I started my blog and podcast in the financial independence space. It wasn’t quite college, but it was before I started a career. I had all those three things going at the same time, disc golf, blog and podcast all making a little bit of side hustle money.

A lot of people on this show, they’re going to think real estate, rental income. Once you get rental income, you exceed your expenses and then you’re financially free. There are tons of different ways to develop passive incomes that Cody is showing. You’ve got the disc golf business, which maybe isn’t completely passive, but I’m sure you got a path to it. The blog is going to write for it. Still, the advertisements are there forever. The same thing with podcasts. What did you do when you came back from Australia? Did you start working? Were you a straight-up entrepreneur?

ITF 22 | Financial Independence
Financial Independence: You can learn so much from your side-hustles. You’ll learn about networking, taxes, building websites, marketing, you name it. That will be the building blocks for all your other businesses.

 

I’ll rewind a little bit. In my junior going into senior year, I took a job as a commercial real estate lender in a pretty large bank in Boston. They offered me a job at the end of that summer and I said, “This is a good opportunity. It was good pay. I’m going to take it.” Once I got back from Australia, that’s when I started that corporate banking job commuting to Boston. You know the struggle from Leicester every day, Craig. It was two hours each way with the full commute, driving to the train station, taking the train, walking to my office and the same thing on the way back. It was miserable. I only lasted for seven months.

Was that a high-paying job?

It was. I don’t mind. It was $75,000 and I got a $10,000 signing bonus when I joined on, which was a crazy amount of money for someone coming out of college. I didn’t even know what to do with my paychecks because it was so much more than I was spending at the time.

Did you have any college debt that was working against or not?

No. It is a whole other topic we can get into. I hustled my butt off to get scholarships and grants. I applied to over 150 scholarships using a template method where I built 6 or 7 different essays that fulfilled 80% of your boilerplate scholarship applications. I launched them out there. I’d spend twenty minutes editing it to tailor it to whatever thing that was and do 1 or 2 a day before I went to college and while I was in college. I was very fortunate. I had a little bit of a bill during college, but I split that with my parents. It was a small amount, $3,000 or $4,000 a year. I came out with no student debt, which is crazy.

Congratulations. That’s a lesson too. If you’re lucky enough to be young enough before you go to college or while you’re in college, send those things out. That was the biggest thing that crippled me too. I graduated with $90,000 in debt.

No one tells you this stuff. I was listening to this type of content. I’m always trying to find the hack. I poke all the bricks in the wall, see which one falls and see how I can beat the system.

I always felt that when I applied for those scholarships. It was like applying to a sweepstake. You’re going to apply and there’s no chance you’re going to win. I’m not going to waste my time. That was my mindset. A lot of people probably had that mindset. The few people that did maybe got the reward.

Cody, it sounds like you got into real estate eventually. Did you get inspired by FI people or from being in the commercial real estate banking side?

From all you rock stars that I have on my podcast like you, Craig, James and Emily. I’m like, “All these people are twenty years old. They like cashflow FI and they can do what they want. Why am I not getting into real estate? I’m doing all the other stuff in the FI space, but all the youngsters who are crushing it are in real estate in some capacity. Let me hop on this train.” You guys played a hand in that. For every other story, I’m interviewing someone for the FI show. Something with real estate comes up if they retire early. I was like, “I need to at least try this. If I don’t like it, I can take a step back and sell whatever I bought.” I gave it a shot and I’ve been loving it.

It’s one thing to hear a cool story. Lots of people are reading shows like ours and being like, “That sounds great but how do you go from a cool story and inspire?” What were your first steps to doing it?

My life motto is I don’t like waiting and sitting on an idea. An idea is worthless if you don’t take action. You can have all the best ideas in the world, but if you don’t do anything, the person with worse ideas and does take action is going to beat you in the long run. I jumped into it. My girlfriend and I started looking at properties. I hooked up with a realtor who was a friend of mine from childhood.

Have fun figuring out new things, learning new things, and gamifying the system. Click To Tweet

I got all my listing criteria set up. I got the automated email sent every day. I was on a couple of wholesaler lists from joining a bunch of Facebook groups and trying to learn the people in my community and get all of my pieces set up on my real estate chessboard who could help me out. I got pre-approved, I got all my finances in order, I found a lender that I liked and all that stuff. I then started house hunting.

Honestly, we were under contract for a property that ended up being a complete piece of crap. There was a bunch of knobs and tube wiring that the selling agent didn’t tell us about. It was a grind. It’s not like I popped on Zillow one day and found the perfect property. We looked at many different properties both on and offline. We finally found a property that made sense. We hopped the border from Massachusetts down to Connecticut because the price to rent ratio has made a lot more sense. We got our hands dirty. We went for it.

Knock on wood, nothing has gone seriously wrong. It’s been an awesome experience so far. The cashflows are good. That covers the mortgage and way more. I took action and was as well informed as I possibly could be. I can’t know everything. I felt like I knew enough where I could get in there and not make too many huge mistakes.

Let’s do our for-real deal and dive deep into this first one that you got. You’re approaching financial independence. You probably are already there by your methods and expenses before you even invest in real estate. Let’s dive into that first one in Connecticut. What price point? What kind of property? Where was it in Connecticut? What was your plan? What happened?

It’s right where Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut meet. If you go down 395, it’s right in Central Connecticut but on the Eastern side. The house was listed for $209,900. It’s a three-family but there’s a split-level duplex on top. It’s a 3-bed, 1-bath on either side. Down below in the back is a basement apartment. All of them are detached. All of them are separately metered.

I’ve been watching the market every day. I was in the MLS. I was on every site that sells real estate day in and day out. I’m like, “This is way underpriced. I don’t know what this listing agent is thinking.” They took crappy pictures. I went $25,000 over asking with the offer. I ran the numbers and it was a home run. The guy got back to me the day after. We won because we went no inspection. The place was pretty flawless. I sent pictures of things that I maybe wasn’t sure about to my cousin, a contractor. He’s like, “Don’t worry about that.” I ended up winning at $235,000 as it stands. We are just getting the unit.

We’ve moved into that basement apartment for a couple of months because I didn’t have a solid place to stay. I was living at a summer home that’s not insulated during the summers. It’s a family lake house. Come September, it’s way too cold for us to stay there. It’s not insulated. It gets into the 40s. Lauren and I were like, “We need someplace to live.”

We ended up living in that basement apartment. While we were living in that basement apartment, we inherited one tenant at $950 a month and then we got the other side tenant out at $1,200 a month. While we’re living there, we’re at $2,150. If you’re thinking of the 1% rule, we’re only $200 off of the 1% rule while we’re living there, which is good. The $950 is below the market. If we didn’t inherit her and COVID wasn’t a thing, we’d probably have bumped her rent up a bit, but we’re being nice and keeping it where it’s at. We could probably get $1,200 for the other side. Even with us living there, we’re still hitting the 1% rule.

We’re moving out so we’re renting that basement apartment for $800. We’re getting the people there to sign everything. We’ll be looking at $2,950 monthly rent with that one below market. In an ideal world, we’d be getting $3,200. Mortgage property taxes and insurance are $1,350 a month. There are some other little expenses like lawn care, snow removal. I take care of that stuff. It’s maybe $100 a month. We pay for trash as well, so throw on another $100 a month. The cashflow is there. It’s over $1,000 a month safely with a nice pad of cashflow that’s not going to repairs or maintenance or anything like that.

ITF 22 | Financial Independence
Financial Independence: The 4% rule is you build and save up this nest egg. Save it up to a million dollars, and you can live off of 4% of that chunk. You can live in perpetuity with a decently high chance of success.

 

You mentioned that the house had some knobs, tube wiring and all that stuff. Did you do any repair to it?

This is a different house. We backed out of that one. That was an example of a house that fell through even though we thought we were rockstars. That was the first one we were under contract for. We pulled out of that thing faster than Dale Earnhardt.

Smart man. It’s easy to get in over your head on your first couple of investments.

The cool thing was it didn’t need too much in terms of repair work. It was semi-turnkey. We did some painting. I ended up YouTubing some stuff and fixing this dryer vent that was going outside that was sagging. I used that Flex Seal spray. That was the stuff that ultimately won the battle. I had to mount the deck onto the sauna tubes. It was some stuff that I hadn’t done before. YouTube is your best friend when you’re figuring out stuff like that. Everything was doable for myself and Lauren. We didn’t have to outsource any of the light rehab work. The thing is going to be fully rented and cashflowing pretty nice.

Did you buy that with an owner-occupied loan?

This is an interesting thing. No. What happened was I was supposed to close on this property and another property that we could get into. That’s 0.2 miles down the street with an owner-occupied loan and then a non-commercial loan. While COVID was happening and foreclosures were going on, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac changed some of their rules with some of the banks. Self-employment income had to have at least a two-year seasoning period. All of a sudden, overnight, my income disappeared because I didn’t have the full two-year seasoning period. The lender was like, “We can’t do this for you.” I’m like, “What?”

I ended up having to go. I had already fished a commercial lender before, and I was friends with him. He’s a local guy. I ended up using a commercial lender on this property and the other property because my income got wiped out in the eyes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, not literally. It got wiped out because it didn’t have a two-year seasoning period. I’m 24 at the time when I’m buying these places. I quit my corporate job back when I was 22. I’m starting all these different side hustles that didn’t have the longevity that the banks want to see.

In real estate, you can retire early as long as you can trudge through the mud and get to the end of the race. Click To Tweet

This is all happening in March 2020.

This is September 2020. As people are foreclosing after the effects of COVID and people losing their jobs, that’s when they started to tighten up and stricken these policies a little bit. That screwed me. I was like, “Another thing?” Real estate is shiny and it’s awesome. You can retire early. As long as you can trudge through the mud and get to the end of the race, that’s what we did. We finally closed in the deals that were a little late, but it’ll work out.

Can you walk some of the readers through the commercial loan? How is that different? What were they looking at with your income differently than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were seeing?

With a commercial loan, they take your assets into account. They take your real income into account rather than the two-year seasoning bullshit. They put a lot more weight on the market rents for that unit. For some of the residential loans that I was working with, the lenders were factoring it in a little bit. That’s all the commercial lenders care about, “Is this property going to cashflow? How much is your debt service coverage ratio once you have this thing fully rented out?” These things were home runs and the guy’s like, “We can easily get you on that.” God bless him. He was quick with the turnaround. It got stuck in the mud with the other lender and we were supposed to close in fifteen days and then I found that out. It wasn’t too fun, but it all worked out, thank God.

Lending can be fun and creative. I’m self-employed too is I’ve avoided it forever. I always did creative stuff with other people. Even on this loan that I’m trying to close, they made me pay rent to my boyfriend so that I had a rent payment. It was weird they needed to do that so that they could count the income of the property. Sometimes the little loopholes are weird. If you get a great lender, they know those sneaky things. I’m glad you found somebody great.

The only thing with commercials is there’s so much more gray area. With residential, it’s black and white, especially if they’re working and they’re backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. There’s no wiggle room at all. It won’t go through their system.

How much down payment did you need to bring for those two houses? Did you buy them as a portfolio, 2 properties and 1 loan?

No, it’s separate loans. Both are 25% down.

Where’d you come up with that down payment?

One was $64,000 and the other one was $50,000. I’ve been grinding these past couple of years and saving up a lot of money.

That’s one thing that you can understand. Cody lives tremendously frugally. He was making $75,000-plus a year, not counting any bonuses and stuff. He had his disc golf business, his blog and all this stuff bringing him in money. Even though he’s got more money, he’s still living way below his expenses, which allows him to be unlike most other 25-year-olds or 24-year-olds out there throwing $120,000 or $130,000 down for two properties. Kudos to you. I appreciate that.

Thank you. I appreciate it. My hustling and frugality are paying off and it has so far. I’m going to keep on doing it.

Cody, do you feel like it’s hard to have friends your age? I feel like people won’t even understand. I imagine you have more geek friends like us. How many people that are 25 even understand half of what you’re hacking and doing all the time?”

It’s easy to have friends because I have a super flexible schedule. I’m always the one who can go on a fun vacation or do the thing. I should peg my frugality. My frugality is the big two frugality. I’m not spending a ton on housing. I’m spending nothing on transportation. I’m spending next to nothing. I have a paid-off car and stuff.

I spend a decent amount of money like going to the bars and going out to eat. It’s not like I’m just sitting at my house. Even if your housing and transportation are zero and you’re spending $15,000 a year going out to the bars and going out to eat, that’s still not that much money in the grand scheme of things in terms of an entire annual budget. I’m still socializing my butt off. I love going out and having fun with my friends.

To answer the second part of that question, do they understand what’s going on? No. They’ll ask me questions, “How do I get into real estate? How do I start investing in the stock market?” I’ll answer them. I’ll point them towards resources and stuff. Most of them don’t take action. Most of them don’t understand the numbers and what I’m going after with financial independence and cashflow and all that stuff.

Do you feel like you don’t belong at all? You’re throwing $100,000-plus investment properties. Do you feel different? I felt that way.

Yes and no. I try not to think like that. I have friends who make $15 an hour doing some dead-end job. I have friends who make good money. I’m not going to treat any of them differently or think of them differently. We went to the same high school. It’s a tight-knit community. I’m still friends with a bunch of kids from high school. I have my whole college friend group too. Everyone’s pretty solid. I don’t have that out-of-place feeling. Maybe I’m lucky. I have a solid crew of friends.

When people start spending such little money, you feel a little weird. You feel like a broke person. You then start having all this money and you feel like a rich person. You’re never in that happy medium. That’s great. You got yourself a good group to be around.

Cody, I’m curious about your goals. You’re making enough on that one property. You don’t need to do anything. Do you get to those places of being like, “I beat the game already and it’s early?”

I would say no. I love figuring out new things, learning new things, gamifying the system, and finding new ways to make money. I didn’t need to buy these properties. The other stuff I’m doing is semi-passive and I’m making a lot more than I’m spending. I didn’t even need to get into properties. It’s fun. It’s a new challenge for me.

Instead of sitting in front of the computer, I’m working with my hands. Rehabbing stuff is fun. I’m learning how to fix a sink, drain or whatever the thing might be. I’m always looking for the next challenge. I took up a new side hustle amidst all this real estate commotion that I was doing. I’m helping out a friend’s website that got acquired as their lead content strategist. I’m always moving and I always like to learn and challenge myself.

You’re going to be a billionaire. You’re on that track.

Keep taking opportunities. I love it.

As long as I have the energy and time, I’m a yes man to good opportunities. I’ve learned to say no a little bit more than when I was nineteen and take every opportunity that was thrown at me. I’ve been taking pretty calculated opportunities and it’s been working out.

Cody, tell us about that second deal. They were happening at the same time. How does this one look?

This one was a distressed seller. I could probably jog to this property from the other property I was talking about if I was fully sprinting and 60 seconds. It’s close, which makes it pretty easy for property management, having all the same crew like a plumber and having the same people. This one was listed at $185,000.

ITF 22 | Financial Independence
Financial Independence: With a commercial loan, they take your current real income into account. They also put a lot more weight on the market rents for that unit. That’s literally all they care about.

 

One side of it had these hellish tenants in it that I got evicted. They finally got them out and the seller was done. They didn’t want anything to do with the property. These tenants were the worst tenants ever, but they weren’t there anymore. Crappy listing agent, horrible pictures. We went and checked it out, and it was in pretty good condition.

I newly found through a Facebook group, it was one of the BiggerPockets groups, a contractor, a new friend of mine. I was like, “I want all this stuff done. Maybe fluff up the numbers if you want. Tell me what I need to fix and then I’m going to give this to the seller and negotiate.” He comes up with $28,000 worth of repairs. I probably only need to do $10,000 worth of them. I bring it to the seller and I’m like, “I want to do all these repairs. Do you think you can come down to the purchase price to meet me?” I knew he was going to say no, but I wanted to see where he’d go.

We ended up settling on $170,000. I negotiated $15,000 down from that price using that little contractor trick. This one was a two-unit. It’s a 3-bed, 2-bath split duplex on both sides. As it stands, we did inherit one tenant and they were paying $950. I got them up to $1,050 to also rent the garage. The other side is going to rent. We listed that and we’ve been getting tons of leads showing people who got applications. That’s going to be $1,200. We’re looking at $20,000 to $50,000 a month in rent. The mortgage is $1,040, with mortgage property taxes and insurance all bundled together. I don’t have to pay for snow removal or landscaping on that one. Those are nice little things.

That’s another nice cashflowing property. I am spending about $10,000 on repairs. I had to repaint the chimneys. I replaced a couple of windows. I sturdied up the porch railings and fixed the deck that was sloping a little bit. I got the quotes, and it will end up in about $10,000. That was another one where the numbers made sense. It’s a home run in terms of cashflow. I’m happy with the location. It’s right down the street and it all worked out.

You’re cashflowing roughly an extra $2,000 a month in your first two properties. Your first one is a little over $1,000. After reserves, your second one, repairs and all that stuff is under $1,000. That’s about $2,000. As you’re sitting in Massachusetts, are you doing property management in the east?

Yeah. I already have the team set up because we were living at that first property for three months. I got everyone. Intentionally, I would look to get people in the area. I have a furnace and boiler guy, a plumber in the area, someone who does the re-keying and an electrician. I have the whole team set up. It’s as simple as me making a phone call. I am still doing the property management, which is maybe in a bad month. We’ve had some months where stuff goes wrong. In a typical month, maybe I’ll get a call and it’s not that hard for me to handle it from afar.

Also, doing the lease renewals and stuff like that. It only happens once a year, so it’s not a huge deal yet.

I have all the lease contracts in my inventory anyways. It’s pretty easy for me to update the date. It’s not too much work for the $2,000 a month you mentioned.

Relentlessly take opportunities. The key to moving forward is to do things that you're afraid of. Click To Tweet

One more question about that, do you hire a realtor or anything to do the showings? Are you going down there to do the showings yourself if you guys have a vacancy?

While we were living in the other ones, that was a no-brainer for us to show the properties because it’s right down the street. Maybe I’ll do that in the future. For now, I’ve shown the properties. I have a pretty flexible schedule. Some realtors charge the first month’s rent to get the property rented. I could make a quick 45-minute drive down and show up myself. If it seems like a solid tenant that I’ve stalked enough on social media, then I’ll make the drive down myself and hopefully get it rented.

You hit two good deals there. Let’s talk about number three that you spurred upon us.

This closed at the beginning of December 2020. This is back up and close to our hometown. This is in Spencer, Massachusetts. It was a mixed-use property. There’s a detached 1-bed, 1-bath cottage. There’s a 700-square foot commercial attached to a 4-bed, 2-bath apartment next to us. I saw that come on the market. The previous buyer, their financing fell through at the last second. I saw it come up and I was like, “I want this. We want to move back up. We’re a little farther away than I’d like to be from friends and family and stuff.”

Even though it’s not a crazy commute, that 45 minutes is a little bit annoying. I was already itching for my next deal because we’d already done all the rehab work and stuff on those two properties. This one was listed for $325,000, which is a little bit more. You probably know the market a little bit around here, Craig, even though most of your investments are out west. Massachusetts has a premium over Connecticut. You’re not going to find those prices that I mentioned for the Connecticut properties anywhere, maybe in Western Massachusetts.

Another little funky thing that happened is the appraisal came in low. This appraisal company is notorious for coming in low with appraisals, which sucks. The comps they used were horrible, rundown, dingy buildings. This place is pretty nice. It’s appraised at $300,000. The listing price was $325,000. I’m like, “We got to negotiate with the seller a bit.”

I had my realtor battling for me, but she finally got them down to $315,000 from $325,000. This is when all the magic happens. My lender, who was originally going to do $70,000 because it was a mixed-use commercial, it was a little more risky than residential, bumped up their percentage to $75,000. Ultimately, I ended up spending less on the down payment and got the property cheaper. It was sick.

How do you convince the lender to do that?

It’s because I’ve done those two deals with them previously. We’re boys. We text and stuff. He’s cool. He’s not just the lender. We have a rapport. It was as a favor and he did that for me. My girlfriend and I are living in a little 1-bed, 1-bath detached cottage. There’s plenty of space for us. It has a pretty big living room, big bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, everything we need. We don’t have kids or anything. While we’re still living in this house-hacky frugal, building up the empire life, we figured this is fun.

The 4-bedroom, 2-bath right next to us, we have it listed. We had a couple of people apply. We listed it at $2,000 a month. The commercial space, we haven’t got it rented out yet. The market is $1,000 to $1,200 a month. Let’s use the lower of that. We’re looking at $3,000 in monthly rent while we’re living here, which doesn’t quite hit the 1% rule, but it’s still covering everything and more. That’s why we’re still living here. That one was another one. It worked out.

Here’s a hiccup and it was interesting because I’d never done anything like this before. I listened to people like you talk about all your real estate deals on podcasts. There were two tenants in here that were on Section 8. I was like, “We can’t live in this unit if a woman is living here. We don’t want this Section 8 tenant in the other unit because they’re way below market rent.” It was $800 under where we could rent it for. I paid them $5,000 to move. They were happy and they got out of there in a month. Everything worked out. I’m going to knock on wood because we’ve been getting pretty lucky with all this stuff. It’s been awesome.

That was probably life-changing money for them.

That’s what I thought. I was like, “There’s no way they can refuse this.”

I was curious about the commercial space. I imagine many people are freaked out about commercial spaces because of COVID. The investor mindset is that you do what other people are afraid of. I’m curious, what are you seeing in your market? Do you feel like that will be an easy space to fill?

The cool thing about this space is it’s a 700-square-foot commercial space. It’s small. Anything that’s above 1,500, 2,000, once you start getting to that range, people start getting less interested. This is on a pretty well-trafficked road. A CPA, a small financial advisor, anything like that is a home run in this town, this demographic, this area. Those types of offices are still getting rented. Those types of offices are still occupied and have people in and out of them. It’s the bigger offices that are scaring people a lot.

That might be a generalization like, “The office is tanking. You’re never going to be able to rent out office space.” People still do need that face-to-face sometimes. Maybe it’s a realtor or whatever the thing might be where you need maybe a little bit of physical interaction. Maybe you need to get something notarized or signed something and come in. Also, you have older clients who don’t feel as comfortable doing stuff on the computer. There is a pretty good market for a 700-square foot office space in this area.

Did you tell us what your mortgage was on that?

No. The mortgage, property tax, insurance, all that is $1,780 a month.

$3,000 in rent and about $1,700 in the mortgage payment. You’re making about $1,000 over the mortgage.

Any other maintenance stuff or living costs like electricity and heat. While we’re living here, I’m netting $750 a month.

Are you going to buy one every quarter?

I don’t know what the future holds for me. I’m going to take opportunities in stride. I have some buddies who did well flipping. That’s something I’ve been looking at because they made a crazy amount of money and it seems fun. That’s the stuff I like doing, cosmetic upgrades and taking better pictures than untalented listing agents and selling it for more than you buy it for. Maybe I’ll do a couple of flips. Maybe I’ll buy and hold rental properties. I’m not sure. If you were going to ask me what my goal is, I don’t have one. I take opportunities and stride when I can.

It sounds like you might need your license. It sounds like you might need to join the FI team. What do you think, Craig?

We’re looking for some Massachusetts representation.

I’ll think about it.

I love the hustle and you leaning into these real estate deals. You’ve been around people that are doing real estate, but for you to take action so quickly and in a big way. We’re not too sure what your financial position was, but you’re doling out about $200,000 in down payments. That’s a pretty large portion of your liquidity. You’ve got to be courageous to do that too because your bank account is $200,000 lower and you’re probably like, “I haven’t seen numbers that low in a while.” The good thing about real estate and your side hustles is that you’ll replenish that even quicker than you would before.

I’m always keeping a buffer. I’m not draining everything to zero. You’re right. It was a pretty big cash outlay. The market has been very generous these past couple of years. I did take money out of my brokerage account. I threw everything that I couldn’t put into a tax advantage account into a brokerage. It has been insane for returns, crazy. That helps a lot. Making a lot of money in 2019 and 2020 helped a lot. I’m going to keep pushing forward from here.

I have an important question. Is your mom FI? She started this whole thing.

She was always like, “I’m not sure if I can retire.” She’s fine.

You’ll take care of her.

She’s not going starving.

You had quite an incredible journey. You started with your mom telling you about The 4-Hour Workweek, the blog, and the disc golf business. The blog and the podcast are still up and running. Those haven’t gone away.

The podcast, I’m more active with. I slowed down on the blog because the ROI isn’t quite there. It’s still there. You can check out all the articles.

Are you doing advertisements on your podcast? What’s your revenue stream there?

We get probably half our income from sponsorships like ad spots and then we probably get the other half from affiliates. People are clicking over to whatever the thing that we believe in that we’re promoting or telling people to sign up for. It’s probably split 50/50 there.

What is the podcast so everyone else can go and take a listen?

It’s The FI Show. You can type in The Financial Independence Show and it’ll pop up.

It’s a good podcast. I’ve listened to quite a few episodes myself.

Check out the episode of these rockstars. Craig and Zeona both got guest appearances on there.

It was a fun time. Any other things you want to say to the audience before we head into The Final Four?

We could talk for hours about random stuff that I’ve done, tried, failed or succeeded. Many people will say, “How did you get to where you are?” A lot of people say, “You’re lucky.” The thing is to relentlessly take opportunities and chances when you can. Don’t go into a crazy amount of debt on some business opportunity that has no legs. Do things that you’re afraid of. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. That has been the key to me moving forward, doing stuff that other people aren’t doing that people are afraid of doing and that people advise me not to do as long as I’ve done my research.

I’m not saying take the swing for the fences with your eyes closed every time. Take your shots. You might miss 9 out of 10 of them but that one that hits will bump you up to that next level. The next shot you take will be an even bigger shot with a bigger payout. That’s my challenge, a piece of advice or whatever you want to call it to everyone reading.

Frugality, as you have been doing, is the basis of that. If you don’t spend a lot of money, you have that ability to take more risks and those risks pay off. Let’s head into The Final Four.

What are you reading? Do you have a book that’s on your side table?

This is funny. I saw this question you guys sent over and I was ashamed because I don’t have a book that I’m reading. I’m listening to one and it’s not going to be what you expect. My girlfriend and I are re-listening to the entire Harry Potter series. I’m not currently reading a book, so I was like, “I’m not reading a book.” I’m going to be starting Zero to One by Peter Thiel. For those who don’t know, he’s a billionaire. He’s the Cofounder of PayPal. He’s an early Facebook investor, a venture capitalist, an absolute rockstar when it comes to finances. This is how he built his empire. That’s the next book I’m starting. Unfortunately, I can’t give you feedback because I haven’t started it yet. That’s the next one on my read list.

ITF 22 | Financial Independence
Financial Independence: A lot of the businesses like a CPA or a small financial advisor are home runs in a small commercial space. Those types of offices are still getting rented. People are more afraid of the bigger offices.

 

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

People don’t care about what you do at all. They don’t give a crap about what you do. Make decisions free of their judgment. Do what you want to do, whether it’s in your business or your life. I didn’t fully realize this until when I was working that corporate banking job. Someone found my podcast and blog somehow and they were checking it out. They told everyone in my team. They sent an email out.

Nobody said a thing. Nobody even looked at them or listened to an episode. In every episode, I’m talking about quitting my job and how much it sucks. I’m terrified. Nobody cares about what you do. Do your thing. Once you hit success or accomplish whatever that feat is, whether it’s health, business, relationship, go after it. Once you achieve it, people will be like, “How’d you do that?” Be like, “You weren’t watching me the whole journey because you don’t care.”

What is your why? When you’re younger, your why is going to be so different. You don’t have all the family and everybody to worry about. What keeps you going?

I’m going to base this around YOLO. That might sound silly. You do only live once. You have one life to live. I want to maximize my happiness, adventures, great memories, positive impact, all the things that most people would say matter in your life. Why would I have a shitty day when I don’t have to? Why would I do this thing if I don’t want to? I’m at the point where I’m FI. I don’t have to do this thing because I need the money. Many people live and it’s sad. Many people make every single decision in their life based on whether it’s a monetary thing or something that they can’t control. While I’m in control of these things, I want to maximize all that good stuff in my life. That’s my why.

What’s the weirdest thing a guest has done at your house?

He wasn’t a guest. He was living there too. I’ll start from the end and go backward. One of my friends sued Uber. The genesis of that story was when he was getting out of his car, he cut off his pinky in the back of the Uber car because the Uber car had been driving away while he was getting out. He comes inside and he’s spewing blood everywhere, all over the house. He’s like, “I hurt my thumb.” He shows it to everyone and it’s off. He gets rushed to the hospital. That’s probably the best PG-13 one that comes to mind.

He lost his pinky?

He never found it. It was on the ground in the back of the Uber car.

Did he get paid out for Uber?

He’s still fighting the battle two and a half years later.

Where else can people find out more about you?

If you are following this awesome show, check out mine, The FI Show. You can also find me pretty much everywhere. You can go to Fly to FI. That’s my blog. You can see all the other stuff I’m doing from there. I got a Financial Freedom Summit. It’s the thing I’m involved in. I have a couple of side hustle courses. That’s pretty much it.

Craig and I were both at the summit.

Unfortunately, not in person.

I was bummed. I was ready to go to that too. Is it happening again?

Yeah, hopefully. We haven’t locked anything in because we don’t want to get people’s hopes up, have to refund and change again. That’s the plan as it stands.

We’ll be on the lookout for the Financial Freedom Summit. Is Grant still doing that?

Yes. We’re still partnered up. Grant and I are still homies from that. I haven’t even mentioned the book tour I went on for three months with him, but that’s another story, another episode.

We’re going to have you back on. You got so much going on. I love it. Thanks so much for coming on. Thanks to the two Leicester boys and a Hawaiian girl on a show. This is what you get.

Let’s represent. Thank you for having me. This was a blast. It’s awesome sitting on the other side of the interview table. You inspired me. All the real estate crushers inspired me that I have on the show. Thank you for launching me into my 2020 real estate journey.

I’m glad to have made even the slightest impact. I am excited to see where you’re going to be in in the future. We’re going to have to be hanging out on your yacht.

Let’s do it.

Thanks for being on the show. We’ll see you next time.

Thanks for having me.

That was Cody Berman. Z, what did you think?

It’s inspiring. Sometimes people will say, “I’m inspiring. You’re inspiring.” Cody’s started so young and has done many different things. It’s interesting. It almost makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. How does that make you feel?

Honestly, the same. He’s got so much going on that even if one of these things hits, he’s going to be even wealthier than he already is. He’s going to live a happy life. I’m very excited to see where he goes. I know we’ll be in touch for the long haul. He’s a proven specimen that you don’t need real estate. He’s done it in other ways. He also recognized that real estate is a tremendous way to build wealth. He’s jumping into the real estate game. He said that we inspired him. The great thing about this community is you can get inspiration from anyone. Z, I’m inspired by you. Maybe you’re too tired of me.

Some days.

I make you feel inspired by me. It’s a tremendous community. It’s great that Cody is a part of it. It’s great that we’re all part of it. It’s great that all you readers are also part of it. Hopefully, you can glean some inspiration from, if not me and Z, then Cody and our guests.

One thing I want to point out, though, is that it’s cool that he bought three properties in the same quarter. After those three, he could have been financially independent right there. The power of real estate can be short. You could do it fast if you want to be FI. I like to sing that in his story.

He probably doubled or tripled his passive income monthly from buying three properties. That came through lots of hard work, savings, and lots of living below his means. I bet you that he could afford a penthouse downtown if he wanted to. He’s living in a 1-bed, 1-bathroom cottage on the side of an accounting office on the main road. He’s still living below his means. He’s still got greater goals and I’m excited to see where he ends up. Z, you got anything else for the people?

Not really. I’ll keep you in the loop on what I find out there. I’m going to go look at some more properties. I’m pretty happy about it. It’s my favorite thing.

Go enjoy your Hawaii time properties. Catch a couple of big waves, pet a couple of whales for me. I will nestle up in my house over here in Massachusetts. We’ll see you guys next time.

 

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About Cody Berman

ITF 22 | Financial IndependenceCody is a digital nomad who quit his corporate job to pursue entrepreneurship full-time. He started selling digital products in 2018 and became hooked after earning $700+ in one week. Cody also hosts The Financial Independence (“Fi”)

 

 

 

 

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