Are you interested in saving money to start investing in the real estate industry? In this episode, Amberly Grant shares her story of achieving financial independence. It was not an easy task, and she wasn’t earning a lot of money, so she had to spend less, which quite frankly was good for her since she believes she is naturally frugal. She emphasizes the importance of attending different meetups and building relationships with people who know much about investing. Tune into this episode to gain valuable insights on attaining the financial freedom you have always dreamed of.
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Spend Less And Invest More For Financial Independence With Amberly Grant
We have a great guest. I don’t know why, but maybe it’s because she’s into Airbnb that I love this much. It is a great episode. We have Amberly Grant. She is a diehard FI person and an Airbnb real estate investor. She’s still fairly new to the game. She has been in it since 2019. It’s amazing to see what people are able to accomplish in a couple of short years. Stay tuned to see what she’s got to offer.
Amberly, welcome to the show. It’s good to have you here. How are you doing?
I’m excellent. It’s nice to see your face again.
It’s probably been since FinCon, which was several months ago. I know you have a lot of things happening in your life since then, but let’s take it way back since before the last time we saw each other to when you first heard about financial independence. Tell us, how did you get started?
I’ve always been a frugal person. For my whole life, I’ve been curious about investing and frugality. I told my mom when I was thirteen years old that I’d be a millionaire one day. This is coming from a family who didn’t have much. She was like, “Yes, of course, you will.” Specifically, I had always lived my life in a FI way.
In 2015, I was at a community college and hanging out in the lobby. I don’t know how I came across Mr. Money Mustache‘s blog. Like everyone does with his blog, I found it, and I was like, “There are these people out there who are like me. This is exciting.” I read it in the chairs at the Community College of Denver, sitting there going through each blog from the beginning and reading every single one over. I don’t know how many months period. That was when I learned about FIRE. That’s a concept I had been working towards, but it turns out there were other people like me.
What got you to stumble into blogging to Mr. Money Mustache? Was it just a Google search?
I cannot remember why I stumbled over him specifically. Someone told me about it. That must have been what the case was, but I don’t remember how I came across it. I somehow found it.
I’ve read his blog too. It’s one of those blogs where once you start, it’s like a good movie or a good book. You can’t stop. You go, “I could go on a blog.” You realize you see the comments, and there are people that agree. It’s an easy slippery slope into the financial independence rabbit hole. What year did you say this was when you discovered it?
It was 2015.
You discovered this thing, and you’re on this track to financial independence. What happens next?
I’m from Ottawa, Canada. He had spent time in Ottawa, Canada. He was in Longmont, and I was in Denver. I was like, “Fellow Canadian. Maybe we could be friends one day.”
I heard the, “aboat,” and I was like, “I think she’s Canadian, but I don’t want to shout it out.”
I feel like all Canadians are super friendly. They know each other.
We’re not all related, but we all know each other.
In Alabama are all related. Canada, you all know each other. You’re getting involved in the community. Do you start interacting on the forums? How do you get involved?Stay curious about investing and frugality. Click To Tweet
I have a bit of a unique journey in the sense that I’ve never read any other blog, not one other in the FI space. I have not listened to one podcast of the FI space besides prepping for interviews like you guys and Carl’s podcast. I delved into this FI space via in-person meetups. Someone had told me about the Mr. Money Mustache Facebook community, as well as the ChooseFI by Denver community. I started going to in-person meetups there and making friends. I started my own little real estate investing club. I did that in Denver. From there, I started growing my network of people in the FI community in Denver specifically. I then started online.
I want to highlight here how important meetups are. It’s great that instead of being one of the internet creepers stalking around, you were like, “I’m going to go meet these people and get into the community.” Craig and I both run meetups. It’s such an integral part. Some people learn by reading. Some people learn by hearing other people’s stories and getting inspired, and some people are learning by doing. You need to get out there and get immersed with that group because it will get you a little more momentum if you’re starting out on your own. That’s awesome.
One thing that’s valuable about meetups is it becomes real. You see somebody going to be 1 or 2 steps ahead of you and has a couple of properties. You’re like, “If they can do it, I can do it. I can probably get their number and ask them questions along the way.” They’re more than happy to help. Oftentimes that’s the case. That was an integral part of my success too.
It’s funny that you almost went into this the old-fashioned way. Meetups aren’t old-fashioned, but going out and meeting people in person certainly is. Tell us a little bit about that. What was your goal there? Was it to meet people? Did you have this thought in mind that you wanted to build something?
I had no idea what my path would be like. I found out I’m into real estate and other things. I, at that time, wasn’t making much money. When I was talking to people who are engineers at these meetup groups, I was like, “This is freaky. I have my own business. I made little money. I had done much with my money to be able to travel, save it be and frugal, but not increase my income.” Going to these meetups to me was to meet other like-minded folks who like to buy places, who like to learn about investing, even though I couldn’t invest because I didn’t have money to invest, and make friends with people who wanted to have real conversations about finances.
I want to dig into a little bit about it. What was your job? What business did you have? How much money were you making? You said not a lot, but that could be relative.
When I moved to Denver and several years before that, I owned a nutrition consulting company. I worked with luxury apartment buildings in Denver, Colorado. I did film screenings, workshops, and cooking classes in their kitchens. I started a side business where I would prepare food and deliver it to people’s fridges for lunches and dinners every day, the dinner for the night, and the lunch for the next day. I did that five days a week, and I made $12,000 a year doing that. It is not very much.
That is the definition of not a lot.
It’s sad because it’s such an important thing. She’s helping bring nutrition into the world. It’s like, “Why are the important jobs not paid for?” I don’t know.
You’re making $12,000 a year, and you also mentioned that you had creative ways to save. You were able to travel and all that. For all the people reading, you can still be making $50,000, $60,000, or $100,000 a year and still implement some of Amberly’s strategies that she’s about to tell us about how to save. What were some of those things that you did?
I stopped my business at one point and started working when I was in school. That’s when I’ve gotten to the FI track. At that point, I was making an average of $15,000 to $20,000 a year. It is still not much, but a little bit more helps too. It’s almost doubled. I’d worked three jobs to make that. When I was making between $13,000 to $20,000 a year, I checked my Social Security, and I had made an average up until 2017 of $15,000 a year. Let’s say that’s the average of what I was making.
I traveled the world. I was lucky because I lived in a house in Denver where the lady had decided not to raise the rent if she had good people living there, which is also part of my landlord’s philosophy. It is that if you have good tenants, you should do what you can for them. My rent at that time in Downtown Denver, in Capitol Hill, was only $400 a month plus utilities. I was only paying $450 a month. It raised one time in the ten years I lived there.
I traveled the world by finding cheap tickets on Scott’s Cheap Flights and having a flexible schedule. I would go for a month or two at a time. If I would go overseas, I would take time to rent a whole apartment for a certain amount of time and do that. It is the little things like that. I cooked all my food at home, cut my own hair, and did my own nails.
I took the pleasure in the simple things in life and doing things for myself, which helped me along my journey to FI because when you are in real estate, if you can do a lot of things yourself, you can make a lot of money, not having to contract things out. I got a great work ethic in regards to figuring things out and doing them myself.
How did you get into the idea that real estate was going to be your path? With financial independence, most people talk about index funds. They have this goal, and they want to get that much money into funds, but if you’re in it for a little while, you start to realize, “Real estate is a lot faster than that.” I’m curious where that idea came from.
I finally went to university after I got rid of my business. It turns out Blue Apron is now a $1 billion industry, and maybe I should have stuck with it. I went to business school to learn how to run my business. I ended up graduating and starting to work as a project manager for a company. At that time, I started making $50,000, and that was the most amount of money my family had ever made, and I’ve ever made it in my life. It was pretty life-changing. If I’m living off of $12,000 a year, it means I can save a bunch of it. That’s what I did.
I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I started investing in index funds at that point. I went from zero to starting to invest. Real estate started to creep into my mind. The reason being was more curiosity. I’ve always been curious about real estate, but not on any plan to accelerate my plan to my path to FI. It turns out this is a good way of doing it.
I’ve always wanted to run a bed and breakfast my whole life. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to lower my living costs. I lived in the cheapest places around the world always. I wanted to do that with my own property. These types of things were appealing to me, and not paying my own mortgage. That seed was planted there.
It seems like you figured out the formula. There’s one formula that makes you achieve financial independence quickly. It’s to spend as little as you can, make as much as you can, and invest that difference to make that gap as large as you can. I’m not sure if you knew that in the beginning. You probably did, but maybe you couldn’t articulate it. Clearly, you knew what you were doing.
When you have your first $5,000 or $10,000, it makes sense to put it somewhere where you can still make a return over the next year or two as you’re saving up for that first real estate investment. $30,000, $40,000, or $50,000 is what you need these days to get started even in the house hack. That might take you a couple of years to start to save up.
That’s what I did. That’s why I like it so much. You got into real estate not for the reasons of achieving financial independence quicker but, “Let’s dive into that for the real deal.” That was your first deal, if you didn’t know. Tell us about that first property. When did you buy it? How much did you buy it for all the juicy numbers?
I started working for a real company, and I was a year and a half into the job. My partner and I decided we wanted to move in together, even if that wasn’t necessarily the right decision. I had decided that if we were going to spend money on an apartment, we may as well go and look into buying a house. I had a bunch of money saved from working in a job with more money than I’d ever seen before.
I figured it was a good time to invest it into a real estate property. That idea in the back of my head of, “If I were to do this, I want to do this as an income-producing property.” When I’m looking at places, I want to have either some walkout basement or be able to create an ADU or something on the property where I’m not the only person living there. Because my partner and I were moving in together, we didn’t want to live with someone. We wanted a separate space.
I also have some weird criteria. I want natural light because I never want anyone to live in a place that’s terribly dark. In February of 2019, we finally purchased our first property together. I put in $25,000, he put in $25,000, and his mom invested so that we could get to 20%. I thought that was important back then, and maybe it was, but I learned now that you could do other things here. The property was in Denver, Colorado, and it cost $505,000, which I overpaid for, which is one thing I didn’t know until months later.
I’m curious. Why did you think 20% or 25% down was the way to go?
The rule of thumb that always floats in the real estate community, not in the real estate investing community, but in buying your first house, is that you should hit 20% so you have a bit of buffer in case something happens with housing prices and you’re not underwater on your property. The other thing is PMI.
The mortgage insurance gets applied if you’re under 20%, and I didn’t know enough back then to run the numbers to see if it made sense to put in thousands of dollars more or take the monthly hit, and maybe the house will appreciate, or you put some improvements on it. I didn’t know any of that back then. What I focused on learning was all about the loan application. I knew that the numbers for the loan were important. That’s what I focused all my attention on, not on the future value of the property and what I could do with it in the future if I didn’t put this money down.
I’m curious about overpaying. That’s such an interesting concept because a lot of people think they’re overpaying now. For sure, people in 2021 thought they were overpaying. All of a sudden, everything went up another a $100,000 or so. How do we measure that? What makes you feel like you overpaid?
You do it by comps in the area. It turns out my real estate agent, we were his third deal, and we didn’t notice. He didn’t know how to pull comps properly. He pulled the same property from the same investors in the same GC down the street and didn’t compare it to other things in the area that weren’t selling from the exact same company.
It turns out that although I paid $505,000, what would have been an appropriate price to pay was about $485,000. When I had finally, months later, settled down and looked at what was going on in the market, I realized that we overpaid. I can tell you this because I made friends with the GC who did the property that I bought.If you have good tenants, you should do what you can for them. Click To Tweet
I bought a turnkey property. He told me that the other properties that turned out were my comps were the most they had ever made because they shot for the moon for pricing, and they got it. No matter what, overpaying only means that it’s the idea that I didn’t get as much maybe value, but it was $20,000. I made that in an Airbnb in a year. I was willing to pay for it. They were willing to sell it for it. That’s the right price.
There’s your value in having a real estate agent. You mentioned that as a turnkey deal. You wanted something pretty specific with natural light, a unit downstairs, and all that. You’ve found it. Maybe that’s why you were good with overpaying, but why did you go the turnkey route versus doing all the work, the rehab, and the sweat equity route?
I would’ve loved to do that route, but my partner at the time did not want to. He’s 100% adamant against it. The basement in our place is a walk-out basement with natural light and a great place, but it wasn’t set up as an Airbnb or any type of short-term rental. It wasn’t set up for someone to live down there. That was part of our contract with the GC. It worked out well. We had them install a sink, countertops and things like that matched the rest of the house. That was nice. Honestly, I would have done it, and he didn’t want to.
After you had it under contract, you had the contractor go in and install a sink and a second kitchen there while you were under contract.
That makes the house a little bit more valuable.
It worked out well, but when I ran the numbers months later, I was like, “My real estate didn’t know what he was doing.” I learned this years later when I had to work with them again.
I want to mention that everything is negotiable, and you are approving this now. When you go on our contract with someone, everything is negotiable between the price, terms, and what they have to do and what they can’t do. If you can’t negotiate that, you must wear a shirt that says, “I love Zeona,” at closing. Everything is negotiable. Make sure you know what is in the contract and try to make things work. Amberly, let’s take it a little bit into the numbers. You said you bought it for $505,000. What was the mortgage payment? What were you getting for Airbnb rent? Tell us those juicy details.
I bought it in February 2019 at $505,000 at a 4.5% interest rate. The cool thing about when I bought the place is I got a first-time home buyer’s credit. We decided I’d be the only person on the loan so that we could qualify for some credits from Chase, specifically where we worked with. My work also said if I worked with Chase, they would give me $2,000. Chase Sapphire Preferred gives you like $800 if you go through a mortgage with Chase. I had the card as well.
That worked out well. I had almost $8,000 in credits. Because it was a first-time home buyer thing, I could apply the credits to the down payment. Normally, from my understanding, a lot of times, with financing with credits, you can’t get it into the actual. You can’t lower the property value with a down payment. You can only cover the closing costs. They were able to cover. I ended up paying $497,000 for the property out of pocket, even though it sold for $505,000 from all those great little pieces.
My interest rate was high in comparison to what I’ve refinanced to because, at that time, that’s what the going rate for interest rates was. It was in that weird spike where everything was higher than it had been for years, which was fine. I did a fifteen-year loan because I also thought from conventional wisdom, pay your down first. That’s an important thing to pay down quickly. It turns out that if the interest rate is low, that’s a terrible idea. That’s what I originally did.
The first payments were $2,500 a month for the first few months. I refinanced it because interest rates started coming down, and I realized we didn’t need a fifteen-year loan. I refinanced it. The ROI on that was one month because I had zero closing costs on it. It was a no-brainer. I got it down to 3.25%. At that point, I did a 20 or 30-year loan. I can’t remember that one. All of a sudden, the payments were even less. At that point, we’d gotten the payments down to $2,100 a month.
I ReFi a third time. That’s after another part of the story, which is my partner, and I broke up. I had this house with someone that we were deciding that we were no longer going to be in partnership with. He and his mother combined had put a gift to me. It had been about $80,000 into her house. I had only put in $25,000. I had to decide if I was keeping this house. We had done some Airbnb at that point. I figured, “Airbnb covers a mortgage. This is a good investment. Let’s do this.” This is in March of 2020. It is good timing to take on an entire mortgage by yourself and pay $80,000 to the people who invested in your property so you can take it over.
I was running Airbnb. I was confident. I had some extra money, and I pulled some money out. I was paying for them. I had agreed in February 2020. I’d pay them the $80,000 in March 2020. In March 2020, the market is hitting bottom. Airbnb specifically canceled all reservations several months after that and refunded all guests, which is a great idea because we were in a pandemic. It’s terrible for hosts, especially someone like me who took on every part of the expense of the house by myself. That was a bit of a roller coaster for me in that first deal and a learning opportunity in regards to what to do next.
You bought the property in February of 2019. You and your partner split up in February 2020. The property must have appreciated it at that point. Did you pay him the $80,000 they put in, or did you give them a little bit more than that for some of the appreciation when you both owned it?
Before we bought the place, I’m an A-type of personality person in the sense that I like to have things figured out and structured. We’d already had an agreement that if we were to break up or someone were to die, who would own things. If his mom dies, we get 50/50 of her investment in our property. If he dies, I get his half. If I die, my half may go to my sister, or they pay her out.
If we had broken up within a year, we would give the down payment back without any appreciation because we didn’t want to do an appraisal and weren’t sure if things were going to appreciate that much at that time. We just did down payments, and that was our agreement for the first year of life with the house. The cool thing is neither of us paid a mortgage from June 2019, when we started renting out the basement to a friend for a couple of weeks, and Airbnb that we hadn’t paid more than $200 towards a mortgage and a year. It was nice for him.
If you have partnerships with somebody, even if it is your spouse or your significant other, write that stuff down. It’s a hard conversation to have if someone dies or breaks up. No one likes to talk about that stuff, but that saved you in this situation. You would have learned that lesson the hard way had you not had those written up.
Those conversations are much easier to have when there’s nothing at stake or when you’re excited, you’re going into the house, and everything’s cool. It’s a lot harder to negotiate all that when you’re breaking up. At least, you could look at the form and be like, “This is what we agreed to.” There’s no argument there.
It sounds like you were at least covering your mortgage with that Airbnb downstairs.
We were covering our mortgage at that time.
You have a place to yourself. You’re living rent-free in a nice up-and-coming part of Denver. It is a win-win. I’m sure you pay $20,000 over. You made that back at least within a year. I’m curious. Rough estimate, ballpark, what do you think that property is worth?
I did a HELOC in 2021, and it was worth $45,000 more than I paid for it. That was at $550,000. My assumption is probably around $570,000. My neighborhood has blown up. I have no idea what it’s worth, and every day, there are new constructions. It’s probably around $570,000.
I bet you it’s worth more than that, but even if it is worth $570,000, it’s like, “Do you care you’re paying $20,000 over at closing?” If you’re playing to hold out for the long-term, you’re talking to hundreds of thousands of dollars of difference. You’re not going to remember the $10,000 or $20,000 more you paid for it. It is still a great decision.
The $20,000 over was almost like a lesson. Who your real estate agent is matters. The number one lesson I learned from that first deal is it matters to have someone who knows what your goals are and is on the same page as you. You can give new agents to try. That’s not a problem, but they better know what they’re doing or have someone they can turn to and aren’t cocky, which was what my guy was. He started working with the seller after the deal happened and kept trying to tell me everything was a handshake, “It’s fine, Amberly. Don’t put it in the contract. We don’t need that.” It was all around unprofessional in certain ways. We’ll talk about how I worked with him again.
I want to go over one thing because I’m an Airbnb person too. I had that big experience of everything shut off during COVID for a little while, and it was better than ever, but nobody knew what was going to happen. What pivot did you do? I saw a lot of hosts being super creative to get their spaces filled. What happened for you?
In March of 2020, we were able to continue with our Airbnbs until the end of March. I’ve always run numbers for the long term, short term, and medium-term like, “What can my place make?” My place is always making money above and beyond my mortgage and all of my payments with long-term renters in both of my parts of my property, not just short-term.
The short term is nice above and beyond, and rules have changed. I make sure that I don’t have to all of a sudden sell a bunch of stuff because the rules have changed. When Airbnb went to zero, and they were no longer allowing new bookings to happen in Denver, or they were, but you could get your money back, and no one was booking.
I was going to go through nurse rentals. I had already had my place on a Furnished Finder. My next step was to do a three-month nurse rental and even a month if I didn’t find someone, but at least have it open. What happened was I have a good friend who was the first person ever to rent out my Airbnb that I found on a FI forum.
It wasn’t an Airbnb back then. It was just my basement. His wife was going through cancer treatment. I had been doing these live education classes on Facebook. He found out that my Airbnb was empty. I didn’t have money, and they found out she had a brain tumor. That day, they called me as she was getting an ambulance from Crested Butte to Denver, saying, “Can we rent your place for the next three months at the same price as before? Can we do the same arrangement we had when she was getting cancer treatment back then? Can we show up tonight?” That’s how I pivoted. My friends stayed there for four months. I got to hang out with them, and it was a huge win-win for us.It's always good to keep up your network. Click To Tweet
One of the things I love about owning properties, especially furnished rentals, is that you can help people with them. Ninety percent of the time, you’re charging as much money as you can get, top of the market, and whatever, but there are these times where you have a friend coming to town, or we had some fire evacuations here in Boulder. There have been things that come up where you’re like, “I make much money on this place. I can rent it for cheap for a little while, and I can help somebody out.” It feels good to have those levers you can pull when you are frugal and have properties at your disposal.
Let’s get into the second deal because I want to know the gossip. Give us the details of the second deal. When did you buy it? What was it for? Give us all juices.
My first property is going well. Airbnb hadn’t quite come back for me yet. I had done another nurse rental because of the second wave of COVID. In December of 2020, I was running my house. I had a roommate at that time. My one house is doing well. It’s appreciated in value. I’ve got cash reserves again from paying people out $80,000 in February 2020. I don’t actively look for properties, and I like to think that they’ll fall into my lap, and I’ll figure it out when it happens because that’s my entire life for all parts of it and certain things.
That real estate agent called me. We’d stayed connected in the sense that if he called me, I’d answer his call. I hadn’t discussed how I was upset with him for the first deal and how he started working for the seller. That seemed shady to me after this experience I had with him. It’s always good to keep up your network.
In January 2021, he called me, “We should see what your house is worth.” I said, “I’m curious. I’m going to put it out there. I’m looking for another place that’s a duplex within three miles of Downtown Denver with natural light. If you see anything, let me know.” I don’t like the Denver setups where you have to go through the backyard to get into the property. You can split it up and down. I’m not a fan of those. I was not looking for something like that because there are tons of those in Denver. I’m looking for something like my current setup where it’s a full other access point type of thing.
He was like, “I have this seller.” He has this guy that wants to sell his place. This real estate agent had found him a buyer before, but the buyer fell through the whole property, which was two duplexes worth $1.4 million. That was the original offer for the two duplexes. It is four units. On the one side of the duplex, the renters got wind that he was trying to sell it. When that buyer fell out, he bought their half from this investor, and the other half was still open. It is not technically for sale or not for sale, but this guy, the real estate agent, was going to represent him.
It was like, “Give me the information so I can run the numbers. Where is the property? I’m going to go look at it.” That’s the case. We started this game where you start to do your due diligence as a real estate investor, see what your property taxes are, what is he making for rent now, what needs to be done on the property, and how do I have to set it up.
While talking to this real estate agent, things felt off. I didn’t enjoy working with them the first time because of the ending interactions I had with him. I had a bottom line of what I was willing to pay for the property based on comps that I’m now good at doing. He was trying to go above and beyond. I didn’t understand why when he kept telling me that the bottom line for this seller was $700,000 and that he was willing to go to $700,000 for this one duplex in Denver. My real estate agent kept telling me that he was that I needed to offer $750,000.
The thing that started to feel off was that he was trying to represent me as the buyer, but he kept saying that he was representing the seller. I wasn’t sure where his loyalties lay on that. He kept not bringing my offers to the seller. I did a whole comp thing. I said, “I’m willing to spend between $715,000 and $730,000 on this property, but no higher.” This is an off-market property, which is great. It’s always worth a little bit more.
He kept telling me, “The seller won’t go lower than $730,000.” It turns out he was securing his commission, which as an agent, you’re allowed to commission and do the work you would need to do. He kept telling me that the seller was going to pay him. The seller’s bottom line was $700,000. I didn’t understand what was going on. I’ve walked away from the deal because I didn’t have that cash. In Denver at that time, you had to have cash anything above $585,000 or $560,000. I had to come up with $100,000 and however many thousands of cash to get this deal, and I didn’t have it.
To be clear, it’s a duplex split up. This is half of a duplex that you’re buying, but it’s got two units on it. It’s probably not a legitimate duplex, but you could rent it out as a duplex. You see those all over everywhere. Is that right?
No, it’s a legitimate duplex with the ability to have a triplex on the property. It’s a multifamily property zoned in Denver. It’s one address.
That might be the issue because, with a duplex, that $585,000 number is a little higher. I know that you hit the conforming loan limit, and you have to bring in an extra $100,000 or whatever. Maybe you didn’t have that. This is such a big reason. You need to make sure that you’re working with a high-quality real estate agent because if this guy is representing the buyer and the seller, he should have disclosed that to you. He can do that. He takes no sides. He facilitates the transaction. In Colorado, this is called transaction brokerage. When he’s representing you, you are his fiduciary. He needs to get that property for you at the lowest possible price so that you’ll still get the property.
I want to add about the transaction broker or double lending. As a buyer, it’s not to your advantage. If you’re seeing that’s happening and not getting a huge discount for that, it’s not worth it because the buyer doesn’t pay the commission. You’re paying it in the total cost of the home, but it’s on the seller’s side. You should have proper representation. For anybody reading or people that are real estate agents, it is dicey to double-end a transaction. In general, we don’t do it and refer it out.
If you’re going to pay for it anyway, you want the person on your team. As you said, “He should be my fiduciary.” Meaning, any offer I’m giving, he has to represent to the seller, and he wasn’t. I didn’t find that out until I backed out of the deal. He started negotiating his commission with me. I thought, “Why are you negotiating with me when you’re working for the seller? I don’t understand.”
I said, “I’m going to wash my hands of this. Everything feels way too complicated.” It sounds complicated in my explanation. It was terrible, and something was weird. I backed out. He calls me, and he goes, “What could we do to get you back in here?” I said, “Give me the seller’s number, and I’m going to have a call with him.” That was a mistake because it turns out the real estate agent has been lying to me this entire time.
I called the seller, and it turns out this real estate agent had been lying about a lot of things. I went to the seller and said, “Here’s my understanding. You’re willing to take the property at $700,000. It appears here is the property’s condition. Here are the things you’ve done on it and anything else I should know. I’m willing to do this deal, but everything is not making sense to me.”
He clarified some of the confusion I had, and it turns out that the real estate agent was trying to work both ends but never working for anyone or telling people the true nature of what was going on. That’s fine. The seller and I had agreed that no matter what, the agent should make some commission for connecting us. I called Craig. It was like, “What does that look like in Colorado? What would be fair to someone?”
The seller was trying to get me to give him $12,000, which was way too much money for someone who kept attempting to screw me over, but I knew that I had to bring him into the deal or else I wouldn’t get this property. I ended up paying $707,000 for the property. I gave 1% of the deal to the real estate agent, which was generous based on the way that he treated me after this, understandably. I got it for $707,000 total.
Do you pay the commission as the buyer?
How do you avoid real estate agents like this? He sounds toxic. There are plenty of them out there. He’s not a special case. How would you go back and avoid this in the future?
The second time, I wanted to see if I was a crazy one. Maybe I was being greedy, overly cautious, or something was going on, and I needed to check myself. I called other agents to talk to them, like Craig and others, to be like, “Is this a normal behavior? Is this something I should expect?” Most people came back and said, “This sounds a bit odd.”
I ended up finding out two of my friends worked at the same brokerages. He and I called them to say, “If you were in his position, how would you have handled this?” It was different than the way he did. The way I would do it is to do your due diligence by interviewing other agents. Never go with the first person you talk to. Maybe that’s the person you ended up with, but it’s not the person you go with. Interview a couple of people and do character references if you want to. I don’t feel it’s above and beyond, but finding out what type of person they are based on other people at their brokerage or whatever it is, is a good way of protecting yourself.
I want to say that off-market deals are dicey because a lot of times, the sellers don’t want to pay the commission. The agent does have to negotiate it, but he should say that. He should say, “We have to put my commission on here on the top of this price. Your price is this, but this is why.” That should all be laid out and clear. It’s that he was trying to be too sneaky about it, and it didn’t come over well.
One thing that I tell all of the agents on our team, and everything in real estate should be, is nothing should be a surprise in a real estate transaction. You shouldn’t get to the closing table and be like, “What the heck is this? You never told me that.” You need to set expectations and go above and beyond in your communication to make sure that everybody’s on the same page because that is where every single problem happens. It is miscommunication, misunderstanding, or not having that clarity.
From the buyer’s perspective, if you’re making a huge purchase like this, you start to get nervous, no matter what. Everyone goes through buyer’s remorse when you buy a huge property or you do this first thing. As an agent, from the buyer’s perspective, you have to walk them through each part and be transparent because the second someone starts to feel something is off, they’re going to go, “Why is my representation feeling off?” That’s going to make the entire deal die.
Let’s get into the numbers on that too. What was your mortgage payment? What was the rent? What did that look like?
The multifamily property was found out halfway through getting financing. The financing looks different for that. You have to put a certain percentage down, at least with the people I was working with. I had to put 15% down on that one. I ended up putting about $90,000 on that property. The total purchasing price was $707. I got a 3% loan. The loan rates were going up again when I was buying it. It’s 3% total for 30 years, which is incredible.
The rent at the time, the basement unit was renting for $1,795. My total mortgage plus taxes and insurance is $3,000 a month plus utilities on top of that. It’s quite a large property. It’s 2,800 square feet. The walkout basement is $1,795 a month plus 1/3 of utilities. Upstairs, those tenants were moving out because I was moving in because it’s my property. I got a personal loan on that one. I moved upstairs and had to redo a lot of stuff upstairs.That's a really important thing to pay down quickly which it turns out if the interest rate is so low, that's a terrible idea. Click To Tweet
I spent about $25,000 fixing the house, a new roof, flooring, painting, and fixtures. I still have to redo the kitchen on it because it’s an ugly old kitchen. It’s not a deemed historical, thank goodness, but it was one of those nice Victorian homes in Denver. Trying to keep with that aesthetic is important while I’m fixing it up.
I put about $24,000 into fixing it up. My renter wanted to leave, but he’s awesome. He’s now the person who helps me with my Airbnb. He moved upstairs. Downstairs, we started doing Airbnb rentals. He’s the owner of Airbnb. The upstairs rents for $3,150 a month, plus 2/3 of utilities, and the downstairs rents for long-term rental. I could probably get now with Denver pricing, $2,100 a month, but I do short-term, which makes a lot more than that.
You’re looking at between $5,000 or $6,000 a month in rent on a $3,000 mortgage payment. From these two properties, you’re probably making $5,000 to $6,000 a month passively.
Between the two properties, there are 2 short-term renters and 2 long-term renters now on my properties while I’m in Canada, but I live in one of them in one room with a roommate. On-off months, not peak months for Airbnb, I make between $3,000 and $5,000 a month. With Airbnb, I make between $9,000 and $12,000 a month in my pocket. That’s after all expenses are paid plus a savings account, paying for cleaning and all that stuff.
What do you think that property is worth now? You bought it for $700,000. I’m sure it’s appreciated.
It was worth a lot more when I bought it too. I wasn’t haggling this deal. When I was doing the comps, it was worth between $750,000 and $800,000 fixed up. Now my guess is probably around $900,000. I need to get the PMI removed so I can get an appraisal. I know a unit down the street went for $1.4 million, and it had a third small garage unit. I was like, “It’s the third unit.”
We’re going to have to get to the final part of our show soon. You did drop slightly. We threw $80,000 to $90,000 down payment. This is the woman that was making $12,000 a year. How are you getting this $90,000? Is it through the real estate investment in Airbnb? Do you have some secret pile of cash somewhere that we don’t know about?
I upped my income at work. I decided to switch jobs. Since we’re talking numbers, I went from making $50,000 a year. I got a raise to $65,000. I was making less than all of my peers because I was fresh out of college, but I would take on million-dollar projects and fix things for other people because they were pretty bad. They wouldn’t give me a raise, so I switched companies and went to our competitor. I started at $120,000 a year after that, plus a bonus. That was in July of 2019. I was able to start saving money. That’s how I saved up that first $80,000. It was increasing my income, and I was able to save that for the next property. It is a W-2 job.
She was house hacking. She wasn’t paying much, if anything, for rent. She had a roommate once her partner left. That was probably bringing in extra that was helping out.
My housing was zero, and I got to make money on top of that.
You’re solving for that formula, raise your income, reduce your expenses, and now hit financial independence. With your spending habits, it sounds like you’re at financial independence. Is that accurate to say that?
I am technically at financial independence. I’m not in the retired part. I have a partner who I’m trying to bring to the United States, and he can’t work. I only started working a few years ago. I am someone who wants that money in some brokerage accounts because they were quite empty a few years ago. My goal now is to set myself up, so I have multiple paths in case something happens. I don’t have to rely on real estate only, and I’m going to continue working because I love what I do. It is only for a couple of years, and then I’m out.
Congrats on all your success for it. It’s funny to hear your story going from someone who’s coming to the United States and making almost nothing. You grow in the corporate space, grow with your investments, and now here you are. I was going to ask you where you go next, but it sounds like you’re going to continue to invest in index funds, dabble in real estate, and keep it your job for a couple of more years. Once you and your partner are settled back here in the United States, you’re going to start living your life.
We have some big dreams for travel. I traveled the world, and he did a motorcycle trip from Vancouver to South America and back. We’re adventurous. We’ve got some things that we want to do, like sailing and stuff. The plan is to have the kiddo, maybe have another one to take advantage of mat leave, take advantage of W-2 and be able to get properties easily because I don’t have to qualify all that income from the properties. If another deal falls in my lap, I’ll go for it. If not, we’ll sit pretty for several years and move on.
Amberly, I love your story, and thank you so much for sharing. We are going to head into our final four. Before we do, do you have any lasting words of wisdom for the audience?
Find a good real estate agent.
Z, take us off.
Amberly, question number one. What are you reading now?
I am reading an advanced copy of Doc G’s book Taking Stock, which I’m excited about so far. It’s fantastic.
If you want to look back, Doc G was on our show a few episodes ago. We did a deep dive into his book and his philosophy. It is a good episode. Check that out.
Amberly, the second question is, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
One of the best pieces of advice I follow is building the parachute on the way down. Life and things don’t turn out the way that you think they will. Sometimes you should take the leap and see what happens.
If you wait to be comfortable to take the next step, you’re never going to take that next step. That’s never a good time to have the baby, travel the world, move, and start investing in real estate. It’s never a good time to do something different. You got to do it and figure it out. I love that.
Question number three. What is your why?
My why of FI or real estate is I love connecting with people. My favorite thing in the world is to chat with people online and create communities in person. That’s why I do everything. I love being a landlord and an Airbnb host because I get to meet people from all over the world and make them comfortable in that small amount of time I get to have with them. I feel that way about everyone in my life. That’s why I do everything that I do.
Last semi question, if countries were to settle their differences with something other than war, what would it be?
It is love. When I thought of it, love wouldn’t always be the answer, but I did hear that when you put women in charge of fixing territories and resources, they do a better job than men. No offense to half the population out there.
We lost half our readers. To all the men out there, you’re doing a great job. There are always different perspectives that men and women bring together. They make great teams. It would help if there were more women leaders in the world. Where can people find out more about you when you’re not doing the love thing, settling between countries?
Go follow Amberly if you’re interested to hear more about her journey. She was amazing. Thank you so much for coming on. It was good to see and hang out with you. We’ll chat again soon.
This is fun. Thank you guys for all the questions and insights.
Thanks so much.
That was Amberly Grant. Z, what did you think about Ms. Amberly?
I thought her story was great. I find that sometimes I’m hearing stories from people that are getting started that buy big properties because $505,000 and over $700,000. Those are big prices, but big also win big. I am impressed to see you can make $3,000 a month on one property. That’s exciting and shows the power of house hacking and Airbnb. Sometimes you got to risk it to make it happen. I love the boldness.
Another great thing about large properties is they appreciate a lot too. She underestimates how much her property is worth. It’s probably worth well over $600,000. She’s got between two properties, at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity in a couple of years, which is more than a good job salary. We’ve had some luck in the last few years, but still, you can’t get lucky unless you buy. She seemed to care to grow to 1,000 units or have millions of dollars. She’s like, “No, I’m -pretty content with $7,000 to $12,000 a month.” They are having a baby. After they have their baby, they’re going to go travel and live and enjoy life. I love that.
I love when people have such good balance and clarity about what they’re trying to accomplish. I did want to point out that our Episode 85 was the one that we had Doc G. If you guys want to go back and read, talking about his book, Taking Stock, that Amberly referenced, you can check it out there. That is it for now.
I want to put in a little plug. If you guys have not joined, I have a Facebook group called Airbnb Investing. Check us out. We’ve got about almost 800 members on there, sharing advice about Airbnbs. We have a Meetup. We were talking about meetups in this episode. I know that Craig and I host monthly Meetups. If you guys want to come out, how could they find out about your Meetup, Craig?
Our Meetup is every first Wednesday of the month, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM at Blake Street Tavern. You can go to Meetup.com and look up House Hacker’s Meetup Denver, Colorado, and we’ll be the first one. Join the group. We have Meetups every single week. A different agent throws a Meetup, but the big one is that first Wednesday every month. You’ll be able to come to as many as you want, have all the fun, and come meet your tribe.
We can’t wait to meet you in person. As we ask at the end of every episode, if you guys haven’t yet, please leave us a rating or review, tell your friends, and share this show. It helps us grow and bring cool guests and better content. With that, we will see you next episode.
- Amberly Grant
- Mr. Money Mustache
- Facebook – Mr. Money Mustache
- Furnished Finder
- Taking Stock
- Jordan Grumet – Previous episode
- @AmberlyGrant – Instagram
- TikTok – Amberly Grant
- Airbnb Investing – Facebook
- House Hacker’s Meetup
About Amberly Grant
Amberly Grant is a FIRE community leader, IG financial educator and real estate investor. She creates quirky financial educational content on Instagram and hosts a Tuesday FinTalks group where 40-50 people talk weekly about different financial topics. FinTalks members also meet for a yearly retreat in Denver Colorado, as a fun way to bond and learn more about finance and real estate investing.
In 2019, Amberly bought her first cash flowing property, followed by the second in 2021. After fixing up the later, a Denver duplex, she now uses both properties for long term and short term rentals. She uses all the knowledge gained from her years in real estate investing, financial education and even traveling the world to connect with others in her mentorship and coaching programs.
Amberly is determined to bring others with her on her path to financial independence, hoping to help everyone achieve financial freedom and ultimately live their best life.