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How to Make Money in Real Estate

There are several ways to invest in real estate. Which is right for you?


Real estate can be a great way to make money as an investor. Not only do real estate investments have the potential to produce excellent long-term results but also tax advantages, and they can add diversification to your overall investment strategy. Real estate has set millions of people on the path to financial freedom and could do the same for you.

However, there are several ways you could choose to invest in real estate — ranging from simple stock investments to fixing and flipping houses and everything in between — and there are some big differences among the various methods. So, here’s a quick guide that can help you get started on the path to making money in real estate.

5 ways to make money in real estate

Here are five of the most common ways to put money to work in real estate, as well as some information about each method.

1. Investment properties (rental real estate)

The most obvious way to make money in real estate is to buy an investment property (or several). You could buy a home and rent it out to long-term tenants or purchase a multi-unit rental property or small apartment building. You could look into buying a vacation rental or a property you intend to otherwise rent short term. Or you could buy a commercial property (any type of property that is not residential real estate), such as a retail or office building, and lease it to tenants to generate rental income.

Buying an investment property can be a great way to make money in real estate, but it isn’t without its drawbacks, and there’s quite a bit to learn before you get started.

2. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

A real estate investment trust, or REIT (pronounced “reet”), is a special type of company designed to invest in real estate assets. Think of a REIT as sort of a mutual fund for real estate investment: Investors’ money is pooled to buy a portfolio of commercial properties or other real estate assets. Many REITs are traded on the stock market and are very easy to buy and sell, making them excellent choices for beginner investors and those with limited capital to invest. And, many pay consistent dividends, making them good options for investors who want steady income.

There are REITs specializing in just about any type of real estate you can think of, as well as exchange-traded funds and mutual funds that will allow you to invest in a diverse portfolio of REITs. You can learn more about REIT investing with our guide to the basics of investing in REITs.

3. Fix-and-flips

If you’ve watched HGTV in the past few years, you probably know what it means to flip houses. This potentially lucrative form of real estate investing essentially involves taking a rundown residential property, completing repairs and/or renovations on it, and then selling it at a profit. While the popular fix-and-flip shows make it look easy, flipping houses successfully requires a lot of effort and knowledge of your local real estate market, among other things.

4. Wholesaling

A real estate wholesaler serves as a middleman between motivated home sellers and real estate investors. A wholesaler finds cheap property investment opportunities (if you’ve ever seen those “we buy ugly houses” signs, those are typically put there by wholesalers). The wholesaler will enter into a contract to buy the property but then find a real estate investor who is willing to pay a bit more, the difference being the wholesaler’s profit margin.

Unlike many other forms of real estate investing, wholesaling can be a very time-consuming job, and there are lots of rules and other things to know.

5. Crowdfunding

Real estate crowdfunding is a relatively new form of real estate investing, but there is certainly money to be made. When a developer or professional investor identifies an opportunity to build or buy a commercial real estate asset, they may choose to raise some of the project’s capital from individual investors. For example, a crowdfunding deal might aim to purchase a hotel, spend a few years gradually renovating the rooms, and ultimately sell it at a profit. There are several reputable crowdfunding marketplaces, but it’s important to point out that most of the best deals are limited to accredited investors only.

Real estate crowdfunding is a relatively new form of real estate investing

Some Tips How to start

You don’t need credit: Even if you have poor credit, there are ways forward if you’re committed enough. Several of the methods discussed in this piece don’t rely on credit whatsoever. In fact, many successful real estate investors started with no credit or even poor credit. 

You don’t need significant capital: You don’t need capital to make money in real estate beyond a few hundred dollars to open escrow. Of course, this means going for the lower-priced homes or distressed properties and flipping contracts. It also means finding hard-money lenders or other investors that can help you push deals through. This could even apply for home renovations as long as you’re good at finding the money. 

You don’t need major assets: There’s another misconception that you need to put up major assets in order to secure a contract or purchase a piece of property. You don’t need to do this, but you do need to understand how creative financing works. Most people simply stop dead in their tracks because they have this belief about what they need in order to get started. 

Related: 10 Lessons this Entrepreneur Learned from Flipping $100 Million in Real Estate

How to make a living investing in real estate

When it comes to real estate income, there are two ways to generate cash. You can generate passive income by buying and holding, while you can generate an active income by flipping contracts, doing renovations or adding value in another area — such as putting together property development deals. It might seem overwhelming at first, but it won’t be as intimidating once you gain experience. 

When most people think about making money in the real estate sector, they ask the following types of questions: 

How can I invest in real estate with no money? You can utilize a variety of methods that includes any of the following: 

  • Seller financing through lease options
  • Trading fixed assets such as cars, jewelry and more
  • Taking over someone else’s mortgage payments who might be in a distressed situation
  • Bringing in an investment partner with cash
  • Borrowing from a bank or getting a hard money loan 
  • Taking out a home equity line of credit
  • Utilizing a peer-to-peer lending network 

How does a real estate investment work? Real estate investing works on the concept of cash flow, which means that your income has to exceed your outgoing expenses. This is known as a positive cash flow. This can work for both long-term residential and commercial rentals as well as it will work for short-term vacation rentals. 

Is it good to invest in real estate? Absolutely. This is one of the sources (aside from being a business owner) that has generated the most wealth in our history. 

What is a wholesale deal in real estate? Wholesale is akin to flipping properties, except you never take ownership of the home when you flip real estate contracts. You can learn the specific strategies for doing this from REWW and other data aggregators for the wholesale flipping market.

That being said, there are eight primary strategies for generating a real income in real estate. Whether you can earn a passive income or active income depends on the strategy you implement. 

Related: 8 Ways Real Estate Is Your Smartest Investment

1. Long-term residential rentals

One of the most common methods for making money in real estate is to leverage long-term buy-and-hold residential rentals. People will always need a place to live, and that means getting involved with rental properties. You need to do the proper amount of due diligence to source your property by keeping three principles in your mind: location, location, location.

Yes, you’ve heard it before, but location is everything when it comes to real estate. Not only does this apply for actually an increased asset value over time, but also in your ability to quickly rent that property to a long-term tenant. When you’re considering long-term residential rentals, look for a great location. That’s more important than the current state of the property itself. In fact, run-down homes in great locations are one of the best investments you can make.

This involves a more traditional approach to making money in the real estate market. It means buying a property with some cash on hand to make a down payment and then holding that property for the long term. Depending on your personal situation, you can easily grab that property for a very low or even no down payment. That’s especially true if this is a pre-existing, income-producing property.

If there’s positive cash flow in a residential rental, then it could be a great investment. However, you’ll likely not find that too easily, unless the current owner is unloading for personal reasons due to a divorce or other need to liquidate that property that necessitates having some cash on hand.

2. Lease options

Lease options can be a great way to get involved in real estate without having to put up a significant amount of capital or even have great credit at the outset. You’re leasing with an option to buy. This tends to work well when the real estate market is climbing because you’re creating a pre-set price at which you can later purchase the property.

If, for example, the property market climbs substantially, you can buy that property at a discount. You could also potentially turn around and sell your rights for that purchase to someone else. The clear bet here is on the bull market in real estate. As long as this is an option you can exercise and not something set in stone that says you have to purchase at the end of the lease regardless, then you could very well turn a profit.

3. Home-renovation flips

The fix-and-flip culture has exploded. Thanks to the popularity of home renovation shows, we’re experiencing a massive boom in the traditional renovation flip market. While there can certainly be a lot of money to be made here, navigating these waters in the beginning can be tricky. When you lack the knowledge or the experience, you could find yourself on the losing end if you don’t select the right home.

Matt Larson has flipped more than 2,000 homes in Iowa and Illinois. Over the course of that time, he’s learned some lessons on what to look for and what not to look for when flipping a home with a renovation. His advice? Go after the ugliest homes in the nicest neighborhoods. That’s where the real value is. The other difficulty here is not only finding those homes when you’re not well-networked with real estate agents, but also understanding your after-repair value.

How much will the home be worth once you’ve invested in fixes and repairs? To accurately determine that, you need a strong relationship with a general contractor and an on-site tour of the property. While buying site-unseen at an auction might seem alluring, unless you really know what you’re doing, you could lose money. However, making money on a home-renovation flip can be rather straightforward — as long as you understand the underlying costs and potential value.

John and Julie Wakefield, a husband-and-wife flipping team who’ve done hundreds of flips, say something similar. They advise not to bite off more than you can chew, and more importantly, you should look for creative ways to help others. Success as a real estate investor has as much to do with how creatively you can solve problems as it does how well you can crunch the numbers. 

4. Contract flipping

One way that you can make money from real estate without having to put up very much capital or credit is to flip contracts. All you have to do is find a distressed seller and a motivated buyer, then bring them together. While locating a distressed seller might seem difficult, Clothier has systemized the entire process for doing this. The trick with contract flipping is to identify the distressed seller and locate a ready-to-go buyer.

By bringing these parties together, you’ve cut out the need to go hunting for a buyer after you’ve entered a contract. That situation presents more risk. Instead, by locating the sellers and the buyers beforehand, you can easily enter into a contract with the confidence that you won’t get stuck having to close escrow on the property. 

To do this, you have to be able to identify either vacant homes or homes that are behind on their mortgages. That’s the tricky part. You’re effectively trying to find distressed sellers, but homes that are already vacant are primed for an opportunity like this. 

5. Short sales

Short sales occur when the current owner of their home is behind on their mortgage but the property hasn’t yet entered into foreclosure. In order for this to happen, all parties have to agree to the transaction since the property is being sold off for less than is owed on the existing mortgages. This can be a great opportunity to make a quick profit without investing into lengthy renovations.

However, succeeding with short sales or any other default-type auctions is often tricky. You usually need to pay for the homes outright in cash, and sometimes that has to happen site-unseen. Short sales are better than auctions because you get a chance to check out the home and enter into a negotiation process. Unless you’re a seasoned investor, jumping in without an inspection and complete review could be risky.

Short sales take time, but they can be well worth the wait. The potential return on a short sale can be instantaneous. Tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars can materialize as soon as the property purchase goes through because the bank is engulfed in a bad investment. But don’t expect to get the property for a steal — you’ll still have to negotiate a relatively fair price. Depending on how badly the bank wants to unload that property, it could sit around and wait for another buyer, so don’t try to low-ball too far.

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