Tiffany Alexy didn’t intend to become a real estate investor when she bought her first rental property at age 21. Then a college senior in Raleigh, North Carolina, she planned to attend grad school locally and figured buying would be better than renting.
“I went on Craigslist and found a four-bedroom, four-bathroom condo that was set up student-housing style. I bought it, lived in one bedroom and rented out the other three,” Alexy says.
The setup covered all of her expenses and brought in an extra $100 per month in cash — far from chump change for a grad student, and enough that Alexy caught the real estate bug. Now age 27, she has five rentals and is a broker and owner of Alexy Realty Group in Raleigh.
Alexy entered the market using a strategy sometimes called house hacking, a term coined by BiggerPockets, an online resource for real estate investors. It essentially means you’re occupying your investment property, either by renting out rooms, as Alexy did, or by renting out units in a multi-unit building. David Meyer, vice president of growth and marketing at the site, says house hacking lets investors buy a property with up to four units and still qualify for a residential loan.
Of course, you can also buy and rent out an entire investment property. Find one with combined expenses lower than the amount you can charge in rent. And if you don’t want to be the person who shows up with a toolbelt to fix a leak — or even the person who calls that person — you’ll also need to pay a property manager.
“If you manage it yourself, you’ll learn a lot about the industry, and if you buy future properties you’ll go into it with more experience,” says Meyer.