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Susan's Real Estate Journey

The beginning: I graduated from graduate school in 2005, ready to jump out into the world bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with tens of thousands in student debt and a $42k/year job working for the Federal government in DC. Okay, so this doesn’t sound like a particularly advantageous start to building a multi-million-dollar investment portfolio!

 

Luckily, I had a few things working in my favor. My initial position was a 2-year “training term” followed by a permanent placement. Although I was based out of DC, I was sent out on rotational details to different cities around the US for 3-4 months at a time. During those rotations, my job paid for my housing, food, and transportation, under the assumption that I was still paying for a place in DC. Well, I was still young enough that my body didn’t reward me with weeks of punishing pain for putting it in slightly uncomfortable situations (thanks forties!), so I bought an airbed and loaded my cat into my car and only rented rooms in whatever city I was in – never actually getting my own apartment in DC or anywhere else. This allowed me to save more than half of my salary since work was covering almost all of my living expenses.

 

After the two-year program, I was given the three choices for my permanent assignment: Juneau, AK, Montgomery, AL, and Austin, TX. Honestly, none were particularly appealing to me, but I had been to Austin for a conference previously and liked it, so off I went. (Turns out I came to love the place!) By 2008 I had saved up enough to buy my first property – the market was down, and I was able to use the first-time homebuyer credit. I also met my husband Brian in Austin and married him in 2009. This is that very first house and the rest of our real estate story:

 


2008: Bought first house in Austin for $295k, sold for $410k in 2013 (now worth >$1m!)

  • Appreciation: $115k (there are other costs to consider in this, but for this I will keep it simple)

  • Tax Benefits: No capital gains tax since the house was our personal residence

 



2012: Bought a rental duplex in Austin for $305, sold for $590k in 2020 (now worth >$1m!)

  • Cash flow: Gross monthly rent $3400 (in 2020)

  • Appreciation: $285k

  • Tax Benefits: Did a 1031 exchange at sale, so no capital gains taxes due (deferred)

 


2013: Bought a house in Raleigh for $490k, sold for $625k in 2016 (now worth >$1m!)

  • Appreciation: $135k

  • Tax Benefits: No capital gains since the house was our personal residence

 

2016: After regretting our move to Raleigh, we returned to Austin! Bought a house (in the same neighborhood as the old one) for $650k. We still live in it today, and it’s valued ~$1.6m.

  • Appreciation: Currently ~$1m

  • Cash Flow: We did a cash-out refinance at a 2.5% interest rate, pulling out all of our down payment and reinvesting it in other assets. So ‘technically’ this house generates cash flow!

  • Tax Benefits: We will get the $500k (or whatever it is at the time) capital gains exclusion when we eventually sell, but will still have taxes to pay.

 

2018: Bought 2 duplexes in the Austin area for $335k total; worth ~$600k together today

  • Appreciation: Currently $265k

  • Cashflow: Gross monthly rent $4585

2020: Bought a four-plex in the greater Austin area for $390k; worth ~$500k today (part of 1031 exchange)

  • Appreciation: Currently $110k

  • Cashflow: Gross monthly rent $4050

 

2020: Bought a short-term rental beachfront condo on North Padre Island for $199k; Renovated it during the pandemic and hoping to sell it this year??

  • This property has been my worst real estate purchase – it deserves its own blog post!

 

2021: Bought a single-family home in Austin for $405k with the intention of renovating and converting to a rental; ended up renovating and having to sell in 2022 for $565k

  • Appreciation (after renovation/selling expenses): $70k

  • Tax Benefits: Offset this capital gain using tax-loss harvesting on our brokerage account

 

2022: Bought a short-term rental cabin in Pigeon Forge, TN for $486k; currently worth $486k

  • Appreciation: The market has been falling there, so I’d be lucky to get what I paid for it

  • Cashflow: Gross monthly rent $3500

  • Tax Benefits: This is the reason I bought the place! Doing a cost segregation and taking bonus depreciation, we were able to save tens of thousands on our tax bill.


2023: Bought another short-term rental cabin in Pigeon Forge, TN for $560k; currently worth ~$600k

  • Appreciation: I bought off-market under value, so maybe $40k currently

  • Cashflow: Gross monthly rent $5500

  • Tax Benefits: This is also the reason I bought this place! Doing a cost segregation and taking bonus depreciation, we were able to save tens of thousands on our tax bill.

 

Syndications: Since 2021, we have also invested in 9 different passive real estate syndication deals, spanning across multifamily, self-storage, mobile home parks, car washes, a hotel, and debt. Some have done well and some haven’t, but that’s a blog post for another day!

 

As you can see from my real estate journey, I’ve bought and sold at both the right times and the wrong times – if I had made all of the perfect decisions I’d be a lot richer, and if I’d made all the wrong decisions (or never started investing at all), I’d be a lot poorer. But I just kept learning along the way and still continue to learn new things every day.

 

If you would like guidance along your own journey from someone who has been there, you can book a coaching session or take our Intro to Real Estate course!


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