How to build wealth from real estate investing, according to 7 couples and individuals who have done it

Houses in row

With patience and the right strategies, real estate investing can be a path to financial freedom.
Several people who have used real estate to build wealth told us how they got started.
We compiled a list of our best stories about investors who earn passive income from real estate.

With patience and time, real estate investing can yield significant passive income.   

“A lot of people want to time the market, but it’s time in the market,” property investor and early retiree Michael Zuber told Insider. “That’s how you get wealthy. The longer you hold an asset, the wealthier you will become. It is amazing what happens to a portfolio after you’ve owned it for 10 years.” 

Insider spoke to individuals, including Zuber, who have used real estate as a tool to build long-term wealth. Insider has verified the following investors’ claims about income and property ownership with documentation they provided. 

Here’s how they did it.

Todd Baldwin invested in his first property at age 23 and hasn’t looked back. He earns over $1 million a year and is on track to hit a net worth of $20 million before age 35.

Seattle-based real estate investor Todd Baldwin.

Seattle-based real estate investor Todd Baldwin bought his first property at age 23. It was a $506,000, six-bedroom home and he made it work financially by “house hacking,” or essentially having rent-paying roommates, which allowed him to live for free in his own home. 

Since he was living for “free,” collecting rental income, and earning a six-figure salary from his day job, he was able to save more money and continue buying rental properties. By age 25, Baldwin’s net worth crossed $1 million, mostly thanks to rental income, he said. At 28, he became a multi-millionaire and felt comfortable leaving his 9-to-5 to double down on real estate.

The 29-year-old believes that real estate is a path to wealth. “I’m not going to say it’s easy but it’s pretty straight-forward,” he said. “If you just buy real estate and you hang onto it for 20 years, you’re going to sell it for a lot more than what you paid for it.”

Karina Mejia bought her first home at age 22 and now owns five properties in Boston, where she lives, and Augusta, Georgia. In 2021, she earned $43,000 in rental income.

Boston-based real estate agent and investor Karina Mejia.

Boston-based realtor and real estate investor Karina Mejia lived at home after graduating and worked three jobs to save up for a down payment.

If you have the ability to live with family at the start of your career, it doesn’t have to be as big of a sacrifice as it may seem, said Mejia, who financed her first home with an FHA loan and put about $20,000 down. “You don’t have to think that you’re giving up your freedom. It’s just a smart financial thing to do for the first year or a couple of months as you’re getting started and paying down your loans.”

Today, she owns two properties in Boston and three in Augusta, Georgia. She lives for free in one of her properties in Boston by renting out part of the house. 

Real estate investors Michael and Olivia Zuber own over 100 units and earn over $100,000 a month in rental income. Their real estate portfolio allowed them to retire comfortably in their 40s

Michael and Olivia Zuber invest in properties in Fresno, California.

After losing thousands of dollars in a previous life of day-trading, Michael and Olivia Zuber turned to real estate investing. It started as a way for them to get back on track financially and rebuild their nest egg, but turned into a path to financial freedom. 

The Bay Area-based couple saved up enough to purchase their first property, a $107,000 single-family home, by cutting back on things like eating out, entertainment, and vacations in order to save for their first rental property. 

For years, they worked full-time and lived on half of their income in order to save more and buy more real estate. By 2015, they were earning enough in rental income that Olivia could quit her 9-to-5. Michael followed suit in 2018 and left his software job.

Peter Keane-Rivera bought his first property in Seattle at age 25 despite owing $45,000 in student debt. Today, he owns nine units between his two properties and grosses $102,840 in rental income a year.

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Seattle-based real estate investor Peter Keane-Rivera.

Peter Keane-Rivera invested in his first property, a $355,000 three-bed, two-bath house, at age 25. He came up with money for the down payment from an early investment in bitcoin and savings he accumulated while working.

His mortgage payment, plus private mortgage insurance, came out to about $2,000 a month. To offset that cost, he “house hacked” and found two roommates to fill the other rooms. Keane-Rivera moved into the smallest room in his house and rented out the other two for $725 and $900 a month, he said. That dropped his monthly housing payment to $375, or about half of what he was paying as a renter.

Now, he owns two properties and has nine tenants. His rental income more than covers his mortgages and he lives for free in one of his homes. His goal is to quit his day job within the next two years and focus on real-estate investing full time. 

A high-school dropout who goes by Matt “The Lumberjack Landlord” bought his first property in 2001 and nearly didn’t survive the housing crash of 2008. Today, he owns over 100 units and grosses six figures per month in rental income.

New Hampshire-based real estate investor Matt “The Lumberjack Landlord” and his family.

“If there was a mistake to be made, I did a pretty good job finding it,” said 44-year-old real-estate investor Matt, who prefers to go by “The Lumberjack Landlord” for privacy reasons.

He started buying properties in the early 2000s, and his first investments produced more headaches than income, he said. Then he faced an even greater challenge surviving the housing crash of 2008.

It took about seven years until he started to earn enough in rental income to cover his own housing costs — and it was year 15 of investing when his real-estate earnings became roughly equivalent to his salary from his software job. 

After two decades of following his buy-and-hold real-estate investing strategy, he now owns 106 units across 36 buildings in New Hampshire.

Former truck driver Dion McNeeley didn’t have any money to his name and lived paycheck-to-paycheck for years. Over time, he built a 16-unit real estate portfolio in Washington and became financially independent from the rental income he earns.  

Dion McNeeley owns 16 units across seven properties in Washington.

“I made it to 40 without ever having $1,000 in the bank,” said former marine, cop, and truck driver Dion McNeeley. “My plan was to retire on two pensions, and neither one of them worked out.”

McNeeley turned to real estate and started saving up for an investment property in 2011. At the time, he was making $17 an hour working at a commercial truck driving school. After two years of working overtime, he managed to save up $20,000 to buy an investment property in 2013. 

He continued buying about one property every other year until his income started to “snowball,” he said. After nine years of real estate investing, the 51-year-old owns seven properties and 16 units in Washington state, profits six-figures in rental income a year, and considers himself financially free.

Seattle-based real estate investor and wholesaler Ludomir Wanot built his portfolio with less than $10,000 upfront by buying with his brother and using an FHA loan. Today, he profits more than $500,000 in 2021.

Seattle-based real estate investor and co-founder of Evergreen Housing Network Ludomir Wanot.

“From a very young age, I knew that money could give me options, and I wanted more options in my life,” said Ludomir Wanot, who was raised by a single mother who struggled financially. “So I started thinking about how to earn more money.” When he was in high school, “I found online that 90% of all millionaires became so through owning real estate.” From that point on, he decided that real estate would one day be his path to wealth.

He bought his first investment property with his brother in 2016 when he was 24. They found a single-family, fixer-upper on Craigslist, negotiated the seller down to $138,000, and financed it with an FHA loan. They put down a little less than $10,000 and split the upfront costs, meaning they each paid less than $5,000.

Wanot, now 30, earns most of his money from wholesaling, but profits about $50,000 each year in rents from his portfolio of 13 units located throughout central and western Washington.

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