During high school, many many years ago, I wasn’t very math-y. I was always more attracted to Language Arts. I was a book nerd in every sense of the word.
Now having a Tiger Mom raise you, not being math-y means you’re getting A-’s instead of A’s. But I bailed out as soon as I could — Algebra II was as high as I got.
How is it then, that a kid who wanted nothing more than to read the Three Investigators Series and write Science Fiction short stories would end up as an adult, creating hardcore Excel financial models that crash my computer and actually spending time trying to memorize mortgage constants?
Two words: Real Estate.
I grew up the son of poor immigrants. They were educated, middle class Koreans, who came to America and had to work in a factory to make ends meet. They didn’t much about how the greater economic machine worked and my financial education boiled down to three lessons:
- Don’t spend money
- Don’t borrow money
- Remember — Don’t spend money
So save we did. I didn’t know ketchup came in bottles — the only ketchup I ever saw at home was in little packets from Mc Donald’s.. who coincidentally also supplied our napkins. Worried that plastic utensils are going to fill up our landfill? Not if my mom had anything to do with it — we’d just wash and reuse, although she was more focused on our financial picture than the environment.
So it wasn’t until much later in life that I came to learn about real estate investing. It was a struggle at first — I’d read as much as I could, trying to soak it all in.
But something was missing — I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it.
I asked experienced investors, “But how do you know if something’s a good investment?”
They’d answer, “Depends on the overall returns.”
I countered, “But what are considered good returns?”
They’d answer, “You compare to similar deals and see which has better returns.”
I pondered it. “But who makes up the rules about what the returns should be?”
They’d smile triumphantly as if they finally figured out how to get through my stubborn questions.
“That depends on what your other investing opportunities are! Your best alternative!”
But it still wasn’t enough. Growing up poor and not knowing much about the stocks or bonds, I pressed on.
“What if you don’t have other investing alternatives? What if you don’t want to invest in the stock market — you don’t trust it. And you don’t want to invest in a bond because you don’t understand it? Then what are your alternatives?”
These questions gnawed at me.. until I came across a book that helped me unlock it all — a book on math of all things.
It was through that book and through finances courses that the picture became clear — real estate — like all investments or businesses — are just streams of cashflow. You’re paying for streams of cashflow that either come in regular installments (ie. rent) or come at the end after you’ve improved value (ie. a flip) or some combination of the two. Add to that the time it took you to receive your money, the amount, the risk, the effort and you could determine whether that investment was priced correctly.
The exciting thing — once it made sense to me — I could apply it to all things. I didn’t just learn how to value a real estate investment — I could value any investment. I felt like I had unlocked a great mystery and the world seemed to make more sense in general.
Within a year of starting my journey into real estate investing, I had purchased my first single family rental home. (By the way — just to give you a sense of my cluelessness — it took me a while to realize that ‘single family home’ just meant ‘home’ — like a normal house.)
Within 2 years, I was running the largest Real Estate Investing Meetup in Seoul.
And within 3 years, over 40, married with 2 kids and the sole bread winner, I had completely transitioned from 20 years in the education business to buying commercial real estate professionally for a private equity group.
I write this because I know that there are hustlers among us who are thinking about real estate investing or other forms of investing or starting their own businesses. As someone who’s suffers from perfectionism, I know how hard it is to ask questions and put yourself out there — to feel vulnerable.
It can seem daunting — and progress is sometimes painstakingly slow.
But keep in mind, that in whatever endeavor you’re pursuing, there’ll come a time when you have your own aha moment. If you continue to probe and ask the right questions, the path will become clearer like it did for me.
Hope everyone’s having a great Sunday! Special shout out to anyone that recognized the Three Investigators series LOL
And the book I read that made all the difference for me?
“What Every Real Estate Investor Needs to Know About Cash Flow… And 36 Other Key Financial Measures, Updated Edition”
Keep on hustling!