Building Wealth With Real Estate: A Look Back

Rick KahlerAdvisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

There’s nothing like cleaning out your attic or a storage unit to offer a chance to reflect on your life. I’m currently “enjoying” this opportunity as I dig through boxes holding decades of accumulation. It takes a lot longer if you stop and ponder on the contents of every box.

Several were full of books written 40 to 50 years ago. They were largely theory to me when I read them, and they formed the foundation of my professional career. These were books like How You Can Become Financially Independent By Investing In Real Estate, by Albert J. Lowry, and How to Make One Million Dollars In Real Estate in Three Years Starting with No Cash, by Tyler G. Hicks. I found scores of similar books, along with the course manuals for hundreds of classes I took regarding every nuanced real estate strategy known to man.

I purchased my first house for around $12,500 when I was 19 years old. It was an older house on St. Cloud Street in Rapid City, SD, so small there were no closets in the two bedrooms. I scraped together enough cash to make a small down payment, since this was before I had learned how to purchase real estate without cash. I had just started my career selling real estate and was still living with my parents, so I rented out the house. I was fortunate in finding a great tenant who ended up living there for many years.

Despite the promise in Hicks’s book, I didn’t make a million dollars in three years. However, after ten years I had purchased rental real estate worth around a million dollars, largely with no cash. You could say I was highly leveraged. Then I discovered putting all my investment eggs in one asset class may not be the best thing to do. In the 1980’s, the rental market in Rapid City fell apart, with vacancy rates as high as 25%. I almost came apart with it.