How I started investing in real estate to build generational wealth

Investing in your values

For this Navy veteran, investing in real estate was more than a way to make passive income. It also helped him find career freedom and the flexibility to spend more time with his loved ones.

Erwin was in his early 20s and serving in the U.S. Navy when he began dreaming of a career and lifestyle that would give him more time with his young family. So he and his wife invested in a rental property, launched a small business, and began planning a new future together. Along the way, they’ve learned a lot about “house hacking,” real estate, and aligning your money decisions with your values.

My family comes first—always. So when I think about money, the question is: “How can I best provide for my loved ones?”

That was my motivation to join the military after I got out of high school. I’m Filipino, and there’s a tradition in Filipino-American culture of serving in the U.S. Navy. Plus, that job security and income meant I could care for my siblings and parents back home.

I met my wife on the USS Ronald Reagan. We got married within a year, and just a year after that, we were expecting our first child. I liked the Navy and took pride in the work, but I didn’t want to miss any time with my new family—and being deployed means being away from home. As we planned our future, we looked into new careers in real estate investment.

Erwin holding Navy oar gifted to him for his years of service

Finding inspiration at sea

When you’re at sea, you frequently don’t have an internet connection. Most sailors download movies and music before deployment. I downloaded podcasts about finances and real estate—as many as I could fit on my phone.

Those podcasts helped me realize that no matter your background, you can build financial confidence and independence. I took inspiration from the stories of people like me who had found success investing in real estate. Some were postal workers. Some were ex-military. Their stories put me in the mindset that I could make smart money decisions to provide for my family and create real generational wealth while also living the life I wanted.

I also learned about a strategy called “house hacking.” You buy property—either a home or small multifamily building, like a duplex—and rent out the other rooms or units while you’re living there. You put the rent you’re collecting toward your mortgage and generate passive income while you build equity.

House hacking sounded like a good way to reach our goals, so my wife and I focused our search on small multifamily properties that we could live in and rent out. We made quite a few offers before finding the right place—a triplex. My daughter was a few months old when we moved into one of the three units.

Hacking homeownership

Everybody’s experience with buying and operating a rental property will be different. State and local laws vary, so you definitely need to do research in your area. But if you’re looking for inspiration, here’s what helped us on our journey:

  • We crunched the numbers. As military service members, we used a Veterans Affairs loan for a zero-down mortgage. We also had strong credit. And because we were buying a rental property, we could add some of that future income to our Navy salaries to help qualify for a bigger loan. We were fortunate to have our personal finances in pretty good shape, but calculating mortgage payments and researching the loan approval process—specifically for rental properties—was also key.
  • We put together a team. What’s often most important is “who,” not “how.” We spoke to a property manager to get tips on setting up lease agreements, tracking income and expenses, and managing relationships with tenants. We also did our due diligence to find a rock star real estate agent who was totally aligned with our goals for house hacking and finding an investment property. Later, we made connections with a company that takes care of laundry and cleaning for short-term rental units.
  • We worked hard and kept investing. When we bought our triplex, it was already a rental property, which helped us to get started. But it wasn’t where we wanted it to be. We took out a separate loan to pay for improvements, and we were still doing renovations during the holidays—trying to avoid all the dust and debris while living with an infant. It was stressful, but it was worth it to get the property in better shape for our tenants—and for us!

Imagining our future

House hacking helped us get our investment property up and running. It also gave us the flexibility we needed to leave the military and start a small real estate business with plans to buy additional properties.

As we continue to work on growing our business, we’ve moved out of the triplex. Two of the units are used for short-term rentals. We have long-term tenants, another military couple, in the third unit.

We’re able to pay our mortgage and live off the income from our investment property. Today, we live in a multigenerational home with my mom and my brother. After spending so much time at sea, it’s great to be close to family again.

We can’t wait to see what the future holds.

What I’ve learned from my experience: 3 tips for investing in a rental property

If you’re looking into house hacking or buying an investment property, there are so many things to consider to make sure you’re financially ready—including the costs of the mortgage, utilities, renovations, and repairs. Like I said, find a pro to help you on the money side.

You’ll also need a support system of family, friends, and people you trust to help you stay focused and motivated. I’ve been so lucky to have my wife as my partner and my rock as we’ve gone into uncharted territory. Here are three more lessons we’ve learned about keeping a positive mindset through our experience:

  1. Set expectations. If you’re house hacking or buying a property for its potential income, you’re probably not buying and living in your dream home. But you’re building assets so that one day you can buy that dream home.
  2. Shoot your shot. The investment housing market can be incredibly competitive. There are going to be multiple high offers on most places. It’s a numbers game, and it might take time. Don’t get discouraged.
  3. Fail forward. I always do a lot of research before taking action—and that’s helped me a lot. Sometimes the best way to learn is from experience. If you fail, that’s just an opportunity to learn and try again.

Owning our investment property has been an awesome experience, and I believe it’s just the beginning of our journey in real estate. We’ve created new careers and generated this passive income while building something we believe in to support our family.

But the best part has been the freedom it’s given us to be together. When I come home and see my mother and brother playing with our kids, I know it’s because we’ve kept in mind our number one priority: family. 

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