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As we told you last week, you don’t have to wait until you have grey hair to be a property owner and you also don’t have to be a millionaire to get started in the real estate game. In this three-part Young Landlords Series, we’re sharing the stories of three young women whose financial accomplishments in real estate dispel myth after myth about what is possible. Our second young brown girl landlord is Denae Patterson, an NYC-based communications and media consultant. She is 33 and bought her first property at the ripe age of 24. Check out her story below. Check out the story of our first brown girl landlord, Dr. Jasmine Zapata, here.

Young Landlord at a Glance

Name: Denae Patterson

Age at time of first property purchase: 24

Current Age: 33

Relationship Status: Single

Years in the Real Estate Industry: nine

Real Estate Investment Strategy: Owner-occupy

Primary properties of interest: multifamily homes

Current City: New York City

Location of properties: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Full-time or part-time pursuit of real estate: part-time

Number of properties owned: two

What made you decide to enter into the world of real estate?

I purchased my first multi-family property at 24 year’s old, somewhat serendipitously. I was a recent college graduate working my first “job” and doing what I thought I was supposed to do. You know: the 9-5 grind, wear a suit (albeit restricting) and work in a fancy building downtown.

I didn’t really have an investment in real estate on my mind. But I would attribute my decision to three things. First, Philadelphia is a very owner-friendly city, so many of my peers owned homes or were in the process of purchasing. Second, was my network.  I’m super blessed to be surrounded by some thoughtful and forward-thinking girlfriends who were exposing me to books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad;Think and Grow Rich; and The Secret, so I was beginning to explore money, investing and my overall belief systems in new ways. Third, I was a renter in the home I purchased; it was actually the first apartment I rented on my own, so there was some attachment there.

The owners were a young black couple who were always around fixing things around the house. I started to pick their brains and ask questions, they were very gracious and candid with their responses and advice about real estate. They eventually presented me with the opportunity to buy the place; I think all the pieces were set, it was a no-brainer: live for half the cost, have someone else paying my mortgage, and build wealth.

How many rental properties do you own?

I own one home and have invested in another home.

What made you decide to own in Philadelphia while still living in NYC?

I didn’t always live in NYC. I was an undergraduate in Philadelphia (Temple University). I purchased my first property a few years after graduation.

Could you detail the steps you took to find the current properties that you own?

I lucked out and the owners came and asked me if I wanted to buy, I know this is not the norm. So, in addition to getting support from my former landlords, I did a ton of research online and got advice from friends and family. I also took several first-time homebuyer classes and received financial advice and closing cost assistance from organizations like First Front Door in Philadelphia.

The crazy thing I was able to purchase the home without hiring experts, I didn’t want to pay out any additional funds. I never went into the bank and never met the mortgage broker in person (we spoke by phone and email). I didn’t have a realtor or lawyer. The closing was managed by the owner who also is a realtor. I was a bold 24-year-old, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend this, it was a challenging process.

Were these properties auctioned, foreclosed, or discounted in some other way?

No, but I did apply for an FHA loan and was able to get some first-time homebuyer grants and credits. Out of pocket, I paid $1,600.00—tips I collected from moonlighting as a bartender.

How did you prepare financially to be a property owner? Do you still have student loans?

The bank needed to see a few things to approve the loan. First, I needed to show good credit. My credit was decent, in the high 600 range. The bank also wanted to see consistent and solid income; holding a fulltime job satisfied that. I also needed to change the status of my student loans from “forbearance from economic hardship” to “in school” in order to get my loan approved.

This was the hardest part. I actually ran around getting recommendations letters, quickly applied for an M.S. program at Drexel University, and convinced my job to pay for it. I signed up at least half-time, printed out the enrollment form, and sent it to my mortgage company and then dropped one of the classes (my company at the time would only pay for one class per semester). Whew!

Do you have student loan debt?

I don’t care to share the exact amount, but I do have a high amount of student loan debt, but I see what I’ve done with investing in real estate as a smart long-term wealth move. You do not need to have zero debt to be able to move forward with financial goals. I have a ton student loan debt and I’m a property owner. I didn’t have to lose out on the financial opportunity. There are always ways around it. In fact, there is an opportunity to leverage the properties to be able to pay off your debts if you make the right investments.

You recently completed renovations for the units in your rental properties. Why did you do this? Do you use property management services for your units or do you do it yourself?

I’ve never used a property manager. I still prefer to handle things myself, mainly to save money. I hired local contractors to do the renovations and upgrades because I wanted to attract higher rents, but also because it was just time, some things were just old and some past tenants had damaged the units.

How do you collect rent or respond to tenant complaints remotely?

I collect rent via PayPal, Cash App, or bank transfer. If you have more units, I would recommend an online rent collection application. Tenants call and text me. I have a maintenance man that is local and a realtor. I also purchase things on and let the maintenance guys pick them up from the Home Depot in the area. I visit every three months in general, but during the period of renovations and upgrades, I go every other weekend. If I could do it over, I would have stayed for at least 1 week at a time.  In my experience, contractors move much faster when someone is physically there managing them.

Where do see yourself in the next five years as a real estate investor?

I really hope to purchase at least two or three more properties; ideally each of those would be 3-4 family units if not more. I am currently exploring opening a co-working space in Philadelphia and purchasing in Colombia, which has become my second home. I’ve connected with some expat and overseas investing groups for resources.

What lessons have you learned about money, people, and life as a young landlord?

There are so many lessons. I could probably write a book.  Each chapter would probably follow be titled:

Trust your instincts: Even though I was young and had no previous experience about real estate, I visualized the possibilities and asked a lot of questions. I saw the opportunity and figured out the details later. Now the flipside to that is, anytime I didn’t trust my instincts or operated from a place of fear, things went so wrong.

Be an active landlord: You will always to have to be vigilant about your properties if you want to consistently upgrade the value and reap the rewards of better tenants and more rental income. With that said, it’s important you get everything in writing and take photos when it comes to the care and maintenance of your properties. People will shock you, especially your tenants, so it’s important you add this layer of protection for the both parties. This also holds true for the contractors you hire. Make sure you’re there in person and look over the work at every.single.step.of.the.process, especially installations, major repairs and anything aesthetic. I was shocked by how much I learned about the work itself and the behavior of my workers.

Speak up and take charge or fake it until you make It: I know this may seem obvious, but my biggest hurdle recently wasn’t so much that the repairs were overwhelming, but that I had a hard time speaking up to the male contractors. I was often alone with them and my instructions were often ignored. Sometimes the men in Home Depot would straight up laugh at my 5’3” self in a dress carrying around PVC pipe and 8-foot quarter rounds.

I was considered a bossy girl growing up. I was overly concerned with being perceived as a bossy and the other five letter word. I overcame it and found the confidence to yet again trust myself, take charge and be fearless.

Kara is a speaker, author, and founder of The Frugal Feminista, a personal finance and personal development site focused on helping black women heal their relationships with themselves and money. If you loved this financial content and want more, start with your free 5-Day Financial Plan.

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