Real Estate Investing: How Couple in 40s Earned Financial … – Business Insider
- Natia and Jervais Seegars had to boost their credit and pay off debt before they could buy a home.
- They purchased their first property in 2006 using just $2,000 of their own savings, thanks to a grant.
- Today, they own five properties that generate $30,000 per month in rental income.
Natia, 40, and Jervais, 43, Seegars knew pretty immediately that they were compatible.
They met nearly two decades ago at a Ruby Tuesday, where Jervais was waiting tables. Natia, who worked at a different restaurant close by, came in during one of his shifts. He happened to be her waiter that night.
Their first date was more of “a friend date,” Natia told Insider. They were college students at the time — Jervais was at North Carolina A&T State University, while Natia was studying at Bennett College — and were walking through downtown Greensboro when they saw a couple of model homes open to tour.
“We saw these houses, went in, and we each separately said that we were going to own real estate one day,” recalled Natia. “This was the beginning of us knowing that we might be meant for each other.”
That was in January 2003. Less than six months later, in June, the young couple got married.
Natia had just graduated from Bennett and Jervais was still in school. They lived in the off-campus studio apartment he’d been renting for $495 a month and dreamed of buying their first home together, “but I was still in college and she was a fresh grad,” said Jervais. “So we weren’t making a lot of money — and our credit was terrible.”
Between their debt and low credit scores, they were in such poor financial standing that it took three years before they could even get pre-approved for a home loan.
“We got a lot of ‘no’s’ from lenders,” said Jervais. “That really caused us to pull a plan together.”
Paying down debt and bumping up their credit scores
Natia and Jervais both opened their first credit cards in college and, like many students, they didn’t fully understand how credit worked.
It was only when the couple started talking to mortgage lenders in the early 2000s that they learned how low their credit scores were and that it would hold them back from buying a home.
That’s when they got serious about tightening up their finances.
They started by creating a budget.
The couple met when they were college students.
Courtesy of Natia and Jervais Seegars
Tracking their purchases helped them understand where their money was going and where they could cut back.
In addition to spending less, Natia and Jervais both picked up extra restaurant shifts to boost their incomes. Natia worked full-time in the restaurant industry after graduating, while Jervais worked part-time up until he graduated in 2005.
After three years of budgeting, increasing their income, and paying down their debt, they improved their credit enough to get pre-approved for a home loan. Jervais, who started with worse credit than Natia, bumped his score up from 524 to the low- to mid-600s, he said.
Buying their first home for $191,000 with just $2,000 in upfront cash
By the time the couple got pre-approved, Jervais had graduated from college and started a full-time engineering job. Plus, Natia started working in marketing in 2005 and went from an hourly wage plus tips to earning a salary.
They qualified for a more expensive home than the one they ended up buying: a four-bed, 2.5-bath home they bought for $191,000 in High Point, North Carolina.
Their lender suggested they look at a higher price point, but the couple wanted to be cautious after climbing their way out of the red. When setting their budget, they agreed on buying a home they’d still be able to afford if one of them lost their job, which ended up happening.
Natia lost her job six months after they bought their home.
“If we had gone with the $300,000 home our lender suggested that we could afford, we would have been way in over our heads,” she said, adding: “Don’t let the loan officer be your educator. They are salespeople first.”
Natia and Jervais’ first home, which they still own today.
Courtesy of Natia and Jervais Seegars
They closed in September 2006 and financed the property with an FHA loan, which is a government-backed mortgage that gives people the opportunity to buy a home with down payments as low as 3.5%.
A 3.5% down payment on a $191,000 home would come out to about $5,700 — and that number doesn’t include closing costs, which typically end up being 2% to 5% of the loan cost.
Natia and Jervais had less than that amount in cash: about $5,000, they estimated. But they managed to close with just $2,000 of their own savings, thanks to a $5,400 grant that they qualified for at the time: The Genesis Program, which offers down payment assistance to low- and middle-income home buyers using an FHA loan.
“We moved in the day we closed. We couldn’t wait,” recalled Jervais. Most of their furniture was still in their apartment that first night, “so we spent the night on an air mattress and we got temporary blinds to put up.”
Moving to the Bay Area, turning their first home into an investment property, and buying their second home with 0% down
In 2012, Jervais got a job offer in the Bay Area that he couldn’t pass up.
The Great Recession had actually caused their home to depreciate in value, they said, meaning they’d be selling it at a loss. That’s when they started toying with the idea of renting their North Carolina home rather than selling.
The main challenge would be property management, since they’d be living on the other side of the country, but a friend from church quickly solved that problem by introducing them to a local property manager.
They found a tenant and started collecting rental income. It nearly covered all of their monthly housing costs, which was a relief, said Jervais: “We knew that eventually the home would increase in price, but we weren’t sure if it was going to be in 10 years, 15 years, or 20 years. We just knew that we had a home and it was being paid for by someone else.”
While the property didn’t turn a profit for them immediately, “as time went on, it became profitable,” added Natia.
That was their introduction to making money by renting property, and they were intrigued.
They wanted to own in the Bay Area, their new homebase, but it wasn’t realistic right away, said Jervais: “Because of the drastic cost of living difference in California versus North Carolina, we started back out in an apartment.”
The cost to rent in the Bay Area was double what their mortgage in North Carolina was — and rent was increasing by 7-10% each year, they said.
Buying in the Bay Area was not easy, though. Prices were astronomical, even back in the mid-2010s, recalled Natia: “A home would cost you no less than $650,000 and up to $1 million for a regular home in a nice neighborhood at that time.”
The good news was, “we didn’t have an issue with our credit scores and we didn’t have an issue with income,” said Jervais. Natia also landed a job in the Bay Area and was working full-time in marketing. “Our biggest hurdle was the down payment. Say you’re putting down 20% on a $700,000 home. That’s $140,000 you have to come up with.”
The couple wanted to use as little of their savings as possible to finance their second purchase.
“We saw people in our circle and colleagues that were emptying their entire savings account or tapping into their 401(k)s just for a down payment,” recalled Jervais. “We didn’t want to go to a zero balance in our bank accounts just for a down-payment. That felt like starting back at ground zero.”
Ideally, “I wanted to put 0% down,” he added.
Incredibly, that’s exactly what happened.
After years of talking to various mortgage lenders, “we ended up finding one that allowed us to have a 0% down payment up to $1 million,” he explained.
He and Natia, who had their first child at that point, used that lender to finance a $948,000 home in the school district they liked. It also had a detached garage that they planned to convert into a living space and rent out to offset their mortgage. The transaction was so unusual that their realtor was nervous it would fall through at the closing table, since he’d never seen a 0% down payment on anything besides a VA loan, they recalled.
The couple closed without issues in 2017, about three years after they first started seriously looking for a home and lender in the Bay Area.
“It was definitely worth the wait,” said Jervais.
Raising $500,000 and buying 3 properties in 45 days with ‘other people’s money’
Natia and Jervais didn’t buy more property until 2021. They spent a handful of years setting specific goals and planning out how they’d execute on them.
Their main goal was to retire from their day jobs in their early 40s.
With that in mind, they started researching various real estate investing strategies and came to the conclusion that short-term rentals could be lucrative. Rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars to buy a property and test out the short-term rental strategy, they tested the idea by doing “rental arbitrage” with Jervais’ parents’ home. The way rental arbitrage works is, you sign a long-term lease and then rent out that property on short-term rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO. Ideally, you’ll make more than the monthly rent costs and turn a profit.
In Natia and Jervais’ case, it was a win-win scenario: Jervais’ parents were looking for a long-term tenant, and the couple were looking to test out the profitability of short-term rentals.
“They were happy because we took the burden of finding a renter,” explained Jervais. “And we were happy because we were making income off of that property, over and above what we were paying for rent.”
They started renting the Savannah, Georgia-based home in August 2020. By March 2021, “we really started seeing profits,” said Natia. “That’s when we thought, ‘Okay, this can work. Now let’s buy some houses.'”
With their early retirement goal in mind, they started working backwards to figure out how many short-term rental properties they would need to acquire in order to earn enough in rental income to fully replace both of their salaries. They settled on three homes, which they planned to buy in the south.
They also planned to once again utilize their strategy of using as little of their own money as possible to fund these investment properties.
“I knew that there had to be funding out there for individuals who were looking to start businesses or wanted to use funding for investments,” said Jervais. “So we did a lot of research and came across private money lenders that were able to provide the funding that we needed to get us started.”
The Seegars family at the Grand Canyon.
Courtesy of Natia and Jervais Seegars
They ended up raising about $500,000 from private lenders, they said, which financed their next three properties. They purchased them all within 45 days of each other in late 2021 and immediately listed them on the short-term rental market.
In addition to their three latest acquisitions, the Seegars still have their first home in North Carolina, which is more of a traditional long-term rental. Plus, their primary residence in California now generates rental income from the converted garage.
Their five properties are worth between $4 million and $5 million, and bring in about $30,000 in revenue per month, according to documents viewed by Insider.
As they started to see such high and consistent revenue numbers, the couple felt comfortable both quitting their day jobs.
Today, they spend their days managing their portfolio and teaching other people how to build wealth through real estate. They started their coaching business, YourLifeStyleStrategy, in 2022, but not after taking a much needed family trip with their two kids.
“For almost 20 years, we worked and barely took any real vacations,” said Natia. “So we really treated ourselves and did a five-week road trip around the country. It matched our goal exactly, which was to have more time with our family, to be able to savor memories, and not be on the clock all the time.”