by Brian Davis
Being a single parent often feels like treading water—with your arms and legs tied together.
And, of course, you have no one to share these burdens with.
One of the hardest parts for so many single parents is only having one income, but still having all the expenses of managing a household and providing for children. But who says single parents can only have one income?
Here’s how one single mom in Baltimore added not one, but six extra income streams on top of her day job.
A year ago, Nakeisha Turner was a single mom with a 12-year-old daughter, doing everything she could to stay above water. She worked full-time for the State of Maryland, doing communications as a public information officer (which she still does). Then her mother approached her with a favor to ask.
“My mom snagged a property really cheap that was supposed to serve as a home for my aunt who is disabled,” Nakeisha explained. Her mother asked her to help oversee the renovation of the property.
As Nakeisha spent more time at the property, she became increasingly intrigued. She had no experience in real estate, but the idea of passive income and providing affordable housing, began to appeal to her.
Then she faced her first curveball in the real estate investing game. At the last minute, Nakeisha’s aunt decided she didn’t like the property. Nakeisha’s mother asked her to fill it with renters and to find a new property for her aunt.
Thus began her career as a landlord, nearly by accident.
Discovering a Mission
Around this time, Nakeisha visited her alma mater in Nashville for homecoming weekend—except the surrounding neighborhoods looked nothing like they had just a few years earlier when Nakeisha had graduated.
“I was surprised and appalled at the gentrification of the area surrounding the school. And so I vowed to help prevent this from happening around local HBCUs in Baltimore.”
It’s worth noting that Nakeisha is not opposed to economic development; quite the opposite. Her mission is to renovate and improve housing in neighborhoods surrounding historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). But it’s a priority for her to maintain the character and history of the neighborhoods as well.
Nakeisha started with the neighborhood surrounding Coppin State University. After her first five properties, she’s started expanding into neighborhoods near other HBCUs. She now has properties under contract near Morgan State University and is looking to cautiously expand further.
“My goal is to expand to another HBCU neighborhood next year, and hopefully a fourth the year after that,” Nakeisha explained.
The first component of her strategy is, of course, neighborhoods near historically black colleges. Nakeisha believes that demand will only strengthen over time in these neighborhoods.
To date, her investments have all been single-family brick rowhouses (an icon of traditional Baltimore), but Nakeisha has her first duplex under contract currently. From there, she’s looking to gradually try more multifamily buildings.
Typically, she looks for homes that need some renovation work but aren’t complete gut-jobs.
Some of Nakeisha’s deals have been partnerships with other family members (such as her mother), but others she’s pursued on her own.
As Nakeisha spends time in these neighborhoods and talks to more of the residents, she’s discovered a number of property owners who inherited properties that need work. The owners don’t have the money to renovate these properties themselves, and banks won’t lend mortgages at such low amounts. But Nakeisha offers another option for these owners: ongoing income from them.
She offers to buy the properties if the sellers finance them. It’s a no-brainer for these owners, who currently lose money on the properties to taxes.
A typical deal for Nakeisha costs between $15,000-30,000 and needs some work. When she spends closer to $30,000, usually those homes need only minimal updates and repairs.
The properties rent in the $950-1,200/month range. The higher-paying tenants are typically through Section 8, which comes with its own risks and rewards.
“I know a woman at the Baltimore Housing office. She’s starting to refer renters to me who have a good track record.”
If the words “Section 8” give you pause, you probably have a sense of why the numbers above sound too good to be true. Lower income rentals come with all kinds of unique challenges, headaches, and downright nightmares.
If it were that easy to buy a home for $30,000 and lease it for $1,200, everybody and their mother would do it. Nakeisha has learned some hard lessons about the neighborhoods she’s determined to preserve.
“I’ve seen plenty of hard times myself and wanted to give back to the community, so I agreed to accept two women from a program that places victims of domestic violence into new homes. But after moving in, they decided they didn’t want to pay the rent and have pulled every dirty trick in the book ever since.
“When I took them to court, they promised the court they would put money in escrow—which they still didn’t do. They called the City on me several times to try any technicality they could think of to stop the eviction procedures.”
The City ordered a series of repairs based on the tenants’ demands and insistence that the house was “unfit.” It’s been a nightmare, made worse by a city government that reflexively sides with renters on all disputes.
She’s had other headaches and antagonistic renters as well, but not every tenant is a nightmare. Increasingly, Nakeisha has made tenant screening her first priority.
“Tenant screening reports are important, but they only get you so far. I’ve found that it’s tenants’ personalities and values that matter most. I’ve started spending more time interviewing rental applicants in person and developing a better intuition for who’s going to be a good renter.”
Part of Nakeisha’s screening efforts involve calling multiple prior landlords and references and trying to dig deeply into what kind of values prospective renters truly possess.
I own properties in some of these neighborhoods myself, and I’ve found that the more people I talk to about a potential renter, the closer I get to an accurate portrait of them. Aggressive tenant screening includes making phone calls!
Advice for Other Parent-Investors
“Not having enough time or extra money is a constant feeling. As a single mom, it all falls on me, so maneuvering resources has been a challenge.”
Juggling the demands of being a single parent, managing a one-adult household, working full-time, and investing and managing rental properties? How does one person do all of that?
“What’s made all the difference for me is making my daughter a part of my real estate investing business. She comes with me to look at homes, she sends out the tenant notices. She even shows properties to prospective renters, walking them around and giving them tours!”
Nakeisha is there too, of course, and it’s become a “family business” of sorts. It also includes Nakeisha’s mother and a few other family members: “You don’t have to do it alone. I’m not saying wait for a spouse, but you can partner with others.”
Single parents often succumb to the mindset that they’re all alone and have to do it all themselves. But Nakeisha has partnered with her mother and even her grandparents on deals. They can lean on each other to spread the financial and time costs involved in buying and managing rental properties.
And, of course, that’s how this entire family business got started: Nakeisha’s mother buying a home for her sister.
I asked Nakeisha what her final words of wisdom and advice are for other single parents trying to break the cycle of the rat race. Her reply?
“Sure, you need the basic financial resources. But if you have the basics covered, just start going for it. You can always find a way to get financing. Be as realistic as possible with what you can do with your time, and know you’ll need to be willing to sacrifice. But you don’t need to just get by with your day job income.
“Make something happen!”
What challenges have you faced as a beginning investor? How have you balanced your family obligations with investing in real estate? Any tips to share for other parent investors?
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