Written by: Hayden Eastwood
Like many of my peers, I grew up hearing that to be successful, you have to get straight A’s, go to college, and get a good job. My older brother is a dentist– and my sister is an anesthesiologist, so I guess the college thing worked out for them. Not for me– I got almost straight A’s in high school and graduated with a 3.9 GPA– the only problem was that I hated school. I figured the sooner it was over, the sooner I could start working full time (even though technically I already was). I got accepted to start a fire one college training program at a different school in the afternoon. Because of my grades and ACT score, I was allowed to graduate high school a semester early. I finished my fire one training at the top of my class, only to find out that I needed to be 18 to take the test to certify. I had just turned 17 AND had gotten emancipated– I was devastated.
I was living on my own, making $10 an hour in an ice cream parlor. I had planned on being a firefighter and already having a job lined up. About this time, an Army recruiter hit me up and asked if I had considered joining. I jumped at the opportunity. Free food, free housing? What else could I ask for?
By the time I was 18, I had found myself stationed in South Korea. The initial excitement had worn off at this point. I hated sharing a room with someone. It seemed like the only way to any privacy was to get married– which I definitely was not interested in doing. I figured if I could make enough money, I could buy a house, turn it into a rental after a year, and use that to pay the mortgage on my second house.
So, for my last six months in Korea, all I did was learn as much as possible about real estate. Youtube, forums, blogs; whatever I could get my hands on without spending a lot.
I arrived in Killeen, Texas, on January 10, 2022. Before I went through the gate for the first time, I stopped to look at a house. It was affordable– even for an E4. But after seeing it up close, I saw why. The house was riddled with bullet holes and the shed in the backyard had its windows shot out. I immediately realized that to make my plan work, I needed to make more money.
I started delivering food with Uber Eats. It was the only job I could do on my own time that didn’t require me to be 21. Every day, as soon as I was released from work, I would change, pull up the app, and start delivering. I worked seven days a week, and every spare hour I had was spent delivering food. I was getting excited that it just might work. That is, until I got to the end of my first month. Looking at my bank account, I realized over half of the money I made was being spent on gas.
I needed a new plan. I decided to take a huge risk and buy a 2013 Tesla Model S. It was the cheapest, longest-range electric car I could find. And it had free lifetime supercharging. I sold my truck the same day. I made friends with a manager at the hotel near the base, and she let me use the car charger in the back to charge my car for free. Now I was able to deliver food without paying for gas!
At this point, I was comfortable looking at houses again. I had raised my budget to 150k. I put in full-price offer after full-price offer, only to get beat out by a cash offer or an over-asking price offer. After about 10 offers not getting accepted, I began to worry that all my effort had been for nothing. Entirely by accident, I met a realtor who told me she knew the selling agent on a specific property I wanted to view. I looked at the house, put in an offer within 30 minutes of it being listed, and had my offer accepted within 24 hours for 10k UNDER the asking price.
I closed on the house in May 2022. It’s a cute little three-bedroom, one-bath, completely remodeled home with a tiny one-car garage. Today, two of the bedrooms are rented to two friends of mine. My girlfriend and I split what’s left of the mortgage, which is barely anything. I get free electricity at night from my energy company, so it costs me nothing to charge the car. I still do Uber on the side. We are getting ready to buy a second house next year and turn this one into a rental, which will bring in around $600 a month after expenses.
I would love to say that I had it all figured out and knew what I was doing from the start, but that would be infinitely far from the truth. I took risks and told myself I would figure it out along the way. Anytime I wasn’t delivering food or working on base, I was reading about real estate and watching YouTube videos, cramming as much knowledge as possible. I am nowhere near able to live off of passive income, but I am definitely one step closer.