My Investing Success Story: From Immigrant to Real Estate Investor

Feb 16, 2020

I am thrilled to have received an invite to share my story. The desire to help, inspire, and empower others is in my blood and my ultimate life goal. So, read on to learn how I went from having $1000 in my pocket to earning half a million dollars through real estate investing.

My story

In a small country town in Brazil, I dreamed so many dreams as a little girl. The reality is that my family went from being high-middle class during my early childhood-- to the struggles of lower classes in my teen years. I remember being about 9 or 10 on a trip to the bookstore, my grandfather said I could pick any book, comic, or magazine as my gift. I looked around and had no doubt – I quickly grabbed an Architecture and Real Estate magazine as my eyes sparkled with excitement. He, of course, was quite surprised; not knowing I had been an avid newspaper reader--with high focus on all the ads for new development design plans for sale. It was a beautiful world to me and I fantasized about becoming an architect.

 Years passed and the idea of becoming an architect faded away. A business-type degree seemed more achievable, shorter, and cheaper. But, deep inside I still looked up to a family friend that seemed so successful with his real estate portfolio--wondering if one day I would be able to own property myself. 

Although we were not extremely poor, I had to work to pay for school that my parents couldn’t afford. I had also never owned a car. Life in Brazil--was and is--very difficult financially for most people. 

After graduating from university, we were blessed with a small unexpected amount of money. I got my ticket to move to San Diego! I arrived in 2005--not knowing anybody. I had only $1000 (all my savings!) in my pocket and the American dream in my heart. If I didn’t get a job, I had my return ticket for 3 months later. But, God seemed to have things planned out and I got my first job the DAY AFTER my arrival. I was a hostess and was super excited about getting the minimum wage of $6.75! Then I got a second job, and then another. I was working 3 jobs, Sunday to Sunday. After all, my plan was to stay a year or two, work the most I could, and return to Brazil with money saved up.

 Within 6 months of moving to the US, I met the enlisted sailor who stole my heart and completely washed away my desire of returning to my motherland. We got married a year later. I dropped one of my jobs, but continued working 2 jobs and started school again. I took advantage of the free MyCAA program to pay for school. 

Investing Beginnings

We have always been frugal and conscious about saving money. In the beginning years of marriage, savings of a long deployment coincided with a reenlistment bonus. Although my husband wanted to buy a new toy (aka a motorcycle, does this sound familiar?), I convinced him that we should invest the money instead. Yes, the passion for real estate had been dormant, but it was still there. 

It was 2008 – the housing market had crashed and we bought our first condo in San Diego for $256K with a VA loan and no money down. Since we still had the money saved up--and the market was still at the bottom--we decided to purchase a rental property in Florida. We closed the deal on a condo in 2009, this time using cash. All of our savings of $50K immediately started generating passive income with a return on investment higher than the stock market could offer and it has already paid for itself. 

 I finished school again and started working a corporate job. We had been saving up and even house hacked (which at the time we didn’t know the term, we just thought of getting a roommate since a room was empty). It turns out that we have been house hacking a room at almost every duty station we have been to. It's a great way to add some income and a bonus for me as a spouse to have some company when the underways and long deployments happen.  

 Fast forward to 2018 and we got orders to Hawaii. We decided to sell our home in sunny San Diego since was still high. We had $175K of equity over the 10 years and wanted to take advantage of not paying sales taxes (talk to a CPA if you want to know if you qualify!). 

With the profit from that sale, a new search began. As I was looking for properties in Florida again, I stumbled upon BiggerPockets. It was as if a whole new world of real estate investing strategies and resources opened up in front of me! Up until then, all I knew was to work hard, save all you can, then buy years later. But from that moment on, I understood that educating myself was one of the most important things I could do if I wanted to truly invest in a smart, successful way towards financial freedom. I am still hooked on reading at least one real estate book a month, I listen to podcasts on my daily walks, read multiple articles a day, and network. This has led me to leverage the profit of our San Diego condo instead of purchasing a single property with cash. With a lot of market research and networking, we also opted to enter a new market: the Midwest. In the midwest, entry purchase prices are still below the national average, but rent-to-value ratios are still profitable. From my dive into education--to making the next move--things went pretty quickly. 

Within 3 months I closed on a fourplex through conventional financing with 25% down. That one gives me an amazing 20% cash-on-cash return. At the same time, we purchased a triplex with cash and are currently on the “refinance” part of the BRRRR strategy (Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat). The money we will receive back from this refinance will be our recycling capital for continuously buying properties through BRRRR. Our Florida condo is still rocking and cash flowing like a superstar. We now own 3 properties totaling 8 rental units worth approximately $500K. 

By the way, we’re still house hacking! As of this year, I have been able to replace my salary with our passive income and resign from my HR career to focus exclusively on real estate investing. I’m loving being my own boss, making my own time, and just being there for my family. 

 I know I am still a small fish in this vast real estate investment ocean, but it’s okay. I’m learning, setting goals, pushing forward, and working on making things happen. My sailor plans to retire at 22 years of service--which is 5 years from now. My goal is to offset his retirement with passive income from our rentals. You may say "that's a pretty good goal", but know this: if one does not break a goal down into action plans--all we’re really doing is daydreaming. My goal is to own at least 50 rental units within 5 years. This year, I plan on closing on at least 10 doors. I’m not 100% sure how to achieve that full number yet, but I’m working on it--one deal at a time. 


Here are a few things I hope you’ll take away from this active duty spouse’s story:

  1. EDUCATE yourself – absorb all you can! There are tons of free resources to learn about real estate investing.
  2. IDENTIFY your RISK LEVEL and preferred STRATEGIES – are you doing a flip? Buy and hold? Wholesaling?
  3. Make GOALS, take ACTION, work HARD – what do you want to achieve? Why? How are you going to get there? What are you doing TODAY towards your goal?
  4. Be SMART about your MONEY – learn to spend within (or better yet, under) your means. 
  5. BE KIND and pay-it-forward - the Universe brings back what YOU put forward.


Thank you for reading my story.

Follow me on IG: Constance_livingthedream


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