Real Estate Investor Spotlight: John
Written By: Jill Campbell
Sometimes taking action looks like making an offer on property–and sometimes taking action looks like choosing the right place to sit while waiting for a CT scan at the Naval Hospital on a random Tuesday! I found myself checked in for my appointment and led back to the small waiting area. An older man in a motorized wheelchair all but filled the space, and I had two choices: stand silently in the hallway or get up close and strike up a conversation. I felt that little nudge to step out of my comfort zone and decided to sit down.
ESPN was on, so I commented about football, and from that moment on, my new friend John was all in on our conversation. I learned that his wife was a HUGE football fan, but having grown up in Japan, she didn’t know a thing about the sport until adulthood. So when John would be watching the game, she would ask about the rules, and as soon as she learned enough to follow along, there was no going back!
I learned that John left a terrible home situation at age 16, then joined the Marine Corps at 17. While stationed in Japan, he fell in love and married at 19, then came home to the US with a wife and baby at age 23. They were stationed in Barstow, California, and he often had to make the drive to San Diego for exercises, training, and assignments.
Real Estate Investing Beginnings
Before joining the Marine Corps and moving to Japan, John had lived in Orange County, CA, and had an instinct for recognizing the path of progress as the urban area grew and spread. He began to notice similar things happening in that stretch between Barstow and San Diego. One day in 1960, John saw a sign on the side of the road: LAND FOR SALE. John pulled over, took note of the phone number, and called when he arrived in San Diego. He obtained financing and bought that parcel of land near Victorville for $50/month. According to InflationTool.com, that’s equivalent to $443 in today’s dollars – certainly a bold move and a significant investment! He paid off that land, and about ten years later, he got a call from a developer and got his first taste of success and a significant return on his investment, to the tune of $90,000 more than he paid for it!
At this point in the conversation, John told me about his plan and his system. First of all, he had a brown leather-bound notebook where he kept all his real estate-related records and notes. Brown, he said, signified the land – the earth that would propel him and his family into a different future than he had as a child. His strategy was to never, ever count the returns on his investments as income; he always reinvested into something else. John ended up flipping land, holding each parcel for about three years and reinvesting the returns, until a couple of decades had passed and it was time for him to retire from the Marine Corps.
He found himself in the transition process, interviewing for job after job that didn’t appeal to him. He received offer after offer but never accepted them. One day, worried about finding the job that he felt was worth his time, he had an epiphany. I wish I could replay this moment for you – his eyes squinted into a huge smile as he said, “I just realized one morning… ‘I don’t need to work. I’m rich!’” Because he’d had the discipline to leave those investments alone all those years, he was able to live the rest of his life on his terms. He said that from that moment on, he considered himself retired and financially independent. He has hushed his investments to fund the retirement of his dreams. He spoke of his wife with stars in his eyes – they’ve been married for 63 years– and he voiced again and again about how grateful he was to have had the time and flexibility for the two of them to spend so much time together.
Real Estate Takeaways
I want to be like John when I grow up – live life on my terms and have the flexibility and time to spend with my husband and our children. To make that happen, I’m working to incorporate the advice of those who’ve gone before me– and who are making it happen in their own lives. So here are my key takeaways from my fortuitous conversation with John:
- Anyone can invest in real estate. We all start our adult lives in different places, having been dealt different cards and a variety of struggles, challenges, disadvantages, and privileges. But if John can start from being on the streets at 16 – so can you. Believe in yourself!
- Patience is key. Successful real estate investing takes discipline, frugality, planning, and patience. Don’t get distracted by the next shiny thing and miss an opportunity to make a lasting impact on your future.
- Get educated and trust your instincts. A solid educational foundation can help you hone your analytical skills and train your instincts so you can recognize a deal when you find one.
The best takeaway, though, is the advice John gave me as the CT tech came to get me for my scan – and he permitted me to share it with all of you, too!
“Save at least 10% of every paycheck and build that up until you find a good investment. Then, when you do find it – BUY THAT BASTARD AND DON’T LOOK BACK!”