Updated: Mar 1, 2022
Is your debt stopping you from going into real estate? Then tune in as we learn how to manage your debt while still making inroads into real estate investing. Renee Williams sits down and talks to the founder of Lady Landlords, Becky Nova. Becky discusses how she got into real estate and how Lady Landlords came to be. Tune in and find out how to get into real estate while still managing your debt.
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Is Debt Killing My Real Estate Investing Strategy? With Becky Nova
We are talking about real estate investing. Real estate investing is something that should be a part of every real estate agent’s exit strategy. We have the opportunity to come into contact with great properties all the time. We should be thinking strategically as to how we can benefit from something that we have access to every day. We're going to talk to Becky Nova. She is the Founder of Lady Landlords. Becky has a corporate background but she became an unintentional landlord, and she has grown her popular Facebook group to over 20,000 members. She's going to give us some simple steps to get started, and I get into some eye-opening revelations about my own personal debt. Let's talk to Becky.
Becky, welcome to the show. It is good to have you. Thank you so much for agreeing to be on.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it when you reached out.
I saw you on Facebook is how I found you and your group is so impressive, the things that you're doing. I stalked you for a little while. I looked at all of the stuff that you posted. Your Meetup group looks awesome. Can you tell our audience a little bit about you, about how you started, where you are and what you do?
I always tell people that I am the accidental landlord. I fell into real estate investing back in 2018. I had no intention of ever owning property. My husband is an immigrant to the United States and much had that American dream, white picket fence type idea. I said, “We will buy a house but we need to do it in a way where we are making some money and not living paycheck to paycheck for paying our mortgage.” We ended up purchasing a duplex.
I always tell people I had this fantastic original idea of buying a property that was multifamily where then we could live in one side and rent out the other. We purchased that duplex. Since then, I fell in love with real estate as a wealth-building tool. We've accumulated over $1.5 million of property in the past years. From that, I had started a women's group on Facebook called Lady Landlords to help other women get their questions answered and have a community to vent and ask questions and get advice. The group has completely taken off. We've grown it to a platform that hopefully is a great resource for all women looking to learn.
What part of the country are you in?
I'm in New York.
I was going to say New York's a big state. Help me again. Right outside of the city, White Plains area or what.
I'm in Yonkers, which is a little bit South of White Plains. I can literally walk to the Bronx. I lived in the Bronx before I moved to Yonkers. I crossed that line. I'm a fifteen-minute walk outside of New York City.
Selling your properties to pay off debt doesn't make sense.
My grandparents own property in Nassau County. I spent summers in Freeport in Roosevelt, Jones Beach. I had another guest on and she was talking about the same thing. I was like, “Is everybody from the same area in New York?”
Small world but there are many of us in New York.
$1.5 million in property in two years. Did I hear that right?
Tell me more about that. How did you get that many properties in such a short amount of time? What was the secret sauce?
The secret sauce would probably be savings and honesty. It was probably understanding how to decrease my budget as best as possible and increase my income as much as possible. My husband and I both have various income streams. We live cheaply. We understand sacrifices that have to be made maybe for 2, 3, 4, 5 years to be able to completely change where your wealth is.
Back in 2017, I was still in credit card debt. I ran my own business at the time. I was not making a lot of money doing that and was putting everything that I made back into my business. Therefore, was not paying off that debt at all. Now, I am considered financially free numerically. I don't have to have my day job. I have committed to keeping my day job for the next three years, but it's something that I have the choice to wake up and go to work in the mornings if I choose to.
I want to talk about two things. One, what industry are you in?
I work in pharmaceuticals.
That's a real job. That's heavy lifting. You got to be there.
That's a big job. It is a demanding job. It clearly is something that not only gives you a little bit of personal satisfaction but we're clearly helping on a larger scale, which is cool but it is not what lights me up in the morning necessarily. Not anywhere near as much as real estate does.
I'm glad you said that. The reason why is because I am on a personal journey right now, uncovering my purpose, which is how I started doing this but also coming into this with a mountain of debt that I created. My husband and I have been investing for several years. Likewise, I've been spending consumer debt for several years as well. We could be so much further along if I did what you did, which is so smart, which is cut back on your consumer spending so you can then put those dollars towards buying more real estate.
I'm a little late for the party. My husband has been trying to tell me that for several years. I felt like, “We’re buying properties so we're good. We don't need to buy more,” but now that I'm wishing I could stop working, I'm not in a position to do that because I have a mass debt along with the properties. The option for us is we can sell all the properties, pay off the debt and then we'd be at zero. I don't want to do that either. I'm in an awkward place because of the decisions that I made but that's on me. You did it right.
I would do want to say though and hopefully they don't listen to this but my husband was right too. He was the one that was like, “We need to be better budgeting. We need to think of our financial health moving forward.” He was the impetus for that conversation. He reminds me of it all the time. Our husbands were right. The one time I chose to listen to him, it paid off but he was the one that said, “These are the things that we need to think about for our future.” It opened my eyes to what this world could do. I'm probably more the driving force to get us there. I'm more of the day-to-day operations, if you will, of how that looks and how that functions.
Oddly enough, that was something that came from my husband. With what you're saying when you end up in that situation like I did, too, with dad, you have to look at it being like, “I understand there's debt. What is the cost of that debt having me pay on a monthly basis? What could I be doing with my cash to make possibly more than that to pay that debt off but still moving forward?” You selling your properties to pay off debt doesn't make sense.
I know that. That's not what we're going to do but at some point, now that I'm a more mature investor, I'm learning what opportunity costs mean. By definition, I've missed out on opportunities because of the debt and the purchases that I felt like I needed to make instead of having delayed gratification. Who wants that? Instead of having delayed gratification, I had to have things. I was trying to burn the candle at both ends trying to buy real estate and have the life that I wanted, take the vacations, buy the cars and do all of that. Thankfully, we had the income to do it but it was not wise. I would be better off now had I not have made those purchases then, if that makes sense.
That makes perfect sense but there is a tradeoff to that. In our Facebook Lady Landlords, where they were talking about like, “What decisions would you regret that you had made when you were younger?” I was like, “Nothing.” Someone said like, “Why is that?” A lot of people in the group know part of my earlier story, I'd quit my six-figure salary in pharmaceuticals back in my early twenties.
I moved to Europe and had no idea what I was going to do there. I ended up starting a tour company in Spain, which was successful. I moved to Portugal. I opened a bar in Portugal, total disaster, lost the bar, lost six figures, moved home to the States when I was about 30 years old to move into my parents' basement because I had no money.
I worked at a restaurant in Portugal for €3 an hour to be able to save myself up money to even fly back to the United States. That's how penniless I was. People are like, “How do you not regret that?” I'm like, “That was the coolest thing I've ever done.” It was a ton of fun. I enjoyed it. I learned a lot. I can't go back and be like, “Would it have been great if I had acquired the properties that I now have back when I was 22?” Yes, but we all have our own life journey.
We all have to say, “I'm not going to sit here and eat peanut butter jelly sandwiches for five years so that way I can get to financial freedom faster.” You still have to enjoy yourself, go out with your friends, take a vacation and have a nice dinner with your husband. You still need to be able to enjoy those things but we have to find a balance for whatever. If you lost a couple of years, you start today.
That's where I am and we're all on the journey together. The idea is everything in moderation, you want to enjoy life but you got to have the balance. Moving on to you and what you're doing, is it just you? Do you have a team?
For our properties, my team of myself and my husband. It is just us, which is interesting being life partners and business partners. You now have two things to fight about.
You still need to be able to enjoy life, but you have to find a balance.
You're singing my song, sister.
Feed into each other. You have to be careful to separate. We try to a lot of time being like, “No, this is date night. That's a conversation for the business meeting. That starts at 5:00, it's only 4:59. This is still relationship time.” Life's never perfect.
It’s good for you. I'm glad that you guys do that. Do you have defined roles within the business so that you try not to step on each other's toes?
Yes, we do. I’m naturally more of the risk-taker in the relationship. My husband is a lot more stable. I'm that dreamer, he's the ground. We pull each other between that. I'm like, “Let's go do this,” and he's like, “Yeah but how are we going to pay taxes?” I'm like, “Shut up with taxes.” It's a nice balance to have. I tend to handle that development, what are we looking for next, where do we need to go next. I handle the legal side and the financial side.
He handles more of the property management, the day-to-day, conversations with tenants, maintenance, that type of stuff. Even within maintenance since we manage our own properties, I am responsible for landscaping and painting and he does the plumbing and electric and some of the other harder skills that I don't know yet.
It’s good for you that you have defined roles and then you trust each other in those lanes. Since it's a team of two, how do you manage it if you disagree with him on something that's in his wheelhouse, in his lane?
I'm trying to think of that. There have been different times that we wanted to approach things in different ways. That's usually a, “We're going to take that conversation that's not passing in the middle of the night, passing in the cars to have that conversation.” If that's going to then be, “We're going to book some time on the calendar. We're going to sit down on Saturday for those 30 minutes and we're going to plan out what that's going to look like. You can present your argument for why you think it should happen this way. I'm going to present my argument for why it's going to happen this way. We're going to come with something that we can agree to.”
We do that regularly within our business sitting down and say, “Financially, what are we doing? What do things look like with our properties? What are our goals? What do we need to accomplish in 2021, for example?” We'll do those. That way, when those conversations come up and he's like, “We should go and do this,” and I'm like, “That's already on the calendar. That was already debated and decided.” I almost feel like it's at a court. Unless you have overwhelming evidence, we're not opening that case up again. It's already settled.
Do you make decisions as to how you're going to purchase properties? Do you make that decision together or is that one of you?
Usually, that's me. I understand that. I'll still review that but I feel like there's two ways to have conversations. I feel like there's either one, “Let's discuss this and make a decision together,” and then there's the two of, “I'm going to tell you what we're doing and then you can tell me if you object, otherwise I'm doing it.” When it's things that fall more into my responsibility, that's more of the conversation. “We're going to be going in this direction. Do you have questions about it? Do you have an objection to it? That's the direction we're going.” Otherwise, if he does, then we'll stop and we'll have a conversation about it but most of the time he trusts me that that's my role. Therefore, we can do it that way.
Becky, do you purchase in the same area all the time so you already have a cookie-cutter plan that you're always doing the same thing so it’s easy?
We own in different places, so it has not necessarily worked out that way. Oddly enough though, since we are in New York and in this high cost of living type of area, we have to still live within that world. I feel like even if we're buying in Yonkers versus White Plains or even an hour away in the Hudson Valley, things are still fairly similar because they are a little bit more expensive properties when you look at it from a comparison type of place.
We also own in the Dominican Republic as well, so that's a completely different strategy. I feel like we've learned what we're doing well enough that it's almost like a rinse and repeat that we do. That does help us that we know the strategy, we know what we're looking for. We do have to make some shifts. I know nobody reading this was able to predict this pandemic that we're all living in.
Once again, I even work in the pharmaceutical industry and I didn't even think we'd be at this point. We clearly had to make some pivots towards what we were doing. For that, we were fortunate to pick up another cashflowing property, a duplex and that we were lucky to do but it was because we had this rinse and repeat type of plan. We applied that and had it shifted to fit 2020. We're able to move forward with that.
Tell me more about your rinse and repeat plan. Do you have basics like, “We always acquire duplexes with parking or a garage?” Can you tell us a little bit about what your primary avatar is?
We liked the urban areas because, once again, these are places that we know. He's from the capital of the Dominican Republic. He's from a big city. I'm from New York. We understand cities much better. We don't understand things like Wells. That's not our real house. To explain to me that you got to dig a hole in the ground and get water, it doesn't fit what I'm looking for. We like streetlights. We tend to buy more in urban areas. We also like our multifamilies. We find that there's a lot of bang for the buck within that. There's one roof, one driveway and one boiler usually especially in New York. We like those multifamilies. Those work for us so we do look for things like that. We are so urban, multifamilies.
We understand what we want to do rehab-wise. We are not flippers. There are amazing women out there that do flips and that is great. Ladies, you can have all of those properties. I do not want them. That's not my wheelhouse. Maybe when I have millions of dollars and I'm bored, I'll go do a flip when I don't care about it but it's not my skillset. My skillset is working with tenants and being a landlord and providing people with housing.
We know we're looking for something that will have a certain amount of work that we can do but there's a certain point when we're like, “That's now over the edge. We are not going that far. That's not for us.” It's one of those things where when you see it, you know it so we do tend to look through a lot of properties pretty easily but that's our avatar of what we look for. Those multifamilies that are pretty well put together already are in urban areas.
Multifamily, duplex, triplex, quad or more units?
We do not do more than four. Four is our limit. The reason for that is especially in New York, it's considered a commercial property. It’s a different type of loan and interest rate. Where we are in urban areas, it also means you need a different garbage company. The city is not necessarily going to pick up your garbage. You'll have to hire a carting company. Rent regulations completely change over four units. We stay four and under.
Help me understand the one in the Dominican. Your husband is from the Dominican Republic, so he understands real estate there.
He learned. That was something he didn't. He moved to the United States when he was eighteen years old. That was not something that he did know. Once again because he won't read this, that's why I can say this. I'm proud of him. He wanted to own in his home country. That's incredibly important to him. We did not buy that Airbnb gorgeous beach rental. It is not that. We own in the capitol and in the city, and it's a long-term rental for college students. That's something that's fulfilling for both of us. It is our lowest cashflowing property by far. We make little off of that property but it's something that probably is the most meaningful to my husband, which therefore makes it meaningful to me.
There is a place for absolutely every single person and absolutely every single woman in real estate.
Kudos to both of you for doing that. There has to be some big why or purpose to what we're doing. Many of us have different reasons. We want to provide affordable housing or a standard for our own family that we're trying to reach. Whatever our reason is that we want to give back to our community or we want to be able to have money to do great things for our parents. Everybody has a reason why they're wanting to invest. Kudos to you for even figuring out that was something that he wanted to do then taking action and doing it because a lot of people want to do things but it gets lost in life. You almost forget like, “Why am I doing this even?”
I’m a big vision board person. One of my favorite books, and I'm sure you're probably familiar with it is Start With Why by Simon Sinek, which came out of the most popular TED Talk of all time still. I always tell people like, “You have to keep that in front of you. You have to know why you're doing this.” Real estate investors, we're all entrepreneurs and small business owners. Even if you own one rental property, you are a small business owner. Being an entrepreneur means that some days are great and everything goes well and you think you're crushing it and then the next day things suck and you want to cry in a corner and you are like, “Why am I even doing this?” You need to keep in front of you why you got involved in this, why this is important to you.
It always comes back with your why. That's something that I keep my own forefront and then that's something that I pull out of my husband a little bit more. He's more of the surface level type person, like, “We have to do these steps.” I'm like, “Okay but let's think about why we're doing these things,” because it's going to make us feel better. We need that acknowledgment. Also, as small business owners, there's no one to sit you down, pat you on the back and tell you that you're doing a good job. It's those little times that if you can use them to do so, it means a lot.
Speaking of pats on the back, big ups to you for all the work that you're doing with the ladies there, with your Meetup group. I went online and I stalked you. Following some of your Meetups that you're doing, the meetings that you're doing with your ladies, some of the education that you're providing for them. Are you comfortable telling us about your group? Is that okay?
Yes. Originally, the purpose of the group was so I had a place to ask my questions. It was at the beginning of the pandemic, when at least we here in New York, we were quarantined. My husband, unfortunately, was laid off as he used to work in the hospitality industry. We house hack so we live in a duplex.
We live in one of the apartments and we live in a smaller apartment. Now the two of us are now quarantined in a one-bedroom apartment. Our living room is my office, his living room, our dining room, our exercise room. It was too much. Me talking about real estate and then trying to figure out what our plan was for 2020 before we knew how bad it was going to go.
My husband was tired of me talking about real estate. I was like, “Screw you. I'm going to make some friends on the internet. I'll go start a group and see what happens.” I did not realize how many other women out there were going through the same thing as me saying, “I have these questions. I need these answers. I don't know where to go. I have nobody to talk to. I feel so alone.”
We have over 300 women a week join Lady Landlords, which is fantastic. I've then asked people, “What are the resources that would be helpful for you?” We go from there. We do local meetups in New York, at least currently. Those are going virtual clearly with the state of events. We also have a couple of different courses on how to get started from clearly having no property to being able to go buy your first property.
We have another option for those that are looking to scale and want to grow this business because they see the value in it. We have one for that. We do workshops and masterclasses all the time on specific categories. Do you need help analyzing deals? We'll put that together for you. We're doing a goal-setting one to make sure that everybody's prepared for the new year but it's providing women with the resources that they need to be successful in real estate investing. We deserve a spot in this industry and women have amazing skillsets that fit so well with being real estate investors. I want to help bring that out in other women and say, “You already have these innate abilities. Put that together with real estate investing and watch your life change.”
I am in the same place. I get many women who ask about doing real estate investing, “What is it? Why is it? How do you make money?” and so forth. If we take the skills that we already have and apply them to real estate, it would be phenomenal what we can do in a male-dominated industry. Bless their hearts, the guys are great. It's just that sometimes women are not comfortable in an environment where men seem to know so much. Maybe we're more comfortable in an environment where it's just us. Are you finding that?
When people join Lady Landlords, the first two comments I usually get are, “This is so cool that you don't hate men.” I'm like, “We don't hate them but we needed a different space,” and then what usually comes up second is, “I'm so grateful to have other women around that I can talk to, that I can ask a question and not feel judged, not feel pressured or not be made dumb for not knowing the answer to this.” What is so cool about real estate is that real estate is something for everybody. When I was younger, I used to think you had to be like an old rich man to be able to be invested in real estate. I didn't think it was for other people. Real estate investing means so much.
There is so much that you can do with this. I usually do rentals. Other people are doing flips. There's so much that people could be able to do. You could buy notes in this business. There is a place for every single person and every single woman. It's so cool when people join the group and they're like, “Okay.” We're appositive. We're not male-bashing. We're just trying to lift up each other together and that’s beautiful.
We're all rising together with the same tide. Ladies who are reading, the audience, are you exclusively in your area as far as your Meetups? Can anybody join Lady Landlords?
Now, everything went virtual. Ninety-nine percent of the women are completely across the United States. We do have some women from other countries, which always is great to have a couple of insights from the UK or Canada but now we are completely nationwide.
Tell us how we can reach you, Becky. What's the best way to get in touch with you and to learn more about Lady Landlords?
The best way to find more information about Lady Landlords is to look us up on Facebook. Type in Lady Landlords and we will pop up. Otherwise, you can head over to my website, which is Lady-Landlords.com. You can send me a message through that and you can learn all about our different offerings on the site as well.
That's it for me. Do you have anything that you want to tell our ladies about that you have coming up or anything going on?
For all the ladies reading, if there is something that you want to do in real estate or anything that you want to do specifically in your life, get up and go do it now. You do not need to wait for somebody to give you permission for it. You do not need to sit there and overthink and overanalyze it. Trust in yourself and go take action now.
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About Becky Nova
Back in my university days, I received two Bachelor of Arts degrees concurrently from American University in Washington, D.C. - in Psychology and in Law and Society. I was a student athlete and started my career in Cancer Research.
After getting a Masters in Psychology in Education from Columbia, I moved to Europe and started a tour company in Spain, which expanded into Portugal where I decided to open a beachfront restaurant.
When I got back to the States, I dove right back into my Cancer Research career, while also looking for the next entrepreneurial opportunity. And that’s where that first duplex came into play - and Lady Landlords was born.