The rags to riches story can seem too good to be true because they look like they are only made for very few people. However, with the right grit, passion, and inspiration, coming up to your successful self is nowhere near impossible. Cordero Investments LLC’s Elizabeth Cordero has an inspiring story that will have you believe that if she can do it, then you can too. Dangerously crossing the border from Mexico to the US, Elizabeth started her life in the country with no worldly possessions and the ability to speak the language. Now, she has grown to become a successful person that she is establishing a multifaceted set of business profit centers in the state of Utah. She joins host, Monick Halm, to take us through her journey going from rags to real estate—from how she overcame obstacles that many would have given up on, to find the right areas to invest in and grow her wealth. She also shares some of the mistakes she made, the lessons she learned along the way, and how she is empowering women altogether.
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From Rags To Real Estate: Overcoming Obstacles And Inspiring Women With Elizabeth Cordero
I am super excited to have with us, Elizabeth Cordero, who is certainly no exception to the badass role. She’s a badass. What I love about her story is that she has a story of rags to riches, of coming from challenging circumstances and being hugely successful. Anyone who’s reading this or you’re wanting to get into real estate and you’re going, “I don’t know if I can do it because I have this excuse or that excuse.” Reading Elizabeth’s story, you’re going to go, “If she can do it, I can too.” She has not traveled an easy road to success and financial security.
She grew up in Mexico as the youngest born to a single mom. At the age of fourteen, she and her older sister successfully completed a dangerous border crossing into the United States. Although she started her life in the US with no worldly possessions, no money for food, and no ability to speak the language or even know the currency, she has overcome obstacles that would have caused many to give up. She’s achieved financial security, and establish a multifaceted set of business profit centers in the State of Utah which ranged from cleaning businesses to real estate sales, flipping homes and investment activities.
She’s won the prestigious 40 Under 40 Awards in the State of Utah. The annual 40 Under 40 program honors Utah’s up and coming professionals rising through the ranks at record speeds. She’s also nominated as one of the best Hispanic Real Estate Agents by NAHREP Salt Lake City chapter. In her first year of real estate, she was accepted into Goldman Sachs 10,000 Businesses and Women on Banking program. She’s crushing it. She’s being recognized as amazing. I’m super excited that she is here. Welcome, Elizabeth.
Thank you so much. I feel honored to be here with you and for allowing me the opportunity to speak to your audience about my journey to real estate investing.
Thanks for being here. You have a super inspiring story. I’m excited to share it with our audience. Talk to us about how you got started in real estate investing. You’re an undocumented immigrant. Tell us how you got started.
I was undocumented in the United States for twenty years. I got my residency for a few years now. I started a cleaning business because I couldn’t get a job. I would get fired from job to job. They wanted to hire me because I was a hard worker, but then they’ll call me when my paycheck came and said, “You need to go and fix your Social Security Number.” Most people thought that I would go to an office and I will get it fixed.
The reality was I couldn’t because as you read in my bio, I came undocumented and I crossed the border with my oldest sister. I was fourteen at the time. I started with a cleaning business and because I had done a cleaning job before and I was making about $6 to $8 an hour, I was frugal. I worked a lot and my cleaning business started growing more and more to a point that I was making probably as much as a professionals work, but I was still living with $6, $8 amount.
I started saving. This is an awesome story. I love telling this story because it’s inspiring. I tried to be my loan officer. I would go bank to bank telling them to give me a loan because in my ignorance, I was thinking that they wouldn’t know that I was undocumented. I would go and give every single one of them all these documents, and every single time I got denied because they knew. I didn’t know and I was hoping that they wouldn’t know. I had a friend that told me, there’s this credit union and they’re still giving loans with an ITIN number.The universe has a way to get back to people. Click To Tweet
An ITIN number is a number that you get when you’re undocumented and that’s for you to pay taxes. We do pay taxes contrary to what people believe. I had already been to twelve different banks and given all these portfolios and documents. I was done and I said, “I’m going to give it one more try.” I went to the bank and there’s this guy named Chris. I said, “Chris, I’m undocumented. I have an ITIN number. I’m self-employed, but I want to buy a house.” Chris said to me, “It’s okay but we only give loans with 20% down.” This is in 2010 when the market had crashed.
I was so naive that I didn’t even know how much 20% was. I said, “I have $60,000.” At the time, the houses were worth $120,000. I bought the first one for $130,000 back in 2010. The house was worth $180 before they crashed. He immediately said, “I’ll give you a loan.” My realtor was somebody that I cleaned the house for. This whole time I’m worried that he’s going to find that I’m undocumented and he’s going to tell his family members and I’m going to lose my job of cleaning houses because I don’t have documents. I didn’t know anything about real estate.
Eventually, we go to the closing table. I found a house. I waited for a little bit because it was repossessed. When we are at the closing table, the escrow officer tells me, “Where do you get this $60,000 from?” I said, “I saved them.” She said, “Where’s your green card? I need your green card.” I didn’t have one. I said, “I don’t have it right now. Let me go get it. I’ll be right back.” I was afraid that she’s going to call Immigration. This whole time, anywhere I speak, I had this trauma about being deported. I would fear deportation like no other. It’s like people fear getting into real estate, that’s how I feel about deportation. I go to the bank and I say, “Chris, I don’t want the house anymore.”
I was about to cry because that was one of my dreams coming from Mexico because we were poor. We didn’t have a home. When I arrived, I live in a house with 21 undocumented men. We have to make a line in our house. My clothes were in a trash bag. I would have to take it to go to school and put it in a corner. One of my dreams was to own a home. I said, “I can’t buy it.” He said, “Why?” I said, “The lady wants me to give her my green card and I don’t have one. I can’t get one.” At that time, I probably waited for fourteen years or something. I said, “I can’t. There’s no way.”
Chris said, “Hold on.” He calls the lady at the escrow office at the title company. He said, “I am the bank. I’m taking the risk. All you need is to record the deed. You don’t need a green card for that.” The lady got mad and he spent a long time on the phone talking to the manager. He’s like, “Let me talk to him.” He then goes, “Go back there now and bring your Mexican passport.” I went with my Mexican passport and said, “Chris told me to bring this.” I was so fearful. She records it. If you see the documents of my first home, you can see how my signature is shaking.
I still own that home and it’s worth over $300,000 now. I get a HELOC on that home and then I buy a second home for $80,000 that’s now worth $280,000. I bought it in a good location, you can walk to a college. I paid it off. I bought a third home and I paid it off. The third home had a bad foundation and the realtor didn’t tell me. I ended up losing money on that one because I was worried about the foundation. The house is worth almost $400,000 now. If I had somebody to mentor me and tell me, “Liza, this is a good location.” The reality is I navigated real estate through common sense. I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t have anybody.
After that, I got my documents through DACA. That’s when I googled “cheapest real estate school” in Spanish. That’s the way I got into real estate. I was looking and going to a class that was teaching about real estate and then I got my license. I started selling homes for people and one thing led to the other. I started going to the investor associations. I am hearing guys saying, “We make $60,000, $100,000, and $300,000.” I was dreaming. I’m like, “Is that even possible?” That’s how I got into the investing world.
These first properties that you got, you bought them, rent them out, and then you kept growing that way.
The first home that I had that was my home had a basement. I went in and I fixed up the basement and I rented it out. I would even rent the rooms that I was living in. Before that, I had a mobile home. Before the house, I was living in a mobile home. Before the mobile home, I lived in an apartment. Before the apartment, I was living in a room. Before the room, I lived in a living room. You can see the transition and now I live in a nice home. I’d rent them out. Some of these investments, I’ve helped my family as well where I let them live for free so that they helped themselves out as well. I believe that if you do great, you can also help others do great.
What are your current investments? Tell us what you’re doing right now.
I closed on a property and I got $180,000. These are properties that I used to buy. When I started in real estate, everybody knew I was naive. Everybody could tell that I don’t know anything because I didn’t. They would sell me properties that at the time weren’t great investments, but they were still better investments than the regular people buy out there because I was buying from wholesalers. I was already doing something without understanding. I bought those properties. At that time, they were not great. Now, I’m selling all those houses and they’re all about $180,000 to $150,000 in profit. I’m taking that money and I’m moving it to a bigger building, probably a 22-door, 25-door.
I am looking out of state as well. I’ve done deals in Houston, Florida and Utah. I’m going to go to Idaho and check their market out as well. That’s what I’m working on right now. I am selling everything, having liquidity and moving into bigger investments. What I’d realized soon is that it’s the same amount of work. If you call a contractor and say, “Pay me one room.” If you tell him, “Pay me twenty rooms,” he’s probably not going to charge you as much more because he’s already there and he’s already set up. I think it’s a lot better. That’s where I’m at now.
I want to ask you a question that I ask all my guests because I think we learn so much more when things don’t go right than when they do. What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
My biggest mistake was trusting people. Where I came from, we do a lot based on trust. There aren’t contracts in my culture or where I came from. Your word is what counts. Because I grew up in that setting, I thought if I tell you I’m going to do something, I better do it. I’ve done things out of the ordinary because I said I would do something. I think my biggest mistake was to trust the wrong people that wanted to take advantage of me. Even attorneys that knew I had some money to invest and charge me $300. I remember having this attorney where I drafted the contract. I sent it to him. He was the escrow officer and because I have forgotten to put the interest rate on the property, I had bought a seller finance, which by the way, that’s how I grew my real estate portfolio. Most of my deals are seller financed. I could not get a loan for the longest time. I bought seller financing.
I had a guy that came to me and I kept going to his classes. He would teach new investors. He approached me and he said, “You like to invest.” I was excited. I own a few homes before but I wanted to get bigger, like do other stuff. I said, “Yes, of course.” He said, “I have four opportunities, $80,000 cash, $15,000,” these enormous amounts. I said, “No, I want to start small. I’m going to go for the $15,000.” I remember him coming and I was cleaning the house myself and he’s like, “I’m outside.” I thought it was odd. Why are you driving to the house I’m cleaning for the money? That should have been my first red flag. As I gave him a check, he said, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” That felt wrong because instead of saying, “We’re going to do great things,” it felt like goodbye to me.
He ended up stealing the money. There wasn’t a property and they did many shady things. I think he continues to do that which is a sad thing. Nobody has caught him up. I think the universe has a way to get back to people. For me, it’s trusting the wrong people and not having contracts has been the biggest headache for me. I heard a saying that if you want a relationship to last, have the contract before and not the attorney later. Contracts are a must. The way I used to do things, I have a hard time with that but the best things that have happened to me had been with a contract because then they’re liable to do what they say they’re going to do.
Clear contracts help a lot and trusting the right people. You do need some trust in this business because it is a relationship business, but it’s knowing who to trust.If you want a relationship to last, have the contract before and not the attorney later. Click To Tweet
I was going to say trust is important, but sometimes I feel like in this business, there’s a lot of greed. Sometimes people forget about their humanity. We are here to make money because this is the business to do so. You would have to be bad or make bad decisions, but if you’re smart in what you’re doing, if you’re careful, if you’re patient, you will get to where you want to be. You just have to do the right thing and get the right deal. What happens is people get impatient. Right now, I’m coming liquid. I want to get my next investment. I’m excited about it, but I have to tell myself, “This is not a rush.” You have to wait for the right thing. I think that’s one of the things people forget. I hope that more investors as they do better, they will help other newer investors to do well as well. The sun shines for everyone every single day. Whoever likes your personality, doesn’t like something else. We’re going to attract the people that are going to help serve us. That’s important also in real estate.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of being a woman in business where there are more men than women. When I first got into this association, I felt like people look at me like, “This Hispanic girl.” I’m only 5 feet tall. They are like, “This tiny woman, what is she doing here?” As they got to know my power like, “I can order this room,” it opens the door for other women as well. As a Hispanic woman, I have many things that you could consider as a disadvantage but not really. I sometimes don’t understand what they say in English. That’s the reality. Sometimes I wonder like, “What are they talking about?” I have to figure it out. I say a little bit more work, but it’s allowing myself to open those doorways for other people.
I know people that are undocumented. They think they cannot do it but when they come to me and I tell them, “You can and this is probably how you can do it. This is how I did it.” That’s a proud moment but the reality is coming from a place where I come from and not having as much, when I go grocery shopping and I’m able to pick whatever I want to eat. I don’t have to worry about not having to eat tomorrow, that makes me the proudest, and being able to help my family and those people. I went back to Mexico. I brought a lot of stuff for people and people were happy. I knew in that place, there was somebody that was my friend when I was growing up. They are still poor. The proudest moment for me is when I’m able to give back to people. I think that’s when I feel like I’ve served in this world.
When I look at that and I saw so much need and how much people are suffering and how unsafe they are, that’s the life I would live now if my mom hadn’t had the time to come here. That’s my biggest proud moment. The other one is writing a book. I’m writing a book about my story. That’s big for me because I want to inspire women. I want to inspire everyone but I speak from the women’s perspective because I am a woman. I want to hear those women that want to do something. Women are special. Everybody is but I speak of women because I relate to them. We are power. Sometimes women have so much self-esteem and self-worth issues. I want them to know that we’re capable. Just being a mother, what a miracle is that? You gave life. That’s a big deal. People don’t realize the things that we do. I want women to stand out and say, “This is my power.” It’s empowering the women. That’s what I’m looking forward is to inspire women all over the world.
You are inspiring women. That’s my mission. I love that you are a soul sister with a similar mission to inspire. You should be proud of all that you have accomplished and all that you’ve been able to overcome in order to be there. It is those things. There were times in my life where I wasn’t sure if I’d have the money to pay the bills or having enough to eat. I do not have to worry about that anymore. It is a wonderful moment. It does feel good. To what do you attribute your success because you’ve had a lot of challenges?
I think it’s been the support of everyone. I had to have courage. You have to believe in yourself that although you’re going to get into something new because everybody is scared of a new thing, “What if that?” Having faith in myself, even though it was going through my own struggles personally. I had a lot of traumatic personal experiences. I still believed that I could do it and also with the help of other women. I have a friend of mine and she would always tell me, “You can do more.” She told me so much that I started believing it. I didn’t even believe in myself. She told me, “You’ve got to get into something new.
She has a high intuition. She told me, “I feel you’re going to get into something different. I think something with houses.” I said, “I don’t think so.” She’s like, “Why not? Don’t you believe that you can do it?” I said, “I have no education. I already have a lot of things that I’m responsible for. I have things to pay. If I leave my cleaning business job for the money I make, I don’t think I’m going to find any other job that’s going to pay me as well.” She kept telling me, “You’ve got to have faith. You can do something better.”
It was those women encouraging me. I have a beautiful family. My mom’s story is beautiful. She went through hardships. She sold everything we had and we didn’t have much so that she could come to the United States for us. She came before we did. My uncle said, “I’ll help you.” When she was at the border, he just left her there and said, “I can’t help you.” She had to convince the smuggler to cross her across the United States without money. Try doing that. That is unheard of. The guy said for whatever reason, he helped my mom. He believed. I asked my mom later, “Mom, did you pay him?” My mom said, “Yes, I did.” I was proud of my mother at that moment. This is where I get my values. All these good values that my mom taught us like fighting hard, not giving up, being responsible and hard work. All these things just combined.
Sometimes, you don’t need financial help. Sometimes all you need is emotional help. Somebody that can tell you, “You can do it.” In the beginning, when I was doing my cleaning business, even my family was afraid. They even doubted, “Don’t do that. We don’t do those things. We get a job and we stay there forever.” I said, “We can do this.” I was a little sad that they didn’t have faith. Eventually, they started seeing me more and more. They’re like, “This is possible.” They’re now getting inspired. They’re like, “I want to do this too.” I’m like, “Do it.” It’s a mixture of a lot of things. It’s a mixture of good advice, a good book and your own values. It’s a mixture of a lot of things together.
Before we get into our Trinity, what do you wish you’d known at the beginning that you now know?
I wish I had gone into multi-unit. I think it’s a more lucrative market in real estate. I wish I’d known the values of the homes. I wish I’d known more wholesalers. I wish I grew into real estate. In my family, that was impossible because from where we come from, but I see young kids growing up in real estate and I’m like, “What a blessing.” They’re young and they have their parents teaching them to do this and that. They become agents. They get to play a little bit about that. I wish I had had a mentor. Somebody that I could trust.
I remember asking someone one time and saying, “There was this duplex I wanted to buy. He was my friend. I said, “What do you think about this property?” He said, “This is not good. This is so run down.” That property now is probably worth a lot of money. It was in a great location. I had a good eye but I didn’t trust myself enough to go for it because I didn’t know. Some other people found me great deals and I was too afraid. I’m like, “What if this? What if that?” I wish I had a little bit more faith. I wish I got mentorship before. I think mainly it’s the mentorship that I was lacking, somebody that guided me through the whole way.
Mentorship is crucial. Before we get into our famed end of the show, Trinity which is a brag, a gratitude and a desire, how can people connect with you if they want to find out more about you and what you do?
They can find me on all social media. It’s Cordero Investments, LLC. That’s how all my pages are. I’m not going to change the name because it is what it is. They can message me. I have a personal Facebook page, but if they look for Cordero Investments, they can find my website. They can find me on every social media platform.
What is one thing you’re celebrating? What is your brag?
What I’m celebrating that is big for me right now is going through a beautiful healing process as a woman. I think that’s beautiful because I believe that everything comes from within. Coming from a place of hardship and coming from a place where sometimes you don’t build the faith that you need to continue living. That’s been a beautiful moment for me. It’s realizing my power as a woman, realizing all the things and the gifts I was given just by being me and by being born.If we all do one act of kindness a day, we'll be better. Click To Tweet
I’m not in this life by mistake. I’m here for a purpose like everybody else is. I wish everybody would take the time to find their passion and go for it because people are afraid. We have talented people and artists who are working in cleaning. There’s nothing wrong with any job. I’ve done it all. I’ve done construction. I’ve done every single thing possible. There’s power in knowing your worth, what you’re here for, your purpose and having your passion.
Once you discover that, you’re going to have more faith in yourself and that’s going to keep pushing you to move forward. For me, that’s happening right now. That change is bringing better and bigger things in my life. I see myself doing things worldwide. That’s what I’m most proud of. It’s all the work of healing. All that journey that I went through so that I can teach other people and say, “I’ve done that. I understand you from my heart because I’ve been there before.”
What is one thing you’re grateful for?
I’m grateful for my life. I’m grateful for the people that I’m surrounded by. I’m grateful for having a great mother, a great family, brothers and sister and nephews. When I bought my first mobile home, I was homeless before my mobile home. I had a relationship that kicked me out in the middle of the night, in the cold winter and I had no place to go. Even my little nephews lend me money from their piggy banks so that I could buy this mobile home. I’m grateful that I’m surrounded by amazing people, friends and family. That to me is more valuable than any money that you can earn on this earth. I believe in God. I’m grateful for God giving me this opportunity to be in this lifetime. What a great time to be alive.
What’s one thing you desire?
I desire for the world to be more compassionate to each other. I desire people to look at other people starving and not look away, but to do something, one action. If everybody took one person under their wing. If you look on TV, it’s easy for us to look away. If you see a dog on the street that’s starving and you feed that one dog, you change somebody’s soul. If you do the same with a child or a person or an elderly person, how many people are in these older homes and they have nobody that visits them? If you take that time, if you do one act of kindness a day and we all did that, we’ll be better. We have to stay united because where I come from, we don’t have law. We don’t have safety. There are many things that are missing.
I hope people take gratitude for where we live, the place of opportunities. I hope that they realize that there is an opportunity for everyone and they should take advantage of that. Sometimes we forget. We’re used to like, “I’m in my house every day. I run my water and hot water comes in.” I went back to Mexico, I have to take my bucket in the shower. I have to hurry up or it gets cold. There’s a process. We forget that we have so much good but in the end, we have to be united. I watch TV and I see people fighting. We think differently and that’s okay because that’s what makes us unique, but I desire for the people to be more compassionate towards each other.
So shall your desire be or so much better than you can imagine under grace and in perfect ways to share that desire so that we could use much more unity and compassion for one another. Thank you so much, Elizabeth. That was great. It was wonderful to hear your story and inspiring. I appreciate you. You can connect with Elizabeth at Cordero Investments, LLC on all the socials. Connect with me at REIGoddesses.com. You’ll find out about our investor club, our mentorship, and get into our community of thousands of women investing and supporting one another. Join us for another amazing interview.
About Elizabeth Cordero
Elizabeth Cordero has not traveled an easy road to success and financial security. Elizabeth grew up in Mexico as the youngest born to a single mother. At the young age of 14, Elizabeth and her older sister successfully completed a dangerous border crossing into the United States.
Though she started her life in the U.S. with no worldly possessions no money for food and no ability to speak the language or even knowing the currency of this country, Elizabeth has overcome obstacles that would have caused many to give up — she has achieved financial security and established a multi-faceted set of business profit centers in the state of Utah, which range from a cleaning business to real estate sales, flipping homes, and investment activities.
Elizabeth recently won the prestigious 40 under 40 award in the State of Utah, The annual Forty Under 40 program honors Utah’s up-and-coming professionals rising through the ranks at record speed. It commends innovating tech wizards, visionary entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders and executive captains who are guiding industry trends and shaping the future. She was also nominated as one of the best Hispanic Real Estate Agent by NAHREP Salt Lake City Chapter her first year of Real Estate. And was accepted into Goldman Sachs 10,000 Businesses and Women on Banking Program.
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