Being able to retire at an early age is one of our goals in life. The financial freedom and stability are required when you plan to get on your retirement. Liz Carroll and her husband, Dan, are debt free real estate investors with a multi-million-dollar portfolio and have achieved the retirement dream. In this episode, Liz Caroll talks about her retirement journey with her husband and how they achieved her dreams of their early retirement. Learn more as she gives more advice on how people who are obsessed with investing can make more money and how to execute their own investment portfolio.
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Liz Carroll On Achieving Early Retirement Dreams With Debt-Free Real Estate
I interview badass amazing real estate investing goddesses, women that are crushing it in the real estate investing space and my guest is no exception. I’m super excited to have Liz Carroll. She and her husband are debt-free real estate investors with a multimillion-dollar portfolio of fourteen single-family homes and a fourplex on the Oregon Coast. She completed a 25-year successful IT sales career. She retired and she’s a Certified Financial Coach from Ramsey Solutions, a Certified Life Coach from the Life Coach School and she’s a 200-RYT Yoga and Meditation Instructor from the Purna Yoga College. In addition to being a badass real estate investor, she combined strong money and life skills with mindfulness in her coaching business, Mindful Money Coaches. I am super excited to have her here. Welcome, Liz.
Thanks so much for inviting me, Monick. It was so fun to meet you at FinCon.
We’ve met at this awesome conference for money nerds like me, people who are obsessed with investing in money. I’ve met Liz the last night of the event at a party and she’s a real estate investor. Anytime I meet a real estate investor, especially a woman, I get super happy and excited. We started talking about investing in real estate and also leverage because she’s into buying debt-free.
We’re all cash all the time. I get that whole of other people’s money. I’ve read the books.
Real estate investing is definitely not one-size-fits-all. There is no right or wrong way to do it. However, it works for you. We had this very fun and spirited conversation about should you or shouldn’t you ever buy with using debt? I’m super grateful to Liz because this is our second try in doing this. We did it and it was awesome and she gave so much value and you’re going to be super excited. I swear I recorded it but I don’t know what happened to the recording as soon as I was done. She so graciously came back and is talking with me again.
Whatever happened was exactly how it was supposed to happen because it did. I’m so happy to be back and I’m retired. I can do this.
That is a beautiful thing. That’s the beauty of real estate investing. She’s financially free. She doesn’t have to work. She’s retired.
I would say we’re level two fire. There are several different levels of financial independence to retire early. My husband and I went to that second level. We wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just meeting the bills, which that’s a lot of people are like, “I want to pay my bills.” We still want to have a lot of fun, unfortunately because we’re debt-free in our entire life that we don’t have a lot of bills. It was fun for us to have that goal to be able to retire early.
That’s your financial freedom number. That’s the number when your expenses are met, you don’t have to work and then there’s the dream life number. I recommend that people cost out. What does that dream life look like and how much does it cost? How much does it cost to be able to do those trips you want to take every year or to have a private jet or cars if that’s your dream? Whatever it is that is their dream life, how much does that cost? That’s the number to go forward as passive income. Congrats on beating that.
Thank goodness for real estate and that we found it so young and that we got into it. Honestly, real estate is the vehicle that we have used to be able to retire early. If we ever touch our 401(k)s or our IRAs, that will be great but there’s no intention of that right now.
You were mentioning, you started early. Tell us how did you get started in real estate?
About 90 days after we got married, we bought our first rental property. I was 22 years old. We had already bought the home that we lived in. It wasn’t our first real estate purchase. In fact, our home was our second. My husband had already owned a home in California before we moved up to the Northwest. We scraped together this money and the gentleman carried the contract for us. It was a tiny little white cottage with pink Pepto-Bismol trim. The tenants stayed on. I called my dad and I’m like, “Dad, I need a little bit more money until the end of the month and I’ll pay you back once I get my paycheck.” I had just started working when we relocated. That’s how we got started. We kept that property. We put a new roof on but we sold that property eighteen months later for almost double what we paid for it. It was an awesome experience. It was nerve-wracking. We were young. We didn’t know but honestly, we got started and we did it.
What got you to do that because most 22-year-olds are thinking about whatever is going into their minds?Real estate success comes down to math over emotion. Click To Tweet
We’ve already established in this call that we’re a little nerdy. We’re the money nerds. We were dreamers. We wanted to know what was our life going to be like and is there a way for us to have additional income out of our careers. My first job at that time was I making $24,700 a year. To put things in perspective, several years ago when we first got married in 1998, that was my income. I look back and I’m like, “I’m so glad that we had these.” We quickly bought additional rental homes. We went up to three houses and we bought some forest land also. It gave us something to work towards together. We would paint rentals at night after work. There were things that we did together that we knew all along we were doing this to build wealth.
We had dreams and we thought, “How are we going to execute on those larger dreams?” That’s how we got started in real estate. The kids came along and then it’s harder to do all of that self-management and you’ve got kids. We built this big house up on the hill. We sold all our rentals to put towards the construction of the new home that we built. We stepped out of real estate investing for ten years. From 1994 to 2004, we stepped out because we were focused on our kids and then we went back into it. There was a time there, we first bought a sixteen-unit apartment complex in ‘04.
We hired a management firm and we’re so busy in our careers, we can’t be focused on these apartments. We knew that it was a good place to continue building wealth. It was fine. It generated a little passive income for us and it enhanced our lifestyle a little bit. We were able to have a business, run some expenses through the business, but what we also were able to do is that money was still working for us all the time. The great recession came along and we were in an awesome position because we had never taken a dollar out of our earnings all that time. We had let everything just grow. That’s when we went, “Cash is awesome.” When you have cash and you can come in and make offers to banks, there were so many sales right then. We were able to pay cash for properties. I felt like we made better buys because we were able to cash and close in fourteen days and it was done. That’s the backstory.
Talking about debt and leverage because I know you started with loans. What got you to then decide you were going to be a debt-free real estate investor?
It came down to a couple of things. We had a mortgage on the sixteen-unit apartment complex. My husband and I have always been planners. That was one of the things. In ‘97 is when we started following Dave Ramsey and that’s when we wrote out our twenty-year plan that we wanted to have enough passive income to retire right at about the same time our youngest was graduating college. This was all part of our written-out plan. I know it was aggressive. Twenty-year plan, most people can barely get a five-year plan together. We established that we’re nerds but we did. When we wrote out that plan of having that passive income so that it would replace our corporate careers. We were both in IT sales. We had great careers. We chose to live below our means so that we could use some of our commissions to buy houses and save up. When that time came around that there were fire sales then we were able to use that cash.
The whole reason we switched to an all-cash model is that we were working towards cashflow at that point. 2014 was the year we made a strategic decision to go completely debt-free with real estate. We sold our sixteen-unit apartment complex because we had all our eggs in one basket at that point. In retirement, as we were getting closer to that 2017 timeframe that we had set for ourselves, we needed to have the cashflow. The way you can have more cashflow in our mind and how we’ve been able to do this is that you don’t have mortgages so you don’t have expenses aside from taxes and insurance. Those are our two only expenses on our properties is the taxes and insurance and then maintenance of course. That’s where we made the strategic decision to go all cash from that point on so that we were generating enough cashflow.
What are your investments like?
We have fourteen single-family homes. All of our properties are on the Oregon Coast. It’s not inexpensive here. Some people might think, “Oregon is not,” but it’s a coast. It’s like any time you’re Seattle to LA or Boston to Miami, they’re expensive. We also have a fourplex. As my husband and I continue refining our portfolio and looking at our decisions, we focus on workforce housing. We’re long-term rentals. A lot of people here on the coast are a short-term vacation because we are in a vacation area and a retirement area. We’ve been looking at our portfolio again and refining and going, “What’s the odd duck out?” The fourplex is standing out. Why do we have that? With the fourplex, having to pay water and sewer and trash and maintaining the parking lot, those kinds of things that we don’t have to pay with our single-family homes. We’re continuing and always talking about it and always working on our plan and what’s our next. We’re under contract for another single-family home, which will close soon. We’ll probably switch out the fourplex and buy a couple more houses instead. We reduced the number of tenants that we’re managing and increased our cashflow in the process.
Before we started, you said you were under contract on the fourplex, so that’s exciting.
We’ll see. You never know it but we have had multiple offers when we initially listed it. We’ve decided to go with a local buyer rather than some of the out-of-state ones that were knocking on our door.
We talked a lot about different asset classes on this show. Why do you like the single-family rentals best?
We love families and we love workforce housing. There’s a great need for workforce housing on the Oregon coast because we have all these vacation homes. While you can drive around and see all these houses, half of them are empty half the time. Our workforce has very limited available housing. My husband and I are able to maintain a long waitlist for people that want to get into our properties. The other thing that we focus on, which is really unique, we do all manufactured homes. Our single-family homes are manufactured homes. Tenants don’t care. We’re able to buy those properties and fix them up and make them adorable. They’re very cute. We redo the whole thing. We can put a nice family in a three-bedroom, two-bath house and we have no problem getting our 1% goal of rent versus purchase price.
With these manufactured homes, are you putting the homes you’re buying or the homes already there?
We’re buying from estate sales or we’re buying from people that no longer want to have a vacation property any longer. Mostly, elderly couples that have deferred maintenance. We need to do a lot of work on them or we buy them from the bank. The other thing is they’re not super easy to get financing on. Being all cash, we have nice opportunities for us.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
I feel like we’ve made several and then I feel like, “No, I should celebrate all the 900 mistakes that we didn’t make.” There are a few things that I will tell you that’s in hindsight. One is when we bought our sixteen-unit apartment complex, we were a tad emotional on that. We wanted to go into that but big the ego was involved. There was a lot that was like, “We’re going to get this apartment.” We bought a property that was on a secondary lot, which meant there was another apartment complex in front of us. I would not do that again because while we maintained our building and kept a property up, we had no control over what our tenants had to drive pass to get into our building. That would be number one. Number two, you are going to love is that we didn’t take the opportunity to leverage in 2012. We were out looking at properties and we should have been making offers, but that’s in hindsight. The ones we did buy turned out to be fantastic investments.
When we bought one condo, it was $60,000 and we sold it five years later. We sold it for $149,000. It’s like, “That was fantastic.” We bought another one that we bought at $144,000. We ended up living in that one temporarily because we sold our primary residence during our retirement journey. I remodeled that townhouse and made it super cute. We lived in it for a while until we moved full-time out to the Oregon Coast. That one we sold five years later from the purchase and more than doubled our money on that one. I did put a little money in our remodel but that was great returns. We didn’t leverage on that. I will say that now that we have built up quite a portfolio. If the opportunity came for us, if there was another recession and with the cash we have available, maybe we wouldn’t be able to do everything all cash, but we would be more open in the future to use some leverage because we’re in a very good situation financially.
The deals are so good.
We find them fantastic. They’re not super easy to find.
That’s the value leverage. You can do more than you could by yourself by tapping into OPM. You’re greatly reducing risk by buying all cash.
That’s the beauty too if there’s another recession. It’s no big deal for us at all. If anything, it’s a buying opportunity. We’re pretty excited if that were to happen.
You have cash or you could do cash-out refinances and pull out equity to buy more.
That’s the plan. We don’t see any time that we’re going to stop buying. We could be moving money around by moving properties around. We’re under contract for the fourplex. We’re under contract for another single-family home. We walked away from another offer we had made on a single-family home. The bank wasn’t working with where we thought they needed to be on the foreclosure that we’re making an offer on. They’re going to come around to a point where they are going to have to reduce the purchase price and we’re happy to wait.
It’s a good position to be. What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud that we set goals, we stayed organized, we worked as a team and we did it. My husband and I do some coaching for people and they said, “We want to do what you guys did.” We’re like, “There’s a lot of work. You’ve got to do it.” Not everyone is willing to generate two incomes but live on one or what we’ve done since 2014 intentionally. My husband retired at the end of 2015. I retired in October 2019. We were living well below my income for the last few years, so in 2018 we could buy four houses. There are things that we’ve been able to do because we were intentionally frugal with it. I wouldn’t say frugal. I don’t think anyone would look at us and go, “They’re frugal.” I think that more than anything, they would say, “They’re strategic.”
You built up enough of a nest egg that you can still live well but you don’t have to spend all of it. To what do you attribute your success?Honor people with lots of thanks and that will come to bless you back. Click To Tweet
There are a few different things that I could say to that. One is that being organized, which I mentioned taking action and then the teamwork. My husband and I work well. We self-manage all our properties. He does all of the tenant management and I do all the financial work and all the pay all the bills, make sure everything’s done with the finances. That’s where we divide and conquer. That teamwork has been great for us. We have very few turns. One, I mentioned that we focus on workforce housing. These homes that we rent are somewhere between $1,200 and $1,600 a month. They don’t have a lot of places to go, but we provide a lot of value to our tenants. One, we’re incredibly responsive. Two, we honor them with holiday gifts. We honor them with lots of thanks for them being good tenants. That has come to bless us back too because we don’t have the turns that a lot of people do that would impact their cashflow or results. That’s been a key to success is that we’re providing such great value to our tenants that we’re not getting the turns.
That’s so huge because being able to keep your tenants long-term saves you so much money. A lot of people don’t realize that the tenants are everything.
It’s bittersweet that we were looking to sell our fourplex because for the few years we’ve owned it, two units have never turned. One unit has turned once and another unit has turned twice. We have literally in a few years with a fourplex had three turns. It’s because we don’t inflate rents. We keep our rents very market. Even a tad, maybe even $10 below where people feel like, “Where else am I going to go?” It works for us and we’re generous with them as well.
What advice do you have for a woman who’s just starting out in this field?
This is the big nugget that I’m dropping that it is math over emotion. It is all about math. You are not going to live there.
Live where you want to live and that’s when the numbers make sense and oftentimes that’s not where you want to live.
There isn’t one of our properties that I wouldn’t live in if I had to, but it’s not like what my house is like. I would say that the biggest thing is that it’s not and just because you fall in love with the hydrangea bush out front and that it’s so great. If the math doesn’t work, it’s not worth it. Take the emotion out. It’s about math.
If it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense. What is the best way for people to connect with you?
We have a website, MindfulMoneyCoaches.com. We are active on Instagram also, @MindfulMoneyCoaches. We’d love to have the following. That has been fantastic for us. Instagram has been great for the real estate investing community. We are involved in the Mastermind that we’ve met people through Instagram and it all came together. That’s what’s continuing to help us refine our property, our goals and our portfolio. That’s one of the benefits, the meetups and different things that are happening in the world. We’re finding like-minded people. For so long, Dan and I thought we were the only money nerds out there particularly when it came to cash investing. I will say that we did not start in all-cash investors, number one. Number two, there’s not another person in our mastermind that’s all-cash investors. They all want to go there eventually so they can retire young also.
You need others around you. That’s why I’m excited I’ve created this sisterhood in Real Estate Investor Goddesses because sometimes you feel like, “I’m all alone.” Especially when a lot of your friends and family may not be into real estate investing and be the money nerd that you are as I am. It’s nice to find like-minded people.
Thank goodness for social media because there’s more of us out there than we ever thought. Thank you for doing this work, Monick. Thank you for putting this out for women. Another thing that you had said particularly for women who want to start on an entry-level with real estate. I love the idea with the syndication that you offer because that’s where you can get started without taking on all the risks.
I’m obviously a fan of syndication. I would second that advice. Thank you, Liz. It’s time for your trinity. What’s one brag?
My brag is that I retired. For 25 years, I was in IT sales but I’m so thrilled that now I get to go onto my passion work and I’ve organized my week that it’s such fun. I do coaching Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, I do studying. On Thursday, I do community service. I love it. I teach two yoga classes a week too. I’ve been able to create and design the life I wanted so I’m really proud of that.
What’s one thing you’re grateful for?
First and foremost, my marriage. Faith obviously is important, but if I couldn’t have done all of this by myself by any means and it’s been teamwork.
Last but not least, what’s one desire?
Since I retired, we’re trying to figure out this whole health insurance thing because that’s something for people to think about when they retire young. We take distributions from our different LLCs. We’re not employees by any means. We can’t buy an employee plan. My number one is to have affordable entrepreneur health insurance, especially for very healthy ones.
So shall your desire be or so much better than you can imagine.
Thanks so much. This was lots of fun. You can find Liz at MindfulMoneyCoaches.com or @MindfulMoneyCoaches. To connect with me and to get into the Investor Club and find out about syndications and other opportunities like that. To join our amazing community of women investors from all over the country and the world, go to REIGoddesses.com, subscribe, like and comment. Bye.
- @MindfulMoneyCoaches – Instagram
About Liz Carroll
Liz Carroll and her husband, Dan, are debt-free real estate investors with a multi-million dollar portfolio of 14 single-family homes and a 4-plex on the Oregon Coast. Liz completed a 25 year, successful IT Sales career in 2019.
She is a Certified Financial Coach from Ramsey Solutions, a Certified Life Coach from The Life Coach School and a 200-RYT Yoga & Meditation Instructor from The Purna Yoga College. She combines strong money and life skills with mindfulness in her coaching business, Mindful Money Coaches.