There is no better way to prove the wealth-generating power of real estate than true stories of people who have built millions from almost nothing. One of these awe-inspiring stories is that of Anna Kelley, founder of REI Mom and Zenith Capital Group. Anna started in real estate out of curiosity over how wealthy people make millions out of it. Failing at her first attempt at flipping did not deter her. With her husband, she gradually built a multimillion multifamily portfolio by doing one little investment at a time while retaining the privilege of being able to stay at home for her kids. Grit, resilience, faith and hope brought Anna to where she is now, and she is extremely proud of that achievement. Listen to her story as she shares it with Monick Halm in this episode.
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Making Millions One Rental At A Time: Interview With REI Mom, Anna Kelley
On this show, I interview badass real estate investing goddesses, women that are crushing it in the real estate investing space. I am excited to have with me my friend and we’re in a deal together, Anna Kelley. She is bad ass. She’s the Founding Partner of Zenith Capital Group and ReiMom LLC. She’s purchased, renovated and rented millions of dollars in real estate across numerous asset classes and has active ownership and manages a rental portfolio valued over $60 million and has invested over 2,000 doors as a limited partner. She actively seeks out the best multifamily investing opportunities for her partners and investors. She enjoys helping others to overcome their fears, increase knowledge and minimize risks in real estate. She’s awesome, such a great investor and operator. I’m super excited to have her with us. Welcome, Anna.
Thank you for having me. It is my honor to be here with you and your readers. I’m excited to get to talk to you all.
We know where you are now in this great portfolio. You did it while working full-time and raising four kids. How did you get started real estate investing?
Long story short, I first bought my first real estate property when I was in private banking for Bank of America. I had some very wealthy clients and we talked to them all about the retail investments in this world, all of the traditional investments. One day, while I was talking to one of my clients, he laughed at me literally when we told them the returns that we could get him at our bank. He said, “I make much more than that with my real estate portfolio.” I thought, “Real estate portfolio? I’ve gone through all this financial training. I have a college degree and I’ve never heard anybody talk to me about real estate. Why is that?”
I quickly realized that wealthy people have real estate and that one day I wanted to have some. I started buying small properties. I bought a condo, rented that out, then I bought a house speculatively, flipped a property when I had a baby and thought that flipping houses was the way to get home with my kids. First flipped didn’t go so well. I decided entrepreneurialship must be the way for us to make money and get me home with my kiddo, my very first born. I started a business with my husband, moved from Houston to Pennsylvania for him to start his chiropractic business. The reason I got into rental real estate is when we moved to Pennsylvania, I knew that my job with AIG was going to be a work from home gig, where they gave me three months to try it out because back then, nobody worked from home.
I said, “Ken, I might lose my job. You’re starting a new business with six figure debt in business startup loans. We cannot afford to buy a house.” We house hacked. We bought a four-unit apartment building. We downsized from our big Texas home and moved into a little bitty two-bedroom apartment with our two babies. Instead of leasing his space in his office, we bought a building that he could practice out of. I bought it, he leased it from me and we also inherited four tenants and apartments. We started buying apartments to be careful with our money, have a little extra income so that if I lost my job, my work from home gig with AIG, I’d have some cashflow at least enough to have food on the table as he started his business. That’s how I got started in real estate.
There’s so much about that that is great. One is I hope our readers caught how the truly wealthy people have real estate, because it is the best way to build wealth.
It’s proven historically. There is no greater wealth builder and wealth preserver than real estate out of any other type of investment that people have invested in since the foundation of our country.There is no greater wealth builder and wealth preserver than real estate. Click To Tweet
Why do you think that nobody teaches us this?
Probably because brokers don’t get paid a commission. Your investment advisors for you to buy real estate would be one of the reasons. I think too because people don’t understand it. I went through and got my entire college degree in Management and Finance and never had classes on budgeting or investing outside of, “One day when you get your job, you will invest in your 401(k) and you’ll have enough that over time, if you continue to dollar cost average, one day when you’re 65, you’ll have enough to retire.” That’s all they teach you. The American dream is go to school, get a good job, work for 40 years. When you’re old, you can retire and enjoy it and all those traditional investments are what help people to compound and slowly grow their wealth where real estate is a little more active venture, at least at first and for a lot of people. It’s not something that that’s taught at all and it should be.
It’s amazing that even you as a wealth manager didn’t know this. It was only by observing and learning from your wealthy clients, when they laughed at the paltry returns you would get in the more traditional investment opportunities that you learned that.
The only problem was I knew that wealthy people had it. “One day, when I got wealthy, I would own some,” that was what I thought at that time. I had been sold the bill of goods that I was going to grow my wealth through my 401(k), stock bonds and mutual funds. It wasn’t until I had that baby and wanted to stay home that I realized I could get started in real estate even if I didn’t have any money, and that I could trade my dollars initially for learning about real estate and creating something out of nothing through my sweat equity. You can’t do that in the stock market. You have to have money to get started. I realized real estate is a way that I can get started even with not very much and if I kept with it, I could grow this thing. I started reading books like David Lindahl, back in 2003 or 2004, Multi-Family Millions. I’m like, “I don’t have money to get there yet, but I can at least get started.” Ultimately, it turned into multifamily millions with one rental at a time.
That’s why I wrote my book, Investing in Real Estate From $1 To $1 Million. Many people think, “After I have a lot of money sitting in the bank, hundreds of thousands, then I can get into real estate.” You don’t have to wait. You get into the game now and they will get you your hundreds of millions. The thousands of millions would come from the real estate investing. It’s not the other way around. What is your current focus? What is most lighting you up with real estate investing?
I’m working on several multifamily syndications, which I enjoy. I love the numbers, putting deals together, asset management. I spent a lot of time in the financial sector. I dealt with securities. I dealt with private placements and legal documents and SEC Audits and State Insurance Department Audit. I’m a financially-minded person. When I can take something that doesn’t seem to have a ton of value and I can use my mind to create a business plan and to create multimillion-dollar values out of something with creative raising rents, cutting expenses and going in there to make something beautiful, it excites me. Number one, it’s making a difference in the communities that we’re investing in. Number two, it’s helping my investors to start to grow their wealth passively. They don’t have time to put in the sweat equity like I did, but I can help the community and the investors. By doing something that I love that gives back, it helps me to continue to grow my generational wealth as well. That’s what I’m passionate about.
I love that too. Syndication is my favorite. It’s win-win-win. I want to ask you a question that I ask all my guests, and I love this question because I feel like the most gold comes from this question, which is what was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
My biggest mistake was not trusting and partnering with people sooner. I had been jaded of working with other investors because of one bad coach/mentor that I had early on, who turned out to be a fraud. It made me say, “I don’t want any part of this world if that’s what this indication world is like.” My husband and I did it alone. We bought our own properties one at a time, slow and methodical, sweat equity, hard work. While we learned a lot from that, and in some ways, I wouldn’t change it because it gave me so much experience and wisdom doing it that way. When I started to trust and find other smart, competent people with integrity in the business that I could partner with, my wealth changed. My time became freer because I was able to scale instead of having so much on my shoulders and having to work 70 to 80 hours a week between that and my job. I wished that sooner I had started partnering with other people, doing joint ventures, syndications, instead of doing it all on my own for such a long time.
You had a bad experience at the beginning. What would have helped you maybe avoid that experience? What could you have done differently?
I would have bounced back a lot sooner. One of my superpowers now is I’ve developed grit and resilience like not a lot of other people that I know. At the time that I started out, when I hired a coach in multifamily, I had started a business with my husband with several hundred thousand dollars in debt to get started. I worked for AIG, and a year after starting that business when things were so good, the economy crashed. AIG almost went under. I lost a significant portion, the majority of my 401(k), which I had been taught was so safe. At the same time, I had bought my second multi-unit and I pulled out part of my 401(k), what little I had left to buy another one. I found this woman online and I thought, “If I can do this with three small properties, I can do it with bigger and I’ve got to replace my income.” If my husband’s business goes south and I lose my job at AIG, we’re in big trouble despite trying to do things the right way.
It was the snowball of many things hitting at once. It was like my job was being pulled out from under me, my 401(k), my husband’s business and hired this coach and had all these great aspirations, then I found out she was a fraud. She threatened me. She tried to get me fired from AIG. It was a crazy situation. The same week that I almost lost my job and that I thought she was a fraud, I found out I was pregnant with my third baby. I was just like, “I can’t do this anymore. What am I going to do? It’s so much.” I think because I was blindsided by the shift in the economy, because as much as I understood investing, I didn’t understand real estate cycles and economic cycles. I wallowed in my tears and self-pity for so long.
Thankfully, I was able to still put one foot in front of another and figure it out. I wallowed in that despair and hopelessness for too long. I thought all I’ve wanted to do is be home with my babies, and here I am starting to have baby number three and everything I’ve tried to do the right way as falling out from under my feet. That’s why I didn’t do it, but from that, I finally learned, “I can be down in the pit, but I can’t wallow in the mud. It’s time to get out of the mud, one foot in front of the other and figure this thing out and I’m not going to give up.” From that, I learned grit and resilience that has taken me very far even through many other hurdles that have happened in the last many years.
It sounds like as hard as that was, there were many gifts on that.
It changed my life for the better. It was hard work for a few years. Now I know what it costs and I know that I’ll never go back there and that’s part of why I love multifamily. It’s given me true financial freedom, true financial independence. Now I have total control of my time and I can live the life that I’ve imagined. It took me a long time to get here.
When you talked about what happened in 2008 and the shock and rupture of that, how is it different for you this time?
It’s 100% different. I became wise. It was a very big lesson to me. We think we are smart. When you’re educated and in the financial world and you work for the largest companies in the world and you work with high net worth individuals, you think that you have it figured out, “I’ve arrived. I understand this thing.” When the economy shifts, you’re like, “What in the world happened? I thought my company was safe. I thought my portfolio was safe. I thought my husband’s business was safe,” and none of it is. I learned to get educated quickly. Over the past years, I studied macroeconomics, micro economics, global economics, real estate cycles, expansions and recessions.
I was prepared this time. I was a little early because of my risk tolerance because of what I went through before. I pulled completely out of the market and I thought we were going to hit a recession at the end of 2019. I started selling properties at top value. I was buying, but I was buying very carefully and strategically with only low rate long-term fixed rate debt. No bridge debts for me because that’s what caused a lot of people to go under. I learned a balance debt and I learned to sell at the top to prepare for a downturn. That allowed me to get liquid, to be in a much better position when we did hit a recession. By the grace of God, even through COVID, even though some difficult times, I’ve been able to stay afloat and do well because I’ve been proactive, because I learned so much in preparation for the next downturn from the last downturn.Align yourself with other investors who have gone before you. It can save you a lot of pain from trying to do it on your own. Click To Tweet
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the fact that I wasn’t handed wealth. I grew up in Section 8 Housing in San Antonio, Texas. My mom was a battered woman, in and out of several marriages, a leasing agent in an apartment complex, worked at night. I babysit my five siblings. I had nobody in my family that had money or that could teach me about money, but I knew that I needed to change my life and that I didn’t want to be in that same cycle of poverty that I saw. The fact that even as a child, I was able to recognize that people that did things a different way, that handled their money wisely, that had a job, that didn’t succumb to poverty mentality, I could see that there could be a change. I had hope in a better future. I worked hard my entire life to achieve more and to do things more carefully. Thankfully, it’s all panned out. Having hope, having a realization that my life, I had to take the bull by the horns if I wanted things to be different and that through many hurdles and many things that didn’t go my way, I had the grit and the resilience to figure it out. I’m proud and thankful for that.
I didn’t realize you had such humble beginnings. You might have already answered this, but what do attribute your success?
Grit, resilience, faith and hope. I have a very strong faith in God and I’ve always had a hope and a faith that everything was going to be okay. If I did things the right way and I trusted Him that He would lead me in the right way, the hard work would pay off. It’s faith and determination.
My faith in God has helped me so much and continues to help me every day. What advice do you have for a woman who’s starting out in real estate investing?
Align yourself with other people that have gone before you. Investors like you and I, we’ve been there. We’ve done it the hard way. There’s wisdom that sometimes only comes through experience. The sooner that you can reach out and network with other women who care about you and aren’t going to be competitive, but they’re going to say, “I care. Let me show you the things that you should do right and the things that you should avoid.” Partnering with people that have integrity, wisdom, competence and experience early on, instead of trying to do it all on your own will save you a lot of pain and a lot of mistakes from trying to do it alone. Reach out to some other people and especially other women who have already gone before you, because we we’ve learned a lot that can be valuable.
What do you wish you’d known at the beginning that you now know?
That it was all going to be worth it, and I needed to keep going and never give up. I did have periods of time where I slowed down because, “This is too hard. I’m not smart enough. I’m not good enough. I don’t have enough money. I don’t have enough time.” The faster we can learn to put the self-doubt behind us and have faith, shoot for your dreams and take steps every single day to achieve them. There are going to be bumps in the road, lots of hurdles, lots of bumps and bruises. If you know from the beginning how good it’s going to turn out in the future, you won’t have that period where you listen to the voices that you shouldn’t. You’d get there faster if you continue to do it with hope and to give yourself grace in the process and realize that you don’t have to have it all figured out. If you keep going, you’re going to make it happen and it’s going to turn out okay.
Go through that messy middle. Before we get to our famed end-of-show trinity, which is a brag, a gratitude and a desire, what is the best way for people to reach out to you and find out more about what you do?
My website is ReiMom.com. There you can find out about my coaching, speaking events and investment opportunities in the multifamily space.
What is one thing you’re celebrating? What’s your brag?
My brag is I bought an amazing beach house and I was able to figure it out despite lots of hurdles. I got it done in a very difficult time during financing because of the experience that I’ve had along the way that made a bank and a seller say yes to me when everything else said they should have said no. I’m excited about it and proud that I’ve made that accomplishment and got it done.
What’s one thing you’re grateful for?
I’m grateful for life. I’m grateful to still live in a country that despite all of our hurdles and challenges, still allows us the freedom to create our dreams and our reality. We can start from extremely humble beginnings and still do very well in life. I’m thankful for my life, to be in this country and for all the great friends and family I have surrounding me every day.
What is one thing you desire?
One thing I desire at this point in my life and in my investing career is that most of the deals I invest in, I want to make a much bigger and more meaningful impact. I started a capital raising company, Greater Purpose Capital, because I desire to take my investing to a level that serves a much greater purpose, where I can have impacts on apartment communities, on children that are like I was in those apartments, on single moms where I can come and help them through financial literacy and giving them hope and partnering in the community to draw others that will invest in the lives of those in my communities. That’s something I strongly desire. I’m excited about the next steps in that process.
So shall your desire be or so much better than you can imagine under grace and imperfect ways.
Thank you so much.
Thank you. This was fun to have you. If you guys want to connect, you can go to ReiMom.com to find out more about what Anna is up to. She’s doing amazing things. Connect with me at REIGoddesses.com. There you can find out about our events and investment club. Get a copy of that book. You can get a free copy of Investing in Real Estate From $1 To 1 Million, and find out about all the support we have there for you. Also, please subscribe to the show, like it, share it with your friends. Join us next time for another episode.
- Zenith Capital Group
- ReiMom LLC
- Multi-Family Millions
- Investing in Real Estate From $1 To $1 Million
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