How to Make Money on the Road as a Real Estate Investor

In this interview, Claire Fleming provides her in-depth experience and tips for becoming a real estate investor while on the road. Check it out!

How nice would it be to make an income while traveling as a full-time van lifer without lifting a finger? It may sound too good to be true, but in this post, I’ll share tips from someone who’s successfully used real estate investments to earn money in her nomadic life.

Before starting life on the road, Claire Fleming worked hard to become a real estate investor so she could automatically earn a monthly paycheck while traveling.

Now, she can go wherever and whenever she wants without worrying about juggling hours for work, emails, and meetings.

Being a real estate investor allows you to have all of the freedom and none of the stress.

You can invest in residential properties like Claire does, commercial properties (think office buildings and shops), or undeveloped land.

Claire took out a “second mortgage” or HELOC (home equity line of credit) to use as a down payment for her investment property. She purchased her first property in 2014 with less than $5,000 down.

woman standing outside her campervan with her dog inside
Photo Credit: Claire Fleming

This interview covers the answers to questions such as:

  • How do I get started as a real estate investor?
  • How much money can I make as a real estate investor?
  • How do I find properties to invest in?

If you’re getting started with van life and searching for a convenient way to make money on the road, Claire has you covered! In this interview, she provides her in-depth experience and tips for becoming a real estate investor.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more info.

Please give us some background on yourself and how you started as a blogger and real estate investor.

I went to school for marketing and then spent over a decade in corporate working for various industries. After digging myself out of some serious debt in my mid-20s, I wasn’t sure what to do next. I’d gotten good at debt management, and once the debt was gone and I finally had some disposable income, I wasn’t sure how to invest it.

At this point, I was living in Raleigh, where rent prices were starting to soar, and my mom recommended I consider buying a home. I hadn’t ever considered that was something a single woman did (to be honest, I don’t know why I ever thought that because now I rally for women to invest in property and secure their financial independence!). I took my mom’s advice and bought a modest fixer-upper condo.

That condo was my first real attempt at DIY projects, and I found that I enjoyed them.

After three years of fixing up my property and benefiting from an appreciating housing market, I had some decent equity and decided to reinvest it. That meant taking out a “second mortgage” or HELOC (home equity line of credit) that I could use as the down payment for my next property – this time, I’d buy an investment property. Rent would pay the mortgage on the new property and go towards paying back the HELOC.

After I’d purchased, rehabbed, and paid off the HELOC for the second property, I repeated the process. I did this until I had five units in total while still maintaining my corporate job. After a few years of burning both ends of the candle, I started to experience some burnout, so I took one year off from work (or so I thought at the time) and started traveling North America in my DIY camper van.

I still wanted to do some work (on my own terms), which is when I started my blog, Everywhere With Claire, to write about my experiences with building a van and my travels across the US, Canada, and Mexico. I hope to expand my content to my other favorite places, too – New Zealand and Iceland. I want my website to be a resource for others who want a bit of adventure in their travels.

It’s now been 2.5 years since I took a one-year sabbatical from work, but I’ve been having so much fun exploring and trying new things that I keep delaying my return.

What does a real estate investor do?

A real estate investor is as simple as it sounds – it’s someone who purchases real estate as a method of growing their wealth. I invest in residential property (homes, condos – places people live), but some people invest in commercial property (like shops and office buildings). Others invest in undeveloped land.

How did you learn the skills to become a real estate investor?

A lot of reading, as well as trial and error. I think the best thing you can do is build a team of very smart people who can help you. I have a great realtor and a mortgage broker who provide guidance and insights. I also bought a bunch of books, including one from the For Dummies franchise, to learn more about the process of investing, the tax implications, and the legal requirements.

How much does a real estate investor earn?

beautiful woman sitting in her campervan
Photo Credit: Claire Fleming

There are a few ways I earn “income” as an investor. The primary way most people think of is cash flow – I make around $3,000 net each month after expenses.

There are also several long-term ways I earn, including appreciation (the value of the property increasing over time). Rent pays my mortgage payments, which means that after the loan is paid off, I’ll own the property outright, and it will have been paid for with rental income.

Another benefit to real estate is that expenses tend not to move much (mortgage rates are locked in, but insurance, taxes, and maintenance increase slightly over time). Rental income typically increases over time. This is great because each year, I make a little more than the year before.

What do you like about being a real estate investor while living on the road?

Once I hit the road full-time, I transitioned my rental properties to a property manager. Each month, they take a small percentage of my rental income in exchange for fully managing the daily tasks. Effectively, I receive a monthly paycheck that I don’t have to invest any of my own time to earn – which is my favorite thing! It’s complete freedom without much of the stress.

How do you find properties to invest in?

house showing the kitchen area
Photo Credit: Claire Fleming

The best way I’ve found properties is by looking at the market 3-6 months before I’m ready to buy. I ask my realtor to set up a daily email alert from the MLS listings to show me everything within a set of criteria (location, # bedrooms, etc). I intentionally spend time each day looking at these listings and getting a better understanding of what the market is doing.

This is helpful for when I’m ready to buy because I already know the market intimately – I know if something is a good deal, not a good deal, or likely to go under contract fast. It gives me the information I need to feel informed about my choices and move quickly when needed.

In my experience, I’ve found that three-bedroom, two-bathroom units are the best way to maximize rental income. This is because there’s a low inventory of these units, which makes them more coveted. Also, this type of housing setup works well for several different families or roommate scenarios, so they’re easy to keep occupied.

What are the biggest challenges of being a real estate investor?

The learning curve is a fairly steep one when it comes to rental properties. For the first few years, I managed it on my own because the margins weren’t large enough to afford a property manager. In hindsight, this was a mistake. I should’ve hired a property manager from day 1 – they’ve been invaluable and eliminated most of the stress associated with renters.

From the start, I’ve had high standards for tenants. This can be more effort upfront, but it pays off long-term because I’ve never had any problems with tenants I’ve placed.

How many properties do you invest in?

I currently have four units. I had as many as five; however, I sold two during the market surge in 2021 and reinvested the funds into a larger one with more potential for appreciation in the coming years.

Can you explain more about how to utilize HELOCs to invest?

house showing the kitchen area
Photo Credit: Claire Fleming

A HELOC (home equity line of credit) is a great tool for investing if you have equity in your home. Equity in a home just means how much more the home is valued above your current mortgage loan. For example, if your home is worth $400,000, but your mortgage is $300,000, then you have $100,000 in equity. You can get a HELOC, which is essentially a second mortgage on the home, for the equity.

A HELOC is different from a home loan in one simple way – a loan is a lump sum deposited to your account one time that immediately starts incurring interest charges and repayment. A HELOC operates more like a credit card – you draw on it when you need for however much you need. Once you pull on the HELOC, then interest and repayment start.

After you’ve paid back the credit line, you can draw on it again. Unlike a home loan, if you haven’t made any draws against the HELOC, you’re not incurring interest charges. It’s a tool with more flexibility than a typical loan.

I’ve used HELOCs to fund down payments on investment properties. For example, I utilize the equity in my first home to make the down payment on the second property. Then, I focus on repaying the HELOC as quickly as possible. I’ve found that this is a great way to quickly get into the market and purchase a property that ultimately makes me money.

Can you list the steps needed to get started as a real estate investor?

woman with her dog near the fields
Photo Credit: Claire Fleming

These steps might look different for others, but my process to get started as a real estate investor looked like this:

  • Research. I looked into generic information regarding taxes, laws (especially equal housing, which is relevant for rental properties), types of mortgages and lending options, and their respective rates. I also dove into the location I wanted to invest in (Raleigh, NC). I chose this location because I lived there and already had a general understanding of the neighborhoods, house prices, etc. Before purchasing property, I try to monitor the market for at least three months prior so I’m intimately familiar with market trends.
  • Find a good team. This process can take a while and requires a lot of interviewing, but you’ll want to find a real estate agent specializing in the type of investment you’re interested in and a mortgage broker to help you secure lending. It’s also a good idea to find a handyman or general contractor who can help you identify problems with a property before you purchase. Lastly, you’ll want a good tax professional to help you with your taxes so you don’t miss any important deductions.
  • Hire a property manager. I wish I’d done this sooner. Most property managers will charge between 8-12% of the monthly rental income, which can seem steep when you’re starting. In my experience, a good property manager will offset more costs than they charge and can help you navigate tricky situations and difficult tenants. I also like having a degree of separation from tenants so that I’m not getting maintenance calls in the middle of the night or on weekends.

It’s easier to get started than I think most people realize. I purchased my first property in 2014 with less than $5,000 down. It was a primary FHA loan, which allowed me to purchase property (and decrease my monthly housing costs because rent was more expensive than owning).

From there, I did small upgrades to my property over a few years. I had enough equity to put about $20,000 on my next property in 2017.

Are there any other tips you have for someone wanting to become a real estate investor?

Find a good team – it’s impossible to be an expert on everything, so having highly skilled individuals who can support and guide you will expedite your timeline to success and profitability.

Explore your options. Talk to people you know, listen to podcasts, read articles. The more information you have, the better decision you can make. Investing isn’t a one-size-fits-all process, so hearing how others have found success can inspire you.

Look into your local banks and credit unions. In my experience, the best rates for mortgages and HELOCs have come from my local credit union.


Connect with Claire

I hope you enjoyed this interview with Claire to learn how to become a real estate investor while living on the road. Real estate investment is a convenient way to make extra money or a passive full-time income without working set weekly hours.

Please check out Claire’s website and blog: www.everywherewithclaire.com

You can also connect with her on Instagram @everywhere_with_claire.

Other articles you might love:

Author: Kaylin Zittergruen

Title: Freelance Writer

Expertise: Van Life

Bio:

Kaylin is a full-time van lifer traveling the US in her 2023 4x4 Mercedes Sprinter with her husband, Tom, and dog, Willow. She has a goal of visiting all of the national parks and enjoys hiking, backpacking, running, reading, writing, and social media content creation. Feel free to follow her travels on Instagram at @katekeepswild.

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