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  • When Nyasia Casey decided to buy her first investment property, she had about $40,000 in savings.
  • It wasn’t enough to buy in NYC, where she lives, so she started researching affordable markets.
  • After looking at various metrics, like ARV and days on market, she settled on Baltimore.

When Nyasia Casey became a real-estate agent nearly two decades ago, in 2006, her primary motivation was to learn the ins and outs of the business so she could eventually buy properties.

“I wanted to be a real-estate investor,” she told Business Insider. “I grew up in New York City. I’ve seen the changes as far as property values go.”

She spent years working on the leasing side and putting off her goal of investing in properties.

“When you start making money, you get sidetracked, and then there were all these other things that I wanted to do,” said Casey, who experimented with various side projects in her spare time, from Amazon FBA to launching a YouTube channel.

However, when her 40th birthday rolled around, she decided to dedicate the next three to five years to buying real estate to set herself up for early retirement. Specifically, she aimed to build a $5 million portfolio.

It was a number that felt like “enough,” said the 44-year-old New Yorker. Once she hit that goal, she figured, “If I want to move on to something else, that’s what I’ll do. But I thought, let me at least put a pause on the serial entrepreneurship and get my retirement set.”

Using her experience as an agent to select a market: Baltimore

Casey had about $40,000 in savings for a down payment and closing costs. It wouldn’t be enough to buy in her home city, so she started researching affordable markets, knowing full well that “location can make or break your project,” she said.

One of her strategies was to follow real-estate content creators on social media and pay attention to where they were investing, and their returns. She noted that many are transparent about their numbers, so you can learn a lot without even contacting them.

“Because of my work as an agent, one of my strongest points is knowing the numbers, as far as ARVs,” said Casey, referring to after-repair value. Her strategy is to find undervalued properties, fix them up, and rent them for more than the monthly mortgage. So knowing the ARV — the estimated value of the property after renovations are complete — is key. “I’m really good at, if something needs repairs, what will that look like all fixed up?”

Baltimore, Maryland.

Baltimore, Maryland.

David Shvartsman/Getty Images

Another metric she paid attention to was days on market. Rents might look strong compared to property value, but that’s not enough of a reason to bet on a market. Will you be able to fill that property with a tenant quickly, or are there a lot of vacancies in the area? If you notice rentals sitting on the market for weeks or months, there might not be a strong enough rental demand in the area.

Casey researched Cleveland, Philadelphia, and other markets before settling on Baltimore. It’s Maryland’s largest city and situated about 200 miles south of NYC.

‘Look for the really ugly houses’

Especially if you’re investing out-of-state or in an unfamiliar area, “your biggest asset is other agents,” said Casey.

She was sold on Baltimore, but having never set foot in the city, she knew next to nothing about the neighborhoods or layout of the town.

“Baltimore is a very tricky market because it’s block to block, so you can’t really look at it as: ‘This is a great neighborhood to invest in.’ Or, ‘That is a great ZIP code to invest in,'” she said. “You have to go to the block or know someone who knows the market really well.”

That’s where an agent comes into play.

You’ll want to work with someone specializing in investment properties in your market, emphasized Casey: “One of the biggest things that I want people to understand is that most agents you see online, unfortunately, don’t know anything about investing. They know how to sell turnkey, beautiful properties with brand-new kitchens and bathrooms and get top dollars for the seller.”

But that’s not necessarily what you’re looking for as an investor.

nyasia casey

Casey has done renovations on all four properties she’s purchased.

Courtesy of Nyasia Casey

“A rental doesn’t need to be 100% pristine,” said Casey, whose first rental cash-flowed $1,000 a month, according to documents viewed by Business Insider. “When you’re looking for an investment property, you’re looking for something really under market that you can renovate.”

That’s why she advises looking at listings on sites like Zillow and Redfin and finding “the really ugly houses,” she said. Then, contact the agent associated with that property.

While that specific property may not be the right fit for you, “that agent understands and works with distressed properties,” said Casey, and they could be a good agent to work with.

You’ll want to ask them questions like, “Do you get other properties like this? Do you work with off-market properties?” she said. “Agents are constantly reaching out to sellers, so let them be the ones to bring you properties or let them be the ones to work those off-market leads.”

Property must-haves and red flags

Since buying her first property in 2021, Casey has done three more deals in Baltimore, including two rentals and one flip.

She’s made mistakes and learned from them. Certain properties she’s bought wouldn’t meet her current standards.

For example, the second property she acquired had an awkward staircase. She didn’t think much of it when she first looked at the home in 2022: “Especially coming from New York City, we take what we can get. So, the stairs have this weird turn where they’re really tight, and I’m thinking, ‘In New York, this place would be great.'”

Prospective tenants didn’t necessarily see it that way and had concerns about kids using the stairs, said Casey. The learning lesson was: “It’s not about my market. Ask, ‘Would this work for a tenant in the market you’re investing in?'”

Consider the typical tenant in your market and their needs. When looking at properties, think about what elements of the home can be altered and which can’t.

“I can change the kitchen, I can change the bathroom,” explained Casey. “I can’t really change the stairs or the ceiling height. Pay attention to those things you can’t change and how a renter or a buyer will look at that.”

Casey also has more specific requirements regarding property size than when she first started investing.

“I’m looking for three bedrooms, minimum,” she said. In her experience, a three-bed or more will drive enough rent to cover her mortgage payments and other monthly expenses and still leave her with profit.

The one two-bedroom she bought, she intended to turn into a rental but ended up flipping the property after realizing that “it wouldn’t cash flow,” she said. “So any property I now buy, I want to be at least a three — ideally, a three that I can make into a four. A two-bedroom just doesn’t fit my new criteria as far as holding properties.”

Expanding her portfolio in 2024 and focusing on multi-families

Casey’s current real estate portfolio consists of three single-family homes that she rents to long-term tenants.

In 2024, she wants to add a multi-family property into the mix. These are single buildings that are divided in order to house more than one family living separately and range from duplexes to triplexes to fourplexes.

nyasia casey

Casey documents her real estate investing journey on YouTube. She believes that “if you want to grow your business, even as a real estate investor, you need to be online.”

Courtesy of Nyasia Casey

She likes this type of property as an investment for various reasons, including economy of scale. If you buy a three-family unit and the roof goes, you only have one roof to replace. Similarly, you have one driveway to shovel or one lawn to maintain, but three tenants are paying rent.

Plus, with a multi-family, “If one person stopped paying rent, you still have other people to cover the mortgage, as opposed to a single family,” she said, adding that one of her properties is currently vacant, “so I have nothing coming in until I re-rent that property.”

However, buying a multi-family may mean finding a different market.

Casey still prefers Baltimore — “the returns are the greatest I’ve been able to find right now,” she said — but it doesn’t offer many multi-family options.

She has her eye on upstate New York, specifically Albany, where she went to school.

She’s also looking in the Bronx, which she considers “the last stand in New York as far as being able to get any sort of cash flow without leaving 25%, 30%, 40% in the deal,” she said. “That’s going to be a little more challenging, especially since I’m looking for creative deals. I definitely have to find a motivated seller because I’m not at the point where I can put down 25% on a $900,000 house. Not yet.”

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