FIRE! The Case for Investing in Real Estate Now

By Jeff Smith, Realtor with Lifestyles Realty

The Fire Alarm

As I write this it is 8:30 on Saturday night. The kids are tucked in bed and there is finally enough stillness in the house to reflect on the day. Today started out like most other Saturdays. As the regular host of the Saturday edition of the Lifestyles Unlimited® Real Estate Radio Hour at 4pm, Saturday is a workday for me. And once a month that workday coincides with part one of Del Walmsley’s Financial Freedom Seminar, and today was that day. I mention this in part because it means that there were a hundred or so more people at the office today than on the other three Saturdays in the month.

The radio studio is inside the Lifestyles office near where the seminar occurs. We are on the tenth floor of a ten story building. The studio itself is situated about 8 feet from the entrance to the conference room where the class is conducted. There is a window looking out into the passageway so from the console I can see passersby. Just outside the studio door is a red light that reads “On Air” because while the radio room isn’t meant to be inconspicuous, it isn’t obvious either.

Del’s seminar ends around 5pm, but at about 4:30 while I was live on the air today, everyone started leaving … and then even Del. People started passing right by the studio door and window, some folks even looked my way and nodded. My first thought was that Del wrapped up early. That was a tough buy in though, because after attending the class at least a dozen times I have never seen the question and answer section stop … it usually even carries over to a “meeting after the meeting” at a nearby restaurant and goes on for later than I can stay up.

Hmmmm, curious. I continued with the show.

Less than 5 minutes later everyone returned.

You see, when the fire alarm goes off, you act right now. As it turns out, the fire department showed up and began an evacuation because of smoke billowing from the roof. So there I was with a radio headset on in a room with nearly soundproof walls, completely oblivious to the matter. Fortunately it was a minor situation and they canceled the evacuation even before it was completed, but … ahem … ahem … THEY LEFT ME!

I called my Dad about an hour and a half later and our discussion meandered to what it would take to keep someone out of the way of professional rescuers if a loved one was known to be in the building. There is no way I wouldn’t remove someone’s head that stood between me and a family member who was still in an evacuated building. My Dad confirmed that feeling and said that it doesn’t go away with age. For example going in after my 3 year old son is a no brainer, but would my 60 year old father of a mid 30’s son have the sense to let the firemen who are trained to handle it, handle it? His message to me was that it doesn’t go away, that sense that you’ll do whatever it takes to save your children. Rushing into a fire would be of little concern in that moment. Yes even if your child is presumably mature enough and fit enough that escape has its best chance, the firemen will still have to incapacitate you to keep you out of the way.

So as I pondered all of the crazy scenarios that could have played out, including worst case ones, my mind of course raced to my family. I wondered about my wife and children and if they would be ok. I know that emotionally it would be awhile before life would be normal again but I also contemplated things like how different my kids’ lives would turn out if I was never again a part of those lives. How significant is my presence to them? How significant has my parents’ impact on my life been?

It’s Not the Money, It’s the L…”

And that is when it hit me! I was still in the Lifestyles Unlimited® office and looked down at my desk. There was the manual that accompanies Del’s seminar partially covered by a red file folder. Most of the slogan was visible and I could read, “It’s Not the Money, It’s the L”, … the last word except for the first letter was covered up. With where my mind was at the time, even though I have heard Del sign off of his radio show with that slogan 564 times, the first word that occurred to me wasn’t Lifestyle as is the slogan but … Legacy. It’s not about the money, it’s about the Legacy!

When I was regularly teaching the Introduction to Real Estate class at Lifestyles, one of the questions that I always asked was, “When you have enough passive income that your job is optional, what are you going to do with your time?” Even the people who answered with humor and said something like travel, fishing, or rest quickly realized that there is a finite amount of time that a person can be idle before the urge to do something constructive overtakes them. No matter what the answer was, it always came back to making a contribution somehow, someway, somewhere.

My parents’ contributions to my life have been immeasurable. I hope more than anything that I can offer the same to my children.

My Dad and Stepmother have personified integrity and sacrifice. I have seen both give up so much for their families. When I was in college one semester I couldn’t afford the tuition to continue. At the same time Dad and Carlene had saved up enough money for a down payment on a new work truck. He even offered to forgo the vehicle upgrade for me to stay in school. This might not sound all that significant on the surface but take a look at Dad’s routine at the time. He left for work 30 minutes earlier in the morning each day than he had to, because he knew that once he backed out of the driveway and put his truck in gear, he had to wait about 20 minutes for the gear to actually shift. Picture that … sitting roadside sipping coffee for almost a half an hour every morning waiting for your car to be ready to go. Fortunately we came up with enough money for me to go part-time that semester, increase work to full time to make sure that I could go back to school full time next semester, and catch up over the summer. And Dad was able to negotiate some and still get the truck. But they didn’t even hesitate to make the offer—fully prepared to rush into the fire for me.

As a teenager in the 1980’s, I spent summers with Dad when he lived in Virginia. I was privileged to work for him for two summers. Dad is a plumbing contractor and at the time he did apartment construction. I swear I have never to this day seen anyone work as hard as my Dad. If there was a task to be done we didn’t stop until it was finished, and it isn’t unheard of to see attic temperatures exceed 150 degrees. This kind of effort really put into perspective the value of conscientious effort. We have all heard the saying that if you are paid to do a thing and you do not give it your all, then you are stealing from your employer. When my Dad is the standard, I would have to say that everyone else is a thief. Now that is a legacy!

Integrity and sacrifice … wouldn’t it be awesome to pass these traits to my kids? No matter how they choose to serve and make their contribution, doing so according to Dad and Carlene’s standard would be nothing short of honorable. And if I’m not living my life in this way, how in the world can I expect my kids to? Just like when the fire alarm sounds, the time for me (and you) to act is right now!

Fortunately for me, my Mom and Stepfather are also in the legacy business. Al carries an entrepreneurial spirit that is contagious. His father had it too. And like his parents, Mom worked for the government and Al’s pursuits have always been creating businesses, mostly restaurants, bars, and clubs. I also caught this entrepreneurial bug—my endeavors are in real estate; more on that later.

Mom has been retired now for two full weeks. I have always known that she was a superhero, except with mathematical word problems that is. What I didn’t know until her retirement party was that everyone else knew her secret identity too. You see, Mom worked behind the scenes in a federal law enforcement group keeping the field agents’ technology updated and functional. With the praise she received from her bosses and coworkers it was blatantly evident that she approached her profession with the same enthusiasm with which she approaches her family life. When I caught a glimpse of her farewell note, the ingredient for this zeal was clear. It is all about passion. Whether it is a passion for doing her part to catch bad guys, conquering cancer, spending time with her family, or her retirement plans of feeding needy people, she frames her objective into a mission that she can connect with emotionally. At the core of her mission is to love and nurture those around her. And that is what drives her to achieve where others quit. She will go to where the pain is and share it, but she’ll also bring you back to your “happy place”. My Mom too, is fully prepared to rush into that fire and rescue you.

So add entrepreneurial spirit and passion with purpose to the list of traits in the family legacy. To make a mission out of love and nurture is a truly remarkable gift. A life of service is the paradigm that these perspectives provide. This too, is important to impart to my children. And again, when to start? Just like when the fire alarm sounds, the time for me (and you) to act is right now!

I would be remiss in an article for a real estate investing website if I didn’t mention the legacy of the family’s first real estate investors. That distinction goes to my in-laws. Bruce and Beth are me and my wife’s primary real estate mentors. The oddity is that their lessons are rarely real estate specific. Sure with scores of rental homes in their portfolio they can answer just about any question that arises, but the real lessons are about freedom.

In many conversations with my wife’s father Bruce, there is one thing that always surprises him more than anything else—that so many people take their freedom for granted. One form of this is that it is unfathomable to him that our government would impose (and that we would allow it) itself in private property rights. The restrictions 9 years ago on contracts for deed, 5 years ago in lease options, and more recently with the SAFE Act, have all been shocking to him. He has on several occasions stated how he has spent decades serving this country (as a US Marine and Federal Agent) and protecting his rights and he would not just voluntarily waive them.

But freedom in another sense is a more common subject with my in-laws. This is a subject discussed earlier in the article, freedom from a job. With their scores of rental homes they have now been retired for over 20 years. One time about 9 years ago Bruce meant to emphasize the point about the “prison” of dependence on earned income. On a Friday morning he picked me up for a breakfast outing during morning rush hour. We went to a taqueria in a gas station at the corner of FM 529 and Eldridge Rd. During our conversation he invited me to count how many times when the traffic lights change someone DOES NOT run the red lights. From 7:15am until 8:45am that day I counted 0 … ZERO!!!! Not one time! His point was that people will literally kill each other or even themselves to get to their jobs.

I rode around with him for the rest of the day, and while I thought that he had made his point quite clearly that morning, he wasn’t done. Later on, at about 4:30pm we went to the Fiesta grocery store. He insisted that I watch the facial expressions of all the people standing in line on Friday afternoon obviously there to cash their paychecks. Have you ever seen (or been in) that line? This was not just uncomfortable for me, but painful, and very instructive. That morning I witnessed people risking their lives for a reward that this afternoon they found disappointing at best.

He went on to ask me about the lessons that I had learned from my parents, some of which I have shared in this article. He asked me to consider how much more of the best parts of them would be part of me if they had more freedom and were not bound by a job for 50 or more hours a week.

I in turn am asking for you to consider the same thing. If the people who love you the most are or were in a position to spend more time teaching and loving you, how much better off would you be? Now consider this … Are you in a position to spend the time that you want, loving, nurturing and teaching the people that you love?

Rushing Into the Fire

Bruce and Beth wanted Dawn and I to become committed on many levels to independence. They suggested that real estate should be a part of our plan for freedom. My questions/delays/excuses/fears were very persuasive at keeping us at bay for a time. What about the reliability of market values? What if a tenant destroys our property? What if they don’t pay? What if something breaks? How can I get started if I’m broke? What if I can’t lease the house? What about late-night phone calls? How much time does this take because I don’t have any? These fears and others I continued to bring up, and while Bruce and Beth patiently answered, there came a point where they just had to say, “If you want for you the opportunity that we have created for ourselves, then you are just going to have to do what we did.” In other words, there will be doubts about yourself, your abilities, your readiness, timing, but those things are just fire. The reward for going into the fire is the rescue of your own family. It is worth it. Create your legacy, because it really isn’t about the money. And do it RIGHT NOW!


  1. I am also a “never leave anyone behind person.”

    So, I enjoyed this article.

    Now let’s go build a legacy.


  2. Thanks for taking the time to write this very inspiring article. Your words enCOURAGE me. It’s time to take action!

  3. Hanee Hasan says

    This was a great article Jeff, I’m motivated to not be stalled by the “appearance” of fire and will begin the process now to get going. I do want to rescue my family and I realize now that I have to get going despite the doubts that I may have. Great, great article!

  4. Thank you Jeff for sharing such a personal experience

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