How I went from clueless college graduate to $13MM in real estate in 4 years

man overlooking city

I’d rather work for myself and my own company for zero salary, than get paid six figures working for someone else. Literally – millions in assets > personal satisfaction of a comfy paycheck.

Here’s why.

In May 2012, I graduated from the University of Dubuque (Iowa) with a degree in Business Administration. I was voted the top business student by my class and professors and upon graduation and I had a dream and vision for my post-graduation future, but I didn’t know what my initial steps would be.

I clearly knew that business interested me. I also knew that real estate interested me. I was confident that building something from the ground up would keep my interest and fuel my passion. So what did I decide to do? I took the route most common to recent college graduates: I looked for a 9 to 5.

I sought a corporate job with Domino’ Pizza s within their executive development program. I even made it to the semifinal round of interviews at their Ann Arbor, Michigan headquarters but ultimately was eliminated.

Turns out… this was a blessing in disguise.


The foundation for my success.

In 2011 prior to graduating, I did something that, although I didn’t realize it at the time, would eventually be the foundation for my current lifestyle. In 2011, I had made my first real estate investment with $5,000 savings from working at the family business during college summers. Throughout the remainder of my college journey, that investment paid between $50 and $60 every month, even though the property was 200 miles away. That passive income caught my eye. (Since 2011 I’ve seen a 180%+ return on that investment.)

Over the course of my time in school, I taught myself outside of the classroom. Books like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and “Trump: Billionaire Investing Lessons For The Small Time Investor” laid the groundwork for my financial intelligence today. After reading books like those, I openly admitted something most people are too scared to admit – I want to make insane amounts of money (there…I said it!), while also being a compassionate person and role model.

When I was eliminated by Domino’s execs for the executive development program, I felt lost. I didn’t know how to get to where I wanted to be. Heck, I didn’t even know where that was.

So I did, what was to me, the most sensible thing I could do: I became involved in a direct sales company. I knew if I put in the intentional WORK and TIME, it could pay me a healthy sum during the evenings and weekends.

By the time I was 15 months into the company, it began to pay me more than any of the other jobs I was working combined. And today I stand in the upper top 1% of that company.

Here’s where I took a different path again:  while other recent college graduates were paying down their debt, I began investing every penny I earned.

To me, beginning to positively compound my money and build my asset column was much more important to my future than immediately paying off my $30,000 in school loans.

nycstreet2In 2012 I purchased a run down four unit in a good neighborhood close to where I grew up. I knew the rents of my investment were about half of what the market rate was – yes, HALF the market rate. I bought the building so that I would be making money day 1, even with the low rents. I knew I could immediately raise the rents and with a little work, we could make it up over market rate. We accomplished this in 12 months.

At the same time I purchased the first four unit, I simultaneously began sending letters out to four-unit building owners and larger. I let them know that if they were looking to sell, to contact me first. 10 months later, the owner of the four unit neighboring the four unit I bought contacted me wanting to sell.

He saw what I did with my building and his needed the same work. He was an older gentleman, and no longer had the energy to work it, so he wanted me to take it over. His rents were also about half the market rate and I bought it so on day one I was making money. This left all the work and positive gain to be recognized by me. We put work into it, and within 12 months, rents were also above market.

The work we did attracted better tenants, and they greatly appreciated the service they received. When something broke, we fixed it – immediately. All we tried to do was add as much value as possible. We wanted to give our tenants a home to live in, not just an “apartment”. We put ourselves in our tenant’s shoes.

It is now 2016, and we have since refinanced the original eight units. Here is where people make a mistake. Most of the time, people will cash out on their refinance and purchase a toy or an upgraded home for themselves. My logic, once again, varies. I believe in putting a minimum 10% of that refinance money into the property you took it out of. So we blacktopped the driveway and added a nice retaining wall outside to make it more aesthetically attractive. The entirety of the remaining 90% is going to be reinvested into another property.

I whole heartedly believe in reinvesting.

In fact, I have yet to take a personal distribution or salary from my real estate – all of the profits are being used to buy more assets.

I’d rather work for myself and my own company for zero salary, than get paid six figures working for someone else. Literally.

Decisions like this in my first 4.5 years removed from college have allowed me to accrue the following assets:

– $13,000,000+ real estate owned/under-management: 165 apartments, 108 storage units, 5 industrial/warehouse shops, 3 commercial buildings, 1 billboard and 15,000 square feet of large open space storage

– Co-founder of a merger that streams $100,000,000+ in annual revenue

– Top 1% distributor in a direct sales company

Believe in yourself, don’t care about negative comments from others, work hard and smart, sacrifice, be disciplined, never give up and endlessly pursue your dreams.

Written by Justin Spaulding

Justin is an entrepreneur, investor and CEO. He is the host - Ballin’ with Spauldin’,  CEO/Shareholder – SG Realty,  Independent Distributor - AdvoCare, Co-founder – MAVANA (Mixed Animal Veterinary Associates North America), and  Co-founder–Vet24Seven.

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