Real estate. It's the one constant that millionaires and billionaires have in common. The real estate asset class is one of the most beloved investment vehicles of all time, thanks to our common belief that -- no matter what happens with our crazy world -- people will still need a place on Earth to live and work.
Our most recent financial crisis notwithstanding, real estate values have been on a steady upward climb ever since it was possible to own land. So for entrepreneurs and investors alike, real estate has been the holy grail of wealth creation.
Now, the downside: Owning a residential or commercial building takes hard work, dedication, experience, and that wonderful thing called cash. In fact, even buying a small multi-family building can be a challenge for most retirement investors, since even that kind of small purchase can require upwards of a 25 percent down payment.
That's where the wonderful world of crowdfunding has come into play and has completely revolutionized the way we invest in real estate.
Five years ago, would-be commercial real estate investors got a present from an unlikely Santa Claus: the U.S. Congress. When Congress passed the Jumpstart Our Business Act (or JOBS Act, for short), it allowed companies to advertise their public offerings, opening the door to crowdfunding as a means to raise millions in investment capital.
Fortunately for investors of all types, real estate became the perfect asset class for crowdfunding: stable, tangible, and relatively predictable in its growth and eventual returns.
Now, you can own a commercial building in literally a single click through today's top crowdfunding portals, with investments sometimes starting in the hundreds of dollars.
If you're looking to get started in real estate in a few hours or less, here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Understand how crowdfunding portals work.
There are many crowdfunding portals out there selling real estate, with varying rules, requirements and offerings, ranging from individual deals to large funds with varying degrees of risk and return. Research many, and choose the one that fits your risk profile and investing style.
2. Ascertain what kind of investor you are.
There are two classes of investors: accredited and non-accredited. Accredited investors are typically already millionaires, and have supplied documentation of their net worth. This gives them broader access to deals than non-accredited investors, who can typically only invest in a more limited capacity.
3. Carefully weigh any investment, with the help of an expert.
Investments lose money. Companies go bankrupt. Vet your investment options carefully to make sure you're choosing an experienced real estate manager that fits your risk profile. Plus, there are other signs you can look for that indicate your hard-earned money will be well taken care-of.
For instance, the principals of Origin Investments, a Chicago-based real estate investment firm, actually invest right alongside their investors. This makes them much more accountable for their strategy and execution than a company that is only using investor money to purchase real estate assets.
One Origin principal, Michael Episcope, told me that his previous two funds have delivered annualized returns of 23 to 25 percent to investors so far.
"We knew that investing alongside our investors was the key to assuring them that we were all in this together," said Episcope. "Brilliant investment opportunities are out there, as long as you're willing to do your homework on the companies you're investing in."
So, the next time you look up at a skyscraper and wonder how you could own one someday, wonder no more. Just buy a small slice of the action, and you'll be in on the ground floor, so to speak.
Just don't brag too much to your friends.