It is one thing to venture into real estate. It is another to take a massive action on the field that also helps others in their real estate journey. Lisa Hylton has someone who is doing that. She interviews Camilla Jeffs, the CEO and owner of Steady Stream Investments, a real estate investment company with a special focus on helping women achieve financial health through passive multifamily investments. Here, Camilla shares with us her story on getting started in real estate—from fix and flips to multifamily to property management—and her secrets to managing it all. She then shares some great advice for those trying to get into the industry, reminding everyone that there is no shortcut to success and that everyone has to take those baby steps.
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From Fix And Flips To Multifamily: Taking Massive Action In Real Estate With Camila Jeffs
I have another amazing guest. Her name is Camilla Jeffs. Camilla is the CEO and Owner of Steady Stream Investments. A real estate investment company with a special focus on helping women achieve financial health through passive multifamily investments. She has been a real estate investor for eighteen years, doing buy and holds, fix and flips, small multifamily, and owned a property management company. For her, real estate is a family affair and she involves her five children in the renovations. They know their way around the power tools. I’m super excited to have Camilla on the show. Camilla, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Lisa. I’m happy to be here.
I met Camilla on the Multifamily Women’s Mastermind Facebook Group, which has an amazing group of multifamily investors and women who are doing amazing things. It’s a true testament of continuing to join groups and meet amazing people like yourself as well.
That’s such a great group. I’m excited to meet everybody there and it’s been fun to meet in different places and to do shows together. It’s cool.
To get started, I know that I said in your bio that you have done buy and holds, fix and flip, small multifamily. Can you share with us how you got started investing in real estate?
I got started at the young age of 22 when I bought my first property. It was a property that had a basement apartment in it. I had a full kitchen and three bedrooms in the basement. My husband and I lived on the top with our brand-new baby and we rented out the bottom. The cool thing about that was we only had to pay about $200 a month to live there. It was almost free because the basement people paid for it.
From there, did you then moved into fix and flips or buy and holds?
It’s buy and holds next. From there, I read the book Rich Dad Poor Dad and it told me all of this cool information about how sometimes you think your house is your biggest asset, but it costs you a lot of money because of all the repairs and all the things you have to do to it. If you do it as a way to invest as I did with house hacking, then it’s different. That unlocked the power of real estate. I started to get curious and launched me on this path. The next one we thought, “Let’s buy a fixer-upper,” because we want to learn how to fix houses. We didn’t know how to fix houses. We thought we could try it. The next one we bought was a fixer-upper. It was a HUD home. It’s an auction but owned by the government and they’re typically pretty beat up. We moved in and lived in a mess for two years while we fixed this property.
After two years, we moved out and we rented for three more years. At the end of those five years span, you can sell the house for no capital gains tax. You don’t owe any taxes. It’s a cool and relatively simple strategy if you’re up for moving around a lot and fixing places that you’re living in. That was our strategy and that’s how we accumulated several homes. We moved across the country to another state, got another live-in flip, and then decided to try a regular fix and flip, one that we don’t live in. We bought that property for $25,000 and put about $10,000 into it. We did most of the work ourselves. We had to hire out electrical and plumbing because we’re not contractors, but the rest of the work we did ourselves and then we sold that property. It was good.Sometimes you think your house is your biggest asset, but actually, it is costing you a lot of money. Click To Tweet
Moving into the small multifamily space, what was the transition for you moving from fix and flips into then small multifamily?
As I was evaluating my properties and looking over my real estate portfolio, I was noticing that the numbers weren’t performing as well as I wanted them to perform. The biggest reason why was because when a tenant moved out, my income suddenly dropped to zero on that bill estate. I was like, “It takes a big hit.” Some of these rentals, we’re only making maybe $100 to $200 a month and someone moves out, and then you have a month of vacancy, that wipes out your profit for the entire year. You’re still building equity or your tenants are still paying down the mortgage. I was all about cashflow. I wanted to get more passive income coming in. More cashflow to offset your W-2 jobs. I thought, “I need to try something bigger. Let’s try multifamily.” I bought a fourplex and I used an investor to buy the fourplex as well. We got a loan on it and then used an investor to help with the down payment. That one was better because if one person moved out, then I still had 75% of that income that was coming in. I liked that model a lot better than the single-family model.
On that duplex, you technically have two loans. The deal was good enough to be able to do two loans on the deal. One for the main and then one for the down payment and still end up with cashflow for you as well. What state was that in?
That was in Northern Utah.
Utah has some good pockets of areas to invest in.
The Utah market is an awesome market to be investing in.
A lot of their cities show up on the Department of Numbers when you filter for cities that have low unemployment. A lot of their cities are on low unemployment indicating that there are lots of jobs. The strong job market, hence population growth and hence rental growth and all that good stuff, everything that comes along with that great stimulation.
They have a lot of businesses moving into. That’s another thing that’s great about a market. When you’re looking at markets, you want to see population and job growth going on as well.
Expanding onto that, you also own a property management company. Can you talk a little bit about the process of deciding to go into property management?
A lot of it was because I was a complete do-it-yourselfer or solopreneur. It was me figuring out how to run my portfolio more efficiently. Sometimes you look at adjacent things to what you’re doing. I was an investor, but I also was a landlord. Was I doing it correctly? I didn’t know. I started educating myself. I read a couple of books on how to be a good landlord and how to run it like a business. It’s easy as a landlord to get sucked into allowing people not to pay their rent on time. Everyone has a story and a reason, but I learned quickly that I’m going to pick my charity. I tied it to my church and I donate to other charities, but I have to run my business like a business. I got involved with the Utah Apartment Association and they were fantastic. They had a training program called The Good Landlord Program. Also, they gave you a big discount on your business license if you went through this way, so incentives there. They taught me all about how to properly screen tenants to make sure that I wasn’t discriminating against tenants, to protect myself from lawsuits.
They taught me all about how to keep the properties running to put inefficiencies with processes and procedures, to run the business instead of having the business run me, which can easily happen when you’re a landlord. I put strict hours. These are the hours that you can contact me and these are the hours you can’t. I learned about how to market my properties and the right places to market because in the beginning, I didn’t know what to do. I made a banner to put up at the property. I also went to the local college and I put one of those advertisement pages that have the little tabs at the bottom that you can rip off the phone number. I didn’t know what else to do. That’s how I started that property management company.
To recap for my readers, for people who might be thinking about doing a fix and flip, what advice would you give for those specific people who are thinking, “Let me do the live-in flip strategy and then secondly, the straight traditional flip strategy?” Starting with the live-in flip, what are the things that the individual needs to consider?
A live-in flip is a relatively simple way to get into real estate. My two favorite ways to get in are house hacking or live-in flips if you want to be an active investor. You can be a passive investor and we can talk about that. Actively either house hack or live-in flip, you could do both at the same time. A live-in flip, you want to look for a house that is rundown. Those normal people will walk in and walk immediately back out because it smells bad or because there’s garbage everywhere. When I walk into a house that smells bad and there’s garbage everywhere, I’m like, “Yes. This is it.” I get excited or it’s a weird layout or there’s something wrong with the house that normal people would be scared of, that represents an opportunity for me. It’s easy for me to see opportunities now that I’ve done many of these. That’s what you want to look for. You want to look for the opportunity and opportunity smells bad, but it’s where you’ll get the money. The cool thing also about doing a live-in flip is learning those skills. If you want to be a fix and flipper, my advice is to live-in flip first so that you learn how a construction project goes. I know not everybody has that same advice, but it was much easier for us because when we started to do fix and flips effort, we’d done several live-in flips. We understood the process, what it took, and how to accurately estimate the cost of the rehab because we had already gone through that in our own home. It was a little bit safer place to do that than a fix and flip.
The next strategy that you moved on to was the fourplex. For someone who’s thinking about buying small multifamily, what would be some advice you would give to them?
Small multifamily is a good way to go. You should house hack it for a couple of reasons. If you want to buy a duplex or a fourplex, you can get residential financing on those. Meaning that if you move into it and you live in one of the units and you rent out the other three, you can get some great financing on that like a normal home. You don’t have to come in with a big down payment. You always want to be careful about over-leveraging. You want to make sure that you buy it at a discount. Don’t buy it at the peak of the market, but then you live in there and all of a sudden you’re managing three other tenants and three other properties. Your learning starts to expand on how to run these types of properties. That’s a great way. If you can’t do that, I’m in a position where I can’t buy a fourplex and live in it because I’ve got five children. There’s not enough room for us to live in an apartment. If you can’t do that, don’t write it off. You can still purchase a fourplex. You’re going to have to be a little more creative in your financing. You probably won’t be able to do it on your own. You need to bring in investors or maybe you do have a chunk of change that you’ve had in the stock market that you may want to try. You could buy a fourplex, but you’ll want to get help. I wouldn’t advise buying a fourplex without knowing anybody, having a mentor or having a friend who’s done it to bounce ideas off of. It can suck you dry fast if you don’t know what you’re doing.
What would you say are 1 or 2 key things that could make that fourplex deal go sour?
Key things are not running it like a business, not having strict rules about when the rent has to be paid, how it’s paid, and what happens if they don’t pay. If your tenant stopped paying, it’s easy for them to give you excuses about why they can’t pay continually. You have to keep your revenue coming in. Another thing is keeping up with the maintenance. The better you can keep up with the maintenance, then the less money you’ll spend in the long run. If you fix the little things, you shouldn’t have many big things that you’ll have to fix. For example, if there’s a small leak happening and you don’t fix it right away, it turns into a mold in your walls and a disaster and that can happen quickly. You have to stay on top of the maintenance for your properties.When you're looking at markets, consider population and job growth. Click To Tweet
From there, how do you play in real estate these days?
After I had the fourplex, I started thinking hard about multifamily. It was 2007 when I bought the fourplex and was managing it. A year after I bought that, I wrote on my vision board to buy a 100-unit apartment complex. I was like, “Someday.” I have no clue how I’m going to do this because that fourplex, I bought for $250,000 a 100-unit complex is going to cost $15 million. My brain wasn’t thinking in millions at the time, I couldn’t even comprehend. Sometimes the cool thing I love about vision boards is you put something on your vision board and you look at it on a regular basis and automatically your brain starts trying to figure out how to make it happen, even sometimes subconsciously. I started reading, educating myself, and learning a lot, but it took me a while. It took me a long time before I felt like I could go after it. I got stuck in analysis paralysis. Finally, in 2019, it was the year I was going to turn 40. I was like, “Camilla, this is your year. For your birthday, you are going to make this apartment complex happen.” I was like, “I’ve got to do this.” My birthday was in September and I had nine months to make it happen. I was like, “I don’t know if I can do it.” I dove in and started reading blogs I could find, devouring every real estate book I could find on how to buy an apartment complex.
I started going to meetups. I started going to conferences to meet the players in the industry because I figured out that buying a large apartment complex is a team sport. Up until then, I’d been a solopreneur and done everything on my own. Honestly, I felt like I was the only woman doing it. I was intimidated by large multifamily. The more I learned, the more people I found. I found other women like you and then I was like, “I can do this.” The first step I did was invest passively into 107-unit here in the Phoenix area. That gave me some interesting learnings as well about being on the passive side. It’s cool because I don’t have to manage it. I don’t have to do anything for it. I hood in my money and I’m getting monthly cashflow. I’m getting tax benefits and equity in the asset. Hopefully, the plan is that money will double when they sell in about five years. I was like, “Yes, I have ownership. I did it.” I got my first property as a limited partner, but I’m heavily working on the active partner side and have two deals under contract scheduled to close. We’re excited about those.
Can you share the process of getting those two deals that are under contract that are getting ready to close?
It’s all about finding partners. I had not bought my own large apartment complex, and so I needed to find someone experienced. During my education year in 2019, I knew I needed a mentor. I knew I needed to align myself with someone who had a great experience and good help. I ended up getting two mentors. One mentor to help me on finding the deals side and then another mentor to help me on how to build a business around educating passive investors and helping passive investors get involved in these types of deals as well. Through both of those mentors, they opened up some great doors for me and helped me align with experienced syndicators. I joined up with two. Those two deals were with two different syndicators I’ve joined up with and I’m helping to evaluate. I helped do the underwriting for it. I’m going to help manage the asset and I’m helping bring in passive investors to both of those deals. It’s all about getting to know people, getting a mentor, and aligning yourself with experienced people.
I love your story because as I listen to your story, I can see the progression over the years and over time. It’s almost as though I’m walking with you and taking these steps of buying the houses that are rundown, and then moving in, living in it, fixing it, getting that experience and knowledge on how to do that. You’re taking that and then doing fix and flips on your own. You then take that a step further and do a fourplex, taking that a step further and now buying 100-plus unit apartment building and being able to play in that space. I know what value you add, but I am curious about how your prior experiences doing the fix and flips and all that stuff has helped inform how you play.
The value that I bring to a syndication team is that I understand construction. I understand how to go into a property and I can visualize what it will look like after it’s done. I help with that. I also bring great value in the property management space. I’m not planning to continue my property management company and manage all of these big units per se, but I know how to interview, hire, and evaluate property management companies. I’ve had my own experience and my own failures in that space. I know the right questions to ask. I can make sure that we have strong property management. Let’s say we picked someone, they come in, and they start managing, but it’s not going well. I will be able to identify quickly the changes that need to happen and help to manage the asset. When you manage things like that, you want to wait and let them go. You have to stay on top of it and make sure that they’re working the way that you want the asset to be managed. Those are two big value adds that I bring.
I also love educating other people about how to get involved in investing in real estate passively. That’s powerful and is such a simple way to get involved in real estate and to add real estate to your financial strategy. I like to talk about the concept of financial health. To be healthy financially lifts away weight off your shoulders. Once you’ve gotten to pass the point of you’re out of debt, you mastered budgeting, and you know how to manage your finances, investing is the game you get to play after you figure out the hard and you get to this space. You’re in this fun space that’s like, “Here I go. Now, I get to invest and let me see what I can do with this money and make this money work as hard as possible. I’m going to taskmaster all of these dollars and put them to work and let’s see how good we can do.” That’s the beauty of passive investing.
You mentioned that you like to read, I’m curious what books you would recommend for people interested in real estate in general and then apartment investing specifically?
I read Joe Fairless’ book, Best Ever Multifamily Syndication. That’s a good one to help educate yourself. I also like Michael Blank’s book. It’s called Financial Freedom With Real Estate Investing. I also love reading books about high performance. I’m fascinated by successful people in all aspects of life and especially entrepreneurs. I read a lot of entrepreneur books. I have on my nightstand The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, a great book about how to focus yourself. I have High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard. I haven’t read it yet. I just got it. I’m super excited to read Everything Is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo. I love the title of her book because that’s how I’ve lived my life. Everything is figured out. I can figure it out. A lot of times I’ll be staring at my computer screen going crazy, like, “I don’t even know how to do online marketing. I don’t know.” I can figure it out. I know I can and getting through that hard.
Can you talk a little bit about being a mom working full-time and being a badass real estate investor? How do you manage all of that? What advice would you give to a woman who has similar shoes as yours?
I have five children and they are an amazing blessing in my life. I love my children, four daughters and one boy. Throughout our whole real estate journey, I’ve dragged them along with me. They’ve been right by my side helping us with all of the fix and flips, all of the buys and holds, all the renovations. They were there. When they were little, we’d bring them to the fourplex. While we painted the walls and we hoped that they didn’t stick their hands in the paint bucket and make a mess on the carpet. They’d come and they helped us bust up ice in the parking lot one time. They thought that was a blast. When the kids are young, it was life. We brought them with us. I wasn’t trying to separate my work from my family. I felt like it was much better to integrate work and family. The children learned how to work and work hard and we’re still doing live-in flips.
Maybe we graduate, but it’s still fun for us. We’re doing one now. They’re learning how to make concrete countertops. We’re trying new things and we can tell the kids, “Go and install your own shelves in your room.” They can go and level them and figure out where the studs are and installed. It’s been a cool journey. Even now they’re learning, I involve them in my business because part of my business is online marketing and online education. I have my two fifteen-year-old twins who are helping me with my website. They’re there doing it with me. I take them with me to my meetups. My oldest daughter is a senior in high school and she wants to do a fix and flip to earn money for college. We are working on that. We’re looking for a property for her to do and I’m going to let her own most of it and guide her. She will be doing all of that stuff.
That’s good, for parents to be able to give that exposure and opportunity to their children and for her to want to do that too. It’s a testament for them being around you and seeing that you’re living out the things that you’re saying and doing. At this point, I usually ask all my guests my level-up questions. The first is, what are you grateful for in your life?
I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to build this business and to spread the word about how to level up in your financial health. Taking the next step and the next level by investing passively into real estate is such a beautiful thing. I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful for the opportunity I have to raise my five children and to see their journey, growth, development, and to be part of that.
To what do you attribute your continuous success and growth?
It’s a growth mindset. I can’t tell you that I’m this genius and that financial numbers, online marketing, or even construction came easy. Nothing comes easy. I don’t believe in overnight success. While it may look like I’m having overnight success because I’m all of a sudden on shows, it’s taken me eighteen years to get here. I went through the baby steps to get here. It’s been a beautiful journey.The better you can keep up with the maintenance of the property, then the less money you'll spend in the long run. Click To Tweet
What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your journey that you now know?
That’s a hard one for me to answer because I value all of those hard learnings and the hard knocks that I took. What I would have liked to know is that I didn’t have to do everything myself. I could have gotten involved with other people quicker. I started bringing people in and around. I was always nervous to tell people what I was doing for some reason. Maybe I had a fear of both failure and success simultaneously, is that possible? It was for me because I didn’t want to be viewed as someone who either failed or is successful. I’m in a space that I truly believe that the more I let my own light shine, then the more permission I give to other people to let their light shine as well. I can bring people up with me as I rise and grow and that’s going to be an amazing thing.
That’s all I have for this episode. Thank you, Camilla, for coming on. I appreciate it.
Thanks for having me. It’s been fun to talk to you and get to know you more.
If my audience would like to learn more about you, where can they go to learn more?
The name of my business is Steady Stream Investments because I’m all about water. Give me everything water, I’ll be there on the water all the time. You can find me there. You can email me Camilla@SteadyStreamInvestments.com. You can find me on Instagram @SteadyStreamInvestments or Facebook, it’s my name Camilla Jeffs. I’d love to connect with any of you if you are interested at all in learning about real estate. I’d be happy to help you out on your journey as well.
Thank you, Camilla. I appreciate it.
Thank you, Camilla, for coming on the show. I appreciate it. It’s another amazing episode. Some of the insights that I took from this episode, first of all, investing in real estate as a team sport. She spoke about her journey of going through the process of investing in real estate and how that has evolved and changed over the period of her investing. Granted she still does fix and flips these days and she still does live-in flip, but as she still does these things, she’s also leveling up into larger asset classes from going into fourplexes to closing on two deals. It’s an awesome and amazing journey. Some of the insights that I took from this conversation were one, the importance of having those mentors. She mentioned that she had two and that how both have helped her in different ways in terms of finding deals, as well as building out a business to educate passive investors. She also then talks about how she has used her experiences doing fix and flips as well as doing flips and then having the fourplex. She’s used those experiences and what she’s learned to translate into the value that she’s adding to multifamily syndications.
She talked about managing the assets and how that property management experience that she has enables her to interview the property managers then to understand, asking the right questions, as well as assessing them to determine whether they are doing a good job or whether it is time for them to go. Something else that I thought was interesting that she mentioned a couple of times was the importance of when you are property managing, be it a big asset or a small asset, is having those processes in place. Ensure that when a tenant has not paid rent, that you have a process or a system that you will put in place. You’re essentially doing it right away to make sure that you are either getting rent or you’ve conducted the process of either an eviction or helping them to pay. That way you don’t have someone that is living in your apartment on end and not paying any rent. I also thought that was important.
The advice that she gave for people who were interested in investing and fixing flips. She noted that it was one of the easiest ways to get started in real estate. She talked about how looking for rundown houses. Houses that smell bad and that there’s garbage everywhere. She said the term, “Opportunity smells bad.” Those are the places that people come and then they turn right back around. They’re like, “No, I’m not dealing with this.” Those are generally her opportunities to go in and buy a property that is significantly undervalued and go in and put in the work to fix it up. She’s either holding it or she’s selling it, so fixing and flipping.
The other part was house hacking. It’s buying a property and being able to rent out the other side. If it’s units below you, being able to rent out the units below. The advice she gave for people who are interested in starting in small multifamily was that this is also another great way to get started because those properties are covered under residential mortgages. You can get into one of those properties with low down payments. You could do FHA loans and that kind of stuff. She was still mindful of debt-to-equity ratio to make sure that you’re not over-leveraged. She also mentioned The Millionaire Landlord book. She noted that it was a good book that she read that she found out a lot of value to her. She also mentioned having systems and processes in place. This goes back to what I touched on about property management. Making sure that you have good systems and processes in place. Making sure that you are running your real estate business, that is buy and hold businesses, buying duplexes, whatever it is, making sure that you’re running it like a business. Setting up those processes and then keeping up with maintenance.
She talked about how having a small leak and not fixing it in time can over time result in mold and other issues. If they were caught earlier, it would have been probably a smaller expense, but because they took so much time to catch it, it then works out being a bigger issue. She also noted that she liked investing in large multifamilies because of the economies of scale. For instance, if you bought a single-family home and that tenant moves out, she talks about how not all the time, but sometimes the time period of getting the next tenant as well as the maintenance and the turn costs could wipe out the income that you’ve received that entire year. Whereas when you buy multifamilies, be it large or small, if one tenant moves out, you still have 99 or 80-something other tenants that are still paying rent and that are still in the apartment as well.
It was an awesome interview, I loved her story. There were some great nuggets thinking about if you’re interested in investing in real estate, the importance of setting up those processes and systems, especially if you’re going to do it as an active investor. Thinking about the processes that you want to set up in place, the rent collection situation, as well as connected to that, the laws and regulations of the state you’re playing in to make sure you understand what the rights of the tenants and of you as a landlord are. That way you can then properly enforce things as you should.
Continuing to level up, connected to that was she is an avid reader. Someone who’s constantly getting further education reading books. She talked about reading The ONE Thing, High Performance Habits book, as well as Everything Is Figureoutable. She also talks about getting good mentors that help her being around the right environment, going to meetups and hosting meetups herself. She’s located in the Arizona area. All these different things have helped her. At the end of the day, a good investor is a smart investor, someone who is taking the time to educate themselves and be around people who are doing bigger and better things that they are doing as well. Until next time. Keep leveling up.
- Steady Stream Investments
- Multifamily Women’s Mastermind – Facebook Group
- Rich Dad Poor Dad
- Utah Apartment Association
- Best Ever Multifamily Syndication
- Financial Freedom With Real Estate Investing
- The ONE Thing
- High Performance Habits
- Everything Is Figureoutable
- @SteadyStreamInvestments – Instagram
- Camilla Jeffs – Facebook
About Camilla Jeffs
Camilla is the CEO and owner of Steady Stream Investments, a real estate investment company with a special focus on helping women achieve financial health through passive multifamily investments.
She has been a real estate investor for 18 years doing buy and holds, fix and flips, small multifamily, and owned a property management company. For her, real estate is a family affair and she involves her five children in the renovations. They all know their way around power tools!