From getting her Bachelor and Master’s in science, to serving 25 years as a Registered, Licensed Dietitian in the Healthcare Food Service Management industry, to appearing on radio and news stations to discuss nutrition, to…real estate pro? Sandra Holtmeyer’s journey from specializing in the healthcare field to rocking the real estate world proves that it’s never the wrong time to create and achieve new dreams. Now owner and founder of First Freedom Properties, LLC Real Estate Investing company; Co-Founder of Resolution Equities, LLC and St. Louis Equity Partners, LLC; author of Beginner’s Guide to Investing in Rental Properties; and more, Holtmeyer takes pride in her new passion. She loves sharing the details of her work with her healthcare colleagues, whom she encourages to take part in passive investments through the world of real estate.
“I probably came in differently than your typical stereotypical investor,” is how Holtmeyer describes her first start into the real estate world. “I got a divorce and bought a townhouse, and at the time I remember thinking, “This might make a good rental,” but I didn’t know, I had never done anything with rentals.” Holtmeyer describes how she had bought the townhouse in 2009 at the top of the market, but after 5 years when she was ready to move on, the market still hadn’t recovered in 2014. This meant she would’ve sold it for less than she had bought it. “I didn’t feel like selling it,” she explains, “So I decided to keep it as a rental property and sell it once the markets improved.” During this time, Holtmeyer started talking to people who were landlords and gleaned from them, starting what she thought would be a short-term project as she waited for the markets to recover. “I didn’t even know there were things like real estate investment groups…I didn’t even buy a book about it. I was really just talking to folks who did it and figuring it out the hard way.”
It wasn’t a walk in the park. “The first year I actually didn’t make any money on it.” She explains how her and her tenant had rolled utilities into rental. “When someone isn’t paying for their own water and electricity, turns out they use a lot more on it.” She broke even that year, but made adjustments and changes in the following year and soon had a cash flow of around $500 a month. “I thought, “Hey, this is a good gig!” so I duplicated that process and bought another rental property and a third and then I ran out of money!” At this point, Holtmeyer was still working in the healthcare field. But after talking with friends, realtors, and doing some research, Holtmeyer learned about wholesaling and a lightbulb went off. “I thought this was the answer and what I needed to do…I learned [more] about real estate and decided that was my best venture.” So after 25 years she took the dive and decided it was time to switch careers. “I saved up money and jumped ship. I started wholesaling and got into rehabbing, got my real estate license and…now I build passive income which is my retirement plan.”
After Holtmeyer took the risk to “jump ship” she soon became the captain, finding passion and payoff in real estate. “I love landlording, as nerdy as that sounds,” she describes, “I love picking a place and making it a home for someone else.” Not only does she love the process, but she also finds a connection between her and her tenants that often hits ‘close to home.’ “I started my journey going through a divorce and most of my tenants are either going through a divorce too or some major life change and they need a place to live for a year or two or need to relocate…and I’m able to help them in the meantime and it helps us all. It’s a great fit.”
Holtmeyer says that changing jobs was pretty natural to her. “There are so many ways you can succeed when you switch careers when you look at your skillset.” Holtmeyer’s management abilities, people skills, and client retention expertise were some skills that helped make it easier to transfer from one career to the next. “Also, being humble enough to take coaching,” She stressed. “Admit that you need help, that’s a big leap. I still need mentoring…I’m continuing to learn.”
Now that she’s full swing in the real estate world, Holtmeyer describes her love for rehabbing. Rehabbing, which she clarifies isn’t the same as flipping, is when a house is improved, updated, and made better quality. Flipping, on the other hand, takes a house and renovates it, then sells it for a higher price with renovation costs making it worth more than the original price. And wholesaling, a third option, is “flipping” a house except without any renovations: “flipping the contract.” However, these terms vary state-to-state, so Holtmeyer explains that it’s important to know the differences in terms and what can/can’t be done in a specific state before endeavoring into real estate.
Holtmeyer’s research, hard work, networking, skillsets, and overall savvy all contribute to her success. “People always want to know how much money you can really make. Well, the financial highlights are the 2nd year in business, my first full calendar year in real estate I exceeded my former corporate income. I tell people that it really is possible to replace a 6 figure income by year 2.” She also goes on to clarify, “I mean, I’m not rich (I still have a million expenses!) but it can still be done. So I think that’s inspiring to people.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, has been a curveball in everyone’s book. And real estate and Holtmeyer are no exception, with eviction laws, the market, and other factors in flux. “We’re still in shock of what’s happening, both positive and negative.” Holtmeyer details, “For landlords, it’s been difficult for many areas because evictions have come to a halt. Some tenants have funding resources and some haven’t. Some haven’t been able to get anything.” Receiving half-rent means that landlords are losing money each month on property already mortgaged, and Holtmeyer says that a lot of them are doing their best to accommodate. “A lot of people don’t realize a lot of landlords are literally dipping into their own pockets to help some of these folks.” Holtmeyer laments that there isn’t enough assistance for either tenants or landlords during this time, meaning it’s a losing game for everyone.
On the other side of the coin, agents and sellers are having record sales. “We’ve also seen a boom in the St. Louis Market and many areas of the country where home sales, because of low interest rates and low inventory, are crazy…Our sales and closings are up 30 percent over this time last year and we had a record year last year!” However, not all places are experiencing such a boom. Places like California, New York, and New Jersey, and Virginia (to name a few) are experiencing waves of people leaving the states, helping simulate the booms in more attractive areas like St. Louis. (https://moneywise.com/a/americans-abandon-states) “So even though there’s COVID happening…the floodgates opened. [Everyone] is booked…but even that’s difficult for everyone because everyone is scrambling and it’s overwhelming. We don’t see an end [to the boom] until the ‘fed’ lowers interest rates.” Unlike other markets, such as restaurants and hotels, the real estate business is much more flexible during times like this, leading to both unique challenges and unique advantages to the job markets.
Holtmeyer emphasizes that doctors, healthcare workers, and others can dip their toes in the real estate waters too through many opportunities. “Doctors have investor mindsets. Many of them are business owners…but they may not have time to invest in real estate actively, like flipping houses or picking out granite or paint colors…but if they have money they would like to passively invest, I’m always looking for investors like that.” Holtmeyer explains that lines of credit loans and private money are great means to invest, and the money is secured by real estate. “They get a note that they’re a landowner. It all goes through a title company. It’s legal. It’s a physical address they can visit. And they know they can help their local economy and invest in real estate.” Additionally, Holtmeyer says a great draw is that she can typically pay 8-9% more than money sitting in an IRA. “And it’s a guaranteed rate of return, they’re guaranteed to make their money back whether I make the money or not.” Holtmeyer’s track record speaks for itself, and draws the attention of many private investors. “So if they want to find a way to passively invest secured by real estate with guaranteed returns…knowing there are people like me looking for private money and doing real work in the local market, that can be a tie in.” Holtmeyer says. She also adds that she loves working with the medical community, since she has history there: “I understand their work schedule and the dynamics they’re working in. It could be a real investment opportunity they may never have heard of.”
Holtmeyer is passionate about her job, and she’s optimistic that the best is yet to come. Money isn’t her sole motivator, but a reward that comes from a job well done and a people-oriented heart, as evidenced throughout her journey from working in health care to now working in real estate. One of her favorite things about real estate is how investing it is into the community, which for her, is remarkably rewarding. “We’re getting tax dollars back into the local economy. I enjoy the work, I enjoy the outcome…I love that it’s a vehicle that helps the community and individuals. And I can make a living doing it?? It sounds corny, but it works, and I love it.”