BEND, Ore. (CNN/Money) -
Every Friday morning, 15 to 20 members of the Central Oregon Investment Club in Bend, Ore. convene in a conference room of a local title company to discuss their latest deals and add to their three-ring binders of real estate investing lessons.
The group's leader, a general contractor, real estate investor and "poor country boy" (wink, wink) Don Loyd, passes his hat and asks members to throw in a buck to help pay for the room. Then, men and women ranging from their late teens to their early 60s, introduce themselves as they do every week. "Hi, I'm (fill in the blank) and I am a real estate investor."
There are now hundreds of real estate investment clubs, according to the National Real Estate Investors Association, which is affiliated with about 150 groups representing more than 20,000 individuals. That's just scratching the surface, says Rebecca McLean, the association's executive director. "We estimate that we don't even account for a quarter of all the clubs that exist."
Membership has shot up right along with home prices. "A lot of money has come out of the stock market and been directed toward real estate," says Randy Steadham president of the Realty Investment Club of Houston (R.I.C.H.), whose membership over the past four years has quadrupled to nearly 2,100.
Real estate club members pay anywhere from $50 a year to $200 a year to join these groups, which are typically nonprofit education or trade organizations.
Members attend regular meetings and roundtables at title companies, buffet restaurants, synagogues, hotels and, in the case of larger clubs, their own facilities. The national convention for these land lovers is, ironically, held at sea for a weeklong all-inclusive cruise through the Caribbean.
"When groups began the mainstay was monthly meeting," says McLean. "Now they've gone well beyond that." The largest of such clubs, Georgia Real Estate Investors Association, holds meetings or workshops nearly every day of the week.
Even smaller clubs, like the Central Oregon Investment Club, meet every single week. "It's a very down to earth group," says Loyd, who started the club in January 2004 with two members and now has 34 regulars who include doctors, cleaning people and entrepreneurs.
Though every club has its own personality, leaders say members are a diverse group with a wide range of real estate experience, or inexperience for that matter.
"I would say that 80 percent of our members are 'newbies' who have done one transaction or less," says Mark LaNore, president of Northwest Real Estate Investors in Portland, which has 450 members, up from 30 members in late 2001.
Education is the primary focus of club gatherings, where members learn about everything from finding a good rehab to putting property in a land trust, not to mention hear the scuttlebutt on local real estate markets. Members also receive discounts on everything from paint to office supplies, and they have access to lending libraries stocked with books and real estate "kits."
Networking also a key perk. "Members of our group can learn about property before it goes on the market, consult with contractors about rehab property and get advice from attorneys who are members," says LaNore.
Looking through club's calendars of upcoming topics, just one element appears to be missing: skepticism.
While the groups speak to specific risks of investing in real estate – such as getting sued by a tenant, not having enough insurance or spending too much on a rehab – most don't address the risk of, say, putting all of your net worth in real estate.
"We tell people this is hard work and you have to do it the right way," says Steadham of R.I.C.H., a former oil services executive who says that he, for one, has moved all of his money out of the stock market and into real estate.
In the interest of steering members clear of "get-rich-quick" strategies, club leaders say they are also careful about what gurus they invite to speak at their meetings. "Our gal in charge of our convention has great knowledge of who these people are and what they have to say," says Jerry Conley, executive director of the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association, whose convention in October will draw about 1,800 people to hear as many as 20 speakers.
Then again, with themes like "How to turn an ugly house in to a pot of gold" and "Super size your short sales" attendees will need extra reminding that real estate is hard work.