NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Few young people give their financial futures much thought. Rob and Nicole Adams do. They've mapped out a clear-cut plan that covers the next several years, in detail.
They're off to a good start in executing on it, and real estate plays a big part.
Rob says he didn't start planning seriously until four years ago, when he relocated to Los Angeles to take a job with Naughty Dog, a video games maker. The 33-year-old video game artist had met Nicole, 23, a Pilates instructor, in her hometown of Vancouver, where Rob worked for Electronic Arts.
Los Angeles was never more than a temporary location for them. "We didn't want to stay more than four years, or raise our kids there," says Rob. "We needed an exit strategy."
So the couple "saved like mad" to buy a $467,000 two-bedroom, two-bath bungalow in Laurel Canyon, with a loan rate of 7.5 percent on a 30-year mortgage. Refinancing eventually saved more than $1,000 a month.
In early 2004, using equity loans, the Adamses remodeled. They hired Idea Space Design, a well-known Beverly Hills design team, to do the job and even had them bring in furnishings for an open house when it went on the market.
Good plan. "The whole thing cost $50,000, but we got a big bang for our bucks," Rob says. "They knew exactly what buyers wanted. The bidding war lasted two weeks."
|Home sweet home -- a four-unit building in West Hollywood
The total profit came to about $275,000 when the deal closed last April. Those proceeds, along with an AIM primary residence loan, went to the purchase of a four-unit building in West Hollywood. They moved into a vacant apartment and rented out the rest.
This building cost $1.24 million and they owe a balance of $980,000. A renovation of two of the apartments has pushed up the value to a recently appraised $1.45 million, making their equity equal to about $470,000.
Expanding their horizons
That was the first step in building their real estate position; next, the couple obtained a line of equity credit that they will use to buy a three-apartment building, this time in Dallas.
They have a friend there who manages the property and prices are much more in line with rents – they're looking in the $600,000 range for a high-quality three-unit building – so rental income will more than offset expenses.
After that, Rob says, they'll look for a condo, a fixer-upper with a view, in the Hollywood and Sunset areas, where many high-rise apartments went up about 30 years ago.
Some individual units have not been well maintained and, as a result, sell for a discount. The bones of these condos are fine, according to Rob. It's just a matter of "pulling up the old shag carpet and ripping out the linoleum in the kitchen."
He expects to be able to buy a two bedroom for about $500,000 and spend about another $50,000 for the remodeling. They'll pay the mortgage with the rental profits from the two apartment buildings.
Sometime around the fall of 2008, they'll sell the condo to finance a move to Seattle, where they figure to buy a house and start a family. They also hope to buy another apartment building in Seattle, using cash flow from the LA and Dallas properties.
Eventually they'll consolidate all their holdings into one rental building in Seattle. Then, both will leave full-time work; Nicole to home-school the kids and Rob will manage the property. He also wants to pursue a video editing interest, working on documentaries for environmental groups.
Making it work
The Adamses have been aided by several factors. For one, they make a good living, a six-figure income. The red-hot LA real estate market has also given them a big boost.
The uncertain future of real estate prices, however, is keeping their strategy geared toward passive cash flow investing with rental property. If the bubble bursts, "We can hold and still be profitable each month until the market eventually allows us to sell," says Rob.
They've learned a lot about real estate investing by reading books, attending seminars, and, especially, listening to others.
He does say, however, that friends weary quickly of talking about it all. "People get sick of hearing about your plans and future," he says.
Other than 401(k) payments -- which they max out -- the Adamses have few other investments, but they are conservative spenders; they never keep a credit card balance and don't buy many luxuries.
"I drive a 1997 Jetta," say Rob. "I test drove a BMW M3, but I thought better of it."
That's a big concession driving an eight-year old Volkswagen in car-conscious Hollywood. "If we go to a nice restaurant, I can't look the valet in the eye."
Don't feel sorry for them, though. It's a full life and they plan – to keep it that way.