NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
These days, investing in Southern California real estate is no walk in the park. "Overheated jungle" is more like it.
That hasn't kept people like Bo Apostolache, a 28-year-old mortgage banker in Orange County, out of the market.
A few years ago, Bo and his wife Ana decided that she would become a stay-at-home mom to their twin 3-year-old daughters Alina and Jordyn. They realized they would need extra earnings to offset her loss of salary.
Given his profession, Bo chose to expand his focus on real estate. Instead of just helping other people finance their purchases, he wanted to start making deals of his own, as well.
For advice, he turned to a local investment club. But the first meeting proved less than illuminating.
"It was too technical. I'm a mortgage banker and even the mortgage information was hard to understand," says Bo. "It was not the general information that you need."
Attending the meeting did, however, put him together with others who were doing just what he wanted to do. That was enough encouragement to push an on-the-fence investor over the top.
"A lot of people like me don't have the knowledge – and courage – to start their own investments," says Bo. The club showed him that he could overcome inexperience.
His first real estate purchase took place in 1999 when he bought the family home, a three-bedroom, two-bath in Santa Margarita. His father, Gabriel, sold it to him.
Dad, a Romanian immigrant who works in the computer business, gave Bo a great deal on the property, selling it for the $200,000 he himself had paid. An appraiser pegged its recent worth at more than $650,000.
Orange County prices have nearly tripled over the past five years. Last year, the median home price in the Anaheim-Santa Ana area rose 19.1 percent to $627,500.
It takes some guts to take the plunge into such a market, though. Apostolache says his purchase of an investment property in Orange City for $374,900 last December, "led to some sleepless nights."
It got worse after he took possession. The previous owner, a contractor, left the duplex condo in A-1 condition, and a week after Bo bought it, an appraiser pegged its value at $400,000.
Bo made some improvements, like a marble fireplace, plantation shutters, and Pergo flooring, then put it on the rental market.
He even inked a lease, at $1,850 a month, before disaster struck.
"My next-door neighbor called and said, 'I have some bad news: Your apartment is ruined,'" Bo remembers. A flood left five inches of water on the first floor, the ceiling caved in, and everything ruined. "They had to gut the ceiling to the 4-by-6 beams."
It cost more than $20,000 to repair and Bo had no insurance, so the loss was paid for out-of-pocket. He now has to sell the condo. Fortunately, real estate values have continued to climb and he has it listed for $400,000, which should be enough to cover most of his loss.
No throwing in the towel
Apostolache inherited a good dose of fighting spirit from his family. It was difficult for them to secure permission to leave Romania. Bo says his mother, Eugenia, had to go on a hunger strike to persuade authorities to let them go.
That spirit, plus an MBA, has left Apostolache with an itch for his own business. After his less than perfect investment-club experience, he thought he could do better by starting his own investment club, which he has christened the Orange County Investor.
He put a link on a Web site that listed investment clubs and got about 80 responses. That was enough to have him plan the kick-off meeting, which he hopes will attract about 500 people.
"We'll talk about real estate trends, the rental market, mortgage rates," he says. "For keynote speakers we'll have real estate agents, certified financial planners, mortgage bankers, but there won't be anything too technical."
He's planning to address the potential real estate bubble at the first meeting. He busy arranging sponsors – he has a couple lined up already – creating ads, and building a Web site at www.ocinvestor.com.
Bo's spending quite a bit to get the club off the ground. He expects to get some of that back in referrals for his mortgage lending and perhaps from attendance revenue as the club becomes a monthly staple for local investors.
His target audience is the higher-than-average income household and he hopes to expand the club's scope beyond real estate in future meetings. It's all his party, but a mentor is providing him some free advice.
It all sounds like a big undertaking, but Apostolache has energy and enterprise. He also plans other property purchases.
"Entrepreneurship is in my blood," he says.
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