A life in real estate
How I did it: An immigrant's daughter grabs a piece of the American Dream.
As told to Joan Caplin, MONEY Magazine

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - With an eye for fixer-uppers and a nose for shady contractors, Sonia Bawa Mesaros, 35, of Westlake, Ohio made a fortune in a tricky market: real estate .

" 'U.S.A., U.S.A., it's the land of opportunity!' I can't tell you how many times I heard that at the dinner table. My parents came here from India with me when I was one. They saved and saved and eventually invested in restaurants and real estate.

Sonia Bawa Mesaros
Sonia Bawa Mesaros

I bought my first property when I was 26 for $125,000. I had been working in our restaurant, and I put down $10,000 from my earnings. I lived upstairs and rented out the first floor.

When we sold the restaurant in 2000, I threw myself into real estate investing full time. I took out a $45,000 line of credit on my house, bought another for cash, put in a new bath and kitchen and sold it three months later for a $15,000 profit. I thought, 'Hey, I could really get into this.'

"I've bought more than 200 properties. I look for houses that need work -- anything from replacing the roof to spreading mulch, which gives great curb appeal for only $2.50 a bag.

I've also learned how to deal with contractors. Some of them have deliberately bought too much material, returned the extra and pocketed the difference, so now I study invoices carefully.

Most houses I sell within a year, but I keep one in five in my rental portfolio so I can write off the depreciation and expenses. I look for a minimum positive cash flow of $400 a month per property and a net of $10,000 to $45,000 per sale.

I love the fact that I can make investments somebody else pays off." Top of page

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.