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