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Tycoon in the making
'No hurt in dirt.' Esther Diller has her entire nest egg in one basket: real estate.
March 24, 2004: 2:30 PM EST
By Sarah Max, CNN/Money staff writer

BEND, Ore. (CNN/Money) Esther Diller, 40, marches to one investing mantra: "You don't get hurt when you're in dirt."

Esther Diller  
Esther Diller

In the past two years, Diller has bought three investment properties, made a substantial addition to her home and turned a net worth of nothing into $450,000 in real estate equity.

Today, with the exception of about $30,000 in a retirement account and $70,000 in emergency savings, she has all of her money tied up in "dirt."

"Before I started buying real estate I had nothing," said Diller. "I mean nothing."

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Although Diller is a relative newcomer to real estate investing, she's worked in the mortgage industry for more than 20 years. In late 2000, after having been laid off twice in less than a year, she started her own mortgage brokerage firm, First Choice Lending Mortgage Corporation, out of her basement in Langhorne, Penn.

A single mother at the time her son, Matthew, is now 10 years old Diller decided she couldn't risk being downsized yet again.

Using $20,000 in severance pay as capital, she hired her former assistant and went to work making cold calls.

"By the time I moved out of there, I had ten workstations (cubicles) in my basement," said Diller, who moved her staff, now 10 people, into an office building a year ago.

Start buying dirt

Initially, any extra money Diller had went toward paying off debt she'd taken on while getting her business off the ground. As soon as she could afford it, though, Diller started buying real estate.

"I decided that real estate was the safest and best way to catch up on my savings," said Diller, whose income is in the six figures and varies according to how to business is doing. Last year was a record year for the mortgage industry.

In May 2002, Diller bought a condominium in Ocean City, Md., a resort town on the Atlantic seaboard. She paid $143,500 for the property, which generates enough rental income in the summer season to cover its mortgage for the year. "The unit next to me just sold for $208,000," she said.

She bought her second property, a $310,000 townhouse in Ocean City, the following summer. A recent appraisal valued the house at about $370,000.

"We don't rent this one out," said Diller, who remarried in late 2002. To the extent that they can, she and her husband, Stuart Lakernick, keep their finances separate.

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Last month, Diller closed on a third property, a four-bedroom house in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. Diller paid $136,000 for house and has already found a tenant for the summer, who will pay enough in rent to cover the mortgage for the year.

"There are plans to open a casino in the area, and there is also talk of putting in a (train) between there and New York City," said Diller, speculating that the value of the house will increase significantly over the next three to five years.

Meanwhile, Diller and her husband have put an addition on their home in Langhorne, which Diller bought in 1993 for $183,500. The house now has five bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms and, according to a recent appraisal, is worth $395,000.

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Diller is now scouting property in the Poconos, on the Maryland coast and in Florida with the idea of buying in one of these areas within the next three months.

"My goal is to have $1 million in home equity by the end of next year," said Diller.

This plan is pretty ambitious. But considering what she's accomplished in the past few years, Diller's goal may not be so far-fetched.  Top of page




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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.