Real Estate Investing
These women share lessons learned about managing contractors, common issues found in older homes, and other challenges and rewards from flipping houses.
ED Real Estate Ventures
Born and raised in San Antonio, Elizabeth Luna has run Real Estate Ventures for 20 years. She started flipping homes while she was still working full time in various marketing, community relations, public relations and event-planning positions for more than 15 years with several Fortune 100 companies, including USAA, Cricket Wireless and Humana.
In 2004 Luna experienced her first corporate layoff. “I realized I needed to have a backup plan,” she said. She started investing in real estate, cashing in her 401(k) retirement fund to get started. Taking a two-year sabbatical from her corporate career, Luna started flipping properties and working on houses for the rental market. Some houses she held on to for rental income and some she sold. She returned to the corporate world but kept acquiring properties, managing the ones she kept for rental.
After her third corporate layoff, Luna decided to commit her time and resources to real estate. Using her experience in real estate market research, property acquisition, overseeing renovation, property sales and leasing and property management, Luna brings creative real estate solutions to people with real estate challenges. “If you’re facing foreclosure, have a home you need to sell, or can no longer afford to make your mortgage payments, I can help,” Luna said.
Her growing portfolio of older homes reflects how many people she has been able to help over the years while growing her real estate investments. Luna has helped seniors with reverse mortgages and in some cases has connected sellers to Medicare and assisted living resources to help seniors transition to life after selling their home. As for her investors, Luna helps private money lenders “earn between 10 to 14 percent rate return on their capital investment. It’s protected with collateral and is insured,” she said
Luna stresses the need to understand the market and its buying cycles, ever-changing mortgage regulations and the latest resources and programs available for buyers to help them qualify.
“Your buyer is your boss — it’s not easy, nor is the flipping process fast,” Luna warns. “It’s about helping people, ultimately.”
Luna advises those new to flipping to align themselves with a mentor who has their best interests at heart. She researched real estate groups and joined a local group to access its mentorship program. By the end of her first year flipping, Luna was able to match her previous corporate salary. In her second year she doubled her previous salary.
“The best resource you have to help you get started is education; it will help you face your fears,” Luna said. “The hardest transaction will be your first one.”
Piazza Realty Group
Born in Atlanta, Sheila Piazza has lived in San Antonio since fifth grade, when her active-duty military father relocated the family here. Piazza was a jewelry designer for 12 years, holding two utility patents on her jewelry design. After her parents became ill when she was a single parent, Piazza decided on a more sustaining career.
She started as a licensed mortgage broker in 2006. Soon after, Piazza became a real estate agent and then acquired her real estate broker license. In 2016, she launched her own insurance company and now runs Piazza Realty Property Management. The property management company’s tag line says it all: “We know so much about space, even NASA is worried.”
Piazza is a business owner who understands the mortgage broker process of assessing a borrower’s ability to secure financing and has the real estate broker skills needed to match up sellers with buyers. Because Piazza trained as an insurance agent, she can also spot issues during an inspection that could raise a red flag for investment clients interested in a house to be flipped.
She has discovered that many buyersin San Antonio find it difficult toqualify for an affordable home.
“Being a mortgage broker is powerful because you have at your disposal tons of financial products you can leverage and search to find the best one for your client,” Piazza said.
Piazza Realty has offices in Dallas to serve real estate clients there and works with investors who make up a large portion of her client base. Many people are coming to San Antonio from California, Dallas, Houston and Austin to buy affordable housing as investments, according to Piazza. “I call it the ‘five-year frenzy,’ like the big surge of development that’s happening in Austin,” Piazza said. “I predict the same will happen in San Antonio.”
There are opportunities for investors and house flippers who want to venture into this business sector in San Antonio, buying well-priced houses and holding them as the market values for homes rise, creating equity for buyers. “If you draw a perimeter around San Antonio’s core, anything you buy within that will be a good buy because of the equity capture,” Piazza said. “This is the time to buy.”
For those contemplating real estate investment and flipping houses, Piazza recommends novices get educated and partner with someone experienced in order to learn the business. She helps many who are interested and is the organizer of a local networking group for Women in Real Estate Development (WIRED).
“If you have a problem property, we can find an investor buyer or short sell it to help the community,” Piazza said. “Let me help you solve it — we can tailor the solution to your situation.”
Wynn Win Flips
Mary Wynn Osborne was not in real estate before venturing into flipping. She became a flipper because she was looking for rental investments. “I realized there were other opportunities for potential profit by looking at properties that needed some work,” Osborne said. “After finding my first house, I jumped in and did it. I love flipping houses now.”
This Refugio, Texas, native started her business in 2016 with help from real estate mentors. Her first lesson was to find a house and renovate it so it appealed to the widest possible group of potential buyers. Osborne’s first home was on the far northwest side of town. She updated the kitchen and bathroom and added a new deck — however, it ended up needing a new roof.
After that experience, Osborne learned to look at each potential structure critically, picking up home construction knowledge from her mentors and experiences.
“There is a big shortage of starter affordable homes,” she said. “That’s why I focus on updating homes in older, established neighborhoods.”
Dealing with contractors has been Osborne’s challenge. Her advice to those considering this career is to supervise subcontractors closely and learn from professionals when it comes to inspecting homes. “I have high standards for the quality of work done in these houses, so I stay on site to ensure my standards are met,” she said. “I also recommend you use professionals to help you assess the condition of a potential home before you purchase it. Good deals on houses go quickly, so you have to act fast.”
Osborne cautions there is a steep learning curve to flipping houses. “There’s the search, the offer, the purchase, the insurance and utilities you’ll need while you’re working on the house, writing checks to your contractors on Fridays, making sure the rehab passes inspection and marketing the house as you sell it,” she said. “If you keep good records of every house you work on and what you used to get the house purchased and rehabbed, you’ll have it at your fingertips so it’s not overwhelming the next time.”
Pinterest and Houzz are helpful sources for Osborne’s rehab projects. She does warn that the unexpected can happen, so it’s important to build cushions into schedule and budget to minimize stresses.
Osborne named her new business Wynn Win Flips because her middle name is Wynn and the business name reflects her philosophy. “I want everyone to win — the sellers of the house, the contractors, the purchasers and the Realtor,” she said.
Amanda Fly settled in in San Antonio 13 years ago when her husband secured a contract with USAA and now lives close to her parents, who are from this area. While living in Atlanta, she and her husband bought an 80-year-old Craftsman-style house in a historic neighborhood that they restored. The process triggered her desire to restore old homes and led to her forming her own company.
After getting her real estate license, Fly flipped her first property in 2004, a fourplex in Alta Vista that an investor bought. “Investment real estate is a big field now, but when I started, there were fewer mentors, and I had none,” she said.
There are not a lot of women working in investment real estate who diversify and flip homes, manage rental properties, and handle traditional real estate sales, Fly said. “Lots of people come up to me and say they want to do what I do, but if what they want to do is design interiors, then interior design might be the better option to pursue,” she added.
She often assists sellers who need a quick sale and also works with traditional homebuyers looking for the perfect house. For capital, she has many clients who invest, appreciating their steady, reliable return on an investment secured by real estate. “Flips are the faster way to use an investor’s money; otherwise I hold a property for anywhere from one to five years,” Fly said.
The longest time Fly has spent renovating a house for flipping was about three months, while her quickest flip was in two weeks. “I did a flip in Georgia in 16 days, working from 6 a.m. to midnight every day,” Fly said. “We gutted the rooms in a three-story house, and I flew my tile guy out with me and found workers on site.” The most memorable flip was a 100-year-old home in Denver Heights, which is next to Dignowity Hill. That house she had to rebuild from the studs while managing multiple parts of the renovation at the same time. The bottom line, Fly says, is making the numbers work for an involved real estate investment business.
“Picking the cute stuff for the house is only about 15 percent of my time,” she said. “The rest is scheduling the workmen, finding the house, finding the investors, finding the buyers and sellers and checking the quality of the work.”
She advises those thinking about flipping to join networking groups like the Alamo chapter of the Real Estate Investors Association. Fly met helpful people, and now she says yes to those asking the same questions she did when she first started.
“I like the idea of creating homes. I focus on residential properties, not commercial properties,” Fly said. “My focus is on flipping a property and bringing out the beauty of that home while helping those who need affordable housing.”
By Iris Gonzalez
Photography by David Teran