Real estate investing is the way towards financial freedom, and for some, house hacking is a step on that path. In this episode, learn the basics as you take your first steps towards real estate investing. Dale Corpus talks house hacking with the co-founder of The FI Team, Craig Curelop. Craig shares how he got into real estate and shares his top tips when it comes to hacking houses. Tune in and learn the secrets of hacking homes.
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House Hacking Your Way To Financial Independence With Craig Curelop
The first thing I wanted to say is that one network that I joined is called GoBundance. It is given me so much value. GoBundance is a group that I joined in December 2020. It was introduced to me by a close friend of mine that happens to be in real estate. It is like a mastermind and accountability group. There is a ton of entrepreneurs and folks that invest in real estate. It is everything I’m into, like building wealth, living financially free, leveling up and stretching yourself.
I’m always down to learn, grow and network. GoBundance has been a good thing in my life because it is giving me perspective on entrepreneurship, building more passive income and even living a balanced life with my family and holding me accountable to achieving my goals. I believe in the saying that your network is your net worth. This group has opened me up to even more relationships.
In fact, that’s how I met my guest now. It is cool being surrounded by folks doing a lot of cool things. I met my guest through GoBundance. He has a similar background to mine and that he’s both a residential realtor. We happened to be at the same brokerage, eXp Realty. He’s also a big real estate investor as well.
He’s the ultimate guru when it comes to house hacking, which is an amazing topic in itself. We’re going to cover some of that. I’m so excited to have my guest, Craig Curelop, on this episode. A little bit more about Craig is that he went from a net worth of negative $30,000 to financially independent in 2.5 years. With his financial independence, he has fund building a team of investor-friendly real estate agents at The FI Team, helping each other achieve financial independence as he did. Another factoid is when he’s not slaying dragons with his new fan mustache, he’s rocking podcast episodes and living the buyer hacker good life in Colorado and Hawaii.
Without further ado, welcome to the show, Craig.
Dale, thanks so much for having me on. I’m doing great. How are you?
I’m excellent. To give my readers an understanding of where you are based. Where are you based out in Colorado?
I’m based in the Denver area right now, but we help people out all on the front range, from Colorado Springs all the way up to Fort Collins.
Give our readers a little bit more about your background, if you could elaborate on that and what you are focusing on now.
As Dale mentioned in the intro, I went from dead broke to financially dependent in just a couple of years, largely through real estate investing and house hacking. For those that you may have never heard of house hacking, it is a good strategy for someone who is starting out buying real estate. Maybe they’re buying their 1st, 2nd or 3rd property, but the idea is that you’re buying a primary residence with a low percent bounce, typically 3% to 5% down.
You live in one unit or one-bedroom or in part of the structure that you bought, and you rent out the other parts, whether it is units, the basement, other bedrooms. The rental payments that you get cover your mortgage and you live for free, which is probably reducing your largest expense, which allows you to leapfrog towards financial independence. When I realized the power of house hacking and real estate investing, I was like, “I could totally do this and help other people, but how do I do that?” I decided to become a real estate agent. Not only being their agent but being their guide, consultant, mentor, coach, and friend through that entire process. It has been super helpful and I think people love it. It has been fun.
You’re a house hacking realtor, and you teach people and your clients how to do so. How did you even come across the idea of house hacking?
I was at a job that I hated if we rewind to 2016. I realized that I did not want to live the corporate life forever. I did some Google searches and figure out like, “How do I retire early? How do I retain passive income?” I landed on BiggerPockets and I thought it was a total scam. I didn’t listen to their podcast. I didn’t do any of that.House hacking is a really good strategy for someone who is just starting out buying real estate. Click To Tweet
I went to Amazon and picked up a book called The Book on Rental Property Investing. I didn’t realize that BiggerPockets published that book, so I bought it. In the book, they were all talking about BiggerPockets. I’m like, “It must be legit if this dude in this book is mentioning it.” I went onto BiggerPockets and realized it was an amazing resource.
That’s amazing that you stumbled upon that and took some action. You talked about residential properties. The types of properties that you are focusing on are they single-family homes, condos or something else?
They’re typically 1 to 4-unit properties. In the Greater Denver area, the best thing to do to get the most cashflow and also the most appreciation are the single-family home place that typically is 5-bed, 2 or 3-bath, and usually have a basement. You can separate the top from the bottom. You can make a quasi-duplex out of these single-family homes.
You’re getting the price of a single-family home but the rent of a nice duplex because single-family homes are typically in nicer areas. They’re better kept overall. You’re able to charge more for rent on each individual unit. The purchase price is lower because it is a single-family home. I find that people say, “You can’t find cashflow in Denver.” You got to get a little bit creative and do something like that.
For folks that are into the idea of house hacking and whatnot, they’ve got to be open to having other people be living in the property alongside with them, right?
There are so many different types of house hacking that you can do. You can go as far as renting by the room. You have a bedroom and you rent out the other bedrooms, in which case, you have roommates. You’re sharing a kitchen, a bathroom and all that. If you do not want to share living space with other people, it is not as profitable, but you can still section off your basement. You use the upstairs and the people who are renting it use the downstairs. Maybe it is an Airbnb or a long-term rental. Sometimes you’ll find a house with an additional dwelling unit in the back, then you don’t even share any walls with them. You just share a yard with them.
The ADU concept is huge over here in the Bay Area. It is probably big out of there in Denver too. I know folks that are building up in my area where they add ADUs and junior ADUs on the main structure that makes it almost like their property from a single-family. It almost turns it into a triplex. The cool thing about those other units is they could rent them out for that additional income.
What I find interesting too about the house hacking idea is the financing strategy on them. My background is in mortgages. It is cool to hear the fact that you’re doing higher leverage like 97% financing or whatever. You can do that as a primary residence versus doing a 20% down for an investment property. That being said, when somebody does a house hack or whatnot, do you teach people to do one house hack and then try to do another house hack maybe later on down the line?
That’s the magic of house hacking. You can purchase a property with 3% to 5% down. In Denver, that’s $20,000 or $30,000. That’s peanuts compared to what you’re getting. Because you’ve reduced or maybe even eliminated your rent expense or your mortgage expense, you’re able to save up that extra $1,000, $2,000 a month. That way, in exactly one year, you have the savings to put down another $20,000 or $30,000 to buy your next property. It’s accumulating over time. One is not going to make you rich, but 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 absolutely will make you rich.
In addition to the cashflow that’s covering all the debt service on that property, the house hacking profits are also helping you pay the mortgage. You’re getting that amortization benefit and appreciation along the way, which is amazing. Do you also focus on duplex, triplex and fourplexes then?
I’ve got two traditional duplexes. A lot of times, I take the single-family homes and make them duplexes. If you count those, all of them are almost that way. You find that the numbers don’t work as well when they’re traditional duplex or triplex plots in the Denver area. Other areas are different. That’s because the price is so much higher and the rents are lower. If you do the math, it means your monthly mortgage payment is going to be higher and you’re going to get lower rent for it. The appreciation probably won’t be as good. I don’t love that asset class here in the Greater Denver area. You can split utilities easily. You don’t have to worry about zoning, the rules, the laws and all that stuff. It is easier, but it is not necessarily better.
Going back to your first initial house hack, when did you first do it for yourself?
My first house hack was back in 2017. I closed in June 2017. It has been a few years. I’ve got 5 house hacks, 6 total investments in Denver, and then a handful of others out-of-state as well.
You have been busy. Do you remember some of the numbers even on that first house hack? I want to understand how that works. What was the property type? How did you find the property? How did you know it would make sense?
I definitely got a little bit lucky on this first one. I bought a duplex. It was a top-bottom duplex because, at that time, I didn’t know about rent by the room. The only way to house hack was to buy a duplex. I lived in the bottom and rented out the top. I found this property on the MLS. It was totally redone perfectly. It looks brand new, so I didn’t have to do anything to it, which I wanted in a house hack. I think a lot of people think they need to fix them up, but fixing them up hurts you. The property was a mile and a half from the office that I worked, so I didn’t even need to use my car.
I could bike to work or even walk to work. I bought that thing for $385,000. I put $17,000 down, which includes closing costs and all of that stuff. My monthly mortgage payment was about $2,000 a month. I rented out the top for $1,750. I was determined to have zero rent payment. I would still be paying $250 because I lived at the bottom. What I did was I rented out my bedroom on Airbnb. I put up this quasi bedroom and the living room by putting up a cardboard room divider and a curtain. I slept behind there on a futon for a year. I rented my bedroom out on Airbnb for $1,100 a month. Now, I’m making $2,850 on a $2,000 mortgage plus some of it for free.
What did you gain from that experience? Did anything go wrong or is there anything that you wish you could have done better?
If I had to go back and start in that same place, I would do the same exact thing again because one year is not that long. I was 24 years old at that time. I was like, “I’m young. I’m single. This is the time to do this.” I didn’t have any money. I needed to make the largest possible return on the money that I did have put to work. If you asked me to go live behind a curtain now, I would absolutely not do that.
That aggressiveness is what allowed me to go from a net worth of negative $60,000 to financially free in two years. We had people coming in now. Honestly, I made friends with a lot of people. A lot of people on Airbnb are chill and cool. There are some jerks. The great thing is they leave after the 2nd or 3rd day. Probably 3 or 4 people that I, to this day, still talk to who stayed at my Airbnb.
You’re sacrificing a lot of your privacy and opening your doors to strangers, but they’re staying there for the short term, but you’re getting so much profit. It is something that you do now, the sacrifice, to get ahead later on. In terms of the second house hack that you did, how long did you wait to jump into something else?
It is literally exactly one year later. I’m not going to lie and say living behind the curtain was fun and enjoyable, but the results were great. Exactly one year later, I bought a second house. This time I learned about rent by the room. I bought a five-bedroom, two-bathroom house in the suburbs of Denver. I lived in one room, rented out the other four rooms. I bought that property for $343,000. I put $20,000 or so down because I did 5% down this time. The mortgage payment was $2,100 or $2,200 a month. I was renting out each room. I think I was getting about $2,800 a month in rent. Fully covering my mortgage plus living for free again. When I moved out, I would fill that room with someone else.
I love this room-by-room renting idea. I live about an hour East of San Francisco. I have lived in the suburbs of the Bay Area, and there are not many duplexes, triplexes or even fourplexes. It is the idea that you could even house hack on a single-family home by renting out rooms. That’s food for thought. You could either do that or somebody could potentially even get a split-level type of home and maybe live in downstairs and then rent out upstairs. That could be almost a quasi-duplex type of deal or doing the ADU type of idea where the house is in a separate unit, make it rent that out and live in the main house or whatever.
Those are all very cool ideas. I have never done a house hack but the idea of a house hack is having it get primary residence type of financing but renting out other rooms or other structures on the property so that everything is being covered. For your finding the deals, I know you also help clients do this. Are you mainly looking on the MLS or are you buying this off-market? What do you do?
MLS is where we get 99% of the deals. Let me tell you why. If you’re getting a deal off-market, I’m not saying always, but most of the time, there is a reason why it is off-market. Why would the seller not list it to get the most eyes on so that they can get the highest possible price? If it is off-market, it means they’re probably in distress, which means the house is probably in distress, which means there is a problem you’re inheriting.
As a house hacker, a 1st, 2nd, 3rd-time investor, or even like an out-of-state investor, you may not want to inherit someone else’s problem because it is going to cost you money and time, and time is money. It is a revolving thing there. I always say if you’re first starting out, get something that’s turnkey. You want to be able to move in as soon as you can. You want to be able to rent out the rooms or rent out the units as soon as you can. You cannot pay your mortgage, you can cashflow, and in exactly one year, you can have more money to buy the second one because buying the 2nd and 3rd one is what makes house hacking powerful. It is not putting $100,000 into rehab and getting $120,000 out of value. That’s going to cost you time and money that you don’t need.
That’s excellent advice. When you are going through a property, what do you look at to determine that this property is a good property to do a house hack on? How does that work?
It depends on what your goals are for the property. If you’re going to rent by the room, ideally you want five-plus bedrooms, at least two baths, hopefully, three baths would be the best. You want a bathroom on each floor. You want a bathroom on the top floor, a bathroom on the bottom floor, and then maybe a master bathroom. That’d be good too because then you could charge a little more for the master. If you’re going to do the split, you want to make sure that the layout of the house condones an easy split. Maybe you’d have to put up a wall or put up a door.
For example, sometimes the staircases are in the middle of the house. If the staircase is in the middle of the house, it won’t work. We don’t even look at those. Unless you’re able to dig and maybe add a separate entrance in the back, which usually you can’t. It is more expensive to do so it is not worth it. Also, in the basement, if you want to add a kitchen down there or if you want to do it someday, you want to make sure that the plumbing is there. If you have to add new plumbing, that’s going to be costly and expensive. You could spend $20,000 to add pumping or you can find a new house that already has it. Those are a couple of the things. Parking is a big thing. The location is obviously a big thing. There are a handful of things to look at, for sure.Getting yourself around people that think the way that you do and on that same path will propel you towards your goals. Click To Tweet
I know that you’re still in your twenties, you’re single and whatnot when you did this. It is harder for folks that are married and have kids to be able to do house hacking since they need their privacy and space inside a single-family home. Renting room-by-room for them might not be an ideal situation. Do you ever work with folks that have families that are into doing house hacking?
All the time. The families that do it are not going to rent by the room. That’s obvious, but what they will do is they will occupy the upstairs and then rent out the downstairs or vice versa. If they want to make some more money, they’ll occupy the downstairs and rent the upstairs. They know it is a temporary situation. They’re doing this now. Typically, it is young couples that are doing this with young kids. By the time the kids reach grade school, 5, 6, 7, they were able to buy a nice house in a nice school district, and they can afford it. They don’t have to worry about paying the mortgage because they’ve got 4 or 5 other rental properties that are cashflowing that can also supplement their forever home.
What qualities do you need to have to be a successful house hacker?
House hacking is easy. If you’re reading this, you already have what it takes to house hack because that means you’ve probably listened to BiggerPockets. You’re probably reading the books. You’re a self-starter and you want to do better for yourself. If you’re like that person that’s always learning and you have a network of people and all that, then you can absolutely succeed at house hacking. There are people who house hack that doesn’t even know they’re house hacking. They don’t even know what the term is. They never heard of it.
They just buy a place and rent out their basement. I’ve got friends that had done that forever before I even heard of house hacking. Because you’re reading this, maybe you’ve read the book or listened to a podcast or whatever, you know how to optimize it, can be intentional about it and get a little bit farther than those people that are accidentally doing it.
I love how you’re so passionate about house hacking. You are the guru. Do you only help people house hack around your area where you sell real estate or do you help people anywhere to house hack?
We help everywhere. My team directly helps people here in the Greater Denver area and Colorado. Otherwise, like you, Dale, we know so many investor-friendly realtors all around the country. If you need one, you can reach out to Dale or me. I’m sure you’ve got them too. We can hook you up with whoever you need.
The name of your real estate sales team is called The FI Team. What does that represent?
It is the Financial Independence team, The FI Team. We’re helping people achieve financial dependence.
You help a lot of investors. Do you help a lot of out-of-state investors to look for properties, cashflow properties out of there as well as it relates to house hacking or do you have some other strategy for them?
We have a ton of out-of-state investors. Most of our out-of-state investors are not house hackers. They’re traditional investors. The difference between a house hacking and an investor agent is the same thing. House hack is an investment property that you’re going to live in. We’re always running numbers and all that stuff. We work with out-of-state people all the time. We take a video, give you our honest feedback, let you know what estimated rents might be, which your mortgage will be, run the numbers with you. If it looks good, we’ll offer and make it happen. If not, then move on to the next. We can help people from all over if you want to invest in the Greater Denver area.
What’s your opinion about investing up in the Denver market? How is that market going for investing for out-of-state investors?
It is like anywhere. It has been good over the past couple of years. Obviously, the appreciation is there, but like everyone says, “You can’t count on it.” I liked Denver because they have these nice house setups that can easily be cashflowing. Whether you want to rent by the room like we’ve got right by the room property managers. We’ve out-of-state people doing rent by the room, have converted single-families into duplexes, and now rent those out as two separate units. We have people buying traditional single-families. All of that stuff, we do. People are moving to Denver and moving here in droves because they realized the mountains are close. It is nice to be outdoors. It is a fun place to be.
Because I don’t know Denver that well, I’m curious, for rental properties, do many of the homes there fall way within that 1% price-to-rent ratio?
You probably won’t get the 1% rule here. If you do, it will be a screaming deal. The good thing about Colorado is that insurance and taxes are low. Your mortgage payment stays pretty low. I’m not sure if you’ve heard but remember my $385,000 property, the mortgage payment was $2,000. In other places, I know that would probably be closer to $3,000. That’s mainly because our taxes and insurance are low. I hate that 1% rule because it means nothing here in Colorado. People say, “They can’t get that.” You’re not going to get that in the appreciating market, but that $385,000 property is now worth $600,000 a couple of years later. You will get that in Denver and also some decent cashflow.
I know that obviously, you’re a very investor-friendly realtor. There is a difference between somebody that does investment property sales versus somebody that is mainly a primary residence, move-up buyers and all that stuff. You work with a lot of folks that are maybe first-time investors, even out-of-state or whatnot. How do you go about helping them as an investor-friendly realtor? What’s the difference from your standpoint versus them going to somebody that isn’t necessarily as well-versed in investments?
You’re buying a totally different product. When you buy a forever home, all I have to do is open the door and you tell me if you like it or not. I’m not you. I can’t tell you what’s good or what’s bad. All I can do is open the door, I can negotiate for you, and I can say, “We can get something here. Watch out for this.” When you’re an investor-friendly realtor, I can tell you, “This is estimated rents. This is what your mortgage payments would be. This is why people want to live here. It is close to public transportation, bars and restaurants, or whatever it is.”
You’re thinking about, how can you make the most money from this house versus how can you grow a family? It is more of a logical side of thinking than the emotional side of thinking when you’re buying a home. It is totally different things. If you are looking wherever you’re investing, if you have a realtor, make sure it is an investor-friendly realtor.
I 100% agree with you. We’re different animals in that sense. Any short-term business or investing goals that you have yourself in the next 6 to 12 months?
Business goals, the investor side of our real estate team is humming along and going great. We’re looking to next move into the forever home stuff. I’ve got a great agent on my team. She’s done home stuff forever for a few years now, and she’s going to be leading in that. We’re excited to get into that niche for the real estate team. On the investing side, I’m tapped out on the residential stuff. We’re going to go and do our commercial. We’re looking at a triple-net lease and all that stuff.
For folks that are new to real estate investing, trying to get into this, whether it is house hacking or something else, any advice that you could give to them?
If you’re brand new at investing, make sure you educate yourself, listen to the podcasts, read all the books, watch the webinars, network, go to events and get yourself around people that are doing things that you want to be doing. If you’re in everyday life, this will be a very lonely battle towards financial independence because no one else, very few people, are doing this. Getting yourself around people that also think the way that you do and making new friends that are on that same path will propel you towards your goals.
Surround yourself with folks that are doing stuff that you want to do, and you do want to be just like them. You have a podcast too. Tell me more about that. What’s the name of it again?
It is called The FI Team Podcast. You can download it on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you want to listen. It is me and my co-host, Zeona McIntyre. You guys may have heard of her. It is mostly surrounded about financial independence. We interview people in all different parts of their journey and figure out, “Where did you first learn about financial independence? How did you get to where you are now, whether you’re at financial independence or whether you’re on your way towards financial independence?” It shows that there are tons of different ways to get there. There is not like one textbook way to do it. It was fun getting on there and talk with people about this stuff.
The cool thing about podcasts. Us, as hosts, get to learn too from other people’s experiences.
That’s a selfish reason we started it.
I think that’s why I started, too. I’m selfish as much as you are. Wrapping up, how can someone get in touch with you?
You can go to www.TheFiTeam.com. If you want to get in touch with me personally, I’m @TheFIGuy on Instagram. You can find me on BiggerPockets and wherever else. Instagram and our website are going to be the two best places.
I do know that you have a house hacking book.
We wrote a book on house hacking with BiggerPockets. It is called The House Hacking Strategy. You can get that anywhere books are sold. If you want some of the bonus content, you have to find that on the BiggerPockets website. Otherwise, you can buy it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or wherever else.
I appreciate your time. That’s it for this episode. Thanks, Craig, for joining me on this. I appreciate you, too. Thanks for your offering your knowledge as well. I’m sure I’ll see you at another GoBundance or eXp Realty event in person. To my readers, thank you for checking out this episode. Until next time, live life abundantly.
- eXp Realty
- The FI Team
- The Book on Rental Property Investing
- The FI Team Podcast
- iTunes – The FI Team Podcast
- Spotify – The FI Team Podcast
- @TheFIGuy – Instagram
- BiggerPockets – Craig Curelop
- The House Hacking Strategy
- Amazon – The House Hacking Strategy: How to Use Your Home to Achieve Financial Freedom (Financial Freedom, 3)
- Barnes & Noble – The House Hacking Strategy: How to Use Your Home to Achieve Financial Freedom
About Craig Curelop
I’m Craig Curelop co-founder of The FI Team and a real estate agent and investor in Denver, CO. I moved to Denver in April 2017 and closed on my first property in June 2017, a duplex that I house hacked for one year. I got a little bit creative and rented out the top unit, while creating a quasi-bedroom in the living room by putting up a curtain and a cardboard wall divider so I could AirBnb my bedroom. Needless to say, it cash flowed :).
Since then I have purchased two more house hacks each of which cash flow me about $1,000 per month. Between these three house hacks I am now financially independent and helping others achieve financial independence through the creation of The FI Team
Outside of real estate and personal finance, some may call me a health nut. My primary goal is not to live to be 200. My goal is to be able to perform at the highest possible level for the most amount of time. Exercising and eating healthy are the best ways to do that.
For fun, I love to exercise, hike, travel, read, write, snowboard, golf, and play/watch sports. Go Pats!
Follow me and my story on Instagram @thefiguy.