These Millennials Have Invested in Real Estate All Over the Country. Here’s How

At just 35 and 29, Christopher and Meghan Miller are semi-retired.

The couple, with their infant son, Ben, recently quit their jobs and moved from Columbia, Maryland, to Berryville, Virginia — a town of approximately 4,000.

Their new home is perched on two acres. Across the street is a horse farm. Down the road is an organic farm where Christopher harvests produce twice a week. He’s paid in vegetables, which Meghan, an enthusiastic cook, plans meals around.

“We’ve just embarked on this semi-retired adventure of doing work we really enjoy and value instead of doing work that just has the highest salary or because we have to,” Christopher said.

The couple has worked hard to afford this new phase of life. Christopher, a former systems engineer, and Meghan, a former high school English teacher, built up their savings and sources of passive income, mostly through real estate investments.

In addition to four rental properties, the couple has invested in a diversified portfolio of real estate projects across the country — from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles — through an automated investment experience.

“I don’t have to manage them; I don’t have to do the work to improve the properties; I don’t have to find tenants, evict tenants,” Christopher says.

Unlike traditional real estate investments, the Millers back these national building projects through an online platform called Fundrise. Since 2016, Fundrise has paid dividends each quarter. (Note: As with any investment, past performance isn’t indicative of future results.)

Living off of Passive Income

A man's hand holds a mobile phone showing a web page near a horse's head.
A neighbor’s curious horse ambles by as Chris Miller checks his Fundrise account on his mobile phone. Ting Shen for The Penny Hoarder

Real estate piqued Christopher’s interest about 12 years ago when he read “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter. The book emphasizes the importance of investing, particularly in real estate.

In 2006, while still in college, Christopher purchased a rental home in Elkridge, Maryland.

“It was kind of a roller coaster,” he says. “At first I thought, ‘Man, this investing in real estate is really easy.’”

The first property’s value had increased 20%, so he purchased another house in 2008.

Then the market crashed.

By 2009, he was under water on both properties. He had purchased the first home with an interest-only mortgage. “It was a really bad loan that plagued the investment even more after the market crash,” he said.

After recruiting roommates, he lived in one house for free for about five years. (He also met Meghan in that neighborhood, so it all worked out.)

Still, he owed money.

In 2013, Christopher started feeling less gun shy about the real estate market, so he purchased a third rental. Then, a few years later, he and Meghan purchased several flip properties.

“It’s been a wild ride,” he says. “The passive income and making money while I sleep — I love that about real estate.”

In April 2016, he found an easier way to invest in real estate — one that didn’t require sweat equity, tenants and all the horror stories that come with owning rentals.

He could drop in as little as $ 500 and invest in properties across the U.S. through an online investment platform called Fundrise.

“I view our investments in Fundrise as something even more passive than the rental properties we own,” Christopher says.

Invest in Real Estate Online

A man looks at a laptop while sitting at a table in his home.
Miller uses a laptop to check his Fundrise account at his home in Berryville, Va. Ting Shen for The Penny Hoarder

Fundrise was launched in 2012 by two real estate investors and brothers. It aims to give everyone a chance to invest directly in real estate. It cuts the unnecessary middlemen, enabling it to offer low-fee diversified real estate investments to anyone with a computer. (There’s a 0.85% annual asset management fee and a 0.15% annual investment advisory fee.)

More than 200,000 Fundrise members are on the platform today, and Fundrise has invested in approximately $ 2.5 billion in real estate since its 2015 launch. Think of it like this: Fundrise is crowdfunding for new real estate projects across the country. Investors can hop in with as little as $ 500 or much more.

Taking Some of the Complexity out of Real Estate Investing

A smiling man holding a crate and wearing a cowboy hat stands by a tractor.
Miller carries freshly picked tomatoes at a neighbor’s farm. He earns a share of the produce for his family by helping with the harvest. Ting Shen for The Penny Hoarder

Investing in anything involves risk. But since 2014, Fundrise has seen historical returns of 8.7% to 12.4%.

For Christopher and Meghan, the online experience is a lot less weighty than those traditional real estate investments.

For example, remember the housing market crash of 2008 and how Christopher found himself under water on his properties? He finally sold one of those a few months ago — after 12 years of hanging on. He said it almost wasn’t worth the effort.

With Fundrise, Christopher can easily invest in real estate through the online platform, which puts his money into various income-producing properties, leaving him with a diverse portfolio of investments — from apartment renovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to stabilized apartments in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Making Real Estate Investing More Accessible — Even in L.A.

Christopher and Meghan follow the progress of each project they’ve invested money into through Fundrise, thanks to regular email updates. Each email features photos and videos, updating them on new, completed and in-progress projects.

“The emails help remind you that you’re actually investing in something real,” Christopher says. “Like a condo in D.C. or a single-family home in L.A.”

Getting Started With Fundrise

A man stacks crates of fresh vegetables in a cold storage room.
Miller sets down a crate of fresh okra in the cold room of a neighbor’s farm. Ting Shen for The Penny Hoarder

Christopher receives automatic payments directly into his checking account.

Because Christopher and Meghan don’t need the money right now, they can use the software to easily reinvest any dividends they may receive, putting it right back into projects.

The Fundrise Starter Portfolio is currently open to all investors and requires $ 500 to start. There’s a 90-day satisfaction period, so if you’re not happy, Fundrise redeems your investment at the original amount*. If you invest $ 1,000 or more, you can select one of the advanced plans –– Supplemental Income, Balances Investing or Long-Term Growth.

Moving Forward and Affording a Semi-Retired Lifestyle

A young couple and their little boy pose for a family photo in a vegetable field on a farm.
Chris and Meghan Miller pose for a photo with their 8-month-old son Finnegan at their neighbor’s farm. Ting Shen for The Penny Hoarder

As Christopher and Meghan settle into their new home in Berryville, Virginia, they find ways to piece together their income without full-time jobs.

Christopher does part-time landscaping and tree work on the side, which results in profitable firewood. Meghan has plans to write freelance. They also have a steady income stream thanks to their rental properties.

They say they’ll take out money from their investments if they need, but so far that hasn’t been necessary.

*Redemptions are subject to certain restrictions. See Full Disclosures for more information.

The publicly filed offering circulars of the issuers sponsored by Rise Companies Corp. (parent company of Fundrise), not all of which may be currently qualified by the Securities and Exchange Commission, may be found at fundrise.com/oc.

Carson Kohler (carson@thepennyhoarder.com) is a staff writer. No offense to The Penny Hoarder or anything, but she’d love to be semi-retired right about now.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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