Here's the rub:
Just like buying a home to live in, taking the real estate investment plunge requires taking stock of your financial goals, planning and lifestyle before taking the plunge.
Pretty much like buying any property.
If you've got the time, the money and the lifestyle that lends itself to managing a real estate investment, you are just about half way there.
However, both halves are pretty big halves.
The National Real Estate Investors Association says you've still got a lot of work to do.
Buy your own home first. Buying a home will not only put a roof over your head, but also teach you the true cost of property ownership beyond the monthly mortgage payment; give you a primer on financing; school you on how location and changing market conditions affect property values; give you the angle on tax and other home-owning benefits; help you learn about property maintenance; introduce you to a host of professionals who could prove invaluable when you really get into investments; and otherwise get you grounded for higher studies in real estate investments.
Even before home ownership, the involved process of buying a home provides basic information that later could prove invaluable to you as an investor. What's more, your first home could later become your first investment property, a property in a market with which you are familiar.
Go back to school. A booming real estate market that pushes your home value up by double digit percentages in the first year doesn't make you a market mogul any more than a housing bust should scare you off. After you buy your own home, turn to the Internet, libraries of books by reputable authors, successful, credible investment groups, college and university level courses, even your state's real estate license program. Become your own expert. You aren't required to sell homes just because you have a real estate license, but what you'll learn getting one will certainly give you a leg up on your investment moves.
Individual real estate investors, salespeople and others who you met on the way to home ownership may also be valuable resources, both for information and perhaps as a mentor. Using more than one resource will help you cancel out the bad information and ferret out the good.
Get professional help. The same way you find any competent, trustworthy and honest professional is the same way to look for a mentor, investment partner with prior knowledge or investment group. Seek referrals from friends, family, professionals with whom you already conduct business, co-workers and others you trust who've recently had a satisfactory, successful experience investing in real estate.
Someone who already knows the ropes will come in handy when you are on the ropes.
And chances are, no matter how hard you study, you'll need professional help to acquire your investment and later, beyond the buying stage, when questions arise, property management issues surface or you get bogged down by your new endeavor.
That's particularly true if you invest from a distance and buy investments away from your primary residence.
Learn your investment market. One market's bubble could be one investor's boom and another investor's bust. A home in one market could give you vacation rental income in a half year sufficient to cover the cost of principal, interest, taxes, insurance, home owner association dues, upkeep and other costs, but still not appreciate. Another home in another market may not bring you sufficient rent in a year's time to cover the cost of owning the property, but might appreciate more than enough to make up for your carrying costs over the long term.
The variables are endless and you'll need to measure your capacity for risk against market conditions.
This is where education and professional help come in. Your education should teach you not only by rote, but also how to find the answers you need. The pro is your point person and backup to help you fill in the gaps with experienced guidance.