In this post we are interviewing an incredible person who went from being a single mother of four on welfare and food stamps to a multi-millionaire real estate investor. We are talking to Heather Self, an Amazon number one best selling author and the co-founder of New Hope Senior Living. She has been investing in real estate full time since 2009 and has done wholesaling, fix and flips, rental properties, vacation homes and private lending. Heather is a life skills teacher for the underprivileged and works closely with survivors of domestic violence. She has become a go-to mentor for female entrepreneurs, she is a mother of four and a world traveler. Her passion is to create significance in every aspect of her life.
I am so excited that you are here to share with our audience how you started from zero, or maybe negative, why don’t we get started with how you got into real estate?
To make a long story short, otherwise we’ll be here for three weeks, I’ll start by saying that I got married directly out of high school. My first husband and I had our daughter and, shortly after that, I found out that my husband was using drugs. I then decided that my kids are not going to be raised like this, that this is not the lifestyle and things that I want them to know and be privy to. At the same time I also got an eviction notice on my apartment door. Keep in mind that I’m 18 years old at the time. My car was repossessed, I had a great job as a marketing director at a very young age and found out my husband had robbed my boss at the time. I ended up losing that job too. So, within a 48 hour period I had lost my job, my car, my apartment, and found out that my husband was on drugs and I was pregnant with my second child. Now I look at my calendar, and if it looks crazy for 48 hours, I don’t worry about it. If I can handle all of that in 48 hours, I can do anything. Luckily, I had a wonderful, supportive family. And they told me to move back in. And that was amazing.
I was able to take that time and rebuild myself and figure out what I wanted out of life. And since I was pregnant, it was really difficult finding a job, and I was in the middle of all this turmoil, so what do you do? I got to the point where I didn’t see any other way out. But to receive welfare benefits, I had to get on food stamps, and they started offering some classes with the Welfare Reform Act. These were called Fresh Start classes in order to receive the benefit of $185 per month. A lot of people think that people are just milking the system and getting rich off of welfare. Let me tell you, for two children, it was $185/month. The positive with that, though, is that they were offering these classes. I couldn’t work at the time, so what better way to take time off and go get a different perspective. Maybe get a paradigm shift. I needed to get out of that because I knew that’s not how I wanted to raise my family.
The classes were on financial management, parenting, self advocacy, assertiveness, basically workforce essentials, how to do your resumé, how to interview, how to present yourself. They taught all these really amazing classes and I learned so much because it was a paradigm shift. It wasn’t long after that I’d given birth to my son. So I took the classes the entire time that I was pregnant. I got more and more familiar with the purpose and why people were doing this and why the classes were so important. And they ended up offering me a job to teach the classes. And then from that, I filled out an application for Habitat for Humanity, a wonderful charity. They offer affordable housing, which is such a needed thing in this world. It’s such a complication when you’re already coming from behind the eight ball, trying to offer a safe place for your children to live and grow up and where you can work and grow. A year and a half, I had forgotten about it. And I got a phone call saying that they wanted to offer me the opportunity to purchase our next home. And that was the first time that I had really felt gratitude on such an elevated level.
Did you need a downpayment for that?
You do need a down payment. You have to have very reasonable credit, which is also something that I was working to fix. I had already made up my mindset that I don’t want to be that person that depends on somebody else for my independence, or for my children’s future, or what I’m going be able to offer. That was the first time that I said “This is my responsibility and my responsibility alone to get out here and make this happen”. You have to have a job for a good amount of time. You have to have decent credit. You have to have a down payment and you make mortgage payments. It’s not a free house. That’s a big common misconception. It is something that you have to qualify for, and very few people qualify for that. In the summer of 2001, we started building and we moved in shortly after. Going through that process you start to see that all these choices that I felt were kind of stripped away, I now had control over. And that’s what that program is able to do. And that’s why I’m a contributor and a donor to it now. It’s very important to my life’s work and what I want to do.
Do you think you would have been able to do that and also what you’re going to share next, if you were still married with the first person and nothing had happened?
100% not. There is absolutely no way because we were on different trajectories. What he was going through in his life was very different than what I wanted my outcome to be.
Where did that fire come from? If you didn’t have it when you were married and with your first baby, where did you pull that out of that situation?
I think I had some of it. It was just deeper down. Sometimes things have to boil to come to the surface, so-to-speak. And I think they come out when you’re at that pivotal moment in your life where the pain of staying the same is greater than the fear of change. It was one of those moments. As scared as I was, I was literally walking away from everything and I’m putting myself in a situation where I was essentially homeless at that point. But I was willing to take that chance. If I had to be homeless in order to get me to the next level, I was willing to do that. The other passion point was just getting the keys to that house and seeing that you do have choices. You are in control. You have a foundation now. As I kept holding on to that fire, that feeling that I’ve got to do better, I’ve got to do more, I’ve got to make all of these situations that I have gone through matter. I do know that if things happen, we have the choice as women, as men, as humans, children, to say “I don’t know why this happened, but I have to make it matter. It can’t be for no reason.”
How did you move from that to becoming a real estate investor?
I’m a really slow learner with some things and other things I’m really quick at. But with picking men at the time I was a very slow learner. A couple years in, I got married again, and had two more children.
I thought I was happy, but I wasn’t really fulfilled, there had to be more. I was doing some consulting on the side, but it really wasn’t fulfilling. I got to spend a lot of time with the kids, which was great. But at some point they get to the age where they just don’t need you as much as they used to. We then had a home invasion, which I wrote in the book “Don’t Quit, Stories of Persistence, Courage and Faith” that just launched. So you go through this experience, you stare death in the face. In this situation, there were three military grade assault rifles pointing at mine and my daughter’s head. I had my two younger children in the bath. At the same time that you’re thinking “This is how I die” you also think “I have to protect what my child is seeing from seeing this, and my other two children are going to drown. And what happens after they shoot me? What’s going to happen to them? All of these million thoughts go through your head when you’re in a situation like that. And right in the middle of everything, we had a car pull into our driveway, it was a gravel driveway and you could hear the tires rolling over the rocks. And once I heard that, they just ran out the back door.
As everything we go through, it leaves wounds, it leaves scars. I think when something like that happens in the one place that you’re supposed to feel safe, when that’s taken away from you, it’s devastating. There’s no place you can go to feel safe anymore. At this point, I thought “I have two choices here. I can either choose to be a victim and give away my control yet again, or I can take the bull by the horns and create my own reality”. I chose the latter.
I went to the community. I started the first neighborhood watch in our area. Any real estate investor knows that, in a C-class neighborhood, there is one house that’s selling crack. We had one of those houses. And going up against them, and they were next to my house, almost in my backyard, was dangerous in itself. I was approached a couple times, it was very threatening and a very scary thing to do. But I was already a victim. I wasn’t going to stay that way. I was a survivor. I had to keep that mindset and continue to fight it. So we got that formed. Crime dropped significantly. I still got threats here and there, but it was less and less because I got more and more people within the neighborhood willing to stand up. Then you just get this confidence, this power. And it was enough to say “I don’t want to be in this marriage anymore because he’s a little bit controlling, he doesn’t want me to work. Didn’t want me to do anything. And he was very upset about me doing the neighborhood watch. I thought “Who are you to say what I could be involved in?” And that led me to the next process, going through that divorce and I took three years off.
I just kept coming back to how it felt when I got the keys to that home “How do I give other people the power of choices and a safe place to live?” So that became my mission. And I continued to educate. I read everything there was to know about real estate market cycles, macroeconomics, you name it, I studied it. Then I started reaching out to people in the community that had rental properties. And I put together my own very small property management company. And I thought, well, what’s a better way to learn but to really just dive into the trenches?
How did you find time to study with four kids, no help, and a full time job?
Those were fun times. I was on autopilot. But it’s almost the exact opposite of that because everything you do is very intentional. You have to decide and make a choice. “I’m going to be here for dinner at this time. I am going to have a meeting at this time. I’m going to study at two o’clock in the morning because that’s when my kids are asleep”. I had two jobs and four kids. But I was always there for dinner. It wasn’t easy, I look back now and go “Oh, my God, how did I do that?” But you do what you have to do at the time. You don’t really analyze how am I going do this? There’s no fear. You have no choice. You get off the plane and find your parachute on the way down.
If Heather can do it, you can do it.
I had to get to the next level. I remember reading at the time “If you really want to know how to do something. Reach out to somebody that’s already doing it successfully and talk to them”. And I thought, oh gosh, the only people I know are part time investors. They had their house and then they moved into another house. So then they are now renting their first personal home. So that was really all that the experience would be connections that I had with the little properties I was managing. So I decided to just take a break. I’m going to take my mind off of this for a moment. And at the time Facebook was just becoming really popular. You know how when you pull up Facebook and it says “People you may know”. You go “I don’t know if I know them or not, but it says I know you so let’s see if I do”. So I clicked on this profile and it just so happened that, under the occupation line, it said that this person was a real estate investor. I reached out and we never stopped talking.
Two and a half years later, we were married. We started our first company together in 2010. He already had some rental properties of his own, but they were bought at the height of the market. They weren’t really cash flowing. They were high maintenance and not a great portfolio. When the bottom fell out in 2008, it went out for some time. We took all of that time and we started wholesaling because it is the easiest way to build cash without having any money in the deal. You’re just assigning paperwork, essentially. You’re just signing the contract. A lot of people asked me, how do you invest in real estate with no money down, no credit, no whatever. That’s a great way to do it. That’s still effective. It worked 20 years ago, and it works now. You have to know your local laws and your local state rules and all of those things. And once you figure that out, you can get in there, find your niche and work it. The profit was about eighty thousand dollars in the first quarter.
What a great paycheck after all that work.
It definitely was for me. Ten years later, I look back and think that maybe $80,000 isn’t that much. But when you go from food stamps to $80,000 in your first quarter of trying something new. That was pretty significant. We took that money and we partnered up with other investors that we were doing some private lending with. Then we started flipping too. We were wholesaling, flipping and adding to our rental portfolio all at the same time. We had multiple exit strategies because that’s something we learned. If you just have one strategy, not every house is going to work for that strategy. You need multiple strategies. There’s always something you can do with the property to intensify either the cash flow or pull the equity out so you can put it into another deal.
In five years, we had done over 600 real estate transactions between wholesales, fix and flips, rental properties. And then I added on a couple of vacation rentals. After that, we really figured out pretty quickly how to leverage each other’s skill sets, which I think is so important. There’s quite a few husband-wife teams. Most of them don’t survive because most people would rather poke needles into their eyes than spend all day with their husband or all day with their wife. We actually enjoy it. We’re best friends first, and business partner second. We just have an amazing time. And he has such a different skill set than what I do. He is a spreadsheet king. I would rather crawl naked through glass than sit and do a spreadsheet. So it’s just leveraging that and figuring out who’s good at what and how to make that the most effective way that you do it. And that’s just not husband-wife teams either. That’s anybody that you put on your team. People ask me “How did you get to this level of success?” And really, truly, that’s all there is. It’s building the team. You don’t have to be good at everything. All you have to do is know that what you’re not good at so you can hire somebody that is.
And we can’t be good at everything anyway, we’re not doing ourself any favor by trying.
It has been five years. Or is there a little bit more?
It’s been 10 years now. That was just in the first five. If you haven’t guessed.,I don’t do anything small. The next five years we went through a kind of transition. We don’t really flip houses anymore. We transitioned into private lending and helping other investors get started, and finding the capital they need to do the deals. To me, that has been really fulfilling to be able to guide people through that. But you don’t want to start with the investors that are at zero and know nothing. That would just be a huge time sucker. They have to pass a certain level of experience, and just need more capital to do more deals. Go bigger, faster.
We’ve also switched our model a little bit. We are now in the senior living space. We’re doing a beautiful, beautiful project here in Hendersonville, Tennessee. It’s called New Hope Senior Living. It’s Southern Luxury. This house is absolutely amazing. It sits up on a hill. It’s on 18 acres. It looks like you’re in a golf course. We’re really excited to bring that to our community and really help out the elderly population, because when it comes to what’s available now, not everybody is going to do well in an institution or a hospital like setting. Some people want to still live in a home and still have the family around, and it’s really the best of both worlds. It’s a really small community. The caretaker ratio is between 4 and 6 to 1. We can literally pay our caretakers to sit down and play checkers, to have conversations, to talk to the grandkids. It’s just such a wonderful concept and community. And as far as a real estate investment, I haven’t seen any asset class where the cash flow is what it is with assisted living. It’s an exciting space to be in. We have the baby boomers coming up and very shortly this will be the first time that the baby boomer population exceeds the children population.We have all the baby boomers coming out. So we’re going to be off-kilter and off balance there. And there are going to be a lot of problems that need to be solved.
I will never say that I’m too busy for anything after hearing your story.
Anytime I do, I remind myself.