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Making Real Estate Investing Work - When You're Married to Your Partner

Mar 1, 2008
Something that investing in real estate full-time gives you is flexibility. It gives you the flexibility to choose when to work, where to work, and who you want to work with. You can literally choose the people with whom you do business, the people with whom you will spend the majority of the time.

In fact, if conditions are right, you may even decide to work with your spouse.

In this article we will discuss working with the person who may you most important business partner, your spouse. We will focus on the following:
1. Deciding to work together
2. Setting ground rules and expectations
3. Pitfalls to avoid
4. Lessons Learned
5. Division of Labor
6. Pros and Cons
7. What about the children?

Deciding to Work Together

Deciding to go into business for yourself is never a decision that should be made lightly. Deciding to go into business with your spouse is one that should be considerable thought as well.

There are several reasons why we say this. Any new business ventures will be full of the unknown. You may be figuring things out as you go, or things may not be going the way that you had originally planned. When both you and your spouse are in the business together, any tension from the business may seep over into your married life as well. Because it is a very personal decision to go into business for yourself, you may take it personally if there are challenges. Too often, frustration can also be taken out on your spouse.

Of course, there are some very compelling reasons to go into real estate investing with your spouse. First, the reason that most people decide to get started investing in real estate is because they want to make a change in their lives. They may want more money, more free time, and/or to improve their quality of life. Those are very powerful reasons, and they create a very powerful image in the mind and heart. Imagine how powerful that vision is when it is shared by two people whose very futures are intertwined. Everything that they do will impact their future, their home and their family. They both see where they are going, and are willing to make the sacrifices to get there. Two people who share a common goal can make a lot happen. We know this from experience.

As you know, things will not always go as planned, but two working together can weather anything. This is not to say that real estate investors who have their own business cannot make it work. Rather, it is to say that, when spouses work together, they can help to lift each other up; to encourage each other not to give up the vision. There is a support structure built into the business.

Finally, it makes it a lot easier when both of you are on the same page. We have talked to countless people who are investing in real estate and want to get their spouse involved. Their spouse might not have any interest in real estate, they might have misconceptions about the market and what it takes, or they just might not be interested. To those people, we recommend that they help their spouse to get educated. Take them to a seminar or workshop, listen to CD's together. Even late night infomercials are a great way to expose a spouse to what real estate investing.

Setting Ground Rules and Expectations

Once you and your spouse decide to work on and in your business together, it is very important that you sit down together to discuss your expectations, and lay down some ground rules. Whether you are doing the business full-time, part-time or a variation of the two, it is important that you treat your real estate investing as a business. This starts with the two of you sitting down and writing out your goals, expectations and ground rules.

In most cases, one of you guys will know more about real estate investing than the other. You will find yourself in a position of "authority," simply because of your knowledge base. This was the case with us when we got started. Charles had begun researching real estate investing while still in law school and had begun to build an educational foundation. Kim, on the other hand, had no real knowledge of or interest in investing in real estate. It was up to Charles to convey the vision - all of the things that real estate investing had to offer, all of the life changing things in store.

Things would have gone a lot more smoothly for us if we had set our ground rules from the beginning. But, we didn't. That is why we know it is so important to do. You need to have a plan of who will handle each part of the business. Think about the job that you may hold right now, or a job that you have left. In either case, you have known what was expected of you each day. You had measurements and goals, and you knew what you needed to do to be successful. Investing in real estate is no different. When spouses work together, this is even more important. We tend to have assumptions when it comes to our mates. We may think that we know what they can do, or what they want to do. But everything should be explicitly spelled out, by both of you. Try not to limit each other, or put yourselves in a box. You would be surprised at the ideas that you come up with when you give each other the freedom to grow, think of new ideas and try things out. In fact, we got involved in wholesaling because of a suggestion that Kim made. We decided to try it out, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Lastly, you have problem heard the saying that you can't have more than one boss. In answer to this, we would just like to say, that how you divide your labor is up to the two of you. One of you may feel more comfortable taking on the majority of the responsibility, and the other may want to give that responsibility away. Or, you may decide that one of you will be the boss. Or, you may even decide to divide your business in two parts, and each of you is the boss of that area. The key is to discuss it, write it down and make it happen.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Being aware of the following potential pitfalls will help make your real estate investing a lot more profitable and enjoyable.

Don't give anyone the majority of the dirty work. In business, as in life, there will always be some things that are not pleasant to do. Be sure that these types of tasks are divided between the two of you. No one person should be stuck doing the junk. Of course, what is considered junk can vary by couple, so you need to decide this for yourselves. But remember, you should be having fun. As you change your life, you want to both be happy doing it. It doesn't matter if one of you is working the business full-time, and the other is part-time, neither of you should have the majority of the undesirable work. Do your best to divide it as equally as possible.

Don't let issues in the business affect your marriage. When you are working closely together day after day, this can be easier said than done. And, of course, when things are running smoothly, this is not an issue at all. But when things are a little bumpy, this can be a totally different story. You have heard the expression "Don't bring your work home with you." This is so true when you are working with your spouse, even if work is the office you created in the guest room.

Your marriage is a very sacred entity. You want to protect it at all costs. This does not mean that you will never argue or disagree. But, try not to do so about your real estate investing business. Not only will it make your off-work hours stressful, it will also make your working hours less enjoyable. You don't want to get so upset with each other that you lose appreciation of the opportunity in front of you.

Lessons Learned

One of the biggest lessons that we learned is to give each other the freedom to make mistakes. Again, nothing happens perfectly. In fact, some things flop. But, we love each other, we know our commitment to each other and the business and we do our best to support each other at all time. Again, this freedom that we give each other allows us to try new things. Sometimes, we just brainstorm about new things that we could do, new ways we can help people, exciting ways to grow our business. We are able to do this in a non-judgmental atmosphere and we have seen some tremendous fruit because of it.

Of course, you have to have good communication. This is very important in your marriage anyway, and you definitely want to carry this over into your business relationship. Don't come down hard on each other. Watch your tone of voice (or your tone of e-mail). This person is your spouse; they deserve the same amount of respect that you would give your co-worker or employee in any other situation.

You should also structure your business so that you are each utilizing your strengths. Whether or not the business consists of just the two of you, or if you decide to hire staff, you still need to play to your strengths. Each of you should do what you do best. If that happens to be the exact same thing, you probably want to look into hiring someone else to do the other stuff.

Division of Labor

We have touched on this briefly in the previous sections. In order to maintain a strong relationship and to have a fun, profitable business, you both need to enjoy what you are doing. The best way to do this is to decide what your strengths are and divide the jobs up within your company along those same lines.

For instance, Charles loves to look at houses. He can look at a "fixer upper" and see it as it will be after repairs. Kim, on the other hand, doesn't particularly care for rehab houses. She sees them as they are, and smells them as they are too. So, it makes sense that Charles is the one who evaluates properties.

Kim is more of a detail person. Charles is the visionary, who looks at the big picture. Even though she doesn't work in the main office, Kim oversees the employees, pay roll, book keeping and the nuts and bolts that keep the business running. We are both very creative, in different ways, and are involved in the marketing. Even here, we have different strengths and enjoy different things, and we divide our responsibilities accordingly.

Remember, we grew to this point. It wasn't crystal clear to us the way it is today. That is one of the reasons that we wanted to bring you this message. If you are thinking about working with your spouse, or you have started it, and things are kind of bumpy, we want you to be able to use our experiences to make it work for you.

Pros and Cons

As you can see, there are pros and cons to working together. Some people cannot see how we can spend so much time together, every day. We know that this is a challenge for some people. We feel very blessed that this is not the case for us.

Some people would consider the fact that you are both doing the business full-time to be a con. You might not want to be together that much. At the same time, you could consider that fact that you can both take vacation together, without having to ask anyone's permission to be a pro. Again, some of these things are going to depend on you, your relationship and your goals.

What about the children?

Whether you have children or are thinking about them, being in business for yourself provides you with a wonderful opportunity to open up new worlds. Charles's parents own their own business. Even though he has both his JD and his MBA, he has always wanted to run his own business. He saw his parents doing it, and he wanted to do the same thing.

We have three young children (ages 2, 4 and 6) with a fourth on the way. Investing in real estate has given us the freedom not only to have these wonderful children, but to spend time with them. They have all been on airplanes and they have been places that we did not visit until we were much older. They see how much is out there in the world, and they know that it is theirs for the taking.

Family and church are very important to us. Investing in real estate, together, as partners has allowed us to nurture both of these. We can go on fieldtrips, attend Bible study and just spend time together, because we work together and we make our own rules. We set our goals and we are responsible for making things happen. We love each other and the challenges and rewards of working together. When Kim was pregnant with Hannah, our first child, we decided that she was not going to go back to corporate America. That same December, Charles decided that he no longer wanted to work in the law firm. He knew that, if we invested in real estate full time, we could make some significant changes in our life.

It was an exciting time. It was a fun time. It was a scary time. But every day, we are so glad that we did it, together. No matter what has happened, or what will come, we know that we are working our real estate business - together.
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