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HOW TO MAKE YOUR JOB OPTIONAL”

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How 2 Doctors Achieved Financial Freedom: A Play in Five Acts 

financial freedom through real estate

Act one: A road trip and a question

For me and Kenji, the journey to financial freedom didn’t start with a single step–it started with a simple question. “How do you want to live your life?”

I remember we were driving to a town about an hour away. It was one of those long-ish car rides you can fill with idle chatter or deeper conversation – and Kenji has never been one for chit-chat. (So I should have known what was coming!)

“How do you want to live your life?” It seemed like such a simple question. Like asking a friend, “How are you?” if you ran into them at a restaurant. The simple, social answer is “Fine.” 

How did I want to live my life? I started to answer with the simple, social answer: I wanted to get a house in Seattle, work at the hospital, have kids, etc. etc.

Kenji interrupted me. “No,” he said. “I mean how would you want to live your life if there were no limits….As in: imagine you had unlimited money. You could spend your time however you wanted. How would you live your life?”

It was one of those record-scratch moments. I woke from the reverie of automatic shallow answers and caught sight of the gigantic possibilities Kenji was offering me.

How would I live my life if I could have anything I wanted? 

I’d been asked this kind of question before; I had asked other people this question before. But the “what do you want to do with your life?” kind of question had always pre-supposed a limit. The answer was supposed to be “reasonable.” What would be realistic, for you.

But that’s not what Kenji was asking me. Kenji was asking me what I really wanted. He wasn’t interested in the “realistic” or “reasonable” answer. He was assuming I had no limits, and that I could actually achieve whatever I said I wanted.

And that’s where our real estate journey really started–with the simple idea that I could (we could) do or have anything we wanted.

 

I saw my exciting future in full detail

Once I understood the question, I saw my exciting future in full detail–even though I’d never really thought about it before Kenji asked. This became my “why.”

I wanted to live in Italy and have a villa where I could host my kids and their families some day. I wanted to have a really big table outside under a pergola, where my kids, their future families, and all of our friends could sit together and enjoy each other’s company for hours and days on end, without having to worry about getting back to our daily responsibilities. 

I wanted to be able to have time with my children while they were still children. And not just for a few hours in the evening after work. I wanted to be a part of their days and really watch them grow up. And to have that same kind of time in the future with them and their families too.

I wanted to be a good host. I wanted to be one of those people who thought of everything to take care of their guests. One of those people who put out the softest towels and cooked luxurious breakfasts. I wanted our friends to stay with us and feel loved and cared for. That’s how I really wanted to spend my time. 

The next question was of course, “How do we get there?” How would we take this vision and turn it into reality? We didn’t figure that part out for another year.

But the seed had been planted. I realized I wasn’t going to walk the path everyone else was taking after all. I had been sleepwalking that path, but now I was wide awake and looking for the answer.

 

Act two: New Zealand, a campervan, and Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Kenji and I figured out the how about a year later. We were on a campervan trip through New Zealand when I started reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

The first few chapters were a revelation. I realized I was an employee. Instead, I needed to become an investor. And I realized that owning cashflowing real estate just was the key.

Though Kenji had read Rich Dad Poor Dad himself years before, we decided to read the whole thing aloud to each other during that trip. We found ourselves stopping every few paragraphs to discuss what we were learning. We were excited, building our compelling future together. 

By the time we had finished Rich Dad, Poor Dad, we knew we would become full-on real estate investors. We decided to abandon the process of buying a primary residence we’d been following in the months before our trip. Instead, we decided we were going to build up enough cashflow over the next 7 years that we would replace both our full-time clinical incomes. 

And then we put the plan into action over the course of the next year.

 

It was like the story of the first 4-minute mile

Before I dive into the nuts and bolts of the next year, we have to talk about the concept of belief. 

If you too want to live a life without limits, you need to have belief on your side. If you don’t believe something is possible, you can’t achieve it. 

Have you heard the story of the 4-minute mile?

Roger Bannister ran the first 4-minute mile in 1954. People were astounded. Nobody had ever done that before. No one had ever thought that would be possible. Would anyone else ever do that again?

Yes. Within months after Bannister did it, multiple athletes also ran 4-minute or less miles. Since 1954 over 1,400 male athletes have done it. 

My question to you is: how can it be that prior to 1954 no athlete had been able to run a mile in 4 minutes….but after it had been done once, so many people did it, that now we even have high-school students and people over 40 doing it?

The answer is simple: once it had been done, people believed it was possible. Before that, no one knew if it was even achievable. But after it had been done, everyone KNEW it was possible.

All it takes is seeing someone else do it. Because if they’re able to achieve it, you know it can be your reality, too.

 

That’s how Kenji and I knew we would become real estate investors

Even though we’d “only” read a couple of books. We had seen people do it–people in our own families.

When Kenji was young, his parents had invested in multifamily student rentals in Philadelphia. Because they knew very little about real estate investing, at first they went through some difficult times with their rentals. But once the properties were paid off, Kenji’s parents sat on >$250,000 of cashflow per year. 

As an adult, Kenji himself invested in real estate, albeit though appreciation plays, for almost 15 years. And, during that time, he had owned an 8-unit multi-family property that was actually cashflowing. 

Unfortunately, he valued the short-term gains more than the cashflow, so he sold it after owning it for a little over a year in 2009 after it had appreciated significantly. It had appreciated because he had been able to raise rents during the recession, leading to an increase in value of the property through forced appreciation. 

So we knew financial freedom by investing in cashflowing rentals was possible. And after reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad and then Gary Keller’s book, The Millionaire Real Estate Investor, we believed we could achieve financial freedom through investing in real estate in less than a decade.

Remember, our goal was to make up both our full-time incomes in real estate in less than 7 years. Now it was time to take action. 

One of our strengths is that when we’re in agreement, Kenji and I never hesitate to take action.

 

Act three: Buying our first properties… and SKYROCKETING our profits 

When we returned from New Zealand we had a few false starts to purchasing rental properties. But then we found an investor agent who owned his own properties who served as a mentor for us. He also had access to off-market deals, so we were able to lock up properties before they even hit the market. 

The first year, Kenji and I ended up buying four properties (duplexes and a fourplex) outside of Seattle. We were on our way!

In addition to purchasing basic cashflowing rentals, there were two big steps that Kenji and I took the first year that changed the trajectory of our growth. 

  1. We learned to force appreciation 
  2. We learned about real estate professional tax status.

The combination of the two supercharged the growth of our wealth. 

Because this article is focused on our story, I won’t go into detail on either of these methods here, but I highly encourage you to check out the articles above to learn about why we believe real estate investing is the fastest way to achieve financial freedom, what we call Fast FIRE.

 

In which we find the catalysts to astronomical growth

Over the next 3 years, Kenji and I focused on buying cashflowing rentals with any money we were able to earn either by working at the hospitals or from our business (we launched a healthcare start-up in the middle of all of this!). 

We also cut back on our spending. When you ask yourself whether you’d like to get a new car (e.g., a Tesla) or a cashflowing duplex that will pay you out every day for the rest of your lifetime–decisions become easy.

During those first several years, we were also able to make a couple notable moves like house hacking, which produced a >$300,000 return, which was then rolled tax-free using a 1031 exchange into two new purchases. You can read about our house hacking experience here.

We learned about and started renting garages, which increased our returns significantly on a number of properties. We were able to tap into some unique niches like supported living, which increased our cash-on-cash return on some of our $150,000 duplexes in Spokane on the order of 25-40%. We also continued to force appreciation of our portfolio by finding undervalued properties, doing rehab projects and cutting expenses. 

We started investing in Spokane (and then Oklahoma City), because deals were cheaper and prices weren’t inflated as they had become around Seattle. Ultimately, our investments in Spokane experienced a fair amount of market appreciation on top of what we forced in appreciation, contributing to our net worth.

Since the beginning, we’ve also been very diligent about never using any of our earnings from our properties to support our lifestyle. That’s what our day jobs are for. Instead, we’ve always taken everything we earn in cashflow and tax savings and put all of it back into purchasing new properties or rehab projects, taking advantage of compounding. 

Because we didn’t pay income taxes and maximized our properties’ performance in the ways I’ve outlined above, our portfolio grew incredibly fast. 

By 2018 we had built our portfolio up to 41 units (including garages) and $250,000 in cashflow.

 

Act four: We achieved financial freedom! Were we done? NO.

Before Kenji and I even bought our first property together, we set a goal cashflow of making $600,000 per year (roughly what we were making both as full-time physicians). As I mentioned, we decided we wanted to achieve it in less than 7 years.

But what we realized just a few years into our journey, when we had over $200,000 in tax-free income coming in from our investments, was that we really didn’t need $600,000 at all. In fact, we felt that we were financially free because we knew that we could support a great lifestyle and work however much (or little) we wanted to in clinical medicine.

 

So what was the point to continuing to grow our portfolio? 

Couldn’t we just sit still and let our renters pay off our properties (this added about $40,000 additional value to our net worth each year)? Weren’t we just taking on more risk by continuing to push ourselves to try new things and buy new properties?

It was a good question. Kenji and I ended up debating it for several months.

What we discovered was that we enjoyed growing and pushing ourselves, learning and trying new things. We realized that if we didn’t have a project, we’d missed it. In 2017 we took a year off for travel and we had felt “unsettled” – because we hadn’t been building anything or aiming for something bigger.

That’s when we realized: our purpose had to expand beyond ourselves. 

Up to this point we had been striving to get financial freedom so we could realize that initial dream of the Italian pergola and spending time with our children. Now we had it. Did we really keep needing to grow our portfolio? We didn’t need more money. And money for money’s sake didn’t hold much of a draw.

It was time to think bigger. And when we did, we saw we wanted to contribute to the world at large. We couldn’t make a global impact unless we aimed for limitlessness with our wealth.

It started with our blog.

 

Act five: Paying it forward to our fellow physicians (the beginning of SRMD)

Our blog was meant to help physicians do the same thing we had: achieve financial freedom as fast as possible by using cashflowing rentals. 

Why? Because we had seen our physician friends:

  • Suffer from burnout
  • Become disabled, trapping them in their jobs so they could take care of themselves
  • Unable to take time off to be with sick family members
  • Suffer when they came back from maternity leave too early, because they couldn’t afford to be out longer. 

And then two of our colleagues committed suicide less than a year apart. 

“Replaceable” was how the interim CEO of our hospital described our hospitalist group, to our faces. It turned out the local surgical group was also “replaceable”; they were fired and replaced with a group of newly-graduated residents. Kenji and I realized that all employed physicians were considered “replaceable” and therefore at risk if they relied on a single source of income (the one from their jobs).

When we saw these things happening around us, we felt grateful for our real estate income. We knew we had choices. If we were fired, we knew we’d be fine. We could leave any job that wasn’t working for us. We could see the contrast between the freedom we had and where everyone else was stuck.

We knew we had to share what we had learned. We had to help more people do what we had done. We had to put ourselves out there and share our knowledge and our story.

Semi-Retired MD was born. 

Our mission was (and still is) to help physicians achieve financial freedom using cashflowing rentals so that they could work in medicine on their terms. We wanted people to see that it was possible to live the life they wanted while they were still young enough to enjoy it. We wanted people to know they had options. They could choose to do things differently and we would show them how. 

 

Semi-Retired MD began to grow… and then it became a course

Semi-Retired MD was a labor of love. It grew organically as we shared everything we knew about real estate investing in articles aimed at conveying actionable knowledge to our readers. We gained followers as people begin to implement what we wrote about and see success. 

However, we were disappointed the first year to see that for every reader that found success, there were many more who didn’t take action. We knew we needed to help in a more structured, organized way. 

Luckily we were fortunate to have forged some amazing friendships with Peter Kim of Passive Income MD, Bonnie Koo of Wealthy Mom MD and Sunny Smith of Empowering Women Physicians. We also discovered the power of the teaching of Tony Robbins. 

The second year of our blog, our physician friends and Tony Robbins’ teaching inspired us to create and launch an introductory course to real estate investing, Zero to Freedom Through Cashflowing Rentals. Our first official launch was in July of 2019. Our first class had over 300 mostly physician students and their spouses. 

Our first class of students had so much success they couldn’t wait to tell everybody. They shared their experience widely. Consequently, our second class was significantly larger. 

 

Epilogue: Our community has been the best part

Since taking our class, our students have achieved incredible things. 

We have students who have:

  • Bought 40 doors in less than 6 months 
  • Started house hacking, BRRRRing and doing AirBNBs. 
  • Quit their clinical jobs
  • Continued their clinical jobs, but enjoy it more because now it’s their “choice” to go to work

But really the best thing is the community. Our students help each other and lift each other up. They share their knowledge and contacts with each other. They encourage each other through rough times. They keep each other accountable. They freely give their time to each other.

We all operate in abundance, not scarcity–and our students are proof.

Our students inspire us to keep growing our knowledge and experience in real estate and our blog to serve them even better. We are so honored and grateful to be part of such an amazing group of human beings. 

 

To be continued?? YES!

There is a famous saying by the anthropologist, Margaret Mead. 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

I think this statement is true. The future I see is a group of financially free physicians who dedicate themselves to changing medicine for the better.

I invite you to join our movement at Semi-Retired MD.

Do you want to learn how to creatively fund your real estate portfolio and achieve financial freedom? Join the conversation! Follow our Semi-Retired MD  Facebook page and join our Doctors or Professionals  group!

Semi-Retired M.D. and its owners, presenters, and employees are not in the business of providing personal, financial, tax, legal or investment advice and specifically disclaims any liability, loss or risk, which is incurred as a consequence, either directly or indirectly, by the use of any of the information contained in this blog. Semi-Retired M.D., its website, this blog and any online tools, if any, do NOT provide ANY legal, accounting, securities, investment, tax or other professional services advice and are not intended to be a substitute for meeting with professional advisors. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of competent, licensed and certified professionals should be sought. In addition, Semi-Retired M.D. does not endorse ANY specific investments, investment strategies, advisors, or financial service firms.

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Hi, we’re Kenji and Leti

we provide coaching and mentorship for doctors and high-income earners

Several years ago, we were newlyweds working as full-time hospitalists. On paper, it looked like we had everything: the prestigious careers, the happy marriage, the luxurious rental home, the cars, etc.

But in reality? Despite having worked for several years, we had very little savings. Despite our high income, we had very little freedom in terms of time or money.

One thing was clear: we had to do something.

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