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How Betsy did it

Sweeney said she was able to afford the renovation project thanks to the lower cost-of-living in Wheeling, a small town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

She told Insider she was renting her loft apartment for about $900 a month, and had few additional expenses since it was the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She had to cough up about $1,100 a month for her loan during the initial stages, hiring out for things like heating, wiring and the brickwork on the facade of the house — but refinished the floors, plastered the walls and worked on much of the repointing herself, with help from her partner.

After several months of construction, Sweeney moved into the home by the end of 2021 — once the primary bedroom, living room, dining room and baths were completely finished — and continued working on other parts of the house.

Sweeney got the house reappraised to swap her construction loan for a mortgage on the estimated value of the property, cutting her monthly expenses down to $700, and took out another $35,000 loan to fix up the kitchen.

She said her living expenses currently add up to $1,047 a month, including her mortgage payment, property taxes, homeowners insurance and utilities.

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Alternatives to buying property

If you’re not looking to purchase a physical property and undertake a complete makeover but you still want to build wealth through real estate, there are a number of options available to you.

You can look into real estate investment trusts which are entities that allow you to earn returns from multiple properties at a time. They’re similar to a mutual fund, except they own and operate properties that produce income, like apartment buildings and shopping malls.

You don’t have to stick to investing in residential real estate. Commercial real estate can be a solid return-generating option, particularly for accredited investors. Some firms allow investors to essentially own shares of institutional-quality properties leased by major retailers, like Walmart and Kroger.

But you don’t need to be a millionaire to get in on the real estate game. For example, there are investing platforms that allow you to invest in vacation or rental properties for a much smaller minimum investment.

Ways to invest in your current home

The median price for a home in the U.S. is sitting at $420,284, according to Redfin data, and mortgage rates climbing far above 7%, it’s no longer feasible for many Americans to invest in real estate by purchasing a home — unless they use more creative avenues, like Sweeney did.

“It is not realistic for most of this country to buy a house that is several hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she said.

If you do own a home, you can score tax credits and rebates for your renovation projects by making energy efficient upgrades such as installing heat pumps.

Sweeney has plans to further remodel the third floor with a bedroom, office and utility space, and transform the room behind the master bedroom on the second floor into a guest suite.

Sweeney told CNBC that by purchasing her house at such a low price and investing in improvements, she gained a valuable asset far beyond your typical “cookie cutter” home — for about as much as she was previously shelling out for rent and utilities at her downtown loft.

“There’s a ripple effect in purchasing and renovating these properties that just simply cannot be achieved in new construction, and I think it’s really important as we move forward to think more as a collective and less as individuals,” she said.

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Serah Louis is a reporter with Moneywise.com. She enjoys tackling topical personal finance issues for young people and women and covering the latest in financial news.


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