Real Estate Strategy 101: Learn the Basics, the Lingo, and the Opportunities

Real Estate Strategy 101: Learn the Basics, the Lingo, and the Opportunities

Investing in real estate is well-known as one of the most effective ways to increase wealth. It also can have the added benefit of generating passive income, which allows you to clear out your daily schedule and pursue other passions.

Unfortunately, most people don't understand all the ways they can invest in real estate or even the lingo that's associated with the industry.

If this sounds like you, don't worry. I'm going to give you a little crash course right now. Below you will find some initial info you'll want to know when considering your real estate strategy!

What Jargon and Basic Processes Will I Need to Know About When Starting My Real Estate Strategy?

The real estate game can seem a little overwhelming when you are just getting used to the industry's lingo.

Let's explore some you're most likely to encounter when you start shopping for a property or are about to make your first offer!

Offer / Purchase Agreement

This is a document you, as the buyer, give to the seller, which expresses the amount you are offering to pay and the terms of your offer. The seller would sign this document and at that point, you would have a completed purchase agreement.

With this, the next step would be to “open escrow.”

Escrow / Title

Technically the term “escrow” refers to money being held by a third party until certain conditions have been met or so that certain financial obligations can be fulfilled. 

For instance, when a buyer borrows money for a home through a lender, the lender sets up an escrow account that is used to receive monthly payments from the borrower. 

All that said, the term “escrow” is used in a few different ways when transacting on real estate. Generally speaking, you “open escrow” after you have a purchase agreement signed.

Now, it's true that this process is for the financial transfers mentioned above, but it's also the case that during “escrow,” the buyer has the opportunity to do their due diligence.

Towards the end, when people talk about completing the transaction, they refer to it as “close of escrow.”

Sometimes you might hear the term “title” interchanged with “escrow.” In many states, the title company also handles the escrowing of the funds. In other states, you have separate escrow and title companies.

Earnest Money / Deposit

Your “deposit” or “earnest money” is an agreed-upon sum that you put down to secure the sales contract and open escrow. If you don't meet all the terms and deadlines set out in the purchase agreement, you may have to exit the sale and forfeit your deposit.

If you do meet all your terms and deadlines during escrow, and the transaction completes or “closes,” your deposit will go toward the purchase price you pay.

Title Company / Title Insurance

Title research is done to be sure the property is clear of any outstanding obligations and ready to be sold. A lien, for example, could be discovered during this process and delay the finalization of the sale. 

A title company does the above-mentioned research, and they provide an insurance policy that can be purchased for security. The insurance covers the policy owner from an entity coming out of the woodwork and saying they have some interest in the property.

Customarily in a transaction, the seller will pay for the “buyers title policy,” while the buyer will pay for the “lender's title policy.”

As mentioned above, sometimes, the title company also acts as the escrow company. So someone might say to you, “You need to get your deposit over to ‘Title',” but technically, your deposit goes into escrow. Confusing, I know!!

Due Diligence

“Due diligence” is the steps you take to make sure the property you are buying meets your expectations. This work may include some or all of the following:

  • Title research (mentioned above)
  • Performing a home inspection
  • Reviewing any HOA or Condo Association rules and fees
  • Researching any permitting issues associated with the property
  • Getting the property appraised
  • Securing your financing


These are a set of conditions that need to be satisfied before the sale can be completed. One commonly seen contingency is when a buyer's loan must be approved before the sale of the home takes place (this is the Financing Contingency). The 3 standard contingencies include:

  • Inspection Contingency
  • Appraisal Contingency
  • Financing Contingency

Each of these will be assigned a date in the escrow process, by which they will need to be “waved” by the buyer (the buyer agrees they can no longer use this as an opportunity to bail out of the purchase).

The buyer has a right to cancel the transaction before the assigned date if: they don't like the inspection, the house doesn't appraise for the sale price, or their financing doesn't come through for them.

Keep in mind that contingencies are negotiable. As a buyer, you can make an offer that has no contingencies at all if you really really want a property. This would be ill-advised, though, unless you are a very seasoned pro.


The “closing” process is a meeting where the sale of a home is finalized, and all associated documents are signed by all parties. It's a huge pile of paperwork.

You can either go into the escrow or title office to sign your paperwork or if you are not able to do that, they can send a mobile notary to your location for an extra fee!

Closing Costs

In general, “closing costs” are approximately 2-3% of the home's total value, depending on the exact terms of your loan. Here is a breakdown of closing costs you might run into…

* These example fees were taken from one of my closing statements. It was the purchase of a rental property in Memphis TN, in September of 2016. The types and names of the fees you incur will change a bit from state to state.

* Some people will include your pre-paid interest, pre-paid property tax, and pre-paid insurance as a “closing cost,” but I do not. I consider those “ongoing costs” required to own the property. 

* The above fees are customarily paid by the buyer, while other fees are customarily paid by the sellers, such as transfer tax and the buyer's title policy. That said, buyers and sellers can negotiate who pays what at their discretion. But usually, everyone follows what is customary.

* Also note that I use a lender that is geared toward investors. They charge a flat fee for their services, but it's worth it for my needs. For a first-time residence, you can often get a loan with no points, origination fees, or lender fees. You can also put much less down

Escrow / Impound Account

If you have a loan, the lender will, by default, set up and administer an “escrow” or “impound” account on your behalf. They collect your annual property tax and insurance via estimated monthly payments on your monthly loan bill.

Then the lender will pay these items when they are due out of your impound account. They do this because if you fail to pay for these items, it can create problems for them, so they do this for free!

It's actually a very convenient service, but realize that it is not always mandatory. Often you can refuse the impound account and handle those payments yourself.

Taxes & Insurance

If you buy the property with a loan, the bank will require you to have insurance. But you should always have insurance, even if you own it outright!

Property taxes are annual fees you pay to your county for all the services the city and county offer for your home to exist.

When you secure your loan, they will provide a list of “closing costs” that you will have to pay. They often will include the portion of tax and insurance that you had to send into your impound account in this list.

Of course, in reality, they are not closing costs. They are ongoing costs you will have to keep paying!

Amortization / Annual Percentage Rate

This term “amortization” often leaves those who are new to the industry in a state of confusion. To clear it up for you, it simply refers to the process of reducing or paying off a debt with regular payments, over a period of time.

When it comes to mortgage amortization, the payment includes both interest and principle. With each payment the amount of interest getting paid gets smaller, which in turn increases the amount of principle being paid down.

The exact formula of the amortization is dependent on the APR and the term or length of the loan. Here is a portion of an amortization schedule as an example….


The term “equity” in real estate refers to the percentage of a home that you actually own. For example, if your home is worth $500,000 and you only owe 400K remaining on your loans, you have $100,000 in equity.

What About All the Acronyms I See When Researching My Real Estate Strategy Options?

Along with real estate terminology, there's also a handful of acronyms you'll want to be aware of so you don't get confused along the way.

  • APR – Annual Percentage Rate
  • COO or C of O – certificate of occupancy
  • CMA – comparative market analysis
  • COCR or CCR – cash on cash return
  • CRE – commercial real estate
  • DEDRS – Deed Restrictions
  • DTI – debt to income ratio
  • FSBO -for sale by owner
  • FHA – Federal Housing Administration
  • FMR – fair market rent
  • FMV – fair market value
  • GRM – gross rent multiplier
  • HML –hard money lender
  • HOA – Homeowners Association
  • HUD – The Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • IRR – internal rate of return
  • JV –  joint venture
  • L/O – lease option
  • LTV – loan to value
  • MFH – multi-family home
  • MLS – multiple listing service
  • NNN – triple net lease
  • NOI – net operating income
  • NOO – non-owner occupied
  • OO – owner occupied
  • PITI – principal, interest, taxes and insurance
  • REI – real estate investing
  • REO – real estate owned
  • ROI – return on investment
  • SFH– single family home
  • TT – transfer tax

While there are many more than this list that you'll certainly encounter, knowing these basics will help you better understand listings, conversations with agents, etc.

Ok, So What Are Some of the Most Common Ways to Invest, or Execute a Real Estate Strategy?

Buying a home and holding onto it is an obvious way to make money in real estate. As long as the property's value rises over time (through the market or through your own renovations), you'll be profiting.

There are other ways, though, that you can grow your money through real estate.

Let's dive in…

Own Your Residence

It should be no surprise that owning a home for yourself is one of the most straightforward ways to invest in real estate. It can also be one of the most valuable due to all the tax benefits your receive.

You may have seen or heard people debate the value of owning your residence. Some people claim that it's not an actual investment or that you are better off renting your residence. I couldn't disagree more!

I explain my reasons in this article: Renting vs Owning: Why You Need to Own the Real Estate You Live In (of Which You Will Be the World’s Best Renter!)

House Hacking

This term refers to owning a single-family or multi-family rental property. You're able to live in one section of the property while you rent out other parts to different tenants.

For a single-family home, you would rent out a bedroom and have a roommate. If it's a multi-family home, you would live in one unit and rent out the others. In this scenario, you could even rent out a bedroom in your unit if you really want to get crazy!

Under the right circumstances, the rental income you receive from your tenants will be able to both cover your mortgage and allow you to profit.

The great thing about this situation is that even though you have a rental property at play, you get all the financing and tax benefits of an owner-occupant…which is huge.

I would 100% recommend this method as your first real estate investment. It's just a winner all around!

Rental Property

You can purchase a home or apartment, then rent it out to tenants. Your goal is to have the incoming rent be more than all the carrying costs and ongoing expenses, thereby creating “positive cash flow”!

For example, your PITI (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance) on an SFH (single-family home) could be $900 per month, but your tenants' rental payments total $1,500. This means you have $600 of income after paying your mortgage. Subtract from that an estimate of 25% for vacancy and maintenance, and you are left with $225 of potential positive cash flow every month.

Cash flow isn't the only way you make money on a rental property, however…or on all real estate investments, for that matter. Check out this article explaining how you can get a return: The 5 Critical Components of Real Estate Investing Returns.

For those of you searching for an easier way to invest in rental property, you can look for a “Turnkey Provider.” They find a property, fix it up, rent it out, sell it to an investor, and then handle the ongoing property management.

I bought a handful of turnkey properties out of state because buying rental property in LA was very hard to justify. But first-timer beware: “the more you put in, the more you get out” concept applies here. Take a read of this for some details…Turnkey Real Estate Investing: What A First-Timer Should Know Before They Buy.

If you want to get a sense of what is out there in terms of single-family and small multi-family rentals, check out Roofstock. There are also more hands-off ways of generating passive income with single-family houses, apartments or multi-family while letting other folks do all the work. This is often referred to as syndication. More on that is below.

Vacation Rentals (VRBO & AirBnB)

For owners who have available space in their residence (even just a spare bedroom or “mother-in-law” unit), Airbnb can bring worthwhile results if you live in an area that's popular for business or travel.

Furthermore, many investors actually buy a property with the sole intention of renting it out as a vacation rental. This strategy has definitely become more viable since the invention of vacation rental sites like VRBO and AirBnb.

There is definitely money to be made here, but it comes with more ongoing maintenance versus and traditional rental with a one-year lease.

House Flipping

Although this strategy requires extensive knowledge of the local market, and access to more significant investable funds, it also has significant earning potential.

House flipping refers to purchasing a home (often for under the market value because it's in disrepair) and renovating it to make it more attractive to future buyers. Then, you sell it for a large profit (hopefully).

It's a simple concept and, in theory, a relatively easy execution if you have a good understanding of the renovation process. But you really need a good network of contractors and sub-contractors. Also, If you try to have ALL the work done by others, your likelihood of a profit is much lower.

In my case, I have often done all the construction plans myself (using a home design program), managed the permitting process myself, and managed some or all of the construction process myself (meaning I hired and oversaw subcontractors like framers, drywallers, plumbers, electricians, etc.)

These are the plans I did for one of my renovations. Truth be told, I learned all this because I like doing it…it's an extreme hobby! But it saves a lot of money and time if your project involves permitting.

Commercial Property

For those who don't want to deal with managing residential tenants in a home, commercial property is a reliable option that has sky-high potential for income.

Office buildings are costly to invest in, but the rent per tenant can be higher than that of a residential property. Additionally, many lease agreements for office space are commonly 5 years, allowing you to better predict your income over an extended period.

That said, I consider the commercial property a more advanced step in real estate investing. The stakes can be much higher and the processes involved are more complex. I don't see this as a good first investment.


This term is quite the opposite of house flipping in terms of how the process works. A real estate wholesaler will buy and sell houses within a short period without making repairs, renovations, etc.

Actually, they don't even “buy” the home at all. Wholesalers find deals, get a house under contract, and then essentially sell the deal to buy the home (or option/contract) to another investor. Basically, you do all the legwork to find deals, then pass them to other investors for a fee.

Theoretically, there is no risk for a wholesaler in that if they can't find an investor to take the deal, they can bail before their contingencies are up and get their deposit back!

That said, a wholesaler risks their time and effort. It's very time-consuming work to find a deal that is so good that you can actually make money on it without doing anything to the property. Plus, you have to spend lots of time (years even) building up a network of investors/buyers.

I have a friend who is a wholesaler (he used to be a graphic designer). It took him a year before he actually completed the whole cycle I just laid out and made a couple of grand. But he stuck with it and is doing pretty well now. But it's certainly more like a full-time job, or at least a very consistent part-time job.

Real Estate Syndications

Syndication is a type of investing that can be participated in from a couple of angles…as “the syndicator” (provider or sponsor) or “the investor.”

If you put syndication deals together, you identify an opportunity (let's say a simple flip, for example), model out the investment on paper, and then try to raise money from investors to execute the plan.

You take a fee for putting the whole deal together and seeing it through to completion, and you might also own a piece of the pie.

If you are going to be a syndicator, you need to be very experienced with real estate deals in general and the “art of raising money.” Beyond that, you also need to understand all the legalities around offering investments to the public, of which there are many!

On the flip side, you can participate in syndication by being an investor. It's actually one of the most passive forms of real estate investing because you basically just write a check as the investor. But again, the more you put into something, the more you are likely to get out!

Read more about Real Estate syndication in the other article I wrote: How Does Real Estate Syndication Work?

Crowdfunded Real Estate

Crowdfunded real estate is a shiny new term and category that has popped up in the last five to ten years, largely because of technological advancements. It basically means you pool your money with other investors into real estate projects that are looking to raise capital.

Through some crowdfunding real estate platforms, you can jump into real estate investment with much less money than you would need for a down payment. And you skip all the headaches associated with buying a property as well!

I see crowdfunded real estate companies in one of two ways…

1) They are large syndicators that have a layer of tech on top that allows them to market their projects, collect funds and manage the process.

2) The company is just the tech layer connecting syndicators with investors! They essentially act as a third-party marketplace taking a fee for their service.

Some of the more popular crowdfunding sites currently include Fundraise, Crowdstreet, Yieldstreet, and Diversyfund.

Public Markets REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts)

REITs generally own and/or manage income-producing real estate, whether it's the properties themselves or the mortgages on those properties. You can invest in these companies directly or through an exchange-traded fund that combines multiple REIT investments into one.

There are many types of REITs available, including Retail REITs, Residential REITs, Healthcare REITs, Office REITs, and Mortgage REITs, among others.

REITs are THE MOST PASSIVE form of real estate investing out there. It's just like investing in “stocks.” You are simply buying stock in a company that invests in real estate!

Developing Your Real Estate Strategy Can Seem Difficult…

But it doesn't have to be.

With the above information about creating a real estate strategy in mind, you'll be well on your way to optimizing your chances of success in the industry. 

Feel like you still have no idea where to start? Take my free real estate investment analysis course and learn how to analyze a potential real estate purchase like a pro! This will definitely help you feel more comfortable when developing your real estate strategy!

Do you think real estate isn't for you? Then check out making your money work for you in the public markets!

Founder at Play Louder !

Joe DiSanto is the founder of Play Louder! He has built multi-million dollar businesses, produced critically acclaimed documentaries and an Emmy-winning TV show, invested millions in real estate, and semi-retired at age 43. Now, Joe serves as a Fractional CFO for several creative firms and is sharing a lifetime of fiscal know-how via Play Louder, an invaluable resource that helps individuals and business owners increase their net worth and plan better for their future.