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10 Absolute Must-Read Real Estate Books for Beginning Investors

10 Absolute Must-Read Real Estate Books for Beginning Investors

Sixteen years ago at the age of 23, I was a brand new real estate investor. I had just graduated from college with a biology degree, which basically qualified me to tell you the species of tree in the backyard of a house! Beyond that, I had no practical real estate investing skills.

In fact, I had never even owned my own home before attempting to buy my first investment property. So, if you think you know nothing about real estate as a beginner, try that!

Looking back, it was sort of a crazy move. But I wanted freedom more than I wanted the security and comfort of a steady job. I also knew that any skill—including real estate investing—could be learned if you just know where to look.

As a result, self-education became my top priority. Some of this early self-education was great. But much of it was a waste of time. And the bad education actually slowed my progress.

So, the purpose of this article is to give the best, most focused self-education books for beginners. After 16 years in the trenches of real estate investing, what follows are the 10 books that I recommend to get you started.

But before we get into the actual books, I first want to explain why you should read books – even in the internet age.

Why You Should Read Books

Everything is free on the internet these days, right? So why read books?

I like books because they are a way to focus your education without distraction. Reading a book is a much different educational experience than the constant beeping, pop-ups, and eye-candy you’ll be distracted with while on your mobile device or computer.

I still love physically holding a book, circling and underlining big ideas with my pen and then making notes in the margins (although I’ve also started doing this with e-books on my tablet).

I also love the “conversation” you have with an author of a book. It’s like they’re your personal teacher. When I notice a physical book on my bookshelf, it brings back ideas and reminds me of the tips that author gave me in the past.

So, if you’re on board with using books as a key part of your education, consider digging into the following top 10 list.

1. Building Wealth One House at a Time by John Schaub

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What I Like About This Book

John Schaub was one of the original teachers I learned from, both with his book and with other sources, like his newsletter and in-person classes. I consider John the Warren Buffett of real estate investing. His advice is down to earth, solid, and it’s worked for over four decades in his business as a landlord, house flipper, and lender.

I often hear people complain that some investing books can be too basic. I find those same people often ignore fundamentals while searching for glitzy, more complicated concepts that supposedly are better.

This book is all about the fundamentals. He covers an overall strategy for achieving financial independence with residential real estate, and he also gets into finding, financing, renting, and selling properties.

The main idea of the book is that you can build a fortune and do everything you want in life by investing in little real estate deals like single family houses and small multi-units. I have taken this advice to heart, and I agree wholeheartedly with it.

Big Ideas From the Book

John spends some time talking about appreciation of real estate and how it can make you rich. I would be careful depending upon appreciation as part of your real estate evaluation. Appreciation is uncertain and difficult to predict or depend upon.

A more conservative plan is to make enough money using other methods John talks about, like cash flow and amortization of loans. Appreciation may come, but your deal should work without it.

2. What Every Real Estate Investor Needs to Know About Cash Flow by Frank Gallinelli

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What I Like About This Book

This book is all about the numbers, which is perfect for a real estate nerd like me. Success in real estate always comes back to the numbers. But amazingly, many so-called investors don’t know how to do them correctly.

This book is a guide to both the big picture concepts of deal analysis and the nitty gritty formulas. It covers in great detail, along with examples, just about every analysis tool I can think of. Beginners can use it to learn, and any investor of any experience level should keep it on their bookshelf as a reference and refresher.  

I also like that he includes free Excel spreadsheets that let you get “under the hood” and see how the formulas in the book actually work.

Big Ideas From the Book

The strength of this book is the thoroughness of the content. That is also its weakness. I think the challenge will be, especially for beginners, not to get overwhelmed or intimidated by so many formulas and ways to analyze a deal.

Getting started successfully as an entrepreneur (real estate is a business, after all) is about math, but it’s also about psychology, momentum, and consistency. Fear of failure or analysis paralysis can kill your dream as a beginner investor.

So, my recommendation is to pick the gold nuggets from this book and learn the essential, basic formulas. Go get in motion, make offers on deals, and continue coming back to this excellent resource over time as you grow.

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What I Like About This Book

This book is #1 in Amazon’s real estate section pretty much all the time for a reason. Author Brandon Turner wrote a super-practical, step-by-step book that can help any rental property investor.

Brandon is an amazing teacher. He has a knack for breaking the big topics into digestible, easy-to-understand pieces. And that’s really the strength of the book. It flows from the big picture to the nitty gritty in the entire process of finding, negotiating, financing, closing, and renting your next rental property.

Big Ideas From the Book

This book is more focused on small, mom-and-pop style investors. If you want to buy 1,000s of units, do syndications, and build a huge real estate empire, this book probably isn’t for you. And although this book does touch on property management, it could use more depth and details. But the partner book The Book on Managing Rental Properties by Brandon and his wife Heather Turner fill many of those gaps nicely.

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What I Like About This Book

This is another book by Brandon Turner. The title includes “no money down,” which might understandably be a turn-off. But realize that the book is not about getting rich quickly with tricks or getting something for nothing. The book simply gives you a full toolbox of non-traditional financing techniques that you can use to buy real estate.

I like that Brandon practices what he preaches. As someone who has also used many of these financing techniques, I can tell that Brandon has used the tools himself to create his portfolio of real estate.

If you want to (or if you can) use conventional real estate strategies like going to the bank, putting 30 percent down, and getting a conventional loan, that’s fine. But do yourself a favor and also learn how to make money using the unconventional techniques in this book. Once you do, the rest of this real estate game will be a lot easier.

Big Ideas From the Book

Brandon admits as much, but this book is only the beginning of your study of financing techniques. To actually execute them will require local help with the legal and contract part of the techniques. But the knowledge of how and why are the important foundations you’ll get in this book.

5. The Book on Flipping Houses by J Scott

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What I Like About This Book

I like the way the author J Scott’s mind works. He is systematic, he is thorough, and he gets both the big picture AND the details. That’s rare!

As a result, what you get in this book is a comprehensive guide to the flipping business. You won’t have to search around in other places to get the all the parts he left out (except his other book on estimating rehabs, which is the next book I recommend).

In addition to content you’d expect on a book about flipping, I like that J gets into the nuances of analyzing and choosing a target market. This is such a fundamental step that many novices miss. J gives you some really good insight that you can use to analyze the potential in your own market for flips or to analyze future markets you may venture into. I used J’s methods in my own market and was amazed what I found out (after 10 years already investing there!).

Big Ideas From the Book

This is a great book. There’s not a lot I could find wrong, other than to point out that different markets have different styles of flipping based upon the housing stock. A lot of the backdrop for this book was J’s investment business in suburban Atlanta, with its 1980s, mini-mansion style houses. A lot of the examples were based upon that model. The same principles can obviously be applied to in-town rehab of older homes and even to in-fill new construction projects. Check out J’s free ebook on BiggerPockets.com to see how he’s applied the principles in this book to the new construction niche.

*UPDATE*: J Scott has written updated versions of the book that will be published in early 2019. I highly recommend you get the latest edition as they address some of the concerns I had above.

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What I Like About This Book

Just like his companion book on flipping houses, this book is systematic and thorough. It flows well, it all fits together, and you can take the concepts and apply them successfully right away.

I had a pretty good system of analysis before I read his book, but I liked the way J Scott sectioned the rehab of the house into 25 components. So, I bought the full BiggerPockets package which gave me a checklist/spreadsheet with all of those components. These bonus items make the estimating of the total cost much more accurate. I use it just about every week.

Missing just one or two repairs can make a big difference in your flipping or rental profits over time, so using a system like J’s is critical. Why reinvent the wheel? J wrote the book. Just copy him!

Big Ideas From the Book

Like my comment in J’s other book, just keep in mind his examples are from single family houses in a suburban setting. The principles still work in other settings, like multifamilies in urban areas, but you may need to make some tweaks here and there.

7. Every Landlord’s Legal Guide by Marcia Stewart, Ralph Warner, & Janet Portman

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What I Like About This Book

This book is a detailed reference manual specifically for all the legal issues landlords face. It is one of the newer additions to my library out of the 10 recommendations, but I wish I had it from the beginning.

I like that the book is extremely comprehensive. It covers all of the normal sticky landlord legal issues like rejecting applicants, handling security deposits, and evicting tenants. But it also addresses other issues like potential liability for your property manager’s acts and how to handle subletting requests.

I also like that the book has a downloadable library of forms. I don’t necessarily use all of them, but I take ideas from each as I’m having my own checklists, leases, and other contracts created.

Big Ideas From the Book

I basically look at this book as my cheat-sheet or place to start for any legal questions about rental contracts, evictions, changing a lease, or other issues that may come up. It does not replace a good attorney on your team. But a resource like this is very helpful even when you hire an attorney because I’ve found that you must have some basic knowledge before you can even ask the right questions to an attorney or another expert. So this book helps with that.

8. Landlording on Autopilot by Mike Butler

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What I Like About This Book

The author Mike Butler is a funny guy, and he also provides a lot of great property and business management ideas and systems in this book. There are many different approaches to property management, and Mike has one particular style. His strategy is geared more towards single family houses and hands-off self-management.

You may not choose to adopt every single method he suggests, but I think it’s one of the best books for its mix of practical, nitty-gritty details of management systems, funny and eye-popping stories, and also general big-picture strategy for investing success.

*UPDATE*: I read Mike’s original book, but he has a new 2018 edition that I have not read. The new edition also seems helpful. It includes a lot of new landlord and tenant-friendly technologies that make the rental experience easier and more hands-off for everyone.

Big Ideas From the Book

I was a bit skeptical after reading chapter one because Mike began with the idea of using “conservative” 5 percent appreciation rates in his town to build a large net worth. Perhaps Mike did experience 5 percent appreciation every year on his properties, but on a national scale, house appreciation tends to be the same as inflation (about 3 percent over the long run).

Be very careful counting on any specific appreciation rates as part of your wealth building plan. Doing this can be dangerous because it takes your focus away from the investment fundamentals you can control, like cash flow and loan amortization. Appreciation for me is a bonus that I’ll happily profit from when it comes, but I don’t calculate it up front. To Mike’s credit, he did follow in the rest of the book talking mostly about cash flow, tax benefits, and great management systems.

9. The Millionaire Real Estate Investor by Gary Keller, Dave Jenks, & Jay Papasan

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What I Like About This Book

This might be my favorite real estate investing book. Author Gary Keller, the co-founder of Keller Williams Realty, captures the essence of a successful real estate investor. Using the concept of models, he breaks down every aspect of the real estate investing business and shares best practices. This approach makes it very easy to replicate in your own business.

I have read complaints that this book doesn’t get enough into the nitty gritty (like how to manage a property, remodel a property, etc.). But I think that misses the point. This book nails both the mindset and the strategy of how you build a successful real estate investing business. When you get those right, you can then learn all of those details as a next step.

I also like that this book shares profiles of many real-life real estate investors. These examples show that it’s possible to become a millionaire in a variety of ways. One of the millionaires (Dyches Boddiford) has been a go-to mentor and teacher in my own real estate investing business.

Big Ideas From the Book

As good as this book is, it was published in 2005 before the 2007-2009 real estate crash. I don’t think any of the core principles in the book would change. But I’d love to see the authors add new millionaire profiles and update the old ones so that we can get more recent examples.

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What I Like About This Book

OK, I’m clearly biased in this choice. But having put my heart and soul into writing this book, I certainly recommend it as a top choice for beginner investors.

I wrote this book to be a strategy guide. It’s basically like a map that helps you find yourself on the journey to the mountain peak of financial independence. The book helps you find the best “route” or real estate strategy that fits your situation. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, I give you examples of a few of the best strategies and help you take action on one.

The feedback from reviews on Amazon tells me that the best parts of the book are it’s practical, step-by-step approach. You get clear instructions that are easy to apply. And between each chapter you’ll read one of 25 real estate early retiree profiles with details and actual numbers that explain how they did it.

Big Ideas From the Book

When I wrote this book I actually cut out over 40,000 words from the rough draft! I had lessons on finding deals, evaluating deals, and more. But I decided that too much information distracted from the main point, which is how to use real estate to retire early.

So, this isn’t the only real estate book you should buy. But it can serve as your primary guide, and you can fill in the gaps with the nine other amazing books on this list!

What Are You Reading?

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren [Buffet] reads—and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”

What you choose to read and put into your mind is an important choice. I hope this list has helped you to focus on a small group of real estate books that have been very helpful to me.

Editor’s note: We first published this list back in 2015. Chad revised it at the end of 2018 to reflect some of his new favorite reads. Enjoy—and be sure to add suggestions in the comments below!

What do you think about these choices? Are there others that you would include? What are you reading now in the real estate and business world that has been helpful?

I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

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