Imagine standing on a tropical island, where the surf crashes against a rugged volcanic shore and papayas and coconuts grow. You might dream of living there, of finding a good job and buying real estate. In your wildest fantasies, you’d take up surfing and retire early.
When Loren Clive moved to the Hawaiian island of Maui from Berkeley, California, in 2005, she dreamed big. But lots of things felt unattainable, especially owning her own home. After all, real estate on Maui is expensive and in limited supply. (The median home value in Maui is similar to Seattle, one of the mainland’s hottest real estate markets.)
Loren didn’t see how she’d ever be able to buy property, especially with her modest income as a property manager. At the company where she worked, one commercial real estate owner made the equivalent of her annual salary in just one month from one property.
“I immediately realized the money is in owning real estate,” she remembers.
So she decided to stay in the real estate industry. She got a job as the director of acquisitions for a real estate investment company that bought and flipped foreclosed homes. “I knew I could do the same thing myself and make a bunch of money,” she says, “and it would take less effort because I’d be the only person involved.”
She started saving the cash she made from her commissions, and when she showed her first home—a short-sale duplex for $221,000—and the client of the real estate company couldn’t secure financing, she made her own offer. To her delight, Loren became the owner of her first property on Maui. The rent from one unit covered the entire mortgage. It was a turning point.
“It’s much easier to seize an opportunity for yourself than convince someone of a good deal,” she says.
Once the market jumped, Loren leveraged the equity in the duplex to buy another house down the street, which she remodeled and rented out. A year later, she sold that house and used the profit to make a down payment on her current home in the small town of Haiku, not far from the famous big-wave surf break Jaws.
Aside from a few minor setbacks—including renters with five dogs that destroyed one property—her business grew. These days she manages 13 properties, some of which she co-owns with an investor.
Along the way, Loren discovered lots of ways to streamline her business, but she felt frustrated by collecting rent. Many of her tenants made identical monthly rent payments, so when one payment was missing, Loren had to call her tenants to find out who hadn’t paid.
She thought electronic payments might be the answer. She considered asking tenants to make payments through PayPal, but she worried they’d be able to initiate “chargebacks,” or refunds. When she asked her bank if they could help, they suggested using their bill pay service, which meant she’d get a stack of paper checks every month.
When Loren discovered Cozy, she felt relieved. “Cozy helped me free up some time, because I’m not worrying about rent collection,” she says. “If someone hasn’t paid, I know who it is.”
She also screens prospective tenants through Cozy, which helps her fill vacancies in Maui’s competitive rental market. “Anyone who’s serious about a place will pay for those reports,” she says. “It shows me they’re motivated to move in.”
Loren still owns that first duplex, which she recently refinanced so it’ll be paid off by the time she’s fifty. The property is part of her retirement plan, one piece of the financial security she created by investing in real estate in paradise.