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Achieving Financial Freedom with One Rental at a Time

Welcome to the world of real estate and business mastery, where Debbie and Elizabeth bring you insights from industry experts. Today, I’m excited to share the journey and expertise of Michael Zuber, author of “One Rental at a Time.” Michael’s story is a powerful account of how anyone can achieve financial freedom and retire early by acquiring rental properties. Buckle up because this ride is filled with essential knowledge on weathering financial storms, creating a solid investment strategy, and continuing to live a fulfilling life post-retirement.

My Journey to Financial Freedom


At 30 years old, I was deeply entrenched in the tech industry. I had a well-paying job in sales, worldwide responsibilities, and a hectic travel schedule. Despite this, I had no investments or assets to show for all my hard work. On my 30th birthday, I realized that my comfortable salary wasn’t going to provide for my future. A pivotal moment came when I stumbled upon the book “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. This book transformed my outlook on financial independence and investment strategies.

Buying My First Rental Property

Initially, I aimed to find investment properties within a 30-minute drive of my Bay Area home. When this didn’t pan out, I broadened my search and found Fresno, CA—a market with promising numbers situated two and a half hours away. In 2003, I purchased my first rental property on North Drive. To succeed, I dedicated myself to a thorough analysis of rental markets and sacrificed immediate comforts by living below my means to fund my investments.

Living Below Means to Invest

I committed to living well below my gross income, a strategy I call playing “good defense.” This allowed me to save more and invest in properties gradually. Sacrificing immediate luxuries meant building long-term wealth, and it’s a crucial step for anyone looking to get started in real estate investing.

Overcoming the 2008 Financial Crisis

Owning rental properties during the 2008 financial crisis posed numerous challenges. The market crash tested the resilience of my investments and acumen. Fortunately, my conservative approach to financing and thorough due diligence helped me weather one of the most significant financial crises since the Great Depression. By focusing on cash flow and ensuring my portfolio could withstand market downturns, I came out stronger on the other side.

One Rental At A Time: The Book

After achieving financial freedom, I felt compelled to give back by sharing my story and strategies. My book, “One Rental at a Time,” serves as a comprehensive guide through the ups and downs of a full real estate cycle. From the seller’s market of the early 2000s to the crash and subsequent recovery, the book provides invaluable lessons for aspiring and experienced investors alike.

The Importance of Getting to 4 Rentals

A milestone I emphasize is the concept of getting to four rental properties:

  1. Ease of Financing: You can secure investment loans relatively easily for up to four properties, benefiting from lower interest rates and fewer required reserves.
  2. Options After Four: Once you reach four rentals, you have a fork in the road. You can choose to stop and let your investments appreciate and generate cash flow over time, or you can decide to scale up your portfolio.
  3. Scaling to Ten Rentals: If you decide to expand, you can acquire up to ten properties with more complex financing options.
  4. Beyond Ten Properties: After ten, you’ll need to explore commercial loans and more advanced investment strategies.

My 5-Step Investing Formula

Learn the Market

To make informed investment decisions, you must learn your target market inside out. Analyze zip codes, property types, rental rates, and local property costs. Understanding these dynamics enables you to identify average, good, and great deals.

Understand the Numbers

Next, develop a thorough understanding of the numbers involved. Calculate your buying criteria including expected cash flow, ROI, and potential expenses. This keeps you grounded and prevents emotional decision-making.

Merge Market & Numbers

Merge your market knowledge with your financial criteria. This combined analysis will guide you in distinguishing between bad, average, good, and great deals.

Build & Manage a Team

Building a strong team is essential. Hire experts who can assist with property management, legal matters, and maintenance. Set clear expectations and don’t hesitate to replace underperforming team members. Good team management ensures smooth operations.

Review Goals & Celebrate Wins

Set short-term goals every six months to monitor your progress. Celebrate small wins to maintain motivation. This long-term approach prevents burnout and sustains your progress toward larger financial goals.

Creative Deal Structuring

Recent Deal Example

Here’s a recent deal to illustrate creative financing. I received an email from a seller wanting to offload rental properties. After some back-and-forth, we agreed on an owner-financed deal. He got his desired sale price of $900,000, and I secured a 5% interest loan, making the terms favorable for both parties. This creative structure added significant value to my portfolio while minimizing upfront costs.

Other Creative Strategies

  1. Owner Financing: Allows you to negotiate terms directly with the seller, often resulting in lower down payments and more favorable terms.
  2. BRRRR Method: Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat—this strategy helps to recycle capital for continuous investment.
  3. Cash Purchases: Provides negotiation leverage and can expedite closing times for favorable deals.

Life After Retirement

Life after retirement is fulfilling and balanced. I spend a couple of hours daily creating content for my YouTube channel, interacting with followers, and writing books. The rest of my day is mine to enjoy—whether that’s hiking, having breakfast with my wife, or working out. Every day feels like a Saturday, a true testament to the freedom that smart investing can bring.

Finding Deals Today

Owner Financing Deals

I continue to look for owner financing deals to add to my portfolio. These deals offer flexibility and can be structured to provide win-win scenarios for both the buyer and the seller.

Fix & Flip Slumlord Properties

I also focus on improving slumlord properties. I purchase rundown properties, renovate them, and sell them to responsible landlords. This initiative not only yields profits but also improves living conditions for tenants.

Biggest Challenges in Today’s Market

Overpaying for Apartments

A significant challenge today is the overpricing of apartments. Many investors are entering bidding wars, leading to unrealistic cap rates around 4-5%. This trend is risky and reminds me of the overinflated housing market prior to the 2008 crash.

Advice for Getting Started

  1. Start by Aiming for Four Rentals: Focus on acquiring your first four properties. This initial goal is achievable and lays a strong foundation.
  2. Live Below Your Means: Sacrifice immediate luxuries to save for investments. This strategy allows you to deploy more capital into your rental business.
  3. Execute and Stay Focused: Stick to your plan and execute it diligently. Avoid getting distracted by shiny object syndrome.
  4. Anyone Can Succeed: Regardless of your background, if you remain focused and persistent, you can succeed in real estate investing.


In conclusion, Michael Zuber’s journey to financial freedom through real estate investing provides a compelling blueprint for anyone aspiring to retire early and achieve lasting wealth. His methodical approach, from understanding market dynamics to strategic deal structuring, highlights the importance of disciplined investing and continuous learning. 

By focusing on acquiring and managing rental properties, living below your means, and leveraging creative financing, you can build a sustainable and profitable portfolio. Michael’s story is a testament to the power of persistence, smart investing, and the freedom that comes with financial independence. For more detailed guidance and inspiration, his book “One Rental at a Time” and YouTube channel are invaluable resources for both new and seasoned investors.

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