• Dana Bull has been investing in real estate for over 10 years. She also coaches first-time investors.
  • New investors tend to focus too much on the property itself and not enough on its surroundings.
  • Another mistake is trying to time the market, said Bull.

Dana Bull admits to “kind of blindly falling into real estate.” 

When she first started investing, “there was no strategy,” the 33-year-old told Insider. “I just had to learn as I went and work through the problems — and there were a lot of problems.”

She bought her first home, a $200,000 condo in Salem, Massachusetts, in 2012 when she was 22. Since then, Bull has fine-tuned her investing strategy and gone from rookie investor to real estate expert. Today, she owns seven investment properties and 22 units in Massachusetts and considers herself financially independent, thanks to her investment properties. 

“I want to work because I love to work, but I don’t necessarily need to work,” said Bull. “It’s really powerful to be in that position in my early 30s without feeling like I need to compromise on my lifestyle.”

She works full-time in real estate in a variety of capacities: She’s a licensed agent, does real estate consulting and coaching, and launched a course in 2022 specifically geared towards investing in small, multi-family properties. 

Between her own experiences as an investor and the time she’s spent coaching clients, Bull has picked up on two common mistakes first-time investors make.

1. Focusing too much on the property itself — and ignoring the surroundings  

When it comes time to look at potential investment properties, it’s natural to spend a lot of time examining the building. 

“People really tend to focus on the property itself,” said Bull. “But the first thing you want to do is take a step back and look at the surroundings.” 

After all, you don’t have control over whether or not the property is close to a busy freeway or an airport, for example, which could cause noise pollution. 

Ask yourself, “Is there anything around the property that you perceive is going to impact its value in a positive or a negative way?” said Bull. “Is it next to some unsightly utility plant, and will people view that as a positive or a negative? Because that is something that you can’t change.”

Another key question to ask is: Do people rent in the area you’re considering investing in? 

“You need tenants,” emphasized Bull. “They are the lifeblood of your business. They’re the ones that are paying for everything.”

The pricey part of town might not necessarily be where renters are looking, she added:  “For a lot of first-time investors, their knee-jerk reaction is, ‘I’m going to buy in the nicest town that I can afford.’ Well, that town may not be primed as a rental community. There might be more single-family homes and people who own.”

Besides finding a market with a strong rental community, you want to look at job opportunities in the area.

“You want people to stay in the community,” said Bull. “I would be very hesitant to invest in an area that just has one big employer. If that company goes under, that’s a problem.” 

dana bull

Bull started buying real estate when she was 22.

Courtesy of Dana Bull

Other factors to consider are public transit, access to a downtown area with shops and restaurants, and school systems. 

Of course, the actual property you end up selecting is important as well — Bull prefers investing in multi-family homes — but start by figuring out where you want to buy. 

2. Trying to time the market

Markets are unpredictable, and there’s always going to be risk when it comes to any type of investing, but if that’s the one factor holding you back from buying real estate, Bull advises you to change your mentality.

“The biggest mistake that people can make is focusing on what’s happening with the market and trying to time it,” she said. “There are always going to be desirable things that are going on and undesirable things that are going on in the market.” 

For example, mortgage interest rates have been on the rise in 2022, leading to more contracts falling through as buyers are often priced out as interest rates increase.

“That’s not great. That reduces your buying power,” she noted. Instead of feeling discouraged, “figure out what your personal goals are and go and find an opportunity that’s going to support those goals.” Maybe you have to look at properties at a lower price point, or maybe you need to spend another six months saving cash to afford a bigger

down payment

“No matter what the conditions are, there’s always risks associated with real estate and you can talk yourself out of it,” said Bull. “You really need to put yourself in the center of the equation instead of putting market conditions in the center of the equation.”

A picture of a switch and lightbulb

Sign up for notifications from Insider! Stay up to date with what you want to know.
Subscribe to push notifications