8 questions with real estate investor, entrepreneur and digital nomad Sarah Weaver
Sarah Weaver’s third rental property acquisition took long-distance investing to a new extreme: She bought the Omaha, Nebraska, fourplex sight unseen from 8,000 miles away in New Zealand.
That might sound risky to some investors, but to Weaver, who has been managing her investments from the road as a digital nomad for about three years, “what would have been riskier would be to leave my life in New Zealand, fly to Nebraska, knock on doors, go to showings and essentially waste that (travel) time.”
Weaver, who grew up in Overland Park, Kansas, got her start in real estate as an agent but quickly realized she wanted a career that would let her travel the world. She took a remote job at a real estate recruiting company and bought her first rental property in 2017. Since then, she’s built a portfolio of 19 units in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri while traveling internationally in New Zealand, Indonesia, Guatemala and more.
During that time, Weaver also launched several real estate-related businesses, including ones offering coaching, retreat event planning and property management services. She’s also built a following on Instagram, where she shares her journey as a traveler and investor.
Weaver spoke with Story about how she manages properties as a digital nomad, the perks and challenges of life on the road and why she thinks everyone needs a personal “board of directors.”
Story: How did you get comfortable investing in properties sight unseen?
SW: Long-distance investing is a team sport. You need a trustworthy, investor-friendly agent who is good at finding off-market deals, analyzing those deals and negotiating on your behalf. I tell them what property types I’m looking for, my price range, how much renovation I’m willing to do, the type of neighborhood I want to buy in and the investment strategy I’m using.
It doesn’t serve you to just tell your agent you want a great deal. Being really specific shows them you’re serious, and if they’re a good agent, they’ll go out and look for those deals.
I recommend networking with other investors to find those investor-friendly agents and other members of your on-the-ground team.
Story: What’s your No. 1 tip for managing properties remotely?
SW: I think it’s actually better to manage long-distance. You’re never tempted to drive over there yourself; you’re never picking up a hammer. But you have to build out a system. Along with your on-the-ground team, you need a long and detailed vendor list. It shouldn’t just say, “Noah the handyman.” It should have his email and phone number and a list of all the services he offers.
You’re going to get that phone call at 9 a.m. on Saturday in Bali or Guatemala or Vietnam, and you need to be able to pull up your vendor list and text the right person to get the issue taken care of.
Story: What’s your favorite thing about your lifestyle?
SW: My favorite part is being able to make and maintain connections around the world. Next week, I’m headed to an event in Nashville, where I’ll get to meet up with a friend. Not many people travel as much as I do, and I’m really grateful for the connections it’s brought me. I say this absolutely full of gratitude: Sometimes my Tuesday is better than other peoples’ vacations.
Story: The digital nomad lifestyle can look pretty glamorous. What’s the toughest thing about navigating life on the road?
SW: I’ve been doing this for seven years, and the tough things all feel silly and trivial. I miss full-size beauty products. In places I don’t speak the language well, I miss being able to order something at a restaurant and get exactly what I want.
Story: Do you have a favorite book, podcast or other resource that’s helped you as an investor?
SW: The book “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. It’s incredible; they talk about the four things that are getting in your way of being productive. It’s so applicable not only to real estate but everything in life.
Story: Tell me about a mistake you learned from.
SW: I didn’t hire fast enough. In addition to owning 19 units in four states, I have four companies. Arya Design Services helps furnish and launch rental units, Arya Management helps investors manage rentals and Invested Adventures takes investors on adventures around the world. I also coach real estate agents and investors.
As a solopreneur, I was scared to be responsible for someone’s full-time salary. The last eight months have been hard on my personal life. I was working long hours and not taking care of my health or being as social as I’d like to be. I could have fixed that if I’d hired employees sooner. Now I have two, based in Nashville and the Philippines, and they help with both my businesses and investments.
Story: Who’s your sounding board? Is there anyone in your life you make big decisions with?
SW: I have what I call my board of directors: investor friends — Haley McLaughlin, Sylvia Santelli and Sarah King — all of whom I connected with through real estate investing events and Instagram. They keep me sane. When a tenant calls and says the roof fell down, they tell me, “You know what to do. Don’t freak out; call the contractor and apologize to the tenant.”
For new investors, my best advice is to not do it alone. Find your board of directors. Go to events with other investors and meet people.
Story: Do you have any other advice for networking in the industry?
SW: My recommendation is to have at least two mentors: one who’s two steps ahead of you, and one who’s 10 to 20 steps ahead. Having that person who’s 10 to 20 steps ahead is wonderful and necessary because they’re showing you what’s possible. However, they might not remember what it was like 20 steps ago — the fear, the unknowns, the silly questions. So you also have to have that person who’s two steps ahead and still close to what you’re going through.
By Lauren Zumbach from Story by J.P. Morgan