March 16, 2021

JF2387: Diversifying Your Portfolio By Investing In Multifamily Properties With Karen Oeser


Karen spent over 25 years in the traditional investment business. Her specialty was helping clients with fixed income. Since interest rates have plummeted in the past decade, Karen started looking for new investment opportunities for her clients. That’s why she left the traditional business and turned to the real estate market.

She started with single-family properties. But since her focus was on helping people mitigate risk, she went on to pursue multifamily property investment. She had the right skill set, so the transition was easy.

Karen Oeser Real Estate Background:

  • She left 25 years of traditional investing experience to pursue real estate
  • Have been investing in single-family for a few years and recently transitioned into multifamily
  • Portfolio consist of 3 single-family rentals and seeking new multifamily deals
  • Based in Greenville, SC
  • Say hi to her at: 
  • Best Ever Book: Hidden Investing – Holly Williams

Click here for more info on


Best Ever Tweet:

“I started with single-family, and that is a really great way to get your toe in the water ” – Karen Oeser.


Ash Patel: Hello, Best Ever listeners. Welcome to The Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever Show. I’m Ash Patel, and I’m here with today’s guest, Karen Oeser. Karen is joining us from Greenville, South Carolina. She left 25 years of traditional investing experience to pursue real estate. Karen started out with single-family deals and has transitioned into multifamily deals. Before we get started, Karen, can you tell us a little bit more about your background and what you’re focused on now?

Karen Oeser: Yeah, definitely. Thanks for having me. So glad to be here today. I was in the traditional investment business for nearly 25 years. My area of specialty within the traditional investment business was fixed income. I spent many years helping clients add income to their portfolios, but what happened over the last 10 years, as you well know, the interest rates, they’re hitting rock bottom. So to be able to find the kind of income for our clients, it was very difficult.

I was continuing to scour the markets and look for different opportunities and I just wasn’t pleased with what the options were out there. Because first, you go to your banks. What do you do? You go to your banks, and at these interest rates, you actually owe your bank money by the end, so that’s not a very good option. One of your other options is the traditional Treasury market, and that’s less than 1% in today’s market. That doesn’t work very well, especially when you’re looking as a traditional financial advisor, you’re charging one percent or so. Where’s your client going to make the money in that option?

Then there are corporate bonds – you have that, and you can make a little bit more money but then you add risk, because you’ve got corporate risk, and especially pre COVID… My goodness, it was pretty difficult. So people traditionally go into fixed income because they think it’ll be fixed income, and it’s safe. But the market actually wasn’t bearing that out, and you don’t feel very good about bringing your clients into that. So I decided, “You know what? There’s got to be a different way.” That’s when I left the traditional business, just a little bit over a year ago, and I jumped into the real estate market.

Now I started out with single-family as you said in the introduction, and that is a really good way to get your toe in the water. It’s a really good way to understand how the real estate market works and learn a lot of the terms of discussion. But one of the things I realized pretty quickly, again, my heart is to help people to mitigate risk. And with single-family, especially in this environment, because COVID was just starting to come in, and as soon as that starts to happen, you can have your tenants and they leave.

So if you have a portfolio of one, one tenant leaves for three months, well, that doesn’t seem like a very risk-free option. So that didn’t feel very good. So the next thing you do is maybe let me own two or three houses, but still one tenant leaves, you lose 33% of your portfolio; that doesn’t feel very safe. That’s when I was introduced to multifamily. A good friend of mine came in and said, “Look, you have a very good skill set for going into multifamily, because you understand how to talk to investors.” You know, investor relations is obviously the area that’s a natural fit for me, and I do love to look at the valuations and that as well. That’s all very easy for me to understand. So what I had to do is I had to learn about the markets themselves. That’s when I started looking closer and closer and I thought, “Man, this is amazing. Who’s been keeping the secret all these years? This is a perfect thing.”

It’s very interesting, because in the traditional market, your real estate is considered “other”. It’s usually the home that you own, which is a different asset in itself. So there’s this new asset class that’s growing, and it’s called alternative investments. That’s where this fits perfectly into it. So I’m not here to completely disparage stocks, or bonds, or any of that. You can have a very well-diversified portfolio, but you’re really selling yourself short if you don’t have a broader diversified portfolio. Multifamily is a fabulous asset, because as the demographic there is shifting, it becomes actually a safer and safer market to go into… Because people always need a place to live; it doesn’t matter if you have COVID, doesn’t matter if the economy’s going up or down, people still need a place to live. If they can’t afford to own a home, they have an apartment that they can move into. So we’re actually doing them a service giving them a place to live.

Ash Patel: Karen, what a transition from the exciting world of fixed income to real estate… So you were blown away by the returns that you can make in real estate. Why did you not know about this in 25 years being in the fixed income world?

Karen Oeser: It’s called a silo. [laughter] We live in a silo and it’s like an us and them world. Because like I said, I’m a CFA, I’m a Chartered Financial Analyst, which is the highest designation you can get in the investment world, so I’m not here to disparage my brethren. But at the same time, I’m actually educating them as well. I live in South Carolina and am on their National Public Radio show because they were interested in learning more about it. Traditionally they only have people coming in and talking about traditional assets on there, and people are hungry to learn about more.

Ash Patel: I want to deep dive into this. Back to your investing career… What were your typical clients that were looking for the fixed income returns? Is it elderly people? People that already built their nest egg and they just want to preserve capital?

Karen Oeser: That’s a very good question. To answer it, they’re primarily people that are just going into retirement. Over these cycles, what’s happened, and it yet even feeds into why this is an interesting asset across no matter where you are in your demographic… Because what has happened is, first I came into the market you have the dot-bomb. So you had people that have put their entire nest egg into that. Then you had the real estate crash, that primarily hit the single-family as we know. So people keep having to rebuild their portfolios. So it’s actually those same people that keep coming back, and they’re like, “I don’t really want to put my assets at risk again.” So they’re really people who are saying, “I have been burnt so many times, and I know the mattress probably isn’t the answer either. But I’m feeling better about that than what my options seem to be.” So it seems like there’s this huge secret that nobody tells you about.

That’s actually one of the things that I’ve been doing, is rather than saying I’m a competitor to the financial advisory market, that’s one of the areas that I’ve gone through, and I’ve talked to several financial advisors and I said, “Let us partner. This is a beautiful partnership.” Because this is a way to diversify your client’s portfolios, as well as a way to add a lot of oomph and a lot of power into the returns that your clients really need… Especially those that are trying to rebuild their portfolios.

The stock market has really had a really nice turnaround. People were surprised, actually, by how well the market’s done this past year in the world of COVID. But the fact remains, the vast majority of people didn’t put their money back in there and it stayed in their mattresses.

Ash Patel: Especially the older people that were jaded from a couple of market cycles. So were you able to retain a lot of your clients through this real estate transition? And are you able to get them investing in real estate?

Karen Oeser: You know, I had a non-compete within my company, so we couldn’t do that. But I am reaching out; they’re finding out through LinkedIn and through other ways. But the fact is, I know how to speak to clients like this, I know how to hold our hands through, I know the questions they have, I know how to look at the portfolio in a very broad and diversified way, so they can feel good about it.

One thing about it – I’d really like to go back to the risk, because that’s really where people want to camp out on there as well. It goes back down to — let’s say you’ve got 100 doors, you’ve got one tenant that’s missing… That is going to be a fraction of your portfolio. It will not even be a blip on your return. So when you’re going back into the traditional markets and you say, “Okay, I’ll have one fixed-income fund, I’ll have one particular fund”, you can have one company that could go down and it can wipe the whole thing out. That’s why it’s so important to have such a broad diversity within your holdings, both in terms of when you’re buying your properties… Because it’s not healthy just to buy one property as well. You want to diversify it as well.

Ash Patel: Do you think one of the reasons that your typical financial advisor isn’t promoting real estate is because it’s difficult for them to get paid on these types of investments?

Karen Oeser: Yeah, I think that’s fair.

Ash Patel: How do you find a solution for that? You’re looking to bridge these gaps, so what can you do to innovate a solution where they can be rewarded and their clients can get exposure to real estate?

Karen Oeser: These advisors get paid on a percentage of the assets under management. Some are commission-based. But where this really can add some value is to those that are paid as a percent of their assets, because you’re looking at particular properties now that you’re getting 12% IRR on it… Well, if you’re going for 1% of assets under management and you’re going up to a 12% return, the return they’re getting paid for their clients is on their total assets under management. So when you’re helping their clients, you’re helping them as well, so it’s actually a symbiotic relationship.

Ash Patel: So it’s a win-win-win.

Karen Oeser: It is. Absolutely.

Ash Patel: Good. So are you looking to partner with some of these financial advisors in the future and get their clients to invest in some kind of vehicle that you’re putting together?

Karen Oeser: Exactly. That’s what I’m in the process of doing. As you know, I’m fairly new to this whole multifamily, but what I’m finding is I’m developing a lot of relationships… Because with my CFA, a lot of people will take my call. So I’ve developed a lot of relationships with the local banks here, and different financial advisors, because I am part of that club, so they’ll take my call. Whereas if you don’t have any experience, they won’t take your calls. So I’ve got a real big leg up in terms of developing that client base and that investor base.

Ash Patel: You’ve got me excited about all the potential opportunities in front of you. Where is this going to be in three years? Let’s say two years – what are you going to be doing in two years to leverage all of your experience, all of your contacts, your relationships, and your knowledge of both the financial world and now the real estate world, where everybody gets to benefit?

Karen Oeser: One of the big areas that I’m really focused on as well is on financial literacy. That’s financial literacy across the board, and that’s even financial literacy for the experts in the financial markets… Because it’s about knowing what your opportunity set is. Once advisors get a taste of this, it’s very, very exciting… Because literally, it blows my mind that I hadn’t even been introduced to it. The closest we get to it in the traditional markets is in the REITs, but that’s still a completely different animal, and the assets are so diluted by the time that they get to the clients, it’s not the same thing.

The other beautiful thing about this is their clients are actually getting a piece of a physical asset. They could actually go and drive by these apartment buildings. It’s different than a nefarious stock that’s over here [unintelligible [00:14:21].21]  something else. But these are physical assets that are real; this isn’t funny money.

Ash Patel: One of the challenges, when I try to explain to people what it is that I do, is to get them to understand the returns. Have you had those moments where people just don’t believe that these returns are possible?

Karen Oeser: Every time. They think you’re nuts.

Ash Patel: Okay. So you’re talking the same language to people that you’ve been in the same industry for 25 years. How do you overcome that? How do you get them to actually believe, “Oh, my god, wait a minute. I’ve had blinders on. How do I take them off and do what you’re doing?” How do you explain to them that this is a real thing and these double-digit returns are real?

Karen Oeser: Well, it’s my case study, quite honestly. You have to go by case studies. Obviously, now that I’m an owner myself, I’m a passive owner in some real estate now, I actually can speak from experience… Because I can actually talk about the process and what it takes. These deals are so well-vetted… And as you know, in this market, it is really hard to get deals through with managers that don’t do a good job at that, because it’s a very small universe, and income is very self-selecting. People know what it takes to get — what returns are real. They’ll know the markets if they square, because as you know, there are different asset classes. So if you go out there and sell a Class A, for example, with class C numbers, people know that that doesn’t square.

So that’s one of the things you do, depending on how sophisticated your investors are. The more sophisticated investors want to get into the weeds a little bit more, and then you can educate them what’s the difference between a class A, class B, Class C. But that’s no different than talking about when you’re in the traditional investment world and you’re saying, “Well, we’ve decided to go more defensive”, and the type of stocks you buy for that versus high aggressive growth; there’s no difference. This just happens to be an apartment building that’s different. So there are different classes and industries within that.

Ash Patel: That’s a great explanation. You spent a lot of your life mitigating risk. Now, listen, our real estate cycle, we’re up there, we’re up high…

Karen Oeser: Yeah, we are…

Ash Patel: What’s your mind doing knowing that there could be some risk around the corner? And how do you leverage that or how do you remediate that?

Karen Oeser: Well, remediating is vetting the managers you choose to work with and looking at their track record and who they’re working with. And again, for example, that’s one of the reasons I intentionally chose to own a couple of passive investments before I decided to be an active investor. Because if I just went and jumped into it without getting the proper training and knowing who I’m working with, well, that’s one of the things that you look for. You look for managers that have good experience, working with people that know what they’ve been doing, and also have worked through several cycles. Some people can jump on the bandwagon, but if they haven’t been through cycles and know how to manage them, that’s no different than going with a brand new portfolio manager in the traditional stock market and say, “Hey, where were you for that bubble? How did you handle that bubble?” These are the questions that you teach, that build confidence. When you go and talk to the manager and they say, “Yeah, we’ve been through this last cycle, we know what to do.” Understanding what vacancy rates mean, because vacancy rates, obviously, in this market are one of the big measurement tools for how well-managed the property is.

Ash Patel: So what I’m hearing is you’re not terribly concerned with a downturn in the economy as long as there are good operators that you’ve put your money into.

Karen Oeser: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And knowing how they invest, because this is a speculative investment… And if you want a speculative investment, all the power to you to do that, but you need to understand that you’re investing in that. So yes, there’s some risky stuff out there, and if you’re especially going in the class As in the top tier markets, you can get yourself burnt, because that’s getting pretty toppy right now.

Ash Patel: Yeah, that’s getting rough.

Karen Oeser: It is. Would I advise clients to be jumping into that? I don’t think so. Because that’s how you mitigate risk.

Ash Patel: And would you consider doing a syndication of your own? You being the general partner, you forming the syndication?

Karen Oeser: Not solo. That’s part of risk mitigation as well. You mitigate through the minds you put together. So what you do is you put together people that have been through different cycles and that come in with different strengths. Because one of the mistakes people make when they come into the market is you’ll get somebody who has worked in construction, for example, and they say, “Well, I know how to do the rehab” but they’re having a value-add property, and you get a bunch of people only know how to do that, but you don’t have people that know how to manage the books, and you don’t have people that know how they manage the flow, how to manage your property management company… So that’s what you do. This is really how you can mitigate the risk in this market, is understanding who you’re doing business with, both on the operator side as an active investor, or on the passive investment side as well.

Ash Patel: I think that’s a great outlook, because over the last several years, syndication is hot, and everybody wants to be a syndicator. I don’t think one of the things that are in their mind is assembling this team of people to help me and do it right. I think individuals have goals where “I’m going to syndicate this deal, and I’m going to make money leveraging other people’s money”, not thinking about the burden that that bears on you, how much of a risk it is, and how difficult it is to do it all by yourself. So assembling that team is great advice.

Karen Oeser: In fact, for any of your listeners, I’d warn them. If you’re going to somebody that’s a one or two-man show, be wary. It’s one thing if you’re talking 10 doors, but if we’re talking about anything 50 doors or above, you really want to have a team that has at least three members on it, if not more, that they all have something unique and special that they can bring to the table. One my partners that I work with, my favorite saying is one plus one equals five. It goes for this teamwork. The more people you have on there, there’s a multiplication effect. But you need to have people that have a broad set of experiences, so they can say, “I’ve seen this movie before, and then when this happened, this is what we did to mitigate that risk.” And you’re so grateful for that experience.

Ash Patel: What are some of the other things you look at in vetting some of these syndicators?

Karen Oeser: I have to say ego is a big one. That’s part of my old school coming back into it as well…

Ash Patel: They have to have an ego, right?

Karen Oeser: Well, you have to have an ego, but you can’t have an ego. It’s a dance. The problem is, if this just becomes a one-person show, that team won’t be successful. Because you need to have a team that shares and values each member. I have to say, having come from the traditional world, I am very impressed with the level of camaraderie within our industry. I’m also impressed with accepting the fact that teams are important, and we welcome that. And the other thing is, we all know each other, and that’s another thing. So we bring each other into different deals.

Some people will assemble one single team and they’ll only invest with that team. I call myself the diversification queen, so I can’t do that by definition. I’d rather work with different people in different markets that have a team assembled for “Get a Class C, get a Class B.” Then you’re talking different size markets; you’ve got your smaller markets, your second-tier markets, third-tier markets… And you want people that have experiences in that. I don’t want to be in my B class in my second-tier market if it’s a Class C property. I need somebody with a different set of experiences for that.

Ash Patel: That’s a great observation. I’m going to assume from what little I know about the financial industry that your peers were a lot more competitive, versus in real estate, everyone’s more cooperative.

Karen Oeser: Yes, we didn’t share very well.

Ash Patel: Yeah. It’s amazing with real estate, you’re absolutely right. People will give away all their secrets, they’ll share their ideas, they’ll collaborate, and they’ll often find that that’s what increases your level of success, is the collaboration and sharing.

Karen Oeser: And that level of vulnerability, to say, “I don’t know what I’m talking about. Can you tell me what you know?” As you said, the other thing that blows me away is people’s willingness to share.

Ash Patel: Right. Back to your ego comment right?

Karen Oeser: Yeah. Exactly.

Ash Patel: Put that ego away, get out there, ask the questions, be vulnerable, get a mentor, learn from others. Hey, imagine if you had learned these lessons 25 years ago and you never got into the fixed income game, and started out right in real estate.

Karen Oeser: Oh, my goodness. I know, I know. And the life skills that you learn within this as well. The other thing I’m really touched by this industry is not only the level of cooperation and collaboration, but also people’s desire to contribute. One of the first things that they ask you in your classes is “What’s your why?” They don’t ask you that question in a traditional business. What’s your why? What gets you out of bed every day? Who do you want to be able to help? Who do you want to be able to serve? Everybody likes to talk about who they’re serving and how they’re helping them. It’s really uplifting. I still think that I’m taken aback by the level of generosity that our community has, and what we teach others, and that kind of behavior.

Ash Patel: I’m glad you transitioned and are able to experience that. With that being said, what is your why?

Karen Oeser: My why is financial literacy for women. Your viewers may or may not know that women control over half the investable assets in this country, yet many of them – it’s sitting under a mattress for a lot of the reasons we talked about earlier in this call. I’ve actually created an organization called Financial Literacy For Her. It’s a place where we come, it’s a place for both mindset development, as well as learning about investments. It’s more of a support group environment where women can come and ask their questions and talk about what is an interest rate, why does it matter? How do I put my portfolio together? What is a portfolio? To some people that’s even a little bit advanced.

So we’re setting it up so that we have an entry-level, intermediate, and more advanced… Because some people have a lot of assets and they just need some help deploying them. Some people don’t have two pennies to rub together and they need somewhere to start. That’s really where I want to help with the younger generation as well, is teaching them how to think about money.

Another thing I’m putting together – and again, this is where I’m taken aback by the generosity – is I’m putting together a scholarship fund to help fund scholarships for women who really want to step into this and get some help investing, and be able to have a support system to help them start investing and making these wise decisions. Because once you start making money and you’ve been able to get a taste of it, it’s very exciting. Then those women share with other women and it becomes a collaborative environment to help everybody grow and be wise with their money.

Ash Patel: That’s an amazing why, and you are the ideal person to lead a crusade like that. A question that that brings up is a lot of these women that you mentor – do you recommend that they manage their own finances and their own investments? Or you as a professional, like somebody that was in the industry that you came from?

Karen Oeser: That’s a very good question. It goes back down to the teams, and it’s very interesting. So that’s one of the things that is very important with us at Financial Literacy For Her, is we make sure that we have a team of advisors. Just like we do on the multifamily where you have accountants, you have lawyers, you have everybody within the whole ecosystem…  And that is something that I really want to let the women know as well, it’s like, “Let’s work together as a team”, because if any of those service providers are fixated or are working in a silo, they probably don’t have your best interest in hand. Because it’s not all about law, it’s not all about accounting, it’s not all about financial advising. We’re all here to help you grow your assets in your estate.

So my greater vision of where I want this to go, is I actually have this emblem, the Financial Literacy For Her, and my goal is I want to reach out to service providers where they have that, so our clients will know that this is someplace they believe in collaboration, they believe in a team effort, and they will help you grow your entire assets.

Ash Patel: That was an epiphany. You blew my mind, because we look at the team behind the syndications and we ask a lot of questions. But when it comes to somebody managing your entire portfolio, your entire net worth, you really don’t do the same research. It’s just not a thing. You could put $20,000 into a syndication, and oh my God, you ask questions, you get references, you visit their properties, you interview their managers… But you can give your entire life savings to a financial advisor and really not think a lot of it. It could be one person and not a team, as you mentioned.

Karen Oeser: That’s what happens. I saw that a lot over my years, is that people would be three years from retirement and no one would talk to them about estate planning.

Ash Patel: Yeah, you’re making me question a lot of things.

Karen Oeser: Yeah, that’s what goes on. Part of it is because there’s this  whole specialty mentality, and it’s back to the ego again… It’s “Let me keep my world in my silo.” That’s why a lot of these bubbles happen. Think about it like accountability groups. You get your team of accountability partners. They keep you out of trouble when you’re like, “Okay, my eyes are wandering and I’m thinking about jumping into this investment, or I’m buying this insurance policy, or thinking about playing around with this accounting rule.” Well, your team of collaborators is there to keep you honest and keep you accountable for where you’re going and what your goals are.

Everybody on your team should know what your goals are, they should know what your why is, where you want to go. That’s also like with the Financial Literacy For Her company – what we’re doing is we’re saying what are your goals? What are your dreams? Is everything that you’re doing in your life leading you to that road?

Ash Patel: You have an amazing outlook. You make people question a lot of things that are just done a certain way. Karen, what’s your Best Ever real estate investing advice?

Karen Oeser: Oh, that’s a good question. That is get a coach who you understand and apply everything I just said to the coach as well. Because if the coach is not coachable as well and the coach isn’t growing, you’re going to only go as far as that coach can take you. So you want coaches that are collaborators. One of the things that I tell the people I introduce to this market that say, “Where do I start?” I said, “Find somebody who has an energy level that matches yours, because you want to grow with that level.” Some people grow at different levels; some people are racehorses and want to go, some people want to be very slow, very methodical.

It’s very important to find people where there’s an energy match to keep up, because that’s also how you make sure that everybody’s contributing at an equal rate. Because if you have a couple of racehorses and then a couple of people behind that don’t want to move at the same pace, that doesn’t make for a healthy environment. So knowing who you’re working with… And you always want to grow. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. That is so important and coaches are so important to that. The basics of the coaching program are pretty similar, but it’s all those extras that are important that really can help you grow.

Ash Patel: That is phenomenal advice. Karen, are you ready for the lightning round?

Karen Oeser: Okay, here we go!

Ash Patel: Let’s do it. First, a quick word from our partners.

Break: [00:30:08][00:30:29]

Ash Patel: Karen, what’s the Best Ever book you recently read?

Karen Oeser: Hidden investing by Holly Williams.

Ash Patel: And what was your wow moment in that book?

Karen Oeser: My wow moment for that is because she’s like-minded with me and she wants to know that there are so many hidden tools within the investment world that we’re bringing it to the masses.

Ash Patel: Wonderful. Karen, what’s the Best Ever way you like to give back? You talked about your foundation, that’s incredible.

Karen Oeser: What I like to do is I like to give back — women are my passion. I like to help women who’ve been struggling, who have every passion and every desire to move forward, but they just need that one little push, that one little thing, that one little piece of information that will nudge them forward. Having met me for one day, or somebody on my team, if we know that we’ve made their life a little bit better, that’s the Best Ever.

Ash Patel: I think you’ve inspired a lot of people with your podcast today. Karen, how can the Best Ever listeners reach out to you?

Karen Oeser: Yes, you can reach out to me — the best way, I have East Light Investments, which our website is If you want to download a report that tells you the 10 reasons why I left the traditional investment world, that gives a little bit more meat behind what we talked about today, you can go to our website and you can download a free copy of that report.

Ash Patel: That’s amazing. Karen, you’ve got an incredible story. 25 years of having the blinders on in the fixed income industry, and somehow you’re able to find real estate, adapt to that, and now you’ve found a whole new calling with helping women. What a great story. Thank you so much for sharing that with me today.

Karen Oeser: You are most welcome. Thank you so much for having me and have a blessed day.

Ash Patel: You as well. Karen, thank you.

Karen Oeser: You’re welcome.

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