Christy Liu found herself in an enviable predicament in October 2012 when her travel discovery startup Wanderfly got acquired by TripAdvisor (TRIP).
“It was the first time in a long time that I had some money and I didn’t know what to do with it, really kickstarting my desire to do some research because it didn’t seem right to just keep it in a bank. That’s when I started to get in touch with financial advisors,” Liu told Yahoo Finance.
She started by contacting the wealth manager of her boyfriend’s parents, but she left meetings with him feeling quite discouraged — primarily because he seemed out of touch with the various ways that a young professional can invest her money.
“It was a bumpy experience. It felt as if he wasn’t up to date on all the latest and greatest in terms of how to invest money and some of the new technologies,” she said. “I’m really into technology and the digital world in general so I felt as though i should be leveraging some of those opportunities that he wasn’t.”
Though Liu, 34, still has one-third of her portfolio in equities, she uses robo-advisor Wealthfront to manage these assets, not a traditional advisor. She says she’s diversifying more and more to opportunities like solar because she’s growing increasingly wary of the stock market.
“The market’s wild fluctuations could be due to macro events that aren’t in your control. I love real estate because you can physically go to the property and there’s less distance between you and your money. I’ve definitely shied away from the market,” she says.
And she’s not the only millennial who’s hesitating to go all into equities. The Harris Poll survey found 79% are not currently investing in the stock market, 41% said they feel they don’t know enough about money and 34% said they don’t know how to go about investing in the stock market.
Since selling her startup, Liu has been working at Facebook (FB) as a creative strategist. But she says her personal passion lies in real estate.
After doing some research about various ways to invest in property, she came across a real estate crowdfunding platform called RealtyShares. About a year ago, she decided to invest $50,000 of her assets into the company. Her projected returns on these properties are between 8%-15%, and she receives either monthly or quarterly reports on their progress.
RealtyShares invests Liu’s $50,000 in seven to 10 different investments on its platform. People have the option to invest in both commercial and residential properties, and both equity or debt investments. House flipping makes up about 30% of the business, according to Nav Athwal, the founder and CEO of RealtyShares.
RealtyShares provides a much more diversified way to invest in real estate with fewer resources than were once required, but other restrictions limit the pool of people who can consider investing through RealtyShares.
There’s a minimum investment requirement of $5,000 and individuals must be accredited investors, meaning the net worth or joint net worth with the person’s spouse must exceed $1 million or the individual must have received an annual income of at least $200,000 in each of the two most recent years. For people just starting their careers, this is far from a reality.
Historically, investing in real estate is extremely capital intensive, costing people at least $100,000 to invest in a single asset — leaving investors with a very one-dimensional, concentrated investment, Athwal told Yahoo Finance.
“It’s making real estate accessible for the first time in a way that it’s never been before. Real estate is a massive market, as big as the stock market in terms of market cap,” he says. “But buying a share of a building or a single family home has been historically very, very difficult. So we’re very proud to be catering to a broad set of investors through our marketplace and helping them diversify into real estate.”
RealtyShares has helped 20,000 individuals invest $150 million of capital through its platform, financing 300 investments across 30 states. Athwal says the company receives over 1,000 online applications from various developers across the US. It then selects 3% of those developers to get connected with individuals who have a minimum of $5,000 to invest.
Athwal acknowledges that most people invested through RealtyShares are already invested in traditional assets like equities and bonds, but are looking for an opportunity to diversify.
“A lot of our investors are already in the stock market. Many are angel investors in technology companies and have exposure to other investment vehicles, though a lot of them don’t,” he says.
EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE $5,000…
For those who are cash-poor millennials still looking to invest in real estate, there are alternatives.
Liu is also invested in Fundrise, another crowdfunding platform that has 80,000 members who have invested in nearly $3 billion worth of real estate. Fundrise, unlike RealtyShares, offers an eREIT model, which allows non-accredited investors to participate in its offerings, according to a company spokesperson.
Similar to passive investment platforms like Wealthfront and Betterment, users have the option to check on their investments on Fundrise and Realtyshares’ dashboards. But Liu says she doesn’t do so on a regular basis. “The details are there if i want to see them, but I’m not interested in the day-to-day management of any of those properties. I trust that the platform is doing their due diligence in order to make sure that everything is running well,” she says.
Athwal says he’s confident in RealtyShare’s thorough underwriting process. Of course, that doesn’t safeguard investors from risks entirely.
“We vet every opportunity — now that doesn’t mean returns are guaranteed or investors shouldn’t expect risk,” he says. “There’s risk involved with every single opportunity involved in Realtyshares just like there would be if you’re invested in shares of Apple or Tesla.”
Liu says she told her parents about diversifying into real estate, and they initially reacted with confusion and skepticism. “At first they were like ‘what is this crazy stuff that you’re doing?’” she says. “But they read up on it and they trusted my analysis of it and saw my performance on these platforms so they have a portion of their investments on some of these platforms too.”
Melody Hahm is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Read more of her work:
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