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A couple in their 30s breaks down how they came to own 21 rental units in affordable, high-appreciating areas across the country — and share their approach for picking top cities, realtors, and financing strategies

This is a photo of Sean Pan on the left and Sharon Tseung on the right, sitting next to each other.Sean Pan and Sharon Tseung

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Sharon Tseung and Sean Pan both had an interest real-estate investing before they even met. Tseung had bought her first property in 2013, in the San Francisco Bay Area, splitting the down payment with her brother and later buying him out. 

Pan also bought his first home in the Bay Area, along with six out-of-state rental units in Jacksonville, Florida. Being able to purchase property in more affordable regions had always been an attractive deal for Pan. 

"As you can imagine in the Bay Area, you're buying a property for about $1 million and it rents for about $3,000 per month," Pan said. "So that doesn't even cover your mortgage, let alone your expenses like insurance, payments, taxes, and operating expenses. Whereas in Florida, you can buy a property for say a $100,000 and it rents for $1,000." 

Tseung continued to be interested in real estate after purchasing her first property but refrained from it for a few years. One barrier to entry was the high property costs in her area. Cheaper alternatives in other cities meant a lot of unknown factors for her. 

After Teung met Pan, they began researching various states and cities that would allow them to maximize their investments in areas that have great appreciation potential. Tseung became open to the idea of investing remotely. 

Now, they own 21 units across the country with the 22nd in escrow, according to property documents viewed by Insider. Tseung has 11 rental units under her name, while Pan has six, and together they co-own an additional four. 

"It was just such an advantage when you got the Bay Area wage but you're able to invest in more affordable markets," Tseung said.

Now they teach others to do the same through both their YouTube channels under the username Sharon Tseung and Sean Pan, as well as a course they teach called Remote Rental Riches. 

They shared with Insider the key steps that help them pick the right properties.

They use data to narrow down the best region

The first step is narrowing down the market to areas that have the most appreciation value for rental properties. They use a website called City-Data, which allows them to look up key metrics such as population growth, income growth, appreciation of housing prices, and lower crime rates. For job-growth data they use a website called Department of Numbers.

They keep a spreadsheet that tracks the key data points until they're able to narrow down areas that score well on all the categories.

"Ultimately, I would say job growth and population growth are probably your biggest driving factors," Pan said. "Secondary factors are still important of course like, what is the market price?" 

He continued, "If you have two cities with similar job growth and population growth, but one costs like $500,000 for an average property and one costs $100,000 for the property, we feel that we can get better returns with the $100,000 one."

Finally, Pan adds that leaning towards areas that you are more familiar with is a good idea. For example, if you live in a hot state, purchasing a property where it snows a lot may not be a good idea. 

Building a team on the ground

Your team isn't a group of people that you'll employ directly. Simply put, it includes a real estate agent, a property manager, a mortgage lender, and potentially a contractor. 

The couple noted that finding good contacts on the ground is key because this will all be done remotely. This process will require research. Tseung usually starts with a simple google search for an agent and then uses referrals and online reviews and ratings to screen them. 

Real estate agents tend to be their first point of contact since they network with a lot of people within the industry. Historically, Tseung said they have been able to get great referrals for other contacts through the agent. 

"I also just call each and every one of them to ask them a bunch of different questions. I have like a script of questions basically that I collected," Tseung said. 

An essential part of the process is finding a good property management company. The questions Tseung asks for this part include how they screen tenants, what their eviction process looks like, how many units they're currently managing, and what their fees are. A good property manager will also have a plethora of knowledge on local rent rates and contractor prices for required repairs. 

Financing 

They typically aim to spend around $150,000 or less per unit. This allows them to budget about $30,000 for a 20% to 25% down payment.

They told Insider they reserve conventional loans — which is a regular mortgage with a low-interest rate and a 30-year term — for more expensive properties because there's a limit to how many you can qualify for. 

For cheaper properties or those around $100,000 or less, they either pay all cash or turn to commercial loans from small local banks. These loans require a smaller down payment of 15%. However, their interest rates are slightly higher, and their loan terms are shorter at 20 years.

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