Search for Whitney Nicely on YouTube, and the first image you’ll come across is her bright, smiling face surrounded by a fluff of brown curls. For Nicely, and many other women in real estate investment, that sweet facade often stops them from being taken seriously in what she calls “an old boys club.”
But video by video, conference by conference and deal by deal, Nicely is working to dismantle the “club” by smashing stereotypes and empowering a legion of women to do the same through her group seminars and one-on-one coaching business.
“Real estate, especially real estate investing, is a good ol’ boys club,” said Nicely in her Tennessee twang. “If you go to a real estate investor meeting anywhere across the country, it’s usually 90 percent men, and there weren’t any women teaching other women how to get started.”
Before becoming an expert six-figure real estate investor, Nicely was a 24-year-old making $24,000 a year while working a 9-to-5 and living with her parents.
Tired of scraping by, Nicely considered jumping into real estate investing, something she saw her mother do throughout her childhood.
Nicely followed her mother’s method — she saved up a few thousand dollars and started buying plots of land in East Tennessee hoping that she’d be able to rent them out and make a profit. Like her mother, Nicely said she had no “plans, licenses or strategies,” and her strategy backfired.
“I went broke trying to get rich,” she said laughing.
In 2014, Nicely decided to give real estate investing another try, but this time she wasn’t going to wing it — she was going to learn all she could by attending real estate investing classes and conferences and hopefully connect with a female mentor who could help her navigate the male-dominated industry.
But as she walked into her first class, Nicely noticed something: there were only two other women there. She had expected to see more.
“I’ll never forget walking into two of my first real estate investing classes because I was not a real estate investor when I walked in. I wanted to be a real estate investor,” Nicely said. “I remember looking around and there were two other women in a room of 50 people.”
“I went up and started talking to the other two women and started asking, ‘Why are we the only women here?'”
Nevertheless, Nicely pushed through and began her investing journey again with a $1,500 plot of undeveloped land right outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. Unlike the first time, Nicely paid special attention to how the land was zoned — it was industrial.
“I think the zoning is more important than the location because you can’t just find industrial land,” she said.
Now, Nicely rakes in $10,000 per year from companies who use that plot for storage or other needs.
All you need is $10
After that, she was hooked — Nicely began buying homes, the first of which only cost her $10. She often shares the story of that home as proof that any woman, no matter her economic background, can become an investor and build a solid financial future.
One day, Nicely was poring through listings on Zillow and found a For sale by owner (FSBO) listing in her area. She decided to give the seller a call, and found out the couple needed to sell the listing quickly since their pregnant daughter moved back and there wasn’t enough space.
The couple revealed that they didn’t really want to rent the house out, and they didn’t want to put it on the market because of time constraints. They just really wanted someone to take over the mortgage payments, while they searched for a new place. Eventually they wanted whoever took over the payments to also buy the house from them.
What they were describing is called owner financing, which, at the most basic level, “means the seller of real estate waits to get all of his or her sales price.” Investors often use this strategy to acquire properties while putting little or no money down. On this deal, Nicely gave the sellers a $10 check to have a vested interest in the house.
Nicely bought the house for $122,000, and agreed to take over the payments in June — three months later. Within two weeks, the family moved out of the home, and Nicely re-listed the home on Zillow.
A Chicago couple reached out to Nicely and said they wanted the home. They needed to move quickly, so they agreed to rent Nicely’s listing for a year, which would give them enough time to sell their home in Chicago. They paid her $3,000 for March, April and May’s rent and made the journey to Knoxville.
The day after they paid her the $3,000, the Chicago buyer’s home went under contract and they were ready to close May 1. A couple weeks later, they closed on Nicely’s house for $135,000 cash.
Within a few weeks, she’d netted a little over $15,000, just by strategically spending what came out to be only $10.
Sharing the wealth
Over the past three years, Nicely has continued to purchase and flip homes and now owns $2.5 million in real estate. As she began sharing her journey through her social media platforms, on conference panels and through YouTube videos, Nicely’s inbox became inundated with messages from women asking how they could replicate her success.
Nicely began coaching in 2016, and right now she has 117 students in her “First Deal Done Fast” course.
She teaches women how to “keep their money in their pockets,” how to negotiate, and how to garner and maintain respect from fellow investors, sellers and buyers who don’t take women seriously — she still encounters clients who ask where her husband is when it’s time to complete the paperwork for a deal or ask if she has a male investing partner who will double-check her work.
She continues to attend real estate investor conferences (sometimes as the keynote) with the goal of making sure women know they can be investors too.
“Woman to woman, I wanted to be able to tell them, this is what you need to say, this is how you need to say it,” Nicely explained. “… here’s what you need to do so people aren’t walking all over you … so they aren’t laughing at you and looking down at you because you’re a woman.
“And let’s be honest, that’s still going on in 2018.”