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By John Bowens


To Jan of Missouri and her family, it’s not enough to secure their financial future through real estate investing in their retirement accounts (though that is important to them, too). By going the extra mile with their investment home renovations, they’ve also had a big hand in helping the community improve and thrive.

Jan, known for her quick and easy real estate sales, received a call from an elderly couple about five years ago. They wanted to move from their house to a senior community, but owed more on their property than it was worth and they couldn’t sell it the traditional way and pay a real estate commission. 

“I met with this couple and I was stunned because they only owed $50,000 on this property,” Jan recalls. “It was a lovely three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath, all-brick ranch house. And it was just a few miles from where we were doing our high-end renovations, where we were buying houses from $200,000 to 400,000, putting $100,000 to 300,000 in fix-up, and then selling them for $700,000 to 900,000.”

Jan was surprised to see a house she could buy for $50,000 on a cul-de-sac street that she felt comfortable with. 

“I paid off their loan, and even gave them a little money to move to the senior community,” Jan says, adding, “They were so dear.” 

While Jan had purchased, rehabbed, and sold properties in her self-directed IRA before, this would be the first one she would fix up to rent. 

“Our daughter was a junior in high school at the time and she was coming up on her summer break and she wanted a job,” Jan says. “She asked if she could renovate the house and I thought, perfect, great idea. So, handed her the keys and there wasn’t a lot of work needed.” 

The home was dated, but well maintained. 

“To our surprise, I show up two weeks later, and there’s no kitchen,” Jan says, laughing. “The contractors had talked her into just removing the kitchen and starting over again.”

This turn of events ended up being a blessing. 

“We put a brand-new kitchen in, brand new baths, all new flooring, and new lighting,” Jan says. “And then we attracted a top-notch tenant, a lovely nurse with an 800 credit score, and her mom who wanted to live with her. And they’re still in that house five years later. Every time I go over, I say, ‘Oh, this looks like a display home.’ They’re taking beautiful care of it.”

A New Strategy

This sparked the idea for a new approach for Jan, one which has benefitted the community as much as her IRA.

“What I learned from that,” Jan explains, “is that if we went in and did a renovation similar to what we were doing with our luxury homes, we could attract a top-quality tenant who would stay a long time and take care of the property and give us a higher return. So, we’ve duplicated this many, many times in this area.” 

Property values have doubled in this area in the past five years. Recently, a new development, including a Costco store, broke ground just down the street from some of Jan’s investment properties.

“We feel like we’re improving this community one house at a time,” she says. 

Others in the community – including city officials – have taken notice. 

“We’ve actually been noticed by the director of planning and development for the city who called us in and brought the director of the building department in as well,” Jan says. “And they just wanted to thank me for the work that I’m doing in these communities and how I’m helping to improve the property values, which they feel is helping to attract business dollars that are now coming into the community. To see that snowball in such a short period of time…that only took two or three years before we started to be recognized for the contribution that we’re making to the community. It was really rewarding, fun and very exciting.”

The Golden Rule

In her real estate investing business, Jan adheres to the Golden Rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated. 

“I love my tenants,” she says. “During the pandemic, we were delivering gifts to their doorsteps: games, puzzles, and terrariums that they could build. They were so appreciative of that thoughtfulness. At Christmas time, we hand deliver gifts to them.”

Jan recently offered a free deep-cleaning service at each property. 

“I’m always trying to give back to them,” she says, adding, “It’s really fun to establish those relationships and to get these sweet text messages of appreciation with all the little heart emojis. And it’s been lovely.”

Jan employs the same philosophy with contractors she hires. 

“If you treat them well, they treat you well,” she says. “We’re always making sure that everybody’s happy and having fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.”

Jan’s mindset applies to her renovations, too. Each updated property, whether for rent or sale, is always a home she would live in herself.

Impact on her future

In addition to the effect on the community, Jan’s blown away by the impact her self-directed real estate investing has had on her financial future. By using her tax-advantaged retirement account to invest in real estate, Jan doesn’t have to give up some of her profits to capital gains taxes. And because she uses a Roth IRA, her withdrawals from this account in retirement will be tax-free.

“It’s almost too good to be true,” Jan says in amazement. “It’s just incredible. Now that I’m seeing the returns on these houses that we’re renting, our returns average 12 to 14 percent, with some outliers…we’ve got one at a 23-percent return. And that’s cash on cash. Those funds start to build up quickly to the point where every year I’m able to buy two more houses, free and clear, and put them in the rental portfolio. It’s just an amazing wealth-building technique.” 

The sooner you can get started, the better, Jan adds. “I wish I’d figured this out in my twenties and not my forties, but it’s just amazing.”

Visit to learn more about Jan and other investors who are making a difference with their IRA investing.


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John Bowens is Director, Head of Education and Investor Success at Equity Trust Company, a leading custodian of self-directed IRAs. Visit for more information.

Equity Trust Company is a directed custodian and does not provide tax, legal or investment advice. Any information communicated by Equity Trust is for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as tax, legal or investment advice. Whenever making an investment decision, please consult with your tax attorney or financial professional.

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