- Part-time real estate investor Julia Lemberskiy invests in what she calls ‘undervalued areas.’
- Picking the right markets has helped her build a lucrative short-term rental business.
- When looking for markets with potential, she first asks: ‘Can I see myself here?’
When it comes to investing in real estate, there’s no cookie-cutter strategy that guarantees success.
Insider has spoken to successful investors who prefer to buy older homes and others who only buy brand-new builds. Some only invest in their backyard so they can self-manage their properties, while others go out-of-state.
30-year-old real estate investor Julia Lemberskiy, who works at a start-up full-time and manages five Airbnb properties on the side, has her own unique strategy for finding good deals.
When she first decided to buy property, she figured she’d own where she lived: in New York City. But a couple of Zillow searches and sticker shock “ruined my appetite for buying something in New York for quite a while,” she told Insider. “A decent studio is $400,000 to $500,000. It’s crazy.”
Unable to justify buying in such a pricey city, she decided to continue renting with her husband in Manhattan and look for property in a more affordable market.
The big question was where to buy. Lemberskiy, who grew up in Europe and moved to the States for work in 2018, “had no idea even where to start,” she said.
Over the past two years, she’s bought three homes — a single-family in upstate New York, a single-family in West Palm Beach, Florida, and a multi-family property in Albany, New York — in what she calls “undervalued areas.” Selecting the right markets has helped her score good deals and build a lucrative short-term rental business.
Between her three properties, Lemberskiy operates five Airbnb spaces that, in March 2023, brought in $19,828 in revenue, according to a screenshot of her Airbnb dashboard viewed by Insider. Each month in 2023 so far, her units have brought in over $10,000 in gross earnings.
She shared the two-part strategy she uses to find overlooked markets that have potential.
1. She asks herself if she could see herself living there
Lemberskiy doesn’t immediately look at home prices and average rents when evaluating a market. Rather than crunch numbers, she first thinks about whether or not she’d like to live there.
The reason this strategy tends to work is, “if you can see yourself there, it’s likely that other people can as well,” she said.
As for how she finds new markets that she could see herself living in, it’s a combination of referrals from family and friends and taking the time to explore new areas — plus a little bit of luck.
The deal in Albany, for example, came about thanks to a flight cancellation. She and her husband were supposed to go on vacation to celebrate their anniversary but when their flight was canceled they pivoted and went on a road trip instead. They happened to drive through Albany, the capital of New York, on the trip.
“We spent some time there and went to some lovely restaurants and bars,” said Lemberskiy. “I started looking at Zillow and was pleasantly surprised about the cost for such a nice city.”
What prompted the purchase in Florida was wanting to escape the cold, gray winters in New York. As for how she landed specifically on south Florida, that’s thanks to an episode of “The Sopranos,” she said: “There was a scene where the uncle talks about going to Boca and we were like, ‘What is Boca?’ A few weeks later, I found a cheap flight, got an Airbnb, and fell in love with that whole area an hour outside of Miami.”
Upstate New York was on her radar because her husband’s family had spent a lot of time there. She got a good feel for the area during the early pandemic days, she said: “I felt cooped up in Manhattan so every chance I got I would get on the Metro-North at Grand Central, exit a new station, and spend a day discovering.” Those day trips led to her stumbling upon Walden, which is about 70 miles north of New York City and where she ended up buying her first home.
Even if you’re purchasing an investment-specific property that you don’t intend on living in, Lemberskiy believes in there being some “personal motivation,” she said. “If the business side of things doesn’t work out, it’s something where I can see myself and my family.”
In a way, she’s going against the age-old advice of not letting your emotions influence your home-buying decision.
“A lot of people getting into real estate take a very cold, methodological approach to it. It’s all just spreadsheets and numbers,” she said. “I let more of my emotions in by asking: ‘Can I see myself here?'”
So far, it’s worked out for the part-time investor: “I definitely want to be a trend-spotter and find places that are on the upswing, and the best way to do so is not about looking at a bunch of data — it’s really just being there and thinking: ‘Would I stay here?’ And if yes, probably others will as well with time.”
2. Look at approved development projects in the market
Once Lemberskiy has zeroed in on an area she can see herself personally living in, the second half of her strategy does involve looking at some data.
She’s focused on one, specific piece of information: approved development projects in the community.
If the town or city is investing millions of dollars into improving the area, that typically signals there’s upside potential, she said.
This is a relatively new strategy for her that came about after buying her second property in West Palm Beach. She didn’t know it when she was touring homes, but the city had already committed to adding a new, private beach, among other improvements, she said: “We got very lucky because after we bought it I started seeing some of the city council meetings and the things they were improving. That got me thinking, let me proactively look for these things.”
As she continues to expand her portfolio and test different markets, approved development projects will be a major factor. This is something that anyone can look up on their city planning website or by contacting their city or town planning committee.
Currently, Lemberskiy has her eye on Schenectady, a city in eastern New York that’s “doing tens of millions of dollar projects with luxury buildings,” she said. “A lot of cool things are happening there right now and property values are still low. I’m looking at a multi-family house right now that’s a large, two-unit with 3-bedrooms in each unit for around $150,000.”
Plus, since Schenectady is relatively unknown, there aren’t too many Airbnb listings in the area, she noted: “When you combine these things of low competition, low prices, and something cool happening — some new developments — you’re not going to lose money.”
Another market she’s currently considering is Bridgeport, which is a coastal town in Connecticut. She’s also looking to buy something in Europe and is looking in Madeira, Portugal, which would be a six-hour flight from New York.
“In Europe it is getting very hard to find something justifiable from an ROI perspective,” she explained. That said, “I am trying to think from personal life experience, where would I want to be? If it does not generate the money that I want it to, would I still be happy to have a place there?”