Jennifer Ward of House Buying Mamas: “Determination”

The first key to success in flipping is the same for almost all businesses, it is relationships. Real estate is all about your network, your network will bring the best deals, team members, and buyers. I learned a great tool to exponentially grow your network and build relationships, it is creating a knowledge group. Several […]

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The first key to success in flipping is the same for almost all businesses, it is relationships. Real estate is all about your network, your network will bring the best deals, team members, and buyers. I learned a great tool to exponentially grow your network and build relationships, it is creating a knowledge group. Several years back I joined a Meetup group for long-distance real estate investors here in Denver. I was disappointed to see that it didn’t have any activity, such as upcoming meetups to attend. By luck, a few months after joining I got a message that the leader for this group stepped down and if anyone was interested, they could take over the group.

Shows like Flip or Flop and Fixer Upper with Chip and Joanna Gaines have really glamorized the creativity and enjoyment that comes with buying a rundown home, fixing it, and then selling it for a profit. Some amateurs have ventured into this industry and have made a lucrative career out of it. But others, particularly when a market is stagnant, have lost their shirts. As a part of my series about the ‘5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Career Buying, Rehabbing, and Selling Properties’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Ward.

Jennifer is the founder of House Buying Mamas, a real estate investing company in Indianapolis primarily focused on buying, rehabbing and selling properties. She has been investing in real estate since 2007. The past five years she and her husband, have dabbled in many other REI strategies: house hacking, short-term rentals, BRRRR, private lending and long-distance investing. Jennifer manages the Facebook group, Long Distance Real Estate Investors, hosting monthly webinars to learn about different markets and strategies. Her most recent endeavor is REI Mamas, a resource to bring together a community of moms investing in real estate, who share the common goal of financial freedom to spend more quality time with their families.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?

I was exposed to the real estate industry all my life. My father was a custom home builder and later in her life, my mother became a Realtor. Together they purchased several rental properties earlier in my childhood but sold before I was an adult. I have clear memories of visiting my father’s job sites or cleaning out one of the rental properties. My father’s design style was modern and midcentury, incorporating dramatic angles and lots of light. My appreciation for residential architecture and design organically grew.

In my early 20s after working for the same company for 2 years my parents suggested I buy a property and recommended I buy a duplex and live on one side. I was fortunate that they lent me 10k to help with the down payment and I was able to utilize the FHA loan. For years I just had the one duplex and never did anything more in real estate. Even though I was around real estate my entire life, I never saw it as a path for me, not even after purchasing my duplex. It wasn’t until about 7years later after I just turned 30 when I decided I wanted more freedom in my life and not be restricted to an 8–5 desk job with only a few weeks a year of true freedom. That is when I started exploring other professions that offered more freedom and naturally, real estate came up on the top of my list. Soon after my husband and I moved to Denver, CO where we purchased a fixer-upper and we decided to do a live-in flip.

I was the “general contractor” for my first flip. I pulled a homeowners permit and hired subcontractors to do the bulk of the work. This is when I learned the HGTV shows were all a JOKE! However, it didn’t deter me and after learning about the resourceful website, Bigger Pockets, I pushed through and am now a full-time real estate investor 6 years later.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

As a house flipper, usually the most interesting part is when you are house hunting for your next flip. One property we visited had a detached underground bunker if you will but it really looked like someone built a basement and put a roof on top.

I went to visit the property with our agent. We walked down in the basement — bunker and it was barely finished out and was very dark and dingy. As we walked down the stairs we first encountered the kitchen. I immediately notice the oven door was left open and the oven on, I thought that was very odd and unsafe. We soon turned the corner to walk into the bedroom with only the kitchen light giving off just enough light and before we could find the bedroom light switch, I saw the glimpse of a man sleeping on just a cot in the bedroom. I was so startled, I am surprised I didn’t openly react to wake the man. My agent and I just stepped back very quietly until we reached the stairs and ran out as fast as we could. At the time I was so shocked how this man lived but after my years of experience, frankly, no condition phases me anymore. However, it has also motivated me to make sure our rental properties are always maintained and a nice place to live because I don’t think anyone should have to live that way. I will say that now I don’t visit any properties without Mace and a flashlight.

Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is “No is what you have and yes is what you can get”, basically if you don’t ask, you will never know that the answer will be a Yes. This quote is relevant in my everyday life and gives me the courage to negotiate, a necessary skill, especially in real estate. I think most people are uncomfortable with the negotiating process and trying to bargain, but if you remind yourself that the worst that can happen is they say No, then it takes away a lot of the pressure. But most importantly you will be surprised how many more Yes’s you get than No’s and you will never know that until you ask.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am exploring how to open my lead-generating platform to help moms in other markets get into real estate. My goal is to identify moms who are just as passionate about real estate as I am and want to break away from their traditional 8–5 job and still reach financial independence to have more quality time with family. A big barrier to being successful in flipping is simply finding properties priced right. The best way to find properties that have the potential to turn a profit is to find them off-market directly from the property owners. However, if anyone is like me, the thought of cold calling from a list simply makes me nauseous. This is why I built a lead-generating website to bring in leads without having to cold call or send out mailers, which the majority will be dead-end leads anyways.

It has been a long process building this lead-generating website. I hope to save other moms from the grunt work of building a lead-generating website and simply share mine with others to bring in leads from the communities where they invest. I also hope to be a resource for these fellow real estate investing moms on how they can make a community impact while also benefiting their livelihood and building toward financial freedom.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I am a woman-owned business in a male-dominated industry and I made my most important role of being a mom the core of my business. As I have mentioned, I have been active in real estate for over a decade but it wasn’t until the past 3 years that I have learned to treat it as a business, and not until this last year that I started developing a brand for my business. The turning point for me to treat real estate investing as a business and not a side hustle was when I learned the fundamentals of financial freedom. While I was still working a full-time W-2 job in education, I learned about the FIRE movement, Financial Independence Retire Early. The movement teaches you how to save money and increase your earnings, particularly through side hustles. Real estate is one side hustle people in FIRE pursue, which I was already doing. However, I was afraid to leave the security of my full-time job to focus on real estate full-time. Luckily, a major life event happened that forced me to change my situation, my husband and I had a baby. I always knew that if we had a child one day, one of us would be a stay-at-home parent.

Since I worked in education and he had a leadership role in hospitality, it made the most sense for me to leave my lower-paying, underappreciated job to stay at home with our baby. We were able to make it work because of the FIRE movement teaching us ways to save money and that we already had been investing in real estate. I naively thought I could focus full-time on real estate and be a stay-at-home mom, but soon realized that it simply was not possible to focus as much on real estate as I hoped. But despite the challenges, I still managed to find a property in our local city, Denver, and flip it in the first 6 months of my child’s life. As my baby was getting older and needed even more attention, I was concerned about how I would keep up with growing our real estate business. Then in June 2020, the peak of the pandemic lockdown, what most would consider the worst news I found as the best news, my husband was told he was furloughed for an indefinite period of time. I felt such relief because now my husband could help care for our child and I could take the momentum I started and truly focus on growing our company. Again, another forced situation that we likely wouldn’t have chosen on our own. At that time, I started making a brand for our company and named it House Buying Mamas.

Now, this is the part where I finally answer your question about how my company is different. I could have named it House Buying Mama but I have the goal to help other families, particularly moms out there, to build financial independence through real estate.

Once you can get established and build systems in real estate, it can truly be a career that allows freedom to spend your day as you wish and still keep your real estate business on track and most importantly support your family and build generational wealth. I focus a lot on systems in my company because, for one, I no longer invest locally but out of state. Investing in real estate long distance forces you to build efficient systems and rely on others which fosters stronger relationships. I want to share these systems with other moms, to show that you can build a business and still focus on what is most important in your life, your children.

As I mentioned earlier, I initially thought my idea to be a stay-at-home mom and grow our real estate business was naïve, but if I had already had the systems I have now in place, I would not have been so easily discouraged. I had the good fortune of my husband being a stay-at-home dad to allow me to focus on the business and finetune the operations, where it now allows me to be more at home and spend quality family time. Other parents, moms, and dads should be able to do the same and without reinventing the wheel, which is where my company can come in and assist.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I don’t care if it sounds cliché but I first have to thank my husband and second, COVID, yes that is right the pandemic. Even though the pandemic has wreaked havoc on so many lives and I truly empathize for all the misfortunes others have gone through, we were fortunate that the news of my husband’s furlough was in actuality a blessing in disguise. It forced us to finally pursue each of our passions and stop playing it safe. Don’t get me wrong, there were moments of insecurity and concerns. However, once we worked through the emotions and put a plan in place, we couldn’t be happier than where we are today. It is one thing to be able to pursue your passion, for me, it is real estate and simply building a company of my own. It another thing to be able to pursue your passion without feeling you are causing sacrifices for others. I am so lucky and grateful that my husband’s passion is to be a stay-at-home dad and he is so thrilled that he no longer has to go into an office and miss moments of our child growing up. His passion makes it so much easier for me to pursue my dreams and because I can devote quality time working on the business, it allows me to spend less time working in the business and more time with the family. We truly have a win-win situation and sadly most likely would not be in this position if we weren’t forced to change because of the pandemic.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The first trait that has been instrumental in my success is that I am a learner and a lifetime student. Perhaps this is why my first career was in education. To be inquisitive and constantly seeking new information and knowledge, I believe keeps you grounded and of course, fosters growth. This is why I started the Facebook group called Long Distance Real Estate Investors, a place not only for networking but free educational material. When you stop trying to learn or seek new information, you instantly become stagnant and will not grow, which in my opinion has no other outcome other than failure.

The second trait is determination. Many times, I jokingly refer to my determination as stubbornness. However, it is an essential trait when trying anything new, and let’s be real, when you have a real estate company, you are always faced with new challenges and opportunities. One continuous example is the ever-evolving changing real estate market. With how hot the market is today, many people would decide to lay low until it cools off, however, I was determined to grow my business. My determination forced me to think outside of the box and look into creative ways to find deals. Luckily it is paying off because I am flipping more houses at once than I ever did before.

My third character trait is I am a visionary. I am constantly thinking of the big picture and what could be. I am a believer in creating dreams and making those dreams a reality. I initially had the dream of pursuing financial independence and no longer being tied to an 8–5 job. Now that I have achieved that, I am on to my next big dream of making an impact for other moms and families. To dream is similar to being a learner, it makes you grow and without dreams and goals, you will be stagnate forever.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry? If you can please share a story or example.

The first thing that excites me most about real estate is the endless strategies to pursue real estate investing. Most people think about simply owning a rental property or flipping a house, but there are so many more strategies! The best part is there is a strategy for anyone’s comfort and activity level. If you have cash on hand or a retirement account, you can be a silent private lender. If you want to be active in real estate, you can be a flipper or wholesaler as a few examples. Today, even owning your home and having a roommate, now coined as house hacking — one of my favorite strategies, you are a real estate investor. My main point, there is something for everyone in the real estate investing industry.

What also excites me most is the people. I always say real estate is about the people and relationships first, then the properties. I think real estate investing brings a huge diversity of people you engage with on an everyday basis. For many years, real estate investing has been perceived as an industry dominated by white, wealthy, men. Yes, there are still plenty of white, wealthy, men but because of the internet and the social media platforms, it has opened the gates to anyone interested in learning; and coupled with the many strategies real estate investing offers, anyone can have a piece of the pie. I just love that I am networking with people from all over the world, from different cultures, backgrounds, and professions.

Finally, though it can be unsettling, the unknown and uncontrollable market can also be very exciting. Because the market could change, you need to be on your game at all times and make sure you have a backup plan. For those who were able to survive the housing crash and push on, they had a backup plan in place and didn’t put all of their eggs in one basket. This industry forces you to be a good business person by being tolerant of risk and knowing how to mitigate it.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.

My first concern about this industry is the “gurus” and their colorful paintings of sunshine and rainbows. Yes, investing in real estate can bring amazing opportunities but like most industries, there are still a lot of risks. You have to educate yourself and prepare yourself to be successful. The “gurus” fail to mention and prepare you for the risks, to sell their program. I think many people buy into these “guru” programs because they are looking for a fast track to success, let me make it clear, there is no fast track to success in any industry, much less real estate investing.

This brings me to my second concern, the perception some people have of getting rich quickly in real estate. Real estate investing is not gambling, you will not make money overnight. Yes, you may be able to make a substantial paycheck from one deal but to get to that profitable deal there is the time required for education, to learn how to make that deal profitable. People fail to mention when they share about their big win, how long they studied, networked and planned to get to that deal. Once I decided to get more serious in real estate investing, it took me at least one year of educating myself from reading books and forums, listening to podcasts, and networking with people, before I made my first deal.

My final concern about the real estate investing industry is the lack of presence by other women investors. Statistically, there are a lot more men in real estate investing but I thankfully still know a lot of women in this industry. However, their presence isn’t seen as much in the networking communities. By nature, women tend to be more reserved and humbler about their successes. I wish more women in this industry were seen as key spokespersons and have themselves recognized by larger platforms, without being partnered with a male counterpart. I think of the well-known platform Bigger Pockets and they have three podcasts, one the hosts are only men, and the other two podcasts are a woman-male cohost, why couldn’t one of those podcasts be hosted by only women? The only time I see only women hosts is for the women targeted networking groups and events. I hope that more women step out of their comfort zone and screw being humble, to speak out about their successes in this industry.

What advice would you give to other real estate leaders to help their teams to thrive and to create a really fantastic work culture?

Particularly as a long-distance investor, I would recommend when you choose to visit the markets you’re investing in, to host a gathering of all of your team members. It is common for your team players to be siloed from one another, especially when you invest long distance. For the simple fact that most of your interactions are through phone calls and emails and many times, you don’t loop in your other team players when reaching out to one. Having an informal gathering, allows everyone on your team to meet each other and recognize that they are a team. Again, if you are primarily just communicating one on one through emails and phone calls, they likely don’t think about all of the other people you work with and that they are part of a bigger picture. When you have the in-person gathering, make a point to introduce each person to everyone and their role in your business. Afterwards, this will naturally build efficiencies in your business because many times your team members will take it upon themselves to reach out to each other to handle issues and take care of business.

Ok, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share with our readers your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Career Buying, Rehabbing, and Selling Properties”? If you can, please give a story or an example for each?

The first key to success in flipping is the same for almost all businesses, it is relationships. Real estate is all about your network, your network will bring the best deals, team members, and buyers. I learned a great tool to exponentially grow your network and build relationships, it is creating a knowledge group. Several years back I joined a Meetup group for long-distance real estate investors here in Denver. I was disappointed to see that it didn’t have any activity, such as upcoming meetups to attend. By luck, a few months after joining I got a message that the leader for this group stepped down and if anyone was interested, they could take over the group.

I immediately jumped on the opportunity and took over the group. I did so not because I was the most qualified, but because I wanted to learn and I could find “experts” to share with the group about different markets and topics. After the pandemic broke out, I could no longer host in-person meetups and I transitioned the group to Facebook.

This has worked towards my advantage because now my group’s network was opened to the world and in just a few months after the Facebook transition, I met even more like-minded people and several have turned into very valuable relationships that have opened multiple doors.

The second key to success is your reputation and this ties into relationships. You want to be known as a trustworthy, reliable, and fair person to work with when flipping. Your reputation will bring you more deals and the best team members, to make a successful flip. Even though the real estate industry seems large and vast, in actuality when you are in the thick of it, it can feel very small. For better or worse, thanks to social media we are all interconnected. Therefore, your reputation is all the more valuable. I am constantly putting feelers out there about people I may like to work with.

It never takes long to find a few people who have worked with the other in some capacity. I always remind myself, just as I am trying to find references on a contractor, they could also be getting references on me. Contractors are such an integral team member for flipping, and their main concern is if they will be paid on time and you have a clear vision or plan that you won’t be implementing change orders all of the time, which can delay the project and cause them time and money because of it.

Because contractors are so busy in today’s market, having a good reputation will make it easier to keep good contractors and in turn make your flips all the more profitable. This holds true for all team members of course.

The third key to being a successful flipper is to act conservatively. Many investors make the mistake of forcing the numbers in the deal analysis and using outliers as their comps, which ultimately loses them money in the end. You will almost always have to use your contingency budget, especially in this hot market because we are waiving inspections and contingencies to get under contract. This is all the more reason you have to be conservative with your rehab budget. There are too many unknowns that are not visible from the surface and if not budgeted appropriately, will quickly eat into your profits. Earlier on I learned the hard way when I didn’t do a sewer scope and also didn’t put a big enough contingency buffer for the items I didn’t have inspected. After finishing my rehab and just meeting my budget, I put the house on the market. The buyers had the good sense to request a sewer scope. Well sure enough significant repairs were needed. The cost to repair the sewer line was close to 10k and easily ate into my profits. Luckily I didn’t go in the red on the deal but if I budgeted more concretively, I likely wouldn’t have purchased the property in the first place and probably could have spent my money and valuable time on a better deal.

The fourth key is to be creative when searching for deals. As they say in real estate “you make your money when you buy”. You cannot rely on the MLS to find deals; you have to be creative in finding off-market deals. This can be running lists and skip tracing, working with probate attorneys, wholesalers, and recruiting bird dogs. There are countless creative strategies and it can be discombobulating to know which one you should focus on. I suggest taking a look at your strengths and see how they best match the various strategies and start from there. My strength is in networking.

I tell everyone I come across that I am a real estate investor and looking for properties to flip and to hold as rentals. Most of my best deals have come through my network. If you have a sales background and not scared of cold calling then maybe getting a list and contacting homeowners is your strategy.

Again, think about what you are good at and figure out which creative deal-finding strategy aligns best.

The fifth key to flipping success is to reevaluate. After every flip, I sit down and take notes on what went well and what can be improved and incorporate it into my processes and systems. I have made multiple revisions to contracts after several flips. I have been able to reduce my time dramatically by making a materials list with SKU numbers for my flips. Every project has learning and growth opportunities, no matter how experienced you may be. The goal is to make my flipping business a well-oiled machine to where I am working less in the business and doing more work on my business.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen other people make when they try their own hand at house flipping? Can you share any stories?

A pretty common mistake I made earlier on is using the cheapest contractor for a project. Sure, it looks good on paper but more than likely you will be paying more than what the contractor first bid you, and/or you will be spending more time following up with the contractor and keeping them on track to execute the timeframe and quality you need. I made this mistake by hiring a contractor that I used a few times before on a rental turnover because he was inexpensive. He worked out fine with the rental turnover because they were fairly basic items. I decided to use him on a flip because he claimed he had this level of experience and I already established a relationship with him. I purchased a property based off his rehab estimate. After purchasing the property, I requested a few more bids from other contractors and they were significantly hirer than my original bid. I knew that my original bid was probably unrealistic for the work that needs to be done.

I felt pigeonholed to use the original contractor since I purchased the property based on his bid. Sure enough, before much work even got started, he fessed up that he couldn’t take the job. He claimed he couldn’t do it because he was just too busy but I am certain it was because he simply wasn’t qualified and indeed was not a licensed general contractor. This reminds me of the other mistake I made of not verifying if he had a GC license. Always make sure your contractors are licensed and properly bonded and insured. Even if you think your project will not require permits, you never know what will uncover and a licensed GC is qualified to pinpoint these issues and resolve them. Going back to my story, I had to hire one of the other contractors with the hirer bid. They were indeed a licensed GC but because I didn’t go with the realistic bid to factor in my numbers, I barely made a profit on the property. I like to refer to this property as my tuition. It was a valuable learning experience and a mistake I never made again.

From your experience, what can be done to avoid those errors?

At the beginning of a property flipping business, you are trying to establish your team. The contractor is a crucial team member and can make or break your business. To find a qualified general contractor, start by networking with other investors and utilize preferred vendors with the local REIAs and other real estate networking communities. I like to use Facebook and search for general contractors with business pages. For me, finding the mom-and-pop general contractors that at least have an online presence are the best ones. They aren’t a big company which is typically more expensive in order to cover their overhead, but their online presence shows they have a level of professionalism to be a reputable business. You can research the general contractors well before you have a property. I recommend contacting them and ask for their license, insurance, and references for their current and recent projects. Also, see if they are open to sharing a bid for a medium-size remodel they already did, to get an idea of how they structure their bids and their pricing.

Once you find at least three general contractors to contact and have a property under contract, request they each submit a bid. Provide them with a general scope of work but don’t give too much detail of what you want. I like to see what ideas and questions they come up with to see the level of detail they go into on their own. Once you receive the three bids, I would see if anyone is an “outlier” meaning their final number is drastically different than the others, and cross them off your list. This is when I should have crossed off my cheapest contractor. With the remaining two, I would ask more questions about their processes and communication and ultimately choose the contractor who has more positives than negatives.

It is important to remember that in a hot market like today, there are simply not enough contractors for the amount of work out there. Just as you are interviewing them, they are also interviewing you. When it comes to business processes, you may have to compromise more and work around their systems and preferences. If they perceive you as a fair, flexible, and trustworthy person, they will likely agree to take on your project over another. Also, it never hurts to surprise your contractors with a thank-you lunch while they are on the job…just a tip!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As someone who follows the “Financial Independence Retire Early” movement and has a passion for real estate and sees her most important role as a mom, I would love to aspire more mothers to get into real estate as a way to achieve financial independence. For any parent, the most important thing is to be with your children for as many moments as possible. This is sadly very difficult to do when you work for a traditional 8–5 job. I would love to build a community of fellow moms and real estate investors, that help each other with both parenting and real estate goals to achieve financial independence for everyone.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I can be reached online through my website at and on my Facebook group: Long Distance Real Estate Investors.

Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.

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