Any minute now, maybe even next year, I, your faithful scribe, will retire a multimillionaire. I will move to a mansion on the beach, hire a full-time housekeeper, keep a hairdresser on retainer (to touch up my roots, of course) and drive a fancy-schmancy car. Better yet, I’ll get myself a driver.
All I have to do is flip houses. Or condos. Or abandoned lots in gentrifying neighborhoods. Easy-peasy.
Why not? Others are doing it, and they are all-too-willing to share their knowledge. I just saw an ad for a “free” real estate workshop that can get me started in wealth-building real estate techniques. It promises all kinds of “potentially life-changing information.”
“Don’t wait to board your flight to financial freedom,” the ad announces. “You don’t want to miss this exciting opportunity to start on the right financial path and build your own legacy.”
This isn’t the only offer I’ve come across in the past few weeks. Another “fix and flip” seminar ad tells the story of its leader, a man who went from being a jobless nobody to a real estate powerhouse making millions. Still not impressed? Then check out the couple offering an opportunity to “purchase real estate at a discount using your self-directed retirement accounts.” Or, using “other people’s money to fund and fix your real estate deals, allowing you to start to make money even if you don’t have the cash or credit.”
Flipping houses is the latest in a long list of get rich schemes that share one extremely appealing (and irresistible) trait: a big return for a minimal investment. Traditional saving and asset-allocation investing, on the other hand, requires too much patience, too much discipline, at a time when our attention span has shrunk to the size of a gnat. We like fast results with minimal efforts.
Of course there have always been temptations. Back in the day, ads convinced people they could earn big money from the comfort of their homes by stuffing envelopes. The “business” only required a “small” payment as a buy-in. Decades later this idea may come off as blatantly laughable, but I know of at least one person who fell for it.
Then there are the more elaborate Ponzi schemes, those shaky pyramids that promise early investors huge payouts by using money obtained from newer investors; and the online courses that, for a fee, will show people how to make thousands of dollars a week by selling on Amazon.
The most ubiquitous scam, however, the most flagrant example of the too-good-to-be true maxim, has managed to achieve cult status. Anyone with an email account has received some missive that announces the recipient is due a huge chunk of change but must first deliver a “nominal” good faith payment to claim it. In some cases the email involves some sob story about a person who is kidnapped or exiled or stranded in some forsaken city.
Sure, all these hooks are suspect, but it’s only in hindsight that we recognize how greed and gullibility get the best of us. Just a dozen years ago, my then-dental hygienist and her husband, a firefighter, planned early retirement on the windfall they expected from reselling condos they had bought at pre-construction prices. A lot of others similarly gambled.
Now we know the sad ending to that story.
Still, flipping houses sounds so sexy, so enticing and sophisticated. I can just envision myself embellishing my triumphs on Facebook and Instagram. Posing for interview shots with The Wall Street Journal. I so want to board my flight to financial freedom. To be a powerhouse raking in millions. To use other’s money for my own profit. To receive a lot for doing a little.
Life should really be that simple.