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Photo of money by Alexander Mills from Unsplash 2.jpg

Photo by Alexander Mills

from Unsplash


If you own a Miami-Dade County property or would like to by one, and would like to discuss your investment objectives, call me Maria Luisa Castellanos on my cell at 305-439-7898 or email me




Options for building a nest egg

There are many options for building a nest egg for retirement or your children’s college education – buying stock and hoping the market won’t crash, saving it at a bank for a 1% interest rate, or doing it in a way many others have done – through buying and developing investment real estate.

A story about building wealth

When we came from Cuba in the 1960’s, many people applied for odd jobs.  My aunt Natasha was one of these people, as was her husband, my uncle.  It was a struggle.  At times, they were unable to eat two meals a day just so that my cousin, an 8-year-old at the time, could eat 3 meals a day.

Eventually, Natasha went to work for Shaw Nurseries, a local organization that sold and installed plants.  My aunt, who had been the president of the Havana Garden Society, was able to use her knowledge of plants to land the job.  She designed landscaping and did cost estimating for Shaw.  As time passed, however, my aunt was more and more concerned that they would be unable to provide my cousin with a college education and that my cousin would have to seek work as a waitress or domestic worker when she grew up. 

But then something happened. A relative of my uncle who knew of her talents asked her to go with him to speak to Publix, since they were planning a new store in Coral Gables and were going to need landscaping services. She would supply her knowledge and he would put in the necessary investment to start the business.  They had a successful meeting with the Publix administrators, but at the last minute my uncle’s relative got cold feet and was going to say “no” to Publix.  So, Natasha asked this man for 24 hours before killing the deal.  Natasha, being the brilliant woman that she was, went and asked Shaw Nursery for help.  They said, “Natasha, you know how we price the plants, go ahead and create a plan, price the plants out, and put in a little money for your project management.”  And so, she did.  And the deal was done.

And that is how Natasha started her landscaping design and installation business in the 1960’s.  So, what did Natasha soon realize?  She realized that if she bought land on the outskirts of what was then Miami, she could grow her own plants.  When it was time to install them into her projects, she could make a huge profit, much bigger than if she had to buy the plants.  And, of course, as Miami expanded, land became more and more valuable.  So, my brilliant aunt kept buying land on the outskirts and selling the land when civilization started to creep closer.  She made a handsome profit with each deal in addition to all the money she made with her landscape designs and installations.  If you stand in the Mall at 163rd Street and look east, most of those acres and acres of condominiums standing as far as the eye can see were landscaped by Natasha, with my uncle (her husband) supporting her every step of the way.

When I came to Miami in 1976, my aunt and uncle were retiring.  She was in her early 50’s and was in the process of developing a building close to the intersection of Coral Way and SW 107th Avenue.  From then until the time she died, her family lived off the income made by that building.  Her fear that my cousin would never be able to get an education never materialized.  My cousin graduated from FSU with her education fully paid by my aunt and uncle.

I tell you this story because many parents have the same concerns – how am I going to pay for my children’s education and make their lives better?  How can I give them the best opportunities possible? If an immigrant who came to this country with absolutely no money can make a nest egg, so can you! What kind of deals are out there to make money in investment real estate?


There are many deals to be made when buying land. 

While you own the land, the land appreciates in value.  The expenses are low, most of them involving grass maintenance and the annual taxes.  You can lease the land to someone who can grow trees on it whilst you think upon what to build.  Then, you can apply to have it assessed as agricultural land, on which you pay less taxes. 

Depending on whether the property is residentially zoned or commercially zoned, you can decide to develop a single-family residence, a duplex, quadruplex or a multi-family, multi-floor apartment building.

You must be careful when you want to build more than a single-family house.  You must be sure you have the right zoning.  There are parts of the city of Miami that allow single-family or duplexes and even multi-family buildings, but you need to know where to look.  Most of Miami-Dade County is zoned for single-family, but sometimes you can convert that single family home under certain circumstances to a duplex.  You can read more about this here.

For a commercial building, you must look for certain infrastructure that are often lacking in Miami.  Please see the article: 11 Steps to Building a Commercial Building in Miami.  If you do not have the correct conditions, your building will turn out to be very cost-prohibitive and will not generate income, or you will not be able to build it altogether.

Buy, Fix, and Hold

​There are buildings or shopping centers that you can buy, but you must have an eye for what to do with them.  You don’t want a building that will make you a marginal profit.  You want a building that will increase in value over time.  One of the ways to do this is to buy a building with the intent of remodeling or adding to it.

Example of shopping center we remodeled
Before photo of Sunset West Shopping Center below.  Built in the 1950s or 60's, this shopping center in Miami had a mansard roof which now looked really dated.
Before Photo of Sunset West prior to Remodeling.jpg
After photo of Sunset West Shopping Center below. After a few cosmetic changes to the walkway and the roof, with no real structural changes, we were able to update the look of the building. 
Chase Entrance at remodeled Sunset West Shopping Center.JPG

With this new look, the center can command higher rents.  Over time, a building like this will appreciate in value, and in the future, it can be sold at a much higher price.  You can read about this project here.

Homes to subdivide

Another strategy is to buy homes to subdivide.  I helped a client locate a property in the city of Miami that had the correct zoning for duplexes.  With this zoning, he was able to buy the property and divide the property into two legally.  One half of the house he was going to give to his parents to live and the other half he was going to rent out for income.  With a few minor suggestions, he was able to achieve this outcome.

Apartment Buildings

Small apartment buildings of four units or less are a good investment because a person can live in one apartment and rent the rest.  This is a good way to accumulate a nest egg. In a case like this, you can qualify for owner-occupied financing with the FHA.  The FHA only requires a 3.5% down payment.  Over time your property can appreciate, and you can raise the rents.  When a tenant moves out, you can remodel the apartment and immediately raise the rent.

However, be aware that the FHA uses a self-sufficiency test.  This means that the total rent that you receive for the units must be equal to or greater than the mortgage payment and other expenses for the building.

If you can find the right zoning, you may be able to convert a duplex to a quadruplex. Or, if you buy the right land, you can build one from scratch.  Over time, again, the building will appreciate, and you can raise the rents.

Having one building with four units is easier to manage than buying four separate houses in four separate locations, and you can deduct the expenses on the three units you are not occupying.   

After a certain amount of time, the FHA will allow you to move out of that fourth unit and you can rent that one as well.

Buy, Fix, and Sell

Another strategy is to buy an old building, remodel it (or add to it), and then sell it.  If you buy it at the right price, an existing building will likely bring you more money in the short term than building one from scratch would, unless the new building is in a prime location with fantastic views of the city or the ocean.


So, to summarize, there are many different ways to invest in income-producing real estate.  I have just mentioned a few here. 

Why you should hire us

If you are in the position of buying income-producing real estate, you should certainly hire me, Maria Luisa Castellanos, as your real estate buyer’s agent in Miami.  As both an architect and a realtor, I am uniquely qualified to help you with several things that an ordinary realtor will not be able to do as well.  Not only can I help you buy the property, but I can also help you analyze it from an occupant’s perspective. I can also prepare plans for you to update your building or create a completely new building on the site you purchase.  You can go over the advantages of hiring me in detail in my other article:  Why architects make the best real estate agents for buying investment properties.

I hope you will call me, Maria Luisa Castellanos, R.A., LEED AP, at 305-439-7898 to discuss your real estate needs.


Call 305-552-5465 or Email to Maria Luisa Castellanos, architect-realtor to discuss your exciting investment plans.

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