Single Mom Earning $22,000 As a Waitress Turned Tax Refund Into Million Dollar Real Estate Portfolio Ashley Hamilton now has a portfolio of 24 rentals and five vacant lots.

By Charlene Rhinehart Originally published

This story originally appeared on Black Enterprise

When Detroit-based waitress Ashley Hamilton received her tax refund in 2009, she started her real estate journey.

Unfortunately, banks were not giving out loans and she didn't have credit cards to finance her dreams. So, Hamilton used her savings and tax refund to secure a three-bedroom house with a basement for $6,300.

Every year, she purchased single-family properties in Detroit, paid cash for them, did rehabs, and used the properties as buy and hold rentals.

Related: How a 30 Year Old Turned Her $3,400 Tax Refund Into a $12,000-a-Month Side Hustle

Initially, Hamilton's plan was to buy one property every year with her annual tax refunds. But she was able to expedite her portfolio building goals by saving the rents she collected from tenants and later gaining access to loans.

Now, the young investor has a portfolio of 24 rentals and five vacant lots. According to her Instagram page, 14 of her properties are free and clear. The 14 properties are paid off and Hamilton has complete ownership of the real estate assets.

"Not having money worked for my benefit," Hamilton told the BiggerPockets podcast. "I got a tax return at the end of the year. By me only making around $20K and having two kids, I was able to get a $5K-$6K refund."

Because the Detroit real estate market had a low entry point during that time, Hamilton's tax refunds and savings were enough to get her started.

From Tax Refund to Real Estate Portfolio

Hamilton dreamed of becoming a millionaire by 30 and knew that real estate investing was a practical way to achieve her goal.

Hamilton often shares how she grew up poor without any entrepreneurs or real estate investors in her family. But her commitment to always find a way helped her to think outside the box. As a single mom with two kids, Hamilton understood how real estate investing could move her beyond her $22,000 waitress salary.

She realized that if she could buy 10 properties and sell them at $100,000 each, she could become a millionaire. Although Hamilton didn't join the millionaire club by 30, she had a portfolio of 10 properties that were fully paid for using her cash savings and tax refunds.

"I was willing to live how most people won't because I wanted to be financially free," says Hamilton as she explained the importance of having time available to watch her kids grow. "I knew I had to have passive income so I didn't have to work as much."

When Ashley purchased her first property, she saved money to paint the house, hire a local plumber, and make the place livable. Because she purchased her property with cash, she was able to eliminate her biggest expense: rent. She saved the money that would have been allocated towards rent to buy her next property.

Her success in real estate investing all comes down to one simple strategy: Buy, Repair, Rent, Refinance, and Repeat.

Building a Massive Real Estate Portfolio from Scratch

In February, Hamilton decided to quit her job as a part-time bank teller and pursue entrepreneurship full-time. Although she had a couple of six-figure businesses and a million-dollar real estate portfolio under her belt, she still decided to work 20 hours a week to have a steady source of W-2 income.

"I finally did it. This has been well overdue. I know a lot of people ask me why do I even still work there. But the truth is I really enjoyed what I did. I was also recycling wealth and using a ton of leverage last year," Hamilton shared on Instagram.

She adds, "When you use any of these real estate strategies like Brrrr, house hack, or buy and hold, most of the time you're going to need some kind of W-2 income to be approved for loans. That's why a lot of people get stuck after just one or two deals. I know everybody says they want to hurry up and quit their job. But unfortunately, it's just not smart especially in the beginning."

Hamilton recommends that aspiring real estate investors have a well-thought-out plan and be prepared if things don't go as planned. She started with her tax refund and eliminated her rent expense. Then she focused on living frugally and continued to use her funds to buy properties with cash. Now, Hamilton offers courses to provide others with the resources and information to get started.

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