How a college student can make 6 figures in real estate, according to a 22-year-old home flipper set to rake in $300,000 this year

  • Shawn Castellanos earned about $150,000 during college by wholesaling homes with few renovations.
  • Castellenos says he built his business without financial help and expects to earn $300,000 in 2023.
  • Working the phones for good deals and networking helped him grow his business, he said.

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Like a lot of Gen Zers who have grown up online, Shawn Castellanos, 22, was inundated by news bites, videos and other digital content about how to invest in real estate before he was even legally allowed to drink.

But unlike the vast majority of his generation, the Columbus, Ohio-area resident actually used that information. Just 2% of people born from 1997 to 2012 participated in the buying and selling of property in 2021, according to a National Association of Realtors estimate. 

Not only did Castellanos participate in the market — he made money off of it. Last year alone — while finishing his bachelor's degree in finance at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio — he earned $152,021 through six deals, documents that Insider verified show.

"Real-estate stuff is everywhere," he told Insider. "When you start talking about investing you're going to talk about real estate, because that's probably the best thing to invest in."

Starting a business before 21

When he was 20, Castellanos and his then 18-year-old brother, Jason, maxed out a couple of credit cards to take a $6,000 course focused on how to invest, hosted by real-estate consultants at FortuneBuilders, the elder brother said.

shawn castellanos

Shawn Castellanos Courtesy of Shawn Castellanos

The duo began what they called "wholesaling" houses, which involves participating in the purchase of a property without actually taking ownership, as house flippers do. In a typical wholesale deal, the wholesaler enters a sale contract with a homeowner, then assigns that contract to an investor at a higher price and pockets the difference, according to Investopedia.

The brothers completed their first wholesale deal in Ohio during the winter of 2021 and made $1,500 — money that was reinvested along with their savings into their business. They scored $52,000 when their second wholesale deal closed, Castellanos said.

He said they funded their business without any financial help from their family.

Castellanos flipped his first house in Dublin, Ohio, last year in partnership with Austin Rutherford — a 29-year-old real-estate investor who also began his career as a flipper.

He said he raked in $27,000 in profit on that property and expects to do even better this year despite the housing market slowing. He projects his annual income as CEO of Innovate Property Solutions should grow to $300,000 as he pivots from wholesaling to more fix-and-flip projects, which are more lucrative but require more capital. He now runs his business solo. 

A brick house in Dublin, Ohio.

The first house that Shawn Castellanos flipped in Dublin, Ohio, a 20-minute drive from Columbus. Shawn Castellanos

"It is about knowing multiple exit strategies," he said. "I see people that are just wholesaling right now, and some of them are getting their butts handed to them because that's all they can do. I'm flipping everything right now because it's just higher-margin."

On top of that, he said, the slowing market cuts both ways.

"What's cool in our business is we're on both the buy and sell ends," he said. "So that means we get to buy things for less too."

Gen Z is catching the real-estate bug

Gen Zers like Castellanos — once reluctant to invest or just unable to get a start — are getting amped to participate in the real-estate market in 2023, a recent survey found.

The November 2022 survey, which was conducted by the online investor marketplace New Western, included responses from 886 adults who have purchased or plan to purchase a property through the marketplace.

New Western found that among its investors, some 86% under 24 said they were going to ramp up buying efforts as soon as mortgage rates "stabilized." That was more bullish than the responses from all investors surveyed, according to New Western, which says it has facilitated $15 billion in transactions and connected 150,000 investors in 52 markets.

An empty room with a ceiling fan and glass doors leading outside.

The interior of the house that Shawn Castellanos flipped. Shawn Castellanos

Like Castellanos, these investors are largely eyeing places in the Midwest and Western US like Columbus, Ohio; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Missoula, Montana, the survey found. 

To Castellanos, it's the access to information that has made his generation so bullish. Where a young adult in the 1980s would have to go to a library to do extensive market research, that person today can get the information quicker on YouTube, he said.

Paths to profit for young, first-time home flippers

While accessing information might encourage someone to start investing in real estate, it takes a lot more than just watching videos to make a career out of it. Castellanos swore by three things when making the leap from education to investing.

The first is to take a risk, which he called a necessary step to making money. For him, it was going into debt in exchange for the real-estate course whose outcome was uncertain. 

Second, he recommends that home flippers get their feet wet by wholesaling, which to him means buying a property and reselling it without doing much work on it. This requires hustle, hitting the phones to find the best deals, he said.

Third, once you've established a presence in the local market, it's important to network with people who can help finance your purchases and help rehabilitate the properties. This will be crucial later if you need to finance a project or find an honest contractor, he said.