Ben Leybovich . justaskbenwhy.com
My name is Ben Leybovich. I was born in Russia in 1975, and by the age of five I had started playing the violin. I was not a prodigy, but neither was I void of certain predisposition for the craft. Long story short, I knew from a very young age that I was destined to be a professional musician and for as long as I can remember, the only thing that mattered to me professionally was the level of my musical ability as compared to other classical musicians. It is a phenomenon that the Russians call “Intelligencia”. To be considered great at what one does was far more important than how much money one earns, how much wealth one accumulates, or anything else. What I was professionally became who I was personally.
When I was 13 years old, my family and I arrived in America. It was a long effort to immigrate that bounced us from country to country. My father and mother risked their freedom and their lives to bring my younger brother and me to this wonderful country in search of a better life. The year was 1989, and I was entering junior high school. I spent my first few years learning to speak English, mostly by watching television re-runs of Who’s The Boss and Taxi. By high school I was somewhat adjusted, although to this day I tend to speak with a bit of an accent. After high school I spent seven years at the University of Cincinnati College – Conservatory of Music training as a classical violinist/violist. The last three years in Cincinnati were eye-opening and tumultuous – the crossroads…
I had begun working on my Master of Music Degree when LIFE decided that the crossroads would be good for my character. It started out slowly. One day, I felt some tingling sensation in my legs. At first I didn’t pay attention, but the sensation became more pronounced and I started experiencing vertigo as well. I left school and went home for a couple of weeks thinking that a break would help, but it didn’t – it got worse.
I started noticing a loss of coordination on my right arm. I knew because when I tried to hammer a nail, attempting to help my father to put up a wooden fence, the head of the hammer kept landing about a half of an inch to the right of where I was aiming.
I know what you are thinking – I am a violinist; no kidding I can’t work a hammer – right? Actually, I’ve always loved woodworking and had been pretty good with tools. Besides, I started having a similar issue at the dining table when a loaded fork would miss my mouth only to smear the food on my cheek. I knew something was very wrong.
I went back to school and scheduled an appointment to see a doctor who promptly ordered an MRI. Two days later I was due for a follow-up visit, but my crossroads couldn’t wait that long. Around 9:00 P.M. that night all hell broke loose inside my body when my legs started buzzing, my head started spinning, and my tongue started to curl uncontrollably inside my mouth. Completely freaked out I jumped into the car and drove to the hospital like a bat out of hell. By the time I got to the emergency 5 minutes later, my speech was so slurred that I could barely tell them who I was, the right side of my face was numb, and I had barely the coordination to put my scribbles on a few sheets of paper…
I remember laying in a hospital bed in The University of Cincinnati Hospital emergency room. A doctor approached me with a concerned but calm expression on his face and told me that he had ordered the MRI films which were taken that morning, and that the images were consistent with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
He explained to me that Multiple Sclerosis is an auto-immune disease in which someone’s immune system gets “confused” and attacks their own body by eating away at the protective fatty tissue around the nerves. Think of electrical wiring – he said. The plastic tubing on the outside of the actual wire is the equivalent to this protective sheath. If the plastic cover over the wire breaks down, the wire sparks and causes a fire. Similarly, if this protective tissue around the nerves is disturbed, the signals that travel from the brain get interrupted. This is why I was experiencing all that tingling, numbness, and loss of control.
Having finished explaining this to me he paused. I was a mess. My mind was buzzing; not from MS but from sheer overload. I didn’t know exactly what all of this meant, but I felt that my life just changed completely and forever.
Friends – have you ever experienced how sometimes providence throws you a bone when you need it the most? This is what happened next, because as if sensing the turmoil inside me the doctor looked me in the eye and continued:
There are many forms of MS. We don’t clearly understand why, but this illness progresses very fast in some, causing patients to experience very rapid deterioration, while in others it takes a long time. He told me that there was no way of knowing what path the disease was going to take in my case, and because of this there was great hope that I would be able to have a normal life for a very long time. He said, “I want you to go on with your life as if nothing happened.” Easier said than done, but better than the alternative – I thought.
The initial shock subsided and my health stabilized in a few months, but the turmoil was just beginning. What do I do? Can I still play the instrument? Is it wise to plan on being able to earn a living as a performing artist knowing that I could loose control of my limbs at any time? But music is all I know. It’s what I am. It is who I am. If not music, then what?
Eventually I had to make peace with having to leave a career in music in the past, but I still had no idea what next. I struggled with this for about a year, and then it came to me – instead of focusing on what I should do, I should focus on WHY. Why do this and not that? How do I need for my life to work and look, and why? What are the important criterions? Thus, I began to ask and answer questions one by one – like peeling an onion.
Question: Can I still be successful in life?
This was a no-brainer. I was not dead or terminally ill – THANK GOD! I hit a stumbling block, not a brick wall. Though there were now a few limitations and considerations in my life, I was still basically a healthy, smart, and capable person. So the question of whether I can still be successful in life could not be answered because it should have never been asked. The pity party was over. It was time to take action!
Question: If not music, how do I make a living? What kind of job is good for me?
Now these were more pertinent questions, answering which I approached very methodically. I knew I needed to be creative since my medical condition made it a very real possibility that I would not always have complete control of my physiology. It is difficult to hang onto a job if your body quits on you, and I was being told that this reality is a matter of when – and not if.
I researched the world of money extensively, and I came to realize that there are 3 types of income: Earned Income, Passive Income, and Portfolio Income. Earned income is employment and self-employment income. It is the result of performing labor in exchange for a paycheck. It’s the be healthy, and go punch the clock kind of income. Since I wasn’t sure for how long I will be healthy, the punch the clock approach to making money wasn’t going to do. I could probably do it for a number of years, but long-term I needed to find ways of generating income that would not be limited by or conditioned on my physiology. I was 24 years old and single at that time but I wanted a family, and it was important to me that I could provide for my family’s future regardless of my physical limitations.
Well, since earned income was a non-starter, I continued looking at the other types of income. My research revealed that portfolio income is the income resulting from paper assets, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities, etc., while passive income is the domain of real estate. Both types belong to the world of investment, and therefore both are a lot more passive in nature than earned income; both require management, but not labor. Conclusion – I needed to learn to generate investment income.
Question: Is real estate the answer?
I quickly realized that portfolio income was not right for me for one reason – what I really needed was income to pay my monthly bills. Most people’s plan to generate income is to work at a job until 68 years of age, but I couldn’t plan on that. Therefore, my investments had to produce cash flow. I realized, however, that paper assets offer very few possibilities in a way of income. True, I could buy dividend stocks and annuities, but at 5% annual return I would have to own $600,000 of such assets in order to generate $30,000 of annual income. Unlike real estate which can be purchased using leverage, paper assets have to be paid for with cash. Where am I going to get that kind of money? Furthermore, $30,000 per year is the bare minimum. Obviously my family will require more than that. This left real estate, and thus about 11 years ago, or approximately one year following the MS diagnosis, I dedicated myself to the study of the art and science of real estate finance and acquisition.
My study of real estate was encouraged by two distinct experiences. The first occurred while I was still in college and the other immediately thereafter. First, I have to tell you that while in school I was entirely consumed with the idea of practicing my violin to perfect my skill so I could beat out the next guy for that “coveted job.” This is the way most of us were. So there I was, practicing 7-hour days on my instrument until my fingers practically bled, when in walked a freshman.
I sized him up immediately. Absolutely no competition – I thought. The kid wasn’t anywhere near as good as I was. But there was a catch. He didn’t seem to care. It was like he had a secret. He was there for the ride and he was having a great time. He had nothing to prove, he just seemed secure. I couldn’t figure it out. He was an anomaly from us all.
It turned out this kid’s father was doing more with his money than just paying for his son’s college tuition. He was also giving him another kind of education. He had bought his son a 4-bedroom house right next to campus. The two of them installed locks on all the bedroom doors, and this kid became a landlord. In no time at all he was able to rent the three extra rooms in the house to his classmates.
I was totally confused. On one hand, I could not understand why anyone would want to busy themselves with leaky faucets and running toilets. School was hard enough! But on the other hand, I could tell that this kid was going to be just fine no matter how good he was as a musician, and real estate was going to have something to do with it. I understood immediately that he was living in the house for free. His classmate’s rent checks covered the expenses!
The second experience I want to tell you about was a telephone conversation that took place right after I was done with school. Upon accepting my first job offer, which entailed setting-up a non-profit music school in Lima, Ohio, my wife Patrisha and I took a trip to Lima to begin looking for a place to live. We drove the streets and collected information about every available apartment we could find. The next morning I began calling all of the “for rent” numbers we had collected on our trip, and it wasn’t long before I found myself talking to a very nice, older gentleman named Norm. Unlike many of the other people I had spoken to who were rushed and short, this man seemed genuinely interested in having a conversation. He asked me several typical questions about who I was and what I would be doing when I moved to Lima. He was also very open about himself. As our conversation progressed I learned that he was actually one of the largest builders in the Lima area. This man had a sizable real estate portfolio which he and his wife owned free and clear.
I was incredibly impressed with Norm. Not only was he a millionaire many times over, but he was human and interesting to talk to. I remembered the kid from college and I began to tell Norm about how someday when I had a little money I’d like to buy some real estate, too. He said, “a little money? What do you need money for?”
I explained that I had no credit, very little savings, and although I now had a job, it wouldn’t pay me enough to live on and start investing in real estate. He chuckled and said, “Listen, son. If you want to own property you don’t need money.” I said nothing. As if sensing the confusion in my brain exhibited by the prolonged silence, Norm said:
“If you have a brain, you don’t need money to buy real estate. You just need to be educated!”
I received this comment as a challenge. I have a brain! I had always considered myself a pretty sharp guy. If I were to take Norm seriously, then his statement just took away every excuse that I had for not getting involved in real estate right away. I felt great. Though it was going to take a lot of studying and a lot of doing, there was now a clear path visible which transcended MS. Thank you Norm!
Today I am 37 years old. I am blessed to be married to the love of my life: Patrisha. We have two gorgeous children: Aaron and Isabella. My health is good. I watch what I eat and exercise. Over the past seven years I have managed to assemble a $1,500,000 portfolio of real estate, which in Ohio buys 28 very attractive residential units. My portfolio generates $165,000+ of annual rent revenue with annual cash flow of around $40,000.
I have become an expert at creative finance. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to – I had no money to invest. In fact, every last cent that I needed to acquire this beautiful real estate was financed; at times very creatively. Today, I am on my way to financial freedom, but it has nothing to do with money. This journey is about Self-Worth! MS hasn’t stopped me…
My name is Ben Leybovich. I get up every morning, kiss my wife and kids, and say “THANK YOU” for a body that still works the way it should. I check it throughout each day because there was a time it didn’t work like it was supposed to – like I was accustomed to – like I took for granted, and since then my mind plays tricks on me from time to time. Some days are easier to be positive than others, but I am at peace because even if I don’t do anything more, in 20 years my mortgages will be paid-off, and my family will have plenty of income to constitute financial security.
Folks, I never wanted financial freedom; I had to have it – so my wife and kids will have the life that they are meant to have. I am a husband and a father. Providing for my family is not a want; it is a necessity – with MS or without! This is my WHY!
How about you? What burns inside you? When the going gets tough, what is it that helps you to hang-on? If you are not aware that you have any physical limitations, then you are one step ahead of where I was when I started on this journey. Start today – while you still can!
Maybe you’re wondering if you can trust me. You can! My motives are pure. I want to “Educate You to Plan for and to Take Action to achieve financial freedom.” I want to teach you what I’ve learned over the past decade. If you allow me, I will introduce you to the entrepreneurial perspective that will open doors of opportunity for you as it did for me. And to accomplish this, I have developed a comprehensive curriculum for Cash Flow Freedom University.
Cash Flow Freedom University is a comprehensive course of study for the real estate entrepreneur. The course is comprised of 20 audio seminars and 160+ pages of text packed with case-studies of transactions from my career and practical advice concerning deal analysis, property maintenance, creative financing methods, wealth-building strategies, and much more. In addition, I’ve included my software Cash Flow Analyzer, as well as several complimentary spreadsheets which are pre-programmed and ready to use and will help you analyze your deals and track your finances. To learn more about how you can use Cash Flow Freedom University as a tool to help build your financial future, click here.
BiggerPockets Podcast 014 : Cash Flow, Creative Finance, and Life with Ben Leybovich https://www.biggerpockets.com/renewsblog/2013/04/18/cash-flow-creative-finance-life-ben-leybovich/