Passive income is not really passive: Meet the teacher and real estate investor who has a net worth of more than $500,000
The internet is flooded with stories of people using some type of so-called passive income scheme to get rich quick, whether they’re cashing in on easy YouTube ad dollars or investing in the latest meme stock. It’s hard not to get suckered into the promise of earning big bucks without working a traditional day job.
Many times, these strategies focus on real estate. But most real estate investors will tell you that you can’t make money just putting in minimal effort as the internet would have you believe. Just ask Tiffanie Vendryes.
Lured by the idea that she could generate income from buying up rental properties in 2015, Vendryes, now 37, bought three units in Florida that housed up to seven tenants.
But Vendryes quickly learned the hard way that passive income isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes. “I was blinded by how much income [I could earn], and I didn’t realize all of that would go into maintaining the property,” she says candidly.
Vendryes says she chose properties that were older, needed work, and were in low-income areas. Instead of sitting back and raking in the profits, she was overwhelmed dealing with late rent payments, evictions, and expensive repairs, including fixing a leaky roof and replacing the water heater and air conditioning units. “I failed, and I lost money,” she admits.
But Vendryes says the experience, while harrowing, taught her important lessons that helped her build up her current net worth of approximately $565,000. Here’s how she bounced back.
Playing the real estate game in Florida
After graduating from Stevens Institute of Technology in 2006, Vendryes had about $25,000 in student loan debt, largely thanks to grants and scholarships. She landed a high-paying job in tech sales—earning between $70,000 and $130,000 over three years—and lived frugally, at times having up to three roommates. Slowly Vendryes was able to start building her wealth, and by the time she turned 25, she says she had saved up about $100,000.
But then the 2008 financial crisis hit, and Vendryes was laid off, prompting her to move South and shake up her career. “I moved to Florida and got into education,” she says, adding the shift from tech sales to teaching meant taking a major pay cut from $100,000 to about $40,000.
Yet with her savings, Vendryes was able to buy a house in 2010 in Palm Beach County. Five years later, the value increased by more than 60%—jumping from $118,000 when Vendryes bought it to $190,000 when she sold it.
With part of the proceeds from her home sale, Vendryes got into the real estate game in a big way, buying three investment properties over the course of 2015 and into early 2016. But the luck didn’t hold.
The fixer-uppers were within her budget, but they came with a host of maintenance issues and quickly became money pits. Not to mention the people problems: Vendryes says she had tenants fighting with each other, calling the cops on each other, and calling her about their quarrels—and being a landlord became a massive time suck and an emotional drain.
“I decided that this probably wasn’t the best investment strategy for me,” Vendryes says. Within six months, she unloaded the properties, selling at least one at a loss.
Creating diverse income streams
Although Vendryes struggled to get it right in rental real estate, she never quit her day job in teaching. And having a full-time job helped her stay afloat when this other income stream wasn’t functioning.
That’s one of the biggest takeaways she says: have multiple gigs. Vendryes, now the mother of a 2-year-old, got back into the rental property game in 2019, and she opened up her own real estate brokerage. But she also keeps her teaching job.
It turns out that buying the rental properties sparked Vendryes’s interest in being more than an owner. “When I was buying those three properties, I would sometimes feel bad asking my realtor too much or going to see too many things,” Vendryes says, adding she got her own license in 2016. That way, she could go look at all the properties she wanted to before making an offer—guilt-free. Not only that, it had the added benefit of saving her money as both a buyer and a seller.
After taking some time to regroup, Vendryes bought a two-bedroom condo in 2018 situated in a nicer neighborhood with the idea that she’d eventually rent it out. A year later, it started generating income. This time, with stable tenants and minimal drama, she earns about $6,000 in annual rental income. Plus, Vendryes doesn’t touch the majority of the income. Instead, it goes into an account so if there’s some maintenance problem with the condo, the cost isn’t coming out of her everyday budget. She currently has one rental property and a townhouse that she owns and lives in.
Last year, Vendryes also opened her own real estate brokerage, Grace Realty Group. She has one agent working for her. So far this year, they’ve sold $2 million in real estate, which Vendryes says translates into roughly $38,000 in commissions for her.
And thanks to tenure and picking up extra responsibilities, Vendryes has boosted her teaching salary to approximately $79,000 a year as she works as an interim assistant principal and remote high school math teacher.
The early setbacks aside, Vendryes says she really likes real estate and enjoys looking at homes and showing properties. “It’s important to do something that you like so that it doesn’t feel like you’re doing a lot of work,” she says, adding that while her teaching job is flexible, she still relies on her mom for babysitting in order to juggle the real estate business, her teaching, and the responsibilities of a landlord.
All said, Vendryes calculates she’s on track to make about $123,000 this year. With her current home value (she bought a townhouse in 2021 that’s valued at over $400,000), retirement savings, and investments, she’s looking at a net worth north of $500,000. And she doesn’t have any outstanding debt.
But she’s the first to admit it’s been a lot of hard work. “My story has not been one of easy success. I got laid off from my first job. I went into education at less than 50% of what I was making before. I made poor choices in real estate,” she says, noting that through it all, she’s been able to accumulate wealth. “It’s through discipline, and it’s hard work, and it’s through learning from my mistakes.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson? It takes hustle. “It’s not really passive—everything takes work,” Vendryes says.