Investing in Real estate can be a satisfying and profitable endeavor even for those who are just starting out if they know what to look for. The key is finding property that has real potential that others have overlooked without laying out too much cash in the beginning. Although there are lots of books, websites and seminars to guide you, sticking to some basics is still essential.
Maximize your information sources by using all available options. The Internet has hundreds of sites advertising real estate for sale, many of them by-passing realtors in order to save cash for both the buyer and seller. Google Base, Ebay, CraigsList and numerous others have houses listed For Sale by Owner (FSBO, a term you'll quickly become familiar with). Don't neglect property listed with realtors, though. Get to know realtors and let them know you're seeking those hard to sell properties that need some work - they will often lower their commission to sell a house that's been hanging around for a while.
Always, always visit the property yourself to evaluate it. No amount of pictures can substitute for walking the property yourself and seeing the rooms, fixtures and neighborhood up close. If you can, visit on two days - once during bad weather so you can check the basement, eaves and roof for signs of potential problems. Introduce yourself to the neighbors and get a feel for what the area is like - is it mostly retirees, or families with young children? This information will be invaluable down the line when you begin remodeling if you decide to purchase the house.
If you find problems like older pipes and wiring while checking out the property, you've given yourself some real bargaining power when it comes time to make an offer on the real estate. These are often the properties that can turn into a great profit margin. By pointing out potential problems ("I'll need to upgrade all the wiring, and those pipes have had it."), you may get the price reduced even further, or you can negotiate to have that work done at the owner's expense before you'll close on the house.
A complete home inspection is always a must - the report the inspector provides can point out other problems you, as a lay person, may have missed. This can mean the difference between purchasing a basically solid house that you can turn into a real gem and buying a house that looks sound but will end up being a money pit of repairs and major reconstruction! The report will cover details from leaks, carpet and floor damage to problems with the foundation or heating system. Be sure to determine what things are deal-breakers - talk to an expert about whether flaws are worth repairing, or are too major to be dealt with.
Some repairs should always be done by an expert, such as heating and air conditioning problems, repairing chimneys and flues and anything to do with the foundation of the house. Others, however, you can do yourself if you are handy yourself or are willing to learn. Fixing leaky faucets, repairing minor leaks, patching drywall, even refinishing floors can be done yourself at a greatly reduced cost - and can give you real bargaining power on the price when negotiating with the seller (after all, he/she doesn't need to know you're going to do it yourself!). Keeping these tips in mind will help you keep things realistic and maintain focus as you look for that hidden gem that you can turn into a showplace.