• Atif Afzal follows a “pyramid model” when choosing how to invest his money.
  • The base of the pyramid represents the lowest risk, which for him means investing in real estate.
  • The next two smaller tiers of his pyramid contain cryptocurrency and stocks.

Atif Afzal has built wealth and created financial independence via real estate investing, but it’s not the only place he puts his money.

“I follow a pyramid model,” the 37-year-old film composer and singer-songwriter told Insider of his investing strategy. 

If you visualize a pyramid, the base represents “the lowest risk,” he explained, “and that’s where the majority of my investments lie, which is real estate. Real estate is the lowest risk for me because traditionally it has always grown.”

Afzal started buying property in 2019 in upstate New York and gradually built a portfolio of four townhouses, which Insider verified by looking at his property tax documents. Over the past four years, he estimates that his properties have appreciated over 60% in value. And he’s now earning enough in rental income between the three properties he leases to long-term tenants to cover all of his basic needs, he said. 

Despite his success as a real estate investor, he’s invested in other types of assets, including cryptocurrency and the stock market. The more diversified your portfolio is, within and across asset classes, the less you’ll be exposed to risk and volatility.

Since he’s less comfortable with crypto and stocks, they take up the next two smaller tiers of the pyramid. 

Afzal is “more inclined towards cryptocurrency and altcoins,” he said. “I’m also into stocks but I’m very, very specific. I don’t have a ton of stocks but I go in very heavy after studying certain things. I’m more into EVs.” 

Why real estate is at the base of the pyramid

For Afzal, investing most of his money into real estate means “adopting a conservative approach,” he said. “I know that tomorrow my cryptocurrency portfolio can be brought down by 90%. Things like the Silicon Valley Bank crash last month can cause the stock market to tumble. Things can happen. But my real estate will never just plummet like that.” 

Real estate investing also makes sense to him from a numbers perspective. 

“In 1950 there were like 2.5 billion people and now we are at 7.75 billion globally,” he said. “By 2050, they’re expecting 9.5 billion humans on earth. And 95% of us live in just 10% of the land. So it’s simple math. [Real estate] has to grow.”

He’s not the only investor Insider has spoken to who is doubling down on real estate. 

North Carolina-based investor James Berkley, who spent the majority of his career on Wall Street, believes that real estate is much better from a risk-reward standpoint than stocks.

After working as an investment banking analyst at a small firm his first year out of college, he transitioned to what’s known as the sell side at Credit Suisse in 2012. For eight years, his job involved selling research and stock ideas to hedge funds and asset managers. 

james heidi

James Berkley and his wife Heidi.

Courtesy of James and Heidi Berkley



“I’m very familiar with the equities market,” the 34-year-old investor told Insider. “And I’m supremely confident that real estate is much better from a risk-reward standpoint than stocks. You can make a lot more money with a lot less risk.”

Berkley made good money while working in finance: His starting salary at his first job was $65,000, and he ended his career earning $625,000, he said. Even so, the bulk of his $7 million net worth, which Insider verified, is due to his property investments, he noted: “The money that I made came almost exclusively from real estate.”

The way he sees it, “the S&P 500 index has gone up, on average, 11-12% per year for the last 100 years,” he said. “With real estate, you can blow those returns away because there are four ways you can make money.”

The four ways to build wealth through real estate investing include: value add (when you take a property that has room for improvement and add value to it through upgrades), positive cash flow (when your rental income exceeds all of your expenses), debt pay down (every time you make a mortgage payment, you’re building equity in the home), and levered appreciation, which is “the biggest one,” said Berkley.

If your property goes up in value, that’s called appreciation and that’s a form of making money. The great thing about real estate is that you can borrow a lot of money (from a mortgage lender) to buy the asset, but you don’t have to share any of the appreciation, so you’re getting what Berkley calls levered appreciation. 

Seattle-based real estate investor and self-made millionaire Todd Baldwin similarly believes that real estate investing is the most tried-and-true way to generate wealth. With volatile investments such as crypto, “you can make a lot of money, but you can also lose all of your money,” he told Insider. “If you take your money and buy real estate, you’ll never make 30 times or even five times your money in one day. But you can bet that over time you will become a millionaire.”

Buying property isn’t necessarily easy, he emphasized. It requires time, dedication, and tenacity, “but it’s pretty straight-forward: If you just buy real estate and you hang on to it for 20 years, you’re going to sell it for a lot more than what you paid for it.”

That said, Baldwin is also a believer in investing “in what you understand,” he said. While for him, that means investing in real estate — and, more specifically, doing wholesale deals — it’ll be different for every individual investor.

Before you put your money anywhere, think about how well you could explain that particular investment to a friend, he advised. If you can’t articulate why it’s a smart investment vehicle, consider doing more research before dipping your toe in.

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