By Harvey S. Jacobs November 1, 2013

There is one surefire way to make lots of money in real estate: Conduct get-rich-quick-in-real-estate seminars and sell additional CDs, courses and materials for thousands of dollars to hundreds of people who attend.

If you live in the District or the surrounding suburbs, your mailbox probably has been filled with postcards and fliers inviting you to real estate seminars. When you turn on your television, the airwaves are filled with infomercials touting the benefits of real estate and promising that if you follow the host’s tried-and-true moneymaking methods, you can’t help but make as much money as you want.

If I had not seen this with my own eyes at the many seminars I have attended over the years, I would not have believed that so many hardworking Washingtonians would part with their hard-earned money for a chance to get rich quick in real estate. Inevitably, the seminars follow a similar pattern. A very attractive, well-spoken presenter provides a slickly produced audience warm-up.

The presenter asks the assembled crowd, Who makes enough money? When he learns that no one in the audience makes enough money, he outlines for them strategies to be used to make money in real estate. and spends an hour or two outlining the path to riches. Literally, every seminar I have attended used testimonials from previous attendees, all declaring that in just a few short months after taking the full course, they tripled or quadrupled their net worth, all without any credit, formal education or money. When the seminar concludes, there is a stampede to the back of the room to the well-dressed presenters, armed with laptop computers and credit-card-processing modems, ready and willing to accept your money.

What are you buying? Additional course materials that provide you with the step-by-step details that the presenter alluded to in the previous three hours. Perhaps you are buying books or CDs filled with forms to be used to implement the get-rich-quick method. The top-level students of the real estate guru will even get a 24-hour hotline to call the guru with any questions along the way.

Now don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly agree that before you invest in real estate, you should educate yourself on the local laws, practices, customs, ethics and market conditions. It also does not hurt to learn a bit about construction costs, building codes and materials, how mortgages work and how the local sales and/or rental market is performing. It is also an excellent idea to locate a local mentor who will allow you to observe how things are done in the area and who is willing to take some time to answer the never-stupid questions you may have about how a real estate investment deal actually gets done.

But instead of spending thousands of dollars for a course put together by some large national seminar company, you should attend local events. There are local real estate investor associations run by folks who have done and are doing local real estate deals and who are willing to share their expertise and resources. Many libraries have excellent real estate resources available for free.

Your local bookstore has literally a dozen books on the many legitimate strategies for making money in real estate. You could likely buy them all for less than one seminar course costs.

Most community colleges have classes on real estate investing, real estate brokerage, home renovation and the like. Stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s offer free weekend classes on renovation projects. These free or low-cost options can provide you with the knowledge and contacts to embark on your own road to real estate riches.

Harvey S. Jacobs is a real estate lawyer with Jacobs & Associates Attorneys at Law in Rockville. He is an active real estate investor, developer, landlord, settlement attorney, lender and Realtor. This column is not legal advice and should not be acted upon without obtaining your own legal counsel. Contact Jacobs at (301) 417-4144, or