James: Hi Audience. Welcome to Achieve Wealth Podcast where we talk about value-add commercial real estate. Today I have Joseph Gozlan from Dallas, Texas. Joseph run’s the record business group, which is a brokerage firm and also a sponsor of 500 units in Lubbock. And now let’s welcome Joseph; and why not just have you tell about yourself?
Joseph: Awesome. Thank you. James. It’s an honor to be on your podcast, I love everything you do. We’re in the same mastermind, so it’s an honor to be here.
James: Sure, absolutely. So, yeah, I mean, we like to talk details, right? There’s no fluff here and there’s no marketing as well. So let’s go deep down into details about how you run your operation between being a broker, at the same time being a sponsor where you syndicate deal. So can you tell me how you split your roles there?
Joseph: Yeah, so it’s actually very complimentary and it brings value to everybody in the transactions. So when we work with our acquisition groups, we have access to the tools that most sponsors don’t have. We have access to Yardi matrix that gives us information about properties, comps, sales, rents and loans that are on the property that really give us access to information that is beyond what most sponsors have. And if a sponsor wants to get comps on the area, he either depends on whatever the broker provides him or they have to go out and shop those properties themselves.
So we have all that advantage of talking to other people in the industry, talking to other workers and really understanding the market better than most out there. So that’s really the value that we can bring to our investors. On the other hand, we also bring a lot of value to our customers because unlike working with a 25-year-old kid for Marcus and Millichap or CVRE, we actually know what we’re doing, we actually own those properties. We operate the properties so we can really get our clients through everything they need help with so if they need us to extend our lenders connections or insurance agents or so on, we can help that. We can help them calm down when Fanny Mae drives them crazy and tell them that’s normal, that’s just how Fannie Mae works. And that’s not to say that there are no veteran agents at Marcus and Millichap or CVRE that don’t know what they’re doing, they definitely have some superior people over there that are more capable than most agents there.
But for the most part, if you’re a new sponsor, you’ll be working with the lower level agents in the agencies there. For sellers, what we can help with is because we have the operations experience, we can come in and take a look at the financials, take a look at the operations and offer tweaks here and there to their operations to help them really maximize their NOI, which as you know, maximizes the property value, the price we can sell. And I can give examples if you want.
James: Sure, sure. I mean, before we go there, I want to touch on one thing because you can see the seller’s mind right? I mean, I’ve not sold one property yet so, I don’t know how the mindset is going to be, but you work with a lot of sellers, right? So tell me why sellers sell?
Joseph: Oh, there’s a lot of reasons. All the way from syndication groups that have completed the renovation plan, extracted the value that they were planning to and they’re ready to sell just like they promised their investors two, three years later. And on the very far end of that spectrum, you have the older ownership that, and I see that and I cringe a little bit every time, but their kids want nothing to do with apartments. And that is just sad to see a 70 80-year-old person that worked so hard all his life to build a portfolio and now instead of being happy to build that generational wealth and to hand it over to the kids, they want nothing of it so they’re forced to sell. So it’s everywhere in between, but usually it’s either a completion of a pre-planned execution plan or the kids don’t want it. I got to get rid of it. Sometimes we come across distressed owners that went into something that was just not ready for and they want out. That happens too.
James: Okay. I mean, we had like nine years of expansion run right now, right? So the dynamic of buyers and sellers has changed. So, people who bought it in 2010, they have made a lot of money up to now, I mean, in terms of equity, they are brought up a lot of equity and they would have sold it somewhere 2013 or 2015. But there’s a lot of people who are jumping in right now late in the game, as a buyer. And what do you think, they need to be watching here right now because we had one of the longest expansion markets right now.
Joseph: Yeah. So here’s the thing, everybody that bought in 2010 and sold in 2015 regret it now because people that were in 2015 are selling now in 2019 and they still made a lot more money. So nobody has a crystal ball, we don’t know where it’s going. We don’t know if it’s going to end in six months so it’s going to take another six years until we see a difference. Personally, I believe we are about 18 to 24 months away from seeing quite a few properties go on a distress sale but I don’t think it has anything to do the way the market is going to behave. So we kind of reach to a place where the market is no longer steeping up and just a crazy incline, we’re getting into a place where it’s a plateau or maybe a little bit of a downturn in some of the markets in the country, but for the most part it just plateaus or creeping up a little bit in other markets.
But that’s not going to be enough if people made a mistake buying. So I always say about multifamily, you make your money when you buy, but you lose your money on operations and who better than you know how critical operation efficiency is, right? Then I see a lot of sponsors out there that are not very good operators and I think that is going to cost them the property in the long run if they don’t pay attention to the details and they don’t really follow everything that happens on the property.
James: Got It. So I talk a lot about operators in my book, Passive Investing in Commercial Real Estate because I think they are the backbone of the success of a deal. Can you define an operator?
Joseph: Yes. Anybody that is involved in the day to day of the properties. If that person is not talking to the property managers, is not talking to the supervisor, is not talking to the owners of the property management or the VPs that are assigned to these accounts and just hands over the keys and forget about it, it’s not gonna work. Because at the end of the day, and this is kind of like a little bit of a joke in this business where we buy 5 10 $20 million properties but we hand over the keys to people that have 50 $60,000 pay grade and they are phenomenal people at what they do but they still don’t have the capacity or the business knowledge to make decisions for $20 million properties.
So each level in the chain has their own decision rights and obviously, I don’t make a decision of who is going to fix the faucet in J7 or is it more critical to do that faucet versus the plumbing in K9? This is a decision that happens on the property level. There are decision levels with the regional supervisor and then there are decision levels at the property management level company, the corporate office and there are certain decisions that we keep to ourselves like brand, right?
If it has our name on it, it better run through us. It doesn’t matter if it’s a website or a flyer or advertising somewhere, we’re going to make sure we control our brand so this is a decision that stays within our control. We also work with partnerships. We don’t just come from all the way up top and we drop it down heel to the people on the property. We listened to our property managers, we get ideas from them, we work together to encourage them to be more than just order takers.
James: Got it. Yeah. Some asset manager, they want to be a sponsor, but actually, they tried to do more passive investor, where they give the keys to the third party property management and they hope that things will run well. I mean, market could have helped a lot of people in the past nine years, because market is booming even though you make mistakes, even though you did not do well as an operator or you have no clue of a multifamily operation, you would have still made like 100%, I don’t know how many percent, but he could have made at least a minimum 50% right? If you bought it in 2015 and sell now a minimum of 50% but I think that’s a market, right? As an operator, you would have increased the value a lot more if you’re a really good operator. So can you define why or can you let us know why did you go to Lubbock when you’re living in Dallas, which is one of the hottest markets in the country?
Joseph: Well, we got priced out of the market, honestly. There’s a lot of education groups that that push bids up. There is a lot of foreign money that came in. You’ve got to look at it from this perspective; everybody has their own strategy. Everybody has their own set of investors and those investors have their own expectations for returns. So, I’ll give a few examples, right? The Japanese for investors, there’s a tax law back home that if they buy anything in the states that is over 20 something years old, they get to accelerate depreciation and write it off in about three, four years. They don’t need to make money, it’s a write off for them. Their strategy is a tax write off so they can out beat us at any given point. If your strategy is working with foreign investors, we both know another syndicator that works with foreign German investors and he says that they’re thrilled to get 5% returns. If that’s the money he needs to pay his investors, if that’s the returns he’s got to achieve, he can overpay what we can afford because our investors expect more. So that’s what I’m saying is you got to look at it. It’s not just foreign investors, it’s also family offices, it’s also institutional money that came in and all these groups are looking for core markets. Dallas, Austin, Houston, LA in New York, Miami and Atlanta, Georgia. That’s the kind of markets that they know. So we just got out priced from the market so we went out and went to the secondary markets in Texas.
James: Yeah. I think it’s strange. Sometimes we see a deal is expensive but it could be just, it’s expensive for you. Your investor base thinks that your returns are too low but there could be another investor base who is okay with that deal and they may get a benefit from other factors like tax benefits, which is for them is a great deal at this market. So yeah, there’s no expensive deals, it’s just who’s your investment base, I guess. If you have Japanese as the investor base and maybe we can buy, the priciest deal in town and still make everybody happy.
Joseph: I’ve seen them buy [12:18unintelligible] so yeah, you’re absolutely right. If you’re a 10 31 money and you’re backed against the wall with the clock running down against you, you’re looking at it and say, okay, all of that loss of potential taxes is my income now because I’m going to be able to recover that instead of paying that. So there’s a lot of reasoning behind people’s strategy and I learned not to judge somebody for [quote-unquote] over-paying without knowing what the background and where the funds are and what’s the alternative they had.
James: Got It. Yeah. I think the biggest problem we see is over-beating when people over-beat on a deal, that’s where you’re paying the highest price whether you know or not, you may have won the deal, but you actually lost the war.
Joseph: Well, and that’s where the smaller boutique shops like ours are a little bit better to work with as a sponsor because if you go to bid on a Marcus and Millichap deal or CVRE deal or JLLHFF, any one of the big brokers, they have hundreds of thousands of people in their distribution lists so you will be bidding against a lot of people.
Small brokers like us, we don’t have a database that large; I wish I had, but we don’t. So then the circulation of the properties that we have on our marketing is much smaller than the ones that the Marcus and Millichap guys have. And as part of that, we’ve learned to build a network of smaller brokers that we call broker with. So when you approach someone like me and there are quite a few small firms out there that are doing the same thing, not only that you get access to my less circulated listings, but I can also get you access to somebody else’ less circulated listings that you wouldn’t have been able to access because you don’t know that small broker.
James: Yeah. So let me ask you, I mean, you are a broker and we go to your role as an investor because it’s interesting to talk to a broker, I’ve not talked to a broker on this podcast yet. So how does broker market deals in this hot market? Obviously, you’re going to get a deal, we should think is a good deal; there are two types of deals, one is a deal that you think a lot of people will want to jump on it and there’s another deal which you think is a bit pricey that are sellers testing the water right now, right? They want to check out how much they can get in terms of price. So let’s say the first scenario where they are, it’s a good deal and how would you go about marketing that deal?
Joseph: Yeah. So we try not to work with sellers that are completely delusional. If the property is worth $2 million and they’re asking for 4, my chances of getting them a buyer is zero. I can’t afford to spend all that time on a property I know I can’t sell. So we have honest conversations with our sellers about what’s realistic and what’s optimistic and what’s unreasonable. So we’ll work with them on this and we will not take owners that are just unreasonable so that’s just to address the types that you mentioned.
The way we get our listings out is when we get a listing, we first make a few phone calls and those few phone calls are to the buyers that have closed a deal with us, it’s for the buyers that we know are capable of closing, the buyers that are, in our opinion, ready to pull the trigger and the most qualified buyers. And if we can get that property sold within those few phone calls, then that’s great. If not, then we’ll expand the phone call circle and then we’ll send an email to a smaller group of investor, then a bigger email to a larger group of our investors and it’s basically like a growing ripple in a lake. When you throw that stone first, there’s a small circle, then there is a larger and larger all the way up until if we have no choice, we’ll get it all the way out to those websites out there that are doing listings for apartments and so on. So we’ll start small and we’ll grow as we need.
James: Okay. Yeah, that’s my theory in terms of off-market because usually, the brokers will try to sell within the people that they know because it’s a multi-million dollar deal and brokers have the fiduciary responsibility to sell it as soon as possible to the seller, to the right qualified buyer.
Joseph: It depends on the seller. If you go to one of the big brokerages out there, then you are willingly putting the property into the blender. They will have 30 40 tours and they will have a lot of people interested and there is going to be a call for offers in maybe two of those and then there’s going to be a best and final round so it’ll take about four to six months of just a lot of disruption to the property. At the end of it, you might get a contract that will go through, you might fall for the first one and go to the second one, but eventually, they’ll get it sold and they’re probably going to get a top possible dollar for that property but in that time, that property went through the blender.
The way we operate and what we offer our sellers is a quiet, smoother transaction without disrupting the property with qualified buyer. Part of what we do, our responsibility to the seller is to qualify the buyer. And if it’s not a qualified buyer, we’re not going to get him on the property, we’re not going to disrupt the property and we’re not going to let him lock in on the contract.
James: Yeah, I mean, just to give a story, I had a guy who was a Newbie called me like two days ago. He said, “James, I found this 20 something plus unit deal and I’m evaluating with the broker.” And I asked him, my first question is, “Why they need to sell to you?” And he cannot answer that question. So if they’re now coming to you who are a Newbie, that means they cannot really sell it to a lot of experienced buyers. I mean 20 something units are the same across a hundred, 200 units; there are so many of qualified buyers out there where the brokers will have relationships with, where they want to sell to the qualified people rather than just go and give it to the Newbie.
Joseph: 10 to 20 unit is kind of like the first property so we’re going to have to work with newbies anyway.
James: Yeah, that could be the reason.
Joseph: But it’s just a matter of is it a qualifying Newbie or is it a non-qualified Newbie. The question is that the broker should have probably asked him is where is the financing coming over from? Do you have a proof of funds and did you talk to the bank? This is a full recourse loan itself. There are ways for us to qualify even Newbies.
James: Okay. Okay. Got It. So let’s go to your role as a sponsor. So let’s go back to the market itself, why do you like Lubbock?
Joseph: Yeah. So Lubbock is, well, no longer, but it used to be a well-kept secret of a great economy market, it’s in the middle of the panhandles, it’s called the hub city, that’s the nickname. And that’s because it’s one of the most important cities in over a hundred-mile radius. And it has Texas Tech University, it’s the biggest engineering school in Texas, and they have over 37,000 students over there. And while we don’t do student housing, there’s a lot of student housing in the city, but we don’t do student housing but the math is simple. For every four or five students the university adds, there’s a new job in town. So today, Texas Tech supports over 13,000 jobs, on its own bring one point $2 billion to the city and just retail shopping alone, their students are doing more than $300 million a year.
So add that to a few other factors; economic factors in town that drive a really good economy, a lot of jobs, the unemployment rate in Lubbock is anywhere between 2.5 and 3.2. That’s what I’ve been seeing in the last year and a half out there, which has a downside for a sponsor but we can talk about it later, but for the most part, having such a low unemployment rate in so much job opportunities really gives you more comfort in the B&C class environment because in the B and C class environment, if those tenants lose their job, they don’t have a lot of financial depth. If they lose the job and they can’t find a job within a week or two, they won’t have money to pay the rent. So that’s why picking a market that has strong jobs, strong economics was super critical for us.
James: So what is the downside? I don’t get that.
Joseph: Oh, the downside is finding good employees.
James: Oh, got it. Because everybody’s being employed.
Joseph: Because they always have options and they always move and we lost so many maintenance people just because they don’t want to work hard. They can easily find a job where they don’t have to work so hard so that’s just has been a constant struggle out there. But that’s just part of the pros and cons of every place.
James: So did you end up buying a deal in Lubbock because you got your first deal there or did you look in a few cities and you chose it or how was it?
Joseph: That’s a good question. It’s a combination of both. So, it wasn’t our first deal, but it was our first big one and it just came through a relationship that we had with the property manager and a broker and we had a chance to take a deal off completely off-market and go for it.
James: Okay. Okay. So once you got a deal, you look at the market, then you think it’s a really great market and you continue doing deals in the same market.
Joseph: Yeah, we operate a little bit different today, but that’s just how we got to Lubbock back then. Today we are I analyzing markets with a big set of criteria that we’re looking for and right now specifically because we try to get out of the way of our brokerage customers, we’re looking at a few out of state markets.
James: Okay. Got It. Got It. So when you look at a deal, I mean, can you describe the type of things that you look forward to that describe to you that that is a good deal? Can you describe what are the things you look for in a deal that you would say, okay, I want to do this deal?
Joseph: Yeah. So, the market is the most important thing, it’s that simple. Jobs, jobs economy, what do they do for a living, is that a one employer town kind of a situation, what’s the risk with the market, what the market did back in 2010 when unemployment was high everywhere in the country, that’s the things that we first take care of. I’m obviously making sure if we’re talking about out of state, we’ll always only go to landlord friendly states, that’s another very important criteria for us.
But when you look at the actual deal, the actual property, we’re looking for value add opportunities. Everything we’ve done was a heavy lift in value add and it’s not easy and it’s a lot of work, but it’s the only way to really make money. So if I buy a stabilized property, I’m going to have to go find those German investors that are happy with 5% returns. So really, looking for the right value add opportunity when we know we can come in and make a difference and increased the rent and reduce expenses and basically a bump on the NOI that’s what we’re looking for.
James: Okay. So apart from increasing the rent and reducing expenses, is there any other value add that you think that you find it unique and you think that that’s something that can share with the audience?
Joseph: Yeah, so there’s a lot of strategies out there when you can leverage to either increase income or reduce expenses, but adding amenities is a good attraction that can help you increase rent. So if you have an on-site gym versus the property that doesn’t have an on-site gym, people would be willing to pay a little bit more. A pool is a very big attraction in the C class environment. So we have one property that had a pool, years ago, way before we bought it, and they cemented it in so right now there’s just an ugly area that has a fallen apart shed with a cemented pool. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to convert it to an outdoor kitchen with some picnic tables and shade, just to create a place where the residents can go and have an activity and have fun outdoors. So stuff like that really helps, obviously in-unit amenities is super critical. Upgrading the appliances, resurfacing the counters, replacing old carpets with vinyl planks, that’s the kind of thing that people are willing to pay more for.
James: So what, what do you think, let’s say, for example, increasing the rent. So let’s say you had a million dollar budget to increase rent, but somehow after you buy it, you realize that you only have 500,000 so your budget has significantly reduced. So what’s the most important value add that you would do?
Joseph: That’s a great question, are we talking interior only?
James: Which one you think is the biggest bang for the buck? You have a reduced budget right now.
Joseph: Well, here’s the reality of things, it really depends on the property. If the property looks like crap from the outside, it doesn’t matter how nice you make the units look, nobody wants to live on a property that has no exterior light, a green pool and a laundry room that doesn’t work. And if the property looks fine outside, I would put the money inside the units because the prettier the unit, the more they’re willing to pay. So it depends on the property and what we have to do. Certain properties, if you gate them, it’ll be great. Certain properties if you can fence the backyards and create small backyards for the first level unit, it can significantly increase your cost. In-unit washer/dryer connections, that is a big difference maker that people are willing to pay more for in our environment so if I can generate those, then maybe I’ll do that.
James: Okay. So let’s talk about fencing versus non-fencing property because that’s something new for me. So can you elaborate a bit more? Which property makes sense to fence and which one doesn’t make sense to fence?
Joseph: First, you got to have the fee the actual space to do that. So if they have sliding doors on the back and it just goes out to the street or just goes out to the green area, then you have the opportunity to just put two panels of fence and either close it or put it like the rod iron and now you created a small backyard for them. People love the opportunity of a private backyard. And I know that because we have two properties that are literally across the street from each other, one of them has larger layouts, the other one has smaller layouts but have fenced backyards and Patios and we constantly have to take people across the street based on the preferences. And you can clearly see that some people prefer to have fenced backyard over larger layouts, even at the same price point. And then some people prefer the larger layout so there’s definitely a preference over there to some people.
James: So your fenced backyard, is that a single story unit or is there like a double story but you only fence the ground floor?
Joseph: Those mostly are a single story or townhomes.
James: Townhomes, yeah, I have a property, which is a townhome where it does very well with the backyard, people love the backyard.
Joseph: Yeah. We also have a property that is a two-story building. The first story has a fenced little patio, it’s not a backyard, it’s not big, but it’s a fenced little patio. And then the second floor has a balcony right on top of it. So it obviously works for both the first floor and the second floor.
James: Okay. Okay. So you said this ground floor you put in a fenced backyard but the second floor’s balcony, but don’t the second-floor people can see the ground floor backyard?
Joseph: No, like I said to call it a back yard is a stretch, it’s a small fenced patio.
James: Okay. Got It, got it, got it.
Joseph: It’s about the size of the balcony from up top.
James: Oh, okay, maybe that’s a good idea. Yeah, I have a deal right now, which we are trying to put a fenced backyard, but it’s always like someone on the top will be looking at, so I’m just trying to figure that out and see where they are.
Joseph: You can go to linksupapts.com and see pictures of our property, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
James: Ah, cool. Cool. And what about the inside? What do you think is the most valuable remodeling that you can do if you have a very strained budget? What do you think you have the biggest bang for the buck on the inside?
Joseph: Okay. Painting floors.
James: Painting floors. Okay. So that’s what you would do, I guess, just to make it look nice inside and the flooring is more for turnover reduction, right?
Joseph: Yeah. People don’t need a lot on the inside but seeing the vinyl planks that have, that wood-looking style and a fresh coat of paint on the walls, make a complete big difference versus the old run down carpet or even a new carpet. There’s big research I read that talks about the first thing people are looking for, are pet-friendly communities. So obviously hard floors are a lot better with pets then carpets. If you look at any of our property websites, you’ll see that the first list in the community amenity is pet-friendly and by the way, if you are not pet-friendly, that is the first thing I’m going to do to increase income.
James: Got It, got it. So you think thinking in terms of miscellaneous income, that’s one of the easy value addition, right?
Joseph: Absolutely. Whether it’s the pet deposit fee or is it pet rent or whatever you structure it at or just the fact that you allow pets is going to help you with occupancy so pets is definitely an easy one.
James: Got it, got it. So let’s say you buy a deal now, it’s a value add deal so what would be your first 30-day plan, 60 Day plan and 90-day plan or maybe one year plan on achieving your business plan?
Joseph: Yeah, so the 30-day plan is just to find our way around the property. Every property we picked up in the first 30 days, it’s just a lot of dust and you’ve got to let the dust settle. There’s going to be people that have not paid to the previous owner and you’re going to have to evict them because they’re not paying, period. You will have people that are going to just walk away because in their head it’s new management so they’re going to increase the rents tomorrow, even though we have contracts, we can’t do that. There will be people that are going to try it, ah, new management, let’s try not to pay and see what happens, right? So you’ll have all that going on in the first 30 days. You’ve got to figure out who is the maintenance crew, what are they doing, take control over the employees what are they doing. Did you inherit the employees from the previous owner or not? Did some of them got up and moved with the previous ownership, that happens too.
So first 30 days is just wrapping our heads around the property and trying to figure out what is where and who does what. After that, we better have our contractors out there and then we’ll get started working. We have all that lined up during due diligence. We get bids during due diligence, we set starting work during due diligence and if there are any critical items then there’ll be there day one. So our King David property, when we bought it, it was pitch black. There was not a single light on after hours and we had the electricians out there working on the lights the day we took the keys, we didn’t wait 30 days or 60 days or anything else. The day we took the keys over, that’s when that person was over there.
James: Yeah. The lighting at night it’s just super critical. We focus a lot on lighting at night, make sure it’s really, really bright. You know, it hinders a lot of crime, it just gives a lot more confidence to the current residents, they know there’s a change coming, right? Because it’s super easy to do that. Right? We just get the electrician to go and fix all the lights.
Joseph: Yeah. And then we have contractors come out to give us bids and they ask me questions like, well, do you want 3000 lumens or 5,000 lumens? It’s like, guys, I don’t care. Here’s the definition; when you’re done, I want it to look like a prison.
James: Fort Knox.
Joseph: If I don’t get complaints from some of the residents that it’s too bright, then you didn’t do your job, that’s our definition. So some of my contractors laugh and say, yeah, I know, prison.
James: So, going back to like one year, within one year, your contractors is done and all that but when do you think you have to step in and what’s the trigger point for you that you say, okay, we are not going in the right direction? What are the clues that you look for in the operation that, hey, I thought this is going this direction but we are not in that direction and what would you do in that case?
Joseph: Yeah, so I don’t know how many of your properties were exactly on plan.
James: Of course, it’s all 100% wrong.
Joseph: Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans, right? So it’s not about checkpoints, I’m going to check in at 30 days, check in at night, just checking out the year, that’s not going to work. You’ve got to be constantly involved and you constantly have to adapt to whatever life throws at you and turn around. We had one property that when we bought it, it had three-year-old boilers in, so they were practically new that a year later, went up, $25,000 expense. That comes at you out of the blue, you’re going to have to adapt, you’re gonna have to work with that and figure it out.
The contractor tells you he’ll be done by April and it’s June and he’s barely half-way through, you gotta roll with the punches, that’s what it is. Just closer control, monitoring the numbers, working as a partner with the property management team, onsite and corporate, that’s the critical things and you’ve got to work with it. If you made it in a year, that’s great. If it takes a year and a half, takes two and a half, takes three, it takes three.
James: But what numbers would you be looking at in the P&L that you are thinking whether you’re going the right direction or you’re going in the wrong direction?
Joseph: Yeah, so every month we take the actual numbers and we put them right next to our projections. So it’s kind of like a constant check of where we are compared to the plant and did we spend the capitals that we were supposed to or not? Did we get the units upgraded or not? Did we make time or not? Do we see the increase in rente that we expected or is it below or you did we exceed that? We also have constant market surveys; just because I projected going from, I don’t know, 800 to $900, it’s great, but if the market went to $700, my projections are going to go flying out the window because that’s what the market is. And the other way around, if I projected 900 and the market went to a thousand, I’m not going to stay at 900, I’m going to go to 1000. So, it’s like a living organism, right? You got to adapt, you’ve got to follow, feel the polls, understand where the market is going, where your property’s going, where you are and that’s really what you got to focus on; it’s everything, not just one.
James: I think that’s the job often operator, where you are looking on a day to day, month to month detail planning in terms of numbers and where you’re going, whether you’re going towards your business plan goals or you’re going to divert from there. That’s an important thing. That’s what I see as an operator because if you look at nowadays, the GP ship I call it the general partnership, the ship. It’s too many people when any investors come and invest in any deals but there’ll be like one guy or maybe maximum two guys who are the operators.
Joseph: Sometimes there is none.
James: And probably you’re right. Yeah. But I think if you look for the backbone of the deal, I mean, it may not be the guy who was raising money from you, it may be someone else who’s going to be the operator and as I told in my book, just make sure that you look for who’s behind the deal, who’s the operator, who is the backbone of the deal, that person is the key person in that, going to make the deal whether it’s successful or not.
Joseph: Yeah, and you really got to look at it from the perspective of everybody is focusing on getting the deal closed, but getting the deal close is just a little sprint run; that sprint finish line is the starting line of a marathon and if that was a relay race, it doesn’t matter what happened to the sprinter if he comes in two seconds behind or five seconds behind, because that marathon is going to take 24 hours and a lot can happen in that 24 hours. So the guy that runs the property that does the operation for three, five, seven, 10 years, the projection that the whole period is, it’s a lot more critical than the 60 days that it took to put the deal together, raise the equity and secure the financing.
James: Yeah. Yeah, that’s what has been happening. It’s not bad, but I think as passive investors, they just need to know who is the person behind the whole deal. So coming back to some of your personal experience, I know you don’t have your own property management company right now. You are using a third-party property management company and I know you did look at setting up your own property management company to take control and all that but can you describe what are the pros and cons that you see on both paradigm and why did you choose the current paradigm or are you planning to change in the future?
Joseph: Yeah, so for us, we had the transition property management last year and it wasn’t fun; It was very painful, actually. So I was at the point where I said, okay, let’s evaluate it, maybe I should just take on myself. And my conclusion, my personal conclusion, everybody’s going to be different, was that, at this point, property management is its own business and you’ve got to operate it as a business. You’ve got to build the infrastructure of a company. So I knew that if I’m going to have to build my own property management company, I’m going to have to put aside my acquisition business and my brokerage business and put them away for about a year until I set up all the infrastructure and all the other things. So, for that purpose, I decided to just move on and get another third-party property management.
The advantages you get with third-party property management is you get decades worth of experience combined. If I would have opened my own property management, I would probably hire a regional supervisor and that person would probably have 10, 20 years of experience but when you go to a property management company, you have the owners, you have multiple regional supervisors, you have the back office people, and that’s decades, if not centuries of combined experience that you’re not going to get doing your own thing. So for us, the brain damage was just not worth it and not to pause to the other two businesses that we were running, maybe in the future, it will make sense. We’ll reevaluate then, but at this point, we’re not gonna do any of that.
James: Okay. So yeah, that’s important. I mean, it’s a lot of work to set up property management and running it and whether you want to do it or not, it’s your personal preference and all that. But I’m more interested in how did you get the signal? Hold on.
So my question to you is you change the property management but then halfway through one of your deal, in your property in Lubbock, what was the signal that you look for that triggered you that something’s not doing right and I need to make this change now. I mean, how long did you wait to pull the trigger to change the property management? How did you change it because it’s hard for a lot of asset manager to make that call, it’s hard?
Joseph: Yeah. It wasn’t an easy decision to make because you have this relationship that you’ve built with the team in the property management, but there was just, let’s take a step back. I think from my experience, the most important skill for a property management company is hiring skills, everything else is secondary to that because if they don’t hire the right people, it’s not going to work. And that’s really what was the trigger on our transition is we just had a series of unfortunate hiring decisions, that we had to go through multiple supervisors and onsite managers that did not follow what we wanted to do and did not execute the way we wanted them to execute, did not treat our residents right. So that was really the last straw for us is kind of like we gave them a ‘get better by this date’ and it didn’t so we just decided to move on and break the package.
There was no hard feeling, and I still talked to the previous property manager ownership, but we have accountability to our investors and we have accountability to our partners and we got to make sure that if things are not moving in the right direction, then we make a change.
James: But what was the signal? Because you are sitting in Dallas and this isn’t Lubbock. And what is the signal that gives you that hint that something is not right?
Joseph: We had a property that we had a big surge of non-renewals; residents that didn’t want to renew the lease. And that was really one of our big flags and since then we’ve already implemented a process where we bypassed the property management company and sent surveys directly to the residents to get a feel of what’s going on in the property; how do they feel, how were they getting treated? So we just had a manager that when we were on site, she was all wonderful and great, but when we were not on site, she didn’t treat the residents right and that was just really bad because retention is critical and when residents don’t want to renew because the manager is not treating them with respect, that’s a big problem.
James: So, was the property management company with you sending survey direct to the residents?
Joseph: That was non-negotiable at that point.
James: Okay. Okay. So when you saw a lot of non-renewal then you said, okay, I’m going to just do a survey on our own, which is a very good thing because I think a lot of people struggle to identify that weakness, right? But you’re right, non-renewal can be a good indication of how the management is treating them or whether the work orders are not being completed as to what the residents want. Because as you know, turnover is going to be the biggest expense in any market family operation, especially in Class B and C. And once you see that, that’s a red flag there. So let me ask you a few other things that you want to give advice to Newbies, right? So can you name like three to five tips for Newbies who tried to start at this stage of the market in multifamily?
Joseph: Yes. Start with, don’t be optimistic. There’s a lot of really optimistic underwriting out there that come across my desk and it’s scary. Yes, the market might still go up, we don’t have a crystal ball but if your exit strategy depends on you being better than the market today, then you’ve got a problem. If the entire market is at 90% occupancy and your exit strategy depends on you being 96% occupied, there is a problem there. If you plan on rents going up, but you don’t plan on expenses going up, you’ve got a problem. So these are the little things in your underwriting that can really trip you because it’s excels live, very easily. All you have to do is to tweak a number here and tweak a number there and you take a five cap transaction and make it an eight cap transaction.
and that’s just not something that you should risk. One thing I don’t like in underwriting that you see a lot from big brokerages is a 1% loss to lease. I see you laugh; as an operator, I don’t want a 1% loss to lease. If I have a unit that rents for $700 market rent, but I have a residence in it for 650, I’m not going to kick him out if it’s time to renew; $50 a month, that’s $600 a year; it’s going to take me about $1,500 to renovate the unit, that means it’s going to be more than a year and a half before I see my money back.
James: Yeah. And you have vacancies too and you have all the stress of turning around the property.
Joseph: That’s what I said, it’s like more than a year and a half at least so it’s kind of like, why would I do that? And if you look at $50 out of 700 that’s more than 1% so that’s really where you see an underwriting like this, you need to scratch it off and put a more reasonable number in there. And don’t ask me what is a reasonable number because it depends on the property. If your rents are $1,000 a month, you can take 2 or 3% but if your rents are 400 and you’re not going to kick them out for $25, but $25 out of $400, that’s 7- 8%, so that’s really where you got to be realistic; you’ve got to look at the numbers. So when we have, for example, in the underwriting, we underwrite occupancy and we’ve projected occupancy for the next three, five, seven, 10 years, whatever the whole period is, I also have another table right next to it in the excel file that shows me what it looks in unit numbers because when you put 7% or 8%, it’s easy to just think, oh, it’s just 7% but if you have 7% out of a hundred units, that’s seven units vacant but if it’s 300 units, now it’s 21 vacant units. So I always like to kind of put things back in perspective; percentages to dollars, dollars to percentages and so on just so people will kind of realize that, okay, it’s not just a number that I throw on there. So that’s what it’s going to meet.
James: Got It. Got It. So let’s say for passive investors looking at a deal that’s being presented to them, right? So we talked about the things that we want to watch out for even for newbies who are sponsors, but as a passive investor, how can they identify that this sponsor is being aggressive?
Joseph: So for a passive investor that looks at an offer, any offer, I say they have to focus on four different things. First, they got to look at the market. Just like we talked at the beginning, what is that market? What is the job worth? What is the economy? If you’re going to have a property that has a 7% unemployment rate today in 2019 when the market is hot and there are more job openings than people that request unemployment, then that’s not a great market to be in when the market shifts. So where’s the market?
The second thing they need to look at is the opportunity, the actual deal itself. This is where you look at, how conservative is the underwriting, did they underwrite for vacancies, did they underwrite for economic vacancies, did they underwrite for capital that’s going to have to be done capital reserves and so on?
And the third thing they need to look for is the team, like you said earlier, who’s the operator? What’s their track record, what’s their background? And then the fourth thing, which is something I just added recently, they need to look for one letter in 150 legal documents and that letter is, unfortunately, the letter F, just to make sure they don’t get f’d. So my distribution is going to be considered the return on investment, return on capital, or is it going to be the return of capital with an ‘F’ because it’s gonna make a huge difference between the two if you get a return on capital or return of capital.
James: Yeah, I know what exactly you’re talking about. Can you briefly explain the two scenarios so people can get it very clearly? What is the difference between the return on capital and return of capital?
Joseph: Yeah, so if you give me $100,000 and I structure our returns as return on capital and I give you, let’s say, a 10% preferred return, then in the first year, I’ll give you $10,000 that’s 10% of everything that has happened. The next year, if I want to give you 10%, I have to give you another $10,000 because your capital in the deal did not change, right? However, if I’m doing a return of capital, then the first year I gave you 10,000, your remaining of the capital in the deal is now 90,000. For me to satisfy the 10% preferred return, I’m going to just in a year a half to give you $9,000 this year and the next year it’s going to be 8,100 and the year after, so on and so on so that’s one thing.
The other thing is when we get to the sale part on the return on capital, if we had no capital event, like a refi’ or something of that in the middle, then I first have to pay you back all your $100,000 and then whatever is left, we get to split whatever the split is between the sponsors and the and the passive investors. However, if I’ve depleted your remaining capital basis in the deal, so now you have let’s say $50,000 remaining, all I have to do is give you your $50,000 and then we split. So by putting one letter in that document and there are usually 150 pages that you’re going to get handed over as a passive investor and all they have to do is change one letter, just one. So I think that if a sponsor does that and they don’t clearly explain that to you, then that’s in my opinion, not so ethical.
James: Got It. Got It. Yeah. A lot of times passive investors who jumping into investing passively in commercial real estate, know a lot about the deal two to three years after they started investing. A lot of times they did not know all these types of details in the beginning because it’s a fear of missing out, everybody wants to invest because they didn’t want to miss out; that all their friends are making money in the same asset class and they didn’t want to miss out. They forget about all the legal structures that they have in the PPM or the company agreement that’s given to them. Let me look at one last question; so tell us, where can the audience find you?
Joseph: Yeah, it’s very easy. You can find us on our website, my email, my phone number, it’s all there. It’s Ebgtexas.com. That’s our brokerage website, easy to find us.
James: Okay. Awesome. All right, audience, thanks for joining me on Achieve Wealth Podcast. And one thing to not miss out is make sure you guys go and look at Facebook; we have a new Facebook group called Multifamily Investors Group. We have grown up to like 680 members right now within two or three weeks. The first week, it’s we have like 500 people. And that Facebook group we have created to show live operations from the ground up and talk just specifically about multifamily. We don’t have a lot of promotions or spam there and hopefully, everybody’s getting value. So I encourage you guys to go and check it out, Multifamily Investors Group on Facebook and join them. Thank you. Thank you.