James: Hey, audience and listeners, this is James Kandasamy from Achieve Wealth Podcast where we focus a lot on value-add, commercial real estate investing and we usually talk to commercial real estate operators who have been very active buying deals nowadays.
Today, I have Brian Murray. So if you have not heard about Brian Murray, he’s the author of the best-selling and award-winning book: Crushing It in Apartments and Commercial Real Estate. And he owns almost 700 units right now on his own and I think out of 700, 600 of it is apartments and 100 units are on office sites.
Hey, Brian, welcome to the show.
Brian: I’m really happy to be here, James. Thanks for having me.
James: Really happy to have you here. And so tell me about, how did you go from 0 to 600 multifamily 0 to 700 asset classes on your own without syndication?
Brian: Yeah, well, you know, I started 12 years ago and I’m located in Upstate New York. That’s quite a bit different market than New York City. But my first property was an office building and it was a distressed office building and from that very first deal, I did a lot of value-adds. Frankly, I really didn’t know what I was doing, I was kind of figuring stuff out as I went along but I progressively made that property perform better over a couple of years and added a ton of value. On that deal, I assumed the mortgage and on my second deal, I did an owner/finance situation. It was another property that was half full, I filled it up and refinanced out of both of those and bought three more properties and followed that path the entire way. Which is find well-located properties that were not well managed or had some other large value-add component, exercise that value add and then refinance, take cash out and buy more properties. And that’s the exact path that I followed to get to where I’m at today.
James: That’s crazy, which is good. I mean, that’s the model that, I mean, it’s an absolute value-add model, which is basically the theme of this podcast. And so did you buy and then improve it and then refinance the money out or did you sell it and I didn’t get that far, can you clarify that?
Brian: Yeah. So I refinance the money out. I am primarily buying hold, still to this day. But especially in the first 10 years, I think I sold one or two properties, smaller properties, for the most part, during that time. I am selling some of my smaller properties right now to redeploy those funds into larger properties, but my strategy has really been buying hold.
James: Awesome. Awesome. So before we go further, I want to clarify about your book, Crushing It. I mean, I remember asking this question to you when we met face-to-face. So did Gary take the ‘Crushing’ name from you or you took it from him? Which one is that?
Brian: You know, so his book, Crushing It, came out about a year after mine but he launched a book called Crush It prior to when mine came out. But he took the Crushing It and you know, but that’s fine. It doesn’t matter. It’s all good.
James: Well, it must be a good name because both of you are like a best seller, you know, in your own domain. So awesome. So right now what’s your plan? I mean you own this many units on your own and what’s your plan right now?
Brian: So right now, I’m really focused on diversifying. I was really excited to do my first Mastermind, which was last year, which is how you and I met and I met some great people at that Mastermind and highly recommend that to other people; surround yourself with other folks that are doing what you’re doing. But when I went off to this Mastermind, it was really eye-opening for me because pretty much everybody there was doing syndication and it was a model that was really new for me and I just learned a ton about what people were doing.
And my model has worked great for me up to this point, but I’ve reached a size, we’re growing purely organically. It’s becoming more challenging to maintain that pace of growth. I think also with valuations at a higher point, it’s more and more challenging each year to pull that much value-add out with refis. I think another factor that’s come into play is I’ve been very, very dedicated to putting every dollar that I’ve earned back into my real estate. That’s been a been a big part of how I’ve done what I’ve done is to continuously reinvest back in. As a result of that, to this point, I’ve been living fairly frugally and you know at a certain point, you want to not have to put every dollar back in but you know, to maintain that growth rate, I’ve got to look at other options.
I also want to diversify geographically because most of my properties are in one location. And so I’m in the middle of my first syndication right now and I’ve met so many good people that now, I’m developing partners and looking at new markets and it’s very exciting for me. I love to learn, I love to try new things and getting into these other markets and, you know, meeting accomplished people like yourself, it’s very motivating. So I’m just super excited about it.
James: Yeah, it’s eye-opening when you go and talk to different people who are doing the same level as you are doing much more higher level because you can see a lot of different thought processes and how people do things.
So why are you moving towards syndication? I mean, you own like so many units on your own, can you go into a bit more detail on why do you think syndication is going to be beneficial for you right now in this market cycle as well or on your investment side?
Brian: Well, you know syndication, it does open up a lot more opportunities in terms of size. So for example, right now, I’m looking very closely at an apartment complex that’s approximately 300 units. It’s in a market that’s new for me that I’ve been doing a lot of research on and that would be a real challenge to try to pull off on my own. It really wouldn’t be possible right now.
So the property that I’ve purchased strictly on my own, without raising any outside money, I did last year, it was 126 units and you know to try to purchase something that’s 300 plus units that wouldn’t be possible for me right now. So it’s pretty exciting and I think another thing is I really enjoy working with the idea of doing some projects with partners and getting into some of these new markets. So, there’s another piece of it that’s kind of exciting is, I’ve reached a point where I’ve done pretty well for myself and the idea of helping other investors who want to put their money to work to achieve their goals, I think that’s going to be rewarding too. That if a project does really well that, it’s all those limited partners that come in that can then improve their lives through their investment as well. And if I can be a part of that, I think I’ll find that very rewarding.
James: Okay, that’s awesome. So scalability is important and you think of helping others as well to make money, especially I think other investors or other GPs who needs your skills, I would say?
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, and that’s one of the things that’s great too is I’ve found that it’s meeting these other people that are doing it, I’ve got a different experience. So just like I’m learning from people like you, I’m finding that partners I can bring some different perspectives and value to the table as well. So you always want to partner with people that have strengths in areas that are different from you and that’s what makes a strong team.
James: Absolutely, especially in commercial real estate because the number of knobs that you can tune, there are so many knobs and especially like in multifamily because it’s very management intensive compared to the triple net, other commercial properties. Multi-family is very management intensive and it gives a lot of ways to make more money or to scale down or to scale up. Even though you’d be really, really skilled at that but it just gives you a lot more opportunity. And the lease is one year term or six months term; you can quickly raise or reduce rents, it gives you a lot more fungibility, I would say. I mean, you have like SAS, we talked, in the beginning. You have like 600 units multifamily and 100 office space?
James: So can we go a bit more detail into the office? What kind of office is it and how did you strategically balance within the 600 and 100 office? Is it optimistic or what did you see and why did you do it?
Brian: So I started off with the office and actually, my second property was retail and so, starting on that commercial side was really interesting. I think one of the things that did for me is really emphasized my focus on customer service and customer care with tenants. And when I tried my first multifamily, I think that there were differences but they’re also a lot of similarities. So the value-added approach that I was taking to office retail worked just as well with multifamily. And our focus on really taking care of our tenants as our customers really served us really well in that area also. Over time, as recently as two or three years ago, we had reached a point where up to that point we had more office and Retail and then about two years ago, I would say, we were 50/50 and now we’re closer to two thirds, maybe even 70% multifamily with the rest commercial in terms of the makeup of our portfolio.
So as time went by, we’ve really gravitated toward multifamily and that’s our 100% focus right now. I think the biggest thing is that there’s a number of things we like about multi-family. From our experience with commercial, you’ve always got a little bit more risk because you tend to have, not always, but you often will have tenants that comprise a disproportionately large percentage of your income and that can leave you really vulnerable if somebody leaves.
So, on more than one occasion, we’ve had a commercial property where someone that takes up more than half of the space in that property, leaves unexpectedly. And then you’ve got with one tenant leaving, you have a property that is negative cash flow. And if you don’t have a portfolio in place to support that, that can be devastating and it’s really not fun even if you have a portfolio to perform it. And then when you go to backfill that space, it’s more challenging in commercial properties because you oftentimes have to find the exact right tenant for that space, for that location, for the tenant mix and the property, for the configuration of the floor plan. There’s a lot of things that you know, different commercial tenants are looking for.
If you just adjust the rents up and down or maybe offer some concessions, a lot of times, the market doesn’t immediately react to that. So turning that dial like you do in multifamily, you have less control. So if you’re looking for a particular type of commercial tenant, it could be, it’s not unusual for us to sit on a vacant space for one two or more years before the right tenant comes along and fits in and takes that space. With multifamily, you’ve got those dials that you can turn and say, Hey, you know, we’re going to run a special. We’re going to bump rents, we’re going to drop rents and you usually will see a pretty quick reaction from the market to the changes that you make and from my perspective, that’s better.
You always want to have more control and the ability to adjust with your market, adjust to combat your competition and different things like that. And frankly, we’ve enjoyed working with the tenants. I think there’s a perception out there that a lot of people would love to invest in commercial because they think they have this idea that working with white collar tenants would be much better, wouldn’t have the problems but in our experience, they can be more challenging. They can be more demanding and sometimes even unreasonable with what they’re looking for and you don’t usually find that as much with the residential tenants in multifamily. We do primarily workforce housing and the people that we deal with there, tend to be good down to earth people and reasonable. So we appreciate that.
James: And when you talk about office, this is the normal office tenants, I guess?
Brian: Yeah full-spectrum, mostly professional tenants. We’ve got plenty of medical tenants. We have lawyers, accountants, all types, we’ve got not-for-profit offices, engineers and architects that would pretty much any type of white-collar professionals.
James: Got it. That’s very interesting. So when was the aha moment that, hey, I should do multifamily because you are focusing a lot on office, what was that triggering moment where you say, okay, I may need to look at this multi-family?
Brian: Well, I don’t know if there was a specific moment. I think it happened gradually over time. When we had about 50/50 multifamily and Commercial, I think one of the big things was watching the performance of the two halves of the portfolio and seeing which half was performing better and part of it had to do with the types of value-add projects we were finding and I thought we were better able to execute on the value-adds on the multifamily side. And that portion of our portfolio just kept outperforming the commercial side and I just saw in the market that we’re in, more opportunity there and I felt like it was more stable income based. So, I think I think it just happened gradually over time and you kind of tend to slowly move in the direction that’s performing well and where the needs are in your Marketplace.
James: Got it. So all the deals that you have done on multifamily, how did you choose? I mean all these deals are in Upstate, New York, is that right?
James: So you may not choose the city because that’s where you live, the area. But how did you select the submarket? Okay, this deal is good in this submarket, what are the parameters that you looked at When you look at a deal in multi-family?
Brian: So, we have a really close familiarity with the subtleties of the market and so it’s fairly nuanced like there’s not one overarching thing. One of the primary drivers of the market where we are is not that far away is a fairly large military base. And so one of the factors that we look at is,
well, we definitely welcome military tenants, we have shied away from the properties that are closer to the military base and tend to have a really high percentage of military population. That’s just because there’s so much turnover, lenders are less excited about lending those properties because they know that long-term, there could be downsizing. A base could close, there’s exposure with that.
So we have gravitated within our region to the areas that are maybe we will have some military but not be all military and into the communities where people want to live, in the parts of the city that we feel are strong and good safe locations and convenient locations for the major employers in the area.
James: Got it. Got it. And on average right now, what is the price per door in that market? Because I never talk to anybody from New York who’s buying multifamily. I mean, Upstate, New York, New York City, but in general, can you give us some guideline on price per door? What cap rated stabilize deals are being bought right now?
Brian: Yes, absolutely. So it’s a really, really wide range. So that’s what I would say at first. The most recent stabilized property that we purchased we paid about 60,000 a door. There are properties selling in the area, 80,000 plus per door, not that often but a lot of the properties we’ve got, we’ve purchased a couple of decent sized properties at auction. We’ve purchased a lot of distressed properties.
The 126 units that we purchased last year, we paid in the 40s per door and that’s pretty low for this area actually, but also the occupancy was below 60% when we bought it and it had a lot of deferred maintenance. So I do feel like we got a fair deal and a good deal on that because there was so much upside but there was a reason that it was priced that low. And so you can come along properties in this area that have low price point sometimes even down into the 30s per door, but usually, there’s a reason why they might be in severe distress. But for stabilized properties, I think you’re mostly looking at maybe 50 to 70 a door.
James: Okay. You also mentioned that you’re looking at other markets now?
James: And why is that and what’re your criteria to look for in other markets?
Brian: So the number one reason is really a risk management type of approach. Where anybody who’s come in and taken a close look at our business and one point even a few years back, I had some graduate students come in and they analyzed it and everybody said, hey, you’re kind of crazy. You’ve got all your properties concentrated right here in this one city and now they’re all within maybe half an hour drive of that City and there’s a lot of risks involved to that.
So if that City that I focused on starts to decline or say that military base that’s not that far away, if they downsize then that all affects my portfolio. So I’ve known for a long time that it would be wise to diversify geographically and it’s time to do that. Another factor is frankly, this is not a huge City. It’s not a big area that I’m in and we’ve got limited opportunities for growth here. There’s a limited number of properties that come onto the market and realistically, it’s time for us to look to other places. So it’s a variety of things.
James: So let’s say you’re looking at a new city, a city A and a city B, what do you look for in that city that you think is going to be appealing to you?
Brian: Well, I think there’s a variety of different factors. Probably the number one thing that makes the city appealing is job growth, job creation. Being located in Upstate New York, it’s not a strong area for job growth. There are pros and cons to being in a market that’s undesirable. So I have less competition. I can buy things at much higher cap rates and I can get properties to cash flow better if I have less competition and higher cap rates.
So, there’s sometimes you can look at it and say, hey, if you’re in a market that’s less desirable, sometimes you’re getting properties at a great deal and there’s something to be said for that. But as I look to new markets, I’m trying to find something where cap rates haven’t dropped too far and you can get a reasonable return but you’ve got that benefit of healthy growth in population and jobs.
But I think because I’m looking for more geographic to looking for a market that’s going to show more stability, it’s on an uptrend and just like any other place, no matter what market I’m looking at, I’ve realized over time just how critical the specific location with any city is.
So almost any City has their good parts and the bad parts and so you could take any market that you choose and break it down into all different, more and less appealing locations. And so, I wouldn’t just throw and say, hey, this one city is great, even though the population is growing and you and I talked about a property not that long ago that you are familiar with the location and you very wisely were like, oh, that’s not the right deal. It might be a good city, but that’s not the right part of the city.
James: Correct. So, I mean, you are sitting in Upstate New York, you looked at the entire nation. Can you give us the top three cities that you think that you want to delve in?
James: Brian, so you are sitting in Upstate New York, and you looked at the entire nation, you know how multifamily works because you own 600 on your own. So you just briefly outline what are the things that you look for in a city. So can you name like top three cities that you think that you want to be involved in that you think has a strong growth story?
Brian: Well, it’s a work in progress for sure. And what I would say is sort of the candidates that I’ve narrowed it down to the commonality would be they tend to be the places that people are migrating to and being in Upstate New York where a lot of people are leaving the area, I want to look toward the places they’re going.
And so, primarily in the Southeast, pretty much our candidates or everything from starting in probably North Carolina going down to Florida and you know all the way over to maybe the little bit in Texas, but I think Georgia is an interesting market that a lot of people are pursuing. I’m partnering on a project in Kentucky right now and we’re looking at North Carolina and there are some very attractive markets in Florida as well.
James: Got it. Got it. Got it. Before I want to go into the deal level analysis that you do,
I want to quickly ask this question because you know, it’s very unique to you because you had your own deals and now you’re going into syndication, right? So what do you think are the skills needed from yourself when you are having your own deals, where you can skip a distribution or whatever happened to the deal is your own problem. So now you’re going into syndication, where it involves a lot more people. What do you think is a few skills that syndicators need to be successful in syndication?
Brian: Sure. I mean I would say start a start with one of the big ones which is something that I don’t have, which is an investor base and that’s a whole job unto itself. Over the years doing what I’ve been doing and getting some acknowledgments for that, I had a lot of people approach me over the years and say, hey, you know, can I invest and I never took them up on that and now I’m doing that. But what I’ve realized is in getting to know all these folks that are out there that there’s a lot of people who are interested in partnering with me who already have those investor bases and have that skill set of managing those investors and taking care of all aspects of that.
So at this point, I’m primarily thinking that I bring more value in the weighing on the underwriting and the property and identifying all the value-add opportunities and making sure that people look at it as more than a spreadsheet because there’s so much more. I toured a property last week and was able to uncover quite a few things. The broker that was there. I was one of the last people, they had about 40 tours and I came through and identified some significant value-add opportunities that the broker said no one else picked up on. And I think that that’s something I didn’t discuss but we’ve managed all of our own properties that whole time and so, the knowledge that you get from that just brings so much better of analysis to a deal to make sure you’re vetting it properly, you’re not overpaying, you’re also not underpaying and that there might be value there that you’re not realizing. That some of the assumptions that you’re making for rent growth are real and can actually be feasible for implementation.
And so, you know, those are some of the things that I bring and the experience and having the portfolio I have may give lenders a lot of comfort. And so, I’m recognizing that, hey, I could focus on my strengths and bring some things to a partnership and take those areas that I don’t have and other people might and partner up. So if someone’s going to do it on their own, they’ve got to have a pretty broad skill set and that’s a challenge, to have the operational knowledge and bring that side and also have the people skills and the investor relationships, it’s not easy. I have a lot of respect for people that are doing it all.
James: Absolutely. So you are two operators, where you underwrite deals, you understand the operation and you’re doing your own asset management. You’re missing the investor base creation side of it, which I think you are either partnering or slowly building that up so which is awesome. For me, the operators are at the top of the food chain because they are the backbone of the whole deal. They know what’s happening in terms of the rents, how many percents of rent increase is happening on each unit? How many units are being turned? What is the make ready period, what’s the delinquency? What is the idling unit period? That’s a lot of parameters in the multi-family operation which can be optimized and if you know that very well, your underwriting can be very, very solid, I would say.
Brian: And I think you also bring a reality check. I think that the folks that are operating in the syndication space that don’t have as much operating experience, it’s easy to look at numbers and assumptions in a spreadsheet and it’s challenging to actually recognize what that means in terms of the actual human beings who are there living in the apartments, what it means for the contractors and the property managers and whether what you’re assuming is even practical. I look at a spreadsheet and I’m looking at it realizing, hey, you know, I looked at it once a day and I told somebody I’m like, do you understand how much drama will be involved in this?
So if you haven’t done that you don’t know. And sometimes that translates into you might need to maybe tone back your rent growth or you might need to say, hey, maybe we implement something like this over time so that we don’t have an all-out rebellion on our hands. So, you know, it’s a challenge to bring all those things to the table.
James: Yeah, I’ve seen people who come to me, you know, first few deals and say, oh, this is all bills paid, I’m just going to change it to tenant pay bills. I say, well, that’s easy. We can see the value. Well, you do not know how much drama you’re going to have there and you might not able to do that on a specific property, a specific location.
And they say they want to do them; Utility Bill back, they want to increase the rent, they want to charge covered parking, they want to do laundry increase. So many things they want to do at the same time and I can tell you, they don’t have the experience actually. But the thing is, a lot of people have been making money even without all the skills. And I always tell them everybody’s a champion in a bull market.
Brian: Exactly, yes. A rising tide lifts all ships, right?
James: Correct. So, people may not look at that skill more in detail or give due consideration to that type of skills where the operation is important, but I think it’s important if you want to sustain good rent growth across different market cycles. So coming back to underwriting. So right now you are looking at deals, how many percents of deals do you reject immediately by just looking at it?
Brian: Wow, I would say well over 90%.
James: Okay. So the 10% that you have or what do you look for in that 10%? What do you do? What are the steps that you take to look at that 10%?
Brian: You know, I think the very, very first thing I do is I look at the T12. I want to start my analysis of a property by looking at actuals. And then I’m going to base the current situation and the actuals, going to kind of weigh that against my own experience. So, how does the target asking price or the whisper price or whatever they have, how does that compare to the actuals? And then based on my experience looking through those actuals, what do I see that jumps out at me that might create value? And if you look down through and start looking at the comps and really piecing together this puzzle about, what opportunity is really here? Is the valuation based on something that’s completely unrealistic? A lot of times, you’ll recognize that some brokers are way better than others at doing a realistic model and pro forma and that’s much appreciated. Because you see too many where they’ll say, oh, you know, the labor is going to be whatever, $300 a door, and you know, hey, that’s crazy. Like it should be 1100 a door or 1000 a door in that market and you know, you’ll find out that well, it’s been managed by the owner and they don’t track the labor.
But if you see that it’s based on the labor is $2000 a door and you know, hey, we could get that to 900 realistically and still do a good job of maintaining that property, then you start to see an opportunity. It’s a combination of running numbers and logical analysis based on experience, is really what I would say it boils down to.
James: So in a new market, how would you determine payroll and [12:09unintelligible] on property taxes because this differs by market?
Brian: Sure. So all those things are going to vary by market, although many of them will fall within a range. So you’re going to say, well, in that market it’s going to tend to be higher or lower and I will use my best judgment but if it passes a certain level of scrutiny, that’s when you want to really get an established reputable local property manager involved who could look at it and say, okay, for this market specifically, these assumptions you’ve made are realistic or not realistic. The same thing goes with construction costs they could vary and I can look at it and say, I think that new flooring should be this much but hey, maybe in that market, flooring is much more expensive or maybe it’s a lot cheaper. So, you know it’s going to be within a certain range, but you just need to figure out how you need to tweak it to get to that market.
James: Got it Got it. Got it. I mean since you have your own property management in your own backyard and now I presume you looking at third partying your property management in this new market, is that correct?
Brian: That’s correct.
James: So, what would you think is the most important factor to look at that third party property management company?
Brian: Well, at this point, I would say yes, we’re relying on third-party property managers. We may eventually consider expanding into new markets or operations, but not doing that right now and evaluating the property managers, it’s been a very interesting process. I think you need to look at the full picture. I don’t think there’s any one thing you can look at. For a project that we’re underwriting right now, in evaluating the various property managers, of course, we weigh referrals, you know, that’s always good to hear referrals but I think one of the things that are appealing about the property manager that we ended up selecting for this project that we’re pursuing is they actually specialize in this specific type of property that we’re looking at. So, they have a track record and experience of nearly 10,000 units that are specifically C-Class properties that they’ve done value-add and executed those successfully. And a fair percentage of those are in the specific market that we’re looking at and so there’s a lot of things that just lined up. I think if I had to pick the one thing from my interaction with this firm because they toured the property with me as well, but I actually was very impressed with their analysis of our underwriting.
They actually went through our assumptions and they toured the property on their own before I got there and gave us their own analysis and without us asking, they also toured the comps and gave us some feedback on that. I was impressed. You could tell that they went out of their way to look at the right things. They looked at the types of things that I would look at and they identified things and based on that write-up, I just said, hey, this is a firm that’s experienced. They get it. They did a thorough job. They were professional, they were responsive and you know, it really checked a lot of boxes in terms of giving us an overall sense of comfort with the possibility of working with them.
James: Awesome. Awesome. Let’s go to a bit more on the value-add side because you have done a lot of value-adds because you buy refi and keep it more long-term. So what is the most valuable value-add multifamily from your experience?
Brian: I would say that the most valuable is it’s different for almost every property. If I had to pick, you know, I think that sort of the Big Bang low-hanging fruit tends to be the, I’d say, clean paint landscape, kind of like the surface stuff. If a property is dirty and not well kept and then you make it clean and you put a fresh coat of paint and you landscape it, it can change the entire image of property of fairly modest cost and that can have a huge impact. The rent adjustment is sort of obvious, I think everybody looks at that. I guess big picture if the landlord is way undercharging, of course, you know, that’s an obvious big easy one, but one thing that we’ve ended up doing in a number of cases that is less obvious that people almost never talk about is lowering rents. And in the 126 unit that I mentioned earlier, that’s under distress, that’s the first thing that we did is we went in and by our assessment, they were trying to charge too much which was a major factor in why the occupancy was so low.
So we immediately went in and cut all the rents and that might seem counterintuitive for a value-add person but over the last six months, we’ve raised the occupancy 25% and one of the big reasons is we lower the rents and so the net change in terms of the net operating income of that property it skyrocketed by lowering rents. So that also further demonstrates that it really varies, you kind of have to you know. It’s sort of like if you look at five different people and say, you know, what change would you make in each person to improve their overall wellness? For some people, they might say stop smoking and some people might say, well, that one needs to eat better so you can’t kind of really say well, what’s the one thing overall?
James: How did you decide to lower the rent? What was the data that you looked at and decide, okay, I just need to reduce the rent here?
Brian: Well, you know, that’s one of the fantastic things when you’ve got so many properties in one market. You know immediately that based on your other operations that something’s off. You know when it’s low, you know when it’s high, you know when the fees don’t match what’s present in that market or the concessions don’t match.
It becomes very simple. If you’re going into a new market, you’ve got to study those comps and do the best you can and hopefully, tour those comps and do your own homework. But it’s one of many advantages of having a concentration of properties in one area. In addition to all the many operational efficiencies that you can have is that you have that market specific knowledge
that is there’s no substitute for.
James: Got it. Got it. So when you decide to lower the rent, I mean it is a counter-intuitive but I think it makes sense in value-add, especially when you go with that kind of low occupancy. You need to do something to bring up the occupancy because once you bring up the occupancy, you can do a lot of other things.
James: You can’t do it when the occupancy is low and you’re adamant about pushing up the rent. So was your thought process, rather than I leave this unit vacant, that’s the biggest loss compared to giving [19:48inaudible] $25 or $30 increase that doesn’t make sense.
Brian: Yes. That’s right. So, you know that’s been one of the strategies that I’ve adhered to and has worked well; you lower the rents and lease it up and then you make improvements as you go and then you raise rents from there. Nothing more expensive than vacant space. The other piece of that which is an advantage of not syndicating is that I have been able in many cases to fund many of the improvements out of cash flow.
So with this particular property, we did lower the rents, but the occupancy has been brought way up. So we’ve just crossed a threshold where now this property is cash flowing again and all that cash flow is going to be directed right back into making improvements, probably, for the next few years at least. And so, that’s a perfect example of well, if you’re going to syndicate and you need to pay investors, you really can’t be investing all of your cash flow back into a property.
So what do you need to do? You need to raise some money up front to pay for those improvements and not count on cash flow so that you can achieve your investor returns and start to get them their money back.
James: Yeah. That’s the one thing different with syndicated deal versus owning your own deals. You don’t have to raise so much money so you can take your cash flow and just put it back. With a syndication [21:27crosstalk/inaudible] and you may lose deals because you’re competing with somebody who has a lot of money versus somebody who is syndicating.
Brian: That’s right.
James: It’s very interesting. So in terms of, I’m going to your personal side, is there a proud moment in your life or not in your life, toward your real estate career, that you think, I would remember that moment throughout my life until the end; can you describe that moment?
Brian: Oh, wow, you know there’s been so many moments, but not all good.
James: No, no, the proudest moment where you think you really made a big impact on something.
Brian: I never really expected this but some of the proudest moments that I’ve had has been since my book came out and I would have never guessed that that would lead to that but some of the feedback that I’ve gotten from readers that they’ve shared with me that it’s changed their lives that they started into investing and have already built portfolios. And to see the direct link between the book and people, you know, really making improvements in their lives has been extremely rewarding.
So I think one of the great things is that I really went into the idea of writing the book just because I wanted to share what I’ve learned, the mistakes I’ve made and to help other people, but I never really thought that it would sell very many copies or that people would have that kind of effect and the fact that it did. When I get a letter, a note from somebody, it’s been extremely rewarding. So now I kind of remember that I think that’s been a big impact.
James: Yeah. It’s interesting. I mean, I get a lot of notes from my books as well and sometimes you don’t really take it seriously because for us it’s just common knowledge from what we have learned. But some notes do make us think, oh, I really really made an impact on someone. I mean, it’s mind-blowing in how many lives can be changed with the things that you share in a book.
Brian: Right, right. Yeah. Absolutely.
James: Yeah. So the next second question is why do you do what you’re doing?
Brian: Well. You know and it’s interesting. I mean actually, in the book I share at one point, this was a few years back, I had somebody come up to me and they said you know, how much is enough? Like you are so greedy, why do you keep going? And I just realized that this person doesn’t understand, they missed the whole point that it’s just rewarding to take a property that’s not performing, that’s in distress, that’s maybe even a bad thing in a community and to turn it around and make it a better place for people to live. You help the tenants and you help the community and to do that and start to get involved. Like I do meetups now and I met new people and threw those in the book to help other investors, and so, you know, I look forward to going to work every day. I enjoy it. I enjoy the challenge of finding and executing on properties that aren’t achieving up to their potential and making a better place for people to live and more profitable at the same time. So I just think it’s fun. Like I enjoy what I do.
James: Yeah, it’s like a discovery, you’re trying to discover these from your paper to the real stuff. Especially when you are underwriting because you’re assuming a lot of things and how does that whole assumption become a reality? You know, it’s very interesting to see the output of that become [25:42inaudible] people’s lives, which is just…
James: So we really had a really good knowledge box from you, Brian. So can you tell our listeners and audience how to get hold of you?
Brian: Sure, you know, your listeners can find me on Facebook. You can find me on LinkedIn, you know, you can find the book on amazon.com or on the book website is crushingit.info and my company’s website is Washingtonstreetproperties.com
And if anybody is interested in reaching out, I’d be glad to hear from them.
James: Awesome, Brian. Thank you for coming and joining us. I think that’s it. Thank you.
Brian: Thanks, James, was an honor.