Working With Real Estate Investors
How To Get Celebrity Real Estate Clients
After five years in finance, Peter Ribeiro decided to strike out on his own and start US Business Funding in 2008, providing equipment leasing and financing for businesses. But when the housing market collapsed four months later, Ribeiro saw a second major business opportunity emerge. Earlier that year, he had purchased a $250,000 home in southern California that appraised for $355,000 at the time he bought it. Within seven months, the home’s value plummeted to $95,000. “I told myself I knew the area really well, so I might as well start buying some properties.”
At that point, Ribeiro’s fledgling company still wasn’t generating much revenue. “I thought, ‘Man, I just can’t get a lot of loans done right now. I only have three or four employees.’ That’s how I got into the real estate industry.” Twelve years later and at the height of a global pandemic, Ribeiro is simultaneously running two thriving ventures —US Business Funding, and a portfolio of hundreds of rental properties he now owns.
At a time when fintech startups and other industry innovators are looking for investors, alternative lending execs like Ribeiro are instead choosing to put their money in real estate to beef up their investment portfolios. Although some execs shy away from talking publicly about their real estate dealings, citing the fact that they don’t want too much exposure, the consensus is that there’s a lot of money to be made in buying, selling and renting property – if you know what you’re doing.
“I think real estate is lucrative because when you look at the history of investments, there are two or three ways to really make money: You can put your money in the stock market, or you can put it in bonds. And the other one guaranteed to go up in value is real estate,” Ribeiro says.
To Ribeiro, real estate offers a few major advantages: It’s a tangible asset. You can leverage it as it appreciates in value. Deductions make it so you pay very little in taxes. And it offers significant cash flow. “It’s the best investment you can make,” he says.
What makes real estate an especially good fit for alternative lending and fintech execs is that they possess the skills, resources and financial literacy to succeed at it.
“Real estate is a long-term gain,” Ribeiro says. “The industry we’re in is a cash-flow cow. People who are doing well are printing money. But what can you do with that money? You can put it in the stock market, but you won’t control much. Then you pay capital gains on it.”
Attorney Paul Rianda, who represents both cash advance clients and real estate investors, says it makes sense that real estate investing appeals to alternative lenders – especially amidst the uncertainty of COVID-19.
“If you’re a cash advance guy and COVID happened, then you’re not doing very well,” he says. “If you diversified your assets by doing real estate and cash advance, you’re able to weather these downturns a lot more easily than you would otherwise.”
Rianda has not yet counseled any of his own cash advance clients on real estate matters. But based on his insights from working with both areas, he says real estate would be a logical move for MCA executives, and he’s seen some of his clients in the bankcard industry buy up properties.
“One of my clients had a portfolio of merchants and sold it for a few million, then flipped over to real estate. So it’s a means (to an end),” Rianda says.
Ribeiro has relied on a simple strategy to steadily build his portfolio of residential properties: Buy. Fix. Leverage. Repeat.
“I feel like the portfolio is doubling every couple of years. It’s just a snowball effect,” he says.
After Ribeiro buys a home, he waits about six months before he has it appraised and fixes it up in the meantime.
“If you go to the bank within the first six months of purchasing it, they’re going to give you the actual market value of whatever you purchased the house for,” he says. “If you wait six months, they’ll reappraise the home and give its true market value, which could be another 40, 50 or 60 percent. And so now you’re going to have a lot more equity in the house, and you’re going to get a lot more money when you leverage that home to go buy the next one.”
Ribeiro says he sees lots of people making the mistake of buying a home, and then going to the bank a week or two later for a loan.
Constantly maintaining a positive cash flow is Ribeiro’s number one rule of real estate investing. “Your best friend is depreciation,” he says.
Depreciation refers to one of the key tax benefits of real estate. Since owning a rental property is technically a type of business because it generates income, the property is considered a business asset. The IRS allows you to deduct the cost of acquiring that asset – the property – over the span of its useful life. For residential properties, the IRS sets a standard depreciation period of 27.5 years.
So if you buy a $100,000 property with a $20,000 land value, $80,000 of the asset is considered depreciable. Over the course of 27.5 years, you can take an annual deduction of just over $2,900 a year.
The trick, Ribeiro says, is to stick to lower-priced properties with an 80/20 home-to-land value. Most of his properties are single- and multifamily homes between southern California and Las Vegas.
Like Ribeiro, Rianda’s investor clients concentrate on one geographic area to find the best properties. “They look at the area for a long time, understand the area,” he says. “In my neighborhood, three blocks can make a 50 percent difference in the price of a house. You need to focus on a particular geographic area and do a lot of transactions in it.”
Small portfolio, big impact
“For me, it’s just a really good second income stream and a way to have a secure return of 4.5% to 6.5% a year,” he says.
Growing up, Weitz got a feel for real estate by watching his uncles invest in multifamily properties. At one point, Weitz’s uncle owned 15 different multifamily homes, and Weitz would help do the maintenance on them.
Eight years ago, Weitz invested in his first two-family home and has fixed and flipped eight properties since then. He currently owns two two-family homes and invests primarily in multifamily homes in Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens. Over the next five years, he plans to pick up at least two more four- or eight-family properties. Working with a small portfolio of residences in his home state has allowed Weitz to have full control over managing his properties and to turn a good profit.
“I think for me, it just offers more liquidity,” he says. “It’s an asset I can sell and liquidate at any time. That’s really important for me.”
Ideally, Weitz would like for his investment to build generational wealth that he can pass down to his son. With many people in the U.S. unable to qualify for mortgages, Weitz sees real estate investing as an opportunity to help the economy by giving renters a place to live and put down roots. “Depending on the neighborhood, you can put yourself in a situation where you have good renters for 20 to 30 years. They want to raise their families and have their kids grow up there,” he says.
Litigation among the pitfalls
Even though Ribeiro has had success with his business model, he cautions that there’s considerable risk involved with real estate.
“I love the industry. It’s a passion. It’s beyond my wildest dreams of the size of the portfolio and how well it performs,” he says. “But don’t think it’s all cupcakes and unicorns. There’s a lot to the madness. That’s why not everyone can replicate the model.”
“Professional litigators” and multiple lawsuits from renters are a major downfall that Ribeiro points to. He sees at least one substantial suit each year and tries to settle outside of court whenever possible.
As an attorney, Rianda says his real estate clients call on him not just for the purchase of the property, but for various issues that occur during the ownership period.
Here’s one scenario: A property owner has a tenant who isn’t paying rent, so the property owner sues the tenant. But while the lawsuit proceedings are under way, the tenant declares bankruptcy, which puts a stall on further litigation.
“There are people who understand the system and can make it difficult for you to get them out (of the property),” Rianda says, adding that it’s important to have legal counsel readily available. “You need someone who has really done this a lot and knows how the system works to get that person out of the rental property as quickly as possible.”
To minimize liability, Ribeiro has divided his properties into about 10 different business entities – each with a separate umbrella insurance policy.
Rianda sees his own real estate investor clients follow this strategy by grouping multiple homes under the name of an LLC. “If you personally own all these various assets, there’s the potential that if something catastrophic happened at one, it could bleed into all your other properties and potentially put them at risk,” he says.
Ribeiro’s real estate investments and finance company both serve as full-time occupations for him. Some years, he’ll focus more on one area than on the other, depending on market conditions. He spent more time on real estate between 2008 and 2013; then his business needs flip-flopped when real estate prices started going back up. This past year, he’s directed more attention to the finance company because of COVID, which necessitated some operational changes and a need to help clients who had been trying to get PPP loans. But he’s also started investing in commercial real estate, which has taken a hit because of companies forgoing office space to save overhead costs while employees work remotely.
Ribeiro expects to start seeing more mortgage defaults on lower-level homes in 2021 and 2022, after forbearance periods are over. And he’s been leveraging his assets to start buying more properties around the second quarter of the new year. “I think it will be a good time to start buying heavy again,” he says.
An attractive investment vehicle
With the pandemic weakening business portfolios, secondary investment options might sound like just what the doctor ordered.
When COVID first hit, some of Rianda’s clients started pursuing other investments like personal protective equipment (PPE). Most of his cash advance clients closed up shop for a few months.
“As time goes on, I’m starting to see my clients go back into their lending,” Rianda says.
Even as clients start to recoup their business, Rianda sees the wisdom in other investments and says cash advance executives are well suited for real estate. “It’s just a way that people who have been successful and spin off a lot of cash for their businesses see as a safe way to diversify their income,” Rianda says. “It’s something I find that people who are doing well in their business do, regardless of what business they’re in. So cash advance guys are just following the things people have done for years.”
Ribeiro cautions that people who get into real estate should look at it as a 10-year investment minimum, and not just a two- or three-month stint.
“It’s not a lottery ticket, and it’s not an overnight race,” Ribeiro says. “This is a long-term gain. But it’s a very lucrative gain from a cash-flow perspective and a tax perspective. I don’t think there’s a more attractive vehicle than real estate.”
Andrew Luong said it all started seven years ago in San Francisco, just out of graduate school investing in real estate with his spare time on the weekends. Today, his startup Doorvest manages more than $20 million in real estate assets.
“I wanted to look for an avenue to put the money that I had earned from my day job to work,” Luong said. “The goal was to seek out some income security, build a long-term nest egg, hopefully, some passive income to support my life.”
That avenue turned out to be real estate. Luong thinks more people should have the option to invest in the estimated $3 trillion single-family renting market, now more than ever.
A second wave of infections is sweeping across the nation, and with shutdowns looming and business growth on hold, many face a familiar question:
What can I do to make more money?
Luong believes Doorvest has an answer. The firm offers what Luong calls a Democratized way to invest in real estate, entirely online.
Customers can invest up to $100,000 on the platform. Luong and his team of real estate flipping specialists buy, refurbish, and then rent properties, paying back the rent revenue to investors. Luong said Doorvest only gets paid when the properties are profitable, and the reported average annual return on investment is 18%.
The idea came about when Luong and co-founder Justin Kasad tried to find a better way to invest.
Like his peers back in San Francisco, Luong had tried his hand trading stocks. Many of his friends had Robinhood or high yield savings accounts, and were even trading cryptocurrency- but none of those options were what they were looking for. Real estate felt like that next step, but there was a large process to go from cash investment to payday:
“From identifying a mortgage to underwriting, looking through offers, ultimately an offer that sticks, then you’re figuring out how to find a mortgage financing, how to get homeowner insurance,” Luong said. “Then you’re closing on this thing, take the title, and you’re figuring out how to lease it out, how to manage your residents, and then ultimately, maintenance and bookkeeping.”
With a long, dizzying list of steps, all with uncertain outcomes, it is no wonder a lot of people are put off by that risk, Luong said.
“When my good friend and co-founder Justin and I went through that long list of items, it dawned upon us that if we could deconstruct real estate investing and rebuild it in an online frictionless way, we could bring it to the masses,” Luong said. “We see real estate as a vehicle to funnel people toward financial security.”
The pair got a group of experienced real estate investors and partnered with mortgage providers and renovators to build a platform to handle all of the steps it takes to turn cash into rent income returns. Doorvest will run every step of the process, including property management, while updating investors at every step of the way.
The firm currently focuses on the Houston rental market, Luong’s long term bread-and-butter area, but plans on renting in other markets in the future.
The platform has been in the works for years, but finally launched last year and immediately had to deal with the pandemic, but Luong said Doorvest made it through so far with success.
“It was definitely an experience, back in mid-march Justin and I were like crap, I think we’re done,” Luong said. “Public equities markets were tanking; we’re a young company without a lot of cash. I think people saw the volatility of the public equities market. In that span of two weeks it went down 40% or so and I think that led a retreat towards perceived reliable asset classes.”
To some, investing in Doorvest was perceived as more reliable than a tanking stock market, and after initial fluctuation, the firm is on the up. In his experience, Luong said the real estate market would continue to push toward suburban areas outside of major city centers as the pandemic continues.
All the while, everything is moving digital. As the company evolves, Luong is excited to offer new products to customers, using real estate as a vehicle to build a banking platform or mortgage platform to service a growing smorgasbord of online real estate options.
“We as a company made a bet three to five years out: we believe that real estate will be transacted entirely online,” Luong said. “Historically, you’d show up at a house, walk around, etc. Due to COVID, people weren’t going out, weren’t shaking hands: The adoption of technology to look at a home entirely online just became a lot more natural. Because of that, we’ve had really strong customer demand and fundraising.”
How does real estate loan signing work in a contactless world? One company offers a solution.
Stavvy, a platform that empowers businesses and lenders to close real estate loans digitally, has seen a dramatic change in their business landscape since the launch of their E-signing platform in March.
“Over the course of literally a couple of weeks, [states] realized that they had to empower people to be able to do business as usual, despite what was going on,” Co-Founder Kosta Ligris said. “We were able to put all the necessary tools in one platform to empower these title companies, law firms, notaries to have identity solutions when we went live in March.”
Right when the platform came live, contactless signing became a necessity. Kosta Ligris, a co-founder of Stavvy, said his team worked hard to include emergency digital notarization options in states that had not allowed it yet before. The market went from about 20 states with legalized digital signing to 48 that had legalized or created a temporary law.
Stavvy also reached out to engineers and employees who were losing their jobs during the first wave and picked up new hires while many firms were downsizing.
“The pandemic is a once in a lifecycle opportunity,” Kosta said. “I hope that we don’t see anything that resembles COVID again. But this opportunity has given us the chance to get in front of people that we otherwise would not have been able to hire.”
Unlike competitors, Stavvy does not get involved in signing or notarizing themselves, but instead offer a digital platform for both lenders, signers, and state compliance checking. The platform is somewhat like the Uber app Ligris said- they don’t bring a car to you, but they give you a digital way to connect to people who can pick you up.
In many states, especially in New York and New Jersey, complete digital signing is still not allowed. Instead, Stavvy encrypts film of the “wet signing” -ink pen on a document- and sends the encrypted data and other identification guarantees in a live “Zoom-like experience” to the county registry.
Ligris said Stavvy is very passionate about empowering both lenders and signers. As an MIT entrepreneurship resident who looks at student companies and ideas every year, he knows about barriers to entry. He said one such barrier to digitalized innovation is a simple fear of change.
“Change in and of itself is always frustrating and scary, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad,” Ligris said. “In so many industries where people regard technology, they look at it as this is the next thing that’s going to take my job away from me.”
That’s the concept Stavvy is fighting- that digital innovation is not automating away livelihood, but further connecting people. Ligris said that the one thing technology could not replace: broker buyer relationships.
“When it comes down to making one of the largest financial decisions of their life, they want a trusted professional,” Ligris said. “If we’re going to provide the technology, we want to empower the stakeholders that know best to be more efficient and better at what they do.”
I recently spoke with Christopher Pepe, Head of ISO Relations at World Business Lenders. Pepe explained why WBL’s practice of securing loans against real estate has enabled their business to keep lending and to do deals unsecured lenders and MCA providers are not equipped to handle.
You can watch the full interview here:
Jonathan Wasserstrum is the Founder & CEO of SquareFoot
Over recent weeks, all of us have had some adjusting to do with their work setups. Office spaces suddenly, seemingly overnight, became unsafe places to be, in the wake of a global pandemic. For some workers, this shift to work-from-home operations was a win. And companies that had made similar moves away from traditional office spaces looked on and said, “What were you waiting for?” I witnessed all of this chatter happening over the past month, in the shadows of an ongoing health scare that terrifies us all. However, I believe that the noise around office spaces going away is misguided and shortsighted. The truth of the matter is this: Commercial office building landlords, on the other side of this scare, will have to grapple with putting back together the pieces, and will definitely be rethinking how and who they lease to. Yet, this will not be the end of the industry as we’ve known it. Here’s why:
I’ve tried my best, as the owner of a growing business, to keep everything together for myself, my team, my clients, my investors, and more. We’ve done a good job at it, too. But if I’m being honest, not everything is perfect. Far from all is the same. And I have a new set of concerns that have emerged over the couple of weeks we’ve been working remote. It’s impossible, even for the most valiant and virtuous teams, to replicate the same successes they have seen in the past. Well-intentioned workers are producing less. The uncertainty of the economic climate contributes a mitigating factor. New business isn’t walking in the front door the way that it was not long ago. While this experiment began with enthusiasm for many getting to work in their pajamas and to play with their dog during the day, the conversation has quickly turned into a growing collective desire to get back to the way things were. As a result, a reliable office space separate from your home has become arguably more desirable than ever.
At the same time, we must pause to recognize that this prolonged period of working remotely has fundamentally shifted the cultural conversation around flexibility with work. My prediction therefore is that the truth will land somewhere in the middle. People at all companies may not return to work in the office five days a week, and they may not return to the same 9-to-5 schedule they had grown accustomed to, and they might not have a permanent, dedicated seat at the office in accordance with this shift, but those are growing pains that they and their managers can work through. We anticipate that things won’t immediately go back to the way they were, with employees gaining more leverage and applying more pressure than before in discussions with their company executives about giving them a more ideal process and procedure to succeed in all elements of their lives. If there’s one area of improvement that we’ve seen here in the U.S., it’s more families having dinner together on a nightly basis as a unit, with both satisfied parents home and removed from distractions. This luxury is not something people will want to lose any time soon. For their own sake, and for the sake of their families.
With more people pushing for flexibility within office policies, you’ll begin to see more company owners encouraging landlords to meet them where they are in their thinking. Already, the coworking companies had led a sizable shift in how landlords think about dividing up their spaces, and how many employees can be squeezed into one area. The next stage of this industry’s development may look something like this: It’s been rumored for many decades, but perhaps now we’ll see a rise in alternative seating patterns within offices that depend on hot-desking or hoteling to supply the ‘right’ number of seats and amount of space better-suited to the everyday needs of the company. As a business owner myself, I can say that empty seats that I know we’re paying for with every monthly rent payment can be an eyesore. You’ll rarely have a perfect count on any given day, but I know that for startups that are budget-conscious they would prefer to have one or two staffers sitting in an overflow area – on a couch or a barstool – than to have several empty desks on a regular basis. Companies must grow deliberately and thoughtfully in all aspects of their planning, and it’s about time that we take office space needs seriously in the same vein. It’s not as simple as giving 50 seats. Perhaps a company might be better off with 30 seats for its 50 employees in that given office? We see a rise in those types of conversations coming, stemming from an informal campaign from more employees seeking a more friendly work-from-home situation. The companies that offer this kind of and larger levels of flexibility could wind up being known as the more competitive places to work, especially for the category of veteran employees who have large families to think about and care for. Taking some responsibility for and giving genuine care for employee welfare is a mounting concern for many company founders.
This emphasis on flexibility will go one step further, though. Founders have never really wanted to be tied down by a long-term office lease; it was always deemed a necessity. Some landlords were already beginning to think along these lines, especially in the wake of what coworking companies have built on top of their real estate. We see that trend accelerating in 2020 and going forward. Over recent weeks, at SquareFoot, the company I own and lead, we’ve heard from more landlords than we had been working with in the past about how we can help put the right companies into their spaces, quickly. Over the past year, we’ve been leading this conversation, championing the virtues and values of flexibility for people in need first of a comfortable lease ahead of all other factors (neighborhood, view, commute, and more). We have two flexible office solutions we offer: PivotDesk, which is like airbnb for office space and pairs a host with a guest to share a space, and FLEX, which gives people the chance to get the office space they want with the lease they want. Both of these options require us to have good standing and good working relationships with landlords, but all of these variations and deviations from the norm of the traditional real estate world require first for the landlords to step up and say they recognize that the times have changed. The conversation has already changed.
LA-based real estate crowdfunding platform, RealtyMogul announced that its platform has enabled debt and equity transactions worth $200 million to date and has returned $40 million to investors.
The three year old firm has 80,000 members who have invested in 350 properties that are typically small-balance commercial real estate opportunities in the $1-5 million range. Some of its recent transactions include a $2.2 million first-mortgage loan on an industrial property in Alabama, a $1.5 million preferred equity contribution to a multi-tenant office building in Illinois, and a $1 million joint venture equity investment in a shopping center in Florida.
Some of the platform’s sponsors include Spirit Bascom Ventures which has invested over $10 billion including acquisition of The Edison Apartments, a mid-rise multifamily property in Chicago.
“Our goal has always been to democratize commercial real estate by enabling a new generation of investors to participate in real estate opportunities that were historically difficult to access,” said Jilliene Helman, CEO of the company in a news release.
Patch of Land has returned $25 million to investors this year, a quarter of its originations at $100 million.
The LA-based online lender for real estate loans also expanded its business to Hawaii, marking its presence in 36 states. The company uses a data-driven underwriting model and promises investors a risk adjusted return with extensive available data to support the underlying credit decision on each loan.
Earlier this month, Patch of Land started selling mid-term loan option for 2-5 years starting at 6 percent, extending its typical short-term loans starting at 10 percent for up to two years. It sells ‘bridge loans’ ranging from $100,000 to $5 million to cover the borrower until they can secure permanent capital or those who may not immediately qualify for long-term financing on properties that they rehabilitate and then hold as rentals. As far as demands for these loans go, the company’s CEO Jason Fritton said bridge loans generated $40 million in loan interest in less than two weeks since.
The three year old startup signed a $250 million agreement with an east coast based credit fund to purchase its loans in a forward flow arrangement. Last year, it raised a million in seed funding and $125,000 in debt in 2014, followed by $23 million in Series A funding last year when it funded more than 200 projects, with an average blended rate of return to investors of 12 percent.
CEO of RealtyShares, a real estate crowdfunding platform Nav Atwal in a Forbes post said enlisted reasons why commercial real estate is investor friendly — 12 percent annual returns, tax benefits, hedge against stock market and inflation being some of them. But for larger context, the commercial real estate environment is of caution among lenders towards big projects. Real estate firm CBRE said that it “conservatively” estimates that 18 percent of loans this year and 29 percent of loans next year to have refinancing problems as investors move away from commercial real estate bonds. CBRE estimates $43 billion to be in “troubled loans” over the next two years.
Patch of Land, an online lender for real estate loans added a mid-term loan option for 2-5 years starting at 6 percent.
The LA-based lender issued loans starting at 10 percent for up to two years. The company uses a data-driven underwriting model and promises investors a risk adjusted return with extensive available data to support the underlying credit decision on each loan.
Patch of Land provides loans ranging from $100,000 to $5 million and prides itself on providing quick loans. These short term loans are called ‘bridge loans’ and as the name suggests are a bridge until the borrower secures permanent capital. The company on its website noted, “Although this type of financing has relatively high interest rates, it allows the user to meet current obligations because it provides immediate cash flow.”
Should this be considered in the larger context of the commercial real estate environment, it aligns with the general attitude of caution among lenders towards big projects. CNBC quoted real estate firm CBRE and said that it “conservatively” estimates that 18 percent of loans this year and 29 percent of loans next year to have refinancing problems as investors move away from commercial real estate bonds. CBRE estimates $43 billion to be in “troubled loans” over the next two years.
Should other lenders pay attention?
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