A Data-driven Investment Strategy Can Bring You Stable Returns
Neal: I want to go into areas where I’m seeing at least 40, 50% of the population is single family. I do not want to go into areas which
So, I’m looking at all of those numbers and trying to find these niches, these neighborhoods.
So, I think, like everybody else, I’m looking at population, I’m looking at job growth, I’m looking at home prices, I’m looking at income levels. Those are standard things. Every syndicator in the U.S. can tell you that, but I think the other factors that I mention to you are optimizers that not everyone is looking at.
Obviously, there’s going to be a ceiling. Rents can’t increase forever, faster than salaries. I’m cognizant of that. I know that I’m going to be affected there, but I’m also seeing that it’s still safer to be in that B and C market than to be in that A-plus market. Everyone doing this A-plus construction, which is just insanity, because there is so much data saying that their vacancy levels are increasing. As the occupancy falls, the rents are falling.
Announcer: You are listening to the Invest Florida Real Estate Show covering topics in lending, buy and sell strategies, property management, hot markets, and tips and tools to guide you along the way on your path to real estate success.
And now, our hosts, Eric Odum
Eric: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Invest Florida Real Estate Show. This is your co-host flying solo today without my partner, Steven Silverman, but this is Eric Odum. So, you get me and me alone. Steven is out of the country right now at a reunion with his classmates. I don’t want to tell you how long ago it was that Steven graduated, but it was a really long time ago. I know that he’s happy to get back to South Africa and see family and friends, so we certainly took the leash off of him and let him go and enjoy some time away. We hope that he’s having a good time and he’s able to recharge the batteries and come back a new person when he returns.
Great guest today, guys, but before we get into talking about the guest, I would like to recognize Cindy from Orlando. Cindy sends us an email and she says, “We appreciate all you do. My husband and I are real estate investors and looking to move into multifamily. Your show has been a godsend to us in helping us understand better the Florida market and we did own single-family homes up north in Michigan and Ohio as well.”
So, she says, she adds—I’ll skip some of the other things that she talks about, but she says, “If you come to Orlando, please call. My husband and I would love to take you out for dinner.”
Hey, we love invitations. I particularly love invitations when Steven is not here, that way I get the goodies and he doesn’t. So, Cindy, I actually hopefully come over to Orlando and I will give you a shout when I make it over there. We are looking at a retail plaza that we might be taking over the property management on, so I’ll definitely be giving you a call. We do like to listen and meet with our listeners and we like to hear their ideas.
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Please, if you haven’t done so, take a moment and leave us a review and we will take the time to recognize you on air, whatever nice comments you make to us.
Now, if you say anything nice about Steven, of course, I will probably skip that, but any compliment that you provide to me will definitely be read.
Guys, today’s guest, phenomenal, multifamily. I know how much multifamily guys love to listen to the show. This is going to be one you’re going to be excited about. The speaker today is very
I think that’s all I have right now, and I don’t want to waste
Neal Bawa is the President and COO of Financial Attunement, a commercial real estate investment company that specializes in acquiring apartment complexes across the U.S. for over 200 investors. He is the CEO and founder of
Neal uses a data-driven approach for acquisition and management criteria for his multifamily investments.
Neal, thank you so much for joining us on the Invest Florida Show.
Neal: Thank you, Eric. I’m very happy to be on the show. Thanks for having me.
Eric: Neal, let’s start from a 30,000-foot view of your career and how you got into multifamily and how you are where you are today and then we’re going to—a little bit later, we’re going to get into your data-driven approach because you really work on numbers and I think this is going to be good for our listeners to hear.
Neal: My story is very atypical. I’m not real estate royalty. I don’t have a broker’s license. I haven’t flipped homes. I’m a technologist. And I think that’s where the data-driven approach comes from, computer science graduate, software engineer, and I was running a company that was a technology and healthcare education company that had a successful exit in 2013 and so my story is really tied to that company because I work for them and was a partner there for about 16, 17 years.
The story started in
And then we said, “Well, but you don’t know all of the legal, logistical stuff that a general contractor would know,” and so he actually arranged for a mentor/general contractor that was retired to help him and I build that project.
So, unlike most of your listeners, I started multifamily in reverse. I started in commercial construction, and so we built that building. It was 27,000 square feet and it was a very successful project. And then two years later we ran out of space again for our business and bought the building behind us, which was even larger and much more expensive and this time we couldn’t afford to buy the whole building from the business perspective, and so we went one step further. Not only did we build that building from a shell into offices and classrooms,
So, it was hugely successful, Eric. It was massively successful. Everyone concerned was delighted and I just fell in love with commercial real estate back then and then went the standard route of buying single family. Bought one, bought two, bought ten single families, ran out of loans. Refinanced, got my wife’s name off. Went to Chicago, bought ten triplexes in my wife’s name, ran out of loans for her. And then I said, “What happens after you run out of loans?”
And then I started looking at passive investing. I wasn’t the active investor back then. I was running a technology company. I had 350 employees. I said, “How does one passively invest in
Most of them were very good at what they did, but what I noticed was they all had one or two things that they were very good at. Maybe they were good at marketing, buying well, selling well, managing property managers, doing rehab, but they didn’t really have a consolidated skill set because they weren’t looking at anybody else.
But I was investing with 13 of these guys and poking my nose into their monthly calls. Some of them were annoyed about it, but they let me because I was an investor, and I was learning by going into these calls. And there were weeks when I was on 10 different calls for 10 different companies learning their techniques, while still running my company.
My boss was okay with it because he knew we were going to sell the company and he wanted to retire, so he was like, “Oh, yeah, I realize this is going to be your next career, go have fun with it.”
The more I did that, the more I learned and then I realized I was learning some amazing stuff and I was going to forget all of it if I didn’t teach somebody. What I did was, I had these huge classrooms at my campus in Silicon Valley and I decided to invite Meetup Group owners from all over the Bay Area to come in and establish Meetup Groups inside the campus in the evenings because we had classrooms and projectors and stuff like that. They were delighted. They were like, “Yes, we’ve been looking for somebody like you that can give us these big classrooms. Now we don’t have to go into a crowded office in the evening anymore.”
A bunch of Meetups opened up. One of them was multifamily and I started to teach what I was learning at that multifamily while still running my technology company. This evolution is very interesting, where I’m 100% tech guy and I’m teaching multifamily because I’m just learning.
And I was very honest with all of my people
People really loved that, and they started coming up to me and said, “I want to invest with you.” And I said, “But I’m not a syndicator. I’m not even a real estate guy. I’m a technologist.” They’re like, “No, no, no, wherever you invest, we’d like to invest with you.”
I started to realize that they were beginning to trust my instincts when it came to real estate. I started thinking, okay, maybe this is something I do when I sell my company and I finish my
So, I started looking for partners, came across a guy whose name is John Mark Lando. Brilliant guy, absolutely brilliant, 35 years in real estate. I realized he knew a lot more than me, but he didn’t have the operational chops, the skills that I had running a company, so we partnered together and that’s how Financial Attunement came to be.
At the point when I met him, he had like 14 investors and a single project that he was really involved in as the lead guy and now we have about 220 investors, our portfolio is expanded to over $100 million and we have roughly 3,000 people in that Meetup Group. We actually became the largest apartment Meetup Group in the U.S.
This evolution took a decade and it’s been such a marvelous journey to move from
Eric: So, you’re based out of California. You’re still in California, correct?
Neal: Yeah, yeah.
Eric: Some of the listeners might wonder about the relationship to the Invest Florida Show and why, in terms of the Florida angle that you might bring to the show, but you’re actually very interested in the Florida market. Why don’t you tell us a little about that?
Neal: Absolutely. About 3,000 students a year attend my webinars and the most popular webinar is one that I write each year in February and it’s called Real Estate Trends, because I’ve noticed that if you go to Trulia or Zillow or Apartments.com or Forbes, each year they’re going to come up with a list of top ten cities to invest in, in various categories. Could be appreciation, could be fix and flip, could be rent appreciation. What I noticed was nobody was actually aggregating all this information from various providers together and comparing them to see if there were commonalities, and so I started doing that.
I started taking data from eight different public providers and I just named some of those providers, and I put them together into a grid and I started to see if I could see trends or patterns because they were all doing data differently. They were all using different data sources. They were all massaging the data differently.
So, if the same city or the same state showed up again and again and again for investment, then it made sense there, both from a single family and a multifamily perspective.
It started out not as a single family or multifamily webinar, it was just about let’s look at what people are saying, guys that know what they’re talking about. What are they saying about the various cities in the U.S.?
And then when I started doing that, I started to see a trend. Consistently Florida came up. The cities changed over time. Early on, it was heavy on the Miami and Jacksonville side and then as the years went by, 2017 and 2018, it was Central Florida that became much hotter. So much so that in the 2018 version of the real estate trends, we’ve had 1,000 people already watch it since I debuted that in late February, the Central Florida cities are dominating when it comes to growth for
Now, I’m a multifamily guy, but I really like to look at single family prices because here’s what happens:
I was seeing those single family trends, those explosive trends for the last two or three years in Florida and now as a result of that, we’re seeing explosive growth on the multifamily side. We’re seeing both rents in the last 12 months, as well as forecast rents in Central
If I look at any provider, and there are providers that we subscribe to that cost tens of thousands of dollars a year to subscribe, Orlando consistently comes up as one of the best places in the U.S. Tampa is not far behind and then the metros, the tiny little metros that are around Orlando, Lakeland, Florida, Deltona, Winter Haven. These sorts of places are coming up more and more as potential places to invest in.
So, when I’m talking with students a lot, I say I haven’t managed to invest in Florida because I’ve lost lots of offers, but I wish that I hadn’t lost those offers. I wish I’d been more aggressive in the past because I think that this is a very strong
Eric: Yeah. The interesting thing for us, you know, we call it the I-4 Corridor and that’s really becoming one metropolis in between Orlando and Tampa as people grow. That’s the road that runs between Orlando and Tampa, that people are being added there on a regular basis.
And if you start talking about Lakeland and Daytona and Plant City and Bartow and these areas that are in and around there, they tend not to have the dominant 400-unit apartment complexes in numbers like you would see in Tampa proper and Orlando proper. Orlando is the king of
So, how would you go about trying to isolate and acquire in the Bartows and the Plant Cities when they tend to be pretty small? Are you trying to hit these smaller 16, 20, 25-unit apartment complexes or are you think more along the lines of perhaps something that can be built and developed? What are your thoughts there, Neal?
Neal: Honestly, I’m conflicted. The truth is, that while everything I said about Florida, I feel very strongly, I’m also worried about where the cap rates stand today. From a historical perspective, there is no precedent for Florida to have cap rates this low. There is no precedent at all. People tell me that there’s a lot of
And because you guys dropped so much, you guys dropped so much in 2006, your drop was one of the worst in the 2008 crash, the recovery actually is very late recovery. A lot of it because of
Neal: But the point is, compare Florida to Dallas, to Seattle, to all of these other areas and you’ll notice that in comparison, the deals are really good, but the problem is, there’s no historical data to kind of go back and say, these are reasonable cap rates. So, I’m very conflicted.
A lot of times when I’m making offers in Florida, I’m still trying to kind of do what everyone else is doing in terms of offer prices. I know that those numbers are not going to work, which is why I haven’t managed to land a project in there and I have made offers in the smaller size as well, so like 50-plus units, though my wheelhouse typically tends to be 100 to 300 units,
But I can tell you that if you were going to get out-bid somewhere in the United States today, it would still make sense to pay a little bit more in Florida than it does in a lot of other states.
Eric: Are you concerned when you see some of the near
Do you see that and is that a concern for you and if so, how would you combat it, if that’s something that you look at and that’s giving you pause?
Neal: I was a lot more worried about that about 18 months ago than I am today, and I’ll tell you why. Historically,
Neal: We created 10 million new renter households. So, while we are pricing renters out all the time with these increases in rents, what is also happening is people who in the past either owned single families or were leaning in that direction, are becoming part of the renter pool. For example, right now, if the interest rates go up by 100 basis points, so today I think that the 30-year fixed is at 4.54 or somewhere in that range, let’s say it goes up to 5.54. 4.3 million new renters will be created in the U.S. over the next 18 months.
Eric: Tell me about your investment criteria. What are some of the
Neal: Well, to me, I want rents to be in the $700-950 range. I want the percentage of people in that neighborhood, the poverty level—and I can find out the poverty level for every neighborhood in the U.S.—I want that number to be under 20%, under 15% if I can make it happen.
I want the median household income to be in a Goldilocks zone that starts at around $37,000 and goes all the way up to $70,000. I don’t want to buy higher than 70,000, because then the cap rates are too low there, but I also don’t want to buy anything under 38, because I find that beyond that point, you might get really good cap rates, but you’re going to suffer because you’re going to have tenant delinquency, you’re going to have collections costs, you’re going to have high turnover as you see transitional populations.
I want to go into areas where I’m seeing at least 40, 50% of the population is single family. I do not want to go into areas which
So, I’m looking at all of those numbers and trying to find these niches, these neighborhoods. Another thing is ethnic diversity. I don’t want to go into areas that have no ethnic diversity because then the pool of renters becomes small. I’m only attracting essentially one ethnicity into that area, so all Mexican, all whites, all blacks, that’s not necessarily a good mix because it makes my marketing a lot less efficient.
I think, like everybody else, I’m looking at population, I’m looking at job growth, I’m looking at home prices, I’m looking at income levels. Those are standard things. Every syndicator in the U.S. can tell you that.
But I think the other factors that I mentioned to you are optimizers that not everyone is looking at.
Eric: You talked about the pressure on the pricing and salaries and how you’re dealing with that. In our area, the working class apartments, those folks are probably taking it on the nose the worst because of the lack of supply. We have cranes in downtown Tampa and downtown Orlando and downtown Miami building super A apartment complexes. But there’s nobody addressing the need for the working class and I don’t know—this might be an unfair question for you—but I don’t know if you’ve figured out another way to peel this onion because everybody is struggling with how to build that
It might be an unfair question for you, and you can tell me if it is, but is there any way that you’ve seen that maybe you can peel the onion a little differently and come up with some strategies there.
I haven’t, and I honestly think that the odds are stacked against a solution being found. The renter population, even though they’re whatever, 40% of America or thereabouts, only in terms of
Neal: Cities are becoming more and more nimby because they want
So, honestly at this point, the poor, the renters, they don’t have any Messiahs. Nowhere in the United States am I seeing cities make responsible decisions around affordable housing.
Affordable housing, the bad news really came in 1999 when President Clinton cut a program that was producing well over 100,000 affordable housing units. If I’m not wrong, in 2016, that program now produced 17,000 units, not 150,000 that it was producing back then.
So, I don’t think that at this point, anyone has come up with a solution that is even conceivable to be implemented. Obviously, there’s going to be a ceiling. Rents can’t increase forever faster than salaries. I’m cognizant of that. I know that I’m going to be affected there. But I’m also seeing that it’s still safer to be in that B and C market than to be in that A-plus market. Everyone doing this A-plus construction, which is just insanity, because there is so much data saying that their vacancy levels are increasing and as their occupancy falls, their rents are falling, right?
So, in the short term, I think that the B and C class in the next two or three years are set for staggering increases in rent in the 3%-plus. And that doesn’t sound like a lot for rents, right? But historically, rents were slightly under 2%. Now we’re seeing 3% increases, even though we’ve seen 5 and 6% increases in the last few years.
In my mind, they’re still staggering numbers, but as to how far it can go, there’s always a limit. Having said that, I’ve noticed—and this is based on San Francisco Bay Area—people used to say, “Well, the poor can’t possibly pay more than 40% of their income.” Then they said, “Well, they can’t possibly pay more than 45.” Then they said 50. We’re seeing renters now pay more than 50% of their income.
Eric: Yeah. That’s Miami.
Neal: You’re not there in Florida.
Eric: In Miami. In Miami we are. Tampa we’re still below 50%.
Neal: Right. There’s still some room to grow there, but obviously, what we’re doing is, we’re turning the tenant population into abject poverty because all they can really do is pay for food and rent.
So, horrible news for America, really. But where’s the solution? I have not seen any implementable solutions at this point in time and I don’t think that the multifamily guys are really doing much to fix the problem either by just building class A upon class A upon class A.
Eric: Yeah. A lot of this conversation has been focused on maybe some of the downsides of the market, but you’re really positive. I want to reinforce that, that this area from Deltona to Tampa, you’re bullish on.
Neal: Extremely positive because you’ve got problems on the
Eric: Talk about that, Neal.
Neal: You’ve got significant supply issues. When I look at how many homes, new homes are being built in your area, Orlando has one of the largest shortages, both on the
I’m quite bullish on your market. I think that the Orlando to Tampa area especially, there aren’t a lot of places in the U.S. that can touch you in terms of what you are going to see in terms of home price increases. I pay for a lot of software. There’s one called Local Market Monitor, check that one out.
There’s another one called Housing Alerts. If you look at both of
I feel that Florida is still a slam dunk if I can find reasonable property on the multifamily
Eric: If I hear you properly, the economy really, since I think the bottom was 2010, second or third quarter and that was about the same time the real estate market started to slowly make its turn back northward. But if I hear you properly, normally you’d look at an economy that’s pretty long in the tooth in terms of on the upswing and you would say, “Well, historically, statistically, we should be headed towards a recession.” But if I hear you properly, the demographics are such here that maybe Florida, particularly on the multifamily side, is not going to take a hit as severely—when the recession eventually comes. Is that a fair assessment?
Neal: It is. I’m still projecting a recession in 2020 and I think at this point, if you ask 10 economists, 8 are going to say 2020. What they really mean is this: When people say 2020 and the economists don’t like to forecast more than a year out, right? When they say 2020, that’s actually good news because rarely will economists project something that far out at this late
Neal: What they’re saying is, “We really don’t see a recession in 2018. We don’t see one in 2019.” And I don’t either because we’ve only just started seeing the impact of the tax reform bill on the economy. It’s long-term impact, in my mind, is horrendous, it’s horrible, but the short-term impact is very positive. You’ve seen the stock market climb about 25,000. You’ve seen records buy-backs, so basically the people that own stock are benefiting from this
And I think that that is the case because the amount of money that we just gifted to corporate America is so incredibly massive, that this is a windfall that they haven’t had in three or four decades. And it takes a year or two to kind of work through that.
So, when that recession comes in 2020, in my opinion, number one, it’ll be a typical, vanilla U.S. recession. A lot of people ask me, “Do you think that real estate will crash or die?” But I say, “Absolutely not.” Don’t forget that our Federal Reserve injected $4.3 trillion, that’s $4,300 billion as liquidity into the economy and has only managed to withdraw about 100 or 200 billion of that so far. That money is still there. It’s thrashing around looking for yield. It’s running around the U.S. looking for yield.
Because bonds are still extraordinarily inexpensive, their yield is very low. Well, I shouldn’t say they’re inexpensive, I should say their yield is very low, that money is running around looking and one of the places that it’s going into is commercial real estate and real estate in general and that trend will not reverse unless that money goes back out of the market.
At the pace that they’re removing, it’s going to take us 30 years to remove that money from the marketplace. We live in a warped economy that doesn’t follow previous rules of recessions and boom cycles, so it’s extending this cycle.
Which is bad, by the way. It’s horrible news for the economy because these are all
Eric: Neal, I’m going to change gears here without a clutch. We’re going to change pretty hard in terms of the topic, but how are you finding deals? You’re in California, you come into Florida, what are some of the techniques that you’re using to try to find deals? Now, you’ve told us that you haven’t been successful in acquiring one yet, but
Neal: So, I’m using data. I can tell you that real estate gurus, for the longest time, have been teaching the standard methodology of, you know, call owners and basically just cold calling and look at owners that may be willing to sell.
I have found that those mechanisms are not working today. You can’t send out a thousand pieces of
Neal: I’m not even sure you can send out 10,000 mailers and land a property.
Eric: True, yeah.
Neal: And I mean a property that’s $10-20 million. We’re not talking about a small one.
Neal: So, I have started to use data. I am using tools, a number of tools like list source and prospect now. Basically, what I’m doing is trying to figure out which owners have the largest amount of equity in their properties. I don’t want to go and make an offer to somebody who has $250,000 or 500,000 in equity. I want to start chasing those people that have $4, 5, 6, 7 million in equity in their property because they’re much more likely to have a fruitful conversation with me. And that is giving me leads.
Now, that data was not available 5 or 10 years ago. Now, you can basically pay 99 bucks a month to Prospect Now and as long as you get a
Now, a lot of your listeners may not be really looking at multifamily, they’re looking at
That’s what I’m looking for. Where is the equity growth? How can I find people that I narrow down to people with the largest amount of equity growth, where it starts to make sense to them, that okay, this is a good time for me to sell?
Eric: You’re actually getting this information on deals that have equity in them, they’re not currently listed and at that
Neal: All of the above. Once I know that they have significant amounts of equity, then it makes sense for me to make phone calls. Then it makes sense for me to do letters and do emails. What I’m finding is, that emails—or actually text messages—are getting more attention than letters are, or typically do. So, we’re kind of changing our strategy over to one that’s more digital and I’ll be focusing on the messaging being really powerful. We want
But I think the key is, what are you saying to them that is going to catch their attention immediately. We’re constantly experimenting with everything from
Eric: And are you just saying things like, “I have a buyer,” or “I’m a buyer,” or what are some of the things that might be working?
Neal: Well, what you just mentioned actually is a very good one. You say, “I’m a direct buyer. I am not a bird dog.” I say stuff like, “Aren’t you afraid of birth dogs and brokers calling you so that then once they’ve got their approval, they can waste your time and
Eric: Interesting. Hey, man, that’s some great prospecting, but you’ve got have the
Neal, investors that own a handful of single family, maybe own a handful of duplexes or
Neal: In my mind, and I’m going to say something that is bizarre. Don’t invest in my multifamily syndications. I am not the right target for you. I have 200 investors that give me a hundred grand, 250 grand, but if you have equity in your duplexes or quadplexes, you shouldn’t necessarily be working with syndicators like me that are buying $20 million properties.
Because if you do the math there, that payment of 30% in taxes first and then handing money to people like me, the mathematics
In my mind, what you really should be doing is buying multifamilies
But the key is, the way to get into multifamily today, is to buy some of those small properties, which is not what I’m doing. You might say, “Wait a minute, Neal, why aren’t you buying those small properties?” We do. We do have a division that helps 1031 investors. We usually will pair up two of them or just a single investor and we’ll buy properties for them that we don’t even hold equity in. They remain 100% owner, but we go through that process of finding those properties for them and buying it for them.
I do have a small 1031 division that does that. Because I think that the math on tax payment is so compelling that you owe it to yourself to not pay taxes on that equity and use 1031 if you can.
Eric: Awesome. Neal, if folks want to get in touch with you, why don’t you tell them how to do that and also tell them what you’re looking for, so they’re not wasting their time and they’re not wasting your time?
Neal: Okay. Well, for those of you that don’t want to go through the process of buying multifamilies yourself and want to be passive investors, consider investing with us.
The best place to start is our education website. It is MultifamilyU.com. That’s the word multifamily followed by the letter U, dot com, and you’ll see a ton of fantastic webinars there, Multifamily Fundamentals,
And then a variety of other webinars. Student housing, we own about 600 student housing beds, so we talk about the opportunity in student housing.
Those are the right places to start. I always
So, check out MultifamilyU.com.
Eric: Neal, really appreciate you taking the time and investing it with us today.
Neal: I’d just like to say this is a time to be careful. I want that to be my message. It’s a time for everyone to be careful, but it’s not a time for people to be out of the market.
Eric: Awesome. Great advice, Neal, I really appreciate your time, buddy.
Neal: Thanks so much. Thanks, Eric.
Eric: And that was Neal Bawa of Financial Attunement and
Very interesting, the comments that he made about Deltona to Tampa.
Guys, as always, we would ask you, if you like what Neal brought to the table, that you go to the website and look for other speakers, other guests that we’ve had that have been terrific also. You can find them at www.InvestFloridaShow.com. And as always, we appreciate the time that you invest with us each and every episode. I believe that Steven will be back with
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