Have you ever driven around your city and seen all these apartment complexes, shopping plazas, or even office buildings? I always used to think they were all owned by rich billionaires.
…some of them are, but not all.
The reality is that a lot of these large properties are actually owned by regular people like you and me to generate passive income.
The answer: with real estate syndication.
It’s what I used to recently close a 192 unit deal in San Antonio with my partners.
But what exactly is real estate syndication?
Syndication is a way which multiple real estate investors pool their funds together in order to purchase a property that is more expensive than any of them could have afforded on their own.
Generally, there are two types of partners in these deals: 1) General Partners (GPs) who accept additional risk, put the deal together, and operate the asset 2) Limited Partners (LPs) who have limited risk and invest more passively.
Real estate syndications are an effective way to spread risk. Since each investor can allocate a smaller sum to each deal, they can effectively spread their risk across multiple property types and diversify by geographic region.
Real Estate Syndication Structure
Syndications in real estate are amazingly diverse in their structure so it’s impossible to cover everything. In general, there are four components:
- Return of investor capital – Limited partners should always get paid back first, and this ensures they get paid first
- The preferred return – Not all deals have a preferred return, but when they do this is where it pays out. Investors get the first portion of the deal before the general partners.
- The catch-up – Many deals don’t have a catch-up tier but this is where the sponsor will get 100% of the profits after the preferred return until the predetermined split is met.
- Carried interest – profits are split based on the agreed amount (such as 80/20 or 70/30)
Let’s break it down further…
What Is A Preferred Return In A Real Estate Syndicate?
According to Mark Kenney over at ThinkMultifamily, a preferred return is “a return that investors received BEFORE the general partners receive a return.” In essence, after the investors receive their initial capital back, they received a preferred rate of return before the general partners get any payout at all.
Mark, an investor and real estate coach who owns over 2,000 doors in Tennessee, Georgia, and Texas, says that he doesn’t like to use a preferred return but has in the past on deals that didn’t expect any distributions for 12 or 18 months.
The preferred return would accrue and give incentive for people to invest in the deal.
Andrew Campbell, the co-founder of Wildhorn Capital, a multifamily operator based in Austin, Texas has a different opinion. He said he likes to have an 8% preferred return for the majority of his 450 door portfolio.
It “gives some certainty to investors about their overall returns. Plus, 8% also happens to beat the historical stock market return of 7%.”
What Is A Waterfall In A Real Estate Syndication?
The waterfall refers to the overall distribution of funds and tiers that were mentioned above, but it is often referred to as how profits are split after the preferred return is met. Andrew Campbell explains it perfectly:
“Profits generated above any preferred returns are generally split between investors (Limited Partners) and deal sponsors (General Partners). In our case, above the 8% pref we split profits 70% to Limited Partners and 30% to General Partners.
Some deals and sponsors will have additional “waterfalls” where at 18% IRR (for example) the split would go to 50/50. The general idea is that the higher the returns are to investors, the more the sponsors make, and everyone is happy.
The downside of multiple waterfalls is that sponsors can sometimes be incentivized to return investor capital early (to boost the IRR) and trigger these waterfalls.That can sometimes put unnecessary risk on the asset if they are being to aggressive.”
Kenny Wolfe, the founder of Wolfe Investments who has been involved in over $91M in real estate transactions doesn’t like the complexity of the waterfall structure many syndicators use.
“We have steered clear of preferred returns mostly because those are usually accompanied with up-front fees charged to investors. Our investment structures are tied to the performance of the investment, and not just closing deals like the typical preferred return strategy.”
“If we make our investors money, then we’re rewarded. If we don’t then we aren’t rewarded.”
I originally didn’t plan to dive into the fee structure at all, but since Kenny brought up some great points, I think I’ll dive into the fees and how some different structures affect the incentives and performance of deals.
The Fees When Syndicating Real Estate
There are a lot of different types of fees used in syndication. Some are more common than others but all have their pros/cons. Here are the most common ones
I’ve seen this anywhere from 0 to 5 points with 2 being the most common. Acquisition fees in a syndication are really common and most have them, but not all.
Syndicators are running a business and that has costs. Acquisition fees help pay for the operating costs, staff, flights, hotels, diligence, and other costs that are needed to run the business.
On the other hand, acquisition fees can be enormous on large deals and can drive some deal sponsors to be short-sighted and focus on closing deals rather than operating deals profitably.
Think about it, a $10M deal with 2 point acquisition fee is $200,000. That adds up fast! You can see how some sponsors will lose track of buying good deals and focus on just closing deals, regardless of how good they are.
Asset Management Fee
This generally ranges from 1-3% of gross rent revenue. This may or may not go to the deal sponsor and it goes to cover the cost of managing the asset and management team that was hired.
Since the syndicator only gets paid when the asset is cash flowing, there isn’t much incentive to take on difficult projects. That’s where the construction fee comes in. If there is a major rehab project a fee can be imposed to compensate the project manager while the asset isn’t producing income.
It can vary but is often 1-2% of the construction cost.
There are a lot of competing interests in a deal and it’s difficult to align everyone 100% of the time – that’s why trust must be built with anyone that you’re investing with.
But, a few major points to consider are how all the fees and the preferred return and waterfall all fit together.
Deals with high preferred returns and high fees create incentives for the sponsor to find and close deals, but not a lot of incentive to maximize cash flow. As Andrew pointed out, deals with huge benefits to the sponsor at certain levels can cause them to sell early to bump the IRR artificially and trigger that waterfall distribution.
But, deals that compensate the sponsor more will create more incentive to produce high returns.
That’s why there are so many different ways to structure deals! Every sponsor and investor pool is different so they can create deals that work for everyone.
Structuring a Syndication Deal – Example
Similar to how Andrew structures deals, let’s say that in this deal there will be an 8% preferred return, 70/30 split thereafter, and have a 2 point acquisition fee and 2 point asset management fee.
The limited partners will get 70% of the returns after the 8% pref and the sponsor will get the other 30%. The sponsor will get 2 points up front and 2 percent of the gross revenue.
Example 2 – Syndication Structure
Kenny, on the other hand, keeps it simple. He might charge an 80/20 split with no acquisition fee, no waterfall, and no preferred return. The asset management fee is 2% as well in this example.
So, the limited partners get 80% of all the profits and the general partner gets 20%. If it does well everyone does well and if it does poorly everyone does poorly. There are very limited fees except for the asset management fee.
Example 3 – Hybrid Structure
Mark kind of does it a third way. He said he generally does the 80/20 split, but he does charge an acquisition fee and asset management fee but rarely does a preferred return.
The acquisition fee is more similar to Andrew but his split is more similar to Kenny.
It’s interesting to see how 3 different real estate syndicators have three entirely different ways to structure their deals.
How To Find Real Estate Deals to Syndicate?
These are large deals and you don’t typically see them on the MLS, so how exactly do you find deals for a syndication?
Well, three different deal sponsors had three different answers:
“Now that we’re established as a solid buyer we get off-market deals across the US. We look at the on-market deals as well. These days the off-market deals have been much more attractive.”– Kenny Wolfe
Andrew Campbell appears to have a more holistic view for finding deals.
“It’s a full-time job, and it all comes back to relationships. Meeting and networking with brokers, talking to owners, title agents, insurance providers, property managers. Leads can come from anywhere, and in this market, you want to make sure you can see as many properties as possible, and the earlier and more off-market/limited market they are the better.”
Mark Kenney has seemed to be extremely successful working directly with commercial real estate brokers.
“We generally work through brokers to finds deals.”
What About LoopNet for Commercial Real Estate Syndication?
I’ve known about LoopNet for a while, so I was curious about it. Kenney put it simply though:
“Loopnet is where deals go to die.”
But, David Eldridge of NAI Glickman Kovago & Jacobs, a commercial brokerage firm in Worcester, Massachusetts, said,
“Loopnet is far from dead. We do a ton of volume on it and use it almost exclusively for smaller listings.”
How Do You Find Commercial Brokers and Get Them to Take You Seriously?
Commercial brokers are dealing with a lot of big players in the market, and it can be difficult to get them to take you seriously if you are a new player.
Mark pointed out that “a market generally only has a few major names. The top 2 or 3 people have access to virtually all the deals, so you just need to identify them.”
He continued, “it’s not hard to get yourself onto their email list, but it can be more difficult to get people to take your offers seriously. It’s important to have some experience in the field and if you don’t, then partner up with someone who does have the experience.”
In the end, money talks and the highest offer usually wins. So, you can make up for experience with higher offers.
The Cost To Syndicate A Real Estate Deal
Now that we’ve got past the “what is a syndication in real estate” and the “how to syndicate in real estate” part of the article, we can get into the costs and money aspect.
The first logical question is about the cost of a syndication.
There are several major fixed cost items that every syndication requires, including – SEC attorney, earnest money deposit, diligence, private placement memorandum, loan application fees, and more.
So, let’s break them down. As some fees are percentage based, I’m going to create a hypothetical $2,000,000 deal.
- Attorney for Contract – $3,000
- SEC Attorney for PPM – $12,000
- EMD – 1% – $40,000
- Diligence – $25-$50 per door – $2,000
- Loan Application – 1% – $20,000
- Other Financing Costs – 0.5% – 1% – $20,000
Total Costs – $97,000 to get the deal done, of which $40,000 goes toward the purchase.
So the total fixed costs are $57,000 or 2.85% of the total deal price. As you can see, this is not cheap!
The syndicator has to front all the money and if the deal doesn’t close most of that money can be lost. So, you can see one reason why syndicators are compensated pretty well.
How Big Do Syndication Deals Need To Be?
We are talking some pretty big numbers here overall. Realistically though, how big or small does the syndication deal need to be in order for it to make sense?
Universally, all of the deal sponsors wanted to do larger rather than smaller deals. Both Mark and Kenny said they want deals over 80 units which allows for full-time on-site property management. Andrew prefers to look at it as a dollar figure and prefers to do deals over $8 million to keep the fixed costs as a small percent of the total costs.
How Do You Find Investors?
Most people reading this are probably wondering how you can find people to invest so much money. Most people can save up $50-100k, but you are talking about raising hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars for a deal. How?
Andrew says it’s a “second full-time job” which comes back to relationships and marketing. He does at least 5 sit-down meetings a week to grow those relationships.
Kenny is so well established that most of his new investors come from referrals though he also does a meetup, podcasts, and general outreach.
Example Syndication Deal
You might be wondering how much a syndicator can actually earn from one of these deals. So, I put together this example based on the knowledge I gained.
Let’s assume we found a property somewhere in Texas with a 6.5% capitalization rate. It’s about 70 units and is selling for $60,000 per unit. That’s $4.2M total.
A 6.5 cap rate means the property has a net operating income of about $273,000 per year before finance costs.
With about $875,000 as a down payment, that’s about $190,000/year in finance costs (I’m rounding).
So the cash flow is about $83,000/year.
Of course some of that goes toward principal, and eventually, the deal will be sold and that will get distributed back to the investors. For now, though, let’s just focus on cash flow and not the entire return.
What The General And Limited Partners Earn In A Syndication
I’m going to keep the numbers super simple so I can do it all in my head. Let’s take the 1% asset management fee out of the gross rents. We don’t have a number for gross rent (only NOI). Let’s say it’s $8,000. If you were the asset manager, great you get to pocket that. If not, someone else does.
The rental income is now $75,000.
Of that cash flow, let’s say the syndicator is doing a 90/10 split and will earn 10%.
And let’s say he also put in about $100,000 into the deal, they would have a total equity of 21.4% and would get about $16,050 in cash flow. That’s about a 16% cash on cash return for the principal (excluding the asset management fee). Don’t forget, they earn the same returns as other LPs on the cash they invest, and then get their split just for doing the deal.
Realistically, this example doesn’t include any growth in value and is a very simple example.
Now You Know The Basics
…and it’s time to download your deal calculator to help you start analyzing your next deal.
Cap Rate, Explained
Whenever you’re pitching, shopping, brokering or hunting deals, one of the first terms you’ll come across is the “cap rate.”
Short for capitalization rate, at its most basic form, the cap rate indicates the annual yield on a real estate property.
But that’s not all it’s good for. It can also indicate valuations, feasibility of a deal, and what you should pay for a property. Here’s WealthLAB’s Cap Rate, Explained.
What is a cap rate?
The basic formula of the cap rate is the property’s net operating income (NOI) divided by the purchase price. It basically means the yield (return) of the property without considering debt or anything else. Or, in layman’s terms, it lets you know (an estimate of) your cash flow in advance.
Cap Rate Example
Let’s take a 20-unit property in Atlanta listed for $2 million. The rent roll for the year comes out to $300,000 with operating expenses totaling $100,000.
$200k divided by $2M = 10% = a 10% cap rate. (In everyday lingo, you’ll hear people call that a “10 cap.”)
How can I use it?
Quite a few ways. The most basic one is to compare the cap rate of a property you’re considering investing in vs. the average cap rate for the market. This would let you know whether you’re getting a good deal or not.
You can also use it when projecting income against a property you plan to upgrade. Then it would be a “pro forma cap rate.”
Find your price
You can also use it to find the price you’re willing to pay. But perhaps your strategy says you’ll only buy properties at a 12% cap rate. So now you can use the cap rate to calculate what your offer should be.
Using example above, if NOI is $200k, simply divide by your desired cap rate offer price (12%) = $1.66M = your offer price.
What’s a good cap rate?
It all depends, really.
Depends on the market, the state of the property, the cost of capital. In so-called gateway markets (think New York City, London, Tokyo etc.), the cap rates are lower because of the idea that — just like bonds and other “safe” instruments — investing in big markets is a safe play.
In addition, properties in big markets traditionally trend upwards—thus offsetting the lower cash flow.
In smaller markets, where there are less job, less people, and therefore less rental demand, the value doesn’t trend upwards as much; they remain stagnant.
For that reason, they’re deemed more risky and you’d seek a higher cap rate to get higher cash flow to mitigate that risk.
Yes, cap rates are also used to value properties. Again, going by the average cap rates for a given market, once you recapitalize (refinance), the lender—vs. the free market—will set a value of your property.
So the value would be found like this: NOI divided by cap rate. Let’s use the Atlanta 20-unit as an example. That particular type of property in that particular market has an average cap rate of 8%.
$200k NOI divided by 8% = $2.5M = your property’s value.
Is The 1% Rule Garbage?
There’s a lot of “rules of thumb” floating around out there related to real estate. The one I hate the most is the 1% rule.
It’s wrong. It doesn’t work. Period.
Let me explain…
The 1% Rule Explained
Let me take a step back and explain the 1% rule first.
In a nutshell, it says that the monthly rent for your rental property should be at least 1% of the property value. If you can meet this goal then you can make some good money in real estate.
So, if you find a property that rents for $1,000/month and you can negotiate a price of $100,000 then you’re in good shape.
…at least according to the people pushing the 1% rule.
Breaking Down the 1% Rule
Let’s say that that you find a property that is $100,000 and rents for $1,000.
We know around 5-10% goes straight to vacancy. So, that leaves you $900.
And 50% of that goes to expenses. Leaving you with $450.
And a 30 year mortgage on an $80,000 loan (I assume 20% was put down) is around $429.
So, that leaves you around $20 – $70 (depending on vacancy) each month.
…not very sexy is it?
The Break Even Ratio
Traditionally, the 1% rule was considered the break even rule. Where you would most likely cover your debt when rents are 1% of your purchase price.
So, what happened?
I don’t know for a fact, but I think a couple of things happened.
Turnkey Real Estate Companies
First, I think that turnkey companies started pushing it as a solution. A turnkey company finds a distressed property, rehabs it, puts a tenant in there and sells it to you for at or above market price.
There is definitely some value to what turnkey companies do, but often they based their prices on the 1% rule and not necessarily on market value. That allows them to get higher prices in generally low cost markets.
They justify it with free education. They teach you that if you can get 1% of the value as rent, then the deal is great and you can make a ton of money…
To people on the west coast or other high-cost areas, this seems awesome because the ratios there are closer to 0.5%. So, relatively speaking, they are “great deals” even though they are overpaying.
There are a ton of new gurus out there pushing all kinds of different ideas. Some are good and some are not, but the 1% rule keeps popping up, especially with online education.
Often, these are run by people who own a few properties and have done really well since the recession. It makes sense if you think about it. If you bought at 1% back then and rents and prices have almost doubled, then you are way above 1% based on what you purchased it for.
But, that is buying based on speculation that the market will improve, not based on the fundamentals of the deal.
Another common guru you see out there now is someone who’s only been investing for a few years. Even if they are doing great but they haven’t really been around long enough to see and understand the nuances.
They don’t realize that the 1% rule works when there are massive rent growth and appreciation but could never work in a sideways or downward trending market.
What About Using it As a Filter?
People will suggest using the 1% rule as a filter to go through hundreds of deals quickly. Here’s how they suggest you do it:
list all the prices, list all the rents, then calculate the ratios. Anything under 1% toss out and anything over 1% keep and look at deeper. So, a spreadsheet might look like this.
Based on this, you should consider buying the first, third, and fifth property on the list because the ratios are all above 1%.
But, this is missing a HUGE amount of detail. What is most important is not what it’s receiving for rent today, but what it could be receiving after you own it. So, you should based your numbers on potential rent not current rents.
Based on the new spreadsheet, the best potential deals are the 4th and 6th. While others may have potential as well based on the 1% rule, you see some really good ratios on deals you would have previously discarded.
That’s why the 1% rule is kind of silly. It leads you to discard potentially great deals in favor of more marginal deals.
Focus on The Numbers
The rent to price ratio is an important ratio to consider before purchasing anything. Just remember, it is a rule of thumb. Also, remember what it truly means:
The 1% rule is the break even rule not a rule to earn you money.
Rules of thumb are designed as a reality check. Things like the 50% rule to expenses or the 1% rule are there to act as a guide. If you are running the numbers and you’re rent is 1.5% while everyone else is at .75%, then you should think twice.
Or, perhaps your expenses are at 25% and everyone else is running at 50%. Then you should double check.
They are not and should never be used to make a buying decision.
That’s why I give away simple calculators like this one, to point you in the right direction.
The No. 1 Strategy To Build A Rental Property Empire
It’s impossible to buy enough rental property to retire with, right? It simply takes too long to save up, buy property, and a little rent over years
You just need too much money for down payments to keep buying.
It’s true that buying rental property is a very capital intensive process and it’s true that you generally need 20-25% down for your purchases (except your first few which can go FHA or VA).
It’s also true that most people don’t have unlimited funds and can’t keep putting 20-25% down.
But here’s the thing – you don’t have to keep putting money down.
There’s this really simply strategy that allows you to avoid doing all that. You guessed it, it’s called the BRRR strategy and I’m going to go into that in a lot of detail. But first…
A quick story about how I retired using the BRRR real estate method.
BRRR Strategy During the Great Recession
A long time ago I started using the BRRR strategy before anyone ever called it the BRRR strategy.
In a nutshell, it’s a way to buy property that allows you to preserve capital in order to buy more and more properties over time.
I’m going to get into detail on it in a minute, but I want to take you back to 2009 through 2013 during the deepest part of the great recession.
No one had jobs. No one could afford to pay rent. Housing prices dropped like a rock and flat lined like a hospital patient. There was no bounce.
It was just despair everywhere.
They call it the great recession, but in historical terms, it was clearly a depression.
…and I decided to get into real estate.
Everyone said I was crazy, and I was a little crazy. A lot of people had just lost everything, tenants weren’t paying, evictions were happening all over. It was rough.
But, deals could be found everywhere. The other benefit was since no one had work contractors were easy to find and would work for 1/3 what they charge now.
The hard part was finding money to invest and finding banks to lend.
I bought my first 3 family in 2009, then bought a 4 family a few years later in early 2012. This is a picture of the 4 family, sexy isn’t it?
By 2015 I had over 20 units. By 2017 I had around 35, and now in 2018 I’ve moved up to apartment complexes and have over 470.
This is the strategy I used to keep buying more property while continuously putting more money in my pocket.
Here’s how brrr investing works in real estate.
Using the BRRR Strategy to Build a Rental Property Portfolio
The overall Gist of the BRRR method is to add enough value to a property that when you refinance it you will get most, if not all of your capital back. This allows you to take your money and use it over and over again to buy deals.
Just in case you aren’t yet aware, BRRR stands for Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance. Alternatively, some people call it the BRRRR method which stands for the exact same thing, except the last R stands for “repeat.”
So, BRRRR method is Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat.
Step 1 – Buying
There are 3 basic parts to buying any property – finding, analyzing, and closing the deal.
Finding a Deal
The most important part of the BRRR real estate strategy is to find great deals. Without an amazing deal, it simply doesn’t work (but that’s kind of true about making money in real estate anyhow).
In general, people refer to deals as either “off-market” and “on-market.” An off-market deal is essentially every sale that is not listed with a real estate salesperson on a listing service such as the MLS, LoopNet, or CoStar.
There are a ton of ways to find great off-market deals. These includes:
- Starting an Investor Website
- Direct Mail
- Knocking on Doors
- Bandit Signs
…and a couple dozen more methods. The only thing limiting you is your imagination!
Analyzing Rental Property
It’s important to have a couple different calculators to get this job done. The most important is your “back of the napkin” calculator.
The reason why a calculator like this is so important is because you will literally look at hundreds of deals. It’s impossible to use an advanced calculator and cull through dozens of deals a week.
Instead, it’s best to use a very simple calculator, toss in the basic numbers, and just see if it’s even remotely close.
Once you do that, you can take the deal and do a deeper analysis. If it’s not any good, just toss it aside and you’ve saved hours of your time.
I put together a free BRRR calculator for you to use to screen deals.
The most important part of closing a deal is….financing it.
We’ll talk a bit more about financing at the end when we talk about the third R – Refinance, but it’s important to know that your financing up front will be different than how you refinance the deal.
Up front, you are generally using cash or some kind of private or hard money. Banks don’t like risk, and deals that need work are considered risky.
By using cash or private money, you’ll be able to purchase something with a bit of risk so you can add value.
The other reason is because distressed properties often need to close quickly. Banks are anything but quick.
So the key here is to use private money to purchase, then refinance into something longer term such as a good conventional or long-term commercial loan.
Step 2 – Rehab
You don’t want to rehab a BRRR rental property the same way you would fix a flip.
When you analyze a project for a flip, you look at the cost of the work vs the increase in value. If a kitchen costs 10k and increases the value by 15k, then it has a 50% return (15k – 10k = 5k return. A 5k return divided by 10k invested = 50% return).
That same kitchen may add value to your rental, but since you aren’t selling it, it’s the wrong way to measure value.
That $10k might add $15k in value, but add barely anything in extra rent. Since we are looking for cash-flow, I’d rather focus on renovations that add to the amount of rent I can charge.
BRRR Step 3 – Renting The Unit
Finding great tenants that will pay market (or higher) rents is key to your strategy. The 3 key steps are to find, screen, and retain.
Step 4 – Refinancing
The goal is to get your money back so you can repeat the process, which makes this step the most crucial.
because the rules for commercial lending are slighting different than personal lending, let’s take a quick step back and go over the rules/requirements for commercial lending:
- You will need around 2 years of “experience.” This can be rehab experience, landlord experience, or even experience as a realtor if you can convince the bank that it’s directly applicable.
- Most banks require 6+ months of “seasoning” before they will finance it at the market price rather than the purchase price. This means the property has been stable, fixed, and rented for around that period of time. Basically, they need you to justify the higher price with some evidence of stability and improved rents.
- Banks lend 75-80% of appraised value on this sort of deal.
It’s not hard to see the “trick” once all the criteria are laid out.
- Banks will lend around 75% of the appraised value after 6 months of seasoning.
- House flippers are looking to be “all in” for around 75-80% of the property value.
So, buy a rental property like you’re going to flip it, then just refinance it – you’ll get all your cash back plus long-term rental income.
But, in order for this system to work well, you need to be able to be “all in” for around 75-80% of value.
Step 5 – Repeat and BRRR More (aka brrrr)
Once you have most or all of your money back, it’s time to find another real estate deal to BRRRR! The extra R stands for Repeat.
You’ll have your cash back and a new stream of income. Could life get any better?
Have you ever used the BRRR Strategy? Tell me how it went in the comments below.