It’s official – I just closed on my first apartment complex deal.
It’s really a huge accomplishment – I’m a General Partner on a $16 million deal!
It took me an entire year to do it, and, as I write this, I think back on how I got here and realize it was a really long and difficult process – one that I almost gave up on.
That’s right, I almost gave up on this goal.
It’s crazy to think that I almost walked away from this before I even got started… That’s why I’m sharing this story with you.
The lessons and steps I took to do this really apply to just about anything be it real estate, business, investing, or anything else.
First, I’m going to go over the key things that I felt were instrumental in making this happen, then I’m going to go over a few big lessons learned.
How I Bought My First Apartment Complex
When I first got started trying to syndicate a deal a year ago, I remember saying,
I feel like there are 4 or 5 first steps, but you can only take ONE first step.
Accomplishing something huge in your life is a lot like tending to a garden.
The first steps are to just get the soil, water, and sunlight conditions right. You need to set the conditions for success or there is no way you’ll make it, and you need to do them all first and at the same time.
Then, you plant the seeds. You need to know what you’re planting and where because some plants need more sunlight, others need more water, and some plants will overgrow and destroy others. The best gardeners meticulously plan every detail of their garden just like you need to plan every detail of your goals.
Some of the seeds won’t sprout, some of your plants will be eaten by bugs or wither due to fungus or disease. Some of your preparation will be wasted or will bear no fruit.
You might need a lot of water in July but get it all in May when the garden isn’t ready for it. Or, you might be ready for the rain and just get sunlight for a month. This is just like ‘opportunity’ – it might come knocking when you aren’t ready but when you are totally ready and prepared it seems to just avoid you.
1. Focus on Relationships.
The first part is to set the conditions – essentially, gather the soil, sunlight, pot, etc. For me, it started back in November 2016 when my wife was pregnant with our second daughter.
Every year I have an overarching goal for the year and I usually try to summarize it in 2 or 3 words. For example, I had previous goals of “make money 2014” and “kill debt 2015.”
I had been thinking about my 2017 goals for weeks and nothing seemed appropriate. Of course, I wanted to finish paying off some debt. I always want to earn more money, to grow my website, buy more property, syndicate a deal etc.
So many goals, but nothing seemed to summarize it all.
I probably spent 15 or 20 hours sitting there just thinking about my goals. Somehow it finally hit me.
I used to be a “lone-wolf” type investor – I was afraid if I told my secrets then I’d just be training my competition and someone would “steal” my deals.
Then I had created my website in early 2016 and started sharing that knowledge. I was apprehensive at first, but eventually, it grew on me and I felt good to share it.
Soon, I started to get emails from readers and other websites and was asked to write for them. I didn’t realize it, but I was building relationships with a lot of people I would never have met simply because I was sharing rather than hoarding.
Eventually, I started to connect the dots. I realized there was a difference between the most successful people I knew and the rest of us. The big difference was they had a lot of positive connections and relationships.
I took it a step further and realized that most of them were fairly open with their knowledge and experience. So, in 2017 I took a dive and tried to change my mentality. I decided I’d spend the entire year meeting people, sharing knowledge, and building relationships!
It was “Build Relationships, 2017!”
I’d build relationships by sharing my knowledge and adding value to the people around me.
2. Build a Brand
I didn’t realize it back at the beginning of 2016 when I started this website, but it would exponentially help me in real estate and business in general.
Simply having a website with solid content and traffic creates a level of legitimacy to my name. Your experience and knowledge are laid bare for all to see, so they can easily look and glean your philosophy, knowledge, and style from your writings.
Then I started to appear on some podcasts, write for other (larger) websites, and my name recognition likewise grew.
Soon, I would go to almost any networking event and at least 1 person already knew my name and background. It’s weird but it is immensely helpful.
My potential partners would look me up on the web and find my content and website. Though this alone doesn’t create a partner, without a brand, I wouldn’t have had the credibility to get into the partnership.
Then I started my own networking events.
It was pretty crazy, but I started doing my own networking events in the Boston area. I was nervous that nobody would show up. There is a lot of self-doubt involved with starting something like this.
But… people showed up! In fact, I was averaging 20-30 people per event. This also helped to grow my personal brand.
3. Network Like It’s Your Job.
I’m naturally an introverted person, but most people are absolutely shocked when I tell them this.
It’s because I’m fairly outgoing and talkative at most social events.
Most relationships won’t sprout into anything at all, but some of them will.
In December of 2016, I decided I would attend at least 4 networking events each month in order to further my goal of building relationships.
I’ve been to networking events before but I usually just sat in the corner and didn’t interact much. I realized this wouldn’t further my goal so I started to look at networking like it was my J.O.B.
I had to attend these events in order to meet people so I could further my other goals. I had to follow up with everyone to create the foundation and then follow up with them over time to foster those relationships.
Most relationships won’t sprout into anything at all, but some of them will. But, like gardening, you need to plan your networking and relationship building.
Here are some key ingredients I found useful:
- Know exactly who you want to meet – create the avatar of who you want to add to your network, then go seek that person.
- Focus on getting to know 3-5 people in any one event. Any more and you’re not building rapport any less and you’re potentially being too shy and wasting time (this is heavily dependent on the length of the event).
- Focus on the follow-up. I’d have to say that at least 90% of people never follow up after meeting someone. So, I focus on being one of that 10% who follows up with everyone.
- Find a way to add value. Naturally, people are focused on themselves (even if they don’t realize it). So, find a way to add value to what they are doing and it will help you take that first step toward building a relationship.
I go into a bit more detail about networking in a recent article I wrote networking like a pro.
Relationships Are Like a Vine
At these networking events, I began to meet some awesome people. In January 2017 I went to an event hosted by Kenny Wolfe at Wolfe Investments where I met Tamiel Kenney who invited me to an event she was putting on with her husband Mark Kenney with Think Multifamily.
I went to their event and learned a bit about multifamily and met some other great people. The key here was that I started to develop a solid relationship with Mark, who owns around 2,000 doors with his wife.
Just by being around them, I began to pick up knowledge. Also, as I built relationships with them, I was able to occasionally call and ask some questions about deals I was underwriting.
The relationship I built with Mark gave me the foundation I needed to meet my future business partners a little later.
So, even though I haven’t done a deal with Mark or Kenny, those relationships helped me in ways one could never have predicted.
4. Become an Expert at Underwriting.
So, I began to underwrite deals for these guys. As I was working on them, I’d be able to call or email and ask some questions.
Mark, in particular, was a very interesting mentor…
I remember several times I would spend 3 or 4 hours underwriting a deal and I would think it was literally the best deal ever. So, I’d package it all up and send it over to him – the numbers fit, the location was good.
20 minutes later I’d get a one or two line response.
…Adjust the cap rate, change the rents, expenses are too low. Make the changes and let me know.
I’d make the changes and my heart would sink…
I’d work the numbers for another hour or two just to make it work. I knew it was a good deal!
I obviously wasted a ton of time doing that and I knew deep down these deals weren’t really that good. But, in January and February, I was spending 6-8 hours per day just underwriting deals. It seemed like a waste of time especially since he’d crush them in 15 minutes without even trying. But, it was building my experience as an underwriter.
I felt like there were just no deals.
Looking back, I underwrote around 250-300 different apartment complex deals this year. Every deal varies, but it could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours to go through just one deal. Overall, I think I spent at least 600-800 hours this year just looking at numbers on deals I never bought. That’s equivalent to about 20 typical work weeks.
But, that’s OK. I was still building the foundation and it came in handy.
People want to work with someone who knows what they’re talking about. The only way to know what you’re talking about is to spend the time learning – and the best way to learn is to do it.
So, become a master at underwriting deals, even if you know the deal won’t meet your criteria – you’ll become more of an expert and more of an authority.
5. Go to Conferences.
Conferences are weird environments. You’re away from your family for 2-3 days, bored at the hotel, and hungry for knowledge.
But, everyone else is having the exact same experience! So, you get to spend 48-72 hours with people that are all bored and looking to meet other like-minded people.
The best part is that you can build some solid relationships in a 48 time-frame if you’re spending hours and hours with them.
So, I went to a conference in February of this year and met a number of great investors. One, in particular, Reed Goossens over at RSN Property Group, was looking for deals in the Dallas area which is where I was living. We got to know each other a bit at the conference and kept in touch after leaving.
Since I had become so good at underwriting deals and because I was living in Dallas, Reed would occasionally call me and ask me about deals he was looking at. Often, we were looking at the same deals and we’d bounce things off each other.
Hey Reed, what do you think about the labor costs over at this place?
Eric, I think this is a good deal but I’m not sure about the sub-market. Any Info?
And so on…
The seed was planted at the conference and the continuous back and forth was nurturing that relationship and building trust.
Then one day we realized we were both going after the same deal pretty hard and Reed suggested perhaps we go after it together. So we teamed up and put in an offer together.
We didn’t get that deal, but the seed sprouted.
6. Build a Team.
Realistically, building a team should take place before, during, after, and always. But, I have to put it in an order so I’m placing it here because it flows better with the story.
Normally, you think of meeting brokers, investors, lenders, insurance brokers, etc. I did that all, of course. But, in this instance, I mean it a bit differently.
Reed and I were looking for deals in Dallas together, but we were both looking at deals in other markets. Reed is more established than I am so he had relationships in several other markets and occasionally he’d ask me what I thought about those deals too.
Reed was looking in several markets and we were targeting smaller deals around 100 units. Then, one day, he thought that perhaps all of us from all of the different markets should come together and go after one big deal.
Instead of going after 70-100 unit deals with just two partners, 5 of us could go after 150-200 unit deals.
We all jumped on a conference call, got to know each other a bit, and agreed to do it!
We’d all look for deals in our markets, but then we’d all go in on the first good deal we found and all liked! It seemed to make sense so we all just kept plugging away at what we were doing.
Alright, so everything seemed to fall into place pretty easily. I learned how to underwrite pretty well, built a team, was meeting a ton of people and building lots of relationships. I was meeting people for coffee 4 or 5 days a week and was doing 6-10 networking events per month.
I thought I was doing everything right. Then…
Every potential deal fell through. We got outbid by crazy amounts on every deal we made offers on.
By the end of March, I was almost ready to give up.
I spent 3 months of time, hundreds of hours, and had nothing to show for it.
During this time I had passed over several potential small multifamily deals – my bread and butter. I knew I could have easily made a good sum of money on any one of those deals and I had a lot of cash sitting on the sidelines.
I started to get anxious and thought perhaps my time was better spent doing what I know.
Then, By April 21st Mark was talking me off the ledge.
The deal….Personally, I think there are better deals. While it is taking a long time for you to actually get a deal, I think this particular deal will be very tough…
He wrote later that day:
I know this extremely frustrating…I think what you are seeing is fairly normal for the current times. I think looking outside of Dallas and OK is something to consider. It is all about relationships which takes time to develop.
It worked for a while, but I started to get anxious again by June.
So I flew back to Massachusetts to start working on my portfolio. I got there and immediately put a 2-family under agreement. I closed that deal at the beginning of August.
I felt like I was cheating on my goal, but I can’t leave that kind of money sitting on the sideline for a year. At some point, you have to put that money to work.
At least, that was my rationale.
8. The Pieces Will Come Together, Sort of.
Practically the same week I closed on my other project, I got a call from Reed:
We won the deal in San Antonio!
I was familiar with the deal but I just figured it would fall through like all the others. I just spent most of my money on my new deal and wasn’t 100% confident I could raise my portion of the capital! So, naturally, I responded:
Awesome, Reed! I’m ready to go!
Part of this probably comes from my decade in the Army – being faced with overwhelming odds doesn’t really phase me.
Plus, it wasn’t entirely untrue. I committed to the number because I had the cash to back me up – if I couldn’t get to my number I planned to just invest the difference. I was about $100k lighter than a month prior, so the worst case scenario was I’d have to scramble to raise an extra $100k.
I wasn’t 100% sure I could reach my commitment, but I was not about to let this opportunity go by the wayside. If you wait to have 100% confidence before taking action, you will NEVER accomplish anything.
Just like the analogy I gave before, sometimes you get all the water when you least want it and you have a drought when you most need water. It’s the nature of the beast!
You just have to make due.
Ultimately, I exceeded my goals and never had to dip into that $100k, so all is well that ends well.
The Biggest Lessons Learned
1. Building Relationships Early Helps, a LOT.
I finally had a deal in my hands, and now it was time to go back to all those relationships I was building over the last 8 months.
I must say, it was nerve-wracking to go to a bunch of people and ask them for money.
But then something amazing happened – most of the people I contacted were very interested in investing! Many didn’t have the funds or the deal didn’t fit their particular goals, but many put me in touch with other investors and it helped to grow my network.
During the capital raise portion, my investor list almost doubled in size! It’s strange how this happens honestly.
2. Don’t Listen to Naysayers.
I’m pretty far along in my career as an investor, so I rarely encounter (or listen to) the “Chicken Little’s.”
You know, the people who are always negative and say “if it was so easy, everyone would do it!”
In my case, it was a family member and recent (and now former) business partner. They felt that the time I spent building my brand, my website, and my networking events were all just excuses to not focus on things he considered “more important.”
In essence, it was all an “escape from reality.”
What? Was he crazy? (Maybe he is a little bit.)
More realistically, he felt I should focus on the small day-to-day details of operating my portfolio rather than focusing on building my brand.
Don’t get me wrong, those small details will kill you every time, that’s why I have a partner (my wife) who focuses exclusively on that.
Overcoming that negativity was very difficult and took us months. But, the fact is none of this could have happened if I didn’t build my brand, network, go to conferences, and build relationships.
Point is, it’s easy to listen to naysayers about things where the tangible benefits are hard to quantify and may not be realized for months or even years.
So, if someone is adding negativity to your life, just cut them out and move on.
3. Plan To Be at it For a Year (or More)
When you need water you get sun and when you want clear whether you’ll just get storms.
Or so it seems…
The moment I lost focus, I got smacked in the face. Fortunately, I was able to make it all work out. But, it won’t work out so perfectly every single time.
Getting your feet wet with something totally new will be hard and take time. So, stick with it.
4. Big Deals Are Easier Than Small Deals
I’ve spent more time and energy on the duplex than 192 units in San Antonio.
And it will require more of my attention every month than the deal in Texas.
Can you guess which one will pay me more over the next 5-7 years?
Small deals feel easier because they are smaller. They are more tangible and easier to wrap your brain around because the dollar amounts are numbers you’re used to thinking about.
But, it’s a facade.
I’ve made a ton of money in small multifamily, and I believe it is a great place for a nobody like me to become a somebody. But, I’d probably be a lot further along if I had started syndicating back in 2009 than buying triplexes.
There is no reason to think of all the “what-ifs.” Instead, I will just focus my future efforts where I know the most benefit is.
I Can’t Wait For The Next One
This became a lot longer than I expected, but I’m glad I was able to share it with you.
Hopefully, you can push through the feeling to quit, drive on with your goals, and stay motivated!
As for me, I can’t wait to get involved with my next one!