Oct 1, 2019
James: So few things; we want to go through some of the markets and some of the value-add stuff and I think you do a lot of student housing things. Also, we can go through that as well. Yeah, that should be what it is. And okay, let me just get started.
So 1 2 3...
Hey audience, welcome to Achieve Wealth Podcast where we focus a lot on value-add real estate investing. Today, we have Jeff Greenberg who has more than 40 years experience in management, staff supervision, development, and training. Jeff has been investing since 2007 and has more than 40 million multi-property projects consisting of around 2,000 units. So deals that he controls consist of student housing and some of the multifamily units across, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, and Ohio. And Jeff focuses a lot on value-add student housing, which is very interesting. Until now, we have a lot of podcast interview on conventional multifamily in workforce housing, but now, we're going to talk a lot more about student housing. Jeff has also done market rate and also senior living multifamily properties.
Hey, Jeff, welcome to the show.
Jeff: Well, how you doing today?
James: I'm good. So thanks for coming in. I want to go with more details on how did you get started because you rent a thousand units across different states. So can you describe to our listeners and audience on how did you get started?
Jeff: Well, probably similar to a lot of other people, I started out with single-family, but actually never did any single family deals. That was in 2007 when the prices were going down so fast that it was hard to do much in the single-family area as far as REO properties, the bank's weren't releasing them. So I did bump into a guru and so I did go to seminars and did get some mentoring around in 2007-2008. And then started with my first property that I ever bought, other than my own personal residence, was a 20-unit property and it was a syndicated deal. So we brought in investors into that first deal and that was essentially my entry into it. skipped right past all the single-family stuff.
James: And what year was it, Jeff?
Jeff: That was the first property we bought, actually it was in 2010.
James: Okay. So 2010 you started with 20 units and the guru and the cost that you had taken was that more multifamily or was it more a single-family size?
Jeff: It was all multi-family stuff.
James: Okay, got it. So you got into that and then you started buying 20 units and which market was that?
Jeff: Well, that Market was in Harlingen, which is in South Texas. Okay. It's near Brownsville and McAllen, for those people that know that area.
James: Okay. Okay. So 2010 was supposedly supposed to be a perfect time to start investing in real estate after the 2008 crash. So can you describe what happened in your first deal? I mean at high level and what happened and how did you come up, in terms of the results for the first day of...
Jeff: Yeah. The first deal, that property was only three years old. It was built in 2007. It was a hundred percent occupied and it was in a very slow growth market. So we had big plans for raising rents and they were already paying electric so we were planning on billing back water. And the problem was it was very difficult to raise the rents. We were getting a lot of resistance and doing the bill back of the water, we met with a lot of resistance.
So we had nowhere else to go. It was already a hundred percent occupied because it was a new property. And so that was a plan which didn't work very well because we couldn't get those rents up. It took them a long time to get the rents up. So the lesson learned from there was that you needed to do more research on to the potential for the value-adds. And in that property, we held it for six years; we were supposed to sell in five. We held it to 6 because we drew a line in the sand as far as what price we would take and it took us an extra year before we are able to get that price in order to get the investors a fair return.
But it took us an extra year. Otherwise, there wouldn't have been much much of a profit on that property. So it was a seminar.
James: I mean, that's awesome that you're sharing your first lessons learned, right? Because sometimes you know, we forget that there are things that we missed out or there are things that you know, we don't really see it when you go and buy a multi-family. Sometimes you buy in a hot market and it went up 200-300%. People think that they did the work but that's not going to be the case all the time.
Jeff: Well, that's basically what happened on the next property though. So the next property was a property we bought in Houston where it was a foreclosed property that we were buying it. The owner we were buying it from actually bought it as a foreclosure so he had had it for about two years. It is 62 units so he bought it for 600,000 and we bought it for 1.3 after he had it for two years and so we got it for about under 21,000 a unit.
And at the time, in Houston, the values were going from 25,000 to maybe 35,000 a unit so we still bought it under market value and then in three years, we sold it for 2.7 million. And the reason we got that value part of it, it was 85 percent occupied when we got it. We got it up to 95 percent occupied. The revenue was about 36,000, we got it up to about 42,000. But also at that time, the cap rates compressed so we bought it at a 9 cap and sold it at a 7 cap. So we got the advantage of the market, the market appreciation as well as what we did for it so that was a perfect storm for us.
So it completely made up for our first one, in that the investors got a 120% return on a three-year whole. So a 40% annualized return, which nobody complained about.
James: Yeah, absolutely.
Jeff: But that's unusual and that was totally different from the other property where the investors got a lot better than they would have in the bank, but they didn't get a fantastic return. So different properties, different deals.
James: So I mean that too is conventional multifamily, right?
James: And how many conventional multifamilies did you do before you start hitting into student housing?
Jeff: Well, the next one after that actually was a student house. I mean, I was invested in another person's deal that was about 700 units 20 million dollar deal that we were in. But the next deal I did after that, actually, we broke up our partnership. My partner back decided not to do real estate anymore and I continued on my own and that's when I got a small property in Ohio. I had a 19-year-old student that went and found this property for me in Oxford, Ohio, and that's when I got into student housing. So we were talking, we mentioned earlier as far as how it getting into student housing, I really didn't plan on it. It was my intern that found the property and said, "Hey, let's get this," and the numbers look good and we got into it. So that was our first student housing deal in Oxford.
James: Yeah. I mean, I'm going to go a bit deeper into that. But I mean you are now in California, you are based California, but you have been buying in McAllen, Texas and Houston and Ohio. So how did you decide on where to go or is it just whatever opportunity that comes to you?
Jeff: Well, I've been pretty opportunistic, basically, when an opportunity comes in. Right now, we're kind of reversing out a little bit and trying to do more focus on markets. But at that point in time, we were just looking at opportunities and when an opportunity came we did our research on the market and did it afterward, rather than doing it up ahead of time. We decided do we really want to be in this market and if we did then we went up to the property. But it was more properties came to us from different directions. The one in Georgia, I had a lady working with me that I had trained and she developed a relationship with a broker in Georgia and that was pretty much where we got the Georgia property from, which was our next student housing property.
James: So one thing I want to clarify. You said you had an intern and you have this lady that you have been training. So do you have interns working for you or do you have students that are looking for deals?
Jeff: Yeah. The first one was an intern that I had trained and then after that, there was a group of people that came to me and asked me to train them and so I started training them and teaching them how to find properties. And in the last three years, we've done a couple of deals together, but they basically found the properties.
Yeah, and you know that I've been training them as we've been going, showing them a lot of the different aspects of it; doing due diligence with them and taking them on the tours with a lot of those students. Since then things have changed a little bit but at that time, those were people that I have trained.
James: So is it like part of your mentoring program or you just train for fun kind of thing?
Jeff: It wasn't a formal mentoring program, but it was kind of a mentoring program.
James: Okay got it.
Jeff: But it was just more informal that I had helped people and in turn, they would bring properties in and if I like them, would go after them. Say it saves me underwriting a hundred deals to find one, they would underwrite a hundred deals, bring me one and I'd only have to look at a few of them. So much of our deals that I had to look at, you know, when they would bring them supposedly all ready to go and I would decide yay or nay on them if I liked them.
James: Okay, got it. So coming back to the student housing and you said one of your interns found it. And, I mean, can you describe how did he find that deal?
Jeff: Well, he was embarrassed to tell me, actually. He was embarrassed to tell me until after we had closed that he actually found in on LoopNet. And you know there are deals on LoopNet but usually, they're overpriced or maybe there's some other problem with them and it so happened that the seller was beaten up by two other buyers prior to my purchase. We got it for a much lower rate.
So at the price that we got it at, it was a great deal but at the original price, it wouldn't have been.
James: Got it. Got it. So let's describe the process. So this intern brought you the deal. So what are the few things that you look at the deal that you think you're going to take a second look at it?
Jeff: Well, I mean several things. The one thing I had my interns do is I want to do as little work as possible myself. So I told them I want bullet points on why I want to be on that market, you know, what's the advantages of this market? With student housing, the emphasis is more on the school, but all the different reasons that this is a great market to be in and also as well as the numbers for the property itself.
And basically, they have to come in and give me a sales pitch and convince me with a presentation that this is a deal I want to do. And on the regular market rate ones, you know the typical stuff with the employment and the population growth and the age of the population and all of that typical stuff that we look at. Over the student housing, it's the size of the college, the percentage of rooms available on campus versus off campus, basically, the health of the university. The location of the property, how close it is to the university, those kinds of things that we look for more so on the student housing.
James: So, can you go a bit more, dig deeper into how far from the campus which you consider in campus versus other campuses?
Jeff: Well, as far as what we look for, typically, we want something within a mile of the campus. My Georgia one is a block away, my Ohio one is within what they call a Mile Square. My Arizona property is a little bit farther out. It's two miles off campus and that one, it's a little bit more of a struggle but you're not going to get the prime rates and we understood that because when you're two miles out. So you want it close by the campus, you want it on the right side of the campus, rather than way away from the classrooms where people still have to walk a mile across the fields to get to campus. So you want to be on the the the closer side where the classes are but it will help you out also if you're near. the bar district or where all the hangouts are that sometimes will make up for being a little bit far from the campus.
If you're where all the hangout places, the cool places are that helps you out. The other thing in student housing is the bedroom bathroom parody. If you could get a one-on-one with a one-bedroom and one bathroom that's going to be a lot better than your four twos or your 3 ones or whatever. The more bathrooms you have, they like that. Also, it seems that student nowadays, they want to share with fewer people. So a 4-2 wouldn't be as popular as a 2-1, you know where you still got two people sharing a bathroom, but you only have two people that have to get along with each other. And if you could get a 1-1, you're even better off; that they're a lot happier with.
In fact, I was talking to someone the other day that I had some 4-2 that I actually split them in half and made two ones out of them. Just had to put a kitchenette in order that they have fewer people to share.
James: Okay, interesting. So have you started focusing fully on student housing now or you're still doing conventional multifamily?
Jeff: We're doing both because I do like the fact that people mess up student housing and it gives us an opportunity, you know, everybody we know from the groups we're in, everybody's looking for value-add multifamily, but there are fewer people looking for value-add student housing. And so that just gives me a little bit of an advantage on that. But other than that, I mean that's the main reason I'm looking at student housing is that there are fewer people looking at it and if you know what to do with the student housing, there are certainly some great opportunities. I don't think I would recommend it as somebody's first opportunity, the first investment because there is a little more risk into it, but it's a good asset class.
James: So let's discuss some of the risks that's involved with student housing. So can you outline a few risks that a newbie should watch out for student housing?
Jeff: Yeah. Well, part of the risk is missing the lease up window, wherein multifamily if you don't get it leased it up this month, maybe I'll lease it up next month. But on student housing, if you get it leased up by a certain time and each campus is usually different, if you don't get it leased up in time, during that time, you may be stuck with empty units for the whole year. So you've got to get it leased up during that time.
The other thing is, you're going to have higher turnover and it depends on the property as well. My Georgia property, we're hardly getting any turnover because there are not a lot of other options in the market. My Ohio property there's plenty of other options so they may go from one property to another each year. Same with my Arizona property, they may switch around. So it's going to depend on what's available at their price range if there's going to be turnover.
My first year on the Ohio property, I think was like 85 percent turnover, which most people will freak out thinking, you know, okay, 85% and it's all at once. It's everybody's gone at the same time. And so, you've got to turn all these units and have them ready for the new tenants coming in. So we always budget for a higher expense as far as because of the turnovers because turnovers, as we know, is one of our bigger expenses so we'll budget for that.
A lot of people think that student housing, you have a lot more in the way of damage and we really haven't seen that, we haven't seen a lot of damage. And the thing is we charge back everything that's caused by the students that not that normal wear and tear. I mean, we get things; wine stains in the carpeting or iron marks where they put an iron down on the carpeting and melted the carpet, shot glasses or beer caps in the garbage disposal. We do get lockouts, you know, where were you're having to fix the door because somebody kicked it in, in order to get in or you get domestic disputes where some boyfriend goes and punches a wall because he's pissed off or something. I mean, we do get some of those but the deposits cover most of that stuff.
James: Got it. I'm sure the parents will pay too, I guess.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, if it gets beyond the deposit we have then the parents will usually jump in.
James: And how much is the turnover cost that you usually
budget for student housing like in conventional usually like for me
I usually budget like $100 per unit, per year?
Jeff: As far as for turnover?
James: Yeah. Not repair and maintenance, just turn over.
Jeff: Well, if we look at the overall repair and maintenance budget usually we're about five or six hundred, overall. And my student housing ones, my Ohio, I believe we're at 1,800 per units.
James: Repair and maintenance?
James: Well, that's a lot.
Jeff: I have to lower that down. I don't even think we're using that but that's what I originally put it about.
James: Okay. Got it. Yeah. Because usually total repair and maintenance plus turnover is like 500 to maximum $600 on conventional.
Jeff: Yeah, I mean, mainly because of your turnover costs. On that property, we've been painting every wall every time we turn over. I'm not sure if we need that but we've been doing that. It's been a little bit higher. I mean, it's been higher on that one. The other one in Georgia, our turnover costs aren't nearly as much.
James: And what do you expect other than, do you do anything special to reduce your turnover cost?
Jeff: Well, we try to encourage re-leasing and we do give lower rates for those people that are releasing as well as if they release early, we do give them discounts on that.
And in the thing is, on my Georgia property, if they release, we may keep their rents at the same rate or maybe just raise it slightly in order to keep them in because that saves us a lot of money. That saves us a lot of money on the turnovers.
James: Okay, correct. What about the interior? Like carpets vs. vinyl vs metal.
Jeff: Typically, I mean, we don't have to make it too fancy. But we do put, I believe in the Ohio one, we've got the role on vinyl flooring. In the bedrooms, we do have carpeting. It's just Formica countertops. We don't need to do anything fancy and that's going to depend as well on the demographics of your clients.
My Ohio property is upper middle class. It's Miami University and it's probably an upper-middle-class clientele. My Georgia property is a very low economic clientele, they would be thrilled with anything we put in there. So we just kind of resurface the Formica countertops. We did some chemical wash on the showers and the tubs and repainted everything. We do have nice laminate floors in there, except for the bedrooms. The bedrooms are the only rooms with carpeting. We just painted the cabinets. From the state that they were in, what we did just totally brightened up the property.
I mean, just totally changed it. They were a mess and this isn't an old property. That's a 1999 property but there was some old indoor-outdoor carpeting in the hallways that just look just totally disgusting. That we put all vinyl laminate in the hallway and it looks great now.
James: Awesome. And what about during the summer? I mean a
lot of them don't stay in the unit, right? So they still pay for
the summer or does it get re-rent or is it vacant or what's
Jeff: Again, that depends on each of our markets. And the Georgia one, I believe we are 70% for this summer, which is high. I think last year we were about 60 percent during the summer. So those that are going to summer school can stay there. But in August, we'll be back up at 98 to 100% on that property.
That was a property we bought at 30% occupied and now we're over 100, we're at 100 like it's not over. We're at 100% occupancy on that one.
James: And what about students which is more like, you know, four-year degree versus postgraduate degree, have you tried experimenting with that?
Jeff: You know, my Ohio property, we have some studio apartments and a lot of those are rented to graduates as well as young Professor. So yeah, those are great tenants if you can get them. The graduates, they're a little more mature and you never hear anything from them so those are great on some of the properties. We do have graduates in some properties, but most of them are second-year students. Typically the schools require that the students stay on campus the first year so as freshmen, so we usually get them as sophomores.
James: Got it. So coming back to the demand side of it for student housing. I'm just trying to understand but I lost my train of thought here. I mean, for example, let's say the price, in terms of rent, I mean the rent is much higher compared to the normal workforce housing. Do you think that's a benefit as well?
Jeff: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. And the rent is higher than we get more benefit from the additional rent than it costs us on any additional maintenance expenses. So there is a higher cost benefit that we do get from the student housing. So that's one of the things we like. The other thing that we do like also about the student housing is it is fairly recession-resilient and you know, we all know that we're at a high point in our market right now, we don't quite know what's going on, as far as where we're going to be in the economy. And student housing, historically, has done very well during down markets and that's something also that I look at when I look at properties. How well did it do during the last recession and to see how far down it dipped. And typically you find that student housing and as well as self-storage typically do well in those markets. And so that's another reason why we like looking at those deals.
James: Well, yeah, I mean the rationale is people go to school when the economy is downturn right?
Jeff: That's part of it. And the other thing is parents are going to try to get their kids into college as soon as they get out of high school because if they lose them to the workforce for a year or two, it's going to be really tough getting them back in. So if a parent is going to be paying for their kid, they are going to find a way to do it. Otherwise, they may not get them in the college later on.
James: Got it. So, in terms of value-add and I'm sure you are trying to make your community, in terms of student housing much better than other communities. So is there one of the value-adds that you do in your community that you think, you know, you will be able to command much higher rent and much higher occupancy?
Jeff: Well, the one we haven't really done is the bed to bath parity. And as I mentioned the person that broke a 4 2 into a 2 1 that was a value-add because as I said, the students prefer not to share.
If you could add another bathroom, so you've got 2-2 even if it's a small little bathroom, you know, or just a makeup area with a sink that's of great value because the students now don't like to share the bathrooms.
In Ohio, I've got some 4-4s, as well as some 4-2s but they love having their own private bathroom. In Arizona is all 5-2s - five bedrooms, two baths. That's not as desirable. If I could put in some other baths, I would probably you know, make people happy but that's well expensive. That's not a real cost-effective way of doing it. But also in the Georgia property, we put Wi-Fi throughout the property. So essentially, anywhere they get on the campus or on the property they've got the Wi-Fi. So that was definitely a value-add that we put into it.
James: What about other things like study rooms or the Library, the community?
Jeff: We just redid our office and we did put in a workspace.
James: A workspace, a business center.
Jeff: Yeah a business center. Exactly. We did put in a business center where they could come in and print if they need to print documents because a lot of people, a lot of the kids have their tablets or their laptops or their phones or whatever, but they may not even have printers these days. And I guess a lot of the stuff they submit right online in a PDF to their teacher whatever but we did create the business center so they could come in and print stuff out if they need to. And also have a scanner where they can scan their documents.
The other thing that we were looking at but we may leave for the next owner because we are selling this property, is a picnic area. We haven't built that yet; put a picnic area with some barbecues and that kind of stuff but that's the last phase of what we've been trying to do on this property. The main thing on this property is, the students have loved it, just fixing it up so it's much more livable. It was pretty disgusting when we got there. I mean it was a nasty place and that's why it was 30% occupied. And now, we've got the premium property in the market.
James: Yeah. I mean, there you go. I mean, value-add in terms of managing it. So people love that.
Jeff: And then the other thing that we did on this particular property is we got a relationship with the school. We went on campus and talk to all the coaches and told them we wanted them to send their athletes over to the property. And at first, well, the track coach went and looked at us like we were from Mars and said, "Why would I want to send my kids over there?" And then we invited him to come over and look at the property to see what we have done. And now we've got a bunch of athletes over there now after they've seen the improvements we've done.
We also have participated as a sponsor with the athletic department where we give them a donation every year and we've been able to get an advertisement spot on their Jumbotron during all home basketball and football games and so we've been putting our advertisement there. That's why we're essentially 100% with waiting lists on the property. You know, we got a relationship with them, we went and communicated with the police chief and the mayor. The mayor actually came out to our open house wearing one of our t-shirts, the mayor of the city.
So we got really involved with the community and it's a small market but we did get involved with that and all of that essentially added value. As I said, we've got a waiting list now, we can raise rents. The main thing that we were emphasizing throughout this two-year hold, we've only had it for a little over two years, was getting the occupancy up. That was the big thing. I wanted the occupancy up, I didn't care about raising rents. Now, we've got the occupancy now, we're going to start raising rents. Or what we're doing is we're actually selling it. So we're leaving it for the next person. The next guy could come in raise rents without having to do anything. They can come in and raise rents without having to do anything just because we've redone this entire property.
James: Awesome, awesome. Very, very, very, very interesting tips on how to get engage in student housing marketing. So what about financing, who gives the financing? Is it still agency loans or is it small Banks or how's that?
Jeff: Well, we'll start off with the Georgia, probably. The Georgia property we paid all cash. At 30% occupied we weren't going to be looking for a lender. Yeah, my Ohio property that was a challenge and it ended up that I went with a privately owned bank. It's not a small bank, it has 36 branches so I wouldn't call it really small but it's privately held and they loan in Kentucky and Ohio, I think. So if anybody's looking for either student housing or lending, they do those two states. They're actually a Kentucky-based lender. The Arizona one was just a regular bridge lender that funded that one and eventually, we'll go out of the bridge into an agency loan.
James: So you think you can get an agency loan on student housing?
Jeff: Yeah. We can get an agency loan.
James: Because I know usually when I go to an agency, they usually ask, you know, how many percents are students, how many percents are corporate housing and all that so I'm not sure.
Jeff: Yeah, I don't remember if it's Fannie or Freddie that will do student housing. But they do require a certain population. I think it's 15,000 student population, something like that.
James: Got it. Oh, really? Okay, that's interesting.
Jeff: Yeah, but I don't remember which one it was but one of them will do agency.
James: Yeah, that's awesome. So, let's go back to slightly more personal questions. So do you have any proud moment in your real estate career that you're going to remember for a long time, that you think 'I really, really did something that I'm really, really proud of', do you want to share that?
Jeff: Oh, I could go back to the Georgia property where I had a period that I actually was brought to tears. When we were doing that video that I was talking about that we gave to the school to put on there, our advertisement, I actually went down and did the interviewing of the students myself for that property because I have a background in video. And the stuff that our property management was taking was just horrendous.
I went down there and interviewed the students and I didn't tell them who I was, they didn't know I was one of the owners or the owner. And the last question I asked them was if you had an opportunity to talk to the owner or to let the ownership know, what would you tell them? And some of the answers that I got were just tearjerkers. I mean, I had one girl that said that she was so happy with her new room that she now can actually bring her mom and show her where she lived that she was actually proud of where she was living now. And some of the other students were just saying, how much safer they felt, you know, much nicer environment.
We had gotten rid of all the riffraff. We had gotten rid of a lot of people that were not students, but they were just living there and just smoking dope and we had increased the security and we had the police coming by, you know, just to keep things safe. And so just talking to these kids, they're not kids, they are 19- 20-year-old, you know, young adults, but that was one of the most rewarding moments I had. Because here they were, this is a low economic area where most of these students have very disadvantaged upbringing and we were giving them a nice clean safe place to live that they can be proud of.
And they appreciate it much more so than some of the other properties where we may have upper-middle-class people in there that probably don't appreciate what you're doing as much as these guys do. So that was just an absolute, you know, great opportunity to be there with these guys.
James: Yeah. It's very interesting on how we as entrepreneurs and operators change people's lives and it's just so fulfilling when you do that. And for me, It means a lot. Making the money, I mean, this story, you will always remember it. Sometimes you forget about how much money you made in that deal but you will remember how you impacted people's life, which is amazing.
Jeff: Yeah, I mean, that's what I think about. I mean certainly we're all going to make money on this deal, you know, a good amount once we sell this but that feeling, you know, I'll have all the time. I mean that was great, you know hearing these guys.
James: So any advice that you want to give for newbies who want to walk your path in multifamily and student housing in general; if they want to be as successful as you?
Jeff: The thing is, find somebody that has walked the walk. You know, it could be a mentor, it could be a formal mentor, it could be somebody that's doing it. If you find somebody in your area or someone you meet up that is successful in whatever it is they're doing, be it multifamily, student housing, you know, senior living whatever; you find somebody else that's successful and find a way of being some kind of service to them. How you can help them out and go to them with that, hey, I would like to help you out. Do something and learn from them. That's the best way to learn anything is to be working with somebody else that's doing it. You know that would be what I would do. I did some formal mentoring in the beginning and that helped me get started. I would have loved to have been working side by side with someone with more experience. As it was, my partner and I were both about at the same level when we started but being around someone that's been there and done that is a great way to start out in this business.
James: Awesome. Awesome. Hey Jeff, we almost there to the end. You want to let our audience know how to reach you?
Jeff: Well, you can email me firstname.lastname@example.org or you could go to my website, which is also www.synergeticig.com
You could also get a hold of me at Bigger Pockets and I'm around on the forms a little bit.
James: Yeah, I remember when I was starting in real estate, I used to see you a lot on Bigger Pockets. So it's good.
Jeff: I haven't been on as much lately. I need to start renewing some of that but I was on a lot in the beginning. That got me a lot. I mean it got me on my first podcast so...
James: Awesome. Awesome. Well, Jeff, thanks for adding value to our listeners and audience here. I'm sure we learned a lot. I learned a lot as well, in terms of student housing and the nuances of how to add value in student housing and how to operate and at least look at the deal. And so it was very good to have you here, and that's it. Thank you very much and talk to you soon.
Jeff: Thank you.