Working Capital The Real Estate Podcast
Finance to Real Estate with Ben Lapidus | EP103
May 11, 2022
In This Episode
Ben Lapidus is a partner and Chief Financial Officer for Spartan Investment Group LLC, where he has applied his finance and business development skills to construct a portfolio of over $300M assets under management from scratch, build the corporate finance backbone for the organization, and organized over $100M of debt capital from the firm. Ben is also a co-founder and host of the Best Ever Conference and the managing partner of Indigo Ownerships LLC, where he sponsored 40+ single family and multifamily Real estate transactions.
In this episode we talked about:
* Ben’s Bio & Background
* Spartan Investment Group
* First Steps in Real Estate Space
* Transition from Single Family Houses to Real Big Deals
* Best Ever Conference Evolution and Partnership
* First Deal Details
* Money or Wisdom?
* Building a Team
* Risk Navigation
* Real Estate Market Outlook
* Mentorship, Resources and Lessons Learned
Carlo Rovelli books
Speaker 1 (0s): Welcome to the working capital real estate podcast. My name is Jesper galley. And on this show, we discuss all things real estate with investors and experts in a variety of industries that impact real estate. Whether you’re looking at your first investment or raising your first fund, join me and let’s build that portfolio one square foot at a time. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to working capital the real estate podcast. My guest today is Ben Lapidus. Ben is a partner and chief financial officer for Spartan investment group, LLC, where he has applied his finance and business development skills to acquire the company’s current portfolio, build the corporate finance backbone for the firm and organize hundreds of million dollars of debt capital.
Ben is also the founder and host of the nation, the national best ever real estate investing conference and managing partner of indigo ownerships, LLC, where he sponsored 40 plus single family and multifamily real estate transactions. Ben, how you doing today?
Speaker 2 (56s): Doing awesome. Thanks for having Jesse.
Speaker 1 (58s): Well, thanks for coming on. And before we jump into kind of the background and where you’re working right now, for those that don’t know, I think a lot of our listeners do know, but the best ever real estate investing conference, can you just let listeners know what you did the best ever? I guess it’s now not just a conference, it’s kind of a whole company in general, but if you could just let listeners that don’t know what that is. Just kind of give a little bit of a bio there.
Speaker 2 (1m 20s): Yeah. The best ever conference it’s turned into a world and an experience, a Disneyland, all of its own for real estate investors. It brings together over 1500 real estate investors, syndicators and operators. Every year. It matches over half a billion of unplaced capital and over 50 billion of assets under management from active operators, 96% of attendees have done at least one commercial deal in the last six months. So it’s a really frothy, active community. If people come together at the beginning of every year to learn about what’s ahead in the economic conditions to network with each other, learn from each other, get deals done and party with each other.
It’s an awesome time.
Speaker 1 (1m 53s): That’s awesome. So the, the last one that you had, when was that and where was it?
Speaker 2 (1m 58s): Yeah, it was in February this year, 2022 in Denver, Colorado, as it’s been for the last six years, we are picking up our roots and next year it’s gonna be March 8th through 10th in salt lake city, first time outside of Denver.
Speaker 1 (2m 11s): Awesome. That’s great. Well, thanks for coming on. Like I said, at the outset, so you, in your current role right now, our CFO of Spartan investment group and what are you guys typically doing there? I think we talked a little bit before the show and I’ve listened to you on other podcasts, but a lot of it correct me if I’m wrong is self storage syndication. Is there a multi-family as well in that what’s that company all about?
Speaker 2 (2m 34s): Yeah. So we started off as an opportunity to stick commercial real estate investor, meaning that we were more into the business of real estate. Then we will set class. However, we found ourselves through a very intentional decision making process, being proactive as opposed to reactive with self storage assets. So along the way, we did pick up some workforce housing in RV camps. Specifically, we have some retail, we have some industrial, but that’s all minor compared to our growing self storage portfolio. At this stage, with that half a billion assets under management self storage is our main focus.
It just so happens that where we buy what we buy typically conveys with other types of asset classes, we’ve owned a carwash before as an example. So yeah,
Speaker 1 (3m 15s): I was just watching the last season of breaking bad. So the carwash, the carwash aspect of it, it’s funny because I’ll, I’ll look out on like different cash businesses that are tangentially related to real estate and car washes and laundromats seem to come up time and time again.
Speaker 2 (3m 30s): Yeah.
Speaker 1 (3m 31s): So you, you did when you’re in school, you’re at Rutgers finance and economics. Take us back for, from that time in your life and going into what you’re doing right now. Was it a fairly logical step to go into real estate? How did you move into the space?
Speaker 2 (3m 47s): Yeah, no, not at all. Do you want you all to short the 32nd answer Jesse or the three minute answer
Speaker 1 (3m 51s): You can give the three minute answer. All
Speaker 2 (3m 53s): Right. All right. Cool. So yeah, Rutgers, I went into finance thinking that I was going to be an investment banker or some other type of front office wall street, Jackie, you know, I grew up in north Jersey. So I thought that was the only path laid out for me that came to a head in 2009. I had offers from Goldman Sachs and Citibank and crap. I can’t even roll UBS. And then 2009 happened and they all disappeared. And the only thing that was left was Barclays capital just bought Lehman brothers. So I went to go work for their fixed income business, doing credit, exotic credit derivatives as an intern.
I still hadn’t finished school yet and found out that that life was not for me. It was not fun. And I tried every which way to try to make it fun. I shadowed wealth management, I’d shadowed FX and commodities and equities and research, both debt and equity, investment banking. I shadowed every type of front office investment banking job I could find. And I could not find any place that I enjoyed outside of the quantitative aspects. I didn’t enjoy the culture. I didn’t love the significance of the work.
So I quit. And I went and started the study abroad company in Costa Rica, which has a huge about face. I’ll just kind of gloss. Over that three years later, we were doing $2 million a year in revenue, bringing environmental engineering, renewable energy engineering students from 10 different countries, 80 different universities to Costa Rica to learn about sustainability, renewable energy engineering. We were doing about $2 million a year in revenue until hormones and ego got in the way things fell apart. And I had to move on. So I took my winnings, my small winnings from that business, got myself a job in ad tech where I learned about big data.
And along the way, started investing in single family houses. The company that I worked for was one of the very first unicorns a decade ago, and it made a lot of VPs close to me millionaires overnight when it IPO at six months after I started. And so they heard about what I was doing. He started throwing cash at me. I started accidentally syndicating when I was 23, 24 years old, and I acquired several million dollars, a single family multifamily real estate. I took my net worth from 800 bucks to half a million dollars using other people’s money in about two years, which was an accident, but it was hugely meaningful because I was able to take that net worth balance sheet and start doing significant things with it.
So when I realized that I was talented at real estate components of it, not all things real estate, certainly just components of it. And I met my wife and I wanted to leave the city to move out to Denver. I knew that the work that I had built up in ad tech was not going to last in this city. And so I wanted to commit myself to what I was good at, which was this real estate investing world. So in 2016, I started the best ever conference to make a name for myself by way of that, I found my current business partners and the three of us have built a awesome self storage syndication and development engine.
That is smart enough, I believe to navigate the world to have
Speaker 1 (6m 37s): So not dissimilar from a lot of people that get into real estate. Usually typically not a straightforward path as sounds like some somewhat similar here. How was that transition from going and being into the world of single family housing to actually doing larger deals? Was there one thing that led to another in terms of it was one big deal, one opportunity, or was that a process that kind of developed over time?
Speaker 2 (6m 59s): Yeah, I would say it was a light switch, which is, there is no path to commercial real estate. There is no barrier to entry, artificial or preexisting barrier to entry. The barrier to entry is artificial and it’s in your mindset. So I, I had acquired for single families when I had a buddy at my work when I was 22, 23 years old, it was like, Hey, I have a friend that’s doing a skill share class here in New York city about how to buy a $7 million building for $15,000. I was like, that’s a catchy title. I’m going to check that out. This is back in the day when Skillshare was in person, like it wasn’t digital is like their early business model.
So I went and I was one of like five other people. And the guy giving that class was Joe Fairless in 2012. If you’re familiar with Joe Fairless has got one of the top three podcasts in commercial real estate investing due to acquired a 2 billion multifamily portfolio in the last five, five or six years, he’s got an awesome business. And so I took that class and the one thing that I walked away from it was, oh, I can go do this right now. I don’t have to build up to this. There’s no difference in figuring this out versus what I’ve already done other than scale. That’s the only thing. And I can scale. I have that. I have that, you know, confidence that’s typically associated with white men who haven’t had any adversity presented to them.
I, I can figure this out. So that’s, that’s what I took away from that interaction. And Joe and I have become good friends. We started the best ever conference together in, in 2016. So that, that was the biggest thing was just that mindset switch.
Speaker 1 (8m 21s): So for, I mean, there’ll be a number of listeners that know what the best ever is or best ever conference. How did that partnership? You said there was two other partners. So yourself with Joe, you know, I remember seeing the YouTube videos years ago. So I was curious what started first? Was it the conference that started first? Was it the, the content that was uploaded to social media? How did that kind of become what it is today? Cause it’s, it’s massive today.
Speaker 2 (8m 47s): Yeah. So let me clarify. I’ve got two partners in Spartan investment group that have nothing to do with best ever conference. The three of us run smart investment group best ever as a is a hundred percent owned by Joe Fairless. We, he started that in 2013. The very first thing was the podcast and the podcast was the nucleus of his entire economic engine in all of the values. He supplies that the community and, and other investors from that, we had been friends since 2012. When I moved to Denver, I said, Hey, Joe, you’ve got this podcast, you’ve got this blossoming syndication business.
I’m trying to make a splash for myself. I’ve got this experience running study abroad companies. I can, I can build good event experiences. So we decided to marry it together. It’s his brand, but specifically on the conference, we, we run that together. So the, the podcast for Joe came first for me, the conference came first for both of us. The thought leadership platforms came before the successful syndication company. Joe found his partner at Ashcroft capital because of a direct result of all the work he had been doing prior to meeting his partner and same for myself.
Speaker 1 (9m 51s): So for yourself and your two other partners in your current business, what, I’m the first deal that you did, where you had to, it wasn’t bootstrapped and you had to raise outside capital or syndicate the deal. What did that deal look like? And you know, w what was the, you know, high-level details of that, that first deal?
Speaker 2 (10m 7s): It was awful. I was 24 years old. It was 2000 late, late 2013, close early 2014. I pursued a 34 unit 38 unit $1.3 million building in Richmond, Virginia, not even a building. It was five buildings on five separate parcels, not all contiguous, which made the lending environment very gnarly. As for my first deal. I had a lot of expectations that did not turn out to be reality. And I was definitely one of those frustrated, entitled young millennials, trying to try to get my cash.
The syndication process was interesting. I learned that when you ask for wisdom, you get money. When you ask for money, you get wisdom. That was pretty cool to learn about that, but I successfully raised all of the cash for that first, for that first deal. And I learned that I’m really good at real estate transactions, capital markets, underwriting, feasibility, due diligence. And I turned what was a decent deal, not an extraordinary deal, but a decent deal into a bad outcome because I’m not a great operator. At least I wasn’t a great operator. I don’t really like kind of using these identity claims that last forever at the time, I wasn’t a good operator.
I wasn’t great at construction management. I wasn’t great at property management and I didn’t put enough energy into asset management to kind of cover over those deficiencies. I didn’t have a team. I didn’t have a business. I was just doing a hustle on the side of a full-time job with another side hustle business along the way. So I made lots of mistakes and I was lucky, frankly, not skilled at getting out of that investment three years later, where my investors got an annualized return, just shy of 7%. And I made nothing over the course of three years, all that work. And I made nothing, which was a great learning lesson, not as much of a learning lesson is when I lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of my investor money, which is a much better story, but that was a great lesson as to like, don’t get yourself into something, unless you plan making money.
It was a great learning opportunity, but it didn’t do much else other than send me to school.
Speaker 1 (11m 58s): So I want to go into that second quotations, better story. But before you do, can you unpack a little bit of the ask for wisdom, get money, ask for money, get wisdom piece.
Speaker 2 (12m 7s): Yeah. Yeah. I think when you’re, when you’re young, especially, and you don’t have a track record, right? A lot of people like to tell you how it is or how it’s going to be. And so I think the best way to play into that when you are looking for something substantial, when you’re trying to sell something, you’re trying to, you’re selling a security in exchange for cash, right? And that’s the same thing as selling a widget in exchange for cash. You’re trying to sell something when you are learning, you want to show that I’ve learned, you can play that youth card very, very well.
People like to invest in young people because they know that they’re going to last a very long time. A, it makes people feel good that they can, they can drive the direction of somebody so young and somebody so impressionable. It it’s, it’s kinda like that fulfilling mentorship quality. So when you get an investor, I did not shy away from them. You know, wanting to feel like my mentors, even though I might have taken a lot of their wisdom with a grain of salt and, and not as substantially as they would’ve liked, but also they just like to share their wisdom and feel like they know what they’re doing.
Even as the world is rapidly changing. What I’ve seen is that if you’re out of something or not in something at all for the last five years, you’re irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have. If you have 30 years experience and you retired five years ago, you have less experience than the person who’s been doing it for the last two years, as far as I’m concerned, that being said, when you’re young play that youth card. So people want to tell you where you’re wrong and how you could do better. And there’s a bit of an Oliver twist component to that. Like, thank you, sir. Can I have some more, can I have some more of your input, even if I’m not going to take it, can I just hear you out?
I want to know more about what you have to say, and when somebody shares a part of their wisdom, they’re sharing a part of themselves, and now they’re invested into what you’re doing. So when you ask for wisdom, you are already getting an investment from that person. You’re getting an investment of their time, their knowledge, their wisdom, their energy. And so you’ve already started that process of them saying yes, because they’re already making that investment to you. When you come out of the gate saying here’s a terrible deck that nobody has audited, and that has not gone through the, the, the, the cadence of 50 iterations of past failures.
You know, here’s my first try. They’re going to give you that wisdom, whether or not you like it. So you might as well ask for the wisdom as opposed to asking for the cash.
Speaker 1 (14m 20s): No, that makes a lot of sense. And if you go back, so this story where you’ve lost hundreds of thousands, I’m always curious about this. Cause, you know, I’m not sure one of my favorite books in the last five years of me reading in the last five years, I think it came out probably 10 or 12 years ago was thinking fast and slow. Danny Kahneman and Tversky, where it was this idea of loss, aversion, you know, gaining 20 bucks versus losing five. The loss always is more amplified. So can you talk a little bit about that, that story of, you know, you, you lost hundreds, hundreds of thousands.
This was one deal.
Speaker 2 (14m 54s): It was a few, but it was one play that I was making. So I had gotten 40 50 cashflowing units under my belt. Let’s say two thirds of the multi-family a third of them, single family, small, multi kin. And all of them were going well on average, I was cashflowing over 20% with 15 year mortgages, which is like impossible today. But back in 13, 14, 15, 16 was feasible if you bought, right. In fact, I should have just bought wrong and bought a lot more stuff back then. Cause it’d be worth so much more than what it is today, but the hubris set in, right.
You know, when you’re in your mid twenties and you’ve done this well, 20, 30 times, you start to think you can do kind of anything and it must be you again. So I, I made a decision to invest in flips instead of cash flowing assets, which is the only thing that I’d been doing at the time. But it was just too slow. I was making a hundred, 200, $300 per month per unit. And it just felt like a very slow aggregation of wealth from a cash standpoint, I was doing great on my balance sheet, but my pocket book wasn’t really fattening up too much. So I wanted to, I wanted to get into flipping cause I was getting jealous of people making 2050, a hundred thousand dollars margins on one house.
So I tried a couple out and I made 20, $30,000 margins on those couple, but I had done so in a way where I had identified a turnkey model where I outsourced basically everything acquisitions, con construction, leasing design, like everything, I’d outsource everything. And so I was like, all right, well, cool. Let me go raise a fund. Now that I’ve tried this out with my own money and go buy three, five of these at the same time, which I did. And I made acquisition mistakes. I just, I, I, I was in Chicago land in cook county specifically, which is one of the most corrupt places.
I had one house that they had me go through 13 certificate of occupancy inspections, all of which failed every time they came up with new something new that I had to do, even though it wasn’t on the original list that they had presented. When I purchased the asset, I just, I didn’t know how to navigate cook county. One of the most difficult bureaucracies in America, I, I ended up selling it without the certificate of occupancy for a hundred thousand dollars, less than I planned on a hun $250,000 estimated value. So it’s like a significant percentage and I had put $30,000 more into it than I had anticipated.
So I lost 120, $130,000 on that one flip. I had another flip in the same area that I lost 15 grand on. I had another flip at the same time in Richmond, Virginia, that I lost 30 grand on all at the same time. So when you tally that up, it was over 150 grand. I had lost not only a hundred percent of the capital that I had raised from an equity position for that flip fund, which I was trying to scale up to five at a time until I realized very quickly I was terrible at this, but I had also had to throw my own money, another 60 grand into it that I lost. So I lost everybody else’s money and my money along the way.
I think the, the thing that was formative for me in that experience was the decision that I was going to take one of the houses that I’ve worked so hard to pay down to zero and get a hilar on it. Fortunately, I had done that and not only pay off a hundred percent of the capital that I lost to my investors, which I didn’t have to do because it was an equity position, not a deposition, but also an annualized eight and a half percent. So all of the investors at least got their money back and beat the S and P so that the taste in their mouth was left.
Very good, better than if I had just done well from the get go, because now I’ve proven, even when I don’t have to, I’m going to find a way to do the right thing and what matters with a good operator, a good sponsor of a deal is how do they behave? How do they act in the trying times and the difficult times when the gamma risk, the environmental risk, which has nothing to do with the operator in this case? That was me. It was, I was, I was the problem, but when the environmental risk is it, it is making it so difficult to make the ask perform. How does the sponsor perform in those trying times, not what are they doing in the good times, or the easy times when they’re riding the wave, but how are they behaving in those trying times?
That’s what I learned through that experience.
Speaker 1 (18m 52s): Yeah. I think it’s part of the reason that there are investors right or wrong out there. There are investors that will only invest with people that have been through some sort of downturn, whether it’s, you know, now that in 2022, whether it was a pandemic, oh 7 0 8, 2001, early nineties in commercial real estate. And, you know, the list goes on where they want to have some trial and tribulation. But I really like what you said earlier about the fact that somebody that has doing or is immersed in an environment could be legal, real estate accounting for the last two, three years is going to have more subject matter expertise than somebody that has been doing it for 30 years has been out of the game for 5, 6, 7 years.
It’s not to discount the fact that that person has built up a great amount of knowledge over that time. But as you know, our businesses a month to month, quarter to quarter, sometimes obviously it’s a longterm business, but you need to really be into the thick of the details of, of what’s going on in the market and what, you know, what’s happening and what’s relevant as of today.
Speaker 2 (19m 47s): So
Speaker 1 (19m 48s): In terms of that risk, that piece there, so that environmental risks, the, the aspect of controlling the controllables, just kind of leading into how you built your team up today, so that you can kind of not only ameliorate some of the external risks, but the risks as associated with the fact that you said you were certain aspects of the deal that you were very good at others, that you’re not, you were not so good at what was the plate of there to learn to shore yourself up in other areas or to hire expertise in those areas.
Speaker 2 (20m 17s): Yeah. So, so for the sake of answering this question, let’s get your listeners on the same page. When, when, when you study institutional commercial real estate investing, there’s three types of risks that you learn about alpha beta and gamma. I always forget which one’s, which, but one of them is, has, has to do with the deal itself conditions of the specific deal. The second is the conditions of those that control the investment, the team, the operator, the sponsor, and the third is, is those risks that you can’t really control as in, in the environment, the economic conditions or whatever, like jurisdiction, legal bureaucracies, whatever it might be.
So we go through a lot of different risk mitigation strategies. One of them is called a pre-mortem, which is like a post-mortem, but you pretend like you’ve already failed. And you come up with all of the reasons why you failed and you kind of work backwards as to what caused those things. And then we look at what are the ways to mitigate each of those failures, each of those things that cause those failures, and sometimes you can’t, sometimes you have to accept them. And there’s different things that you can do with risk. You can mitigate the risk by doing something active, to make that risk lessened or gone away all altogether.
And if it’s gone away altogether, that’s called eliminating the risk. You can also transfer the risk. You can hire somebody that can take on that risk for you. That’s like hiring a securities attorney to put, put your PPM together so that you don’t have securities risk. Your attorney has securities risk. We’ve transferred the risk in exchange for feet. The last thing you can do is you can accept that risk mitigate, eliminate transfer accept, and you can accept that risk. That’s the whole point of doing your due diligence and having an underwriting file. And underwriting file is your best guest estimation of what risks might be costly to you that could cause volatility to your target returns.
When you accept those risks, it’s fine to accept the risk. Just what is the, the, the, the, the spectrum of costs associated with that risk that could affect your returns. If you are aware of those risks, you package them into your underwriting and you make them transparent to your investor community. Then what’s the harm in the risk being there altogether. In fact, the risk is really what brings opportunity. We shouldn’t be afraid of the risk, right? We should be looking for that risk. As long as we have the rains to tame that bull, we should be looking for that risk as much as possible.
Speaker 1 (22m 30s): So if you’d give a couple examples or say there’s a couple items, so CapEx reserve, for instance, the idea of actually keeping a certain amount of capital for longer term expenses, as one say, risk mitigation tool. And then another being, let’s just say, going with fixed rate, a fixed rate debt for one of your investments. So you would categorize those and you would figure out which type, which type of risk that is first of all, trying to mitigate, and what is it actually doing? So for instance, if we take fixed, you know, if we take fixed debt, you’re basically saying at that point, we have the ability to have less volatility into, into our debt payments at a price, usually a higher rate.
And that would be in this case, you wouldn’t be, well, I guess you would be eliminating the risk for a period of time. Is that how the kind of the framework that you would look at?
Speaker 2 (23m 22s): We, we would, we would work. We would work it a little bit more downstream from there and go backwards. So we would start with the failure. The failure would be, we are not able to hit our target returns, why debt service was higher than we expected. Why? Because interest rates went up and we got a floating rate loan. Okay. How do we either mitigate, eliminate or transfer that risk if we don’t want to accept it? Well, we mitigate it by not getting a floating rate loan. We get a fixed rate loan that would be eliminating the risk altogether. We call that interest rate risk.
The other thing that we could do is we could purchase an interest rate cap. So three months ago, interest rate caps were affordable for two or three years. Now they’re not. So interest rate caps are just not really a economically feasible thing to do. So that’s not an option anymore. The, so here’s an example. We just locked in a two 60 Sofer spread on, on a, on a loan, which with a 40 basis point floor. So it’s at 3% basically today. And it will be at 3% probably until we get like more than an eighth of a point hike going on, but it’s definitely gonna go up.
However, we’re looking at alternatives that put our fixed rates anywhere from 4.75 to 5.5, which is much higher than it was a year or two ago. So the fact that we get to start with 3% with interest only into perpetuity, with limited recourse, with all of these other benefits, there’s no interest rate cap requirements. There’s no lock box. There’s all these other things that are soft costs that investors just don’t care about, but make it easier to operate the actual deal, because you’re not focused on the administration of the nonsense that these institutional banks require.
Even though we’ve got floating rate interest rate risks, we’re starting at 3%, which is two and a half percent of our, of our fixed rate alternative. And even if the interest rate goes above what we anticipated it to be, we’ve got two, three, I don’t know, 12 months, 18 months, pick your, pick your prediction of having a benefit of however much cashflow along the way. So we’re okay with our floating interest rate going above our fixed rate in month, 18 or month 36, or month 40, whatever it might be, however long it takes to get there because our best economic predictions and our model suggests that rates will come back down.
Eventually just will take three years, five years, six years. We’re not sure, but we can go up as high as four more points. And we are satisfied with how bad things can get. Now, if we go up more than four points, we might be in a little bit of trouble, but I think a lot of folks would be in a lot of trouble, which is not a good way to, to, to, to say like, that’s okay. A lot of folks are going to be in trouble, but we also have a very low debt ratio. So we’re, we’re comfortable that we can pay off a significant percentage of the debt to make it more, make it more palatable. If it does go up four points, it just wouldn’t be ideal, but it’s manageable.
Speaker 1 (25m 60s): Yeah. No, that makes sense. So if we move over to the investor relations side of your business, what you have created today, is this more of an asset specific type of syndication that you, that you typically do? Or is this a fund model where you’re having people come in and come out on a regular basis?
Speaker 2 (26m 17s): Yeah. So up until last month, it was, you get to pick your, the placement of your, of your capital. Here’s one deal. You can invest into it. Here’s another offering. It’s a separate deal. You can invest into it. It would be based off of our acquisitions pipeline. So if we were buying a four property portfolio, we were selling securities for that for property portfolio. If we were buying one one-off investment location address, you’d be, we’d be selling a security to invest in that one deal. Today, we have produced the amount of demand for the investment vehicle and have a enough verifiable deal flow that we are comfortable with the fund.
And so we now offer a fund.
Speaker 1 (26m 55s): Hmm. Yeah. And it seems like a logical transition for most individuals. But I find that there are, you know, you talk to investors, even listeners on the, the podcast where they were, that person that had that full-time job and kind of side hustling, even on the syndication side where you’re trying to figure out where’s that inflection point where you move, you leave the current job you’re having, and you can do this. Full-time because it’s usually from my experience, it’s not like one perfect. Oh, here’s the deal. That’s big enough for me to leave everything. It’s always a, it’s always a question mark. And it’s a uncomfortable decision that people do make if they do make it at that point.
Speaker 2 (27m 30s): Yeah. So it was the question like, when is it the right time to
Speaker 1 (27m 33s): When I mean, I, my, my gut always says, it’s never really the right time. It’s you make a decision with the best facts that you have, but what would you answer if, you know, if somebody is out there asking, saying I have what you had back a few years back where they’re trying to figure out, I want to go this way with my life. I want to actually go into the investment side of it and leave the day job, but trying to figure out what, when the right time is.
Speaker 2 (27m 57s): Yeah. I, I think to your, to your point, I think everybody’s position is different. Circumstances are different. And I don’t want to dictate, you know, if you have three kids versus zero kids, you’re in a completely different life situation, right? So your calculus, your cost benefit analysis is going to be different, but high level, I’ve got two different answers. Number one, I don’t believe in the burn, your boat mentality, where, you know, you burn your boat, you put your back up against the wall and you’ll figure a way to fight it out. In fact, I think it’s different. I think Hungary’s make bad decisions. So there’s a little sound for you. It don’t burn your boat. Hungary’s make bad decisions.
When you get hungry, you start to flail and you start to get a little bit erratic. And at least for me, when somebody said that, I was like, heck yeah, that’s what I’ve had. That’s, that’s how I’ve behaved. When I’ve gotten hungry. You know, I like bought into this burn, your boat mentality. I started to make bad decisions. I started to think in the short term, not in the longterm and I wasn’t playing a chess. I was playing checkers. You know, I was like trying to win today, not tomorrow. On the other hand, if you’ve created something comfortable enough, the idea that managing both is, is supplementing yours or your family’s income.
I think it could be faulty. So if you’re able to produce enough that you’re not going to be hungry when you burn your boat, your W2, I think that the mental load of the distraction in and of itself is enough to limit your creativity, to limit your capacity, your bandwidth, to be more and to do more. So, but all three of us, when we got started, you know, I had a New York city gig that I had gotten to be pretty well-refined. I was only putting in like 10 hours a week into it out here in Denver, Colorado, another partner, you know, flies for an airline.
And so he’s able to just like request leave. I mean, he’s still like on payroll, you know, he hasn’t, he like flies once a quarter, you know what I mean? And then the third guy worked for the government and the government is pretty inefficient. He was able to fly under the radar two hours a week. But for two out of the three of us, we realized that the mental load alone, not the hours committed, but the mental load alone, the distraction, the requirement of having to give yourself to somebody else at a moment’s notice in exchange for paying, spending time with the people that you’re collaborating with to build this thing is not worth the income.
Yes, you will be taking a step back today, but the potential of where you’ll be three years from now is so much more valuable.
Speaker 1 (30m 16s): Yeah. I couldn’t agree with that more. It is interesting. And, and kind of eyeopening that when you’re talking, especially when you’re raising outside capital, that when something happens, you literally drop everything mentally and, and usually physically as well. But it is definitely a tool that even in my business, you know, we have clients that are pretty active and demanding, but brokerage, same thing. That’s I don’t think that it’s the same amount of kind of mental, the mental workout you get when something really crazy happens with the investing side and you have to attend to it. So I couldn’t agree with that more.
I want to be mindful of the time Ben, we have four questions. We ask every guest that comes on the kind of rapid fire. But before we get there, I ask every guest, when we come to the end here is just kind of your general outlook right now at the market. We’re coming into a new year. Hopefully we’re past fingers, crossed some, some pretty tumultuous times that we’ve had in the last 24 months. What’s your general philosophy or outlook for the short to midterm? You know, whether that’s opportunities you’re seeing, or just generally what your thoughts are on where we’re headed.
Speaker 2 (31m 15s): Yeah. It’s a complicated question because it depends on where you’re what asset class you’re in, what your, your investment thesis is. But, you know, I like, we just had Spencer levy, who’s the, it’s got another title, but I’m gonna call them the global chief economist of, of CVRE, just present at, at both best ever conference. And to my company’s part, investment group to the whole team. And, you know, he’s all over the place. When you ask him economics based questions, he’s got answers for everything, but they, they they’re all over the place. So in storage, I’m just gonna speak to storage. If that’s all right and storage, there’s still lots of opportunity.
And, and I will explain why the first is, is everybody’s scared of two things, inflation and interest rate risk inflation has more of an impact on pre negotiated contracts that lasts a lot longer. So if you’ve got a retail lease, that’s five years with 3% packaged increases, but rate of inflation is 10%. You’re going backwards by 7%, every year locked in for five years, right? You’ve got a multifamily contract that lasts 12 months for a lease, but inflation is going up by 1% every month.
The value of that contract is being diluted by 1%. Every month, self storage is a month to month situation. So we can change our rents whenever we want, even if we just changed them last month might not be beneficial from a business operation standpoint, but from a, a pricing elasticity standpoint, it’s one of the most beneficial asset classes to be in to hedge inflation. All asset classes typically end up catching up with interest rates eventually because inflation is, is, is linked to interest rates and inflation pushes rents up, right? Like in theory, w there’s more wages as a result of inflation, people have more money.
The price of goods goes up. The price of services goes up. The price of rent goes up. So it’s just a matter of how fast prices adjust relative to interest. We see self storage adjusting much faster than industrial office retail and even multifamily. So that’s our, that’s my, my soapbox on inflation on the interest rate side, I think as long as your spreads between interest rate and cap rates still make sense, there’s a play. So in retail, retail is not down for the count. Retail has a lot of opportunity and they’re trading at 7%. Now there’s a lot of lenders that won’t lend on retail, but if you can find the debt at five, five and a half percent, there’s a spread there.
So in self storage, when we’ve, when we got started, we were in the six, six and a quarter six and a half percent cap rate, which is, sounds really juicy today. Now we’re looking at cap rates in the four, four and a half, sometimes 5% range. And when interest rates were at three and a half, 4%, there was spread. Now that the interest rates are at five, five and a quarter five and a half, sometimes under five, there’s no spread. So how do you make that work? And we’re starting to answer that question. Well, we’re getting more aggressive with our rent growth assumptions because of inflation. We’re looking at cap rate compression, but there’s only so much risk you want to take on in the aggression aggressiveness of your underwriting model.
So we’re, we’re starting to look for other strategies. We have not paid as much attention to raw land development. Even though we have that capacity, we’ve done it a few times. We’ve never done a conversion at Spartan investment group, but there’s more margin in those things. And the short term interest rates are still attractive enough in this very, very small window of time that we can make that work until we start to see things plateau. And we can figure out where, how, if, how cap rates are going to adjust relative to interest rates to see if that spread comes back. I don’t
Speaker 1 (34m 32s): Know. Yeah, no, that’s a long
Speaker 2 (34m 34s): Winded answer.
Speaker 1 (34m 35s): Yeah, that’s pretty tight. Okay. So four questions. I’ll kick it off right now. What is one book or resource that you could recommend for listeners that, that you’ve been recommending recently?
Speaker 2 (34m 46s): Everybody’s talks about real estate economics business books. So I’m going to throw something else out there because I think the best investors have like a very, very they’re Renaissance, men and women. So I’m going to go with the order of time by Carlo Rovelli. He is a gravitational loop theorist, and he makes physics accessible to the layman, the boundaries of physics. And I think that studying physics helps widen the creativity and the capability of an investor’s mindset.
Speaker 1 (35m 10s): That’s great. I haven’t heard about that. One. Love the topic though. Big Brian Green fan. Okay. So what would you tell a younger individual that’s trying to get into the industry, whether it’s specifically on the investment side or just real estate in general, what would be some advice you’d give them from just a mentorship perspective?
Speaker 2 (35m 32s): It depends. It depends on who they are, what they’ve asked me, where they’re, where they’re at in their life, but collaboration, beats competition. Don’t try to be a hero. Don’t try to be something that you’re not embellish yourself, put yourself out there, have hubris, but don’t let others tell you how it is either. You can recreate everything. Don’t assume that just because people have doctorates or pilot certifications that they know what the heck they’re doing, everybody has an adult has imposter syndrome. Everybody’s figuring out their lives because if they weren’t, they would get bored and they would quit.
So if they’re engaged in what they do, it means that they’re also figuring out what they do. So don’t be intimidated, but also have a humility and learn. I don’t know, here we go.
Speaker 1 (36m 18s): There’s usually a couple answers for this, but if one sticks out in your head, something that you didn’t know when you first got into our industry, that you know now, and you know, you’d like to share with your younger self or again, people that are, that are breaking into the investment side of our business,
Speaker 2 (36m 34s): The investment side of our business, be intentional about your investment thesis experiment with it upfront. And then once you find something that works, eliminate all the distractions and go all in.
Speaker 1 (36m 46s): All right, last question. This might be a, a wasted one if you’re in New York for a long period of time, but a first car make and model
Speaker 2 (36m 53s): First car, man, I don’t know. My car is a Ford Taurus. Is that a thing?
Speaker 1 (37m 0s): That is a thing that, that was my family car growing up. That was our drive to Florida car for 20 hours trip. Awesome. Well, Ben, for those that would kind of want to reach out or connect with you aside from a Google search, where would you point them to?
Speaker 2 (37m 16s): Yeah, you can reach me at Ben at Spartan, hyphen investors.com.
Speaker 1 (37m 21s): My guest today has been Ben Lapidus. Ben, thanks for being part of working capital.
Speaker 2 (37m 25s): Awesome. Thanks Jesse.
Speaker 1 (37m 34s): Thank you so much for listening to working capital the real estate podcast. I’m your host, Jesse for galley. If you liked the episode, head on to iTunes and leave us a five star review and share on social media, it really helps us out. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram, Jesse for galley, F R a G a L E, have a good one. Take care.