Ten Capital Sources for Opportunity Zones

As an industry leader in Opportunity Zones, D&S has been working with all types of parties that are looking to make investments in Opportunity Zones.  We believe there are not only opportunities for US based investors but for global (yes, global) investors as well. 

This video gives you ten ideas for how to source investment capital for Opportunity Zone transactions.

The End Game for Co-Working

I have been watching – and our firm has been participating in – the co-working trend.  It started with Regus when it was founded in 1989 but didn’t really go anywhere until the past few years.  Since then, numerous players have entered the market, each with its own twist to appeal to different parties.

There is an ongoing debate as to what will happen during the next downturn.  Some say that the co-working spaces – filled with millennials – will become ghost towns as these millennials will go home to work out of their parents’ basements for free.  Others say that in a downturn, co-working will boom even more because there will be more people out of work.

I am not wading into this debate except to say that I am certain that no one has a crystal ball and we will just have to see what happens at the time of the next downturn.  If I had to guess – and I shouldn’t guess publicly – I think the latter (i.e. the boom) is much more likely than the bust, but that is just my guess.  However, I do have a perspective here that I think is interesting….

To take you through my thinking, I hearken back to the internet.  When it started, everyone was so excited.  It was a “new business” and everyone was pouring into it.  However, it turned out that it was really not “a new business”; instead, it was “a new way of doing business.”  This meant that WalMart could be in the business just as easily as an internet start-up.  If you fast-forward about twenty years, I don’t think there is a single business that exists today that is truly an “internet business”, with the single exception of Amazon and, at least according to my calculations, it is only just now starting to turn a profit.   So much for the “internet business”.

I think the exact same analysis applies to co-working.  If you look at what is happening now, there are numerous competitors; however, recently, landlords themselves have started to enter the fray.  For example, if you own an office building, you might consider allocating a floor for co-working space.  The margins are dramatically higher than what you would get if you leased the floor – versus the risk that your tenants are sort of like hotel guests and could evaporate if the market changes.

To be clear here, since co-working is so labor and operationally intensive, most landlords will team up with a co-working provider.  I think you will see a lot more of this.

As a landlord you wouldn’t want to risk the entire building on this concept just yet and even if you did your lender wouldn’t let you, but for a single floor it probably makes sense to take a chance and enjoy the upside without that much downside risk.  And ten years from now, once co-working has proven to be a longer-lasting concept, your lender will probably let you co-work out half of your building or even more than that, i.e. co-working will likely morph to be more like a hotel concept.

In any case, over the next ten years I suspect co-working will become more and more ubiquitous.  Then what happens to the co-working companies?

My prediction is that there will be a couple of survivors.  The rest will fold or be absorbed or bought by other real estate players.

Meanwhile, I advocate that real estate players – worldwide – should be looking at how they can optimally apply this “new way of doing business.”

What is Up with China? Effect on the Real Estate Deals? News from the Real Estate Front in NYC

My law firm is in NYC handling real estate transactions in the US that originate from counterparties based all over the world.  A bunch of these transactions depend on money coming in from China (debt or equity or other structure).  It used to be there was always a degree of uncertainty about the viability of this capital, but this uncertainty was gradually diminishing as more Chinese players developed stature and reputation in the US.

However, there are some recent events that are hitting US real estate pertaining to the use of Chinese capital.  I cannot say we are a canary in a coal mine, but as a law firm in the thick of deals in NYC and other places in the US, I have seen the following just in the past couple of weeks:

A China law firm that I have been dealing with regularly had a client planning on doing US deals.  We were moving forward together until I received the following email:

“As you may know, recently China is facing to the emerging issues of increasing Chinese capital outflows and devaluation of the RMB.  Therefore, the Chinese government has tightened the regulation policies on out-bound investments in recent days, especially the investments by Chinese [investment funds] in the form of partnership and investments into foreign real estate markets.  This makes it difficult for the client to move forward with their US real estate projects.  They are now under internal discussion and evaluation of the situations so we may have to wait for some time.”

A friend of mine in China who is very connected to the US and the Chinese real estate industries gave me the following quote.  I respect him highly but he did not want attribution.  He said:
“….. the open tap of Chinese money for US real estate was if not shut completely this week then it is now at best left a dripping faucet.  The authorities may backtrack, or not fully implement the announced draconian controls, but the atmosphere has changed beyond recognition.”

A client of mine had its Chinese financial partner drop out of a deal due at the last minute due to the counterparty’s China office overruling the New York Office, which had approved and strongly backed the deal.

There is much more going on as well, including the new Presidential administration, the sharp rise in interest rates, general volatility in the markets due to a possible belief that the up-turn in the US economy is getting long in the tooth, public  statements from companies like Starwood that they are hitting the “pause button” on real estate acquisitions, stalled sales of luxury apartments in New York City, and much more.

As per prior Real Estate Philosopher articles, I do NOT make predictions about the future, except to state with certainty that neither I (nor anyone else) has a crystal ball; however, anecdotally it seems to be true that a fair number of investors in US real estate are indeed pulling back right now.  And the China money spigot slowing to a trickle may have a deleterious effect on pricing, deal flow and other matters pertaining to US real estate transactions.

Of course, one party’s troubles is often another party’s opportunity; accordingly, potentially all of this may spell a chance to make advantageous US real estate investments for opportunistic real estate players.  That is not of course a formal prediction but seems to be getting more likely every day.

One last point I will make about Chinese money is to distinguish between money that is “on-shore” (in mainland China) and money that is “off-shore” (outside of mainland China).  If the money is “on-shore” that likely means that it will be a lot harder to have it show up in a US real estate deal.  If it is already “off-shore” that likely means it will be a lot easier.  I don’t have the skillset to be able to dig much deeper here, but the foregoing is generally an accurate statement.  So, if you are a US player working with the Chinese right now, this should be a threshold question that you might use to gauge the likelihood of the investment succeeding.

Finally, if you have anecdotes you would like to share, I would certainly appreciate learning as much as possible.

Finally, finally, here are links to some recent articles on this subject:

Brexit and London and Talent, Oh My!

I am sitting here in New York reading goodness knows how many articles on the Brexit. It is getting more coverage than any other news right now.

I recognize it is juicy for the media because there are all sorts of thought-provoking issues that touch on how human beings can live together (or maybe not live together) – but I have another take on this that I haven’t seen in other articles so I will share it. My thoughts also lead into a possible twist on real estate investing as well.

Let’s start with London. People are wondering understandably what will happen to London. It appears that some parties want to pull their money out; hence, various London based investment funds are (temporarily) closed to withdrawals. Other articles indicate a concern that the EU will make it rough on London and/or the informal financial center of Europe will move away from London. There is a concern that London may be in trouble.

I know I shouldn’t make a prediction about the future – indeed, that was the point of my last article – but here goes anyway. I predict that:

London will be just fine! 

There I said it. I sure hope that either (i) I am right or (ii) if I am wrong no one remembers I made this prediction,

Here is my thinking…

About eight years ago – at the end of 2008 – there were many who thought it was lights out for New York. The thinking was that the banks and investment banks and funds were falling apart, there were no bonuses for the people who worked at them, people would give up, the financial center would shrink down and die and possibly the center of the US world would move to DC or another location.

At this time I made a speech to my law firm about this issue. My speech had a central theme that NYC would be just fine. My reason was simple – it was that New York City has a special magic to it that makes the key ingredient – the talented people – stick around. Even though everything financial was crashing, my thesis was that the people that think of and effectuate complex real estate and corporate financial transactions wouldn’t “want” to leave. They would “want” to stay in New York and if they did in fact stick around they would create the next upside.

That is “exactly” what happened. The talent stayed and New York is stronger than ever before.

I see the same thing here with London.

I have only been to London once and I haven’t traveled much – so I admittedly am taking a bit of a leap here – but from what I know, London is a very special place. It is a melting pot of humanity. It is a vibrant and powerful city that has a special magic to it. When you get right down to it, I don’t see the talent “wanting” to leave – uprooting their families to go where, exactly? There are other great cities in Europe for sure, but if your life is in London, I don’t see people eager to move somewhere else so easily. If you live in London and have family and business contacts there, your optimal first strategy is to figure out if there is a way to stick around.

And if the talented people that form the backbone of London’s financial expertise don’t actually leave then I am confident that everything will be just fine in the end for London. That talent will create the next upside, just as occurred in New York.

Also, London has other significant features compared to the rest of Europe: The language in London is English (or some variation of it) and the language of global business is also English. This is a significant built-in advantage for a global financial center. And, London is a common law system with a well-developed and understood legal tradition and landscape that is far easier to navigate through compared to any other jurisdiction in the remaining EU.

Now I will philosophize a bit and wonder if this is a theme for a modest twist on real estate investing; namely, to follow the talent?

Consider this for the real estate world, i.e. evaluate where to invest based on whether the location is attracting and retaining talent — or not.

Currently, real estate investors look at population growth and jobs growth, which of course makes a ton of sense – however, I haven’t seen people look at “talent growth” or “talent flight” for purposes of real estate investing. Perhaps this is worth considering.

And I do hope I am right about London. . . . . .


 


 

What “Inning” of the Real Estate Cycle Are We In?

I have now practiced real estate law for almost 35 years, which is a long time to do anything. I am not absolutely “sure” about many things; however, I am confident that no one has a crystal ball about what the markets are going to do.

Some real estate people seem to be so doggone smart. They sell before the market crashes. Then they buy low at the bottom. These people are revered as the smartest names in real estate. They go to conferences and speak at them. They are usually great speakers because they are smart – rich – and self-confident. After all, they pulled it off.

Often they talk about what “inning” of a cycle we are in. If not, the moderator usually asks that question. Those in the audience are busy taking notes like:

“Toby Jones thinks we are in the third inning [of a certain real estate product]”

Perhaps that makes the party taking notes, who has invested in a similar real estate product, “feel” a little better – and after all there are all sorts of articles written about our human emotional need for validation, etc.

However, the truth is that neither Toby Jones nor anyone has a clue what inning we are in. Toby talking about innings and you listening is as useful for investment decisions as going birdwatching.

But, you might ask, what about the fact that Toby Jones has been right for the last three downturns? He always seems to know when to get in and when to get out. However, if you really dig in, I wonder:

Is Toby really right that consistently? Did he really get in and out at the right times to begin with? If you look at a longer time period, was Toby right over a long time period or just the past few times? Did he get in a bit too early and maybe got out way too early? Did he miss a lot of upside and get hit with a decent amount of downside? Did he make almost all of his upside on one dramatically-outperforming transaction?

Did Toby make a lot of predictions and take a lot of actions that were proved completely wrong but no one really remembers that? For example, was Toby sure that interest rates are going up next year for the past seven years? If you are Toby Jones reading this, was that your prediction? Now, almost no one thinks interest rates will go up next year. What does that mean?

And, even if Toby has a great track record over a long time of, say, 30 years, even then it doesn’t necessarily mean Toby is really smarter or has a crystal ball. If there are thousands of real estate players (all dumb as a post) and all making recommendations and decisions over 30 years, it is a statistical certainty that some will be right just about all of the time during that time period.

Let me apply this to New York City (since I am based here). Pricing of most real estate assets here is exceptionally high, say most of the Toby Jones’s, which would lead one to conclude that buying now is a mistake and prices have nowhere to go but down. Indeed, sitting here in NYC, to me it “feels” like a significant correction is starting right now. Maybe prices will be down 50% in the next few years.

However, New York is the financial center of the world – a booming tech center – a cultural center – a diverse melting pot – an exciting and vibrant city – and a place where when you get right down to it, talented people want to go to and stay. It is one of only a few markets in the world in a stable democracy that is large enough to put down an enormous investment that will likely always have liquidity. There is every reason to expect that the flight of worldwide capital will continue and if so what better place than New York City. And with interest rates going to zero, or even negative, around the world, maybe a 3% cap rate in New York City is just fine. Maybe prices will double in the next five years?

The only thing I am sure about is that I don’t know. And I am also sure that no one else – including Toby Jones — knows either. Indeed, I would guess that there is “smart money” that has been waiting for a correction in New York City pricing of real estate for several years now and the only thing the smart money has achieved is that it has so far missed out on a lot of upside.

But maybe now there will indeed be a “correction” and the “smart money” will “pounce”! To that I say “fiddlesticks!”

For that to be true the smart money would have to know that the correction will be 13.5% rather than 35% and know when the bottom is and I don’t buy that the smart money will know that. How much “smart money” was there at the depths of the financial crisis when prices were down 35% in New York? Precious little – probably because the smart money thought prices were going to drop a lot further. It took quite a while before many would dip their toes in the market. And, yes, those who bought at the bottom look awfully intelligent, but what would have happened if the financial crisis had gotten worse or New York became victimized by more terror attacks or crime had gotten worse or a health panic had occurred or all sorts of things had happened?

I could go on here, but my point is simple; namely, that it is a waste of time making macro predictions about markets that no one can really be sure about. You may get lucky for a while, but sooner or later you will get tagged and I predict you will under-perform over a long-term time period.

Warren Buffet makes this point all of the time. He says he cannot predict the market, and no one can, so it is pointless to try. Instead, he looks for companies that are good value and uses his intellect to buy at good prices.

So, I will stick my neck out and say that if your company’s real estate strategy is based on timing the real estate market – and predicting what “inning” of a cycle we are in – then it is likely a flawed strategy that may work for a while but eventually will be upended with below average long-term returns.

So – enough negativity – what do I advocate? I advocate being market-agnostic and thinking through the best ways to “create value” in real estate (and maybe even looking at my prior – and future — articles on that subject). Just go about your business looking to create value and finding deals that do so. Sometimes the market will go up, and that will juice your returns to the upside. And sometimes the market will go down and your returns on that deal will be lower than you like. However, in the long run, if you follow this strategy, you will outperform.

Uniqueness – The Bane of Fundraising

I have seen this time and again. Someone uses their brainpower to come up with a cutting-edge idea for real estate investment. It is a niche (a “Power Niche” as I call it), or a way of looking at real estate that no one has done before. It seems pretty cool, but the lament is that “investors won’t go for it”, so, alas it is just not viable.

If the fundraiser doesn’t just throw in the towel at this point, the next question is whether the fundraiser should “tweak” the business model (or maybe in other words ruin the cool and cutting-edge part of it) so it will look like other investments and thereby become appealing to the target investors; or stick to his guns and try to find investors, even though most prospective investors will not be willing to take the plunge. That sounds kind of terrible too – like the sheepherder throwing in the towel and just deciding to follow the sheep.

As an aside, I don’t mean to imply that the investors who reject the new ideas are foolish. They are not dumb at all. Indeed, the prospective investors are smart to avoid the newfangled investment idea for the simple reason that if they all stick together and perform in an “average” manner, they will remain employed and their lives will continue on (probably happily) as they were before. If, however, they take on the risk of the new idea (and all new ideas have enhanced risk as well as enhanced reward), and it goes poorly, they may be out of a job.

I had been noticing and thinking of this irony – or paradox – for years, but then Todd Zenger wrote a really interesting article in The Harvard Business Review called The Uniqueness Challenge, which explains this conundrum in a very readable and understandable manner. He calls it the “Uniqueness Challenge” and that does describe it very well, as it is always a “challenge” to be “unique”.

I note that my law firm took this Uniqueness Challenge by making the determination to be The Pure Play in Real Estate Law®, thereby taking the enormous downside risk of being different (and unique). We “burned the ships” with this strategy and, fortunately, it worked out exceptionally well. At the time we did it, we were very nervous about it, but now looking at where we stand in the marketplace it seems so obvious – what were we worrying about?

So hats off to Mr. Zenger for his article – it is well worth reading.

Now we have this conundrum—this irony—this paradox. The question is how to solve it. Here is my best shot at it:

At the outset, I wouldn’t tweak (i.e. ruin) the business idea to appeal to investors. That is just like the sheepherder throwing in the towel to follow the sheep – and, in this case, even the sheep would (sheepishly) maybe admit privately that they don’t disagree with the strategy – they just don’t want to take a risk where the risk/reward isn’t to their benefit.

I will – very reluctantly – admit that tweaking/ruining the strategy’s novelty might be the optimal short-term economic strategy, and may result in more immediate fund-raising success. But where is the fun in that? What is the point? Where is the break-out upside? It isn’t there. You are just conforming to be like everyone else.

However, I wouldn’t waste a lot of time on a strategy that is doomed to failure either. If you know that the main investor group just can’t invest in your idea, probably for the reasons I outlined above, don’t spend two years with a fruitless private placement memo trying and failing to raise a billion dollar fund that is doomed to failure or, worse yet, that a Blackstone-type party will do itself if they like the idea. Nor would I use a straight-down-the-middle fund-raising advisor either, as such an advisor would advocate you soliciting the mainstream investors who will likely not be able to say “yes” for the reasons outlined above. Overall, the odds are stacked against you and you could waste two or more years of your life being essentially jerked around and come up empty.

What I would do is approach those who are outside the normal channels, i.e. instead of pension funds, insurance companies, endowments, and similar parties, I would look towards high net worth individuals, family offices, and investment funds that make it their bread and butter to seek alternative investments and that are deliberately set up to not follow the herd. There are a lot fewer of these parties, and the way forward will be tortured, like following a narrow bending path up a mountain; however, I think the chances of success are much higher.

As an outgrowth of this strategy, I would also dial down my fund-raising size dramatically. Instead of visions of billion dollar funds dancing in your head, consider a fund of, say, $25,000,000. All you would want is the bare minimum for a “proof of concept” and an amount you can invest quickly to confirm the strategy is doable. Once you have that, it will likely be a very different story when you go back to the mainstream investors. They will likely change from skittish to eager very quickly.

If you follow this strategy, the only thing you can be sure of is that you don’t know what will happen. However, a strategy where you don’t know what will happen is a lot better than a strategy that is likely doomed to failure (as is the straight-down-the-middle strategy), so mathematically, this strategy is optimal. Also, if things go badly, you will spend a lot less time and money failing.

By the way, if “you” mainstream investors are reading this when you are visited with a Uniqueness Challenge, consider giving the guy presenting to you a break. Maybe this is your big chance to stand out from the herd yourself. Maybe this is a time for you to take a chance too…

If you are a reader of The Real Estate Philosopher and have thoughts on this, feel free to email your thoughts to me and maybe I will put them out in the next article as a follow-up piece.

Finally, if you have an outside-the-box idea in the real estate world that perhaps rises to the level of a Uniqueness Challenge, I hope you will give me a call or shoot me an email. There is nothing I like better than trying to figure out how to make unusual, different and unique ideas successful.

A Special Idea to Create Value in Real Estate

I was going to have this article be about applying Porter’s Five Forces to the real estate world. That will be a great article when I write it; however, A very interesting value-creating idea just struck me this beautiful afternoon in New Jersey, and I thought I would sneak this idea in first through this (very short) article.

If you will hearken back to my first article:

Using Drucker to “create” customers by marketing and innovation.

And then my second article:

Creating value by amassing intellectual capital in, and ownership of, small-sized niches.

As an outgrowth of both of these articles, I suggest that a great untapped market for creating value in real estate is through developing expertise in operating businesses that have real estate as a major component.

There are obvious candidates such as hotels, retailers that own real estate (and spin it off and turn it into REIT’s), and things of that nature. These are easy and obvious examples. And these are of course fields well-plowed so I doubt you can do what I advocate here. If you are a hotel expert, you are hardly unique enough anymore. What I urge here is picking smaller niches and using the theories I espoused in my prior two articles to create special real estate value in these niches in which you develop significant intellectual capital.

Some examples – I could think of off the top of my head — are: amusement parks (small and large), garages, restaurants (and other related things like beer gardens), retail space that is just too large and could be turned into operating businesses (consider bazaars, farmers markets, specialty markets, pop-up stores), co-working space (a perfect example of this), shopping center owners with multiple locations creating almost private label brands by backing start-up retailers, urban for-profit schools, etc. There are probably an almost infinite number of ideas here.

Then follow the thinking outlined in my prior articles to create the necessary intellectual capital by learning everything possible about the operating business. Once you have achieved this, you have a powerful competitive advantage as you are the only one (yes, the only one!) who now understands both real estate and the subject operating business. As we all know, knowledge is power, and this power gives you a great advantage in buying, investing, operating, selling, financing and – of course – creating value.

Is this easy? Of course not. But what choice does everyone have? One thing that the internet has done is taken away the easy pickings, since everyone knows everything at the same time. Anything that is simple isn’t going to be a value creator because everyone will see the same things and bid the price to a point where the risk and reward equilibrate, so the best you can do is perform “average”. The goal now has to be to create intellectual capital that only you have and the only way to do that is by creating that capital between your own ears by learning and thinking and creating.

Creating Value in the Real Estate World

In my wanderings and discussions with clients and other friends in the real estate world, I hear many different plans from many different people. Many plans are of course brilliant and well executed; however, I do see a perennial fundamental flaw in many plans that I would like to talk about. Here is my thinking……

I believe that in just about every really promising real estate deal – or real estate platform – there is a party that “creates value.” Obviously this is more pronounced and obvious in a project that is architecturally and aesthetically beautiful and different or in a cutting edge project in a different location, but it is also true in the most mundane of transactions as well. There is someone that has brought some “value” to the deal or to the process. The trick in a good business plan (for a deal or a company) is to be that person on a consistent basis.

I don’t know if others look at things this way; however, I get a sense that typically lenders, fund managers, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds, family offices and other providers of capital (collectively, “Capital Providers”) give this “value creation” away to developers, owners, sponsors and brokers (collectively, “Sponsor Parties”) without really thinking about this concept. Also, my sense is the Sponsor Parties sometimes go into business without thinking deeply about how they might set themselves up to really create value that they can bring to Capital Providers.

Consider what typically happens vis a vis the Capital Providers. Toby (a metaphor), who works for the Capital Provider sits in his/her office and waits for possible deals to roll in. Toby is a great marketer and knows how to create deal flow. He knows that the key rule is to get out and about with people, build relationships, and try to make deals work and do great and careful underwriting. But there is one thing Toby is not (typically) doing, which is “creating” the “value” in the deal. Instead, he is in the “reactive” seat, and waiting for the “proactive” Sponsor Parties to create the deals to be sent to Toby for evaluation.

Why is he doing that? I don’t think there is a good reason. I think it happens this way largely due to inertia, and the fact that that is just the way everyone typically does business. But, I think that there is really no reason why Toby can’t create deal value himself. Let me give an outline of an idea:

Let’s say you are the CEO of a Capital Provider (say, “Smith Capital”) which is a $1B opportunity private equity fund that invests in deals of all types in the U.S. Sponsor Parties solicit Smith Capital with deals it might invest in and Smith Capital analyzes hundreds of these deals every year, does solid underwriting, and then narrows them down to about twenty deals it tries to do, of which let’s say five actually close.

In all of these deals – alas – Smith Capital has competition from other Capital Providers. Maybe these other Capital Providers are more eager – or dumber – or whatever – so they offer better terms than Smith Capital is willing to offer so Smith Capital doesn’t get the deal or its pricing (and hence its risk/reward) gets worse. Of course this will likely end up being the case since the Sponsor Providers have provided the “value” that Smith Capital and its competition are bidding for.

How about instead you ask your acquisitions guy – Toby – to pick a specialty area to become a major expert in? And I don’t mean a big area that is in the typical real estate food groups (like retail, multifamily, etc.) but a much smaller niche, like, say, garages, golf courses, co-working space, or another much smaller niche — the thinking here being that the niche has to be small enough that Smith Capital can dominate it.

As an aside, the niche should be somewhat creative. For example, a purely geographic niche sounds interesting but doesn’t last very long. As soon as others realize a location is undervalued, the prices get bid up. Of course, the first player can do well, but usually it is very hard to be sure that when you get in on the ground floor in a geographic location whether the overall market will really rise or not; accordingly, the risk/reward is not necessarily easy to evaluate.

As a metaphor for this niche idea for Smith Capital and Toby, let’s pick parking garages as the example.

Now, what Toby does is the following: He reads everything possible about garages. He finds out who are the major players, costs, advantages, disadvantages, and little known facts (like what local fire departments say about different garage types). He has a gaggle of Google alerts from all sorts of angles on garages. He gets the garage trade publications. He tells everyone about it – both internally at Smith Capital – and externally too. He then ramps it up by going to garage conferences. He goes out and meets the owners and developers of garage companies. After just a few months Toby is Toby the Parking Garage Man! He knows everyone and everything. He has relationships. He has strong and coherent ideas about how to invest – including what to avoid — and is now able to apply this knowledge to create “value” in deals. He knows the REIT issues that pertain to garages – he knows the operational issues – he knows (personally) all the good operators – and most importantly he knows the risks.

His presence now is an upgrade to the “value” that Smith Capital can provide because third parties start thinking that if there is a garage as a significant portion of their deal then maybe Smith Capital should be called to be involved, as they could provide some “value’ due to the intellectual capital that Toby has developed pertaining to garages.

Maybe lenders will like Smith Capital in the deal, since lenders are more concerned nowadays than ever about the talent in the equity that they lend to. Indeed, possibly (dare I say), the lender might even recommend to the Sponsor Provider that Smith Capital would be a great co-investor in the deal due to its expertise. Maybe even the Sponsor Party (who usually struts around, since he holds the “value” cards) isn’t quite as cool anymore because Smith Capital can enhance the upside of the deal pertaining to the garage adjunct. Also, maybe Smith Capital has relationships that can be mined to help the garage part of the deal get better.

Eventually Smith Capital starts to be a major player in the garage space. They know everyone and everything. Everyone comes to them for advice and they are the first stop – and the last stop – for proposed deals that have garages in them.

To end the story, instead of Smith Capital giving away the value creation to the Sponsor, it is Smith Capital now creating at least part of the value and upside, which means that Smith Capital can negotiate much better terms with the Sponsor Party.

By the way, I know I directed this article at Capital Providers; however, that is just serendipitous, since my thinking is exactly the same for Sponsor Parties. In order to be able to demand good and strong terms, Sponsor Parties should do the exact same thing; namely, develop niche-type expertise that they can use to create value.

So I hope I have made my point here. To conclude:

If you are a Sponsor Party or a Capital Provider, I propose that the name of the game is figuring out where the value will be created in the real estate deals you are seeking, and then set yourself to really “proactively” create that value, rather than “reactively” wait for someone else to create it and bring it to you. And the way to do that is by using your assets – the brains of your team – to create intellectual capital in small-sized niches that you can own.

Peter Drucker: Creating Customers

Peter Drucker – one of the great intellectual thinkers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries – asks a question: “What is the purpose of a business?”

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that question? Or, perhaps more importantly, have you ever asked yourself what is the purpose of “your” business?

As I was reading Drucker, I stopped to think and see if I could answer this question myself for my law firm. The obvious answers seemed to be: to make a profit, to build a brand, to serve society or maybe to do good things for my employees or to make my customers happy or something like that.

Drucker; however, says simply:

“To create a customer (emphasis added)”

Wow – when you hear that, it zings doesn’t it – you aren’t just going out to get customers – you are creating them……and that is your true purpose!!!

Drucker goes on to say that there are only two things that every business MUST do. Everything else is white noise. If you do these two things you have a chance at great success and if you don’t, then most of the time the converse.

Can you think of what they are? I couldn’t till he told me – the two things are very simple:

To innovate
And to market

I remember reading all of this and feeling like I had been struck. Of course!!!!

If you don’t innovate, then you are selling what everyone else is selling and you have no pricing power. By the laws of perfect competition, your pricing power erodes as you are effectively selling a commodity.

And if you don’t market the product, then people not only don’t know about it but they also don’t know why they should want it.

If you really spend a moment and think about all of this it is both exciting and liberating at the same time – it is so simple – to succeed in the business world you just keep in mind that the “purpose” of your business is to “create” customers and the way you do this is by “innovating” and “marketing”.

That’s the whole ballgame.

Heady stuff isn’t it – this Drucker guy?

Consider Apple for a moment. What would Wozniak have done without Jobs? He would have tinkered and tinkered till someone stole or used what he did, or employed him, or until the industry just moved past him.

And what would Jobs have done without Wozniak? What would he have had to sell? Nothing at all.

They were the ultimate people in innovating and marketing.

And talk about creating customers. No one did that better than Jobs. I truly love his incredible statement:

“Don’t give the customers what they want – show the customers what they should want!”

So – as you read this – I ask you – do you have as your purpose “creating” customers – and are you “innovating and marketing” to do it?

Let me take you a little deeper and try to apply this to the real estate world.

I will start with applying this thinking to my (lawyer/law firm) business and then applying it to your (real estate) business.

My law firm is a 70 lawyer law firm in midtown Manhattan, which focuses on real estate.

If I were trying to attract a client to my firm I could say we are really good lawyers – I could even say we were really great lawyers – but would that do much to attract a client to my firm? I sincerely doubt it. People would nod off since they have all have heard that before. Indeed I have met many people before, who say things like “Don’t give me the usual stuff – tell me how you are different”.

So what if I said instead that we are a pure play in real estate law – unlike all other law firms, shunning other lines of business – in order to achieve the top status in our niche? And we have a mission statement to add value to our clients by doing more than just legal work – instead, we also work to build their businesses by making connections and thinking of ideas and structures for them – and that our clients simply love this as it really helps them in ways other law firms cannot and do not.

So am I creating customers here? I think I am. It used to be that clients went to lawyers just for legal advice and assistance in closing deals or handling litigations. Did they think they needed a law firm with a mission to help clients build their businesses? I don’t think they knew that. I think my clients know that now and they really love the special value we create for them because they tell us this flat out all the time. I think we created customers here.

So now let’s apply this thinking to the real estate business.

Imagine a row of buildings with identical products for rent – i.e. a row of gleaming “new” office buildings along the street – all the same – and all beautiful and pristine.

Yuk!!!

It’s all beautiful – and it’s all perfect – and it’s all the “same” as everything else. No customers are “created”. They are everyone’s customers just shopping among identical products. And all an intelligent customer has to do is walk down the street and ask each landlord who will rent them space for the lowest price. And pretty soon someone will put that on the internet and they won’t even have to walk down the street.

So the only thing helping – or hurting – the landlord is the market going up or down. And good luck trying to time the market. Sometimes you nail it and sometimes you don’t. I would hate to be in a business that the only thing separating me from success or failure is my crystal ball that tells me that the future demand for rental space in New York will go up or down.

So now let me give you an innovation I have thought of that I think, if properly marketed, could create some real live customers. I admit that this topic was the subject of one of my speeches a few years ago, and if you heard that, hopefully you won’t mind too much.

I picked office leasing, probably for the reason that it is sometimes maybe thought of as one of the less innovative parts of the real estate world (I don’t agree with that thought by the way). My reason is to make a point that innovations can come up anywhere.

It seems like until about five-ish years ago landlords just leased space to tenants and relied upon tried and true things like:

The location of the property – of course
The niceness of the building

And, then, all of the sudden, all these cool ideas blasted onto the scene. Things like: picking one (cool) tenant like Google to attract other tech companies to be nearby – shared space for multiple parties – exchanges where people of all kinds integrate – incubators – temporary space – co- working facilities — popup stores – and all sorts of “stuff” started to happen. The landlords who were at the head of these trends – i.e. the innovators – took a part of the city that was kind of humdrum (Park Avenue South) and turned it into the hottest part of the city. Rents went up – and the landlords there cleaned up.

And the industry was transformed and continues to transform around us. So here is a thought that might further transform.

It starts out in the mind of the customer – i.e. the tenant – and asks what does a tenant really want? Of course there are a lot of things, but one thing that many tenants want is the ability to cram as many people as possible into a location, but in a manner in which they can work productively, happily and successfully. Indeed, a lot of us law firms think about this a lot. Rent is our second biggest expense – and boy would we like to be able to cram a lot of lawyers into our space without bumming them out.

So how about this – instead of leasing space by rent per square foot – instead start leasing space by Productive Employees Per Square Foot?

Think this through with me for a moment and let’s do some math. If you ask me to take 50,000 square feet of space at $50 per square foot then I am paying $2,500,000 per year. If I can comfortably fit 100 lawyers “productively” into the space then my law firm can achieve a certain level of profitability in that space. As the managing partner of my law firm, that is how I would judge things, i.e. every lawyer I get in the space can bill X hours times Y billing rate, etc.

But if you lease me 40,000 feet at the same rent (i.e. $50 per square foot) and I get the same number of lawyers in the space I achieve the same level of profitability – don’t I? But now I achieve that profitability for $2,000,000 a year, which is $500,000 a year less. Suddenly my business is $500,000 a year more profitable isn’t it? Just because you – the landlord – made it so…..

And you (if you are a landlord) just gave up $500,000 to me – as your tenant – for free!!! You didn’t take anything for it if you just are sticking with the old rules of measurement, i.e. by the square foot.

To achieve this idea all you would have to do is this:

“Innovate” – be creative in how to set up space so that more lawyers can comfortably work in it.

“Market” the idea to law firm tenants like me that I should pay more for this kind of space or, in other words, that I should evaluate the value of the space I am renting by this new metric.

Then you have “created a customer” (i.e. me) who will purchase office space based on Productive Employees Per Square Foot.

This would mean you ignore the “market” and what everyone is doing and what everyone wants. Instead – just like Steve Jobs – you are telling the market, and your customers, what they should want!

And suddenly you have created customers who buy their space based on Productive Employees Per Square Foot.

If this is marketed successfully, then you are possibly making a lot more money from the same office building.