In Real Estate Titans, Erez Cohen interviews the world’s leading real estate investors such as Richard Mack, Urs Ledermann, Ronald Terwilliger, Gina Diez Barroso, Elie Horn, Richard Ziman, Robert Faith, Chaim Katzman, Rohit Ravi, Joseph Sitt, Carlos Betancourt. Cohen draws on his experience as a research and teacher’s assistant at Wharton Business School with an investment expert—and his mentor—Dr. Peter Linneman. The book shares advice and insights garnered by the real estate titans; they answer questions like what they would do if they are starting over in real estate, making the best real estate deals, prioritizing their time and routines for becoming successful in life and business.
Life-long learning and becoming the hardest worker in the room seems to be one of the recurring habits exhibited by the real estate investors interviewed in the book. Here are my favorite takeaways from reading, Real Estate Titans by Erez Cohen:
The Real Estate Industry
Real estate is also the largest asset class in the world. According to Savills, an international real estate brokerage and advisory firm, the value of global real estate as of 2017 is US$228 trillion This exceeds—by almost a third—the total value of all globally traded equities and securitized debt instruments, which points to the important role that real estate plays in any economy around the world.
In real estate, there are unlimited points of entry. It is the ultimate field for entrepreneurs. You don’t need substantial capital to start; you just need to be resourceful. You can access financing. You can access friends and family money. You can use other people’s money. You can be in this business owning one property or a thousand.
Important because every person on the planet is exposed to real estate every moment of every day: Real estate is a part of our everyday life, and it plays an integral role in our economy. Historically, real estate is also the greatest source of wealth and savings for most families around the world. According to several professors, in the last few centuries more fortunes have been made in this asset class than in any other.
The value of global real estate is 2.8 times higher than the world’s total annual income (Gross Domestic Product, or GDP).
The Real Estate Titans – Lessons Learned from the World’s Top Real Estate Investors:
Richard Mack – Mack Real Estate Group, New York, New York, USA
Understand the potential downside of a deal
It is a rudimentary principle of portfolio management theory to incorporate alternative assets as part of a diversified portfolio. One of the most popular alternative investments for sophisticated investors is real estate. While it serves as a partial hedge against inflation, it is also a way to enjoy the potential of a steady cash flow stream.
Within the real estate space, institutional investors are probably most attracted to the private equity arena. Real estate private equity funds have been attracting large amounts of capital with assets under management reaching an all-time high as of the end of 2017 of $811 billion. One private equity real estate giant is Richard Mack.
Macro bets vs Micro Bets
Macro bets in real estate tend to be cyclical bets about timing, which means that you need to be able to make micro bets to generate excess returns when markets are in equilibrium. As it relates to micro bets, it is important to realize that land appreciating in value is the primary way to make money in real estate, because buildings depreciate. And that always comes down to location.
Knowing the details of the region where you are investing is of critical importance in real estate. Profit in purchasing land is the combination of local knowledge to find the right property and an understanding the macro principle of where you are in the current real estate cycle. To succeed as a developer, I deeply believe you must stick to the region you know the best. You must understand the micro. Going outside your local area can be very dangerous—which leads me to my worst deal.
Urs Ledermann: Ledermann Holding AG, Zurich, Switzerland.
Passion is the most important thing in real estate. We like to dream a lot, and we’re constantly coming up with new experiences for living. You must be a little bit crazy when you’re comparing yourself to the average person so that you can dream up and build amazing buildings that people desire to live in and see themselves living in for a very long time. You need to be a visionary and fix a problem for people. Sometimes people don’t know what they want, and you have to show it to them. Create a new experience for your users; make sure they have fun.
Real estate is a long-term business. Buying, fixing, and selling properties can take years. You will likely ride an entire real estate cycle in your career. Be prepared for the ups and the downs and avoid speculation.
Focus on developing strategies that are recession-proof and that will allow you to survive a downturn in the market, a change in the demographics, or unexpected geopolitical events. Write down your goals and your dreams. Review them every night before going to sleep. This will ensure that you achieve them.
Ronald Terwilliger: Trammell Crow Residential, Dallas, Texas, USA
The real estate development business is a risky business. The demand side is certain to be compromised by an economic downturn. Some property types are more vulnerable than others. I find the apartment development business to have one of the best risk/reward relationships because a well-managed apartment will stay full during a downturn, although you will have to adjust rents downward to stay full in a weaker market. The key to responsible financing of apartment developments is to keep construction debt to 75 percent of cost or less and to have construction loan maturities that are long enough to get you through a recession.
Demographics in the United States indicate that almost 9 out of 10 new households will be minorities. That fact suggests that rental housing will play an even more important part for housing America’s families than it has since the Great Depression.
Gina Diez Barroso: Grupo Diarq, Mexico City, Mexico
The Real Estate Business
Real estate is a different animal than many other businesses, and you must be prepared for many challenges. The way you approach real estate is critical. Are you a professional or an investor? These are two drastically different mindsets.
A professional understands the unique nature of real estate and treats it appropriately, but an investor looking to expand a portfolio with a new asset class often doesn’t understand the cyclical nature of real estate and the potential downside.
If you want to invest in real estate as an asset class, you have to find properties that will generate income, and you need the financial buffer to endure crises without threatening your other investments. With real estate, you can be affected by economic crises in different parts of the world.
Mistakes are Inevitable
When looking at a deal, and especially your first deal, analyze as much information as possible to decrease the number of mistakes that you will make. Notice that I said “decrease” and not “prevent.” Mistakes are inevitable. Your goal is to minimize the downside when those mistakes do happen. I’m glad that my mistake was with a 100-apartment deal rather than an 800-apartment deal, in which I would have lost much more money.
At the beginning of your real estate career, focus on areas of innovation; learn about new construction methods, architecture, and sales and leasing. Build a business that you can be proud of. Understand as much as you can about the way the market is shifting—the way people are looking for different types of working and living spaces, and how different pieces of technology can change everything.
I believe that there are four major factors to success in real estate.
The first two are timing and location, but location is not as important as timing. That’s because it’s rare for someone to buy a bad location. If you’re buying a property, you should think the location is okay at minimum, but when you buy that property and eventually sell it or refinance it, it will be all about timing. When you buy will determine when you sell and how good you do.
The third factor is debt timing. Whether your interest rate is 3 or 7 percent, whether it’s a 60 or 80 percent loan, it’s all about the timing.
The fourth essential factor for success in real estate is to understand demand. Sooner or later, demand dictates everything. It will generate financing availability. It will fill vacancies and ultimately push up rents. When you have no demand, you run into vacancies, you can’t pay your mortgage, and then you’re in trouble. Every single issue is affected by demand, so be patient and analyze.
Robert Faith: Greystar, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Whenever there is a market shift, the real estate market enters the phase of “adapt or die.”
For every deal, there must be some story about the value add that will generate returns. That value add can be several things: a certain demographic change in the city, something about the building, a micromanagement supply issue, an undervalued asset to replacement cost, etc.
Find out the value creation story. No matter if you are buying a single-family home as an investment or a multibillion-dollar industrial portfolio. How and why will this property go up in value once you take control? You need to know and believe in that story.
The real estate business is very cyclical. There’s a lot of demand and then there’s a lot of supply, then there’s a lot of demand, and then there’s a lot of supply. The market goes up, and then it goes down. The value of properties goes up, and then goes down. There seems to be some type of recession or crisis in every single decade. Junk bonds, savings and loans, the Great Recession—these things happen cyclically. And yet, large sectors of the market somehow seem to be surprised every time.
The challenge of the real estate business’s cyclicality can become your opportunity. Most of the business with Trammell Crow was built around development, but during downturns, development is the first thing that came to a halt. Trammell learned from this and began to go into the services business.
Never take recourse risk or, if you are willing to take on this massive risk, set aside the money in order to cover you. Build a resilient strategy.
Chaim Katzman: Gazit-Globe, Tel Aviv, Israel
The sky is not falling
Every time there is a shift in the market, there is a rush to be the first to proclaim that the “sky is falling.” In the real estate business, one only needs to look at the investors running around screaming about the “death of retail” to see that it’s happening again. Right now, online business accounts for 2.5 percent of the United States GDP. That sounds like a significant number until you look at the mail order business, which accounted for more than 5 percent of the GDP just a century ago.
According to Chaim Katzman, every big trend initially seems to change the world, and we often call it a disruption. Eventually, it slows down or disappears altogether. It becomes a part of the human experience, but things tend to return to equilibrium. A catalog can no more replace the shopping experience than a webpage. There is something that we love about going out of our homes and into a social environment to shop.
Rohit Ravi: Appaswamy Real Estate, Chennai, India
Whenever you invest in a new location, new surprises will arise, and local knowledge can be incredibly valuable. In this situation we lacked a little bit of that local knowledge.
For this reason, it’s better to focus your real estate projects in a region you fully understand and know. While two-story houses might be quite valuable where you live, the opportunity to acquire a property like this in a desert region might actually be an albatross. In extremely hot regions, taller houses can be exponentially more expensive due to air conditioning, and in the end, actually worth less. Without local knowledge, you could think you’re getting a great deal until you realize the property is completely illiquid and unsellable. Data is very important.
Joseph Sitt – Thor Equities, New York, New York, USA
In general, an important rule to follow is to try and focus on making deals in areas where most people are not, and investing in times when most people are not. No matter what the situation is, you always need to use solid, fundamental analysis as part of your decision-making process. But if you can do this and buy properties when there is a clear market supply and demand imbalance, then even better.
If you are a risk-taking entrepreneurial investor, I suggest you start looking at Africa. It has a young and growing population. Some 200 million Africans are between 15 and 24, and it is the fastest growing continent on the planet in terms of people, and over the next 30 years the population will grow by one billion. The economies are getting stronger and more diverse and the middle class is growing.
Some 200 million Africans are between 15 and 24, and it is the fastest growing continent on the planet in terms of people, and over the next 30 years the population will grow by one billion.
Carlos Betancourt: Bresco, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Patience is the Key
You must have a great deal of patience because things change all the time. One guy would sell his house one month, and the next month another guy would change his mind about selling.
In the places where I’m investing I study the economic cycle, the political cycle (especially in Brazil), and the real estate cycle. Are interest rates going up or down? Are the politicians going to increase or decrease regulation? Is there a game-changing bill working its way through the local government? Are tax laws changing? Has the new president promised to make some changes to the real estate landscape? Are there new large players in the market? Are banks lending developers and buyers?
Real estate goes through cycles where, at times, there might be more buyers than there is supply. The reverse may be true. It changes relatively quickly.
The seven key Lessons
Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.
Key Lesson #1: A Powerful Mindset
A person with a powerful mindset breaks through the darkest hours on the path to success, a path that was originally thought by others to be too difficult. A powerful mindset keeps the Real Estate Titans from giving up. It gives them the personal vision to pursue their vision, their dream. It’s what drives their relentless pursuit to carry out their mission and make an impact on the world.
Greatness is not something that gets handed to someone; it demands a lot of hard work. The best people in any field are those who devote thousands of hours to their crafts.
Key Lesson #2: The Hardest Workers in Any Room
Hard work is often mischaracterized as just strenuous physical labor, but it can also be intense dedication, sharpened focus, an intricate study of the capital markets, repeatedly calling a prospect with news of an excellent deal, and so much more.
Goals are a way for you to design your future, instead of leaving it all up to fortune. They help you achieve your highest potential.
Key Lesson #3: Deep Focus and Clarity
Make no mistake:
The Titans have very clear goals and objectives. They have them in their head. They have them on paper. They think and dream about them. Their confidantes know them. Setting goals provides long-term vision in their lives. The Titans need powerful, long-range goals to push them toward getting past their short-term challenges. They also love having goals because that pushes them to stretch, grow, and become better.
“The day you stop learning is the day you start dying.”
Key Lesson #4: Educated and Quantitative
We live in a time when education is on the decline. Many people decide to stop learning new things when they graduate, whether it’s from high school, university, or a postgraduate program. Even more are being graduated from high schools across the country having never really learned how to learn.
There is an old Native American saying that translates: “The day you stop learning is the day you start dying.” One of your most important deliberate decisions should be to continue educating yourself. There is always something new to learn. Many of the individuals interviewed in this book started their careers before the home computer even existed. If they chose not to learn how to use this tool or the smartphone, they might not be at the top today. They continually improve, and so should you.
Remember that we cannot predict the future, but we can learn from the past. We can learn what worked, what didn´t work, and why it didn’t work.
Key Lesson #5: Surround Themselves with Greatness
Real estate, perhaps more than any other large business, is about people. It’s about the connection you can make with other people—between you and the investors, the bankers, the contractors, the architects, and so many other players. You need to be able to communicate with them and understand their needs, incentives, and motivations.
Every person who has ever had any measurable success in real estate has invested time and effort on a consistent basis to connect and develop relationships with other people who are integral parts of the real estate industry. You will interact with brokers, bankers, investors, advisers, market experts, appraisers, builders, architects, interior designers, asset managers, property managers, and others on a regular basis.
Key Lesson #6: Extraordinary Salespeople
It is critical to your success in the real estate industry that you are able to communicate. It is not uncommon for a real estate professional to be asked to make a presentation before a board of directors, a planning and zoning commission, or a homeowner’s association. The confidence, sincerity, and clarity with which you present your project will often decide whether it gets rejected, delayed until more questions are answered, or gains unanimous approval to move forward.
Key Lesson #7: Execute their Ideas
Throughout most of my life teachers and elders have told me that knowledge is power. I do not believe that knowledge is power—I believe it is only potential power. True power lies in execution. You must be able to execute—a deal, a plan, a goal, or a solution. Your dream opportunity to gain a taste of success will only become possible if you are able to execute.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.