John Brackett is an investor and president of Fidelity Business Partners in San Diego, a private equity firm focused on multifamily investing. He has over 20 years experience, he’s the host of the We Build Apartment Communities Podcast, and has been a member of the International Economic Honor Society since 1997.
John comes on the show to discuss how he survived the 2008 recession, the key to getting the best financing for your project, and the benefits of investing in complementary markets.
What You’ll Learn In Today’s Episode:
- Make financing work for you, and don’t be afraid to get creative. In John’s words, “the key to financing is to make sure you marry up the [debt] to whatever the terms of the opportunity are.”
- John uses a hybrid approach to investing that has worked very well for him. By choosing markets that complement each other, such as Houston and San Diego, he’s able to capture both the higher cash flow of Houston and the strong, equity producing headwinds of a major coastal market like San Diego.
- Look at your overall business strategically. Make sure you’re building a business/portfolio that complements your lifestyle. Whether it’s partners or property management, think big picture and make sure it aligns with your long-term goals or ethos. “What’s the character behind the capital?”
Ideas Worth Sharing:
“It was a challenging time, but also a very unique time. There was definitely some pressure, but the pressure was good, it sharpened me.” – John Brackett
“I understood from banking that we’re going to need to hold some of these assets, that the market wasn’t always going to be as great.” – John Brackett
“The key to financing is you want to make sure you marry up the financing to whatever the term of the opportunity is.” – John Brackett
Resources In Today’s Episode:
Books Mentioned In Today’s Podcast
- Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark
Enjoy the show? Use the Links Below to Subscribe:
Don Wenner started investing in 2006 and has now closed on over 16,000 units with $1.3...
What is loss to lease? If you’ve spent as much time around profit/loss statements as us, you’ve likely come...
Given the recent stock market volatility, many real estate investors wonder, “Are we headed into a recession?...
East Riverside SubmarketLocated just minutes from the Austin Central Business District, Oracle's new campus, and the...
Mark: Today’s guest is an investor and President of Fidelity Business Partners in San Diego, a private equity firm focused on multifamily investing. He has over 20 years’ experience, he’s the host of the We Build Apartment Communities Podcast, and has been a member of the International Economic Honor Society since 1997. I’d like to welcome John Bracket.
John: I feel like I’m getting ready to run through a tunnel with that introduction. It just sounded so cool, man.
Mark: Oh good.
John: First of all, I’d like to say, I really appreciate you inviting me to your show and look forward to having a conversation with you and also your audience. And, my hope is that I can bring some value to the audience and ideally some great lessons learned that they can immediately apply to their business.
Mark: Cool. I’m excited as well. It seems like you and I have quite a bit in common. We’re both journey men investors been at this awhile and we’re both in Southern California.
John: Yes. Southern Cal man. I always say San Diego is a hard place not to love.
Mark: Not to love. I love going down there. I take the train down there to go to Comic-Con every year. We have a panel there and its fun going downtown in LA and getting on the train and the train is packed with people going to Comic-Con. And so, it’s a big party and it’s a good time.
John: Next time you’re down here, reach out, we’ll connect and do some things have some fun down here.
Mark: Alright. That sounds great. How did you get started? I’m curious to see how did you get into the industry?
John: So, I started off in commercial banking, finance commercial real estate back when I was in commercial banking, which was quite some time ago, the way that our division was set up. And I worked for some very large banks and for some small banks, but when I first started, I started off in sales as a business development person. My role at the time was to go out and find businesses that generated between a million and $20 million in annual revenue.
And my job was to sell them into the bank, write for their deposit dollars. And then also help them with loans. The loans were the sticky product. Businesses needed loans to grow, working capital. So that’s how I started. And what was really interesting I was in banking for about 10 years doing that.
And back then they put you through training and taught you how to underwrite. So, I could sit down with a customer and look at their tax returns. Their P and L, their balance sheet. And I had a really good grasp of what we were able to do for them capital wise. And I got really good at the balance sheet side of the business through that experience.
Mark: Right. Commercial lending.
John: But when I was in banking, one of the things that stood out to me was probably 90% of our very high net worth customers. Their wealth came from real estate.
Mark: Really. Okay.
John: And so, I never forgot that it became over that 10-year period, I probably interacted with a couple thousand customers and underwritten couple hundred loans. That was just really fascinating to see what industries were successful, what industries weren’t, why businesses were successful, why businesses weren’t and then also learning from the successful business owners. And then also recognizing that a lot of the folks that were extraordinarily wealthy, that the bulk of their wealth, probably 80% or so came through real estate. And that really opened my eyes. And it kept me down that path.
So, when 2008, 2009 came, my wife, she was the president of a commercial real estate as well. So, we’d have bumped into each other in the industry. And, real estate that’s what we knew. That’s what we felt comfortable with. So, when 2008 came, we both said, Hey, look, I told my wife, we have to be all in. We have to be all in this industry right now. So, we transitioned. And that’s really how we started.
Mark: Did you had the downturn of 2008 already started?
John: We were right in the middle of it.
Mark: You were in the middle of it. You were dealing with it as a commercial lender. Is that true?
John: No, I was dealing with it as a brand-new business owner, brand new investor.
Mark: As a brand-new investor? Okay. So, wow. Tricky time. How did that go?
John: Again, it was a challenging time, but it was also a very unique time. My wife was eight months pregnant with our second daughter. We just moved into a house. We sold one prior and then we moved into a house in Carlsbad. There was definitely some pressure, but the pressure was good because I think it sharpened me and it really focused me on performing. Because I had no choice.
My family, I think my oldest daughter at the time was four or five years old and my wife was eight months pregnant with our second daughter. So, it was definitely some challenging times for sure. But the risk has proven to be rewarding.
Mark: If you were able to navigate out of that downturn, you must have done well. One thing right before you started, I was thinking to myself, I didn’t get out here to California until around 2000. That’s when I moved out from the Midwest and the East Coast and everyone that I know in LA who invests in real estate. And I’ve gotten to know that community everyone’s envious of whoever started investing in LA in the mid-nineties.
Because there was like the triple crown of bad things happened in LA. In the early nineties, there was the ’91 recession. Then there were the riots and then there was the earthquake and those three things just pummeled values in LA. And so, LA real estate prices were rock bottom in ’95, ’96. And I know a small handful of people who started back then and they all now have like a thousand units in LA and what they paid back then.
It was just quite simply the best time to get into the market in LA. And I wonder, was San Diego impacted? So, you guys didn’t feel the earthquake? You guys didn’t have the riots, but you experienced the ’91 recession?
John: I don’t remember if we felt the earthquake or not. I just don’t remember that personally. I do remember the riots. I do remember the earthquakes in LA, but my focus really wasn’t real estate at that time. As an owner operator, my wife and I, we started buying real estate probably in 2003, 2004. And for us though, our first purchase was home. And then of course we started improving our home and renovating it.
And that was our first experience or exposure to real estate. I think when I first bought our first property, I don’t remember. I was 25 years old, maybe 24 years old. That was our first purchase. Of course, I’m not 25 years old now, but that’s how we started. That was our exposure to real estate. And then of course through my experiences in banking, we started down a path of investing.
Mark: Sure. That’s smart, you guys were ahead of the curve on that stuff. So, what did your first couple investment properties look like? Were they in Southern California?
John: Yes. In fact, they all were in San Diego. I think we did in San Diego. We started flipping properties because that’s really what the market was. I think that was the best opportunity at the time that the market was offering for us. There was just a lot of product on the market prices were very inexpensive considering the cash that we had available.
Fortunately, I built up a good reputation in banking with clients that I helped. So, when I left, fortunately, they were willing to invest with me.
John: That was a unique opportunity.
Mark: Sure. Yes great.
John: In fact, one of my very first partners was my CPA. And so, I always tell them, Hey, I appreciate you having that kind of confidence in me to put money behind me.
John: Especially in 2008, when people were literally scared out of their mind like how they are today. That was a unique opportunity for me because I started raising money back then.
John: In a down market. And so, we were able to take that money, that cash and use that to purchase single-family properties. And I think we did over a hundred properties or so.
John: Yes. From 2008 to right around 2014, as we were flipping these properties, I knew that market was not going to be as lucrative. We were buying stuff, 30, 40, 50% margin. And so, we were able to build up a decent amount of cash.
John: But then I also understood from banking that, we have to be able to hold some of these assets because the market’s not always going to be this great. You have more people entering in the market right now, competing away profits competing away margins. So, we started buying and holding properties and there was no real science to it at the time. Usually for every five properties that we flipped; we would hold one of them.
Mark: Try to hold onto one.
John: The best one, one of the best locations that I felt was cash flow rich. And at the time we were financing those assets with private money. And eventually, I was really, really particular about how we capitalize those properties, making sure that they were profitable, keeping them low leverage because just with my banking background and of course, making sure the amount of credit was really strong.
So that when we came into a market where I can refinance all those properties, which I did with cheap bank money, they started cash flowing exceptionally well. And that gave us the breathing room to be able to take on larger projects. That’s kind of the transition.
Mark: That’s huge. And it dawns on me as you’re talking that your experience in a commercial lending world was a huge asset for you. I think a lot of real estate investors, there’s an assumption that it’s mainly your investment. You picking a property and underwriting the property and then buying the property. And then the next thing you have to do is manage it.
But a huge piece of the puzzle is financing. And like you said, to maintain impeccable credit and to understand how to finance and look for the best possible financing because the financing could change a deal that doesn’t make any sense. But if you get a great loan, it could suddenly make sense, make a lot of sense.
John: That’s a great point. Financing can be a huge advantage. And I spent a lot of time really structuring deals. And that’s my strength putting together great deals and putting together great capital structures. I think that enhance the opportunity and you’re right. When the time came where banks were lending again and money got cheap. 30-year fixed mortgages on single-family, residential product, it turned into a really good cashflow stream for us.
But the other side of that too is now we had currency. Now we had currency, meaning we had equity that I could leverage. And to this day I’ve never taken any cash out of my properties. Not one time.
Mark: Really. Okay.
John: I mean our entire portfolio, including our apartments are probably no more than 30% leverage.
Mark: Okay. So, you hate on the mortgage and you don’t refinance to pull out cash.
John: I just don’t see the need to do that. Think about this. Equity is currency, especially here in the United States. The question is how do you access that equity? And so, I always wanted to keep a low leverage portfolio because I felt I was pretty good at accessing that equity. I understood how to make it work for us. And I use a lot of it for bridge financing with my own projects, or I even lend that money out to other people on their projects.
So, right now, for example, I have about $430,000 of loans outstanding that hopefully I get paid back on. That’s worked for us, it’s worked for me. And again, we had currency, once we put together that portfolio and we started growing it, we had currency. So, what I mean by that is one of the things that people don’t think about, with really large apartment buildings. I’m really grateful that we started that way is you’re not going to get too many banks that are going to give you a line of credit.
Say for example, you have a $10 million apartment building. And in that apartment building, you have said it’s 50% loan to value. You’re not going to find too many banks are going to give you a million-dollar line of credit behind a 5 million first. It’s just not going to happen. There’s too much risk for the bank. They don’t see that as a make sense investment for them. But you will have banks that are willing to give you, for example, a million-dollar line behind a bunch of smaller properties that are low leveraged.
Mark: Sure. What form does it take? The equity lines?
John: Commercial bank, they’re just going to give you a line of credit against your equity.
John: And so, for me, that’s proven to be a good strategy because now I can purchase stuff without having to worry about syndicating or bringing partners into that transaction. I can take it down now and then capitalize it later. Replace my line of credit with equity, from investors at a later date.
Mark: Right. You could pay it off. That’s the nice thing I do with my single-family. I have a couple of single-family and then the rest is multifamily. And my model with multifamily is I buy it and then add value for the first couple years. And then I refi, unlike what you’re doing, I pull out equity after two or three years of my significant value-add. And then I’ll probably redeploy that cash on another building, but with my home and I have another place up in Big Bear on the Lake. You go to Big Bear at all?
John: I do. Actually, I love Big Bear.
Mark: I love Big Bear. I combined those two and got up pretty sizeable. ELOC, equity line of credit. So yes, there are two instruments. Two different ways to handle your equity and be able to use it.
John: And it’s just currency. It’s currency.
John: You being able to access equity. Essentially, you’re liquidating that equity to deploy it inside of other opportunity.
Mark: If you see an opportunity.
John: Yes. The key to financing is you want to make sure that you marry up the financing to whatever the term of that opportunity is. And so, equity lines for us has really just allowed us to take down opportunities quicker without having to worry about raising money. And we can do that at a later date. I even did that for some apartment buildings that we purchased out of state right in Texas.
And so that was very opportunistic deal. I was able to take that down with a loan, use the equity line for the down payment. And then, I replaced that equity line with partner capital at a later date. And they work really well.
Mark: Great. Where in Texas were you?
John: That deal was in Houston.
John: I like Houston, man.
John: Even with the oil scare,
Host: If you’re enjoying the show, please do us an easy favor and hit the subscribe button. As a listener I always wonder why podcast hosts are always begging me to subscribe and rate them. Well, now that I’m on the other side, I see why. It allows other listeners to find you in an era of unprecedented hype over real estate investing. My goal is to be a truth-teller. Real estate is not as easy as it’s made out to be, but you can do it. If you can get past the hype and get to the truth.
My aim is for this show to help with that. And if you’d like to learn more about who we are and what we do at quantum capital, please visit our website at quantumcapitalinc.com where you can find podcast episodes, multifamily resources, and learn about opportunities to invest with us. Anyway, let’s get back to the show.
Mark: So, you have a lot of single family throughout 2008. Was that challenging time? Obviously single-family across the country was having issues. We had the lending challenges back then, did your portfolio do okay or some of them were a challenge to manage through that crisis?
John: No. It was not at all. In fact, everything that we have performed really well then, and it’s performing exceptionally well now right now we don’t have any vacancy.
John: Between the projects that we have. We have close to 160 units and we don’t have any vacancy right now.
Mark: Wow. That’s great.
John: And we’re at a 99% collection rate. So, between the single-family departments they’re really, really good performance. So, I’ve over the years, have really seen the value of rental housing, but I also like the blend because I’ve even used single-family homes as down payments on purchases.
Now I have to give credit to that for one of my really good friends. Also, someone that sits on my advisory board, his name is Michael Webster and he used to be the president of the national council of exchangers. That guy in that group of people have taught me so much about deal structuring. And that’s one of the reasons why I love to maintain single-family homes in our portfolio because I’ve used them for down payments on other purchases.
Mark: That’s fascinating. You must have been a savvy investor and skilled operator and probably it was attributable to some of your conservative leverage approach that allowed you to navigate 2008, that downturn, without any kind of issues.
John: That’s a really great point right back then, just because that environment was really unique, it was opportunistic, but also very unique. And so, just from my banking experiences and seeing people get in trouble from being over leveraged, I think that’s what really drove that.
Mark: You sought.
John: There was a downside to that. The tax consequence. You’re really not getting probably all the depreciation that you probably could be taking advantage of, but when you buy larger assets, you buy larger apartment buildings with larger basis. We start making it up there.
Mark: Okay, sure. What are you doing now?
John: So right now, my strategy has been for the last three years to buy out of state for cash flow and to build in high density markets like San Diego.
Mark: Okay. So, you’re building?
John: Yes. In San Diego, we are.
Mark: Oh nice.
John: Even in this market, we’re working through some plans, we have a small 6-unit project near Cal state, San Marcos and a hundred-unit project near downtown San Diego.
John: And, I think that’s going to be a great project when it’s finished that’s going to be one that we want to keep in our portfolio hopefully.
Mark: A portfolio. Hold on to that one. Yeah. Downtown San Diego.
John: So that one, is going to require a lot of time and energy, but I think the upside and just the fact that it’s in San Diego where it’s located, it should be a really good long-term opportunity. And then, the stuff that we’re looking for out of State of course is just value-add product.
VC apartment buildings in ideally communities where there’s some progress. And, we look for value-add opportunities. Usually the most of what we buy they’re either just because of our construction backgrounds. Ideally there’s either deferred maintenance. Sometimes it’s been extreme, deferred maintenance, sometimes it’s light, but in most cases, the projects have been underperforming or they’re being under managed to some degree.
One of the great things that has come out of just our purchasing out of state has been starting up our own management company, property management company. And just because of some of the experiences that we’ve had with third-party managers, we made a decision to do that almost three years ago now. And that was one of the best decisions we ever made.
Mark: Really. Alright. Because we’re doing the same thing right now. We’re considering taking it in house.
John: Yes, we did. And I think there’s a huge advantage to doing that. Because I think it makes you smarter as a buyer as well because you really understand your metrics a lot better makes you a smarter underwriter, I think with that information. But also, I really believe that there’s highly unlikely that we would have the kind of occupancy that we do right now in this market if it was with a third party.
Mark: If you were leaving it up to somebody else to rent.
John: I just don’t see that happening. Not that it can’t, I just don’t see us having the same results that we do or that we would, as we do right now.
Mark: Sure. Nobody’s going to care about your properties more than you. Honestly, we’ve been wrestling with that and I’ve been wondering like, will I regret it? Like, will I take management in house and then will it just suck up all the time? Well, I wish I had, just delegated it to a third party, but that’s good to hear.
John: We have a really good team and fortunately we made the decision to operate remotely then.
John: The vision that I set for my team after the challenges that we went through, I said, okay, look, what we’re going to do now is we’re going to build a management company out in such a way that we can operate remotely from anywhere in the country.
Mark: Okay. Sure.
John: So, when COVID-19 hit, we were already virtual. We were doing everything that people are doing today. Not everything, majority. We had virtual tours. We were doing–
John: –that process about two years ago.
John: We got really good at operating virtually at using VA’s. At using local talent and the combination and managing teams remote with Zoom. I’m a huge proponent and management company.
Mark: Did you have multiple properties concentrated in your different markets? What markets were you? And you mentioned Houston, are there other markets as well?
John: Right now, for us, it’s San Diego and Houston. And of course, just the sub-markets within the Houston area.
John: The reason why I want to stay rooted in those markets is I just think that they’re a really good compliment against each other San Diego tenant profile, very different. The job base is very different in terms of the diversity of jobs and talent and tenant profile and in Houston, depending on where you are, that changes as well.
But the idea being is, you pursued cashflow in one market and in San Diego you get lower cap rate market, but you get of course more appreciation. Some of the regulatory laws around rent control now, may impact that slightly. But for us, that’s been a really good way to diversify our portfolio.
And so, I want to stick to that. There are some other markets right now that I’ve been researching for quite some time and that I really like, but I think I’m going to be a little bit more patient and just find the right opportunity to enter those markets and we’ll do it then.
Mark: I think that’s smart what you’re doing is having one market that’s optimal for cash flow, but I think also, a lot of investors pursuing cashflow miss out on great, vibrant powerhouse economic markets that are going to be expensive. It’s the law of, location, location, location.
If you’re going to the best locations, in many ways, it’s the best place to invest in real estate. But the cash flow is down because cash flow is a function of demand and where demand is high and the cashflow is going to be low, but I fumbled into it, not really deliberately, but discovered that, you could buy without a lot of cashflow and then make huge gains from appreciation when you’re in one of these coastal markets.
John: For me, cashflow, it’s really interesting. You hear this phrase that cash is King cash is really not King but cash flow is because cash flow is reoccurring, right?
John: And I just wanted to make sure that we built out a portfolio that was producing reoccurring cash and for me, that’s really where the wealth building machine gets created. It’s in building a portfolio of reoccurring cash flow.
Mark: Cash line.
John: And the markets that are lower cap markets, high density markets like San Diego, there’s still a lot of opportunity there. But I think now we can play in those markets a lot more competitively. Because I’m able to take on more risks. Because we have the cash flow to be able to do that. That was the thought process behind it. You have to create a business that is producing cash for me to be able to take on more risk in other areas.
John: So that was really the idea behind it.
Mark: Cool. So, who’s on your team?
John: Oh, that’s a good question. So, let’s see there’s myself. I have an underwriter. I have an operations manager on the property management side. Two VA’s, I have a CPA who’s really, really good doing all of our accounting. And then we have some folks that are on the ground at our assets, in the different sub markets that we’re in.
Mark: In your remote, your long-distance targets Houston?
John: We have a really good team there. Some attorneys that I’ve worked with over many years. So, I don’t have one attorney. Over the years I’ve built out a list of really good attorneys that I use for very specific things. Of course, we have an attorney for our various partnership structures that we put together. I have an attorney that I’ve worked with over many years, strictly for employment related stuff.
We have a law firm that we just retained out in Texas that can do most of the work that I described. But most of what we run into is either going to be employee related or it’s going to be partnership related. Like corporate document related type stuff. Or now, the world that we live in now, the world is syndications. That’s really the buzzword out there. Having an attorney that really just specializes in that. And that’s been very useful as well.
Mark: Who were the principals, do you run your company yourself or do you have one or two other key partners?
John: We don’t have any partners. I don’t have any partners.
Mark: You don’t have any partners it’s you?
John: And that’s the value of cashflow. That’s the other thing. That’s a great conversation, maybe a topic of another day, but over the years I’ve interacted. I’ve been in a lot of different partnership structures.
John: On projects. But I was really clear that if I wanted to build something long-term. Something that would last something that I felt we can mild into something great I had to be able to set the vision for that company. And so that’s the other reason why when I started buying the driver was cash flow so that I wanted to remain in control of our vision. But now we work with partners on other projects. But as far as the parent company, we do not have any partners in that company, but we partner with people in different capacities on different projects.
Mark: And how do you go about raising funds? So, you syndicate now and you still raise money for most projects that you do. And if so, what are your techniques?
John: Yes. The last couple of projects we purchased with our own capital, this development, and working through the planning process with our own capital, but as for an answer. It’s yes. Real estate. We’re not buying vacuum cleaners. So, we definitely need to partner with great partners.
John: Fortunately, over the years, my partners have followed me and they’re great folks. Many of them, have kids right now going into elementary school, middle school, high school, even college. So, it’s been really cool to evolve with my partner investors and yeah. For some projects that are very large and significant, for sure you don’t want to partner with people that are the right fit for what we do and who we are.
John: I think that’s one of the great things. One of the things that I’ve learned over the years, Mark is that capital is not just about the money. Capital has a form behind it. Capital has a personality behind it. One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned over the years is to make sure that it’s really not just about the money, it’s about the relationship and the people behind the capital. What are the other elements that they can contribute to our business? Because capital has a personality behind it. And I always want to make sure that it’s the right fit for who we are and what we do.
Mark: And the right fit for them too.
John: Really, it has to be the right fit for them. But I’ve learned that if the people behind the money share our vision of building great apartment communities and improving how people live, that’s usually a really good start because I think one of the reasons why our communities are so profitable, and this again is part of that vision that I talked about. We’re really clear about that vision inside of our company. And so, I can communicate that to my teams without any dilution.
Mark: That’s great. And everybody knows your purpose and knows your mission.
John: Yes. What’s really interesting. This is more of a leadership topic. Topic for another day, but leadership is huge in this business and it took me a while to figure that out. It took me really quite some time.
Mark: That’s great. It seems like you’re very clear on your company’s mission, your company’s purpose, and everybody shows up, not just waiting for their pay check and seeing how much counting the numbers on it. So, I have something called multifamily psychotherapy.
John: Let’s do it, man.
Mark: What’s a trait you possess that has served you best both in real estate and in life.
John: I think maybe one of my strong suits, is one I love people, but I just love putting together deals. Structuring deals, I think is one of my strengths. I think problem solving is probably a really strong one, which leads to, structuring deals. But problem-solving would be one deal structure too.
Mark: Cool. I like it. Is there a trait that you feel like you need to work on that is holding you back?
John: Oh gosh. There’s.
Mark: What do you think is the biggest one that you want to make a concerted effort to improve?
John: For me, it’s really making sure that every day I show up with the awareness. That I don’t live a one-dimensional life. As people were designed really to live a full life in all areas. I call it a four-dimensional life.
Mark: What are your four?
John: My four is my health, my fitness, my faith, my family. And then what I call my franchise, which is my business.
Mark: That’s great. And it leads into the next thing is like, how important is mindset to your success?
John: Mindset is really important. You know what I just described is a mindset.
John: It’s a huge mindset because it’s a massive commitment.
Mark: I agree. Awesome. So, are you ready for our question round?
John: Let’s do it, man. Let’s do it. Alright. Here it goes.