Good deals are the result of a healthy pipeline, and the quality of your portfolio is a direct reflection of that pipeline. Systems and processes work well to load and clear your opportunity set. However, you need to be looking to the right deal sources to ensure a consistent flow.
The real estate transaction business has a very low entry barrier. Most states require a relatively easy test to get a license. This allows you to transact on anything from an apartment lease to a $100 million hotel. Very few people have the technical abilities and relationships to arrange high quality deals even though they have the legal qualifications.
Transaction intermediaries provide a variety of services to buyers and sellers. Brokers earn a fee for facilitating transactions. Listing brokers represent owners in the sale of their property. Selling brokers represent the buyer in acquisition of a property.
Listing brokers are behind the comprehensive sales and marketing process in disposing a deal. They control the property via an exclusive listing agreement with the seller, who agrees to pay the broker a success fee for the sale of their property. This is the most favorable transaction process for the seller because it creates a market and forces buyers to compete in a controlled timeframe.
A selling broker’s mandate from an investor may be exclusive for a broad investment criterion or limited to a single deal. The buyer pays a success fee for the acquisition of a property. The most common example is the broker that opportunistically connects parties from their wide-ranging knowledge of who’s looking for deals in the market.
A robust investment pipeline accepts deals from both types of brokers. Some investors avoid selling brokers because experience has taught that it’s an uncertain path to getting control of the deal. However, many of the best off-market transactions only happen through these intermediaries; avoid them at your peril.
Different investment needs motivate each real estate owner, and their approach to deal making differs widely. That said, owners fall into three broad buckets – dinosaurs, professionals, and players.
Dinosaurs are owners with big portfolios built over time. They transact infrequently and hold for long periods. Publicly-traded REITs are a good example of dinosaurs at the institutional level. These owners control a large share of all real estate along the value scale. Dinosaurs take a long-view when considering a purchase or sale based on secular trends and how to redeploy the capital from a sale.
Professionals own a few assets, but their primary business is not real estate. High net worth professionals, like doctors, attorneys, and entrepreneurs, comprise this class in the private capital arena. On the institutional side, they may be big corporations that came to own real estate through a merger or legacy management decision.
Professionals are at the top of their game in their primary business, but they do not have the time or sophistication to bring that same energy to real estate. They transact opportunistically, and you usually benefit by hanging around the rim when they decide to move.
Finally, players are the people and companies whose business is real estate, and transactions fuel that business. Fix-and-flip is the most common strategy in this category, and high velocity is the driving characteristic in their portfolio. Players are opportunistic sellers. Therefore, a good relationship will go a long way to making off-market deals or pre-empting marketed deals.
Influential third parties are the most overlooked deal sources. They are usually conflicted in directly sourcing deals, but their capacity to expand your network and reach is unmatched.
Operational and asset service providers, like brand reps, attorneys, accountants, and contractors, work with the same people that you want to reach for making a deal. Further, they know the inside story of a property and whether it may be ready for transacting.
Acquisition teams are reluctant to spend time with these service providers because there is no clear link between making a deal from the relationship. Many on the other side have a similar approach, but they seem more open to the connection. Transparency is essential to making these relationships work. The following rules of engagement may help:
- Don’t lead them on – don’t pretend like you can hire them in your organization if you don’t have the authority or a need or desire for their service
- Be clear about your objectives to share leads
- Focus on providing mutual value
- Be a friend – a friendly face at industry events may be the most valuable thing you offer them
Now that you have a good idea about who you’re looking for, consider how you will find them.
Remember, people make deals, not companies. The company is a platform that enables and strengthens the rainmaker. The production happens through human-to-human interaction. Focus on the individuals responsible for connecting the dots to make a deal happen regardless of which group you’re targeting.
A good database that connects contacts to properties is a good place to start organizing the right people to identify deals that fit for you. This can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as complex as one of the many CRE database solutions. Whichever you choose, the database is only as valuable as the data it contains and your consistent use.
Start with property ownership information. Property tax appraiser offices in many states list ownership information online. Owners typically hold hotels in single purpose entity limited liability companies (LLC) to limit risk and shield their identity. The state’s Secretary of State office holds ownership information, which is often freely available depending on the state.
Many management companies have an ownership stake in the hotels they manage. They are also influential third parties to track down unique opportunities. Therefore, hospitality job search websites, like hospitalityonline.com, are unexpected sources of ownership and management information.
Finally, a comprehensive list of brokers in your target markets is essential for a steady flow of marketed opportunities. The big brokerage companies will usually have someone that touches hospitality on a regular basis, if not exclusively. You may even want to broaden your approach to discuss your needs with retail and office brokers that come across hotel deals occasionally.
We all know power networkers. They are the people that know everyone in the room. More importantly, they have good relationships with those people based on trust and mutual respect. The most visible among them are extroverted. However, introverts are sometimes more effective at building and maintaining these relationships.
Be a Friend
Networking feels slimy when you are getting your feet wet. You think it’s all about working the room and collecting business cards. Still, you realize that there’s not a lot of value in that approach when you take a step back and consider the implications.
The best networkers are friendly. They build relationships on understanding your needs and how they can serve you most effectively. This comes down to learning about the needs, desires, interests, and work and personal life of everyone you connect with. You can’t be an effective networker if you don’t know what drives the people in your network.
Don’t rush this. It takes time and multiple interactions to develop this kind of relationship.
Think about your best friend. How long have you been friends? Did you hit it off the first time you met? What experiences strengthened your friendship? Apply the same approach to networking, and you’re sure to slowly build concentric circles of reliable connections.
Use a System
Humans are social creatures, but our natural tribal tendencies break down past 150 connections. Unfortunately, it takes more than 150 connections to reliably fill a robust acquisitions pipeline. In fact, most high-performing brokers have between 1,000-1,500 connections that they consistently touch.
A system that incorporates contact notes, reminders, and automated outreach is essential to reaching this many people in a reliable way.
Brokers make their living on deals so their database is naturally larger than yours. You probably also have asset management and other closing responsibilities. Therefore, make it a goal to build a database of 500 deal sources – human beings that will deliver an investment opportunity.
Consistency is essential to a sustainable and self-propagating pipeline. You should be in front of these contacts at least once per quarter.
The first four contacts will go something like this:
- Month 0 – “Hi, nice to meet you. Thanks for telling me your story.” Forgotten very soon after you hang up the phone.
- Month 3 – “Oh yeah, your name does ring a bell. Remind me of your story.” Forgotten a week after you hang up the phone.
- Month 6 – “Thanks for staying in touch. I remember speaking with you.” Not easily forgotten, but no action steps for the next contact.
- Month 9 – “I appreciate your tenacity. I’ll keep you at top of mind for the next deal.” Clear action steps for the next contact – converted deal source from pull to push.
Early introductions are probably going to be rough. First impressions are important, but consistency and persistence are much more so. These deal sources hear from hundreds of acquisitions associates, and you only stand out by staying top of mind.
Elementary schools teach students to fill friends’ buckets drop-by-drop through little acts of kindness from your own bucket. Over time, you will have a reservoir of good will in each of your friends’ buckets. As a result, yours will be overflowing with the good will that comes back in return.
This is a tremendous lesson for business. Business people refer to it as social capital.
Everyone has something to contribute to a friendship. Your balance of trade is positive when you give something where the value to the other person is greater than to you. For example, a contractor may find enormous value in knowing that a hotel near you is planning a renovation, but that knowledge doesn’t do as much for you.
Consider how you will deliver value to everyone in your network. This could be as simple as sharing information, and it could be as involved as making a serious offer on a property. The most important aspect is knowing how to effectively fill the other person’s bucket.
Note, this is not a quid pro quo system. You are far more likely to get multiples in return if you adopt a giving mindset over matching or taking. However, givers must be careful to align with enough matchers to avoid being taken advantage of.