When I first started raising money from investors to purchase apartment communities, as long as the individual was interested in a passive investment and met the accredited qualifications, I accepted their capital without hesitation. And if you are just launching your syndication career, perhaps you’re doing the same. However, as you begin to gain experience and your list of private investors grows, it is beneficial to be aware of the red flags that may indicate the potential for future disputes and, if necessary, to not add or remove the investor from future new investment offering correspondences.
To understand these red flags, it is first important to define the ideal syndicator/passive investor relationship. The typical life cycle of an apartment syndication is 5 years. Therefore, when forming a relationship of this length, I want a passive investor who both trusts me as a person and treats me as a partner, as opposed to considering me as their vendor. Based on my experience from hundreds of accredited investor conversations and completing more than ten apartment syndications, I’ve found that there are two main factors that indicate to me that our relationship will not meet these requirements.
Red Flag 1 – Contempt
A famous study published in 1998 by marriage researcher John Gottman videotaped newlywed couples discussing a controversial topic for 15 minutes with the purpose of measuring how the fought over it. Then, three to six years later, Gottman and his team checked in on these couples’ marital status – were they together or were they divorced? As a result, they determined that they could predict with an 83% accuracy if newlywed couples would divorce. The study found that there are four major emotional reactions that are destructive to marriages and of the four, contempt is the strongest.
If there is contempt in a marriage, it will not last. And I believe that the same applies to business relationships. According to Dictionary.com, contempt is the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving of scorn.
How I identify contempt is based on my initial gut reaction. Do I get the feeling that this person sees me as an equal and as a partner? Or do they look down on me and see me as a vendor? For example, I recently had an email correspondence with a potential investor. He led off the conversation by saying, “My standards are high. My patience for slick marketing is low.” Then, after I provided him some information about my company, including past case studies of the returns I provided to my investors, his reply was, “So what I need to hear is why do some deals with you as opposed to (the company with which he currently invests)?” I felt that this individual’s replies had traces of contempt and politely explained that we wouldn’t be a good fit. If I was earlier on in my career, I would have likely brought this individual on as a partner, but since I already have strong relationships with my current investors, I didn’t find the potential issues worth pursuing the relationship any further.
If you are having a conversation with an investor and your gut is telling you that this person holds you in contempt, I would consider passing on the relationship. To set the relationship up for success, only work with investors who treat you as an equal and who want a mutually beneficial partnership.
Red Flag 2 – Lots of accusatory questions that don’t convey that they trust me
The second red flag I’ve come across is when a potential investor asks a laundry list of questions in an accusatory tone. For example, I have an investor who literally sends me a list of 50 or more questions that are written in an accusatory fashion for every new investment offering. After taking the time to answer each question on multiple deals, they have yet to invest. Because they are asking questions in that manner, regardless of my answer, they will still be suspicious.
An important distinction to make here is that I have no issue with my investors sending me a list of questions, no matter how long. In fact, that is encouraged, because the more information I can provide about the deal, the more confidence they will have in the investment. The red flag is when the questions are asked in an accusatory manner. That conveys that they don’t have trust in me and that they’ll likely never invest in a deal. At the end of the day, the key to a successful, long-term relationship is trust, and when my instincts are telling me that there is a lack of trust, I decide to no longer pursue the relationship.
The two red flags to look for when having conversations with investors is contempt and the asking of a long list of questions in an accusatory tone that conveys that they don’t trust me.
Keep in mind that both these factors are highly subjective. Each syndicator and each investor has a different personality and will get along with different types of people. Just because you get the feeling that someone holds you in contempt or asks questions in an accusatory tone does not mean that they are a bad person. However, what it does indicate is that you will have an issue connecting in such a way that builds a relationship that is capable of surviving the course of a syndication deal. So, if either of these red flags arise, be polite, but strongly consider not working with that investor on your apartment deal.
If you have had a rocky business relationship in the past that came to an unfortunate end, what did you identify as the cause?
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