In the early 2000s, Jamie Gruber was like many other new real estate investments. At the time, zero-down financing was easy to find, and few people were putting up red flags about a possible market crash. Gruber jumped at the chance to enter the market with an 80% loan followed up by a 20% second lien. While some people who purchased property only a few years before the recession hit in full force were unscathed, Gruber was one of the many people who were burned. Nonetheless, he gained valuable insight from his first deal. He recently joined us to share what he has learned.
Jumping In at the Wrong Time
When Gruber purchased his first single-family home in 2005, housing prices in New York were rising quickly, and Gruber was eager to get his feet wet. Because he did not make a down payment, he had minimal equity in the property when the housing market crashed three short years later. At the same time, housing prices in New York plummeted. Gruber’s employer relocated him to Boston, and he was not in a position to either sell the home or to live in it. Essentially, he was forced to ride out the market as a landlord. Thankfully, the rental rate was sufficient to cover the property’s expenses.
Developing a Larger Perspective
While some people who have had a poor investing experience may be averse to making future investments, Jamie Gruber had a different perspective. Despite being saddled with this property for several years at a very inopportune time, he and his wife decided to buy a fix-and-flip home in Boston. They turned a reasonable profit on it, and this encouraged Gruber to look at other real estate investments. Their next two properties were two-unit multifamily rentals in New York, and they were successful investments despite being located in another state.
Through these experiences, Gruber regained a sense of comfort and even excitement about the lucrative potential of the market. Gruber saw the potential for investing in multi-unit properties. However, he was not keen on slowly building a portfolio of two-unit properties. The path to giving up his W-2 job could be traveled more quickly if he made larger commercial real estate investments.
Finding the Right Deal
Gruber learned his lesson from his first deal. After he decided to lean into commercial real estate, he spent time educating himself before he started looking for a property. Then, he waited for the right deal to come along. The property that he ultimately invested in had incredible upside potential with rates that had not been raised in years. Its elderly owners were eager to sell, and they had perhaps not run it as well as they could have over the last several years. Gruber and his partner purchased the 16-unit apartment complex near Ann Arbor for $750,000 with a 7% cap rate.
This particular property had more upside potential than Gruber initially realized. In addition to being able to raise rents after taking ownership, he was able to collect revenue from pet rents, storage fees, the laundry facility, and more. At the same time, Gruber was able to slash many operating expenses that had gotten out of hand. Nonetheless, this property also had an expensive learning curve.
Gruber had the insight not to raise rents on established tenants sharply. He had a rent escalation plan that would slowly get the units up to market rents without potentially creating a vacancy issue unnecessarily. However, the repair costs that Gruber estimated upfront were significantly below the actual cost. In addition, some of the materials that they thought could be salvaged ultimately had to be scrapped, and labor was much higher than he anticipated. Gruber ultimately put approximately $5,000 per unit into the upgrading and updating costs, and this was more than he was prepared for.
Creating His Own Opportunities
Before Gruber found this great investment opportunity, he struggled to get real estate agents to give him and his partner the full attention that they needed. They decided to take matters into their own hands and make something happen. To create a great network of investor contacts and industry professionals, the pair established a multifamily meetup group and a Facebook group. This is how they stumbled upon their 16-unit project, and it is also how they met the other pair of investors who are working with them on their new apartment deal.
This new project is a 22-unit project located in Cleveland. While Gruber will be a remote or hands-off investor, one of the partners will be on-site and responsible for the day-to-day operations. This is one of the reasons why Gruber feels comfortable taking this project on as his second multifamily investment property. Notably, this 22-unit property may also come with a learning curve as the seller has not provided them with solid records.
In hindsight, Gruber says that his best advice for new investors is to network. This is how he found his most recent investment opportunities as well as his partners. Without networking, Gruber would not be in the position that he is in today.