How Do Passive Investors Make Money in Apartment Syndications?
Passive investing is one of the best ways to receive the benefits of owning a large apartment building without the time commitment, funding the entire project or obtaining the expertise require to create and execute a business plan.
A passive investor might not see the same returns as an active investor who is finding, qualifying and closing on an apartment building use their own capital and overseeing the business plan through its successful completion. But compared to other passive investment vehicles, like stocks, bonds or REITs, apartment syndications cannot be beat (assuming the passive investor has found the right general partnership and qualified their team).
The returns offered to the limited partner (i.e. the passive investors) vary from general partner to general partner. Before making the commitment to invest, the limited partners (referred to as the LP hereafter) should understand the general partner’s (referred to as the GP hereafter) partnership structure, which includes the type of investment structure and how the returns are distributed.
Typically, a passive investor is either an equity investor or a debt investor in an apartment syndication. In this blog post, I will outline these two investment structures and the types of return structures for each.
Of the two main types of investment structures, being an equity investor is the most profitable, because they participate in the upside of the deal. However, they typically will not receive their initial equity investment until the sale of the apartment.
The equity investor is offered an ongoing return, as well as a portion of the profits at sale. Generally, after the operating expenses and debt service are paid, the a portion of the remaining cash flow is distributed to the LP. For some partnership structures, the GP will take an asset management fee before distributing returns to the LPs. I do not like this approach since it decreases the alignment of interest because the GP receives payment before the LP. So, my company puts our asset management fee in second position to the LP returns (which means we don’t get an asset management fee until we’ve paid the LP).
The most common ongoing return is called a preferred return. The preferred return ranges from 2% to 12% annually based on the experience of the GP and their team, the risk factors of the project and the investment strategy. The less experience and the more risk, the higher the returns. In regards to the preferred returns associated with the three main apartment syndication investment strategies, the GP will offer the highest percentage for distressed apartments and the lowest percentage for turnkey apartments, with value-add apartments falling somewhere in-between.
For example, on a highly distressed apartment deal, the GP may offer a 12% preferred return. However, since the deal will likely have a lower or no return during the stabilization period, the preferred return would accrue and be paid out to the LP in one lumpsum. For turnkey apartments, the preferred return will fall towards the lower end of the range because, since the apartment is already stabilized and minimal value can be added, there is less risk. For value-add apartments, the typical preferred return that is offered to the LP is 8%.
Conversely, the GP may not offer a preferred return but a profit split instead. For example, 70% of the cash flow is distributed to the LP and the remaining 30% to the LP. However, I do not like this structure for the same reason why I don’t like putting the asset management fee ahead the LP returns – a reduction in alignment of interest. Therefore, the GP will usually offer a preferred return and the remaining cash flow is split between the LP and GP.
This remaining profit split can range from 90/10 (i.e. 90% to the LP, 10% to the GP) to 50/50. A common variation on the profit split will include hurdles, using return factors like the internal rate of return (referred to as IRR hereafter) or cash-on-cash return. For example, the LP is offered an 8% preferred return and the remaining profits are split 70/30. But, once the LP receives a 13% IRR, the profit split drops to 50/50.
The equity investor also participates in the upside of the deal, which means they are offered a portion of the sales proceeds.
The most common equity structure for value-add apartment deals is an 8% preferred return with a 50/50 LP/GP profit split. The next most common equity structure is an 8% preferred return with a 70/30 LP/GP profit split until the LP IRR passes a certain threshold (10% to 20% is the standard range), at which point the remaining profits are split 50/50.
Of the two main types of investment structures, being a debt investor is the least profitable. However, the lower profitability comes with a lower risk. Once the GP pays operating expenses and debt service, the remaining cash flow must go to distributing the fixed interest rate to the debt investor. However, unlike the preferred return offered an equity investor, if the GP is unable to pay the fixed interest rate (assuming they are still able to cover the operating expenses and debt service), the debt investor can take control of the property. Hence, less risk.
Unlike the equity investor, the debt investor doesn’t participate in the upside of the deal. Instead, they are offered a fixed interest rate until the GP is able to return 100% of their investment.
Similar to the preferred return, the interest rate that is offered to a debt investor is based on the GP’s experience, the risk factors associated with the project and investment strategy. However, since there is an overall reduced risk involved with being a debt investor, the interest rate is typically lower than what the preferred return would be for a similar project.
Another difference between equity and debt investors is that debt investors will typically receive their capital back before the apartment is sold, which generally occurs after a refinance or securing a supplemental loan. A supplemental loan is a financing option that is secured on top of the existing financing on the property that is typically available 12-months after closing the initial loan.
What’s a Better Passive Investment?
Like any investment, the best partnership structure is based on the passive investor’s goals. For those looking for a low-risk investment vehicle to park their money for a few years while receiving a fixed return that beats inflation, then becoming a debt investor may be more appealing. For those looking for an investment vehicle that offers a higher ongoing return (although not guaranteed) and the potential for a large lumpsum profit at sale, then being an equity investor may be more appealing. And of course, diversifying between the two structures is also an option!
Want to learn more about passively investing in apartment syndications? Visit the Best Ever Passive Investor Resources page, the only comprehensive resource available to passive investor.
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