JF2085: Fake it Till You Make it With Aaron Fragnito
Aaron is the Co-Founder of Peoples Capital Group and the Host of New Jersey Real Estate Network. Aaron is someone who developed a plan to become a real estate investor and went after it right away. He shares his journey from no experience to a realtor, wholesaler, flipper, and now syndicator. He shares some of the mistakes he made with management companies and how he is able to keep his 4 core investors even when he was making mistakes to now 30 investors.
Aaron Fragnito Real Estate Background:
- Co-Founder of Peoples Capital Group (PCG)
- The host of New Jersey Real Estate Network
- A Licensed NJ Realtor and a Full-time real estate investor.
- He has Completed over 250 real estate transactions, totaling more than $40M, Fixed & Flipped over 50 houses, wholesale 100+ properties, and Manages an 8 Figure Portfolio of Private Real Estate holdings
- PCG Works with qualified investors to create passive returns through local commercial real estate.
- Say hi to him at: https://www.peoplescapitalgroup.com/
- Best Ever Book: Mel Robbins books
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Best Ever Tweet:
“I am always educating” – Aaron Fragnito
Theo Hicks: Hello, Best Ever listeners, and welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Theo Hicks, today’s host, and today we are speaking with Aaron Fragnito. Aaron, how are you doing today?
Aaron Fragnito: Very good, Theo. How are you doing today?
Theo Hicks: I’m doing great, thanks for joining us. Looking forward to learning more about what you’ve got going on. Before we get into that, let’s talk about Aaron’s background. So he’s a co-founder of Peoples Capital Group, PCG. He’s the host of New Jersey Real Estate Network and is a licensed realtor in New Jersey as well as a full-time real estate investor. He has completed over 250 real estate transactions totaling more than $40 million. This is included over 50 fix and flips, over 100 wholesales, and he currently manages an eight-figure portfolio of private real estate holdings. PCG also works with qualified investors to create passive returns through local, commercial real estate. You can learn more about his company at peoplescapitalgroup.com. So Aaron, do you mind telling us a little bit more about your background and what you’re focused on today?
Aaron Fragnito: Sure. So I got started in real estate about ten years ago. Initially I was turned on to do it by Rich Dad, Poor Dad, of course. I’m sure everyone says that same story. I hear it all the time. So I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad around senior year of high school. I was an entrepreneur, major at Rowan University, wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I figured I did have a passion for real estate, and after reading that book, I recognized that the tax code is actually in favor of people who pay themselves through ownership of real estate. So I figured that out, and then I started reading David Lindell and Trump University, and I think I even looked into some Joe Fairless stuff at the time.
About ten years ago, Joe was getting started, the syndication space was really new then as well. So I knew I want to own a lot of real estate and want to make passive cash flow throughout, but just didn’t know how to get there. So I made a list and I said, “Okay, I want to own $10 million real estate and have a net worth of a million with $100,000 passive cash flow in ten years.” So that was about ten years ago; that was my goal. I wrote it down, and I said, “Okay, well, I’m gonna work backwards from here. I need to make connections, learn the industry, save some money, figure out how real estate syndication is created and run… And to do that – maybe I’ll get my real estate license to start.”
At the time, I actually moved out to Colorado to teach kids how to ski for six months after I graduated college, read a bunch of books on how to start a real estate investment company, they all made it look so easy, moved back to Jersey, got my real estate license and started executing on that plan.
I made a lot of mistakes, teamed up with the wrong people for my first fix and flip, lost a little money, did a lot of the wrong things, didn’t do the right due diligence, hired the wrong contractors – I got tons of stories – hired the wrong management companies getting started, ended up having to develop our own management company… But a couple years into the business, working as a realtor, you learn short sales and start to make some money.
I started working with Seth Martinez who is my business partner today, and we really complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. So he’s great at operations and management of the real estate and improving our systems and strategies here in our business, and I’m more on the branding and fundraiser investor relationship side. So we work really well together. We bought a six family from a We Buy Houses sign that used to work really well, that I would staple on telephone poles in a suit and tie in the middle of summer. I’d get a bunch of listings and deals with those We Buy Houses signs. So we’ve had a six family back in 2013 or so, I bought it for about $220,000, put $50,000 into it, bought, renovated, refinanced out, it appraised for well over $400,000, got our money back and a little bit on top, and raised some capital and built on to the next level and got up to about 100 units over five years, all while flipping a lot of houses as well, and wholesaling at the same time with our residential division. So pretty busy and engaged so far.
Theo Hicks: That’s great to hear, and we do apartment syndications, so we’ve got a lot in common and I’ve got a lot of questions for you. Let’s talk about your first syndication deal. So did you syndicate that six-unit deal?
Aaron Fragnito: We didn’t actually syndicate it. Our first syndication deal was a 25-unit in South Jersey, and we put together four investors who all brought in $100,000 each, and we bought a 25-unit for below market value. We took the cash flow from it, put it back into the building, hired a few management companies. One was stealing money from us, it was a disaster, we had to take them to court. Another one just really over promised and under delivered. So by doing that 25-unit, we learned that sometimes you want something done right, and if you’re going to build a big portfolio in one central location, it makes sense to actually have your own management company.
So we developed our own management company through necessity with that first 25-unit, because like I said, the two management companies we hired, one was bad, the other one was worse. So we were like, “Well, if we switched to a third management company and they screw us too, we’re going to look really bad to our tenants in this building, and we’ll go downhill.”
So we developed our own management company about seven years ago, and that is our competitive edge now today that allows us to really reposition these buildings like a fine-tooth comb. So many moving pieces when you buy a mismanaged apartment building, and you’ve got to really knock it out of the park for your investors. So relying on other management companies was a risk I found and a flaw in the overall syndication model. So we tried to correct that with developing our own management company here. It does limit where we can buy, but we love this North Jersey market, and we do very well here with this North Jersey market.
Theo Hicks: You’re really good at proactively answering my questions. I was gonna say, “Oh, what are some of the pros and cons of having a management company?” but you answered all those for me. So we’ll talk about the investors instead. So your first 25-unit deal, you said you had four investors. Who were they and how did you get them to invest?
Aaron Fragnito: Well, let’s see. One of our first investors– great story. Well, the first monies I raised in real estate was actually for fix and flips, but those investors, I rolled them into buying the apartment buildings over time… Because in the fix and flips, we weren’t successful. I would like fail at a fix and flip, and be like, “Here’s what I did wrong. Here’s how I corrected and I got rid of that partner etc” They would reinvest me, so I salvaged those relationships. I also wrote checks to the closing table to make sure no one ever lost money as I was learning the business… But what I did is I went to real estate networking event and I made a beeline for the owner of the event, and I said, “Let me talk about what I’m doing. I’m learning short sales, I’m getting into a fix and flip, and my topic is going to be Fake It Till You Make It.” So I literally did a presentation called Fake It Till You Make It, and it was probably not a very good presentation. By the way, my wife today was in the crowd. I met her that night, ended up marrying her few years later. So just a wild story. The first presentation I did in real estate ended up being about how I met my wife, but different story…
So there were some people in the crowd that were intrigued with what I was doing, and I always enjoyed public speaking. They saw my passion for this industry and they decided to invest, and that was how I got one investor around $100,000 and another investor was from Seth’s network, actually. He knew a very wealthy individual in New York City that owns his own real estate, that he had worked with before in the medical building industry. So Seth had sold a medical building company, and he knew this doctor. Yeah, it’s great business to meet doctors. So just because Seth knew him through medical building and that relationship, it didn’t mean he couldn’t convert that trust into investing in us in real estate. Even though it was our first syndication and we, really looking back now, didn’t really know what we’re doing and had a lot of challenges in front of us.
So again, one investor I had messed up with a flip and made good on it, and she decided to reinvest in me. Another guy was a doctor I knew from a whole other industry, and doing business with years earlier, and just cultivated that relationship into investing them, and then one was actually some people on Seth’s family as well, and then just another investor, but I think it was actually one of Seth’s aunts. So luckily, Seth was a little older and had a little more capital and had good resources there. So I think, actually, three out of the four investors were from his network and I brought in one investor as well. That’s why it’s so important to have partners that have great networks and complement what you’re doing so that you can make sure you raise the capital and have those resources of private investors that Seth brings in and I bring in as well.
Theo Hicks: So for your first deal, you had about four investors, you said, and you mentioned how you found them. That was five years ago, you said?
Aaron Fragnito: That was back in 2013.
Theo Hicks: Okay. So six, seven years ago. How many investors do you have now?
Aaron Fragnito: Over 30.
Theo Hicks: Over 30 investors. So do you wanna talk about how you grew from 4 to 30?
Aaron Fragnito: Sure. Well, it was quite a journey; a lot of hard work behind the scenes. Just recently, I have really, in the last two years, made a conscious transition in my business to not only just stop working so much in my business and more on my business, because as any entrepreneur, I get really caught up answering emails, moving deals, and I’ve really got to focus on my systems overall, and what’s my main goal five years down the road… So in the last two years we really redeveloped our branding system into being more of a thought leader, more polished and professional, but also aimed at just high net-worth individuals, people in this area in North Jersey here. There’s a lot of wealth, and we do events in our office.
I have an office here in Berkeley Heights, and I used to throw a lot of money into fundraising. I’d go into the Hyatts, fancy hotels; I’d put down $3,000, get everyone dinner, and I would do a lot of networking events in there, and that was great; we raised a lot of capital that way. So we started a real estate networking event. We went on meetup.com, we started New Jersey Real Estate Network, and this was about eight years ago or so as well, and I started raising capital that way.
So I would do dinners every month at a hotel and people would come, and I don’t think I made any money on the events. I would charge money to get in, I’d have some sponsors, and at certain times, it felt like I was more of an event planner than a real estate investor, but those events really helped us build our brands. I would then go out and speak in other REIAs. Again, I would go to networking events, I’d make a beeline for the owner of that group, and a lot these guys, they need investors, they need people to come in and speak. They want people to speak at the events, they need a new speaker every month. So even if you’re starting, that could be a great story. Talk about your first fix and flip or whatever it is, your first gig you’re doing, and that’s how I would also meet investors. So I’d speak at events, I’d be honest, I’d talk about my starting points and then my struggles there, but how I powered through them and made good to my investors, and I built the brand that way.
I’d get people to come to my event, I’d feed them dinner, I’d tell them about what we’re doing, and I’d raise capital, and quite frankly, it was very easy to raise capital for fix and flips. So I kind of got off track for about three or four years with Seth, and we did about 50 fix and flips. We had some crazy projects going on, and we got off track with that, but it was a great way to bring in a lot of investors, because people love the idea of getting a first lien position, getting a 12% interest rate and getting their money back in a year or they could take the property back. It’s a pretty good position and it’s pretty quick turnover for investors.
So we raised a lot of capital that way and flipped a lot of houses and made some money and lost some money, and around 2016 or so, we started to recognize that scaling up a house flipping business is, in my opinion, really not all that profitable. It’s not the most profitable part of the business. What’s the most profitable part of real estate is being a listing agent or owning apartment buildings, in my opinion. So we realized that and about two to three years we focused on our apartment building syndication business. As we sold that 25-unit, we made a nice profit, our investors were very happy, and we said, “Wait a minute. It’s actually easier to buy and reposition a 25-unit than it is to flip a dozen houses in a year, and we make the same amount.”
So what we figured out was we want to really double down on that, and then I changed our brand a little bit to attract longer-term investors who were looking for a passive investment, and that’s really a different person than the house flipping individuals you meet at REIAs and such. They’re looking to be more hands-on, and they’re looking to really do a quick investment, get in and out, maybe make an interest rate. What works better for us are individuals that are busy working nine to five, maybe they’re a doctor or a banker or just a high net worth earner, or they just have an IRA with $30,000, they can self-direct into a syndication with us, and they’re looking more for a longer-term passive investment. It’s a different type of investor than the ones you might find in a real estate networking event.
So I had to consciously convert my fundraising brand and my fundraising message to attract the right type of investor over the last two years, which has been one of the bigger challenges for me, not only raising capital, but figuring out who I want to get in front of, what’s that ideal investor I want, and then getting in front of them, whatever that means. Facebook ads, marketing ads, whatever it takes to get in front of that person in the right professional manner, and then know what to say when you finally meet with them.
Theo Hicks: So for the fix and flipper investors, you’d find those at the meetup groups like in-person events, and then for these longer-term passive investors, you’re finding them through online ads?
Aaron Fragnito: Correct. Facebook marketing. I do four seminars a month here in my office in Berkeley Heights. I do six webinars a month as well. I teach how to self-direct your IRA, I go over case studies, I go over current offerings we have on buildings, I have realtor events, I have luncheons, I have evening events, we feed you here as well. So I do roughly the same seminar twice a week or so, but I get all new people coming in to see it, I put different spins on it, but I am just always, always educating. Fundraiser in the syndication space is really just an educator. Now we don’t sell education, we don’t sell books or CDs, we focus on just selling one product we have here which is a turnkey investment into New Jersey apartment buildings, but I’m always educating and it’s all free, and that’s how we raise capital. We build relationships with investors, they come to our events, they see us here, they see another 12 or 15 investors here at the luncheons and whatnot, and it’s chance to ask a lot of questions, listen to a 60 minutes seminar, and about half the crowd usually decides to fill out a form to move to the next step, and that’s a great turnaround, I think, as far as sales goes.
Theo Hicks: Yeah, thanks for sharing that. So we focused a lot on the raising money. The other thing I wanted to talk about a little bit more was the property management company. So I’m going to merge that together with the money question. So what is the best ever advice you have for– well, I guess, a little more context. I know a lot of syndicators will do third party, and you mentioned why you don’t do third party, but now I want to talk about the how to start your own management company. So what’s your best ever advice to an apartment syndicator for starting their own in-house property management company?
Aaron Fragnito: That’s tough; there’s so many moving pieces to a management company. I’d say, the first thing is working with good technology. We do work with AppFolio, which is a very helpful technology, and there’s tons of things like that. We feel like AppFolio is one of the best, so we went with that, and that really helped organize our business and it allows us to scale up to managing 100 units without having to staff up. It’s almost like bringing on a staff member. Secondly, I have a phenomenal property manager. I have a phenomenal employee, A. Delgado, who does all of our property management, and she’s one of those individuals who, I think, was born to be a property manager. She’s so organized, she’s so good with the tenants, she’s so patient. I couldn’t do what she does. It’s really hard to be a property manager, it’s a thankless job, and there’s so much little nitty-gritty detail to it, and of course, tenants are going to lie to you and break your heart and it’s a tough gig. Same like working with contractors; Seth’s really good with that and I’m not.
So a good system overall also, just not only working with AppFolio, but working with our systems here in office. When work orders come in, working with the right contractors – that took years. I used to have a really good contractor, then I’d put him on payroll and started paying him hourly, and all of a sudden, the jobs took twice as long and cost me twice as much. So I realized you’re actually better off having the contractors as independent contractors, get multiple quotes, make sure they understand they’re not always going to have a job here, they’ve got to give us good production, good service and show up on time and get the job done properly. So we have a lot of good boots in the ground, great contractor relationships here. We’ve got the right small handymen, mid-level handymen, plumber, electrician etc, the right people for the right things… And then just the small guys too that bring out the garbage and clean the hallways. When you have enough units in one place, you have economies to scale, so I can have someone do all that, shovel our walkways when there’s snow, for a lower price, because we have a bunch of units in one area, and these individuals will work for us for a better price because of that.
Theo Hicks: Alright, Aaron. Are you ready for the Best Ever lightning round?
Aaron Fragnito: I think so.
Theo Hicks: Let’s do it. First, a quick word from our sponsor.
Theo Hicks: Alright Aaron, what is the best ever book you’ve recently read?
Aaron Fragnito: That’s a tough one. I get that a lot on podcasts. I never really have a good answer. The book I’m reading right now is by Mel Robbins. My wife actually turned me on to her. She dragged me to a thing in the city that she was doing the other week, and I actually enjoyed it and got the book and I’ve been reading it a little bit. So Mel Robbins is a self-help coach, and her thing is when you’re grounded by anxiety or stress– and there’s a lot of stress and pressure being an operator, being a syndicator, having to raise the money in time, find the right deal and execute on your projection, so it’s a stressful gig; it’s not for everyone. She does this thing where you count down five, four, three, two, one to get yourself moving in the morning or get yourself not thinking about an issue and just move on. So it’s a lot about just motivating yourself to take action.
One thing I loved about what she said, you’ll never feel like doing it. “If it’s the right thing, you’ll love it every day and you’ll always feel like doing it.” Well, no, that’s not it. I love real estate, I love what I do, but there are days that I don’t want to be here. It’s a tough job. I work 60 hours a week, I got a luncheon on Sunday. I don’t want to be here on a Sunday. I want to go be with my family and friends, but I work hard at it, and I have a passion for it. So not every day’s fun, and that’s what she’s saying. You just got to go for it, get yourself moving, and just keep that mental focus, and she’s like just count down from five, four, three, two, one whenever you’re in a spot and you’re stagnant to get going.
Theo Hicks: If your business were to collapse today, what would you do next?
Aaron Fragnito: Well, first of all, I have a ton of real estate equity. So we do stress tests here. How much can the market drop? What if rents just stopped growing? What if this deal didn’t work out? So I have a good amount of real estate equity. So everyone’s like, well what if the market drops out? Well, we just buckle down the hatches and keep collecting cash flow. Our business is based on actual holdings of real estate, so I could slow down now and still be okay. The North Jersey real estate market is strong, the demand is strong. If there is such an economic collapse or New York City gets nuked or something and disappears, then we have bigger problems than our real estate values.
So whenever people say worst-case scenario, what if there’s no demand to live around Manhattan anymore? Then I say, well, honestly, where would your stock market be then? What’s this terrible, terrible scenario where no one has any money anymore and no one can live around Manhattan? So we do think we’re pretty recession-resistant. I’m not sure what will cause our business to fall, but we don’t have to sell any widgets. We have the buildings with the cash flow. We’re not selling coaching, we’re not selling anything else. So really, at the end of the day, we just have to keep raising capital and buying buildings, and if we decided to stop doing that, we could just maintain our holdings and maintain our rent growth there through time.
Theo Hicks: What is the best ever way you like to give back?
Aaron Fragnito: We give back in a lot of ways. I personally donate about 10% of my income between my church and different things like World Vision and Compassion International, which is great. If you go to their website, you can actually sponsor specific kids in third world countries. It’s really crazy stuff. So I love it. It’s such a great feeling. I have almost a dozen kids I sponsor between those two things. And there’s also in general here at Peoples Capital Group, we give back to Mission Clean Water, which brings clean water to Africa, and we are a member of three different Rotary clubs, donate to all the Rotary clubs and different events they have going on, and we sponsor lots of Rotary events, things like that locally. So big Rotarian here.
Theo Hicks: Then lastly, what is the best place to reach you?
Aaron Fragnito: Our website is peoplescapitalgroup.com, and you can check us out there. I have a podcast myself called The Passive Cashflow Podcast, but our website peoplescapitalgroup.com has information about our business. You can apply to qualify for an upcoming investment opportunity. We actually have buildings people can invest in in the next 30 days. So again, that’s our website, peoplescapitalgroup.com to qualify for that investment.
Theo Hicks: Perfect. Alright, Aaron. You’re [unintelligible [00:24:14].26] full of knowledge. I’m gonna try to summarize it, but I’m not going to look at everything because you said so much, and just a lot of solid advice. Everyone who’s listening should definitely relisten to this podcast. We talked about raising money and we talked about private management companies, but we first talked about how you got to where you are today; started off with Rich Dad, Poor Dad, you had made a list of what your goals were – own $10 million with the real estate, $1 million net worth, $100,000 passive income, and then made your plan of action to get that. You started with your real estate license and fix and flipping, and then moved into syndications. We talked about your first syndication – a 25-unit with the four investors and how you’ve had issues with your management company and eventually started your own.
You found your first investors from your fix and flips. So this is your first syndication – from your fix and flips, and then your business partner had a doctor and then this aunt or someone in the family invested, and then one of them came from your Fake It Till You Make It seminar, which also resulted in your wife. That’s awesome. Then we talked about how you grew from four to 30 investors, and you talked about the differences between raising money for fix and flips and raising money for syndications, and you realized that the type of person who’s interested in investing in fix and flips is different from the kind of person who’s investing in syndications. So you had to redevelop your brand in order to start targeting those people who are interested in longer-term, more passive investments, as opposed to the fix and flip investors who are more interested in higher returns, being active and getting their money back early quickly.
So you said that going to meetup groups, and REIA meetings was good to get fix and flip investors, whereas doing something more personal seminars and webinars and lunch and dinner events, Facebook ads and marketing ads to get the passive investment leads.
One thing you did say that was interesting was that these meetup groups and REIAs are always looking for a new speaker. They need a new speaker every single month or week or however often they’re doing it. So just because you haven’t done a ton of deals doesn’t mean you can’t speak at these events. If you’ve done one fix and flip offer, talk about your fix and flip, and then that will help you get the ball rolling on your brand.
You talked about your management company, which you started six-seven years ago, and your four pieces of advice on starting on time management company was one, make sure you’re focusing on technology. So you use the app Appfolio. AppFolio helps you scale without having to bring in a bunch of team members. Number two is have a great property management company, and the characteristics were organized patient and works well with tenants, and your property management company, you said, was born to be a property manager. You talked about having independent contractors as opposed to having one GC on staff, and then you talked about the advantages of having a scale by having a lot of units in one area. So you could have one handyman apply to all properties, one person shoveling snow and raking leaves and things like that. So again, jam-packed with information, definitely worth a relisten for Best Ever listeners. Aaron, thank you again for joining us today. Best Ever listeners, as always, thanks for listening. Have a best ever day and we’ll talk to you soon.
Aaron Fragnito: Thank you.
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