Catch the full episode: https://www.wealthformula.com/podcast/272-Dave-steele-on-why-now-is-the-time-to-buy-real-estate/
Buck: Welcome back to the show, everyone. Today my guest and Wealth Formula podcast. Well, he’s no stranger to our group, to Wealth Formula in general, especially to our private investor group, our investor club. He is, of course, Dave Steel. And as you know, Dave is the co-founder and a general partner of Western Wealth Capital. However, his accomplishments go way back before that. He’s been one of Canada’s top real estate entrepreneurs for 30 years including being Entrepreneur of the Year one year. I remember Dave. I know it’s not even listed on your bio, but I think that’s kind of cool. He’s also led publicly traded real estate companies as CEO and has really led several major developments across North America. Dave, it’s great to have you back on the show.
Dave: Well, thank you Buck. It is always a pleasure.
Buck: So Let’s see. Where do we start? Man, Jeez, this has been a crazy year. Obviously, we had a major event and the pandemic in 2020. We’ll talk specifically about Western Wealth Capital and a bed. But give us a recap of what happened in multi family, specifically our niche of apartment buildings across the country during that time. And who maybe were the winners in the losers.
Dave: Well, you know, it’s interesting because as I was thinking of this, I thought the very first thing that came about when the academic hit, we had a property under contract in Houston, and as a company, we had a million dollar deposit, hard deposit up to buy that property. And we had all the money raised by the investors. And we were so nervous about what the pandemic was going to bring that we gave all the investors back their money. And we lost the million dollar deposit to that seller. Sort of. In hindsight, maybe we should have bought it. But we just felt we weren’t in a position to risk our investors’ capital with that much uncertainty. So going into the pandemic of what we thought it was, we were nervous, I guess, as we’ve gone through it, you know, we’ve been very, very pleasantly surprised by a whole bunch of things. Number one, everything that we’ve been trying to do with technology in the property management and the operations business just went and got Super charged. People started paying their rent online. They started booking facilities like using the gym and the pool, booking that online. So all these things that we had in the works probably went at a rate of speed that was two or 3 years faster. How they normally would have unfolded.
Buck: In the bigger picture, though, Dave, how did apartment building investors fear during this period? It didn’t seem like there was this hemorrhage or blood in the Street that I think a lot of people really kind of were worried about. And frankly, some investors had been waiting for six or 7 years on the sidelines. It didn’t seem to happen. Were there many losers?
Dave: Well, you know, I think in some markets we’ll say there were places in California where 85% of the people paid their rent. We did as much below 95 96%. So most people found their home was Super important to them. And so the last thing that they were going to do was not pay their rent. So we went through a period where we are obviously very nervous if people going to pay their rent. Obviously, people didn’t move. Nobody wanted to be moving from one apartment community to another. So there wasn’t a lot of movement. So it really became How’s this new way that you can communicate with tenants. The leasing office is pretty much closed down. So tours were being done over face time where someone would show up at your apartment complex and you talk them through the model suite using FaceTime. But you’re right at a 50,000 foot level, the only thing that really transpired was the majority of the people paid their rent. And as we got near the end of the pandemic, we started to see quite a few people who had built out pretty good size, bad debt checks with us, where there were some scammers. There were some people that just flat out couldn’t pay their rent. And even that has turned out to be really positive because the government has really come in with this last round of funding and pretty much paid the rent for almost anyone whose rent was in Arrears. So the craziest thing was that the education process was about how do you tell someone who hasn’t paid the rent for six or 9 months that’s not answering their apartment door? How do you tell them? Just answer the door and we can take you to an agency that will help you fill in the paperwork, and that agency will pay your rent for the last year. And some people were so scared or uneducated, I guess, if you will, that they thought the better scenario was just to hide out and then steak off in the middle of the night and not pay the rent. So Unfortunately, the majority of the people that we got to talk to, we got them through the agencies. And in the last three or 4 months, we’ve collected a huge amount of rent through these different agencies.
Buck: How much do you think the specific niche helped Western Wealth Capital? When I talk about the niche, it’s not only apartment buildings, but it seems to me that the new building, the A class stuff got hit harder than the working class stuff. Do you think that’s true?
Dave: Well, certainly the demand for renovated units was the highest, and even today is the highest it’s ever been. And the rent now for brand new buildings or call it double what they are for a renovated suite. So anytime there’s a tight thing in the belt, people say, Wow, I can get this beautiful renovated suite. It’s got stainless steel appliances and countertops, and it’s got a hardwood floor. Do I really need to pay double my rent to be in a brand new building? So clearly, during the pandemic, the renovated suites were in demand. And now, as we’re coming out of it, there’s so many people moving to these various cities now that the demand for renovated is even higher. It’s like we’re trying to figure out how you ramp up the renovated even more because that demand is just insatiable.
Buck: So this was an unusual crisis, and it was a recession. The asset prices, However, strangely enough, didn’t substantially take a hit across the board, whether it’s stocks or real estate. And now we’re kind of out of that. Right. And in fact, I think the last quarterly GDP report I saw was like 6.3% growth in the Us. And clearly the recession is over. Presumably there’s some inflation out there, too. And again, people were waiting on the sidelines, waiting for prices to crash. But nothing really happened that this has got to be your career over, spanning three decades, a really unusual scenario to have had sort of a low point in the market that really didn’t turn out being a big downturn, really, for asset prices or performance. So where do you think you’re headed or we’re headed as a real estate market over the next few years, given this sort of, you know, unusual situation where there really wasn’t a correction?
Dave: Well, I think the fundamental thesis of our business is that the United States needs four and a half million new apartments over the next decade, 12 years. So they need about 350,000 new apartments a year. Right. And long before the Pandemic hit, the Us was not producing enough new apartments. So these cities where the people are moving to Dallas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Las Vegas, these cities where people are moving, they need a lot more new apartments. But going into the Pandemic, they were already way behind. So if they’re supposed to be building 350,000 a year, they only had construction capacity to build, say, 300,000 dollars. So every year, the gap just kept getting bigger and bigger. So now you roll in this Pandemic, and all of a sudden, the new construction went way down. Right. People weren’t comfortable being on construction sites, lenders weren’t comfortable lending money. So this gap of new construction hasn’t gone away. The people haven’t stopped moving to these places, but the new building hasn’t gone away. If you own existing multifamily real estate in the right markets, fasten your seat belt because we’re in for a tremendous period of growth. And you’re in for a tremendous period of rent growth, particularly if you’ve got the ability to renovate the suites, because too many people are moving to the cities. The new apartments that should be being built to meet the demand aren’t being built. And so the only way to fill that demand is with existing supply. And that just means we all get to charge more rent.
Buck: All right. So we’ve got presumably we’re headed for significant rent growth. I get this question a lot, though. I want to get your feedback on this because I always answered and I would see your perspective on this. Interest rates. Can they be lower than they are now? I guess they could be. I mean, you were one of the few people who I think a year ago before the Pandemic was actually saying, Hey, look, compared to the rest of the world were actually pretty high. Right. But these interest rates are obviously a big part of what’s driving down. Cap rates continue to compress, and people will continue to get nervous. And you’ve got a lot of people out there who have been beating the drum for really, for years about how these prices can’t get higher, and these cap rates are or compress so much. So why shouldn’t we be worried about that, Dave?
Dave: Well, I think we probably should. The question isn’t should the real question is when. Right. I mean, I think we’re going to have a significant period of strong inflation. Is that a year? 2-3-4-I don’t know how many years. I’m not an economist. So even I wouldn’t get it right. But there’s some period of time where I think we’re going to see some real strong inflation. And then there’s the argument that the governments are going to come in. But again, the drivers are in the markets that were in the driver. In the markets that I would say the Western Wealth is in. And what I would tell you as an investor, that is a good market to go in the driver is there’s not enough new construction going in there? And so as a result, there’s a natural increase in the price that has to happen with the older stock to get up to a price closer to what new construction is. And that means the rents have to move correspondingly. So there’s certainly some period of time down where we’ll be a little more nervous. But I think we’re very, very early in this stage of growth of value growth and rent growth. And I think you’re right somewhere down the road, we should all have some nervousness around interest rates going higher.
Buck: So let me ask you this, though. What would you have to see significantly, I guess, to potentially alter that business model, even stop buying apartment buildings? I mean, have you thought about this? I mean, what types of things would be red flags?
Dave: Well, I’ll give you an example. I’ve been in the real estate market in Canada for 30 years. So in Canada and in a lot of the larger cities in the Us, there is no more ability to buy older products and renovate it and fix it up on any scale. Almost every major community has been acquired and has been renovated and has been brought up, brought up to standard. That would be a rental standard. Right now, the uniqueness in the markets that we’re in in the U S is that there is still quite a lot of product that, as you know, we call classic product. Right. You walk inside it’s got the turquoise toilet and the shag carpeting. And you go, Wow, it’s got the Orange and yellow fridge and stove. And you look at it and you go, Wow, somebody needs to renovate this. You know the point, I believe, where you will say, Hey, there’s no more real room to do. This is the day that there’s no more of that product to really buy and renovate it. And in the markets were in. The good news is there still is a fair amount of that product to buy. It’s certainly not as available as it was three years ago, but it’s certainly not anywhere near the point it is in more mature cities. And when it gets to that point in more mature cities, the business model typically shifts. And what people go into is they’re going to be building brand new rental units, because the only way to then fill that demand, they’re still off of people moving here. How do we fill the demand? The only real way to fill the demand is to build brand new.
Buck: Let’s talk a little bit. Obviously, we’ve been sort of assuming up to this point that everybody already knows everything about Western Wealth Capital and all that. Just because we’ve talked together many times. Many people are in our private investor groups and stuff like that. But Let’s talk specifically about Western Wealth Capital. Tell us about the business and what you’ve been able to accomplish. What makes you different, all that.
Dave: Okay. So seven years ago, I partnered up with Janet LaPage. Again, many of the people with the Wealth Formula have met Janet. Janet is a computer scientist, incredibly bright, analytical. And there’s nothing in our business that Janet doesn’t put into a model and run through an Excel model to determine how it works in the model. So she came to me and said she’s been buying and flipping single family home seven years ago down in Phoenix. She said, Dave, there’s an opportunity to buy apartment buildings. She walked me through the model. I said, Wow, this is amazing. I didn’t actually even believe that the model was available because we’ve been doing it in Phoenix 10 years earlier. And we did our first couple of deals. And since then, we’ve done 92 properties we’ve acquired, along with many, many Wealth Formula investors, almost 3,000,000,000 dollars worth of real estate. And collectively, our investor group has raised almost 800,000,000 dollars, which, again, sounds like a big number. But that’s what a lot of people putting 25 or 50,000 dollars into each property. Some people putting 200 to 500,000 dollars in each property. But it’s really sort of tailored so that each individual investor can invest at a comfort level that they want in each property. So we went out, we started this formula. We’ve sold 30 of the deals where we’ve gone through what we call our full cycle. So we buy them, we fixed them up. We renovate them. We move the rents to market. We renovate the suites we put in washer dryers, and we fix up the pool. We redo all the common areas and the leasing. We paint the buildings. And of the 30 deals that we’ve sold, we’ve held for an average of about 30 months. And those 30 deals that we’ve sold, the investors have had an average annual return of 30%. So obviously, the investor base is very, very happy. The returns have been phenomenal. And then partly through this process, the lenders changed their program, where they would allow us to refinance as we increase the value of these buildings. And as we refinance the buildings, the investors could pull their equity out through a refinance. So we’ve really refined a system. Our whole business, as you know, is about speed. The faster we can renovate the suite, the faster we can get the appraisals at a higher price. The faster we can refinance, the faster we can get the investors back their money, and they can do it over and over again. So we have many investors that have taken that 50 dollars, 100 or 200,000 dollars, and they’ve recycled it. Now, with us several times through the process, it’s a complete formula. It’s repeatable, it’s scalable. It works because it’s a formula. And we go in and we look for a very specific type of building that meets our criteria. And when I say our criteria is, you know, but the criteria meets as it goes through Janet’s model, and it literally becomes a black and white decision. If it doesn’t work in the model, we just simply don’t buy it. So we don’t move very much on what we project in terms of rent growth. I think we’re going to see markets this year, Atlanta as an example. We’re going to see Atlanta go up 10% year over year rent growth. Yet in our model, we put in a current growth. So we don’t take the year or two or 3 where we’re seeing these phenomenal numbers. We sort of build a very formula based and the formula works, and it’s generated just spectacular returns.
Buck: So it’s a value add model and basically working class apartment buildings. We’re not talking about D class. We’re not talking about the A stuff. We’re talking about working class stuff. What I tell people when they ask what the main difference is between Western Wealth Capital and other value ads? I have tended to say the focus on speed and processes. Do you think that that’s really the main difference between you between Western Wealth Capital and other operators?
Dave: No question. And as you know, you’ve been on several of the tours that we’ve done where we’ve had 50, 75, 100 potential investors and clients come on the trips to Dallas and to Phoenix. And we do a day long bus tour where we take people and we show them the building we’re about to buy a building we closed on six months ago, a building we closed on a year ago, and people get off the bus at the end and they go, Dave, we can’t be believe what this building, what it was and what you turned it into. It’s almost like watching one of those home decorating TV shows where you can’t believe at the end that it is. And again, we have an ipad app that we’re just finishing right now for our Wow Factor, and where our acquisition team walks through a building. We only paint a building one of 3 color schemes. We only put a signage package of one of 3 signage packages. When we choose what color we’re painting the building, we match the pool furniture to the color of the building. We match the barbecue set. Janet was just in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, and she came back and she goes, Dave, we’ve got this new lighting that goes around the palm trees. And they spend a half an hour on the property deciding should the lighting that goes up the palm tree go up a third of the height of the tree or half of the height of the tree, because once we do it it’s fully standardized. We don’t do it one way on one property, in another way on another property. So again, it just allows this repeatability, because you’re spending all your time executing and not all your time designing. And so when we renovate a suite, when we go into that suite in Atlanta, we use the same flooring, the same lighting, the same plumbing fixtures, the same countertops as we do in Phoenix, as we do in Dallas, as we do in Houston. So when you go through a property, there’s a full standardization. And so all of those things, what they really mean is we’re not thinking through every time we do a property, what we’re going to renovate and what it’s going to look like. It’s already pre designed. And that’s where you really get the speed. Because in simple terms, every time I get 150 dollars rent increase, I’m getting between 30 and 35,000 dollar increase in the value of the property. So if I can do five a month at 30,000, my property goes up by 150 Grand a month. If I can do 10 a month, then my property goes up by 300,000 dollars. So the math is very, very simple. How do I build the model to get to 10 a month on my renovations so that as a tenant moves out, I renovate it, and I get that rent bump, which translates into the value increase. And so one thing a lot of investors like is that every month we put the financial statements up on their portal so they can go and look and see each financial statement on each property, and people come back and they go, Dave, I can’t believe that the rents have moved so rapidly in the 90 days since you took over the property. And it’s because we’re just going through the same streamlined process on every property.
Buck: Yeah. And I think that was a real eye opener for me, too, because I think as real estate investors, we’re used to looking at proformas, you always got your three or 5 years and you never really think about this whole concept that Yeah. But what if you could do all these things you’re saying on this ProForm on half the time, right? Then you’re doubling returns, and that’s effectively kind of been the secret sauce. I mean, it’s been able to execute and do good work like there’s other good operators out there. But to do it profoundly fast, and that’s not just because you want to get it done. Of course, you want to get it done, but that affects returns. And it seems so basic. But it is. But it’s something that I don’t think a lot of operators actually think of much.
Dave: You know it’s really interesting Buck because if you think about it, most people that own real estate own it, and they have a fulltime job. And off the side of their desk, they’re renovating a suite, and they don’t really think, well, I have a six unit building. Boy, if I could renovate them all in the first month, what would happen to the value of the building? They just sort of renovate them as they go. We have a completely different view of the world because we’re making widgets. And our widget is to take a classic unit that looks like it was occupied in 994, which it is now go in renovate that suite, get 150 dollars for the rent. Get 50 dollars. If you can get them to take a washer dryer and the washer dryer, we simply put a flyer underneath the door that offers everybody the option to have a washer dryer put in their unit. And if they say Yes, the following Tuesday, we deliver them a washer dryer to their unit. And they start paying 50 dollars more per month. And you say, Well, Dave, you’re not going to get rich at 50 dollars. Well, you sure are, because every washer dryer that goes in, the value of that property goes up by 10 Grand. So if you paid 150,000 per unit and you put 20% down, that’s 30 Grand, you made 33% on your money just simply by putting in a washer dryer. So if we can do Gold Star renovations, washer dryers, move the rents to market. We put in pet yards. We had 125 dollars for a ground floor pet yard in front of your ground floor unit. We put in parcel post. You pay nine dollars more a month. So all of a sudden we’ve created, like, an order book of a dozen of these things. That the second we take over the property or on site teams just go to town and just start knocking off all these items one by 1. And then we just track it every single day. So as you know, because I send them to you, we get daily activity reports on every single property. So here I’m sitting there watching properties that the rents were those hundred dollars. That tenant moved out. I renovated the suite, put in a washer dryer, they took a parcel post, and they’re moving back in. The new tenants moving back in at 400 dollars more than what the old tenant moved out at. So for us, that 400 dollars translates to a value increase of around 80 Grand for that single property. And so now the question is, how many of those can you do a month?
Buck: I actually saw one example. I won’t name any specifics here, but essentially using that math, it created a value increase in the building by a million dollars in a single day, which is pretty remarkable.
Dave: I’ve been in this business 30 years. We’ve that circulating around, and we were just all in. And the thing is, as soon as we send it out, people say, ‘what’s that done to my property?’ So again, we’re trying to get a reporting system that will show people, but this isn’t unique to any one building, any one place. This is literally just how do you turn the wheel? Because if you think about it. So when we started, we had a 30 point checklist. And over time it grew to a 50 point checklist. And now it’s just recently been redone. And it’s an 82 point checklist. And the goal isn’t just to get the 82 points complete. It’s to get a significant percentage of them complete by the day we take over the building. So in the 60 day due diligence period, we’re ordering the pool furniture. We’ve got the design teams in there redoing the leasing office and the clubhouse. We’ve lined up the quote. So the painter starts painting the building, we take it over because the magic is if you can do all of that on the day you take over, that just means it’s sooner that you can start charging higher rents because the people don’t mind paying more rent. What they don’t like is they don’t like being charged more rent on the basis that you’re going to promise them you’ll do the work, go do the work on the building. People drive up, they go, Wow, this is a deal. This is a great place. This is where I want to live and they’ll pay the rent.
Buck: You know, what’s interesting is it just goes back to something else that I think it’s really important to remember is that in this kind of business, it’s really all math. And having Janet is a computer scientist, and these Excel sheets and really being able to make the math work has been a big part of the success. Part of that math also involves, you know, deciding what cities to move into and that sort of thing. How do you make decisions on that?
Dave: Well, again, the real driving thesis to that is that we look to see the cities that are affordable, where the companies are moving their offices to because of the affordability. Right. So if you look at North Texas in 20, 20, 10% of all the industrial space that was acquired in North Texas was acquired by Amazon, right. So what does Amazon know that we don’t know? They know that they can’t afford to hire people in California because it’s too expensive. So they’ve got to find an affordable place. So you just go and rank the cities that are affordable and then go and look whereas Amazon, Apple, Google, Intel, where are all these companies going to? And you’ll find Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, San Antonio, Phoenix, Vegas, you’ll find those are really the driving cities. There’s about seven or 8 cities that we’ve targeted. That thesis has really been the thesis. The fact that there’s not enough new construction and the fact that people are moving to the affordable market has really driven the model. And then you go in and you buy the properties. And again, most people buy real estate because they say, I’m going to pick a market. I think it’s going to be good. I think Phoenix is going to be good. And they go buy a building, but they don’t force any appreciation or get any more than, wow, Phoenix is going to be good. If all we did was go buy Phoenix, we would have all had fantastic returns. But we bought Phoenix and we bought Dallas because they’re great markets and we can force appreciation on the buildings. So that’s really what drives those markets.
Buck: And going back to Phoenix, I remember talking to Tim McClary about this a little bit. There was a few years back, some reluctance about people investors going into Phoenix. And in some ways, it’s the same kind of reluctance that I sensed with some investors about the Las Vegas market. But again, the background here, it’s math, right? I mean, it’s math. You’re looking at the numbers. You’re not saying, Gee whiz, you know, I think it’d be cool to be in Vegas, right? Everything that’s done is based on the numbers.
Dave: Well, and two things as well. One, you’re not going to get in much trouble at the purchase price that we’re buying buildings and the price they’re currently rented today. So it’s not like you’re going to get in a lot of trouble. It’s not like you’re going to San Francisco and buying a 500,000 dollars unit that rents for 3,000 dollars a month. Right. Where the math just doesn’t quite work. So they’re more affordable units. And the second part that is phenomenal for us is we live in a world where we have huge insider information we own and have owned 92 buildings in all these markets. So when someone says, Hey, the building up the Street is for sale, Here’s what their rent role is. We look at six or 7 buildings that surround that building that we own or have owned. And what are the rents we’re getting in those today? Oh, my God. That guy’s only getting 900 dollars on a renovated unit. We’re getting 1350 boom. We know just go renovate those units. And that model works like crazy, right? Tell people that if we’re in the stock market, we’d all be in jail for trading on insider information. But Fortunately, real estate market, where that’s a huge advantage to pony owning the data. Right. We have the data. So virtually every neighborhood we’re in, we’re just looking and going, somebody’s missing the boat here. So a big part of the key for us is how do we find these deals that are off market? Because a lot of the good deals are somebody’s on it for a long time. The markets are going up, they’re sitting on their hands. They’re missing the fact that these markets are experiencing great rent growth or they see a rent growth. But they don’t want to move their tenants out because they’ve been in there for a long period of time. They don’t want to spend any money fixing up the building. So it creates a good opportunity for both those things to happen.
Buck: So I know that you and Janet and really you get the whole team. They’re involving your own family and friends and all that as investors. So what advice right now given where we are in the markets, given where Western Wealth Capital and what they’re doing, what advice do you give your friends and family about investing in real estate right now?
Dave: I mean right now is the important part to that question. I mean, there certainly are places wherein single family homes and in buying a house where the market is really, really heated. You know, again, I would say follow the math. And I would say, you know, if you’re going to invest in real estate, understand the model and the math. And if you don’t buy into the underlying assumptions, don’t invest. But the real basis today is that the next several years, in my mind, in multi-family, we are going to see a period of time where we get to make up for the last 18 months where we rolled through a tough time. But I tell people we were one of those very lucky businesses through a tough time owning apartments and investing in Amazon. Those are two great places you could have booked with your money to get through this. But I think the dividends are going to pay for the next several years because there’s just this pent up demand. You know what all my friends are like, Wow, Dame, you guys make great money in these. Should I put some money in? And, of course, you’re always more reluctant to temper your friends’ expectations as well. Right. So what I tell them is, number one, don’t take my word for it. Go and do the math and do the analysis. Do you believe that there’s going to be a shortage of product of new apartments in the Us? If you do, then the simplest part of this business exists, and that’s going to be that there’s more demand than there is supply. So that’s a good thing. Number two, do you believe the thesis that these big companies are moving to these cities because that’s where you’re going to get the tail wind of growth? That’s why Vegas is projected to grow at 6.3% a year for rent, growth for each year for the next three years. So if you believe that, then getting involved in a piece of real estate where you have that tailwind and then number three is to really understand how the math works to get the return. And as you said, in the value ad model, there’s just a huge ability to force that appreciation. So to me, it’s very methodical. It isn’t. You can take a lot of the emotion out of it. And I’m always reluctant people say, David, you should put your money into this. This is the greatest thing in the world. And we’ve all seen those deals. But at the end of the day, I always go to what are the base assumptions? Do I believe in the base assumptions? And do I believe they exist today? They’ll exist in a year. They’ll exist in two or 3 years. And if I do, then I invest in and that’s the beauty of real estate is that I think you can very thoughtfully go through and look at the program and say this is the way to do it.
Buck: Yeah. I completely agree with everything you’re saying. And I just think and I’ve been thinking to myself and I’ve said it to other people right now, being involved in this working class apartment buildings and high growth markets value at real estate. I can’t think of anything that has a better risk profile benefit risk profile, right? I mean, I see shiny objects out there all the time and showing proformas and all that, but the returns aren’t really any better. Usually they’re not. And there’s so much more risk. So I agree. 100% Obviously, I’ve been an advocate for real estate for a very long time as well, so they’re so surprised there. Dave, I want to thank you again for being on Wealth Formula podcast again, and it’s always great to hear from you. And I’m sure our group is going to be Super exciting. Hopefully the next time we have a live event, it’s always a great treat to have you there.
Dave: Thank you very much look we’re all looking forward to that little wine where we don’t have to share it across a computer screen.
Buck: There you go. We’ll be right back.