The Fastest Way To Build A Six Or Even… Seven Figure Real Estate EMPIRE!
Purchasing any property comes with a certain amount of risk. And that’s undoubtedly true with multifamily real estate investing. But if you never take any risk, you’re not growing your portfolio or your business. And if you spent 10 years working on Wall Street like today’s guest, you’d understand investment risk very well and how to manage it.
Craig Berger is the Founder of Avid Realty Partners and has been an active real estate investor for over 15 years. He oversees deal sourcing, underwriting, fundraising, capital markets, operations, and asset management. Since 2015, Avid Realty has grown its portfolio with approximately 2,000 multifamily units worth more than $275M.
Prior to founding Avid Realty Partners, he worked for over 10 years as a highly acclaimed semiconductor equity research analyst at Smith Barney Citigroup and FBR Capital Markets, among others. With his expertise, he’s guided Avid Realty through 6 exits with zero realized loss and a 33% average IRR.
In our conversation, Craig shares what it takes to have incredible success as a real estate investor. In his words, it takes persistence, grit, determination, and being able to analyze deals to minimize risk while being willing to go all in and be willing to fail. If you find yourself getting caught up in the headlines and fears about inflation, you’ll miss out on opportunities that are available
Key Takeaways with Craig Berger
- Why fears about inflation should be nearing the end and why there will be great opportunities in the next 12 months.
- Why Craig has focused on building his portfolio in Texas and how state laws factor into those decisions.
- How real estate investors need to have grit and determination to be truly successful.
- Taking risks is essential in real estate investing, but minimizing risk helps to ensure a successful outcome.
Craig Berger Tweetables
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Connect with Josh Cantwell
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Josh Cantwell: So, hey, guys, welcome back to Accelerated Investor. Hey, it’s your host, Josh Cantwell. I have a great interview today with an absolute baller. His name is Craig Berger. He’s been an active real estate investor for more than 15 years and he is the founder of Avid Realty Partners back in 2015. And he has scaled his commercial real estate portfolio through a multifamily hotel and net lease asset acquisitions. He oversees their deal sourcing, their underwriting, their fundraising, capital markets, operations, and asset management. He’s got a team of eight to nine people that work underneath him to help him source and bring in deals and underwrite deals. He has a very legitimate Fortune 500-style operation and he has a very meaningful portfolio of over 2,000 multifamily apartments worth nearly $300 million.
He’s also taken six deals full cycle with an average weighted IRR of over 34% return. That’s an incredible, incredible return. He focuses on markets from the Sunbelt in Phoenix all the way across the country into the Carolinas. He’s a fantastic guy. This is a really, really fun interview for me. And we got really deep on entrepreneurship and not only what it takes to be successful in multifamily and some of the criteria that he uses to buy properties, but really the criteria that it takes for the entrepreneur that the jockey, the guy, the person that’s building the business, what are some of the main traits and criteria to be a really successful investor, an entrepreneur?
One of the biggest that I took away from this was Craig’s ability to swallow risks. And I also loved his quote about how multifamily is like a boat. You’re going to hear that in today’s interview on Accelerated Investor with me, Josh Cantwell, and my guest, the founder of Avid Realty Partners, Craig Berger. Here we go.
Josh Cantwell: So, hey, Craig, listen, thanks so much for joining us today on Accelerated Investor. So excited to talk big-time multifamily investing with you. Thanks for joining us today.
Craig Berger: Thanks for having me, Josh.
Josh Cantwell: Awesome stuff. Craig, listen, as we get to know you a little bit more, kind of introduce you to our audience, I’d love to hear about what you’re working on right now. What kind of passion projects are you working on, both from a business perspective and a personal perspective? Tell us about that.
Craig Berger: Sure, yeah. I mean, on the business side, we’re just trying to make lemonade right now. We’re trying to buy low and acquire the best, highest-quality assets that we can, while 70% or 80% of our competition is on the sidelines and taking a wait-and-see approach. So, I think it’s a great time to be buying right now. Prices have come way down, and so, we’re trying to capitalize on this window of opportunity.
Josh Cantwell: And how about on a personal level, what do you do with your spare time?
Craig Berger: I’m married. I live in Manhattan, renovating my condo for the first time in over 10 years, so moved out of the city for the summer. And I’m three houses from the beach. I got out of Manhattan for the first time in 15 years, so just a little change of pace, a little change of life, and having a great time.
Josh Cantwell: I love it. You mentioned, from a business perspective, buying the highest quality assets. Tell us about that. What does that mean to you? What do you mean when you say high-quality assets? What are some characteristics of that in your mind?
Craig Berger: Sure. Well, we’ve had the good fortune of being able to grow. And when I got into this business, I didn’t have entree, so what I would consider high-quality assets. So, we’ve had to sort of scale and build and earn the right to buy these assets. But to me, higher quality assets revolve around higher earning tenants that are easier to collect rent from, maybe fewer problems with some of those resident demographic profiles and newer assets that are requiring less CapEx, capital, maintenance, and so on.
Josh Cantwell: And Craig, why do you think that? There’s some obvious reasons. I think most of our audience would know. But what are some reasons that you think so many people are sitting on the sidelines? Interest rates, is it that they’ve kind of gotten punched in the mouth because of interest rate is going up and maybe their mortgage payment is going up and they’re kind of sitting on the sidelines because they’ve taken some lumps? What are some reasons why you think some of the competition has left the market?
Craig Berger: So, there’s different classes of competition, but if you start with the biggest and work your way on downREITs, real estate investment trusts, their stocks are trading at a discount to net asset value. So, every dollar that they’re putting out at a discount is sort of dilutive to their stock price to the extent the stock market rallies, and that discount goes away. I think a lot of REITs will come back into the market. But more broadly than that, interest rates have obviously gapped higher. Now, they’re starting to fall again.
People are concerned about the headlines. People are concerned about inflation. To me, those are things to be concerned about a year ago and were sort of on the backside of those trends already. So, I think it’s a great buying opportunity between now and year-end. I think in 2024, the competitive environment is less gentle and less friendly than it is today. So, really just trying to make lemonade.
Josh Cantwell: Yeah, no, I think so, too. I think a lot of people are waiting for rates to come down to possibly jump back into the market. Probably can forecast that rates maybe start to come down end of this year or maybe in 2024. Then some troublesome capital stacks and loans maybe can be refinanced. And some people that are out of the market possibly reentering the market with cheaper debt and some assets that are not really performing or cash flowing right now. They can maybe restructure those and get back into positive cash flow with those types of deals.
Craig, real estate is very local. It’s very local to certain markets or certain submarkets that people love or certain markets or submarkets people will not touch. You’re obviously in Manhattan. New York is a very tough place to do business. I don’t imagine that you’re buying all your assets in New York. So, where do you like to buy? What kind of areas are you bullish on, considering that real estate can be so local and so geographically centrally located? What are some areas that you really like or areas that you’ve avoided?
Craig Berger: Awesome question. I don’t own anything in Manhattan except my own condo, and I’m thinking about disposing of that and moving to a no income tax state. I like to operate and do business where it’s easy and simple to understand. I don’t want to look through 2,000 pages of laws and regulations. I don’t want to be subject to what I view as an illegal and unconstitutional taking of my property through overly restrictive rent control and things like that. I just don’t believe that that’s America.
So, we do business in Texas, is where I’ve primarily bought the most and majority of my deals we like. I mean, Austin’s a great market. Dallas is a great market. Houston and San Antonio are really good markets. But we also look in North and South Carolina. We look at a bunch of deals in Florida. I kind of avoid South Florida, Miami, Greater Metro. It’s harder to compete in that market against local folks that have cheaper costs of capital.
But we look a lot in Phoenix. We look a lot in Vegas, sort of in-migration, job growth, population growth markets. A lot of times there’s low or no state income tax. That’s where companies are relocating. Easy to do business, easier to evict tenants that don’t pay the rent, things like that.
Josh Cantwell: Yeah, I love it. Now, you’re heading up your firm’s deal sourcing, underwriting, lot of the fundraising. When our audience hears that you’re everywhere from North and South Carolina to Phoenix and a lot of markets in between, some people might be like, “Damn, how many how many deals does this guy look at? And how many different brokers is he talking to? And how many deals does he have to underwrite to get one?” Give us some insight into kind of what does that mean for your day-to-day job, with your work? Is it overwhelming? Or how do you keep all that together? And how do you pick and choose? Because not only in those markets, but there’s so many submarkets within those markets, it would seem like a tremendous amount to try to keep your eyes on.
Craig Berger: Awesome. I’m exhausted. No, seriously. I have done everything. Right now, we’ve got eight or nine people at the corporate level on the team. And so, now, I get to deal with the stuff that filters up from our team members where it warrants my attention. So, we do have three folks that are really focused on sourcing and acquisitions and underwriting. And when something is compelling or interesting, they say during our biweekly deal review call that I should look at this. So, we look at deals that pass muster with our team members that have been trained in our processes and so on. You’re right, it is a lot of ground.
Josh Cantwell: You’re probably going to cover this. But what are some of the criteria? If you have a checklist of 8 to 12 to 15, 20 criteria before it hits your desk and you are sifting and sorting through a lot of deal flow to do that, what are some of the bellwether sort of most important metrics that these deals have to pass through for them that bother having Craig’s eyes on them?
Craig Berger: Well, we run everything through our standard underwriting model, which normalizes for all factors and gives us the answer. Ultimately, we have to make money on a deal, so it has to meet certain IRR and equity multiple return thresholds. But getting past that, we look at how much do we have to pay per door relative to the rent, the rent that’s in place effective or the post value add or potential post push rent. What’s our price-to-rent ratio? Who lives at these properties? Is it very low-income, naturally occurring affordable housing, which I’ve owned a lot of and done well and I believe in that mission? Or is it very, very high-income type of residence? And I own some of that as well.
So, we’ll buy up and down the demographic spectrum. But I want to know what I’m buying, of course, and I want to pay an appropriate price for that. How old is the asset? Is it a 70s deal that’s going to require unlimited nonstop CapEx? Or is it a brand-new construction deal that requires no CapEx? What’s around us? Is it Ruth’s Chris Steak House right across the street? Or is it something else?
Josh Cantwell: Probably.
Craig Berger: How much growth is there, right? What was the population of this zip code or census tract 10 years ago, 20 years ago versus today? So, these are some of the important things that we look at. How easy is it to do business in that location? What does our property management relationship look like in that location? These are some of the things that come to mind. But really, we’re just looking for the best value, the best deal within the context of what that property might be or what it is.
Josh Cantwell: And how much is your investors, your investor base, limited partners, their appetite? How much does it go into that? To think, ultimately, you guys have taken a number of deals full cycle with a 34% weighted average IRR across six exited deals. That’s incredible. Those are incredible numbers. And for our audience that may not even understand what that means, it’s really good. It’s a lot of profit for a lot of people, your firm and then the investors that you have. In this environment, is there a type of structure that your investors really have a big appetite for? Has that changed at all over the last year as interest rates have changed?
Craig Berger: Thank you for your kindness, by the way. The market was cooperative and we were good enough to sell high and sell what we could in the high prices, but the market deserves a lot of the credit there also. I mean, we are being more active with large institutional investors. And that’s just because we want to grow and make as much progress with the amount of time that we’re investing into a deal as we can.
When we think about acquiring a deal, we want to buy assets now that we, hopefully, will have a line of 10, 15, 20 institutional investors lining up that really want to buy the asset. That’s not a place that I was in three to five years ago. So, we’re growing into that. But any time I take on an asset now because it is very hard to sell these assets, transacting on a $30 million, $50 million, $80 million deal, it’s hard. So, I really do want to buy properties and assets that sell themselves, that are attractive to a large number of well-resourced institutional buyers down the road.
But the deal structure, I mean, there’s a lot of deal structures. You’re either taking pref, you’re taking common, maybe you’re taking some co-GP that brings the common. So, there’s a variety of sort of flavors, but at the end of the day, it’s more or less the same. It’s just about how you split the economics, and within those details, we’re trying to buy the most marketable deals down the road that we can.
Josh Cantwell: Yeah, love it. Now, Craig, one of the things I love to talk with our guests about is their sort of entrepreneurial journey and kind of where they came from, where they started, but what are some traits or some characteristics of some things that you think really worked out well and the traits or characteristics that you think that good investors, good entrepreneurs have to have the kind of growth that you’ve experienced. You’ve done it for yourself. You started with being a new investor. You came from Wall Street more as an analyst and have grown into somebody that’s had a $275 million, $300 million portfolio, done thousands of units, taking deals full cycle.
So, somebody might ask if they were sitting in my seats. Craig, how did you start from where you were and what do you think it took? What were some things that you did right to get to where you’re at today, where you’re really positioning yourself to operate with and sell to institutions? That’s almost like we talk about going full cycle, but in your entrepreneurial journey, not just on a deal journey, but on an entrepreneurial journey. What are some of the traits? What are some of the things you’ve done well? What are some of the characteristics that you think you have to have to mirror some of the success that you’ve had?
Craig Berger: Josh, I love your questions. Really good. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. And it’s not casual. I would describe it as attempting to cross the ocean in a life raft.
Josh Cantwell: That analogy, that’s great.
Craig Berger: And by the way, I don’t feel like I’ve made it at all. I still feel like I’m in the second, maybe third inning at the most of our platform. I haven’t made it. We can still flame out if we don’t make smart decisions. And I’m not comfortable and I don’t want to be comfortable. I have to stay hungry and motivated and sharp and making the best decisions possible. But what does it take? It takes persistence, determination, grit, a certain level of emotional fortitude. It takes some resources.
And then something that’s changed for me is I’ve been on this journey, I’ve had to go all in. This is my life. I’ve had to go all in with my life and my commitment to building this business and my commitment to being able to swallow massive amounts of risks. I try not to have risk at the deal level, but I do have risk at the life level, at the company level. We do not have on-balance-sheet capital for the deals that we buy. We have to go secure the deal and secure the capital in parallel. I’m very straightforward and transparent with any potential seller that we’re not sitting on on-balance-sheet capital. And we do lose a bunch of deals to bigger, more established, and well-resourced firms that do have on-balance-sheet capital.
So, you need to be able to take a lot of risks, not give up and realize that building a business like this is a 10 to 20-year undertaking. Maybe you can do it faster than 10 years. Things come easy for some people. It hasn’t come easy for me. Sometimes, I want to cry, right? That’s what being an entrepreneur is. So, you do need some kind of financial resources to survive. If you have a job and you want to do it part-time, I can understand the intelligence of that decision and keep the lights on money coming in and working nights and weekends for your side projects. But undertaking an all-in effort is not for the faint of heart. It requires 110%. And I have had to learn to spend resources, invest, and take on massive amounts of personal and life risks.
Josh Cantwell: Yeah, I love that description because that is about as honest and as real as you’re going to hear. Our audience is used to hearing some pretty honest stuff from me about the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve only known Craig here for 20 minutes, and man, I love that description, Craig, because I could just feel that when you said the word cry, like, man, I could feel that.
Let me ask you that. I mean, this might get a little too personal, but let me ask because I love talking to other successful entrepreneurs, especially guys still on the journey. I love the fact that, for a lot of people are like, oh my God, you’ve done all these things and you raise all this money and you’ve done all these. You’re like, I’m in the second inning, third inning. That’s really awesome. I’m just in the first, second phase of this journey across the ocean.
You mentioned crying. You’ve had deals have gone full cycles. So, tell us about or describe for us one of those situations where you think as an entrepreneur you were most excited and most proud of what you guys accomplished. And then tell us about one of the moments when you thought you were going to cry.
Craig Berger: Sure. Well, look, I’m very honest and transparent. I grew up in St. Louis. I’m from the Midwest. I tell it like it is. I kind of view myself as the anti-Cardone by the way. I don’t fly private jets. I fly coach. I don’t want to use my investor money or fees and have egregious fees spent on Lamborghinis and private jets. I can serve my investors’ money. I charge small fees and I fly coach and live a reasonably humble life.
What are the things I’m most proud of? Well, multifamily properties are like boats. The best day of your life is the day you buy it and the day you sell it, and everything else in between is a lot of work. But yeah, I guess, the first institutional deal I bought in early 2018 was a big accomplishment. That deal almost crashed and burned when my mortgage cosigner failed 48 hours before close and I had to get another one in two days, which was unbelievable.
And I still adore and love the guy that came in and worked with me without really knowing me. And I’m going to be forever in his debt for just getting me through that first deal. Brian, a hell of a guy. And the moments that I’m most proud of, we sold three deals in late ‘21, early ‘22. We delivered some monster returns for investors, brought some capital into my own pocket and the corporate coffers. And that’s what’s allowed us to invest in people, processes, systems, and future growth. So, that’s really what’s keeping me going. If I hadn’t sold, I’d probably be dead in the water right now. So. it’s a very fine line between success and failure.
Being successful means, yes, making money, making the right decisions. Part of making the right decisions is avoiding landmines. I’ve done really well. I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes. And I hope and pray that any mistakes that I’ve made are not fatal. And we can get through that because it’s hard to build an institutional platform from scratch with limited resources.
Josh Cantwell: Yeah. Amazing stuff. Craig, I love the honesty. Man, the Midwest, right? The Midwest really, I’m a Midwest guy, born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Still live there. And the roots, I think, that you grow from a midwestern upbringing is huge. It permeates throughout all of our decision making to really take care of people.
Craig, as we kind of round third here and head for home with this particular interview, I have two questions. One is you’re still building your platform. You’ve been so honest in the way that you’ve described it, successes that you’ve had. How can we help you? I mean, are you looking for more investors? Are you looking for more deal flow? Our audience is very active in the business. How can we help you? Where can we engage with you?
And then last question would just be around advice. Like, if you look back, you’ve given us a lot of advice about not being comfortable, being persistent, being determined, having grit, going all in with your life, swallowing risks, these are all the notes that I took. So, how can we help you? And what kind of final pieces of advice would you pass back to our audience?
Craig Berger: Awesome. Well, in terms of help, we always are looking for more investors. There’s a lot of different shades of investor all the way from 50k limited partner, passive investors up through more active junior co-GP folks that I’ll work with. I sort of tell any investor who wants to get more involved in the business, if you don’t want to be passive, I’m happy to share economics, but it has to be value given for value received.
But we’re always looking for investors. Sure. Absolutely. And we’re always looking for deals, right? I love Ohio. I don’t want to steal any of your deals. We love Columbus. I like Cleveland. I like Cincinnati. It’s a little slower growth, but hopefully, you get better valuation metrics, better cap rates, better price-to-rent ratios for taking on slightly less growth. But I really like Ohio. We do look at a lot of deals in Columbus, and maybe someday, I’ll connect on a deal there.
Just in terms of the second part of your question, what advice? I mean, my advice is, if you want something in life, you got to go for it and you got to go for it hard and you got to be willing to fail. You cannot have success without failure along the way. Hopefully, your failures are very small and risk managed and few, and your successes are large and greater in number or magnitude. But you’ve got to be willing to fail. You’ve got to go hard. You’ve got to go all in, make the most of your life, make the most of your efforts because there’s no point in doing something halfway.
Josh Cantwell: Craig, what a great way to finish off this interview. I appreciate all that advice. It’s fantastic stuff. Guys, you can get in contact with Craig and his firm at AvidRealtyPartners.com. They’re active on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. Their LinkedIn is LinkedIn.com/company/AvidRealtyPartners, @avidrealty on Twitter, and @avidrealtyp on Instagram. Check them out, connect with them, invest with Craig. Joint venture on some deals, do some stuff together. The whole idea of this show is to bring together people who are doing deals, actively do more deals together. Learning is great, doing is better. Craig, thanks so much for being on the show today. You’ve been a fantastic guest.
Craig Berger: Awesome. Fantastic questions. Thanks so much for having me.
Josh Cantwell: Well, guys, there you have it. Listen, man, what a fun interview. Craig and I connected really, really fast on that show. And even after the show was over, we connected on a number of things, exchanged cell phones, and just really talked about life and entrepreneurship. Really, really fun.
If you enjoyed the interview, gosh, almighty, subscribe, subscribe, subscribe, subscribe because I do this out of a passion kind of project for you to help you grow to be the best investor and entrepreneur that you can be. The only way to do that is to continue to listen to more and more episodes and continue to engage with me in the community. Don’t forget a couple more things. Subscribe, obviously, like, rate, review, right?
Then don’t forget to join our Facebook group, FreelandVentures.com/FBGroup. There you can join our Accelerated Investor group. All of our listeners and investors doing deals listening to the show, that would be fantastic. Now we have some upcoming events, some training events. You can get a ticket for a few hundred bucks at ForeverPassiveIncome.com. I look forward to seeing you in our future episodes, in our Facebook group, at our live events. Thank you so much for being here. Don’t forget to share this episode all over social media. It means so much to me and so much to Craig. Thanks for being here. We’ll see you next time. Take care.