The Fastest Way To Build A Six Or Even… Seven Figure Real Estate EMPIRE!
With soaring interest rates, dwindling investment returns, and reduced cash flow, it’s never been harder to pinpoint profitable real estate markets. How do you mitigate risk and choose the right properties and markets? And most importantly, how do you vet partners before investing?
Joining me today to shed some light on these questions is the Founder of USHA Investment Group, Rama Krishna Chunchu. Rama has successfully transitioned from his W-2 job into multifamily real estate and has become an equity partner in over 750 units across Florida, Maryland, and North Carolina.
In our conversation, he shares the first thing he does when analyzing a market, why he thinks some markets are superior to others, and the seven questions you should always ask a general partner before investing.
Key Takeaways with Rama Krishna Chunchu
- How Rama reduces expenses while maximizing profits by investing in 80+ unit properties built after the 1980s.
- The secret sauce for identifying and capitalizing on emerging markets.
- Why Rama no longer underwrites deals with bridge loans – and uses agency debts instead.
- Top strategies for de-risking your investments as a limited partner.
- The advice Rama would give to newcomers in real estate investing.
Rama Krishna Chunchu Tweetables
- Usha Investment Group, LLC
- Rama Krishna Chunchu on LinkedIn
- Multifamily AP360 Virtual Summit
- United States Census Bureau
- PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited
- Marcus & Millichap
- Commercial Real Estate for Beginners: The Basics of Commercial Real Estate Investing by Peter Harris
- Michael Blank
- Financial Freedom with Real Estate Investing Podcast
- David Lindahl
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Connect with Josh Cantwell
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Josh Cantwell: So, hey, guys, welcome back to Accelerated Investor. Hey, I’m your host, Josh Cantwell. And today, we’re going to talk about analyzing markets. I have a guest on the show today. His name is Rama Krishna. And Rama is an equity partner in 750-plus units of multifamily assets in Florida, Maryland, and North Carolina. He’s both a general partner and limited partner. And with more than 15 years of experience as an IT professional, Rama has prided himself on becoming an expert at picking and analyzing markets. His website is UshaCapital.com.
And today, in this interview, you’re going to hear about, number one, why Rama specifically picks emerging markets and four or five of the criteria that he uses to select emerging markets. Number two, you’re going to hear a great discussion about why he invests in properties that were built after the 1980s and why that’s such an easier management play. Number three, you’re going to hear about us talking about our change in underwriting and the difference in underwriting from a year ago to the way that we underwrite deals today. Number four, you’re going to learn the specific order of how to select a general partner. If you’re a limited partner looking to invest with a general, you’re going to pick number one, operator first, market second, property third in that order, and we’re going to talk about why in that order. And finally, number five, you’re going to learn seven criteria and questions that a limited partner should ask a general partner before they invest.
So, today, you’re going to learn about not only investing as a limited partner, questions you should be ready to answer as a general partner, but also specifically about analyzing emerging markets. And so, here we go with the next episode of Accelerated Investor with Rama Krishna. Here we go.
Josh Cantwell: So, hey, Rama, listen, welcome to the show. Welcome to Accelerated Investor. I’m excited to talk to you today about your journey at multifamily and specifically about analyzing markets. So, thanks for carving out a few minutes for us today.
Rama Krishna Chunchu: Awesome. Thank you. And my Josh, I really appreciate your introduction and also inviting to your podcast.
Josh Cantwell: Yeah, got it. So, Rama, let’s talk a little bit about what you’re up to today. As we introduce you to our audience, tell us a little bit about your investment company. Tell us a little bit about what your kind of passion projects are, what you’re working on today.
Rama Krishna Chunchu: Sure. So, my investment company name is Usha Investment Group, LLC. We’re out of Greensboro, North Carolina. So, we focus on a growing market, emerging markets like Raleigh, Charlotte, and Greensboro, Greenville, South Carolina markets. So, mainly, we are focusing on value-add deals in this market, built after 1980, 80-plus units, 82, more than that one. So, mainly, we are focusing on light value-add deals.
Josh Cantwell: Got it. I love it. And how are you looking at the market today? We’re going to dig deeper into analyzing markets, but real high level, when you look at the market today compared to a year ago or two years ago, what’s your take on it? What do you think about today’s market? And what are some of the kind of new challenges or the new things that are important to you when you’re looking at deals?
Rama Krishna Chunchu: So, compared to last year, deal flow is a bit slow this year. So, it’s picking up right now, but deal flow is very, very slow in the last one or two quarters. And the challenging points are like debt markets completely shift gears from last year, first quarter of last year to second quarter last year and going forward. So, that is really impacting our overall deals. So, earlier, we used to underwrite deals with bridge loans with 75 or 70 LTVs. Now, bridge loans are completely out of scope because of high interest rates of more than eight percentage.
So, we are mainly focusing on agency debts, and also, low LTVs, like around 60 LTVs, around 60 LTVs with a rate against it. And also, higher interest rates, like last year, it was 4s, around 3.5s, 4s. Our agency debt now is almost mid-fives, depending on the size, if small deals, even if it’s stretching around almost six percentage. Definitely, that higher interest rate is impacting overall returns, no cash flow also. So, we are very conservative underwriting deals and carefully analyzing deals.
Josh Cantwell: Got it. So, that’s kind of the main message that we want to talk about today is analyzing markets. You own properties in Florida, Maryland, North Carolina. You’re based out of Greensboro. You have an IT background. A lot of the guys that I know that have IT backgrounds are very analytical. They’re very good at analyzing deals and analyzing markets.
And so, as this has changed, again, talk about high level today. You mentioned a few things, like obviously, in your underwriting and analyzing deals, analyzing markets, you’re not looking at bridge loans anymore because the interest rates are too high. You’re looking more at agency, and obviously, the higher interest rates, even with agency debt. So, how are those things affected your underwriting? Meaning, are you focused on a different asset class? Are you focused on different areas? How has that impacted the markets that you’re selecting, the deals that you’re looking at?
Rama Krishna Chunchu: So, that’s a great question. So, definitely, high interest rates on the low LTV is definitely a part of our overall returns. I’m hyper-focusing on three markets like in Raleigh MSA, Charlotte MSA, and Greensboro MSA. Other location, even more number of markets, but I’m hyper-focusing on few markets, and also, from property point of view also, I realize to always look for deals like before 1978 built. Now, we are highly focusing on the properties built after 1980s, C class to B class properties and B and A minus, those properties, because of different– and if you go with properties built before 1978, we can expect a lot of deferred maintenance like plumbing side or roofing side or electricals, those kind of stuff. We can expect a lot of unknown stuff if you go into older property. That is the reason we are choosing after 1980 built.
And also, management point of view, we are looking at 80-plus units. Below 80-plus units is very challenging to manage within a part-time management, part-time leasing agent, part-time maintenance guy. So, sometimes, we need to pay. We need to hire full time instead of part time. We need to go with full time. That will increase our overall expenses. Overall expenses plan is completely changed. We used to underwrite 2%, 3%, but in reality, it’s like expenses are more than that because of inflation. Even our labor cost housing pays a lot, along with the material costs.
Josh Cantwell: And so, you mentioned a few times, before COVID, pre-1978, now, you’re looking more at assets that were built after the 1980s and the difference in the plumbing, the electrical. Was there something specific that happened in the late 70s or 80s? Was there a law change to the code? Or why the difference between pre-1980s and after 1980s? Is it just that it’s newer asset with less maintenance? Or was there something specific that happened at that time?
Rama Krishna Chunchu: Mainly, with wall assets, normally, we underwrite because in our standard underwriting with maintenance, 350 per unit, or in our turnover, 300 per unit or something like that, but in reality, it will cost more than that, even turnover sales. And also, we’ll expect a lot of plumbing issues getting older properties, a lot of stuff. We are not aware of that small stuff. It will cost a lot of dollar, overall expenses side. That is a mandate.
Josh Cantwell: Got it. And so, it sounds like you’ve really changed from these two years ago where you could go more with bridge debt, go more with these assets in these growth markets, maybe more of a value-add play. And because now, the bridge loans are no longer really a viable option, it’s really changed your entire approach where you’re looking now at newer assets, 1980s, 1990s, lighter value-adds, and going with more agency debt. So, it sounds like a pretty significant shift.
Rama Krishna Chunchu: Not completely significant, but still, we are playing with the value-add deals but not deeper value-add. So, it’s still like 1990s built are almost 40 years old. Still, we need to play with that by our value-add components. So, from a plumbing point of view, which are built after 1980s, like copper on PVC, those kind of stuff, and also electrical wiring, also copper side. So, whereas before that one, it’s like no aluminum or cast iron and those kind of stuff. So, with that, expense is a little bit higher. So, with the newer ones, expenses will be a little bit lesser.
Josh Cantwell: Got it. Love it. So, let’s talk about selecting markets. You have an IT background and analytical background. You’re based out of Greensboro, but you have assets in Florida, North Carolina. You’re both a limited partner and general partner. So, let’s just talk high level, when you think about analyzing markets, what does that mean to you? And what’s the first thing that you do? Do you analyze the market first or a deal first? Tell us about that.
Rama Krishna Chunchu: So, always market, market is number one. I will look at it. As a GP, I will select markets first, so mainly like emerging markets where population is growing, where jobs are coming to those markets. And also, a few other factors I will consider like landlord friendly, those kind of stuff, a lot of emerging markets, right? So, I will select market first, then property or submarket, those factors, like median average household income, and also, rent bumps, whether that property is under market rents, those kind of stuff.
Josh Cantwell: There are so many markets. There’s 19,000 major cities in this country, the Bellwether gateway markets like a Chicago or like an L.A. or like a New York or like a Houston. And then there is a bazillion other markets, like a Greensboro, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, I mean, you name it, Louisville, Kentucky. And then there’s the submarkets underneath those and often a major city, take Cincinnati, for example, just pull that one out, there’s at least 13 submarkets in Cincinnati. Greensboro probably has 8 to 12 submarkets just in Greensboro.
So, it seems like a lot. Is there a way– let’s talk high-level market first, the bigger city, the bigger market. When you look at population growth, job growth, household income, rent growth, are you looking at a market just from what you hear in the popular news? There’s got to be at least 50 to 100 markets just to look at from a very high level, right? So, how do you even– like if I’m new and I live in L.A. or I live in Chicago or I live in Newark, New Jersey, they’re very expensive markets, and I know I want to move to the South, the Southeast, the Midwest, what’s the very first thing you would do to even bother picking 10 markets, 20 markets to start to select and review because there’s so many you could possibly choose from?
Rama Krishna Chunchu: So, yeah, for me, there are multiple ways we can approach this one. So, attending conferences is one way, and also, going through some kind of education programs, like nearby, we have some program around selecting cities, those kind of stuff. And also, there are other ways like Census.gov. We can get all this data using Census.gov, like population growth, job growth, diversification of jobs, and also, labor market. All this stuff, we will get from Census.gov.
So, I did all this kind of research using multiple markets. Let’s take Southeast markets, like Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro, Greenville, Atlanta, Florida, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, or Nashville, Texas. So, for all this market, I did all this kind of research, gathered all the information from Census.gov. What is the population 10 years back and now? And also, job market, unemployment rate compared to 10 years back to what is now, and also job diversifications. All those kind of data, I gather from that and analyzed.
And I also subscribe to various local newsletters in these markets. We’ll getting all kinds of great where jobs are coming, those kind of information using that. So, using that, I analyze with multiple markets until I selected multiple markets, but I want to hyper-focus on few markets so that I will build better relationships with property management companies to get better understanding of submarkets, like which submarkets are really great? Which submarkets are emerging? And also, median household income is good, crime rate is low, school ratings are good, those kinds of areas I will pick.
Josh Cantwell: I got it. I love it, yeah. So, Census.gov is a huge place to get that data. There’s other data sources. We actually talk about this during the live events that we teach. There are six or eight different places and reports that we use, and Census.gov is definitely one of them. PricewaterhouseCoopers has a great report that they put out every year. CoStar has amazing reports about markets and submarkets. And as Rama mentioned, you’re looking at really the 5-year, 10-year growth. And that’s what’s really important to determine a market because all you can do is really look in the past, all those reports are really looking to the past data.
And then when you look at the future data, then it becomes more granular about what’s actually happening in the market, talking to property management companies, what do they think the emerging submarkets are, what’s going in for businesses, what’s going in for retail, is there new office buildings being built, new manufacturing plants. That often will not be available at Census.gov or some of the reports that look at the past. Then you have to look at a specific market or submarket. You have to get a little bit more granular. Rama mentioned talking specifically to property management companies. And there’s some other reports that you can get to look at future growth, future projections. That’s really, really important.
And the main things that he’s mentioned, population growth, job growth, median household growth, rent growth, those are the types of things, job diversification, that we look at to make sure that a market is growing. Rama, when you look at your markets, everybody has a different take on this, I’m always curious to hear about his opinions. There’s no right or wrong answer, of course, but how much more do you believe in investing in your back yard versus investing in another market that might be a plane ride away?
And I asked that question because when COVID hit, a lot of people realized that it’s much tougher to manage a property that’s a plane ride away. Now, obviously, the world is on thawed. Things are a lot easier. COVID is not so prevalent. But how much do you believe in investing in your back yard, especially when you’re starting out? Or do you subscribe to the idea that, hey, it doesn’t matter where you live, you can invest anywhere as long as you go make those relationships and understand the marketplace? What are your thoughts on that?
Rama Krishna Chunchu: So, yeah, before that, I would like to add a few other points for the previous question. I will also look at different reports, like IRR reports and Marcus & Millichap report, CBRE reports, and different ones like Delight and some other reports also. But this question, like you mentioned, there is no right or wrong answer, right? So, for me, luckily, I’m in great market. So, like Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro, and South Carolina, these markets like emerging markets are great markets. So, it’s an advantage for me. So, I’m looking for a local market.
But someone living in California or New York, they can look outside of their states. There are a lot of investors in this multifamily space, they invest in outside of their own market. If I’m in different markets, maybe I will also look for good emerging markets. Like the markets you mentioned, Southeast markets, Texas or Florida, are stable markets, like Indianapolis or Ohio, those markets. So, there is no right or wrong answer, but for me, luckily, I mean, good market is a boots-on-the-ground market.
Josh Cantwell: You get the best of both worlds, right? You get an emerging market, a growth market, and also happens to be around the corner.
Rama Krishna Chunchu: Yeah.
Josh Cantwell: That’s fantastic stuff. I love it. So, when you look at being a limited partner, you’re a limited partner in deals, but you’re also a general partner in deals. If you’re a limited partner, I guess, speak to the limited partners of the world out there right now. What are some things that they should be asking the general partner? What kind of underwriting should they be doing?
It almost baffles me sometimes how little research limited partners do. There’s a lot of limited partners that do tremendous amount of research, obviously, and everyone has a different comfort level. Some people get comfortable with the operator and they’re like, yeah, I like the operator so they don’t do a whole lot of underwriting on the deal. But obviously, things have been different. The market’s changed. Underwriting has changed. Debt’s changed. Even preferred returns that general partners can pay to limited partners has changed. So, what kind of advice or updates do you have for limited partners and the best way for them to invest and to really de-risk their investments?
Rama Krishna Chunchu: So, like mentioned, you already got a few points, like operator is number one point, and also market is number two. Then the third is like a deal. So, from a deal point of view, I would look their capital resource, that is one important for me, and also, their expenses, like insurance expenses, real estate taxes. So, some specific markets, these are very, very expensive, like Texas or Florida market. And also, rent growth projections, how they’re projecting rents first year or second year. And what is their value-add plan? How much rent bump they’re increasing? Is that realistic rent bump? What is their exit cap rate? So, is that realistic compared to where our current interest rates? And what kind of loans are they are going with? And what is their LTVs? How much they are leveraging? So, are they leveraging very high or low? Those are the factors I would look.
Josh Cantwell: Yeah, that’s fantastic. That’s a great look quick list. So, if you missed that part or you’re a limited partner or if you’re a general partner looking to bring in limited partners, the little list that Rama just mentioned, go back, rewind the podcast, listen to that again, and make sure you catch that because he did a really good job. That 30 seconds, I thought was big. Make sure you write that stuff down. Go relisten to that again.
Rama, I’m curious, now that you’re having success in this multifamily space, both as a limited partner and our general partner, you started out as an immigrant from India, an IT professional. How did multifamily begin for you? How did you jump into it? Where did the education come from and your initial step into multifamily? How did you find out about it? And what was your first experience like?
Rama Krishna Chunchu: So, I started out with single families around 2014. So, I did single families, townhome stuff. So, I was also a full time that time. Doing full time and also managing the single families scattered across multiple locations is a bit challenging. So, then, I thought like, this is not going well, so I need to do some other options. That sort of came about multifamilies.
Somehow, I got that Commercial Real Estate book by Peter Harris. I read that book, and also, I really liked that concept of scaling and managing properties using third-party property management. So, then I explored a little bit more through listening podcasts like Michael Blank’s podcast and other podcasts. And I started and went to some membership at mastermind groups, and I also attended various virtual conferences like that. And I was doing multiple meetups and a lot of listening podcasts and also networking with other new operators or new GPs. And I also start underwriting deals and start analyzing market and I read various reports, like CBRE, Marcus & Millichap, IRR reports. That’s how I came to know. And also, I read books like David Lindahl’s books, those kind of stuff. That’s how it started.
Josh Cantwell: How scary was it then on your first multifamily investment?
Rama Krishna Chunchu: It’s not scary because it took some time. So, I’m a bit comfortable by doing all this stuff, right? So, attending conferences and networking, and also, by that time, I started my own podcast so that I’m a bit comfortable. So, the only thing is finding the right team. That is the key, yeah.
Josh Cantwell: Got it. So, you really got the education first. I mean, you mentioned masterminds, virtual events, podcasts, reading books, four or five or six things you mentioned to really give yourself education about the marketplace first. You started out with single families, realized that that was not going to get you where you wanted to go. So, after doing all of that and going that, I would say, is a relatively traditional path of getting the education first, understanding that multifamily, the larger assets are going to create more freedom, more stabilization, more stabilized assets, more doors under one roof. What are some of the things that you’ve learned? What kind of advice would you give to our audience? What kind of advice would you give your younger self about your journey? What’s worked well? What would you change?
Rama Krishna Chunchu: So, definitely, from starting, honestly, I really take extreme ownership for all my actions. So, I would like to take complete ownership for my growth or my investments, everything, my role. That is what I want to do. Educate yourself, yeah, definitely, education is a top priority. And finding the right team and finding the right group is important. Right community is very, very key to success. So, that will speed up the process. Now, if you select the right team, yeah, you will be in the right track. You’ll find that track fill up very fast.
Josh Cantwell: Yeah, I love it. Well, his company is UshaCapital.com, U-S-H-A Capital.com. You can visit his website there to learn more about Usha Investment Group. Rama is again an equity partner in 750-plus units – Florida, Maryland, and North Carolina, and has successfully made this pivot from his regular day job W-2 into multifamily, obviously, and an expert at analyzing markets. So, Rama, is there any place else that our audience can engage with you and learn more about you?
Josh Cantwell: Awesome. I appreciate jumping on the show today and sharing some of your insights on analyzing markets. Rama, thanks for being here.
Rama Krishna Chunchu: Thank you, my Josh. Thank you for this opportunity. I really appreciate it.
Josh Cantwell: Well, guys, there you have it. Listen, I hope you enjoyed that episode with Rama. Go back and listen again to those checklists that he gave for selecting operators, markets, properties, and also different questions that limited partners should be asking GPs. One of the things that I think Rama has prided himself on, being newer investor to real estate over the last nine years and specifically multifamily over the past four or five years, if you know how to analyze an operator, analyze a market, and then analyze a property, you de-risk your investments. That is critical.
One of the things that we teach during our live events at ForeverPassiveIncome.com is exactly that. We spent a whole two hours specifically on analyzing operators, analyzing markets, and analyzing properties, using what we call the Matrix. It’s our deal analyzing software. So, if you want to get access to that software and a ticket to our upcoming live events, we do them virtually once a quarter, go to ForeverPassiveIncome.com and grab your ticket now.
And as always, don’t forget to like, subscribe, rate, and review the podcast so we can continue to push this out and this message out to as many people as possible and help them become a better accelerated investor. We’ll see you next time. Take care.