Developer in Residence? Exploring three infill scenarios with grad students

The cool building by Leon Krier
The cool building by Leon Krier
The slightly less cool building that houses the MRED+U program...
The slightly less cool building that houses the MRED+U program…

It might be a strain to imagine me in an academic setting, but here I am at the University of Miami’s Masters program in Real Estate Development + Urbanism (MRED+U).  Dr. Charles Bohl runs the program and has something called the Developer in Residence.  They invite a developer to give a couple lectures and work with the MRED+U students. This year Chuck invited me.

This evening I am scheduled to explain the one page static pro forma we use in the Small Developer Boot Camp to folks taking a graduate level real estate finance class in a building designed by one of my heros; Leon Krier.  I am finding that part of the gig quite wonderful (and a bit intimidating).

Earlier today I was working with small teams of students who are charged with putting together theoretical infill projects on parcels they have been assigned in several Miami neighborhoods.  They all had questions similar to what we hear from Boot Camp participants.  Where do you start? -the buildings? the parking? the zoning?  How can we estimate what construction is going to cost? Should we build the maximum we can under the zoning?  Should we build structured parking?

My advice was to set up three scenarios, the first should be an as-is reality check to use as a baseline.

  1. Figure out what the rents would need to be to support the purchase of the existing building and parking lot at the price Dr. Bohl has assigned to the property.
  2. Add some buildings to the parking lot and spending some money to improve the existing building.
  3. Scrape the site. Demolish the existing buildings and build something close to the maximum the zoning would allow.

Sorting out the first scenario helps you understand how the existing building with existing or similar tenants makes money.  The second is an incremental approach to adding value without creating a really expensive site that needs to be maximized to justify tearing down a building (regardless of how crappy it might appear.  The third shows you what the maximum you could build under the local rules could be.  It also leads you to consider if the market would support that much building program and that much hard and soft construction cost.  Lay out quick site plans for each of the three scenarios.  Annotate them with your assumptions on square footage, residential unit configurations and unit count, and then use your quick and dirty site studies to build three parallel static pro formas.

This promises to be a very interesting week.  I will do my best to capture some of it here.

Answering some basic questions on forming an LLC and getting a construction loan for a small project


Today I got an email from someone who attended a Small Developer Boot Camp that asked the following questions:

  • How do I structure my project for an outside investor or for my own investment of capital?
  • How do the investors get paid for that investment?
  • How do I set up an LLC?
  • How do I get a construction loan?
  • How do I structure my finances and credit?
  • Should I use of my house and the land as collateral?

I figured posting the questions and my response here on the blog would be helpful to others.

Forming an LLC
You will need to find a local attorney familiar with real estate development and have them draft the Operating Agreement for your LLC.  If you are going to have another person or persons investing in your project you should hold off on actually filing your LLC paperwork at the State until you have sorted your deal with your investors.
The first step you need to take is to outline (on paper) what you want to do in your project and who will do what before you sit down with your lawyer.  The lawyer probably has a boilerplate LLC Operating Agreement that they will start with and they will modify it to suit your goals and requirements.  The Operating agreement is your opportunity to set up your the structure of your deal, answering questions like the following:
  • Who will manage the LLC?  This can be a designated manager or a managing member of the LLC.
  • Who will the other members of the LLC be?
  • Do you have more than one class of LLC member?
  • Are there milestones in the project or performance metrics that will require members to surrender their interest for a stipulated sum?
  • How are the proceeds of the project going to be distributed?
  • What happens if more capital is needed?
The reason why you hold off on filing your LLC documents until you have a deal with your investors, is to save the time and expense of modifying a recorded LLC to reflect the particulars of the deal you stuck with your investor after the LLC was formed.
Your negotiations with an investor should culminate in a (non-binding) Letter of Intent which is where you put down on paper who is going to do what.  Your lawyer will use the Letter of Intent as a guide to draft the LLC documents.
Links to general information about LLC:
(Legal Zoom is an online resource, but I strongly recommend that you find a flesh and blood local lawyer ).
Roles of the parties in a development project
In a basic deal the Operating Partner gets paid a fee to do the work of coordinating the design, entitlement, financing, construction and leasing of the project.  This can range from 5% to 15% depending upon the scale, complexity and duration of the project.  The Operating Partner is the active member of the development and typically serves as the Manager  or the Managing Member of the LLC.
The Investor or Capital Partner has a passive role.  They provide capital which they could lose if the project fails and they received a return in consideration for the risk they have taken in making that investment.  They also may be  guarantying the repayment of the construction loan.
If you are putting up cash you are a capital partner.  If you are running the project for a fee, or for a piece of the deal, you are the operating partner.  An operating partner can also be a capital partner if they are investing cash or contributing their land to the deal, but outside capital partners typically get their investment principal back ahead of an operating partner who has contributed cash or land.
Paying the Investor back their principal and a return
You construct your plan for how your project will make money in the form of a pro forma.  Based upon what the likely hard and soft construction costs and the cost of the land and the needed improvements to bring the land to the level of a finished lot or lots you look at what the likely revenue will be in rent after operating costs and debt service.  Cash flow after operating expenses and debt service is the money you use to pay back the investor their initial principal (the cash they invested) and the return you committed to provide them for taking the risk of investing in your project.  You can also refinance the project after it is built and fully leased up with demonstrated operating expenses.  This new loan will be used to pay off the construction loan and the cash left over can be used to pay the investor their remaining principal and the return you promised them.  For example if they invested $100,000 and you committed to pay them a 12% return, you pay them $112,000.  $100,000 in principal and $12,000 as their return.
Getting a Construction Loan
You get a construction loan by first talking with several banks to gauge their interest in the project and the likely terms of the loan.  Then you submit  a loan application or “bank package” to the lenders you think are the best fit for your project.  The bank will lend you a specific percentage of the total project cost, referred to as the Loan to Cost or LTC percentage or ratio.  If the total cost of your project is $1,000,000 and a bank commits to lending you 75% of the cost, you need to come up with $250,000  (25%) in equity  in essence, your down payment.  The deal with your lender is that if you default on the loan and they foreclose on the project, you lose your equity (or down payment).  If after they foreclose, they sell the project for less than the amount of the outstanding loan, they will look to recover the shortfall from the person who guaranteed the loan, either through a pledge of specific collateral or a personal guaranty.  If the property you have purchased is appraised at $350,000 and you bought it with cash, the land will be sufficient to cover the equity requirement.  If you bought the land for $350,000 with a loan and only put down $150,000 in cash, then the bank will want you and your investor to put in another $100,000 to meet the required 25% of the total project cost.
If you have good credit and enough equity, but you do not have enough assets to guaranty the loan in case of default, you will need to find a capital partner who can cover the guaranty.

Monte Anderson Thinks Your Town Needs a Better Class of Developers

Atlanta Small Developer Boot Camp - October 2015
Atlanta Small Developer Boot Camp – October 2015

Who is going to build the finer-grained Missing Middle housing, the small workspaces, the two and three story mixed use buildings that municipalities and neighborhoods are looking for?  Will it be  the large development outfits who see a 10,000 SF single story commercial building or 100 apartment units as a “small deal”?  Doubtful.  Very doubtful, for the simple reason that large scale developers need large scale deals to support their operations.  They can’t execute small deals effectively and they see a lot of opportunity cost in small deals.  “Why would I take on a 4 unit project when I can build 40 units or maybe even 400 units with about the same amount of brain damage?”  Big outfits are constrained by having to achieve economies of scale to get a decent return on their efforts.  Small developers live with the constraint of economy of means.  Small deals, small amounts of capital, small crews, services from small architecture and engineering shops, small sites that make a difference in the neighborhood.

Dallas developer Monte Anderson keeps hearing from folks who want him to move to their town and develop there.  To his credit, Monte is determined to focus on the communities in the Southern Dallas Metro that he knows and cares about.  His advice for the people that want him to come to their town is that they need to find someone who is committed to their town and help that person develop in the place they care about —OR BECOME A DEVELOPER THEMSELVES.

This is actually very pragmatic advice, because the big outfits are NOT COMING to your town or neighborhood to fine-grained projects.  Monte Anderson is a great guy, but he’s not coming to your town either.  Who does that leave?  YOU (or someone a lot like you). Start small.  Learn the business.  Build a reliable team who care about the place like you do.  There is a growing network of support for small developers, some of them are just a few years ahead of you on the learning curve, but they will do whatever it takes to help you avoid repeating their mistakes.

Consider what a small enterprise could accomplish in your town, not just the buildings you might renovate or build, but the local wealth you could create that will stay in your neighborhood.  Think about the jobs that you could create in the trades, and in property management.  Think of the other folks in your neighborhood you could mentor, paying it forward once you have learned the business.  Real capacity for local and lasting economic development is hard to come by, but building the everyday buildings that people need, in a place that you care about will raise up more than walls and a roof.

Last Call for the Atlanta Small Developer Boot Camp October 13-14, 2015

A straightforward three bay building on Wylie Street in Reynoldstown, Atlanta.
A straightforward three bay building on Wylie Street in Reynoldstown, Atlanta.

Next week Jim Kumon, Bruce Tollar and I will be in Atlanta for another small developer boot camp.  The Georgia Conservancy and the Atlanta Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism have put together a great venue and did an excellent job getting the word out. Most of the folks who have signed up are from the Atlanta region, but I saw the names of colleagues from Washington DC and Asheville on the list. Last I heard from Jim, 110 people have registered.  So here is a heads up.  Registration closes on Monday.  People infected with the small developer virus have the nerve necessary to wait until the last minute, so there is usually a bit of a surge in the last couple days of registration.

We get started Tuesday evening with a get together at the nifty converted church offices of Kronberg Wall Architects in Reynoldstown and we will be at the Center for Civic Innovation all day Wednesday. (near the Five Points MARTA station)

If you are still on the fence, give a listen to Eric Kronberg explaining what to expect:

Switchyards Podcast with Eric Kronberg

Then go register on the website: Register for the Atlanta Small Developer Boot Camp

The next boot camp on the schedule is an in depth 4 day event in Western Michigan in early December.  Jim Kumon is firming up the dates with the local hosts.

7 Things a Town can do to Encourage Incremental Development

A demonstration project showing how great a buffered bike lane can be. Photo by Mike Lydon
A demonstration project showing how great a buffered bike lane can be.                   Photo by Mike Lydon

If you present information on the nuts and bolts of what it take to develop smaller-scale, incremental projects and the audience includes elected officials, municipal staffers, and local activists, they will ask you “What can our town do to encourage building differently?”  It is not so much what a municipality can do, but what the individual leaders in a town are willing to do.  Here is my list for those leaders.

1. Stop trying to guess how much parking is needed. Eliminate off-street parking minimums from your regulations.

2. Manage the supply of public parking with rational pricing. Convenient on-street parking should cost more than a space on the top floor of a parking deck two blocks away.

3. Get serious about streets as public spaces. Narrow lanes to 10 feet. Convert dumb Stroads to boulevards. Put on-street parking everywhere. Install better bike infrastructure like buffered bike lanes. Replace unwarranted traffic signals with stop signs.  Don’t wait for your Public Works Director to lead this effort.  (Believe me, he’s had plenty of time).

4. Stop letting your fire marshal design the town. Direct the Fire Department to figure out how to provide good emergency services on a network of connected low speed streets.

5. Overhaul your zoning. Get rid of minimum lot area and minimum lot width. Dump the silly maximum lot coverage percentage. The best incentives for incremental development support a clear vision and a reasonable process.  Your Comprehensive Plan may contain something resembling a clear vision, but do your zoning reg’s and development standards screw up your chances for getting it delivered?

6. Think Small and Think Local. Encourage the small operators you have in your town and don’t worry about convincing large developers to come from out of the area to fix your town.  They are probably not coming.  If they do, agree to come and build in your town, the results are rarely what you had in mind.

7. Dig deep. Cowboy up. Find some allies.  Making any of these thing a reality in your town will stir up some shit.  Ask yourself if how much political risk or career risk you are willing to take to make a difference.  Figure out what your Plan B is in case you lose the election, get demoted, or get fired.  Once you have your downside covered, find some serious people to work with and make some changes.