https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJm1uyi3qG8

Kent is Managing Director with Birge & Held Asset Management, a multifamily private equity firm with over $1.4 billion in assets under management. Kent’s skillset as multifamily operator draws from a successful career as a management consultant and startup owner. Now, he applies this skillset to transform apartment buildings and create modern, affordable housing for America’s workforce.


Kent’s career pivot was driven by a desire to free his time and focus on being a great husband and father to his three kids. Now, having found financial freedom through real estate investing, Kent wants to help others do the same. He serves as a thought leader and educator through his podcast, Ritter on Real Estate; monthly networking event, Indianapolis Multifamily Investing Meetup; and his website, kentritter.com, which acts as an informational hub for other investors.


www.KentRitter.com



The Passive Cash Flow Podcast is for beginner or experienced investors. Subscribe today to learn how you can diversify out of the stock market, own a part of an apartment building & start earning Passive Cash Flow!


Peoples Capital Group has been helping passive investors build wealth in NJ real estate for 10 years. Visit www.PeoplesCapitalGroup.com to find out if you qualify to start earning passive income and pay less taxes via investing in real estate. IRA’s and 401K’s are accepted.


The Passive Cash Flow Podcast is for beginner or experienced investors. Subscribe today to learn how you can diversify out of the stock market, own a part of an apartment building & start earning Passive Cash Flow!


Peoples Capital Group has been helping passive investors build wealth in NJ real estate for 10 years. Visit www.PeoplesCapitalGroup.com to find out if you qualify to start earning passive income and pay less taxes via investing in real estate. IRA’s and 401K’s are accepted.


#NJRealEstateInvesting
#AaronFragnito
#PassiveCashFlow
#PCG

Aaron Fragnito: As you said the group’s been around since 2008. You’re up to $1.5 billion in holdings, is that correct?


Kent Ritter: That’s right.


Aaron: That’s a pretty large amount for 12 years, in real estate isn’t really that long. Actually a lot of companies that size have been around 30 or 40 years, so that’s a pretty impressive growth amount. How was the group able to achieve such a large amount of holdings in just 12 years?


[music]


Aaron: All right, ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to another episode of The Passive Cashflow Podcast. I’m your host Aaron Fragnito. We are here today with Kent Ritter from Birge & Held Asset Management. Is that the right pronunciation, Kent?


Kent: Yes. You nailed it.


Aaron: Great, great. Thanks for coming on my friend. Give us a little introduction about yourself and what you do.


Kent: Sure. As you said Aaron, my name is Kent Ritter and I’m a partner with Birge & Held. We are a multi-family syndicator located in Indianapolis, Indiana. We’ve got properties in 10 states, about 15,000 units in total, and have been operating in this model since about 2008, so about 12-year track record. I started my career as a management consultant and then really fell in love with real estate upon selling a business, a boutique consulting firm at the end of 2015.


Then looking out and saying where do I want to deploy my capital? What’s going to be the safest but also give me a solid return and what’s going to allow me to diversify? Real estate just seemed like the best option as I started to educate myself and learn more about it. Fell in love with multi-family in particular just because a lot of the positives of the asset class, and started out as a passive investor investing with other syndicators.


Invested in about 10 deals in 2016 and that really set me off on the journey and continued to educate myself, continued to network and find mentors in the space, and that led to doing my first syndication in 2019 and then joining up with Birge & Held who I actually originally started passively investing with back in 2016. Developed a great relationship with them and saw that the things that they were doing were just at a whole different level than the other operators that I was investing with. I was fortunate enough that they invited me to come on board as a partner and build out a line of business under their umbrella, so very excited to be in the position I’m in right now.


We’re working on closing our third deal. My third deal with Birge & Held. Brilliant third deal in about the last six months and we’re closing that here, it’s going to be in mid-March, and so excited to just continue to keep rolling now.


Aaron: Great. It sounds like you’ve really been through the whole spectrum of small syndicates, boutique shops, and now you’re working with a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, essentially that’s buying throughout the nation, probably a little more corporate, different type of feel than what you’re used to. It sounds like some of your personal capital, was that also put into smaller syndications as well or more did you focus on larger syndications yourself?


Kent: You mean like the type of operator?


Aaron: Yes, exactly.


Kent: It kind of ran the gamut, really. At that point in time, I didn’t have a huge real estate network so it was really referrals from other people and so I invested with, it was about six different operators for those investments and so it really ran the gamut. I did that intentionally because I always had the intent of actively owning multi-family properties, and I just knew at that point there was a lot I didn’t know and a lot that I didn’t even know I didn’t know.


I used those passive investments as really a learning experience, asking the questions about all the whys. Why are you financing it this way? Why are you rehabbing it this way? Why aren’t you doing this, why aren’t you doing that? A lot of those syndicators probably might have thought I was a little annoying at the time, but I got the answers and was able to really just learn through those experiences.


Get to see different ways that people are doing things. Take the good and the bad from all those and come up with my own approach. It was a mix of smaller, some local folks here in Indianapolis that just do things locally or regionally, and then groups like Birge & Held who are operating in 10 states.


Aaron: Right. What’s one of the biggest differences, maybe some pros and cons of each type of syndicate, because they really differ in a lot of ways, but at the end of the day they’re trying to achieve the same goal. What are some general pros and cons of a big group and a small group?


Kent: I think it’s really more individualistic than that. I think it really gets down to the individual operator rather than just categorizing it big or small. I think the things that really matter are communication, transparency, integrity, that kind of starts with everything. Those are the things that really matter, I think, when it comes down to who you’re choosing as a sponsor. There were some groups that I invested with that I never heard from. Never had any idea what was going on with the deal.


There’s other groups where we got monthly communication and I always felt in the loop and I always liked that. The idea, you’re giving money out in an illiquid investment that’s fairly long-term, right? Five years, can be. I’d like to just have an idea that I know what’s going on with my money. I think the communication was key, transparency, being able to look at the financials, being able to again, understand what’s going on.


Some people like that and some people don’t. Some people want to be passive and truly passive and they just want to hand over the reins. I wanted to be a little more involved because I wanted to really understand things for my own, so again, I could do it on my own one day. Integrity I thought was important. I think one thing that really impressed me about Birge & Held was just looking at the size of the company. I was able on multiple occasions to sit down with the principals, sit down with all of the head VPs from all the different departments, whether it’s construction or property management, because all that’s internal, and asset manager, all these different groups. They really opened the doors for me to come in, meet with people, ask the questions and that level of access really impressed me.


Now I don’t know that they would– I don’t know if they do that for everybody, but at least I was given the benefit of really them lifting up the curtain and let me see behind what’s going on. That level of transparency really impressed me. Then you just get down to the more practical things of like track record. Track record and operating model and that was where Birge & Held really just blew the doors off of everybody else.


When you think about the size and scale they operate on. Their ability to get last looks at deals because of their deep broker relationships. Their ability to get better financing. The ability to have that internal construction and property management that work so closely together to have a seamless approach to operations. Those things I just didn’t see in any other operators.


Aaron: Right. That’s the challenge of building your business and building it bigger and bigger. As a business owner myself, all those moving pieces, getting those service providers in place that you can trust, finding the right employees in the right positions that you’re not overpaying for or making sure they, of course, show up and do their job. It is so hard to build out that infrastructure. You can’t build it too fast or you lose quality of service and you can’t build it too slow or you’re not going to be able to continue the growth at the rate you’re looking for and that communication is so important.


I make a point of sending out a monthly email like clockwork to my investors, whether I have good updates or bad updates, it doesn’t matter. My updates are going to educate our investors. They’ll often include documents and pictures and proof of what I’m talking about or just more in-depth information and content. Sometimes I even make a podcast episode about some things that are going on or a video or something like that.


It’s all about communication. You can have even projects that run into challenges along the way and your investor group will understand as long as you’re saying, “Hey, here’s the problem we ran into, here’s the solution, and here’s the timeline and it’s going to look to fix it, and here’s what the estimated cost.” It’s all about that.


We’re always going to run into challenges whenever you’re doing development or ownership of real estate. All these challenges, tenants that don’t pay or things that go over budget or challenges there, but as long as you have consistent communication, people tend to understand and really appreciate that.


Kent: Yes, I think communication is critical. Real estate is all about solving problems and that’s how you make money and the good people– The people that are good at their job are the ones that are good at solving problems. Problems are going to arise and like you said, it’s how you deal with them, and that’s part of the nature of the product, the nature of the investment. It’s dealing with them and being transparent and communicating about it.


Aaron: That’s great. Right now your group is investing all throughout the nation. You were saying you’re focusing on Colorado, I love Colorado. I actually used to live out there as a ski instructor for six months when I graduated college. I lived in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, beautiful place.


Kent: It’s beautiful out there.


Aaron: You’ve ever been to Steamboat Springs?


Kent: I have skied out there a few times, it’s very nice.


Aaron: Awesome you’re a skier too. Good stuff. Why Colorado?


Kent: The same things that attract us to any market. It’s job growth, population growth, diversity of jobs. Colorado specifically, one thing that’s a little bit unique about Colorado when you look at especially the mountain areas is just limited supply because of limited availability of land. We focus on workforce housing, largely B-class workforce housing. When you think about workforce housing in the mountains, there’s just not a lot of it because it can cost $300,000 or $400,000 a unit to build new. If you’re going to spend that to build new, you want to maximize your rents and you’re going to do that by building a nice class A.


Finding unique properties in the mountains where workforce housing makes sense or where we can provide affordable housing even with partnerships with the local municipalities. Those are win-wins for everybody so we really like those deals. Colorado itself, Denver and the rest of the state is growing. There’s jobs, people want to live there. I think the remote economy, the Zoom-driven economy has driven that as people move from the coasts and can live where they want. There’s a huge attraction to live in the mountains.


Aaron: I’m seeing the same thing right now. In fact in the last year, we’ve redeveloped our model with short-term rentals and went into Southern Vermont to focus on buying [unintelligible 00:12:16] Ski Resort here and other world-class ski resorts. Similar idea to Colorado, beautiful blue skies, big green mountains, getting out of the city. You said something interesting, Colorado has a land shortage. You look at a state like Colorado, how is there a land shortage? I guess most of that’s farmlands and then there’s certain regulations and there’s probably, also those are generational farms. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show Yellowstone.


Kent: I have. It’s a good show. I was speaking more about the mountains, just the geography. The topography of just not having a lot of flat spaces where you can put apartments. We own a property in Aspen, Colorado. It’s the only affordable housing in Aspen, Colorado, and it’s on a contiguous patch of like 10 or 11 acres and it’s the largest flat patch of land in Aspen. There’s just not a lot of places to build. Think about getting materials and things up there. Everything costs more.


It’s just more difficult to create affordable housing, but there’s definitely a need for it. All of the people that are living at the, or working at the ski resorts, the restaurants, the bars, everything, they need a place to live. A lot of those people are commuting multiple-hour commutes to be able to do that, or they’re bunking up with a whole host of people in one apartment, because if you look at the average cost of a house out there, it’s about $600,000.


Aaron: It’s crazy what people pay for it. Skiing, getting out there, these areas are very high-end areas and skiing is a pretty high-end sport too. To have the right gear costs you $1,000 just to get a decent set of skis and bindings and boots are another $500. By the time you get on the mountain, you could be dropping $2,000 with lift tickets and place to stay. It’s a very high end sport. Also, it’s interesting, so we’re in the same market as far as looking at rural markets.


I’m running into the same problem out here. Finding good help to run our turnovers, to run our cleaning crews, to find good contractors. I’m looking at a development of a five-unit property right now and I need a good contracting crew to do about $250,000 renovation on it. Man, it’s tough to find good quality service providers in very rural areas.


Also, I’ve noticed the housing, because there’s really a big gap. If you’re working on the mountain, you might be getting $15 an hour or something, but you’re living in an area that’s a high tourist demand area with high housing prices even though it might be in the middle of nowhere. It’s really interesting gaps. It sounds your company’s focusing on bridging that. Is that your niche, affordable housing in these areas, or what else do you guys focus on?


Kent: Almost everything that we do is focused around workforce housing. I’d say we have several strategies related to workforce housing. From ground-up new development to tax credit truly with a capital A, affordable housing. We’re partnering with a local municipality to build that, private-public partnership, to value-add deals of large scale and small scale, where we’re taking properties that were built in the ’80s, ’90s, and are able to renovate those, modernize them, add amenities and increase the cash flow and the income out of the properties.


There’s several different strategies that exist under the umbrella. Colorado is just one area where we’re operating. We’re based in Indianapolis and primarily operate in the Midwest and the Southeast. They’re just implementing those strategies throughout about 10 states.


Aaron: You said the group’s been around since 2008. You’re up to $1.5 billion in holdings, is that correct?


Kent: That’s right.


Aaron: That’s a pretty large amount for 12 years in real estate, isn’t really that long. It’s actually, a lot of companies that size have been around 30 or 40 years. That’s a pretty impressive growth amount. How was the group able to achieve such a large amount of holdings in just 12 years?


Kent: I think just good execution. I think having the right people in the right seats and then just executing on the plan, and creating processes along the way that are repeatable, that allow you to scale. Just the standard things that would allow any good business to grow is creating00 One, you have to have the right people on board. Everybody has to be aligned with the vision and rowing in the same direction. Then you’ve got to have the processes in place that make things repeatable so that you can execute more efficiently each time. I think the more you do it, the better you get at it and the more lessons learned and being captured and taken to improve the next process. You just continue to grow from there.


We continue to make investments in things like technology. Technology is a big key word for us in 2021. We’re implementing a lot of property tech across our entire portfolio. Things like smart locks, creating self-guided tours, things like that that allow us to add value to the resident but also create management efficiency. We’re continuing to improve and to expand. I think our scale allows us to do a lot of things that others wouldn’t or aren’t able to. One of the things that’s really been a game-changer for us is this idea of an eight-hour renovation, where we’ll come in and we’ll turn a unit in eight hours. It’s occupied, so the person will leave in the morning. They’ll go to work, they come back to a brand new apartment. In that time we’ve had a whole host of people in there, ripping things out and putting put new cabinets, countertops, sinks, everything, appliances back in, and they come back to something that feels brand new, and that’s a lot.


That’s been a game-changer for us because a lot of the issues with renovation, especially the large scale, come with when they span multiple months and you end up with, like you said, finding good people. You can have labor issues. You can have, if things take too long, you definitely have supply issues. We’ve run into issues where we need to get the same cabinet, now it’s three months later, and those cabinets aren’t available anymore. In being able to do it in this occupied way, we’re able to knock out three or four units a day.


We’re able to turn an entire property in a month or a couple of months depending on the size of the property, and it allows us to have economies of scale for supplies. It allows us to have economies of scale for labor because we’re keeping the same team there the whole time and they’re fully deployed for that time period. It allows us to maintain occupancy, which is one of the toughest things when you’re going through a renovation, is being able to manage occupancy. We were able to deploy this on a 750 unit property in Indianapolis. We turned the entire property and the exteriors in 11 months and the whole time we maintained a 94% occupancy.


I think it’s also good for the residents because, one, the residents, they get a brand new unit because we’re doing it while they’re still in it and they get to realize the value of that new unit before their lease is actually up. But also it’s less disruption for less time on the property. If you’re living there on the property, you’re not dealing with construction for two years. We’re condensing that time frame.


That’s really been a huge differentiator for us. It’s allowed us to just execute it in a way or, like you said, it allows you to grow that quickly. I think one thing is being able to renovate that quickly and move on to the next project. We’ve renovated about 7,000 units in that model.


Aaron: Now, what happens if you renovate the unit and you say, “Okay, here’s your new unit. Rent is going to go up a fair amount,” and they don’t agree to the rent increase, and they say thanks for the nice updated unit.


Kent: Well, you can’t raise their rent mid-lease. They get the value of the unit while they’re in their lease and the hope is that they will come to like that level of living and they will renew. But people don’t and that’s okay. We just move somebody else in that wants it.


Aaron: I guess it depends on the building, it depends on the demographic, but I know for a few of my buildings if we renovated the unit while the tenant was still in there before the lease expired and then said, okay, we’re going to need this amount of rent or we’re not going to renew the lease, I would just have a squatter. [laughs] I would just have someone living in the unit that would be like, “I’m not going to pay you the higher rent and I’m not going to cooperate to move out.” [laughs]


Kent: I guess that has a lot to do with, we like to operate in states that are landlord-friendly and that have reasonable eviction guidelines. You wouldn’t do that in a state like Colorado- excuse me, not Colorado, California, right? Because you could end up in that situation.


Aaron: Yes. Thanks for the updated apartment. [laughs] I’ll see you in eviction court in six months. Have a good one.


Kent: Exactly. That that goes back to, you asked a little bit about markets. That’s something that we look for when we’re looking at states to invest in. What are the tenant and landlord rights and laws?


Aaron: I love Colorado for that. I know Texas is good for that. That’s interesting. That’s one of the reasons we do short-term rentals in Vermont because the landlord-tenant laws are terrible. They’re completely one-sided towards the tenant. I don’t think you can evict someone in Vermont in the wintertime, which is just ridiculous. So we focus on short-term rentals there which, of course, less than 28 days don’t apply to landlord-tenant laws. Anyway, that’s one of the ways to work with those rules and try to continue to run a profitable business even with those restrictions in place but awesome stuff. All right, Kent, I really enjoyed learning about what you do and some of your experiences here. How can people learn more about you and get in touch with you?


Kent: There’s two good ways to get in touch with me. One is at my website kentritter.com. I really set it up as a source for people that are interested in investing, especially those that are interested in passive investing. If you’re just getting started, there’s FAQs and terminology and different resources for you to check out. You can also get to my podcast there or through any podcast source of your choice.


The podcast is Ritter on Real Estate and it’s really about helping people understand the different aspects of real estate investing, particularly multi-family, but we get into a few other topics too. Really, the goal is to help people make better investing decisions because I didn’t have, when I was getting started really a go-to resource. That’s really what I’ve tried to develop through the podcast.


Aaron: Just to clarify, you never participated in male modeling, is that correct or you used to be a model?


Kent: [chuckles] I have not but I appreciate that. I take that as a compliment. If you want to see more pictures of me you can check out the website.


[laughter]


Aaron: You’re not really my type but that’s all right.


[laughter]


I’m just kidding my friend. All right, well, if real estate doesn’t work out maybe you could always be a model, who knows. [chuckles]


Kent: Hey, man, Aaron, I appreciate that. You’re pumping up my ego. I’m going to take this till the rest of the day.


Aaron: Awesome. All right, Kent, thanks a lot for coming on and of course for our listeners. My name is Aaron Fragnito. The host of the Passive Cash Flow podcast, co-owner of People’s Capital Group. You can check us out at peoplescapitalgroup.com. We focus on working with passive investors to buy apartment buildings and short-term rentals in northern New Jersey and southern Vermont. That’s peoplescapitalgroup.com.


Thanks for listening to the Passive Cash Flow podcast. Enjoy your day.


Kent: Thanks, Aaron.

Aaron Fragnito

Aaron Fragnito

Aaron has been helping people invest in Real Estate for over 10 years. He is a Co-Founder of Peoples Capital Group (PCG) a real estate investment and holding company. He is a full time real estate investor, as well as, the host of the New Jersey Real Estate Network and host of the Passive Cash Flow Podcast. Aaron has previously completed over 100 real estate transactions as a realtor and another 150 transactions in his current role as a real estate investor.

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