Real Estate Investing Basics

6 Steps to Structuring a Solid Real Estate Deal With Investors

17 Articles Written

Real estate can have a high barrier of entry because most deals require a lot of capital. This is a good thing for people who have cash because it reduces the amount of competition. However, this is a big problem for those of us who want to become real estate owners for the first time.

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I remember calling a random bank during my senior year of college (in the midst of the greatest recession since the Great Depression) and telling the banker that my goal was to buy twenty houses or so. The banker was stoked and asked me how much cash I had available for such purchases. When I told her I had about $2,500 in savings, she laughed and then hung up. I was devastated!

I realized that I would need to cultivate investor relationships using my network if I wanted to achieve my real estate goals. I have been incredibly fortunate to find great capital partners (aka investors) over the past five years, and I have learned a lot about how to structure an agreement. Structure is important because it is going to determine how you get paid for all of your hard work and entrepreneurism. It is also important to structure deals appropriately so that you can get the right investors.

Related: How to Structure Syndicated Investor Deals: What Kind of Legal Entity Should I Use?

Below is the process I use when structuring my real estate deals:

6 Steps to Structuring an Investor Deal

1. Figure Out Your Goal for the Project

In a lot of ways, this can be the hardest step. The easy answer is, “I want to make money!” However, it needs to be more sophisticated than that because no investor is going to invest in a project whose stated goal is so vague. It is likely helpful to put each project into one of the following two categories: long-term hold or short-term flip. The time periods for each goal can vary. For example, a short-term flip for an apartment building may take two to three years, whereas a short-term flip of a single family house can take as little as 45 days.

The main point of figuring out your goal is to give your investor a sense of when they can expect a return on their money. It also gives you a foundation upon which to make operational decisions. For instance, if it is a long-term hold for an apartment building, then you are going to look for a tenant who will stay a long time, even if they pay a little less than another tenant. For a short-term apartment flip, it is important to bump NOI and so you are more likely to take a riskier tenant if they will pay a little bit more in rent.

2. Create a Property Level Financial Model for the Deal

A property level financial model just looks at the return that the property generates without regard for investor structure and payouts. I look at this type of model as a first hurdle because it gives me a sense as to whether or not I’m getting a good deal.

My property level summary sheet usually looks something like what is below:

Purchase Price  $                            7,400,000
Down Payment  $                            1,500,000
Capital Expenditures  $                                250,000
Loan Amount  $                            5,900,000
All-In Cost  $                            7,650,000
Total Investor Capital  $                            1,750,000
Gross Rents  $                                846,800
Stabilized NOI (Year 2)  $                                611,920
Monthly Loan Payment  $                                  29,783
Annual Loan Payment  $                          357,392.98
DSCR  $                                       1.71
Free Cash Flow  $                                254,527
Cap Rate                                 8.00%
Cash on Cash Return                                 14.54%


There is obviously a lot more that goes into building this type of model, but from a big picture perspective, these are the most important details. The deal above is a long-term hold and provides solid cash flow. I like to incorporate debt into the property level financial model because it will give me insight into what type of structure I can get away with and still have investors be happy. For example, if the cash on cash for this deal was 8%, I would likely need to believe in a big value bump down the line and somehow work that into the investors’ return, or they would never do the deal.

The point of creating a financial model is to show you (and your investor) how much money you stand to make if the project does well. I have never built a model that was exactly right — that’s not the point. You want to build a model that is reasonable. It is easy to get excited about a prospective deal and have visions of millions of dollars in your bank account; trust me, I know. Building a good model allows you to look more objectively at the project and see if it is worth your time.

3. Create a Model Based on Your Proposed Deal Structure With Your Investor

I almost purchased an apartment building in Chico, CA right by a state university. Student housing was my favorite idea at the time, and I was convinced that this project was going to be my ticket to wealth! The owner of the building was agreeing to carry back a large portion of the loan, but he wanted an above market rate on the loan.

At first I thought it was going to be a great deal. However, once I factored in the structure, I realized I didn’t stand to make all that much money because it was the wrong structure for that type of deal. In order to make sure I’m mindful to prevent this type of situation, I add the following lines to my property level model to create a “new” model that incorporates my deal structure with my investor:

Purchase Price  $                            7,400,000
Down Payment  $                            1,500,000
Capital Expenditures  $                                250,000
Loan Amount  $                            5,900,000
All-In Cost  $                            7,650,000
Total Investor Capital  $                            1,750,000
Gross Rents  $                                846,800
Stabilized NOI (Year 2)  $                                611,920
Monthly Loan Payment  $                                  29,783
Annual Loan Payment  $                          357,392.98
DSCR  $                                       1.71
Free Cash Flow  $                                254,527
Cap Rate                                    8.00%
Cash on Cash Return                                    14.54%
Capital Pref (7%)  $                                105,000
Sponsor Claw (2%)  $                                  30,000
Cash after Pref  $                                119,527
Capital Proceeds  $                                200,622
Sponsor Proceeds  $                                  53,905


Here, it becomes quite clear where and how much I am going to make. It is important to start messing around with the numbers to see how things will play out. What if your NOI drops to $550,000 in year three? What if your loan goes up 50 basis points? These are all things you should understand.

4. Adjust Your Proposed Structure So That the Deal Would Make Sense for You to Do

This is a crucial step. It is first important to figure out how you can make the deal work for you — before you worry about making it work for your investor. It is important to take care of your investor, but if you bring them a deal that doesn’t work for you, then you may end up bailing on the deal, not performing because you aren’t incentivized, or simply doing a ton of work and not being adequately compensated.

Investors will tell you if the deal doesn’t work for them. An important note is to be open and honest with your investors about how much each of you stand to make. There shouldn’t be any surprises when it comes time to pay out the profits.

5. Meet in Person With Your Investor and Discuss Your Proposed Structure

Be reasonable. Make sure you know what will make the deal worth your time, and don’t go too far beyond that point. I understand (and advocate) taking a little bit less on a deal in order to get some experience. The key is to make sure that it’s a balance, or else you may find yourself disenchanted with the whole real estate investing thing.

Related: How to Find Investors To Fund Your Real Estate Deals

If your investor comes back with a meaningfully different proposal, I always suggest taking time to think about it. Go home, go on a walk, and give yourself a day to work out whether or not you really want to do this deal.

6. Create an LLC and an Operating Agreement

I prefer to use LLCs when owning real estate because they are simple and relatively cheap. I have created LLCs in California and Utah. Utah was very business friendly, and California was not at all. Most likely, you are going to create an LLC in the state you own the property, but it may be worth a fifteen minute Google search to explore other options. Many large companies use Delaware, for what it's worth.

The operating agreement should be written up by a lawyer. It should outline all of the different aspects of the agreement that you and your investor came to. Most importantly, it should cover payouts.

Structuring an agreement with an investor can be a daunting task. “I don’t want to lose my only investor!” is a thought that has run rampant in my mind. However, your time is precious, and there are plenty of wealthy people out there. Make sure that the structure will make you some money also.

What would you add to this list? What’s worked for you when structuring a deal?

Leave us comments below!

Conor has experienced every aspect of the foreclosure and rental business for single-family homes. He was VP of Acquisitions at Silver Bay Realty Trust, and has flipped over 100 homes. Conor starte...
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    Jeremy Fields Investor from Crozet, Virginia
    Replied almost 6 years ago
    Conor, Thanks for the info. Structuring deals with outside money partners has always been a difficult concept for me. What are the terms for paying back the loan? How can I make it attractive for both of us? Is there a baseline many private lenders want to achieve in terms of cash-on-cash return? Many many questions. Are you able to recommend any readings that cover this topic in greater detail? Jeremy
    Su Kendrick from Rodeo, CA
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Hi Conor, I have a question. I am new to the industry, I am in the process of buying land to build and flip,,, But I am in need of an investor and a business plan or contract, ,, Which do you suggest and can you refer me to a guideline on how to write one? Thanks Su. P.S. Newbie
    Conor Flaherty Real Estate Investor from Tiburon, California
    Replied almost 6 years ago
    Jeremy, Good questions! The terms for paying back the loan depend on the lender. Usually in an apartment deal it is a 5/7/10 year loan term with an amortization of 20 years. In other words, your payments assume that it is a fully amortizing loan over 20 years, but you end up with this balloon payment at the end of the 5/7/10 year term. I don’t usually get loans from my investors, and I think that is what you were thinking. I get them to be partners, and give up a chunk of equity. I have dealt a bit with private lenders on flips, and they usually target mid-teen annualized returns. So, let’s say that you want to borrow $100,000 for a flip that will take six months. They may charge you 1 point, or 1%, which would be equal to $1,000 up front. If they believe you that it is going to take six months then they may charge you something like 7% interest. You will pay them $7,000 for interest, plus the one point which gives them an $8,000 return in six months, or 16% return annualized. The book I always recommend is Real Estate Finance & Investments by Peter Linneman. It’s also really helpful to just sit down and talk with investors who have gone through the machinations of doing deals. Maybe offer to help them for free in exchange for them tutoring you. Hope this helps.
    Sean T. Rental Property Investor from MA
    Replied almost 6 years ago
    Thank you for the article
    Conor Flaherty Real Estate Investor from Tiburon, California
    Replied almost 6 years ago
    Thanks for the comment, Sean!
    Frankie Woods Investor from Albuquerque, NM
    Replied almost 6 years ago
    Thank you for providing your example of how you analyze property. I’m tailoring my analysis, so I always like to see what others are doing/consider important. I have structured a syndication yet, but I hope to in the near future, so this will help me “sell” it when that time comes!
    Conor Flaherty Real Estate Investor from Tiburon, California
    Replied almost 6 years ago
    Won’t be long, Frankie! Good luck!
    Eugene Rogachevsky Investor from Long Beach, CA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Hey Conor, Great article! I was wondering if you can clarify a few things for me. What are the calculations for the Capital Proceeds and Sponsor Proceeds? 80/20 split of the NOI? The Cap Pref is what the investor makes that year based on a percentage of the DP. Who gets the 2% Sponsor Claw? Why is ‘Cash after Pref’ calculated as FCF-Cap Pref AND – Spon Claw and not just FCF-Cap Pref. What is DSCR and how does it apply here? Thank you, Eugene
    Coty H. Financial Analyst from Los Angeles, California
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Connor – Thanks for the insight. Can you put me in the right direction after targeting and underwriting the asset. At what point are you contacting the investor? After underwriting, how are you tying up the asset while you contact your investors? Are their discussions on this point? Thanks, Coty