Need help due-diligence on Self Storage Development Syndication

4 Replies

My husband and I need to evaluate a Self Storage development opportunity and decide whether to invest 50K of our self directed IRA funds as a passive investment on a 506c TIC deal. The syndicator, and the operator/manager's business plan, site and development plan all looks good on the surface, but investment returns are never guaranteed, so we are looking for an independent advisor to help vet the deal for us.

The development will be in a large city in Arizona.

Any advice or referral for an advisor would be greatly appreciated. 

Originally posted by @Sharon Kim :

My husband and I need to evaluate a Self Storage development opportunity and decide whether to invest 50K of our self directed IRA funds as a passive investment on a 506c TIC deal. The syndicator, and the operator/manager's business plan, site and development plan all looks good on the surface, but investment returns are never guaranteed, so we are looking for an independent advisor to help vet the deal for us.

The development will be in a large city in Arizona.

Any advice or referral for an advisor would be greatly appreciated. 

Sharon, you didn't give enough information to gauge the possible risks.

Having said that, here's how I evaluate deals. When vetting any syndication, different investors do it differently because every investor comes from a different financial situation and has different goals and risk tolerance. For me, I'm a very conservative investor and may look through a hundred deals a month, and at the end of the year only invest in 4-5. So things that are a red flag for me may be fine for someone more aggressive. Here's how I do my due diligence:

1) Portfolio matching: (takes 30 seconds per deal)

a) Have an educated opinion on where you think we are in the real estate cycles (financial and physical market cycles)

b) Then only then pick the strategies, capital stack, and specialized asset subclasses that make sense for that opinion. For example, I think we are late cycle, so I lean toward the safest part of capital stack which is debt (or debt free equity). I won't go with the riskiest opportunistic strategies such as ground of construction, and will stick to core and core plus mostly with some value-added. I won't be investing in the riskiest/most supportable asset subclasses such as hotels, and tilt my portfolio the ones that have historically been more stable such as multifamily and single-family housing. I also don't want refinancing risk, so any deals with only 3 to 5 year debt are out for me. For someone that's not as conservative, or a different view on the next recession, they might have a different opinion than me on all of this

2) Sponsor quality check: (takes about 45 minutes per deal)

I believe that a great sponsor can take an average looking deal and make it great, and that in mediocre sponsor can take a fantastic looking deal and make it bad (especially if there is a severe recession). So I start with the sponsor first. Again, others might disagree.

a) Track Record: Get the entire track record for the strategy. As easy as this sounds, it's not simple and usually like pulling teeth. Many times they will claim it's wonderful and then try to hide their worst deals by only showing completed deals. Make sure to get unexited deals. Or if they are doing value-added multifamily, they will show you their hotel experience. That doesn't cut it for me. I want a specialist that's an expert, and not a jack of all trades and master of none. Also, in a mainstream asset class like value-added multifamily, I see no reason to take a risk on a sponsor that doesn't have full real estate cycle experience and didn't lose money. Again, other might feel differently here.

b) Skin in the game: as a conservative investor, I understand that the dirty secret of industries that the waterfall compensation is in the line with me and incentivizes sponsors to take more risk. So I require skin in the game (average is 5% to 15%) to offset this. Contrary to popular belief, this is not set because I believe it will give me a higher return. I believe it tends to give me a slightly lower return, because the sponsor is going to be more careful, and if there is a severe downturn will prevent me from taking catastrophic losses. Someone that is more aggressive, may want lesser even though skin in the game. Also, if the sponsor is new, I am fine with less skin in the game as long as it is significant to their net worth. On the other hand if they are a sponsor that is experienced in stopping a skin in the game, that's a huge red flag for me.

c) how open to scrutiny are they? I always discuss investments with others in an investor club because other people might think of things that I might miss. And even though virtually every sponsor agreement allows me to share investment information with others who might be advising me on it (especially when club members are bound by an NDA), I still ask the sponsor if I can share it, because it's a test. Most are fine with that, but a few will have problems with it and claim there are legal issues, etc.. That's a red flag for me.

d) death by Google: I Google everything I can about the sponsor. I check the SEC, FINRA, ratings websites for inside information on the principals in the company. I also look for lawsuits and see what happened in them. Many times it's an easy red flag. Sometimes it's ambiguous, but even then, why should I bother with the company that has numerous unresolved lawsuits, versus another company that is virtually the same but has none. Again, others might feel differently here.

3) property level due diligence: (takes seconds to weeks per deal): here is where I drill in with the low-level details.

a) pro forma popping: I examine all the assumptions, and see if they are overoptimistic or not. I look at every single item in the pro forma and imagine that it is complete BS, and see if I can challenge it. If there's a hole, it may be a red flag.

b) sensitivity analysis: I examine all the assumptions, and make sure I can live with the worst case scenarios.

c) "Stall and see": if they are getting money over multiple years, and there is no penalty for investing later, I would usually wait so I get some real performance data, versus having to look at theoretical pro forma information.

d) Recession stress test: I will not invest in anything, until I subject it to recession level stress and see if I can live with the result. And I take the worst recession I can find in the recent past. Sometimes there is only great recession data, and that recession was pretty mild on some asset classes, versus previous recessions. So I will usually 1.5x or 2.0x the stress. If the deal collapses and I would lose everything, I'm out. Others might be fine with taking risk, but least by doing this a person can get an idea of what might go wrong.

e) Legal document analysis: it will usually take a few days to go through the legal document properly, as almost inevitably there are tons of gotchas that either have to be explained, or mitigated with a side letter.

That is the very short summary of what I do. If you want more information, p.m. me and I can give you a lot more details.

 

@Sharon Kim Here's some potentially harsh advice. If you are unable to underwrite/evaluate the deal yourself then you don't have the education required to be a successful LP.  My advice: Pump the breaks and underwrite enough deals that YOU know what a good offering looks like. By skipping that all important step you're likely putting more risk into your wealth building model than you realize. 

All the best!!

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