Women in Real Estate – Interview with Jennifer Taylor of Atalanta about Career Development and West Coast/Hawaii Investments

Does gender make a difference in how real investors and developers succeed in the real estate industry? Do women get involved in real estate from different starting points than men, or find different ways to thrive?

These were questions that came up as iFunding was exploring the demographic of real estate investors and developers that attend our events, propose properties for development and participate in crowdfund investments. We’ve been interviewing female real estate developers and investors to hear their thoughts. This is the second of our interviews.

Jennifer Taylor is Managing Principal and founder of Atalanta Realty Investments, which targets investments in office, retail and industrial assets in the Western U.S. including Hawaii. Jennifer has been named one of “Ten Disruptors” this year by National Real Estate Investor magazine. Atalanta is a socially-responsible business that invests in culturally diverse, under-valued, urban neighborhoods.

Q: Your background is interesting, Jennifer. How did you get involved in real estate?

I started my career as a receptionist for an executive suites building, owned by Aetna. I knew nothing about real estate at the time, but could sense the potential power of operating the type of building I worked in.

I transitioned into property management, and worked in the field for nearly a decade. While there, I wanted to grow into the investment side of the business. I’ve always been a self-starter and have spent a lot of time learning about real estate from others, including the institutional asset managers that visited my management company’s to check on their properties.

Q: How did you grow your investment and operating business?

In 2002, I started an investment group called Arroyo Realty Partners with two partners. We invested in office building in Honolulu and expanded to other properties in Hawaii. We were fortunate with our exit from that business, as we sold the assets to an institutional investor in August 2007, right before the downturn.

I then rode out the downturn, before putting a new business plan together for a similar platform, now called Atalanta Realty Investments. We focus on operating and enhancing the value of commercial properties in markets with significant Asian populations, particularly parts of California and all of Hawaii. We aim to acquire retail, industrial and office assets. The first thing we did was to buy back the portfolio of Hawaiian assets we had sold to Morgan Stanley in 2007. Now, we just closed on our first acquisition: two offices buildings in Honolulu.

Q: Why did you focus on Hawaii?

I’m of Filipino descent. My parents came from the Philippines and met in New Jersey, where I was born, then we moved to Pasadena, California. I feel my family background has made it easier for me to operate in the Hawaiian real estate market. Hawaii is strongly influenced by its trade relationship to, and inhabitants from, the Pacific Rim. Interactions are subtly different from the mainland. For example, your word is held to a high standard, with less emphasis on the written contract to make progress in a relationship. Discussions are more subtle and toned down.

By the way, Hawaii has a ton of opportunity right now. The office market is still recovering from the earlier downturn, however retail and industrial vacancy is just 4%, and tourism and hospitality remain strong.

Q: Turning to the impact of gender in the real estate business, where do women and men concentrate in the real estate business? Does that make a difference in their success?

Most asset managers are men, though women can clearly stand out results-wise in investing as well. There are both male and female agents in high numbers and some of these will migrate to the investment side.

In property management, the majority of people I’ve met are women. I think having property management experience is valuable with cash-flowing commercial properties, because you gain a strong sense of what aspects of the property can be improved, and where financial efficiencies can be gained. Atalanta has four principals, three of which are women: Robin Dean, Lourdes Canlas and myself. It’s not coincidence that we’ve all had property operations experience. Our fourth partner is a gentleman named Aden Kun with a background from the investment side of the industry.

Q: Do you sense that there is a “glass ceiling” of patterns and perceptions that hinder a women’s career more than men’s?

I feel that I’ve experienced the glass ceiling at times. But I’ve focused instead on breaking through to new roles and relationships with senior management and peers, without being offensive to others. In a sense, every step upward in my career was an opportunity to grow and be seen as more senior. Growing up with two sisters helped me later to navigate individuals’ sensitivities in the office.

Q: Is it important to understand the numbers in real estate?

Absolutely, for both women and men. There actually are many things you need to understand to be successful in real estate, including the financials and contracts. I’ve trained myself to be able to evaluate income statements for cash-flowing properties, for example, but it’s not something I’d prefer to browse in my spare time.

Q: Are there other ways you think women and men may differ professionally, generally speaking?

I think women act more intuitively. Both men and women can be strong in the art of the deal; that is, picking the right market, negotiating terms, and choosing your timing. But women seem to read people better and are willing to communicate more frankly. For example, I found it pretty easy in a recent acquisition to get an early sense from the seller, another women, about whether we were in the right ballpark to get the deal done. With men I’ve negotiated with on deals, there was more beating around the bush about intentions.

I also have found that women in business are extremely supportive of one another. Throughout my career, I have seen women share information, refer each other to opportunities and mentor one another to get ahead. I think that this trend is only increasing and that this support will continue to have a positive and significant impact on the careers of emerging female leaders.

Q: What’s next for you and your business?

My partners and I are excited about Atalanta’s prospects, based on team chemistry and our understanding of Hawaii, California and other west coast markets with Asian populations. The focus suits us well. We will evaluate deals in the $5 – $30 million range. We’re also excited to be under contract to develop The Gathering Place, a 55,000 sq. foot open-air retail center on Oahu. Each acquisition and a growing operating history is building on our track record. That demonstrates to potential equity partners that we know our markets well.

“Walk on By” – Using Walk Score to evaluate neighborhoods for home investments

One of the keys to successful real estate crowdfund investing is to get a sense of the property and surroundings, without necessarily visiting the site. One useful online tool to accomplish this is Walk Score (www.walkscore.com). iFunding (www.ifunding.co) has recently incorporated Walk Score into its residential investment listings.

Here’s how it works:

Walk Score® measures the attractiveness of a location based on distances to nearby restaurants, grocery stores and other amenities, plus additional analyses such as population concentration, block length and intersection density. A rating of 1 to 100 is generated where, for example, 90-100 is a “Walker’s Paradise” where nearly all errands do not require a car. A score between 25 and 49 means most errands require you to hop in your Prius or Chevy Suburban, and so forth. A separate Transit Score® measures accessibility via public transportation, and there’s a Bike Score® too.

City residents tend to think a lot about the accessibility of their neighborhoods, as do suburbanites. And it’s just as useful to individuals looking to buy or rent, as it is for those investing in home construction or fix-and-flips wanting to understand the ultimate buyer’s viewpoint.

For curious businesspeople and technologists, Walk Score is a progressive adopter of APIs (that is, computer/web interfaces) to make the data available anywhere. That’s how 20 million scores are being viewed each day, through partner sites such as Zillow.com and now iFunding. Livability data also is important for urban planning and targeting affordable housing in “inclusionary zones” within the local economic network.

iFunding is happy to see the available of more real estate evaluation data for investors, available through web interfaces for sharing across sites. We’ll cover more technology trends like this in coming blog posts.

Women in Real Estate – Interview with Deirdre Virvo of CT Property Network and the Southern CT REIA

Does gender make a difference in how real investors and developers succeed in the real estate industry? Do women get involved in real estate from different starting points than men, or find different ways to thrive? Or do mainly the same skills and passions apply to most everyone?

These were questions that came up as iFunding was exploring the demographic of real estate investors and developers that attend our events, propose properties for development and participate in crowdfund investments. We’ve been interviewing female real estate developers and investors to hear about their careers, successes and learning moments.

Our first published interview is with Deirdre Virvo, a managing member of CT Property Network, LLC and co-owner of the Southern Connecticut Real Estate Industry Association, (SoCT REIA). CT Property Network has a considerable investor following, based on its steady offerings of loan investments on home flip and buy-and-holds in Connecticut.

A couple of caveats for our Women in Real Estate blogs: we have focused on investors and developer/operators as opposed to sales brokers/agents and property managers, roles in which women and men are both well represented. Also, we realize that each person’s story is unique, and that stereotypes are just patterns, which needn’t define individuals’ success.

Q: Deirdre, how did you get into real estate?

I owned a successful advertising agency for 15 years. Ultimately though, I realized that it wasn’t a business that built equity or was saleable. It depended on me and my partner being there for its value. The 2007 downturn affected my family as well, so it was time to re-invigorate our nest egg. I love a new challenge and love to learn, both through hands-on experience and education. I started taking a lot of classes – from rehabbing to note-buying, short sales, marketing real estate, even realtor and appraiser classes. I probably spent over $15,000 on seminars; equivalent to about one semester of grad school! Using OPM (“Other People’s Money”), I bought my first six-family rental property, which I still hold for the income.

Q: Did that ‘wide net’ of learning lead to certain strategies?

At the time, short sales were a clear opportunity. There were few startup costs; just a need to understand the local real estate demand, screen the contracts, and build relationships. I was doing “double closings” (wholesaling, or arranging to purchase a property and in parallel contracting with the follow-on buyer). When double-closings, while legal, started to be construed as not the thing-to-do, we started straight closings. These netted less, but we were able to do about 100 per year. We then started investing in fix-and-flips and buy-and-holds.

Q: What is your strategy now with CT Property Network?

Investors say they like to work with our CT Property Network business because we carefully screen properties, offer great returns, and are trustworthy. My business partner and I now hold 13 units and have flipped five homes this year to date. By offering secured debt , and delivering returns far better than the checking account or CD interest rates that many have been keeping all their nest egg in, people thankfully have been thrilled to lend us their money.

Q: Let’s talk about any differences you see in the approach of women and men in real estate.

I have a great business partner, Edward Zislis, who works with me closely on both CT Property Network and on the Southern CT REIA. We have complementary strengths, and in some ways this plays into common traits you might say are more related to women or men. For example, even though I am direct when it comes to most things, especially business, certain circumstances require kid gloves. When we purchase probate homes, where someone has passed away and the spouse or immediately family wants to sell, I inquire about their loved one, the house, what they are looking to do and then ask how we can help. I also send sympathy cards when I leave. Eddie tends to get down to business faster to present their options and talks terms earlier in the first conversation.

Q: So perhaps relationship building is more important for women?

Nurturing is definitely second nature to women. We love to connect. Closing on more than 100 deals per year takes finesse. I believe attorneys that I close with remember me for being able to facilitate complicated deals, and being the “Queen of Short Sales,” but they may also remember my home-baked chocolate-dipped, chocolate chip cookies, which I like to bake for all closing participants. I may be a “tough cookie” in business, but I am not afraid to show my feminine side, and I love to bake and feed people! Those cookies certainly are good for marketing and relationship-building. Also, I set high expectations for results, but I’m not very competitive. I love to be really good at things, but I respect that others are also as good and, if better, I see that as an opportunity to learn from them. My motto is WIN-WIN. Sometimes, I find that competitive men need to come out of a negotiation feeling they got the longer end of the stick.

Q: What about stereotypes about women and men, and their emphasis on intuition versus numbers?

First, everyone – men and women – active in real estate investing needs to be comfortable with the numbers. My dad was an engineer and my mom a librarian; I was required to get straight As in every subject. I’ve always loved numbers, can calculate formulas in my head and have steadily improved my eye for estimations in real estate projects. On properties we are rehabbing, I like to calculate holding costs down to the week to see what time costs us. People that rehab and see real estate as something other than a numbers game are not viewing it correctly as a business. I met a gentleman recently who decided to do most of the work on a house flip himself, but I don’t believe he is calculating the opportunity costs of his time well. Second, intuition is helpful, but don’t let it mislead you. I have recently had two separate interactions, one with a man and another with a woman, both of whom got too emotionally attached to a property they were involved with. They mispriced their deals versus what the market would bear, then got personally insulted when potential buyers asked for changes to be made to what they felt was a perfect renovation.

Q: Any other advice for real estate investors and developers?

My first advice is to read, read, read. However, in the end, accept that real estate is a hands-on business. Thus, you need to take steps both to get involved and to keep learning. Too many realtors I know won’t stray from showing housing; they won’t learn the appraisal side or the investing side. Why not? They have their finger on the pulse of deals but stop there in terms of value-add. Also, a lot of people are real estate junkies, taking copious notes at endless classes. Then, when I run into them years later, they still haven’t invested in their first property. I say: get out and meet others, and be comfortable putting in a modest amount into your first venture to get your feet wet.

Q: Might we say that crowdfunding can help introduce investors to real estate?

I haven’t worked with crowdfunding myself yet, but I’m very interested in the concept. The target returns seem appealing, and it helps a lot that investors can invest as little as a few thousand dollars in a project. That could allow them exposure to a few property types at once. I’m excited that iFunding is going to present about crowdfunding to the SoCT REIA this week (Sept. 10, 2014, 6:30pm in Fairfield, CT). (http://www.meetup.com/SoCT-REIA/events/192165942/ ).

Q: What else is going on with the Southern CT REIA?

We’ve been holding educational seminars for some time, first in Stamford and now usually in at the Fairfield Public Library here in Connecticut. We’re getting 40 or more people per event, which makes for great joint learning and networking for our attendees. We have individual investors, developers, contractors, brokers, lawyers all speaking up and contributing ideas and questions to the seminars. Topics have included short sales, bank-owned properties (REOs), cash-flowing commercial buy-and-holds, self-directed IRAs and multi-family residences. Both my partner Eddie Zislis, and our team organizer, Melissa Ternier, are super and make the events that much more interesting and enjoyable for the audience. I expect to grow the organization with a full-blown web-site (currently we’re at http://www.meetup.com/SoCT-REIA/) and day-long or multi-day seminars. I’d welcome hearing from folks who would like to attend or to contribute to our growth in some way. I can be reached by email at dvirvo (at) ctpropertynetwork (dot) com.