Updated: Mar 7, 2021
When an apartment building that interests you comes on the market, you do your due diligence and if it meets your investment criteria, you prepare to make an offer. The only problem is that you’re not the only one who will be making an offer, as sound multifamily investment properties attract a lot of investors and syndicators.
The key is to find a way to make your offer stand out from the rest of the crowd. It’s not an easy thing to do, as everyone is trying to make his or her own offer look unique. I’ve submitted countless offers, and I’ve learned some tactics and techniques that have helped my offers stand out. I’m happy to share them with you, so with several in place you’ll be able to have an offer that captures the seller’s attention.
Understanding the Process
Buying an apartment building is not at all like buying a residential property. When you buy a house, for example, you submit an offer based on the asking price, and if the seller accepts your offer, you can move ahead with the purchase. Many people are pre-approved by a lender in advance, so there’s no issue with the financing. The entire process takes several weeks until an agreement is reached and a deal is signed.
With an apartment building, the process starts when the deal is marketed. You tour the property, often with the property manager. This is important because the property manager knows the property and can point out maintenance issues and other areas that may be of concern to the buyer.
After the tour, you do some due diligence and submit an offer via a LOI - a “letter of intent.” The seller may select the top 3 to 5 offers, and ask those potential buyers to resubmit a final LOI. After those new LOIs are received, the seller will have a phone conversation with each buyer, asking questions about their experience and track record. A winning buyer is selected, and they will then sign the purchase and sale agreement. This process can take several months.
After submitting your “best and final offer,” you can’t make changes to the offer. That includes the price, closing times, or any other information that was previously submitted. Your best and final offer is exactly that: final.
Surety of Closing
Before discussing the different ways to make your offer stand out, there’s one thing I’d like to share: the most important thing to most brokers and sellers alike is surety of closing. That simply means the deal will actually close. The surety of closing is critically important to both the seller and broker; for the seller, if the deal falls through because you weren’t able to close, they have lost valuable time and have to bring the property to market again and begin the process all over again.
For the broker, they not only lose potential commissions if the deal doesn’t close, but they also might damage their reputation with the seller if they were the one who recommended the buyer who could close the deal. That could do irreparable harm to their business, because property owners tend to talk with each other.
So be sure to emphasize a strong closing will occur, include the projected date, and deliver what you promise.
LOI Item #1: Track Record
While your LOI should include your bio, how you plan to close, the date, and terms of the deal without getting too technical so you don’t create a purchase and sale agreement, the most important aspect is your track record. If you can demonstrate surety of closing, through prior deals and an extensive track record of successful closings, you’ll be ahead of your competitors when the seller is reviewing the best and final offers. All things must point to an ability to close. If you don’t have a track record and you’re just starting out, partner with someone who does. It’s extremely important to show past successes.
My suggestion is to include your track record within your LOI, or you can have it listed on a separate sheet that is attached to your LOI. Having a track record of successful on-time closings is something that will help set you apart from other buyers, and if you have it, use it.
LOI Item #2: Hard Money
Hard money is the down payment a buyer will pay to the seller. It is based on the purchase price of the property, and should be included in the LOI. There are several ways you can address the hard money that can give you an advantage over other buyers.
Many buyers today offer non-refundable hard money, with the only exception being an issue with the title on the property or due to environmental problems. Some buyers also include financing as a reason for having their hard money refunded (in case they can’t get financing), but more than likely that will put them at a disadvantage.
Though risky, one of the biggest boosts you can give your LOI with regard to hard money is to submit a higher than normal amount. This is certainly attractive to sellers, and I’ve actually seen deals where a buyer pledged $1M in hard money with a non-refundable clause (only subject to title and environmental). That was an outlier, and even the broker told me, “I wasn’t expecting this. Everyone at the office is shocked, but of course the seller chose to go with that group." I’m not suggesting to offer a million dollars non-refundable hard money. My point is to emphasize that if you feel confident in the deal and your ability to close, and if you choose to offer a higher hard money amount, you are significantly improving your chances of getting the deal.
LOI Item #3: Timeline
Your timeline is where to put your attention, because this is where the seller will probably look first. The shorter the timeline, the better your LOI will look. However, you can’t just make up numbers, because there are specific dates involved in every deal.
I usually allocate 30 days for due diligence. This gives me enough time to arrange a walk-through of the property with the property manager. It also gives me time to evaluate the operating expenses, vacancy rates, tenant profiles, and other aspects of a multifamily property deal.
In addition to the 30 days for due diligence, I allocate an additional 30 days for financing. That seems to be the norm when it comes to getting a commitment from a lender, but if you have a relationship with a lender or you have a track record that shows you’ve successfully financed other projects, the timeline for financing can be shortened. In that case, shorten your timeline in your LOI as well, and the seller will appreciate the faster turnaround.
LOI Item #4: Plans for the Property
Here’s where you have some creative license, because writing about what you’re going to do with the property if you’re the buyer has no restraints. The seller takes pride in his or her property, and is usually anxious to know what the new owner plans to do with it once they acquire it.
As you’ve already walked the property, you have a good idea of what the current renovation will look like (if there is one), so you can discuss it and if you plan on keeping what the owner has started, say that. Likewise, if you plan on keeping the property’s current staff, mention that as well. You’ve met the property manager, so you know whether you will be able to work with him or her. If you have a good reason to change the staff, explain your reasons.
If nothing has been done to the property and you plan to do a value add deal, explain exactly what you plan to do with the property. Talk about any renovations you plan on making, or any updates you want to add. Just remember that the seller wants to be sure that he or she is selling to the right person, so the more details you can provide, the better.
This also gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your experience and expertise, because you can compare the property to others that you’ve successfully purchased and explain the similarities and why you will be doing what you’re planning on doing.
When buying a property, remember that there is a process you have to go through, and it all revolves around your Letter of Intent (LOI). If you’re one of the top 3-5 buyers that the seller is interested in, you’ll be submitting a “best and final” LOI after you talk with the seller. Focus on surety of closing, doing all you can to convince the seller that you will close the deal on the date that’s promised. Use your track record of other deals to substantiate your claim. When talking about hard money, be sure to have as few contingencies as possible, as it will boost your chances of acquiring the property. Keep your timeline as short as possible, and provide specific information regarding what you plan to do with the property if you’re the successful buyer. The seller wants to be sure that he or she is selling to the right person.
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About the Author
Ellie is the founder of Blue Lake Capital, a real estate company specialized in multifamily investing throughout the United States. At Blue Lake Capital, Ellie helps investors grow their wealth and achieve double-digit returns by investing alongside her in exclusive multifamily deals they usually don't have access to.
Ellie is the host of REady2Scale , a podcast that highlights honest, insightful, and thought-provoking discussions on the multiple approaches for successful real estate investing.
She started her career as a commercial real estate lawyer, leading real estate transactions for one of Israel’s leading development companies. Later, as a property manager for Israel’s largest energy company, she oversaw properties worth over $100MM. Additionally, Ellie is an experienced entrepreneur who helped build and scale companies by improving their business operations.
Ellie holds a Masters in Law from Bar-Ilan University in Israel and an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management.