Category Archives: Crowdfunding Real Estate

Raising Capital Online: An Introduction For Real Estate Developers

If you’re a real estate developer accustomed to raising capital through traditional channels, you’re probably wondering about Crowdfunding. In this post, I’m going to provide some basic information, then try to answer the questions I hear most.

Basics of Crowdfunding

  • It’s Not Kickstarter. On Kickstarter, people make gifts, often to strangers. You’re not going to ask for gifts. Instead, you’re looking for investors, and in exchange for their money you’re going to give them the same kinds of legal instruments you’d give an investor in the offline world: an interest in an LLC, a convertible note, or something else.
  • It’s Just the Internet. For better or worse, a certain mystique has developed around Crowdfunding, if only because it’s so new. But Crowdfunding is just the Internet, finally come to the capital formation industry. We buy airline tickets online, we call a cab online, we search for significant others online, now we can search for capital online. If you’re comfortable buying socks on Amazon, you’ll be comfortable raising money using Crowdfunding.
  • Why Crowdfunding? How many investors do you know? Twelve? Seventy-two? With Crowdfunding, you can put your project in front of every investor in the world. And you’ll probably get better terms.
  • The Market Is Small But Growing Quickly. Title II Crowdfunding became legal in September 2013, Title IV in June 2015, and Title III in May 2016. The amounts being raised are in the billions of dollars per year, small in terms of the overall U.S. capital markets but growing quickly.
  • There Are Three Flavors of Crowdfunding. Crowdfunding was created by the JOBS Act of 2012. The three flavors of Crowdfunding are named for three of the sections, or “Titles,” of the JOBS Act:
    • Title II, which allows only accredited investors (in general, those with $200,000 of income or $1 million of net worth, not counting a principal residence) but is otherwise largely unregulated.
    • Title III, which allows issuers to raise up to $1 million per year, through a highly-regulated online process.
    • Title IV, which allows issuers to raise up to $50 million per year in what amounts to a mini-public offering.

For more information, take a look at this chart. But first, read the next bullet point.

  • You Don’t Have to Learn the Legal Rules. You’re a real estate developer, not a lawyer. You don’t have to become a lawyer to raise money using Crowdfunding, and in terms of lifestyle I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • You Don’t Have to Write Computer Code. You’re a real estate developer, not an IT professional. You don’t have to know or learn anything about technology to raise money through Crowdfunding.
  • Crowdfunding is About Marketing. It’s not a technology business, it’s not even a real estate business. Crowdfunding is all about marketing. You create a product that investors will want, and you market both the product and your track record. Just as you rely on your lawyer for legal advice and your IT folks for technology, you rely on marketing professionals to sell yourself and the product.

Common Questions

  • Will I Have More Liability? Here’s a long and technical blog post, listing all the ways that an issuer of securities in Crowdfunding can be liable. By all means share this with your regular lawyer and ask for his or her opinion. But the bottom line is that if you do it right, raising money through Crowdfunding creates no more liability than raising money through traditional channels. It’s just the Internet.
  • Will Banks Lend Money for Crowdfunded Deals? In the earliest stages of Crowdfunding, some lenders balked at deals that involved a bunch of passive investors. But we crossed that bridge long ago. Today, banks and other institutional lenders routinely finance Crowdfunding deals.
  • Isn’t It a Hassle Dealing with All Those Investors? It can be, but doesn’t have to be. For one thing, investors in the Crowdfunding world get no voting or management rights. If you’re used to the private equity guys looking over your shoulder, you’ll be thrilled with Crowdfunding. For another thing, if you use one of the existing Crowdfunding portals (see below), you can outsource a large part of the initial investor relations.
  • I’ve Heard That Investors Must Be Verified – How Does That Work? In Title II Crowdfunding, the issuer – you – must verify that every investor is accredited. In theoretical terms that could mean asking for tax returns, brokerage statements, and other confidential information. But in practical terms it just means engaging a third party like VerifyInvestor. Most verification is done with a simple letter from the investor’s lawyer or accountant.
  • How Much Money Can I Raise? In a typical Title II offering, developers typically raise $1M to $3M of equity.
  • If Crowdfunding is Still Small, Why Start Now? One, you can raise capital for smaller deals. Two, it’s about building a brand in the online market. In a few years, when developers are raising $30M rather than $3M, the developer who built his brand early is more likely to be funded.
  • Is Crowdfunding All or Nothing? No, not at all. You can raise part of the capital stack through Crowdfunding and the balance through traditional channels.
  • Will I Need a PPM? You’ll generally provide the same information to prospective investors in the online world as you’re accustomed to providing in the offline world.
  • Why Am I Seeing All These REITs in Crowdfunding? Three reasons:
    • Most retail investors have neither the skill nor the desire to select individual real estate projects. Just as retail investors prefer mutual funds to picking individual stocks, retail investors will prefer to invest in pools of assets that have been chosen by a professional.
    • Theoretically, thousands of retail investors could invest in a traditional limited liability company. But when you own equity in an LLC you receive a K-1 each year. For someone who’s invested $1,000, the cost of adding a K-1 to her tax return at H&R Block could be prohibitive. In a REIT you receive a 1099, not a K-1.
    • Privately-traded REITs have a very bad reputation, plagued by high fees and sales commissions. But if light is the best disinfectant, the Internet is like a spotlight, relentlessly driving down costs and providing investors with instantly-accessible information.
  • What Kind of Yields Do Investors Expect? That’s a tough question, obviously. But here are two data points. For an equity investment in a high-quality, cash-flowing garden apartment complex, investors might expect a 7% preferred return and 70% on the back end (e., a 30% promote for you). For a debt investment in a single-family fix-and-flip, with a 65% LTV, they might expect a 9% interest rate on a one-year investment.
  • Should I Use Rule 506(b) or Rule 506(c)? If you’re asking that question, you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog post. Try this one.
  • Do I Need a Broker-Dealer? Two answers:
    • As a general rule, you are not legally required to be registered as a broker-dealer, or to be affiliated with a broker-dealer, if you’re offering your own deals. For a more technical legal answer, you can read this blog post.
    • To sell your deal, you might want to use a broker-dealer, or a broker-dealer network.
  • How Can I Get Started? You have two choices:
    • You can establish your own website and list your own deals. But there are millions of websites in the world, many featuring photographs of naked people. Against that competition you might find it difficult to attract eyeballs.
    • You can get your feet wet by listing projects on an existing real estate Crowdfunding portal, one with a good reputation and a large pool of registered investors. If that goes well, you can think about establishing your own website later. The portal will take the mystery out of the online process, making it look and feel like any other offering from your perspective.

Questions? Let me know.

Crowdfunding in Midtown

when pigs fly

Some say it will be a cold day in hell before Wall Street embraces Crowdfunding. If so, we were very nearly there Thursday, February 19th at the offices of the Citrin Cooperman in Midtown. Braving temperatures in the single digits and a gale blowing pedestrians north on Fifth Avenue, a large group of brave souls turned out to learn about Crowdfunding.

Citrin Cooperman, to my knowledge the first accounting firm to specialize in Crowdfunding, co-sponsored the panel discussion with iFunding, one of the earliest and certainly one of the best real estate Crowdfunding portals. The panel was moderated by Harmen Bakker, a partner in Citrin Cooperman’s real estate practice, and included William Skelley, the founder and CEO of iFunding, and Mark Mascia, the President of Mascia Development. Mark actually wore two hats: one, as a developer who has used Crowdfunding successfully to raise equity for his own deals; and two, as an investor in Crowdfunding deals offered by other sponsors.

As much as I try to know about Crowdfunding, I’m always amazed how much I can learn from the guys in the trenches, i.e., portals and developers.

To my delight, Mr. Skelley revealed that iFunding is exploring two new products:

  • A pooled-assets fund, where investors can invest in a category of real estate assets, rather than just a single project; and
  • A product that allows an investor to choose where in the capital stock he wants to invest (e.g., mezzanine debt or preferred equity), depending on his risk/yield preferences.

Wearing his developer’s hat, Mr. Mascia talked about the two Crowdfunding investment models, the first where investors come directly into the developer’s cap table and the second where the platform creates a special purpose vehicle for the investors. Each has advantages and disadvantages; for example, the SPV is great because the platform takes care of investor relations, but the direct-investment model gives the developer more “ownership” of the investor pool.

The audience was smart but troublesome, typical of New York. For example, someone asked “What happens when a Crowdfunding deal goes sideways?” As if that could ever happen.

To my mind, the most revealing fact is that iFunding – like the other top platforms, I believe – is funding deals within hours after they appear on the platform. Does this mean Crowdfunding investors are speed-readers, able to digest information about complex real estate projects between the main course and dessert? No. It means that Crowdfunding investors are relying on the portals. Legally and otherwise, that’s a really big deal.

By the time we finished the temperature outside had climbed to 3. Thank you to Citrin Cooperman and iFunding for a great morning.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

Crowdfunding A Reit

REIT Blog Post Image

People sometimes ask “Will Crowdfunding replace REITs?” That’s not exactly the right question.

A REIT – an acronym for Real Estate Investment Trust – is not a function of real estate law or corporate law. A REIT is solely a function of tax law. Section 856 of the Internal Revenue Code defines a REIT as a corporation, trust, or association that satisfies certain criteria, including these:

  • At least 75% of the entity’s assets must consist of real estate assets or cash.
  • The entity must have at least 100 owners.
  • Interests in the entity must be transferable.
  • No more than 50% percent of the interests in the entity may be held by five or fewer individuals.

There is only one benefit of qualifying as a REIT: as long as he distributes at least 90% of its income to its owners, the entity itself is not subject to tax. Only the owners are subject to tax, when they receive dividend and capital gain distributions. The whole REIT industry is built around this tax benefit.

Because the REIT label is solely a function of tax law, not corporate or securities law, a REIT can be:

  • A publicly-registered company with publicly-traded securities; or
  • A publicly-registered company with privately-traded securities; or
  • A private company with privately-traded securities.

The second category of REIT is probably most common and, frankly, it is the category that has given REITs a bad name. Sold through the traditional broker-dealer channels, it is not unusual for the shares of publicly-registered, privately-traded REITs to carry a load of more than 10%, great for the broker, terrible for the customer. That’s why people say “Private REITS are sold, not bought.”

Compare a publicly-registered, privately-traded REIT to a garden-variety limited liability company owning real estate assets. In both cases, the entity itself pays no tax. And now, through Crowdfunding, the garden-variety LLC can solicit investors using the Internet, leading to transactions cost (load) much lower than the private REIT. Economically it’s a no-brainer: the Crowdfunded real estate LLC is better than the private REIT.

As I said, however, that’s really comparing apples with oranges. The REIT designation is about taxes; Crowdfunding is about how you find investors.

The real question is “Can I find investors for a private REIT using Crowdfunding, rather than through the traditional broker-dealer channels?” And the answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!” When you check the deals available at your favorite real estate Crowdfunding site tomorrow morning, you could well see a REIT.

And why would a sponsor offer a REIT rather than a garden-variety LLC? One reason – maybe the only reason – is tax reporting. An investor in an LLC receives a full-blown K-1 each year, and faces at least the theoretical risk of paying tax on “phantom” income. An investor in a REIT, on the other hand, receives only a simple 1099 and pays tax only on actual distributions.

Be that as it may, nobody should be paying a 10% commission. By connecting sponsors directly with investors, Crowdfunding promises to squeeze this kind of inefficiency out of the capital formation industry. Especially when Regulation A+ comes into effect, opening the market to non-accredited investors, there is every reason to believe that Crowdfunding will replace the traditional broker-dealer as the preferred method for distributing REIT shares.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

CFGE CROWDFUND BANKING AND LENDING SUMMIT IN SAN FRANCISCO

Roderick CFGE

Since Labor Day, I’ve spoken at half a dozen events: for entrepreneurs, for intellectual property lawyers, for finance professionals, for digital marketing groups. This week I’ll be speaking at one of the premier Crowdfunding events in country, the CFGE Crowdfund Banking and Lending Summit on the 16th and 17th in San Francisco.

The conference features some of the leaders in the industry, including:

  • Richard Swart, Director of Research for Innovation in Entrepreneur and Social Finance, Colman Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership at UC Berkeley.
  • Ron Suber, the President of Prosper.
  • Jason Fritton, the Founder and CEO of Patch of Land.
  • Tom Lockard, the Vice President for Real Estate Investment and Institutional Sales of Fundrise.
  • Nikul Patel, the Chief Lending Officer of LendingTree.
  • Jesse Clem, the Co-Founder of LOQUIDITY, LLC.
  • Joy Schoffler, the CEO of Leverage PR.

Whether you’re new to Crowdfunding or an industry veteran, I’d strongly suggest you attend. I’m always amazed how much more there is to learn.

To register, click here. Make sure to use my promo code and receive a 25% discount! Promo code: Roderick

And while you’re there, please stop by and say hello. Crowdfunding and skiing – those are my two favorite topics.

CHOOSING AND PROTECTING A NAME FOR YOUR CROWDFUNDING BUSINESS

Names matter, even for a local business, but they matter a great deal for a Crowdfunding business, where your customers know you only from a distance.

Generally speaking you can choose three kinds of names:

  • A name that describes what you do, e.g., Real Estate Crowdfunding Portal, LLC.
  • A name with no inherent meaning, e.g., Xeta, LLC.
  • A name somewhere in between, e.g., Lifelong Investments, LLC.

Each category has advantages and disadvantages:

  • A name that describes what you do…well, it describes what you do. When a consumer sees the name she knows what you’re selling. On the other hand, a name that describes what you do is often not very memorable.
  • The strongest names are those that start out with no inherent meaning. Amazon, Starbucks, E-Bay. When consumers think of Amazon they think about the gigantic online retailer, nothing else. The name is worth a billion dollars! On the other hand, Amazon had to spend more than a billion marketing dollars to give meaning to a name that otherwise belonged to a river.
  • A name somewhere in between is somewhere in between. It might be sexier than a name that is merely descriptive and require a lot less marketing fuel than a name with no meaning, but with the associated disadvantages as well.

In the Crowdfunding industry to date, most portals have chosen the more descriptive over the more powerful. Poliwogg is an exception. Fundrise might be another.

With two well-known Crowdfunding companies – Crowdentials and VerifyInvestors – we see two different approaches to choosing a name. And we can’t say for certain whether one is better than the other. That will depend on what each company does with its name.

Having chosen a name, how do you protect it?

To start with, a business acquires “common law” rights to a name merely by using it, without filing anything with the government and without involving lawyers. If another real estate Crowdfunding portal tried to use the Fundrise name today they couldn’t do it, even if the Miller brothers had never done anything to protect their name (they have).

Contrary to common belief, merely registering a company name with the state by forming a corporation or other entity provides no real protection. State filings are simply a matter of bureaucracy – the state wants to make sure that no two names are confusingly similar on its own records.

For the best protection, however, the business owner should obtain a Federal trademark from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A Federal registration provides important benefits, including:

  • The registration constitutes “constructive notice” to all later users in all locations.
  • The registration permits the owner to get an injunction against a trademark infringer and sue for damages, including profits, costs, treble damages and attorneys fees.
  • The registration can strengthen the value of the name as a corporate asset.
  • The registration demonstrates your right to use the name to the owners of other websites, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, which are often called on to “officiate” disputes over names.

The trademark application process normally takes about a year, assuming no significant problems. Once granted, a trademark registration can last forever if continuously used and renewed.

NOTE: Not every name can be trademarked. A name like “Real Estate Crowdfunding Portal,” which merely describes the product or service, probably cannot be registered by itself. But it might be registered with a distinctive logo.

Finally, don’t forget to acquire the domain name.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

OUR EXPERIENCE WITH REGULATION A – BY BEN MILLER, CO-FOUNDER OF FUNDRISE

To improve the user experience, I am inviting guest bloggers. The first is Ben Miller, a Co-Founder of Fundrise, who explains how he and his brother Dan invented Crowdfunding through Regulation A.

Please let me know if you would like to post. I’m looking for content like Ben’s – interesting, informative, educational.

-MARK RODERICK

____________________________________________________________________________________

By: Ben Miller, Co-Founder of Fundrise.

My brother Dan and I were in the real estate business for a long time, developing commercial and residential projects in the Washington, D.C. area, before we thought about crowdfunding. We got some of our capital from the same place many real estate developers get their capital: from investment funds in New York or even outside of the country.

Most of them had little connection to the places we were building and often had never even heard of the neighborhood. On the other hand, our friends and neighbors, people with real connection to the projects, couldn’t invest with us.

fundriseWe started to imagine a world where everyone could invest in high-quality real estate deals, which were then limited to professional investors. We thought about ordinary people investing in their own communities, creating a win-win for the community and business owners. Like every other developer, we’ve had our share of battles with local zoning agencies. We imagined how that process might change if actual investors from the community showed up at council meetings to support the project.

This was before crowdfunding or the JOBS Act were on the table, and every lawyer we spoke to (and we spoke to plenty) told us that our idea was impossible.

Finally we discovered SEC Regulation A. Although Regulation A had been around since 1936, before we came along it had been used very rarely, which probably explains why the lawyers hadn’t heard about it. In all of 2012 fewer than a dozen companies had used Regulation A to raise capital across the whole country, as compared to more than 7,000 Regulation D offerings.

We soon found out why. Although Regulation A allows you to raise money from anybody, including from non-accredited investors, first you have to file a disclosure document with the SEC and with the state securities regulators in any state where you offer the security, and get the regulators to approve your offering. Regulation A is nothing like the new Crowdfunding under SEC Rule 506(c), which is simple and streamlined by comparison.

Once we figured out how to file the disclosure document, which is really like a mini registration statement, we learned that neither the SEC nor the state regulators had ever seen a real estate development project offered under Regulation A. We spent hundreds of hours and way too much in legal fees working through all of the issues. We were literally doing something that had never been done in the history of the U.S. capital markets, and at the same time paving the way for everyone else.

After lots of work, lots of frustration, and lots of conversations with regulators, we succeeded. Our Regulation A filing was approved and we raised $325,000 for the project. I won’t even tell you how much it cost to raise that $325,000, but we were okay with it because we saw the experience then, and still do, as an investment in our future.

We have completed three Regulation A offerings since then. Each time we’ve gotten better and faster, not to mention that the regulators have learned along with us.

Here’s what it took to complete our most recent Regulation A offering:

reg a breakdown

Our most recent filing:

fedex

Fundrise has branched out since those early days. As the leading real estate portal in the world we offer not only Regulation A projects but Rule 506(c) investments under the JOBS Act. And we’re very excited about the new Regulation A+. Regulation A+ improves on Regulation A by allowing us to raise up to $50 million of equity from non-accredited investors (subject to a limitation on how much each person can invest) and further streamline the process by filing only with the SEC, and not with state securities regulators. Fundrise has always been a pioneer, and we expect to pioneer the possibilities of Regulation A+ as well as soon as it becomes available.

Whatever the future holds for Fundrise, and we believe our future is unlimited, we’ll always remember that Regulation A allowed us to open the door into the world of crowdfunding and give unaccredited investors the chance to invest in real estate for the first time in history.

Follow @BenMillerise and @Fundrise on Twitter.

 

AUSTIN ROUNDUP

Austin cityscapeHats off to the folks at Coastal Shows for making the Austin event – officially the CFGE Crowdfund Real Estate Summit – the best Crowdfunding event ever.

The event featured the leading players in the industry:

Title III of the JOBS Act may be flawed, and the final rules for Regulation A+ may be long overdue, but the speakers and panelists agree that Crowdfunding is here to stay, with Title II leading the way. Two days before the conference began, Fundrise raised $31 million of capital in a Series A round of financing. That served as a very useful background, illuminating the potential of a market that promises to transform the U.S. capital formation industry.

Over coffee during the day and beer in the evening, I spoke with dozens of real estate developers and entrepreneurs. Their message came through loud and clear: We’re tired of dealing exclusively with our traditional sources of capital and are eager to raise money through Crowdfunding channels.

Developers are eager for new sources of capital, and individual investors are eager to participate in a market that, until now, has been reserved for institutions and the very wealthy. That’s Crowdfunding, in a nutshell.

What happens in Vegas might stay in Vegas, but what happened in Austin is going to spread across the country. Thanks for a great event, Coastal Shows.

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