Our headquarters is in Los Angeles, but Patch of Land was really born in Chicago.
Like all American cities, Chicago is a tale of two cities: one where the streets are lined with mansions, tidy row homes, and plush high-rises; and the other where most houses, if you can call them that, have boarded up windows, loose bricks, and rotting wood.
You can’t see those neighborhoods without wanting to help, and if you’re a real estate entrepreneur, as I am, you think there must be a lot of money to be made from all those vacant and abandoned buildings.
I went to foreclosure auctions but found that the market was broken. On one hand, the same handful of ultra-wealthy individuals or companies bid on $10 million properties. On the other hand, nobody bid on the smaller properties in blighted neighborhoods even though they could be had for a pittance, $10,000 or $20,000 apiece. The problem was (and is) that banks wouldn’t touch them, even if the developer had a proven track record. So the properties stayed vacant and abandoned, basically worthless, eyesores in the community.
I had a great idea – Crowdfunding! I’d ask for money from everyone. Not just as charity, although revitalizing neighborhoods would be the goal, but also as good investments for the donors/investors. We would start in Chicago and then move across the country, helping communities along the way.
We had our motto – Building Wealth & Growing Communities – before we knew how we were going to do it.
As it turned out I was a little early. I wanted to advertise my investments to everyone but in securities law terms that would have been “general solicitation,” which was still illegal. To keep my idea alive I found myself in Washington, D.C. lobbying for the JOBS Act, where I learned how political compromise can work. Republicans liked the economic freedom the bill gave to entrepreneurs and individual investors, while Democrats liked the potential for improving neighborhoods and the boost for small business.
Both sides came together and President Obama signed the bill into law on April 5, 2012. Now, without going to jail, I could start improving those neighborhoods.
There is an old African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I started building my team piece by piece, knowing a lot of other smart people were getting into the market at the same time. And I’m proud of the team I built, the best in the business as far as I’m concerned. We did our first deal on October 15, 2013 and within six were the leading platform in the country dedicated to real estate debt.
We pre-fund all our deals, meaning we invest our own money before asking for money from anyone else. Unlike some other platforms, we also start paying interest as soon as we take an investor’s money. We are completely transparent. We charge no fees to investors. We offer very fast turnarounds to borrowers and very competitive returns to investors. We do a great job evaluating loans, based on our credit experience to date. We’ve taken big steps toward bridging the gap between the old world of behind-closed-doors capital formation, and the new world of online transparent capital structures.
But they’re just first steps. We and the industry have a long way to go. More than anything, we need a workable Title III or its equivalent. Accredited investors, all eight and a half million of them, make up only a small fraction of American adults. To truly democratize the formation of capital, we need to let everyone into the game.
Less than a year after Title II came into effect the market is exploding, with some very large real estate players getting into the business. To me, that’s just vindication of our business model, proof that the Crowdfunding business is being taken seriously.
I don’t worry much about the competition from those companies because small, nimble companies like Patch of Land enjoy a bunch of advantages:
- Crowdfunding is a new business. Those of us who have been here from the start know the business inside out.
- There’s a reason Walmart can’t seriously challenge Amazon. Amazon’s business was built online from the ground up, while Walmart’s entire model, entire way of thinking, is based on bricks and mortar. For more on that, click here.
- Our business runs on technology, and our technology is second to none. In one seamless, integrated process, we control a project from application to interest-paying loan.
- Our cost structure is far lower, allowing us to share the savings with both borrowers and investors.
- There are wide swaths of the American real estate market the big players have never touched and will never touch. We call that market “under-served” or “most of America.” That’s the market Crowdfunding was created to address.
Among the many transactions we’ve complete, our loan to Deborah Smith in Georgia shows what we’re about. Deborah developed a rent-to-own program where veterans with poor credit could qualify for financing from the Veterans’ Administration. Using financing from Patch of Land, she was able to get those veterans in homes they couldn’t afford otherwise. And our investors made money in the process. That’s a long way from solving every problem in the real estate market, but it’s a start.
I’m super optimistic about the future of Patch of Land. If you had told me five years ago that I could be doing what I’m doing today, I’d have thought you were dreaming. Wait until you see what we’ve built five years from now.
Follow Jason Fritton on Twitter: @JasonFritton
Follow Patch of Land on Twitter: @PatchOfLand