Cameron Pimm is the co-founder and principal of UrbanLandings, which purchases and repositions apartments in Atlanta and surrounding metros. In this episode, Cameron discusses his journey from financial advisor to real estate investor, how UrbanLandings has managed 10 years of successful deals, and the focus of their latest fund.
Cameron Pimm | Real Estate Background
- Co-founder and principal of UrbanLandings
- 2,000 units (done $750MM in deals currently $450MM in AUM)
- Based in: Atlanta, GA
- Say hi to him at:
- Best Ever Book: The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason
- Greatest Lesson: Have a very detailed business plan, and execute on it very quickly.
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Slocomb Reed: Best Ever listeners, welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I'm Slocomb Reed, and I'm here today with Cameron Pimm. Cameron is joining us from Las Vegas. He is the co-founder and principal of Urban Landings, based in Atlanta, Georgia, which purchases and repositions apartments in Atlanta and surrounding metro areas. Their current portfolio consists of around 2000 units. Cameron, can you tell us a little bit more about your background and what you're currently focused on?
Cameron Pimm: Sure, happy to. Thanks for having me, Slocomb. I started out as a financial advisor, and it really wasn't my passion, which I came to realize. And I think there were two main drivers to that. The first was no matter how carefully we crafted an investment plan, minimizing downside and risk, and trying to maximize returns, ultimately I couldn't control the performance of those assets - stocks, bonds, whatever that may be. And then the second was that it wasn't in real estate, and I had always envisioned myself being in real estate, and the thought of repositioning assets or developing assets, that change the way that people interact and live within a major American city was really intriguing to me. So I set out to go work with local investors and developers, got an incredible experience doing so, learned how they put together deals, underwrote them, structured them, executed them, and then further honed my skills with international institutions such as JLL and CBRE.
Meanwhile, I was moonlighting as a syndicator, buying small boutique deals, and doing one deal at a time, cobbling together money through friends and family, and through each deal, each deal was a success, and each time we did a deal, we were referred through our investors additional friends and family of theirs. So it snowballed from that, and it allowed us to play in a bigger space, do bigger deals. And then we took the next step up, as most investment companies do, and started working in joint ventures, with more established, larger shops, as well as with family offices and equity groups.
Fast-forward to today, we've done over the last decade about 750 million in deals. As you mentioned earlier, we have a portfolio of $400, $450 million in assets under management, and we're now focused on raising a fund to diversify investor risk and take advantage of perhaps some opportunities that this economy and the market may present to us. The goal there is to buy about $300 million worth of real estate across growing Sunbelt markets, where we've lived, worked, invested, and really understand the markets there, and diversify people's investments through 10 to 15 different assets that giving them exposure to these different markets and submarkets within them.
Slocomb Reed: You said you're building a fund, correct?
Cameron Pimm: That's right.
Slocomb Reed: Which diversifies the investment portfolio and the risk portfolio for your investors. I will get off of this topic very quickly, I promise you, Cameron and listeners, but what is the opportunity that you were expecting to see, I imagine, later in 2023?
Cameron Pimm: Whether it's 2023 or beyond, I think there are deals, particularly in certain deal sizes, probably more so in the boutique and middle market sized deals, that were not necessarily underwritten or executed conservatively, or at least that weren't underwritten conservatively and the execution may be lacking. We keep hearing about that with a lot of debt that's coming due, and rising interest rates; there's probably opportunity to buy deals at a discount to what they were purchased at over the last couple of years. And perhaps even deeper discounts if there's more distress than we may think.
So we just want to be able to capitalize on a potential opportunity, and if not, similar to how everybody thought, there'll be just this huge wave of hotel product that would be available to reposition in the multifamily assets during the COVID days; there will still be opportunities to buy deals, maybe in a less competitive environment, maybe you're not going hard on earnest money day one. I'm certainly not going to miss those days. So either way, whether there are deep discounts, or there's just opportunities to buy deals after this pause in the market, we'd like to be well capitalized and ready to take advantage of whatever comes next.
Slocomb Reed: You're not making any very particular predictions here, just that there's going to be volatility in the market, and you plan to be in a position to take advantage.
Cameron Pimm: Yeah, and some reports are saying that there'll be plenty of those opportunities coming. As I survey the landscape and the sentiment of others in our field, a lot of people seem to think that that will be the case. I think at some point, the dislocation between seller expectations and current buyer expectations will no longer exist, and we may have a more ideal market in which to buy deals in. The last couple of years were very competitive, some might even say frothy, and I think this is a reset one way or another to a more normalized market.
Slocomb Reed: Cameron, I'm asking about you individually - within urban landings, and then within the co-GPs that you do with other general partners, other operators, you specifically, what is your specialty?
Cameron Pimm: I came up doing operations and asset management, and I think that's also given me a unique perspective into acquisitions. How will these assets really perform long-term. And with that, I think I've been able to understand how to underwrite conservatively, and be able to still get a deal done, where we're projecting the right amount of returns, but there's plenty of room for adjustments within the market. So long way of saying my specialty within our group is acquisitions.
Slocomb Reed: Came up through operations and asset management, and now currently focused on acquisitions.
Cameron Pimm: That's right.
Slocomb Reed: Operationally speaking, Cameron, what was your focus?
Cameron Pimm: Well, I've had a number of focuses with each job. Most recently, it was overseeing a value-add portfolio of multifamily assets throughout the Southeast, similar to what we're targeting right now. So we look at it in a similar lens, and the focus within our group has always been to provide what we call working class achievable housing or workforce housing. Our ending rents are typically 30% of median household income and below, and at least a 20% discount to area mortgages, making it a pretty robust product. In addition, we do a heavy value-add, so our tenants are getting a class A finish on the interior; however, it may be in an older asset than the high rise down the street.
Slocomb Reed: We're recording in May 2023, Cameron... When did you all last get a contract accepted on a deal that you closed on?
Cameron Pimm: The contract was accepted in April of last year, and we closed in September of last year. Since then, we put pencils down for the rest of 2022. Didn't want to fight the capital markets in addition to the holidays. And since then, we've been active in the market, we've been offering on a number of deals, but that dislocation between buyers and sellers I spoke to earlier is really what we're finding, and as we talked to other groups that are similar to us, they're finding the same thing.
Slocomb Reed: So you called yourself an acquisitions guy. Urban Landings is back, currently actively pursuing their next deal?
Cameron Pimm: That's right.
Slocomb Reed: Okay. Is it micro factors within urban landings, or macro factors within the markets, the economy, the debt landscape that have you back hunting for your next acquisition in Q2 2023?
Cameron Pimm: I think it's a little bit of everything. We're always looking to acquire quality assets. It's challenging right now, for all of the reasons that you've just mentioned. But we've been very cautious with our underwriting and what may happen, and some economic uncertainty, both now and on the horizon. So right now, we are not required to place any money, and we don't ever want to do a bad deal. So we're going to be very conservative in our approach, and when the right deal comes along, we're ready to jump on it. I think it's also important to understand market conditions in all of the markets that we are underwriting and looking to acquire in, and from a macro level as well.
Slocomb Reed: Cameron, I'd like to transition the conversation a little bit, and talk about you and me, actually; we're gonna focus on you first. We were talking a little bit before the interview started, you and I went to the same college. We both went to Emory in Atlanta. We actually both went to Oxford College of Emory University, and then moved on to the main campus. But when you moved on to the main campus, you went to the [unintelligible 00:11:13.07] which is highly rated, highly touted... And I went and got a degree in philosophy and Spanish. Here we both find ourselves in real estate. I want to ask, Cameron, not necessarily particular to [unintelligible 00:11:28.22] but having the business school background, transitioning into financial advising of course, and then into real estate, what were the advantages and disadvantages of that background when you got into operations, and then acquisitions within commercial multifamily?
Cameron Pimm: I think the advantages are having exposure to all of the concepts, understanding how to read financials, how to forecast. And it also certainly opened doors. The Emory name is pretty well known in the Atlanta area, and I decided to stay in the Atlanta area for a very long time, because it's such a great city, and I was enjoying myself... And it presented great opportunities. I think along the way, as you work for really great professionals and in inspiring environments, you get a deeper knowledge, and you get exposure to a lot of different ways to do and approach problems. So I think that's been really key to taking all the lessons I've learned along the way, and incorporating them into the way that we operate, and the way that we underwrite. I had the great fortune to work with a lot of really great professionals and learn from them. I always say that my time working for others was like getting a masters and a doctorate degree.
Slocomb Reed: Cameron, choosing the education route that you did, do you feel that Emory being well known in Atlanta, deciding to stay in Atlanta for quite some time, also a great real estate market - do you feel like the networking you were doing while in business school and immediately after has advanced your real estate investing, specifically the sphere of people that you were putting yourself around back then?
Cameron Pimm: I certainly think it helped. We have a number of investors that have been with us from the start, that are actually friends and fellow alum from Emory University, and they've also been able to introduce us to others from wherever their life has taken them. In addition to that, I think being in Atlanta, booming city where people want a lot of exposure too, being a hot market, certainly was helpful in our growth, and it's a market that we'll continue to work in and invest in. We're bullish on Atlanta long-term. So I think I was very fortunate to end up at Emory and then Atlanta, and to have the connections from there.
Slocomb Reed: Cameron, what year did you first get into the commercial multifamily space?
Cameron Pimm: 2007.
Slocomb Reed: '07.
Cameron Pimm: That's right.
Slocomb Reed: In the last 15-16 years, what have been the biggest struggles that you've faced?
2:That's a good question. I think the reality is is that no deal goes as planned. And through that, you constantly have to work through whatever challenges are presented to you, and you draw on personal experience, as well as your professional network to solve a lot of these problems.
So I think every deal has its challenges, and a lot of lessons learned along the way. Fortunately, we've had a great track record and great success, and have not had an unsuccessful project or lost investors money over the course of doing business. It's something that we're very proud of.
Slocomb Reed: It's certainly something worth being proud of. Within the execution of your business plans on those properties, Cameron, where has your team found the most difficulty?
Cameron Pimm: I think right now, one of the biggest challenges that the apartment industry faces is the ability to staff sites with qualified personnel; it's really difficult to fully staff a site and keep it staffed, just because of what a tight job market it is. I think our industry needs to do a better job of relaying what great opportunities are out there for site-level staff, and recruiting talent. And maybe that's also where we rethink how we do things from a tech-enabled standpoint, and from incentivizing site-level staff. And that's something that we continue to bounce around internally. While we do not have in-house property management, we work very closely with our site managers, and we're talking with them; we've got a couple regularly scheduled calls a week to keep a finger on the pulse there, and also allow them to feel like the ownership team values their opinion. Because we do. So I think that there's some innovation that could be done here to continue to push these projects along with great talent, and fill those voids.
Slocomb Reed: Cameron, for those of us with smaller portfolios than yours, or even larger portfolios, what advice do you have when it comes to hiring and retaining solid site-level staff?
Cameron Pimm: I think it starts with your property manager, and a close second is your maintenance supervisor. So I always explain to our property managers that they are the CEO of a multimillion-dollar asset, and that they should act like one, and that we will treat them like one. There's plenty of opportunity for them to learn and to advance within that, whether that's learning how simple savings are driving rents, increase the value of an asset; just showing them the bottom line, NOI, and applying a cap rate. And for a lot of them, it's an a-ha moment. But I think educating them on how we look at things, and then hearing how they're looking at things puts us on the same page, and really helps us all achieve our ultimate goals.
Slocomb Reed: Last question before we transition the episode, Cameron... Again, within the execution of your business plans, where is it that you individually or Urban Landings more generally has really excelled? What is it that you guys are really good at?
Cameron Pimm: I think a lot of the value is in the buy, and your initial underwriting. And then secondly, I think it's executing your business plan without delay. I think that's a huge portion of it. So if you're doing a heavy value-add, it's really important that you get started day one, and that you are communicating to not only the team, but to the market, that this is now a different asset, with different ownership and a different direction.
Furthermore, I think the sooner you roll out your value-add, the sooner you open yourself up to opportunity to capitalize on ideal market conditions by having a finished or close to finished product. A proven value-add, if you will, if you're not all the way done with it... That if you've taken longer to, you might miss the opportunity of a low interest rate, low cap rate environment.
Slocomb Reed: It may be a while before we get the opportunity to take advantage of that again though, Cameron... On that note, are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?
Cameron Pimm: I am.
Slocomb Reed: What is the Best Ever book you've recently read?
Cameron Pimm: The Richest Man in Babylon.
Slocomb Reed: That's a good one.
Cameron Pimm: It is. So you've read it, too?
Slocomb Reed: Yes. Is that George Clason?
Cameron Pimm: I am drawing a blank on the author. And I shouldn't, because it was such a great book, and it had such an impact on me. I think it's great for all of your listeners to read that book. What's amazing about it is it talks about the value of investing so that your money works for you, and the eighth wonder of the world, compounding interest. But in order to do that, the knowledge that it takes; and it's a specialized knowledge. And either you have to have that, or you have to have a trusted adviser or point person that's going to be able to execute on that investment strategy.
Slocomb Reed: What is your Best Ever way to give back?
Cameron Pimm: Along the lines of that book, it's passing on knowledge. A lot of lessons are hard-learned through experience, and I think if you can ever help somebody get to where they're trying to be, by passing on your experience and expertise, that's the best thing that you can get to them. We often find ourselves mentoring people that are interested in coming up in the industry, and it's a really rewarding feeling to help them, regardless of where they are in their journey.
Slocomb Reed: Cameron, this far in your apartment syndication, what was the biggest mistake you've made and the best ever lesson that resulted from it?
Cameron Pimm: As I mentioned earlier, I think you have to have a very detailed business plan, and you have to execute on that very quickly. Not just from a capital improvement side of things, but also from an operations standpoint. As we talked earlier about how important your site-level team is to the asset, and they can make or break it, I think you have to have guidelines that immediately communicate your expectations for how things are supposed to operate. I don't think you can just rely upon the standard operating procedure of your management partner; I think you need to set lines of communication, set expectations for reporting, and just how you intend to do business as a whole. And leaving it just to a third party to execute and hoping that they do a good job, despite having a good reputation or not, is a big mistake.
Slocomb Reed: Cameron, that is a great lesson. Tell us about your mistake.
Cameron Pimm: We've worked with a number of third-party managers, and I think what we've found has been we've thought that there are default things such as - call it even quarterly bonuses, and how that's supposed to be handled. And what we've found is is that that's not always the case, and maybe it's not even always thought about by the third-party management team. So we focus on making sure that we clearly outline what the goals are, and what the incentives are as well. And that's really how you align your team to achieving the results that you set out to achieve, and to executing on your business plan. So for us, it's so important to set those expectations day one, so that they're properly incentivized, and on the same page as you.
Slocomb Reed: On that note, Cameron, what is your Best Ever advice?
Cameron Pimm: I'd say get started investing as soon as possible. Obviously, make sure you are educated in that, but I wish I would have gone out on my own sooner. And I'm certainly glad that I did that.
Slocomb Reed: Where can people get in touch with you?
Cameron Pimm: You can find me on LinkedIn, or you can reach us at info [at] UrbanLandings.com.
Slocomb Reed: Those links are in the show notes. Cameron, thank you. Best Ever listeners, thank you as well for tuning in. If you've gained value from this episode, please do subscribe to our show. Leave us a five star review and share this episode with a friend you know we can add value to through our conversation today. Thank you, and have a Best Ever day.
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