November 30, 2022

JF3009: Investment Sales & Mastering Your Clients’ Needs ft. David Ash

David Ash is the managing director at Walker & Dunlop, which works with investment sales efforts across New York and executes across all asset classes. In this episode, he shares how starting out as a club promoter in college helped him discover his gift of bringing people together, how that led to a flourishing career in investment sales, and some of his insights into the New York City commercial real estate market. 

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David Ash | Real Estate Background

  • Managing director at Walker & Dunlop, which works with investment sales efforts across New York and executes all across asset classes. He has also done $4.21B in sales transactions since the inception of his company Prince Realty Advisors.
  • Based in: Manhattan, NY
  • Say hi to him at: 
  • Best Ever Book: Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson
  • Greatest lesson: Stay focused on what you’re good at.



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Ash Patel: Hello, Best Ever listeners. Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I'm Ash Patel and I'm with today's guest, David Ash. David is joining us from Manhattan, New York. He is the managing director at Walker and Dunlop, which works with investment sales efforts across New York City, and executes in all asset classes. David has also done $4.2 billion in sales transactions since the inception of his company, Prince Realty Advisors. David, thank you so much for joining us, and how are you today?

David Ash: I'm fantastic. How are you?

Ash Patel: Very well. Thanks for asking. David, before we get started, can you give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background, and what you're focused on now?

David Ash: Sure, happy to do it. So I took a little bit of an interesting path to where I am today. Not so different for many entrepreneurs. I started in NYU, doing sort of, if you want to call it club promoting, if that's the right way to say it. I put together parties, I had a lot of fun, and I guess in hindsight it was a little bit of a niche in terms of putting people together; guys needed to party, places needed patrons, and that kind of allowed me to do a lot when I was in college, and meet a lot of people, and kind of hone my social skill set, if you want to call it that.

And when I left college, I had a couple of odd jobs throughout the course of college, I worked throughout the entire stint at NYU Business School... And when I graduated, I ended up in office leasing. I did not take any real estate courses when I was in NYU, I did not do anything within the real estate environment when I was in NYU. It was just suggested to me to go into this field, that I would be "good at it." And in all honesty, most everybody I knew was in finance at the time, and I was not that guy. No disrespect to those people; I love them, they're doing amazing. It just wasn't my shtick.

And throughout the course of my early start of the career, I did office leasing, mostly showroom leasing. I worked at a company called [unintelligible 00:02:26.16] for a little while; great guys, family-run, family-owned... And they own a lot of stuff in the garment center in New York City, which is where a lot of fashion brands house their showrooms, and so on and so forth.

I cut my teeth there for a little while, basically really, really, really old school cold calling, going from office to office, cubicle to cubicle, meeting people, speaking to their HR team, looking at where and how they want to move their showroom from one building to the next... And I did okay for the most part, but eventually fell into the investment sales industry. I think probably mid-2007, where a friend of mine suggested that I introduce him to anybody who runs and controls their own building, that I might run into.

So essentially, I ended up actually introducing him to a group where -- I like to say this as a great story, just as a precursor... The deal did not happen. So the happy ending was not there. But I had worked my butt off for a 4,000-square-foot lease, and I think my commission was something around $32,000. And the owner of the building was the person who ran and handled all of that stuff. And as I said, I have this friend of mine who works for this fund... Apparently they're buying a bunch of things. "Would you speak to them? Two meetings happened where it was as if Chinese was spoken, even though it was technically real estate terminology... And they ended up putting an offer in for $160 million. I thought it was thought it was incredible. I was like, "That's fantastic. Good for you guys." And he's like, "Well, we're only going to pay you 1% as a commission fee." And I said -- my brain was not computing the understanding. "What do you mean, you're gonna pay only 1%?" And it ended up being obviously a very, very big carrot that was dangled in front of me in terms of the idea of investment sales, which was, at that time, to be honest, a little bit foreign to me. And I kind of took a big step back, I went into the investment sales industry in '08, but unfortunately, the market did not treat the investment sales industry and the commercial real estate industry very well. So that became my second big lesson in terms of trying to figure out how to navigate and how to create, I want to say a little bit of a niche for yourself within a market, where I knew that I was good at this business to some degree. I knew I was somebody who connected well with people and was able to more interestingly connect dots. So rather than approach the business and just try and get people to sell property, I decided to approach the business and try and figure out how I can help clients really more invest within transactions in New York City and across the country. So I took it upon myself to sort of open up my own company. I don't necessarily recommend this for everyone, but I opened up my own company called Prince Realty Advisors at the time, having never ever executed an investment sales transaction.

I just had this idea that if I was diligent in an approach to speak to clients to be able to help them transact, I will eventually get to where I need to get to. And slow and steady, I made my inroads; I curated most of my phone calls to more institutional clients, more public companies, more funds... And to your point earlier, I most recently was acquired by Walker and Dunlop, but to date, from 2010, when I opened up Prince Realty eventually, till 2020, I guess, if you want to say that, because the last couple of years were a little bit different, if you will - we did about 5.9 billion in total sales. And this whole endeavor with Walker and Dunlop came about very organically. They're a public company that does tremendous business across both the capital markets and as well as investment sales markets throughout the country, and they wanted a really creative a presence here in New York, that was a little entrepreneurial, and a little bit different... And it was really a nice fit between what I had done, and what I hopefully can do within Walker and Dunlop.

So it was pretty cool thing, and that's why we're here, and I'm open to any questions you may have.

Ash Patel: Alright, a lot of questions. The 1% on $160 million would have been 1.6 million.

David Ash: Yep. That's true.

Ash Patel: And you balked at that, because you wanted more...

Ash Patel: No, no, no. There was no balking. I just couldn't understand how I worked my butt off for four months, running around Manhattan, showing a showroom tenant space, and dealing with difficult old school garment owners, if that's the case, in New York City, hassling over every single nuance, and the full commission was about $32,000. And then here I am, making an introduction, taking really not that much of an effort to put it together, and the potential would have been so drastically different, so much more. I couldn't understand. And I was like, "I need to be in this business. This is a business I need to be in."

Ash Patel: Got it. Okay, I misunderstood. Okay. So you were like, "Oh, my God..." So four months of effort for $1.6 million would have been $100,000 a week, which is great. And when you say investment sales, you're talking about real estate investment sales, right?

David Ash: Yes.

Ash Patel: In New York in particular, which is a little bit different... Across the country there are a lot of guys like myself, a lot of professionals who are, I want to say, asset-agnostic, in a certain sense, where our main focus is really the client... And there are many companies here in New York, and obviously, across the country, that focus on multiple amount of assets that are both hotel, office, residential, development... There's a lot of ways in which you can work with that same client in different asset classes.

It's interesting, you don't need to be a jack of all trades, so to speak, but you do need to be sort of a master of your client's needs., and that's where I'm really, really focused, in terms of what they need... And that's allowed myself and my company to be able to have a hand in multiple different types of asset classes, and multiple different trades. [unintelligible 00:08:12.26] platform.

Ash Patel: Got it. Okay. And you started Prince Realty Advisors having never completed one of these transactions before. That's correct. Were you a troublemaker in college?

David Ash: I wasn't a troublemaker, I would say. I was always very keen on being out and being social. I always got my work done, but I was very keen on being out, being social. As I mentioned to you, I was sort of a party planner, if you will, when I was in college... So it allowed me to meet people, introduce myself to new groups of people, bring people together at different parties in different areas... So I'm telling you, it was sort of like a crash course in how to handle and work both within a corporate environment, as well as work on behalf of clients' needs and what they want across all the different [unintelligible 00:09:00.22]

Ash Patel: Alright, so you learned some great networking skills.

David Ash: Yeah.

Ash Patel: And I was a troublemaker; the dean, for whatever reason, knew me on a first-name basis... So this love for networking and putting people together is obviously what made you successful. How did you start [unintelligible 00:09:16.21] You didn't have any clients, you're out on your own... What did you do? Did you set up an office? Did you work out of your house?

David Ash: So at the time I actually set up an office in my apartment, which I shared with a roommate at the time. I had left working at [unintelligible 00:09:32.18] Organization, where I was doing leasing, with the intent of learning the investment sales business. I like to say the leasing environment and the investment sales environment are both considered real estate, but the culture of those businesses and the people which you work with and the people which you're dealing with on a day to day basis are very, very different. So it's sort of different cultures in certain sense, and I had to learn what investment sales culture was like; I had to learn a lot of the analytical pinpoints of IRRs, [unintelligible 00:10:04.10] so on and so forth, in order to figure out where and how best to navigate kind of creating my own little niche for myself.

I had worked at a firm for a very, very brief stint of time, that was not particularly too helpful in that process... And where I thought I was getting mentorship, and some tutelage, I did not. So the market crashed in March of '08; the people in which I thought were stewards of the business were not particularly that well-suited to sort of navigate a tough environment... No names need to be said, but I had hoped for some grand idea of "This is how you do things, and this is how you're supposed to push forward, and this is why you create a niche for yourself", but that wasn't there. And I just thought that at the time, I would be best-suited to utilize my own personal skill set, which was to be focused on client needs, so to speak, rather than try and just do what everybody else was doing.

If I can create a niche for myself, stick to that business plan, be very focused on making sure that I don't deviate from that plan, I felt as though that I can make a mark for myself. And at the time, the mark was not to build some substantial company and grow a boutique investment sales firm in New York; my intention at the time was to make a singular deal just so I can afford living in Manhattan... Which is not so cheap. And that was really my goal. And it kind of evolved from there.

Ash Patel: So David, when you started your own company, what did you do? Just pick up the phone, start cold calling?

David Ash: I think the best thing I can suggest is that when I took a step back after '08, I think it's important where people like myself, and I would say to your audience, understand what they do really well, and try and see where their skills are best within the industry that they're working within.

There are a lot of people who are really fantastic and analytical process, and they should not deter from focusing on that, in an effort to sort of try and emulate somebody else who might have success, whose success is coming from the fact that they're super social, and they're putting things together in a different capacity.

For myself, I knew that I was really good at focusing on client needs, I knew that I was good at follow-up, I knew I was good at sort of opening the door... And I tried to build a business or I tried to build a network around being able to promote that about myself. Plain and simple. I just knew that I was good at making phone calls, I knew that I would do what was necessary to introduce myself to who needed to get into whatever building they wanted to get into, and I put myself in that position to focus on those areas.

Ash Patel: Back then were there a lot of pocket listings, or were most deals on the commercial MLS?

David Ash: No, everything I did was direct and off market. So at the time, including today, a lot of deals are actually really done through a marketing process, with offering memorandums, and there's -- call it an auction process, if you will. And there's a lot of value to that process... But again, I did not think and I did not suspect that I would speak to a publicly-traded company, or an institution who would afford me the opportunity, with no real resources at that time, the chance to exclusively represent them and go to market with a product. So how was I going to then compete, and how was I going to approach the business and differentiate myself, and to -- what I mentioned before is that I knew that I was good at the hustle. I knew that that was something that I can sell to somebody differently than your traditional brokerage companies in New York at the time. So I was selling my hustle. "Tell me what you're looking for, and I'll go out and try and find it." And all of this was direct, basically, through my calls, through my networking, and through my knocking on doors literally every single day. I would sit there, circle what groups were buying certain assets, figure if they were doing the same thing over and over in Manhattan or across the country, and then go and try and figure out where I can call them.

When I was calling for, let's say, Ash Patel, "Do you want to buy a hotel in Manhattan?", if you tell me "We're really focused on buying 100 rooms or smaller hotels in Manhattan. We're really good at that product category. We have the team in place to do it well, and we really, really want to buy those things here", I'd be able to go out on your behalf, and really curate that search for you, and really focus on where I can make those calls on your behalf. Almost like an outsourced acquisitions. And essentially, I was working for you, for free, and you had no reason not to use me, you had no reason not to tell me the things that you were looking for. If anything, I was putting you at an advantage, as opposed to a disadvantage. And that was always my take. It was good, it suited my skill set, and I thought it was a needed additive within the market here, where people weren't necessarily doing that all the time.

Break: [00:14:59.10] to [00:16:07.24]

Ash Patel: David, are you primarily in New York?

David Ash: Yes, we focus mostly in New York and the Tri-State area.

Ash Patel: What are office and hotels doing right now in New York?

David Ash: Office is unfortunately a very, very, very tough market right now here in New York, as it is across the country. Work from home, the pandemic has really thrown a wrench within the office market here. A lot of people are shying away from investment in the office market. I for one have always been somebody who was a little bit more contrarian. I think that there is opportunity in the chaos, if you want to kind of say something like that. I think that the office market will endure in Manhattan. It's not been very, very good, I'll tell you that much. And with rising rates, it's been very, very difficult to execute on even stable, strong deals, because owners are at this point sort of still lagging behind where pricing needs to be, given the fact you're borrowing at costs that are much higher than they were a month ago, two months ago, six months ago. So there's just this lag, and there's really virtually no trades right now within the office market.

Ash Patel: Are you seeing a lot of them being foreclosed on, or CMBS lenders taking them back?

David Ash: So to sort of change gears, the hotel industry has actually come back pretty strong; there are a substantial amount of hotels that haven't opened since the pandemic. There are a lot of creative uses that are now coming up and trying to be reworked within those hotels, to convert to smaller rental units, to convert to communal living... I'm working currently with a client now based out of Mexico, who's extremely interested in buying vacant hotels within Manhattan and across the country in order to convert to [unintelligible 00:17:52.27] rentals, short-term rentals or long-term rentals, depending on what the zoning allows. But there are creative juices that are happening a lot within the hotel industry, and that actually is bleeding into the office market as well.

In New York, there are a lot of particular zoning issues within certain neighborhoods and certain areas, but the office market - there are a lot of deals that are falling by the wayside, and if you're an owner who has owned a building for quite some time and has taken some pretty substantial leverage, you're facing a lot of out-of-pocket costs if you were to then go and refinance your property. And what you thought your property was worth, or you were told by a lot of brokers who promised you some crazy numbers a couple of years ago - it's not there right now. It's something that people will need to start living within the reality, hopefully, and there will be some positive things happening, I believe, hopefully, first or second quarter of next year.

Ash Patel: And you mentioned that reality comment because right now sellers still appear a bit delusional, in that they want pricing from a year or two ago. And buyers have a much higher cost of leverage, so they need prices to come down. Is that correct?

David Ash: Yes, that's very correct. It's a very age-old economic term, "Losses loom larger than gains." The idea that you had a building that was worth, let's just say, $100 million, but in reality, it's worth $60 million today. It doesn't matter that you bought it for 10, for example, in 1985 or whatever. You still feel like you lost that 40 million, and it's hard for a lot of owners in positions where they had considered doing things a year or two or three ago, to own up to that reality. They will, eventually, as things kind of just keep going and the market will establish a particular cap rate and a particular understanding of where things are trading... But it will take a lot of time.

Ash Patel: David, do you personally invest in real estate in New York?

David Ash: I have, yes, personally invested in real estate in New York. It's been on a very unique, one-off basis, through friends and family who had been doing certain product categories that I wanted to be involved with. They are completely, completely different across the spectrum; an office building, a residential building, I'm actually involved in a property that's being converted to a hostel in New York City... Very one-off unique asset types that I thought would be worthwhile.

Ash Patel: If you knew how to invest your own capital today, what asset class would you purchase in New York?

David Ash: Okay, so again, I'm a risk-taker, and I'm somebody who sees value and opportunity, and things that are traditionally not exactly the dish of the day, so to speak. I personally think that there's a tremendous amount of value in office. I know the product category very, very well. It's extremely depressed right now in terms of valuations, and there's not a tremendous amount of capital looking to be involved within the office space... I think that that will change over the course of the next couple of years, and I think that the market will come back strong. I think New York is New York, and people will always want to be here. I think that there will be a shift, if you will, and there will be a flight to quality in a lot of these assets, and some of these older buildings that haven't been reworked and renovated in quite some time, there'll be a real opportunity there to pick up properties at a pretty stable price, that you can then convert and work on something very, very unique moving forward, like I was mentioning before, to residential, to short-term living, to commercial... There's just a lot of that, that I think will come down the road. So that's where I would invest, personally.

Ash Patel: What would you not invest in? What category would you stay away from?

David Ash: I would personally stay away from rent-stabilized residential. In New York in particular. I know you have listeners across the country and a lot of other parts of the world. In New York, there is a tough political climate when it comes to rent-stabilized, rent-controlled units; there's a lot of difficulty in navigating that system. There are some people who are phenomenal at that, and they've been doing it forever, but it is difficult to run a building where you are handcuffed, so to speak, in terms of investing in your property, if you can actually get that out of the rents increasing, for example. So that's something that I would shy away from personally; it's a little bit difficult to navigate. There's a lot of red tape when it comes to handling both the tenants, as well as the improvements in the building... So if I had to pick one category -- I think New York real estate is fantastic. Let me be clear. I'm a big proponent of --

Ash Patel: You're bias, man, hold on. You're biased. That's your market.

David Ash: [laughs] I'm definitely biased. But a lot of people gave New York a bad rep during the pandemic. But I think that New York is New York. It's very clichéd, but I think clichés are usually true, because they're said quite often... And I think New York is actually a place to invest a lot of capital.

Ash Patel: And what kind of cap rates are you seeing for retail, multifamily...?

David Ash: Multifamily in general is still the strongest asset class here in New York. The cap rates that were being traded, for argument's sake, only a couple of months ago, prior to this multiple increase within the Fed rates, were let's say four and a quarter; four cap to four and a quarter, give or take, depending on whether or not there was tax abatements in place, you'd be looking at maybe a five, five and a quarter... Today that shifted tremendously upwards. Unfortunately, borrowing costs have gone through the roof. The CMBS market is almost shut down, so the cap rates within a, let's say, residential rental property, they are close to five and a quarter.

Obviously, you have groups that will take negative leverage for the right kind of deal, the right kind of assets... But the market is shifted. Borrowing costs really dictate a lot of where cap rates lie.

Ash Patel: What do you see for retail?

David Ash: Retail is interesting. It was the hottest thing in New York for quite some time, and I think the shift was a long time coming, where people were viewing retail as more of an experience than sort of a money generator for a lot of these companies that are very, very, very keen on building out their e commerce. So look, retail in New York is always going to be extremely well received, and there's always going to be the Madison Avenues and the 5th Avenues and so on... The pricing has come down, but for quality tenancy, there's still a lot of value in terms of cap rates.

It's really hard to pinpoint a specific cap rate, to be honest with you. On a quality asset, that is a great credit tenant, that has been paying rent through COVID, you're looking at probably a five and a half, six cap, depending on where you can borrow and how long the lease term is.

There's a lot of opportunistic groups that are out there that are looking for vacant retail in order to reimagine that as well, to create some experiences... So I'd like to say that depending on where you're looking in terms of your corridors, retail has actually come back in a pretty serious way, and it's opened the door... Just so you know, a lot of these tenants that have left during COVID - it has I actually opened the door for a lot of new concepts and a lot of new groups that were out there that were priced out of the market, so to speak. So you see a lot of new retail popping up all over the city.

Ash Patel: What is the average size of one of your transactions?

David Ash: While I was at [unintelligible 00:25:14.01] the average size of the transaction was give or take about 75 to 150 million.

Ash Patel: Alright, so there's probably not a whole lot of value-add in that arena.

David Ash: There is, for sure. Most of the clients that I have been working with across the last 10 years or so have mostly been institutional in nature, and very sophisticated groups that have a decent amount of capital to place... So we're talking about equity checks upwards from $25 to $100 million of equity checks depending on how much your borrowing costs are. So you're looking at deal profiles within that range. But opportunistic deals are actually deals that are very, very, very in-line with what's going on right now.

Ash Patel: Buyers of that caliber - are they looking more to deploy capital? Or are they looking for super-high returns on their capital?

David Ash: Opportunistic investors are traditionally looking for super-high returns. 20 plus percent IRRs over the course of a three, five or seven-year hold, depending on what kind of asset class, what kind of group we're talking about. Core plus to value-add - that kind of barometer has been shifting along the way. Core plus used to be a low double digit IRR, and now it's probably in the mid teens, give or


Ash Patel: Not everybody plays in that 100-million-dollar asset class. Can you give us an example of a 20% return for, let's say, a retail property? A 20% IRR.

David Ash: A 20% IRR for a retail property...

Ash Patel: On a $100 million purchase.

David Ash: On a $100 million purchase. So you want the math behind it?

Ash Patel: No, I want to know what kind of property is that.

David Ash: In New York, you have a lot of different asset classes and a lot of different properties that are there... So if you take a retail property that perhaps is [unintelligible 00:26:57.22] along and they have, let's say, 10,000 square feet, and 5,000 square feet of that is leased to an older tenant who's kind of tired and they've been paying the lower market rent; you might be able to renegotiate them to exit the property, and then re-lease the space to one person being able to take on the full 10,000 square feet, at a much higher rental rate. It's kind of very difficult to pinpoint exactly.

Ash Patel: Well, maybe another way to answer that question is what does $100 million buy you for retail? Hopefully more than 10,000 square feet...

David Ash: Yes, of course. I'm just trying to figure out how to get you to a 20% IRR.

Ash Patel: Yeah, maybe that's just the better question - what does $100 million buy you for retail? Is it a city block?

David Ash: No, for sure not. Okay, it's sort of like a chicken or the egg. Right? If you're looking at a corner store on 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, with a Bvlgari paying $4,000 a square foot - tremendous credit, super, super-high profile location... That deal is a really, really, really low cap rate. So let's just say that's $100 million; that's a really low cap rate. That $100 million might buy you a full block front somewhere else, that doesn't have necessarily that cachet, doesn't have that tenancy, but you have that opportunity to really create the opportunistic returns that you're looking for, depending on where it is, especially in Manhattan. Manhattan is a very, very, very interesting place where you have one block that is commanding a tremendous price per square foot, and you walk about 100 feet to the next block and it's a completely different market, it's a completely different price point, and it's a completely different customer.

Ash Patel: What is the best real estate investing advice ever?

David Ash: Invest with your gut, and don't be afraid to take risks.

Ash Patel: Got it. David, are you ready for the Best Ever lightning round?

David Ash: Sure.

Ash Patel: David, what's the Best Ever book you've recently read?

David Ash: The Best Ever book I've recently read... I've actually re-read "The Real Estate Game" by William Poorvu. Phenomenal book, old school, core value, how to be a proper investor, owner and manager of real estate.

Ash Patel: David, what's the Best Ever way you like to give back?

David Ash: I actually have a big, big, big place in my heart for volunteering. I spend a lot of time visiting Holocaust survivors, and I spent a lot of time volunteering with special needs kids in terms of being a big brother... I actually also started a volunteer service called Donate Your Time Events. It's a nonprofit that I started about six years ago, that essentially, ironically, connects people almost like a broker would, who need and want outlets to volunteer to organizations that have those opportunities.

Ash Patel: You can't get enough of that networking, can you?

David Ash: [laughs] I just like connecting people. It's something that I really am fortunate to be able to do.

Ash Patel: Well, David, how can the Best Ever listeners reach out to you?

David Ash: WalkerAndDunlop website. You can reach me at dash [at], and happy to answer and help anybody along their pathway to investing, and being the best possible real estate broker if they're going to be your broker, that they can be.

Ash Patel: David, thank you very much for your time today. You started out as a club promoter in college, and you found your gift in just putting people together. You had a great career in real estate and you gave us a bit of an insight on New York City real estate... Thank you again for your time today.

David Ash: Thank you for your time. I appreciate it.

Ash Patel: Best Ever listeners, thank you for joining us. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a five-star review, share this podcast with someone you think could benefit from it. Also, follow, subscribe and have a Best Ever day.

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