June 20, 2020

JF2118: Broad Experience With Alix Kogan


Alix is the President of Ashland Capital Fund and has 20 years of real estate experience owning 1,700 apartment units, single-family rentals, commercial and developments. He started in high-end custom homes and more recently has been focusing on student housing deals. Alix shares one of his new strategies which is investing in second lien mortgage debts.

Alix Kogan Real Estate Background:

  • President of Ashland Capital Fund
  • 20 years of real estate experience
  • The portfolio consists of 1,700 apartment units, single-family rentals, commercial and developments
  • From Chicago, IL
  • Say hi to him at:https://ashlandcapitalfund.com/ 

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Best Ever Tweet:

“My broad experience in real estate has helped me tackle new projects” – Alix Kogan


Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, how are you doing? Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Joe Fairless. This is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing podcast where we only talk about the best advice ever; we don’t get into any of that fluffy stuff. With us today, Alix Kogan. How you doing Alix?

Alix Kogan: I’m great, Joe. How are you?

Joe Fairless: Well, I’m doing well, and I’m glad to hear that. A little bit about Alix – he’s the president of Ashland Capital Fund, he’s got 20 years of real estate experience, the portfolio consists of 1,700 apartment units, single-family rentals, commercial and developments. He’s based in Chicago, Illinois, and he has now turned his focus towards student housing. So we’re going to talk about his background, what his focus has been, and then what his focus is now. So with that being said, Alix, do you want to first, give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and what you’re focused on now?

Alix Kogan: Sure. So I started in high-end design build, building custom homes for clients in south-west Colorado, ran that business for almost 20 years and I had a successful exit late last year in December. So pretty recent, but I have a parallel track for a good 18, 17 years or so. I started developing a single family portfolio, did some ground-up development, townhomes, condos, small subdivisions, and then as of three years ago or so, pivoted into multifamily, and that is, of course, how you and I met, and I’ve been doing that.

I’ve been partnering with groups as a key principal, lending out my balance sheet, and let’s see– distressed debt is another asset class I invest in, and then as of late, I’ve been pursuing some student housing deals; I’m excited about that opportunity as it’s not tied directly to the market’s economy as much as multifamily is. So it’s just another asset class to diversify for me.

Joe Fairless: When you said you were doing development for townhomes and condos, what are some differences from that versus the high-end custom homes?

Alix Kogan: It’s really completely different. The high-end custom homes, we always build on client’s land, there’s really no risk per se. It’s really — we’re working for a fee. So transitioning into development is a whole other world. Of course, it’s still a construction, but you’re assessing risk, you’re assessing the market. So really, it took a completely different mindset and skillset candidly to do that; the common thread, of course – we’re building. So it was interesting; it was good, and we rode the tailwinds of a great economy up until, of course, the recession of ’08, ’09. Then we ceased all development activity and concentrated on custom homes and rode through the recession. Well, a lot of our clientele actually came from Texas, and that market was doing very well. A lot of our clients were already the tail end of their careers that made their money, they put their money away, so they were still on a place to retire and build their retirement dream homes, and continue down that path and not be too affected by the recession.

Joe Fairless: You said you’re now focused on looking at student housing. What are some things you’re doing now in student housing?

Alix Kogan: We’re pursuing a couple of different deals currently. It’s a similar play, I suppose, to multifamily. What I like about it is in recessionary periods, like we’re likely heading into now with everything that’s going on, a lot of people go back to school, or they stay in school longer. So you’ve got that natural protection, as opposed to say A class multifamily where I think, where you could have some higher economic occupancy with that asset class — but student housing is an interesting plan. So we’re pursuing that. There’s some opportunities out there, there’s some groups that got over-leveraged, and looking to get out of their assets. So it’s an interesting time. So that’s what we’re– no, I wouldn’t say we’re completely focused on that. It’s just a second asset class in addition to multifamily that we’re looking at.

Joe Fairless: How are you coming across groups that are over-leveraged? Where are you getting those connections from?

Alix Kogan: We’ve made a great connection with a best-in-class property manager, and they of course, have connections with owners all over. They’re also an investor, as well as a property manager as well. So they are an interesting group where they understand the investments side as well as the management side, and they have a very specific buy box for a number of reasons with their business plan. But they’re running into portfolios or individual assets that don’t meet their buy box, and I’ve developed a good relationship with them where they’re bringing me those deals, so it’s a win-win. They get to property manage the asset if we are successful in taking it down. So there’s some good synergies in that relationship.

Joe Fairless: So I’ve never bought a student housing project. Educate me and perhaps some listeners on what would be a buy box. What components are in a buy box for student housing, and then what your buy box is compared to, say, the property management companies?

Alix Kogan: Sure. So the first one would be pretty easy to answer. So the relationship that I have there, they only buy core A Class assets, and they have to be pretty significant size to execute their business plan and to comply with their investors’ buy box, in essence. So in terms of what I look for, I can buy a smaller deal. I don’t have a specific buy box in terms of has to be a large deal, although I can take down a large deal; we’ll look at — for example, right now we’re looking at an opportunity about the $7 million acquisition range. That is considered somewhat small for some of the large players. They’re going to be in that 15+ million acquisition range.

In terms of what we look for, and that’s fairly consistent from whether you’re buying large or small, you’re looking for a successful school with growing enrollment, and that’s pretty key today to be successful. I think, that’s one of the biggest metrics. So not only does the asset have to be a good asset, you’ve got a school that’s got a great sports program; so tier one schools. So you look at that, you look at the asset itself, you look at similar dynamics; you’re of course looking at your rent comps, are you under market, amenities is also a big factor in terms of your rent growth and where you are in the market. So those are some of the big things that we look at.

Joe Fairless: Based on your experience with high-end custom homes and townhomes and condos and investing in multifamily, what do you think, from that experience, is most relevant to help you be successful in student housing?

Alix Kogan: I would say I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had a broad experience in different asset classes, and the common thread is real estate. So I don’t know that there’s one thing other than I may just have a broader view, I may look at different things. So I can’t think one major skill set other than just the broad experience.

Joe Fairless: Let’s narrow it down then. For the high-end custom homes that you did for 20 years and you said you exited successfully, what were some ways that your company differentiated itself from your competitors?

Alix Kogan: That one’s pretty easy – we were very early to the game in design build. So while a lot of my competitors were typical, what we call bid build, where they’re bidding on plans through architects or through clients directly, that have plans drawn… We adopted the design build model right out of the gates 20 years ago, where at first, we partnered with some outside resources. We’d outsource some of the design work, but really controlled the whole process from design to build, and then eventually became much more fully integrated with architects, interior designers. So that was certainly a key to our success.

In addition, of course, doing great design and won more awards than anybody in the area in south-west Colorado, and organically grew. Building a great team – no surprise, when you become the largest in the area, you need a great team behind you. So I was fortunate to have a great team to do that with. But those were some of the — great design, great team and the design build model that many people tried to follow, but fewer successful in doing it.

Joe Fairless: You mentioned distressed debt. What have you done with distressed debt?

Alix Kogan: That’s been an interesting space. I started down that road with non-performing notes. So buying defaulted mortgages in large pools and then working them out. So I’ve been doing more of a niche portion of the distressed debt, which is buying non-performing second liens. So rather than buying first liens, which– it’s a bit counterintuitive, but if you understand my business plan and the plan that we’ve been doing, which is buying non-performing seconds behind a performing first.

So I’ll give you an example. If you have a $500,000 house, you might have a $400,000 mortgage of $100,000 worth of equity, and then you also took out, say, a $100,000 home equity loan to finish your basement. You fell on hard times, you stopped paying in your home equity, but you continued to pay in your first mortgage. So those are what I’m buying as the second mortgages.

I like them because, obviously, it’s been demonstrated that the borrower still has some financial capacity because they’re paying on their first; and because I’m buying the second lien, the non-performing lien or note, at such a discount, I have the ability to go back to the borrower and help them stay in their house and say, for example, “You’ve been paying, $500 a month before you defaulted. Can you afford to pay $250 a month?” So because I’m buying at such a discount, I can work with them, help them stay in their home and get them current, and that’s been a really good investment class. It’s not the easiest business to learn, a pretty high barrier to entry, but once you get it dialed in, it’s a very interesting business model.

Joe Fairless: What discount are you buying those second liens on?

Alix Kogan: It’s a broad range. It also depends on what state. Every state’s got different foreclosure laws and timelines. So I would say anywhere from 5% of the unpaid balance up to 50% of the unpaid balance, and everything in between. So you literally have to underwrite each individual asset separately. How much equity does it have? How nice of a property is it? Because that, in essence, is your ultimate security; it’s that asset. Because you can, of course, foreclose from a second position subject to the first.

And then there’s more of a qualitative analysis of the borrower profile. You really have to understand who the borrower is, look at their credit, look at their specific situation, and somewhat assess what is the percentage that that borrower can do work out with you. So that goes into the pricing as well, of course.

Joe Fairless: So you said 5% to 50% that you’re paying. So just so I’m understanding correctly, depending on the state, depending on the situation, if it’s $100, you’re paying between $5 to $50 for that second lien position.

Alix Kogan: Yeah.

Joe Fairless: Wow. So your discount is between 50% and 95%?

Alix Kogan: Yeah. I’ve bought some assets where there’s a lot of risks, and  I’ve even bought them at 1%.

Joe Fairless: Alright. Give us that example, that specific example. Tell us a story about that property.

Alix Kogan: Something that you bid that low, there is no equity.

Joe Fairless: How much you pay for it?

Alix Kogan: So that borrower is completely upside down. So that’s one of those that you’re likely not going to pursue. You might take that asset, put it on the shelf and just wait until that borrower sells the house, and you may be in a position where you get a payoff. So that’s obviously very high risk; but if you have $100,000 unpaid balance and it’s still secure and you’re buying it for $1000 bucks, you can afford to just stick that in a drawer and just wait… Versus other loans that have equity, and the borrower is obviously more motivated to protect and keep that equity. They’re obviously motivated to do a workout with you. So those you’re going to pursue more aggressively, and spend time placing that with a servicer, or spending money investing in whatever legal you need to invest in, so that you could monetize that loan.

Joe Fairless: I know you said you’re buying large pools. So are the large pools of these defaulted mortgages, are they grouped into varying risk profiles, or…?

Alix Kogan: No, no. They generally are just sold in a pool. So you get a spreadsheet with a bunch of assets, and it’s really — you’re doing your own group and you’re assessing the risk and you’re saying, “Okay, 20% of these are in a judicial state, New York, for example, and the foreclosure time is very lengthy and expensive.” So I’m going to price that portion of the pool at whatever it is. 20 cents on the dollar versus, say, for example, California loans, which is a non-judicial state, and very quick foreclosure time. I may price those at 45 cents. So it’s all over the board.

Joe Fairless: Did you say California is quick to–

Alix Kogan: Yeah, believe it or not…

Joe Fairless: That– I would have missed that on a true-false test.

Alix Kogan: Right, exactly. With all the legislation and everything that happens in California, it actually is a non-judicial state. So you can foreclose and get at the asset in 90 to 120 days. So it’s a much faster process in California.

Joe Fairless: Tell us a story of a defaulted mortgage, either a pool of mortgages or an example or two where you’ve lost money.

Alix Kogan: Sure. I had a recent loan that– and fortunately, we were pretty careful. I don’t buy really high-risk loans, but in order to buy a pool of loans, apparently, you have to buy some loans that are higher risk; but I try to keep those at a minimum. So I only honestly have one that was recent; a Kentucky loan that basically foreclosed and we got wiped out by the first lien and completely lost. It was a $7,000 investment, [unintelligible [00:17:37].26] a million dollars that we took down. So that can happen, but if you’re careful, that’s pretty rare.

Joe Fairless: Yeah. So how can you be careful and make that rare if you’re buying a large pool of loans, and it sounds like that’s just gonna happen during the course of business?

Alix Kogan: Well, one, they’re gonna price them at a risk price. So it’s all modeled into it. Think of it as you’re buying a portfolio of single-family homes, you know you’re going to have some delinquencies in one home. Somebody stops paying rent, but you have the income from the other homes to offset that. It’s really the same principle. I’m going to make money, I’m going to hit home runs on some. I mean, I’ve had some that I’ve made 200% return on my investment, and then I have one that I lose $7,000 on. So you just price the risk into it, and then there’s some people that specialize in unsecured and no equity loans. It’s just their business model. So I would even resell some of those loans, and just get my money back and focus on the good loans that I prefer to work.

Joe Fairless: Okay. Tell us the story of, on the flip side, one that you’ve made 200% on or just done really well, just a specific example.

Alix Kogan: Sure. Just recently I invested $113,000 in an asset in California. The house is worth $270,000. We, unfortunately, had to foreclose, got that house back, and up until just a couple days ago, I had a contract for $270,000. So you can do the math on that. That would have been a great exit strategy. Unfortunately, with what’s going on in the world right now, that buyer fell out of contract.

So we’ve got the house, it’s worth $270,000. I can turn it into a rental. I’m hopefully going to sell it to somebody else, but you can see the return is huge if I can obviously monetize, which I’m sure I will… And that whole timeframe was about seven, eight months.  Okay. So let’s talk about the team. I don’t think you’re the one tracking down all these owners and having conversations based on what I know about you… So who’s your team? How do you structure it? How are they compensated, that sort of thing? Sure. I’m on the acquisition side, so I’m developing relationships and finding the assets. Once I find the assets, I have an asset manager in California that works remotely. He’s got 30 years experience in servicing the distressed debt space.

Joe Fairless: How’d you find that person?

Alix Kogan: Just the whole networking, talking to different people, and I met him, and that’s been a great relationship. So he’s literally working out of his house.

Joe Fairless: If you can think back to who introduced you to him, I’d love to know exactly how you found him. You don’t have to name names, but just throw us the breadcrumbs.

Alix Kogan: I think the trail started on LinkedIn or I connected with somebody on LinkedIn, and they had pointed me in his direction for just networking, and that he may know sellers, and one thing led to another, where you think you’re going to buy an asset or get some referrals for sellers, and before you know it, you’re talking to a guy who actually is an asset manager that may have excess time and be able to develop a relationship. So that’s what we did.

It started off as — for him, I was somewhat of a side hustle in addition to other asset management work that he was doing, and as my portfolio grew, he’s come on board nearly full time with a little bit of consulting that he still does with outside funds and outside investors.

Joe Fairless: Wow. So you were randomly reaching out to people on LinkedIn based on what they have in their profile, asking them about distressed debt?

Alix Kogan: Yeah, specifically targeting sellers of distressed assets at that time, and just happened to run it across the guy. So there’s multiple ways that you can do this, and you also, of course — to answer your question fully in terms of the team, there’s also third-party servicers that we use. So they’ll do some of the work, and then my asset manager will serve an oversight with them as well as borrower outreach and talking to the borrowers as well. So it’s really a small team, a small little boutique firm, if you will, in that asset class, and I’m soft capitalized, I don’t have investors in that world. So it’s really a third bucket of my business plan – student housing, multifamily and distressed debt.

Joe Fairless: Based on your experience as a real estate investor, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?

Alix Kogan: Learn the asset class well. It seems very obvious, but in terms of investing in different assets, learn that asset class well before you invest. Then if you have an opportunity to invest passively, learn as you go. I think that’s a great way, and you’re a prime example. I invested with you early on and got my feet wet in multifamily until I got comfortable enough to start looking at my own deals, and I think that’s a great way. And that’s also what I did with distressed debt. I invested passively in a more of a joint venture with a guy when I first started and learned the business, and then of course, the natural progression – I felt that I could do it on my own, and hire an employee that knows more than I do, and that’s just the way you scale and grow.

Joe Fairless: That’s a pretty good formula for people – invest passively to learn the ropes, plus build your ally group up so you can form allegiances, and then you learn the business simultaneously as well as actively learning, then go active and then hire someone who has more experience than you. But now you’ve got some experience and you know the ropes, you just don’t know the intricacies of someone who’s been in the business for decades. That’s a really good formula. I’m glad that you walked us through that. We’re gonna do a lightning round. You ready for the best ever lightning round?

Alix Kogan: I guess.

Joe Fairless: All right. Well, we’re gonna do it anyway. So hopefully you are. First though, a quick word from our Best Ever partners.

Break: [00:23:39]:05] to [00:24:34]:03]

Joe Fairless: Alright, what’s the best ever book you’ve recently read?

Alix Kogan: A book name Lifescale, which is interesting; a book that I’m halfway through.

Joe Fairless: Okay, Lifescale. Okay, got it. What’s a mistake you’ve made on a transaction?

Alix Kogan: Bad partner. Easy to say in the rearview mirror. He looked good on the front end, but I think more due diligence on the partner than the asset class is important. I got myself in trouble a few years ago with — and fortunately, we unwound that well, but… More due diligence on the partner than the asset.

Joe Fairless: What are some questions knowing what you know now that you would ask prior to engaging in a future partnership?

Alix Kogan: I think it’s more time getting to know someone, really as much as you can learning how they think, definitely more reference checks… But I think it’s time, and unfortunately, we’re in a business that moves pretty fast, whether it’s notes or multifamily or student housing – the deal comes up and it comes to you from a potential partner. So I’ve learned to slow down and only move forward when it feels right and I have enough of a comfort level with a partner. So as you know, I’m a KP on deals and people bring me deals all the time, and I really have to just slow that process down to get to know them better.

Joe Fairless: On that note, how can the Best Ever listeners learn more about what you’re doing and get in contact with you?

Alix Kogan: Ashlandcapitalfund.com is my website, and my direct email is alix [at] ashlandcapitalfund.com

Joe Fairless: Alix, thanks for being on the show talking about your areas of focus that you’ve had, and then now what you’re focused on, the three areas, with one of them being student housing and why you’re focused on that; you also talked about non-performing notes in your process there. Thanks for being on the show. I hope you have a best ever day. Talk to you again soon.

Alix Kogan: Thanks, Joe. Take care.

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