April 3, 2021

JF2405: Looking For Unique Transactions and Great Deals With Craig Coppola

Craig has been representing office owners and tenants for 37 years. 25 years ago, he started acquiring buildings from his own account, making sure the two businesses do not compete.

As Craig’s mentors said, there are market deals, off-market deals, and great deals. Now Craig focuses on finding great deals, and he shows his investors and other real estate professionals how to do the same.

Craig Coppola  Real Estate Background:

  • Commercial real estate broker – specializing in leasing and sales of office projects 
  • 37 years of commercial real estate experience and 25 years of investing experience
  • Portfolio consist of 17 real estate investments
  • Based in Phoenix, AZ
  • Say hi to him at: www.coppolacheney.com 
  • Best Ever Book: Psychology of Money

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Best Ever Tweet:

“I get to look for unique transactions, and I encourage everyone to start looking for those” – Craig Coppola.


Theo Hicks: Hello, Best Ever listeners and welcome to The Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever Show. I’m Theo Hicks and today we’ll be speaking with Craig Coppola. Craig, how are you doing today?

Craig Coppola: I’m doing great, Theo. How are you doing?

Theo Hicks: I’m doing well. Thanks for asking, and thanks for joining us today. Looking forward to our conversation. A little bit about Craig. He is a commercial real estate broker specializing in leasing and sales of office projects. He has 37 years of commercial real estate experience and 25 years of investing experience. His current portfolio consists of 17 real estate investments. He is based in Phoenix, Arizona and his website is coppolacheney.com. Craig, do my telling us some more about your background and what you’re focused on today?

Craig Coppola: You bet. For 37 years I’ve been representing office owners and tenants in the leasing office space and selling office buildings. 25 years ago I started acquiring for my own account. I tend to acquire stuff that’s not competitive with what I do. I sell massive buildings, 50 to 60 million dollar buildings, and do lots of leases. Our team does about 125 leases a year.

In my own portfolio, I’ve just acquired something that [00:02:03].04] founder of our company. I work at Lee & Associates and I’m one of the founders of Lee Arizona. And Bill told me something 20 years ago — and the reason he started Lee & Associates is so that we could acquire real estate on our own account. So Bill says there are three kinds of deals – one, there’s a market deal; two, there’s an off-market deal, and then there’s a great deal. He says “I only look for great deals. If you’re buying in the markets, then you’re paying market prices.” Because I’m in the deal flow all the time, I get to look for unique transactions. I encourage everybody to start looking for those, find something that you want, and then you kind of figure out how to buy it. I like this concept, so I always look at “Is this a market deal? Is it an off-market deal, or is it a great deal?”

Theo Hicks: I like it. What’s an example of — maybe you can walk us through one of the examples of the best deals you’ve done with that approach. What was a great deal and what was unique about it?

Craig Coppola: Well, I’ll give you an example. I just sold a building about 90 days ago. I acquired it, it was an empty building, and I had a user that was looking in the marketplace. So I acquired the building, and during the escrow I put the lease together, signed a 15-year lease with the tenant, and then held it for five years, and just sold it with 10 years left on the lease. I more than doubled my money. So that’s the kind of transaction where we add value to it throughout the process. Buying something that was empty, you could buy it at a cheaper price, and then putting a tenant in it and then being able to hold it, get some cash flow during that period of time. It was interesting, I actually refinanced it and pulled all my cash out. I was dealing with house money afterwards, and then I don’t know, I put a couple of million dollars out after on the sale of it just a few months ago.

Theo Hicks: How did you fund the deal? Was it your own money or was it investor money?

Craig Coppola: I started out with investor money, and now the last four or five years it’s been just my own money. I have not brought any outside investors. As we’ll go through the lightning round the end you’re going to find out my best deal ever is one of my investors with Robert and Kim Kiyosaki. The Kiyosaki’s are investors of mine. So I still have some older investors that I would do deals with. As a matter of fact, during COVID, I raised about 25 million dollars to just go acquire some assets. I haven’t bought anything yet. The market is not where I want it to be.

Commercial real estate takes time. It’s not like the stock market, where the stock market gets repriced every day. In the commercial real estate market — it’s a lagging indicator. So today, what we’re seeing pricing on, owners are still hoping that the market is going to come back, and everything’s going to turn around, and the vaccine is going to create all this new stuff… And those savvy investors are sitting around waiting, “Let’s just see what happens. And when it does, then we can acquire stuff as the market declines.”

Theo Hicks: Something I want to talk about – something interesting was you said you started off using other people’s money, but then you transitioned into focusing mostly on using your own money. I know some people who spend their entire careers just raising other people’s money; obviously, they’re investing on the side, but their main focus is other people’s money. Maybe talk us through why you decided to transition and what benefits you see to using your own money as opposed to using other people’s money?

Craig Coppola: It’s pretty practical. Every time — I have been doing this a long time, and you and I are on a Zoom call so you can see that I’ve lost my hair… I think I lost my hair because I’ve gone through three recessions. And when you have other people’s money, and you’re losing their money, or your investments are going sideways… I just found I can lose my own money way easier than I could lose other people’s money, and I feel a lot better on my own account. So I make decisions a lot easier, I don’t have to report, I can handle it… So for the last four or five years, I just haven’t. That doesn’t mean that I won’t. And if I’m starting to look at acquiring bigger assets than I’m comfortable investing in, then I would use other people’s money. But I just kind of gravitated towards just using my own, because it was easy and I didn’t have issues.

Theo Hicks: That totally makes sense. So you’ve been a commercial real estate broker for 37 years. I know one thing that a lot of people who want to get into real estate say is that “I’m going to go get my real estate license.” It’s like, you sell real estate as a full-time job, you get into real estate, make money from commissions, have early access to deals… But not many people talk about, “Well, I’m going to go and be a commercial real estate investor and do the same thing.” So would you advise someone who is just starting out and they don’t have the money themselves to buy real estate, rather than becoming a residential realtor, becoming a commercial broker? Or would you recommend them maybe waiting and doing that a little bit later?

Craig Coppola: I’m a huge believer in commercial real estate over residential. And now, again, that’s my world, but the two don’t overlap. The people who are buying, fixing, and flipping houses do not do well in the commercial real estate market. I wrote a book How to Win In Commercial Real Estate Investing, and it won a best first-time author book, about 10 years ago.

The reason is acquiring residential is completely different than acquiring commercial. There’s a whole different knowledge curve that has to occur. You’re looking for different items when you’re acquiring commercial, you’re looking at different demographics that you are looking for, and how the properties are built. So if you have a bend for commercial, I love the idea of getting into commercial real estate to learn it and become a full-time broker, and/or part-time, and then learn the business that way. So yes, I would highly encourage people to do that.

Break: [00:07:27][00:08:34]

Theo Hicks: You mentioned before we got on about the importance of presentation to get some tips you wanted to provide people with. Do you want to quickly maybe introduce what you’re talking about why it’s important, and then what your tips are?

Craig Coppola: You bet. One of the interesting things when I talked to Joe is what do you guys do a little bit differently that people don’t ever talk about? And I’ve never seen this on any podcast before… No one talks about the actual presentation. If you think about it, every time you’re going to acquire a property, there are three, four, or five different presentations that you’re doing. One, you’re doing a presentation to people who you’re getting money from. If you’re using other people’s money, you got to go present yourself; and not only yourself, your plan. Two, you have to go get a lender, because not everybody’s buying cash, and they’re going to go get a lender. Three, you have to get the seller. And people don’t think about this – in today’s marketplace, there’s a lot of people out doing the same thing. You’re going to go in and go, “Okay, I’m the real buyer.” And the next guy is going to come in and say, “Well, I’m the real buyer.” So there’s this presentation as to why should the seller accepts your offer over them? And that’s actually a presentation.

Then there are quarterly investor updates. I just said to you that I didn’t like doing the quarterly investor updates. Finally, there’s a fifth presentation that occurs when you sell your property.

People think about it “Yeah, I know I have to go and get a lender”, but that’s a presentation; that’s not just filling out a credit app. And I know I have to sell the property, and I put the brochure together, but these three in the middle can really make or break you.

So I like to say, “Look, start thinking about all of these aspects in the presentation.” Creating a template for yourself; 85% of the presentation is in the first 15% of the time spent. So get it prepared, do it now, and get your template going so you can start making deals that you would not normally make. I thought that was pretty interesting, because when we get a lot of investors to coming in, they don’t think about that. We’ll get some napkin, right Theo?

Theo Hicks: Yeah, totally. I’ve been focusing a little bit on the blog lately too, writing out different things to make sure you’re accounting for in your presentation to investors, ways to present an offer to the seller… But one thing that, as you mentioned, people don’t talk about is the selling of the property. A lot of people focus on the beginning parts of the investment – raising the money, getting the funding, having the experience, finding the deals, and then maybe a little bit on closing; sometimes a little bit on asset management. But in the back end, the selling, which is where the most money is made, is pretty important too. So maybe we’ll pick that one to expand on. What are some of the best practices when you’re doing that last fifth and final presentation?

Craig Coppola: That’s a good thought here. You acquire property, we add value to the property, we either lease it, we renovate it, we make the management changes to it, we make more efficient operating, all of those things. Everybody now knows what you bought the property for. So let’s say you bought the property a million dollars, and now you have it in the market for 3 million. People are like “That’s just what I want.” Like “No, no. Here’s what I’ve done. I’ve owned this property for five years.” So let’s just go back to the one I just sold. I bought the property at 2 million dollars, I put about $650,000 on my own money. Let’s say now I have 2,650,000.

I’ve got the tenant into the building now, and the building’s been renovated. So when I sold it, they go, “Well, you bought it for 2 million.” I go “Yup. And here’s $650,000 that I put in cash.” It was an empty building, so I put in new roofs and new air conditioning units. So we have this upgraded list. So this is just the basis. Now I have cash flow and I have a tenant. So we put together our tenant; here’s our tenant, here’s the credit of our tenant, here’s the cash flow is going to do. So now instead of buying an asset on basic what’s-it-worth-empty, we’re now selling on the cap rate.

So I put together this whole timeline that said here’s all the value that I added at each step of the way. And then I’ve seasoned the building; I signed a 15-year lease, I’ve owned it for five years; there are still 10 years left on it. So it shows that there’s a history of the tenant paying.

And when the investors came in to look at the purchase, there was no question that this was valued at what it was, and that I added value to it. A lot of times people go “Oh yeah, I just got a good buy, and so I’m flipping it to you because I’ve put paint and carpet on it.” That’s not what we do; that’s not how it’s going to sell. Savvy investors will get beyond that.

Theo Hicks: Tactically, what does that presentation look like? When you talk about that timeline of when you bought it, how much you invested into it, and all the other advantages of this property and why it’s valued the way that is valued, and why you set that as the sales price… Is that a conversation? Is that in the offer memorandum? Is it in graphical form or is it written out? How specifically is that communicated to would-be sellers?

Craig Coppola: In the offering memorandum – it’s not in there. But you know the questions that are going to come up. On this property, it had some cracks, and I knew that question was going to come up. I just got a phone call right before this, and our job is to have the answers to those questions. It’s shocking to me how many times people don’t. It’s like, “You bought this, you knew it was cracking. Did you have somebody look at it?” “Yeah, we had the crack, and here’s the report.” “We have this in the parking lot. Here’s this.” “We have this, here’s this.” We’d like to take it down the road, so here’s the offering memorandum, which is the pretty brochures, and the cash flows, and all that. Great. But here’s the next five questions, and if you don’t have an answer… You’ll know in the first five people that you show it to what all the questions are going to be. And the minute you get that question, you go, “Let me get the answer to you.” And then I’ll put it into a cool form. So now I’ve got it for the next buyer, and the next buyer, and the next buyer.
So as we start selling this, it gets better and better as we go, because we’ll have a question that maybe we didn’t think we would get, but we’ll have it, and then all of a sudden we’ve got it. So I just got off the phone with this guy and he was asking me a few questions I didn’t have an answer to on a property we’re selling right now. I was like, “Great question. Let me get that.” Now in my mind, I’m thinking, “Hey, I’m going to go on the Best Ever.” So in my mind, this is exactly what we would be doing.

Theo Hicks: Perfect. I love the idea of proactively being prepared to answer these questions. I love that concept. Alright, Craig, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?

Craig Coppola: My best real estate advice is to buy great deals. If it’s not a “Hell yes!” Derek Sivers says “It’s a hell yes, or it’s a no.” So many people get caught up in “I’ve gotta get velocity and go do that.” My best advice is to buy something. You don’t have to go out and acquire something tomorrow and your money’s [unintelligible [00:15:01].18] in your pocket. I think you can wait and buy something that’s a great deal.

And it doesn’t have to be a great deal today. You’re going to hear it in a minute, the best deal I ever did… Everybody knew [unintelligible [15:14] but I know exactly what was going to happen, and I had this long-term perspective. That really helps when you’re saying “This is going to be not necessarily my best deal today, but it’s going to be over a long period of time.” I think if we start looking at longer than six months for fix and flips, then I think we can look at a bigger, broader range of investment opportunities.

Theo Hicks: Alright, Craig, are you ready for the Best Ever lightning round?

Craig Coppola: I am. Let’s do it.

Theo Hicks: Okay. First, a quick word from our sponsor.

Break: [00:15:42] [00:16:19]

Theo Hicks: Okay, Craig, what is the Best Ever book you’ve recently read?

Craig Coppola: The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. It just talks about how people think about money. It’s an easy read. I had a client give it to me who’s really wealthy. And I want to give you a second book. This is geopolitical, but I’ve just loved it so much. It’s called Disunited Nations by Peter Zeihan. It talks about the world and the US not governing it. It’s not real estate but it gives you a good perspective on what’s happening, why what we’re seeing happening in the world, and the psychology of money is great for just thinking about how we think about money.

Theo Hicks: If your business were to collapse today, what would you do next?

Craig Coppola: Well, I actually created three businesses – the brokerage business, the real estate business, and then I created, 25 years ago, I’m an investor in startup companies, and I have 31 companies. So I have a home office now called Habanero Ventures that owns all of my startup companies. So I’m already set up for that. Angel Investing in startup companies are my favorite thing to do other than commercial real estate investing now.

Theo Hicks: Okay, you built this up, so what is the Best Ever deal you’ve done?

Craig Coppola: Robert and Kim Kiyosaki and I bought six acres of land at the corner of 32nd & Camelback in Phoenix, which is really a great corner. 15 years ago there was a health club on it, a 40,000-foot building, and it had a 17-year lease on it. We did a 15 year fully amortizing loan on it, and we got about 10%, and it grew every year. In the end of we were getting about 20% per year on our money that we invested in it.

So that was a great investment. What made it the best investment – when the lease expired, we now had six acres of land free and clear at 32nd & Camelback. The last two years we’ve put a deal together and we just did a 99-year unsubordinated ground lease on that. Today they’re building 250 senior living housing. But we’ve got a ground lease now that we’re getting over a million dollars a year for 99 years on unsubordinated, in front of any debt. So I think we paid 5.5 million initially, and now we’re getting over a million dollars a year for the next 99 years. It’s a retty damn good deal.

Theo Hicks: Yeah, that’s a great deal. A “hell yes” deal. On the flip side, tell us about a time you lost money on a deal, how much you lost, and what lesson you learned.

Craig Coppola: I lost over $2 million on investing in oil wells. Clearly, I didn’t know s**t about oil wells, and I learned a lesson on that. Look, I know real estate, I know startup investing, I didn’t know anything about oil wells. I thought I could get into the business. So I see this all the time, where somebody gets a nice win in an area, and then says, “Oh, I can do that over here.” Then he sold his practice, built it up, and now he’s a real estate investor and he thinks he knows more than me at 37 years in the business. So stick to your knitting, or learn.

Theo Hicks: That’s solid advice. What’s the Best Ever way you like to give back?

Craig Coppola: Well, I’ve been on five nonprofit boards for 30 years. In the last couple of years, as I get older, I’m [unintelligible [00:19:31].09] down. So we do two things on giving back. One is on our team — I always hire two young folks that we trained for two and a half years. So for 35 years, I’ve been training young people in our business, and then we turn them loose. So I get back that way. Also on these nonprofit boards that I give back.

I’m really committed to our community here in the Metro Phoenix area. So all of the nonprofits I’ve known — I have clients that go build water wells in Africa, but my commitment is to our community. I’m third-generation in Arizona and so all of my time and focus is nonprofit, of course. The big one I’m on right now is St. Vincent [unintelligible [00:20:08].08] the largest one in the world, and I’m on their Council, which is the top five people, and we feed 4,000 meals a day, every day of the year, so it’s kind of cool.

Theo Hicks: That is awesome. The last question, Craig, is what’s the Best Ever place to reach you?

Craig Coppola: Probably the best is just a simple email ccoppola@leearizona.com. Or you can google me. I’m Google-able.

Theo Hicks: Perfect. Well, thanks for sharing your email address, and thank you for sharing all of your advice with us today. I really enjoyed this conversation, I learned a lot. You talked about the three different types of deals, and how you want to make sure you’re doing a great deal.

We talked about some of the psychological advantages, I guess, to using your own money as opposed to using other people’s money. We’ve talked about how you think it’s a really good idea for someone who’s interested in commercial real estate to start off as a commercial estate broker, as opposed to going the residential route, because it’s completely different and  there’s not really any overlap.

You gave the detail on the presentation tips, and then we talked specifically about when selling your property, some ideas around that, and then five different times you’re presenting, and then really just making sure that in each of those steps you’re prepared to answer the common questions. You know what questions to expect, and you have answers for those. Even if you don’t have an answer, tell them you’ll get back to them, find the answer, write it down so you’re prepared to answer that question from other people.

Your best advice, which I also really liked, was that following up with the idea of buying great deals doesn’t mean that you need to focus on the quantity of deals, but more on the quality. The goal of maybe buying ten deals a year could be fine, but I imagine from your perspective it’s better to buy one great deal a year than 10 okay or bad deals per year. So be patient, don’t feel forced to buy something that’s not one of these great deals. As you said, it’s either a “hell yes” or a “no.” Your example of that would be that deal that you did with the Kiyosaki’s and the million dollars per year for 99 years is awesome.

Craig, thank you so much again for joining us today. Best Ever listeners, as always, thank you for listening. Have a Best Ever day and we’ll talk to you tomorrow.

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