August 16, 2021

JF2540: 6 Questions to Ensure You Have the Best Team with Joe Evangelisti

Growing up in construction and then doing over 1,000 fix-and-flips, Joe Evangelisti ultimately shifted to self-storage development. Today, he’s talking about lessons learned in his first deal, converting a senior care facility to self-storage. Joe shares in detail why it took 12 months longer than projected, what he did differently in future developments, and his current process for vetting his team to ensure his timeline goes according to plan. 

Joe Evangelisti Real Estate Background:

  • CEO of three different companies: Legacy Developers (Self-Storage Development), Mammoth Conversions (Digital Marketing), and Hero Home Buyers (Wholesale)
  • Has been investing in real estate for 15+ years, actively and passively
  • Focusing more on self-storage development with multiple Class A facilities breaking ground within the next few months
  • Based in Haddonfield, NJ
  • Say hi to him at:


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Joe Fairless: The 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 fluffy stuff. With us today, Joe Evangelisti.

How are you doing, Joe?

Joe Evangelisti: Fantastic, Joe. Thanks for having me on.

Joe Fairless: Well, it’s my pleasure, and looking forward to catching up. Episode 351, you were on the show, and typically with returning guests we do a special segment, Situation Saturday or Skill Set Sunday. But it’s been almost six years, we were talking about this a little bit before we started recording.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: August 18, 2015 was when the last interview published, who knows when that was recorded. So we’re going to do a regular episode because you have shifted your focus. And a little bit about Joe, and then we’ll let you take it away. Joe is the CEO of three different companies; Legacy Developers, which has a self-storage development focus, which will be mainly what we talke about during this conversation; Mammoth Conversions, which focuses on digital marketing, and Hero Home Buyers, which is a wholesale company.

He’s been investing for 15+ years, both actively and passively, and he’s focusing more on self-storage development with multiple Class A facilities, breaking ground within the next few months. Based in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

So with that being said, Joe, do you want to give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?

Joe Evangelisti: Yes, absolutely. Really, my background has been construction my whole life. I grew up in a construction trade. My dad was a general contractor, drywall contractor, turned home builder when I was in my teens. So I’ve just been on a job site my entire life. I enjoy the construction aspect of building something, creating something out of nothing. It’s always been in my blood. And quickly, just after high school, I went into the military for about six years, I was actually in the US Navy Seabees, which are the construction battalions of the Navy; a lot of people don’t even know they exist. But I did construction for the Navy for six years.

And pretty quickly after that, got out and started getting into single-family. I call it my lucky timing, because I got in in 2007 when the market was just getting ready to crumble. So we learned a lot of lessons, man. It taught us to pivot and figure out things and solve problems along the way. So it was a really good experience for me in single-family. We did that for about 10 or 12 years, and ultimately, we pivoted into self-storage development, which is what we do today.

Joe Fairless: Okay, and who’s “we”?

Joe Evangelisti: Me and my business partner, Brian, we do the self-storage development. He’s basically been working for my dad since we graduated high school, so inevitably became my partner in the self-storage development thing. Me and him flipped about 1,000 houses in that 12 years before we took the shift over to self-storage and started doing this type of development.

Joe Fairless: Okay, you flip? When you say flip—

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: —are you talking about wholesaling, or fixing-and-flipping?

Joe Evangelisti: No, fix-and-flip rehabs. So—

Joe Fairless: Fix-and-flip rehabs. Okay.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes, for a long time.

Joe Fairless: You did over 1,000 of those?

Joe Evangelisti: Correct. Between that and, some wholesale inside of that, but most of those were rehabs; we were like physically taking down the product and renovate the property, and put it back on the market.

Joe Fairless: Wow. Alright.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: You did over 1,000 of those… Are you currently doing them?

Joe Evangelisti: No. Right now—we took what was essentially a marketing company, right? You’re out there finding off-market seller deals. So really we did is we just shifted it to wholesale. So we stopped doing the rehab portion. We just developed more relationships with investors in our area, and that’s where Hero Home Buyers was kind of born. We just shifted into marketing only and doing contracts and getting paid for wholesale deals.

Joe Fairless: I want to invest most of our time on self-storage, but it just begs the question – you did it over 1,000 times, you had a system.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: And if you did it more than 10 times, then you were probably doing something right, otherwise, you would have just stopped doing it.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: So why stop?

Joe Evangelisti: I wanted something that’s more systematic and effective and efficient. And that’s what wholesale is; it’s very clean. My entire team is virtual. Some of my guys are in Panama, I’ve got guys all over North America. So it’s a lot more easy to manage and effective.

When we were doing the rehabs – I mean, we had 45-50 in-house employees; we had hundreds of subs, we had projects spread out all over South Jersey. And logistically, it was a nightmare. It was really, really hard to keep up with. It was just putting out fires all day long. And that’s just not the type of lifestyle and the type of business that I wanted. I wanted something that was more scalable and that we could do with a more efficient and effective team and that we could do with a lot more zeros behind it. So there’s a lot more upsides to the self -storage development. I don’t want to say it’s easier to manage, but it’s certainly more manageable than trying to flip 80 houses in different areas at the same time.

Joe Fairless: Alright, so let’s talk about self-storage development. A lot of people when they get into self-storage, they are a little more—the word conservative comes to mind, but perhaps it’s not applicable; a little bit more conservative, and they buy existing product, but you’re developing. So why did you choose to go that route? And is it more conservative to do existing product, in your opinion, than develop?

Joe Evangelisti: Oh, those are good questions. We chose the development, I think partly because it was in our blood, partly because we’re used to finding those off-market deals. So a lot of it is land that wasn’t entitled properly yet and so we’re cleaning up, if it needs variants or needs approvals or whatever that looks like.

So by virtue of finding off-market land and converting it to self-storage or creating a self-storage out of it, we’re able to do it a lot cheaper generally,  and we’re also able to design it the way we want it. So I think that for those two purposes, it makes the development side a little bit easier.

The second piece of how we develop, Joe, is really big box conversion, so taking old Sears and old Kmarts development sites and turning them into self-storage sites. So I think that kind of our approach is to create better opportunity for our team, than maybe essentially buying value-add type deals. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to buy value-add. I’m literally at the self-storage convention right now, we’re talking about this conversation, and we’re talking about 20-40 percent of our overall inventory should turn out being turnkey value-add, where we buy stuff, and either it has to be renovated, it needs to be expanded or it needs new marketing plans to turn it into a class A facility.

Joe Fairless: Mm-hmm. And you said 20-40 percent?

Joe Evangelisti: Yes, I think that’s where it’s going to start to hit. We’re six deals in right now, we have 10 in the pipeline, and most of those are development sites. But essentially, I think we’re going to start to really add value-add as it goes, and big-box conversion. I like the conversion of the big-box model, because you’re starting out with a solid building, and really all you’re doing is retrofitting storage units inside of it. So they go a little bit faster, just a little bit more difficult to find those.

Joe Fairless: Mm-hmm. Let’s talk specifics about the deals that you have done within self-storage. What was your first deal? And please tell us about it.

Joe Evangelisti: The first, it was actually in New Jersey. And where we came about it was, one of my local residential engineers – I had approached him and said, “Hey, do you have anything that’s self-storage worthy?” And he said, “I have this site that’s actually approved for a senior care facility. But the senior care license, the licensee that was getting ready to buy the land actually sold their license to a local hospital.” So he said, “This land is sitting here, it’s approved for senior care and I’m pretty sure I can get it converted to self-storage if we go to the proper chains.” So that’s what we did.

And we assumed that it would take six months; it took probably 18 months to get full approvals. And then COVID hit towards the end and got us jammed up a little bit in timing. But effectively, we converted it. And at this point, we’re sitting here talking, we’re removing dirt and doing site work and creating a facility out of it. It took a little longer than expected, but we learned a lot along the way. And really, it’s helped bolster the next deals after that.

Break: [07:49] to [09:50]

Joe Fairless: So that’s the one that was the first. So do you have a stabilized facility right now?

Joe Evangelisti: No, not at this moment. Like I said, I look at us as pure developers.  And right now we have four sites under development, one under the design, and three or four more closing in the next month and a half. So it’s all about finding great sites and putting them together.

Joe Fairless: Okay, so you said you look at yourself as pure developers. So that leads me to believe that you’re planning on selling prior to or maybe right after stabilization, or prior to, during the lease-up period… What’s your business plan?

Joe Evangelisti: No, we’re going to hold a lot of them. But when I say “we’re pure developers,” our plan is to turn them over to a third-party [unintelligible [00:10:27].27] management chain . So a lot of people don’t realize, but the bigger chains out there, your CubeSmarts, your Extra Space, your Life Storage – these guys are primarily third-party managers, that’s their plan. Their plan is to manage something, get it to stabilization, then effectively offer the owner a fair offer at some point and take over that property.

Joe Fairless: Oh.

Joe Evangelisti: So that’s our plan, put them in place and let them do what they do best, because I don’t really want to get into the management game.

Joe Fairless: Hmm, that’s interesting.

Joe Evangelisti: Mm-hmm.

Joe Fairless: I could also see how that could have a misalignment of interest, if they are purchasers of property in addition to managers, because — not that they would do this, but they could run your facility poorly or just not as good as it could be run.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: And then purchase it at a discount relative to what it could have been purchased at if it was run optimally.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes, a lot of people think that, and I don’t want to say it’s like a scarcity mindset, but the reality of it is these guys are hypercompetitive, and it’s a hypercompetitive buyers market right now, too. So you’re going to get analyzation from multiple different companies before you effectively sell it to them. And a lot of people will say, “Well, they already have their signage up, why would somebody else want to buy it?”

We were having this conversation yesterday as well.  For these big bucks, for these REITs, for these big chains, it’s nothing for them to rebrand a site and turn it into their name. So with the hypercompetitive buyer market that we have right now, they’re effectively trying to get the thing operating as best as they can so they couldn’t technically buy it from us.

Joe Fairless: Mm-hmm. And you said that you’re in the process of moving dirt on the first facility and you’ve learned a lot. What have you learned?

Joe Evangelisti: Good and bad, right?

Joe Fairless: Top two or three things.

Joe Evangelisti: One thing is that dealing with commercial contractors and professionals at this level is just so much nicer than at the residential level. Negotiating contracts and dealing with real professionals and having the teams that we have in place with amazing engineer and design staff, and things like that. We’re building a real product—not that flipping single-family houses isn’t a real product, I did that for years. But this is 100,000 square foot facility. This is a real commercial development site. So you get better reaction, you get better people jumping on to take charge and do things the right way, in my opinion… So this is a lot more professional environment would be my first takeaway.

Joe Fairless: Okay. You said good and bad, though, so what’s the bad?

Joe Evangelisti: Yes. So I guess—so on the bad side, I guess, it’s a lot slower progress; you have to get patient, I guess I should say. Because when you do a single-family home, it’s like you can call your subs and have people working tomorrow morning at [8:00] AM. That doesn’t work that way. You have to plan further out ahead, you have to have your ducks in a row, you have to have, like I said, the great staff that we have and the great teams that we have, keeping these things organized. You’ve got to be planning in advance. For example, when we’re dealing right now with commodities, we have to figure out we’re going to get the material and how we’re going to build these things. And so our teams are doing a great job doing that, sourcing them sometimes 6-10 months in advance. So there’s a lot of ways you have to pivot, there’s a lot of ways you have to learn… But we’re just out here solving problems.

Joe Fairless: What’s the most recent problem you’ve solved on that job?

Joe Evangelisti: Steel. Right now, it’s steel. We just negotiated an amazing contract, and the steel guys might not actually be starting for eight or nine more months, but we just got a great locked-in price, and we got it contracted. And so solving these cost issues right now is probably one of the biggest challenges.

Joe Fairless: Because costs have skyrocketed across the board.

Joe Evangelisti: They’re all over the place.

Joe Fairless: Yes.

Joe Evangelisti: You know, people kind of guesstimate where they’re going to be in nine months. But for us, we have a budget, it’s about coming in under budget… And effectively, we’ve done that so far, we’ve signed 99% of the proposals for the entire project, and it’s not even out of the ground yet.

Joe Fairless: How did you find the contact to lock in the steel price?

Joe Evangelisti: Through our chief development officer. Our chief development officer has been in the business in self-storage; I think he’s got something like a couple 100 facilities under his belt as far as construction, and we’ve got great nationwide contractors and contacts to bid these things out. And like I said, I think we’ve put together a pretty amazing team. And these are super experienced people building these things, but also locking in great prices and knowing that we’re going to be able to take them along for the ride and they’re going to go from this site to that site, to the next one, and they’ll be able to do business with us.

Joe Fairless: It was a single care facility and – did you just tear it down or are you converting it? I imagine you’re converting it.

Joe Evangelisti: No. No, it was approved for a senior care use.

Joe Fairless: Oh, sorry. Okay.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: So it was just dirt—

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: —but it was approved for single care use.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: But you got an approval to change what it was zoned for?

Joe Evangelisti: Correct. But like I said, it was a lot more arduous than we expected doing the process.

Joe Fairless: Yes, 18 months.

Joe Evangelisti: But yes, effectively—18 months when we probably could have done it in six if it was different times and different preparation… But it worked, and it came through and we’re super happy about it.

Joe Fairless: Let’s talk about the preparation part. So on future developments, what did you do to prepare differently than you did on the first one?

Joe Evangelisti: That’s a great question. I think they’re all case by case, Joe. For our New York site, it’s a 21 acre freestanding 100,000 square foot Kmart, and abandoned; obviously, [unintelligible [00:15:13].08] been abandoned for years. But that site is a little bit different, right? We’re going to do 50,000 square foot of climate control, we’re going to add about 40,000 square foot of garages outside, we’re going to end up with a couple retail properties that could be storefronts or manufacturing… And then we ended up with two pads sites, which is cool. So those would be triple net leased pad sites. One of those sites we started out with, our general contractor who’s doing the work up there, wants to put his showroom there. So that’s a little bit more multifaceted type of facility, rather than just a straight storage. So I think every site has its own tweaks and ways that we have to figure out how to maximize the value.

Joe Fairless: That makes sense. Just going back to the first project, if you had a crystal ball prior to the initial period where you put it under contract, what would you have done differently from a preparation standpoint that you didn’t do?

Joe Evangelisti: Well, that’s a good one. I’m not sure that I would change a whole lot. I think that it’s just about finding the right people. I think that early on, we had some different engineers and some different professionals that really weren’t set up for the job, and started out and then we had to switch. And so I think knowing what I know now, it would be going directly to the right people. But of course, we were just getting our feet wet, right? We were just learning and giving different people opportunity. So now we’ve really keyed in, I believe, on the correct team, the correct engineers, the correct designers and things like that, that can help us expedite that process.

Joe Fairless: That’s really interesting. So as far as the engineers and designers, let’s go back in time. Let’s say you’re talking to those wrong ones that you picked initially.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: What questions would you ask them that would disqualify them at that time?

Joe Evangelisti: I think I’d want to know effectively how busy they are, and what their capacity is to do different work. Because like I said, the couple that we hired at the beginning were a little bit slower, because they were biting off more than they could chew… What’s their background, and how many sub-storages have they designed or done, things like that. We had a lot of utility-type things we had to get around in the first sight, removing a waterline 800 feet down the street… So we’re doing a lot of civil, making sure you had a really connected civil engineer. Civil is one of the few that we want to use locally, because we want them to know the zoning officer, we want them to know the construction office, we want them to be able to get these approvals across.

In this first job, we had to get county and local approval. So the coordination of all that, making sure that your engineers are really connected to those type of people, or they have experience in it. When we settled on our MEP engineer, I think he said something to me like this was his 197th variant he’d gotten at township or something like that, you know what I mean?

Joe Fairless: Sold.

Joe Evangelisti: So it’s like, “Okay, man, you’ve got the experience, you’ve got that grit. I know you obviously know somebody in here.” So rather than, let’s say, if you brought somebody from out of town or out of state that had no clue… I think it’s making sure that your teams are really juiced in locally and they understand the rules and regulations to go by.

Joe Fairless: That’s great. I’m glad you talked about that. Thank you for sharing. Six months to 18 months – you planned it to be six, but it wasn’t; it was 18 months. What happened that you didn’t plan for? And I’m not calling you out by the way, I’m asking you this just to learn. So I’m glad you’re picking up on that.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: I noticed when I said the question, I was like, “Man, I sound like a prick,” but I’m just trying to learn.

Joe Evangelisti: [laughs] You can’t offend me. I think that one of the things that was really key on that first deal was the learning; not that we’re never going to be delayed again, but I don’t think that we’ll ever have some of those issues again, because of poor choice of staffing and things like that. But really, and I hate to use this excuse, but really what smacked us across the face was COVID. We were at the finish line when COVID started, and basically got extended two months for the next meeting. In that town and that type of variants, we had to seek approval five or six times we had to go in front of that board to update things and show them new drawings and get a meeting with the engineering team.

So what happened was, things that normally you could have got a meeting next Thursday, they were like, “Oh, we’re not doing meetings until June.” So we had certain things ready to go where we probably could have broke ground, but like I said, nine months earlier, but a lot of it, unfortunately, was with the townships just putting their hands up in the air and saying, “COVID. We’re not working.” So I don’t think it was a lot effectively a fault of our team,  I think it was more of just the circumstance.

Joe Fairless: Let’s talk about numbers on this self-storage. So on the first deal, what are the numbers?

Joe Evangelisti: Ballpark numbers, we want to be in the deal somewhere between 50 and 60 cents on the dollar. And I believe the first sight we were like 52 cents and a dollar. So our build cost is just under 10 million all-in, with land and development. And we’re actually looking for the site to be worth $19 million or $20 million when it’s done.

Joe Fairless: Got it. And when it’s done meaning stabilized—

Joe Evangelisti: Stabilized.

Joe Fairless: —with 90% or so occupancy, somewhere around there?

Joe Evangelisti: Correct. Once we have it stabilized, once we have it full, we get it reevaluated, get it reappraised, and of course, go for long-term financing, refinance out our construction loan. Our goal at that point – I think we have a five and a half or six cap on the stabilization rate; it needs to be at the 19-20 million. And the funny part about these sites, I won’t say funny, it’s just the market right now is, you know – some of these sites are trading at 3.5, 4.5 cap. I mean it’s just absolutely incredible what the big guys are doing to buy up inventory right now.

Joe Fairless: And how big of a facility will it be once it’s developed?

Joe Evangelisti: Our goal is to be anywhere between 80,000 and 100,000 square foot net rentable. So I actually think that this first site is 102,000 square feet or something like that. But we want to be in that size category, because it’s really again, where the big boys are buying.

Joe Fairless: Okay, and I’m not in this space, educate me. Ballpark, about how many self-storage units is that?

Joe Evangelisti: Yes, it’s a funny question. And the reason I say it’s funny is because—

Joe Fairless: It depends on how big are?

Joe Evangelisti:  It totally depends on the area.

Joe Fairless: Right. Yes.

Joe Evangelisti: The multifamily guys always want to talk about how many doors they have.

Joe Fairless: Yes.

Joe Evangelisti: We talk about square footage. So I think we have something like 800 units. But effectively, you could have 2,000 units if you made them all five by five. So it’s more of a square footage thing that we go by.

Joe Fairless: Fair enough. Makes sense. Alright. Well, with this property, how long will it take from the time—and I get that the 6 to 18 month thing happened…

Joe Evangelisti: Mm-hmm.

Joe Fairless: But from the time you initially put the land under contract to when you’re projecting to have that $19 million valuation?

Joe Evangelisti: It should still be about 3.5 years. Normally, it would be under three. Because of the extension, we’re going to be about 3.5. But like I said, we’re moving dirt right now and we have a 13-month build schedule, and we actually think we could probably beat that just based on who we’re talking to, and in alignment with our subs, things like that. So this time next year, we should be sealed and starting to fill it up.

Joe Fairless: You have investors on this?

Joe Evangelisti: Yes, we do syndicated deals.

Joe Fairless: How did you structure it?

Joe Evangelisti: So our structure is actually a 70/30 split, the other way. So we retained 70% equity, we give out 30% equity to LP investors. And with that one, I think it was $100,000 shares, and we did 30 shares.

Joe Fairless: Okay. No preferred return?

Joe Evangelisti: Of course, it was a pref. I think the pref on that deal was 10%. And then of course, they have equity in perpetuity. So they’re getting 1% interest in their investment for perpetuity. So when they get the pref, when we do our refinance, they get a bump at that level, they get all their money back, plus they get refinance proceeds, which are tax-free, as you know. And then from that point in perpetuity, they get cash flow, and then eventually, a sell off. So they have another bump come with the sell off.

Joe Fairless: What was it like from an investor relation’s standpoint around month 16? How did you navigate that, since there were significant delays?

Joe Evangelisti: Yeah. Our investors have been amazing on this thing. First of all, we didn’t raise all the money upfront, we raised what we needed to buy the land and start doing design. So I think we finalized the fund last month honestly. We didn’t want the rest of that money or capital sitting around until we needed it. But they’ve been amazing.

I think that a lot of people have to deal with these type of issues when stuff like COVID hits. And again, I don’t like using it as an excuse, but I think people understand. I think people realize that, “Hey, we’re doing our best and we’re going to do our best to get these deals done.” I don’t see us having these type of delays… Short of a different COVID outbreak, I don’t think that these type of delays happen again. I think it’s something that we learn to navigate, we learn to get more effective and efficient with.

Joe Fairless: Alright, taking a step back, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?

Joe Evangelisti: I should have known you were going to ask me that question. I think it’s take action. I’ve been coaching just like you, Joe, for years. And I think what happens is that you have so many folks that just don’t take the first step. They just don’t take action. They learn, they grow, they listen, they do podcasts, they go to mastermind events, they go to speaking engagements, but they don’t pull the trigger. The difference between the people who I see out there who are really accumulating real estate and creating real wealth for themselves – they’re out there putting their neck on the line every day and they’re taking action.

Joe Fairless: We’re going to do a Lightning Round. Are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?

Joe Evangelisti: Yes, let’s do it.

Joe Fairless: Alright. First, a quick word from our partners.

Break: [23:45] to [26:44]

Joe Fairless: What deal over the course of 15+ years have you lost the most amount of money on?

Joe Evangelisti: A single-family new construction. I built a house that we didn’t have any business building, that cost us way too much to build. It was a weird market at that time. So it was a $1.5 million house, we ended up selling to 1.3. It’s probably worth 1.9 right now. So we took a bath on that one.

Joe Fairless: What’s the best ever way you’d like to give back to the community?

Joe Evangelisti: I’m huge into veterans charities. I am a veteran, I served myself and I think that we have a huge responsibility to take care of those that protect our freedoms and go out there and put their neck on the line all day. So I had my own foundation called the Addison Quinn Foundation, where we raise money just to find great charities to give the money to and create that opportunity.

Joe Fairless: How can the Best Ever listeners learn more about what you’re doing?

Joe Evangelisti: is basically a website for what I do, what I get involved in, my coaching stuff, as well as to get in touch with us for the development side.

Joe Fairless: Well, first off, thank you for doing what you did when you were in the military, and thank you to all of your colleagues who are currently serving. I wholeheartedly embrace your philosophy that you just mentioned regarding veterans.

And thank you for being on the show, again. Thank you for sharing in detail the information on the first development, lessons learned, and why you’re focused on self-storage development, and really getting into the specifics from an investor relation’s standpoint, from a mechanics of the deal, from challenges of how to pick the right team members and how to pick the wrong team members, and what do—you fire them once you pick the wrong one…

Joe Evangelisti: Yes.

Joe Fairless: So thank you for all that and hope you have a best ever day and we’ll talk to you again soon.

Joe Evangelisti: Yes, I appreciate it, Joe. Thanks again for having me on.

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