After working in future trading for 5 years, Jake Cloption traded in his long hours and started his own company, Clopton Capital. Clopton Capital is an intermediary for financing for all asset types. Today, Jake is talking with us about finding a hidden market gem to almost double his investment, where to look for incentives to save thousands on improvements, and the breakdown of joint venture equity partnerships.
Jake Clopton Real Estate Background:
- Founder of Clopton Capital
- Actively involved as an apartment owner and financier
- Portfolio consists of 3 buildings, 38 units, however approximately $200M in financing a year
- Based in Chicago, IL
- Say hi to him at: www.cloptoncapital.com
- Best Ever Book: Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!
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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 the fluffy stuff.
With us today, Jake Clopton. How are you doing, Jake?
Jake Clopton: I’m great. Thanks for having me on.
Joe Fairless: Well, I’m glad to hear it and it’s our pleasure. A little bit about Jake—he’s the founder of Clopton Capital; his focus is on owning apartments and also providing debt and JV equity for real estate deals. His portfolio consists of three buildings, 38 units, and then on the financing side, he does approximately $200 million of financing a year. He is based in Chicago, Illinois, and you can go check out his website and more about his company at cloptoncapital.com.
With that being said, Jake, do you want to give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?
Jake Clopton: Yeah, that’d be great. I appreciate it. So about 12 years ago I started this company; we’re in an intermediary for financing, pretty much all asset types, really kind of playing in like the smaller middle-market space. So like $1 million to $50-60 million in finance size for competitive fixed-rate loans, bridge loans, construction… And then we do a lot of joint venture equity for strategies like value-add scenarios and construction.
Before I started this company, I actually used to trade interbank hedging product futures; three-month LIBOR futures, bet funds and stuff like that. And then the point in time where I really made the transition was around 8—9-ish area [Crosstalk] happened there.
Joe Fairless: Yeah, I was doing that math. I was like, “What?”
Jake Clopton: Yeah. I was just—
Joe Fairless: So it’s not a coincidence.
Jake Clopton: Yeah, I just trade to zero, and you really need volatility to make money, so I was looking for a different industry to get into… Plus I was tired of working from 1:00am to 4:00pm every day. So that kind of wears on you after a while.
Joe Fairless: Wow. How long did you do that, 1:00am to 4:00pm?
Jake Clopton: Four or five years, something like that, somewhere between there. No, it was fine. It was a great education. I love what I did. Sometimes I still kind of miss it, but you’ve got to move on.
So at the time — there was a credit crisis, right? And people were having trouble finding money, especially commercial lending, and that was why I moved into the industry, to help owners, operators in real estate be able to access capital that is outside of just walking to your local bank. So we do a lot of bank financings and a lot of our capital sources are also like CMBS market, or private equity, private debt funds, life insurance companies, stuff like that.
Joe Fairless: Okay. I have a follow-up question on the 1:00am to 4:00pm, because that’s not eight hours by any means, and those are wacky hours to boot.
Jake Clopton: I’m not sure those are legal hours, to be honest.
Joe Fairless: Yeah, right. Yeah, not in this country at least. So were you working in an office?
Jake Clopton: I was.
Joe Fairless: Are you serious? You’d go into the office at 1:00am and leave at 4:00pm?
Jake Clopton: Yeah, there was a lot of times where I questioned why I had an apartment, to be honest with you. Yeah, it was. [Crosstalk]
Joe Fairless: This has to be a New York thing.
Jake Clopton: —the guys that I was working for, they didn’t want to go to the office at 1:00am and check to see if everybody’s there, so they actually had a fingerprint scanner. It was something else, man.
Joe Fairless: Wow. To me, it can only be done in New York, but you’re in Chicago. Was this in Chicago or New York?
Jake Clopton: Chicago. So Chicago is like the futures trading capital of the world. It is what it is. I got a great education out of it, and certainly not regretful that I worked those long hours, and made some good money doing it, and I was able to move on to what I do now.
Joe Fairless: Last question on that. Why do you miss it sometimes?
Jake Clopton: I don’t miss working from 1:00am to 4:00pm. I miss trading, futures. It was just fun. I really liked everything that went into it. It’s almost like playing a video game, to be honest. But it’s one of those things where you can’t run too many races. You know what I mean? Like, I’m trying to run the race I’m running now really well, and if I go back to start trading also, that’s another full-time job, and everything I do is going to suffer. So either run a 50-meter or a mile, you know what I mean? You can’t do both.
Joe Fairless: Yep. So let’s talk about your portfolio and then let’s also talk about your financing business. So which one do you want to talk about first?
Jake Clopton: We could talk about the portfolio.
Joe Fairless: Let’s talk about your portfolio first then. So three buildings, 38 units. Tell us about them.
Jake Clopton: Sure. So the first building I picked up is in Cicero; it’s a village around Chicago. I bought that in, I think, late 2013, early 2014, somewhere in there. Since I’ve been underwriting and learning about commercial real Real Estate for so long, it was really just the next logical step to own and operate my own buildings. So I identified a 20-unit building in what I’d say is like an area that was a C, kind of moving up to a B, working-class type of area around here. It was also kind of an area that people thought was [unintelligible [00:05:18].14] but it really wasn’t. So I went there and walked around the neighborhood [unintelligible [00:05:21].10] there’s ladies pushing babies around in strollers, and stuff. And I was like, “You know what? This area is really not that bad.” Very high occupancy… Again, working-class area.
So the things that I usually look for in properties – I like it near public transportation, and I want like a large school around the corner, and then other demand drivers, like jobs in the area and everything. And this just kind of checked all the boxes. So that property in particular – it was a 20-unit, I think I bought it for 820k, and I think at the time, it was like an 8-cap, or something like that, which is probably unheard of today, right?
Joe Fairless: Yep.
Jake Clopton: So something interesting happened after I bought that property. Since I’m very well-connected in the finance world, I had a great contact at Chase Bank, who’s also a friend of mine. So Chase had somewhat of a moratorium on this area. But since I had a good in, I was able to convince the guy to come out, look at the property, look at the area, and potentially give me a loan for it. So he did it, and it turned out that he went back and opened up this whole area for lending for Chase Bank.
So what kind of happened is it went from an area where credit was kind of hard to get – there was only about maybe 3-4 banks in Chicago that were lending in this area – to all of a sudden Chase, which is one of the most competitive multifamily lenders in the country for small balance multifamily, [unintelligible [00:06:44].11] in this area. And what happened is what usually happens when credit starts to ease and it gets more competitive – all of a sudden, there was more investors willing to come in, and cap rate compression, and all that stuff. So since we bought that property, it’s done very well. It did well through the pandemic and it’s just a solid property. But I think it probably [unintelligible [00:07:04].17]
Joe Fairless: Not that you would want to test that.
Jake Clopton: Not that I would test it. No, no, no.
Joe Fairless: So you bought it for 820k. What’s it worth now?
Jake Clopton: That is a good question. I get brokers that call me constantly about it. I think I could sell it for one four today.
Joe Fairless: 1.4?
Jake Clopton: Yeah, not that I want to, at all. And that’s the thing, that type of appreciation is not bad. Because it wasn’t a value-add; I bought it stabilized, it was in good condition. It’s really just all market forces that pushed it up to there.
Joe Fairless: You sounded like my mother-in-law, whenever eating a delicious dinner at, say, a nice restaurant, and we’ll ask her how the dinner was, she’ll say, “Oh, it’s not bad.” Like, “Wait, what?” “So that’s good, or…?” You bought it for 820k, and — we’ll take that for what it’s worth. But brokers are saying they can get 1.4 for it. Yeah, I would say that’s phenomenal.
Jake Clopton: Yeah, it’s been a really good, solid return. But everything always has its challenges. We’ve had a lot of battles over the year; property taxes around here especially, we had to fight those every year. So those sorts of things really, I think going forward, are going to play into a lot of what it would potentially sell. But for instance, property taxes in Chicago are probably going to double again, I’m guessing over the next 3-5 years. So we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. But it’s been a great return so far.
Joe Fairless: Alright, so that’s clearly the largest of your 38 units, because it’s a 20 unit. What other challenges besides the uncertainty or perhaps the inevitable property tax increase? What other challenges do you have?
Jake Clopton: It’s actually a good segue into the numbers two and three, the other two buildings.
Joe Fairless: Okay.
Jake Clopton: So after buying that one, I moved to a different area, because looking around Chicago, I felt like this just—the values were getting out of the area where I wanted to acquire. So I went to a different area. Again, same demographics, same demand generators, near school, public transportation, all that stuff. And we ended up finding a 10-unit building, but it needed work, which I was feeling like I was ready to go into that type of deal, where I can go in and fix up some issues of the property. So we bought a 10-unit. It was a couple years later… But he was tired, right? It was owner-operated. The guy did everything himself. So lots of duct tape, you know what I mean?
Joe Fairless: Yep, which is common for a 10-unit.
Jake Clopton: Right. But where there’s that, there’s opportunity, right? But as is just kind of the case with most deals like this, things tend to happen a lot faster than you’re planning. So I was planning on doing the capital expenditures, replacing mechanicals, XYZ, all this stuff, over a two or three year period, and start to cash flow.
Well, we ended up buying this building, and within, I believe it was 12 months – it was one thing after another – within 12 months, I had to replace the hot water tank, the boiler… A tenant got mad at us and called the Chicago inspector and he found $15,000 worth of violations. The city came by and dug up the buffalo box outside and somehow we ended up with an $18,000 water bill… So it was very, very quick.
Joe Fairless: Wow.
Jake Clopton: But I was able to kind of maneuver a little bit and take advantage of some local state-centered programs. In Chicago, and I’m sure other places also, there’s incentives for doing energy-efficient mechanical upgrades. So what would have cost us close to, I’m going to say, $70,000 between the hot water tank and the boiler, we were able to get all of those for about 15,000 bucks.
Joe Fairless: Wow. Okay.
Jake Clopton: Which is pretty amazing. And then what was one of the major issues with this particular property was it was just – the utility costs was through the roof. It was extremely expensive to heat. And another thing we were able to do through local programs like this, was get free insulation, which cut the heating bill in half. So definitely being able to take advantage of those types of programs really helped me through the process here. A third party management company was helping out, but a lot of it was stuff I was doing myself.
Joe Fairless: For a listener who is not in Chicago, but they have a property and they’re like, “Man, does my area have this? I want to get in on that 70k to 15k difference there.” Who do you recommend they speak to in their area?
Jake Clopton: I think it’s just going to be different everywhere. So really what I did was I saw the problem and I was just like, “ There’s got to be a better way,” right? “There’s got to be something.” And what I do is if you’re doing anything that has to do with utilities, mechanicals or energy efficiencies in any way, most likely, there’s something in your area and some sort of incentive program for you to do that.
In Chicago, there was a company – and I’m going to say this, but I’m not sure exactly its exact name… But it’s called Elevate Energy. So basically, all these incentive programs were actually through the utilities companies and stuff like that, but they would arrange the whole thing for you. I was able to get in touch with them, and they just kind of drove the whole process, and it was a lifesaver. It did just save an unbelievable amount of money. And at this point, that property is extremely energy efficient, utility bills are probably down to 15% the level they were when I bought them… And now we’ve got mechanicals that should last 15-20 years in the property. I would say definitely looking into that type of stuff is extremely helpful.
Joe Fairless: Chicago, so it’s probably an older property, a ’50s/’60s construction.
Jake Clopton: Older.
Joe Fairless: Older.
Jake Clopton: Older. Yeah.
Joe Fairless: When was it built?
Jake Clopton: I don’t know the exact year that it was built, but I think they’re around 80-90 years old, these buildings.
Joe Fairless: Wow. The $15,000 in violations – the tenant got mad, the inspector came out and they wrote a laundry list of stuff. How soon after was that inspector there from when you closed on the deal?
Jake Clopton: I think that was about nine months after we closed.
Joe Fairless: Anything that you could have found during the due diligence prior to closing on the property that would have subtracted from those?
Jake Clopton: The violations we got – and I know, everybody feels it, right, because everybody’s been there. The violations we got were not things that I was not aware of, but they were just not major items.
Joe Fairless: Okay.
Jake Clopton: Ripped carpet, crack in plastering on wall, stuff like that. But it was just so much that it really added up. The guy came out and he just wrote everything up. And then once that’s written up, it goes to the court and you have to provide evidence that it has been taken care of.
One of the things I was actually surprised about – Chicago has very, very strict laws around the back porches and the stairways in the back. So several years ago, there was a collapse of a porch, and unfortunately, a lot of people got hurt, I think a couple died… And they have extremely strict guidelines around porches and stairs, and everything. Interestingly enough, the back porch and the stairway in this building was brand new; it was only a couple of years old. The wood’s still brand new, but the inspector was able to find three or four nails, from what I remember, that were protruding, which – I’m sure you know what this leads to, right? You have to get the permit, you have to get the right guys to come out and do it. No matter what it is, if you’re doing work to a porch in the back, it’s just going to be expensive. So like that alone, getting basically nails put back in was 4,000-5,000 bucks.
Joe Fairless: Alright, so that’s a 10-unit; you’ve got a 20 unit and a 10-unit. So what about the 8-unit?
Jake Clopton: So the eight-unit is actually directly adjacent to the 10 unit that I bought. After I got the 10 unit in an area where it was actually operating pretty well after a year. It was the same owner; I put the eight-unit under contract, and it was the same stuff. It was the same guy, right? Same issues also, but I had a very good game plan going in, and it was smooth sailing.
So the whole experience that we went through on the 10 unit deal, with all the work that needed to be done and then figuring out how to do it economically – it was a very good learning experience. And because of that, the eight-unit – it sailed; everything was done quickly, we kind of knew what to get ahead of and what to really focus on upfront, and also how to access those incentive programs.
Joe Fairless: What did you buy the 10-unit for? What is it worth now? Same question for the eight-unit.
Jake Clopton: The 10, I purchased for 430k, the eight for 370k, I believe. And I believe combined, they would probably sell for something similar to the 20; somewhere around 1.3-1.4.
Joe Fairless: How did you come across each of these three deals?
Jake Clopton: Well, the 20, I actually found on LoopNet. The 10, I found through a local broker around here; I can’t remember if it was off of LinkedIn or like an email blast or something like that; and it wasn’t the first contact. I’ve had to talk to her for a while and she ended up with this listing. It was interesting, the first go around she had the property under contract, and then it was some guy that was out of state, in New York, and he had it under contract, and then he got nervous because of the area, so he let it go… And then I’d stepped in and took over. And then the eight-unit, same owner. So a pretty similar deal.
Joe Fairless: And my assumption is, for the 20-unit, it was on LoopNet because of the area, and it was tough to get financing there at the time. Is that correct?
Jake Clopton: Yeah, it was just one of these areas that people were kind of overlooking.
Joe Fairless: What did you see in the area that other people were overlooking?
Jake Clopton: I financed a property not too far from there, and it looked like a solid building. It looked like I should at least go investigate, from what I remember. And it turned out to be great. You can’t always tell what a property is going to be like or what the neighborhood is going to be like from the pictures. I’ve seen some listings, the property is beautiful and great, and then you get there and it’s like, “Oh my God, this is like a warzone,” right? And then vice versa. So I think it just checked a lot of boxes for me and it was worth checking out, and it turned out great. That said, I’ve looked at dozens of properties that didn’t work out, but I had to put the same effort into figuring out upfront.
Joe Fairless: When was eight-unit purchased?
Jake Clopton: It was about three years ago.
Joe Fairless: Three years ago. Okay, so you’re not really actively buying right now, would you say?
Jake Clopton: If I found a deal that I thought checked a lot of boxes for me around here, I would. I’m not really the type of buyer that wants to buy something out of state. I want to be able to drive to it and touch it.
Joe Fairless: Okay.
Jake Clopton: There are some things around here that I’ve found that were interesting, but nothing’s really kind of connected like those three had since then. So they’re definitely out there, but still looking.
Joe Fairless: So let’s talk about joint venture equity that you were talking about before, where you tend to do that for value-add deals or new construction deals. For someone who needs equity for a project, but perhaps they have never done this type of structure before, just high level, what does a joint venture equity partnership look like?
Jake Clopton: It’s a good question. It’s a simple question with a complex answer, because the real answer is, it can take many different forms. The typical type of deals that we do are a GP/LP structure, right? So a general partner, a limited partner fracture. Whereas a general partner is the sponsor, the guy putting together the deal, he’s going to be the day-to-day operations, and it’s his deal. The limited partners are the investors. Typically, the structure that we put together is called a 90/10, right? So the general partner would come in with 10% of the equity, and the limited partners would come in with 90% of the equity. And that’s at the top of the capital stack, and then below that is the debt. So that’s what it’s typically going to look like.
Joe Fairless: And then in that scenario, your money is the 90%. Correct?
Jake Clopton: Right. The limited partner and the investment capital, correct.
Joe Fairless: Okay. Alright. And what are the typical fees that you would charge in that scenario?
Jake Clopton: Whenever we arrange equity, we have a 2% fee for successful placement. So the equity that we do is through joint venture equity. We don’t do real estate securities, or anything that looks like that. It’s a real partnership. But when we close a deal, we have a 2% placement fee for the amount of equity that we were able to place.
Joe Fairless: So if someone’s listening that’s like, “Oh, well, I have a 200-unit that I’m looking at, and I can raise 10%. And it sounds like Jake’s the answer to everything that I could possibly want.” Does your deal or do you check these boxes? What are those boxes we need to make sure we’re checking?
Jake Clopton: I think it’s important to understand where your equity is coming from, and what your equity is looking for. So in a lot of scenarios where guys are picking up 200 units, and let’s say it’s a stabilized property, and they’re looking for investors in this property. It’s important to understand, are you looking for equity that’s coupon clipper type equity, that’s just going to sit there and ride it out for 10 years and it’s just an investment? Or is it this type of equity, which is joint venture equity, which is looking for short-term forced appreciation type of return? And there’s a big differentiator and there’s a big difference between where those two types of equity will come from.
So the joint venture type of equity, I think the down-the-middle answer of what type of returns they look for, is like a high teens IRR, and like a two or multiple. And if you were looking at returns just like a line graph on a chart, you would see it peak at a certain point as time goes on, and then start to slowly go down. And joint venture equity likes to do a disposition, or basically get removed from the property and recycle their capital.
Once that IRR peak hits — so if you hold on any longer than that, the IRR of the capital tends to go down. Your coupon clipper type equity – they’re not so concerned with that; they’re in it for the long run. So that type of equity I typically see come from individuals, private investors; I’ve even seen some crowdfunding do stuff like that. I have a sponsor that uses a broker-dealer to sell real estate securities to people’s IRA, and stuff like that. So that type of long-term hold equity, I typically see through a smaller equity check size type syndications with private individuals. This direction is primarily small middle-market funds that have raised investor capital around a strategy of deploying alongside a sponsor.
Joe Fairless: From a sponsor standpoint, what boxes should the sponsor make sure they’re checking before they approach a company like yours, or your company, to make sure they have qualifications?
Jake Clopton: Sure. I think it’s helpful to think about how whoever you’re approaching is going to have to get approval to give you the money. So if you’re going to look at the JV equity space, JV/LP equity, for value-add scenarios, so these short-term types of strategies, primarily all of that money for the most part is investor capital that’s raised around a fund, again. And to do that, they need to prove to their fund through an investment thesis that this is going to work out. And if you think about it that way, you can see kind of like where I’m going with this. If somebody has a demonstrated track record, that this is something that can be repeated over and over, and that they’ve done things similar, and then also going forward with their pro forma and assumptions be able to prove that out by what’s already in the marketplace.
So if you were to say to me, “What is a down-the-middle scenario for a guy that’s going to go out and pitch his LP equity to some investors?” I’d be like, you bring me a guy that has a successful track record of like-sized deals, we’re bringing another deal to the table, maybe it’s—
Joe Fairless: But how do you define successful track record?
Jake Clopton: Let’s say he’s done three multifamily value-add deals in the past; maybe he’s exited two of them and he’s got another one going. The exits worked out to the assumptions he had going in, or at least very close to that; that’s what I would say is—
Joe Fairless: Okay.
Jake Clopton: —at least, a successful track record. If he entered and exited the same strategy, and it worked out like he thought it would.
Joe Fairless: Okay.
Jake Clopton: Moving forward with the pro forma, you’ve got to prove that out by what’s in the local market. So for instance, let’s say this guy comes, he’s got a successful track record, he’s got another deal, it looks similar, maybe it’s a little larger, and it’s a C class property in a B class market, and he’s going to take that C to a B… And by doing that, that’s a good income pop, and then we can see a good return in a 3-5 year period – that’s definitely a deal I would pick.
Joe Fairless: That’s helpful. I know we were fairly high level, but you helped clarify some things and just shined some light on the typical structure. We’re going to take a step back – based on your experience, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?
Jake Clopton: My best real estate investing advice would be to approach real estate investing and a piece of property as a business, and your tenants as customers. Because having that type of thesis on it really kind of helped me understand exactly what I’m investing in. Why do people want to be here? And how do I control expenses? Everything that kind of went into that, right? Because it really is a business at a certain level, no matter what type of property it is. And I think some people that end up with challenges in real estate approach it almost like the stock market. “I’m just going to throw money at this; it’s going to work out.” We know a lot of times it doesn’t work out that way. So I think definitely approaching it as a business is extremely helpful.
Joe Fairless: We’re going to do a lightning round. Are you ready for the Best Ever lightning round?
Jake Clopton: Yeah, let’s do it.
Joe Fairless: Alright. Best ever book you’ve recently read.
Jake Clopton: I haven’t read an enormous amount of investing books, but the ones I do really like and did read early on were the Rich Dad Poor Dad books> Those I actually really enjoyed.
Joe Fairless: What’s something that people who have done private equity JV deals where they’ve partnered with groups like yours, who are people who you bring to the table – if they have done a deal like that, what’s something that is more of a next-level piece of insight based on your experience that you have? …maybe a watch out for those who are already familiar with it, or maybe something that is new that you’ve seen recently?
Jake Clopton: Specifically for JV equity… I think one of the areas where people sometimes see challenges is getting your equity committed upfront. I don’t really deal with a lot of family offices on the whole JV equity side, because that velocity of capital isn’t really there. You don’t have to put money out. And I think understanding velocity of capital really helps kind of that certainty of closing.
You don’t want to get all the way to the closing table, have hard money down and then have some guy decide to buy a portfolio of ATM machines instead of investing in your property. And that’s some of the schizophrenia that some private investors end up getting, or they get nervous and stuff like that. So that’s why dealing with, again, these types of funds that are raised around this strategy in particular, to deploying JV equity in real estate, is extremely helpful and that velocity of capital is already there. Because you know they’re not going to decide just not to do it at the last minute; they’ve got to get money out the door, they’ve got to do deals.
Joe Fairless: That’s good.
Jake Clopton: Understanding that and then really getting your equity committed upfront in writing, I think, is definitely something everybody learns at some point.
Joe Fairless: It goes back to the two questions you said earlier about equity – you’ve got to know where’s equity coming from, and what is it looking for.
Jake Clopton: Exactly.
Joe Fairless: What’s the best ever way you like to give back to your community?
Jake Clopton: The best way that I can give back to this community—
Joe Fairless: It doesn’t have to be this one. Just the best ever way you like to give back.
Jake Clopton: Oh, got it. Got it. Well, I’ve been very active in not only Habitat for Humanity, lots of food drives, soup kitchens, stuff like that… Pretty much my entire life. We’ve even gone internationally for Habitat for Humanity. So anything I can do with that is always something we look forward to doing.
Joe Fairless: How can the Best Ever listeners learn more about what you’re doing?
Jake Clopton: If you want to learn more about what we do, the website is a great resource, and/or call me directly; happy to chat anytime. I’m very, very candid about our programs, what we can do, and how we can help you out.
Joe Fairless: What’s your phone number?
Jake Clopton: My direct line is 312-775-0233.
Joe Fairless: Jake, I enjoyed our conversation. Thanks for being on the show, talking about your portfolio, talking about your company, and one of the services that your company offers. I know we didn’t talk about the debt financing on this interview, but I enjoyed talking about the things that we did and learned a lot. So I appreciate you being on show. I hope you have a best ever day and talk to you again soon.
Jake Clopton: Likewise. Thanks so much.
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