March 21, 2022

JF2757: How To Analyze And Select Asset Classes For Long-Term Holds ft. Zach Morrow

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How do you know what asset class is right for you? In this episode, Zach Morrow—VP of Investor Relations at Boron Capital—shares how he selects his investment assets and the advantages of long-term holds.

Zach Morrow | Real Estate Background

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Slocomb Reed: Best Ever listeners, welcome to The Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever Show. I'm Slocomb Reed and I'm here with Zach Morrow. Zach's joining us from Lubbock, Texas. He is a GP who specializes in investor relations with Boron Capital; they help LPS place capital in self-storage, mobile home communities, corporate housing, wedding and event venues, and blockchain and crypto assets. In their portfolio currently, they are operators of about 30 million in assets under management in real estate, they're partnered in another 80 million. They're also partnered in a family of funds controlling 60 million in crypto assets. Zach, can you start us off with a little more about your background and tell us what you're currently focused on?

Zach Morrow: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Slocomb, excited to be here on the Best Ever show. I love the show, you guys have done incredible things. Glad to get to connect here today and get to share and excited for where we go. As far as the background and focus - two different stories there. I'd say current focus right now on the real estate side is an expansion in self-storage and mobile home communities to asset classes we really like. On the flip side of that, everybody's always like "How did a real estate group get involved in crypto?" That's another interesting story, but that is a large focus as well for our current expansion, is the cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. Very excited to have been able to manage that fund, get that fund launched, and be able to get access to people who haven't otherwise had access to professionally managed assets in that space.

Slocomb Reed: Awesome. What got you into real estate in the first place?

Zach Morrow: Well, in the first place, I would tell you it was Blake Templeton. He's the owner and founder of Boron Capital, he started it back in 2006. Originally, I was just a guy who was trying to figure out his way in life. I left high school and ended up joining the Marine Corps, I did five years in the Marine Corps. Actually, in boot camp, I got pulled out of essentially the squadron and got sent over to an interview that I had no idea what it was for, and they started asking me a whole bunch of questions. They're asking questions, there's a group of people saying, "Okay, if you've ever had this, raise your hand. Get out." If you raised your hand, they're just like eliminated, we don't know why we're there.

Put down a long track of interviews, follow-ups, and different things like that that ended up leading me to DC, where I served at a top-secret facility in a department of the White House on a presidential security force. Spent quite a few years doing that in DC, and started a family, met my now wife, 12 and a half years now married, and have our daughter there, I've got two kids now. While working in the Marine Corps, I realized that there were a few different things I was looking for in life. One of them was a little bit more ability to control my future and spend time with my family and put them first. I left the Marine Corps and kind of started an entrepreneurial business journey. That led me to eventually getting introduced to Blake, grew a relationship with Blake and the Boron Capital team. A couple of years after that, ended up selling what I had been working on and coming over to join the team full-time. Been over here now for coming up on five years.

Slocomb Reed: Zach, I have to ask, this is not politically motivated at all, I just think it's cool... Which presidents did you protect?

Zach Morrow: As far as actually working directly with that president, I only got to work with George W. Bush one time, and then I served the entire first term of President Obama. I actually got to work with President Obama and Vice President Biden at the time, who actually now is the president. Now I guess I could say I've worked with three actively sitting presidents during my course of service there.

Slocomb Reed: Gotcha. You guys are most attracted to self-storage and mobile homes right now... What other asset classes were you considering and what led you to those two?

Zach Morrow: As investors, I think we always have to ask the question of what are we fundamentally driven by and believe in long-term, and then also, what do we feel can best operate with our current situation of where we're going in the future and where that lines up economically. Historically, you mentioned wedding event venues, you mentioned corporate housing - we've done things in corporate housing, we've done things in the venue space, we still own assets in that space, although we're not currently expanding in those areas. We've done multifamily and single-family as well. Over 16 years in business for the company this year, and over that time we just continue to ask the question of what's going to be the best asset class in the present timeframe. If you want to break down some of those thought processes, happy to do so.

For every investor, it's just understanding where you're at in the cycle. It's the same thing we had to do as a company, is where are we at in the cycle and what's going to help us grow and scale to the next level that we're looking to grow and scale into. So how we transitioned really from some of those asset classes over to self-storage and mobile home communities was really diving into the questions. 2019, we actually were selling a lot of multifamily, sold assets that year. We were really just looking at the cycles as far as the areas we were located in, and felt like the valuations were reaching higher numbers. At that point, we felt like it made sense to have some dispositions there. After coming out of that, we were asking the question, where do we want to go now, where do we want to continue to expand, and where do we want to allocate capital?

2020 was a time where we were processing some expansion in corporate housing. But obviously, very early in 2020, we saw a significant shift in the markets. Predominantly, a lot of our corporate housing actually is servicing areas around oil, so in 2020 that market took a large pullback and quite a hit. We put a pause on that and really just called a timeout. When the status quo changes, we have to be willing to adapt, improvise and overcome. We're coming off of dispositions and we were planning on doing a lot of acquisition in 2020 and growth there, but really, we just decided, "Why don't we just slow down, process what's happening, take this all in, and get an understanding of where things might be going?" We were watching the shifts, the changes, the mandates and things like that, also the Fed's response with quantitative easing, and the purchasing of assets, and things like that for their balance sheet... We were at a point where we decided we really want to be able to get into asset classes that we feel could succeed during strong times, but also have proven to be recession-resistant. Affordable housing through mobile home communities is one we feel like the supply and demand deficit was there for good acquisitions. We also feel like they'ee historically proven to be not only a lower risk asset as far as recession goes, but also strong numbers as far as income basis over time.

The same thing with self-storage. Regardless of an up or down economy, self-storage, really over the last 25 years, both asset classes have not only been at the top as far as income producing, net operating income against other real estate assets, and also have outperformed things like the Dow, S&P, and things like that, but they've also shown to be lower risk.

For us right now, we're really in a season where our main focus is long-term asset accumulation, and these were two asset classes that we felt had the long-term ability to appreciate and sustain through ups and down markets. We came out of a value-add phase and shifted now with a focus more on long-term asset allocation. That's the structure you would see in our real estate fund, is we're primarily focused on accumulating assets that we want to hold for the long-term, focused on return of capital first, and then allowing investors to continue to partner in the equity, in the upside, even after return of capital.

Slocomb Reed: Unlike most people who are syndicating commercial real estate - they're looking at the five-year hold, and they're looking at delivering on a juicy IRR - you said that you guys are more focused now on building a longer-term hold portfolio. That's because you believe we're going into a recession?

Zach Morrow: I wouldn't say it's predominantly that we're just absolutely certain we're going into a recession, but when you're processing your portfolio as a whole, you need to be prepared to not only hedge towards the downside, but also be able to create opportunities on an upside. We believe that these are positioned for both.

Now, to your point, we have to ask the fundamental questions on -- what you're describing is what I would typically call a value-add. So if I'm syndicating for a typical apartment type deal, let's say multifamily, because it's a very well-known asset class. I'm sure many investors listening to this have seen a deal come across their desk where it's a multifamily property, there was a value-add, which essentially means we're going to purchase it, it's probably under-managed, the occupancy may not be as good, it has some deferred maintenance... We're going to come in, correct that, put some money into the property, increase rents, increase the actual occupancy, and then seek to flip that, sell that, have a disposition of that asset, maybe two, three, four, five years down the road.

As you said, that does create a nice juicy IRR on paper. But if your main intention is the turnover of capital, then that's going to work for you. If you're in a position where you're really looking for long-term quality assets that can continue to appreciate, continue to cash flow, and limit your actual variables, then maintaining the asset would be something that you'd want to look for. So if we actually go and sell that asset, one, we create new variables of being able to purchase a new quality asset, two, we're going to be forced to either quickly 1031 to defer taxes, or we're going to be subject to capital gains, which then forces the speed at which you have to make a purchase.

I'm sure most people have been around an area where they have made a disposition, now they're like, "I got to get this money put back to work." Because at the end of the day, it wasn't about the money, it was about having a great asset so that I can earn money. But once I get the money, I still want to put that back to work in an asset. We've done that, we've done the value-add, what we've found is that the real thing that the investor is looking for is security and getting their capital back. So when they have a disposition, now they know "Okay, in three years I'm going to get my money back", so then they have certainty of that return. But then ultimately, they do want another deal, they want to avoid the taxes, and they want to be able to continue to own great assets. So our goal was to be able to find assets that could continue to appreciate, could continue to have good, strong operational income, and then rather than have a disposition, we utilize strategic refinance, to help do return of capital. Then once all the capital is returned, our investors still continue to participate in the upside. And we're able to continue to do that every four, five, six years you can go in, capture some of your appreciation, and it eliminates the need to be forced into new assets, which reduces your risk by reducing your variables; it eliminates the need to rush into a new deal, and it also helps on taxes significantly, because any appreciation that we capture through refinancing actually isn't taxable, because it's shown as debt versus capital gains. We're really helping limit tax issues, seeking to limit the variables as far as needing to rush into new assets, and being able to just continue to focus on growing the assets that we have.

Slocomb Reed: Zach, you're preaching to the choir here. I'm a long-term hold investor.

Zach Morrow: Yes, Slocomb.

Slocomb Reed: You're saying a lot of the things that draw me in. Based on our conversation thus far, let's see how many Best Ever listeners we can convince to write a long-term buy and hold.

Break: [00:15:29] - [00:17:25]

Slocomb Reed: I have three questions for you. I want to make sure I get to all of them, and then I want to pivot the conversation. Long-term hold investing - so many advantages; you just listed many of them. The tax advantages, the advantages of stability, the advantages of cash flow, still having the opportunity to take advantage of the appreciation of the portfolio with a cash out refinance, that lets you draw some capital and get it redeployed without any risk of having a taxable event. Specifically, self-storage and mobile homes, why are those two, in your opinion, the best asset classes for the long-term hold right now?

Zach Morrow: Well, one, I'm looking at the data. As I mentioned before, the data has shown that if we did what's called a base 100, and that's essentially just a study that shows if I put $100 into this asset class over 25 years, versus other asset classes, what would it have done. If we took all self-storage REITs specifically, just kind of as a base, they've outperformed every other asset class in real estate for the last 25 years. Not too far below them were mobile home communities. So as we're processing actual net operating income, which for a long-term hold, you have to be able to focus on NOI. You have to be able to produce a good, strong cash flow income. That's one of the issues we really saw coming out of multifamily, is that with the value-add play, in most cases, it's extremely suppressed income, if any, because you continue to put capital into the deal until you sell. So in a lot of cases, you're not really seeing any true income, and in most cases, you have to sell the property so that you could profit from the money that you were putting in.

Slocomb Reed: Zach, I have to play devil's advocate. Remember, I'm on your side here, but I hear Best Ever listeners in my ear right now saying "Yes, but the IRR, the annualized return that I'm offering, 15%, 18%, is higher than your cash-on-cash returns." That's what attracts the majority of people to these kinds of syndications, is when you sell, the resulting return over the life of the investment is greater than just what cash flow would have done with their money. I know how I want to respond to that, Zach, but how would you want to respond to that?

Zach Morrow: Well, I think for every investor, they've gotta decide where they're at; and everybody's at a different position. Depending on where your capital is at and what you're trying to accomplish, you may like a shorter-term opportunity; it may be better suited for you and your personal needs. I'm not here to say that it's going to be a better opportunity every single time. But what I would say is that when I process the actual numbers, let's say it was a 20% IRR like you mentioned - well, we've got to process what's going to happen with that money, and the risk I assume. Me, personally, I'm very concerned about being able to maintain stability over the long term, and I can do that best and assets I know and control. What I can't do, as somebody who's putting deals together, is guarantee... Well, we can't guarantee anything. But of course, with anything, if I'm just putting money to work in the value-add position, when that money comes back to me, I have a new burdens. I might have given you a 20% IRR, but what else did I give you? A pretty large tax burden. So you're going to have a pretty large tax burden come right out of that initial profit. So one key difference is just going to be the tax advantages of the long-term hold. In a lot of cases with the long-term hold, at most you can eliminate or at least strongly reduce any operational income or tax benefits and in certain cases, take losses that are going to help offset and create additional profits in your overall portfolio. In other cases, it's not just a cash-on-cash return. While there is a cash-on-cash return, if and when you can utilize strategic refinances, which we've been able to successfully do, and believe we can continue to successfully do in the future, you are able to access your appreciation over time.

The main difference with a disposition is that you are accessing appreciation, which then looks like a great return on paper, but then you don't have your asset anymore, so you're assuming additional risks. I believe we can reduce risk significantly, I believe that through the tax advantages we can actually increase the return significantly, and I believe that you can have all the benefits without any of the drawbacks by staying in a long-term hold.

Slocomb Reed: Yeah. Not only have you created a taxable event by selling, but also one of the things that attracted me to real estate in the first place. Zach, I'm really just putting Slocomb words on things that you already said. One of the things that attracted me to real estate early on is the acquisition process and the value-add or the repositioning soon after. That's the majority of the work involved in buy-and-hold real estate, it's all up front. You have the capital or you raise the capital, you're underwriting deals, sifting through as much as you have to define the right one, the great one, getting it bought, turning over the tenant base if necessary, getting rents up to market whatever the asset class, and then eventually, you get to the point where the work is done and all you have to do is maintain momentum, you don't have to build it anymore. To your point...

Zach Morrow: [unintelligible 00:23:00] stays in motion.

Slocomb Reed: Yeah. And to your point, Zach, there should be a liquidity event available to you in the form of a cash-out refi that allows some of your capital in the form of equity to remain deployed as equity in real estate at a solid return. Get your money back to go do it again, but you're still left with an asset where you've already hunted, you've already found it, taken it down, gotten it performing... Nothing is ever completely set it and forget it, but you have it in a much lower maintenance position when it's already been repositioned. Leave some capital deployed, get your return, get your money out, go do the next one, while you still have the previous one cash-flowing for you. Yeah, I'm in there with you, and I see much better growth potential from a personal perspective doing it that way. The question was, after we got sidetracked with our excitement, or at least my excitement, why self-storage and mobile homes are the best asset classes with a long-term hold, and you were citing studies that demonstrated that self-storage and mobile homes over the last 25 years have outperformed every other asset class. Considering this is a long-term hold model, what returns are you targeting?

Zach Morrow: As far as targeted returns, typically we're not advertising future returns. That's just something from an overall basis that our counsel has brought to us. But what I will tell you is some basic targets and typically what we do...

Slocomb Reed: Zach, let me re-ask the question.

Zach Morrow: Okay, perfect.

Slocomb Reed: When you're looking at a deal, what potential return from that asset excites you? What kind of a return are you looking for from a property when you're considering purchasing it?

Zach Morrow: What we're looking for right now in acquisitions is we're looking for properties that are already up and running. We're not doing any development of properties. A lot of our value-add comes from being able to implement new management, and then in certain cases, we are putting money back into the property to create opportunity. But if I was going to give a ballpark, we're more of the conservative side, we're more about sustainability, long-term expectation, and maintaining good assets for a long time. Return of capital, allowing our investors to have no money in the deal while continuing to profit from it. But if we were going to just do a general, we'll say 12 to 15, 15 to 20 ballpark; I'll leave it open that way.

Slocomb Reed: Cash on cash return?

Zach Morrow: We're talking total return.

Slocomb Reed: Total return including...

Zach Morrow: Yeah, if we were going to run IRR [unintelligible 00:25:31.13] But from a basic target, we typically say... Again, our first thing is return of capital, and then second, it's a preferred rate on that capital while it's working in the deal. Initially, when somebody is working with us, the first thing we're going to do is begin returning your capital'; our typical target in there is the first five to six years for a full return of capital, and then from there, over the next 12 to 24 months, a full return of the accumulated pref. Our pref right now is that 8%, and then from there, the investors are able to continue to maintain all of their equity inside that deal for the life of the investment.

Slocomb Reed: You guys decided to make this pivot about two years ago?

Zach Morrow: Correct. We shifted into self-storage and mobile home communities, like I said, about two years ago. At that time, we went out and we were really asking the question of where and how do we need to make this change. What we did is we went out and found great connections, great operators, and put together the partnerships to make this happen.

Slocomb Reed: Where in the country have you guys been buying the last few years?

Zach Morrow: The actual group that we've partnered with, they're across 25 different states right now. Our most recent acquisitions have been in the DC, Maryland, Virginia areas, and then down in Texas.

Slocomb Reed: Okay. Gotcha.

Zach Morrow: Basically, things I like - I like the Sunbelt, from Texas running east out towards Florida, South Carolina, and then we're looking at the East Coast, we've gone up into the DC, Maryland, Virginia area.

Slocomb Reed: Zach, I'm hoping this is a conversation that you and I can continue on a subsequent episode. I've got a couple of things I have to ask before we have to wrap this up though. The first is you're in investor relations; demographically speaking, who is attracted to this investment opportunity for the long-term hold, as opposed to what other people are syndicating?

Zach Morrow: I mentioned it earlier, but everybody's at a different place in their investment cycle. I can tell you that a majority of our investors are high-net-worth individuals. These are people that have grown their net worth and they want to preserve, protect, and see that growth over time. They have that same sort of mindset. If you're in the mindset of asset accumulation and continuing to grow your wealth that way, then this is a great opportunity. If you're in the mindset of "I need to increase the cash on hand," well then running through some shorter-term syndications may be a better opportunity for you; or I would tell you to come look at our crypto funds. [laughs]

Slocomb Reed: Well, that was my next question, Zach. Not to sound as questioning as I sound, but why get into crypto? The crypto assets in your portfolio, what is it that they're doing to complement what you've got going on in real estate?

Zach Morrow: I think the reasons we all love real estate are probably pretty well-known. Obviously, it's a proven track record historically, and it's not going anywhere, it's going to continue to remain a supply and demand issue, it's going to continue to be needed, and we believe in its foundation over the long-term. So as we're continuing to grow and expand our portfolio there, we also have to ask the question of where and how do we want to continue to balance out our portfolio? Even as a company, we're asking the question of where and how do we want to deploy capital. We were asking the question back in 2020 about asset classes. I think that, again, going back to that same deal, when the status quo changes, you have to be willing to change. As we looked at the economic landscape and we really spent time diving deep into a variety of different asset classes, not just asset classes with inside real estate, we believed that the utility and long-term growth curve of cryptocurrency blockchain technology would be one that plays a very large role in society over the next few decades.

At this time, it was one where we wanted to build out the opportunity to allow investors to join us in that. That's what we did; same thing, same process, identify the asset class, create the strategy, and then put together a team of experts to be able to deploy and manage that appropriately. Without getting into a deep dive of how it all works, which we can maybe at another time - but it all came down to the fundamentals that we believe that the long-term use case here and the opportunity was one that we wanted to participate in.

Slocomb Reed: This is still about the long-term hold, it's just not in real estate.

Zach Morrow: Correct. We are not focused on trying to make a quick buck, we're not focused on trying to catch what's trendy. We're trying to participate and put capital to work in areas that we believe will continue to be profitable for many years to come.

Slocomb Reed: Zach, to completely oversimplify everything you just said about crypto, acknowledging that this is an oversimplification analogy that I often use with some of my clients as a real estate agent in Cincinnati, my investor clients... This deal that you're considering right now, it's not going to produce great returns year one. You're buying it to stick it in a time capsule and leave that time capsule in the ground, open it up 10 years from now and see what you have. Obviously, especially with the example of real estate, you shouldn't be developing cash flow. You're not ignoring your property. But when it comes to the value of the asset that you're purchasing now, in a lot of cases, it's about what you're going to have 10 years from now because you held it and took care of it. What I'm hearing you say is that you're investing in crypto for the sake of putting it in a time capsule and sticking it in the ground, and your belief is 10, 20 plus years from now, what you will have will have appreciated in value beyond the capacity of other asset classes to appreciate, is that correct?

Zach Morrow: To say that is the simplification, the management and strategy inside that space does require a bit more than say a self-storage and mobile home community. It's not just a set it and forget it; we do actively manage an index, which means we've got a large portion of our portfolio in long-term holds, but we do have a portion of portfolio that we actually actively manage, and do some trades, and things like that. Because of the nature of this specific asset class, it does require more active management.

But when I process the actual industry, the industry the technology will be something that we believe long-term. Then where and how we allocate inside of that space is one we have to monitor on a regular basis. Now, we do have ones that we believe are great long-terms, but you have to let the data do the talking. We have to stay up to date on that.

Slocomb Reed: Gotcha. It's time for the last segment of our episode. Zach, are you ready for the Best Ever lightning round?

Zach Morrow: I think so, let's do it.

Slocomb Reed: Great. What is the Best Ever book you've recently read?

Zach Morrow: Okay, the best ever book I recently read - and I'm not 100% through with the book, but Ray Dalio, the Changing World Order.

Slocomb Reed: Tell me a little more about it.

Zach Morrow: If you follow Ray, obviously the founder of Bridgewater Capital... Ray has a great book called Big Debt Crises. This really expands really on a more macro-level on how empires rise and fall. Understanding the cycles inside of actual empires. Processing things like the Dutch Empire, the rise and fall of the British Empire, actually looking at how the US and all the trajectory of all the things that go into a rising empire, a strong empire, and what has led to the fall of empires in power. So when he says world order, he's really just talking about the overarching, whoever is the world power at that time, and that's changed over time. Breaking down the cycles within that and the identifiers and then how to use that information withinside your investment outlook.

Slocomb Reed: The book is Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order. I just found it on Audible, by Ray Dalio. Why Nations Succeed and Fail. Thank you, it's on my wish list now. Zach, what's your Best Ever way to give back?

Zach Morrow: Obviously, the first thing, I consider myself a man of faith. Everything as far as giving back, for me is about how do I, one, from a financial position, give back. I've got some ministries that we directly support financially and then we have other ministries that we are directly involved with from a time perspective and actually helping run and operate those ministries. In particular, through the owner and founder of Boron Capital, Blake Templeton, we've got a men's retreat that focuses on men, and then they've got a marriage retreat as well that focuses on marriages. Those are the two areas that we really like to spend time in.

Slocomb Reed: Zach, what is your Best Ever advice?

Zach Morrow: The Best Ever advice... I wasn't prepared for this one, Slocomb. The Best Ever advice, I'd really say something that I've been recently looking into is thought life. Thought life, the conscious versus the subconscious. It's an astounding fact and stat that 95% of your thought life is dictated by your subconscious. On a regular basis, only 5% of your decisions, actions, emotions, beliefs are consciously decided upon throughout your life. If we really want to control our outcome, we want to control where we end up in life, you need to find a way to be renewed inside of your underlying beliefs and principles. So evaluating those principles, being aware of them, becoming aware through those principles, and then finding a way to actually transform within them, because if those are the things that are going to be governing your daily life, you want to become more aware of them, and then it'll actually help you gain more control in everything you're doing. So I would say self-awareness, and making those changes that are necessary to be who you want to be and be how you want to be.

Slocomb Reed: Awesome. Zach, where can our Best Ever listeners get in touch with you?

Zach Morrow: Yeah, the best way to get in touch would just be to text us. We have a text line, I think that's the simplest way. A lot of people want to text now. We have a text line, you just text the word "info" to the number 877-771-0615. Text info to 877-771-0615 and then we'll reply back to you, get connected, and I actually get those messages directly. If somebody wanted to talk or had questions, we'll be happy to visit with them there.

Slocomb Reed: Awesome. Well, Best Ever listeners, thank you for tuning in. If you've gotten value from this episode, please subscribe to our podcast. Please do leave us a five-star review. If you know someone who would gain value from this conversation we've had with Zach Morrow about long-term investing, please share this episode with them. Thank you and have a Best Ever day.

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