Vessi Kapoulian grew up in Bulgaria behind the Iron Curtain, where the only concept of investing she knew involved hard assets like silver and gold. When she arrived in the U.S., she earned her graduate degree and began her corporate career. Then in 2017, she stumbled upon a real estate seminar that changed everything.
Today, Vessi is the founder of DBA Capital Group, LLC, which focuses on operating multifamily investments under both a JV and syndication model. In this episode, she discusses what motivated her to get involved in syndication, her underwriting strategy, and the lessons she learned about persistence, strength, and sticking to her core investment criteria.
Vessi Kapoulian | Real Estate Background
- Founder of DBA Capital Group, LLC, which focuses on operating multifamily investments under both a JV and syndication model.
- GP of 161 units across seven properties, totaling $13M in AUM
- A small portfolio of residential properties including a duplex and two short-term rentals
- Based in: Los Angeles, CA
- Say hi to her at:
- Best Ever Book: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller
- Greatest lesson: Loyalty does not always pay. Shop the deal with multiple lenders, especially in the current environment.
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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 Vessi Kapoulian. Vessi is joining us from Los Angeles, California. She is the founder of DBA Capital Group, which JVs and syndicates multifamily investments. The portfolio includes 161 units GPed across seven properties, totaling 13 million AUM, and a small portfolio of residential properties as well. Vessi, can you start us off with a little bit more about your background and what you're currently focused on?
Vessi Kapoulian: Absolutely. I appreciate the opportunity to be here, Slocomb. I have been a long-time listener and follower of the podcast, and [unintelligible 00:02:55.08] So I'll hit on a few key points and we can dive into any of those further as you see fit. Originally from Bulgaria, and grew up behind the Iron Curtain. And why I bring that up is because for a long time, the concept of investing for me translated to investing in hard assets. At the time there wasn't really a developed stock market in Bulgaria, and for a lot of people, what that meant was buying their own home, maybe a second home, and then investing in silver/gold in the form of jewelry. So it wasn't until I arrived to the US that I discovered the popularity of the stock market. Nevertheless, I followed the traditional path of many, which is to go to school, graduate school and join the corporate organization and climb that corporate ladder.
It wasn't really until 2017 until I started my real estate investing journey. I don't remember exactly how, but I stumbled across a real estate seminar. It was a three-day seminar, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and I took a day off from work and when they're excited to learn. It ended up being one of those where you upsell different stages, so I never really proceeded with signing up for any of those, but I took copious notes and built investment templates, questionnaires that I could start with as I started the real estate journey.
Coincidentally, at that time I also came cross an online webinar, which was really a recording of local meetups here in Southern California... And one of the speakers there was consistently showing up, leading discussions, talking about investing out of state, and I picked up the phone one day and called him, asking the question, "Do you sell properties like that, or do you know someone who does?" And sure enough he did, and before I knew it, I had purchased my first investment property out of state. That was in Memphis, Tennessee.
Fast-forward to 2021, I had since expanded my residential portfolio into Central Florida, and asked myself "How do I scale this further?" And that naturally led me to consider multifamily. I devoured a ton of content, both book-wise and online... And one common theme that a lot of experienced investors shared, or one common piece of advice they had was get a mentor/coach if you want to accelerate your journey along the way. So I looked into a few programs and ultimately chose one that most closely aligned with my goals.
My goal at the time was to close on my first multifamily deal within 12 months of making that mental transition to multifamily, or at the latest within 12 months of starting that coaching program. And I'm very happy to share that I closed on an 11-unit JV in Tampa, in May of this year, and a 145 units syndication in Augusta, Georgia, last month. So as I say, the work is just now beginning, but I'm really excited about the journey and what's next.
Slocomb Reed: Are you still working outside of real estate investing, Vessi?
Vessi Kapoulian: Yes, I'm still working full-time.
Slocomb Reed: Cool. So aside from the fact that you were born and raised in Bulgaria, this is a fairly common story when it comes to how people get into real estate investing, including involving one of those stepladder seminars. The only stepladder seminar I ever attended was a week-long course; a business partner of mine had already paid for it, and that guru allowed you to re-attend with a business partner for free if you'd already attended before and paid full price... So I got to go for free, and I will say, while I was in the course I think I was learning about buying properties on subject-to wraparound mortgages; I actually got a lead that resulted in my partner and me buying a house subject-to with a wraparound. So I have to say I've only had a positive experience with those.
But aside from that, and aside from growing up outside of the United States, this is a fairly common story for how people get into real estate investing and decided to scale. I will say an 11-unit JV and a 140-something unit syndication with regards to your own investing activity, Vessi - those are pretty different deals. So what motivated you to get involved in syndication, as well as continue investing in joint ventures?
Vessi Kapoulian: That's a great question. I started my journey with residential properties, and my goal there was to have long-term buy and holds. And I look to continue that model through joint ventures. Ideally, I would like to buy properties and hold them in the long run. Where syndications come into play is being able to create another income stream that's also related to real estate. And I also enjoy working on teams, so it gives me the opportunity to get to know other operators, partner with others, and find a way to add value to that larger group. But it's really uncovering another real estate-related income stream that also attracted me to pursue the syndication concurrently with JVs.
Slocomb Reed: Vessi, you said you're a long-time listener of the Best Ever podcast... You may have heard me say maybe like once a week now that I'm a buy and hold apartment owner-operator in Cincinnati, Ohio. The buy and hold strategy, especially when you're looking at the long-term hold, or the forever hold, is very much a cash flow and wealth-building strategy that does not involve large amounts of income upfront, but it grows over time, and you're definitely building wealth over time, in ways that our fairly sophisticated audience is already aware.
Syndication is a very different model when it comes to finances, income, wealth building for investors. So you called it another income stream within real estate investing. What is it about that that attracted you to apartments indications? Speaking generally, general partners and apartments indications make almost all of their money with liquidity events and with acquisition fees. So you're underwriting to a fixed hold period, three to seven years, so there's an acquisition fee up front; very little money in the meantime, typically, and then you're looking to make a lot of money on the disposition, three to seven years out. What attracted you to making money that way, when you already had solid income outside of real estate and you were already building a long-term hold portfolio?
Vessi Kapoulian: There are a few things. One is the ability to scale. There is something to be said about being able to work on larger, more complex assets; the opportunity to work hand in hand with other investors, both the active partners on the management team, as well as passive investors. And when it comes to passive investors, I'm really passionate about spreading the word about real estate investing. It's something that I wish I had uncovered earlier as a form of a more steady investment stream, and really an opportunity to do that full-time. Again, I always thought about it as something that you kind of do on the side, versus full-time. So I really want to be able to empower others to start their journey, so that's another aspect that's very attractive to me about syndications. And again, it ultimately starts with the why, and that's the ability to improve the local communities; oftentimes, that involves improving the asset, living conditions, and that's very rewarding to me.
Like you said, the hold times are typically shorter versus the buy and hold forever, but there are aspects that are attractive to me, despite some of the medium-term period that you outlined, whereby you're patiently waiting. And real estate is a long-term game at the end of the day. It's not about quick results or getting rich quick, and I'm okay with that. I'm okay to be patiently waiting, and hopefully, finding a way to help others along the way.
Slocomb Reed: Awesome. That makes a lot of sense. And I get where you're saying that it gets you into real estate investing full-time faster. So when did you close on - I believe it was your first indication?
Vessi Kapoulian: Yes, that was the first indication, and that closed in June, so just a couple of weeks ago.
Slocomb Reed: Gotcha. So tell us a little bit more about it. Where is it? What is it? What's the business plan?
Vessi Kapoulian: Absolutely. It's 145-unit property, really comprised of two assets. It's in Augusta, Georgia. The deal was sourced through one of the partners who lives just an hour or so away from Augusta, and the relationship they have with a local broker, as well as the seller. How I got into the deal was really identifying a way to add value to the team through underwriting, the market analysis, I was also given the opportunity to attract capital...
It's a class B/C+ asset. We are looking to improve the property by improving the interior, as well as taking care of some exterior deferred maintenance. The operational opportunity there is the ability to increase rents, which we believe we can accomplish based on the market data that we have. So we'll increase value, add value to the property and bring great returns for our investors through those two [unintelligible 00:13:01.14] the cap-ex improvements and the operational improvements.
Slocomb Reed: So you closed in June of 2022. I'm guessing that you got it under contract in spring of 2022. I'm curious about the debt that you got on it. There are three numbers here that I want to ask for all at the same time, Vessi - the cap rate based on actual performance prior to your acquisition, what your debt terms looked like, your loan-to-value, and your interest rate primarily, and your term, and then what cap rate you expect to be able to achieve based on your purchase and your pro forma NOI after you do the cap-ex and improve operations.
Vessi Kapoulian: Absolutely. So the debt terms definitely evolved based on the lending environment. We started with one rate and we ended up with another, that was slightly higher. Nevertheless, we still were able to secure a fixed rate for the first five years of the loan [unintelligible 00:14:05.14]
Slocomb Reed: How much did you buy it for?
Vessi Kapoulian: I can't disclose the price for tax reasons, so that's the one variable I cannot disclose, but I can hit on all the other metrics that you mentioned. So a very favorable LTV of 75%, a loan rate of 5.1, fixed for the first five years of the [unintelligible 00:14:29.03] Exit cap rate would be right around --
Slocomb Reed: What's the amortization on that?
Vessi Kapoulian: It's 25 years. It was through a local lender that one of our partners had a relationship with, so that really helped with securing favorable loan terms, coupled with the overall background of the team. Exit cap rate is right around 5.5% and the starting cap rate is right around 4.8 percent. I believe I answered all questions, but if I missed any of the metrics, let me know and we can go over those.
Break: [00:15:10.06] to [00:16:54.29]
Slocomb Reed: So you bought a 4.8 cap with 25% down, 75% loan-to-value, at 5.1, with a five-year term, and a 25-year am. Now, the exit cap rate - there are a couple of different things that people want to hear from when it comes to that term. What I'm asking is based on your purchase price how high will you get the cap rate to go? Not necessarily what cap rate you expect it to sell at. So based on what you paid for it and what you plan to put in it, where will you get the cap rate? Not necessarily the price at which you will sell it, but where will you get the cap rate based on your own purchase and cap-ex?
Vessi Kapoulian: So we're, again, conservatively underwriting... We're effectively increasing the cap rate at roughly 10 basis points or so year over a year. So right around 5.5. Now, if cap rates don't increase further, then we'll obviously gain more, but that's what we're accounting for. Obviously, if they increase more than what we've projected, then we've built in additional cushion by virtue of other levers within the deal, and mostly pertaining to expenses, as well as the projected rent growth. So we've baked in additional cushion parameters, if you will, to help us account for any market fluctuations.
Slocomb Reed: So conservatively underwriting for an increase in the cap rate of 10 basis points, or point 0.1% per year. I have to say, Vessi, I'm asking this question as someone who has not yet syndicated, neither as a GP nor as an LP... I'm just an owner-operator, and I'm more of a BRRRR investor. So based on the numbers that you're showing, your debt has a five-year fixed term, you have a plan to get the cap rate from 4.8 to 5.5, likely over seven years. Does your debt allow you to extend beyond that five-year term?
Vessi Kapoulian: Yes. Actually, just to clarify, it's over five years, so five year is the planned hold period.
Slocomb Reed: Okay, gotcha.
Vessi Kapoulian: The debt is actually a 10-year facility, where the rate is fixed for the first five years, and then it starts floating, should we decide to hold the asset later. We haven't necessarily baked in a refi, although that's also an option should we decide to extend the hold period, but this year, five years is what we're planning on.
Vessi Kapoulian: Gotcha. And asking out of personal curiosity - is there any sort of prepayment penalty with your loan?
Vessi Kapoulian: Yes, there is a traditional prepayment penalty.
Slocomb Reed: What is it?
Vessi Kapoulian: It's the 54321.
Slocomb Reed: Okay, gotcha. Yeah. 54321. To me, a buy and hold investor who does smaller deals in Cincinnati, Ohio, that sounds a little aggressive. But it makes sense. The way that my commercial mortgage broker would say it, when debt was really cheap, there were no prepayment penalties because they wanted them money back as fast as they could get it, because they were hoping they'd be able to lend it at a higher rate. Now that rates are going up, prepayment penalties are going up with them, because banks want to keep that debt at 5.1 much longer than they wanted to keep it at 3.1.
Vessi Kapoulian: Considering where the market is today, that rate is actually quite attractive as well.
Slocomb Reed: Oh, yeah.
Vessi Kapoulian: That's another reason [unintelligible 00:20:22.14]
Slocomb Reed: Yeah. So when did you lock it in?
Vessi Kapoulian: I want to say it was probably right around May. Maybe four weeks before closing. I may be off by a few days in those timing estimates, but we were ultimately able to lock it in when we got the commitment letter signed from the bank.
Slocomb Reed: Gotcha. Now that we're recording in early July 2022 - yeah, it feels like every four, six weeks, every time the Fed meets, there's a bump in interest rates. So that 5.1 is not something that you're going to find now, of course. That makes a lot of sense. So are you making any projections about where you expect cap rates to be in five years?
Vessi Kapoulian: It's very hard to predict. If anyone knew where rates will be, they would probably be doing something different. I will say that now, for any new deals that I'm looking at today - again, this one we looked at a while back, and it was purchased at a very attractive price, that unfortunately no longer exists in the market. So for anything that I'm looking today, I'm adding additional cushion when it comes to cap rates, and there are a couple of ways to approach that. Either add more than the 10% that most people increase it by year over year, or start off with a higher cap rate relative to what the market is, which again, is not necessarily the purchase price cap rate, but add a little bit more cushion to the starting cap rate by adding to the market base, plus that cushion, to account for additional fluctuations.
I think the one maybe safe bet to make is that with the increase in interest rates - and we've already started to see some movement in the market, an adjustment of sellers expectations when it comes to valuations... I think the one safe bet to make is that cap rates will go up again. By how much - it's probably going to be dependent on the market and the asset class. But those are some of the actions that I outlined earlier, that I'm taking to make sure the underwriting is conservative in the current market environment.
Slocomb Reed: Of course. And five years is a long time in the life of the market cycles. We're certainly experiencing volatility right now, but there are no crystal balls that can tell anyone that far into the future what this market looks like, for sure. Awesome.
Well, Vessi, are you ready for the Best ever lightning round?
Vessi Kapoulian: Yes, I am.
Slocomb Reed: Awesome. What is the best ever book you recently read?
Vessi Kapoulian: I like how you qualified it, recently; otherwise it was a very long list of favorite books. But the one that comes to mind is The One Thing by Gary Keller. There are lots of golden nuggets, but it's a great book about life and productivity, and the one common theme throughout it is what is the one thing that you can do today that will make everything else seem unnecessary or easier. And that's really helped me structure my days, my weeks, as I plan ahead. So I highly recommended.
Slocomb Reed: Nice. Yeah, fabulous book. What's your best ever way to give back?
Vessi Kapoulian: A couple of ways. One is I contribute to animal organization ASPCA. So I don't talk about it publicly, but that's one thing I do... As well as helping other real estate investors. One of my core powers is underwriting, so I'm always happy to get on the phone, answer questions and help others underwrite deals or provide a second set of eyes.
Slocomb Reed: Awesome. Vessi, so far in your commercial real estate investing career, what is the biggest mistake you've made and the best ever lesson you learned as a result?
Vessi Kapoulian: There is one deal that comes to mind, and I learned that lesson relatively early on through my residential investing journey, and it was when I was purchasing a duplex. There were many reasons why I liked the asset, but as I started a diligence period, there were also a few red flags that ultimately caused me to walk away from the deal. I did lose my diligence money, which was a couple hundred dollars, which I realized when we talk about multifamily and in the grand scheme of things it's not a lot, but for me it was a lot of money at the time. But there were a few valuable lessons that came across, that I learned along the way.
One is being persistent about being able to see all the units. We were not allowed initially to see one of the two units, and ultimately realized later why. It involved a lot more cap-ex than what was represented to us. And there were inconsistencies in the lease with the tenant, and the arrangements that the landlord had with that particular tenant. So being able to walk all the units, being disciplined about it... And I felt devastated when I "lost" that deal, but at the end of the day it's about cutting your losses, or sunk costs, as I call them. I would have loved to own the asset, but the red flags were just too many for me to proceed. So having the strength and being true to your core investment criteria, and following those through was something I learned early on, and now I think has served me well.
Slocomb Reed: Awesome. Yeah, that's something that a lot of us come across coming up through residential real estate investing, is that we don't do due diligence or we don't learn how to do due diligence to the degree that successful large scale commercial investors do, and we allow those kinds of lapses, buy a four-family after seeing only one of the units, because the other three were hidden from you. It's got to be a really good deal for that to work, so that's awesome. And best ever lesson, of course - do your due diligence, be thorough. Even when I've had properties as large as 70 some odd units under contract, I was walking every single unit, myself with an inspector, during due diligence... So I get where you're coming from. I've made that mistake myself, too. Vessi, what is your best ever advice?
Vessi Kapoulian: I would say to the listeners to dream, believe and achieve. Dream, because it's important to have clarity of goals. Dream big, know your why. Follow your passion. Believe - believing in yourself, overcoming your own limiting beliefs by surrounding yourself with positive, like-minded individuals, mentors, coaches, a supportive community... And achieve because none of it matters if you don't take action. So focus on making that first step, as scary as it seems, but take that first step, and then the other, and the other. Be consistent and persistent, and before you know it, you will be well on your path to making those dreams a reality.
Slocomb Reed: Awesome. And where can people get in touch with you?
Vessi Kapoulian: The best way to get in touch with me is through my website, dbacapitalgroup.com. My contact information is there, more information about our investment approach and criteria, as well as a ton of free content that I've posted there, and will keep adding to.
Slocomb Reed: Awesome. That link is in the show notes. Vessi, thank you. Best Ever listeners, thank you as well for tuning in. If you gained value from this conversation with Vessi, please do subscribe to our show. Leave us a five-star review and share this with a friend that you know we can add value to as well. Thank you, and have a best ever day.
Vessi Kapoulian: Thank you, Slocomb.
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