Kyle Stevie is the co-founder of Sparen Capital, a concierge-style realty service that buys and sells properties through market-driven data analytics and a deep understanding of client needs. In this episode, Kyle takes a deep dive into a deal he spearheaded in 2020 to renovate and stabilize a historic building from 1908. He shares the construction timeline, the unique loan structure, and the one renovation that set the project back nearly a year.
Kyle Stevie | Real Estate Background
- Co-founder of Sparen Capital
- Author of Digital Melting: Making Illiquid Real Estate Assets Liquid Through Tokenization.
- Senior Logistics Account Executive at Total Quality Logistics, one of the largest freight brokerage firms in the nation.
- One multi-use property
- Two commercial properties
- Total value: $7.6M
- Based in: Fort Thomas, KY
- Say hi to him at:
- Greatest Lesson: Don’t underestimate what you’re able to do.
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Ash Patel: Hello, Best Ever listeners. Welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I'm Ash Patel, and I'm with today's guest, Kyle Stevie. Kyle is joining us from Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Kyle is a returning guest on this episode; our last conversation that we had, we started to talk about a building that he was in the process of renovating... And fair disclosure, Best Ever listeners, Kyle's been a good friend of mine for a number of years, and for quite some time we've talked about this building and it seemed like a never-ending project. Kyle is going to share a lot of lessons learned, the evolution of this entire process of getting an absolutely beautiful historic - I'm going to call it a midrise building up and running. He's also the second time guest on the show, so if you google "Joe Fairless and Kyle Stevie", the first episode will pop up. Kyle, thank you for joining us. How are you feeling today?
Kyle Stevie: Feeling good. I have an injury from jujitsu, but other than that I'm good.
Ash Patel: Well, let's dive into this property. Give the Best Ever listeners the background of how you've found this deal, what you were looking for when you've found this deal, and how this whole renovation process went.
Kyle Stevie: Okay, so I guess when you and I started hanging out for the first time, we had started up -- we called it a mastermind, because we thought that's what you're supposed to call all of your real estate meetups... But it was just a big real estate meetup in Covington, Kentucky; like we said last time, right across the river from Cincinnati. And that was the beginning of my cousin Joe and I - and my cousin Ben, Joe's brother - into taking what Joe was doing on his own, and what I was doing, and trying to make it into a bigger deal. Because as I said before, I've been in Joe Fairless' mastermind education class about syndicating apartment buildings, and I thought that that was the route that I was going to go, like hundreds of thousands of other people. It seemed like whenever we went to look at a property, everybody and their sister were going to see it. So we realized that we were not going to beat anybody to anything that was ever listed.
So we had these meetups, and word got out that we were looking for larger properties, a couple of million dollars or larger. And my cousin Joe, he's connected very well with a lot of the young movers and shakers in Covington. And for those who don't know anything about Covington, Kentucky, it is kind of the trendy place to be in Greater Cincinnati right now, in my opinion. The city is very aggressive in bringing businesses in, it's very open, and working with businesses, and getting the financing and funding that they need for their projects, as long as you can show that you're gonna bring X amount of employees to your property, or X amount of residents.
So we had contacts inside of Covington's city government, inside -- it's called the Catalytic Fund. They're a private company, but they work with the city on pretty much every building there. They run deep-dive proformas on properties. They help with raising additional financing if you run into a deal where you underestimated your construction costs, or whatever the you need; they're willing to provide financing. And he also had contacts with general contractors and an architect for [unintelligible 00:04:58.11] architect.
So we were kicking around ideas of what to do, and Tyler was doing the private residence of a pretty big real estate owner in Covington. And that guy was looking to sell one of his buildings to take advantage of the opportunity zone fund for 2019, when you were still getting 15 basis points off of your capital gains... And he was building a huge addition to what's called hotel Covington, which is probably the preeminent hotel in Cincinnati.
He wanted to sell the building to us, and then he was gonna take these games and he was going to roll it all over into this huge addition he'd just completed. So that's how we found it. The architect was working on this private residence and they needed a buyer. So that's basically --
Ash Patel: Describe that building.
Kyle Stevie: The building is six storeys; we're making it seven storeys. The building is right in the heart of Covington. Right on Madison, which is one of the busiest streets that you're going to find in Kentucky in terms of commercial streets. It has banks, restaurants, businesses, all up and down it. It's probably about 13 blocks from the river, past the cathedral, where there are businesses everywhere. A lot of foot traffic. The building itself was built in 1908. It was a bank originally; it still has a bank. And that's one of the cool features of it, is that it has three of these old vaults in the basement. And one of the vaults still has deposits for 1955, which is wild.
So there's a developer here in this area that was very much in the 1970s, 1980s mindset of energy efficiency and architecture and aesthetic look be damned. He was going to maximize the money he can make from his properties. So we had to open up a lot of things -- we actually just gutted it; totally renovated everything. The elevator that was in it was from 1908. So it was not ADA-compliant. We knew we needed to get a new elevator in there, so we had to rip out the elevator, rip out the shaft, cut in a new... Cavern, for lack of a better term, so that we can build a new shaft to house a new elevator. And then we decided that we were going to do a rooftop bar, that eventually turned into a rooftop restaurant. That's in the process of being finished now, hopefully.
Ash Patel: Kyle, when you purchased this property, what was it about this building that drew your attention? What was the street like back then? Was it a hotspot?
Kyle Stevie: Yeah, if you want to go back in time, Newport, which is right across the [unintelligible 00:07:21.15] which is also right across from Cincinnati. Covington and Newport are right across each other from [unintelligible 00:07:28.09] River. Newport was the entertainment place for the mafia. The Cleveland syndicate had properties all over, and you had guys like Tony [unintelligible 00:07:36.07] The Rat Pack and all these guys that would perform at these different bars in Covington. They had speakeasies... If you go there now, you can do the underground mafia tours, and they'll show you all the cool things that was happening. So Newport was the Original Sin City before Las Vegas; that's what it was called. So Covington was the business center. So you had northern Kentucky's business center on one side, you had the entertainment center on the other side. Well, after the mafia got disbanded out of there, both cities kind of went to hell. For whatever reason, Cincinnati did not value riverfront property at all. The Cincinnati side had the two stadiums, they had a bunch of gravel and drywall factories, and scrapyards... It was not a very attractive place. In about 2000 they started realizing that there was a lot of money that they were allowing to just sit in decrepit properties... So Covington and Newport particularly got very aggressive, and buying up the property and bringing in businesses and bringing in retail... So Covington's seen a revitalization in the last, let's say 15 years; it's been pretty epic to watch.
So now you can go there and you can find some of the best food you can find in the area. It's got a pretty decent art scene for the size of Covington. You've been there with me; you feel energy when you walk out on Madison, when you're walking around. And that was on like a Tuesday or something we were out.
Ash Patel: Yeah. So thanks for the history lesson. However, my question was - when you were looking to purchase this building, was that street a hotspot?
Kyle Stevie: Oh, yeah.
Ash Patel: Okay, cool. So you knew that that area was on the verge of booming and already transitioning to a hotspot.
Kyle Stevie: It was booming. Because we got it off market and it was a personal relationship, we got the building for a really good price.
Ash Patel: Got it. Okay. Were you hesitant at all? Because you had not done commercial deals like this really at all before, right?
Kyle Stevie: Not this size, no. Well, I was not hesitant, because I knew that I had to do something to get proof of work out there. I had two smaller properties in Fort Thomas, and they're nice, but you're never going to be able to replace your income with the size of those two buildings. So we really, really needed something to show that we knew how to build something larger. Because eventually --
Ash Patel: This was not an easy lift. To this day, I'd be fairly skeptical in doing that project, but kudos to you for taking this down. So purchase price was what?
Kyle Stevie: 2 million.
Ash Patel: 2 million. Estimated rehab costs at inception were...?
Kyle Stevie: Once we had to take the elevator to the basement, it was 3.2 million. So it's a $5.2 million building.
Ash Patel: Okay, so $3.2 million was your initial projection?
Kyle Stevie: No, that's what it's wound up being. And the initial projection was right around 2.75.
Ash Patel: Okay, so you weren't terribly far off.
Kyle Stevie: No... We kind of gave ourselves a little bit of leeway. We didn't take financing until we needed it, but we knew we had access to it. So once we ran the numbers with a cap rate of right around five and a half for a class A triple net building there, we knew we were going to be right around $8.5 million building once it was fully up and running.
Ash Patel: So you knew the end result could be very profitable.
Kyle Stevie: Yes.
Ash Patel: Financing a $2 million building with only one tenant on one out of seven floors... Was that correct?
Kyle Stevie: We had two, but one left as soon as the renovations started.
Ash Patel: Alright. So a mostly vacant building... How do you get financing on that?
Kyle Stevie: Well, we [unintelligible 00:11:00.00] They operated the full-time through, and they --
Ash Patel: Please tell me that bank did the loan.
Kyle Stevie: They did the loan, yeah.
Ash Patel: Oh, wow. Good.
Kyle Stevie: Yeah, they did the loan. It was really weird how the financing went, because the building had to be closed in 2019. But we couldn't get all what we needed to get for the bank to be happy with what we needed to do for the rehab until 2020. So we had to close two separate loans. And you work with the municipality that wants to work with you, and like I said, the Catalytic Fund worked with the bank, and they worked with [unintelligible 00:11:32.11] who owned the building. And he has a lot of influence, so we were able to break it up into two parts. We didn't have to close all on one closing, if that makes sense.
Ash Patel: Yeah, it does. So Kyle, when you worked with those funds, did you have to prove yourself to them?
Kyle Stevie: We're lucky we had deep pockets behind us. That helps. We had enough investors with us that they felt comfortable with - if we had to sign off, we could handle whatever the expense was until the building was up and running.
Ash Patel: Okay, so you were well capitalized.
Kyle Stevie: Yeah. We put $800,000 down. We put almost half of the value of the building down. And Joe and his friends down in Covington have done a lot of projects with the city. So they are familiar with the fact that they had actually completed projects inside of the constraints of whatever the city was laying on them, depending on whether it's a storage building or whether they had to change zoning, or for whatever -- they knew that they were easy to work with.
Ash Patel: And that's important. So you were well capitalized, and well connected, with a good team in front of you.
Kyle Stevie: Yes. A good team in a good city. I don't think we would have been able to pull this off in Cincinnati. We wouldn't have been able to do this anywhere else. Covington, like I said, is very aggressive, and they saw that this building, as was with the elevator currently in it, they knew that this building was sitting on basically five vacant floors where employment taxes could be captured. So they were willing to, I guess, roll the dice, so to speak; kind of an educated guess with us. But it wasn't like a gamble, I wouldn't say.
Ash Patel: Alright, and refresh me on the two closings. Explain that to me again, please.
Kyle Stevie: We bought the building, we put $800,000 down for the building, and then once we had our proforma and our suppliers rounded up, and we went to them, they were like, "Okay, now we can close on the construction portion of your loan."
Ash Patel: Got it. Okay, so you got the money for construction. How much was that, the full construction budget?
Kyle Stevie: The bank gave us 2 million. That was part of the original, and then Catalytic brought in the rest. So we were at right around 2.9 at that point. And then the city actually gave us two different loans to do the facade, because we were gonna need all new windows. So the facade loan was $175,000 that we have to pay back, but with 0% interest though; it's crazy. And then the other one is forgivable. $200,000 as long as we spent the $175,000 right away for the facade. We covered that pretty easily with the windows. So that part's been forgiven.
Ash Patel: Out of all the money that you had, all of it was loans, except for one forgivable $200,000 grant, but none of it was free money.
Kyle Stevie: 0% interest.
Ash Patel: Right. But none of them were [unintelligible 00:14:18.00]
Kyle Stevie: It was kind of free money, but we have to pay it back, yeah.
Ash Patel: Yeah. Okay. So you didn't get any free money. You got some interest-free money. Okay, cool. So now you should be feeling pretty good, right? You're well capitalized for your rehab. Work starts, you've got a GC, and now the story begins.
Kyle Stevie: Yeah. COVID happened. So Cincinnati made it difficult for people to do construction, because everybody was worried about the pandemic... But we were able to continue doing construction in Kentucky, because they've been still considered essential employees. It was just an issue of getting product to you. The supply chain crunch hit us, just like it hit everybody else, and just delayed and delayed and delayed... And then getting actual subcontractors to jobs at that time was difficult, because they could pretty much pick and choose their jobs at that time.
Ash Patel: What was your mindset at the time? Did you think that this project has a chance of failing?
Kyle Stevie: I don't like to think of failure as an option. I felt like we were going to make it happen no matter what. In the middle of this we got $500,000 -- we got a historic tax credit buyer, and they gave $500,000 that we would have had in reserves if we needed it, but we were going to use it towards paying down the mezzanine debt that we had taken. So we knew that we had that in the background if we needed it, but we had 18 months or whatever on the construction loan for it to start paying. And we were able to push back our payment on the principal of the actual mortgage for six months.
The bank worked with us pretty fairly with taking into account what was going on around the country at the time. I'm sure the last thing they wanted to have was a vacant commercial building on their hands to have to find a buyer and go through this all over again.
Ash Patel: One of which they're a tenant in, especially.
Kyle Stevie: Exactly.
Ash Patel: Okay, good. I like that. At what point did you start putting out feelers for tenants, pre-leasing?
Kyle Stevie: Right away.
Ash Patel: Okay.
Kyle Stevie: The issue is when you don't have an elevator, and you walk through it - everything was down to the studs, into the brick. There was nothing in there. And it's hard for people to visualize what something can be. But Tyler did a great job with his mock-ups. They're beautiful. And I thought that would help a little bit more than it did, but until that elevator was ready to rock, people weren't very receptive. It took some finagling and talking. But as of right now, the top three floors are fully occupied. The third floor, we're in the final stages of a lease. The rooftop bar and restaurant should be open, I would say, by the end of July. And then all we'll have is the second floor that's vacant.
Ash Patel: Was the rooftop bar part of the original plan?
Kyle Stevie: Yes. That was always gonna be part of the plan. The restaurant part was not. So that was an extra cost that we didn't believe we were going to run into. But apparently, the [unintelligible 00:19:00.23] in the roof, at certain spots they were 16 inches too narrow, or 32 inches too wide... So we had to rip the top off the roof, and move some [unintelligible 00:19:09.09] around, because they decided they wanted to do a restaurant. A bar apparently and a restaurant - from what they told me, and I could be wrong - has different weight PSI requirements. So we had to stabilize it for a restaurant.
We also needed to have cold storage for the restaurant, so they decided to take the elevator to the basement, which changed how we were going to do the machine room and everything. And then that meant that we had underpinned the foundation, because the elevator was gonna go all the way to the basement, and the shaft was gonna have to go deeper. But we still stayed within that 3.2, so we were okay there.
Ash Patel: I remember having these conversations with you, and you were focused on having a rooftop bar... And I didn't say this to you, but I'm like, "Focus on getting tenants inside the building. Stop worrying about the roof." Did that come across your mind? Did you ever think "Forget the rooftop. Let's focus on filling inside these four walls that we have."
Kyle Stevie: No, because I felt like that would be the easiest tenant to get, and I felt like the second and third floors were going to be difficult to lease. The square footage for each floor is feasible for any midsize company. Something like 2100 to 4200 square feet, depending on how to buildings cut up where you're at; the service elevator would impact some of the floors in the back... But I felt like people were going to be more interested in going into types of businesses that we were looking at with a rooftop bar restaurant up there, because it was going to drive more foot traffic to the building, if that makes sense.
Ash Patel: Yeah, I agree with you 100%. I commend you for having that vision. But that was just a bold move. But thinking about that, would you recommend people go big on everything they do, or just go mediocre, cash flow, focus on getting money in? What are your thoughts?
Kyle Stevie: I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer for everybody. There's so many variables in it. So we had a great team, we had the money, we wanted to go big, because we want to do other properties around here. If we're not going to be the ones that are renovating a property or buying, we wanted people to approach us about investing in their deals... And we thought we needed a flagship type property to do it. And we weren't getting any traction, because we were competing with all of the California and New York and coastal money when it came to any department community that came online. We weren't getting those offers first. There wasn't like multifamily guys who were coming to us and saying, "Hey, this is gonna go on the market in six months. Are you guys interested?"
I'd say this is like a once in a lifetime opportunity, right? You get a $2 million building, that's undervalued, that you get off market. You have to take full advantage of it. That was our mindset going into it. We weren't going to get another opportunity to do something like this.
Ash Patel: And that's why people like you and I love commercial real estate. We don't have that level of competition. There's not a bunch of coastal players chasing mostly vacant seven-storey historic buildings.
Kyle Stevie: No. They want it when we have the building fully leased with triple net leases, and they can see what the net operating income is. That's when they'll be interested in it.
Ash Patel: Yeah. What types of tenants started occupying this property?
Kyle Stevie: The ones that I thought we would... Because we have a federal courthouse a block over from us. So we have a law firm... I didn't know we would have a data storage company... We have a data storage company; I think the third floor is a logistics company, which is all the rage here in Cincinnati. Cincinnati is a big brokerage hub. So the kind of things you think you would get. I thought we'd probably have a CPA in there at some point, but we didn't; or some sort of financial services provider. But we've still got one floor, so we'll see what happens.
Ash Patel: Kyle, when you gutted each floor, did you start building it back, or did you wait for a tenant to figure out where they wanted offices and walls and bathrooms?
Kyle Stevie: We just [00:22:56.04] So we didn't create any office space, we didn't build Conference rooms or anything like that. We took the existing floor plans in regards to the restrooms, but that's about it.
Ash Patel: And now that you and your team are on the map as great developers, what's the next project for you?
Kyle Stevie: Get this one completely finished, so I don't end up in a divorce... [laughter] [unintelligible 00:23:21.02]
Ash Patel: [laughs] Are you looking for your next project? Or are you going to really wrap this one up first?
Kyle Stevie: We're going to wrap this one up first. We're behind by about a year where we should be, due to multiple things that I don't really want to air out on the podcast... But we need to get this up and running, we need to get our reserves built up, and then from there we can see how we can either leverage this, or how our investors feel about seeking other opportunities. I feel like in the next two years, as a lot of other people's loans mature, and their five years are up and they have to figure out how to make 8% interest rates work for them, I feel like the opportunity's gonna be there to take advantage of that.
Ash Patel: I agree with you. What was the elevator issue, and how much time did that cost you?
Kyle Stevie: Well, the elevator issue was that I gotta do this judiciously.
Ash Patel: And it was from 1908, right?
Kyle Stevie: Yeah. The issue with that was easy. That was just a demo. That wasn't the problem. The problem was the installation. That delayed us probably by about eight months, because they kept having issues with the installation, the elevator kept shutting down... They wouldn't tell us they would come fix it; they kept saying it was this, it was that... But that was the issue with it. We just now got it stabilized to where it's actually functioning the way it's supposed to function.
Ash Patel: And from today, June of '23, how many years or months have you had this project?
Kyle Stevie: We actually closed on the construction loan 1st of May, 2020. So we're over three years.
Ash Patel: And how many windows did you end up replacing?
Kyle Stevie: I don't know. 100 maybe? The whole thing's nothing but windows. It's crazy.
Ash Patel: It's a wild building. Do you mind sharing the address, so our listeners could do a Google Streetview of it?
Kyle Stevie: Yeah, it's 535 Madison Avenue, Covington, Kentucky. If you look on DotLoop, it's easier to see the architect's renderings of it; the three companies that are in, that's exactly what their office space looks like. Most of them went with what Tyler had, and they put their touches to it, but it's pretty much the same idea.
Ash Patel: You said DotLoop... You mean Loopnet.
Kyle Stevie: Sorry, I keep thinking of DotLoop because of my partner, my co-host on my podcast.
Ash Patel: Yeah. And your podcast is...
Kyle Stevie: Side Hustle City. It is not PG-rated.
Ash Patel: [laughs] Kyle, your advice to some of our Best Ever listeners that are looking at doing a heavy lift on an old historic building.
Kyle Stevie: Well, I would say if you don't have the team in place, be a passive investor. That's what I would do. I would not spearhead this. This is what Joe does all day long. So my cousin has been at the building almost the whole time. So that was huge, having boots on the ground. We had a lot of money behind us, that we didn't even tap into what they were capable of giving us; it was kind of like a "Here's this. Let's see how it goes" type deal.
Do not promise returns, I will tell you that. We broke this building down into five shares, and I promised returns on one of the shares, so I've been paying those out of pocket quarterly, which sucks... So don't do that. If you have experience with this, I would say don't underestimate what you're able to do. Don't underestimate your abilities, and don't underestimate your creativity. A lot of people freak out because they see something so big and they think "I can't do this", or "I don't want to do this." Their stomach starts to churn a little bit. Get over it; get past it. They say "Fortune favors the bold."
So I felt like if I'm not going to be able to live the life that I wanted to live, it wasn't going to because I didn't give it a shot. It was just gonna be because it didn't work out. That's always been my mindset.
Ash Patel: Yeah, incredible advice there. In terms of investors, what annualized return do you envision them receiving?
Kyle Stevie: I have no idea at this point. Everybody brought in something different; the shares are valued at $160,000, but some people, like the GC and the architect got a share, and they only brought 10 each, so they offset their portion of work until they got to the $160,000 total. Joe did the same thing with his for being the project manager. Other groups, like my group, brought in 240; another group brought in 225, and another group brought into 25. So those three, we're going to get paid the returns first, and then get down to 160. And then once we get down to 160 and we're stabilized, cash-flowing, we're looking at right around 240k a year. So whatever $45,000 divided by 165 is is what their return would be.
Ash Patel: And then you're planning on exiting this property as soon as it's fully leased. Are you selling it?
Kyle Stevie: No. I think that this is one that we'll hold on to for a while. It's just such a good location. It's one of those properties -- I guess we could, but we would have to have something awesome lined up, so that we're replacing what we would be cash flowing... 45k per share is pretty good per year. And as we pay down -- we're only I'd say about 10 years away from being paid off, because our mezzanine debt's gonna be paid off with that historic tax credit. Then we're looking at cash flowing even more. So I don't see us selling this, at least for 10 years.
Ash Patel: It's certainly a landmark building, it's beautiful... Kyle Stevie, thank you for sharing this story; incredibly courageous move that you made to take down a heavy lift. Thanks for walking us through.
Kyle Stevie: No problem. I would love to be able to have a B- property that we could turn into a B+ property, and renovate apartments while we have tenants paying rent in other apartments... But we didn't have that luxury. Hopefully in the future, perhaps. But right now, we don't have that luxury. So we had to take what we could get, and like I said, this was such a huge opportunity we could not pass it up.
Ash Patel: Yeah. Again, congratulations for having that vision and executing an incredible project.
Kyle Stevie: I appreciate it. Thank you, sir.
Ash Patel: Awesome. Best Ever listeners, thank you for joining us. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a five star review, share this podcast with someone you think can benefit from it. Also, follow, subscribe and have a Best Ever day.
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