October 18, 2022

JF2966: Mixed-Use & Commercial Development ft. Pete Montgomery

Pete Montgomery got his start in real estate 20 years ago working in property management. He soon realized he had a passion for commercial property management and leasing. Today, Pete is the broker of retail development at CMC Properties, where he specializes in mix-use development. CMC Properties has owned and managed thousands of apartments, offices, and retail stores. 

In this episode, Pete discusses why he has his sights set on suburban downtowns, why you should always take the time to introduce yourself to the city manager, when to use a broker to help fill vacancies, and how to qualify those brokers. 

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Pete Montgomery | Real Estate Background

  • Broker of Retail Development at CMC Properties, which has owned and managed thousands of apartments, offices, and retail stores. When they select a site that they are going to build on, Pete prospects potential commercial tenants.
  • Based in: Edgewood, KY
  • Say hi to him at:
  • Greatest Lesson: Do what you say you are going to do. Fail to deliver and the customer will lose trust in you and your company.



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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, Pete Montgomery. Pete is a mentor and a good friend of mine, and he is based in Cincinnati. He is a broker of retail development at CMC Properties, which has owned and managed thousands of apartments, offices and retail stores. Pete's forte is in prospecting and signing commercial tenants. Pete, we're happy to have you. Thanks for joining us, and how are you today?

Pete Montgomery: I'm good today. Thank you for having me, Ash.

Ash Patel: It's our pleasure, man. Hey, Pete, before we get started, can you give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and what you're focused on now?

Pete Montgomery: Sure. So I got into real estate probably 20 years ago, with property management. From there I realized that I really enjoy the commercial side of doing property management, and leasing, and things like that. I got on with CMC Properties about 10 years ago to this day, and my forte is mixed-use development. We specialize in taking sleepy downtowns that are cool, but not really a lot of nightlife, and we revive them by bringing some of the best restaurants to their downtowns, and very high-end apartments. So it's a fun process, and it's a fun thing to do, just to see the retail tenants come in there and grow... It's incredible to see how it all takes place.

Ash Patel: Pete, that sleepy downtown part - how do you identify the next hot spot? And you guys have had some big wins. Is it demographics, is it statistics? Is it data? Is it gut feel? How do you find the next hot spot before anybody else?

Pete Montgomery: Sure. What we typically look for is a downtown that has historic buildings. For instance, Hamilton, Ohio - you talk about a risk or something that we didn't know... Hamilton had a very bad reputation. It just wasn't the best. It was vacant stores everywhere. No cool restaurants to eat, or anything like that.

So it all starts with -- what we look at is the city manager is a big part of it. We interview different cities like that, and they have to have historic downtowns, they have to be near water, or near a bike trail, something that's fun. Fitness... We kind of want it to be a healthy atmosphere; next to a park, things like that.

So Hamilton, Ohio - wwe met with them... Actually, they came after us and said, "Hey, would you set up a meeting so we can talk to you about Hamilton?" We're just like, "I don't know, maybe...?" And we did. And what happened is they had an old hospital site that was right on the river, pretty much, and said, "Would you take a chance?" This was before the Spooky Nook Sports Complex announced they were coming. He said there could be a chance that they come to Hamilton. This was probably six, seven years ago.

So when the president of our company, Jim Cohen, asked me if I could get high-end retail tenants there, restaurants, I looked at him and said, "Are you insane?" But he knew I could do it, and I said "If you take a chance on it, I believe in us, so we will definitely get it done."

So we did take a chance, we got the land from the city, we bought it from them... And what happened is we put a development in of -- it's called the Markham; it is a mixed-use development, about 120 apartments. The important thing about doing so many apartments - if you do about 120 to 130, you can operate the apartments with one manager and one maintenance guy. So that's pretty big. And anytime you open something, the biggest expense is going to be salaries. So that's why we stayed around that number. And then what we did is we had the city to get our first tenant, which was [unintelligible 00:04:11.16] and he is based out of Loveland, Ohio. That's like a four star Italian restaurant. We asked the city to put in the kitchen for [unintelligible 00:04:17.11] And he said, "Well, if I'm going to have the city put in a kitchen, I'm gonna move there." So when that happened, all the puzzle pieces kind of fell into place. He was our first tenant, and people were like "Why is [unintelligible 00:04:27.24] coming to Hamilton?" And then it was kind of a domino effect.

From there, it still was pretty hard to get other tenants. I would talk to brokers, they would laugh at me... And then all of a sudden, Spooky Nook, the biggest sports complex in the United States, third largest in the world, announced they were coming to Hamilton, and everything changed.

When we opened our apartments, they were 100% leased out. We are getting downtown prices that are unheard of in Hamilton, and we have a waiting list. All the retail is full, and they are doing better numbers than they've done in any other place that they have restaurants in. So... Pretty interesting.

Ash Patel: Pete, what comes first - recruiting residential tenants for the apartments, or getting commercial tenants in there first?

Pete Montgomery: The trend that we have seen is that people are going away from the downtown scene. Don't get me wrong, people love living in downtown. But as you get a little bit more established, you have the first kid, second kid, people want to eat, drink, live and play all within the same neighborhood. So we took the trend, and we went out to the suburbs. And what happens is, of course, you've got to have tenants; that's where the moneymaker is, are the apartments. But tenants aren't going to come there unless you offer them something besides a rooftop patio and a pool, or things like that. So what I do is I go out, and every Wednesday, I go on Facebook, I get on Google, and I see what people are talking about what's the hotspots, and we do a dinner, myself and a friend, or myself -- you've actually come with me a couple of times... And we just try to prospect from there. From there, I get a relationship with the owners, I bring them out to the site, and then we just stay in contact, and then I convince them... I don't know how sometimes I do it, but we convince them to come out there and take a chance, and it's usually a home run. So that's pretty much what we do.

Ash Patel: Pete, how can beginner investors, or maybe somebody that's in the multifamily arena, or starting out in commercial - how can they ride your coattails? How can they get in on the sleepy towns before they hit?

Pete Montgomery: So the biggest thing is you need to approach people; don't be afraid to send an email, make a call, go on some of these towns that you think -- the person that's going to know it best is the person that's from that town. If you have a town that is just in dire need of something, but you're seeing a change, or maybe there's one that's got a great river view, or just could be very, very nice, or is up and coming, sometimes you take a chance and then you make them up and coming, like we did in Hamilton... But the biggest thing is to look at people's city plans; a lot of them are online, you can kind of see jobs that are coming there, you kind of see what they have set for the future... But a good city manager is by far the best way to start, and then look for a town that you kind of know, and you could say "God, I wish we had a restaurant here, instead of driving five miles out of our city and spending money here", and see if that's something that would be an interest to you. So the biggest thing is we pick sites, and everything we touch is pretty much turned... So it's just about the person that's from that city, and just kind of exploring.

Ash Patel: I love that outlook. So not only look at all the data in the city, but get a feel for the vibe of the city from the residents and all the people that are there. In terms of meeting with the city manager - and I've learned this from you - would you recommend that investors, whether they own one building, maybe they're prospecting one commercial building... Are they able to get a meeting with city managers?

Pete Montgomery: Here's what you'd be surprised about... The biggest thing is, is city managers love to be in the spotlight. So if I'm an investor and I just bought a cool building, say in Milford, and it's got a downstairs or an upstairs that could be a great restaurant, what I would do is reach out to the city manager and the mayor, and I would 1) introduce myself. There's so many people out there that just buy a building, they don't know anybody in the city, they put a restaurant in, and they have no ties, they don't know anybody... And what happens is, you know, if it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. But if you go in and actually sit down with the city manager and the mayor and say, "Hey, what would your city like to see here? What would you guys like to see here?" and then you guys make a friendship and a partnership almost, then you can also ask the city "Do you have any incentives for a new tenant coming in? Are there any tax abatements? Are there any type of grants that we can give to help get a better tenant here?" That stuff is huge.

Kitchens, if you don't know, if you don't have a kitchen in your space, they're $450,000, $500,000. Not many restaurant people [unintelligible 00:08:46.19] it's hard for them to pay for a build out like that. So the city can help with 50k, 60k, 100k. You'd be surprised, but they would welcome that. And a lot of people may be shy to do that, but I highly suggest you do that; make a relationship, ask them what they need, and then it's gonna do wonders for you in the future.

Ash Patel: Yeah, and it's on my due diligence list anywhere we go. If it's local, we try to attend a city council meeting, but we always try to reach out to council members, city manager, mayor.. And it's so important. It's amazing. Even a little facade grant, a matching grant... I mean, that can be $10,000, $20,000, for people that otherwise would have spent the money out of pocket. Do you also go to city council meetings?

Pete Montgomery: We go to city council meetings sometimes. The biggest times we go there is when we have got a development deal. And then we have to go to the city council meetings, because you'd be surprised - for instance, in Mason, Ohio, we were approved by the city to do a mixed-use development in their downtown. The problem was everybody loved our product, everybody loved what we did. We asked the tenants "What do you guys want to see here?" We didn't just say "We're gonna put this here, that there." We asked them "How tall buildings are you okay with?" A lot of times people get freaked out if you're gonna put a five-storey apartment building, things like that... So we really had community kind of councils, and we would buy pizza, and stuff like that, and just get their input.

So we got approved by the city council to do this build, and then all of a sudden the town of Mason came together and they wanted it on a ballot for a vote, and they voted against it; not because of us, but because of the traffic situation into downtown currently. And they said it's already crazy, crazy to get cars in and out; how are we going to do this with another 200 people dropped into our downtown?

So you've just got to really be involved in the city council meetings at that point. But sometimes we try to stay away from them; the political stuff, we try to stay out.

Ash Patel: Interesting. So you've got to win the hearts and minds of the residents as well. That's important.

Pete Montgomery: That's very important. I remember somebody asked me one time - it was some commercial property, and he said, "What do you think about this tenant coming in?" I said, "I'll be honest with you..." And I won't mention the tenant, or whatever, but it was a [unintelligible 00:10:52.18] that I just thought it was horrible for what was in that city... And I go, "I would hold off. You're making money, you're doing fine. If you put a tenant like that in, it's going to make the strip mall, go down, down, down." So they listened to me, and almost six months later, they landed a [unintelligible 00:11:07.24] place there. So my suggestion would be don't take the first person that's approved; pick and choose your tenants that'll be an asset to the city and the community.

Ash Patel: Yeah. So Pete, right now everybody thinks there's a retail apocalypse. A lot of investors are afraid to get into commercial real estate. What are your thoughts on that?

Pete Montgomery: I'd say -- I haven't seen it slow down at all. As a matter of fact, when I'm done with this meeting, I'm meeting in the city of Monroe, Ohio, to talk to them about new development. We lease stuff, no problem. We're doing high-end pizza places, we're doing taco places, you name it. And the places that could go anywhere in the country are coming to our developments. I haven't seen it slow down at all.

Now, retail has definitely slowed down. Everybody knows that. But if you go out and recruit these people and talk to them and let them know, "Hey, this is going to be the new spot", and just convince them, people come, and we haven't had an issue with that at all.

Ash Patel: And Pete, suburban downtowns versus city center downtowns. So like a downtown Cincinnati, versus one of those suburbs.. What's going on right now? Where's all the action at?

Pete Montgomery: Sure. The action is -- downtown, for instance, Cincinnati. One reason we don't develop in downtown Cincinnati - and then I'll get to the action... It's very hard to get things approved, it's very hard to get inspectors... It'll take typically six months to get you open; in downtowns they take almost double that. So we try to stay away from that. But the trends that we're seeing are everybody is going to suburbia and mixed-use living.

Right now, the apartment market is insane. People that are coming up, the younger generation, they don't buy right away. They like to live in certain areas to see what they like. Our apartments are 100% full. We have a development in Lebanon, Ohio; we haven't even fully opened and we've rented every single unit except for two, and two buildings are just now opening.

So the suburbian life is where people want to be. They want to be able to have that downtown feel, have a drink, eat, and be home in 30 seconds. So that's the big thing. Downtowns are still great, but a lot of people are going to suburban living.

Ash Patel: Yeah. And I think that's a post COVID world, where we got used to not driving 30 minutes to an hour to go downtown. It's just "Let's go to our local suburban downtown." And like you said, all the bars and restaurants, all the actions popped up in those suburban downtowns.

Pete Montgomery: It's kind of neat when you go to a restaurant and they know who you are, or you see your neighbor, or maybe you see the mayor sitting there, versus going to a place downtown where you know nobody and you're just another person and you're just another person that's gonna be paying the check. So it's kind of a neat experience... Plus, who doesn't want to have a beer and be home in two seconds, you know what I mean?

Ash Patel: Yeah, that's a great point. And Pete, for somebody that's trying to fill vacancies...

Break: [00:13:47.02] to [00:15:43.00]

Ash Patel: ...what's the best way to go at it? Do they do it themselves? Do they enlist the help of a broker? And at what point does it make sense to only go with a broker? If it's a 1,500 square foot space, is it really worth the broker's time?

Pete Montgomery: I will never take money away from a broker, but I would say be very careful with who you get. Make sure you know the broker, makes sure that they're personal with the people... And you've gotta really like somebody. Just like when you go to get a real estate broker for your house. A lot of times we try not to use brokers, because one, we're the developers and we have to pay them a big commission. So if we don't use a broker, then we can put that more towards the tenants build out. So it's a benefit for us.

But if you only have one space, and your best bet is -- honestly, I do Facebook a lot, social media, I'll do TikTok videos - well, my daughter will for me - but all that stuff works, and what happens is somebody's gonna see it, of course, you use the signs, and you're gonna get calls. I just would say, don't take the first person that calls; make sure that you kind of wait it out and see what kind of tenant you can get in there.

Now, a broker is great to have if you've got a huge development and you're just busy as can be and you don't have time. There are fantastic brokers out there. But I would definitely interview three to four, and find somebody that clicks with you.

Ash Patel: And how do you qualify them? What interview questions do you ask? Because I would imagine they're all going to say that they've got great contacts, they have all these people in their pocket... How do you really siphon through them?

Pete Montgomery: What I would do is I would ask for some people they represent, and if it's somebody that's not a chain restaurant, I would go to that restaurant and go on like a Tuesday or Wednesday when it's not crazy busy, and then ask to speak to the owner, and try to catch them and say, "Hey, I just wanted to let you know, I'm thinking about hiring mister Whatever. What do you think about them?" And that will tell you a lot.

Also, if a guy has 90,000 signs out all over the city, that doesn't mean he's the best realtor; that just means he's busy. And that means that your bigger spots are going to get more attention than your 1,400 Square spots. So that guy that's as popular as can be, that you see all over - it doesn't mean he's the best; he might have a lot on his plate, so he's not going to pay attention to your 1,200 square foot T-Mobile guy that wants to see it.

So I would say be careful with using the big shots, and just really try to fill the guy out. I mean, take them to dinner if you have to. You've gotta remember, these guys are going to be the ones representing you. So if they do something that offends somebody, you could lose a very nice tenant because that person didn't like the broker that you hired.

Ash Patel: Man, that's great advice. I always thought the big rockstars are the ones that have the giant signs all over the city. But that's a great point.

Pete Montgomery: The giant rockstars are the guys that bring in the big deals. But what you'll realize too, is they also get a little -- I don't want to stereotype, this is typical to every broker, because there are some that are rockstars, that are insanely awesome. But what I've found is that -- I've had a friend of mine make a call for us, for a place, and the guy just kept blowing him off and blowing them off because I don't think it was worth his time. To me, that's not the person I'd want representing in my store, or myself.

Ash Patel: What mistakes do you see a lot of people making with commercial investments?

Pete Montgomery: I think what a lot of people have to understand is, if you're going to do an investment, one, make sure that you're doing it in a place that people are going to come to. Check the city plans, make sure there's jobs coming, make sure there's people there to support what you're going to buy. If you can get a great deal, then that's another story. But you definitely want to look into the city itself. Talk to the chief of police, talk to the fire department, just to see what the feel is, what the vibe is. And if you're going to make an investment, especially in a downtown or something, I would set up a meeting and ask them what their feel is.

You don't want to go and buy something that's been an eyesore, or that people have a bad reputation, like this is a bad spot... Because then it's going to be a hassle and just not the best investment. But if you get involved in and see what everybody's doing, and what they like - that's kind of what I would do before I buy something.

Ash Patel: Yeah. Pete, I've got to ask you... In terms of inflation, with apartments, they're all one-year leases, and you can raise rents to market every year. With commercial, when you get tied into a 10-year lease with renewals, historically, that was a great thing; that property's worth more, than lease is worth more. But it seems like today, you don't want a lot of renewals, and the 3% annual increases are nothing compared to the 10%, 12% that some apartment owners are getting. What would you recommend people do with commercial leases today, in terms of yearly increases and renewal?

Pete Montgomery: What I would do is we typically do a five-year lease to start off with. The 10-year - it's hard to tell what's going to happen. Our project in Lebanon doubled over the three years. So we signed a tenant at 1,850 a square foot, and now we're going to be losing money on that retail spot. The good thing is the apartments make up for that, but now we have one space left, and that's going to 29 bucks a square foot. So within two years, you can see the difference.

So you got to be kind of careful... There is a thing called CPI, an increase... And what that does is it kind of takes the market at that time, and that's what the increase is... It's kind of like an average of the market, inflation, things like that. And we would put that into a lot of our options. But if you're going to do a five-year lease, I suggest doing something -- depending on if you're going to give the tenant money or not, doing something that, one, is going to help the tenant out [unintelligible 00:20:53.05] but then doing gradual increases. When I say gradual, say if you start at $20/square foot year one, I would go up to $22, $23, make it worthwhile, get your TI money back, which is tenant improvement money, and then on your increases do CPI, or do a 10% increase per year.

Ash Patel: Here's the magic question... How much tenant improvement allowance do you give a tenant?

Pete Montgomery: Well, that is a good question. We typically deliver our spaces in white box. We never do the air conditioning units, we make them do all the ductwork, the air conditioning units... We even have it to where if you have your plumbing and everything ready to be installed at the time that we're pouring our slab, we'll pour your slab for free. If you don't, that's going to be on you, and we just leave the slab not poured.

So the TI money - you've got to look at their financials; we make everybody fill out an application that tells us what their assets are; we've just got to make sure that they have the money to pay for the TI, pay for the buildout. And I guess what I would say is, typically, depending on the tenant, 50k to 100k, we've gone as high as 300k... But those are also pretty high qualified financial tenants.

If it's some guy that's coming in and wants to open up a small dance studio or something, you've got to understand what TI is. TI doesn't cover your flooring, doesn't cover your signage... A lot of these people think that they can get this money and use it for whatever; it's for improvements to the space. I always try to shoot for the lowest, but you don't want to lose the tenant either. So it just depends. If you've got [unintelligible 00:22:21.03] that wants to rent your space, I'm gonna give them whatever they want, because they're going to stay and they're going to be a good tenant.

Ash Patel: Yeah. And Pete, you've got 20 years of experience in real estate... What's one thing you wished you did differently?

Pete Montgomery: I'll tell you what I wish I'd done earlier in life... Is being more genuine to clients; followed up with clients... I started doing that about 10 years ago, and those clients that I put into our developments -- and what I do is I check in on them. Most brokers, once they lease to you, they never hear from them again. What I do is I try to support them, I try to go out to their restaurants, bring people... And then I always want to be doing new development. As soon as we sign the paperwork with the city, I called every one of my former or current tenants and ask them if they'd be interested in this new development site, give them first choice. One, we already know their track record; two, they get to know about stuff before anybody else does. And if I could go back, I would have done that from day one. Build relationships with your clients.

Ash Patel: Yeah, that's incredible. Pete, I try to convince a lot of multifamily, a lot of residential people to invest in commercial, whether it's retail, warehouse, industrial medical... What's your advice to those people that are in their lane of residential, and think commercial's too difficult, too expensive?

Pete Montgomery: Well, I manage 300 office spaces; it's called the perfect small office. What we did is we kind of have the niche on office space. I have a waiting list for offices. We have been leased out 100% for the last three years, and we have 27 warehouses across the street that I manage also. I have a waiting list for those.

I would say if you find an office building, and you find warehouse space, buy, buy, buy, because there's nothing out there. A lot of people don't understand the whole commercial thing... What you have to understand is when I sign a lease, I'm only responsible for the outside of the building minus the air conditioning. The tenant that signs on a warehouse lease, they're responsible for everything on the inside, plus their A/C units. So it's actually less money than you would think, because the tenants are responsible for a lot of the stuff. It's less risk. People are always going to need space, they're always going to need an office... We do small offices, so it's a little bit different from your downtown corporation stuff... And I've haven't seen it slow down in probably five years.

Ash Patel: Pete if you lost all of your wealth, and I picked you up and put you in some random city in the US, how would you get back on your feet?

Pete Montgomery: The first thing I would do is I'd try to get back into real estate somehow. Real estate seems to be the only thing that you never lose money in, and it's always in need. So to get back on my feet I would find probably the most successful person in the town, somebody that kind of came from a background and maybe they started with nothing and made their way, and I would try to introduce myself to them, and say, "Give me a chance, and I guarantee you're going to keep me." That's what I do, I try to surround myself with people that - not so much wealthy, but people that are just good people, and have done a lot of good things... And that's how I'd try to get back on my feet.

Ash Patel: Awesome. Yeah. Pete, are you ready for the best ever lightning round?

Pete Montgomery: I am ready.

Ash Patel: Alright, Pete, what's the best ever book you've recently read?

Pete Montgomery: The best ever book I've recently read - I can't lie, it was Mike Tyson's autobiography, and it was great. But I did listen to it on Bluetooth, and I didn't read it. So just to give you a heads up.

Ash Patel: Did you watch his stand up that he did, that Spike Lee directed?

Pete Montgomery: I did not, but I heard it's --

Ash Patel: Oh, it's incredible. Yeah. He did it out in Vegas. Hard to find now, but yeah, that was incredible. Pete, what's the best ever way you like to give back?

Pete Montgomery: What I like to do is I like to take new brokers that are younger guys, coming up, I like to take them under my wing. I have a good friend [unintelligible 00:25:54.06] test to become a broker. And I like to show them what the do's and do-nots are. Let them know about ethics, and just how to treat people, and let them see another side of - instead of just selling houses. To me, commercial is sexy, it's exciting, it's just more of a fun thing to do, and I like to take younger kids like that, that are up and coming, and just kind of show them around and help them to grow their career.

Ash Patel: Yeah. And Pete, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?

Pete Montgomery: I would say the best real estate investing advice would be if somebody has something for sale that is close to a highway, near stuff, I guess I would say buy, buy, buy. If somebody has a house that -- his mom's house, and she says "We will get rid of those for 25 grand. It needs a lot of work", buy, because all that stuff is going to be fixable, and you're going to make a ton of money. So anytime you see a deal out there, try to snatch it up. Do your research, but that's what I would do.

Ash Patel: Pete, how can the best ever listeners reach out to you?

Pete Montgomery: They can find us on CMC Properties website, the Perfect Small Office Springdale. If they google CMC Properties, you'll find numerous articles that we've had on us for our developments.

Ash Patel: Pete, I've got to thank you, man. In a short time, you gave us a wealth of knowledge. How to find great properties, how to qualify brokers and tenants, how to interact with people in the community, people at the city and how important that is... So thank you for taking time out of your day and sharing all of that with us today.

Pete Montgomery: Ash, it was a pleasure, and as always, you owe me a drink. [laughter]

Ash Patel: I can't wait for that. Best Ever listeners, thank you so much for joining us. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a five star review, share the podcast with some that you think can benefit from it. Also, follow, subscribe and have a best ever day.

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