If you're an entrepreneur or investor looking to tap into a booming market, then there may be no better option than real estate. According to the National Association of Realtors, new home sales have grown steadily grown from 430,000 to 437,000 between 2013 and 2014. It's forecast that this number will increase to a staggering 720,000 by 2016. Even more intriguing is the fact that housing units in the United States are worth more than the GDP of the European Union combined at $18.1 trillion.
Of course, that wasn't the scenario back in 2010.
The United States was in the midst of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression and a brother of brothers sought to do the unthinkable; launch a real estate investing firm in New York City.
In June 2010, brothers Greg and Graham Jones founded GRJ L.L.C., despite not having any experience in the real estate industry. Graham (a graduate from Bowdoin College) and Gregory (a graduate of Columbia University) saw an opportunity to cash in on the economic atmosphere of the real estate market. However, with both brothers having trouble paying their rent and in debt, they were about to give up on their dreams. But, they gave it one more shot.
The Jones Brothers took all the money that they had and put a deposit on an apartment building located on Manhattan's Upper East Side. With only 90 days to spare, Greg and Graham cold called and went door-to-door in order to find investors for the remaining $3 million. After being rejected by a number of investors throughout the city, they were finally able to secure funding from one group of investors.
With their first taste of success, Greg and Graham went on to purchase a second property located in Manhattan for a hefty $23.5 million. Within two years, the Joneses acquired more than $100 million of real estate in New York City. Today, they own over 500 apartments in Manhattan, Philadelphia, and Englishtown, NJ.
Despite the success of the Jones Brothers, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing. Besides battling the economy, the brothers had to compete with the families who control most of the New York real estate market, such as the Rudins, the Dursts, the LeFraks, the Zeckendorfs, and the Brodskys, as well as building permits. The brothers also had to overcome the cut throat New York City landscape - the city is the top metro area in the country.
How did they overcome these challenges? And, what can entrepreneurs learn from them? I had a chance to site down with these guys and ask them a few questions that have been on my mind over the years and will help you. Here are their answers:
You've dealt with strong resistance at several times over the years, such as with finding an investor willing to work with you or with tenants who were protesting your renovations. How did you deal with the stress associated with those events?
Gregory Jones: I don't believe anyone ever goes into their own business with the notion that life will be less stressful. It's a 24 hour, high pressure job. We've always believed in ourselves and what we are doing and that's helped us through some of the adversity we've encountered. I think resiliency and the ability to stay focused on your goals are two of the more important traits that any entrepreneur can have. If we had let the difficulties we have encountered deter us we would have walked away a long time ago.
Graham Jones: Anyone trying to build a business has obstacles that they need to overcome on a daily basis. We have an exceptionally strong believe in ourselves as businessmen and people. That has helped us largely overcome the obstacles that we have faced. I think it also takes a certain type of person to not only make it but also be successful in the real estate business. You have to be willing to pretty be on the go 24/7. Owning and re-developing the buildings that we buy requires 24/7 dedication to successfully implement and execute the business plan.
When you first decided you would pursue this business, did you have any idea how much resistance you would run into? If so, was this a decision that was difficult to make? Why or why not?
Greg: I don't think we anticipated the level of animosity that can come about with trying to improve a building and a neighborhood.
Graham: We knew there would be resistance and that never once concerned us.
You're both college graduates with Master's degrees. Why did you decide that you would rather risk starting a business and potentially failing than getting a cushy job on Wall Street or anywhere else?
Greg: I never wanted to work for anyone else and neither did my brother. I remember senior year of college when many of my friends were proudly showing offer letters from big Wall Street banks. I remember thinking to myself, "introduce me to Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs and I'll be impressed."
Graham: I never had an interest in working on Wall Street. I always wanted to go out and start my own business because I believed it would be an extremely rewarding experience and one that would allow me to be much more financially successful than working for someone else. Personally, I have always been the most inspired by people who build a business from scratch.
What is your favorite aspect of real estate? In other words, why do you get up and do this every morning?
Greg: I enjoy watching the transformation of a building; the re-positioning of an asset that comes about after we're finished. Our product doesn't get created overnight. It takes a lot of thought, time, money and hard work.
Graham: Re-developing the properties and see the tunraround and improvements in the buildings. It also a lot of fun working with our contractors and architects as we get intimately involved in every detail.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to get into real estate? What about NY real estate specifically?
Greg: Have some money raised. The NYC real estate world is incredibly cut-throat and challenging. Don't expect soft deposits, due diligence periods, or terms that are necessarily favorable to you as a buyer. There is an incredible amount of capital chasing a very small number of deals and the ability to move fast is imperative. If you're scrambling to raise money you're going to find yourself behind the big players who can swoop in at a moment's notice.
Graham: You're going to have to be willing to take your bumps and have a strong stomach especially if you're breaking into the business on your own and with no connections.
Was there ever a point where things seemed hopeless? If yes, how did you overcome that feeling? If no, what did you keep telling yourselves to have the strength to keep going?
Greg: I don't think "hopeless" is a word in our vocabulary. All we have are challenges that we have to find a way to overcome.
Graham: Yes. It took us a year to find out first building to buy. It was tough going back then and we were really starting to question if we were going to be be able to get off the ground. Again, we have always had an unwavering belief in ourselves and we knew that if we could stick it out a little longer that we would find a good building to buy and we did.
Do you always see yourselves as operating in the Northeast, or do you think you'll ever take on a different part of the country?
Greg: We've looked in other areas of the country, Florida specifically. We're trying to figure out the best way to transfer our model to different locations. It's something that needs to be done right and with careful consideration.
Graham: We'll go where the opportunities are.
What is the best experience you've had as a result of running this business? What was the worst experience? What did you take away from each of these?
Greg: For me the best part of GRJ is the fact that we're here; making it when everyone thought we were crazy and had no chance. Everyone told me to get a job and there were some tough days. It was all worth it.
Graham: Working with my brother has been the best experience throughout this entire process.