Place in the Industry
Sue Nelson describes her real estate investing as “simple.”
“I buy apartment complexes, basically,” she said. Of course, over the past 12 years the former-art-teacher-turned-commercial-investor has built a portfolio that once included 2,500 units, has taught hundreds of students to do the same, and now maintains a healthy portfolio of 99% occupied units based around her concept of “compassionate communities,” which she credits for her high occupancy rates and long-term tenants. So, as Nelson would say, “Anyone can do it,” but it does take a certain type of vision and drive along the way.
“I did work very, very hard at this,” she admitted, noting that her compassionate community concept is presently what motivates her to continue growing her real estate business. “I do after-school activities with kids, lunch programs, résumé-writing skills for the adults, business skills, community parties, and I get the entire community involved,” she explained. “It creates retention and it creates just fantastic, vibrant communities” in everything from Nelson’s largest complex of 276 units to her “smaller” 50-unit buildings. “A lot of people find good deals, but not a lot of people can create that kind of occupancy or retention,” she noted.
Key to Success in the Industry
“Anyone can do what I do. It sounds big and scary, but it really isn’t because it’s all about finding the deal. You make your money when you buy a potential investment that will flourish over time. You have to be picky about finding the right deal, and then you have to make the investment and actually work on building the community so that you can increase retention and get people to want to stay in that area.
“The secret sauce [to successful community-building in multifamily real estate] is to find community programs that want to be plugged in with you. Local churches. Local universities. Colleges. High schools. Even neighborhood watch and women’s defense or karate. Get the community involved in your community, and you have a compassionate community that people want to join and want to stay with.”
“First, the compassionate communities idea. I love being a socially responsible investor and encouraging other socially responsible investors.
“I’m also proud and excited about creating successful students and clients and having 1,500 units that are 99% occupied.”
“I also am really proud that I actually did it. 12 years ago I didn’t start with any money or any background. I was an art teacher. I had no financial background. I just had to get out there and do it, and I did.”
A Word for Women in Real Estate
“Being a woman is not a negative in this business. It’s a true positive and you should be using it to your advantage. There aren’t a lot of women doing commercial real estate, and there still aren’t as many women out there flipping as there are men. You have a great advantage because women are born negotiators and we’re compassionate, sometimes less threatening. We can make deals happen by putting together those pieces, and that’s what you need to be a good real estate investor.”
What’s Ahead in 2017
“For me, every year is exciting because I know it is going to exceed my expectations. I’ll add properties to my portfolio. I’ll add students who become really successful to my roster. I’ll do a mastermind, which I love doing.
“Here’s the thing: regardless of anyone’s experience or position right now, they should be able to sit back and say ‘Wow, where could I be by next year?’ We all have that opportunity to know good stuff is going to happen instead of just saying ‘I’m going to make stuff happen.’”