Transcript for “Impact Based Real Estate Development with Sean McLean | The Real Estate Investing Club #26”
Gabriel Petersen 0:02
All right, we are live. Shawn, how are you doing this morning?
Sean McLean 0:09
well, very well yourself. I’m doing fantastic. Thank you for joining us today. To get us started, why don’t you tell everybody who you are, where you’re from and how you got into real estate in the first place. So Sean McLean, I’m the managing partner at impact collective, we’re based in New York, Long Island and and we are an impact based real estate development firm. We do old school community organizing based land development. So that means we we partner up with municipalities or we go into local communities and control large areas of land and work with the community, the institutions, the equity holders was within that community. The businesses that landowners themselves to spell it to co develop a project that makes sense in character of the community produces the greatest amount of social environmental impact for the area and produces market or above market returns for investors. So it’s a complex spiderweb of, of endeavors. It takes a lot of trust building and time and effort. But there aren’t that many firms out there that still really know land development from the ground up and deal with the infrastructure the schools, the traffic, the sewer treatment plants, and what potable water play and moving moving, regenerative economy economies and ecological ecologies forward and that type of thing. So it’s it’s an exciting place to be at the moment.
Gabriel Petersen 1:44
I love it. Yeah, no, I
Sean McLean 1:45
there’s a huge development has to be, I don’t know a couple thousand homes going up near where I live and just seeing the infrastructure they’re putting in there. It’s it boggles my mind that the planning and the you know, the attention to Tell that that has to go into that size of a project. So I definitely want to get more into that as we go forward further. kind of tell us you know what got you into real estate in the first place, though? How did your story start? So my father is a general contractor and at 12 years old, I was given a shovel. I was put every summer I was put on sewer duty on every every job site to keep me out of construction and development because of the risk and the cyclical nature of it and fell in love with it. So So what was supposed to turn me into a doctor or an attorney, put the love of construction and development from the ground up, you know, in the blood, so went on to Princeton University to study cognitive psychology. And then from there, a master’s in international real estate development from NYU, trying to really understand how people think Grew up in Napa County, New York, which was the birthplace of of the suburban sprawl movement, beloved towns of the world. And I remember early on in junior high school that the downtown that we had next to the train station was dying. The stores were struggling to stay in place, the owners of the hardware store was for third generation. We’re doing all they can through the Chamber of Commerce. I remember the conversations with my father every time we’d go in there, and it was it was something that that we recognized early on, there’s a better way to do development that’s more inclusive. That was not called a sack isolationist based development. It didn’t isolate ages and incomes and, and street sections and gates. And so I think growing up in the middle of where that was most, where it was birthed in the US. I think that that’s lent a lot towards trying to solve that problem later in life, like career.
Gabriel Petersen 4:04
I love it. And so
Sean McLean 4:06
it’s, I’ve never heard it talked about from that perspective, like, you know, original, old school development kind of had segregation in mind, whereas the both economic and socio economic, whatever it may be. And so your firm what you guys are trying to do is bring everybody together kind of make it more homogenous, I suppose, is the word if it’s the wrong word, but more inclusive of everybody in the community. Right, inclusive is is the term we are trying to raise. We are trying to increase the equity of all residents of an area, right, so they should have some sort of ownership even if it’s not stock ownership in the development, they have ownership in the outcomes of the development, what gets produced there and how we how we deal with social mitigation of an area that that has issues that are used Their purposeful disinvestment, which happens significantly throughout the country, or simply the the eroding of the social structure through other economic or social pressures. Everybody needs to know if they’re willing, is invited to participate in that. And so we go out to set to create something that the community really will endorse, and therefore the elected officials will endorse. And, and in that way, we can have open conversations about the economics of what’s possible, and what’s not possible. But you can’t unless you have a trust trusting relationship with that community. They there’s not really a platform to have the commercial economic conversation, because it’s met with with distrust, that makes 100% makes a lot of sense. So So kind of taking it back just to summarize, so you, you know you’re really young. Your dad wanted you to be Come a lawyer become a doctor. He said here, take the shovel go out into the go out into the project and start working and you’re gonna hate it. And then you went out you did it and turns out you loved it. So you know, you grew up you went to school, got a degree in psychology, cognitive psychology and then on to a master’s in international development. And since then you’ve been working on on land development building inclusive communities in the New York or is it national? Do you work across the US or is it mostly in the New York area? Most of the work right now has been in the northeast. So New York metropolitan area, our largest project was the city of New Rochelle redevelopment was around 13 million square feet of entitled of entitlements. And that was interesting. So we will go we write our own zoning codes. We do all of our environmental work in house, except for a few third party consultants where we need them and we create creatine as of right condition for people to invest and build, and not just us, but anyone who wants to come in and compete in the market as the right to go buy other people’s property, the property we don’t control. And we use it through these really flexible form based zoning overlays. So anything within the context of uses of the code can be put anywhere, at any time throughout the, the longevity of the city. Alright, so the zoning, it’s a zoning code. It’s not just a site plan or development. It’s not just our capital, it’s not all their eggs in one developer’s basket, we will have numerous other 23 different developments going on under the same entitlement package that we put in place. And we only controlled about 14 acres out of the hundred or so that really where most of the developer development is taking place. And this this way, it mitigates the risk For the city and for everybody else,
but you’re co investing together. And when the market wants something, everybody is risk mitigated. Now, we are always the we’re always a market leader. We’re a front runner in different products and different markets. And because we deal in place based economics, we are finding highly economical investments, things that are investing are returning well above market returns, because we’re creating the value through the place based economics rather than following macroeconomic trends, which is a lot of the fear you see in the investors eyes right now. Oh, look at the macroeconomic trends where the jobs growing what is the cmbs risks and on rent payments, who’s going to default? Or is it all of these macro economic questions are completely eliminating the ability to invest locally in a small town outside of Rochester, New York and a purpose built single family home rental community? That provides all of the traditional neighborhood design and mixed use in retail and, and and the new social distancing norms and the ability to have cohabitation, the ability to walk, walk to work, work from home, and walk to the Erie Canal trail and 1000 miles worth of worth of jogging, bicycling, trails, canoe trails, etc. So, you know, it’s putting all these different things together in a place that on a macro level, nobody could possibly identify. Gotcha, that is, that is super interesting. I want to I want to go through kind of the process. But before I do that, I mean, you use the term placed base economics versus macro economics. And so I kind of want to, you know, further define what you mean by that. So it sounds like you’re talking about just a local, you’re basically deciding on the place that you’re doing the development based on local economy and and not how it ties in to the to the broader economy. Right. So you have to look at it in the context. have both but when you really, when you’re doing mixed use development that is rental apartment driven or single family home rental driven or even single family home for sale driven. Yeah, you have to understand the dynamics of that place. And so in 2018 my partners and I recognize the trend towards moving away from the urban centers
Unknown Speaker 10:22
Sean McLean 10:24
dense densification within the rural communities that were commutable to major urban centers, right. So 12 to 15 units to the acre, we saw a push towards a single family home and townhome rental, where you had your rental, you had your community, you were maintenance free, but you still have back the backyard and a barbecue and common green areas and community gardens. And you had 20 minutes away as an international airport or you know, or, or 100 and 100 miles away as Manhattan, right. So, you know, those are things we started to look at and then you look at What happens in that economy, and we like to call it it’s probably not a popular term, but we call it a cannibalism cushion. We look at the existing rental stock, the the micro and macro economics of those tenants. And if you see a place that has 97%, occupancy, all of the buildings are 55 years and older. And you have 550 households that rents that make north of $50,000 a year in those apartments all within five miles of a site that connects to a can the Erie Canal, a town park in a State University. Those are really good place based economics, when it would be very, very difficult to discover that from a macroeconomic view. And what COVID has done is COVID has accelerated those trends five to seven years in our eyes. So we started to look at them going Going forward and start to address them. COVID really has accelerated that trend. And the move to those urban centers in rural areas where you have access to farm to table movements, you can participate them in them, but you still have a walkable, mixed use neighborhood that you can you can really enjoy. We think that is really growing rapidly now. So you take that and we crossed all of those, we went back and we looked at the numbers from 2009 and 2010. And added these neighborhoods that fit these kind of ideals of ours fair in the housing downturn. In in the, you know, the great recession. And so we compare the the resiliency of those those markets around the different macro markets that we identified and we started to zero in and then from there. Just recently, we compared all of the job numbers and the job categories to the macro job categories and job losses. across the United States. And so, so in this in the project up in Rochester that we’re doing, we are 30% below the national average in employment in retail and service sectors 30% above in government, healthcare and manufacturing sector So, so the resiliency of the employment market, even with the shutdown, even with dealing with this horrific epidemic, this particular place based economic model is faring well above and beyond any other any other municipality that we’ve run into. So it’s those types of things you only get when you’re on the ground looking at individual place based parameters, if that makes sense. I know that was a mouthful. I’m sorry. No, no, it’s it’s really interesting and kind of rings true to my own experience. I’m out here in Seattle, and there are specific communities you know, Seattle is pretty, there’s not a lot of room to grow, except for up and so there’s there’s towns You know, you’d call them suburban, but towns called like North Bend, which is a town out here that’s experienced a ton of development. And it never I didn’t really make sense to me because it wasn’t, you know, it’s within 30 minutes of Seattle down the down the highway, but it’s not in Seattle. And so I figured I was I was wondering why developers are, are are not focusing on going up in Seattle and instead are going, you know, building out these these mini towns out, you know, far out there. And, and it makes sense it you know, it’s out there by all of the all the outdoor activities, it’s within commuting distance to Seattle, and there’s, I mean, it’s beautiful area anyways, but um, ya know, with the half laptop will travel, you know, you don’t, you don’t have to be anywhere anymore. I mean, that’s a great thing that’s come out of this is the old fashioned employers starting to really not only accept but enjoy ability to stay away from the office? Yep.
that’s interesting. My, my girlfriend works at Amazon and that company has pretty much I mean entirely work from home now and it’s a, it seems like it’s a term that’s going to stick not entirely, but it’s going to, you know, it’s gonna continue to go past COVID. I will tell you that a lot of the managing director and above level partners at the major banks in New York are really enjoying the time at home. You know, the ability to do an IPO without a six month roadshow all over the world and raise the capital to have a successful public offering on a new company from from your living room is it’s an amazing life changing event. for for for men and women in their 50s that are leaving these banks that would like to have that higher quality time at home. Their families. And so you know, we really like that and, and from the suburban point of view and economies that are less robust than Manhattan, we think there’s an opportunity for suburban offices to shrink dramatically to encourage work from home, lower the amount of the cost of commuting, lower the cost of childcare, share those responsibilities with a work from home environment. And we’re setting out to provide that those those rental opportunities to do just that. It really can create wealth within a community, especially a rental community that hasn’t had that much opportunity to create wealth in the past and lower the overhead of the business which makes the business more resilient and therefore the opportunity to continue to work is risk mitigated for the employee. You know, so it’s, it’s all of those things that we are trying to get involved with with our actual residents and have those conversations with them understand who they work for. Where are the unemployment bases, what their commutes are and how they will live in a place that we designed. That’s interesting. So it um, the thing that kind of jumped out to me in that last last little bit that you said you, you were saying that it from, from my perspective, it sounded like you were designing these businesses to not be are not these businesses, you’re designing these these areas, essentially, these land developments, to not include businesses to not include the central office business, or anything like that. So kind of take me through the process of how you guys work, you know, nuts, the bolts, what is it that you look for when you’re looking for these tracts of land? And, and kind of what, you know, how do you get everybody involved in the process? And then, and then on the back end? Do you sell it to other other builders to build on top of it, or do you build it yourself? So we’ll start reverse working In the past, we’ve sold off a lot of the untitled properties based on the investor preferences and in previous investments. Right now we are, we are out for construction to build our first project under this new flag. So we are intending to build these product products now and have a very interested hand in activating the residents and working with them. We are we always do mixed use. Everything we do is mixed use we believe firmly in mixed use. We don’t however, want to dictate the commercial use of the space. So we would allow light industrial, we allow maker space we allow retail or restaurant. And one thing we’re trying to pioneer in, in our single family home development is a flexible tenancy within the space so we’re building Our first phase will have just 5000 square feet of retail, and 177 single family homes, but the 5000 square feet of retail will be set up. So any vendor who wants to come in can be choreographed within the space. And they will only pay us as a percentage of the income they receive on premises.
Unknown Speaker 19:19
Sean McLean 19:20
So they don’t have to worry about Oh, right, how do I make rent next month or nobody showed up to the farmers market? Or, you know, these mushrooms sold and those didn’t, I have to wait two weeks to grow those mushrooms and bring them back to the farmers market. So that I like that model. It’s great. I mean, enforcement will be difficult, but I really like that model. Well, we will require them on site to use our point of sale system that will automatically separate the payments. And this way when when they you know when somebody when somebody pays, we’ll get our cut. Now will there be some link It’s fine, but the main idea is to activate the space for the rest of its of the place and invite the rest of the community in it. We’re not we’re not retiring off 5000 square feet of maker space, you know and farmers markets. The idea is that it doesn’t cost us money to do it. And, and that we can invite you. The yoga teacher comes in on Wednesday evenings, there’s wine tasting on Friday evenings all day Sunday is the indoor outdoor farmers market on, you know, Thursdays in the winter, there’s a, you know, a knit a knitting club, I you know, whatever it is, you know, Kevin, it won’t matter, right? The idea is that the community and the entrepreneurs in that community will decide eventually what is successful in that space. And that, to me is the the most responsible way to do retail now, and the most responsible way to encourage entrepreneurship and creativity within a community.
Unknown Speaker 20:51
So there’s the mixed use aspect of it.
Sean McLean 20:56
Now how we get there is a two parter. process but the community is the key. As I as I mentioned earlier, we, we open up a local office, we go door knocking, we hire community organizers, we have conversation after conversation and what we call process before plan. So rather than as a developer coming in and say, here’s what we want to build, and beating them over the head with it, so they submit or they sue, then we rather have the conversation. What is it you see for this place? What is the character of the place that makes it special, we always find things that we would have missed had we come in with preconceived notions. And you know, and that’s what’s amazing about working with the community. So once you work with the community to understand what it is they value, we can start to work around ideas of a maximal maximum theoretical development within the area that they’ve defined as needing redevelopment themselves up from there, we studied sewers in the water, the sea level rise if we’re near a place where there’s danger of that the potable water access, can we build community solar that will power? The full development? Can? How can we deal with stormwater runoff? What, you know, the all of the different environmental issues, the schools, what is the impact of the schools? What are the projections for the next 10 years without development? What are the next projections for 10 years with development? And then we can pare down the level of development based on what the what the issues are that we can’t mitigate? Right. I mean, at some point, things become untenable, environmentally or socially, whether it’s traffic or its water pollution. So there’s always a level of cost versus economics that becomes untenable. So when we match the market, to the environments, then we come up with the optimal solution. It’s supported by the community because they’re the ones that really suggested it in the first place. I love it. That is a I’ve never heard of that model before. But it’s I mean, it makes all the sense in the world to me. So that is a That’s fantastic. I love it. We call it crowd sourced placemaking crowd sourced place making your first place. And we’re placemaking by crowdsourcing the ideas, and it’s an exciting process to go through. Yeah, especially with what’s going on. Now. A lot of the areas we’re in are heavily disinvested. So some some areas that have been, you know, purposely put into boxes that the very, very low meeting incomes, poor access to quality education, maybe no access to early childhood education. We’re often dealing with heavy recidivism in some pockets and there were It ism is different, right one community.
Unknown Speaker 24:03
It’s a, it’s an institutional level,
Sean McLean 24:08
generational repetitive nature in other areas, it’s human trafficking, that that that produces an opioid prostitution human trafficking ring. So each community has to be dealt with as that place itself. And when you go into those communities, you have to be able to address the specific issues within that community without just cutting and pasting the solutions from other communities, if you will. Yeah, you’re getting the answer from the community, not from your own mind, essentially. That’s right. That’s like it. I like it a lot. I love you know, everything that you’ve said so far, I’d like to delve in more. We are at 30 minutes and we try to keep these between 30 and 35 or 30 and 45. So I’m going to move us on here a little bit. So we’re going to move into kind of the question variances and stories part of the interview and we all know you know real estate is a rollercoaster doesn’t matter what part you’re in, if you’re in development, single family rentals, whatever, you got your ups, you got your downs, both emotionally and financially. So I kind of want to hear your down your, your, your trough. At this point I want to hear what was the hardest thing you’ve gone through in your real estate career so far? And what was the the lesson that you pulled out of that? Well, 2008 2009 was by far the hardest thing that I had ever gone through. I mean, at the end of the day, we are all masochists that are in this business. But you know, we are also all so passionate about it that we try and find ways through it and into going into 2008. We were all doing things that were typical to the market. We were going very long. In land where we were, we were making purchases with a lot of debt. We were getting approvals from municipalities that that resulted in five year lawsuits and battles and once you got your approval you couldn’t change it you couldn’t change the the who could occupy it or the use of it the tenancy for sale rental senior assisted living and it was stuck in time and place and if you if you moved a tea or read dotted and i, you were open for another lawsuit because you’ve destroyed your community, your trust with the community. And so coming out of that I set out to invent a new way to do real estate. And that’s what what I do now came out of that time that was so difficult. We invented a way to do a flexible as of right zoning, where if you do all of it at once, it is as of right forever, and and you only have the conversation You only have the one public hearing you only work with the community once until you’ve satisfied everybody in the in the fact that it can move forward without contest with everybody kind of rejoicing in that process. And if I if the market winds change and office is no longer something somebody wants to build, right, three months ago, everybody wanted to build limited service hotels. In all of my developments anywhere we were planning on putting a limited service hotel, I could now put a hospital or I could put an office building or I could put a multifamily rental building, and I could even put townhomes instead. So so the the flexibility of of zoning, and finding a way to highly regulate the environmental realm through that zoning, including social mitigation, environmental mitigation, non displacement laws, and all of these things that help the character of the community that’s there now to not cause Gentry vacation and major displacement, but just still realize that economic value, all of that came out of the dark, the deep dark hole of 2008 910 where you just couldn’t do anything with anything. And there was no you know that. So that I you know, that is a it was a really interesting thing to see. And it’s proving now to be correct in my assessment that the flexibility that we designed by my team and I into what we do now has weathered the next big downfall and is doing very well, even in these times. So major lesson learned, changed the way real estate has been developed in a very large way because that flexibility really hasn’t existed before.
Allah You said it yourself. So 2008 hit, you were kind of stuck in whatever you were doing. You couldn’t you didn’t have a lot of flex ability. I mean, you hit you got hit financially just like everybody else. And after that you decided to re reinvent reinvent the wheel, the square wheel that was real estate, and and figure out a way to, to make it more flexible, more, more responsive to the the actual location, the community that’s in there. So that is that’s awesome. I love it. So now I want to hear, you know, that’s the down part. Let’s go back to the top. You know, we’re all in real estate for for whatever reason, individually we have those reasons. What is your reason? What’s your why, what gets you out of bed? Why are you selling real estate today? Because Real Estate’s been put in a box. It’s been labeled a commodity by the major financial institutions and financial markets. It is evaluated as a cash flowing commodity. It’s not that there are a few of us that actually create places and can create value in land that the market didn’t already create by default. And so there are very difficult things that need to be done in this country and around the world for that matter. But this country needs to change the way they treat land, the way they treat infrastructure, the way they treat each other. And real estate is it is one of those things that can hold immense wealth that can be shared as equity within communities. And an increase it also holds great social value to bring people together. You know, there are there’s really nothing else like it that has the effect on so many people for so many generations, and can isolate and can cause conflict, it can segregate and it can cause biases. You know, the way this country has developed and the suburban model has caused isolation of communities and irreconcilable economic differences. Where there are places that need to urbanize the people need to move to places where they’re closer together to support each other economically. And once they’re supporting each other economically, they will turn towards investing each other socially and emotionally in a way that does that removes biases, and removes economic disparities. And that is what we generally have set out to do. And, you know, the, the harder the, the harder the concept is to exercise, the the more likely we are to be attracted to it. I love it. You said it, you said it earlier. You’re we’re all max masochists in this business. We’re trying to do the hard things but that’s what makes it good. That’s what makes it worthwhile. So okay, so now we’re gonna go into a little bit you about you personally. So, you know, we all there’s always reasons why we find success in business, looking at yourself, what is the one thing that you do kind of habitually that you believe contributes the most to your success today?
I rely on really good people
to support the ideas that I’m trying to forward without micromanaging them. And, and we, as a team pivot in any direction we need to creatively whenever there’s an obstacle. Nope. You know, I’ve, my partner and I have put together a team where
anything comes up, it’s just another day.
It’s just another conversation. There’s never a block that can’t be overcome. There isn’t a solution that can’t be commercial. And you know, we can we strive to that without ever losing a night’s sleep over it. I mean, it’s it’s just
Unknown Speaker 32:50
Sean McLean 32:51
business to be successful, particularly in development where there’s so many surprises and there’s so many
so many different ways people might be working against you.
We have to remain creative and flexible. And we have to remain open to hearing people and use great empathy to understand where other people are coming from in order to produce a product that’s
right? Yes, at the end of the day, if we know the market economics are there, then we shouldn’t have ego invested in what gets built, it should just be commercial and responsible. And, and therefore, we have the flexibility to do that. And so from my perspective, that’s one of the best assets that my partner I built into our company and our team in order to make a successful, love it so team building and flexibility really kind of got you to where you are today. So if you could go back to yourself, you know that that that version of Shawn who just picked up a shovel, you know, his dad told him go out into the end of the project and start digging a hole. If you can go back to that version of you and give that person one piece of advice going forward, what would it be?
Unknown Speaker 34:11
That’s a tough one.
Unknown Speaker 34:17
I would say, stick to the journey, believe in the journey.
Sean McLean 34:24
Because that I mean, that that’s really what it’s about. That’s what that’s what brings you to where you are today. I mean, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now, which I think is put me in a position to really help change things in this country. If I hadn’t gone through those things along the journey and had the shovel at 12. And, you know, instead of interning on Wall Street during college I’m
you know, cleaning out live sewers.
Gabriel Petersen 34:56
But the all of these things led to to this point And you know I have you know, actually rejoice in that right and and stick to it I like it stick to the journey have faith that you know you’re going in there in the right direction all right Shawn we are at the end of the episode so you know there’s a lot of people that will be watching this and listening to this if they wanted to get in contact with you for one what is it that you like to be reached out for and for to what’s the best way to get in contact with you?
Sean McLean 35:31
My email address which is SMC L EA n at impact collective comm you can reach us at the through the website impact collective that’s m p AC t collective.
And I will generally talk to anybody for any reason who’s interested in in something new and changing something and doing something difficult. I love academic exercises. I love hearing from people who think they’re pushing the world forward. So I’m generally open if I can make time I will I don’t always have time but I appreciate you asking me on I good luck with with this venture. It’s great. And I look forward to seeing other people’s episodes. Perfect. All right, well, yeah, Shawn, I’m sure I can speak. For everybody listening, watching. We really appreciate the wisdom that you shared with us today. For everybody watching and listening. Shawn just shared his email if you want to get in contact with him reach out on email. I will also put his LinkedIn URL in the show notes so check it out there. Otherwise, I hope to see you guys on the next episode.
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