December 14, 2006

Do you have what it takes to get into real estate?

  • Former DJC real estate editor enters the fifth year of his planned career change.
    RealSolutions Capital

    In fall 2001, I launched my plan. I would head to night school to tool up for a new career on some dreamy notion that two are spicier and richer than one. All it did was wipe out any vestiges of a real life.

    I hoped to build housing in Seattle. Infill development. Some of it on the few dimes I’d saved in 20 years as a newspaper journalist, including two-plus at the DJC.

    I took nine months of night classes at the University of Washington. A classmate teamed with me to do our first project on the advice of experienced people who said “best way to learn is to just do one.”

    My dull teeth also got a bit more sharpening with two years at a big downtown development firm. For the past 1.5 years I’ve run my own company.

    And I am still standing.

    What would I tell others who want to try to crack into this field?

    • Be patient.

    • Get dental surgery without anesthesia instead.

    • Start with money and family connections.

    • It’s not about buildings and square feet. It’s about relationships with people you trust and with customers, vendors, your tax accountant, regulators, neighborhood leaders, politicians, bankers and others.

    • Be patient.

    • Politics matter.

    • Pick your partners carefully because you’re married to them.

    • All this stuff you hear or read about following your passion — well, it’s right. You’re going to need it. Otherwise turn back now.

    • If you can’t channel some inner entrepreneur, go back to the desk job.

    • We’re not in a housing bubble.

    • What can go wrong will. (Thus see again bullets 3 and 7 above.)

    • Be patient.

    • And lastly, be patient.

    My company is RealSolutions Capital. The business plan was to manage my long-term property investments, broker deals for others to make short- and medium-term cash and form relationships, and do consulting. Further, I wanted to work with people I like, and to follow my values of “build housing here, in the city, not up in the mountains.”

    My real estate license hangs with Greenworks Realty, which has 15 real estate agents and a Greenworks Development arm. It’s led by Ben and Louie Kaufman. Greenworks is the region’s green realty, buying and selling healthy, green, sustainable homes.

    My investments include owning a parking lot/residential development site on the south end of downtown with the previously mentioned UW classmate. Another is a partnership with Ben Kaufman in a smaller residential development site near the commercial center of Ballard.

    A group of us founded the Seattle Great City Initiative, which advocates capturing housing and job growth in the city (not in the mountains) with the smartness that makes the city more exciting, vibrant, livable and prosperous. I chair the group’s Issues Committee.

    I am gratified to serve on the board of the Chinatown International District Business Improvement Area and chair its Public Safety Committee.

    My activities also have me helping friends and others buy and sell houses and condos in Seattle. Clients include a young pastor, his wife and their infant child who will buy their first home.

    We have for sale an office development site next to downtown Bellevue and a six-story condo tower site on the West Seattle shoreline facing downtown Seattle across Elliott Bay.

    We also have more pieces to buy for a gripping Capitol Hill development site assemblage for which were seeking investors.

    We’re also conducting a feasibility study for a client on whether to buy land for a three-unit green residential development on a Snohomish County lake.

    We’re bringing in a second builder to join a first one in each taking down half of a permitted residential development site in Columbia City.

    We put a friend’s start-up tech company in a lease for a nice little office space where I think it will grow into needing more space.

    Never mind all of the deals and so-called opportunities that RealSolutions put time into only to have them not happen.

    If there’s anything else to say, it’s deliver whatever you say you will. Finish each task.

    Speaking of which, there’s a purchase and sale agreement on a neat old commercial building to write up for friends whose company has outgrown its rental space.

    Gotta love it.

    Joe Nabbefeld is principal of RealSolutions Capital in Seattle.

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