BelPointe REIT Leader: “I’ve Always Had to Work Harder than Everyone Else”

Brandon Lacoff

The Opportunity Zone Expo Podcast
BelPointe REIT Leader: “I’ve Always Had to Work Harder than Everyone Else”


Jack: Welcome back everyone to the OZExpo Podcast. I'm your host, Jack Heald, and joining me today is Brandon Lacoff? Lacoff who is the founder and CEO of the BelPointe REIT. Have I got that right?

Brandon: That's correct.

Jack: Alright. Welcome Brandon. It's good to have you on the show.

Brandon: Thanks for having me.

Jack: So, we always liked to find out about who we're talking to. First thing I always ask is who are you and where you come from? So, tell us about yourself. Who is Brandon Lacoff? Where'd you come from? How'd you end up running this REIT?

Brandon: Like everybody else, I went to college and, and I wanted to get a JD I went to Hofstra University for my JD MBA . And knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I wanted to, you know, my family always felt that you should always get a real job first before yo, be become an entrepreneur. And I got a job at Ernst and Young -- first Arthur Andersen and then became Ernst and Young when Arthur Andersen went under.

Jack: You know, I was going to ask, were you there during the big WorldCom and Enron stuff?

Brandon: I was.

Jack: Was that a nightmare?

Brandon: It was actually interesting because I was only there for seven months. And then…

Jack: Was this your first gig, right of school?

Brandon: First real job.

Jack: Oh my lord.

Brandon: My first real job and seven months later, you know, the first couple of months they said everything's going to be fine.

Jack: And then probably thought, “Oh, I'm getting on in Arthur Andersen. It's going to be amazing.” Oh, wow.

Brandon: And then the partners actually came up to us and said, give us your resume. I mean, they knew before the market knew. They said, “We're going on there and give us your resume.” And I was lucky enough to, a couple partners who are going to Ernst and Young, the same group that we were in, but a couple departments went to Ernst and Young, some went to PWC and some other firms. I was lucky to be able to tag along with those partners and, and continue my career at Ernst and Young. So very grateful for Arthur Andersen and also very grateful to Ernst and Young.”

Jack: What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.

Brandon: It sure does. It was interesting, but it's back to your boss to say, “Hey, bring your resume in because you need to start looking.” It was interesting time, but I got my JD MBA, ended up at Ernst and Young in the M&A Tax group and in the consulting side. And then from there, I always had some real estate I was investing in 2001.
Even when I was working on shooting young and wanted to continue to grow that and we were able to buy a portfolio of apartments in Manhattan. They were sponsor units, so there were empty sponsor units that we were able to renovate them and we bought a big portfolio. And that in 2004 was my steppingstone to really step out.

I was just turning 30 years old and I wanted to go on my own and start my entrepreneurial career. And you know, our company is more of a family office. So, I took the one business and made it into multiple businesses and more of a private equity shop and we're invested in all different kinds of businesses, not just real estate and the REIT but in all different kinds of businesses that you would never think we'd be investing in.

Jack: Well, let's talk about the REIT though, because you're the first REIT guy I've had on the show. And before the show started you made a couple of comments about being  the only publicly-traded REIT in the Opportunity Zone space. So, tell us a little bit about not just about BelPointe in particular, but about BelPointe and the Opportunity Zone. What's unique about you guys?

Brandon: So Belpointe is a company with 13 different lines of businesses. Our focus, our biggest line of businesses, is we have a legal consulting practice. We have a wealth management group and the real estate group we've been doing really since 2001, but in 2010, we through mutual friends brought in a person named Paxton Kinol¸ who is an ex AvalonBay executive. He's unique because he was on the development of the construction side and the development side.

Typically, it doesn't happen in a company like Avalon. Once you're in construction, everybody wants to be in development but you're kind of stuck. So, he was able to morph into the development side. We brought him in in 2010 really cause we were coming out of the recession and we saw an opportunity to get into the multifamily side and you can either try it yourself and make a lot of mistakes, or you can bring people who are smarter and better than yourself.

We were lucky enough to have Paxton and then with Pax there were other Avalon people, for example Lori Worth, head of our development. Fantastic. She's a superstar. And, we were able to bring this Avalon team together, so that really kickstarted our multifamily division.

And in that morphed obviously into the Belpointe REIT which is something that we were actually thinking about and designing. In 2017 there was a rule that came out of it….

Jack: Prior to the act?

Brandon: Correct. So, what happened was in 2016, there was a rule that was called FINRA 1502, that it was a disclosure rule and it really changed and really decimated the, nontraded REIT industry.

Jack:  I think I remember that. Yeah.

Brandon: And really what that rule, I mean there's a bunch of things in that role for disclosure, but the most important thing that really changed everything was brokers can charge commissions, but now they have to disclose it on the stock price of it. When advisors give a statement to their clients, that statement now has be net of the fees, which the fees were up to like 15%.

Jack: Yeah.

Brandon: So, the brokers said, I can't sell this anymore because my clients are actually going to realize what the load is. And what happened was, the government said, “Well, if you can't disclose it, then you shouldn't be selling it.” And that really took the industry down. If you take Blackstone out who came in 2000, late 2016, early 2017, take them out of the equation. You know, mathematically the REIT industry, new capital coming into nontraded REITs, it was down over 90%.

Jack: Wow.

Brandon: Because of this rule.

Jack: Sure.

Brandon: So, we looked at this, because we had the wealth management group and we have all these other relationships in that space, we said, “How do we design something that's completely different, that changes the industry?” Very similar to what Uber did to the taxi business.

We want to do that to the real estate business. And, so we started working on our design in 2017 and then in January of 2018 we see this new tax, the Job Act Tax Cut.

Jack: I continually call it the Job Cut and Tax Act.

Brandon: I know. We saw more than one nugget in there and one of the nuggets was this Opportunity Zone. And then there's also another nugget called 199A, which we'll talk about later. So we said if we married the 199A plus Opportunity Zone plus the unique REIT idea that we were working on, we have a marriage that no one else can touch and really gonna, you know, change the way real estate investing was gonna move forward.

Jack: Okay. You've got my interest now.

Brandon: That's really how we kind of started the idea of the Opportunity Zone REIT and we were working on the unique idea before Opportunity Zone. Then once that came along we said let's put it together and now we have something that's has tax benefits plus, you know, the benefit of a lower cost and better liquidity and better other factors that we're going to put into the REIT.

Jack: Well I know that's one complaint might be too strong a word, but one of the cautions about the Opportunity Zone investing is for all intents and purposes, you're locked in for 10 years. If you want the full benefit, it's actually worse than that.

Brandon: Well, because people don't realize this. So if you have a single asset fund so that private equity fund has one asset in it and then it's 10 years, you're right.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: But with the new regulations that just came out, you're allowed to have multi assets in a private equity funds.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: And that's a problem because investors now will have an approximately, on average, around three-year investment period.

Jack: Mmhmm

Brandon: And that's assuming they don't have additional capital calls.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: But once all the capital calls are done, then you have a 10-year holding period, like you said, for Opportunity Zone. Then you gotta start selling assets and take those two years.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: So, you're looking at least 14 to 16 years in a structure where most investors think it's 10 years because the regulation’s for 10 years. But do you actually put the whole equation together? You're looking at, it could be up to 16, 17 even more.

Jack: Yeah.

Brandon: And, and the other issue with the private equity structure is you're relying on a fund manager to tell you when you're gonna get your money back.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: That's why I wanted to go with the public REIT. You know, we're not listed on an exchange day one, but our exit is to list on an exchange and it does two things. A, it makes the time period faster. Instead of being 15 or 16 years, everybody has their own individual clock. So people can sell that stock when we list our stock before 10 years from now.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: Everybody can sell their stock whenever they want to. So they have full control of their own destiny when it comes to liquidating the assets.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: And they also have a faster clock because they're not relying on the last investor who comes into the funds. They have this…

Jack: 10 years from whenever they get in.

Brandon: Whenever they come in. So that's a huge factor that people don't realize. And that's part of the reason why we came up with our structure.

Jack: Yeah. Okay. Talk about what makes BelPointe unique, aside from being the only publicly traded REIT, now you won't be the last.

Brandon: It’s funny you say, I mean, we won't be the last you’re a hundred percent correct, but we don't think anybody's going to compete with us over the next six or seven years. There'll be other private REITs, but the public rate will be the only one because the process to get through is almost a year. And if someone starts it today, you're looking at the middle of 2020.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: Before you can get going.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: If you're starting your business in a year from now and the Opportunity Zone, you're too late. The story has passed.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: So, you need to be starting your business now and that's why you're seeing other groups who are starting, who've seen our structure and think our structure makes sense. Who are starting a private REIT today. So we're seeing more and more private REIT. But there's other factors that they're not going to be willing to do. Like we were doing. One of them is our cost structure, that Uber factor that I was talking about.

Jack: Yeah.

Brandon: What Uber did to the taxi business we're doing to the real estate investment business. They have technology, but what technology did it lowered the price it reduced the cost for the middle. The guy who owned the medallion.

Jack: Yeah. Reduce the margin.

Brandon: Correct. So what we're doing the same thing and how we're doing it is, is we're charging no load to get in. So, no commission to get in. There's no investor servicing fee. We're charging no acquisition or disposition fees. Like a lot of these funds and these other structures are doing.

Our management fee is only 75 basis points where our competitors are charging a point-and-a-half to 2%. So we're were 50 to 63% less in a management fee. And then that's gonna be an important factor, which we're going to get into.

Jack: Yeah.

Brandon: And then the last piece, what everybody has is their carried interest or performance. You know, typically it's anywhere between 15 and 25%, right? We're charging only 5%. So we're reducing the overall cost for the investor by 75%.

Jack: It's massive.

Brandon: It's, you know, if you do the same deal and use our structure versus someone else's private equity structure that's charging 2 and 20, if they have a seven IRR after all taxes and after all fees and everything, the net that they take home after taxes, if they have a 7 IRR, we'll have a 12 IRR, right?

Jack: Right.

Brandon: Just on the same investments.

Jack: Because of the lower…

Brandon: Lower fees, we have additional tax benefits, which we'll get into. We have lower carried interest, no acquisition fee, no upfront fee is all these things that, that we're not charging that, you know, the drag is much less than our structure. And that's why, you know, so someone's got to do a public structure, which can take a year, right?
Someone's gotta be willing to, to bet that they can grow this thing to $1 billion. Because if you only raise a $100- or $200 million, charging 75 basis points is very difficult. You're probably going to be losing money, right? So it's about the size and growing this thing to somewhere north of $500 million and our target is $3 billion, which we think we can hit. Um, because we all set of institutions, even though they don't nonprofit or pension funds who don't pay tax, um, are interested in our product because of the low fees and low carried interest.

Brandon: They don't pay taxes anyways. They don't need that. But they liked the impact investing. They like the low fees. They like the low carried interest. They'd like the liquidity. So they like all the other factors.

Jack: Yeah.

Brandon: They don't get the Opportunity Zone benefit, but they don't pay tax anyway.

Jack: Right, right. So why are you able to do this? Did you just see an opportunity in this industry and that, were you the first one to see it or is there something special about your organization that's the way it's structured that's allowed you to do this?

Brandon: So, I think it's a couple of things you’re asking…

Jack: I'm asking about hurdles to get into this.

Brandon: No, I get it. I think it's wanting to do something different.

And I don't want to say change the world because we're not changing the world, but just like Uber changed the world in a different way. You know, I don't look at myself changing the world, but changing the way investing is done. And we saw that before the Opportunity Zone. It was something that with this new rule coming out, because we couldn't get into the space because people were paying these big commissions.

And I have clients that I'm not willing to charge 15% to get into the pay to play model. So we wanted to do it differently. And that was before the Opportunity Zone came out. And then when we saw the Opportunity Zone and we were on top of it. I mean, most law firms and accounting firms and most people out there in real estate had no clue what Opportunity Zones where even like in the middle of the summer.

We we were just on it very early. And, I think being early and looking through this statute and realizing that there's something here and it was more than just, it was also 199A and saying, “Okay, we already have this unique structure. Why not marry it with Opportunity Zones in 199A and then we have something that's even that much better?”
Plus, we have the lower fees and just changing. What I do is I look at every category in whatever business I'm in and say, how do we make it better? I've only had one original idea, which I was too young to patent and to make money on, which is a different interview. But, you know, I take other things out there and say, “How do I make it better?”
We invested in a mattress company. I mean, we have four patents on a mattress company.When’s the last time there's been a patent on a mattress?

Jack: A mattress company? Oh my Lord.

Brandon: So, but we like to take ideas and say, “How do we improve it and how do we make it better?” And all I did was I saw the FINRA rule came out and said, “Okay, this is an opportunity.”

Blackstone saw the same opportunity and they came in and instead of 15%, they are charging 3.5% load to get in a fee, you know, carried a servicing fee as well. But I said, how do we, how do we make it that much better? How do we charge no fee? How do we charge no servicing fee?

And really, we came up with a 75 basis points management fee because we knew we wanted to tap into the RIA side of that the business, because that's the future.

Jack: Sure.

Brandon: That's where the broker dealer side, the commission side is just dying, and the fee basis is what's growing. We said, “Well how do we have a product that fits that?” And by charging 75 basis points, and most of these advisors are charging anywhere from 50 to 200 basis points. So if they charge a hundred basis points plus our 75, we're still less than our competitors.

Jack: Yeah.

Brandon: And they don't have the clients, the shareholders don't have to pay is all these other ancillary fees that these other funds have because the fund manager is charging 2% and then you've got to pay the broker to sell the product. We wanted to have the overall costs be less than what another fund would charge. And that's how we came up with the 75 basis points and we backed into what size do we have to be to make it make sense.

Jack: Okay. That makes sense. I have or wanna follow two different lines of thought. Pick one of these two. One is technical, one is personal. The technical side, I know my audience wants to hear about the 199A. On the personal side, I'm hoping somebody besides me wants to hear about. And that question is: What is it about you? How is it that you're wired to have that view of the world? Look for situations where things can be improved, figure out how to improve it. Because to me that's the true heart, spirit and soul of an entrepreneur. You know, I feel like I should have the national anthem playing in the background, but that's what made America.

Brandon: I agree.

Jack: I want to know who you are that you're like that? So, pick one of those and talk about it.

Brandon: If you want to talk about myself, I mean is that there's a deeper story, history wise, education wise. Well, I like that story. So you know, if you want to get into that deep, I had a bad learning disability growing up. I went to this…


Brandon: I went to a school called Eagle Hill for me to like...

Jack: What was your learning disability? Was it dyslexia or something?

Brandon: No, it's actually a speech language and processing. So,

Jack: Wow.

Brandon: Yeah.

Jack: So, this is so cool.

Brandon: I know it's the first time I'm really talking about it, so you can just cause you're asking, I'm going there. So I had great parents, my parents were willing to do whatever it took to put me into the right school. And Eagle Hill, if you ask anybody who graduated and went to Hill, everybody says the same line. If it wasn't for the school, they wouldn't be where they are today.

Jack: Wow.

Brandon: Everybody, you ask any graduate, I challenge you to go ask a graduate of Eagle Hill School and they'll tell you that.

Jack: Okay, and I'm going to have to track down the school and find out more.

Brandon: It's in Greenwich, Connecticut, you're welcome to call them. I think it's one of the best schools in the world. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be where I am. They taught me confidence. They taught me how to read and, I really couldn't read until I was like 12, 13 years old…

Jack: I love stories like this.

Brandon: What that did -- and I tell other fathers who have kids who have learning disabilities -- as I said first, look at me. I was when I graduated, I think it was ‘87, the headmaster said, “This is one of the worst cases of a straightforward learning disability. This is one of the worst cases they had.

And what that did to me was it challenged me. I've always had to work harder than everybody else. I had to read things two or three times. I've always had to work harder than someone who doesn't have a learning disability. And because I'm trained that way, when I graduated, I started working. I've always had to work harder.

I'm know working 14-hour days and then just working harder, even when I'm working during the day, working harder is something that is normal for me. Where I see other people that, you know, they only work seven or eight hours a day, that's their capacity. My capacity could be 14, 16 hours, whatever I need to do. Now obviously I have a family and I try to balance work and life, but I'm always working harder than, than everybody else.

So, I think the work ethic that I have is something that is unique because of the learning disability. It's forced me to, to be a different kind of business person.

Jack: Wow.

Brandon: But I think after that, because we have these portfolio of different businesses and my business model is I call, Berkshire Hathaway without the billions where we're investing in different companies and really investing in people first.

So I'm investing in people who I think have a great idea but I look at the person first and that, cause you can have a great business idea but not a great partner and they can't execute or they're going to steal money from you or whatever the reason is. You just know it’s not a good situation. But so we really look at people first and then we invest in the business second and because of all these different businesses, my whole job every day is if something hits my desk is a problem.

I'm doing problem solving every day. My job is problem solving. So I think looking at different companies, different ideas. I know some people call me like I should be on Shark Tank. Cause I can look at a company, I can tear it apart. And even my partners won't even bring business ideas to me in the early stage because they know I'll rip it apart.
So, they have to figure it out and then they bring it to me because they're afraid to bring it to me to earlier. My tendency is just to kind of look at the business and rip it apart and say, “Does this make sense?” And it's just the way my thinking is. I think it's from training from literally from elementary school to having to work harder than everybody else.

Then the current role that I'm having with all these different companies, being the chairman, my job is to solve those problems every day. There is always a problem. Every day. It could be minor, it could be, we need more capital, we need more human resources, whatever it is. My job is to solve problems. And I think that also makes me unique.

Jack: So, would you say that your single biggest strength is the ability to quickly cut to the core of a problem and find a solution?

Brandon: 100% and sometimes, you have people that will go on a long story. It's like, okay, let's just figure out what the issue is. Let's just, let's hit move.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: It's all about hit and move because I don't have time to sit and dwell about what's going on with the problems are in the company or it's a personnel issue or whatever it is.

I want to figure out what the problem is and solve it as quickly as possible so we can move on with the company.

Jack: Yeah. So I would chase that one is for a long time where you have a limited amount of time. So talk about the 199A, which is the first thing, first one I've heard about that.

Brandon: So all of these funds have the Opportunity Zone capital gain benefit, but because we're a restructure, you have two additional tax benefits. One is 199A which came out of the 2017 act. That is income that's coming from the property that that gets distributed to the shareholders. Whatever income gets distributed to shareholders, our shareholders pay only 80% of the taxable income, 20% is waived. This is exempt under 199A.

So, partnerships also get that. However, there's all these limitations. It's really there for the mom-and-pop kind of companies, and, and owners of companies. So it's is something that was passed for pass through entities to get a 20% deduction for dividends are being distributed. However, there's all these limitations. And in a private equity structure if you're investing in a fund, you’re high net worth, you're not gonna, you're not gonna get it. But REITs are exempt from the limitations, which means it doesn't matter how much money you make, you automatically get the 20% deduction, which means you only pay tax on 80% of the revenue that you receive.

Jack: I’ll be darned.

Brandon: So, it's nice.

Jack: I didn't realize that.

Brandon: That's a nice thing in there. And then the other big tax benefit, which has been around for awhile for REITs is state income tax. So when a shareholder owns, let's say a partnership interest in a private equity structure, they pay the higher tax of where the real estate for state income tax purposes, is located and where they'd domicile.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: In a REIT structure, you only pay where you domicile.

Jack: Oh.

Brandon: So, for example, if someone lives in Florida and they're doing a deal in California, they're paying 13 even though they live in Florida, they say, why am I paying state income tax? They have to pay California state income taxes just over 13%.

Jack: Yeah.

Brandon: In our structure, if we do the same exact deal, and because it's a rate, they only pay where they live, which Florida is obviously zero. So they pay nothing. So huge tax benefit and in addition to that, if you have multi-asset funds and you're doing deals in 20 different states in a private equity structure, that person's going to have to worry about taxes and K1s in 20 different states.

Jack: Right.

Brandon: Paying the S. And our structure, you're only paying where you live. Simple as that, you get one 1099 and you're just paying where you live. You know, you pay obviously federal and you pay state, right? Well, you may not have to pay federal because a capital gain is exempt if you hold 10 years, but you only have to pay where you live. And that's another huge tax.

Jack: The benefit for that, well this is, there's just enough here to be tasty. This feels like an appetizer and I can tell there's just a giant entree and a delicious dessert. We're just not going to have the time today. So, Brandon, this has been really good stuff. I like to ask a question of all my guests, just kind of helps to reveal a little bit about what you think outside of work. This is where you get to imagine something. Imagine you are the king of the world for one day. For one day and one day only you get to solve one problem, use your powers to solve one problem. What's that problem?

Brandon: Oh, one that's, that's tough.

Jack: I know.

Brandon: I want everybody to see everybody as the same and not treat people differently because of their sex, color, age. It's something that we're blind in our company, I'm hiring people based on their abilities and who they are. And if you look at our company, the majority of our employees in our company, even the real estate side, are women. And it's not because we're choosing to hire women, we're just finding talented people. So it's about talent. I would like to see the world be blind to race and sex and age and everything else. I would like to have everybody be blind to all those things.

Jack: Every Martin Luther King Day, I go back, and I read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail and I review his I Have a Dream speech. I was raised in that era and I was weaned on the phrase, “I have a dream that someday my children will be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.”

Brandon: 100%.

Jack: I'm 100% there with you, Brandon. This has been really, really fun for me. I love meeting people like you with interesting stories, interesting ideas. Do you have any last words for us before we wind it up?

Brandon: Yeah, I think the only thing I would tell investors who are learning about Opportunity Zone, I think the biggest risk is the construction risk. You got to make sure you're investing with someone who knows, who has an in-house construction and development team because Opportunity Zone rules require new construction or substantial renovation, which is a lot of construction either way.

Jack: Yeah.

Brandon: And I think people are going to get hurt based on the construction risks. I'm worried about that and I just want investors to make sure they pick a manager, whoever it is, if it's us or someone else, who really has a lot of experience in construction.

Jack: Very helpful last words there. So, folks want to get a hold of you or your company, what's the best way to do that?

Brandon: Yeah, the best way is our website, which is Our phone number’s there, you know, they can email us. But I think BelPointe REIT is probably the best way to reach us at

Jack:: Very good. Well, I will remind our listeners that that information will also be available on the podcast website, so you can get it there. Well Brandon, really appreciate the time. On behalf of Brandon Lacoff, I am Jack Heald for the OZExpo Podcast. Be sure to hit that subscribe button so you will always get updated when we have a new episode and we will talk to you next time.

Announcer: This podcast is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal tax or investment advice. For specific recommendations, please consult with your financial, legal, or tax professional.

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