From Small Acorns: Duplex to 10,000 Apartments
The Collier Companies’ genesis was in the early 1970s when I worked my way through University of Florida, in part by managing small rental properties. I developed a love of real estate and during that time I bought my first property, a duplex two blocks north of UF’s law school. Our now 10,000 apartment homes grew from there!
First Real Estate Purchase
My original goal was just to have an outside income, something to fall back on or to supplement Social Security when the time came, but it became much bigger than that. I started driving around the single-family neighborhoods within walking and biking distance of the university, looking for FSBOs (For Sale by Owner). I looked for concrete block construction, figuring it would stand the test of time in Florida’s humid climate better than wood siding. I looked for houses where rents would cover mortgage payments, property taxes, and the insurance. I planned to eat the maintenance for a few years until I could increase the rents and I did my own showing, leasing, and management, so they were not a cash expense. I always figured that the time I spent in the evenings and weekends taking care of my real estate was time that otherwise would have been spent watching TV or something equally nonproductive. I thought of my real estate investments as a hobby that eventually would pay me money.
To keep costs down in the beginning I did most of my own maintenance; the back of my car was packed with tools. I was a pretty good handyman and I enjoyed the physical labor, being able to immediately see the fruits of my efforts. I have deep respect for those who work with their hands——the plumbers, mechanics, and carpenters of the world, without whom our lives would quickly grind to a halt.
I was able to pick up three or four houses a year with little or nothing down by the good grace of owners who trusted me with owner financing. I did my best to repay that trust with timely payments, and after a while I gained a solid reputation for keeping my promises, which put me in good stead.
I was (and still am) a voracious learner. I consumed every book on real estate I could find, peppered knowledgeable people with questions, took every course that was at all relevant, including business law, finance, federal income tax, and more. Luck or a rising tide lifting all boats were not part of my plan; I believe the way to minimize risk is to maximize knowledge.
When I hit 25 houses, the logistics started to get away from me. Each house had to be shown individually, there were minimal economies of scale, and growth was beginning to be hampered. I realized that there was a limit to how far I could go if I kept doing the “same old, same old.” What got me where I was would not get me where I wanted to go, what I was doing would not roll out or scale up. I needed to do something different, revise my business plan, though I did not know or understand any of those terms back then.
So I eased my way into multifamily, starting with quadraplexes, then twelveplexes, and then into larger properties, concentrating in a neighborhood just north of the University of Florida campus called College Park.
College Park was and is an eclectic mix of small developments and by buying a bit at a time I was able to assemble several hundred units (now north of 450) within a few square blocks and manage them as one community. Thus I was able to do what few individuals without inherited wealth are able to do: buy the functional equivalent of a large apartment community of institutional size.
Things have gone great ever since. We now are a leading regional owner of many thousands of apartments with an exceptional team of people who have handled our growth with remarkable skill.