There are so many instruments for investment you can choose from whether for long term or short-term wealth. In this episode, Lisa Hylton chats with Sandhya Seshadri on retiring early and why she prefers investing in real estate over the stock market at this point in her investing journey. Sandhya is the Founder and CEO of of Texas Twilight Investments. She previously worked at Texas Instruments for over fourteen years in various technical, marketing, and management roles before obtaining financial freedom and retiring early. In this episode, she gives some useful insights for active and passive investors interested in investing in real estate. She also talks about executing asset management, managing investments in various asset classes, and working with a team. Don’t miss this episode to know the pros and cons of real estate investing versus stock market investing, and discover how you can succeed in building wealth.
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Real Estate Or Stock Market: Where Should You Invest? With Sandhya Seshadri
I am excited to have on my show another amazing guest. Her name is Sandhya. She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering. She worked at Texas Instruments for several years in various technical, marketing and management roles with revenues in excess of $80 million and budgets of $28 million. During her time at SMU acquiring her MBA many years ago, Sandhya began investing in the stock market and building a portfolio that has allowed her to retire early from her corporate career. She diversified in commercial real estate in 2018 and has passively invested in over 2,500 doors in multifamily and syndicated two deals. Sandhya resides with her husband and two children in Richardson, Texas and they enjoy family vacations together. Thank you, Sandhya, for coming on the show. I appreciate it.
Thank you for having me. It’s an honor to be here.
I met Sandhya in person at a due diligence event that I went to for James Sandy. That’s when I got to learn a little bit more about her. You do a lot of asset management on these large multifamily deals. I thought, “That’s amazing. I’d love to have her on my show to share with my audience about how she has gotten started in real estate investing.” To get started, how did you start investing in real estate?
I began investing in real estate about a few years ago when a friend introduced me to passive investments. When President Trump took over, I knew that he paid zero taxes. I wanted to figure out how I can reduce my tax burden because I had been investing quite a bit in the stock market. Every time that I made money, I had to pay a lot of it back in taxes. Every rich person I had ever met was always in real estate. I was like, “How do I get into real estate?” I have somehow avoided that single-family route because I didn’t want to self-manage a property and clean tenants or get phone calls on Thanksgiving Day because some appliance broke or there was a leak. That’s why multifamily sounded interesting, but I wanted to learn more about it. I started by investing passively. I liked it that I joined a mentoring program to learn how it all works and got the connection to invest actively finally.
How do you play in real estate now?
I’m still largely a passive investor, but I have two active deals. They keep me busy. I don’t want to have many deals that I don’t have my hands on closely watching them. This is the right pace for me. I would probably try to get 1 or 2 more deals actively, but passive income has been wonderful. I will play in both markets depending on the time. I didn’t expand on my family, but my daughter is a senior now, so I don’t want to miss a single moment before she goes off to college. That’s another reason why I want to keep the balance to my evenings, my weekends, and I can go on vacations and still be able to do both active and passive. Enjoy the benefits of real estate, which is not the cashflow and appreciation, but also tax management.
Can we dive deeper a little bit in your active and passive roles? When you play as a passive investor, what are some of the advantages that some readers might not necessarily think besides not having to deal with the tenants?
One of the best advantages of being a passive investor in multifamily is that you don’t take on all the risk yourself. There’s somebody else who’s the deal sponsor and asset managers. They worry about the day-to-day headaches of it. You still benefit from real estate, which is that it’s a hard asset. It’s a solid asset and the first of the month rent is always due. You get your cashflow similar to the concept of dividend stocks. You keep getting your monthly checks or quarterly checks and you get the cashflow without the headache. If you love your day job or if you have other things that are on your mind, you run a different business. You can still take part in real estate without taking on the risk or your time and enjoy the benefits, which is a steady cashflow, which sometimes will be missing when you bet on things like stocks or other currencies, etc. It’s the returns without risk.
Are all of your passive investments in multifamily?
Most of my passive investments are in multifamily. I do have a couple of deals in storage. Self-storage is another investment. I do have a land deal as well where it’s a new development.One of the best advantages of being a passive investor in multifamily is that you don't take on all the risk yourself. Click To Tweet
Connected to that, are all of your deals in a particular state, the passive ones specifically?
I tend to pick Texas. I’ve lived in Dallas for many years. I know my area, my streets well. For example, I know that south of downtown Dallas, there are some pockets of high crime where you need the right sponsor to be able to turn a property around in an area like that. I know my area well and that’s important to choose places that you’re familiar with. I have most of my investments in Texas. I do have one investment in Phoenix and I have one investment in Florida, but that’s because the sponsors were well in both those deals. I have worked with them in the past. It’s been successful.
Diving a little bit on the self-storage and the land, as readers are thinking, “She has had experience investing in multifamily and then also self-storage and land.” How did you get comfortable deciding to invest in the different types of asset classes?
Self-storage lends itself well similar to multifamily. It’s even more hands-off in the sense that there is always going to be a demand for it. People love holding onto their things. As they live in apartments, there’s not enough room. As the demand for apartments increases so does the need to self-storage. Self-storage I feel is also a good market to invest in. Before I try to get active on it, I want to try my hand at being passive first, learn the ropes, see how the investment works out. As a future possibility, that’s the way I like to go about any new investment that is investigated in a passive way and see how the returns are.
For land development, what was your thought process for that one?
It’s similar. This is with someone I trust. It’s in Texas. It’s with someone who’s done multifamily before and is now investing in land. The relationship with the sponsor is one of the most important things and also the location itself. I see the growth. One of the things we look for is if you can talk to the Chamber of Commerce in a city and you’ll get the census data. You look at CoStar, Yardi, those reports. It tells you about the population, the median income and the types of jobs that are moving into that area. When you do that, you know that’s a good place to invest. There will be mixed-use that seems to be popular nowadays that’s going to be successful there.
Switching gears from passive to active because you said that you have two active investments, what role do you generally play on your active investments?
I wanted to learn all aspects of it before I choose to be a specialist in one way. Probably the biggest thing I have to offer to people is that I am boots on the ground because I live in Dallas. A lot of people like the multifamily and job growth. Dallas is an excellent market. My primary role is to be boots on the ground, help with asset management, but also find deals by having relationships with brokers. I have three major brokers from Marcus and Millichap living in my neighborhood. I could walk to their houses, the broker relationship and being able to scout any property. I have an investor friend in California who was asking me, “Go check this property for me.” I can do that within hours. I have that advantage so boots on the ground and finding the deal. I’m also trying to get better at the equity raise, which is the other piece of it. Finding the deal, closing it, raising equity, and then managing the assets so I’m fine to learn all the three pieces of it. It’s boots on the ground and finding the deal itself.
Could you dive a little bit more on to asset management? What are some of the tasks that are entailed when you execute asset management?
One of the most important things you want to do as a sponsorship team is when you present your investment opportunity to potential passive investors. You want to have a plan of how you are going to make this deal work. What are the major improvements you’re going to do? How are you going to increase the rent? Is it through upgrades? What are your CapEx plans? Which one of those translate directly into net operating income? You want to implement those parts. The first most important thing is to be in tune with your property management company. Within the first 30 to 60 days when you take over, have an action plan day-by-day, what are you going to do? Our property management company is your best app. I always invest in multifamily where we can afford the property management.
I don’t buy a fourplex or a duplex because I have to self-manage it. Working with your property management company, the first thing you want to do when you take over properties, doing lease audit, make sure all the files, everything is in order. The second thing you also want to start on right away is if there are any lender required repairs. Those are the first things you have to take care of. Anything that affects, for example, the safety and code violations, any of those things, you want to do those first. You want to start on whatever is the CapEx project that’s going to increase your NOI. It’s going to give you the most bang for your buck quickly. You want to get started on those.
For example, one of our projects was to do LED upgrades. We wanted to change out all the light fixtures throughout the property to be LED fixtures because we were going to be all bills paid on some of it. Paying those bills, we want to reduce that. Another thing was water conservation. Going from 3, 4-gallon toilets to the smaller ones was one of the biggest things that would save us money. Doing even a water check for your toilet, your showerheads, your sinks, everything to catch those leaks is a big deal, to upgrade the fixtures. With that, we are waiting now for the water bill to see how much we have saved. That’s usually one of the big ones that they recommend you to do.
For us, those were the two ones. The third biggest project that we’re in progress is we had our leasing office occupied. One of the units itself was the leasing office. This is a two-storey, two-bedroom, one-bath unit, which gives us the highest rent in the ratio of $1,200 that’s being used as a leasing office. When you don’t need such a large space for it. We took out the laundry room and put an additional wall in there and used the other half of it, which also have the plumbing for a bathroom. We’ve turned that into a leasing office. Any day now, our office leasing manager should be moving there. We can quickly fix this unit ready and start generating revenue. Those are examples of our biggest projects.
I have a fourth one, an interesting one. Our property has these condos, which are two-storey, two-bedroom, one-bath. We also have apartments that are the typical styles. On these condos, we built private fences, yards in front, so it felt more like a home so you could let off your little dog, your kids could play. When you drive off to the property and you see this row of townhouses that have these fences, it makes it attractive to a potential tenant like, “This is such a nice home to live and raise my kids.” Tenants who’ve lived there for several years in a row now don’t mind the rent increases. They are able to enjoy this. Some of them have had children and they moved from the apartment over to these townhouses. That was another project we did. These are the four big projects since the takeover.
These two questions alone have come with much knowledge in terms of all the different actionable things that you and your team is doing. I’m curious about how you’ve gone about meeting the teams of people that you work with on the active side. I know it’s not a one-man show so if you could share about that too?
One of the biggest things is when you partner with someone, it’s like a marriage. You have to get to know them and trust them on a personal level. You have to have the same values. You have to know, like, and trust them as we say. The way you do that is by meeting them multiple times. When I joined the mentoring group, I got to meet the same set of people throughout the year because the mentoring group had many events throughout the year to give us those opportunities to network and see who you can connect with, etc. Meeting, knowing, trusting, and also the reputation they have within the group so you can ask coaches, you can ask other people, “What do you think of these guys? What do you think of this person?” That helps a lot. When you do talk to them, you feel like you agree with the way they make decisions.
The second piece of it is, do you financially agree with how you do the numbers? When you’re a part of the same mentoring program, you underwrite deals the same way you do your analysis, the same way with the same conservative strategy. For example, the reversion cap rate, you use something as simple as that can totally make or break a deal. Do you know the area well-enough to know what taxes are you going to do there? I know certain counties in the Dallas area assume 100%. Property tax can make or break your deal, but if you’re in Denton County, Taron County as an example, it’s in 100% of the taxes at your expense. Things like that, we have to agree on that because those few numbers can make or break your deal. When you’re within the same group, it’s easy. You have to agree on how you do your numbers and your strategy. You also have to know, like, trust and easily work with them. Those are the two most important things to look for when you try to find a partner.
In the beginning, we talked about how you have invested a lot in the stock market and that enabled you to obtain financial freedom then. I want to ask you a couple of questions regarding the stock market and how it compares to real estate. To get started, can you share about how the transition of you investing in the stock market enabled you to achieve financial freedom?
I had a full-time job like most of us do and it was wonderful, excellent, exciting. As I got more into the business side of it, my company was wonderful to pay for my MBA that I did part-time. I got the knowledge to start slowly playing in the stock market myself. I did mostly trade with options rather than buying stocks. Especially when you have expensive stocks like the Amazons and Apples of the world, you stop trading options. With the knowledge and the confidence that I was still producing a paycheck, so this was like a side gig, I had a few good wins. Fortunately, the market did well too in those times. My strategy started working. That was plenty to where I was making as much money as my paycheck.
I had children. It made sense not to have quite selective international travel. I had to go to Taiwan or Israel at this time and I was gone for a week, ten days, and I missed out on things happening with my kids. When I was able to financially more than easily match my salary, I was like, “I’m going to do this.” That’s when I became full-time into trading. All I needed was a couple of hours a day and I stuck to my principles. As soon as I buy a stock, one of the things I do is immediately set what price I’m going to sell it for. It happens whether I’m alert or whether I’m busy or I’m sick, that still happens.Real estate is a hard asset, but only when the cycle ends. Click To Tweet
I’ve fixed all my trades right when I buy them itself, I know what I’m going to sell it for. I’m not greedy to try to hit the peaks and troughs of every stock. I know that, in general, this is what I’m looking for. If this appreciates this much, this is enough for me. I have that discipline. That’s what helps me the most. That’s why I was successful with the stock market. After a year, when you make money in the stock market and you have a decent W-2 income for your spouse, the tax burden goes up. That’s where you say, “What can I do to save on taxes?”
That brings me to the next question. What are the pros and cons between investing in real estate versus investing in the stock market?
The pros of investing in the stock market, if you need money next month, your stock might have lost value, but you still have that money. Real estate is a little more long-term. You can make it a little shorter-term with hard money lending. It’s more like 6, 12 or 18 months. It’s still out there. It’s not as liquid as stock. You log into your trade account, trade whatever, you can have your money wired to you instantly. The disadvantage is, “There is a Coronavirus. China is affected.” Trade with China is affected that your stocks can plummet like crazy. You are easily leaving it up to the market or the CEO running that company to the fluctuations of the stock market that affect your returns.
In real estate, it’s a little bit safer because if you invest in the right asset class, in my case, it’s Class B and Class C, they will always be a demand for it. They’ll always be a demand for workforce housing because people need a place to live. We’re not talking about vacations. We’re talking about, “I need a place to live. I need to send my kids to this school.” If the market tanks and you lose your job, you still need a place to live. The right housing in the right market is always going to give you a paycheck. I mean rent every month. You have better cashflow for the long-term with real estate. That’s one of the big reasons. It makes sense if you have about six months of living expenses saved especially if you look at your retirement funds. I don’t know how many people check on the ticker symbols of every retirement fund in which their W-2 income gets squirreled away every month.
Do you even know what that fund is doing? They call it some lifestyle fund for 2030 or something. With this, you’re going to be getting a monthly email report, whether you like it or not on your real estate investment. You’re going to see that ACH deposited into your bank. It’s a steady cashflow with the potential upside at the end when they sell it. The right real estate investment can be a great source of cashflow and income compared to the stock market. There are pros and cons to both. That’s the big one. For about three years, you give real principal $50,000, $100,000, whatever that investment is. You don’t get it back for about 3 to 5 years. You have to plan for that.
With that, I’d like for you to talk a little bit about some of the key ways in which you are growing your business at this point.
Thanks to people like you, I’m certainly trying to get my name a little more out there so that there are more people who know me and start to trust me. In terms of scaling up a business, for example, having a website helps and being able to automate your flow, if someone visits your website and you have emails in there. Trying to send them newsletters and telling them more about yourself, the business, the properties you invest in and educating them is one of the best ways to grow your business. The other way is constantly and regularly going to conferences and meetups and meet other likeminded people to potentially partner with. Even if they are active investors, a lot of them invest in other people’s deals.
If you connect well with them and you have some retirement money or other to put in there for the tax savings because if you’re all in real estate, it makes sense to invest passively in other’s deals too. That’s another way to meet potential partners, know about other types of real estate and so on. Those would be my biggest ways to grow the business. I hope at one point I get to a stage where I get a virtual assistant, but my assistant is Jean and she helps me with my emails or Facebook posts or sorting through investor lists and business cards. She helps me with a lot of that at home, but one day I hope to have my own virtual assistant.
What advice would you give for people who are invested in the stock market but are interested in investing in real estate? They would like to learn more about how to bridge that gap and what are the things that they need to look for to make that leap into real estate?
The first thing I recommend is to have six months of living expenses saved and fully planned to invest some money that you won’t need for the next 3 to 5 years. Real estate is a hard asset, but only when the cycle ends. A lot of times you get your principal back. Look for deals that have some more cashflow in them rather than the ones that only pay you more at the back end. That depends on your investing goals. If this is with your retirement money and you’re okay not seeing it for five years, you could do the ones that are more depending on the appreciation at the end when the real estate sells. What’s attractive to me about real estate is it’s a cashflowing asset. Every quarter or every month, you keep getting payments back.
With me, for example, sending a kid to college in the fall, I like that better than one where I put the money and I wait 3, 4 years for it to appreciate. The second thing I would say is you have to be sure about the sponsor itself. How well do you know them? Did you meet them five minutes ago? Did you meet them at a conference? Do you know, like and trust the sponsor? Do they have experience in the market that they are investing in presenting this deal to you? Have they done this type of deals? What do I mean by that? Some deals are value add deals or deep value add deals where they have to take a property maybe with low occupancy, turn it around and make it work. It’s a high crime area.
Do they have prior experience doing that? Is this their first deal and they’re taking on a big project? For my first deal, I took on what is more of a yield play with some value-add components so that it was a stable property with 90% occupancy qualifying for a nonrecourse loan with Fannie or Freddie. Those are things I look for because if they don’t have the experience to turn around a deep value-add property and they are taking that on, do I want to be their scapegoat? I want to be sure of it.
I have a long checklist on how to vet the sponsor as well as how to vet a deal itself for its financials. If you visit my website and provide your email address, you can get that checklist. My website is Multifamily4You.com. When you analyze the deal itself, there are several financials to look for to see if the underwriting is conservative or if it’s a little more aggressive. There are two or three simple things with which you can make or break a deal, the reversion cap rate assumption. What is the reversion cap rate? That’s the cap rate at which they hope to sell the deal in 3 or 5 years. That’s a prediction based on what speculation do you think the market’s going to go up or it’s going to crash. You don’t know how the housing is going to be. Assuming a conservative resistance reversion cap rate is important for that market.
The second thing is the expenses. Do you know the county well-enough to know how they do property taxes? If you invest in Taron County or Denton County as an example of counties around the Dallas area, they are aggressive with their property taxes that I assume 100% once I take over the property. I know the first year I may get away with paying the current rate, but I know right from year two I’m going to have to pay 100% so in my senses I assume that a conservative number, the rent growth numbers, that’s the number that’s going to impact your NOI. How is it justified? Is it realistic? Have they studied the comps within a one-mile radius? That means comparable properties offering the same amenities. If the property next door is a newer property and it’s got washer-dryers in every unit, a nice pool and a gym.
They’re able to get a lot more for their one-bedroom apartments compared to mine, that’s not apples to apples comparison. When you listen to presentations of the investment opportunities, see if the comps they have used are comparable or are a fair comparison. In terms of the finances to analyze the deal, I will have another checklist I can make available to you. The thing to look for as closing costs, are they taking an acquisition fee upfront for themselves before they have paid you a dime? Ask for a detailed breakdown of closing costs that are included in fees for them. Make sure the pay structure is to where you, the passive investor, get paid first before the sponsors take their share.
In cases where people do see a deal structure where there are acquisition fees, do you have a recommendation or are there things to caution about in those particular deals?
I want to make sure that I get paid well. How much confidence do you have in the sponsor and in the deal itself to forego that amount? If it’s a $20 million deal, that’s a lot that goes into the sponsorship fee from day one before they’ve done anything for me. I want to be aware of that. In terms of structure, the waterfall structure as well after getting a preferred return to the passive investors, some of the sponsors start taking more for themselves in the back end. If that return number is acceptable to you, is that better you can do on your own compared to a self-storage investment or another multifamily deal with another person? It’s important upfront.
You talked about the cap rate, making sure that they’re using a conservative cap rate. Could you give an example of what that would look like, for instance, perhaps?
In the Dallas area, the in-place cap rate at which you’re buying properties seems like close to around a five, even less than that sometimes. The reversion cap rate, I’m assuming in my deal, for example the one we have in Cleveland, it’s a 7.75% or even 7.5%. If you change that number to a 6% or 6.5%, the returns are going to look marvelous. With a 7.75% cap rates, we promised investors a 70% return. If I switched that number to a 6.5% cap rate, they’re going to get a 90% return. It’s that easy. If I’m fortunate enough in three years when we sell the property, the cap by which we’re selling it is 6%, my mentor is going to get a huge return. I’m not betting on that. I do not promise them that. You want to assume about a two-point difference from your purchase cap rate versus reversion cap rate. That’s a good rule of thumb.
You want to see that two-point difference to be going up, not necessarily going down.Investing in the stock market is very liquid as compared to real estate. Click To Tweet
Going down would mean that it’s going to be a phenomenal market for you to sell, I don’t know that’s going to happen in the next 2, 3 years. I do not quite see a bad recession, but some soft recession in the next 4 or 5 years. I don’t think it’s going to do what it’s done the last 7, 8 years. I would go in with a more conservative approach. If you happen to lockout, give it all to your investors. Why not?
I have three questions that I ask all my guests. They’re the level-up questions. The first one is what you are most grateful for in your life at the moment?
It’s a family. I’m grateful for the help of my family and friends because that’s how I measure my success. I feel like I’m a millionaire because I have a healthy and happy circle of family and friends.
What would you say you attribute your success and continuous growth to?
The mindset of not giving up. When I hit a roadblock going on one path, I find other paths to get there. It’s giving up and looking for a way to add value.
Last, what do you wish you had known in the beginning of your real estate journey that you’d now know?
I wish I had known that broker relationships are critical and I had started working even more closely with brokers right from the beginning instead of looking at the listings and underwriting them. I would say visit more properties to get to know the brokers.
Thank you, Sandhya. I appreciate it. This one had so much good information. If my audience wants to learn more about you or to get any information or opportunities you have, what are the best ways they can get in touch with you?
Thank you, Sandhya. I appreciate it.
Thank you. It was an honor to be on your show. I appreciate you.
Thank you, Sandhya, for coming on the show. It was such a pleasure to have her on. There’s so much information, many nuggets, so knowledgeable. Some of my insights from this particular episode are one, she mentioned how she has invested in the stock market as well as invested passively in real estate. She noted what the pros and the cons are. I thought that was super interesting to continue to remind people that investing in the stock market is super liquid. If you want your money, you can sell your stocks and you have the money.
If you’re going to invest in real estate, real estate does not have that liquidity. What do you want instead? She talked many times about having six months of cash in reserves so that is six months of expenses, in reserves. That way you’re comfortable and you don’t necessarily need the money in which that you’ve invested in real estate. However, she noted that investing only in the stock market doesn’t give you the tax benefits that real estate does. On top of that, investing in real estate is many times safer depending on one, the type of asset class that you choose to invest in. The way in which you choose to invest in your investment strategy. She talked about investing for cashflow and not only for appreciation, making sure that you’re making investments that are going to cashflow.
She also mentioned that some of the cons of investing in the stock market are that you’re dependent on the market. You don’t have that much control. You’re dependent on the CEOs of those different companies that you’re investing in and what they decide to do. There are pros and cons to both investment strategies. Neither is necessarily bad or not good. It’s about you utilizing each and understanding what, where the strengths are in both of them, and go from there.
I also thought that when she dived into her active investments and her role on the passive side, so much good information. For me, at least some of the things I took from it, was that from the passive side, she reiterated many times getting to know your sponsor like knowing them because it’s deciding to invest money with that particular person is almost like a marriage. You want to be sure that you like them, you trust them and they’re people that you would want to be in a long-term relationship with. It’s super important. On the active side, she talks about how being in Dallas and her experience of living in Dallas all these different years. Her knowledge of the market inside and out makes her an excellent person to be boots on the ground. She talked about being an asset manager like so much information about the role that she plays as an asset manager and some of the active things that she’s doing as an asset manager on some of her active deals in which she is a team member.
Talking about teams, she spoke about how she went about meeting her teams, how important it is to have similar values. Once again know, like, and trust them to be on a team with them. If you know that you don’t like the person and you don’t trust them and the way they approach finances and underwriting ideal is not the way you would approach things, then it’s not that they’re bad people. It’s that you and them are not a good match or a good fit. It’s respecting that.
This was an amazing episode, full of good information. I hope that you thoroughly enjoyed it. I did. I learned a lot from talking to her. I met her because I was a part of James Sandy’s program and he offered for his students to come out and do due diligence on one of the properties that he was selling. From that experience of going there, being in person in San Antonio, she was there also a student of the business and through that, that’s how I got to know her and ultimately invited her to be on my show. It’s getting out there, networking and taking up on every opportunity to learn and be a student of the business enables you to meet even more people, as well, which helps you to grow your business as well as to grow your knowledge of real estate in general.
Thank you, Sandhya. Thank you for tuning in. I hope you enjoyed the episode and got lots of good knowledge and nuggets. Until next time, keep leveling up. Take care.
About Sandhya Seshadri
Sandhya Seshadri has Bachelor’s and Masters degrees in electrical engineering and worked at Texas Instruments for over fourteen years in various technical, marketing and management roles with revenues in excess of $80M and budgets of $28M. During her time at SMU acquiring her MBA 20 years ago, Sandhya began investing in the stock market and built a portfolio that allowed her to “retire” early from her corporate career. She diversified into commercial real estate in 2018 and has passively invested in 2500+ doors in Multifamily, and syndicated 2 deals. Sandhya resides with her husband and two children in Richardson, TX and they enjoy family vacations.