Growing up in New York, Sonya Rocvil has always been fascinated with real estate. Having spent some of her career in audit and accounting, she transitioned into financial services. Soon after, she started surrounding herself with anything she cared about real estate and joined local real estate investment group where she found her niche of investing in multifamily. In this episode, Sonya joins Lisa Hylton to share how she built up her resume and started investing in out-of-state multifamilies. She also highlights the importance of building relationships with brokers and people and communicating what you’re doing in opening doors of opportunities.
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Leveling Up Through Out Of State Multifamily Real Estate Investing With New York Accountant Sonya Rocvil
I am here with another amazing guest to talk about how she got started investing in real estate. I have Sonya Rocvil. She is a Principal of Bedrock Real Estate Investors, LLC. It is a privately-owned real estate investment company that specializes in acquiring and asset managing multifamily apartment buildings in strategic markets in the United States. Sonya has syndicated four multifamily deals totaling 374 units and $18.6 million in asset value. She has exceeded deal return expectations on two properties that have been sold. Thank you so much, Sonya, for coming on the show. I appreciate it.
Lisa, thank you for having me. This is exciting. I appreciate it too.
Can you share with our audience how you got started in real estate?
It’s humbling when somebody reads your bio. I never thought of myself as a business owner. I never thought I was going to own a business but I was always interested in business. I had a mentor in my church. He was like, “If you want to learn business, major in Accounting because it is the language of business. You’ll be able to understand financial statements and all of those great things.” I did that. I started my career in accounting and audit. In a financial statement audit, you’re understanding not only the financial statement but how they’re put together and what goes into them. Little did I know, that was going to be an important skill for me as I started looking at deals and investing in real estate.
It wasn’t something that I thought I was going to be doing. It wasn’t on the forefront, but I always had a fascination with real estate, especially growing up in New York. Everyone’s always surrounded by buildings, but in New York it’s dense. There’s always these big buildings and you’re like, “Please, can I get some of that?” I spent some of my career in audit and accounting and then I moved and transitioned into financial services. I spent the majority of my career there. All the while, I was fascinated with real estate. I started reading books. I started surrounding myself with anything I cared about real estate. I joined a local real estate investment group and one of my mentors there said, “If you’re interested in real estate, you’ve got to find the strategy. What do you want to do in real estate?” I didn’t know at that point.
Coming from New York though, one thing I could say was single-family did resonate with me. I think maybe because the price points were high, thinking about the fact that if I had this one house that I purchased and that I have the mortgage on, it was going to be high. How much could I charge for rent? The margins didn’t seem to resonate or fit for what I was thinking about. I kept on exploring and I found a real estate group that was investing in multifamily. They were investing outside of New York, which struck a chord with me because most people know New York real estate is a high price point, low cap rates and a competitive market.A big part of your resources is your time. Click To Tweet
Thinking outside of New York sounded like a good idea for me. Through understanding that and learning about that more, what I did was I found a real estate group of people that I was able to work with. I started by passively investing. I passively invested in multifamily deals first so that I could build up a resume. When I started talking to brokers and people about what I was doing, I could say that I was a passive investor or equity partner in another deal. That is what helped to open the door for me in terms of starting those relationships.
To dive a little bit deeper here on some of the things that you talked about, you started in audit. Retracting a bit was one of the reasons why I was attracted to you. As someone who’s also in the financial services industry, when I saw your bio across one of my Facebook groups, I was like, “That’s an amazing lady. I want to talk to her because she is farther ahead in the game than myself. I want to know her story about how she got started and how she’s built this business.” I’m curious about how your experiences as an audit has translated to your investing in real estate.
I would say in two ways. Looking at deals, being an accountant and an auditor, you tend to have a good, conservative approach to how you look at numbers in my underwriting. It is your analysis, your projections of how you think the property is going to perform. You’re basing the value that you place on the property on this analysis that you’ve done, based on all the information you can at the time. I think part of that was being conservative enough to make sure that you’re making the right investment decisions. One of my mentors said, “The best deal that you do is with the one that you don’t.” If you’re too aggressive on your pricing, you make your money on your buy. It’s not when you sell that you make money. That’s why you always have to try to buy it. Try not to overpay because it’s going to be harder to get those returns if you pay too much for it. Having that conservatism helps.
The other piece, people don’t talk about this as much as asset management. Asset management is when you’ve acquired the property. How is it performing? What are you doing with it? How is it achieving the goals that you set for it? That is a constant review of the financial statements that we get from our property managers, understanding the drivers of the revenue. It’s usually fairly easy if it’s rented and collected the fees that you charge, but you can start diving into the assumptions, “How are we doing on the collection? What fees are we charging for these services?” You’re looking at expenses and you’re saying, “Expenses are high for water. What happened? Do we have leaks? Why don’t we have a consistent amount of insurance? What happened in our insurance?” That’s one of the expenses that should be flat and consistent. “Why did repairs and maintenance go up so much?”
Almost all the time, there’s always an explanation for it, but it’s understanding how to take that deeper look and also understanding and looking at our payables. “The amount of money that we owe is higher. Let’s look at our vendors list. What are we going to make these payments? Is there something going on with our cash situation that we need to talk about further that I do not see on here?” We need to make sure that that’s happening. The receivable sides, their collections, what’s happening with this apartment? It’s been a couple of months since we haven’t got rent. They’ve already filed. “Unfortunately, that sheriff may have to come and we have to go to him with this person from the property because we’re not collecting rent for this unit.” It allowed me to put on an investigative hat and confidently be able to look at the financial statements and then pressure test against some of the assumptions. We have to look at, “What did we budget for? What is coming through?” Focus and attention for our investors because of the way I do deals as though I’m not buying these apartments all by myself. We’re syndicating deals and we’re pulling together people who are interested in investing with us to purchase these properties. Those are some of the aspects that I’m able to use my background.
Following from there, you also talked about how you decided to invest out of state. How did you get comfortable investing out of state living in New York?
I get that a lot because their first instinct is to invest where you are so you can go in and check on the property and see what’s going on. For me, part of it was the price point. I knew that New York and Tri-state area price points. They’ve been high and the returns were going to be low. That’s the market. When I found the multifamily investing group, one of the things that I swung is that they were investing outside of New York. Finding people who are doing what you want to do is helpful to help you get to the next level. It helped to dispel some of the reservations that I had about doing it at first. I did a lot of research because then the next part was what market? If you’re not going to invest in where you live, that means the door could be open to anything. What could work for me?
I knew that there was going to be travel involved, but some travel was probably going to be a little bit challenging for me to do. Flying across the country with probably going to be a harder type of back and forth for me. That got me to a place where Southeast is a good place because I could get there easily if I needed to. Also, when I started, some of my passive investments were with the Midwest. It is relatively easy to get to as well. We don’t have the snow as much in the southeast. I started to follow a lot of the patterns and looked at market indicators. One of the things that I looked at the cities that had population growth. You may be familiar with MSA, but that’s the Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Those are predefined by the government areas include cities. Sometimes, they’re cities themselves. Sometimes they expand more to a state or outside of a state. It’s essentially a cluster of cities that make up a group. What’s great about MSA is that there’s actual data on them. You can get the Bureau of Labor Statistics for job information. You can get information that’s already done for you in a way based on the MSA.
I wanted to see the unemployment rate trends. I wanted to see that going down. The other things that were good that I thought were important are business-friendly areas. If you have business-friendly states, that means that there’ll be more jobs there because their employers will be employing more. Also, landlord-friendly was something that was a bonus when we were looking at our target market, which is Atlanta. Those are all the factors that I took into account. When I started talking to people about looking at the Atlanta market, it seemed like everybody I spoke to knew somebody that lived in Atlanta. I didn’t have many connections there. I do already, but a lot of people were, “My cousin lives there. My friend lives there.” It seemed like it was a place that verbally sounded like people were moving there. It does seem to then make sense with the numbers that I was seeing.
When you got started, you were working full-time and then investing passively. As time has gone on, you’ve shifted from working full-time and investing passively to actively playing in real estate altogether and not working full-time anymore. Can you talk a little bit about that transition and why you chose to move to that direction?
The shift for me was a little bit more forced than probably more people may have to encounter. In my company, there were a lot of changes that were happening. I’d been there for many years. It’s always what happens in big companies. There are a lot of changes in shifts and moves around and my division was going away. I was thinking, “I can try to find another role within the company or another competitor and continue in financial services.” I wanted to try real estate investing. I wanted to explore that more. I found that this was a great opportunity for me to do it because there are not too many times when the window is open where there’s a fork in the road and you have to make a decision. It was the safer route non-accountant-like or accountant-like. I’m going to forge on if I can’t find it a job. I’ll figure out the real estate stuff. At the time, my husband and I thought that this could be a good opportunity for me to explore what with the state. When I fixated on that, there were a lot of things that fell into place that was awesome.
When I was leaving my job, I joined this real estate. I got accepted into this program called Project REAP. It’s a Real Estate Associate Program. It’s a fabulous program that focuses on diversity and inclusion in commercial real estate. It allowed me to see commercial real estate from many different aspects. That’s when I also found the multifamily investing group that I was part of. All of those things came into place, I said, “This is an opportunity that I should take,” and I went with it. It was a big transition at first, especially coming from a job, you’re used to thinking about things from your job’s perspective. If you’re the finance person, you’re always thinking about things from your finance perspective and the numbers, which is important.
When you have a business, you have to think of things from multiple levels. It’s going to be you’re wearing, you’re the CEO, you’re the marketer, and you’re the finance person. You have to wear many different hats and that was an adjustment. That’s one of the things I had to get used to and realizing that I can’t focus on cranking through the numbers or doing the analysis. I also had to spend time on the phone with the brokers talking about deals, learning about marketing. It’s talking to property managers as well because they’re also a key person in your team, especially when you’re investing at out of state.Knowing yourself helps to drive the strategy that you're looking for and want to do. Click To Tweet
In connection to that, how important have teams been in your investing career for you?
Teams are extremely important for me. When I started, one of the things I was thinking was, “I’m going to start doing this multifamily investing. I’ll probably get ten units and that should be fine. I’ll raise the money by myself. I’ll do everything by myself. Everything’s going to be okay.” That’s probably not the best way to do it at all. This is not playing a game of solitaire. Real estate is a team sport. Helping me grow, joint venturing was a big part of that. One of the multifamily groups that I was in is where I met the joint venture partners that I’ve been working with for the past four deals. We connected, we clicked, and that’s important.
Being in an environment where you had like-minded people, joy, having that joint venture team, that was important to me. It helped me realize the first deal that I did. I was thinking ten. It’s in my head, but our first deal was a 48-unit. We went on to a 56-unit and 174-unit and then a 96-unit. Having a joint venture worked for me. We also had to expand into a large deal. We brought in other partners to help with the equity raise and the lending portion of that too. That’s paramount. That’s your base team, but you also have to have your team on the ground, which is your property management group. You need to laugh at the ones that are going to help drive your property.
During this time, you have come full cycle on two of your deals. You’ve sold two of your deals. Can you share some lessons you’ve learned from the process of everything from going into being sold to continuing to look for more properties?
I would go back to something that I said, buying right. For those two deals, we were fortunate. We purchased the first one in 2014. Atlanta was still a little, but it was coming out of recession still. Banks were a little bit skeptical about the market, but that was the best time to get in. The deals that we passed on was getting into the right price. That was good, then we saw for that first deal, it wasn’t a heavy lift. There are not as many deals like this anymore. We didn’t have to completely get anything or we do any major works. The roofs had been done. One of the things that we want to do is we knew what the property management team that we picked. They were good at managing properties in this specific niche area, which an area that is a heavy refugee population. They are people who are legitimately here in the US, but they were fleeing the country. They were good at managing and working with that resident base and that helped us a lot. We expected to hold the property for 5 to 7 years and that’s what we told our investors.
One of the things that you have to do is to speak with your broker to purchase the property. You should keep in touch with them as you’re also holding the property because we want to get a sense of what’s happening in the market. We found that the area had grown. Market values had risen a lot. We did well because we kept in touch with the broker and they’re like, “We sold something. It seemed vintage as yours, X amount higher. Do you want to consider purchasing and selling it?” We’re getting ready to put it on the market. They had buyers that were ready to move forward and then we had a fire at the building. We had to stop what we were doing. We had to take it back and we realized we need to address this. Thank God nobody was hurt. Nobody was injured, but people were displaced.
We’ve worked with the insurance company to get the property up and running. We found out when we did the updates that we were planning on that because of the fire, it pushed the market values up for the property. The apartment’s higher and we got a higher price because we were able to show that we were able to get higher rents and we had before. I wouldn’t want to have a fire at all in any property, but it was an interesting thing about how something, at that point, was a little with the soul-crushing ended up being something that propelled us forward. The whole thing was we wanted to do right by the people that were there and by our residents. They’re our customers. We’ve worked to try to do that and it ended up paying off for us. That was the best deal that we’ve done. Similarly, with the other property, that one, we knew we had some bigger projects. We had to do roofs. We have to do some landscaping work. It would be we’re going to put in metering for the water to make sure that we could chargeback for water usage. These were all things that we did on that property and those helped us add value to the property. Also, having that contact with the broker helped us in finding the right time to put it on the market and the right buyer.
What advice would you give to readers who are interested in investing in real estate? They’re similar to you and your past life and me and my current life. They’re working a corporate job. They know it’s a ton of hours and would like to get into the real estate game. What advice would you give to them?
I would say a couple of things. The first thing that my mentor said to me was to find your strategy. You’re going to define your strategy based on a lot of things. Some of it is going to be your resources. A big part of your resources is your time, how much time you have to devote to your real estate business? Are you able to make your market trips or can you work with somebody who can help you? Can you invest the time to find partners that may be able to help you look at the different markets when you’re coming up with your strategy? Your strategy may be to find and buying a whole single-family, fix and flip or it could multifamily as well. You do have to consider how much time do you have to put into it and who can you surround yourself with to help you also get to that next level? Know the value that you have that you bring to the table and find people who are doing what you want to do and see how you can be an asset to them too.
Knowing your worth, knowing what you bring to the table because everybody has different skillsets. There’s not one that’s better than others. There are some that at different times are more helpful throughout the phases of your home that can be helpful. Everybody has a skillset that they can bring to the table. Find yours and see what it is that you can bring forth. Maybe you don’t have a lot of assets, but you know a lot of people who do. What you can do is you can help to bring money to a deal. That could be an entry point to you because that’s important. You need to have the equity to be able to purchase these properties and you do need to have the balance sheet. Maybe that’s your skillset, being able to help in that way. Building your team, the people that you’re working with day to day, your property management team, and your brokers. For us, we also have our accountants and CPAs. We syndicate the deals so we have to add K-1 going out to our investors.
We have to have accountants that understand that there are people who invest using self-directed IRAs. There are certain ways that it gets treated from a tax perspective. You have those people who know that. Your lawyers are also your team. They’re the ones coming up and helping you with the operating agreements. The purchase and sale agreement with the seller but then also the operating agreements with your investors and making sure that you’re filing correctly with SEC. Those are also important when you’re doing syndication, making sure you’re following your right exemptions. It’s knowing your value, your strategy and building your team.
My last bit of questions, which are my level-up questions. I ask all my guests about these questions. What are you grateful for in your life?
I’m grateful for my family and my support system. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support of my husband, especially when we went to that first meeting. It was learning about multifamilies. He’s like, “You’ve always wanted to do this and try it. Go ahead.” I would’ve never been able to do that. Now that we have two young children, he’s been a foundation and backbone for me. I’m grateful for that and my parents, all of our family because they all help to pitch.You never know what you can learn when you start getting outside of your comfort zone. Click To Tweet
What would you say are the top three lessons you learned in 2019?
Be true to yourself. You have to know yourself and that helps to drive the strategy that you’re looking for and you want to do. Get uncomfortable and I’m still learning that lesson. That’s how you grow. That’s how you are doing the things that you always do. It makes you feel comfortable. You have to push past that to do that and expanding your network. That’s also part of sometimes being uncomfortable depending on your personality. Surround yourself with real estate people. I had opportunities to meet people who were doing auxiliary things to real estate. Having businesses that were not there in real estate but not in the development itself. It’s fantastic because you get to understand how people think. It was like a tech group that I got to learn about. You never know what you can learn when you start getting outside of your comfort zone.
Lastly, what do you believe is key to your continued success and growth?
Having systems and processes is an important thing to be able to grow because you need to have a foundation. Systems and processes are understanding what is putting down, what are your criteria? Make sure that you have your checklist. You can work through things in a smart way, not in a hard way. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of being busy doing all these different things, but are those different things helping you grow your business? They may not be. You have to think about investing in your business. Maybe using a virtual assistant or partnering with somebody that can help you so you can spend the time doing the things that are going to help you grow. Sometimes, putting in all the numbers and spending all the time putting on why that’s important. Maybe that’s not the thing you should be doing, but you should be reviewing the numbers and then having the conversation with the appropriate to talk about. Having those systems in place helps you build on that. It’s hard to grow when you’re randomly trying to get everything done at the same time.
How can people reach out to you if they’d like to learn more?
Thank you, Sonya, for coming on. I appreciate it. There are many good nuggets.
Thank you for having me, Lisa. I’m glad to have this conversation with you. I appreciate it.
Thank you, Sonya, for coming on the show. I appreciate it. I hope that the show was insightful for you and that you were able to get some good nuggets. Some of the insights that I took away from my conversation with Sonya was one, a lot of thinking about what you bring to the table. She started this session talking about her back experience, working in financial services and being an auditor. What she could bring to the table and looking at the deals from a conservative manner, especially looking at the underwriting numbers to assess whether these numbers look reasonable and accurate. From the asset management perspective, knowing that she came from that experience of looking at financial statements, she then was able to then take that skillset into looking at the financial statements coming from the property, questioning it and analyzing the numbers to see if the trends month after month made sense.
Ask more questions to dive into more things to get comfortable, whether the expenses were accurate, as well as pressure testing assumptions that were being made to verify, “Does the budget truly make sense? What’s going on?” I also loved her answer to the question of getting comfortable about investing out of your state. She brought a lot of key things to think about if you’re thinking about investing outside of the state in which you live. Population growth of the MSA, which you’re looking for and the fact that you can find this stuff on the Department of Labor Statistics to determine whether there are patterns that are showing that population is increasing and growing. The last thing you’d want to do is invest in a city that is not growing. Unemployment trends is another thing that you can look at. A lot of these things are also on city-data as well. Business-friendly areas also attract more jobs, the greater population as well. That helps you to be able to execute on investing in real estate in that particular state and landlord-friendly states that enable that want a business of real estate investors to come in.
In connection to that, she also talked about how she got started, which is through Project REAP as well as the multifamily investing group and how important it is to surround yourself with people. The team is important. Everything from the people that you choose to JV with down to your accountants, your property managers, your brokers, and the whole 9 yards. A team sport, which is what she spoke about. You’re not playing solitaire. You’re working with other people so it’s super important to understand that and to actively surround yourself with those people that can help, that are like-minded, and that are interested in similar goals, then move forward and start to take action on your goals. One other thing that I also thought was intriguing is the transition from working full-time to being an entrepreneur and having her own business and investing in real estate. This is true for people, it might not necessarily be building a big syndication business, but they could be building a business as small as buying single-family homes and stuff.
As doing that, you realize that there are many different hats to play, property management, accounting, brokers, real estate agents and contractors. Which are all things, regardless of how if you decide to buy a single-family, a duplex, a triplex or as you want to actively invest in syndications, you’re going to end up having to deal with some of these different team members. Sometimes, people might take the approach of trying to do it all on their own, but understanding that you need to bring other people on to get it done efficiently, effectively, and ultimately, it is a business. Lastly, I love her advice on people thinking about getting started. Assessing your resources. The biggest resource and most valuable is your time and the finances, but the amount of time that you can spend or not be able to spend based on, maybe you have a career that you enjoy.
As a result, you will want to figure out how you want to invest in real estate to continue to spend the bulk of your time doing your career. That is looking for teams of people that do invest full-time to help you to be able to invest in real estate and continue to do the things that you want to do, which is possible. Find partners that are doing a good job at things that being able to run the investment deals, the markets, and the whole 9 yards. It was another amazing episode. I thank Sonya for coming on and sharing her experiences and the reasons why she got started in real estate. I hope that some of these insights were beneficial to you and helps you to narrow down and crystallize how you would like to play in real estate. Until next time, keep leveling up.
About Sonya Rocvil
Sonya Rocvil is the Principal of Bedrock Real Estate Investors, LLC. Bedrock Real Estate Investors is a privately-owned real estate investment company, that specializes in acquiring and asset managing multifamily apartment buildings in strategic markets in the United States. Sonya has syndicated four multifamily deals totaling 374 units and $18.6M in asset value and has exceeded deal return expectations on the two properties that have been sold.
Sonya is a seasoned professional with a career of over 15 years in the financial services industry. She began her career in audit and transitioned to finance in a Fortune 500 Company. Her experience in business analysis, problem-solving and implementing strategic initiatives that drive growth, provide her with the skill set required for multifamily acquisition and asset management. Sonya is also an Adjunct Instructor for the NYU School of Professional Studies.
Sonya holds a Master of Business Administration from Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business and a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Rutgers University. Sonya is a Certified Public Accountant and Licensed Real Estate Agent in the State of New York. She is also a graduate of Project REAP (Real Estate Associate Program).
Sonya is the Treasurer of the Council of Urban Real Estate and is an active member of her local merchants’ association.
Sonya lives with her husband and two young children in Brooklyn, New York.