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Today, I’m joined by real estate executive Chok Lei to discuss his work with The Cedarview, a multiphase rental apartment development near the University of Connecticut. The 250-unit community is set upon a former nine-hole golf course, and will provide necessary housing for the students, faculty, and permanent residents of the college town. Chok describes how his team is providing a product that the town needs, but also is keeping in-line with the rural, natural character of Northeastern Connecticut.
Chok shares how he was influenced to pursue a career in real estate development from a young age一the only issue is that he’s seeing the same homebuilding process his grandfather followed. We talk about trends in proptech, which is innovation and use of technology within the property sector, and more broadly, the real estate industry. To Chok, it’s more than a buzzword. Proptech is a movement bringing the real estate industry into where it needs to be today, and also where it needs to be going forward, in order to address housing issues that we’re seeing across the country.
I ask Chok about the exciting opportunities in the development space right now and what he keeps in mind when he’s investing in construction tech. He highlights startups in the proptech space that are making waves in the homebuilding space, and shares his predictions for the future of real estate development.
Chok Lei is a real estate executive who has served in leadership roles for multiple investment firms, most recent of which is COO at Clear Mountain Capital, a New York City based company that develops real estate and invests in technology that will transform the industry. He is also a professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning. He previously worked at Pretium Partners and began his career at JP Morgan.
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[00:01:10] Atif Qadir: This is American building. And I’m your host author Codder. I’m the CEO of Redis, a technology company focused on innovative public financing for real estate projects. We are recording from the historic home of world renowned architect, Michael Graves in Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves, architecture and design YouTube channel.
Now let’s build something today. Our guest is chocolate. Chuck is a real estate executive who has served in leadership roles for multiple investment firms. Most recent of which is the role of COO for clear mountain capital, a New York city based company that develops real estate and invest in technology that will transform the industry.
He is also a professor at Columbia’s graduate school of architecture. Preservation and planning. He previously worked at Pretium partners and began his career at JPL. Chuck is a graduate of Columbia university like me and also Baruch college. We’ll be talking about the Cedar view, a multi-phase rental apartment development near the university of Connecticut.
More broadly, we will talk about how technology can improve the process of developing for small to medium-sized developers. So thank you so much for being here with us. Chuck,
[00:02:41] Chok Lei: thank you so much for that.
[00:02:42] Atif Qadir: Absolutely. So real estate, it’s often a family endeavor. How is your family involved in the.
[00:02:52] Chok Lei: Sure. So drawing up, uh, my grandfather was an engineer and, um, he had designed some buildings, uh, throughout the world.
And, uh, when he moved here, He was a first-generation immigrant. And, uh, we had the pleasure and privilege to be exposed to his work, to be able to see his blueprints, to be able to see what his life was like. Uh, and my cousins and myself, you know, it took a lot of influence from that. I’ve continued to build on that.
Over the years, uh, myself, I took more of a financial route to get more of the business sense. And ultimately my goal was always to come back into real estate, which had happened after my stint in high finance. Um, my cousins are also in real estate, my brothers, and you’ll see it as well. Everyone’s kind of done into the industry through a different approach.
My cousin is a D designer by trade. And a licensed architect and has moved into the development side as well. So, you know, we are all, uh, we all take a, took a page out of our grandfather’s book and, um, hopefully we can bring that into today. That’s awesome.
[00:04:06] Atif Qadir: What country did your family immigrate to the.
[00:04:09] Chok Lei: So my grandfather was from China and, um, he grew up during all the turmoil, uh, mid century turmoil.
And so, uh, in wanting a better life for his children and his grandchildren ourselves. Okay. The, uh, brought the entire family over to the U S back in the eighties. So we’ve been here for quite a few decades, you know, fully immersed. And, uh, interestingly enough, though, for it is Asian American Pacific Islander month
[00:04:41] Atif Qadir: to me to add you both of us.
[00:04:44] Chok Lei: Interesting tidbit. There is that, um, uh, some of my ancestors were actually here. In the 18 hundreds, helping out, uh, in building the railroads. And so, you know, quite a diverse history, I would say, and, uh, in the United States going back, uh, over a century. So,
[00:05:03] Atif Qadir: interesting fact, related to that for Asian Pacific American heritage month, the month of may was selected because that was the first, uh, recorded, uh, immigration to the United States from Japan.
Um, but actually, uh, there are likely, uh, immigrants. Uh, the United States from China and India, uh, prior to that, that first arrival of Japanese immigrant, uh, specifically to work on the railroads and eventually for any people that are familiar with American history and our interest in that stuff, the Chinese exclusion act, which became the Asian exclusion act was meant to, uh, delay or make quite difficult.
Uh, Path to citizenship, uh, for, uh, folks from China and from India. Ironically, the ones that had built the railroads in the 1800.
[00:05:50] Chok Lei: Yeah, that’s amazing. That’s it always love talking to you about this kind of stuff. This is this fact really make me feel like I learned something
[00:05:59] Atif Qadir: after the conversation. So our chalk or listeners, if you need a partner for a trivia night, I’m available.
I actually have one trivia night as I did go. I’d one point and my friends were able to make it. So I just played anyway by myself and I still won versus other people’s teams. Uh, this was in new Haven. I was there when. So I’m pretty good as a ringer if anyone needs. Uh, so, uh, uh, Chuck, tell it, tell me, what did you learn by working in financial services?
Because you had mentioned that was part of your career path versus those of your cousins. And was that a really useful jumping off point to get into.
[00:06:36] Chok Lei: Absolutely. The key thing that I learned from the financial services industry is I think most importantly is the organizational skillset understanding how to organize and, uh, utilize time very effectively and to keep all these processes, uh, corralled in a, in a manner that, um, I think it applies very well to the development process for those that have done.
And in addition to that, you know, being able to see how different companies operate in the capital markets environment, how their performances are tracked, what are the key things that people look at as it relates to a certain industry, a certain sector, uh, very applicable and then really, um, helped me.
Orient to myself as I started to cover more real estate, uh, companies such as REITs and home builders at the time. And then, um, moving over, uh, having the opportunity to, to join the buy side, uh, through Pretium partners where, um, they were pioneering the single family rental industry and, uh, joined very early on and being able to see how.
Company was built from scratch to where it is today, which manages over 35 billion, I believe, which is quite an amazing feat. And being able to see that run-up and creating a new asset class and laying the infrastructure down for all these other firms that have, you know, since joined, uh, single family rental asset, uh, was, was quite the learning experience for me.
Definitely influenced my decision to become a developer and to be more focused on the asset side of the.
[00:08:27] Atif Qadir: So then let me ask you this. You began your career at, around the time of the global financial crisis. And currently we’re in what we can call our call it. Now, I guess the COVID turmoil, the COVID turmoils, I guess, but how would you say you have thought through and developmentally for yourself?
A robust strategy to be able to make money and do well. Despite, uh, large amounts of downs and ups in the economic market in New York.
[00:09:01] Chok Lei: The key thing really is to keep track of supply and demand. It’s pretty rudimentary. I’m sure all but listeners. I’ve looked into that in great detail. It really is finding the product that is missing in the market product.
That is, you know, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the Uber luxury, you know, $20 million type product for a condo. You know, there’s a whole demographic of homeowners or want to be homeowners that are looking for a product that’s, you know, more entry-level and that, that demographic is. Typically underserved, no matter where you go.
I mean, if you look across the country, that demographic is, is causing a lot of real estate markets throughout, uh, especially coming to Southern markets to, to really be. Uh, heating up quite quickly. And so I think keeping track of where the demand is coming from and understanding what type of product, and really understand that customer base really well to provide them the type of product that they’re looking for.
I think that is how we’ve positioned ourselves well, uh, from a development perspective.
[00:10:11] Atif Qadir: Okay. And you teach at Columbia as well. So what do you teach at the school? And do you feel that, uh, there’s a symbiotic relationship perhaps between being an investor and being a teacher and that one makes you better at the other.
[00:10:28] Chok Lei: Uh, I teach real estate finance. And so it is pretty helpful, um, to be able to say ideas and talk about ideas out loud, uh, in particular, um, being involved with a very diverse community of students, uh, around the world who share similar interests in real estate, you know, being able to hear their perspective and, and me having the, uh, the ability to, to have.
Intelligent conversations with them about cultural differences as it relates to real estate markets, having their perspective about how, uh, in certain parts of the country, they look at real estate, I think is, is, is very helpful for me. Uh, it makes me a better investor, I think, by incorporating these different perspectives and, and thinking about things from a global big picture, as opposed to a market centric.
That view. So, uh, I think, I think it does allow me to have that broader perspective and to think about things, um, kind of out of the weeds. Cause, you know, as a developer, as you know, sometimes you’re just in the weeds. Um, and so it, it’s nice to have the opportunity to take a step back and really, you know, say things out loud and then have a active discussion about some of the things you’re thinking about.
So yes, I think, I think they are symbiotic in that. Awesome.
[00:11:49] Atif Qadir: And no one really ever likes the weeds, particularly if you’re responsible for mowing the lawn and taking care of the yard. So, exactly. Yeah. So let’s, let’s talk about this project, the Cedar view. I think it’s really interesting. So tell us about stores, Connecticut and the site for the Cedar view.
[00:12:09] Chok Lei: Sure. So the sear view is, uh, a project we’ve been working on in the town of stores, Connecticut. It’s the town in which, uh, university of Connecticut, uh, main campus and the site was formerly a golf course, a nine hole golf course, uh, 60 acres, uh, very, very scenic, very nice, uh, beautiful type of site. And what we want to do is transform this golf course into a.
Uh, housing that would be appropriate for, uh, the local community. There’s been a shortage of housing there and you know, it, it’s, it’s up to us as a developer in the town to really work with them, to, uh, build out the type of product that everyone was looking for. All right. Going back to my previous. You know, from what we’ve seen, uh, in other towns, you know, sometimes developers come in, they build what they want, but for us, you know, we’ve been working in the town for so long that, um, our goal here is to create housing that fits the needs of the residents in the community.
[00:13:15] Atif Qadir: Okay. And, uh, give us a sense of the scale of the university of Connecticut and the city of stores in particular. What are the amounts that people are doing?
[00:13:26] Chok Lei: Th these aren’t the same numbers that you would consider for, you know, in, in a larger city where you’re talking about millions of people in a population, this is a smaller town where most of the demographic consists of, um, students that would be.
A substantial portion of, of, of the residents in town, along with, you know, the more permanent residents such as the faculty members, the professors, the, and then all the other town residents in town that support all the infrastructure to allow all this to happen. And so, uh, in terms of total numbers size, you know, we’re talking about the tens of thousands, not in, uh, you know, say hundreds or millions of people, but that.
Because of the relatively rural nature of, um, the town and the surrounding areas. Uh, there’s been a lack of housing even for the population of this size. And so, um, you know, with every project that we’re building, for example, Cedar for you, we’re, we’re looking to put in 250 units, you know, that’s 250 units.
That’s going to be very well received because there is a substantial shortage. Of of any type of housing in
[00:14:39] Atif Qadir: this community. So I just got a few numbers from my research assistant, whose name is Optiv surprise. So we, uh, just to give you guys a frame of reference. So Storrs Connecticut is 15,000 people, which is about a quarter of the size of Hoboken, New Jersey as a point of reference and the university of Connecticut.
Total enrollment is 32,000, which is about two and a half times the enrollment of Yale university, which is also in Connecticut. So talk to us about the development strategy, uh, for this site and what are the stages that you have to go through in order to execute it?
[00:15:19] Chok Lei: This requires. Quite a bit of planning from a plan design perspective, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a former nine hole golf course.
Um, but that golf course only sits on the front. Half of the property. The back half of the property though, other 30 acres actually is a very scenic, uh, natural landscape, which, you know, we’ve offered to the community as a training that, uh, into a public amenity space, um, hiking trails and so forth that will allow the residents to, uh, really enjoy the beauty of the landscape in that town.
And for us, we want to focus our, uh, development on the areas that have already been utilized in the past. Uh, particularly for this nine hole golf course and the associated club buildings that were part of that golf course. We’d like to keep our development footprint, relegated to the areas that have already been utilized in that way.
We can preserve a lot of this natural landscape of the surrounding, um, community. And so, um, that’s one of the key things we’re focused on. Um, we’re also very focused on making sure we incorporate a lot of green spaces, a lot of outdoor amenities. We want to make sure that, uh, this, this development won’t just be a, uh, you know, something.
We just drop on a bunch of houses on a bunch of apartments on, and then kind of walk away. This is going to be a permanent, permanent, uh, set of housing product in the town. And I would say into perpetuity, uh, given its its location, um, relative to the surrounding neighborhood. And so we want to make sure that it is stamped with stands the test of time.
Provides a product that the town wants, but also, uh, is keeping in line with the rural, the natural character of the city of the town.
[00:17:19] Atif Qadir: So you mentioned the, the idea of concentrating, uh, development, uh, while allowing for large portions of the site Tremaine natural. So yesterday earlier this season, we had the opportunity to, uh, speak to urban planner at Euforma Abbo, uh, who’s based in New York city and her project is the perfect, uh, New York street.
Uh, so essentially a big consideration for the reimagination. Of the streetscape in New York city is how to handle storm water management, um, which is a considerable issue for a city with so much, uh, blacktop or asphalt for an area that’s quite rural. Are there water-based issues in terms of storm water management or flooding or rain management that you had to take into consideration as you laid out the site and where to develop versus where.
[00:18:10] Chok Lei: Oh, absolutely. And this kind of ties into the process of development for this site. Um, as you’ve kind of asked it for other land planning and the land design of this project was quite intensive, differs quite a bit of topography, uh, in town and. As I’ve mentioned, we go to the natural landscape. There’s quite a bit of consideration as it relates to what lens in the surrounding areas and also part of our site as well.
So making sure that we are very careful in designing a site, a site plan that minimizes and avoids or. Or all disturbances to any sort of wetland areas and making sure that we have a product that can transverse some of the topography, uh, is something that, uh, um, we spend a lot of time and effort into trying to, to, to design.
And so that is something that, uh, is at the forefront of what we think about, particularly as it relates to, um, water table. How the footprint of the building sits in relation to that water table, how that affects the type of foundations you would need and the orientation of how you want to place her and buildings.
Uh, so as to allow for a more efficient stormwater design, uh, on the site, actually, we also have a preexisting manmade pond as part of the golf, uh, the, the water hazard for the nine hole golf course. What we’re going to do with that is turn that into. A natural, uh, more of a natural amenity, uh, within the community such that, uh, residents can lay out on the grass beside the pond, it’s going to get cleaned up.
But the, the interesting thing about this pond is that it also acts as a storm water management system, where you can maintain the level of the water of the pond through a system that allows for disbursement of water, uh, over time, over time. Depending on water level, uh, to be dispersed into the surrounding wetland area, to be that more of a controlled process.
So, you know, there are things like that that are pretty creative and from what our engineers have done to, to really utilize the natural landscape, to serve specific functions, as it relates to.
[00:20:32] Atif Qadir: That’s actually a really great point because when you contrast that to the earliest ways that development was planned for and executed in, uh, beyond the urban environment.
So in the suburbs, there was not an emphasis for what you just described. Natural landscapes and water management. It was much more about efficiency. And, uh, early in the season, we had architect, uh, Kenneth Nam, come on the show to talk about his installation exhibit called a suburban ism, uh, which invites, uh, viewers and, uh, people that, uh, I visited to reconsider.
The suburban landscape is and isn’t um, so I find that incredibly interesting to see the transformation of layouts, uh, for the suburbs over time. So this project is in a opportunities zone. Could you tell us about what opportunity zones are and how you are utilizing this very lucrative form of, of like finding.
[00:21:38] Chok Lei: Sure. Yes. So the opportunity is zone, uh, regulation put in place, uh, towards the end of 2017. And it created a trend areas that were divined by the state of, uh, areas that. Benefits from, uh, investment capital in the form of real estate development, and also edit the types of businesses, basically, um, trying to spur investment dollars in specific areas.
And so for us, uh, in this location of where we are, um, we are situated with an opportunity zone and the way it works is, uh, in our investor. That have invested their capital gains dollars into this project will benefit from a lower amount of tax on those, on those same capital gains and the new term. And then in the long-term, if they hold this investment for 10 years or more, any future capital gains that, uh, came up from disinvestment will be, uh, Uh, that’s, uh, a simplification of it, but generally that’s the key benefit is that, uh, if you invest a dollar today and this dollar becomes $2 in the future after 10 years, that additional dollar of gain from this investment is not taxable.
So a, uh, very, very appealing benefit for, for investors. Uh, are in the space of a real estate multifamily investments. And
[00:23:09] Atif Qadir: I think what is particularly interesting is that it does not. It’s a form of public financing that doesn’t require an outlay of taxpayer dollars. So it’s not. It’s not alone. It’s essentially forgoing tax revenue that would have been received in the form of capital gains tax and being able to propel or direct that money to areas of need as defined by census tracks.
I mean, what’s so fascinating is that, that style of. Economic redistribution is actually one of the most efficient, because it doesn’t require that a taxpayer outlay. I think that is also the, the mode or the, the rather this program is now becoming a template for a new suite of opportunity zone inspired legislation.
For example, there is one for, uh, And one for, uh, cannabis or marijuana, uh, that is, uh, in various states of approval on Capitol hill. Uh, that is part of the budget reconciliation package. Uh, and there is also talk of the opportunity zone style of public financing to becoming a tool for other forms of specialized and targeted economic development.
So I’m excited to see what that will, uh, come to bear now next year and the years after. So. You mentioned the very thoughtful approach that you had to, uh, land plantings to say if our, if our listeners were, uh, driving up to the site and parking their car, help them understand what they would be, seeing, what they would be viewing, uh, as they would walk through the site from that initial, uh, entrance coming through.
[00:24:54] Chok Lei: Sure. Yeah. So the way I would position our design Ellis, at least for the aesthetic of the exterior is, uh, in keeping with sort of the colonial nature of the. Um, so that’s what you would initially get a sense of as you’re driving up, but as you continue to get closer and closer to our buildings, you’ll notice that there’ll be some features that are a slightly more modern take to what a colonial style home could look like.
And so, uh, what we’re trying to do is. It’s still exude that colonial aesthetic, but to bring in certain, um, certain, uh, things that we’ve seen in, in sort of the, uh, newer developments cross country, um, incorporate those such as, you know, um, large, uh, industrial type design windows. Dark color against sort of, uh, white siding, uh, chip lab will report it.
And then that will kind of give that, uh, industrial, slightly industrial chic kind of look you’ll have a brick skirt, uh, on a contrast in color resists on sort of the bottom of the property of the buildings. Um, so it gives it a little more of a sort of modern touch to it. And I think, um, you know, the, the resulting outcome we’ll give.
Would appeal to not just the, uh, residents that have grown up and have been accustomed to sort of this Northeastern colonial style type housing, but would also appeal to, you know, some of the new residents that the town is trying to attract, uh, as they try to retain talent from the university and trying to attract more, a younger demographic of, uh, that would serve as the future of the town to be able to appeal to their aesthetic sense.
[00:26:45] Atif Qadir: Based on the description. I think I might want to live there. So if somebody, if somebody wants to find out more, do you guys have a leasing website up yet, or to be doing our forthcoming, a
[00:26:55] Chok Lei: forthcoming.
[00:27:01] Atif Qadir: So I’m going to pause here to let our listeners know about the sponsors of the market. Building podcast. Retest is a new venture backed technology company that is working to transform how public financing is used to encourage building construction across our country. The commercial observer said in an article about retest among the most arduous.
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I want to talk about PropTech. So that’s basically the shortened expression to refer to, uh, innovation, the use of technology within the property sector, more broadly, the real estate industry. So in your words, what is PropTech and why are you investing?
[00:28:41] Chok Lei: Sure PropTech in my words is to put it quite simply is, is really the future of real estate.
There’s really no other way to describe it. It is real estate development and management, but brought into the 21st century in the form of technology. That’s been applied to all of the different sectors that we’ve seen in the last few decades. Having been a developer it’s, it’s frustrating to me to see.
That there’s been so much technology that’s been implemented than it’s revolutionary in certain other industries. And yet so many things in the real estate world have not even been brought up to that level. There’s no automation everything’s done by hand. We’re building things the same way we built them a hundred years ago.
And, and the way I look at prop tech is that it’s not, it’s not a buzzword. It’s really just, how do we bring this traditional asset class? Into where we need it to be today and also where it needs to be going forward in order to address some of these housing issues that we’re seeing across the country, shortage of housing, inability to build homes quickly.
And a lot of these things can be solved through the utilization of PropTech, uh, into this industry. And so for me, it’s not just about. Investing in startups or, or, uh, VC capital investments and trying to find the next unicorn. It’s really more about how do we make the industry better? How do we grow the industry going forward and how do we make it more efficient as a technology has helped for the other industries that.
[00:30:23] Atif Qadir: And for our listeners who may not be familiar with the expression unicorn, uh, chalk is not referring to a horse like animal with the horn on its head. Uh, he’s referring to a, a company worth, uh, at least a billion dollars, um, on paper at least worth a million dollars. And I think, let me ask you this shock is in what you described.
The future of real estate, there’s many ways for our industry to improve, uh, because when you compare us to, uh, sister industries, like say automotive and ADA, Uh, building construction is I think, as a quote from the commercial observer mentioned quite Byzantine. And although the Byzantines are quite beautiful architecture as well.
So what would you say within the realm of all of these options? There’s a shared economy, there’s design, construction, there’s financing. Tell me about some of the areas within the real estate industry that you think are particularly interesting to you for investment from the innovation.
[00:31:23] Chok Lei: Uh, the most interesting sub-sector, uh, of PropTech to me is construction tech, uh, or contact for short.
And part of the reason why that’s the most interesting to me is that that’s where you really see the interface of technology, which is a, uh, uh, more of an intangible thought process being applied to a brick and mortar asset and forcing. That connection, that, that conversation between the technologists and the real estate developer or GC general contractor, that that’s a very, very large, uh, knowledge gap between these two sets of professionals.
And so with that large scale, I find that there would be a lot of opportunities, uh, in which to facilitate these conversations, to facilitate the creation of ideas. By bridging that knowledge gap between someone who might be coding a behind a computer screen versus someone who’s on the site, thinking about how much concrete to pour into a foundation.
There’s a lot of opportunity there for ourselves. People who like to think about straddling both sides of this equation to, to really help, to identify ways in which we can change the way some of these processes are currently working for development and, and really find the type of products and maybe incubator and products that can specifically address some of these processes that have not been looked at by the technology side of the.
[00:33:01] Atif Qadir: within the world of construction tech, there are a growing number of investors. You have, they investors, uh, like SoftBank that have made my number. Bad investment decisions like in Katara and we work those dumpster fire companies. Uh, and then you have really interesting, thoughtful, very smart, intelligent investors, uh, like Hometeam ventures, which really focuses on construction tech, focusing on housing affordability from 3d financing, all the way to.
The financing of the, the affordability itself, uh, making that more accessible. So, uh, talking about some of the companies that you respect and that you see as potentially inspiration for your work and prop tech investment as well.
[00:33:46] Chok Lei: I think that afforded the affordability angle that you mentioned is, is very important, right?
Like there was really, it goes back to the beginning of this conversation where, you know, building the right type of product. For what the demand is. And as everyone knows, the country is facing a shortfall of affordable housing. And so understanding how do we address that issue? One of the ways to address that is specifically in making the home building process more effective, more efficient, more automated.
And so the stuff, uh, the property, the, the, the startups are. Are specifically focused on some of, some of addressing some of these issues. So for example, um, how do you automate home construction? Uh, we are looking currently at, um, 3d printing companies for country. We are considering investments into companies like these along with potential incubating technology from overseas that already have, uh, demonstrated their ability to do so.
In other countries and bring that technology to the U S where you can print a foundation. Right. It’s not the entire house yet, but at the very least you can print a foundation in, in a few days. And as opposed to, you know, death foundation taking weeks to cure, to, uh, to pour having, uh, all sorts of labor.
The laborers to be onsite, to be able to, to pour that foundation, if we can automate that through a 3d printing process, I think that’s where we’ll start to see greater efficiencies in, in addressing how do we build homes faster and more.
[00:35:26] Atif Qadir: I think that’s a wonderful point. I had the opportunity to visit a 3d printer, uh, icon, uh, when I was in Austin for the south by Southwest festival, which locals call south by.
So if you say south by Southwest, they know that you’re not from Austin and I can absolutely see the potential to scale, which is one of the largest challenges of innovation in our industry. What I will say also, Chuck, is that I find that a hundred percent. I agree with you. Uh, affordable housing is a big problem in the United States.
I would word humble the offer that it might actually be the. Access to the affordable housing, as opposed to the sheer count of it. The reason why I’m saying that is when, uh, last year, uh, Redis, we decided to be all virtual. I took that opportunity to, uh, work from home in 12 different places over 12 months.
So, uh, several of those months were actually. Uh, different regions of Pennsylvania one month was in bus west, Virginia. And I would often go through small cities that, I mean, we’re visually, we’re not that unlike, uh, Hoboken, New Jersey where I live, whether it’s, uh, wheeling West Virginia or homestyle, Pennsylvania.
And these towns would just be blocks after block, after block of empty, boarded up homes. And I think that if someone’s listening out there and can come up with some smart, interesting way to make that useful, all of that embodied energy, that’s there. Uh, in addition to obviously. Um, new homes in places like Austin, then I think we’re really talking about a big change for our country.
So for investment in, through venture capital, in construction tech, what does that actually entail? So what is the day-to-day process like and what, what actually happens when it is that you make an investment?
[00:37:27] Chok Lei: Uh, there really isn’t a standard process, I would say, because again, we’re. The typical PropTech VC investor.
Uh, the way we look at PropTech is more about solving the problems that we’ve seen in the development process and focusing on the applicability of the technology rather than making, um, a variety of investments into a portfolio of companies. It’s really looking at companies one by one and. Utilizing the technology to see whether it has a measurable impact or improvement to what the process is today.
And we think those are the companies that, that have, uh, that will provide a longevity and, you know, they may or may not get the sky, you know, skyrocketing valuations in the near term. But we do think, uh, over the long-term, uh, the companies that are able to provide an emotional, uh, impact to the industry.
The the value that will be recognized. And so there isn’t a specific day-to-day process for it. It’s more of a meeting, different founders, having conversations about different ideas, looking at products that are out there. Does he, how they’ve utilized, how they can be more broadly implemented and, and facility facilitating.
A lot of these conversations, as I mentioned earlier, is, you know, from, uh, from a technology standpoint, it’s sometimes it’s hard to understand or be able to communicate across the spectrum to, uh, someone who has been a real estate professional, their entire life. It’s a completely different language. And so, um, I would say a lot of that is, is being able to bridge that gap in conversation to be able to convey right.
What the issues are in a manner that is solvable from the technology perspective. And then, uh, conveying the other way around to the, um, the hard assets, the real estate side.
And so, yeah, so a lot of it is, is, is more of a, an organic approach where, you know, a lot of this is conversation oriented and fitting the pieces together as we work on, um,
[00:39:46] Atif Qadir: And the expression that I have sometimes heard as a benchmark or a metric for venture investors is 10 X, which I believe refers to looking to 10 X their investment when they invest in venture.
Is that something that you prescribed to, or do you take a more nuanced approach?
[00:40:05] Chok Lei: I think the, from the PropTech perspective, there’s definitely a lot of opportunity to find. The types of platforms and startups that can give you that sort of target, but fundamentally going back to what the industry needs, where the industry needs to go from a social impact perspective, per se, it’s, it’s less of a focus on that.
We think that will come if the product is solid. Some of these very real issues that people see day-to-day, it’s not necessarily a question about what capital markets are doing or how much capital is coming in from abroad, from which country and what are they investing in. It’s more about what does this platform solve and whether it does it in the best way.
And so, um, That’s where we, that’s our philosophy and thinking about the type of companies that we’re looking for and the type it’s less so about the number associated with the return, it’s more about the impact associated with the platform.
[00:41:13] Atif Qadir: And that makes sense. I think it’s about thinking about the bigger picture and not necessarily putting the cart in front of the horse.
So, uh, thank you so much for joining us today on the American building podcast. Thank you very much. I see it. Absolutely. As a pleasure. Thank you so much. And listeners, if you want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how I conic buildings in our country were designed and built subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google anchor, Stitcher, or wherever you like to listen, rate and review us on iTunes to help us reach a wider audience and follow us on Instagram at American building.
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We live in the richest country, in the history of humankind, we must reach out beyond the boundaries that we see and the boundaries that we create in order to help build homes and communities today. Chuck and I have made donations to project destined, which is a nonprofit that teaches financial modeling and industry fundamentals to underprivileged students as their first step into real estate.
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