Joel Miller serves as CEO of Wall Street Capital Partners (Advisors), a Real Estate Syndication firm based out of Atlanta GA, specializing in sourcing and arranging debt and equity for acquisitions, development and recapitalization of Commercial Real Estate. The firm also invests its own acquisition and development projects as a GP investor. Current pipeline includes over 1,100 of Multifamily units primarily in Atlanta and the mid – Atlantic region. Joel has also been responsible for the intrinsic planning of site development for the execution of conservation strategies. He formerly served as head of Private Equity Fund Management & Investor relations related to Real Estate tax mitigation strategies for Cambridge Capital Partners (CCP). A boutique international investment bank focused on tax mitigation, capital markets, conservation easement strategies, and management advisory services. CCP was built on a platform of delivering tax efficiency with global business solutions. CCP’s clients include numerous banks, investors, and Fortune 500 companies throughout the Americas and Europe.
Joel began his career in New York City at U.S. Trust Co., After strengthening his acumen under some of Wall Street’s most influential financial strategists, he founded what would become Wall Street Capital Funding. Under the tutelage of Prudential Securities executives, at 28, he became one of the youngest CEO mortgage bankers in the history of the United States. The firm was ranked as one of the Top 10 Most Dependable Mortgage Companies in the SE. He has served as strategic adviser to one of the nation’s top ten wholesale mortgage banks and has served as a consultant on financial institution mergers. He has served as an adjunct Professor of Economics at the Clayton State University – Management School of Business. In late 2008, he received the privilege of being a tertiary adviser to President Barack Obama’s Transition Team on the topics of housing and the economy related to the residential Real Estate crisis of 2008. The Atlanta Business Journal named Joel one of the Top 40 under 40. He was also the host and producer of the “Mortgage Minute” and “The Joel Miller Show” on Business Radio 1160 AM The CFO, as well as a regular contributor to CNBC.
Currently, Joel also produces and hosts the Morning’s w/ Joel Commercial Real Estate Podcast which interviews and highlights the achievements of minorities in the CRE space. He also teaches the Capital Markets class for Project REAP. This fulfilled a commitment he made to stay accessible and to open his “Rolodex” to expose and encourage the next generation of CRE minorities to opportunities in the CRE space.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:03] Hi there. Thanks for joining me on Rethink Real Estate. For Good. I’m Eve Picker and I’m on a mission to make real estate work for everyone. I love real estate. Real estate makes places good or bad, rich or poor, beautiful or not. In this show, I’m interviewing the disruptors, those creative thinkers and doers that are shrugging off the status quo in order to build better for everyone.
Eve: [00:00:37] From Wall Street to mortgage banking to real estate developer, Joel Miller has focused his career with clarity and purpose. And now he’s taking it one step further by raising money for his next real estate project through crowdfunding. Joel wants to bring others up behind him. He wants to give others the opportunities he’s been given, and one small way to do that is to provide an opportunity for everyone to invest in his latest project. Early on in his career, Joel realized that his goal to lead an organization might not happen if he waited for an opportunity. So he made his own. He started his own company, Wall Street Capital Partners, specializing in sourcing and arranging debt and equity for acquisitions and development of real estate. And of course, over time, he started to build his own real estate portfolio. I enjoyed every moment of this conversation and so will you. Please listen in to hear more.
Eve: [00:01:56] Hi, Joel. I’m really delighted to have you join me today.
Joel Miller: [00:02:00] Hey, how are you, Eve? Good to be here. I’m happy to be here.
Eve: [00:02:04] Very good. So, I wanted to ask you about your journey from Wall Street to Wall Street Capital Partners. What led you to launch your own company?
Joel: [00:02:14] Well, you know, it’s very funny that you would ask that question because that was the thing that was running around in my mind when I was a young guy back on Wall Street, and I had this really ambitious dream of how I was going to be this top executive and do this and do that. And one thing I realized once I got to Wall Street was that there were other guys that were already ahead of me that were 20, 30 years older than me, and they were still trying to climb that ladder to get to where I wanted to be. And I didn’t want to wait 20 to 30 to 40 years to get there. And these guys were basically willing to kick me down the ladder to make sure I don’t pass them on the way up. So, I just simply had to decide, was I going to continue to play the Wall Street game? Or would I look for other opportunities where I might be able to shortcut that if I had the willingness to work very hard and the due diligence and the determination in order to make it happen. So that’s the short version for you older folks out there, the Reader’s Digest version of, you know, how this all came about.
Eve: [00:03:18] And when did you launch your company? And…
Joel: [00:03:21] Well, we actually started, believe it or not, in the early 90s. So this was some time ago, and we’ve had reiterations of the firm as we’ve grown as a company, adapted our focus over time. And, but that’s really when we got started back in those days.
Eve: [00:03:36] And I know you’re in Atlanta. So, you went from New York City to Atlanta. Why that move?
Joel: [00:03:44] Well, it’s very interesting you mentioned that. At the time I viewed Atlanta as New York 70 years ago. And what I mean by that is, if you look at New York City and you roll the carpet back 70 years, it was a new city, not necessarily new, but there was a lot of people coming into the city and creating what it is today. A lot of immigration, a lot of people coming in from the outside. And it opened up the opportunity for a lot of people that may not have been major players years ago to now be major players in the marketplace because there were no major players. Everybody was kind of trying to get their footing. And so, Atlanta back at that time was kind of the same type of place. This was before the Olympics. There were a lot of people migrating down there. It was wide open, and there was a lot of opportunity to really make your impression on the city without trying to, you know, knock off a lot of the older, established players that were there, like you saw in New York back at that time. So, it was an opportunity. It’s almost like, why did people decide to go west many years ago?
Eve: [00:04:50] That’s what I was thinking, like the gold rush.
Joel: [00:04:52] It was the same type of thing, yeah.
Eve: [00:04:53] How has that played out in Atlanta, do you think?
Joel: [00:04:57] Well, you know, I always ask that question, you know, where would I be today if I was still up in New York? So, I don’t know. But I think it’s worked out well. You know, one thing that’s good about Atlanta is you don’t have a lot of the, just the stresses of living. You know, New York is a very intense, compact city with people all over you. You know, everywhere you go, you walk right out to your building, there’s people all over the street. And, you know, to be in a more relaxed environment gives you more time, I think, to mentally kind of focus on what you’re trying to achieve. So, it’s worked out well for me. You know, I exchange the back yard of buildings and concrete to one of deer and trees.
Eve: [00:05:37] Nice! That’s nice. So tell me what services like Wall Street Capital Partner provides.
Joel: [00:05:44] Yeah. So, our core business over the years has been financing real estate, you know, so we’re the firm that many individuals come to in order to acquire real estate, refinance real estate, develop real estate, rehab real estate. We’re involved in that space. And as you can imagine, over time of making, you know, quite a few of our clients very wealthy, you know, we turned around and we said, you know, it’s time for us to step over to the other side of the table. So, years ago, we started investing in our own deals. And also, we decided to bring capital and resources to developers that maybe had deficiencies in their capital stack. Maybe they didn’t have experience, maybe they didn’t have all the capital, maybe they didn’t have the knowhow, maybe they didn’t understand the numbers, you know? So, we brought all that skill set to the table. And as a result of doing that, you know, we became equity players in other people’s deals and then started working on our own projects as well.
Eve: [00:06:45] So how big is your own portfolio now?
Joel: [00:06:49] Well our portfolio. I don’t really want to quote numbers here on online, but we’ve got quite a few projects that we’re more than happy to share with any investors that might be interested in investing in our projects.
Eve: [00:07:01] Okay. Fair enough. And are your projects primarily residential or commercial, for sale or for rent? What do you focus on?
Joel: [00:07:10] Yeah. So, our primary investments are, they might be for rent properties but we’re developing them for sale. You know now some of our acquisitions like in Atlanta, for an example, we’re looking at keeping those properties in the portfolio. Our development projects in the D.C. market we’re looking to sell. So, it really just depends on the market strategy, depending on where the property sits, as to what we plan to do with it. So, it’s kind of…
Eve: [00:07:41] Well that leads me to ask, you know, where are your buildings located? Where are these investments? Not just Atlanta, by the sounds of it.
Joel: [00:07:48] Yeah, not just Atlanta. Right now, we’re focused on acquisitions in Atlanta. We have other assets in New Orleans right now, and we have development projects that we’re working on up in the DC metro area.
Eve: [00:08:02] Okay. So, you’re in Atlanta. What’s the biggest need in real estate in Atlanta right now? What’s the biggest challenge?
Joel: [00:08:14] Uh, you know, that’s a multifaceted question. You know, it’s amazing because when I first got down here, it was rare to find a property that was, that cost $1 million to buy. You know, now it’s very common to find million-dollar homes. And yes, this is many years later, but just like many other markets, the cost of housing is an issue, especially in the urban core. The periphery of the city has got expensive as well. So, the demand for quality housing, even in those areas is a need. We have a issue with office space where there’s a lot of it available right now and what is that going to become? So that’s a need that has to be addressed. And you know traffic’s a big thing down here in Atlanta. Most people aren’t aware of that, but it is. And as a result, you know, many people want to live in urban core so that they don’t have to commute from outside the city. So affordable housing is something that’s needed as well. So I would say all of the issues associated with a major city is an issue here. One deficiency that Atlanta does have, though, is the mass transit is not as extensive as in New York or Washington, D.C. It’s more like a Los Angeles or Dallas or, you know, a city like that. And as a result, that presents its own challenges.
Eve: [00:09:35] So commute times can be long if you can’t live close in.
Joel: [00:09:39] Yeah.
Eve: [00:09:40] Okay. So, what’s your favorite success story? What’s a favorite project and why?
Joel: [00:09:50] Well, I think one of the favorite projects is one that we did in unison with a client of ours. They’ve kind of been the person. I don’t want to tell you how they get their real estate deals, because that’s kind of their secret sauce.
Eve: [00:10:04] It’s like their secret sauce.
Joel: [00:10:06] Yeah, so don’t want to disclose that.
Eve: [00:10:07] I know so many people who say that. I have to tell you.
Joel: [00:10:11] I know a lot of secret sauce out there, right? But, you know, this was a situation where the property was it was office. It was roughly about 30% occupied. It was in an area where, area wasn’t bad, but the property could have been doing a lot better, and everyone just kind of turned their nose up to it. It had an absentee owner from California, but it was down here in Atlanta in a very good market. And, you know, we got together and put together a strategy in unison with one of our clients to take over this property. It was about 400,000ft².
Eve: [00:10:49] Oh, that’s big.
Joel: [00:10:50] Yeah, and convert it to a very, very profitable office environment, right now. Even with offices beat up as it is and that sector being decimated as it is, this property is running north of 90% occupancy. Actually, last I checked it was 100% occupancy and it’s doing quite well. So that’s a huge success story and we would love to do that for more clients, especially minorities that are looking to get into commercial real estate. We started off with this particular client when they were buying. I think the first deal we did for them was, it was like a little dinky office building for like $147,000, you know? And now their portfolio is, I mean, eight figures, you know, high eight figures.
Eve: [00:11:37] Wow.
Joel: [00:11:38] So it’s, uh, it’s something that can be done, you know, in a short period of time. This particular client actually used to be a substitute schoolteacher of all things. So, it can be done. It can be done if you get the right team with you to work with you. And hopefully, you know, we view ourselves as that right team to help you get to the next level.
Eve: [00:11:58] So let’s talk about the King Henry. It’s a name I love, and that’s one of your current projects. And, full disclosure, you are listing this as an offering to raise funds on Small Change, my real estate crowdfunding platform. But it’s a really fascinating project. So where is it located and what is it?
Joel: [00:12:19] Yeah, absolutely. So this particular project is in Alexandria, Virginia. It is at the intersection of, well it’s sort of the King Henry corridor. I’ll just mention that if you know where that is. That’s the main artery that runs through Alexandria. It runs from the metro station at the Alexandria stop, all the way to the waterfront, where you could actually catch the water taxi to Washington, D.C., right to downtown. And it’s a tremendous location that I got excited about, just simply because of all of the traffic and the vibrance of the city. You know, one thing that’s very unique about Alexandria, and I know you have some other questions for me on it, but one thing that I really like about it is it’s one of those few areas in the country where you have a lot of mom-and-pop shops. You know, you’re not going to walk down the street, and there’s a Walmart on every corner and a Target and a this and a that. Nothing wrong with those guys. So let me, they might want to sponsor us one day, so let me not throw them under the bus. But the idea of being able to support local businesses, the local coffee shop, the local bakery, the local, you know, jazz club, you know, all these things is available in Alexandria, Virginia, where you can really feel a part of the community. And with the cobblestone streets and everything, it’s just a wonderful area. Specifically, what we’re doing there, we’re replacing surface parking that is there currently with structured parking. We’re using an automated mechanical parking system, which will take roughly 40 spots and turn it into 140.
Eve: [00:13:56] Isn’t that insane?
Joel: [00:13:57] I know, it’s impossible.
Eve: [00:13:57] I love that, I love that.
Joel: [00:13:59] Yeah, it looks impossible, but we’ve got it all structured and built out in the architectural drawings. And we’re also putting up 50 units of multifamily housing with retail on the ground floor.
Eve: [00:14:12] So all of that replaces how many surface parking spaces right now?
Joel: [00:14:17] Yeah, roughly about 40 spots.
Eve: [00:14:19] Total.
Eve: [00:14:20] Yeah.
Eve: [00:14:21] On all the. That’s crazy.
Joel: [00:14:23] Yeah, it is crazy.
Eve: [00:14:24] Not the highest and best use. Right.
Joel: [00:14:27] Yeah. Well, that’s the point. The city realized that this wasn’t the highest and best use for that space, and that you certainly can increase the tax base by doing what we proposed. And they’ve signed off on it. And, you know, it’s a permit ready site. We’re doing it.
Eve: [00:14:42] So, how does this compare to your other past projects? Is this unusual or standard?
Joel: [00:14:51] No. Well, you know, it’s unusual from the standpoint that, you know, generally you have, you know, 150, 200, 300, 400 projects. The one that we’re working on in a city very close to that is actually 600 units, you know, and that’s a skyscraper. So, you know, generally we do get involved in much larger projects. This one I really like because of the barriers to entry. You know, you’re not going to have everybody building a similar product right next to you because it’s [inaudible].
Eve: [00:15:24] It’s very unique
Joel: [00:15:25] Yeah, it’s very unique. It’s a historic city. And you can’t just go in there and tear stuff down, which is why we’re having to do it where surface parking is, right? Where something was already torn down.
Eve: [00:15:34] Interesting.
Joel: [00:15:35] Yeah.
Eve: [00:15:35] And so what’s the total development cost for that project?
Joel: [00:15:39] Approximately total development cost is roughly $42 million.
Eve: [00:15:43] And what does the financing look like for a project like that? Roughly.
Joel: [00:15:48] Yeah, roughly, we’ll do 60% of that debt. We will raise the rest in equity, which will be roughly about $16 million. And then we’re cutting off a slice of that for participation by some smaller investors that may want to get involved. Usually projects like this, it’s all people with deep pockets that get involved, and they make all the returns and all the money. And, you know, the average working-class person is generally relegated to getting in real estate by means of doing fix and flips, you know, and trying their hand at that. And they’ll, you’re never going to get to where you want to be just doing little small fix and flips. You can do okay, but you’re not going to get to that million, multi-million-dollar threshold. But participating in much bigger deals you can eventually get there. So, you know we think this is a great opportunity.
Eve: [00:16:39] So that opportunity is listed on our platform smallchange.co if anyone is interested. But I’m just wondering why, I mean this is probably a little bit more work for you than just going out and raising the money from one institutional investor, right? So, why?
Joel: [00:16:58] Yeah, well, you know, you asked the reason why. And just to give you a little background, you know, I have teenage boys and obviously I want them to come up and hopefully be in the industry and learn the commercial side of it from day one and grow and become major players in the space as opposed to just becoming maybe just a realtor with a real estate license, selling single family homes or, you know, doing fix and flips their whole life. So, in addition to that, I also teach the capital markets class for some institutions. One is called REAP, the project REAP program, where individuals that are looking to get into commercial real estate can actually participate and learn the business from people that are already in the business and learn how they can participate in deals. So, long story short Eve, I have a passion about helping those that are behind me because there’s people in front of me that have helped me get to where I am today. I have mentors, right? So why wouldn’t I pay that forward and help the next generation of folks coming along to be able to get in deals? Yeah, also, you know, growing up in New York City, I’ve seen how people seem to never get out of the rut.
Joel: [00:18:13] You know, when I was a kid, I thought the only way I could get to the next level was, everybody in the neighborhood it was either drugs or sports. That was the only way you were going to get a get out, you know, and get to that next level. And so, the idea of of being able to get other people into these deals at this level where they can say, yes, I was an investor in a $42 million deal, opens the door for them to do much bigger deals and become the part of the investor pool in much bigger things and much bigger opportunities. And it even exposes them if they want to do some bigger stuff on their own down the road. So, I think it’s great just to open up the door and let, at least let a slice of that $16 million go to some smaller investors so that they can participate and be part of the action. And it’s a passion that I have. I’ve been doing it for free, you know, even on my podcast and doing these shows and everything else, you know, it’s just a passion that I have to give back. And I think this is another way I can do it.
Eve: [00:19:14] So just dialing back a little bit, what are some of the challenges you’ve been confronted with personally as a Black man in real estate, which we know is a, really a white man’s industry still, very much so.
Joel: [00:19:29] Yeah. I mean, realistically, I can’t give you hard facts, but I do know that Blacks represent about 3% of the commercial real estate space across the board, 3%. But they make up 16% of the population. So, you kind of wonder why is that dichotomy there where you have so little that are in these type of deals? You know, and it’s mainly a white male dominated business, as you know. So, one of the challenges has always been access to capital for minorities. It’s a really, really big thing. My business partner on this deal has developed over 14,000 apartment units. So, you know, his experience obviously goes a long way toward getting this thing done. But just being a minority in the space, you know, people tend to gravitate toward folks that they have some type of camaraderie or some type of relationship to. And if you’re never used to seeing a minority do deals like this, it’s almost like, well, are they for real? Because I’ve never seen this before. Can they really pull this off, do they have the smarts? Remember, it wasn’t too long ago where it was said that Blacks weren’t smart enough to be a professional football coach or be the quarterback of a professional football team. That was in my lifespan. So, you know, those are the challenges and they’re not written down anywhere. But, you know, the fact that it’s a 3% penetrated industry, you know, I mean, kind of tells the tale of the tape. That doesn’t mean that there’s not a whole bunch of other people that would like to be players in commercial real estate. They just haven’t had the chance. And it always boils down to access to capital, 99% of the time, because they don’t have a daddy or somebody else that might be able to walk them into a into a bank or into an investment firm to get that capital.
Eve: [00:21:24] So what advice would you give to someone starting out a career in commercial real estate who has, who’s not a white man?
Joel: [00:21:38] Yeah, well.
Eve: [00:21:38] Anyone who, you know is from an underrepresented background or yeah, even a female, because I think the numbers look about the same for women. It’s pretty bad, yeah.
Joel: [00:21:50] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And, you know, I want to be clear also that I’m not beating up on white males. And I want to say that because if it wasn’t for white men, the civil rights movement wouldn’t have got as far as it did. You wouldn’t even have HBCUs in Black or southern parts of the country if it wasn’t for white men that got behind trying to help these initiatives go forward. So, you know, again, it’s not a race of people, it’s just the way the numbers shake out. Right?
Eve: [00:22:24] It’s who has, I suppose, who has control right now. And we have to figure out how to shift that a little bit, right? That’s what we’re trying to do here.
Joel: [00:22:33] Exactly. Exactly. So, and even as I mentioned, my partner on this deal is a white male. So, you know, I’m certainly not beating up on white men. But I will say this when you ask about how does that change? I would say one of the things is to get involved in a deal like this one. The reason why is because then you can put on your resume of deals that you’ve invested in, hey, I was one of the investors in a $42 million deal. You know, that goes on your resume and, you know, participate at that level. Also, getting in with other individuals that have, you know, been involved in commercial real estate and deals like that. And part of it is just getting out there and meeting key folks that are in the space. You know, as I mentioned briefly, we have a podcast that doesn’t compete with you Eve, but it’s more so.
Eve: [00:23:22] I’m sure it does.
Joel: [00:23:24] No, no, it doesn’t. Because we’re not raising, you know, we’re not doing anything there, but we are introducing folks to others that have been highly successful in commercial real estate, and they can learn from them as to what they did in order to be so successful in commercial real estate. So, I would say exposure, you know, and then there’s trade organizations that are out there like, you know, A-REP and REAP and some of the others where you can get involved and meet the people that are making inroads in commercial real estate. So those are the things I would say. But getting a deal, I mean, because once you’re in the deal, then you can start reviewing the deal from the inside out and really learning this business.
Eve: [00:24:04] Yeah, yeah. There’s also a lot of meetups and clubs now. More and more of them are merging, which I think are a great way to start learning because it’s a lot to learn. And also, actually ULI, Urban Land Institute, can be a great source of information. So, lots out there. But what are you proudest of?
Joel: [00:24:24] What am I proudest of?
Eve: [00:24:26] In your career, not just your boys.
Joel: [00:24:31] Yeah, everybody says what they’re proudest of is, you know, being a great dad. Right? All that stuff aside, I mean, if you’re acting professionally. You know, Eve, it’s hard for me to answer that because I’m always focused on the future. I’m not focused on the past. So, while I’m happy about the things that I’ve accomplished and, you know, even being involved in the deal sizes that we’re talking about is, you know, something that often just the 1% of the population in commercial real estate get to participate in. So, I’m very happy and I’m proud about that, to even be having this conversation. So, I think that would be the answer to your question. But for me, I still got a lot of few things that I want to do before they write my obituary.
Eve: [00:25:18] Well, what is that? What’s your big hairy audacious goal?
Joel: [00:25:22] You know, I want to get these, these deals done. And we’re looking to grow our portfolio. We’re looking to have a balanced portfolio between acquisitions, where we’re providing affordable housing and, you know, blended housing in a lot of different areas. And we also are looking to develop projects in other key markets around the country. So that’s really our focus. And you know, with your help, Eve, I think we’ll get there.
Eve: [00:25:51] That would be wonderful. Okay. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. And everyone, take a look at smallchange.co. It’s an interesting project and I just love the automated parking. By the way, where was that developed? Where is that company from that’s providing the automated parking solution?
Joel: [00:26:12] You know, that’s a good question. I don’t know where they’re headquartered, so I can’t answer that. But if you go to smallchange.co, you will be able to get information on the project. You’ll be able to watch a video that actually shows you exactly how it works, and it will give you the information on the company so you can do your research on them there if you want to as well. And you’ll also get a chance to see where these products are already operating in other parts of the country.
Eve: [00:26:36] Well, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure.
Joel: [00:26:40] Thank you Eve, certainly appreciate being here and happy to come back in any other time you want me.
Eve: [00:26:51] I hope you enjoyed today’s guest and our deep dive. You can find out more about this episode or others you might have missed on the show notes page at RethinkRealEstateforGood.co. There’s lots to listen to there. Please support this podcast and all the great work my guests do by sharing it with others, posting about it on social media, or leaving a rating and a review. To catch all the latest from me, you can follow me on LinkedIn. Even better, if you’re ready to dabble in some impact investing, head on over to smallchange.co where I spend most of my time. A special thanks to David Allardice for his excellent editing of this podcast and original music. And a big thanks to you for spending your time with me today. We’ll talk again soon. But for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Image courtesy of Joel Miller