What I Learned From Investing in Real Estate Crowdfunding Platforms

What I Learned From Investing in Real Estate Crowdfunding Platforms - F

What I Learned From Investing in Real Estate Crowdfunding Platforms

Most personal finance sites these days focus on investing mainly in stocks, bonds and index funds. Warren Buffett is a big advocate of index fund investing. If one of the world’s wealthiest individuals says to do it, I’m in.

I’ve been investing in Vanguard index funds ever since starting a scratch dental specialist practice. A few years ago I decided to diversify my portfolio and noted that many personal finance blogs recommended something called “real estate crowdfunding platforms“.

Several friends own and manage real estate so I decided to begin the process of trying to decide on either:

  • purchasing local homes or apartments to rent
  • investing in real estate via these so called crowdfunding sites

Due diligence

I’m a detailed person and as Dave Ramsey recommends, “NEVER invest in something you don’t understand“. With no idea regarding either of the options I planned on pursuing, it was time to begin my due diligence process.

You also should do this for any investment you don’t understand. Next, I took a few of my real estate buddies to lunch to pick their brains. Most of them dealt in real estate on a full time basis. Bottom line: They knew their stuff.

One of my neighbors (occupational therapist) began buying single family homes in our area roughly the same time I began the due diligence process. After interviewing him, it allowed me to see things from two view points:

  1. People that dealt with real estate as their PRIMARY job
  2. Those that had a full-time job but invested on the side

This was important because there is always going to be two sides to a story.

Real estate pros and cons

I’m not going to bore you with all of the minute details I learned from interviewing my friends. Here’s a brief summary:

Easy to understand 

Because most are familiar with real estate to some degree (we’ve purchased a home or two), investing in it can be much easier to understand. You’re buying physical property.

Real estate can be improved 

When you own physical property, it’s essentially under your direct control. My friends made a point on stressing the need to:

  • providing great service to tenants
  • keeping up the grounds and building to a high standard

By doing so, you can tangibly improve the value of your investment and build wealth.

Real estate must be managed

On the flip side, either you must manage property (takes time away from your day job) or hire someone (can be costly). Also, if your property is NOT occupied, costs can add up quickly such as:

  • finance payments
  • taxes
  • insurance
  • management fees
  • maintenance costs

Physical property has higher transaction costs

As an index fund investor, most of the transactions costs are minimal. But when purchasing real estate, the transaction costs are considerably higher. Sometimes these costs can significantly affect the value of the investment and make it more difficult to turn a profit.

Physical real estate creates liabilities

As a doctor, I’m used to the possibility of legal liability so this was a biggie for me. Real estate investing involves taking on a great deal of financial and legal liability. Even though most people hold their investment properties in a corporation, there are often personal guarantees associated with the business, and the risk of losing the income and profits generated by the company.

Real estate can be leveraged

If you use debt to buy real estate & if your rent pays all of your expenses, your tenant is essentially buying your house for you. Not a bad deal. In essence, you are using other people’s money (OPM) to build wealth.

Decision time

Once you become debt-free, are fully funding retirement accounts and looking for ways to diversify investments, focusing on passive income is the next step.

My goal for you with this blog is to replace your current income, thus allowing you to spend more free time doing things you love…for me tennis, family trips, coaching my kids and traveling with my beautiful wife ( I hope she reads that last part!).

Before I started the due diligence process, the only real estate I had purchased was our home and office building.

Here’s a snapshot of our pre-real estate investment portfolio:

  • 95+% Vanguard Index Funds (mainly Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Admiral Fund VTSAX)
  • <1% Bonds
  • 5% Cash (Emergency Fund)
  • Remainder personal and business checking accounts

After studying the pros and cons, I decided to begin investing in real estate with two of the popular online real estate crowdfunding platforms:


There are over 200+ real estate crowdfunding platforms today due to the passage of the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Starts Up Act (JOBS Act).

Retail investors can now invest in larger commercial & residential real estate details that were once reserved for only institutions and the wealthiest of individuals.

Real estate crowdfunding is an exciting space and sounded like a good place to start real estate investing and creating streams of passive income.

My goal is to create enough passive income through investments to replace my current income as a dental specialist.

One of the downsides to investing with these companies is that many require investors to be an accredited investor.

What is an accredited investor?

According to Wikipedia, an accredited investor is one who is:

  • a natural person who has individual net worth, or joint net worth with the person’s spouse, that exceeds $1 million at the time of the purchase, or has assets under management of $1 million or above, excluding the value of their primary residence
  • a natural person with income exceeding $200,000 in each of the two most recent years or joint income with a spouse exceeding $300,000 for those years and a reasonable expectation of the same income level in the current year or a trust with assets in excess of $5 million, not formed to acquire the securities offered, whose purchases a sophisticated person makes.

If you are NOT an accredited investor at this time, fear not. More and more crowdfunding sites are beginning to allow non-accredited investors access to their deals.

Pros of Investing in Real Estate Crowdfunding

  1. Little to no management required. As soon as I make an investment, the deal is done (similar to when I invest in index funds.)
  2. Low minimum investments. Some <$2,000.00.
  3. High projected returns.  from 8-20+% yields depending on a debt or equity deal ( Much better than current CD rates <2%)
  4. Mailbox money!!
  5. Ability to choose your own investments.
  6. Minus the hassles of owning physical property No midnight calls to fix a stopped up toilet.

Cons of Investing in Real Estate Crowdfunding

  1. Occasionally pay extra fees vs to going directly to syndicators
  2. Less diversification vs investing in a REIT such as Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund
  3. Many require being an accredited investor
  4. Hassle of having to track different investments and payments
  5. Can be difficult making 1031 exchanges

Two Main Types of Investments

Most investments on crowdfunding sites are offered as either a debt or equity investment. Let’s take a look at both.

Debt Investments

I turn to Investopedia for a little help:

When investing in real estate debt instruments, the investor (typically you) is acting as a lender to the property owner or the deal sponsor. The loan is secured by the property itself and investors receive a fixed rate of return that’s determined by the interest rate on the loan and how much they have invested.

In a debt deal, the investor is at the bottom of the capital stack which means they have priority when it comes to claiming a payout from the property.

  • Shorter hold time– Debt investments are most often associated with development projects. As a result, they typically have a shorter holding period compared to equity investments. Depending on the nature of the deal, the hold time may last between six and 24 months. That’s a plus for investors who aren’t comfortable tying up assets for the long-term.
  • Lower risk– Because of the way deals are structured; investors take on less risk with debt investments. The loan is secured by the property, which acts as an insurance policy against repayment of the loan. If in the end the property owner or sponsor defaults, investors have the ability to recoup the loss of their investment through a foreclosure action.
  • Steady income– Debt investments are more predictable in terms of the amount and frequency of return payouts. While every deal is different, it’s not unusual for investors to earn yields ranging from 8% to 12% annually. These returns are typically paid on a monthly or quarterly basis.
  • Capped returns – Debt investments entail less risk, but one major downside is the fact that returns are limited by the interest rate on the loan. Investors have to be clear about whether they’re willing to sacrifice the potential to earn higher yields in exchange for a safer bet.
  • Higher fees – While most real estate crowdfunding platforms don’t charge investors anything to create an account and research debt investments there’s usually some type of fee involved to participate in a deal. The crowdfunding platform usually takes a percentage off the top before any interest is paid out, which can eat into your returns.

Equity Investments

Most real estate crowdfunding deals involve equity investments. In this scenario, the investor is a shareholder in a specific property, and their stake is proportionate to the amount they have invested.

Returns are realized in the form of a share of the rental income the property generates, less any service fees paid to the crowdfunding platform. Investors may also be paid out a share of any appreciation value if the property is sold.

  • No cap on returns – Equity investments offer a broader horizon, in terms of earning potential. It’s possible to see annualized returns ranging from 18% to 25% (Nice!). Since there’s no cap, however, the sky is really the limit from an investor’s perspective.
  • Tax benefits – One perk of owning an investment property is being able to deduct certain expenses associated with its ownership, such as depreciation and the cost of repairs. With equity crowdfunding, deals are normally structured through an LLC, which is treated as a flow-through entity for tax purposes. That means that investors can reap the benefits of the depreciation deduction without having to own property directly.
  • Lower fees – Equity investments have the potential to be cheaper where fees are concerned. Rather than paying upfront fees and monthly service fees, investors may pay a single annual fee to maintain their position in the property. The fee is calculated as a percentage of the total amount invested and often runs between 1% and 2%.
  • More risk – Equity crowdfunding may put more money in investors’ pockets, but it means taking a bigger gamble. Investors are second in line when it comes to receiving a payback on their investment, and if the property fails to live up to its performance expectations, that can easily translate to a loss.
  • Longer hold period – Equity investors are looking at a much longer time frame compared to debt investors. Hold times can stretch out over five or even ten years, which is an important consideration if you’re interested in maintaining a high degree of liquidity in your portfolio

My first investments

After doing my homework, I decided to invest in two debt deals, one with RealtyShares & one with Patch of Land. Neither one of them have closed as of this writing.

Debt investments


1) RealtyShares

RealtyShares offered what they called the “Nationwide SFR Package” a $2.625 million dollar loan to Ingersoll Financial secured by 125 properties in multiple states. Ingersoll Financial purchased the properties for $3.75 million (average of $30,000 per property), and RealtyShares  advanced $2.625 million ($21,000 per property) to be used to complete the purchase.

Ingersoll Financial plans to do minor repairs and clean up and to remarket the properties to local investors interested in purchasing individual or smaller groups of these homes.

  • Loan: $2.625 million
  • 12-month loan (with possible 6 month extension)
  • 1st Lien Position
  • 10% APR on loan, net of all fees
  • Minimum Investment: $10,000
  • Loan to Cost: 70%

Other information provided:

  • Major documents including the appraisal, budget, plans
  • Financials of the project
  • Info on the developers
Okay, after looking at all this information, here’s what was going through my mind:
  1. It’s a 12-month loan, seemed like a decent length to see a good return, and interest would be paid out every month. This might be a nice source of passive income..
  2. 10% APR was much better than I was getting from money market funds (<1%).
  3. Developer has a good track record, with personal guarantees on the loan.
  4. The project is spread out over multiple states with multiple listings.

Pulling the trigger

In August 2016, I pulled the trigger and invested the $10,000 minimum.


The first 9 months were great until the deal began to fall apart…

I initially began receiving monthly interest payments (~$83.33 per month).

The calculation is: 10% APR with an initial investment of $10000 = $1000 for the year.

Divided by a year (12 months), this comes out to $83.33 a month.

Total as of May 16/2017:
Earnings excluding principal
  Date Type Investment Amount  
  4/17/2017 Interest SFR Package $83.33  
  3/18/2017 Interest SFR Package $83.33  
  2/22/2017 Interest SFR Package $83.33  
  1/23/2017 Interest SFR Package $83.33  
  12/21/2016 Interest SFR Package $83.33  
  11/21/2016 Interest SFR Package $163.89
After nine months of getting my first taste of passive income, it came to a screeching halt. Long story short, Realty Shares began updating me about the borrower’s inability to pay its investors due to insufficient funds in their account. They have since filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and their latest update states:
We are finally to the point that the bankruptcy, sale, and marketing structures are all in place to move forward toward a sale designed to optimize value. Braun is preparing the data and document rooms and when finished will formally begin its marketing campaign.”
Bottom line: The properties are getting ready to go on the auction block. Updates will continue until the deal closes.

2) Patch of Land

In April 2017, I decided to invest in another debt investment, this time with Patch of Land (I was still being compensated by debt deal #1 at the time).

I won’t go into as much detail as the first.

YouTube video

Structure Overview
  • 12 month hold term at 11.25%
  • Underlying loan secured by first position lien on title and personal guaranty of the individual borrower

The below financial estimates are based on Patch of Land’s investment of $3,470,000 to the borrowing entity that will hold title to 1355 Marlin Drive, Naples, Florida.

As-Is Value $3,900,000
Estimated Renovation Costs $400,000
Origination and Processing Fees $48,580
Estimated Closing Costs $35,000
Distributions and Extensions

Standard Interest-only distributions will be paid monthly as loan payments from the borrower are processed and distributed based on your corresponding fractional investment amount.

Total repayment of capital is expected on or before the end of November 2017. Distributions will be made directly into each investors Patch of Land account online.


This deal has gone a bit better than expected.

Originally the investment was set up to pay:

  • 11.25% for 12 months (ending on Nov 2017)

Turns out the borrower needed more time to pay off his loan. As of this writing, we are on month #18 of interest payments. Heck, I’ll take 11.25% on my money as long as they’ll pay!

Equity investments

RealtyShares Utah Diversified Residential Fund II, Salt Lake City, UT

This was my first preferred equity investment which included properties in the greater Salt Lake City area invested in May 2017.

It promised a 11.5% return for 24 months ($25K min) and has paid (and currently is paying) like clockwork. It’s nice getting monthly deposits into our account.

RealtyShares Prescott Woods

This was my first preferred common equity multifamily investment which is an apartment complex in Tulsa, OK. The minimum investment was $50K and it promised a 9% three year hold which has yet to begin paying due to poor management.

Investing in this property was my BIG mistake due to lack of due diligence on my part with the sponsor.

Latest update: Despite some of the encouraging leasing activity we’d recently reported, this property in fact continues to struggle; tenant departures and evictions have now brought the occupancy rate for the property down to 86%. The lower-income, higher crime profile of the area that was earlier disclosed has turned out to present a bigger hurdle than the sponsor had anticipated.

They plan on attempting to sell the properties without paying out any distributions. (I’m learning from my mistakes.)

RealtyShares Westwick Apartments

This was another preferred equity multifamily investment which happened to be in a town I did a one year hospital residency, Biloxi, MS.

I was familiar with the area and decided to take a leap of faith with this investment which has worked out nicely.

This was a three year deal, $10K minimum which is currently returning 13.5%.

Apartment Syndication Deals

Out of the five investments I’ve discussed thus far:

  • two haven’t turned out too well
  • three are continuing to perform as expected

After making these initial five investments (with the mistakes I’d mentioned), it was time to up the game and look into something a bit larger.

Passive Investor

Again, as a dental specialist, becoming a landlord was NOT too appealing to me. I liked the idea of continuing to add to our passive investments.

The original goal was to convert 10% of current holdings into passive real estate investments.

Researching led me to something called apartment syndication deals.

What is an apartment syndication?

An apartment syndication is a temporary professional financial services alliance formed for the purpose of handling a large apartment transaction that would be hard or impossible for the entities involved to handle individually (i.e. doctors), which allows companies to pool their resources and share risks and returns.

In regards to apartments, a syndication is typically a partnership between general partners (i.e. the syndicator) and the limited partners (i.e. the investors) to acquire, manage and sell an apartment community while sharing in the profits.

My First Apartment Syndication Investment

Deal #1 – The Avery

The first deal  involved an apartment complex in Denton County, TX formerly Mira Vista Ranch.

  • Purchase price: 40.8 million
  • 350 Units
  • $50 K minimum investment
  • Projected annual Cash on Cash (Coc) returns: 9%
  • Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 18.6% over a 5 year hold period

The CoC and IRR are two important metrics to evaluate. If you’re unfamiliar with them, here’s what they mean:

Cash-on-Cash (CoC) Return

The cash-on-cash (CoC) return is the rate of return, expressed as a percentage, based on the cash flow and the equity investment. CoC return is calculated by dividing the cash flow by the initial investment.

For example, a 216-unit apartment community with a cash flow of $330,383 and an initial investment of $3,843,270 results in a CoC return of 8.6%

Internal Rate of Return

The internal rate of return (IRR) is the rate, expressed as a percentage, needed to convert the sum of all future uneven cash flow (cash flow, sales proceeds and principal pay down) to equal the equity investment.

IRR is one of the main factors the passive investor should focus on when qualifying a deal.

Simple example:

  • Initial investment $50
  • Year 1 cash flow of $5
  • Year 2 cash flow of $20

At the end of year 2, the investment is liquidated and the $50 is returned.

*The total profit is $25 ($5 year 1 + $20 year 2).

Simple division would say that the return is 50% ($25/50). But since time value of money (two years in this example) impacts return, the IRR is actually only 23.43%.

If we had received the $25 cash flow and $50 investment returned all in year 1, then yes, the IRR would be 50%. But because we had to “spread” the cash flow over two years, the return percentage is negatively impacted.

The timing of when cash flow is received has a significant and direct impact on the calculated return. In other words, the sooner you receive the cash, the higher the IRR will be.

Deal #2 – 98Fifty

The second deal involved an apartment complex in Richardson, TX  formerly Arbor Vista.

  • Purchase price: 13.3 million
  • 196 Units
  • $50 K minimum investment
  • Projected annual Cash on Cash (Coc) returns: 11%
  • IRR of 22.6% over a 5 year hold period

So far, both investments have been paid as promised. Each month, distributions are automatically added to the checking account associated with each property.

One of the best parts of these deals has been how quick the distributions were started. Roughly about a month after each of the properties closed, the distributions started flowing in like clockwork.


Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about the real estate (and alternatives) portion of our portfolio. We’ve had winners and losers and not only have I learned from my mistakes, hopefully others reading this will too.

Be aware that these investments have risk and are not that different from the stock, bond, and publicly traded REIT markets these days too.

What do you think? Do you invest in real estate? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts too.

Comment below!

Join the Passive Investors Circle


  1. I invested in Realtyshares crowdfunding (3 offerings, all debt) and got paid as expected. That is unfortunate that one of the sponsors is filing Chapter 11. Definitely keep us updated and hopefully you get your return of capital at least.

    I have gone away from crowdfunding to private syndication mainly because with larger scale apartments there is cost efficiencies and you have a lot larger margin for vacancy and still have positive cash flow.

  2. Yeah, crowdfunding definitely has some hits and some misses. I like investing directly where possible. I love the innovation aspect. On a risk-adjusted basis, I’m not sure its worth it.

    1. Millionaire Mob (love the name), I agree with you to investing directly where possible. You may have missed it in the long post, but I wanted to diversify and started with 5% of my portfolio initially. It’s now only 10% of my portfolio. My cousin is an ENT resident and I tell him the same I’m passing on to you: Once you’re heavily invested in index funds, then if you want to diversify, possibly look into the crowdfunding options out there.

  3. Jeff, thanks for taking the time to share your story about the very hot topic that is RE crowdfunding (RECF).

    I too was very excited about this because of two main things, which I think many others are as well: 1- ease of entry (5-10k investment possible) 2-lack of active involvement in the deal by the investor (basically send money, and collect the CoC return).

    Certainly those two aspects are very very enticing but I find myself being more cautious. I realized that I should do a LOT more due dilligence than normal. Because you’re not buying a property directly, people may fall into the trap of looking at the marketing material (“proven” record, etc.) and then sort by highest return % and jump on what looks pretty good.

    I feel like the crowdfunding platform itself is not as important doing your homework on the property/deal itself. You’re basically investing in LARGE deals (multi million dollar projects) that mere mortals like us would never be able to do. I think one must be very cautious when they are looking to see what they want to invest in.

    I too agree with the Dave Ramsey mantra of never investing in something you do not understand. And I still feel like many people probably get suckered into this new platform way too easy and doesn’t fully understand the deal itself since it will take alot of time and work. One thing that I’ve learned so far in real estate is that you are taught to always crunch the numbers and make sure you can come out ahead along with a plan B. In these extremely large multi million dollar deals, I feel like the laymen may not have the knowledge/ability to calculate actual numbers. I mean how easy is it to analyze a 100+ unit apartment complex and run all the numbers?

    The barrier to entry in traditional RE investment in these large deals/syndications is the high capital investment and years of experience…beginner real estate investors won’t get in until they have years under their belt and have amassed alot of capital to invest in along with years of knowledge/wisdom. The crowd funding platform have essentially eliminated that “wisdom/experience” barrier with the promise of low cost of entry and easy of entry. Could work out if the deal makers do their due dilligence (and as you said, if they themselves have skin in the game) but I think people should also be alot more cautious in jumping onto this frenzy.

  4. Fascinating journey – appreciate your sharing the good, bad and ugly with us! I think it’s a natural progression for high income professionals to look at real estate, and I’m preparing to read up on the subject before I dip a costly toe in the water.

    Thanks for the unfiltered look into your world!


    1. CD: I want to be as transparent as possible with my readers. People that never talk about their mistakes and failures are doing a disservice as we all learn MORE from our mistakes.

      Let me know if you need any help with more crowdfunding information.

  5. Thanks for sharing us these different insights from your field. Some bloggers might have just sugar-coat everything. This is very helpful, I just hope those people I know who frequently invests in real estate read your post. Surely, there are mistakes and it is unavoidable fact but wouldn’t we all love a cheat list like this who will give us everything we need to know without falling to mistakes?

  6. Undoubtedly, investment in the real estate through the crowdfunding platforms is more secure and stress-free way of investment. However, newbies should be very careful while invest in such kinds of platforms. The credibility of the company should be inspected prior to invest in it. Apart from this, guidance from experienced professionals is also essential to prevent any kinds of fraud. Investment in real estate through a real estate investment company is another secure way of real estate investment.

  7. Thanks for the detailed summary of your experiences. I have mostly avoided the crowdfunding platforms and gone straight to sponsors.

    The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that track record of the sponsor is more important than any other factor. I’d rather be in a mediocre deal with a great sponsor than an amazing deal with a sponsor who can’t execute. I made the mistake of going with an inexperienced sponsor on my first syndication deal, and I will be lucky to get my capital back when it’s all said and done.

    I am also in Arbor Vista with Joe / Ashcroft Capital. I live only a few miles from the property and know the area well. I think it will perform well over the long term. I am disappointed with their recent offerings and haven’t invested in anything with them since. The terms seem to get more favorable for the sponsor with every subsequent offering, and the underwriting is getting more and more aggressive.

  8. Thanks for the updates. A Financial Samurai forum reader just posted this for one of your deals:

    SFR Package II 1/16/2019
    The sale has closed. The portfolio of homes secured by this loan was coupled with additional homes that were part of the same court action. Allocation of the purchase price was determined by the buyer. Reconciliation of the sale price and expenses and a calculation of losses will take as much as an additional week. It is clear at this point that the investment returned less than $0.10 on the dollar. The reasons for the poor results are several.

    The borrower’s original plan was to do minor repairs and clean up and to re-market the properties to local investors interested in purchasing individual or smaller groups of these homes. Only a few homes were sold, however, under this plan. The balance of the properties was not well maintained and so deteriorated physically. The property values decreased accordingly. Additionally, tax liens accrued and some of the houses were foreclosed upon by the taxing authority. Due to the number of potential liens on the property, cleaning up the title so that the properties could be sold was a lengthy, costly and time-consuming process. As a result of the sale, the net proceeds are expected to be less than $100,000. The loan has a personal guarantee and we are continuing to assess a potential continuation of our suit against the borrower. As a reminder, RealtyShares already has a judgment in California against the borrower, but we will need to have it perfected in Florida. In order to potentially fund the further pursuit of this judgment against the borrower, RealtyShares will not be immediately distributing the remaining proceeds of the sale to investors but will be temporarily holding that money while assessing the benefits of using those funds to continue to pursue that additional claim. RealtyShares will update you with a reconciliation of the sale proceeds and with our findings on the chances of collecting on the guarantee judgment after we complete an asset search. The net sales proceeds will be promptly distributed if we determine that further litigation is unlikely to be of material benefit.

    What was your reasoning for investing in residential single family etc versus commercial properties like multi-family and office buildings?

    Fingers crossed RealtyShares gets sold to a competitor by March 1, 2019. They are running behind on so many deals.


    1. Hi Sam: I agree, my fingers are crossed that they are sold to someone who will continue to fight for us investors too. To answer your question regarding why I chose investing in single family vs commercial was that these were one of the first crowdfunding deals I had done. I thought that residential was a bit safer from commercial and have learned many lessons from doing several deals with both Realty Shares and Patch of Land. Moving forward, I’m sticking with investing with apartments via syndication deals. I’ve done several with Joe Fairless and have been extremely happy.

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