8 questions with multifamily investor and accountant Amanda Han
Amanda Han grew up in the Las Vegas rental community her grandparents owned and managed, occasionally helping them collect rent and prep units for new renters. But she didn’t see herself following in their footsteps.
“I just wanted a good, safe job in corporate America as a CPA,” Han says. “I was in the real estate group and all I did was tax planning for real estate investors, but I didn’t want to be a landlord.”
What changed her mind? Reading “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki, which makes the case for investing in assets like real estate. Han and her husband, also an accountant, bought their first rental property, a single-family home, sight unseen in 2008. Now, the California-based couple invest in multifamily properties and work with other real estate investors on tax planning through their accounting firm, Keystone CPA Inc. They also co-authored “The Book on Tax Strategies for the Savvy Real Estate Investor” and “The Book on Advanced Tax Strategies: Cracking the Code for Savvy Real Estate Investors.”
Han spoke with Story about running a business while building a portfolio and how she formed strong partnerships to scale fast.
Story: How did you get comfortable buying your first property without seeing it in person?
AH: I knew the numbers worked out. It was in Las Vegas, where I grew up, and it wasn’t until the offer was accepted that I had my mom, who still lives there, go tour the property.
My husband, Matt MacFarland, and I were analyzing properties for clients, talking to them about where they invest and what they look for, and hearing their horror stories about when deals went bad.
I looked at our deals the same way. I always think about the worst-case scenarios — if I have no tenants, and no one’s paying rent, can I afford to keep this property? As long as I was comfortable with the worst-case scenario, that alleviated a lot of the fear I had.
Story: What other lessons from your experience as a CPA helped when you began investing in real estate?
AH: Early on, my husband and I were looking at real estate in Las Vegas through the eyes of a homeowner. We started looking at golf course properties, thinking maybe someday we’d move back to Vegas. It sounds nice, but the property wouldn’t generate cash flow as well, especially in a downturn.
I had to remind myself that it’s an investment property, and if I moved back one day, I’d find my own property. It’s a mistake I see clients make a lot, especially in the short-term rental space.
Story: How did you go from that first single-family home to investing in larger properties?
AH: There was a point where my husband and I thought we didn’t want to be CPAs, we wanted to be full-time investors, and we wanted to scale quickly. We started wearing all the different hats an investor wears, and we quickly realized we were terrible at things like negotiating and finding deals. We were really passionate about the finance side, deal analysis and tax planning. We scaled by partnering with investors who had expertise we lacked, so we could focus on our unique abilities and leverage theirs.
Real estate is scalable, especially if you’re staying in the same geographic area or property type. Every new market or new real estate product is different. You have to build a team and learn about landlord-tenant laws in each new area, or learn about different exit strategies for each new real estate product. Not being drawn in by that “shiny object syndrome” and sticking to scaling in the area you’ve chosen makes it a little easier.
Even now, Las Vegas is still one of our main markets, though we’re branching out a bit with a recent deal in Florida.
Story: When you’re investing with other active partners, how do you keep those partnerships working smoothly?
AH: It’s like a marriage. It’s really important to get on the same page and talk about conflict resolution before there’s any conflict. For instance, you need to agree about when and how you’re going to exit — are you going to do a 1031 exchange, or sell and go your separate ways? If you have issues and are at a standstill, what’s the methodology you’ll use to resolve them?
Beyond just talking about it, document it within the operating agreement. When partnerships go bad, unwinding it can get very messy.
Story: Is having an operating agreement a lesson you learned from clients or your own investing?
AH: Both. Back when I was a really new investor, we met a group of individuals who were also new to multifamily investing. They were the nicest people and had these great plans for a deal that was going to have big returns, so I decided to take my retirement money and invest. Six months later, the money was gone. It wasn’t fraudulent, but it was a value-add apartment deal purchased using bridge financing, and ultimately they weren’t able to convert that to permanent financing.
It was a very difficult experience to go through, but that’s how I learned you can’t invest with someone just because you like them and they tell you great things. You have to understand the plan.
Story: How do you balance running your accounting firm and a real estate portfolio?
AH: I’m a big systems person, both in real estate and business. If we have vacancies, what does the system tell us to do? What are the next steps, and who’s responsible for them? We also have a system for bookkeeping that’s set up so a lot of information is automatically downloaded and there’s as little data entry, like typing in dates and dollar amounts, as possible.
We also do some passive investing, which doesn’t take a lot of our time, and for the properties where we are more involved, we make sure there’s a good property management team. To find good property managers, I ask questions about their systems. I want to make sure they have processes in place for contacting tenants, handling repairs and maintenance, and other issues that may come up.
Story: Who’s your sounding board? Is there anyone in your life you make big decisions with?
AH: My husband. We’re in real estate and business together, so we’re always making those decisions together. My grandma was also a big sounding board for me. She passed away recently, and I miss her a lot. She was born in the 1930s and ran her own business, invested in real estate and raised kids. It’s something she was really proud of, so she was always very encouraging and said, “You can do it all.”
Story: If you could give a younger version of yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
AH: When I was just starting out, I didn’t have as much confidence. I felt like I was inadequate, that I didn’t know enough, so we did things a lot slower. I wish I’d taken the plunge and started investing earlier and building the business faster. I’d tell myself to have the confidence to know I can do it, and that there are resources and people out there who can help with whatever you might be lacking at the moment.
By Lauren Zumbach from Story by J.P. Morgan