Crosland Southeast’s new vice president of acquisitions, Bobby Speir, describes his job as a way to combine two aspects of real estate he loves: finance and development.
The company added his position recently to increase its ability to acquire and redevelop retail and commercial properties throughout the Southeast, with Charlotte being one of its key markets.
Speir’s background in real estate includes being the director of U.S. real estate for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc., a job in which he selected store sites for the company. Before that he was an investment associate and financial analyst for Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., a development company in his hometown, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
But the 31-year-old decided after working for Krispy Kreme that he wanted to get more into the acquisitions side of the business. So he went back to school and earned a master’s degree in business administration, focusing on real estate and corporate finance, from the UNC Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School.
He recently moved to Charlotte with his wife of six years, and he has a 2-month-old son.
Why did you want to get into this field?
Starting from the beginning of my career, I just really enjoyed the real estate business, specifically seeing the sort of projects that changed communities, and I started out on the underwriting side and realized that I wanted to get more hands-on into projects. So I worked in development for a few years and really enjoyed that aspect, but realized that I wanted to pivot into the acquisitions side, combining the finance and development piece. I went back to business school and put those skill sets together and ended up here. So this is sort of the best of both worlds, being able to take a project maybe that is aged and reposition it and really add value to the community in that way.
What attracted you to your new job?
Specifically to this company, it was the people that I work with. I actually did a deal before I arrived here a couple of years ago when I was with Krispy Kreme. I did a deal with one of the partners on a project they had up in Richmond and through that process I just really began to admire the company and the quality of the work that they do and just the character of the people that I was working with. So that’s what specifically attracted me to the firm here in addition to what I just mentioned, in terms of the desire to do the acquisitions role.
How do you find a property worth acquiring?
So there’s a lot of diligence that goes into it. There are obviously brokers out there, investment sales brokers that bring these properties to market from sellers that are looking to exit a property. In addition to that, a lot of it comes through off-market relationships and it is tenant driven as well, so we have a lot of relationships internally with different tenants that are looking to position themselves throughout the states in which we work. So if they have a need, we go and help them fulfill that need as well.
By staying in the markets and staying in tune with what properties are trading and what sellers are doing, you are able to find some either distressed opportunities or opportunities where there is a property that maybe hasn’t been repositioned in a while and you see it as an opportunity and you can reach out and talk to that ownership and see if there may be an opportunity to put the tenants with that property.
How do you evaluate what makes a good acquisition for Crosland Southeast?
A good acquisition for us is going to be strong underlying fundamentals in the real estate. It is going to be within a desired trade area based on the demographics of that trade area. We keep track in terms of job growth, population growth, and rent growth in those particular markets. We track all that information. So the underlying fundamentals of the real estate have to be there.
But an ideal acquisition is going to be one in which there is something broken at the property level. So maybe ownership hasn’t put any capital into it in a while, maybe there is a tenant that is vacating the space, maybe there is kind of a structural capital issue – it was bought at the wrong time and there’s debt that is coming due. There is something that creates an opportunity to put time and capital into a property and drive value.
What are the next steps after you identify a good acquisition before that property is acquired?
There’s tons of due diligence. So we start by underwriting the property. We take a look at it and try to understand what the best use is for it based on retailers that may or may not already be in the area, whether we have a relationship with them or not. We try to figure out who is the best fit for that particular piece of real estate once it has been sort of repositioned and stabilized. Given that information, we will underwrite the deal. We have an in-house construction group (C4 Builders) that helps us on the cost side. All of our acquisitions at this point are going to be retail driven.
How wide of an area outside of Charlotte do you look at when it comes to acquiring properties?
We are focused on six states: the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Virginia. Then we have some primary markets that we are focused on and some secondary markets that we also keep an eye on. Charlotte, Raleigh, Nashville, Atlanta, Orlando and Tampa are the ones that we are focused on from a primary basis. When you kind of step down a level we are very experienced in what I would consider the secondary and tertiary markets, like Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, Virginia Beach, Richmond and Knoxville, those areas.
What previous work and other experiences will help you with this job, and how?
When I first came out of school I did a lot of project underwriting so I really got into the finance side of it. I really understand how to underwrite a deal, how the numbers work. And when I transitioned to Krispy Kreme, I really saw how tenants operate. I was doing a lot of deals from the tenant side, looking at developments, trying to figure out how to get in and what demographics and drivers really work for tenants, for retail tenants specifically.Taking that information, plus what I learned in business school (when) I worked on a real estate private equity fund, we underwrote a lot of deals from an investor’s perspective.
What did you do as the director of real estate for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts?
I was responsible for all corporate new store development from site selection through permitting. I maintained a network of 15 or 20 brokers throughout the Southeast, which is where the primary amount of corporate growth was. Day in and day out, I was communicating with them, doing site selection and touring the markets. Once we would get a site teed up I would go through a real estate committee approval, which was our CEO, CFO, COO.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part is being able to see something that is undervalued in the market and go create value with that asset, and inevitably when you do that, whether it is on the development side, whether it is on the acquisition side, you are really building value back into the community. It may be an asset that needs a lot of work. Being able to identify that and meet the needs of tenants, redevelop that and make it something that the town and community can really be proud of.