Finance  ·  Features

Florida’s Favorite Lender

How Berkadia’s Mitch Sinberg captured market share in South Florida

reprints


Mitch Sinberg is riding high lately. 

After $6 billion in deal volume in 2021 and $5 billion in deal volume in 2022, the senior managing director of Berkadia South Florida has helped make his firm the top provider of commercial mortgages in the state. This year, Berkadia surpassed both JLL and CBRE in South Florida deal volume, and has recently closed a number of high-profile transactions — including a $217 million recap of three multifamily properties in Orlando and Fort Myers, and $215 million in construction financing for Miami’s Wynwood Plaza.  

SEE ALSO: Blackstone’s Loan on Schwab Building Hits Special Servicing, Modification Underway

Sinberg sat down in late July with Commercial Observer to discuss his career, how he built his team, the pros and cons of South Florida’s market and why multifamily is the hottest asset class in the game. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Commercial Observer: So how did you get involved in commercial real estate in the first place? 

Mitch Sinberg: It’s a fun one. I was in college, going through junior year, and basically my mom told me I needed to get some direction. My direction at the time was my robust college lifestyle, and I didn’t think I needed anything more than that. But the strategy I created for myself was to look at which of my friends had the biggest house and then, based on that, ask what their dad did for employment. 

So I went to my buddy who had the biggest house. His dad was in commercial real estate — he was an office leasing broker — and I met with him. He liked that I took the initiative to sit down as a younger guy, and he offered me an internship in 2000 at Newmark, which at the time was primarily doing office leasing in New York City. It went great. They brought me back as a full-time associate in 2001 at 125 Park Ave. 

Why didn’t you stay in office leasing? 

I had an inkling it wasn’t the career for me. I realized I was a really good numbers person, and that I had good sales skills, but I didn’t feel like I was using the finance component in the office leasing sector as much as I liked. 

I was calling ING, which owned Clarion at the time, and the national head of ING Investment Management happened to be the person I called. He was impressed with my aggressive sales skills, which I don’t think they had a lot of in the life company lending universe, and he asked me if I wanted to take a job in Atlanta and start as a life company lender and analyst. At the time, I was living in a 550-square-foot apartment next to a Greek fish restaurant’s dumpster, so I was ready to go pretty much anywhere, and he hired me. That’s how I started on the  finance side of the business. 

And how did you join Berkadia?

I happened to get into the multifamily space — really, before most, if not all, of my competition. In any event, I got recruited by a firm called Beech Street Capital to start their Florida operation, and that was strictly multifamily finance. We sold that company to Capital One, and I was basically looking for my next venture, and Berkadia approached me. They said, “We have small infrastructure in Florida, so try and restart what you did at the other places, and we’ll give you the resources you need, and support. But we want you to grow your business as you had at your previous firms.” 

This was 10 years ago, but I looked at it as an unbelievable opportunity to be at a firm co-owned by Berkshire Hathaway and Jefferies Financial Group. They gave me the ability at a young age to build something really special. 

What are your goals for the remainder of 2023?

On the debt side, it’s growing market share organically. I think the critical part of continued growth is growing our investment sales platform, both locally in Florida and nationally. 

We have done a lot of growth with local talent acquisition in South Florida, Orlando, Tampa, and we’ve done this thing nationally with one-off hires in certain markets and acquisitions of companies. We’ve also formed ventures with Knight Frank, which gives us access to global capital. These things are additives. These are not new directions; these are things we think will help us continue to grow, but we want to stay true to our culture. 

When we started Berkadia, we were primarily focused on middle-market owners and borrowers. The multifamily business has matured, institutional investors have increased their appetite. So, with these additional resources, we want to serve our existing clients, but also deliver properties via sales and loans to the institutional world. 

How did you gain market share in South Florida?

It’s all about the people and the culture we’ve established. When we were smaller, we were fortunate to have divisions to target multifamily and establish a foothold in that sector. In the early stages of this, multifamily was viewed as the black sheep of the commercial real estate business. People wanted to work in Class A office and luxury hotels, and we decided to go in a separate way. And that worked out for us. It put us in a really good position to maybe not have the household name the other groups have, but to be in the space before those other groups were in there. 

Once we got our foothold, we grew the business organically with my teammates, Brad Williamson and Matt Robbins primarily. Then we targeted top talent from other firms. When you bring in high-level talent from other firms that are competitors, you get that individual — but you also get the best practices they’ve been using, and it allows us to modify our best practices to do things even better for our clients. 

How has perception around multifamily changed and how has capital followed?

Good question. Multifamily has been basically identified by institutional investors as the most stable asset class within commercial real estate. People realized during the Great Financial Crisis and during COVID that the one thing that gets focused on before anything is the roof above someone’s head. 

During COVID, when people were working from home and maybe not going to the office, or going to retail centers, it put negative pressure on those asset classes, and multifamily continued to grow. Rents have been through the roof, demand is through the roof, population in Sun Belt markets is through the roof, so people realize fundamentally: You’re looking for job growth, population growth, and, when you have all those things, you need housing. And that’s where multifamily comes into play. 

Who is showing up in your deals today? Banks or alternative lenders?

We’re really seeing the agencies being the primary capital providers. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae are still highly liquid; they want to do deals. There’s been a lot of credit instability with the banks. They’ve pulled back. Life companies are still present deploying capital, though they’re doing it on a more conservative basis. The CLO market has been very challenging, as has CMBS, so it’s been much more focused on Fannie and Freddie. They are the path of least resistance, but they are the highest certainty of execution. 

Talk to us about the South Florida market? What are the opportunities and pitfalls? 

The South Florida market is funny. Nationally, we’re in a real estate recession, but the South Florida market would best be defined as less slow than the rest of the country. We’ve certainly seen a significant decrease in transactions, but it’s not because of population or economic growth. We have capital markets disparity that created a slowdown of transactions. When you look at South Florida, the fundamentals are there: population growth, employment growth, business-friendly state

But that’s not to say there are no pitfalls: We’re a hurricane-sensitive state, so insurance prices have gone through the roof. That’s been equal to or even more of a focus than interest rates. In addition, there were lots of relocations to Florida due to job opportunities, and housing was less expensive than other gateway markets. Housing prices have gone up so much.

Can you elaborate on the insurance issues — how much does that complicate your deals? 

It’s impacted our deals tremendously. Most of the loans we’re working on or the assets we’re selling now probably had insurance rates that were between $500 and $750 per unit — now they can be as high as $3,000 per unit. When an expense goes up that much, your debt is limited because NOI will be down because of that feature, and it impacts what we can get someone in terms of a loan, and therefore it impacts what someone will pay for an asset. 

Where do you see the market evolving over the next several years?

Look at the fundamentals: They’re super positive. The one thing that’s really volatile right now is the capital markets and interest rates. But I’m optimistic once the Fed figures out they have inflation under control, we’ll see robust reentrance into the market for investors, lenders, for everybody to be back doing deals.  Maybe not to where it was during COVID — when it was buy everything at every price — but to a good healthy level. There’s a lack of supply, household formations are up, all the signs point to a really strong and healthy multifamily market. 

Who is your mentor? 

There’s a guy who has since retired. He recruited me at ING Investment Management — his name is Skip Foley. He was national head of production at a big life company that is now Voya, and he really taught me all the fundamentals of my business and what I know today. Without him forming the foundation of what I’ve become, I wouldn’t be here. He taught me to focus on the fundamentals, what I do today, looking at replacement cost, looking at location, looking at operations and the abilities of the borrower, and he’s really who set the tone for me. 

How would you describe your leadership style?

I give people a lot of flexibility. One thing I learned in this business, and it took me a long time to figure out, is everyone has a different style, and there’s no right way to do this. If you try to fit everyone into your mold, you’ll find people are uncomfortable, and you get dissension. So I embrace people for who they are, what their skill set is, and I let them run with that. I don’t try to make everyone uniform. I want people to bring their own special skills to the table. 

Is there a secret of success in CRE?

I’m not sure if it’s a secret but we work hard, we put our clients’ needs before our own, we’re honest with them, and sometimes they don’t like what we have to say. And we’ve lost business because of it. Generally speaking, they come back to us when they realize the advice we were giving them was right, and others were just selling them on getting a deal. But, for us, it’s taking that long view: making sure everything we do doesn’t just lead to transaction, but to a relationship. If we have to sacrifice something today to build something for tomorrow, we’re doing that 10 times out of 10 times. 

Multifamily is inextricably linked to America’s housing crisis. What is the future of rentals in this country? 

Without a doubt we need more affordable housing. The teachers, the firefighters, the workforce, need to be able to access affordable housing; and the best and biggest way to do that is we need to unhandcuff municipalities that are not permitting development. 

No one wants to do any new development in their city or backyard, and at some point you have to say, “This is for the benefit of society, and we need to be able to provide these people with places to live and have good lives and comfortable lives, where they are not spending a majority of their paycheck to mortgage what they can’t afford, or on an apartment building they can’t afford.”  

What’s next for Berkadia South Florida

We’re always looking to expand. It’s responsible expansion, looking to expand very strategically. When we find people that fit unique needs that we have at this point, we’re bringing them on. When we find ways to diversify and expand our investment sales platform, we’re doing it. The first 10 years have been awesome. The next 10 years will be better. We’ve got a really good foothold, clients who have been loyal to us because we performed for them, and we think we’ll grow on that and bring in top talent people. I look forward to the exact same conversation 10 years from now. 

Brian Pascus can be reached at bpascus@commercialobserver.com