From a Single Family house to 12,000+ Apartment Homes: A 50 Year Saga
The Collier Companies’ genesis started in the early 1970s when I worked my way through the University of Florida, in part by managing small rental properties. I developed a love of real estate and during that time I bought my first investment – a single family house, few blocks north of UF’s law school.
My original goal was to just have outside income, something to fall back on or to supplement Social Security when the time came. I monitored the single-family neighborhoods within walking and biking distance of the university, looking for FSBOs (For Sale by Owner). I looked for concrete block construction, figuring it would stand the test of time in Florida’s humid climate better than wood siding. I looked for houses where rents would cover mortgage payments, property taxes, and the insurance. My dad was a civil engineer and raised me to be self-sufficient and a Do It Yourself (DIY) approach was a given, so I was a pretty fair ‘jack of all trades’ handyman. For a long time, I did my own showing, leasing, maintenance and management so they were not a cash expense. I always figured that the time I spent in the evenings and weekends taking care of my real estate, was time that otherwise would have been spent watching TV or something equally non-productive. I thought of my real estate investments as a hobby that paid. I always figured there were ten or twenty things I might like doing in my spare time, only half of them might make money or make me a better human being or live longer and I only had time for 3 to 5 so I always picked ones that provided multiple rewards; just being entertained or amused alone did not pass the test.
The back of my car was packed with tools and common supplies and I tried to fix as many things on the spot as I could. I enjoyed the physical labor and the satisfaction of being able to immediately see the fruits of my efforts. I have always had deep respect for those who work with their hands – the plumbers, mechanics, electricians, carpenters, and laborers of the world without whom our lives would quickly grind to a halt.
I was able to pick up three or four houses a year with little to nothing down by the good grace of owners who trusted me with owner financing. I did my best to repay that trust with timely payments, and after a while I gained a solid reputation for keeping my promises which put me in good stead.
I was – and still am – a voracious learner. I consumed every book on real estate I could find, peppered knowledgeable people with questions, and took every course that was at all relevant – such as business law, finance, federal income tax, and more. Luck was never part of my plan; I believe the way to minimize risk is to maximize knowledge.
When I hit 25 houses, the logistics started to get away from me. Each house had to be shown individually and while occupied, there were no economies of scale; all the appliances and fixtures were different. In southern parlance, ‘that dog don’t hunt’ or in business speak it would not ‘roll out’ or ‘scale up’. I needed to do something different, pivot and revise my business plan, – though I did not know or understand those terms at the time – so I began to focus on College Park.
The College Park neighborhood, just north of the University of Florida, was an eclectic mix of small developments owned by individuals, mainly out of town. I went down to the courthouse and compiled a list of owners from the microfiche records (no internet much less Zillow back then!) and began ‘farming’ the area; sending out a quarterly newsletter, calling up owners and ask for help getting streets paved, more night lighting etc. Over the next decade, again with little or no down and seller provided financing, I was able to assemble apartment community of institutional size within a few square blocks and manage them as one community.
It was slow, slow going in the beginning; it took close to twenty years to build the foundation of the Collier Companies, eight or so years get to 25 houses and other decade to assemble College Park but to provide an awesome launch pad for what The Collier Companies is today, more than 50 years after my first real estate investment: 12,000 Apartment Homes and fully dedicated to the 2X Challenge: doubling in size in the coming decade via new development.
– Nathan S. Collier