Real estate is a wonderful way to make lasting relationships, create wealth, and provide society with something it needs in the form of housing.
These are things people say when things are going well, and everyone is making money. However, what happens when things go bad? I am not talking about the kind of small “b” bad. I am talking about the big “B” bad. The kind of bad where you and your partner(s) are saber-rattling and lawyers are being called, big litigation budgets are in the offing, and you can see this very profitable business venture nose diving over things that should have been dealt with on the front end of this venture.
I cannot count the number of times I have met with a client who has been sued by a partner or is ready to sue their partner. From a partner refusing to allow access to the books and records, to one partner taking too much money, to cutting off a partner’s distributions, these are the issues that a little pain on the front end with a lawyer would have obviated.
How so? By writing a partnership agreement or operating agreement detailing who will do what, when. The best place to start drafting your problem-solving document is at the end of that document. What does this mean? This means that you draft a partnership agreement or operating agreement by breaking up the company first. It is best to agree on how to close the company and split the assets and profits when you and your partner(s) are getting along and everything is rainbows and butterflies with a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.
Dissolution agreements or clauses help you construct the front end of the document. It is here that you can find out who is going to put some skin in the game. At the beginning of a venture, it is easier to have everyone agree that they will only get out their pro-rata share of what they put into the company. Thus, when the venture buys that apartment building, everyone knows: 1) how much equity everyone has, 2) how much each person paid for their equity, and 3) how much each person will get back if this venture ends.
Discuss the Details
Far too often good friends, business colleagues, and/or family decide it would be a good idea to be business partners and fail to approach business as the transactional matter it is. Not only will this naivete lead to hurt feelings and irreparably damaged relationships, but it will also lead you to the courthouse steps.
A partnership or other business venture that has not had the foresight to discuss the hard issues about its inner workings will ultimately find itself strangled to death by lawyers and the legal system. Notwithstanding the legal fees each party will pay their attorneys, the Judge has the ability to order a receiver to take over the business, wind up its affairs, and sell the assets. This means that your largest investment could go on the market against your wishes, sold for less than you and your partners think the business is worth, and you will only get what you can prove your equity is or was.
Understand Your Dynamic
In the context of syndication, it is important to know and understand these issues very well, either as a general partner or a limited partner. What do the documents say? What do those clauses mean? How much do you get if things go sideways?
Typically, a syndication deal is very well papered with documents, and you should be able to know how you get from A to Z. If you do not know your exit strategy or how you get your equity/money out, then you have some homework to do.
Syndication is successful because of the general partners who put the deal together. But those deals cannot work without limited partners who fund the projects. GPs and LPs need to understand their dynamic in a syndication relationship. Take the time to sit down with a pen and go over your partnership agreement. Know what you can expect in good times and bad.