EB-5 Entrepreneur

With more than 16 years of experience in small business, commercial real estate investment, and property management, Mahnaz Khazen, CCIM, president and CEO of U.S. Immigration and Investment Center, is using her expertise to build stronger communities, one investor at a time. By utilizing financing options through local community banks, USIIC helps financially capable inbound investors plant roots in the U.S. real estate market via EB-5, the Immigrant Investor Program. Khazen also brings her unique insights to the CCIM Institute as a member of its International Activities Committee. Commercial Investment Real Estate asked Khazen to share some of the key initiatives of her organization.

CIRE: As president and founder of USIIC, what are your main objectives?

Khazen: USIIC is the only EB-5 organization with its foundation in banking. Although a wide array of industries and businesses are eligible to receive EB-5 investors, we believe that the banking industry has the greatest opportunity to help new immigrants. I try hard to focus on investments that have a social impact and bring value to neighborhoods and communities. I’ve always been a big advocate for investing in community banks, since they are the institutions lending to small businesses and creating jobs.

CIRE: What are the key advantages of the EB-5 program?

Khazen: EB-5 investors have a different set of investment requirements: They realize that the investment is for the purpose of obtaining residency in the U.S. Most of them are either entrepreneurs who would bring their talent and investments to the U.S. through a direct investment, or those who simply trust a Regional Center to manage their investment for them. Typical EB-5 investments include those in food and hospitality franchises.

For example, USIIC recently completed its first EB-5 investment in Oakland, Calif. — the renovation of a historic building. Originally constructed in 1926 by the YWCA to house young working women, the five-story Merritt Hotel had fallen into disrepair, becoming a magnet for crime, vagrancy, and vandalism. We renovated this historic landmark, preserving and enhancing its period details while bringing the building up to 21st-century standards in energy efficiency and state-of-the-art connectivity. We’ve now leased it to a prominent international business school in San Francisco to use as a student residence. Because of our efforts, not only was a historic building saved, but a whole neighborhood was freed from daily crimes of prostitution and drug dealing that used to take place here. As a result, we were honored by the mayor of Oakland and the chief of police at the building’s opening celebration, which was also attended by a number of other dignitaries.

CIRE: Do you see any specific trends among your investor clients in the current market?

Khazen: Inbound international investors are primarily looking for opportunities in areas that are familiar to them, such as locations where they have pre-existing ties with relatives or cities with a greater population of and tolerance for foreign nationals. Larger institutional investors are looking for properties in metropolitan areas with accredited tenants, strong locations, and stabilized cash flows. I have seen many investors make offers on properties with a capitalization rate below 3 percent if the tenant mix is stable or the location shows a very low vacancy rate.

CIRE: How has the designation and your affiliation with CCIM enhanced your career?

Khazen: Being designated as a CCIM gave me validation and immediate respect from my colleagues and customers because it signified that I was well-educated in my field and followed a strict code of ethics. Through my CCIM training, I was able to better analyze tasks I was given, better negotiate for my investors, and deliver better analyses of the “highest and best use” of vacant buildings or buildings with extreme decay. During the downturn, my CCIM designation helped me greatly working with the banks and their distressed assets.

CIRE: What initiatives are you working on with CCIM’s International Activities Committee?

Khazen: One of the IAC’s goals is to continue to reach out to our international members and ask them to educate us on what is happening in their respective countries, what investments they are looking for in North America, and how their investment process works. The committee was very proactive in hosting our international members when they came to CCIM’s fall conference in Los Angeles last year, which is important in fostering ongoing relationships.

The committee has also done a lot of work in introducing the EB-5 program to CCIM members. CCIM’s leadership team has really stepped up to guide our members as well. In the future CCIM will have even more capacity to facilitate international transactions among members since its strategic plan calls for continued global expansion.

CIRE: In 2014 you established the organization, International Business Women of Impact. What drove your decision to found IBWI?

Khazen: I founded IBWI with my partners to provide immigrant women with the training, tools, and resources to succeed in the U.S. The U.S. has so much opportunity to offer, but without an understanding of the laws and licensing requirements, many women are at a loss. As an immigrant myself who came to the U.S. more than 30 years ago, I know how challenging it is to learn a new culture. I want to provide the benefit of my experience to immigrant women coming into the U.S. today.

Jennifer Norbut is the former senior editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate.

Jennifer Norbut

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