Straddling the worlds of commercial real estate and law is not always easy. However, Roman Petra, Esq., CCIM, CRE, takes it in stride.
“As an attorney, I was trained to work alone. Business is the opposite. Through CCIM, I have learned to collaborate with other people in a more holistic approach to execute on a goal,” says Petra, an attorney at Broad and Cassel in Orlando, Fla.
Trained as a lawyer at Valparaiso University, Petra earned master's in laws in taxation from Georgetown University Law Center and in real property and development from the University of Miami. Petra has closed more than $1 billion in real estate financing transactions, many of which involve multiple layers of equity and debt refinancing as well as counseling clients from acquisition through disposition of assets. He talked to Commercial Investment Real Estate about his experiences.
CIRE: Is financing getting easier for this market compared to five years ago? What major trends are you seeing in Orlando right now?
Petra: The economy is uncertain because of what is happening abroad, particularly in China, and the wait here on the Fed's decision to increase the short-term interest rate. However, these events have brought significant foreign capital into the U.S., which benefits real estate.
In Orlando, multifamily rentals have seen a boom. Millennials, particularly, are not buying homes as quickly as previous generations, for various reasons, making construction of multifamily rentals a strong market. As a result of higher demand, investment multifamily housing is robust because investors are moving from primary to secondary markets to obtain a higher return.
CIRE: One of your areas of practice is affordable housing. Do you see much activity in that sector today?
Petra: There is always demand for affordable housing. Over the past several years, many affordable housing developers have developed more market rate properties. They tend to have less moving parts, making it easier to get them off the ground. The goal of many developers is to sell while capitalization rates remain compressed, allowing them to realize a higher return. However, as the market rate cools, many will refocus on affordable housing.
CIRE: I know you also represent real estate developers who access EB-5 financing. In your area, is education for children of foreigners the primary motivator?
Petra: Because EB-5 is cheaper than traditional mezzanine financing and a soft source of financing, it is sought out by developers. My job is to ensure that the EB-5 investment is properly structured, especially if there are other sources of capital.
I always advise clients to be sure they understand how their projects are sourced-they need to have an appreciation of the risks involved with foreign investors. European investors looking for higher yields are investing in U.S. properties. Most of the individual European investors are not participating in the EB-5 program. Chinese investors have represented 85 percent of EB-5 financing and have invested heavily in real estate.
Many times, families use the EB-5 program to gain access to U.S. schools, finding it is easier for their children to gain entrance into U.S. universities.
CIRE: What has been the biggest advantage the CCIM designation has offered you in your career?
Petra: Through CCIM education, I've learned to focus on the business deal. My goal is to mitigate my client's risk, as best as possible, in the process of achieving the client's business objective.
CIRE: You also were a member of the 2014 Jay W. Levine Leadership Academy. How has that leadership training helped your practice?
Petra: The JWL Academy helped me to understand how CCIM Institute operates and its focus on member services and education. Education was my concentration while participating in the academy. I am passionate about developing specialty track programs, which will enhance our members' value as client advisers with more advanced learning. I am especially interested in the specialty track on real estate development.
CIRE: Tell me more about your involvement in the tech startup OnPlist.com. How is the product progressing since it launched in the 1Q 2015?
Petra: I am 100 percent involved in the development of OnPlist, which is seeing great growth. It was accepted into an accelerator program in Tampa, Fla., and we are integrating products with other tech companies.
OnPlist.com is a web-based platform, which allows users to work in a secure and collaborative environment to expedite real estate transactions. The goal is to successfully close a deal on time and within budget by addressing problems with team members quickly.