For Eric Cohen and Douglas Eisner, creating The Calida Group in 2007 just as the market was crashing, was never about making a pretty penny off of other companies’ shortcomings; it was always about investing for the long haul.
The pair resigned from their former employers, Cohen from Trammell Crow and Eisner from Alliance Residential, in August of that year, right before the first of many harsh economic losses.
“We weren’t blind,” says Eisner of the storm clouds forming on the horizon in the year leading up to Calida’s launch. “We didn’t know it was a perfect storm—no one did—but we knew there were going to be buying opportunities.”
Several other up-and-comers had the same idea. Some even quit their jobs on a Friday, formed a company over the weekend, and completed their first deal on Monday.
But Cohen and Eisner never wanted that. They didn’t want to just start gobbling up the low-hanging fruit of larger firms for opportunistic profits. Instead, the team took the next year, working from Eisner’s living room, to develop a conservative investing strategy that would sustain their company not just for the next few years, but for decades to come.
“When we started, everyone thought of us as multifamily developers, but we didn’t,” says Eisner. “We thought of ourselves as multifamily investors, and at that point in the cycle, we felt that development in certain locations offered the best risk-adjusted returns.”
Only the Best
With a market sector identified, and a squeaky-clean balance sheet, The Calida Group began work, sticking to its strategy and investing in only low-leverage, low-risk deals in the best locations, never afraid to leave some of the fruit if it wasn’t ripe enough.
The firm’s first deals consisted mainly of buying projects that went belly-up from refinancing struggles, such as garden-style condo communities that stopped midway through construction. “We would buy them, finish construction, dissolve the HOA, and revert back to a rental property,” says Cohen.
When land prices hit record lows in 2010, Calida took the same disciplined approach to a new tactic, coming in only for the best deals at premium locations, something the company has coined “Calida Quality Locations.”
One of the best examples of the initiative is the Elysian at The District, a mixed-use development featuring 450,000 square feet of retail space (97% occupied) and 200,000 square feet of office space (95% occupied). Adjacent to the best public school in Las Vegas, the project is also down the street from a $650 million casino, a multigenerational community center, a concert hall, a library, a police station, and a Whole Foods.
The firm isn’t only concerned with the best deals and the best locations, though: It looks to offer only the best product, as well. Because Calida came into the business with the long term in mind, the company develops only product it feels will endure and stand as pillars in its portfolio.
Calida’s nine Elysian developments are prime examples of that standard. They specialize in the very high end, as Cohen puts it, aiming to reach people who could buy but choose to rent as part of their lifestyle.
The target market for Calida’s communities isn’t any one demographic, however; rather, says Cohen, the firm is focused on psychographics and reaching people with similar interests. “We’re just trying to do really nice product that everybody can appreciate,” he says.
Holding for the Long Term
As entitlements were put through the wringer, many of The Calida Group’s purchased sites sat for a long time, preventing the firm from closing on construction loans and obtaining building permits. But with more and more of the sites finally coming out of limbo in the past few years, Calida is experiencing large growth, with roughly 1,200 starts in both 2012 and 2013 and a whopping 2,220 starts in 2014, placing it at No. 14 on NMHC’s 2015 owners list. Even as Calida grows, Cohen and Eisner aren’t straying from their principles.
And never having entered the game solely as developers anyway, Calida has already found other ways to invest in the industry. Today, Eisner says, he’s finding the risk-adjusted returns he wants in acquisitions, so the firm recently launched an acquisitions platform, with a budget for purchasing 2,500 to 3,000 units a year.
But the team doesn’t plan to slow its development business just yet. Calida has still been aggressive with buying the right land and has more than 2,000 starts in store for both 2015 and 2016, in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. According to Cohen, the firm is setting its sights on senior living next, with plans to develop assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing facilities in Utah and Nevada.
“If we can locate Calida Quality Locations, we’ll develop. If not, we’ll slow down,” adds Eisner.
The company is still planning on year-over-year production growth for the foreseeable future, and the team says it’s not losing any sleep over a potential downturn, even as murmurs of one spread through the industry.
“Frankly, we’ll just do what we did back in 2007: wait for good buying opportunities,” says Eisner. “The difference is that, this time around, we have a heck of a lot more infrastructure behind us and a balance sheet orders of magnitude larger than we did back then. It should be a lot more fun this time.”