During the recent Mortgage Bankers Association’s CREF22: Commercial/Multifamily Real Estate Finance Convention & Expo in San Diego, California, Freedom Financial Funds CEO Michael Klein sat down for a discussion with Charles Williams, founder and CEO of Pioneer Realty Capital and host of financial podcast The Capital Playbook.
Klein shared a glimpse of his professional journey, from his undergraduate education in finance, to his early career at Union Bank in Los Angeles. With an MBA and 15 years’ experience in commercial banking, Klein eventually left the banking sector to begin a start-up.
When he returned to banking five years later, he found that there was “something missing in the industry.” That “something” was training. “In the mid-1980s, a lot of bank executives made it a point to start saying that training was too expensive. And so, bank by bank by bank started to eliminate training programs. … If you’re in a service business like banking, it’s all about the skillsets of your people.” He opined that since decisions could only be made by a few, skilled individuals, banks began centralizing decision making, and client service diminished. Bank culture became product-focused rather than service-focused.
As a result, Klein decided to leave the banking sector once again. In January 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession, he teamed up with a family office, raised capital and opened the doors of a private lending entity. The company’s first client was a worthy borrower who had been unable to obtain funds from a bank with whom he had a 20-plus year relationship. He needed capital to finish construction on a building already pre-leased to San Bernardino County, and Klein’s fund was able to help.
In 2016, Klein and his partners opened a second company, Freedom Financial Funds. Together, they have closed approximately $1.6 billion in loans, without a single loss. Klein says his company is “focused on winning relationships with bankable clients” — seasoned real estate investors and developers who are looking for an entrepreneurial, knowledgeable and reliable source of capital. Freedom provides construction and bridge financing for ground-up projects and for gainful improvements to existing properties.
Klein and his team bring decades of experience to evaluating potential projects and borrowers. According to Klein, they underwrite every deal the same way, based upon a 6-point process that has yielded favorable results for the past 12 years.
These are Freedom’s guidelines, in brief:
The borrower must have a bankable profile and the capability to carry out the business plan they are proposing.
The borrower should demonstrate credit worthiness and be forthcoming about past challenges.
The property should fit the proposed business plan and market.
Freedom will assess if it is able to structure a loan that fits the business plan. Freedom seeks loans between $2 million and $15 million, with turnarounds of 12-18 months.
• Plan A exit and the Plan B exit
Freedom requires borrowers to have at least two viable plans for repaying the loan.
Klein and Freedom Financial Funds Principal Stanley Kafka co-wrote a book outlining this formula in detail. “How To Make Sensible Investments in a Senseless Economy: Six Proven Steps to Prevent Financial Disaster” can be purchased on Amazon. (https://www.amazon.com/Make-Sensible-Invhow to make sensible inv in a senseless economy estments-Senseless-Economy-ebook/dp/B08CNDT2V5)
While Freedom can be more expensive than traditional banks, working with Klein and his colleagues comes with a lot of value add. For one, Klein says, “If you use senior debt to eliminate the necessity of partners, you get to keep the whole deal.”
Besides quick closings of 2-3 weeks and a willingness to embrace complex deals, Klein also says that Freedom’s “service after the close differentiates the premium experience.” Unlike traditional banks, Freedom responds nimbly to unforeseen changes, as the decision-makers in his company are the primary points of contact for borrowers. Freedom’s value is further underscored by its performance through the pandemic. Freedom continued to close new loans and fund draws, without missing a beat.
Klein encourages borrowers to carefully interview their capital sources. “Ask, Who do you know that I know? And then talk to those people. Have they been a reliable source of capital?… You want to understand how they’re leveraged, how they’re capitalized, because you’re counting on them.”
Freedom Financial Funds provides capital for construction, rehabilitation, repositioning, conversion or additions to commercial and residential properties throughout the Western and Southwestern U.S. from its locations in California, Arizona, Oregon and Texas. Freedom also offers build-to-suit financing nationally. To learn more, visit: https://www.freedomfinancialfunds.com.