Transcription of Episode
Lauren Cohen 0:02
Good morning everybody from sunny, beautiful and warm South Florida. I’m Lauren Cohen, international legal and real estate expert. And I am also a realtor with the amazing company eXp Realty. And I’m here today with my new friend and colleague James Huang, who is heading up eXp commercial. It’s a ground floor opportunity. And it’s just amazing watching a company unfold literally before my eyes, we are here to talk about investing across borders. And there is no better person to talk about that than James Huang, who’s basically been involved in international expansion of companies for many years. And I am so grateful to you for spending some time with me today James
James Huang 0:43
Lauren, thank you so much for inviting me and having me here to share a little bit about the company with eXp commercial, a little bit about my background, and investing internationally. So thank you again, for inviting me.
Lauren Cohen 0:55
Well, I remember it seems like forever ago, but probably only about two or three weeks ago, the first time that we were on a phone call. And it felt like we were old friends, because we have been in the EB five space for so long. And having worked with so many commercial projects of various sizes, literally all over the world, mostly within terms of inbound to the US inbound investment, in dealing with helping people getting their green cards, getting them access to the US, creating jobs, bringing capital, all these things that happened that really became a popular way of raising money after the 2008-2009 recession. And you mentioned that your career basically pivoted or changed tracks around that time. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
James Huang 1:38
Yes, Laura. So one of the things, as an Asian, a lot of my parents, I hate to say stereotypical, I had a choice. I could be a doctor or an engineer, went down a certain path, studying biochemistry, so everyone knows what that would be. And by the time I started moving along, I went into banking and finance. So I did work for Dean Witter. Then they merged into Morgan Stanley, did some portfolio management. Then when I first got my piece of real estate, I went into portfolio management work for one of the largest tech syndicators in the country. And I was just wondering, why are we buying all these buildings from this one company, Marcus and Millichap. So I said, You know what, I want to take my chance to learn commercial real estate, it’s great to be a W2, but I like the 1099, and being an entrepreneur, right, creating your own destiny. So I went into Marcus, after the first year of just cold calling, I realized I love building the relationships. And then I started syndicating, putting properties together, eventually left markets for my own company, BRC advisors, we did property management, we did syndication, we did private money lending, we did so many things, right from the beginning, like what we’re doing at eXp commercial, you know, it did take me a little longer, because I did it from scratch. And when I grew it, we did grow to the height of over 150 commercial brokers. Commercial only.
Lauren Cohen 2:59
That’s huge for commercial! That’s a very significant private company. I mean, that’s big.
James Huang 3:06
Exactly, Lauren. And it did take over 15 years for us to kind of scale up to that. In the first six months, I was sitting in this 5000 square foot office by myself, because I always thought build it, right. We all do as entrepreneurs, you know, build it and they’ll come.
Lauren Cohen 3:24
Yeah, so true. So true. He’s sitting there waiting, because you don’t have enough space for a bunch of people to work around you, right?
James Huang 3:34
That’s what I thought I was sitting in the nice corner office. And I was like, Where’s everyone? No one’s coming, you know, trying to promote? Join my firm. Eventually, it did happen that we did grow to one of the larger boutique regional firms in the country. In Southern California, where it is a high dollar average. Right, for property?
Lauren Cohen 3:54
What is the average for, let’s say, I mean, obviously, it differs. I know, in Santa Barbara, it’s out of control. But like, what’s the average price for residential versus commercial property, just like an average small building, for example, just to compare it, maybe compare a California price to the rest of the market?
James Huang 4:14
I would just say right now, $800 to a million dollars. You know, when I first started, you could buy something decent as we said, anything over five units, you use commercial lending, so we could then consider a commercial anything four units they could be. Yes, they’re still investment properties, but you use residential financing. So five and under, we didn’t consider commercial. So I would say, you know, five to six units back in the day, you could get it for 2-300,000. Now five to six units, you’re paying 800 to a million dollars even in I would say the Sierra, you’re not getting it so we always wish. Right Lauren? When we see these opportunities, oh my gosh, if I would have bought my first three buildings. I would have been retired. It’s funny. I go back and take a look at the first three buildings I’d done, and I would be worth about 20 to $25 million in equity now, because those properties like one in West Hollywood was an 11 unit apartment building. I could have got for, I still remember the $600,000. The seller really wanted to sell it, carry back, right 400. All I needed was $100,000. That property, I looked back now is worth about $13 million.
Lauren Cohen 5:31
Okay. Let’s think about it this way, let’s say that either of us came into eXp three years ago, four years ago, and got stock right? At 11 cents, or 20-25 cents, or whatever it was. And even at the beginning of COVID, when the eXp stock was $11. And Craig said, Lauren, you should buy this. And I wasn’t drinking the Kool Aid. James, you weren’t around. I wasn’t drinking the Kool Aid. And I didn’t buy it. I bought it eventually, but not at $11. And what did it split at two weeks ago?
James Huang 6:05
Oh, when they announced the split, it was I think trading at 80. All of a sudden it jumped it went over $100. And at the height it went to $180.
Lauren Cohen 6:14
That’s insane. And that was a penny stock before James and I were in the company. And so it just goes to show you it’s all about having foresight. And you know, real estate is always going to be a cyclical cycle. But it’s always gonna bounce back and as always have a tangible asset. And I love commercial multifamily properties for my clients, because the minimum number of doors to qualify for a visa is five at least. So as soon as they hit the commercial, you know, it’s different, it’s looked at differently. The government looks at it differently. Everything is different. So I love commercial. I’ve always loved commercial, and I’m so excited to be part of this company as it’s growing. So, tell us what brought you to eXp? Like, from you know, you are very successful and in your own private career. And you were with Marcus and Millichap is that right?
James Huang 7:10
I was with Marcus I founded BRC advisors, I ran another national franchise operation before I came over to hp. So good experience from very different dimensions seeing from leadership and running the company of what works, what doesn’t work? And what are the best practices of progress, possibly putting it with this new normal, right with this technology, which we all know, you really better embrace technology and all aspects of your business. Otherwise, you’re going to be obsolete, as we’ve seen many other companies kind of become obsolete that didn’t really embrace and didn’t really think outside the box. And I really hate this, this is the way we’ve always done it. This is the way it’s gonna be, very stubborn, very close minded people, you know that don’t think outside the box and think, where’s the next step? Right? Like you were saying, being ahead of the curve.
Lauren Cohen 8:03
And eXp has really done that because when I remember years ago, and you were not kind of in the trenches, like just going to these, I would say lower end, but just these simple networking meetings and people that were in real estate knowing I have had my real estate license for 13 years. And James, I think I mentioned to you, I never did anything with the darn thing until I joined eXp. So people would hear that I had my license, and they tell me about this company. And I’d be like, it’s a pyramid. I’m not interested. What are you talking about? And then I kept hearing, but I’m hearing by the time I’m like, Oh, this makes sense. And part of the reason the company has been so successful is because it isn’t just driven by one stream. And also because it’s so tech driven. And exactly their piece of it, of course, is international. So you’ve known Michael Valdez for some time. And tell me a little bit about how you came to eXp and the International plans for eXp commercial. Because right now we’re just in the US and just rolling everything out. I know there’s a lot of talk, people are desperately waiting for eXp, to go into eXp commercial, to go into Canada, which makes a lot of sense. But tell me a little bit about that, please.
James Huang 9:18
Yeah, so what brought me over to eXp was I was also a national president AREAA, the Asian Real Estate Association of America. I served under Tom Truong. So when Tom was president, he joined eXp, I think he was told about it from Scott Lewis and Tracy. So heard about it, they told him about it. You know, he kind of embraced it, kind of got it really quick. And he basically said, Hey, Jim, you should be part of commercial but I was already running a national franchise, but this was almost three and a half years ago that I heard about eXp. And the one thing is, this is what I look at with everything, open mindedness
Lauren Cohen 10:01
Open mindedness. If you’re not open minded, you’re never going to get this model. You’re just not, it’s unique. And you have to be able to think outside of the box.
Unknown Speaker 10:11
Exactly that, because what I was trying to do, and believe it or not, I showed up at your events, like your different regional events. Early on, I went to Scott and Tracy’s event in Arizona, even though I had no real intention of joining, I wanted to learn, I always want to learn
Lauren Cohen 10:31
Or maybe a little voice in your head. You want to keep an open mind there, James.
James Huang 10:38
So I always keep that open mind and learning and in time, you know, the opportunity, right sometimes, as long as you don’t burn bridges. That’s another thing I don’t believe, don’t burn bridges. And keep an open mind. Because if you play it out long enough, you never know what opportunities will eventually pop up. But if you burnt the bridge, it’s not gonna happen. If you don’t keep an open mind, it won’t happen. So eventually, it did come to a point where an offer, an opportunity came to me to run eXp commercial, both domestically, and internationally, but also set up the answering services because as you and I know, in commercial real estate, there’s fewer of us, but pound for pound, the professionalism, right, because most of the best, are full time. And as you know Lauren, you’re like us, 80-100 hour week is nothing right?
Lauren Cohen 11:31
Like we’re here on a Sunday, and James didn’t even bat an eye because during the week we don’t have time for this.
James Huang 11:38
Exactly right, because we are just doing the day job even more than the day job. So we do a lot of our catch up, our connections, our friendship calls, which you know, I’m going to get you more involved. Lauren, I love the strategy. How do we grow? and answer your next question? Yes. Be commercial internationally, as you said, very close with Michael Valdez. I was a static. Actually, we were talking before both of us came over to eXp because we’re sharing some notes. And I said, Ah, I hope you’re there. He got to come over first. And then I eventually came over and then we started talking, collaborating, sharing. And that’s one of the best things with eXp, also not to drink the Kool Aid and I’m so passionate about it. But I was skeptical. I was very safe, very conservative. But then you know, I delved deeper. Oh yeah, I delve deeper and deeper. And then I found out with the leadership, open mindedness, creative outside the box.
Lauren Cohen 12:33
So creative. Glenn’s on the event that he holds at the Success Magazine event every day. And I love his mind mapping. I’m a big mind mapper. I mean, it’s extremely collaborative. Everybody wants to help each other because we all are owners of the company. It’s great. It’s just, it’s something that I’ve never seen. And I worked for Citigroup. So I worked for one of the largest corporate companies and there was none of that going on there.
James Huang 12:59
No, and you could reach out to all the different parts of the company because commercial is a separate company from realty but we work so well with Dave Canard and different teams. It is so collaborative. With rubella, with all the desk tools, so happy and excited with Success Magazine Bella.
Lauren Cohen 13:18
So I know what it is. But what is rubella I love rubella.
James Huang 13:22
Rubella is our platform that we use to do really remote working, event planning that you can have your whole event. Just a little example from what I’ve experienced when I first joined eXp. We had our eXp con last year in 2020. Over 18,000 people are in for rubella, this platform, to network to cloud and it’s not like Zoomer it’s linear where one person talk you can move independent of what’s going on, to go to different rooms like the expo room to look different breakout halls, to go to the main hall to walk around to sail this powerboat. I mean to go explore, tend to meet a friend just to chat and eat on the beach. I mean, it is such a powerful platform. What I told people it’s like Zoom right, when Zoom was during the pandemic. Everyone had to switch, find other mediums other ways of conducting business, right? We’re not going to sit around and use this time as a vacation. We’re using this time to connect to be proactive vacation, right? No, there’s no vacation. And so when we use zoom I looked at verbally and I said wait a minute, wait a minute. Granted, it’s an avatar. Granted, it’s a video game. It looks a little different. But it works. It works.
Lauren Cohen 14:40
It’s amazing. It really is. You know i’ve showed my son the other day, he’s 10 and it’s like a video game. I mean, his video games are very dynamic and you have your avatar and you build your avatar and I mean my avatar is beautiful. I think she’s awesome. She has a ponytail. She wearing purple, my favorite colors. Very well granted, she hits a few walls.
James Huang 15:03
You know, you get used to it, but then you learn all these other creative stuff. But the thing about this. When technology I called this, like when everyone didn’t have a website in the early 90s. Right, websites were just starting to come out. But think about the progression of technology and the way we use technology. Do you not think, and I love this movie, Ready player one, right? I’m an 80s child, so I love that.
Lauren Cohen 15:33
What’s it called? Ready player one?
James Huang 15:34
Ready Player One. It’s like the whole world lives in the Oasis this this virtual reality that eventually you put on Oculus or different kinds of glasses. So you can see real life. Do you not think we are not progressing to a point where we can wear glasses, have these have suits, you know, feel things, see things, smell things, and interact by things. So literally, you can do everything where you’re at right now in this world to collaborate and we don’t even know the full capacities, right? We grew up with rotary phones, then the dial phones, and then it was connected due to you know, tether online. And then we had the cordless phone. Remember cordless phones?
Lauren Cohen 16:20
Or the first cell phone ,that you could throw it against the wallet would make a dent? I mean, it would have made a big dent.
James Huang 16:31
You know, back in the younger day before, you know I’ll tell them a little story of what happened in 2009. I used to be that kind of bougie person bringing that microwave oven next to my head right just to have it and spend all that money, you know, just be a New Yorker and everything else, I pretending other things. I’m doing deals right. But the one thing you know that I love is the way the company is forward thinking and you know we’re talking about 2009, this is what changed my life is during the Great Recession, right, everyone that had more, lost more, or had to pivot, like what we’re experiencing now. Yeah, it was so unknown. And when I went through it, like I said before, I did grow my company to 100, over 150 broke, I think we were 180 at the height, doing about 2 billion in sales. And it all went away. In 2009, after Bear Stearns Lehman Brothers went down. The writing was on the wall, but I had liability, right? We’re talking about how eXp is a platform where if I had liability, I had brick and mortar. I have over, let’s see five nice offices, two satellite offices. So my obligation was with the employees and everything else, I think I was paying close to $300,000 a month, just to run this operation. And during the Great Recession. In one month, we couldn’t even put enough deal flow from what we were used to will in six months, right? So during the six months of 2009. I didn’t even make as much money as one month’s time. So Lauren, you know, be a lawyer. I was renegotiating, I was begging with everyone, borrowing from everyone. I mean, literally, it was such a disaster. But this is what changed my life. We all say success doesn’t change you. It’s your character through pain and adversity, right? And failure, because I saw that in your book. And I think it was by Albert Einstein, right? If you didn’t do enough things, you didn’t succeed. You just you didn’t do enough stuff. So yeah, it’s great to sit in a closet and never fail because you never did anything. So it does happen. But it does strengthen your character. So nowadays, almost nothing scares me because in 2009 I thought I was retired. And literally, I had to start over again from the bottom. Yeah, it’s at the time. I did not so that was fortunate by God. But you know what I learned? It was more than about me. It was about what I could accomplish and what I could help others in this world. I have one person, can I help two people can I help a group, whatever it is, right? The higher powers or whatever it be, like I believe in God. So I’m like, Okay, let’s, let’s see what happens and it almost set me back to, Jim, this is your mission. Right? We all have talents. We all have this one life to live. And what can you do for other people? How can you change other people’s lives? So I believe it so strongly, in the core to one, grow eXp commercial, make people successful, so we can give back we can help other people. But volunteer during the process, right? One thing I always said in another blog, or another close friend about volunteering is start now. Don’t think big, don’t think I’ll invest, I’ll do this when I make it. Now. You need to start now. You need to start giving and helping others now. That’s what changed my life Lauren. And then when this opportunity came, you know, I treated it as a blessing, treated it as something that it’s an honor to serve an honor to be involved, work as hard as you can work. So if we can make other people successful within our group, create this culture of giving, serving, helping other people.
Lauren Cohen 20:20
It’s a win win. Everybody wins. You know, I wrote a couple of notes here. So we mentioned we talked about hitting walls and failure. And, you know, I’ve been I’m in a coaching program actually out of San Diego and have been for many years. And one of the things that she always teaches is you have to face your fear and do it anyways. And if you don’t face your fear, if you don’t know from fear, if you have your, your path paved with a silver lining, believe in my book every which way, never going to really make it or impact others. And I was determined, because I hit that wall several times, as you know, my ex husband was deported. I’m like, Here I am a newly married person on my honeymoon, my husband is deported, what the heck do I do? At the time, it was not an immigration practitioner. And it just propelled me to, like you have make an impact for others, make an impact for others, make an impact for others. eXp is all about impacting others. And if you’re not about that, if you’re only about the almighty dollar, you’ll do well. But you’re going to eventually fail, because it’s I think most people, most of the certainly most of the core corporate people at eXp are the ones that I’ve met and collaborated with. Such giving hearts, I mean, Valdez, Megan, you know, you name it, Glenn. I mean, they really want to bring you up. And it’s like I interviewed a friend of mine, you may know her, Nancy Matthews. She’s a big influencer internationally. And I interviewed her on Friday. She’s a very good friend, I helped them get their first trademark. And I’ve been around their world for a while. And their women’s prosperity network is all about reaching their hand out and helping someone else up. Now, as a single mom, I started a nonprofit, Find My Silver Lining, because so many single moms, they’re not lawyers, they don’t have those numbers or letters behind their name. And maybe they’re not going to get out of the fact that when my son was born, and he’s 10, I had to get food stamps. And it was not fun, James. It was not fun. But if I hadn’t, every time that through this whole pandemic, every time something happens, I think to myself, Oh my God Lauren just be grateful. Just be grateful. You’re not there. Because when I walked in there with my son, he was a little baby. And I was covering him. Like I didn’t want him to get exposed. And that was just my mentality bed. It’s different now. It’s like, oh, let’s help them up. And that’s what I’m hearing with you. The other thing is, you mentioned about philanthropy, so I lost my dad to ALS seven and a half years ago, and I will tell you, and I’m going to put this out there because I’ve not really spoken about this, but you’re mentioning something about do it now. And maybe you can help me with this. And this could be, it’s not really an international investment committee thing, but maybe it’s an eXp commercial thing. Since my dad passed, I have wanted to do something very meaningful with the ALS Association in my dad’s memory. And I remember Patrick Dempsey did something for his mom. Like she created a whole walk in California and I wanted to do something different. So just keep that in your mind. I haven’t, it hasn’t morphed yet, but something told me I needed to bring it up with you today. So ALS is very obviously near and dear to my heart, but I want to do something that’s so impactful. That like the Ice Bucket Challenge. But it really you know, that level, so I just wanted to mention that. So James, it’s just so awesome. Tell me one of your most interesting experiences internationally, like interesting and fun, let’s say different terminology.
James Huang 23:59
Yeah, and I’ll say experience but before I do this, it’s a great book and I learned a lot on I need to get it well thank you great book. Thank you. And you know what, love reading the book and I love some of the terminology you know, with your dad and giving back because the grandson right, you were telling me in the book at the end and then also what is it a mama like entrepreneurs mom uppers right that you’re trying to…
Lauren Cohen 24:28
James Huang 24:30
Because of the work life balance. Yeah, that is there such a thing. So no, I had to bring it up because I would love you know, the sacrifices moms make. Doing it, balancing at all, thank you to everyone, should help out the husbands of the dads You know, a lot more but it’s nice. It’s the moms. And I love when I saw that, and for your dad and everything else. So I love that and happy to help. I would love to see what we can do because it’s meaningful, and it changes lives.
Lauren Cohen 25:13
Thank you James. And you know, it really is a pleasure, you just resonated with me from the minute, you had me at hello. Right? So let’s go back for a second, I want to talk about an interesting and fun path. And I also want to talk about, because eXp is so big on this, and obviously, it’s important to me, diversity inclusion. You know, I’m a Jew, I’m a proud Jew, and they’re, nobody sees it, just like nobody sees that I’m an immigrant, okay, but they know that you’re not Asian, right? You’re Asian, you’re not white. And when you fill out that little thing, you fill it out differently. You know, but I’m not any less different than you. Because being a Jew is a very important part. It’s like the essence of my being, and just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. And the same goes for, for being an immigrant. Well, I went through the same stuff as everybody else. And that’s why I do what I do, because I want to help them pave the path for them more easily. So please share some very cool fun past experience. Maybe a faux pas, something crazy you did, some crazy thing you saw. I don’t know.
James Huang 26:30
Yeah, so I’ll answer those two questions. But I’ll start with this one first. Because when your saying immigrant, oh my gosh, even though I was born in the US, everyone kept on thinking I was an immigrant. And I’m like, no. Am I speaking and idioms and different terminologies and things only, you know, American born would be speaking like this, but people looked at me a lot of times thinking, you know, always which country, what country? You know, why did I immigrate? When did I come to the US? And the funny thing is, when I was really young in elementary school, they put me in ELS, English as a sound.
Lauren Cohen 27:09
Oh my goodness. You could have taught the class!
James Huang 27:15
Exactly. So what happened is when I transferred, they didn’t realize I don’t know how I popped up to take ELS. And I was already reading at a higher level than my group. And I did play games because I was a smart alec type of kid. So I pretended to be Fabi I pretended to use accents.
Thanks for listening to Investing Across Borders with Lauren Cohen. Make sure to check the show notes for any links and for guests contact information. If you have questions for Lauren, please reach out to her at FOUNDER@ecouncilglobal.com. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please subscribe, rate, review, and share the podcast with a friend.