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Student to Skilled CRE Analyst With Travis Headapohl – AiA

In this newest Accelerators in Action episode, Sam talks to Travis Headapohl. Travis, like many young professionals, started his career in commercial real estate as a student. Through dedication, hard work, and a commitment to learning, he went from a novice to a skilled CRE analyst. In this podcast episode, we’ll take a closer look at Travis’s journey and the steps he took to succeed in this dynamic field. Watch, listen, or read the episode below:

This is our 10th episode in a growing sub-series of interviews with commercial real estate professionals. This Accelerators in Action sub-series tells the stories of CRE professionals at all stages of their career, from students to senior-level professionals. Their experiences will provide you with insights into how to take your real estate career to the next level.

Student to Skilled CRE Analyst With Travis Headapohl

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Episode Transcript – Student to Skilled CRE Analyst

Announcer (00:01):

Welcome to the Adventures in CRE audio series. Join Michael Velasco and Spencer Burton as they pull back the curtain on everything commercial real estate, and introduce you to some of the top minds in the industry. If you want to take your skills to the next level and be part of a growing community of CRE professionals across the world, this is for you.

Sam Carlson (00:26):

Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the podcast. Now, this podcast is a little bit different today. I don’t have Michael and Spencer breathing down my neck telling me how smart they are and all that kind of stuff. We know how smart they are. But actually, I’ve got a guest here today, Travis Headapohl. And a couple years ago I used to do this thing called Accelerators in Action. And I had asked Michael and Spencer, I said, “We get so many people that have really cool experiences after they get done with the accelerator. And I would love to interview them, talk about their experience. Learn more about, hey, where were you when you started this?”


And then some of the journey and the things that they learned. And just really clue into the experience that people who are trying to do commercial real estate as a career, where the path starts, and then some of the directions that it goes. Travis, that’s your cue. That’s where you and I are starting today. I’m excited to talk to you. You’re a graduate of the Accelerator, but I think your story probably starts before that. Before we do anything, just a quick little introduction to you, where you’re at right now in your career. And then we’ll go and just have a conversation about where things started for you, buddy.

Travis Headapohl (01:46):

Perfect. Well, glad to be here. I started off, I’m an SMU graduate. I went there for undergrads to do BBA in finance, with a concentration in real estate. I knew going into college that I wanted to do finance, was searching for undergraduate business schools that I could go to and landed at SMU, although I’m originally from San Diego. And it was really about sophomore junior year where I started to cue in on real estate. I liked that I had a good mix between the technical analytical side and also the people skill side. So I really liked that. And so I started off with a tenant advisory internship, which was at Emmett Smith’s old Company, ESRP. And I worked up at the Star in Frisco, which was awesome, and I really enjoyed driving up there. But I felt around that time that I wanted to move a little bit away from advisory into more the capital markets and finance side of things.


And so that really prompted me to start exploring all the opportunities, networking with lenders, debt funds, the equity groups. And then that led me into the brokerage role. And a lot of what people would tell me was, you want to get as most many reps as you can. And everyone says brokerage is where you see the most amount deals. And so, that’s really what started to narrow my focus in towards the role I am today. A little detail on that was right around March of 2020, I got hired on by boutique den equity placement, a firm called Metropolitan Capital Advisors, here in Dallas. And right around that time they were merging with Marcus & Millichap.


Marcus Millichap’s been trying to follow the path of a lot of the other big brokerage firms and align the investment sales platform with the den equity guys, because there’s a lot of synergies between referrals and things like that. And so, that’s what land me into the Marcus Millichap role. Now, I’ve been here for a little over two years, and we just den equity placement for all property types and all areas of the capital stack.

Sam Carlson (04:06):

Well, that’s awesome. It’s funny you say, so the Star over in Frisco, that is where we recorded the first video version of the audio series. We had a lot of fun there. We rented an apartment there. Michael and I flew in from different parts of the country. Spencer was living in Frisco at the time, and that’s where we produced it. Yeah, it’s a cool place. Legacy Hall, love that place, you’ll go get whatever food you want. But that’s cool. Okay, so you didn’t know going into college that you were going to do real estate.

Travis Headapohl (04:39):

No. Definitely knew I wanted to go into some finance role, but I had no idea what that was. And it definitely took me a lot of time to get there. And I really wasn’t very focused on finding career path until the end of my sophomore year when things started to kick in for me. And I started thinking about where I needed to put my focus on. And that landed me in the real estate club. And once I got on that club, I felt that’s what I wanted to pursue. And that’s what kicked off my interest in CRE.

Sam Carlson (05:14):

I was reading the summary that you had sent over to our team here, and it was talking about just you would… And I don’t remember where you were working at the time, but you were trying to get a new role as an analyst. And you would just take a couple hours every day. Was that during the pandemic that you were doing that?

Travis Headapohl (05:34):

Yeah. The story on that-

Sam Carlson (05:36):

Yeah, talk to me about that.

Travis Headapohl (05:37):

Story on that was, I really made it right at the nick of time. I was interviewing with Metropolitan Capital and around… I can’t remember when COVID started. It was maybe the end of February that I had my final, or maybe the first week of March, I had my final interview. And we negotiated the offer and accepted it, and I was very excited. And that was on a Thursday. On Friday I went home to San Diego for spring break, and on Monday was the initial 14-day lockdown. So I slid into the role right in the nick of time before everything got crazy. And so they ended up, once they merged with Marcus, they ended up going on a hiring freeze. And so I didn’t end up starting my role until October, even though I was supposed to be an intern during the semester and work starting in the summer full-time.


So during that time is when I started ACRE, I had the head of the real estate club at SMU, Joseph Cahoon, came to me and said, “Hey, we’ve learned of this new modeling course that we think is really interesting. We’d love to have you take in, we’ll cover the cost so long as you give us feedback.” And as a college student, that was a golden opportunity. And just looking at what the 16 modules was, it looked like it aligned perfectly with what my role is going to be. Because the firm I work at now is very entrepreneurial, we don’t have a lot of specified groups. We just have 25 brokers across the state who do all property types, den equity deals, and we go to all types of capital sources, and just hit a lot of different things.


I knew that this was going to be the most comprehensive thing that I could do to prepare myself just without any actual analyst experience. And so I took that whole summer, just because I had so much time in my hands, I just really took my time to not rush through it and learn. Watch every single video, the watch me builds as well, and practice make them all myself. And I also even purchased a PC just so I could practice the shortcuts because I knew that-

Sam Carlson (07:41):

Were you a Mac guy before?

Travis Headapohl (07:42):

I was.

Sam Carlson (07:43):

Were you a Mac guy?

Sam Carlson (07:46):

I’m a Mac guy.

Travis Headapohl (07:47):

Well, it’s really hard selling, showing all the shortcuts you could do. It was eyeopening for me. I was like, okay, wait, maybe I don’t know as much as I thought I did about Excel, and there’s a lot that I could probably gain from learning how to do it on PC. Yeah, I did a couple hours a day throughout the end of the semester and summer. And it took me a long time, but because I went so slow, I felt that I really gained a lot from it. And it was the single most helpful thing that I did going into my role. 100%.

Sam Carlson (08:19):

It’s funny, there’s a couple of things that popped into my head while you were talking. One of them is, I want to go through, I’m looking at your summary, all the different deal types that you’ve done. I want to talk about that here in a second. But I remember several years ago when I was talking with Michael and Spencer about the Accelerator. And if people have listened to me on the podcast before, you guys know I’m not a modeling guy. My family actually did come from real estate, my dad was a developer when I was a kid. I would jump in his truck and we would go to job sites. And I personally have actually installed, I don’t know how many feet of sewer pipe and things like that, but I can operate in an excavator. I’m pretty good at it, actually.


I understand the game, but the finance part of it I don’t necessarily understand. And so when I was talking with Michael and Spencer, I said, “Well, walk me through what this skill is.” And they explained it to me, and I was getting the glassy eyes. And I’m like, “I don’t get it still.” And then, because I’ve been a business owner for a couple decades, they’re like, basically, if you’re trying to buy a business, what do you want to know? What’s the due diligence that you want to know about the business to make sure it’s worth something? Like, oh, okay, I get it. I understand that. And understanding the nuance that is required to really make a good… You’re talking about investing millions of dollars if you buy a business. So when we were talking about what the Accelerator…


And the Accelerator was originally going to be named The Academy. A really dumb name. But anyway. I said, “Well, list for me what I would need to know. And then, in what order I would need to know it in order to gain this skill. Real estate financial modeling.” And that’s where we started, going in that order. And then one day we were sitting there, and again, not being the brightest. And I’m not taking credit for any of this. But we’re just sitting there, I’m like, “This is great, but I just feel like I would need some type of practice. Some type of reps to actually learn this in order for this thing to really…” Because it’s a great skill, and it’s required if you’re going to be awesome at what it is that you do. Especially, again, when we go through all the deal types you’ve been able to do by taking your time to go through it. But I said, “I was thinking, how could I get some practice?”


And Spencer was like, “What if we did interactive case studies, and we built actual websites where there was a war room involved in it, where there’s actual deals that people had to consider, and model while they’re going through this program?” And it just built on it. And that was the light bulb moment for us. It was like, okay, well there’s courses and programs out there, fine. But people need to be able to have an outcome when this is done. And an outcome is, it’s not enough just to tell people, you have to show them as well. And the demonstration portion of learning the Accelerator are those case studies. And so you’re pairing up the two things. I love that you went through it methodically, and you got a PC. As a MAC guy, I empathize a ton with you. Because I don’t know what I would do if I had to go back to a PC now. I probably just feel stupid. You know what I mean? So kudos to you for going through it deliberately.


Now, I’m going to read these off. Because I think if I asked you to read them off, you probably would not remember all of the different types of deals that you have underwritten. JV equity, bridge loans, bank loans, agency debt, PACE financing, construction financing, preferred equity, CMBS loans, private hard money loans. Let’s see here. On all major property types, hospitals, assisted living, senior living facilities, and a landfill even. That is amazing. So you’re getting a wide variety of deals to look at. What’s that been like? Because a lot of people will get put into a role as an analyst and they’ll see the same things over and over and over again. You don’t get the luxury of doing that. You’re going to have to have some mental dexterity going in and out of these different deal types.

Travis Headapohl (13:00):

Definitely. And that’s what I really liked about ACRU was how they gave you the tools to be able to understand anything. When I came in, what I liked so much about this role and why I joined this team was because everyone was so entrepreneurial. And so they take on a lot of different types of deals, we’re not just doing one property type and going to one capital source every single time. We tailor fit the capital to whatever our client’s business plan is, and so that takes us to a lot of different areas. And so when I came in, it was really nice because when the broker’s company say, “Hey, can you help me with this construction loan?” I already knew how to do the construction, draw schedules, and how all that stuff worked. Got that from ACRU. Or if they came to me and said, “Hey, do you want to go to this hotel deal?” I already had the base of the hotel and how that’s very different than all the other property types, and how you do the underwriting.


And so, being able to have all the tools given to me by the Accelerator, and have an understanding of all the property types allowed me to become a generalist on a lot of different things. And it allowed me to jump into a lot of deals really early on. Within my first year, I was able to work on a lot of different things just because I had that background. That was really helpful. And beyond that, just getting under… ACRU provided a lot of tools and how to use certain formula as well, and how to take very long, poorly formatted rent roles and turn them into consolidated unit mixes without having to do it by hand with a thousand tenants.


And all that stuff really helped me to understand the other stuff, which is, we have a team member who works on financing hospitals and assisted living facilities. He also is the same guy that did the landfill. And so since I had all those tools in my toolbox and came to modeling, so long as someone could help me understand what the deal was and how the cashflow worked, I could put it into Excel and make everything work correctly. That was really beneficial to have all those skills early on so it didn’t hold me back and I was able to jump into a lot of deals. And in doing that, I’ve been able to get a lot of experience really quickly because I wouldn’t have to pass off the JV equity placements to someone else because I already had practice with the waterfalls, and had an understanding of all that. It allowed me to take on pretty much anything that came my way, and I’ve definitely benefited from that.

Sam Carlson (15:31):

That’s awesome. Let’s jump forward to what you do every day now. What is a day in your life? And you’re currently in the role as an analyst, is that right? Okay. Walk me through a day in your life today, what that looks like, the deals you’re looking at, the team and the structure around you. I’d love to hear again. And you’ve been in that particular role for how long?

Travis Headapohl (15:57):

A little over two years. I started October of 2020.

Sam Carlson (16:00):

Okay, great. Yeah, walk me through a day.

Travis Headapohl (16:04):

Our team, we call ourselves as the MMCC blue team. And so that started off with the acquisition of Metropolitan, which was, we have an office here in Turtle Creek with about 15 of us. And then they acquired another team down in Houston, and then hired lots of people in Austin, and just throughout the state. And so now we’re a Texas based team that does debt equity placements. We work alongside the main marks and Marcus & Millichap offices in the Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Fort Worth to help their buyers. Mostly, we do work with our own clients. This team is about 20, maybe 25 originators, and some analysts and closers. As a team, we don’t stick with just Texas, we mainly focus on the private client space. And so while a lot of them are Texas based, we do deals all across the country. California, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Florida, wherever they take us. But a lot of our deals are in Texas and Oklahoma and the Sunbelt.


And so day-to-day, as an analyst I work with a variety of different brokers, probably 10 different brokers I work with on a week to week basis. And we have brokers who specialize in a lot of different things, hotel, retail, office, construction. And so really whatever comes across my desk, I’ll take on. About 30% of my job is doing all the underwriting and diving into the deals, taking the financials, whatever’s in the war room. And creating our own Excel models and doing the underwriting it, and tailoring that underwriting to whatever capital source we’re going to. So underwriting something for a bank is a lot different than underwriting something to source joint venture equity on and showing different things, and focusing on different aspects of the deal. And so about a third of my time spent on the underwriting.


The other third is, I’ll put together the financial request packages that includes the underwriting and all the information on the deal. And that’s like the offering memorandum that we send to whatever capital source banks, equity groups, the CMBS lenders. That’s about the other third. And then the rest of it is back of napkin underwriting, or small tasks, responding to lender emails and following up to their questions when we’re marketing deals to them. Right now we’re working on a lot of actually ground-up build to rent communities. So Build for Rent is a new property type where it’s like a multi-family building except for it’s mostly houses in a housing community with community pool. And instead of building them to sell, they’re rented much like an apartment community. So we’re doing a lot of construction on those, as well as some construction on manufactured houses. We also have a couple office developments going in Oklahoma City. It’s really all over the place. It’s really whatever comes across my desk. I never know what I’m going to end up with, whether it’s a landfill or a stabilized multi-family property, and everything.

Sam Carlson (19:23):

And do you like that?

Travis Headapohl (19:24):

Oh, yeah.

Sam Carlson (19:24):

Is that some… Yeah?

Travis Headapohl (19:28):

For sure.

Sam Carlson (19:28):

Go ahead.

Travis Headapohl (19:30):

It keeps it very interesting. Instead of doing underwriting agency loans all day long, I get to focus on a lot of different things. And I see new types of deals all the time, stuff that I haven’t seen before, and structures that I haven’t seen before. I feel like it’s always a learning process. And so it keeps things very interesting, and it’s very enjoyable.

Sam Carlson (19:52):

It’s funny, because I remember not… I don’t think all of the people in the community know Spencer and I’s background, but I’ve known him since we were seven.

Travis Headapohl (20:02):

Oh, really?

Sam Carlson (20:03):

Yeah, we’ve been really, really good friends for a very long time. And we did a deal where we built out a development in Panama, the country of Panama. This was well before he went to Cornell and well before he started ACRE. And even back then, I remember he would do these cash flow models of the development. And when we would need money from our equity partner, when we would need our draw schedule from the banks we were working with down there. And he would just go through and do this as if it were a video game. And it’s really funny, because I think there are some people that are just, they’re built for it. And he was built for it. So when I look at a guy and I hear you talking through all these different deals… And by the way, when I hear you talking about these different… You’re seeing a ton of different deal types every single day. And I’m like, “Well, yeah, I wonder if we got another Spencer.” Is that your proclivity? Do you love the analytical side of these deals, and that kind of personality?

Travis Headapohl (21:20):

Yeah. I definitely really like the analytical side. I find it fun to try to figure these things out and figure out what formulators you would need to complete whatever you’re trying to achieve in the model. I find that learning process and trial and error process fun to try to model something out that you haven’t before. Or have the model do something that you haven’t had to do before. It is like a game. I do find that analytical side very fun.

Sam Carlson (21:50):

Did you play video games as a kid?

Travis Headapohl (21:51):

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Sam Carlson (21:54):

What was your favorite game?

Travis Headapohl (21:58):

I had an Xbox. I played a lot on Call of Duty and Battlefield, that was the go-to.

Sam Carlson (22:03):

I used to watch Spencer play Sim City.

Travis Headapohl (22:06):

Oh, really?

Sam Carlson (22:08):

He has been a real estate geek since we were eight. There’s some people that are built for it, and it sounds like that might be you as well. All right, we’ll wrap it up here. As we’re wrapping it up, I can tell that you put in the work to get your current role, and you continue to put in that work, and you have the passion. What’s next? Where are you going? Where do you want to take your real estate career?

Travis Headapohl (22:41):

Yeah, I think I see myself moving into a brokerage role. That’s the path here, is work three to five years as an analyst and get a really good understanding of the business. And you get to work on everyone’s deals, which is very valuable because you get to learn a ton. And once you feel like you’re ready and you really understand the business, then they release you and lets you go off and hunt down your own deals, and you move into that brokerage role. And then that’s really where you meet the pairing of the analytical side and the people skills side. And because half the battle is knowing how to place a deal, how to underwrite it, what capital sources to go to, who those people are. And then the other half is convincing potential clients that you can do better than everybody else. I think my path is spend a little bit more time really learning the business and working as many deals as possible. And then once I feel like I’m ready, I’ll move up into that brokerage role and get in the hunt.

Sam Carlson (23:42):

It’s interesting, my role at Adventures, I love marketing, sales, communication. That’s my role. And growing up, my dad was the number one sales guy in the world for a company called Stonhard, which they basically did industrial coatings and epoxy based stuff, very boring stuff. But the country was worldwide. And in Boise, Idaho, he was a top salesperson. And as I got older, I started to learn about sales and different things. And I would ask him, I say, “Well, what made you good? What made you so good?” Because he was never the low bid on any job, but he would always get them. And not so many words, I’m paraphrasing. He basically said, “I’ve never functioned like a salesperson, and I always function like an advisor.” And he could only do that because he was so knowledgeable, A, about his product.


And then B, about his customer’s product and their needs, what their actual needs were. That he wasn’t selling something. He wasn’t selling like, hey, I’m selling a contract amount. He was selling an actual solution. And I think a lot of people shoot themselves in the foot by focusing on, hey, I’m going to be the number one broker or whatever because I’m good at sales. Maybe you’ve got some charisma, but honestly, people buy from those they know, like. And this is the big one, and trust. And you gain that trust by being credible. I think you’re on an awesome career path.

Travis Headapohl (25:27):

I definitely like what you said there. Because what we talk about a lot here is separating yourself from the fee, and not to look at every deal as just, how can we make a fee on this? But looking at it as, what’s the best solution for the client? And building trust that way. And if the best solution at that time is to not transact, and to us that means not getting a fee, that’s better than trying to put them in a loan that maybe isn’t the best solution for them, and clipping a fee at that time. We definitely focus on being as much of an advisor and consultant as possible. And then if it comes time to place a loan, then it’s time to place a loan, but not trying to push transactions.


I think a lot of that comes with just being as knowledgeable as possible. If you understand all the different capital types that are out there and then can then formulate a solution that’s good, that’s better than just trying to find any capital that will fit that box. So that’s why I’m looking to spend time learning as much of the business as possible so that I can be as much of an advisor as possible and as knowledgeable as possible before going out there and pitching my business.

Sam Carlson (26:38):

Good stuff, man. Well, the separation, as they say, is in the preparation. And you’re putting in the work. So, good job, Travis. Look forward to following your career path and seeing where you go. I’m sure it’s going to be awesome. I appreciate you doing this with me. To the listeners, viewers, thanks for coming and listening to Travis and me have a little bit of a chat here. It’s been fun for me. Again, I love seeing so many times we get emails, posts, feedback from people who are in our community, and it’s fun for me to engage one-on-one and just see, what are you guys doing? Where are you going with your lives and with your careers? And I think this has been a lot of fun for me. I think you’re going to do some big things, man. Thanks for coming, Travis.

Travis Headapohl (27:28):

Appreciate it.

Sam Carlson (27:28):

All right, man. Appreciate it. All right. Take care.

Announcer (27:31):

Thanks for tuning into this episode of the Adventures in CRE audio series. For show notes and additional resources, head over to www.adventuresincre.com/audioseries.