First Real Fund: Comprehensive Review and Ranking
What is First Real Fund?
2020-12-24: the site appears to be shut down. Multiple investors are alleging that they cannot contact the site (including those who claim they are not receiving promised distributions for months).
IMPORTANT 2021 COVID-19 UPDATE: The investment repercussions of the global pandemic continue to change and evolve with unusual speed. As such, this review might be dated, no longer accurate, irrelevant and/or missing crucial information necessary to making an effective investment. For the latest and greatest information on analyzing investments in this new era, see the latest article in the series: "How will Covid-19 / Coronavirus Affect my Alternative Investment Portfolio?"
First Real Fund specializes in residential and commercial real-estate (CRE) investments. It offers both equity and debt deals. The site is a newcomer to the rankings and doesn’t have much volume yet. However, unlike many platforms it “puts its money where its mouth is” and co-invests in its own deals alongside investors. Also, it has much more thorough due diligence documents than some of the top-ranked sites. (More on these in the "pros and cons" section).
How does First Real Fund work?
First Real Fund sources deals from third party sponsors, and then makes them available on it's site. So it does not originate its own deals, and instead functions like a crowdfunding version of Craigslist.
They typically charge a 0.5% servicing fee and 1% exit fee (which isn’t paid until investor principle and interest is). When they show yields on deals, they are the net yields (meaning what the investor will get after the fees are charged). This is not a huge fee, but some investors may prefer to pay no fee at all at platforms like Crowdstreet and Real Crowd. Note that, similar to all of these types of platforms, the investor still has to pay fees and compensation charged by the third-party sponsor, which vary from deal to deal.
What are First Real Fund Pros and Cons?
Advantages: true skin in the game with pre-funding. Very good due diligence documents, as well as drone video footage and video commentary. Full bankruptcy remote.
Disadvantages: Very low volume (only five deals in their history). Minimums are above industry average $10,000 - $25,000 (average is $10,000).
Accolades: top sites for due diligence docs, top sites for co-investment.
First Real Fund is new to the rankings. They stand out for standing behind their due diligence by co-investing. This means they invest in the deals themselves and put their own money at risk if things go wrong. Many platforms claim that their deals are fantastic, but this demonstrates that First Real Fund genuinely believes it.
They also have much better than average due diligence documents, and include things like the full realized and unrealized track record of every sponsor, rental comps, sales comps, and pro formas that are sometimes missing on even top-ranked sites (like Real Crowd). This saves sophisticated investors a lot of time versus having to pull teeth to get the information. First Real Fund also includes drone video and commentary on every deal which adds some nice additional color.
And unlike most newcomers, they have taken the time to implement full bankruptcy protection. This is a huge plus for letting investors sleep well at night. (More on this below in “Is Investing in First Real Fund Legal?”)
On the downside, they don’t have much volume, with only 5 deals in their entire history, and only 2 currently open for funding. Hopefully this will change in the future, and if it does the ranking will be revised upwards.
Also, the minimums start at $10,000 and go up to $25,000 which is a bit high. (The average minimum of the industry is $10,000).
For more raw data on the site (including investor and sponsor fees, legal structure etc.), or to easily compare it with the data of competitors, see the feature by feature comparison matrix.
Is Investing In First Real Fund Legal?
First Real Fund markets to investors under 506C, meaning that it's only available to accredited investors. Since it is not using 506B, new investors are able to view investments immediately and there's no 30-day waiting period. Since it is 506c, it also requires investors to prove their accredited status (and update it periodically).
First Real Fund has full bankruptcy protection (a pleasant surprise from a newbie platform). If they were to disappear, the management would be taken over by their broker-dealer: North Capital. First Real Fund claims that North Capital is the broker-dealer for many crowdfunding platforms, and would bring that knowledge to the table if they needed to take over.
What does a First Real Fund deal look like?
Here is my step-by-step due-diligence on a random First Real Fund investment. So it may or may not be a typical investment. Also I'm a very conservative investor, so something that's way too risky for me might be the perfect fit for someone else who is more aggressive. Finally, I'm not a financial advisor, attorney or accountant. So this is just my personal opinion and always consult your own financial professionals before making any financial decisions.
This deal is to invest in two 6-story buildings in Brooklyn New York that have 130 rental units and a grocery store. The developer will do an extreme value-added improvement (regarding and reconfiguring the floor plans). The projected hold period is 4 years, after which the sponsor hopes to sell it for profit. The minimum investment is $15,000, and the targeted investor IRR is 16.9%.
The first step is to make sure that the asset class and strategy even make sense for my portfolio. (If you don't know how to do this, please see The Conservative Investor's Guide to Due Diligence). Let's assume that it does make sense for me, and dive in.
Sponsor experience: I believe we are late in the cycle, and as a conservative investor I don’t want a rookie learning with my money and making expensive mistakes. For mainstream asset classes like this one, I want to see full real estate cycle experience in value-added multifamily, and with no money lost.
First Real Fund gets huge kudos here, because they actually present the full realized and unrealized portfolio of the sponsor. This is basic information that’s missing from most platforms and requires way too much work to acquire. So this was great to see.
However, I would have liked for them to have included the returns on each sold property and the current distributions on the unsold.
In this particular case, the sponsor had only been around since 2011, so their lack of full real estate cycle experience was a red flag for me. A more aggressive investor may not have an issue, and be fine with this.
Skin in the game: As a conservative investor, I want to see 5 to 10% skin in the game by the sponsor to counteract the fact that the promote compensation structure incentivizes them to push the risk envelope. (If the sponsor is newer and “poor,” I’m okay with less, as long as it’s significant to them).
In this case, the sponsor is putting 8% skin in the game. If I were interested in this deal, I would confirm that the equity is actually in cash and not a deferred fee, or some other non-cash item. If it is cash, I would consider this a big plus. And then on top of this is the fact that First Real Fund is co-investing $100,000 in this deal as well. In my opinion, this is a double plus.
Debt: as a conservative investor I want the debt structured to reduce risk is much as possible. I want the leverage to be a conservative 65% LTV or less at this stage of the cycle. In this case the loan is 56%, which I personally like to see and consider to be a big positive.
To reduce refinance risk, I want to see long-term 7 to 10 year debt. And to eliminate interest rate risk I want to see it locked in at a low fixed rate.
The loan is locked in at a 4% fixed rate, which in my opinion is a positive. It’s not clear from the offering documents what the term is. If it 7 to 10 years then I would also consider that a plus. If it isn’t, then it would be a yellow to red flag for me. A more aggressive investor or one that is not concerned about refinance risk and/or an upcoming recession, might not have issues with this.
Fees/splits: the 1% acquisition fee, 1% asset management fee are within average ranges and to me look fine. The promote is an 8% preferred return and then an 80% investor/20% sponsor split up to 12% IRR. This is right in range of average (75% - 85% investor) After that the split is 70% investor/30% manager. This is more expensive than average, so I would have to really like something else about this deal to want to choose to pay this much, versus going with a competitor. A more aggressive investor may not have an issue with this.
If the investment had passed all my initial checks, I would have dived in further to check out the sponsor, the property itself, the projections, etc. To learn how I do those things, check out The Conservative Investor's Guide to Due Diligence.
Where can I discuss other First Real Fund deals?
You can do this with thousands of other investors in the private investor club. While the club is free, membership is restricted to investors who have no business connections to sponsors or platforms. Also, all members must agree to keep all club info confidential by signing a nondisclosure agreement. Click here to join or get more info.
Who are First Real Fund Competitors?
Here are the reviews and rankings for other similar sites.
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How to pick? Check out our step-by-step guide.
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Code of Ethics: To maintain objectivity, I do NOT accept any money from any outside sponsor or platform for ANYTHING (including but not limited to affiliate ads, advertising etc.). See code of ethics for more.
Personal opinion only: All info is my personal opinion only as an investor. I am not an attorney, nor an accountant, nor your financial advisor. Always do your own due diligence and consult with your own licensed professionals before making any investment decision. Information is believed to be correct but may have errors, so use at your own risk. If you find an error, please let me know.
Ratings are general: In my opinion, every investor comes from a different risk tolerance and financial situation, so there's no such thing as a single investment or platform that's great for everyone. There are many deals that aggressive investors love, which I won't touch, and vice versa. And every investor has their own way of doing due diligence. I believe there's no one right way to do it.
So, the site ratings are based on criteria which I feel are important to the broadest range of investors (transparency, volume, bankruptcy protection, etc). And even though I have my own personal, conservative, due diligence method (and talk about how the site's deals measure up in the "deep dive section"), I don't use my personal criteria as a factor in the ratings. So for example, a high ranking/rating doesn't mean that I would personally invest in a site (and vice versa). Click here to see what's in my own portfolio.
About Ian Ippolito
Ian Ippolito is an investor and serial entrepreneur. He has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Forbes, TIME, Fast Company, TechCrunch, CBS News, FOX News, USA Today, Bloomberg News, Realtor.com, CoStar News, Curbed and more.
Ian was impressed by the potential of real estate crowdfunding, but frustrated by the lack of quality site reviews and investment analysis. He created The Real Estate Crowdfunding Review to fill that gap.
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This site has been ranked and reviewed as part of our in-depth, 100+ site industry review. All data is believed to be correct, but may have mistakes. Please contact us if you notice one. All non-data (including rankings, investor comment summaries, etc.) are my opinion only. I'm just an investor and not an attorney, accountant, or certified financial advisor. To maintain neutrality: I do not own a portion of any of the companies reviewed.