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When Larry of Colorado visits family in Baltimore, he swings by a former factory a few miles north of the downtown area. The 100-plus-year-old building is teeming with a new purpose, housing creators, small businesses, and others.
The building is known as The Mill Centre, a mixed-use commercial space. The sturdy, versatile building was originally used to manufacture fabric for sails on 1800s clipper ships. It was rehabbed in the 1980s and adapted for entrepreneurs and businesses of all types, and just recently changed management.
Anchored by a medium-sized software company, the building’s more than 90 other renters include a gym, therapists, graphic designers, artists’ studios and galleries, and photographers. Many of the tenants have formed a tight-knit community.
“They have this culture of walking dogs together,” says Larry. “Apparently there’s a whole group of them. They all bring their dogs to this old building, and at 10 o’clock in the morning this dog pack is going out with all the owners going over to some park. These people just love it.”
Larry feels content knowing that he plays a small part in keeping this creative community running by putting his IRA capital to work.
Larry’s leap to commercial real estate
Long before he began diversifying his retirement savings, Larry was diversifying his marketable skills. In college, he earned dual degrees in forestry and in technical communications/scientific technical writing. When he struggled to find work as a forester, he fell back on his technical communications degree and became a technical writer, later switching his focus to telecommunications and working as a director for DSL (internet connection) product development.
He was then recruited for a financial analyst position at a mutual fund company in California. After 9/11, that business collapsed, so he returned to Colorado and telecommunications.
Larry’s only experience with real estate investing had been as a landlord in the past, and more recently, he bought ranch land from a family trust and is holding it with plans to possibly redevelop it. But none of this had been in an IRA, and he had no other experience with alternative investing. Still, he wanted to try alternatives in his retirement account, for the sake of his financial future.
“I wanted to diversify away from the gambling hall of the stock market,” he says. “To have all of your investments just in stocks and bonds with the volatility we have and crazy things like this Coronavirus – it’s always the perfect storm of what derails us, and nobody sees it coming.”
Larry’s best friend Richard, whom he’d met growing up in New Jersey, was a successful commercial developer on the East Coast. He now works with a partner to find investment opportunities.
Learning his friend wanted to diversify, Richard approached Larry with an investment opportunity in a building that he and his partner had already been invested in: The Mill Centre.
Richard put together a package of 25-30 new investors, which formed an LLC that owns the building.
Richard explained that Larry could use his retirement account – a self-directed IRA – to invest. He consulted with his CPA, who recommended Equity Trust as the self-directed IRA custodian.
Investing in an LLC in an IRA
Larry owns 3.4 percent of The Mill Centre in his IRA by way of the LLC, a $100,000 investment. After Larry established his Equity Trust IRA and transferred funds from another account, it took a couple of months for the investor group to get the LLC in order.
“It was a challenge because there’s a lot of paperwork, and you have to get a lot of subsidiary documents,” Larry explains, “and then you have to get all these documents associated with the LLC. So, we went through multiple iterations. For part of my career, I worked on federal government contracts with RFPs and stuff; I’d say it was not as challenging as that, but a challenge.”