All Star Developer: Multifamily Marketer Kate Good Writes a New Chapter

MHN interview with apartment marketing expert and developer Kate Good
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Kate Good has spent 25 years in the multifamily sector; in fact, she’s been leasing apartments her entire adult life. Good’s enthusiasm for the apartment industry, her deep marketing knowledge and “can do” attitude have contributed to her popularity as a professional speaker. For the last 14 years she’s traveled the U.S. and Canada as a consultant—creating game changing leasing and marketing programs for new construction and distressed communities—and sharing her ideas at national and local Apartment Association events as well as Multi-Family Brainstorming, the International Builders Show, MHN’s Multi-Housing World and more. Kate is also a founding member of The Apartment All Stars, an educational tour delivering high-energy live events and webinars. Prior to her work as a consultant, Good was with Trammell Crow where she climbed the corporate ladder after quickly gaining recognition as the number one leasing consultant when she leased 52 apartments and closed 48 renewals in just one month. She also spent some time at Gables. In 2012, Good joined forces with Hunington Properties to create Hunington Residential which is the multifamily development and management arm of this firm. Good now serves as a development partner and director of multifamily operations. Her first community, Vargos on the Lake in Houston, broke ground in the first quarter of 2013.
 MHN Editorial Director Diana Mosher recently talked to Good about her transition to developer and her first Houston project.

MHN: Congratulations on your groundbreaking. Tell us about Vargos on the Lake.

Good: Thank you. We have 260 apartments and a five-story wrap building planned and we also have 13 townhomes on an island that’s accessible by a little bridge and a gate from the mainland. Those will open this summer. I have an idea of where I want to price them, but I have a feeling they may go even higher because they’re pretty special.

MHN: That’s wonderful. So tell us about Hunington Residential. Are you the sole principal of the company? Do you have partners?

Good: I teamed up with a gentleman by the name of Sandy P. Aron who’s been developing retail centers in Texas and Colorado and a few other states for 30 years. He did a multifamily joint venture project in 2008 and 2009, during the recession, and liked the multifamily side of it. He wanted to do a project on his own and found a great piece of land that was formerly an iconic restaurant in Houston. He bought the land out of bankruptcy court, and it was a perfect site for apartments.

I came on board first as a consultant and then he said, “Why don’t you come [to Houston] to work?” and I said, “I’m not looking for a job. I like what I do.” We did the dance for a bit. I kept flying in and doing my consultant work, and he’d say, “What’s it going to take to get you here?” I told him I wasn’t looking for a job—but I would want to be a partner; in fact, it was my goal to come out of the recession in a development position. And he said, “Now what makes you think I wasn’t going to make you’re a partner? On your flight home to Phoenix, I want you to make a list of the things you need for your partnership and we’ll hammer it out.”

Well, I left Houston that afternoon and it took me a record 15 hours to get home because of unexpected layovers and storms and mechanical problems and all sorts of stuff. So [during that travel time] my list of about 20 items to be a partner was eventually whittled down to four—and I pretty much just said I want to get off the road. I still love to do my speaking. I’m still a partner and a presenter on the Apartment All Star tour, and I’m still actively taking speaking engagements all over the country. But what I did is eliminate most of the marketing consulting I was doing. Now I’m just on my own projects and Vargos on The Lake was our first one. It’s a very difficult site that took a while to get through planning and permitting. And we’re incubating five other projects right now, all in Texas.

MHN: That’s very impressive. What career experiences enabled you to make this transition to the development side?

Good: Thank you. It was always my perception that it was a big leap [from marketing to development]. I grew up in this industry on the management side. A lot of people will tell you that development—especially in the late 1980s and in the 1990s—was really a separate office, and you really didn’t see management [people] go over to the development side. I was fortunate to work for Trammell Crow in the late 80s and early 90s, and many of the Trammell Crow partners either established their own firms or went to work at one of the REITs that spun out of Trammell Crow. I was known as an expert marketer and a great leaser because we did so many lease-ups when I was at Trammell Crow; however, I had less development experience. Then I went on to a position at Gables where we had 24 properties under development in one year. We were all pretty busy. So when I left Gables and broke out on my own, I was able to start my consulting career working for the former Trammell Crow partners. I’ve always been surrounded by, and worked for, great people in the development community and I’ve always felt like “I could do it too.” I’m not taking anything away from them—it’s difficult—but I think I just became a student of it.

MHN: I didn’t realize you were around the development side of the business for so long.

Good: When I was gainfully employed by Trammel Crow I was known as a management person, but when I started my consulting practice 14 years ago my first three projects were all new construction—apartment communities that I started selling when they were still on paper and I brought it all the way through the stabilization; so I really took on a reputation as the consultant to call if you had a development to lease up. That was fun, and I loved it. And then, when the recession hit and there weren’t too many apartment communities being built, I was doing a lot of value-added/turn around/rescue type work for interesting owners who were in tough markets or who, in order to obtain their financing, had to meet certain goals. And of course I loved that too, and I was developing relationships with those owners. As I said during the recession, apartments always lead us out of the recession and I think I want to be in the game. But never did I imagine I would be [here] in Houston. It’s just incredible the [amount of] opportunity that’s here.

MHN: I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying what you’re doing and thriving. Tell us more about the project you’re developing in Houston.

Good: It’s called Vargos on The Lake—and that was the name of the restaurant that was there for 50 years. If you ask anyone in the Houston community they’ve all experienced some part of there life there at Vargos. Either they had a prom or they got engaged there or had a wedding reception; it was just one of those beautiful properties on a lake that had an arboretum and peacocks and swans. If you had a special occasion, it was the iconic place to go. For Sunday brunch Eggs Benedict or Cordon Bleu at night. But, the restaurant went into bankruptcy after struggling for years. Nobody wanted to see it go, but if I asked someone their story—have you been there in the last 10 years—nobody really had. And that’s what happens a lot. The next generation comes along to a restaurant like that and they either make it better or it falls apart. And so locals wanted the land to stay a restaurant, but the land was so valuable you really couldn’t put a restaurant there. And it’s a beautiful piece of property for residential. We felt the name was really strong. Everyone had a really good memory from it. Even the woman who had her divorce party there said it was a great memory for her, so we felt like “Gosh, that’s golden. You don’t get that a lot when you’re naming an apartment community.” I’ve come up with names for apartment communities before, and sometimes I create a name because there just isn’t anything in the community to use.

MHN: So you did lots of market research obviously.

Good: Yes. We’re right in the middle of The Galleria area in Houston, which is a big job center and the other big job center nearby is Energy Corridor. Both have a lot of congestion and in Houston when you’re choosing a place to live, you’d better pay attention to traffic; so we feel that being right in the middle of everything but out of the gridlock is a plus. My situation, my age group, my life style would be the target market. And what I noticed with this Gen X demographic is they love recreation, they love relaxation, they love having a balance in their lives. They don’t go to sleep at the pool. They’re doing active things. They’re out bike riding or going to a yoga class or getting some friends together to go on a hike. Their relaxation is active. So we’ll provide really great amenities that are active. We’ll have a movie theater—but it won’t have seats; instead it’s going to have treadmills and rowing machines. When you’re watching a movie or catching the game, you’re getting a little cardio workout too. There’s also a yoga room and two massage rooms (if you must close your eyes and relax, you can go to the massage room). The really large fitness room will have a kick boxing station. We’ll be one of the first in Houston to have this piece of equipment that talks to you and challenges you. It really is a lot of fun. We’re pretty excited about that. We’ll also have an international internet gaming room. This demographic plays a lot of video games, but now they want to be connected so they can play people all around the world. So we’ve set up a really great dark room where you can play with fellow residents or take on people in New Zealand.

MHN: Will the primary target demographic for the apartments be Gen Y?

Good: I think we will have a lot of Gen Y. We’re next to an affluent neighborhood and I think a lot of Gen Y will want to move back after college but not necessarily live with Mom and Dad. We also expect quite a bit of Gen X too—that renter by choice or people moving to Houston for their job. I read a statistic the other day that said for every 11 jobs being created in Houston only one apartment is being built. If we keep that up, we’ll have an apartment shortage in Houston. So we know a lot of people are moving here for quality jobs and in the energy corridor the salaries are very impressive. The energy industry tends to cycle people in and out in three-year cycles, so they may not want to buy. I’ve also been getting a lot of calls from area residents 55 and older. We have elevators, so I think that really serves our aging America.

MHN: Who designed this project?

Good: I call him my starchitect—it’s Sanford Steinberg. You know him. He’s awesome. In fact, he’s the one who introduced me to Sandy Aron. This has been a challenging project. The property we’re developing is near a flood plain. The lake serves the bayou so FEMA and the Army Corp of Engineers are involved. Our pool will literally be suspended—it’s a very difficult and expensive practice.

MHN: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Good: When I’m speaking, I like to impart good information to my audience. I always like to motivate them, too. I’ve been in this industry since I was 18 years old and I’ve made it my career. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I am so proud to get up on the stage now, and I like to close with my story and really encourage people that if you have a professional goal, if you surround yourself with the right people and you focus on it, it can happen. I went from leasing consultant to developer. And that doesn’t happen all the time. So I really encourage other people to just go for it. We’re in incredibly good times in our industry and there’s opportunity for everybody. I want people to know that even for that on-site person who wants to do something else in another department there are wonderful opportunities.

MHN: You have a very positive message.

Good: I’m having a huge learning curve [in terms of] understanding the financing and construction, but I was ready to learn something new. If you never stop learning, there will always be opportunities in front of you.