In the mid-2000s, when everyone was mad about real estate, a heavily-promoted strategy called tenants-in-common (TIC) allowed pools of investors to own fractional interests in the same property or properties. The investors were often spread around the country, did not know each other and were not involved in the day-to-day management of the assets. In the aftermath of the real estate downturn and the financial crisis, it turned out many of TIC-owned properties were highly over-valued, refinancing was impossible to secure and unwinding the TIC structures, with their myriad of fractional owners, was a nightmare.
This cycle’s contribution to new investment mechanisms has been real estate crowdfunding, a strategy that allows multiple investors to place their money in real properties and real estate loans through online marketplaces. The investors don’t know each other, don’t manage the properties themselves and may not even know all that much about commercial real estate. The growing real estate crowdfunding industry is relatively young and investment strategies vary widely from firm to firm, so performance data in a downturn environment is scant or non-existent. Until now, however, real estate crowdfunding has been a viable option only for accredited investors—people with sufficient net worth and experience in investing to understand and cover for the risks inherent in this strategy. Changing SEC regulations, on the other hand, may allow a new crop of non-accredited investors to put their money into a sector that sometimes brings losses even for highly experienced professional operators (see examples above).