Posts tagged "cleveland"

JC 012: Grassroots neighborhood development with Graham Veysey

May 24th, 2017 | no comments

Connecting Neighborhoods and Walkability

EP 012 : The Real Estate Locker Room Show

Urban developer Graham Veysey joins us in the Locker Room today. He’s the visionary who took the “no man’s land” between neighborhoods on Cleveland’s near west side and transformed it into a thriving community and business hub.

Graham Veysey is an entrepreneur, investor and a grassroots neighborhood developer who lives and works in the Hingetown Neighborhood of Ohio City. His first major urban development project was the 6 acres Ohio City Farm – one of the largest urban farms in United States. Graham fell in love with the neighborhood and dug in with the purchase of the old Ohio City Firehouse. He and his wife Marika Clark converted the firehouse into a vibrant mixed-use building and their new home.

They began fixing up their immediate surroundings one building at a time which attracted new businesses and new residents to their pocket of Ohio City. Graham continues to develop the walkable area around the firehouse based on what the neighborhood and community needs. He combines passion, vision and creativity to deliver a unique product that will further the growth and success of his neighborhood.

Key Points

  1. You shouldn’t just put your money in development of vacant space. As Graham says: “The root of development is how do you look at a space and re-imagine it to fit another need or enhancing existing need.”
  2. Make a habit of walking and biking instead of driving
  3. Anybody who is interested in getting into development must have passion and vision.
  4. For a neighborhood developer it is important to emotionally and personally attach to your project.
  5. If someone is critiquing your project, you should take it personal. And that’s a difference between commercial developer and neighborhood developer.

Favorite Athletes: Michael Jordan – NBL Player & Steve Prefontaine – Runner

Favorite quotes:

“Just do it “– Nike’s slogan

“An idea without action is a mere hallucination” – Edison

Favorite book: Walkable City: Downtown Save America by Jeff Speck

Thank you Graham for taking the time to share you story with us today.

You can connect with Graham by visiting his website,

Twitter – @grahamveysey

Instagram – @gveysey

Tune into all the episodes of The Real Estate Locker Room Show and sign up for my FREE monthly newsletter at

POST GAME REPORT: Episode Transcript

The Real Estate Locker Room Show with John Carney

JC 012:  Grassroots neighborhood development with Graham Veysey

Welcome to the Real Estate Locker Room Show with John Carney.

Did you know that investing in real estate is a team sport? And John and his guest say they explore the intersection of the business of real estate an athletic competition. The goal for the show is to grant you direct access to the real estate pros that are closing profitable deals and grow their businesses. On the Real Estate Locker Room show, we are getting in the ring with successful investors, developers, operators, and all of the industry professionals to learn what it takes to achieve ongoing success.

Now, it is time to kick off and level up with new ways to grow your real estate business.

John Carney: Welcome back to another episode of the Real Estate Locker Room Show. I am your host John Carney coming at you today from Cleveland, Ohio. And joining me on the line in the locker room is a real estate developer and entrepreneur who is also from Cleveland. His name is Graham Veysey. Correct, Graham?

Graham: You have got it. It’s good to be with you John. Thanks for having me.

John Carney: All right. Welcome to the Locker Room Graham. Graham is a grass roots neighborhood developer living and working in a Hingetown Neighborhood of Ohio City in Cleveland, Ohio. He began this type of work in 2010 as the project director for the 6-acre Ohio City farm, one of the largest urban farms in the United States. The following year, he bought the vacant Ohio City Firehouse and converted that into a vibrant mixed use building. Since then he spearheaded the redevelopment a Hingetown with his wife, Marika Clark. Their developments are part of this group project that works to connect Cleveland Neighborhoods, which is promoting more walking and biking and less driving.

With that in mind, I am going to welcome Graham to the show, and we are going to kick this off today with a question to kind of stretch out to get the conversation going about sports and real estate.

Graham: This is by the way the best known Locker Room I have ever been in.

John Carney: Perfect. That’s good to know. So growing up did you play sports and have a favorite athlete that you looked up to?

Graham: Well, I was a Chicago Bulls fan during the Michael Jordan hay-day. So, the 6’6” man was the guy that I always look to. I think Jordan at that point was my sports icon.

And then as I got a little bit older, I started running a lot. And you have got to just love Prefontaine. But as a guy who is necessarily the most coordinated with his hands, I was always better on my feet and could run long distances. So I did across country and then ran marathons throughout college and even up until few years ago.

John Carney: All right. Cool. So you are still staying active. So Graham we find that like most people who are real estate professionals, especially when you are getting to the development side, you have a very entrepreneurial and business background. Can you let our audience know how you have got into a real estate from urban farming and how you put your team together to get the firehouse deal done?

Graham: Yeah, I think the biggest component is collaboration, and I think that Ohio City Farm was my first development project, which really came out of necessity. There is a giant 6-acre vacant parcel and a group of us got together and said, “How do we re-imagine this space?” And that is the root of development. How do you look at a space and re-imagine it to fit another need or enhance an existing need. So, we took this 6-acre piece of property and brought together all of these stakeholders from the Refugee Response, Great Lake Brewery Company, Ohio City Inc., which is a neighborhood development corporation, and Councilman Joe Cimperman. These were all people who got behind the vision of creating this vibrant urban farm, and it was different than urban garden because we had an economic development component with it. We negotiated the land lease with CMHA which is Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, which is the oldest housing authority in America right here in Cleveland Ohio and Cuyahoga County.

That was 7 years ago. It is awesome to walk by there and see the crops and the farm stand open. The majority was farmed by refugees who found Cleveland as their new home.

So, getting that collaborative group of people (and you have mentioned it is “team”) where one guy might be the marketing guru, one guy might be the number cruncher, one guy might even have the balance sheet. You have always got to be focusing on the collaboration because you can’t do it without that.

John Carney: For the listeners who are outside of Cleveland, could you expand a little bit about Ohio City, which has had a massive transformation there over the last decade. And just to put some context to it, you and I have met before. I grew up in Cleveland but I was away for 19 years. You are now ticking over to 20, and there has been a massive change. I know that neighborhood back from my high school days (my high school was in that neighborhood). But you would be a better person to really give the audience the story about the transformation of this urban demographic and then move into the Hingetown aspect, because that’s a component of Ohio City and it is a really neat story.

Graham: Yeah. I think the coolest part about Ohio City is it actually predates the city of Cleveland. It used to be its own municipality and this goes back to the 1800s. So the whole east and west divides Cleveland. You talk to somebody who is from Cleveland and they talk about east side and west side. It goes back to when you had the city of Cleveland and the city of Ohio.

And you have got the great mix of historic housing stock. You have some beautiful brick structures. We have got the institutions like Saint Ignatius High School, copper rust towers and then you have the oldest public market in the city called the West Side Market which is just for foodies. So you have all these different ingredients that when you have the flight in the 70’s, 80’s and even the 90’s from urban centers, you had a lot of vacancy. You had a lot of that historic housing stock plus historic building to take off. Luckily you had a core of these institutions stay like Saint Ignatius and the West Side Market. You also had CMHA and Lutheran Hospital which is one the Cleveland community hospitals. So you still had these places that were rooting the neighborhood. So when people started looking in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s at viable urban spaces to live and to raise a family (because of Ohio City’s proximity to the downtown business core) you had this revitalization take place.

Now, that’s not saying there weren’t people who stuck with it throughout. There were people who stuck with it through the toughest time. But really over the last 10 years, Ohio City impartially because of the work that was done in the Warehouse District and re-imagining of those spaces, you then had revitalization cross the river and into Ohio City and the main drag which is West 25th. In the last 7 to 10 years you have had businesses moving, like Great Lakes Brewery, which is one of those institutions that in last 25 years were in a rough part town now. You have got people who were total micro brew-heads checking them out in over dozens of states. Lebron actually grabbed a Dortmunder Gold the other day in the play offs and pretended on the sideline to take a drink. So you had all this energy around the West Side Market. When I bought the firehouse, which had been vacant for about 5 years, everybody thought of Ohio City as that intersection of 25h in Lorain so right there by the West Side Market. And my wife and I our goal in serendipitously this great couple from Akron, Fred and Laura Bidwell and announced that they were doing this cool contemporary art space called the Transformer Station which they forced to partnership with Cleveland Museum art which is a 100 year old world class art museum.

So how do we create an identity in this part of Ohio City? You have the market district that’s based around the West Side Market. How do you put a label for when somebody says, “I am going to hangout in Ohio City” And so Hingetown really falls at the intersection of Ohio City’s market district, Gordon Square Art District, and the Warehouse District. All of them within a mile (within a 10 minute walk and within a 5 minute bike ride). And we have been working for, in reality, 5 years attracting businesses, attracting other developments, different building or cells, and we have created a great little node of vibrancy, but we know that the city and success of our work is really going to be judged by those missing teeth as Jeff Speck would call them. So that you have a great walk from Gordon Square to Hingetown and from Hingetown to the Warehouse District. And it feels safe, it feels clean and there is activity.

John Carney: And it is great. And it was really interesting to see because those, especially Gordon Square, were something I didn’t even know about. I grew up on the West Side of Cleveland and I went to high school not far away. So when you went from putting together this initiative in really a large collaboration with many different parts of the government and the community for the farm, somewhere there you decided to buy the Firehouse. Was that pretty much your baptism into real estate and development?

Graham: It was. And for me it was out of necessity. I was renting apartment. I have got a production company. We were growing. So, I was renting the studio and I wanted to live above the shop, if you will, and have a place where I both lived and yet could, in the same building, have a studio space. I was at a Christmas party and a real estate broker saw my license plate which was OHCITY (Ohio City) and said, “I have got a great property in Ohio City for you – the old firehouse.” I said, “That’s too far off the beaten path.”

So I wanted to be right in the hub of the activity. Until that point, the hub was really restricted to just West 25th. So I toured and I fell in love with the building. It was originally constructed in 1854 as the city of the Ohio Volunteer Fire Department. I said, “All right. This is great.” My wife, who was at an architecture school at that time, said she put a wall here and wall here. These could be different offices. This could a couple of different retail spaces. So we moved in, we updated the front of the building because it had been basically fortressed because in this part of the neighborhood being a place where activity wasn’t so great anything could happen.

We started to attract everybody from the first third wave of coffee shops to come to Cleveland to the best floral designer in Urban Orchid, and then office tenants. And when Fred and Laura announced the Transformer Station, which is just a really neat spot that any of your listeners who come to Cleveland should check out, we said, “How do we think beyond the four walls of the Firehouse?” And we bought the Striebinger Block which is catty-corner which was a 1919 original construction. We put in 7 retail spaces and 7 apartments. As we continue to grow, there has been added residential. And if you look at Cleveland, you have got the downtown business core. You have got University Circle which is where Case Western Reserve University and the hospital are but besides those two spots there was no other place with as much concentrated development as Hingetown other than the downtown business core and University Circle.

John Carney: That’s a great a great story about reviving a section of a city. Correct me if I am wrong but to kind of summarize, when you fell in love with Firehouse, you had architectural expertise on your side but regardless you were talking a risk. I am sure, at the time, you felt like you were taking a risk but confident it was going to work out. And then all of sudden you just said, “Hey this isn’t so bad. We should try and own that building there “and plant our flag” so to speak.

Graham: Yes and we approached the owner. The building was in pretty bad shape. Once we started peel away some of the initial grime, we found out that the building was not structurally sound. The guy was behind on his mortgage. But I think this building both because structurally it wasn’t looking great and because it did not the best lender, who was out of state, if went to forclosure, they would have demolished it. So we went in there, and again when we think about the keys to that vibrancy we found folks that had the same sort yearning for urbanity and got an awesome indoor cycling studio with 31 bikes… It literally just packed from [5:30] AM until their last class at 7PM. A guy who is moving back from Chicago, who grow up in Cleveland, so another boomeranger opening up the neighborhood tavern, Jukebox and juice bar, get a juice from the first cold press juice to come into town. And Molly and Joseph have this awesome sandwich called the bravocado that again it is one of those that you put it on culinary checklist when you come or visit Cleveland. And then a great tea shop by another young couple. So you had all these different folks who I call the Poster People of the Cleveland Renaissance opening up their own small businesses taking giant risks.

We didn’t have the requirement that you have to have a balance sheet that will guarantee the lease that you are doing. We never would have been to sign with these folks. And now they are all doing kick ass. They are doing high quality stuff. And that allowed us to continue to grow our portfolio. We just finished up print shop which the 1865 historic conversation. And for us we are neighborhood developers. We are very grass root. So being able to take the Firehouse and bring it into a couple of retail tenants, half a dozen office tenants, to look at Striebinger Block,14 different tenants with a split of residential and retail.

The print shop has one ground floor tenant and 6 apartments. We are now starting to get into a different class and we are right now in the design approval process for 161 units. There are two buildings, actually. It is called Church and State because the historic names for West 29th in Hingetown were called State Street and then Church Avenue is the divide. 161 units, its 20,000 square of retail, and 10,000 square foot public space that we want to be in amenity not just for those 161 units and those retail tenants but for the whole neighborhood.

John Carney: That sounds like you have found a way to stay busy expanding around the Firehouse, so to speak. When you tell the story like that and you bring in the other young entrepreneurs who were taking risks with their ideas and their capital and joining you and so to speak, planting their flags do you see this trend happening around the United States? Have you met other people in the region that were pioneers and revitalizing an area? For people who don’t live in Cleveland but might get the opportunity to listen to the show and checkout Hingetown on the West Side, we will put links in the show notes so that you can find it. It really is, this a great story to go along with it. Can you talk a little bit more about the real estate side when you got the Firehouse. You have some tenants there. And then you have gone through a historic rehab foreclosure type building across the street and then it is a continued expansion build out of improving the neighborhood where you plan on staying with your colleagues. Do you see just more and more opportunity to build up around Hingetown?

Graham: Yeah, and we see it from traditional developers. What’s been great is we are working on these grass roots projects, if you will. You have got more seasoned developers. You are talking a collection of buildings, which is an amazing our story because they stayed in blocks through the great recession. And then you have got 6 story new construction that’s going up. That’s another 7 units. And then you have got a 4 story, 70 residential units going up. So all of the stuff is happening. That’s the density that will then continue to support in the small businesses that are going up. So, it is capturing that momentum.

And as we have looked across the United States to different things that give us inspiration, it is both the grass root and the grass top type of developers. So from Tim in an Oakland – which is one of the coolest retail experiences that my wife has visited to Wynnewood Walls and Panther Coffee. A lot of these examples of developments that really have soles and/or unique places where they have got their personality showing through. You are part of that because of the programmatic approach and you are not just the design and brick and motor, but it is designed in how are you programming industry? How you are making sure that you are being inclusive? How are you making sure that you are being robust in terms of community process? How are you responding to some of the feedback that you are getting? So yes there are passionate folks that are doing amazing projects that we really look at for examples of stuff that we should be doing.

We are seeing different pockets of the city of Cleveland. It is not just limited to outside of Cleveland. You look at what’s happening on St Clair Superior, and Glen Willow with this really cool art project, and Fred Bidwell or Bidwell doing the front project in collaboration with Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative. I think that there is a momentum of urbanity happening right now and people are really collaborative. And I think with that collaborative spirit will help keep the momentum going and will add positive density to our urban areas that we need. It is great for sustainability. And selfishly it is just a great place to live.

So, at the end of the day, my wife and I talk about we are partially selfish in everything that we are doing. We want the amenities around us that we want to be able to support. And we want the bar that we want to be able to go and see friends. And we want the public spaces that you bump into a neighborhood and strike up a conversation and hear about a cool story or movie that we should check out. So there is a livability that is very personal to us and that’s what we are really excited to try and continue to perpetuate.

John Carney: For people that want to be a real estate development, there can be both positive and negative connotations to the general public. Have you found a lot of openness and willingness to help from the city government because of the improvements you are going in and the tangible and the visual impact your developments are having, or do you find the same resistance that any developer may encounter proposing change in the new area?

Graham: I think it is two-fold. Sometimes you have a negative connotation because it is somebody from the outside. I think that there is an inability for people to develop in and around them. And in that instance, they are just your neighbor that’s trying to do something that’s improving the area around them. So, I think putting that name and not the label is a really key component especially with the community development side of it. And then as far as you navigate in the bureaucratic red tape, again it is a bit of a mix bag that you are trying to push, especially with a city like Cleveland that’s got a very dated zoning code. How do you create a project that’s going to raise a bar while making sure that you are doing to the community process? And yet because of certain elements like very rigorous block club approval even though they are an offical body, you sometime get frustrated. I can’t believe how many different hurdles we are trying to jump over to take what’s been a surface parking lot that sat vacant for probably 20 years with the exception of the 4 or 5 cars to park there for the print shop. Why is this so hard?

The other element of it is, as for a city like Cleveland, we are working to catch up to a lot of the urban development that’s been happening. So, one of the two buildings that we are putting on the side is an 11-story building. An 11-story building is not a huge deal when you zoom out and when your city is like Toronto or Portland or Chicago. And for a zip code that shares the same zip code as all of downtown, again that is not a huge deal. Yet people will get really fixed on that number.

And then the other component that I think from a frustration stand point goes back to the day of zoning code is this obsession and it is a very Robert Moses, like the obsession with the automobile. And the first question is “What about the parking?” Again, for a city like Cleveland that hasn’t seen the rapid urban development of some of our competing cities, you shouldn’t really be able, if you are within a mile from the downtown business core, to consistently pull up and have a parking space right in front of your home. And because for the last 3-4 decades, you haven’t had the dense population, they have taken that as a given. And so you need to try to re-tool some of these folks. God love them because they made it through the bad times and yet they see these good times that are coming as a threat to that ease of just pulling up right in front of your driveway or even if you don’t have a driveway right in front of your house.

So those are the balances that I think that anybody who is interested in getting into development should have a passion, needs to have a vision. But there is also give and take. And sometimes it gives really hard because you are not just giving up on certain elements but you are putting yourself out there in a very personal way if you are very passionate about the project that you are doing. And when someone is critiquing the project, they are critiquing you. You are going to take it personal. If you don’t, then maybe you are not personal and emotionally invested enough. But that is the kind of the difference, I would say, between a commercial developer or neighborhood developer. But if you are looking purely at the matrix, yeah you are not going to be as emotionally investment. But for us, when we are looking at all the different strands of the urban fabric, it is a give and take. And the point of a really great urban setting is being cognizant, not just of how many units or how many square feet but really the personality that you are trying to help cultivate.

John Carney: Again, I think it is a great story and you know the whole mission of this podcast is for someone to hear your story and say, “You know I had that idea. I want to transform this area of my city.” And it is inspirational because it wasn’t an overnight success, right? I mean it took a decade and I am assuming that your life’s work is improving this area and being on that neighborhood development side. So thank you for sharing that story about Hingetown.

We are kind of getting ready to wrap this up. We have a question that we would like to close this out with before we say goodbye and sign off. You talked a lot about your motivation and the drive and the passion behind your projects and that obviously keeps you going when you have obstacles and frustrations come up. But is there any one quote that keeps you motivated or is the passion to improve your surroundings for the community?

Graham: Well, there are two really. This is a great because we are in the Locker Room, the wonderful Nike slogan of “Just do it”. If you see something, you got to just do it if you really feel that passion and calling.

The other one is the great Edison quote that “An idea without action is a mere hallucination”. And so if you have got an idea, you have got to take action or you are just going to be stuck. An idea without action is a mere hallucination. So, “Just do it” is great Edison quote.

John Carney: Two great quotes to live by. Is there a favorite book that you keep handy as a reference whether it is business book or biography that you recommend our listeners pick up next time here on Amazon?

Graham: Well, if somebody hasn’t read it and they are doing urban development, you’ve got to order right now Jeff Speck’s “Walkable City”. We are big fans of Jeff Speck. He pulls from some of the greatest urbanists in history but he looks at the behavior of folks on a pedestrian level and on a bikeablity level. He also pulls a ton of great pieces of research from a real data side to what works from walkability and bikeability standpoints. So, Jeff Speck’s Walkable City.

John Carney: Let me ask you this: how often do you and your wife share a car or do you even own a car or need a car?

Graham: I don’t think we need a car. We have got a Prius because it is easy. And then we have got the Hingetown public works truck, which is a 1975 dodge pickup truck. So, we have got both the pickup truck and Prius. We have both ends of the spectrum.

John Carney: When do you think cars in urban environments, like you actually having the own one, addressing the neighbors that are concerned about parking are just going to go away?

Graham: I think it is starting to. When you look at cities like Buffalo they are doing away with the automobile ratio requirements in the zoning code. But I think that as we continue to see the shared economy with Uber or Lyft, you are going to find that it is even less expensive to just take a ride like than pay for a parking space or pay a lease on a car and maintenance. Our orbit is pretty small. And it will be a week that we will go by where we won’t touch our car or our truck. It’s been number of days since we have been in it. But I think that we are moving to that direction and I think that when you see the investment of these ride sharing companies are making in the driver less cars, you are going to have even more ability to just go on your iPhone to click where you are at and cars are going to pull up and to take you where you need if you can’t walk or bike there or take a bus or rap into there. So I think we are getting there. I think it is going to be quicker than we think. And I think that obsession with parking spaces will fall by the way side and it will be more efficient but also more sustainable for the planet.

John Carney: All right Graham, thank you for sharing your story today. And once again, I find it inspirational. I am sure our listeners will as well. Where can our audience find you to carry on the conversation online or on social media?

Graham: They can find Hingetown on either Instagram or Twitter or go to and then my name at Twitter or on Instagram. My name on either Instagram or Twitter I jump into some of these urban conversations online but those are the best spots to find me.

John Carney: Perfect. We will make sure that those are listed in the show notes. All right. There you have it folks. I truly hope that you picked up some actionable advice today from Mr. Graham Veysey. Make sure to check out the Real Estate Locker Room show on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play and hit that subscribe button to ensure that you miss out on the pro tips from our guest. The mission here is to help you elevate your real estate game.

If you like what this show is all about, I would grateful if you would leave us a five-star review. Just click right on iTunes or your preferred podcast platform so that other likeminded real estate investors like yourself can find us.

The post-game report show notes links and additional content related to today’s episode will be available on my website And while you are there feel free to drop your email into the newsletter sign up form to receive more real estate investing tricks, hacks and other good stuff.

Remember to stay focused on your goals, have fun, and stay in the game. I am your host, John Carney, and until next week work hard, play hard, and profit hard. Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us in the Locker Room Graham.

Graham: Thanks for having me.

(Music Out)

End Audio

Connect with John Carney
Twitter: @John_M_Carney
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© John Carney 2017

JC 009: Developing real estate and the AirBnB test with Mark Ebner

May 3rd, 2017 | no comments

The AirBnB Game Changer

Mark Ebner - The Real Estate Locker Room ShowMark Ebner is a Cleveland resident with 10 years of experience in the real estate development world. After earning his Master’s degree in Urban Planning Design and Development, Mark began work at a nonprofit organization before setting out on his own as the Principal Developer at True North Living.

Mark followed in his family’s footsteps of working in real estate and began his real estate development career by purchasing, demolishing and rebuilding a home in 2007, purchasing and remodeling his own home in 2011 and building new single family houses surrounding.

Mark and his wife began testing AirBnB with a home that was for sale and immediately realized enough success that they choose to keep a house as a short-term rental.

Five Key Points:

  • It’s important to learn how to teach and deconstruct everything that you do. “You don’t really think about your foot position when you’re skating until you need to describe that to someone else…”
  • Learn how to delegate more, speed the process up and hire the right subcontractors.
  • Real estate development takes a lot of work, a lot of planning, and you also have to make it fit in with the surrounding community.
  • Remind yourself to look at the projects, at what you’ve accomplished and bring yourself back to that when you get frustrated.
  • You must know the numbers. Make sure your margins are good and what they should be.

Favorite book: How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer.

You can learn more about Mark and his city development work at

Thank you Mark for taking the time to share your story with us.

Listen to all the episodes of The Real Estate Locker Room Show and sign up for my FREE monthly newsletter at

POST GAME REPORT: Episode Transcript


PODCAST:            009 – Developing Real Estate and the AirBnB Test with Mark Ebner

Introduction:            Welcome to the Real Estate Locker Room Show with John Carney. Did you know that investing in real estate is a team sport? Join John and his guests as they explore the intersection of the business of real estate and athletic competition. The goal for this show is to grant you direct access to the real estate pros that are closing profitable deals and growing their businesses. On the Real Estate Locker Room Show we are getting in the ring with successful investors, developers, operators, and all of the industry professionals to learn what it takes to achieve ongoing success. Now it’s time to kick off and level up with new ways to grow your real estate business.

John Carney:            Welcome back to the Real Estate Locker Room, folks. My name is John Carney coming at you today from Cleveland, Ohio, and joining me in the locker room is another Clevelander real estate developer, Mark Ebner, and we’re going to talk about how to become a real estate developer. Mark lives down in Tremont and is the Principal Developer at True North Living. TNL specializes in modern single family homes for the urban environment, with each home being carefully designed to fit in with its surroundings. Mark is especially interested in traveling and the role of tourism in cities. With the first houses he built in Cleveland, he decided to test the AirBNB market for top of the line short term rentals and has been blown away with its success. Mark has a Master’s degree in Urban Planning Design and Development from Cleveland State, and while obtaining his degree he was a manager of research and engagement for CEOs for Cities, which is a civic innovation lab and network for city progress and success, and connects cross-border, cross-sector, cross-generational civic CEOs and change makers to one another as well as to smart ideas and practices. Welcome to the show, Mark. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us and our audience.

Mark Ebner:            No problem, thanks for having me.

John Carney:            Cool, well we’re going to talk about real estate development in a little bit, sports as well. So to warm up here and get this interview kicked off, we like to ask a sports question. Who is your favorite athlete of all time and why?

Mark Ebner:            That would have to be Kenny Lofton. He was a big part of my childhood for my older brothers and my family in the 1990’s when he was playing for the Indians. Actually he was traded from Houston to Cleveland at the same time that my family moved from Houston to Cleveland, so he’s kind of been a part of my life. I still remember where I was the day we traded him after the ’95 World Series, and then was happy when we signed him back a year later, and then when we traded for him again in 2007 when we made another magical playoff run. So it would have to be Kenny Lofton.

John Carney:           Great, and you got to see Kenny Lofton throw out the first pitch at game one of the World Series, correct?

Mark Ebner:            Yes I did.

John Carney:           And did you make it to all seven games this year?

Mark Ebner:            I made it to six of the seven. It was game four in Chicago that I didn’t make it.

John Carney:            That’s a pretty strong showing.

Mark Ebner:            It’s a pretty shocking showing. Originally I went to Chicago and I just wanted to be a part of the atmosphere, and I was with a family friend who encouraged me to just go to the game because I had never been to Wrigley Field and it’d be an experience. And then for game five in Wrigley, my brother from Portland had flown in to Chicago to see us. Hopefully a win, but that didn’t happen as you may know, but both of my brothers and I were able to go to that game together and it was a lot of fun.

John Carney:            Fantastic. Alright Mark, so we’re talking about real estate development, and I look at developing real estate as another form of investing because you’ve got to put your money and your reputation on the line. Can you tell us a quick story about how you chose to get involved in the development side of real estate?

Mark Ebner:            So my family has been in some sort of real estate or another my whole life. My dad’s a general contractor who when I was young, when we moved back to Cleveland, bought an apartment building that he began renovating and then subsequently managing, and then also started flipping some houses. In 2007 my parents were fortunate enough to give me a house that we demolished and then had to build a new house on it down in Sandusky, Ohio. So that was my first foray into new construction, it was also my dad’s first house that he bought which was a lifelong dream of his. And then in 2011 I purchased a house that was built in 1890 in Tremont and we remodeled that. The house itself had three vacant lots around it; just the houses had burned down at different times, the previous owners who raised a family of five in the house over the years had just accumulated all the land around them. So after I remodeled that house we began building some new single family houses around it. And in 2012 I quit my job at a nonprofit to really get a hands-on feel for everything. I wanted to see every aspect of the real estate development, especially before my dad needed to quit because he’s now 66 years old. So I thought it was a good time to grab it by the horns.

John Carney:            Great. So you have a mentor and a sounding board with your father, and then were you learning a lot with your degree at Cleveland State- your Master’s degree in Urban Planning? Was that a part of just an all-around interest, or was it also a push in the direction that, ‘this is my career path.’

Mark Ebner:            You know I studied mostly city management and economic development when I was there, I thought I was going to work for a city and help them on a larger scale. But as I was working before a nonprofit and then as I was working for the nonprofit, I began becoming frustrated just talking about what other people were doing, and I was sitting with my land and saying, “You know I can go make a difference. I can go do what I’m talking about telling other people to do,” and I think that was what really motivated me to start it.

John Carney:            Cool so I’m looking at your timeline here and my notes that I’m taking. In 2007 you and your dad build a new construction house from the ground up. No doubt you could write a book about all the lessons you learned doing that. And then you get into a purchase in 2011, so four years later, you got a house to renovate, to rehab, and you own three or four blocks around that. And then when did you start building? Because I guess we’re coming up on 2017, right? So there’s your ten years right there to become an overnight success, but you’ve been slowly chipping away at it and learning- building your team which we want to talk about here in a second. But give me a little bit of a synopsis of those ten years, and how overnight you became a real estate developer.

Mark Ebner:            So in 2007 it was right when I graduated college. I’d studied Political Science with minors in History and Social Justice, so I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I became an adult. We worked on the house in 2007, that gave me a great opportunity to do something with my hands. I still didn’t quite know what I wanted to do so I actually moved to Vail, Colorado and I was a ski instructor for two years, which was really important for my development [Inaudible [00:08:47] because- bringing this back to sports, it was really what taught me how to teach and really deconstruct everything that you do and be able to communicate that with other people. You play sports your whole life, you’re taught how to skate, but you don’t really think about your foot position as you’re skating until you need to describe that to someone else, and when you really have to describe the most miniscule detail that’s really important, and I carried that through my whole career. But I then worked some office jobs and eventually decided to study the urban planning. And it wasn’t until 2014 that we started building the second new house, and when we started building that house is when I left my job at the nonprofit. And after that we started slowly- we did one house, I did almost all of the construction on it with help of my dad and a few other people working for us. The next house I subcontracted out a lot more, the last house that I built I subcontracted out even more. My happy point on that one is I’m building 35-foot tall houses, I never even stepped foot on the roof of that house. So learning how to delegate more, learning how to speed the process up, and select the right subcontractors.

John Carney:            So from the ground up on new construction on your lots in Tremont, you’re at four completed projects?

Mark Ebner:            That’s correct. Four completed if you include the renovated one.

John Carney:            Right.

Mark Ebner:            And then I have plans to build two more starting next spring, and I have a couple more lots that we’re trying to figure out the best way to build on them. They are in an area that hasn’t seen a ton of development yet, so we’re trying to come up with something a little more affordable, and maybe be able to get a little more density on my lot, and still fit in with the neighborhood characteristics.

John Carney:            So for our audience that’s not Cleveland-based and unfamiliar with the Tremont area, in some respects just becoming familiar with the area and checking out your awesome project when I moved back to the US, you were almost a pioneer there and really everyone built up around you while you were getting your degree. Is that a good way to put it?

Mark Ebner:            Yeah when I bought my house, directly across the street from me, it was a weed forest of just weed trees, and there were two houses that were around 1900 circa, and then since I bought it that forest has been torn down and there are now twelve new units of housing across the street from me.

John Carney:            And for our audience that- there’s a few movies that we can bring it back to this area. It’s the Deer Hunter, the church that they filmed in Deer Hunter, it was just down the street from Mark. And then the Christmas Story house is just around the corner, correct?

Mark Ebner:            Correct. Yeah the first house that we built, there are windows overlooking the St. Theodosius which was the church featured in Deer Hunter quite a bit. So that was- my brother was the architect and he had me getting up on ladders in the yard taking pictures so he could figure out the best way to orient the windows.

John Carney:            Right. So that would lead me into the team. But what’s the bare bones team to someone out there who has a passion for creating something new in their market, or has their eye set on improving an up and coming area in their city but just doesn’t know how to get started? And you had a father who had a lot of the skills, you guys worked together, it’s like a storybook father son project. But what would the bare bones team you’d recommend someone recruit to get started in something like this?

Mark Ebner:            You know I think it’s very important to work with an architect, maybe not so much if you’re building out on farmland where you aren’t limited by your lot restrictions, but my lots are 33 feet by 54 feet. In order to put a 2,000 square foot house on it, it takes a lot of work, a lot of planning, and you also have to make it fit in with the surrounding community so that the neighbors don’t feel like you’re trying to overshadow their house. I can’t put a three story house next to a one and a half story house like my old house, the one that was built in 1890. We actually started stepping that house up when we put an addition on it. We made it two stories, a little bit more modern with the additions so that we knew we could go up to three stories on the next house. So the very first person I would work with would be some kind of architect or some planner that you can map out the property and think about, ‘Well how does this fit in with the character of the neighborhood?’ And then you would need a really strong general contractor, someone that knows the business, knows how to find subcontractors or knows how to do the work, and that role would be my dad. I’m definitely starting to learn more of that role. But then you can start relying on your trades and let them do what they do best.

John Carney:            Like do you see now after having a few projects- I mean for lack of a better term, you’re almost a custom home builder in building your own product, right? But I mean would you say all those critical trades, is there a little bit of a loyalty there, and trust, and a rapport that’s been built up now over four projects?

Mark Ebner:            Yeah definitely. I think one of the most important things for me is being able to communicate easily with them. If I have a problem on the jobsite then I need them to come out and take a look at it, or if I need to schedule them so that I remain on my timeline. I just want to be able to get ahold of them, and if they say they’re going to be out on Tuesday, and they show up on Tuesday. Definitely it’s important to build those relationships.

John Carney:            Alright I got side-tracked here. Alright so we’ve got our team and we are talking about figuring out the best use for a lot, how dense you can make it, what type of architects you can- your creative boundaries so to speak for fitting into a neighborhood character, which is all important. So you’ve got a few of these you’ve sold to new home buyers, and then you’ve kept a couple that you’re having outstanding success in the AirBNB market. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

Mark Ebner:            Yeah so I’m fortunate that my wife is very flexible because starting in January- which our house was completed in June, so six months after we moved into our house, she’s a nurse who doesn’t work Saturday, Sunday, or Monday ever. She allowed me to experiment with putting our primary residence on AirBNB just for weekends, and we were going to use it- I had been interested in a website called HomeExchange for a number of years where you trade houses with someone and you go to their house, they come to yours. That didn’t quite work out with us, we didn’t have all the flexibility that you might have when you’re retired and you can literally just go for long periods of time. So we decided to put it on AirBNB and we were going to use the money to go travel, and I just really wanted to see if I could build one of these houses and keep it, and do AirBNB rentals on it in say Cleveland. That first house we built in 2007 is down the street from an amusement park so that one’s been rented out on VRBO and HomeAway for as long as the house has existed, and it did tremendously well but we didn’t know how it would do in Cleveland. Cleveland’s not exactly the number one tourist market in the country, but I figured there was going to be enough demand for something cool, modern, and high end. And people when they’re travelling don’t necessarily want to stay in a downtown sterile hotel, they want to be out in the community, and Cleveland is truly a city of neighborhoods, so a blessing there. My house has been rented just about every single weekend all year, it’s getting a little taxing on us now, but in July Cleveland was fortunate to host the Republican National Convention, and that was right after I had finished building the next house. So when we were starting to think about selling it, we decided to furnish it and it was furnished in time to rent that one out for the Republican Convention, and once I did that and we said we already have the furniture, we’ve already paid down enough of our debt that we feel safe if we are able to sell one of the other houses that we just built. So we decided to keep that house and we’re renting it out full time now, and it’s definitely able to cover a mortgage, and it’s been an interesting experience seeing who’s coming to Cleveland, talking to people and getting to know what they’re here for.

John Carney:            So are you going to scale back on moving every weekend with you and your week and just focus on managing the house next door? And can you give the audience- just give us an idea in numbers how many dollars. I mean it wasn’t just the RNC that came to Cleveland, I mean that’s huge and we’re really only talking about from January until November. But you have the RNC, you have the World Series, and then you just have people that want to come downtown during the summer, you had the Cavaliers in their playoff run. What kind of money are we talking about these two houses generating in less than a year?

Mark Ebner:            So my house in this year, if I exclude the Republican Convention, which I view it as an anomaly, we are expecting to ring in $25,000 just from renting it Friday night, Saturday night mostly, and sometimes Sunday night. The other house I’m projecting $50,000 on it if it’s rented every week or rented seven days a week. And I’m assuming that’s going to probably be about 40% occupancy, 50% occupancy, I don’t expect it to be rented much more than one week a month during the week and then most weekends. But I’m starting to see some business travellers coming in, they’re using the house either for meetings, or it’s three co-workers that don’t want to share a hotel room, and they want a little more privacy. So I’m starting to get those weeklong rentals. And I actually have someone coming for two weeks that just got married in London, she’s from Cleveland and she’s coming back to celebrate with her family. So I’m hopeful that we’ll pull in $50,000 or more on it in a year.

John Carney:            So that’s an amazing- would you say that you stumbled upon this? You convinced your wife to test something, right? I’m big on testing and measuring, we talk about it in just about every episode. That’s the only way you really know. And then you’re looking at an extra $75,000 just on- as the Ozzys would say, on a punt, on a bet. And that’s a phenomenal, phenomenal story in and of itself. Do you see yourself as you look at new areas of the city to pioneer and figure out, keeping this model there? Build three houses, keep one. I’ve got another.

Mark Ebner:            Yeah I do see it. I had joked around that it was build one, get one free if I’m able to rent it. But building three, keeping one of them is definitely doable and something that I’m really interested in doing moving forward.

John Carney:            That would be a great- I’d be interested in seeing those numbers on a spreadsheet when you’re trying to nut out exactly how the numbers fall into place.

Mark Ebner:            Exactly.

John Carney:            Alright so we’ve talked a lot about points that we usually cover, but what advice do you have for someone starting out? You mentioned an architect as being one of your key team players in the development side of the business, but you want to become a real estate developer, it’s daunting, you don’t have to start out by building a massive shopping center, right? You can start out by just doing a two lot subdivision like I did. But what’s your advice for the people that have a burning desire to do this?

Mark Ebner:            You’ve got to know the numbers. It’s so important to know what land costs should be, because if you overpay for land you’re shooting yourself in the foot right from the beginning and that’s going to be something that’s going to be hard to overcome. And I see that in some projects around here that land prices are starting to climb, and people are still buying hoping to make some money on it, but everything else is going to be fixed. You’re not going to be able to push the ceiling of the house up too much in the neighborhood because the appraisers need to have comparables to compare it to, and your construction costs are going to cost a certain amount, so you need to make sure your margins are good and know what they should be.

John Carney:            Right. Sound advice. Start learning the market, knowing the cost of- well your time and energy but also the fixed costs that go along with it. Alright cool. So we’re going to get into our two minute drill here and wrap this up. What sport did you love playing as a kid?

Mark Ebner:            Baseball, hockey, and skiing are my favorite sports. I used to joke around that baseball was my favorite sport in the summer and hockey was my favorite sport in the winter just because I can shift.

John Carney:            And then today? Which of those three sports are you still actively participating in or what else have you added to the mix?

Mark Ebner:            You know I still ski, I’ve gotten twenty plus days of skiing my last several years. This is going to be my first time not having a ski pass in a long time because we’re going to try to go travel this winter. So definitely skiing I keep up with the most.

John Carney:            Perfect and one of my favorites as well. Alright so when you’re travelling, when you’re on planes or in the car, waiting around, is there a particular sports or business book that you’ve read recently that really stands out and would be something that you would recommend our audience pick up and read?

Mark Ebner:            One of my favorite books I’ve ever read, and I think it ties into this sports theme and business theme is, ‘How Soccer Explains the World.’ It’s a concept hard for a lot of Americans to understand, but how important soccer is in globalization, and how a lot of it’s tied to a city’s economy, or a country’s economy, and how there’s just so much pride around their team and how that can unify people.

John Carney:            So did I hear ‘explains’ or ‘expands’ the world?

Mark Ebner:            Explains.

John Carney:            ‘How Soccer Explains the World.’ Interesting, I’ve never heard of that one. Is there a motivational quote that kind of you fall back on when you’re at a city planning meeting and they’re not really liking your design, or the contractor who was supposed to show up on Tuesday decides to go on vacation? Is there something that keeps you going that you fall back to?

Mark Ebner:            No I’ve definitely had some problems dealing with other people having their opinions, or not wanting things in their backyard, and it can be a frustrating experience. I just try to remind myself and like look at the projects, and look at what we’ve accomplished, and just try to bring myself back to that when I get frustrated.

John Carney:            Got it. And when you’re playing ice hockey and you’re on a break-away and you get in that zone, it’s a one-on-one scenario, or you’re up on the mountain and it’s an epic powder day and you’re off on your own absolutely killing it on your favorite run, getting to that flow state, is there a way when you- in business that you have found that helps you get into that flow state? To get your work done and be laser focused?

Mark Ebner:            It’s very hard. I come back to that as I said, finances are the most important thing, but they’re also one of the easiest things to overlook when I’m out in the field every day. So I have to set aside time, I go up to my office and basically lock the door and try to take care of all my distractions. So I force myself once a week to go through the checkbook, make sure everything’s right, make sure all the bills are paid, make sure everything’s put into Quickbooks. And I’ve found it’s easiest to do that in the morning when your brain is fresh as opposed to the end of the day when you’ve been working all day and all you want to do is sit down and relax.

John Carney:            That’s interesting. So you’re setting aside a certain amount of time every week to study your numbers and make sure that you’re on track. That’s why you’re able to just like whip out your house one and house number two AirBNB so quickly, right? Because we didn’t prep that, that just came out of the loop, and right there at the tip of your tongue. And for real estate investors out there, that is how it has to be. Alright cool, so I think that just about wraps it up, we’re coming up here on the thirty minute mark, but what is your number one tip for training for success in the real estate game based on all your experience?

Mark Ebner:            Well other than knowing your numbers, I can’t preach that one enough is know your numbers. And also just being able to find the right employees, knowing how to train them, knowing how to work with them, or knowing- just knowing how to trust them. That’s important.

John Carney:            Cool. Alright building your team, knowing your numbers, and scaling up. Well thank you for joining me in the locker room today, Mark. Where can the audience find you if they’re interested on carrying on a conversation with you offline? Do you have a website? Social media? Places like that?

Mark Ebner:            Our website is and my contact information is on there.

John Carney:            Perfect so look up and you can connect with Mark directly there if you have any questions for how to get started in the development game. Alright there you have it folks, I truly hope that you’ve picked up some actionable advice from Mark Ebner today. Make sure to check out the Post Game Report on iTunes, and while you’re there please click on the subscribe to the Real Estate Locker Room Show button to make sure you don’t miss out on any of our future interviews and pro tips from our guests. The mission here is to help you elevate your real estate game. If you like what this show is all about, I’d be grateful if you would leave a review for us so that other likeminded real estate investors like yourself can find it. It just becomes easier in the iTunes search engine. You can also visit for links and additional content associated with today’s show, and while you’re there, drop your email into the newsletter form and you won’t miss out on other real estate investing insight, tips, tricks, hacks, and other great stuff. Remember to stay focused on your goals, have fun, and stay in the game. I’m your host John Carney, until next week, work hard, play hard, and profit hard. Thanks again for joining us today, Mark. It’s been great.

Mark Ebner:            Thank you.


[End of Audio [00:30:56]


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