Vertically Integrated Real Estate Investing, With Grubb Properties

James Holleman and Clark Spencer discuss how the Grubb Properties results in lower costs, greater efficiencies, and higher returns to investors.

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Webinar Highlights

  • Grubb’s track record spanning multiple decades.
  • How the focus on efficiency and vertical integration drives excess returns to investors.
  • The market opportunity created by an intensifying housing shortage in the U.S.
  • How Grubb lowers up front capital costs, creates non-tenant revenue streams, and reduces operating expenses.
  • How Grubb’s superior lease up velocity contributes to increased returns.
  • The Grubb approach to new markets, focusing on highly resilient and high growth areas.
  • The buying opportunities that were created by concerns about flight out of major U.S. cities in the wake of the pandemic.
  • The Grubb Properties national footprint, including investments in major metro areas and secondary U.S. cities.
  • The terms of the Grubb Real Estate Fund VII, which has a $100,000 minimum.
  • Summary of the ESG accomplishments and priorities of Grubb.
  • Live Q&A with webinar attendees.

Grubb Properties

Beginning in 1963, Grubb Properties was built on principle and took a different approach to real estate by creating housing for those who had been “redlined” from homeownership through banks practicing a form of loan discrimination. Today, they continue to deliver essential housing for the underserved with highly strategic investing, development, leasing and property management through the Link Apartments brand.

Learn More About Grubb Properties

Webinar Transcript

Jimmy: So we got James Holleman and Clark Spencer joining us today from Grubb Properties. And you gentlemen have a Qualified Opportunity Fund, but you also have some non OZ investments as well? Which offerings are you going to be presenting today? Maybe a little bit of both? Or what do you say?

James: Yeah, you know, Jimmy, we thought we would plug both offerings and let, you know, everyone know their general availability, but we really want to speak to everyone about private equity real estate today. You know, we’re real estate developers, we’re real estate guys, we love talking about it. You know, we’ve participated in a couple of OZ pitch days and greatly appreciate that. But saw this as a perfect opportunity to let you know that Grubb Properties is so much more than a OZ fund.

You know, so we’re gonna tell you a little bit about the general strategy, our company, what we’ve got available, you know, we’ll bring Clark in to talk about some current market approach. It’s gonna be good.

Jimmy: Gentlemen, take it away.

James: Thank you so much, Jimmy. And thanks to everyone for joining today. We couldn’t be more excited to participate with Jimmy and his team in another event, and to speak with you broadly about alternative investments and specifically private equity real estate.

I made comment, you know, we are vertically integrated, private equity real estate developers. At Grubb Properties, we do everything in house, from top to bottom, to include the research and deep due diligence of these projects all growing through that entire process, financing the projects, to property management of the projects, post construction.

We do everything in house and pass so much value on to our investors with that approach. And I honestly find it rare to see a fund manager of our size and institutional quality offering investors this really pure way to address the asset class — the purest way other than addressing it yourself, through a vertically integrated private equity real estate developer, as we are at Grubb Properties.

So Grubb Properties today as a 57 year old private equity real estate developer. Our current CEO, Clay Grubb, took this business from his father in 2002, carried the torch forward that he started and really turned it into the institutional quality manager that we are today.

Since 2002, you’ll see on this page that we have a tremendous track record. We’ve deployed $1.5 billion of equity across 75 different investments, and 12 different funds since 2002. The realized weighted average and total rate of return on those transactions is 41.6%. with a 2.35x net equity multiple. I like to say we bring alpha to the asset class. That above market return, right? Our vertical integration has a lot to do with that, that value oriented high efficiency apartment development platform that we produce called Link Apartments. And we’ll get into what Link Apartments is.

But you know, above all, above our strategy, our company, our framework and our culture is so important. And I’ll take it a step back, you know to when Clay’s dad started this company, Bob Grubb, in 1963, here in rural Lexington, North Carolina, as a single family home developer. Very modest means and in that time period, there was a real problem here in the southeast with the discriminatory practice of redlining. To where essentially, banks would coordinate with municipalities to draw red lines on maps around communities that mostly represented minorities, and they would not lend into these communities, giving these individuals the chance at homeownership, and really that first step up in upward mobility.

Clay’s dad had an issue with this, and essentially started a not for profit finance arm to his real estate development company which allowed him to get financing from banks and then take that financing and directly lend it to individuals in redlined communities on his own dollar at no up cost and then turn around with him, giving these individuals that chance at homeownership while in turn providing a substantial pipeline of opportunity for his real estate development business.

In my mind, this is the perfect example of impact investing before it ever got popular, that true, “Do good while doing well,” model. Right? And that’s what we continue to do today. It’s in a different means, but we still carry that torch of impact forward. And what we’re looking to address today is what we consider to be a severe housing affordability crisis across the United States. And we approach that class A, fully amenitized link apartment model.

And I’ll go into that and how we do it moving forward. Really, first I want to talk about the underpinning, and what’s creating this housing affordability crisis, and really the demand for the multifamily assets, especially at a moderate price level.

And so we’ve seen historically that peak births in the United States happened in 2007. Essentially, meaning that our workers entering the workforce will continue to expand in regards to their population on into the 2030s. There is already a crunch for millennials and those coming up below them as far as their housing affordability options are concerned. 80% of millennials make less than $50,000 a day, they cannot even afford the average monthly apartment rent in the United States today. Problem.

So what are their options? Their options are to live with buddies, to commute an hour in or an hour out into the metropolitan areas they’re trying to work, or as many still do, live with their parents. We’re trying to give relief to this problem by adding moderate priced inventory that still attracts this tenant, and gives them an ability to grow their career and themselves in an area in which they want to live, work and play.

So we see this growing population and this growing demand for rental housing being met by continued under supply in the market. And we’ve seen that under supply issue and really the US housing supply not meet the general housing needs and keep up with the supply pace for well over a decade. And you can see here in these charts that 1982 is the only year before 2008 with fewer than the units built in 2017. We’ve really let our foot off the pedal at the same time in which we need to be adding more of this inventory. And a huge reason that we’re facing this problem is cost.

And most of what you’ve seen developed in tier one and tier two markets over the past 10 to 15 years have catered towards those that are top income earners. Most multifamily development, for this specific reason of cost. Investment Managers, real estate developers are not being creative. They’re just buying raw land and building, you know, with construction prices continuing to rise. And that’s only allowing them to offer class AA, you know, fully amenitized types of apartment options that are out of reach for most of the people that need them. But what we do at Link Apartments is we get creative, and we’re efficient in our design. And we find ways to undercut our competitors and offer a product that’s Class A fully amenitized in that live, work, play environment, but a reduced cost per month. Sometimes as much as $150 to $500 a month, depending on the unit compared to folks developing right across the street from us. Creativity, it’s all about design.

It’s all about being a vertically integrated manager that can take their experience over the decades and use that today to address this problem that we see.

What are we trying to do? We’re trying to create a new asset class. And we have, we frame it as essential housing. And really essential housing sets in between affordable housing and luxury housing. It’s really catered towards that moderate income earner. We’re completely focused on this product called Link Apartments, in turning this into a new asset class. And with this essential housing, we’re very focused on location, where we deploy these assets.

You know, we love investing in defensive environments, right? Before we worry about, you know, making a two and a half x multiple, we’re more concerned about retaining your principal. And in our 57 year history, we’ve never had a property level bankruptcy, deed in lieu or foreclosure. And that’s all because we’re modest in our use of leverage, and very careful in our geographic selection of where we put properties. Our average leverage ratio on the realized transactions that I quoted earlier is under 55%. Extremely important when you’re talking about real estate, not only the amount of leverage you’re taking, the duration that leverage and the time are so important, and we’re very mindful of that at Grubb Properties.

So who we’re really looking to target here with this product in the central housing Link Apartments are not affordable housing 60% and below, not double class A luxury housing, 140% or above. It’s really that sweet spot, right in the middle, 60% to 140%. And when you can build a product that caters to this set, you greatly expand your rental pull. I like to say that, you know, I kind of break it down like this. We cater to nurses, and there are a lot more nurses than there are doctors. And most of the inventory you’ve seen built over the past decade, the markets we’re operating, doctors can afford not nurses.

So essential housing is Link Apartments. I’ve talked about Link Apartments a lot. You know, how are we getting to this moderate price point, I mentioned two things, efficiency, creativity. You know, the first is efficiency. I like to say that we approach these apartments with a lean type of methodology. We’re looking to strip wasted space drive as much as we can get per square foot, while in turn, offering a reduced monthly rent to our tenant.

So that intelligent design and efficiency allows us to drive that reduced price point. And another thing is it’s easily replicated. Six unit floor plans across the entire portfolio, that is now a national portfolio. We use these six unit floor plans like Lego blocks, and stack them to maximize space on any given project site. And these are only studios, one bedrooms and twos, we’re not trying to go beyond that. We’re trying to cater to a specific set and address this housing affordability crisis. And this is how we’re doing it.

And for amenities. You know, I toured an asset this morning in Charlotte, North Carolina, it’s got the best gym of any apartment building that I’ve seen within Charlotte. But we’re not trying to win the amenity war, we’re not putting, you know, virtual driving ranges in our basements that all of our tenants are going to pay for that maybe 10 might use. We’re going to have those key amenities. Nice gym, nice pool, cool dog washing station, because that’s really trendy. We also like bike rooms, because we’re all about sustainability in trying to encourage alternate forms of transportation.

Right, so our amenity program is really carefully chosen and we’re not just trying to win the amenity war throwing money at useless things that in the end charge our tenants more per month.

The flip side is, you know, creativity. We have a series of creative methods, almost 60 that we attempt to deploy into every development site that we approach, as these sites go through our investment committees and due diligence processes. We score our projects on how many of these creative methods they can achieve. And these creative methods will really do three things, they will lower upfront capital cost on the acquisition of a project, they’ll create a non tenant form of revenue, or they’ll reduce ongoing prices.

And so we’ll do that through a variety of very creative methods. But one of which I find extremely creative and very powerful, adding alpha, you know, to an investment, really getting that above market rate return. And so although we are multifamily specialist, our primary strategy is Link Apartments, we will sometimes use other property types to either get to a cheaper cost basis for a Link apartment development, or complement a Link apartment development site. And so the creativity comes in getting to a cheaper cost basis for a Link apartment development site by using another property type as a trading asset.

And a great example is actually the building I toured this morning. It sets in Charlotte, North Carolina, where our corporate headquarters are. It’s called Montford Park, and in 2016, we approached a mid rise office building in this very densifying area of South Charlotte, you know south of our uptown market, but just north of South Park. It’s one of Charlotte’s trendiest neighborhoods. And this mid rise office building that set in this neighborhood set on a huge parking lot, about 11 acres. And so initially, what we did at Grubb Properties was we saw the office as a great investment opportunity in itself.

It was under occupied, it was in need of lift up, and we felt well capable of doing that and loved its position. So we put that office under contract, we won that contract, we uplifted it, we modernized it, we leased it out. And as we did that, we worked with the local municipality to get the entitlement rights necessary to rezone that property, chop up the parking lot, build a parking deck, and then wrap that parking deck with Link apartment units. And then the link apartment building will share the parking with the office building.

And essentially, what we’ve just now done is won the land rights to build the multifamily on through the entitlement process. Essentially, we’re getting the land to build multifamily on for free, and then we can do what we wish with the trading asset and manage that Link apartment development site long term, continuing to add value into that property.

It’s such a creative idea, you know, Clay, our CEO and Todd the rest of the executive team. You know, I take my hat off to them. I mean, they’re really truly specialists at finding creative ways to not just build the most expensive product in the market, what you see uncreative real estate developers doing, right? We’re building the same quality of product, but we’re doing it more efficiently. We’re doing it more creatively. And we’re helping our tenants while in turn really bring our investors on for top fund performance.

So I want to, you know, show an example of this as it relates to our competition, when we start to bring some of these link apartment sites online and lease up. And Link Apartments Montford is the site that I’ve been referencing this whole time in Charlotte, North Carolina. There’s some competitors listed underneath here, one of which is literally right across the street from us. And you can see in this diagram, we absolutely crushed them in regards to our lease up velocity. We leased up so much faster than them, I mean, people, you would wonder how much cheaper we actually are, it’s generally in line with about $150 to $400 a month, depending on the unit type that you’re approaching. And while some of you may not think that that’s truly impactful, to an individual making $50 to $70 grand a year, it’s extremely impactful. That’s a car payment, right?

These are individuals trying to make their career happen, and they will look for cost savings where they can get it. And if this is a quality unit that’s just as nice as the one right across the street, maybe a little bit more boutique, they’re gonna choose us, and they’re going to stay there for a very long time. In fact, we actually found that during COVID, we have had 98% plus rent collection across our entire Link apartment portfolio every month since COVID began. And we have brought two new brand new Link apartment projects online during COVID, both of them set lease up velocity records for our entire link apartment portfolio, we’ve been developing this product since 2012.

And so that just screams for the need for a moderate price product. And the value that that product can bring to a community if inserted properly. So we’re super excited about this, you know, this strategy of Link Apartments is the same strategy that we deploy into our opportunity funds and our flagship funds. We’re in our third opportunity zone fund right now, our 2021 Qualified Opportunity Fund, we’re in the top 3% in the entire nation in regards to our opportunity zone fund fundraising. And we also have a flagship fund that gets investments from institutional investors, like endowments and the like.

So with us, yes, we’re a vertically integrated real estate developer. We are Real Estate guys. We’re not finance guys. But we’re great fund managers as well and we’re going to offer you a way to address this asset class at very reasonable minimums, reduce fees in as pure a way as you can approach it without going out there and swinging a hammer and managing that property yourself.

I would love to bring on Clark Spencer, Clark is our senior vice president of investments, he leads our Qualified Opportunity Fund program. And he is you know, boots on the ground within our investment committee and can really give you some insight into our current market approach. So Clark, you know, please take it.

Clark: Thanks, James. And thank you to Jimmy for hosting us. And, as always, we love working with Jimmy, he puts on a great conference. Looking forward to getting to one in person, hopefully next year. But no, we’re really excited to be here. You can hit the next slide James.

So when we’re approaching markets, and the great thing about Grubb Properties is we have the Link Apartments concept. And it’s consistent whether it’s in Opportunity Zones or non Opportunity Zones. As James mentioned, we have two types of funds. We have a sort of single strategy for targeting markets that is bifurcated strategy into two market types. That, again, is consistent across Opportunity Zones and our traditional funds.

Really the only defining factor between the two is the geographic location of where an opportunity zone is.

But the two types of markets that we target are resilience and growth. Resilient markets right now, you know, are experiencing something of a strange dislocation that has been going against sort of some historic trends, particularly the gateway markets, and we’re finding some incredible buying opportunities in these markets and the opportunity zone fund, we purchased an asset in Long Island City that is a marquee location. While at the same time we purchased an asset in our Fund Seven, which is our current flagship offering down in the financial district in New York.

So we’re really excited about these markets because the way they responded to the pandemic, with some of this, but I think is overblown capital flight out of these markets, when people started working from home, has created these buying opportunities. And I’ll show you a slide in a moment that really can show you why we were able to get such good prices.

But then additionally, we have the high growth markets. Charlotte as James mentioned before, other secondary markets like Raleigh, and Atlanta markets we’ve been in for a long time, further markets where we’re looking to potentially expand: Orlando, Tampa, Nashville, Austin is a great market, though it also has some of the resilient features being a state capital.

These are generally more cyclical, but have obviously had screaming housing markets, both coming out of the prior recession in the GFC, but then also, again, now having really great opportunities for investment there as well.

So we target both of these types of markets, we try to get a good mix in the portfolio. And if you show me the next slide, James, give you a sense of how these markets have responded.

So on the right side, sort of on the top two, you see those growth markets, the boxes in red on the far end are essentially during the pandemic. You can see Atlanta and Charlotte each had a very, very small dip in their markets, sort of right at the beginning of 2020. But have been sort of screaming upwards ever since. These create an incredible, actually selling opportunity for us right now. We recently realized our legacy portfolio called Sterling Apartments, which his more traditional workforce housing, at a very, very significant premium to what we carried it on our books at about I think…it was carried on our books at around $78 million. And with a total sale price coming in over $200 million just on market dynamics here.

And that’s why we’re a seller in the southeast right now. But still holding for the long term and the assets we’ve already invested in the Link Apartments brand.

What you’ll see on the bottom three graphs there on the bottom of the page is three traditional, really sort of stronghold markets, these gateway markets, San Francisco, Washington, DC and New York, Los Angeles is another one of these markets that we’re investing in.

You can see San Francisco still a little bit below where it was, but it obviously had incredible growth and it had a massive downward trajectory. If you look at both DC and New York, they’ve already responded incredibly well coming back from the pandemic woes to, you know, in the case of DC be actually above their prior trendline. And in New York about even with their prior trendline for pre-pandemic pricing.

We secured assets in those during those sort of red dips. And that’s why we’ve been so excited about the these markets, because, as you can see the they’ve already responded incredibly well.

James, next slide. If you look here, this gives you a sort of a visual representation of our geographic spread. The blue being more of our traditional growth markets that we’ve invested in, and the red being some of our newer markets and some of those gateway markets with high resiliency that we’ve decided to go into and have established a presence in.

With that, I’ll turn it back over to James. Thank you again. You know, James, I think is going to touch on a little bit of the terms and a little bit of the history of our two funds and touch on a little bit more of our ESG and reporting before we hand it back over quickly to Jimmy for some Q&A. James, you’re muted.

James: Thanks. Thanks, Clark. And thanks, Jimmy. I know we’re short on time. So I’ll briefly highlight you know, we are in market right now with our flagship Fund Seven offering. We held our first close for this offering back in May, we had our largest close ever with a $75 million first close and we’ve called 35% of capital and have four development sites ongoing within this fund, so get in now while you can, while catch up interest is low, while you have some transparency. We’ll continue raising assets for this fund next year but now is your shot to get in early. And we take $100,000 minimums, if you referred to us through Alts Expo or Jimmy and opportunity pitch day.

So happy to work with great access levels. And I think that you’ll love what you have to see if you dig in a little further into Fund Seven.

We also have our Qualified Opportunity Fund that’s still in market. Our Qualified Opportunity Fund program has done exceptional for Grubb Properties. We have just blown the roof off of it from our fundraising perspective, and filled our QOF full of trophy assets. We have one final close going into year end in December to capture that 10% deduction on your capital gain deferral before it falls off at end of year.

We’ll have QOF options next year as well, Qualified Opportunity Fund solutions. But take advantage while you can this year, if you’ve had a gain, get that extra 10%. And we’d love to talk to you and work with you. So if you’ve got questions or need to see our paperwork, please reach out and I’ll get you connected with that directly.

So our manager highlights, you know, we are really, really focused on impact and ESG investing and in certain categories associated with that approach, to include environmental stewardship, housing, affordability, community engagement, business ethics, transportation innovation, and responsible supply chain management. As we just went through GRESB testing for the second time, most of our commercial office buildings are LEED certified. And we actually work with certified B CORPS as wealth managers who offer our investment products to their clients, really giving it that stamp of approval that we do good while doing well.

And in Opportunity Zones, were doing the kind of work that the program was made for, right? And so you can have that assurance in knowing that you’re taking advantage of a great situation with a limited window of opportunity, but your capital is doing the right things in these marketplaces.

Also, we’re an institutional quality reporting manager. Again, our flagship fund offerings get investments from endowments and the like, you know, and that has really made us amplify our reporting experience over the years, we produce a quarterly report that details our entire fund level track record, property within each fund, every quarter, we give that to all investors on top of their own personal financial statements.

You know, it’s really a great experience, I like to say a white glove type of experience for our investors that our team tries to drive. And I’d love for you to feel that. So please reach out and we can give you some examples.

And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me any time. I’ve had a few people, you know, say they tried to reach out to my office, this is my cell phone. You can always reach me here, I am always, you know, ready to take your questions and help you any way I can. You’re welcome to email me as well. And we really look forward to opening up dialogue and working with you. So as a sign off, I’ll say, Jimmy, thank you once again. It’s always a pleasure to work with you. We greatly appreciate what you do for us and what you do for the individuals engaged in your events, and always happy to participate.

Jimmy: Well, fantastic. Thank you both. Pleasure to have both of you back on one of my events again. Looks like we got three questions in right now. The first one is how have the migration or societal trends of the pandemic and lockdown affected Grubb’s go-forward investment strategy?

Clark: That’s a great question. I touched on it a little bit. We’ve been buying in those gateway markets. You know, when you think about what we’re producing in essential housing, there has been some, you know, some flight out of some of those markets. I think it’s overblown, I think there was a Wall Street Journal article that got sent around today, or maybe it’s…Clay, our CEO sent it around to us. New York City is the number one top growing market for rents in the United States right now. So I think those gateway markets are already back. And we’ve made some smart investments over the past 18 months.

But fundamentally, I think that some of that flight out of those markets is really targeted at those top end high end, income earners. If you’re a nurse, the hospital you work at is in a place and if you’re a nurse in Los Angeles, sure, you may have the ability to get a job at a hospital in another location. Or if you’re a teacher, you might be able to move to another city. But we still need nurses and teachers and firefighters, municipal workers, construction workers in all of these markets, and that’s who we’re targeting. So I think that the demand has shown to be pretty stable for our product in both the southeast in our traditional markets and in these gateway markets.

Jimmy: I know we had two or three more questions in the Q&A and I seem to have lost them with transitioning back over.

Clark: I’ve actually got them.

How can a for profit Grubb Properties take fund grants? So we don’t take outright fund grants, I think what James is mentioning there is we will sometimes get, we can get grants from partners from a city to provide public service. We, for example, one of the ones in Winston Salem, North Carolina, we have gotten a grant to build a parking deck. That’s, again, it’s embedded in one of our Link Apartments products that is then used by the city for part of the parking deck part of the time. So we’ve gotten grants like that.

We also can do affordability set asides, even though they’re not, you know, sort of, Litech or anything like that, sometimes individual municipalities will give us tax abatements, partial property tax abatements for doing unit affordability set asides.

Oftentimes those set asides are in our target ranges anyway. So they generally don’t even come in at any cost to us. So that’s another way we can get those types of, you know, either grants or subsidies from the city.

The question is the fund 100% multifamily? It is multifamily focused, Link Apartments is our primary focus, as James mentioned, we do have commercial assets, both office, you know, we find in one of the strategies James mentioned, can be a really interesting way to get us to a Link Apartment site at a lower cost than potential, you know, sort of raw multifamily development land. And we can find a lot of value there and do have a commercial office division that can take advantage of that.

Also, you know, of course, we sometimes do have ground floor retail in some of our projects, we are not excited retail owners, sometimes cities require it. And if they do, you know, we can do that. But generally not big fans of retail but do have some amount of retail exposure as well, just as a part of our apartment products.

James: Clark, I’ll jump in, there is a specific closing date for the 21 Qualified Opportunity Fund. Subscription documents are due on the 20th of December and 100% of capital committed is due by the 31st. I’m happy to set you up with our investor portal so you can take a look at our PPM if you like, you know, please feel free reach out.

Clark: Another question on the Opportunity Fund is will the properties be owned for 10 years? Yes, absolutely. But it’s actually an interesting thing. And I’ll put this as a plug for our Opportunity Zone Program. Individual properties in Opportunity Zones don’t actually have to be owned for 10 years. And Jimmy knows this. The investor has to keep their investment in the fund itself for 10 years.

Now if your fund is structured as a partnership, that’s a distinction without a difference in the majority of cases.

But we actually made a decision three years ago to structure our funds as REITs. And because of that corporate structure, we can actually make internal taxable sales and recycle assets and reinvest over the course of a 10 year period in a much, you know, not to say that a partnership can’t do that, they can try to execute a 1031, but they’re going to need additional capital from somewhere to either hit a reinvestment requirement. But the corporate structure of the REIT structure allows us to recycle assets.

So while yes, by and large, we are going to be owning these for 10 years because we are a long term believer in the Link Apartments product and the underlying demographics there, to the extent that we do want to opportunistically sell an office asset or maybe a one off multifamily asset, we actually do have the ability to do that while still preserving those long term tax benefits for our investors.

Jimmy: Fantastic. I don’t know if there are any more questions or we may have gotten them.

Clark: That’s all I see here.

Jimmy: Okay. Well, I think we’ll kind of wrap things up there then. One more time. Thank you James and Clark. Clark, kind of a surprise late entry here. Zoom bombing us, I guess so to speak.

Clark: Ah, sorry.

Jimmy: Always happy to chat with both of you, gentlemen. Please do visit Grubbproperties.com to learn more and you can contact James J. Holloman at Grubbproperties.com and he’s even got, I think you said that’s your cell phone number on the screen there. So give him a call if you want to request subscription docs or learn more about any of the offerings that Grubb Properties has available.