Podcast: Mark Roderick Talks Real Estate Syndications

MSR Podcast Real Estate

Lifetime CashFlow through Real Estate Investing Podcast with Rod Khleif

Special Guest: Mark Roderick


In this episode of Lifetime CashFlow through Real Estate Investing, you will learn:

  • Real Estate Syndications OPM (Other People’s Money) and Securities Laws;
  • Understanding Securities Exemptions;
  • Most common exemptions for syndications;
  • The 506(b) exemption;
  • Accredited Investors Sophisticated Investors;
  • The JOBS ACT; and
  • The 506(c) exemption Understanding Reg A Documents for Syndication.

Questions? Let me know.

Legal Focus On Crowdfunding

Lawyer Monthly magazine has been following Crowdfunding developments, along with the
business community and media. The attached interview highlights a couple of hot button points, including the benefits and common legal implications of Crowdfunding. Click here to read more.

legal focus on crowdfunding

Questions? Let me know.

JOBS Act Crowdfunding – The Latest News & Information

I have been asked by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute (PBI) to lead a Crowdfunding breakout session at their annual Business Lawyers’ Institute in Philadelphia on November 13th.

I will discuss the latest news and information on JOBS Act Crowdfunding, including: Proposed Title III Crowdfunding Rroegulations; Rule 506 of Regulation D issued by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC); new requirements for establishing that investors are accredited; SEC regulations; mechanics of a Crowdfunded offering; proposed changes to Form D; and the exclusion of “bad actors.”

For additional information on this event, or to register, click here.

Questions? Let me know.


Will The SEC’s 15 Day Notification Rule End Angel Fairs?

No, it won’t.

On July 10, 2013 the SEC proposed rules that would, among other things, require a company to notify the SEC at least 15 days before using any “general solicitation” to raise money under the newly-adopted Rule 506(c) of Regulation D, also known as Title II Crowdfunding.

This proposal triggered more anxiety in the investment community than any other. Angel groups in particular were concerned about the possible effect on “angel fairs” and similar networking events, where companies look for investors and publicity by making presentations and handing out literature. If these activities constituted general solicitation, so the thinking went, and a company had not notified the SEC at least 15 days in advance, the company would be violating the law with potentially serious consequences.

Should companies stop presenting at angel fairs? Should attendance at angel fairs be limited? Would the SEC rule bring a wrenching halt to the way startups have raised money for 30 years?

There are two reasons why the concerns in the investment community are probably overblown.

First, “general solicitation” is not a new concept. Regulation D has always prohibited general solicitation. Rule 506 of Regulation D is itself a regulatory implementation of section 4(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933, which provides simply that the registration requirements do not apply to “transactions by an issuer not involving any public offering.” It has always been the position of the SEC, reflected in Rule 502(c), that using general solicitation to attract investors crossed the indistinct line from “private offering” to “public offering.”

Thus, every angel fair that has ever been held for the last several decades has been subject to the SEC prohibition on general solicitation. Yet given all that time and all those opportunities, the SEC has never taken the position that what happens at angel fairs constitutes prohibited general solicitation.

Having stood aside and permitted angel fairs for three decades, it seems unlikely that the SEC would take the opposite position today, after Congress announces its support for Crowdfunding by enacting the JOBS Act!

So far, it is safe to say that the SEC has taken the opposite approach, i.e., by making Crowdfunding easier, not more difficult. Consider, for example, the two no-action letters issued by the SEC on March 26, 2013 to FundersClub and AngelList. It seems very possible, even likely, that these letters would not have been issued before enactment of the JOBS Act. The SEC seems to have taken the wishes of Congress to heart and there is no reason to believe it intended to do otherwise with the 15 day proposal.

The other reason the concerns are overblown is that the rule in question is not yet in effect. The public comment period ended on September 23, 2013 and the SEC is considering the many comments made by the investment community. The chances are very high that when the SEC issues the final rule, these comments will be taken into account.

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe the SEC will suddenly reverse course after 30 years and issue final rules that blow angel fairs out of the water, throw up unnecessary impediments to Crowdfunding despite the JOBS Act, and make everyone angry. Don’t bet on it.

Questions? Let me know.

SEC Finalizes “General Solicitation” Regulations: Full Steam Ahead

Since President Obama signed the JOBS Act into law on April 5, 2012, we have been waiting for the SEC to finalize the rules on Crowdfunding.

At long last the SEC has done just that, at least with respect to one of the two components of Crowdfunding. Sometime in mid-September, company will be allowed to use “general solicitation” in certain “Rule 506 offerings.” The rules governing the other component of Crowdfunding, where small issuers will be allowed to raise money through Internet portals from small, unsophisticated investors, will have to wait for later in the year.

Even so, these new regulations mark the largest change to the securities laws in almost 80 years. Companies will now be allowed to raise money from accredited investors (in the case of individuals, those with over $1 million of net worth or incomes over $200,000 per year) through social media, print materials, email, and other means. Not only will companies have greater access to the capital they need, but the new rules are likely to significantly disrupt the money-raising industry, displacing brokers, lawyers, and other middlemen just as the Internet has displaced so many middlemen before them.

Now the technical rules.

The rules allow general solicitation and general advertising where:

  • All purchasers are accredited investors; and
  • The company takes reasonable steps to verify that the purchasers are accredited investors; and
  • All of the requirements in Rule 501, Rule 502(a), and 502(d) are satisfied.

Whether the company has taken “reasonable steps” will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Among the relevant factors:

  • The type of accredited investor that the purchaser claims to be (e.g., the CEO of a Fortune 100 company or a store clerk).
  • The amount and type of information that the issuer has about the purchaser.
  • The nature of the offering, including the manner of the solicitation.

When the regulations were proposed last August, many people complained about the absence of hard-and-fast rules and the resulting ambiguity. The final rules take a large step in the direction of certainty by providing that a company will be considered to have taken reasonable steps to verify that a natural person is an accredited investor if it does any of the following:

  • If basing the decision on the purchaser’s net income:
    • Reviews W-2s, 1099s, or other IRS documents that report the person’s income for the past two years; and
    • Obtains a written representation that the person reasonably expects to reach the income level required to qualify as an accredited investor in the current year.
    • If basing the decision on the purchaser’s net worth:
      • Reviews one or more types of documents dated within the past three months, including bank statements, brokerage statements, tax assessments, and a report from one of the national consumer reporting agencies concerning liabilities; and obtains a written representation that the person has disclosed all liabilities necessary to make a net worth determination; or
      • Obtains a written representation from certain third parties, including registered broker-dealers or investment advisors, that they have taken reasonable steps to verify the person’s accredited investor status within the past three months and have determined that the person is an accredited investor; or
      • Permits existing security-holders who had acquired issuer securities in a previous Rule 506 offering and had qualified as accredited investors at that time to certify his or her accredited investor status at the time of the sale.

These steps are neither exclusive nor mandatory. The final rules also discuss other factors and procedures.

In addition to taking reasonable steps to verify that purchasers are accredited, the company must also have a reasonable belief that they are accredited. This has always been part of Rule 506 and was not changed by the JOBS Act.

NOTE:  These new rules offer enormous opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking to raise money for their existing businesses or start new businesses. Please contact us if you would like to discuss your idea.

Questions? Let me know.

Four Kinds Of Crowdfunding: Which Is Right For My Company?

Two years ago not many people had heard of Crowdfunding. With enactment of the JOBS Act early in 2012 and the well-publicized success of many companies on Kickstarter and other portals, everyone is talking about Crowdfunding today.

Yet many entrepreneurs are still unsure how Crowdfunding works and whether it can help their businesses. That is largely because Crowdfunding is not just one thing. It is really at least four very different ways to raise money, each with its own rules, audiences, and strategies. For many entrepreneurs the question is not whether Crowdfunding is right, but which Crowdfunding is right.

Donation-Based Crowdfunding

On portals like Kickstarter, companies raise money in the form of donations. The company raising the money does not give up any of its stock or even promise to pay the money back. Sometimes the company offers tokens of recognition to its donors, such as a baseball cap or a free massage, but donors expect and receive little or nothing of value.

Don’t expect to raise a lot of money through donations, but if you need to raise $10,000 or $25,000 to get started it might be worth the try. Make a good video and tell a good (and truthful) story, and you might be surprised how many people want to help.

Product-Based Crowdfunding

Say you want to develop a new kind of mousetrap, or camera, or car. You might ask your potential customers to fund the development of the product.

Eric Migicovsky raised more than $10 million on Kickstarter to create the new Pebble watch, and gave a new watch to everyone who contributed $99 or more. Migicovsky says he initially wanted to raise just $100,000 and was as surprised as anyone when donations mushroomed.

With product-based Crowdfunding, your customer receives just the product. He or she does not receive stock or the right to share in your future profits.

Rule 506 Crowdfunding

For companies that need to raise a serious amount of money, the most promising form of Crowdfunding available today is an old form of raising money, but with a twist.

For many years, Rule 506 issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission has allowed companies to raise large amounts of money from “accredited” (meaning, fairly wealthy) investors. Today, web-based companies are springing up to bring old-fashioned Rule 506 securities offerings to a larger group of accredited investors – accredited investors lurking in the Crowd, so to speak. At best, these new companies offer entrepreneurs access via the Web to a very large pool of wealthy investors, a virtually unlimited amount of money, and a relatively simple and straightforward process.

The caveat is that some of the web-based funding companies seem to be pushing the envelope of what the law allows in ways that could theoretically expose the entrepreneurs to liability. Buyer beware!

JOBS Act Crowdfunding

Ironically, the kind of Crowdfunding created by the JOBS Act – where companies are allowed to raise up to $1 million by selling stock to a lot of small investors – has been overshadowed by the other kinds of Crowdfunding. That’s because, despite the publicity, real JOBS Act Crowdfunding is stuck in the starting gate waiting for the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue final regulations. The regulations were supposed to be in place by January 1, 2013 but haven’t even been proposed yet.

When the regulations are finally issued, probably by the middle of 2013, thousands of companies will race to the Crowdfunding “portals” envisioned by the JOBS Act, which even now are waiting to start business. Any company that wants to raise money should be prepared when the SEC finally flips the switch.

Questions? Let me know.

SEC Proposes Rules for Crowdfunded Rule 506 Offerings

The JOBS Act required the SEC to issue regulations allowing the use of “general solicitation” in Rule 506 offerings, as long as all the purchasers are accredited investors. The SEC has now proposed such regulations, which is welcome, but anyone expecting step-by-step guidance will be disappointed.

The proposed regulations establish three criteria:

  1. The issuer must take reasonable steps to verify that the purchasers are accredited investors.
  2. All purchasers must be accredited investors, either because they meet the objective definitions of “accredited” or because the issuer reasonably believes that they do at the time of the purchase.
  3. All of the other terms and conditions of an offering under Regulation D must be satisfied.

Note the key phrases: the issuer must take reasonable steps to verify that the purchasers are accredited and must reasonably believe that they are accredited.

The definition of “reasonable” is critical here, as it is in many other areas of law – but no real definition exists. Reasonable is whatever a reasonable person thinks is reasonable, yet reasonable people sometimes disagree. For the issuer trying to complying with the law, the important points are (1) you cannot merely pretend to believe your purchasers are accredited, but are required to really look into the question and be able to prove that you did so; and (2) as long as you tried to ensure that your purchasers were accredited, not in a perfunctory way but in a meaningful, reasonable way, you will not be penalized just because you turn out to have been wrong.

Some hoped that the SEC would offer more objective criteria, e.g., if you take steps one through six then you will satisfy the legal requirement. However, the SEC decided that the question could come up in so many different ways, no single approach would be sufficient.

The SEC did note that the steps an issuer might take to determine whether a purchaser is accredited, and the information it might require, would vary depending on such factors as the nature of the purchaser (e.g., individual or established business), the amount and type of information the issuer has about the purchaser, and the nature of the offering. For example, an individual purchaser claiming to be accredited based on his or her income might need only to produce W-2 statements, while the situation would be more complicated for an individual purchaser claiming to be accredited based on net worth.

If adopted in their current form, the SEC regulations would, in effect, require issuers, their lawyers, the SEC, and the courts to work all of these questions out over time. For now, proceed with caution.

Crowdfunding? Form a “C” Corporation

One of the earliest decisions for every entrepreneur is the form of his or her company – whether a C corporation, an S corporation, a partnership, or a limited liability company. Designed as the perfect business entity, combining the flow-through tax treatment of a partnership with the liability protection of a corporation, the LLC is the first choice of many.

Things look different in the Crowdfunding universe, however. A company raising money on the Internet – whether in a true Crowdfunding offering or in a Rule 506 offering to accredited investors – will by definition end up with lots of investors, at least dozens, perhaps hundreds. Practically speaking, a company with dozens or hundreds of investors must be a C corporation.

Start with the tax filing requirements for partnerships, LLCs, and S corporations. At the end of each tax year the company must send a K-1 schedule to each owner. More exactly, two K-1 schedules, one for Federal taxes and one for state taxes. If a company has a dozen investors preparing all the K-1s is hard enough. For a small company with 100 investors the burden would be untenable.

On top of that, some states impose a per-head fee based on the number of owners. In New Jersey, for example, the fee is $150 per owner. Multiply that by 100 or more and we are talking about a serious cost for a startup company.

The lesson is unavoidable:  absent very unusual circumstances, a crowdfunded company must be a C corporation.

But that does not mean that all of the LLCs looking to the JOBS Act for funding will have to convert to C corporations. Instead, we anticipate that an existing LLC will form a separate C corporation as a member, and that the “crowd” investors will own stock in that company. The LLC will issue only one K-1 schedule and the separate C corporation will count as only one owner, despite having hundreds of stockholders.

For example, suppose Newco, LLC wants to raise $500,000 in exchange for 30% of its stock. Newco, LLC will issue 30% of its stock to a newly-formed C corporation, Investor Corp, Inc. Investors will purchase stock in Investor Corp, Inc., not Newco, LLC.

Using a C corporation will potentially impose a second level of tax if Newco, LLC is sold, and investors who purchase stock in Investor Corp, Inc. will not be entitled to write off “pass thru” losses for tax purposes. But in the Crowdfunding universe, that’s the lay of the land.

Questions? Let me know.

Crowdfunding – What It Is And How You Can Benefit

The Internet has changed many things, and now it is about to change the way companies raise money.

Since the 1930s, a company that wanted to raise money from investors had two choices: go through a very long and expensive public offering of the kind Facebook completed recently; or conduct a private offering, a prominent feature of which was the inability to reach a large number of prospective investors.

The JOBS Act signed by President Obama offers a third choice, called “Crowdfunding.” In its simplest form, a company seeking capital will register with a special kind of Internet site created for this purpose, referred to in the law as a “portal.” Prospective investors will also register with the portal. If a registered investor likes a registered company then a marriage is made—all through the portal and all online.

Probably the most important change to the securities laws in 80 years, Crowdfunding offers rich new opportunities:

    • Because the Internet portal is accessible all the time, the company looking for money can be exposed to many more investors than through a traditional private offering.
    • By registering with more than one portal, an investor on the lookout for growing, entrepreneurial companies can see many more companies than available at present.
    • The portal business is a new creature entirely, offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of legitimate Internet-based fundraising.

The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) is writing the final rules for Crowdfunding right now. Here are some of the most important rules and limitations you should know:

    • Crowdfunding will not begin officially until January 2013, when the SEC finishes writing the final rules. But that isn’t stopping companies and entrepreneurs from figuring out how to do business.
    • If a company raises money using Crowdfunding, it may raise only $1,000,000 from all sources during any 12 month period.
    • The law limits how much any investor can invest: for those whose income or net worth is less than $100,000, the limit is the greater of $2,000 or 5%; for those earning more, the limit is 10% of annual income or net worth, with an upper limit of $100,000. These limits refer to the total invested in all Crowdfunding investments during any 12 month period.
    • The company seeking investors will be allowed to advertise, but only to direct potential investors to the portal.
    • The company seeking investors will be required to provide fairly extensive information to potential investors. The kind of financial information—whether merely certified by the principal officer, reviewed by a CPA firm, or audited by a CPA firm, depends on the size of the company.
    • The portal will be required to register with the SEC, become a member of a national securities organization (probably FINRA), and will be responsible for many aspects of the compliance process.
    • The portal may not offer investment advice, recommendations or compensate its employees based on the volume of sales on its site.
    • Offerings conducted through Crowdfunding are exempt from the registration and disclosure requirements of state laws (so-called “blue sky” laws).
    • An investor who acquires stock through a Crowdfunding offering is subject to some restrictions on disposing of the stock.

Crowdfunding, and more generally, the ability to raise money through the Internet, is in its infancy. If Crowdfunding is the success that many expect, it seems very likely that these rules will be changed, allowing more money to be raised from additional investors in more ways. Surely, there will someday be an “app” for that.

There will be many traps along the way. To avoid the traps and discuss the opportunities, please contact me.