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In today’s environment, getting deals done is a difficult task, regardless of the sector you’re working in. Buyers are hesitant to shell out cash, particularly at today’s prices. Sellers–at least, those parties willing to part with their properties–won’t budge on pricing. And even if the two agree on a property’s value, there aren’t many lenders around who will easily finance the deal.

That’s left many investment sales brokers around the country with a lot of free time on their hands. So if a broker were to venture out on his own to establish a new investment sales services company, more than a few observers would give him the side-eye. But if you ask Jason Stroiman about it, he’d tell you now is certainly the best time to launch a new company–particularly if the sector you focus on is a strong one.

That’s because Stroiman recently kicked off Evans Senior Investments, a Chicago-based real estate firm that specializes in selling senior housing and long-term care communities across the country. With more than a decade of experience in the senior living & long-term care industry, Stroiman was previously with Senior Living Investment Brokerage Inc., where he listed and sold senior housing assets across the country.

Stroiman, who over the past three years has exclusively listed and sold over $250 million of senior housing assets and analyzed, toured and valued more than $1 billion in senior housing and investments in over 45 states, will serve as president of the new company. He has tapped Ashley Markwart to serve as a senior associate at ESI. She will handle the underwriting and valuation of proposals, as well as the marketing of senior housing assets across the country. For her part, Markwart has had a role in over $100 million in successful business transactions and has underwritten and valued over $600 million in senior living assets nationwide.

Stroiman recently chatted with GlobeSt.com about his new venture, its strategy and the current state of and future prospects for the seniors housing industry.

GlobeSt.com: Talk a bit about when and why you decided to venture out on your own.

Stroiman: We launched ESI earlier this month. We’re going to grow it into a multiple service advisory firm, primarily in the brokerage arena, representing sellers of assisted, independent and skilled nursing facilities around the country. We’re just looking to create a niche within the senior housing industry. That’s our business model over the short term.

GlobeSt.com: How about the long run?

Stroiman: In the long term, we certainly hope to grow into multiple facets of the investment side of the business. Eventually, we’d like to get into the debt and equity side of the business, whether it’s placing debt or equity. We’d also like to see a valuation component—more of your traditional investment banking model. So at this point, it’s strictly brokerage, but we hope to evolve that over the next 12 to 18 months.

GlobeSt.com: Why did you think now is a good time to launch your own company?

Stroiman: In the senior housing environment, there is a place for a premier brokerage firm to operate on a national level. There are a lot of mom-and-pops and regional players that are either selling or acquiring from other regional and smaller players, and there needs to be an intermediary between the two. And seniors housing is such a finite, niche industry that it’s difficult for your traditional brokerage company to capture the entire audience. Especially on the skilled nursing side–there’s Medicaid, Medicare and so many other moving parts to the transaction. And in the assisted living business, confidentiality is so key–you have a building with elderly people living in it, and the transfer of ownership is very delicate and has to be a strategic, thought-out process.

GlobeSt.com: What sort of competition do you have in the market, in terms of other organizations that offer the same services as you?

Stroiman: There are about four major competitors in the country that currently have a senior living component in their brokerage business. But given the size of the baby boomer generation, the pure number of buildings is going to grow exponentially over the next 15 to 20 years. And a lot of the companies out there tend to focus on certain regions or local markets, and I think there’s a real need for a national brokerage firm. In the seniors housing space, economies of scale are so important. It can actually be difficult to operate one building. For some of these groups, their holdings can grow to six, 10 or 15 communities, and it certainly helps their operations as well as their bottom line.

GlobeSt.com: So, how do you intend on standing apart from the pack?

Stroiman: One of the profiles of our mission statement is to have customized solutions for our clients. I don’t think there’s a cookie cutter way to sell a building or achieve someone’s investment objectives. That’s what we’re going to do that’s going to be different than a lot of other brokerage firms. We’re going to customize our product to each individual seller, whether we do things very confidentially, market it on a national basis, etc.

GlobeSt.com: What is your typical client profile? Who could benefit the most from the services you offer?

Stroiman: My typical client is looking to divest of a single community or a portfolio of communities, anywhere between $5 million and $100 million. It’s primarily private players; basically, the smaller, regional group that is looking to sell to another regional or mid-sized company.

GlobeSt.com: You’re going national right from the get-go. Most new firms tend to begin locally or regionally and eventually expand across the country.

Stroiman: As a result of my career in the business, I have relationships and a professional network of seniors housing owners, operators, lenders, attorneys, appraisers, accountants and the like in almost every state. I’ve been doing this for almost a decade, and have been working on a national level for the past five years or so.

GlobeSt.com: What’s the biggest challenge you face as an investment sales broker in the senior living sector?

Stroiman: Absolutely financing, no question about it. For us, it’s a matter of being very selective with the buyers we advise our clients on, that the buyers have a go-to lender that they have a strong relationship with, or have the ability to get the deal closed.

GlobeSt.com: The investment arena is pretty stagnant now; there aren’t many properties moving. It seems like most people in the industry are concerned about values, financing and where the market’s going in general, so there’s a lot of hesitancy to make a move. Deals just aren’t happening. Is that of any concern to you, especially since you’re venturing out with a new endeavor?

Stroiman: I think it’s two-fold. For one, the seniors housing business has been somewhat sheltered from the overall real estate environment. If you look at all the aspects of the property types, seniors housing has certainly been one of the least affected by the downturn. It’s a nightmare out there for office, retail or multifamily.

Furthermore, from a personal level, I believe that a slower, down market is a great time to grow. It’s a great time to go out there and market yourself and your brand name, and be in a position where, when the market does turn around in 2010, we can be the premier senior housing brokerage company in the country.

GlobeSt.com: What sort of deal volume or business volume are you hoping for, say, within the next few months to a year?

Stroiman: There are several transactions we’re hoping to get done by year’s end. It’s very important for ESI, and it’s part of my business model, to target achievable transactions that can actually get closed based on the environment. In 2010, our realistic goal is to have 15 to 20 transactions closed, with the average size being $10 million to $30 million. The properties we’re looking at are about 50 to 125 units per facility.

GlobeSt.com: How have you seen the senior living business change over past couple of years, and where do you see it going, overall?

Stroiman: We’re still getting deals done. What I’m seeing out there is the smaller, local banks are still lending and, most importantly, the traditional relationship lenders are still lending. In our space compared to other real estate sectors, lenders lend on operators, not the buildings. So those that have strong relationships with lenders, and where the lender believes in the borrowers operating model, could still get good financing in the healthcare arena. Healthcare is so operator-specific that the relationship lenders are still active.

In 2010, we’re going to see a big shift and much more transactions are going to get done than in 2009. And if you look into 2011 to 2020, I think it’s just going to skyrocket. The sheer number of available properties out there is going to increase drastically and occupancies are going to start stabilizing. I think it’s going to be a great space to be in for the next 10 to 15 years.

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