A Conversation with Viet Ha Do on the Future of Multi-Family Real Estate

Viet Ha Do is the CEO and Chairman of a Tennessee-based real estate investment and advisory company, Habringer Group, Inc. She is a graduate of SUNY Geneseo with cum laude distinction and holds an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business.

Beginning her professional journey at Merrill Lynch, she worked for several investment firms on Wall Street before transitioning to the real estate sector. In 2009 she became involved with real estate investing and managing multi-family residential assets. 

In November of 2013, Viet Ha Do join forces with a seasoned real estate investor, Paul Folkes, to form Habringer Group, Inc. Since its founding, Habringer Group focused its activities on identifying and investing in underperforming multi-family and commercial real estate assets located in the Mid-South region of the United States.

The company was initially headquartered in Midtown Manhattan. In 2016, headquarters were moved to Memphis while retaining a presence in NYC until March 2020. While active primarily in the Mid-South real estate market, the company maintains strong ties with its NYC roots and international investor partners.

Throughout her career, Viet Ha Do has played a central role in value-add processes by bringing superior organizational skills, attention to detail, and a positive attitude to daily work. She does not rest when a real estate project’s goals are met. Instead, she seeks new and innovative ways to continually improve day to day management of multifamily and commercial investment properties. 

Viet Ha Do continuously seeks out new real estate projects to apply her experience from the financial sector and 12 years of wide-ranging experience in multi-family real estate investment, management, and development.

We had the chance to sit down with Viet Ha Do to discuss how she got her start and what she sees for the future of the multi-family real estate. 

How did you get started?

I started my journey in the financial sector at Merrill Lynch while finishing my undergraduate studies at SUNY Geneseo. I applied, interviewed, and was accepted to my primary choice of the internship program with Merrill Lynch. I continued to work on Wall Street in various positions for six years before shifting my career path to multi-family and commercial real estate investment and management. 

My adventure with the real estate industry began quite coincidentally. My first encounter with the multi-family real estate sector occurred in 2009 while working on my MBA. I was contracted to turn around a distressed multi-family portfolio in Memphis, Tennessee. This was an exciting yet challenging project to tackle. In the end, it proved to be remarkably successful, and it created a desire in me to take on more projects like it, preferably in an investor/owner capacity.

What inspired you to start this business? 

Having gained a lot of first-hand experience while working on the turnaround multi-family real estate project in Memphis, I realized that this was an exciting segment of the market. I began to see significant business opportunities in this sector. 

After some careful planning and analysis, I decided that this is what I wanted to focus on in my professional career. I partnered up with a group of very seasoned real estate investors and co-founded Habringer Group, intending to focus on multi-family niche investing in the Greater Memphis Metro area. I felt confident that with my experience from the financial sector, an MBA from NYU, and a relatively good understanding of the multi-family sector in Memphis, I could make a meaningful long-term impact in the industry. 

In addition to the apparent profit motive, there is another significant aspect of this business. We invest primarily in “C-level” properties that provide much-needed affordable housing to a broad group of people.

It brings great pleasure to me personally and my entire team to see the impact that our hard work has on apartment communities and whole neighborhoods as a result. Seeing the kind of appreciation in our residents’ eyes as they eventually get to enjoy a safe, clean, peaceful community to live in is truly priceless. 

When you were starting, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that? 

I did not doubt that the business would work, primarily because we were acquiring very attractively priced assets. I felt confident that my team and I possessed sufficient knowledge and experience to turn our projects into success.

At the same time, of course, I was anxious about taking out millions of dollars in debt financing to purchase and renovate our first projects. Given the lack of track record initially, I had to personally co-guarantee these loans, which was the ultimate test of my faith in and commitment to what we were embarking on. 

What do you think it is that makes you successful? 

I am highly committed to anything I choose to do, both in my personal and business life. I always give it my all, and I never leave any stone unturned. 

What has been your most satisfying moment in business? 

When I contemplated listing one of our apartment complexes for sale, I had to collect the information requested by the broker. Preparing a write-up of what has been renovated during our ownership, notating a significant revenue increase when we owned the property, describing the improved quality of life that the property offered to both long-term and new residents, I realized just how much we had accomplished.

Residents were proud to call this property their home and often stopped me from expressing their appreciation for our efforts over the years and our ability to create a quality living community for them and their families. It was satisfying to realize that my work brought so much positive long-term impact, not only in the financial dimension but also on a purely human impact level.  

What does the future hold for your business? 

The multi-family sector is experiencing a boom right now. Prices of properties are rising due to low-interest rates and rising rental rates in the market. Long-term trends remain intact for the sector with highly healthy underlying fundamentals and supporting trends.

However, I am concerned about the medium term. There is a substantial risk of interest rates rising and lending becoming much tighter than right now. Asset prices, including multi-family properties, are likely to decline when this happens.

Also, the overall economy is experiencing tremendous growth, mainly due to all the stimuli enacted during the past 18 months. Rising employee wages and direct consumer stimulus payments contributed to the unprecedented rise in rental rates over the past 18 months. 

I am concerned about the sustainability of this trend now that stimulus payments and various subsidies are coming to an end. It is anybody’s guess how long the economic expansion will last before inevitably recession comes about. 

For all the reasons above, I am very cautious with our strategy, focusing on selling off assets rather than acquiring new projects at this point. We would rather wait for opportunities to arise than rush making purchases in a very lofty market.

Published December 24th, 2021