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Real Estate Syndication: What It Is and How It Works

what is real estate syndication

The advent of real estate syndication, particularly post the JOBS Act of 2012, marked a revolutionary shift in the investment world. This seminal legislation expanded syndication’s horizons, enabling access to accredited investors and spurring a surge in crowd-funded ventures. Thanks to syndication, large-scale real estate acquisitions can now be more democratized, no longer confined to the wealthy few.

At its core, real estate syndication combines the financial might of numerous investors to unlock opportunities in large properties with potentially higher returns. It’s an inclusive strategy, breaking down old barriers to make real estate more accessible.

But what exactly does this mean in today’s rapidly evolving real estate environment? Syndication is a pioneering approach that broadens the investment spectrum, enabling portfolio diversification while evenly distributing risks and profits. The following section will further explain how.  

Understanding Real Estate Syndication

Understanding the intricacies of real estate syndication is key to recognizing its potential as an investment strategy. This structure enables individuals to access more significant, lucrative projects facilitated by collective effort and shared resources. A deeper dive into the definition, application, key roles, and operational mechanisms of syndication will shed light on it.

Definition of Syndication

Syndication is a strategy where multiple entities unite to take on tasks too challenging or unfeasible for individual execution. It finds its niche in situations demanding considerable resources or expertise.

Concept of Real Estate Syndication

Real Estate Syndication is a specialized application of this model, focusing on funding real estate deals that typically require large capital and expertise. Here, investors pool their resources, leveraging collective strength to meet common investment goals.

How Syndication Applies to Real Estate Investments

Real estate syndication, an investment technique with roots in centuries-old practices, has been revamped by modern technology. Once impeded by the Securities Act of 1933, which restricted investment solicitation, syndication has found new vigor thanks to the JOBS Act of 2012. This evolution has turned the question “What is real estate syndication?” into something critical for investors to answer. 

This reinvention has democratized real estate investments. By providing access to substantial projects, syndication removes the exclusivity often associated with large-scale real estate. It opens doors to opportunities ranging from commercial buildings to multi-family properties and sizable real estate portfolios, typically reserved for wealthy individuals or corporations.

In real estate syndication, it’s common to see varying acquisition fees based on the type of deal. Institutional syndications typically average around 1% in fees. In contrast, syndications that appeal directly to retail investors — which usually involve more participants and administrative costs — tend to command higher rates, closer to 2-3%. In 2021 alone, over 300,000 investors partook in syndications, which averaged an impressive $3 million in size. Passive investors supplied 80-95% of the initial capital, with sponsors shouldering the remaining 5-20%. 

Key Players Involved in Real Estate Syndication

Understanding “what is real estate syndication” involves knowing its two pivotal players: the Syndicator (or Sponsor) and the Investors. Their collaboration breathes life into syndication ventures, driving investment property identification, funding, acquisition, and management.

Syndicator or Sponsor

The Syndicator, also known as the Sponsor, is an experienced real estate professional whose duties encompass:

  • Property Identification: The Syndicator is responsible for sourcing and identifying potential investment properties matching the group’s objectives.
  • Acquisition: The Syndicator oversees acquiring a viable property, negotiates terms, and finalizes the purchase.
  • Management: After the acquisition, the Syndicator manages the property. The Syndicator is responsible for various tasks, from routine maintenance to more complex matters such as tenant relations or legal issues.


Investors play a critical role in a syndicate, primarily through capital contribution. Their responsibilities include:

  • Capital Provision: Investors supply the necessary capital for the property acquisition and any associated costs. The amount each investor contributes can vary, often depending on the syndicate’s agreed structure.
  • Revenue Participation: In return for their financial contributions, investors receive a proportionate share of the property’s revenue, cash flow, and tax benefits.

How Real Estate Syndication Works

The real estate syndication process is systematic and fascinating. It’s a voyage that begins with a property’s identification and culminates in the distribution of profits. Let’s explore each step:

  • Identifying a Property: The Syndicator initiates the syndication journey by spotting a promising investment property. The success of the syndicate heavily relies on this critical selection.
  • Forming a Syndicate: Upon identifying a potential investment, the Syndicator assembles a group of investors ready to pool their financial resources. Typically, investors structure this collaborative entity as a Limited Partnership (LP) or a Limited Liability Company (LLC).
  • Acquiring the Property: The syndicate then acquires the property, with funds pooled from the investors. The Syndicator typically spearheads this acquisition process.
  • Managing the Property: Once acquired, the syndicate oversees the property management. From maintenance to rent collection, the Syndicator ensures smooth operations.
  • Distributing Profits: Profits generated from the property are then shared among the syndicate members, adhering to pre-established terms. Initially, these terms tend to favor the investors, guaranteeing a certain return. Once the investment meets this return threshold, profit distribution becomes more even.  

Advantages and Challenges of Real Estate Syndication

While real estate syndication brings many advantages, potential investors must also consider the inherent challenges.  

Advantages for Investors

  • Access to Larger and More Diverse Real Estate Assets: Real estate syndication broadens investor access to high-quality properties, once unreachable. The 2012 JOBS Act’s advent of real estate crowdfunding accelerated this transformation, making syndication more profitable and accessible. 
  • Sharing the Financial Risks and Responsibilities: Real estate syndication diffuses financial risk among participants, enhancing security. Typically, sponsors contribute 5-20% of equity capital, with investors providing the remaining 80-95%, ensuring no single entity bears all the risk.
  • Passive Income and Potential for Higher Returns: Syndication provides a conduit for investors to earn passive income. By collectively investing in attractive property deals, they have the potential to achieve higher returns.
  • Tax Benefits: Real estate syndication often comes with tax advantages. Investors can claim depreciation and interest expenses, enhancing after-tax returns and making the investment more financially beneficial.

Challenges and Potential Risks

  • Finding Suitable Investment Opportunities: The success of syndication hinges on the Sponsor’s ability to find and execute profitable deals. For example, if the Sponsor makes underwriting mistakes or exceeds expected expenses, it can negatively impact investor return.
  • Market Fluctuations: Real estate syndication, while profitable, is subject to market risks. Property values, rental incomes, or legislation changes can impact the investment, highlighting the inherent uncertainty in any market-driven endeavor.
  • Managing Investor Expectations and Relationships: Investor expectations can be challenging to manage during economic downturns. Maintaining transparency in syndication is crucial, but it can lead to disappointment. For instance, if the value-add time frame takes too long or rent comps are incorrect, it can lead to investor disappointment.
  • Regulatory Compliance and Legal Complexities: Syndication is subject to certain legal complexities. Syndicates must comply with securities laws, adding a layer of complexity and risk. Non-compliance can lead to legal repercussions, enhancing the risk associated with this investment approach.

Syndication Structure

The structure of a real estate syndicate, which determines the distribution of profits and the investment’s management, typically includes six main components: The Entity, Equity Splits, Preferred Returns, Control, and Voting Rights, Return of Principal, and Sponsor Fees.

The Entity

In real estate syndication, an entity, usually a Limited Partnership (LP) or a Limited Liability Company (LLC), is established to hold property and distribute profits. The choice between LP or LLC depends on numerous elements like property type, the number of investors, and the chosen investment strategy.

Equity Splits

Equity splits form the cornerstone of real estate syndication. This essential mechanism determines the distribution of profits and losses between the Sponsor and investors. Stakeholders make this decision upfront, shaping the distribution of financial outcomes.

A common split, for instance, is 70/30. Here, investors will receive 70% of the profits, while the Sponsor will receive the remaining 30%. If a syndication garners $100,000 in profits, the investors receive $70,000, and the Sponsor gets $30,000.

There’s also such a structure known as a tiered equity split. This split adjusts the distribution based on performance benchmarks. Initially, investors receive 100% of the split until achieving an 8% Internal Rate of Return (IRR). After reaching this goal, the split changes to 70/30, then 60/40, and eventually, equal shares at 50/50 upon reaching higher IRR thresholds.

Preferred Returns

Preferred Returns are an essential aspect of real estate syndication, assuring investors a set return before the Sponsor starts receiving any profits. They are calculated as an annual percentage of the initial investment, prioritizing investor returns and adding a layer of financial security to the investment.

For instance, if an investor decides to put $100,000 into a syndication that offers an 8% annual preferred return, they would be entitled to the first $8,000 of profits. Alternatively, if a group of investors raises $1 million to purchase a property, with a preferred rate of 6%, the annual preferred return would total $60,000.  

Control and Voting Rights

Control and Voting Rights within a real estate syndication guide the decision-making process. While the Sponsor generally manages day-to-day operations, major decisions like property sale or refinancing often require investor approval. The syndication’s operating or partnership agreement typically outlines these rights, including those tied to distributions and management fees.

For example, consider a syndication structured as an LLC with limited voting rights for passive investors. While the Sponsor handles routine management, investors retain the right to vote on significant decisions such as property sale or manager removal, empowering them in the syndication’s pivotal financial moves. 

Return of Principal

The return of principal refers to the repayment of the original investment to the investors. The agreement stipulates the conditions under which investors recover their original investment, typically upon selling the property or through refinancing.

Sponsor Fees

Finally, the Sponsor may charge fees for services provided during the investment lifecycle. These can include property management, acquisition, and refinancing costs. These fees compensate the Sponsor for their time and effort in managing the property and navigating the complexities of real estate syndication.

Real Estate Syndication vs. Other Investment Options

In the diverse landscape of real estate investments, numerous options abound, each with unique merits and downsides. Real estate syndication is one method amidst alternatives like direct real estate investing, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), and crowdfunding platforms. Let’s see how real estate syndication compares to these options.

Investment OptionDescriptionComparison to Real Estate SyndicationExamples
Direct Real Estate InvestingDirectly investing in real estate properties. The investor handles property selection, acquisition, and management responsibilities.Syndication provides a less burdensome alternative, as sponsors oversee operations and dilute risk among investors.Investing in a single-family rental property versus investing in a multifamily apartment complex through syndication.
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)Investing in publicly traded companies that own and operate income-generating real estate properties. Investors can buy shares of REITs on stock exchanges.REITs offer liquidity and simplicity but may not match the potential returns and direct ownership of assets in syndications.Investing in a publicly traded REIT versus investing in a real estate syndication for a commercial office building.
Crowdfunding PlatformsParticipating in real estate investments through online crowdfunding platforms, where multiple investors pool their funds for various projects.Syndications involve fewer, more dedicated investors and target larger projects, potentially offering higher returns.Investing in a real estate project through a crowdfunding platform with thousands of investors versus investing in a real estate syndication with a limited number of investors for a luxury resort development.

Concluding Thoughts: The Power of Real Estate Syndication

Real estate syndication provides a strategic approach for investors keen to delve into the profitable realm of real estate without shouldering all associated risks or management duties. By pooling resources, investors unlock opportunities to participate in larger, lucrative real estate projects typically beyond the reach of individual investors.

Successful syndication hinges on thorough due diligence and an understanding of investment structure and risks. With careful research, informed choices, and strong partnerships, syndication can significantly contribute to portfolio growth and income generation. Comprehending what syndication in real estate means is a critical cornerstone in an investor’s journey.

Frequently Ask Questions

How long does a typical syndication investment last?

A real estate syndication investment typically ranges from five to ten years but often as short as two to three years if the business plan and market conditions warrant it. This timeframe largely depends on the project’s nature and the Sponsor’s exit strategy.
Some investments may have shorter or longer horizons depending on factors such as property type, market conditions, and the strategic objectives of the investment. Therefore, potential investors must align their investment goals with the projected timeline of the syndicate.

How can I find real estate syndication opportunities?

Finding real estate syndication opportunities often involves a proactive approach. One effective method is exploring online platforms dedicated to real estate investing, which often list various syndication opportunities.
Additionally, joining real estate investment groups or forums can lead to potential syndication deals. Moreover, networking with industry professionals, such as real estate brokers, attorneys, or investors, can yield valuable opportunities and insights.

Can I invest in multiple syndication projects simultaneously?

Yes, investing in multiple syndication projects simultaneously is possible. It can be a highly effective strategy to diversify your real estate portfolio. Diversification can help mitigate risk by spreading your investment across different properties, geographic locations, and property types.
However, it’s important to conduct thorough due diligence for each investment and consider the total amount of capital you’re comfortable investing in real estate syndications to ensure a balanced and manageable portfolio.

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