A full service Real Estate brokerage and Property Management company located in Toledo, Ohio, LaPlante Real Estate’s departmentalized team is focused on assisting renters and helping property investors meet their goals.
Principal Broker and co-owner Joshua J. Bowen’s varied career has spanned over 20 years, providing him with a deep knowledge of business operations, from restaurants, hotels, and resorts to banking and construction, and a passion for service. His full-time career in Real Estate transitioned in 2014 to assisting domestic and international investors develop long-term plans to build wealth and identify investment opportunities that deliver on those goals in the Toledo and Northwest Ohio Region. We spoke to Mr Bowen recently about the origins of the business, the success behind LaPlante’s departmentalized approach to service, and the significant investment opportunities offered by the Buckeye State.
The Buckeye State
“LaPlante in French means ‘the plant’,” Mr Bowen explains, “but the company is actually named after a street just south of Toledo. We started our business on that particular street, and we were trying to come up with a name and it just stuck.”
The company began as a collection of Real Estate investors, but soon transitioned when Mr Bowen’s business partner Andrew R. Fidler began investing in properties in 2009. By 2014, the two men were working together.
“[We were] operating two separate businesses – he had a renovation company, and I had a Real Estate brokerage. Fast forward to the end of 2018, we decided that it was not only in our best interests, but in the best interests of our clients, to take those two operating businesses and serve our clients in the area of Property Management, renovation and rentals.”
This process of merging the businesses, though not completely straightforward, was a big success, helping grow LaPlante Real Estate from a small entity to a much larger operation, with a diverse portfolio of properties in the Toledo area.
“Ohio is really the quintessential midwestern state,” Mr Bowen explains. “We have a really low cost of living, but we have really great amenities – our art, architecture, culture, food, from dining to entertainment, our Metroparks and our green spaces, to our zoos and outdoor venues like baseball and football.”
The Buckeye State is also home to a number of Fortune 500 companies, and Toledo specifically hosts Libbey Glass, Daimler-Chrysler, and Jeep. Toledo was recently ranked the top city in the state for livability, and in the top ten for investment opportunities.
After meeting at a Real Estate Investment meetup, Mr Bowen and Mr Fidler were used to hearing complaints about property managers being difficult – sometimes even impossible – to reach in order to begin proceedings.
“People just didn’t answer the phone, and when they did answer the phone, they didn’t give clear responses, they weren’t direct. That’s something that we looked at. We’ve got people coming to us looking to spend a lot of money, and if they can’t get someone to answer their phone call or respond to their email, this is not going to be a fruitful endeavor.”
In response, the two men made it clear that this access to clear, concise information was essential. Mr Fidler’s renovation business was already thriving, renovating around 20 properties a month for himself and investors.
“I had the part down where I knew how to run a Real Estate brokerage, and I knew how to teach people about Real Estate. That was really the component of getting together, and we really focused on helping people. We focus on helping an investor turn whatever asset that they purchase into a cash positive asset that meets their goals.” This consideration is paramount during the onboarding process for new clients. The majority of conversations start with defining the client’s goals in Real Estate, and working out how best they can be realized.
“Real Estate is a product – we don’t sell Real Estate. We sell a service that supports Real Estate. Ultimately, I’m in the business of building relationships. We are providing services that allow an individual to meet their goals; that’s really our business, and that’s going to sustain us well into the future.”
Mr Bowen has no desire to run a transactional business where he can sell one house, gain commission from it, and move onto the next one. The idea is to create a business that will continue into the future, and a business that transcends the local area.
“The clients that we have in our area, I can count on one hand. We have over 200 clients, and the majority are abroad – Australia, Singapore, the UK, Dubai – and then within the United States, it’s primarily east coast – New York down to Florida – and west coast – California, Washington, Arizona, Texas.”
From its modest beginnings, LaPlante Real Estate has continued to grow significantly as a business, now employing 38 full-time staff and agents who help manage 700 rental units and assist 200 property owners.
“We started off with literally just three people sitting in our office,” Mr Bowen says. “We decided that the best way to manage residential Real Estate was to sort of use the assembly line approach.”
The standard approach for many Real Estate brokers is to have a central property manager for a group of properties through which everything runs, doing everything from communicating with tenants, collecting rent, reporting and dealing with maintenance issues.
“Overall, that really bogs you down. You can’t grow past a certain point. If you have one person leave, that throws a wrench in the whole thing. If your property manager leaves, then all that information, all that communication, has to be re-learned by someone else.”
LaPlante’s antidote to this issue was to departmentalize the business, setting up separate groups for operations, accounting, and property management, which is comprised of field services and renovations.
“Field services is our maintenance division, so when someone calls into our office with a maintenance issue, that goes to the maintenance coordinator, then that information is catalogued and disseminated out to our maintenance team, and they’re the ones that are going out to our resident’s home and offering that support.”
In addition to the separate divisions, the company employs a relationship manager through which all necessary communication to and from the owner is funneled, someone who keeps track of day-to-day activities, providing updates and addressing questions.
“We found it easier to provide the owners with the communication they needed, as well as provide the service to the residents that they needed, by having departmentalized service within our company.”
This means that there are support specialists in operations talking to residents, dealing with ledgers and answering questions; there is an accounting group processing payment, and countless other members of staff interacting with both tenants and owners.
“We all live here in a 26,000sqft facility. We’ve got a warehouse, where all our maintenance people get their supplies. About 80% of our managed portfolio sits within a 3-mile radius of our building. It really helps us to quickly service [our buildings].”
The company’s primary focus is on residential properties, both single family homes and apartment complexes, but it also deals with commercial properties – such as retail areas, office spaces and warehouses – and land services.
“If you’ve got a piece of land and you’re looking to have a developer come in and develop single family homes, we also are in that segment with another sister company. We’ve got currently a housing development that’s in the process right now of building 72 family homes, within a short distance from here.”
The company has been set up to cater for all kinds of Real Estate investors, whether it’s someone with a passion for residential single-family homes, someone looking to be a funding partner for spec homes, or an investor who only buys strip malls. LaPlante has the ability to serve and support all different types of investors.
“I’m in this business because of relationships, and I have seen exponential growth over the last ten years – not just in Real Estate, but in all of the components that make up a really great community. We’ve had so much investment that has come into our town and our city.”
Within the Northwest Ohio Region alone, there is $4bn worth of development scheduled over the next four years. Recent developments have seen two Amazon facilities built in the region to keep up with the demand for the company’s service. The area is thriving.
“From my perspective, this is really such a good time to be here, and to be part of everything that is going on. All that we’re seeing is opportunity, reinvestment in our streets and our infrastructure and new investment, not just in manufacturing, but in the cultural components of what makes our community great.”
As a seasoned member of the Real Estate industry, Mr Bowen cannot resist ending our conversation by providing some important advice to people who may be considering investing in Real Estate.
“Make sure that you go into it with eyes wide open and understand that there is risk involved in any investment. Partner with somebody that is responsive and someone who has your goals in mind. Ultimately, any investment that you do, has to be able to meet your goals, otherwise it’s not worthwhile.”
With a departmentalized business model and a firm focus on helping investors meet their goals, LaPlante is a company reaching far beyond its local market. Find out more about LaPlante Real Estate by visiting www.laplanterealestate.com