Joe Killinger and George Pino The Case for Real Estate Ownership for Long-Term Oriented Investors

19th August, 2021

Episode 15 Show Notes 

Want to buy commercial real estate but wondering how to get started?  We speak with George Pino and Joe Killinger at Commercial Brokers International and they cover many important topics to be successful.  This interview is filled with important nuggets to consider – including benefits of triple net structures, the current frothiness in core markets versus opportunities in secondary markets, and how to approach due diligence in real estate transactions.  George and Joe offer their depth of market experience for a highly educational conversation.

Key Points in This Episode

  • Joe and George’s background and the path they took to become real estate investors
  • What triple-net real estate means and the benefits of these types of assets
  • How to think about leverage in real estate and the right amount of debt to put on a transaction
  • Their view of the current investment environment in real estate and where there may be opportunities
  • The benefits of secondary markets in real estate
  • What to look for in real estate transactions and how to do your due diligence
  • Practicalities around investing in real estate such as title documentation and estate taxes


Hi, this is Andrew from Pitchboard. I had a great conversation with George Pino and Joe Killinger from Commercial Brokers International. They discussed why they think real estate is a good long-term investment. The ideal amount of leverage to use, and what potential investors should know before buying. I think you’ll enjoy our chat.  

Over the past 30 years, Joe has been a real estate agent, investor, and operator.  

George is the CEO of Commercial Brokers International Los Angeles, and a business partner of Joe, for 30 years. We’re excited to hear both of their wisdom today with that, welcome to the podcast Joe and George, it’s great to have you on.  

{01:38} Joe Killinger   

Thank you, Andrew!  

{01:40} Andrew  

So, Joe will start with you. I gave a very short overview of your background, but I’m sure our audience would love to hear more about your real estate experience. Can you tell us how you got involved in the industry and what you are up to these days?  

{01:52} Joe Killinger  

Yes, it’s as you said, George, and I’ve been partners for a long time now. Actually, very specific about 30 years. It’s been a long time. I got started in just buying and flipping some homes and then I ended up working at an auction company called Kennedy Wilson out here in Los Angeles.  

Kennedy Wilson treated George and I pretty well, and we ended up meeting there, just decided to go out on our own and after that started our own auction companies. We actually became competitors of Kennedy Wilson

When George came on, we ended up going 50/50 on our business 30 years ago and we just started doing those auctions. We became the number two auction company in the Western Region of the United States within the 1st 18 months. That was quite a task back then because we didn’t have Internet. It was all done by cold calling, and it was quite an experience, but it’s led us into what we’re doing now with commercial real estate. So, we have commercial brokers international out here in Los Angeles. We are a full-service commercial brokerage. We have about 12 agents right now that we’re overseeing, and then George and I do brokerage as well as we are investors in assets around the country too.  

{03:02} Andrew  

And George, do they enjoy it? How about yourself? Did you work with Joe for 30 years? What else can you tell our audience about your real estate background?  

{03:10} George Pino  

Well, you know been involved in real estate for about thirty-two/thirty-three years. I started off at Kenny Wilson right out of college. They were doing real estate auctions. I was signed Texas as my territory. I was part of the closing team where we followed up with all the escrows, made sure they closed for 1200 properties at a time. All at one auction

 So, we were doing that. Joe was working on the operation side marketing and from there you know we spent ‘93. We had broken out and then started the Sands group along with Fred Sands Realtors, which was a real estate auction company that Joe had mentioned. We became number two in the Western region within the first year.  

We started investing in buying our own properties, primarily multifamily and lower moderate-income neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles. We started that probably in ‘95 and then started buying, selling, exchanging property. These and then and then probably early 2000s started looking at other areas to invest in and decided on the Dallas submarket to start investing. So, start acquiring properties out there. 

{04:17} Andrew  

So right now, do you guys focus on commercial residential? Is there an area that your personal focus is?  

{04:24} Joe Killinger  

Where our focus is [inaudible] Real Estate with a focus on Southern California, but we’ve done deals in 36 states so far. We do a lot of triple-net deals around the country.  

{04:36} Andrew  

For our listeners who don’t know what triple net means, can you give us a quick definition for them?  

{04:41} George Pino  

So, the triple net is a lease type. That essentially means it’s net net net to the landlord. The tenant would either pay or reimburse the landlord for all the maintenance, repairs, expenses, utilities, insurance, taxes, property taxes they take care of everything. So, the rent is actually the net amount, as opposed to the net operating income versus the gross operating income minus any expenses. 

 So, the landlord really has no expenses. Other than their own internal management, which is not typically reimbursed, we tend to do a lot in the single-tenant net lease market, which is really good for investors looking to increase income and a little bit more passive income as well.  

{05:23} Andrew  

Well, right cause they don’t have to worry so much about some unexpected expense coming?  

{05:29} Joe Killinger  

Yes, some of our high-net-worth clients really like to have that done. Their riskier investments earlier on in their career. They want to kind of cut that risk a little bit and this is a good path for them to be going, so it’s really for asset preservation, right? Well, asset preservation.  

{05:46} Andrew  

What’s the advantage of commercial over residential have you? Why have you focused on one over the other? Are your careers of progress?  

{05:53} George Pino  

I think the number one reason is commercial. Real estate tends to be straight. This is what I mean by that is, although cyclical, it doesn’t tend to have as big of swings as residential properties. 

 In addition to that, when you’re dealing with someone, a lot of it, and whether it’s a tenant or anyone else, a lot of it is straight down to the numbers. Does it make sense financially for them to be there at this rental rate the most? An important aspect, I think of commercial real estate, is that generally across the board, most states treat commercial landlords or owners as well as tenants to a different standard than they would to residential.  

So, there are a lot more residential protections for a tenant, residential properties, which can at times encumber a landlord or investor where they aren’t allowed to do certain things. Your kind of at the whim of changing laws and how the society is reacting to, you know, whether it’s COVID related where there’s a rent moratorium or eviction moratorium to want to put in rent control laws and throughout, in some cases, the entire state. 

I think with commercials those tend to be exempt from a lot of those aspects because the tenants are held to a little bit higher standard and it’s really more of a business, so it allows a little bit more flexibility. 

 I think you know at the same time, you typically have long-term leases, so you’re going into a cash flow stream that, assuming all the businesses are doing OK and well, and you’ve done your job vetting them out to make sure there’s a strong enough business to survive, you know, going into it. What you can project out pretty good cash flows. Those coming out for the next one, three, five to ten years. That’s kind of what we like about the commercial real estate market.  

 For an investor. That’s listening to this podcast and they’re saying, “I’d like to get some exposure to commercial real estate”. There are various ways to do it, right? There’s direct, they can own the property themselves. They can own invest in you know real estate fund. What are the advantages and disadvantages of those various ways and what do you recommend? 

07:42} Andrew  

And this is a fairly broad question, but why do you guys see real estate as a good vehicle for wealth preservation, especially for high-net-worth individuals?  

{07:52} George Pino  

Yeah, I think the easiest answer is kind of using that old saying that they’re not making any more of it. 

 Real estate is real estate and the real estate fundamentals are as long as you abide by them. And you know what you’re getting into, it can be an extremely good potential for not just asset preservation, but also creating wealth as well. The main benefit of real estate is that you have the ability to potentially leverage it. If you look at the stock market versus real estate, you know they both typically offer about a 10% return on average on an annual basis. But at the same time, if you’re leveraging your real estate and you’re putting down 33% or 35%. Down that 10% increase is now equivalent to a 33% cash on cash increase versus a stock market. 10% increases 10% ’cause you’re buying it all at once, so you know there’s definitely a lot more tools and advantageous opportunities. 

 And there are different strategies that you can utilize with the tax laws. Especially the tax laws when it comes to asset and wealth preservation. So, you know even zero cash flow properties are out there. So, which is something that a lot of people aren’t aware of, but it can really benefit the right astute investor.  

{09:04} Andrew  

Something you said there actually leads perfectly into a question I was going to ask anyway, what is the ideal amount of leverage used in a commercial real estate transaction to balance the risk and reward for an investor?  

{09:10} George Pino 

I actually like to be kind of because if we’re looking at asset preservation as well now, part of it is going to be fundamentals. Where exactly we are, and you know, the answer to that is a little bit more complicated, but generally speaking, 35 to 50% down is what we typically try and target and talk to with our clients. 

 That may change a little bit based upon debt service coverage ratios and income levels and what you’re acquiring the property at, as well as what kind of debt is available for that particular property and the tenant base.

What’s different than residential real estate is your loans vary. The types of loans the amortizations of the loans are typically a little bit lower. They have twenty-five, fifteen, ten years, and when we look at all of this, we also look at loan interest rates also in relation to the tenant. 

Who the tenant is? meaning if I’m going in with a credit tenant that has twenty years remaining on the lease like a CVS or 711 or Walgreens. My interest rate will be a lot less than a franchisee guaranteed fast food location that has seven years remaining. I mean it can be 50 to 100 basis points less. It’s a moving target, but if you can definitely drill down to it when you have the specifics. So generally speaking, though 35 to 50% on the leverage side.  

{10:41} Andrew  

Where do you think we are right now in the cycle? I mean, are we at the frothier, or more of the value end for the commercial real estate cycle?  

{10:50} Joe Killinger  

It’s been pretty frothy lately. You know there’s a lot of wealth is created because of the stock market over the last year, and you’re seeing people that are coming in on deals. I mean, yeah, and I can speak to Los Angeles and Dallas too, is that there’s a lot of money chasing deals. I mean, our agents for almost every day they’re getting a call like “listen I’ve got five million, 10 million, fifty million, or even 100,000,000. Then I want to put it inside California real estate.” 

 Those calls keep coming in and you’re like. Where is this? Yeah, there’s just so much wealth chasing deals right now, so I think it’s pretty frothy right now. I think when you see a little bit of an uptick in the interest rate and begin to slow down somewhat, but I think it’s going to take. Full time.  

{11:32} Andrew  

Right, ’cause I guess right now we’ve got the economy has been pretty strong, but you also have a, you know, a 10-year yield is still. I don’t know the exact figure, but one point 3 or something like that, right?  

For potential investors, it sounds like it’s a bit of a not a difficult time to invest, but it’s. It’s a bit of a cautious time to invest in me if I’m getting you correctly. That you priced these steps.  

{11:55} Joe Killinger  

I mean, it’s if you’re looking at core markets, like you know, we’re sitting in the middle of their life. You’re looking at L.A. proper, it’s pretty tough, but you get into secondary and tertiary markets deal that you’re seeing the deal flow. 

 I mean, it’s happening, you’re seeing deal flow here in California, but. You’ve got to really spread it out there. You got to make sure you’re working with an agent that is right, or if you’re doing it yourself, you got to go out and find the right deal, or you’re gonna actually have to work hard to find the deal, yeah.  

{12:21} Andrew  

Or the deal? Or I guess the deal that’s right for you, right?  

{12:23} George Pino  

Absolutely ’cause there are different types of structures on the different transactions and deals, so definitely finding the right deal that’s right for you and what you’re trying to accomplish and what your goals are.  

That’s what’s out there, and there are definitely deals like that in core markets as well as in a little bit more secondary and 3rd, even tertiary markets, but you know it all goes and boils down to real estate, especially when you’re looking at it for any type of wealth or asset preservation. You know it boils down to the actual location.  

You know there’s that old saying again, location, location, location, and it’s extremely true when it comes to any type of real estate, but especially if you’re doing and looking for doing wealth or asset preservation as well as you want. You know you look at the long term loans.  

Or you’re trying to get a little bit safer. Just preserve the assets. It goes back to the one time the Rockefellers were once asked how do you time the market because you just asked about this being a little frothy? Their response was “if you never sell, you never have to time the market”, so you know for them they were looking at wealth and asset preservation as well as potential tax benefits, so if you’re doing that, you’re planning on holding for a long, long time whether the market’s frothy or not. It’s still an opportune time to purchase to accomplish the goals that you’re trying to accomplish.  

{13:39} Joe Killinger  

Well, if you’re flipping it is a little different.  

{13:42} Andrew  

Yeah, yeah you can’t. I guess you can’t afford to be as agnostic on price at that point, right? Are you suggesting the clients look a bit more at those secondary markets that you mentioned? Both because on a relative value basis are those markets bit more attractive now because. Of the working from the home trend. That person may not, and we’ll see how this plays out, but people may end up working from a secondary market for a, you know, a company that’s based in a core market.  

{14:12} Joe Killinger  

Yeah, now you’re seeing that those markets are coming. You know the thing here in LA you hardly see I haven’t seen a Class A apartment building come up for a while, if you.  

{14:22} George Pino  

Not really, no. 

{14:23} Joe Killinger  

Yeah, so a lot of that money that was going after Class A is now going after class B&C assets, but that’s driving up the value of those class B&C and so you know ’cause they’re all going after those now.  

But now out in the secondary markets and tertiary markets, it comes down to what are you as an investor looking for? If you want to see it, feel it, drive to it within an hour it’s going to be a little bit more difficult.  

But if you’re willing to have a property management company, that’s going to be in place, depending on I want to ask that clash of purchasing of course, but secondary tertiary markets yes, they do have more population living out there because people did. There’s more population there now. 

But also there’s you know, the numbers are there with more population, they’re driving the numbers. Absolutely, an important part of the analysis when you’re looking at when we talked about location, location, location, we’re also looking at the demographics and the growth trends for the area.  

So even though the secondary market you know we’re paying close attention to demographics, what’s the 135-mile population? What’s expected growth? What was it 10 years ago? Also, income and income growth. 

If it’s a marketplace at secondary that’s also sliding down and has a downward trend on the demographics, it’s probably not an area that we’re going to look at necessarily unless it’s a prime prime rate. Can’t replace this location. There are tools when it comes to evaluating the properties, the locations, and the markets that we utilize to kind of mitigate the risk that’s associated with some of the secondary and tertiary markets.  

{15:58} Joe Killinger  

I was visiting my granddaughter in Nebraska a month ago and there’s a brand-new Chipotle going in. There’s a ton of fast food that has gone in there now. I think the population it’s over 60 some thousand now, but there’s a good number of fast foods there, but you know they’re looking at the traffic count. They’re looking at the income levels, they’re you know, it’s all there and support.  

{16:23} Andrew  

For an investor. That’s listening to this podcast and they’re saying, “I’d like to get some exposure to commercial real estate”. There are various ways to do it, right? There’s direct, they can own the property themselves. They can own invest in you know real estate fund. What are the advantages and disadvantages of those various ways and what do you recommend?  

{16:41} Joe Killinger  

But it depends on how hands-on they want to be. Now. I always suggest to every one of our investors you need to treat this like a business no matter what. Every month you need to be looking at your state and see what’s going on. But as far as if you’re going to get into a real estate investment trust or fund, you know those people have a lot of experience. Well, hopefully, you get the heat you want to make sure you get into one that has a lot of experience, and you want to look at their history.  

What have their returns been in the past? You really do your due diligence on them. Now, if you were going to go out and buy a property on your own, and if it’s triple net again you want to make sure that you do your due diligence. And make sure you know exactly what’s going on in the area is it is? Is it getting better or is it getting worse with traffic count like for the property you’re looking at? Depending on the asset class of course, but you can get into a real estate investment fund or. Trust for a few $1000 now to buy your own asset, you’re going to need several $100,000.  

{17:42} Andrew  

So, this is sort of a granular question, but for an investor, is thinking about buying their own asset. What should they know about taking about getting title to that property to make sure that they have a sort of clear title to what they own?  

{17:54} Joe Killinger  

So, you’re going to want to start before you even start looking. You want to make sure you’ve got? You know how you’re going to hold the title yourself. Now we’re doing some due diligence here before you want to make sure that as you’re getting ready to buy your product, make sure your loans are in place or you going to be able to qualify for it. How you’re going to hold the title.  

Do you want to be in a tax-Free State, or you know whatever the income-tax-free State you really want to have all that ahead of time and you really want to make sure you’re going to have reserves set aside? We can’t tell you how many times we get into an investment. Somebody doesn’t have a reserve set aside and probably OK if we get in a triple net investment. But some of these other assets you want to make sure you have money set aside.  

But as far as the title, I’ll let George go ahead. And speak to that.   

{18:37} George Pino  

Mean when it comes to the due diligence for the title on the acquisition side. I mean, there are multiple things to do prior to at the very base, you’re going to get an ALTA survey, which then we’ll compare to the preliminary title report to see where if there are any encroachments, or if there are any other issues related to the property itself? The title company will actually do the title insurance based upon that, so you’re going to want to have legal review the Touch survey as well as the title report to make sure everything matches all of that. In addition to that, you should also be speaking with your CPA on how you’re going to take the title. There are different methods, whether it’s, a joint, whether you’re going to do it under an LLC, whether it’s going to be a tenant in the common interest, these all have different tax advantages and disadvantages, so CPA is going to be able to advise you which one is going to be best for you for what you’re trying to accomplish.  

It also depends on age and who your partner is, ‘cause some of these, the way you hold title upon one of the partners passes away, the title can revert 100% to the other partner, depending on how it’s held. And then lastly you want to start thinking about how you are going to protect yourself from the last thing you want to do, especially if you’re doing wealth and asset preservation is to put everything in your own name. 

 You know there are different vehicles called SPE’s single-party entities such as an LLC that you can create, but one of the common problems are not problems, mistakes I see. With a lot of people as well as they’ll have an LLC, but they don’t want to pay $800 a year to the store where however much depending on the state for our new LLC so they throw all their properties into one LLC. The only problem is that you’ve just created the same problem that you were trying to avoid by creating an LLC. You know, if all the properties are held under one LLC, it doesn’t protect any single one thing to take a look at, you know, make sure you have multiple different LLC potentially for every property. 

Another way to do it as well as another step that a lot of our high-net-worth individuals do is actually like legal asset separations. By creating an anonymous Land Trust, which is the managing member of the LLC so that way they can’t even track you down as the owner of that property. In case you have other issues of whether it’s a lawsuit or something else happening with another property. So, there are definitely ways that you can do and take the title. To do that. But first and foremost, you know during the due diligence you want to make sure that you’re buying the right property and that you are getting the title.  

One other report I would probably recommend unless you’re extremely familiar with the area or know what’s going on is what’s called a PCR or property zone report. They’ll delve down and make sure that the property is actually zoned for. Well, the for the current use and allow you know what you know, what you can potentially do with the other zoning issues as well. You know those are what I would do in the due diligence phase of the acquisition. And then as you acquire then, we’re now looking at different ways to hold the title, and you know, typically speaking, you’re in LLC is probably the most common choice, not putting in your own personal name and then from there, you can actually even create additional layers and levels of protection. 

{21:54} Andrew  

And on the taxes front, how do you deal with state taxes with how is there an efficient way to deal with state taxes?  

{22:01} George Pino  

Part of that is understanding what you’re looking at. 

If you’re younger, some people may not worry so much about the estate taxes. But if you’re doing estate planning, you’re getting up in age, and you’re worried about that. You know what?  

Start taking a look at different states, potentially repositioning your assets, taking them out of states that have really high estate taxes. Illinois being like one of them and I kind of recouping that, but also what you want to do. 

I think this is a big mistake for a lot of people, is that they don’t plan. After I die, it gets inherited. I’m not worried so much about the state tax ’cause that’s going to be the kid’s problem, but I want them to have this asset. The only problem is if you haven’t built up a little bit of a reserve to help pay for those estate taxes, the kids may have to sell the asset just to pay the estate taxes.  

You know, these are things that you want to take into account and take a look at. What is this state tax for that particular state and how is it going to affect me on the federal side and then from there? How can I protect it? Whether you know even creating a trust where the trustee is, you know if the kids. For instance, or wherever the heirs are not real estate savvy. Maybe they went off on their own, decide to do whatever they want, but you as the person that has built this up over twenty, thirty, forty, years and passing it along to the kids or grandkids. Some of our high-net-worth individuals put this into a trust and have a trustee, like a bank or a different person, that’s going to actually go over what they can and can’t do. Even putting exclusions on selling the property and once they have to for tax purposes, so there are different ways to structure that, but you have to really think in the future for that. Understand what your goals are.  

{23:49} Andrew  

Right, ’cause I guess.  

{23:51} George Pino  

And what you’re planning on doing with the property? Do you know? So, for a 30-year-old their immediate goals are going to be a little different than a 70- or 80-year-old.  

{23:59} Andrew  

Yeah, and I guess the last thing you want is for your kids to have to sell a property in a fire sale, particularly if it’s a depressed market, right? It’s not going to be. These things aren’t frothy forever, right? So, what would a typical client for you to be? What stage in life are they? What are they looking for? The sort of assets? Are they considering buying?  

{24:22} Joe Killinger  

It’s kind of across the board. We have some institutional investors, but we have some high net worth. A good amount of high-net-worth individuals probably actually don’t know the age that has never thought about age, but probably in their 50s and 60s that have, you know they’ve worked hard all their lives and want to kind of start cutting back. On some of the risk and you know just focused on asset preservation or wealth preservation. That’s probably a majority of it.  

{24:49} Andrew  

When both of you look back, you’ve been in this game for 30 years or 30 plus years. If you could go back and give yourself some advice based on what you’ve learned. As investors and operators and advisors what? Would it be?  

{25:04} Joe Killinger  

It’s a very good question… buy more! I mean, I wish that I bought more real estate when I was younger. I was just always afraid to, and I had that fear. And you know, now there are so many different ways I was just afraid to do it because I didn’t feel like I knew enough. And now there are so many different ways to find this information. And people are more open to mentoring you. I just think for me it had been to acquire more assets.  

{25:30} George Pino  

You know, and along the same lines for myself, and I’ve said this outright. When I was doing real estate auctions, I saw tremendous deals that were being done and as a person right out of college. I wish someone had said you should buy some of those. You should be buying them and holding them and renting them out, and you know instead I when did your typical 21-year-old 22-year-old does, which is spend most of the money I made going on vacation.  

So, you know I was getting paid very well, but at the same time you know I was spending a lot of it, so I wish someone had kind of sat down and explained less of the transactional side and more of the long-term planning like here’s what you should be doing. Here’s how you’re going to get there. Here’s what you’re going to do to create wealth versus transactions. Come and go, and then you’re always chasing it. So, I wish someone had actually sat down, and either I came to the realization sooner or I wish someone had sat down and kind of mentored and said, you know what? This is what you should be doing. I would have had that I think I probably would have taken that under my belt and ran with it as well.  

{26:38} Andrew  

Yeah, we live and learn though right? I don’t the question wasn’t obviously meant to spark regret or dread.  

{26:43} George Pino  

No, no regrets and you asked what we wish we had known or did before, and that’s kind of what it was. But at the same time, no regrets at all. I’ve had, and I can probably say the same for Joe. We’ve been lucky to be involved in this field for so long straight through. You know the entire time I’ve seen a lot of agents and investors come and go take on secondary jobs to pay bills and whatnot. We’ve been lucky enough to have not had to do that, and we really enjoyed our careers.  

{27:13} Andrew  

OK, well lets I think on that note, we’ll wrap it up. It’s been great to chat with you, both George and Joe. How can people? So, if they’d like to. They’d like to learn more.  

{27:22} Joe Killinger  

Yeah, My Direct Line is 310-943-8542 again it’s Joe at 310-943-8542. JKillinger@CBI 

{27:39} George Pino  

Here is my Direct Line. If they wanted to ever reach out and call is 310-943-8536, my email address is [email protected]  

{28:02} Andrew  

OK, great well thanks so much, Joe and George. The pleasure of having you on and thank you to our Pitchford listeners. As always, we’ll be back soon with another episode. Thanks for joining us on this episode of The Pitch Podcast. Make sure you check us out online at the

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