Inside Track, Banking & Finance, and Real Estate

Inside Track: 'Finance geek' finds his niche

Co-founder of Blue Pointe Equities leverages prior investment and real estate brokerage experience to build portfolio of real estate investments.

April 5, 2019
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Andrew Visser
Andrew Visser originally went to Grand Valley State University to study pre-med. Courtesy Rachael Fountain

Andrew Visser is, in his own words, a “finance geek.” The co-founder of Blue Pointe Equities is leveraging his experience in investment and real estate brokerage to build a diverse portfolio of real estate investments.

Although Visser always was drawn to the investment world, he went to Grand Valley State University to study pre-med before quickly realizing having to go to class every day wasn’t worth it.

Visser did, however, end up graduating from GVSU with a degree in finance after he discovered he was more drawn toward it.

“I took a couple of classes that were more investment grade in terms of actually diving into the market, like stocks, bonds — this was in the ’90s when dot-com was huge, and I had a real propensity toward that,” Visser said.

In the mid-’90s, Visser ran into a trader from Stifel Nicolaus, a multinational investment company, in his apartment building who ended up giving him his first internship. Visser was promised the exact type of hands-on training he was gunning for.

 

ANDREW VISSER
Organization:
Blue Pointe Equities
Position: Managing partner
Age: 44
Birthplace: Grand Rapids
Residence: Grand Rapids
Family: Wife, Rebecca; daughters, Isabelle (9), Allie (5), Grace (3 weeks)
Business/Community Involvement: Commercial Alliance of Realtors, Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Mental Health Foundation, ALS Association
Biggest Career Break: “Ironically, it might boil down to experiencing three of the more difficult market downturns within the industries I’ve worked. The initial stock market correction in the early 2000s; a few years later hitting a 45-year low in Fed funds rate; then the subsequent real estate crisis. But having been surrounded by many supportive business and personal relationships who believed in me without a doubt has been paramount. So to those relationships, and to my clients, I’ve joked, ‘If I ever decide to change industries again, I’ll let you know ahead of time so you can short it.’”

 

He said he learned a lot about trade through that internship, but the laid-back nature of the work left him wanting more.

“He was doing day trading. By noon, he’d make, like, $5,000 and he’d be golfing at 12:30,” Visser said. “I’m still going to school, I’m still working, and I’m like, ‘There’s got to be more to it than that.’”

Early in his career, Visser went to work in retail brokerage for Dean Witter Reynolds for about three years, before it merged with Morgan Stanley.

As a young investor, Visser said he didn’t care much for the work he was doing, but interestingly, his work took him to New York’s World Trade Center for additional training in 2001. He left in February before the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

The first pivotal point in Visser’s career came about in March 2002 when the stock market corrected from an eight-year “bull run” coming up from the dot-com boom of the early ’90s.

“The internet as we know it just created this huge environment for jobs and everything else. It was one of those few things that went boom and changed our lives,” Visser said.

Through the market correction, Visser got a call from his mentor about joining a spinout venture in East Lansing. Two years later, the federal funds rate hit a 45-year low. Visser ended up forming his own bond-trading group in Grand Rapids.

Later, the regulatory aspect of Visser’s work would wear on him. Chip Bowling, who founded X Ventures West Michigan, approached him about doing real estate brokerage for Grubb and Ellis before it became Colliers International West Michigan.

“I liked the business I was doing, bond trading, but it was becoming more regulatory, more restrictive. I spent more time doing paperwork than I did selling, which was frustrating,” Visser said.

Visser moved to real estate brokerage with no prior experience in the industry, but his previous work in bond trading proved to be a good fit for commercial real estate, he said. His proclivity for number crunching translated well into decision-making on the executive level.

“Residential real estate to me is like an emotional decision,” Visser said. “You got families making a big decision, just like retail brokerage when I was at Morgan Stanley … I’m more matter of fact, and I look at things through the metrics.

“You’re dealing with decision-makers, CFOs, owners, people that look at it as, you solve problems, you put the pieces together and you arrive at a decision based on what makes sense for the metrics.”

Even though he transitioned well into a new line of work, a couple of years down the road would reveal another major economic shift.

“That was in the fall of ’06 … right near the peak,” he said. “Timing’s not necessarily been my best attribute.”

Although Visser moved into real estate brokerage just two years prior to the 2008 housing crash, he never left the idea of having investments, nor did he lose his sense of humor over his poor luck.

“There’s a trend here: 2002, market correction; 2005, 45-year low in the Fed funds rate; 2008 (recession), and I’m in all three of those industries,” Visser said. “So, one of my jokes is if I get into another industry from here, I’m going to let you know well in advance so you can short it.”

While still with Grubb and Ellis, Visser bought, sold and leased office space in downtown Grand Rapids, but in the back of his mind, he knew he wanted to continue with investment.

Visser left Grubb and Ellis in 2011. From 2011 to 2015, he was vice president of NorthStar Commercial, where he specialized in office, retail and investment properties, as well as property management.

Visser founded Blue Pointe Equities in 2017 with Matthew Abraham, who was an industrial real estate adviser for Grubb and Ellis and later became a partner when it became Colliers.

About a year into managing Blue Pointe, however, Abraham decided to sell his share in the company when his wife was about to have their third child.

“We’re still working on deals together. We’ve got a phenomenal relationship, good friendship,” Visser said.

Shortly after Abraham sold his share in Blue Point Equities, Third Coast Development came into the picture and bought his share in ownership with the firm.

“They (Third Coast) were looking for an idea for a fund, and this was already built, so that was a good fit,” Visser said. “I was the finance geek, and they are the developers.”

Third Coast came on board around the same time Blue Pointe was closing on the American Seating Park development.

Visser said Blue Pointe Equities functions in some respects as a miniature real estate investment trust because of its business model of making regular income distributions. The firm doesn’t have enough investors to qualify as a REIT yet. He added, while it’s not a new concept, it is new to Grand Rapids.

“We created it for the idea of being able to buy locally, so if you’re part of our REIT, if you will, you can see it, touch it, feel it,” Visser said. “That’s really starting to be attractive to that because people know real estate.”

Blue Pointe’s model is passive income, meaning buyers can have the return on their real estate investment without managing it.

Visser said he believes the success of the model can be attributed to his experiences in investment, securities and real estate transactions coming together.

Thomas Beckering, former owner of Pioneer Construction, headed the American Seating development, and Chris Beckering, the company’s executive vice president, helped Visser put the acquisition together.

“I am surrounded by some really smart, really cool, down-to-earth people,” Visser said. “They all love West Michigan, we all do … we all have things to bring to the table.”

For Visser and Third Coast, American Seating is a, “stabilized product,” meaning it’s a low-risk investment. The building, a mix of office and residential, is currently 100 percent leased.

“That’s why our investors are loving it,” Visser said. “It’s safe. It’s not a home run, but a lot of people would rather keep their money than take the chance.”

Some investors, on the other hand, would rather be riskier with their money for the chance of a higher return, Visser said. He said as Blue Pointe grows, it may make more opportunistic investments in its portfolio.

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