Meet Alex Cwiakala and Harrison Bonner, owners and co-founders of Wollaston REI. After meeting in college and becoming fast friends, they landed an internship together, which they eventually quit to go into business for themselves, rehabbing and building homes, multi-unit dwellings, and managing apartments.
Talk real estate, food, and drinks with Alex and Harrison at a free upcoming event at their showcase three-unit condo conversion project in Boston, MA. Local chefs will compete in a cook-off in the three luxury kitchens, preparing tapas-style dishes for all guests.
Wollaston REI x Fund That Flip
Real Estate Lunch & Learn
95 West Walnut Park • Boston, MA
Saturday, November 13 • 3 – 5 PM
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How long have you been investing in real estate, and how did you get started?
Alex: We’ve been in real estate investing for about five-and-a-half years. We were sold the idea by a friend, and we thought it sounded fun and exciting, and we literally just quit our jobs and jumped into the business. We kind of thought it would be a get-rich-quick scheme. It was not.
But we decided to stick it out and we learned to love the business. Fast-forward five years or so, and we’re trucking along.
In addition to flipping homes and multi-unit residences, do you do any new construction, tenant management, etc.?
Alex: Yes, we do all of those. At this point, almost all of our development projects are new construction, and we have about 130 units that are all apartments we’re managing.
How many projects are you currently working on? How many have you completed all-time?
Alex: I think we own 22 buildings right now.
Harrison: Is it that many? I thought it was 15, but I could be off.
Alex: Unless I’m forgetting one or two, let’s go with 18… I take it back, we’re officially at 21. And of the 21 buildings we’re managing — wait, I didn’t include Burt, which is 22. So right now, 22 buildings, five are new construction and 17 are apartments.
All-time we’ve done about $40 million worth of development, and that’s across 34 properties or so, including individual homes, but a lot of them are multi-family buildings.
What things do you consider when you’re taking on a new real estate investment?
Harrison: That kind of depends on what our model is at the time. In the beginning, we were focused on buying distressed single-, two-, or three-family homes to flip and sell.
Now we’ve transitioned into a long-term buy-and-hold landlording strategy. We’re still looking for distressed property so we can add value to the building, the neighborhood, and force some appreciation, but we’re targeting buildings with six to 30 units, depending on the location and amount of work required to stabilize it.
So instead of build-and-sell, we’re looking to stabilize-and-fully lease into a new well-performing, multi-family asset so we can capitalize on the increased value.
Why Wollaston REI? What made you name your company after this area of Massachusetts?
Harrison: We actually went through a rebrand a few years ago. Initially, our company name was just initials; we hadn’t put a lot of deep thought behind it. So with the rebrand, we wanted something that was more than just letters.
We had lived together for a few years in a three-family house in the Wollaston Beach area of Quincy, MA. It was actually Alex’s first investment. We thought “Wollaston” had a cool, elevated sound to it, and we had roots there.
How do you find new opportunities?
Harrison: We look all over Massachusetts, but we target specific areas for the types of opportunities and properties there, and how they align with our strategy. We initially targeted first-time home buyer markets across eastern Massachusetts, where the price points appealed to the highest number of buyers, and the level of construction needed to sell at that price matched our model at the time.
As we started to move into more rental properties, we ended up working in other areas of Massachusetts to find the opportunities we wanted.
How did you discover Fund That Flip?
Harrison: Actually, Alex found Fund That Flip. We’d been working with various lenders, and sometimes relationships last a while and sometimes they come and go. We were at a point where we were looking for new opportunities with new lenders.
Alex came in contact with Luke [Hanscom, Fund That Flip Territory Manager], and we met up for lunch. We knew Fund That Flip was a lender, so when our next project came around we contacted Luke and ran it by him and it just made sense to go with Fund That Flip.
Alex: We wanted to start working with Luke and Fund That Flip because Luke brought a culture we really appreciated, and our values aligned. I hung out with Luke on his boat before we ever did a deal together.
Harrison: It’s enjoyable to be able to work with people you like, outside of just a pure business setting.
What has been your experience working with us?
Harrison: It’s been great. We’re working with Luke and Fund That Flip on one project in Holyoke right now, and we’re planning on more.
We’ve never had a lender reach out who wants to work with us on an event or sponsor one of our events. It was just kind of for fun for us, and Luke was really forward about getting involved and helping to promote the event.
What do you love about this work?
Harrison: Being able to work for yourself. Although sometimes that can be the most stressful part of it. But the overall freedom that comes with working for yourself, if I don’t like something I can change it immediately, I can choose who I work with and what I work on. Alex and I can make those decisions immediately, without having to consult anyone else.
We’re both pretty competitive and we have an entrepreneurial mindset, which brings out our natural competitive nature when we’re working. It makes it fun and interesting, and it’s fun to be competitive when it’s your business. It’s the ultimate level of freedom.
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