5 Questions with RMR Residential’s New Head of Investments, Rob Lester

The capital markets veteran, who recently earned a promotion at RMR Residential, sits down for a Q&A about the RMR Residential team, his new role, and emerging trends.

At the beginning of 2023, Rob Lester was appointed Head of Investment Management, leading investments, asset management, capital markets and investor relations at RMR Residential. Prior to this role, he served as the Firm’s Senior Managing Director of Capital Markets & Investments, playing an instrumental role in RMR Residential’s growth, which he continues to build on today.

How would you describe the RMR Residential team?

RMR Residential is an incredible organization comprised of really talented people who honestly enjoy working together. There is deep market experience and intelligence both from an individual standpoint, but also from a collective, institutional perspective. With nearly 20 years of success across the Sun Belt, RMR Residential led the growth and collected vast amounts of sophisticated data which we utilize to understand the “whys?,” “wheres?,” and the best “how tos” in investing and executing in multifamily. I am truly honored to be part of leading such a collaborative, confident and inspired group of professionals.

As Head of Investment Management, what will you be doing? What excites you about your new role?

I am excited to be guiding RMR Residential’s corporate and investment strategy and to provide direction and support to our talented team as RMR Residential’s platform continues to expand horizontally, vertically, and geographically.

RMR Residential makes decisions collectively through a rigorous investment committee and business planning process, but at each stage and in each area, we need to provide guidance and foster an environment where our professionals are confident in their decisions and have resources to execute. We all work diligently to create exceptional apartment communities and extraordinary investment opportunities on behalf of our two main customers – residents and investors. The groundwork is laid, and I am thankful for all the hard work that has been done by our employees, as well as the collaboration and support from our investor partners. I am so excited for this opportunity because I believe my training and experience has prepared me for this exact role.

How has RMR Residential’s investment strategy evolved over the past 2-3 years since the start of the pandemic?

Our strategy from inception has been to seek out the most attractive risk-adjusted investment opportunities and then lean on our best-in-class execution capabilities to create and drive value. This approach has led us through our long and successful run as a leader in Sun Belt residential real estate. Where we have evolved is in applying our philosophy, local market experience, and execution strengths to expand our strategy into new areas, specifically ground-up development and our RMR Residential Credit equity support investing platform.

With RMR Residential Development, we have always kept a close eye on relative value of buying versus building. Existing residential properties need refreshment and refurbishment every ~ 7 years; however, that doesn’t satisfy the demand created by job growth and in-migration. In response to the housing shortage, we have assembled a fantastic development team that is working to produce new housing units for the long-term benefit of our investors and respective residents in those markets. The knowledge to determine where and when to build housing is very similar to the knowledge required for where to acquire an existing asset. In other words, our team already possesses the knowledge and operating experience, so it is a simple decision to marry RMR Residential’s owner/operator excellence with development expertise.

In addition to development, we have created an investment platform that provides equity support to high quality owners, operators, and sponsors that have viable assets in desirable locations, but may have a gap in their capital stack that separates them from the positive outcomes and returns they seek. Preferred equity is a crowded investment space, but RMR Residential is carving out a niche in the development area where our market experience and development expertise give us strong conviction about a project and its location. This empowers us to be aggressive in our strategy and to actually provide solutions. We are not investing to own these projects, but we underwrite them as if we would (and we are certainly capable). Both of these strategic evolutions are highly complementary to our RMR Residential’s core competencies and today’s volatility creates opportunity, so I believe it’s a great time to invest – especially in spaces where others are not.

In your opinion, what are RMR Residential’s greatest strengths?

Two things come to mind. Firstly it has to be our focus on serving all of our key stakeholders, whether it be residents, investors or “all of us” as partners in great organization. The second is our relentless focus on execution. To paraphrase a Steve Jobs’ quote “there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship between a great idea and great product” and that is the execution “magic”. We are a great company because we execute on behalf of our stakeholders and key partners.

Throughout my entire career, I have put others first and adhered to that relationship-centric philosophy and I see a lot of that within RMR Residential. Our leadership, employees, investors, and partners all collectively make up “the RMR Residential Advantage” and we couldn’t do it without each of them.

What real estate innovations are you keeping tabs on right now?

Real estate is primarily the business of bricks and mortar and not generally associated with transformation, rather longer view evolution and enhancements building upon innovations. However, there are some really exciting innovations happening today, many which are driven by ESG, including digital construction technologies which offer more efficiency in building materials, waste, and recycling. RMR Residential is in the service business, so the types of innovations I am into exploring are those which drive value for residents as well as our investors. RMR Residential, through our multifamily brand ARIUM, has been at the forefront of many innovations – such as using AI to lease apartments – and continues to eagerly adapt new innovations to enhance the resident experience.

I am also learning from our President David Perez who is working to harness machine learning to aggregate data and better predict outcomes. And thanks in large part to some great things I have seen from our friends over at Jamestown, I am even thinking a lot about the metaverse which is mostly confusing, but also fascinating. There are a lot of cool things to keep tabs on and RMR Residential, fueled by our entrepreneurial spirit, we will continue to be at the helm of innovation.

Click here to connect with Rob on LinkedIn.