Democratizing Commercial Real Estate Investing: the Impact of the JOBS Act and Crowdfunding on the Commercial Real Estate Market
By Bonnie l. Burgett and John R. McDonald
Thesis Advisor: Walter Torous, Senior Lecturer, Center for Real Estate
This thesis systematically evaluates how rapid developments in the nascent crowdfunding industry, combined with recent regulatory changes, will impact the commercial real estate markets. The phenomenon of crowdfunding, defined as raising numerous small amounts of capital from a large number of people, or the crowd, has been accelerated by the recent passage of the Jumpstart Our Businesses Start-up Act (JOBS Act). The JOBS Act legalizes and facilitates the sale of securities used to crowdfund equity and debt investments, giving rise to a proliferation of new crowdfund entrants in various business sectors, including the commercial real estate arena. This thesis first gives a detailed analysis of the JOBS Act legislation and how it alters the current regulatory and business landscape. The focus then turns to the commercial real estate markets, tracing the evolution of commercial real estate as an institutional asset class and the influence large, institutional investors such as pension funds and real estate investment trusts exert on this market. The authors also examine the impact on the average investor and conclude that these large institutional investors have bifurcated the market, leaving the average investor unable to gain exposure to “hard” commercial real estate assets. The authors then link the research to crowdfunding, first with a chapter on the emerging and dynamic crowdfund industry in general, and then on specific commercial real estate crowdfunding sites, also discussing sites related to this sector. The authors strengthen this primary research with field investigations, conducting interviews with real estate developers, investors, and securities lawyers specializing in regulatory law. They concurrently surveyed 138 well-vetted real estate professionals (the MIT Center for Real Estate alumni). The thesis then projects the size of the potential dollar value of the commercial real estate crowdfund market based on existing value and turnover in the commercial real estate markets. The final chapter imagines what this market will look like in 2015; concluding that crowdfunding will have a profound effect on the commercial real estate market.