By Ashley Portero – Reporter, South Florida Business Journal August 26, 2020
Layla Capital had aspirational plans to relocate from New York City to South Florida, but founder and CEO Justin Cooper didn't know exactly when that would happen.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic happened.
Cooper said he and his family, who lived in Manhattan, moved to a house outside of the city after lockdown orders were implemented to reduce spread of the virus. That was in April – and now, Cooper said he can't imagine going back to an apartment.
That brought Cooper, and Layla Capital, to Palm Beach County. The firm opened its new office in Boca Raton in early August.
The company, a private commercial lender, specializes in funding $1 million to $10 million loans in East Coast markets. Named after Cooper's grandmother, Layla (and as a nod to the eponymous Eric Clapton song), Layla Capital is primarily focused on building its business in South Florida as part of its long-term growth strategy, Cooper said.
Private lenders like Layla Capital are an alternative for commercial real estate borrowers who may not be able to receive loans from traditional sources like banks. The number of alternative real estate lenders in South Florida exploded after the last recession, when banks lowered the number of loans they issued.
Here's what Cooper said about the firm's relocation and his thoughts on lending during the pandemic:
Why move to South Florida? The opportunity here is limitless and it's a business-friendly state. I think there is so much to tap into in this market. There are tons and tons of real estate finance transactions that go on here, and that presents amazing opportunities for the company.
Was the relocation driven by Covid-19? It's been something I had been toying with before, but the [pandemic] accelerated the decision. Once my family and I moved into a house outside of the city, we knew we weren't going to go back. It was between the New York suburbs and South Florida, and the latter won.
How is doing business in Florida easier than in New York? For starters, there's obviously clear advantages when it comes to taxes. In terms of closing real estate transactions, there are aspects to doing business here that make things easier. For example, in Florida, title companies can handle closings and loan documents for borrowers, so that makes transactions faster to close. That also saves on legal fees for borrowers, so overall there are less transaction costs.
Many financial companies have relocated to South Florida from the northeast in recent years. Why do you think that is? I love New York, and I think it will always be an amazing place, but I also think quality of life goes down when you're forced to stay in an apartment all day. I think quarantine has caused some people [and business owners] to rethink their location. I have a lot of friends who have moved to Florida in the past three months. Others are trying to figure out how to get here. Everything I'm reading says there's a huge flood of movement to the suburbs of New York City and Florida right now during the pandemic. For us, the move to Florida is permanent.
How has your lending focus shifted during the pandemic? We're seeing some asset classes have gone up, like single-family investment properties. But we're an opportunistic lender and evaluate deals on a case-by-case basis. We're not afraid to close on a retail transaction right now, as long as the location, borrower, strength of the tenant and other factors make sense. Generally speaking, since Covid-19, our deal flow has almost doubled, possibly because there are fewer lenders operating right now.