As young New Yorkers, Mark and Ian Sanders grew up enthusiastic New York Yankee fans. Their favorite player was Thurman Munson, the team’s catcher and captain who was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1979. The Fifteen Group company name was inspired by Munson’s uniform number—15.
An early breakfast.
One early morning in 1992, Mark and Ian Sanders drove along a rough looking Ocean Drive in South Beach and settled on the only place that looked open – A Fish Called Avalon – for an early breakfast to discuss their professional futures. Mark had been working in real estate development and finance, and Ian had recently graduated from Northwestern University, where he completed several real estate-related internships. Over self-service coffee and pastries, the brothers formed the idea for a company whose business plan would initially be real estate-focused but would also include “anything that makes sense.”
With his wife’s blessing, Mark left his job. Ian put off law school. They secured a month-to-month lease on a 500 square foot windowless office in a Ft. Lauderdale warehouse. With borrowed furniture and a phone and computer purchased on a credit card, they opened for business and did just about anything to keep the lights on. They managed a portfolio of assets in the Caribbean, re-developed Soper’s Hole Marina in Tortola, BVI and sold off the Pink Sands Hotel on Harbour Island, Bahamas. They also conducted due diligence for clients who sought to buy real estate and related debt during the recession of the early 1990’s.
During these “early years” the brothers formulated a business plan that proved to be ahead of its time. Following a failed attempt to secure equity financing for a multifamily housing deal because of its working-class profile, the brothers realized that this setback was an opportunity. Because investors still valued properties based on social factors instead of on hard numbers, stable well-located properties were available for purchase at disproportionately high yields. In response, the brothers formed a focused business plan to buy working-class rental complexes in major U.S. markets that were characterized by job growth, population growth and immigration growth.
Long on ideas and short on resources, Mark and Ian required capital to execute this business plan on a large scale. Armed with an insightful business plan, impeccable market timing and a bit of luck, they ultimately succeeded in gaining the backing of a major investment bank.
From 1996 to 1998 Fifteen Group acquired approximately 20,000 apartment units, primarily in California, Florida and Texas. During this period, as the tenets of the business plan became validated many times over, values began to skyrocket, lenders became more active in the working-class space, and a new segment was born. Fifteen Group is proud to have pioneered the concept of bringing institutional capital to the non-subsidized working-class multifamily segment.
Over time, as working-class asset values caught up with the rest of the market, Fifteen Group looked for opportunities in other property types and classes, including higher-end apartments, mixed-use urban properties, significant re-developments, office buildings, and land. Fifteen Group constantly adapts to new opportunities in a fast-changing marketplace and borrows its corporate credo from inventor Thomas Alva Edison who stated,
“If we did all the things we were capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”