Since commercial real estate often requires a larger down payment than most individuals can come up with, investors usually pool their funds in order to raise sufficient cash to cover the down payment and other acquisition costs. Doing this incorrectly can lead to huge fines from the SEC, not to mention potential liability from lawsuits.
Anytime money is pooled with the expectation of making a profit, a security is created. After the Great Depression, the Securities Acts of 1933 and 1934 were enacted to protect the public against fraudulent securities. It was at this time that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was created to oversee the implementation of these laws.
The person who pools investor funds creates a syndication and is known as a syndicator or a promoter. This person must be very careful to follow all the SEC regulations because the fines for violations are very stiff. The laws are not difficult to understand and follow, but claiming a lack of knowledge about them will not be a suitable defense.
The syndicator must ensure that all the potential investors are given enough financial and other important information regarding the security being offered for sale so that they can make an informed decision about the suitability of this particular deal.
In 1946 the Supreme Court heard a case called SEC v WJ Howey. The Howey Company sold land in citrus groves in Florida and also offered to plant, harvest and sell the fruit for the new landowners, who were mostly out of state people looking for a passive investment. When things went bad, it ended up going through the courts, and resulted in what became known as the Howey Test. This test determines what qualifies as a security and has four main points, all of which must be true.
1. There must be an investment of money, and
2. There must be a common enterprise, and
3. There must be the expectation of profit, and
4. This will be managed soley through the efforts of the promoter.
If all four of these are true, a security has been created which falls under the SEC guidelines. The most critical part of the law for our purposes is called Regulation D, usually just called Reg D. Reg D describes a private offering made only to accredited or sophisticated investors. When this is done correctly, it allows full exemption from registering the security with the federal SEC. Since registration can cost upwards of $250,000, avoiding it is a worthy goal for most of us.