Atlanta’s No. 1 Broker Bought Homes for Big Investors From 600 Miles Away
Broker based in South Florida bought or leased 300 homes worth more than $80 million last year
Real-estate agent A.J. Steigman uses a proprietary software system to buy single-family homes for institutional-investor clients, which lease them for rent.
By Will Parker, WSJ
May 17, 2022 5:30 am ET
Atlanta’s top-performing residential real-estate agent lives in Florida. He didn’t set foot in Georgia for two years, and he sees no reason why he should.
A.J. Steigman runs his own real-estate brokerage firm from his house in Parkland, Fla. From 600 miles away, he bought or leased more than 300 homes at a total value of more than $86 million, according to the Atlanta Realtors Association. That was the most combined sales and leases in the Atlanta metro area for any broker last year, the group said.
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While his competitors in Atlanta shuttle between home showings and plant “For Sale” signs in front lawns, Mr. Steigman’s client base consists entirely of institutional investors, he said. He has no employees but relies on a $20,000 laptop and proprietary software system to buy single-family homes on behalf of his clients, which lease them out to capitalize on soaring rents.
“I come to an industry that is very archaic and stodgy, and I’m being very analytical and quantitative,” Mr. Steigman said.
Based on his average sales commission of 2.5% to 3%, Mr. Steigman would have made more than $2 million in 2021 from the deals.
His success is another sign that large investors are flexing their muscle in some of the country’s hottest housing markets, where they compete with traditional family buyers who don’t have the same financial clout and ability to close fast. Many people in Atlanta are increasingly concerned about investors removing the stock of homes available for regular people to buy.
Big investment firms have said that their rentals enable families to live in desirable neighborhoods with good schools, in homes that at today’s sales price are too high for many first-time buyers.
Home purchases by small and large investors accounted for more than 18% of home sales in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to real-estate firm Redfin. But their presence is even more pronounced in the Atlanta metro area, where Redfin said investors bought one in every three homes sold there during the same period.
Atlanta home prices have risen more than 49% over the last five years and 24% in the 12 months ended February 2022, housing data firm CoreLogic said. House rents are also rising fast, and rental companies are banking that high home prices and low inventory will keep much of the middle class renting instead of buying.
Some of the investors turn to Mr. Steigman, a 36-year-old former chess prodigy who founded a sneaker startup and worked in investment banking before turning to real estate. He is also helping investors buy homes in Pennsylvania and Florida and said he has sold a total of $130 million worth of homes across Georgia and those two states. He has brokers’ licenses to operate in all three states.
Mr. Steigman said he is popular with home sellers and their agents, who are often thrilled to sell to companies paying in cash. “There are people who value the immediacy and the security,” he said.
Mr. Steigman's chess trophies, in Parkland, Fla., in one of his home offices.
He and his investors declined to name any of his clients, citing confidentiality agreements. Public sales records show that one is LaSalle Investment Management, the Chicago real-estate company that manages a $77 billion portfolio. Mr. Steigman brokered LaSalle’s $220,000 purchase of a three-bedroom house in Stone Mountain, Ga., in December, according to public records.
Mr. Steigman declined to elaborate on his selling process, other than to say he relies on a system he built and calls “Steignet,” a reference to Skynet, the menacing artificial intelligence network depicted in the “Terminator” film series. His firm is called Steignet LLC.
He started building the system in 2017, as part of an accelerator program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He pitched the concept as a “Bloomberg Terminal for residential real estate” that could analyze large data sets and identify the best homes for investors.
Mr. Steigman said his goal is to identify eligible homes, underwrite deals and close transactions faster than other real-estate brokers. He compared it to a chess supercomputer that plays through thousands of matches, gaming out all possible scenarios to make the right moves.
Some of the investors in Mr. Steigman’s firm said they didn’t completely understand how the process works. “There’s always a gray box element to this,” said Rama Subramaniam, a partner at Wall Street trading firm Global Trading Systems LLC who independently invested in Steignet. “We look at the result.”
Other investors in his firm include Bruce Chizen, the former chief executive of Adobe Inc. and professional chess player Hikaru Nakamura, currently world No. 11.
Working remotely from Florida wasn’t Mr. Steigman’s original plan. He owns a home and keeps an office in Atlanta, where he attended college. But when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, he relocated to his home state of Florida for health reasons, he said.
When he traveled to Atlanta to receive the top agent award at the Atlanta Realtors Association annual gala, there were many there who knew nothing about him.
“People were like, ‘Who is that? What does he do?,’” said Karen Hatcher, the trade group’s president.