How One Industry Pro Built a Business from Scratch
In our third installment of “Profiles in Success,” a series where NAA talks to successful apartment professionals to learn how they got where they are, who inspired them and what their biggest challenge was, we visit a company president from Alabama.
Name: Frank Barefield
Company: Abbey Residential
What was your first apartment job?
I purchased a 7,000-square-foot historic home and divided it into seven apartment units. I personally performed a lot of the renovation work and all the leasing and maintenance.
Describe your job now
I own and manage a 10,000-unit, approximately $1 billion apartment portfolio. We employ 230 people across a wholly owned property management and construction company.
What was your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge was not having much money initially to start the company and not wanting to have multiple partners to share in and take most of the profits.
What is your ultimate goal in the apartment industry?
My goal is to keep building and repositioning properties while enjoying the success of each deal.
What has the apartment industry given you personally and professionally?
With the growth and profitability of the company, the industry has given me a great deal of satisfaction. I accomplished this with my coworkers—who I was fortunate to find. The industry has also allowed me to provide a platform where all my coworkers can enjoy coming to work every day, improve their job knowledge and skills and continuously grow to be more successful even if it means they leave our company for other positions that we are not capable of offering at that time. The industry has also given me the opportunity to get to know other business owners who have been very successful. These are people that I might not have otherwise met.
What’s your favorite or funniest apartment industry story?
Many years ago, I owned a 70-unit property in what was considered to be a rough area of town.
The community had very tall crawlspaces under the buildings. It was managed by an unseasoned manager. This was at a time before background checks were possible and I am sure she had taken every drug in the universe. She called one morning to inform me that some of the residents were growing marijuana by using grow lights in the crawlspaces of one of the buildings. My workout partner at the gym was the District Attorney. I immediately called him, explained the situation, and we met with the Birmingham Police Department to conduct a search and seizure. I accompanied all the officers to the scene and watched them enter the building with guns drawn.
At this time, my first thought was whether we should have tried to evacuate the apartments located above prior to the raid. I was very hopeful that there would be no guns fired and that everyone living in the building had paid the rent that month! LOL!
After a few moments, the officers came out of the building holstering their weapons and giving each other high fives.
The District Attorney waved me over to the building. I ran over as quickly as I could and asked him what happened. With all of the officers standing around us he immediately said, “Frank, this is a record!” Of course, I immediately said, “A record, Oh My God!” He then explained “Yep, it’s a record! It’s absolutely the largest fern bust in city of Birmingham history!” I then entered the crawlspace and saw grow lights and ferns everywhere! To this day, every time the District attorney, now retired, and I have lunch, he always reminds me that I still hold the record! Unfortunately, this story has become very popular with all my law enforcement friends.
What’s one thing you or your company does that sets it apart?
I have had one business partner for the past 35 years and we do not rely on outside partners.
What volunteer roles do you currently hold?
For the past five years, I have been Chairman of our eight County Crime Stoppers organizations. During that time, Crime Stoppers has increased its budget from $10,000 per year to approximately $300,000 per year and hired an executive director. Our tips have assisted law enforcement in making 1,025 felony arrests and clearing 2,235 felony cases.
How has your experience as a volunteer helped you during your career?
Being Chairman of our eight County Crime Stoppers organizations has allowed me to meet and become friends with many public officials and representatives of all the federal law enforcement agencies. These friendships have been very helpful in getting things done.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I enjoy collecting European antiques and collecting and driving exotic cars.
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to be a policeman and I wanted to make a lot of money.
What do you want to be doing five years from now?
No. 1, I hope that I’m alive (LOL). And, No. 2, I want to be doing exactly what I’m doing now.
If you could have talked to yourself 10/15/20 years ago, what would you have said?
You should only buy apartments. Every time we have tried another venture, the results have not been pretty.
What’s your favorite quote?
“Sure, thing -- and let me know when Elvis gets here” and “Trust, but verify.”
What’s the biggest difference you see in our industry today compared to when you started?
The legal aspects. Today, people sue at the drop of a hat and no matter what it is, the apartment owner is always alleged to be at fault. Another huge change is computer technology. It used to take us days to do a rent roll at the end of each month (and it never balanced!) and now one can be generated in 5 seconds. Record-keeping is so much more improved than years ago. Another huge difference is the education opportunities in the industry. Years ago, one could only learn from gaining experience (the slowest educator) and today there are so many courses and professional designations available. NAA is largely responsible for this! Lastly, years ago, people in our industry thought of nearby properties as our enemies because we were competing with them for residents. We finally have realized that today, when the government is trying to take away all the advantages of rental housing ownership, other property owners aren’t just our BEST FRIENDS, they are our ONLY FRIENDS! By partnering with other apartment owners, we work through NAA to provide a forum that protects all of us and the business we have chosen to make our career.