Nov. 17, 2022

Defender of the Deal with Dorian Lam


Born and raised New Yorker. Started my career as a management consultant and ended up in title insurance. Through the years now own and operate a title company and since have become involved with real estate development opportunities. I believe in people first before the deal and always make sure that I am in performance shape for life and business.

https://www.cornerstonelandabstract.com

Next Steps

Transcript


 Josh Wilson
 Hey, good day, fellow deal makers. Welcome to the deal. Scout. On today's show, we're gonna have a conversation with a guy who is the defender of the deal. He loves comic books. He loves deals. He's run multiple companies, been a part of many real estate deals, and we want to have a chat with them. So, Dorian, welcome to show. 


 Dorian Lam
 Man hey, Josh. Happy to be here. Looking forward to this and honored to be a guest. 


 Josh Wilson
 Yes. Awesome. Why don't you tell us about who you are? 


 Dorian Lam
 Yeah. I'm born and raised here in New York, and I've practically been here all my life, and I'm admittedly a biased New Yorker. Without getting down that rabbit hole, I went to NYU business here, graduated, and came out as a management consultant. Without getting too far into the details, I ended up in real estate. I e one of the companies that I had worked for was acquired by a title company. Ever since that point in time, it's been almost 20 years, half of which was in the back office and the other half in the front office and running and owning my own title company. Through the years, I've had the opportunity to meet some really accomplished individuals, especially in the commercial real estate space here in New York. By being at the closing table with them, have had a chance to build friendships and found ways to participate in some of their deals or at the very least, learn from them and become their friends. 


 Josh Wilson
 Super cool. 


 Josh Wilson
 All right, so if I look at your website, give a shout out to your website because it's super cool. I love theme that you're taking to an industry like commercial real estate entitle. It's not very exciting. It's been around for a long time, but you're bringing a very unique twist to it. Why don't you give a shout out to your website, and what can people expect to find there? 


 Dorian Lam
 Yeah, thanks for pointing that out, Josh. And you're right. I did grow up really into comic books. Even to this day, Marvel movies are coming out practically every year. It's fitting because real estate is one of those industries that, for the most part, most don't look at it as fun. There is, obviously sex appeal to it, but in a different way. I'm really leaning into the brand of Defender of the deal, and not so much being a superhero, but embracing the fact that in all our ways, we are bringing something to the table. A big part of comics is based in New York City and major cities around the country. So it's look behind me, right? There are skyscrapers, and whether you're Spiderman jumping across it or Batman defending it at night, it's something to appreciate and make fun out of it. In that Defender of the Deal you pointed out and I forgot, I should mention it. 


 Dorian Lam
 It's either Dorianlam.com or Defenderoftheto.com, if you want to check it out. The notion and purpose around it is that let's have some fun. Let's talk real estate. Let's figure out how we can help each other and at the same time not have it be the overly buttoned up, overly kind of conservative type feel to it. Let's have some fun with them. What are you building? How can we help? Who in the network can we connect you to accomplish some of your goals? Super. 


 Josh Wilson
 Cool. 


 Josh Wilson
 As defender of the deal and as a superpower, what would your unique superpower be? 


 Dorian Lam
 Interesting question, huh? Considering that I have this whole brand behind me. The fender of the deal was honestly born out of one of the things you had mentioned was that I own and operate a title company here in New York. That's really where I cut my teeth in terms of understanding the things that can go wrong in a deal, especially from a title perspective and some due diligence. That what our purpose was at the end of the day, was to help our clients defend their deal. It wasn't so much to tell them why they can't close their deal. It was more about, these are the hurdles that we have in front of you, but these are the ways you can get around it. You spend more time if you're doing it right and being the right service provider, helping your clients defend their deals, whether it be through title itself. 


 Dorian Lam
 The attorneys that I have in house that can come up with solutions and we brainstorm around that or accessing my network. I have a deep network just from through the years in real estate, in technology and wellness, and you never know how you can impact somebody or somebody's project. So how or who would I be? My super skill, if I had to pick one, was being the connector. 


 Josh Wilson
 Right? 


 Dorian Lam
 Finding ways to connect to those in my network or those that my partners don't know or that my other clients or prospects or friends know, and bringing that specialty and bringing some level of credibility and experience to the table. So that's what it is. It's looking at the puzzle and figuring out what pieces are missing and seeing if you can help find that piece. 


 Josh Wilson
 Yeah. 


 Josh Wilson
 As you're building out, you mentioned before in our conversations in the past that you're a strategic networker. Like a lot of the jobs, you've worked investments and you've worked with some really amazing groups, but you were mostly behind the scenes, and you saw that there was a need to step into the light and be a strategic networker. What did that transition look like for you? Are you typically extroverted or introverted? How did you go from back office to now being on podcast shows, building a brand around yourself, kind of walk us through that journey. 


 Dorian Lam
 Yeah. I'm wired as a management consultant, right? What that means is the back office life and world when I was in it, especially from the project management standpoint, was how do we improve our processes? And that's just how I'm wired. It's always about progression. It's always about how can things be done better? We'll call it the tech world in that world there's for the most part, especially for enterprises, major or basic solutions that you can look at and put in place and ascertain whether or not it's fit the biggest difference. My opportunity in the front office came, and especially with strategic networking came about just from opportunity. My old previous boss said, I think that you would do well at this, given how you approach things and given how you can explain things very clearly, that you should give it a shot. Now it's completely different. 


 Dorian Lam
 Let's just say that right off the bat, it's so different in a way where you really have to weed out who is telling you what and whether or not it makes and directly correlates to you. 


 Josh Wilson
 Right? 


 Dorian Lam
 That may be kind of a wishy washy way of saying it, but the truth is that, and I'm sure you've been through it yourself, where there are some people that can make promises that are nowhere near what their capability and ability is. Of course you figure that out through time and through experience of one another. There is a quicker way of doing that, which is finding those. This is where strategic networking comes into play, where it's finding those that are active, finding those that are accomplishing and closing deals, right? Using them as the starting point in figuring out who you can talk to based off of what your current problem is or where you're trying to help contribute on solving a problem. So it's much different. As the years go by and you start figuring out those that are genuine, that are authentic and that you can trust, it becomes easier. 


 Dorian Lam
 It's just like how it is with compounding interest, which is what is often spoken about. You start with one, then you have two, you have four, you have 816, so on and so forth. At some point now it's much easier to build that network. But you have to be strategic upfront. The other word of advice I would give about that is know who you're speaking to, right? It's one thing to go out there and go to an event and shake 50 hands and then try to follow up with them on LinkedIn or send emails. If it's someone, you have to understand what they do and how they fit into the bigger puzzle of things. If you're trying to, in my example, figure out who needs title insurance, you have to figure out how far away they are from actually making the decision on title insurance or do they know someone or they connect in some way. 


 Dorian Lam
 You have to know how far or close they are to the target in order to use your time most efficiently. I could speak on this for hours and hours on end because I actually do love networking. Ultimately what it comes down to is not so much the ability to network. To me, the proof in the pudding is the ability to connect. Right. You can know everyone, but if you don't have the ability to connect or think in a way where someone could potentially help solve a problem, then you just have a network. 


 Josh Wilson
 Yeah. 


 Josh Wilson
 You mentioned as a strategic networker, one of the things you said is weeding out those who do not fit. Now, I've met a lot of air quote networkers who they'll go to a networking event and they'll hand out a business card to every single person, and they're just trying to go for a mass amount of numbers versus you're saying, take a look at a room, who do I want to talk to? And we'll be strategic about that. We'll weed out those who don't fit, and we'll focus on those who do fit. Like, is that something that you've learned maybe the hard way, or did you waste a lot of time? Talk to us about your learning path there. 


 Dorian Lam
 Yeah, I mean, trials and tribulations definitely the hard way. All right, so the analogy I always give here is my first attempt at business development or my first action in business development was naturally going to a conference or going to an event, a room precovid that was filled with anyone that's in your industry. Yeah, I made the mistake of asking people for business or asking people for help in areas that they couldn't because they had nothing to do with it. It really is about taking a step back, understanding what it is that you're in, and understanding getting it right, getting what you're in and getting what your objective is, and then making sure that you have to have an approach. These networking events, the example you gave where there's an individual just handing out his objective is to hand out literally all his business cards. 


 Dorian Lam
 That's prey and prey. 


 Josh Wilson
 Right. 


 Dorian Lam
 That's a term that we use often. You have to be a little more targeted with that. You have to have some level of screening that is in your question, asking during your, let's call it 1 minute interaction with somebody. I've made the mistake of having conversations that were way too long, that was way too deep, especially for a networking event. At the same time, I've made the mistake of just handing out a business card and expecting that was enough for that person to remember me. You have to find that sweet spot where you're using that minute to impress on someone or leave some an item for them to remember you buy. 


 Josh Wilson
 Right. 


 Dorian Lam
 That when you do the follow up, where to pick up and how to continue to develop that relationship. So it takes time. Going back to the mistake I made yeah. I made the mistakes of trying to speak to who everyone wanted to speak to. How many times do we go to an event and practically, once the panel ends, literally everybody goes up to somebody that was on the panel and there's a line behind them that's not as effective either. 


 Josh Wilson
 Right. 


 Dorian Lam
 Because you may end up only speaking to one person if you even get to them. There's a lot that you iterate on this, but you have to get to a point where you're leaving in a price and not taking too much time. 


 Josh Wilson
 Yeah. 


 Josh Wilson
 You joined different groups and networking groups and you've went to these events and you found the best ways to do things and not do things. How do you feel that now that you own a title company? How do you feel like what you've learned as a strategic networker has helped you maybe above other title companies? Right. As we mentioned before, title companies, there's a lot of them. It's been around for hundreds of years. Right. So the industry is not new. How did you find out strategic networking with title company has benefited you? 


 Dorian Lam
 Yeah. Title insurance is a well known commodity. What I mean by that is, especially here in New York, it's the same price no matter who you go to. So it makes the objective very difficult. There are ways of looking at it, too, where it does make it a little easier. 


 Josh Wilson
 Right. 


 Dorian Lam
 I never have to fight over price that's already set. How you differentiate in that is that you have to solve problems. It's not about going out there and having commissioned breaths and asking somebody, are you in a deal? When is your next deal? Who's your title provider? No matter what service you provide, if you go up to anyone and you're really aggressive about just that short term transaction or the short term determination on whether or not that person at that point in time can help you. 


 Josh Wilson
 Right. 


 Dorian Lam
 You don't want to seem like that person too. Famously, those who just look at your name tag and walk away. Right. There's a level of being friendly as well and being somewhat approachable in the development world. To answer your question, it's how you're going about presenting yourself. I go to everyone and say, at first I want to understand what they do and why they do it, and then I want to understand why their reason of doing the way they do it is different than anyone else. I always ask, what are their biggest challenges? If there was one thing they could change about anything, what would it be right. You work from there if you take the approach of helping Go solve their problem. Look, it's pretty obvious what I do. When I give you my card, you're going to look at it and you say, oh, title insurance company, that's great. 


 Dorian Lam
 Right. If I spend my time actually speaking to you about your pain points, about the things that are offering you the more friction than you want, and then now calling you the next day and saying you mentioned that you're having a hard time with X, but have you spoken to Bob at this company? Or have you heard of this approach? I read about it in passing the other day and I thought of you that it leaves a much longer lasting impression. When you're in a commodity business, that's the easy way to differentiate yourself. 


 Josh Wilson
 Yeah. 


 Josh Wilson
 So it's super interesting. Right. You mentioned like kind of fixed costs or the commodity. That a state by state thing or is that just something that happens in your area or are all title companies doing commercial real estate pretty much the same price across the nation? 


 Dorian Lam
 Yes, it's a state by state thing. 


 Josh Wilson
 Right. 


 Dorian Lam
 Here in New York and the city I love, the rates apply the same to everyone. You take pretty much the transaction size or the finance amount, you plug it into a calculator, which is the sliding scale, and now comes a premium number. It varies between the states. There are a lot that function in that way and there are others that do not. Right. For the most part, it's different in every state. Also in terms of who pays for, new York is a state where the buyer pays for. Generally the buyer has a strong say in who they're using as their provider. In other states, it's split. In some states, the seller pays, so on and so forth. So it is state by state. 


 Josh Wilson
 Okay. 


 Josh Wilson
 In a commodity driven industry, fixed prices, and you got a bunch of different title companies in New York, you really have to focus on relationships because they can choose whoever they want. You're saying the buyer pays for it. Who gets to decide which title companies use? Does a buyer typically bring one to the table with them or is it something that the seller does? Is it a recommendation from the attorney? How does that typically work for you guys? 


 Dorian Lam
 Yeah, the term that comes to my mind is sticky vendor. Title insurance does not have that at all. Right. In the tech world, the term sticky vendor means that you have many different reasons to make it difficult for whoever is using to, in this case, the client, to disengage from you. Title insurance unfortunately, has very little sticky to it, which is that you can be replaced rather easily and even in between transactions. Right. So what was the question again, Joshua? Was about how that functions or how we get around that challenge. Yeah. 


 Josh Wilson
 How do you get around that challenge and who brings you to the table most of the time? 


 Dorian Lam
 So, again, here in New York and this is probably about a lot of the states as well, too in the commercial world, which we both live in, it's generally the sponsor. It's generally in this case, the buyer or the developer. In the case of a financing, it's the borrower who generally controls it. If the sponsor title insurance has done a very good job of putting itself in front of and you mentioned there's a lot of title companies there are. They've done a good job as far as putting themselves in front of people and in some cases being overly aggressive about how they can help provide title insurance for anyone's particular real estate transaction. It generally is the person who is buying. If it is not, then it falls to the attorney who is responsible for closing a deal. Right. Especially here in New York and even in Florida, if I have very little knowledge of a title provider that your attorney definitely will because they are charged with closing a deal. 


 Dorian Lam
 In order to close a deal, you need title insurance. Right. Especially if there's a lender involved. So that's generally how it goes. There's obviously centers of influence and ecosystem and so on and so forth, where either a broker or someone or investor, let's say you have an LP investor in your group for one of your deals, they may have a relationship and they may encourage you to use them. Ultimately the decision, though, falls down to in my example, if you were to GP or the sponsor falls down to you, and if not, your legal team. 


 Josh Wilson
 Awesome. Give us an idea of since when you got started to now. How big has your firm grown? Give us some ideas on how far you guys have come. 


 Dorian Lam
 Yeah, so our team here in New York is 25 employees. We have two offices, one in Manhattan, one in Long Island. And how the team has grown. It's not so much the growth in terms of the number of people that we have, it's the growth in the types of deals that we've begun to do over the past nearly half decade now. We're really involved with some pretty complex commercial deals that require us to be involved early on. It is not just about getting into contract and giving the contract to your attorney and then your attorney reaches out to a title company. It's about being there for our clients when they're doing due diligence, when they're figuring out what they can or cannot build, in discussions with their architects and zoning attorneys, giving them advice so that there isn't an unforeseen hiccup that shows up at the end of as you head towards the closing. 


 Dorian Lam
 That could do the program or that could make you really rethink about your underwriting. So it's being really involved earlier on. What I mean by that is that the staff is really accustomed to doing that. 


 Josh Wilson
 Right. 


 Dorian Lam
 We have five attorneys in house, and we understand the strength of that because, look, at the end of the day, attorneys want to speak to attorneys. Right. I take no offense to that. I am not. What I mean by that is too, that they can help figure out what solutions are in play, and then I'm there to figure out what risk we're taking or what risk the developer is taking and whether or not that's something that can be mitigated or accepted or both. 


 Josh Wilson
 In your years of doing this, what's the largest deal that you guys have seen come through your office? 


 Dorian Lam
 Yeah, the largest deal we've done was right under 150,000,000. It's about $146,000,000. It's something that we're proud of, and it's something that still resonates here naturally. 


 Josh Wilson
 What did that project look like? I have no clue. Right. I live in Florida. Was it a big building? Was it a huge development? What did that look like? I know you can't give away too much information. 


 Dorian Lam
 Yeah, I mean, look, the major food groups here, it's every asset class. But in general, right. The majority of developers are concentrated within multifamily and condo. This particular project was a condo pre 2019 when the markets were really high, land prices were really high, and construction lending was a lot more plentiful. 


 Josh Wilson
 Yeah. Super cool. 


 Josh Wilson
 As you're building this out, like, what's your favorite part of the job? Your strategic networker, you're now going on podcast shows you're building a brand. If you look at all of your day to day tasks and duties, like, what's your favorite? 


 Dorian Lam
 It's not cheesy to say, but it's true. It's about the human interaction, and it is about the networking and meeting people out there that are, like I said, that are like minded, that are authentic and genuine. Look, one of my partners has broken off and become a developer. That natural progression was allowable because of who we surrounded ourselves with. Yes, do I have aspiration to develop? Maybe not. There's a lot of risk with that. Do I have aspiration in owning real estate? I definitely do. 


 Josh Wilson
 Right. 


 Dorian Lam
 What better a crowd to be around, to have a valid reason to be around them as well, and to get to really know at a deep level some of these individuals and some of these really well accomplished developers and owners. What better way to learn than through them? I really do enjoy that part of it. I mentioned I'm a trained management consultant. There's always some problem or there's always some tasks that I'm looking to improve on, the problem that I'm looking to address or task that I'm looking to improve on. And I really do enjoy that. The best way to do it is by using the resources that you're around, you can't do everything on your own, right? Leaning on those resources and building things and progressing upon any kind of level of process or operation is something I take pride in and something that really does fulfill me. 


 Dorian Lam
 So that's my favorite thing. Right. Then, as you can see, having fun with it, right. Why not have some more fun while we're at it? 


 Josh Wilson
 Sounds good. 


 Josh Wilson
 What's the future look like for you guys? 


 Dorian Lam
 For us here at Cornerstone, we do have some plans to really firmly establish ourselves and do a better job of educating the marketplace as far as why we are needed and why it's important for them to know what we do. There's a lot think about something you had said earlier, which is that title insurance has been around for more than 100 years and if you own, have purchased or have refinanced your property in any way, shape or form, you have bought title insurance, you just may not know it. In our surveys, not many people even know, even when they know that they have title insurance, who they got it from. That's 100 plus years of time and no one knows what it is. We need to do a better job of educating the marketplace and educating those about it because it is important and it can impact your homeownership journey or in the case of commercial players, your development. 


 Josh Wilson
 Yeah. 


 Josh Wilson
 Your firm, do you guys specifically just focus on commercial or do commercial and residential? What does that look like? 


 Dorian Lam
 We do it all. Were born out of the drama, music, ensues, were born out of the ashes of 2008, the financial crisis. That happened, a lot of what we did was residential. In year I would say eight or nine of that journey, which was now almost eight or nine years ago, we started doing a lot more commercial work. But it's an equal balance. It's a nice balance that we can handle any type of transaction. If you or anyone is buying their own real estate, we can handle it. Or if you or anyone is doing a large complex real estate development, we can handle that as well. If you or anyone is purchasing an office building, we can do that. If the word title insurance or closing is in place, we can handle it. 


 Josh Wilson
 For that, where can people go to connect with you and do a deal? 


 Dorian Lam
 Thanks again, Josh. But where can they connect with me? I have my company, which is Cornerstoneland Abstract. Cornerstoneland Abstract.com is an easy way to find me. I also have what you see right here behind me, dorianlam.com or Defender of thethe.com where you can find me. If you want to connect with me, if you want to speak with me or if you want to meet anyone in my network, reach out and hit me up. Or, of course, LinkedIn. 


 Josh Wilson
 Sounds good. 


 Josh Wilson
 So, Dorian, there's probably a question I should have asked you about you or about title work, or about where you guys are. What questions should I have asked you that I screwed up and did not ask you? 


 Dorian Lam
 What questions should you have asked about us that you didn't ask? The two questions I get asked the most are how much does it cost? Which we address with it being commodity. The other is, do I really need it? Or another way of saying, is it legally required? The answer to that is, no, it is not. You can potentially buy a piece of real estate without purchasing title insurance, but of attorneys I know won't allow you to do that. The reason why is because in the bigger picture of things, it is such a nominal price, and it's a one time fee. Right. That's another differentiating factor about title insurance. You buy it one time when you buy your house or when you buy your or when you buy the land to develop. In the case of a homeowner, it lasts as long as you own the house or until you refinance the property, at which time a lender or a bank, and this is where it is not legally required, but required as part of their risk mitigation. 


 Dorian Lam
 100% of lenders will make you get title insurance. I guess if I had to say, if there was one question you should ask is, do I really need it? 


 Josh Wilson
 Do you really need it? From what you're saying, if you're trying to borrow money or you're working with an attorney, they're going to highly encourage the auto insurance? 


 Dorian Lam
 Yeah, not exactly, but kind of the analogy that sits well with people on this is you're sitting in your car, the seatbelt is literally right here. Just put the seat out on. It doesn't take that much effort, it doesn't take that much time, and it could save your life. 


 Josh Wilson
 Sounds cool. 


 Josh Wilson
 All right, so the defender of the deal, the superhero in New York that's helping keep deals together, put deals together. Mr. Dorian, I appreciate you coming on the show, fellow deal makers, especially if you're in New York and you need some help with title insurance, or if you want to connect with someone who loves deals and loves people, all his contact information will be in the show notes below. If you in the audience have a deal that you'd like to come on the show and talk about or talk about your business and how you help deal makers, head over to the dealscop.com, fill out a quick form, and we'll get you on the show next. Hope you guys are having a great day. We'll talk to you all in the next episode. Bye, everybody. 

Dorian Lam Profile Photo

Dorian Lam

Principal / EVP