Equity Sharing for Real Estate Investors: Methods for Acquiring & Protecting Your Shared Asset

Equity sharing is an increasingly popular way for investors to reap the rewards of investing even if they’re strapped for time or cash. Such arrangements can allow cash-poor or newer investors with time for pavement-pounding/vetting/reading to team up with time-strapped investors who like funding smart deals.

Equity sharing may benefit any investor. Those trying to break into REI, take heart that finding excellent deals is an incredibly valuable skill. A deal-finder will always find deal-funders.

To learn more about equity sharing arrangements, reasons real estate investors consider them, how common arrangements work, and protecting your assets when sharing equity, read on. If you want to learn a lot about equity sharing very quickly, you’re in exactly the right spot. 

What is Equity Sharing for Real Estate Investors?

Equity sharing may refer to any situation where one investor pairs with others to afford, finance, and purchase an asset. The investors split all profits or losses at the ratio the agree to (which need not be “fair” or even provided all agree).

Everyone involved in sharing equity has interest in the property. Family members sometimes use equity sharing to help transition mortgaged homes to the next generation, but our discussion is confined to REI today. In these cases, the interest is a business one. Equity sharing may be used to:

  • Divide costs of property and improvements
  • Divide all profits/losses
  • Get people in on the same deal with minimal hassle
  • Allow one investor to live in the home (with a goal of paying off the mortgage)
  • Develop short or long-term plans for the asset

Equity sharing looks as different as the investors involved, but we’ll show you examples of your best options for asset protection of equity-shared properties. First, let’s look closely at why REIs get into equity sharing

Reasons Real Estate Investors Consider Equity Sharing Arrangements

We alluded above to one huge reason these arrangements work between investors: different investors bring different skills/abilities, pool them, then agree to share any profits or losses from the asset they have in common. While an investing newbie and more experienced partner are a common combo, the powers of any investors can be “pooled” in a complementary way. Some people mistakenly believe this is the job of a legal partnership, but with equity sharing, you don’t have to just have one “partner.” 

You’re also not confined to a single method. There are many ways to legally protect yourself while sharing the equity of a property with one or more people. We’ll get into some specifics, but for now, just understand that equity sharing does not preclude you from using land trusts, LLCs, or any other asset protection tools. While your arrangement may impact how to most effectively use asset protection or legal tools to protect the equity-shared asset, it doesn’t affect the options in your legal toolbox. 

What Options Exist for REIs Interested in Sharing Equity?

We promised there’s more than one way to share equity, and here’s where we deliver. These are our top three choices for protecting assets in equity-sharing arrangements. 

Option 1: Go the Joint Venture Route 

Using a Joint Venture for a new partnership isn’t just a smart move. JVs are also a great way to test-drive your new business relationship. See how you and your partner(s) handle challenges of the first asset in your equity-sharing arrangement while protecting yourself with a Joint Venture Agreement. 

You can choose to form a venture-specific LLC to further protect yourself, your asset, and your partners. Joint Venture-Specific LLCs can last for as long as you like, or for only the period the asset is under your control. You decide terms in the beginning, when you form the LLC’s Operating Agreement.

Option 2: Use Limited Liability Companies 

Owning a company with someone low-commitment. It’s not marriage: you get directions, a simple way to undo the arrangement, what’s allowed, what’s not, and literal rulebooks in the form of your Articles of Incorporation and Operating Agreement. You and your partner(s) may benefit tremendously from using an LLC to protect your equity-shared asset. 

A properly established LLC prevents either you or any individual from being directly associated with the asset. You may choose to use other tools to preserve anonymity on top of your LLC. If you already own an LLC that has never done business (AKA a “shelf” corporation) you might use that.

Note From Royal Legal Solutions’ Staff Legalese Translator:

Shelf companies are not the same thing as shell companies. That little “f” makes a huge difference. Shell companies control the operations side of businesses, normally preserving your anonymity. They’re never supposed to hold assets.

Shelf companies also don’t own or do much initially. Most REIs creating a shelf company form an LLC well in advance of needing it and don’t use it much or at all. After formation, the company stays “on the shelf” until a later date. Reasons investors form shelf companies include for their own eventual needs or to sell. Banks, lenders, and even partners are skeptical of “new” LLCs. But an LLC that has been “shelved” for years can be activated by simply performing a transaction. 

You can see why investors mix up these concepts. That Traditional LLCs are great entities for both shell and shelf companies doesn’t clear up any confusion.

Keep definitions straight by remembering what these entities do: a shell company hides your operations and identity from the world, just like a turtle’s shell. A shelf company, however, is one you make and stick “on the shelf” until someone needs it. Congratulations! You never have to get these ideas confused again. Back to your regularly scheduled investing content...

Option 3: Create a Private Arrangement Your Attorneys Can Agree On

Let’s say hate Options 1 and 2. That leaves literally every other legal structure and agreement, which trust us, includes many permutations of options. The quickest way for most investors to figure out their real preference is to get a trusted attorney’s opinion. If you and any partners do so, your interests may align. Your attorneys might independently give you the same thoughts, or some options and their benefits for your situation.

If you and your partners don’t wish to throw money at multiple separate lawyers (because honestly, who does?), you can always approach an impartial real estate lawyer together, tell them what you’d like to do, and ask their thoughts on the situation. Take notes! This doesn’t have to be the same lawyer who helps craft your solution. They’re just a qualified attorney you and your partners agree to trust to develop possibilities for your equity-shared asset protection strategy

After all, none of you want your property to get taken away by a lawsuit. Proactively defending your equity-shared asset can eliminate this terrifying, but all-too-common, possibility.

How Do Deeds and Titles Work For Equity-Shared Property?

A common question is who holds title to equity-shared properties. In the case of REIs conscious of asset protection, the question is what holds title (hint: sometimes it’s an anonymity-preserving entity/trust). Protected investors don’t like leaving their names on anything, especially titles and deeds. Deeds cause equal confusion, as the deed of an equity-shared property requires each owner to clarify their relationship to every other owner

But let’s suppose, just for example, that 14 investors enter into an equity sharing agreement. Which name would the title be under?

The real answer: it depends. On a few factors.

We’ve seen some beyond-sticky real deeds where, say, 12+ people want to share equity on a property and some are married couples. If each individual records their name, remember they will need to identify their spouse and also explain all other relationships to the remaining partners (however many there are). If you’re one of our 14 investors, you’ll ID your spouse if they’re involved, then explain the relationship you have to all other dozen investors.

Or, avoid this dilemma by controlling the entity without any partner directly owning it. All options above allow for this. LLCs, land trusts, and other legal options exist protecting equity shared properties. Number of partners won’t impact your level of asset protection, but can influence which option you want to use.

Last Updated: 
July 30, 2019

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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