Sara Vogt-Lowell – American Homes 4 Rent
A first generation American with Korean parents, Sara Vogt-Lowell and her mother moved apartments often as they sought better school districts and neighborhoods. But they never had the chance to move into a house, so a backyard and pets weren’t possible.
Now, as chief legal officer for American Homes 4 Rent, Vogt-Lowell is helping working families access an experience she didn’t have as a child.
The company, which acquires and rehabilitates houses, owns and manages more than 57,000 single-family rental homes in 22 states. It also provides professional management and maintenance services and builds its own communities. Those communities often feature amenities like pools, playgrounds and fitness centers.
“I’m proud of what we’ve built at American Homes 4 Rent and the work we do,” Vogt-Lowell says. “Everything I’ve experienced in my life brought me to this point and I’m very grateful to be part of helping people find homes they can love and enjoy.”
From student to legal leader
Vogt-Lowell says she knew early on that she wanted to pursue a law career. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles, and her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law in 2002.
After graduating, she joined the law firm of Latham & Watkins as an associate in the finance and real estate group. Soon after, she began working on the account of the late B. Wayne Hughes, a business entrepreneur who founded Public Storage.
In 2006, she was recruited to become general counsel for American Commercial Equities, the Hughes family’s commercial real estate firm. Vogt-Lowell recalls that she was daunted by the prospect of leading an in-house legal operation so early in her career but embraced the opportunity.
“I’ve always believed in working hard and taking challenges in stride and am in a constant state of gratitude for how that’s opened doors and presented incredible opportunities for me throughout my career,” she says.
From investments to IPO
In 2011, following the Great Recession, Hughes and American Commercial Equities CEO David P. Singelyn founded American Homes 4 Rent to acquire and invest in rental properties. Vogt-Lowell says it was a pioneering model, helping to stabilize the housing market and launch a now-burgeoning industry.
Asked to become head of legal for the new venture, Vogt-Lowell jumped at the chance to build her own department and help build a new company.
“Once again, I took a leap of faith, said ‘yes,’ and then figured out how to do it,” she says. “It’s the best career decision I’ve ever made.”
From the outset, Vogt-Lowell worked with American Homes 4 Rent’s business units, strategizing on markets and advising on financing as well as issues relating to acquisitions, offerings and joint ventures. In 2013, Vogt-Lowell oversaw and managed the process of American Homes 4 Rent becoming a publicly traded real estate investment trust, or REIT.
Guiding the IPO process, Vogt-Lowell managed filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. She got the company listed on the New York Stock Exchange and prepared corporate governance and charter documents for the board of trustees as part of that.
Later, she built the company’s legal team by hiring attorneys and paralegals in practice areas such as litigation, real estate and securities law.
“In assembling the legal team over the years, I deliberately sought out the brightest legal minds in their specific practice areas,” Vogt-Lowell says. “I’m incredibly proud of the department that I built, but I’m even prouder that, individually and collectively, they have exceeded even my expectations.”
From buying to building
As her legal department expanded, American Homes 4 Rent faced a new challenge in the market—the national housing shortage. According to the U.S. Census, the country is now approximately 5 million houses short of demand.
In response, in 2018, the company decided to launch its own homebuilding division in addition to buying housing. Vogt-Lowell says the company wasn’t just looking to build individual houses. It wanted to develop communities, some with as many as 50 single-family homes to rent.
After the division was founded, Vogt-Lowell and her legal team worked with the business unit on land acquisitions and with outside general contractors to guide development and construction. Her team provided legal review and counsel on entitlement, lien and title issues
They worked with local authorities to ensure compliance with zoning and environmental regulations, also, and secured liability insurance. They established a policy framework to comply with workplace safety regulations, too, and developed a network of outside local counsel to guide the company’s efforts regionally.
Today, the development division has built more than 4,500 homes in 16 states, extending from Washington to Florida. According to American Homes 4 Rent’s website, it launched its 100th community in the fall of 2021, shortly after being named the top 45th homebuilder in the U.S. by Builder100.
“It’s gratifying knowing that my work here is helping more American households access the joys of living in a high-quality home in desirable communities,” says Vogt-Lowell. “A decade later, I continue to feel inspired by our mission: helping people find a better home for their family.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring III 2022 Edition here.
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