Tampa Bay Buccaneers sack legend Simeon Rice has returned here ready to spend, with plans to invest heavily in the town where he helped the Bucs claim a Super Bowl title. ¶ But this isn't a burst of charity or nostalgia for the six-season Buc's former home. Rice has his eye on Tampa Bay's notorious foreclosures, the rundown market he expects could serve as his lucrative next big game. ¶ Rice has bought homes in Riverview, a townhouse on Clearwater Beach, a condo on Harbour Island and several foreclosed triplexes, with intentions to fix them up to rent or sell. ¶ Rice, who retired from the National Football League in 2007, wouldn't give details on profits. But Michael Mincberg, a managing member of the Ybor City real estate consulting firm guiding Rice, said his investments have yielded 20 percent returns. At least one flip, of a dozen Tampa townhomes, netted the team more than $100,000 in profits. ¶ Though the firm, Sight Properties, is finding Rice the investments and advising him on deals, Rice said he is the money man, the decisionmaker — and perhaps the creative lead. ¶ When he learned a rundown South Tampa apartment building he bought last year for $320,000 was rumored by neighbors as an old refuge for cohorts of Al Capone, Rice dubbed it "Il Nascondiglio," Italian for "the hideout." He plans to renovate the 1920s complex into luxury apartments. ¶ Rice, 38, is no stranger to the subtler nuances of working outside football. He has launched a line of performance undergarments, founded a music label for his younger sister and studied filmmaking in New York. Last year, he premiered a short comedy, When I Was King, at the Gasparilla Film Festival. ¶ But his latest foray into real estate speculation has him dropping big money into an industry largely known, at least recently, for disaster. ¶ And Rice's property record is not perfect. In 2009, a bank began to foreclose on Rice's Clearwater Beach condo, claiming he was late on payments for his $1 million mortgage, court records show. Rice sold the condo in 2010. ¶ Rice spoke with the Tampa Bay Times from his home in Phoenix, where he lives most of the year between Tampa prospecting trips.
Besides fighting for land and good locations, playing football and investing in property don't seem to have much in common. Why real estate?
Real estate, for me, is something I get. It's the most easy way, conceptually, to make a large wealth of money in today's market that you can actually control. Basically, the way I see it, if you're buying houses under market value, and you hold on to it, the value is going to increase. Let's say you buy a farm with the idea that you're going to be a farmer. Next thing you know, you've hit some pay dirt, you've got oil on your farm and it has quadrupled (or multiplied) a thousand times your money. There's so much growth in real estate, if you buy it right.
You grew up in Chicago. You're living in Phoenix. You last played in the NFL with Denver and Indianapolis, and you haven't called Tampa your team for half a decade. What about here piqued your interest?
I know Tampa. I know the Tampa market. What you see in Tampa, the hedge funds, they're getting involved. With the Tampa market, if you're at the bottom of where you can be, the only thing that can pretty much happen now is a turnaround. And that turnaround can be very lucrative. I say to myself, why not a market that is at the bottom of the barrel, that hasn't done well in a while and is ready for a resurgence? If you buy when it's basically at the bottom of the market, just buying on the sale part of it, you're making money.
What do you look for when you're sizing up an investment?
Homes, apartment buildings, I can afford to buy them both. I look for good deals, that's it. If there's a line for a product, I pass on it. I want something that most people aren't checking for, that most people don't want. That entails where the deal is. I want something that most people will pass on. It has to be one-sided for me to do it. I err on the side of caution. I'm extremely pessimistic when it comes to deals and extremely conservative. I function off those two realms to do a deal. Once it gets through my pessimism and gets through my levels of conservativeness, then it's a good deal.
A lot of upbeat investors had the same idea, jumped in the market and got badly burned. How will you be any different?
First, I don't overleverage myself. No. 2, I'm not just looking to buy, buy, buy. Most people are just looking to buy a lot. I'm looking for unique deals. I'm not trying to do 20 deals in one year. If I do three or four deals in a year, I'm good. You create a niche. That's how you stay relevant. We buy them when it's a wreck. We're buying the eyesore, the knockdown, the place that looks like it should be burnt to the ground. We buy things most people wouldn't touch. That's where we get our advantage point. We have no problem going in and making them better. We buy the thing right before it goes flat-line.
You were once one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL. What size investment are we talking about?
It all depends on what's out there. I go from anywhere from $1 million (per purchase), to $500,000, to as low as $30,000. It's whatever the deal is. I started off with personal cash. Now I have a line of credit and I get financed from the bank. We just started a $3 million fund.
There have got to be a lot of people questioning how a pro athlete gets into property deals.
Whether someone sees me in such a way they haven't seen me before, it doesn't matter. The proof is in the pudding. You can pretty much learn anything you want to. Education, books, using analysis, that stuff's all out there. There's information out there. There's information all around us. I was able to amass a certain amount of wealth, and having that wealth I was able to buy certain products and items. That led me to an understood conclusion that there's really benefits to this. I'm not playing football anymore, so the setup has to be something different. I don't get money in an aggressive, physical way like I used to. I get money by using my mind. My properties and the things I'm buying, it's what I'm doing, it's real. You only get typecast in one field, and that's making movies. Outside of that, you can do anything you want to do. You can learn anything you want to learn.
You've got some remodeling work and deals under way. And Mayor Bob Buckhorn will be on hand Dec. 10 for Il Nascondiglio's grand opening. What happens next?
This was just a way to sustain lifestyles, that's how I started it. Just by making a certain mark each month, in terms of cash flow. Now it has transcended into some of the guys I play with, other athletes, who say, "I want to do what you're doing, help me out." That's basically how we started the fund. Whether they're playing, whether they're retired, they can make money to put in their pocket and not necessarily worry about any immediate deals. With me being pretty accomplished in it, I have a resume that basically speaks for itself.
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. Drew Harwell can be reached at (727) 893-8252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.