The Secret to Success in a Commercial Real Estate Career

If you are considering commercial real estate as career, or find yourself within the industry looking for ways to accelerate your growth, the one piece of advice I will offer is to align yourself with the right mentor.

Your talents and energy are needed more than ever in an industry that is late to adapt to new technologies, innovations and creativity. The commercial real estate industry is in constant fluctuation and is going through a rapid transformation as the industry tries to meet the needs of the next generation.

The Challenge Facing Commercial Real Estate

In my opinion one of the most critical challenges facing the commercial real estate brokerage industry is a major talent shortage. Senior executives are getting older, working later in life and there is a wide age divide between the deal makers (that account for roughly 80% of all real estate transactions) and the younger talent that is still building their track record after surviving the great recession. This talent disparity began as a result of the first dot com bubble in the late 90s when most of the entrepreneurial-minded graduates opted to jump into the new and exciting world of technology, which was fueled by stock market investors seeking to capitalize on the potential of newly created tech companies. This bubble burst in early 2000s, but the trend initiated a shift from traditional financial services companies like commercial real estate toward the creation of Silicon Valley and other international tech sectors that are still growing today.

As a person embarking on a new career in commercial real estate, today’s industry presents a huge amount of opportunity in a wide open field that seeks new energy, innovation, and creativity more so than at any time in history. New demands from millennial consumers are pivoting the entire way that users look at commercial real estate space and transforming investment real estate decisions. At the same time, most major firms have strategically decided to stop costly training programs for young professionals, deciding instead to use those resources toward the (somewhat less risky) practice of poaching existing talent from competitors.

The reality is that most new people coming in to the industry must quickly find their path to success or they will be part of the 90% of new commercial real estate brokers that do not make it past their fifth year in the business. One common denominator that successful people in our industry have is that they attribute part of their success to aligning themselves with the right mentor.

How To Find a Right-Fit Mentor

While exploring career options within commercial real estate, most graduates look for the well-known companies, the right discipline (leasing v. sales), and the desired segment (office, industrial, or retail, etc.) However, to really increase your odds of a successful real estate career nothing compares to finding the right mentor. Whatever field and discipline you decide to follow, make sure you are aligned with the right mentor, and the right mentor can be different for everyone. Mentors are sometimes called “senior agents” or “senior partners.” These are the people who you will learn from and, in exchange, you will alleviate much of their workload. This is why I refer to the individual in this role as the “right-fit” mentor. 

Here are two questions you should ask yourself to make sure you are aligning yourself with the right person:

What is your value proposition to your mentor?

Even though your knowledge of real estate may be limited, you should by now understand what unique qualities about you make you different. If you do not know or need clarity, consider asking your parents, teachers, or co-workers. Do not ask your close friends because they may have many similarities to you and may not be able to identify what makes you different.

You should be able to recognize if you are the one that is going to look at spreadsheets and loves to analyze, or if you are you the social one that loves to meet people and talk to everyone. A few questions to ask are:

  • Are you the planner who loves to think big picture or are you a task master who thrives on crossing out your daily to-do list?
  • Are you the life of the party or are you the one who makes sure no one gets hurt at the party?

There are no wrong answers and everyone brings value to the table – your ability to accurately identify yours will allow you to thrive.

Do I Complement My Mentor?

Once you identify your value proposition, you want to complement your mentor’s talents rather than duplicate them. In other words, if your mentor is a strong business generator then you want to be the one that can help them transact that business. If you are If you’re the analyst you want to find a mentor that loves to meet and talk to people.

I have a colleague who early on aligned herself with a senior agent that refused to respond to marketing inquiries. The Senior excelled at earning business and would get some wonderful assignments. He was horrible at following up with marketing inquiries and opted to “sell” his deals to people he already knew or was seeking business from. Being new in the industry, my colleague took on the task of following up with every marketing inquiry and was able to grow their clientele and create new opportunities from each marketing campaign. Being task oriented and following up on details was her strength and balanced out her Senior who was naturally more reactive to opportunities and had a terrible time sticking to a schedule. She found a way to create value to his business, and years later he is now retired and she has a very successful brokerage business.

Conclusion

There is a lot of good advice out there on how to succeed in our industry and what I offer is simply one very important component to your development: find your value and use it to complement a senior agent/mentor.

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