25 Years of Doing One Thing and One Thing Only

May 15th, 2019 marked my 25th anniversary in commercial real estate. I remember that day in 1994 vividly, and my heartfelt enthusiasm remains a fond memory as I walked into the West Los Angeles office of Sperry Van Ness ready to sell investment real estate. I graduated from USC the week before with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship.

Why Commercial Real Estate?

I was always wanted to have my own business, be my own boss and determine my own fate.  However, I didn’t have the capital or the means to borrow money to start my own venture in addition to the surmounting student loan debt that often accompanies the “5-year plan.” I went on several, extensive on-campus interviews with many companies that offered attractive sign-on packages, including decent starting salaries, company cars, and sales training . I was drawn to the commercial real estate recruiters offering a path to success paved with the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Most startup companies strive to get between 10-20 % profit margins while commercial real estate companies offered 50% at their expense and training. It was a no-brainer! The fact that only about 10% of those who start in the business only make it to year three (where most start to make real money) didn’t scare me at all.

After all, I was different – not only was I a USC Business School graduate, I was a USC Business School Entrepreneur (I hope by now you understand I’m being tongue-in-cheek here). What I eventually learned is that the real world sometimes has a cruel way of opposing idealism with ambition!

As I recount my years in the business and celebrate both my successes and failures, I can offer four items of advice based on my experiences, to help anyone considering a career in commercial real estate:

1) Know your value proposition, your customer, and know that they will continually evolve.

The very first thing I learned in my early career was that REO was an acronym for “Real Estate Owned” and basically meant foreclosed property.  It seemed like every property on the market was an “REO” and the only agents that were successful were those that had relationships with lenders. I quickly learned that my value proposition was not to clients but to other agents that could use my computer skills; i.e Lotus 123 (before Excel), PowerPoint, and Word to help create proposals to lenders looking to sell their REO properties.  Days were spent sitting by the fax machine and waiting for response to offers and counter offers.  The use of e-mail was still years away.  

In 2008 I made a transition to Colliers International. Soon afterwards I was invited to participate in an overseas training program to Australia. I was the only American invited to a five-day training program with 50 other Colliers colleagues from Southeast Asia, New Zealand and Australia. Besides solid intermediate agent training, we spent five, ten-hour days learning about valuation, marketing strategies, handling objections, sales positioning. My most important take -away was that my value proposition should not be confined to a geographic area.  The international exposure taught me that challenges and opportunities know no boundaries.  

Eventually my value proposition evolved again, and I created a “unique ability” based team that can managed every element of a transaction from underwriting, positioning, marketing material creation, distribution and transaction management.

2) You cannot do it alone. Find a complimentary partner(s) and become one.

Eight months into my tenure at Sperry Van Ness all the agents were summoned to a meeting where we were told that we were no longer affiliated with Sperry Van Ness. From that moment forward we were to be known as “real estate offices.”  What that really meant was we were let go because of a conflict between the franchisee and franchisor. 

That same day I walked across the street to the Grubb & Ellis office and asked to speak to the office manager. I explained my situation, and he took a chance on me.  I would spend the next thirteen years at Grubb & Ellis rising from Associate to Senior VP where I sharpened my shopping center knowledge by affiliating myself with retail leasing teams. I spent every single weekend driving trade areas and learning about all of the different grocery anchored shopping centers in Southern California. 

I began helping agents with their pitches and leasing agents sell the properties they were leasing. By May of 1997 (three years after I had started my career) I sold Centerwood Plaza, my very first grocery anchored shopping center that I had sourced, proposed, listed and closed.

In 1998, I was invited to participate in a presentation to dispose of nearly one billion dollars worth of real estate from Mitsui Fudasan America. Grubb & Ellis won the assignment and the agents with most seniority sold the best properties in the portfolio. For next two and half years I sold some of the least desirable real estate for the negotiated commission rate of one percent. Nonetheless, the collaborative experience was invaluable.

3) Have a business plan and don’t be afraid to pivot.

When I began my career in commercial real estate the US economy was in a major recession and Southern California just got hit with massive aerospace layoffs. Los Angeles was still recovering from the major Northridge Earthquake and the scars from the 1992 civil disturbance had yet to heal during the long OJ Simpson trial. I did not know how to conceptualize it at the time, but I now know that my resourcefulness and ability to pivot my value proposition and business plan were key to my survival.

The shopping center industry is going through another disruption and I am now surrounded by the most experienced partners I have ever had and the best support infrastructure I have ever experienced. I will continue to carry a willingness to evolve and I look forward to growing within a strong brokerage and capital markets platform.

4) Find that ONE thing and stick to it.

During my college years in June 1991, my girlfriend took me out on my birthday to see a movie called City Slickers starring Billy Crystal. If you are unfamiliar with the movie, it is about three middle aged men from New York City that go on a two-week supervised cattle drive through the Southwest. As the three men reflect on their lives on horseback, the fear of aging and unfulfillment resonates in their discovery.  In a later scene Mitch, played by Crystal, strikes a bond with the trail boss, Curly, played by Jack Palance. Palance is a rough, leather skinned cowboy that has lived life on his terms and rules.  

Mitch, says to him, “you know that’s great, your life makes sense to you.”

Curly looks at him and says, “you city folk worry about a lot of sh*t… you spend  50 weeks a year getting knots in your rope and you think you can come out here for two weeks and untie them…do you know what the secret to life is?”  As he raises his index finger, he says “One!”

“ One what?”  Mitch asks.

“One thing. Stick to that, the rest don’t mean sh*t”, Curly responds.

I accepted my offer with Sperry Van Ness in 1994 because of their young culture and their singular focus on investment real estate sales. And, they had computers! The training was very thorough and new agents were encouraged to choose a specialty – the ONE thing. Since about 90% of the agents were working on multi-family, I decided to go with retail.  Shopping Centers were to be the one thing I would focus on.

Sticking to only selling shopping centers has helped me transact across the country.  In 2010 I sold my first shopping center in Hawaii, in 2012 I sold a shopping center in Mt. Olive, New Jersey and by 2016 about half of my brokered transactions were outside of Southern California.

Rewinding to now.

I have often been asked during the past 25 years: when are you going to become an investor? When will you “jump the fence” and start buying shopping centers?

My simple answer is:  I really enjoy what I do. After a successful sales campaign and the property sells, I get to go to the next challenge.

I am now settling in at JLL and after spending 10 years (to the day) at Colliers International. As I look ahead to my next 25 years, I plan on doing one thing and one thing only : selling shopping centers.

Real Estate 101: How To Be A Better Buyer

It’s tough for buyers to be fully aware of what they’re entering into when investing in real estate. Whether it be a shortage of marketing materials, a lack of knowledge on all the factors of a building, or an underwriter leaving out a lease clause, buyers should be prepared to face a number of challenges.

Buyers may think that it is only the broker who needs to have a plan to sell; think again. It is necessary as a buyer to formulate a strategy considering that different properties may require different plans.

As a buyer, it’s not surprising if the following questions are entering your mind (and staying there):

-Where is the market headed?

-Am I buying at the right time?

-What is my investment goal?

-Do I have (or need to have) a plan B?

Tips to Follow as a Real Estate Buyer

1) Know your strategy.

Be firm on your position and know your parameters. Some brokers may try to push a buyer into a deal. While not all pushing is bad, a buyer must be ready for this. If a deal ends up moving outside of these set parameters, make sure you understand the implications of going outside of these parameter before moving ahead. Know what is absolutely important to you, and stick to your guns.

2) Do your homework.

Make sure to dig in quickly. Ask lots of questions. It is a good idea to include a list of initial underwriting questions. Do your due diligence and enter the market as prepared as possible. We have a number of checklists available if you’d like one. Please contact us for more information.

3) Disagree without being disagreeable.

For a brokered deal, always remember that the broker’s job is to market and promote a property. I’ve found it beneficial to have the initial conversation be open and appreciative. I strive to be pleasant and appreciative, regardless of the other side’s demeanor or response. This helps you to keep a positive outlook and makes conversations with brokers go much more smoothly.

The same applies to conversations with the owner. Go in with a win-win mindset, rather than adversarial. There are cases where some people respond better to a challenge, but most human nature is such that confrontation begets defensiveness and hiding; don’t give someone a reason not to talk to you. Referencing the tried and true maxim: “it is easier to catch a fly with honey than with vinegar,” kindness and genuine respect can take you very far. You might even make a few new friends and learn something unexpected in the process as well!

Be thoughtful with questions and comments; this will promote respect from both parties. Tone and attitude are very important to creating a positive transactional environment, and this comes from developing an understanding of both the market and the broker.

As a buyer, you are the main driver of the real estate market — remember this! You hold power in your hands. Take advantage of this, but remember the suggestions outlined above. Investing in real estate is a two-way street, requiring cooperation and communication from both sides. We published an article earlier this year outlining effective forms of communication during the acquisition cycle that illuminates this point more clearly. As a buyer, always remember to ask thoughtful questions, keep a positive tone and outlook, and have a strategy that you stick with. Remembering these tips will make you a formidable buyer.

Maximizing Communication Through the Marketing Process

Communication is one of the roots to successful project management, and the main difference between a project running smoothly or a project filled with missed deadlines and avoidable bottlenecks. One of the areas with a high probability for communication to affect process and productivity is in the creation of marketing collateral and marketing campaigns.

Process, Process, Process…

Miscommunication is deadly to productivity within the fast paced lifecycle of a marketing campaign. Many times, properties have strict client deadlines, and in many cases it is as soon as humanly possible. With speed-to-market being a top priority, it is imperative that a team operates on the same page from the beginning of the marketing process.

Project managers, graphic designers, analysts, brokers, and additional administrative assistants all help funnel along a marketing campaign from its inception to its launch. Having a battle-tested process is one of the most reliable ways to ease a communication dilemma. Our team has various processes for various product types, most of them beginning with a project kick-off call or meeting. This not only helps the brokers iron out any property positioning quandaries, it helps the team understand the project vision and their individual roles within the collateral building process while creating accountability.

A process is only as strong as its level of adherence, and this is where accountability becomes king.

Establishing Defined Roles for Greater Accountability

As mentioned above, defined roles create accountability. When analyzing the effectiveness of process—how to build, improve, and even celebrate—roles are critical to seeing where communication strengths and weaknesses lie. Defined roles also pair nicely with process because it promotes a symbiotic system of checks and balances.

When our team creates an Offering Memorandum for a property, we have various stages of quality control. Ultimately, there is one person who has the final check and stamps approved to launch. If someone misses an edit, the next person can catch it and so forth.

We can also invoke the imagery or reference of a McDonald’s assembly line. Each person has their defined role and strength in completing a certain task along this assembly line. When a team process is created, you put your team members with unique abilities in a position to complete certain tasks within that role. It sounds like common sense, but many teams rely on the wrong person to complete certain tasks. You wouldn’t go to a dentist for a haircut, would you?

How to Communicate with Different Productivity Styles

There are various ways to effectively communicate, though since every team is different, no exact formula exists. Our team utilizes various tools to understand how to effectively communicate with each other, including defining our productivity styles as illustrated in Travis Carson’s Market Force chart below:

All personality types cannot be completely defined to fit in these four categories, but it can provide a few tools and can help cultivate clearer channels of communication and understanding.

It is also helpful to see communication as a two way street. People are not mind-readers, and most often do not think the same way as you. After years of working with someone, you can learn subtle nuances and come to intuitively understand your teammates; but that cannot replace clearly communicating thoughts, ideas or instructions.

Make sure everyone is on the same page early on in the process, and those few extra minutes it might take you to explain your vision will undoubtedly make a difference in the end result.

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.