12 Lessons I learned in 2012

Interesting year, 2012.

Multifamily seems to be (temporarily) made of gold and debt markets have thawed further.

It was a great year for some, terrible year for others, and just mediocre for the rest of us. And what I missed in compensation I made up for in knowledge.


Allow me to share my top 12 lessons from 2012:


1. People want to talk to me when I’m in PE.

This is actually disappointing. I remember when I was working for myself (and my dad) and there were a few people who had trouble returning my call. I know we are all busy, but, all of the sudden, those exact same people can’t wait to get in front of me and see how they can help on our billion dollars worth of assets in GA. Don’t think I don’t notice that. And don’t think I don’t notice the people who always called me and had some time for me.


2. Foreclosure sucks.

It isn’t that complicated and you can take a property back in about 45 days in Georgia. So, it is simple . . .  but it sucks. Taking title, ordering appraisals, running environmental reports, estoppels, gas stations, dry cleaners, confirmation hearings . . . it all sucks. I do it because some people make me do it, but I do everything I can NOT to foreclose.


3. Litigation in general sucks.

Only attorneys win when we decide to litigate. I wish people would just tell me the truth in our first meeting and we could save everybody thousands of dollars. Litigation is fun for 10 minutes and then it is terrible.


4. Partners are essential.

As I have started to work on my own projects, I have learned that the right partner is worth whatever he/she demands to be paid. If partnerships were an equation, one plus one wouldn’t equal two. One plus one would equal forty. Properly leveraging the skills and talents of the right partner will help a business grow exponentially (rather than linearly).


5. Our legal system is disappointing.

I had a judge rule against me in court because he felt bad about what would happen to the other party if he ruled for me. No word on the actual law or my legal claim. Just his bad feelings about the loser. It was like he projected that I could take the loss more easily than the other party (which is true) and just forgot about the law. Never mind the fact that I have been open and honest with everything in the entire case and the other party has done everything they could think of to trick us, make us stumble, and game the legal system. Disappointing, to say the least.


6. The best way to learn (retain) is to write.

Looking back at the posts this year, I am amazed at 1) how much I have learned and 2) how much I have retained. It is easy to learn something once (think cramming for a final in college), it is difficult to retain and reuse that knowledge in the future. The best way I have found to retain and reuse that info is by writing these articles. They force me to repackage and explain in my own words the difficult or foreign concepts I am learning every day. Talking about it and writing it in a Moleskine isn’t the same. Writing articles will do more to grow my tool box long term that just about anything else I do.


7. People overemphasize specialization.

Over the past twelve months I have worked on golf courses, self storage, apartments, raw land, mobile homes, office condos, retail condos, unanchored retail, single tenant retail, industrial, and a cell tower. What’s my specialty? I dunno. Maybe negotiation. When I got into this business, I was told by most people to specialize and become the go-to-guy for that property type. Horse feathers! I don’t want to get into why that isn’t necessary here, but it isn’t. At least not for my career goals.


8. People also overemphasize experience.

I don’t foreclose on 20-somethings. I don’t sue 30-somethings. It’s all the 50s, 60s, and 70s that got into trouble. Why does everyone seem to think that experience will solve all problems? Fallacy, my friends.


9. 99% of our industry is technologically archaic.

I have been shocked how few people actually use technology and software to make their days more productive and their time more efficient. If it costs money, most people aren’t interested. If it costs money and takes a little time to figure out or set up, forget it. How many CRE brokers have corporate facebook pages? How long did it take them to get one? Exactly.


10. Equity is king.

Oh, you have 5 acres in W Midtown tied up and think mixed-use is a fit? Neat. Now what? It isn’t all that hard to figure out a cool use for a property or to identify potential investments. It isn’t even that hard to find decent debt for properties now that some of the smoke has cleared and the debt market has thawed. It isn’t hard to find an average property manager. What is difficult is finding equity partners. Those with free capital who are willing to invest it in CRE are few and far between and he with the best equity investors wins.


11. Big boys are bullies. (And the time of reckoning cometh)

I have had to order a bunch of appraisals (as I mentioned above). And I have needed to place brokers as property managers and listing brokers. The biggest brokerage houses in town (and in the world) like to bid on these deals. Rarely are they the best value and rarely do they come across as the guy who is going to go the extra mile and run through a brick wall for me. Frankly, they seem to think that since they are so big and reputable they deserve my business. Not happening. I’ll take the young hustler who will call every potential buyer within 600 miles over the guy with the sexy name on the business card every day of the week. Plus, I work for a $40 Billion company. We can be a bit of a bully ourselves (to my chagrin). Be careful trying to push us around . . .


12. Stress reveals character.

I know I have said this before, but it bears repeating. When people have their back against a wall, you find out their true character. Everyone was happy and friendly when money grew on trees in 2005. When you start getting sued and foreclosed upon, I get to see what type of man (or woman) you are. It is fascinating and I take note of those people I will be calling for partnerships in 5 years, and, more importantly, who I certainly won’t be calling. Look around, listen, pay attention, and you will save yourself some headaches across the course of your career.


So, those are my top 12 lessons from this year in commercial real estate. They are based upon my experience working in the private equity/distressed debt arena and shouldn’t be seen as universal. What did you learn? Think any of my lessons need revision? Let me know in the comments.

– Duke

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