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  • Clean Slate Project: Brainstorming

    mcmillend2

    If you are going to build a world-class city from raw land, where do you start?

    Tough question.

    I think you start with problems. I would ask “What are the problems facing this hypothetical city and how can we use design and smart construction to solve them?”

    And if you are going to truly create an exceptional city that is the model of new urban design, you cannot limit yourselves to the current problems facing the city. Let’s break it down this way:

    What problems has this city/region/area faced in the past that have been overcome and how did they overcome them?

    What problems are currently plaguing the city and how would a better-designed city solve those problems?

    What potential problems will this city (and all cities) face in the future that can be avoided or minimized through intelligent planning?

     

    To paraphrase Andy Stanley: “Given its past experiences, current circumstances, and future hopes and dreams, what is the ideal layout and design of this city?”

    Hmmmmm

    Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit and work from there. What are our current problems and how can design solve them?

    As I see it, Atlanta’s three major issues are: transportation, water, and education. At least two of those are addressable by smart urban planning and the eduction will follow since smart people will want to live where there is great transportation and clean water.

    I’m not going to get into transportation and water solutions just yet, but I think the important message to take away from this part of the thought experiment is that we need the help and expertise of water management and rapid transit professionals. Fresh water sources and the intricacies of rapid transit are not my area of expertise. We need outside counsel.

    So, jumping back to 30,000 feet and just as a heads up for future editions of this series, I plan on tackling this project as follows:

    1. Figure out Atlanta’s problems or shortcomings and devise a plan to fix or preempt them.

    2. Figure out what experts and industry leaders would be best qualified to answer those questions.

    3. Interview them.

    4. Extensively.

    5. Design the new urban frontier based on their suggestions and recommendations.

    6. Find a way to sketch or model the new city layout and design.

    7. Share it with whoever is interested.

     

    Maybe nobody will be interested. But I am interested and this seems like a fun way to get to talk to some very intelligent people about our fair city. I plan on having fun with this.

    I am certainly open to any suggestions about how to tackle this project, ideas to consider, experts to consult, ways to make it readable, or whatever. Feel free to leave comments or feedback below.

    – Duke

     

  • Careers in CRE: Goal Setting (Part II)

    nr-belex-3

    If you want to get somewhere, you first have to define where that somewhere is.

    Seems simple enough, right? Well, in my experience, very few people intentionally design a career path with this is mind.

    I can’t realistically speak to the goals of others, but I could see how a young man or woman would simply tell themselves that want “to be successful” or “to be well-respected.” Ok, that’s all well and good, but what does that look like? What do successful people look like? What kind of life to those you respect lead?

    If you want to know which way to go from here, you have to figure out where you want to end up. So . . .

    Where do you want to end up?

    When you are 80 years old and looking back at your career, what would you like to say you have accomplished?

    What types of deals would you like to have completed?

    What kind of money do you want to make?

    Where do you want to be?

    I know these seem like overly simplistic questions, but they are CRUCIAL to your journey in setting out career goals.

    The most influential question I asked of myself was: What do I want my lifestyle to look like in X years and how do I work now to get there from here?

    You will have to decide that answer for yourself. But, if it will help you to formulate your goals, I will gladly share mine.

    Simply put, in my 40s and 50s, I want to have the financial freedom to do whatever I want. If I want to watch my kids’ soccer game, I  can because I don’t need to go into the office to earn a paycheck. If I want to take a month to live in Zagreb, no problem. Of course,  I will still be heavily involved in CRE and will be aggressively pursuing deals, but a couple lean years in deal flow will not prevent my family from eating. My theory is that people who work because they want to work will blow the doors off of people who work because they have to work.

    That is where I want to be in 20 years. How do I get there from here?

    Simple. Passive income.

    Passive income is getting paid without doing any work. It’s counterpart is active income: income you have to work to obtain. The difference is between the baker and the musician.

    A baker wakes up every morning and bakes rolls and pastries. Whatever he sells, he gets to keep the profit.

    A musician goes into a studio, records a song, and then collects royalties off of sales and downloads for the rest of her life. Madonna still gets income every week from songs she recorded 25 years ago.

    I want to be the musician. Work hard up front and let your work keep paying you over the years to come. I would be very disappointed in myself if I woke up at 45 years old and realized that I killed myself in my 20s and 30s at work just so I can go and kill myself at work in my 40s and 50s. I can push myself and stretch my limitations now so that when I have kids and I have reached my peak earning years I have passive income to show for all of this work.

    Anyway, we don’t need to get too deep into my goals, but I did want to give you an example of how to connect the dots. Knowing that I am seeking passive income, a role in brokerage would not be the right fit for me. I love making deals and networking is probably my favorite part of this business, but waking up broke every morning as a broker would not fit into my lifestyle plan (more on that later). I need to stay on the principal side of the business and try and get myself pieces of deals as an owner/manager.

    So, where do you want to be in 20, 30, 40, or 50 years? What do you want your lifestyle to look like?

    Figure that out, write it down, and start sketching out a path you want to take to get there. It may not be quick or easy, but I can promise you that those who start out with some general direction will end up miles ahead of those out for “success” or “respect.”

    Make sure the road map to your career has a destination and some interesting stops along the way. If you do that, you will blow by all of your peers who are just trying to figure out where they are going or just trying to get anywhere quickly.

    – Duke

  • Book Review: The Black Swan

    The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

    by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    Image Courtesy of Amazon.com

    This book may piss you off. If it doesn’t, then you don’t care about predictions or you don’t understand what it is saying.

    I like it, but, still, I can see how many people would be upset by being called idiots by Taleb.

    The premise of The Black Swan is that highly improbable events happen. That’s it. Even though they are improbable, they still happen. Taleb makes a convincing argument that most of us confuse “improbable’ with “impossible.” Events that alter our lives or the course of human history happen more often than we like to think and any type of prediction or prognostication that does not include the posibility of these events is one step above meaningless.

    Two examples that Taleb uses to illustrate his point are 9/11 and the creation of Google. Sept 11, 2001 changed the way Americans and, indeed, the rest of the world viewed national security and terrorism. It created two wars in foreign countries and altered the history of several countries forever. How many people saw it coming and planned accordingly?

    The Google analogy is equally potent. Google started as a search engine to rival Yahoo and a few other minor competitors. Google has now changed the way we use the internet and, by extension, the way we interact with each other on a global scale. Who would have predicted that the term “Google” would be transformed into a verb roughly translated into “find something on the internet?”

    The bare-bones point of these analogies is that almost nobody planned for these two events to alter our lives as they have. Yet, events like this happen almost yearly. Why don’t we expect them and how can we anticipate them?

    I will leave the explanation of those two conundrums to Taleb, but suffice it to say that he makes convincing arguments that we, basically, suck at predicting anything. We try to oversimplify everything into a nice, neat equation or number and to do so is incredibly presumptuous.

    I don’t want to dive into the concepts of the book too deeply, but I do want to point out one other concept that I found particularly thought-provoking.

    Taleb discusses the idea of the imbalance between negative and positive confirmation. Simply put, we need infinite examples of an event occurring to say that event is true. We only need one example of that event not happening to figure out that the even is not true. My favorite example is the turkey owner example.

    A turkey sees his owner bring him food and water every day. The owner brings the turkey sustenance every day for 1000 days and the turkey “knows” that his owner is there to take care of him. And then, Thanksgiving rolls around. The owner brings his axe to the turkey and not food or water.

    That turkey had 1000 examples to support the theory that “my owner will take care of me.” It now has 1 example of “my owner will not take care of me.” That is the asymmetry of confirmation. One negative example can overrule hundreds, thousands, or even millions of positive examples.

    Consider the statement: “The stock market has never lost 1000 points in a single day.” Then  . . . it did. So, I suppose we can’t say that the stock market will never lose 1000 points in a single day, because we have seen otherwise.

    There are dozens of examples that Taleb gives to illustrate this point and I will defer to his writing talents, but I thought it would be interesting to bring up here.

    Why should a commercial real estate pro read this book?

    Because models and projections run this business. Every decision we make is based on assumptions about rent growth, exit cap rates, ability to pay loans, etc. Our business is based on the ability to predict the future and, frankly, we aren’t very good at it.

    I will write an article later about how to incorporate Black Swans into project analysis, but for now, read the book.

    As a warning, Taleb can be pedantic and unmerciful. He has enough money that he doesn’t care about hurting anyone’s feelings and that allows him to be brutally honest and, in my opinion, makes him more readable. He skates the fine line of philosophy and practice. I enjoy philosophy, so it isn’t a problem for me but some readers may be turned off by his tone and presentation.

    All in all, I would say The Black Swan is a worthy addition to your library and worth the time to read it. But consider yourself warned about Taleb’s sharp tongue.

    The Black Swan in Two Sentences: We fool ourselves by basing our decisions on predictions of the future while refusing to acknowledge how poorly we can predict anything since we do not incorporate the probability of the highly improbable. Life and its components are not simple or easy to understand and any attempt to simplify them into formulaic or numerical predictions should be taken with a HUGE grain of salt.

    Pros: Interesting and applicable theme for everyone, complex ideas illustrated through familiar examples, entertaining (to me)

    Cons: It may be difficult for some people to apply the principles to their lives. Fairly complex, slight pedantic, abrasive, and brutally honest

    Target Audience: Anyone who uses predictions or assumptions about the future. This includes anyone who invests in the stock (or bond) market.

    This book is best for: Adults that use predictions or invest their own money

    Overall Rating: ♦♦♦♦ (out of 5)

    Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:

     

    Ratings Guide

    ♦ = Not worth your time

    ♦♦ = May be worth your time if it is specific to your industry or interests

    ♦♦♦ = A decent book and worthy addition to your library depending on your interests

    ♦♦♦♦ = A great book and an excellent addition to your library.

    ♦♦♦♦♦ = One of the all time classics. A must-read for anyone and everyone.

  • Random Thoughts

    Castle in the Sky

    Still working on my book review for The Black Swan by Taleb, so stay tuned.

    Until then, time to get random . . .

    1. I know I’m not really going out on a limb saying this, but Avison Young may be a major player in Atlanta over the next decade.

    2. Along those lines, watch out for Stream Realty. Ben and Simon are studs and they seem to be having a great deal of success in a short period of time in the Atlanta market.

    3. I recently realized that a good soundtrack and excellent cinematography are all I need to enjoy a rented movie. I wouldn’t pay $10 to see Tron in theaters, but I would spend $1 to rent it on Blu-ray at a Redbox.

    4. I think the first step in determining what a “Clean-Slate” Atlanta would look like is thinking about how we want to connect with other cities and countries. The best connected (or “Gateway”) cities are the most important.

    5. I also need a topographical map of Atlanta since certain property types are topographically limited.

    6. I think careers mirror our transitions from childhood to adulthood. Children just want to fit in and figure out how the world works. Adults want to stand out as excellent and distinguish themselves from the herd.

    7. Am I the only person alive who isn’t a Tim Tebow fan?

    8. How can a fella get great images for posts without paying for them?

    9. I think the greatest gift an up-and-coming CRE entrepreneur can have is creativity. Everything else can be learned, overcome, or outsourced, but creativity distinguishes the great ones from the rest.

    10. Employees never become billionaires.

    Have a killer Thursday.

    – Duke

  • Random Thoughts (Including Black Swans)

    I just finished reading The Black Swan by Taleb.

    It was great and I will include a review later, but for now I want to work the theme into my random thoughts for the week.

    1. The basic idea of TBS is that we oversimplify risk and everything else in life. In retrospect, to reduce any situation to a single equation seems a little ridiculous.

    2. The Falcons aren’t nearly as good as they were last year.

    3. I had someone tell me that the retail market in Atlanta may NEVER recover to the level we saw in 2005. Is that good or bad?

    4. I don’t think an MBA does much for the CRE professional unless he plans on working for a ritzy equity fund or REIT. I know just as many non-MBA CEOs and fund managers as I do MBAs in the same position. When I call you to discuss a deal, I could care less where you got your MBA. I care a great deal about how much you know about this deal, the submarket, and the financing climate.

    5. There are two kinds of people in this world: 1) people who like dogs and 2) idiots.

    6. Why is Post building apts downtown? I know Stockert and the team at Post are much smarter than me, but are there a lot of white-collar, young professionals who want luxury apartments downtown? I would love to get my hands on that demand/feasibility analysis.

    7. I have mentioned the ability to have two of the following three in any deal: Speed, Accuracy, and Cost Control. I think, as my career evolves, I will go for Accuracy and Cost Control. If I lose a deal because I am too slow, so be it.

    8. Is anyone ever going to buy the Clermont Hotel?

    9. I think I want a subscription to Atlanta Magazine. The restaurant reviews in the back alone would be worth the cover price.

    10. Finally, some rain. Keep it coming, God.

    Stay Random,

    – Duke

  • Thought Experiment – Clean Slate Project

    This is just an experiment. Let’s not get carried away.

    I was thinking the other day about traffic congestion, sustainable building practices, urban planning, and so on, and I had a crazy idea . . .

    What if we could start over?

    That is, what if we came across this land that is now the Atlanta metro area and we could start a city from scratch?

    I’m sure someone has run this scenario before. I can just imagine our city officials putting together a nuclear-war-rebuilding plan during the height of the Cold War.

    But let’s not be dark about this. Let’s be happy-go-lucky Native Americans with access to steel, asphalt, concrete, brick, and timber. (We are the coolest tribe of all time, btw)

    How would we ideally position the city to take advantage of our local terrain, our crucial location in the Southeast, and our unique natural resources to create a utopian city?

    Who cares, right?

    I care. And I care because I care about the future of our city.

    If I am going to be a citizen of Atlanta, then I will be voting on legislation that affects our building codes, transportation, tax base, or whatever. How should I vote? What direction should Atlanta go?

    Should we try and be like New York or San Francisco? We don’t have the natural barriers they do.

    Should we even try to model another city?

    It seems overly-simplistic to assume that an entity as large and complex as an entire metropolitan area can be reasonably compared to another. I have a tough time describing the dynamics of my little neighborhood in Brookhaven. Trying to compare it to another neighborhood in Atlanta in a comprehensive manner seems just short of impossible. So how could I reasonably say that Atlanta should be more like Dallas or Chicago?

    My only point is that comparisons with other cities are a waste of time. We need to focus on the perfect version of Atlanta.

    So, let’s think it over.

    We will need to consider where downtown will be. Where would the major roads be built? Would we have a grid system? What % of the land is publicly owned and what % is privately owned? How much green space should we preserve? Where will we get our clean water from?

    Obviously this is a topic larger than one simple post. So going forward I will have a series of discussions and topics to cover under the “Clean Slate” tag. Look for these articles and feel free to give suggestions or argue with our logic.

    Either way, it will be a fun exercise to contemplate and may end up giving us some ideas for policy. Who knows?

    – Duke

  • Careers in CRE: Goal-Setting

    Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
    The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to
    Alice: I don’t much care where.
    The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

    – Alice in Wonderland

    So, you have figured out who you are and what you are best at doing. Great!

    From here, let’s figure out where you are going.

    If you are going to have any semblance of direction or purpose to your career you need to make and WRITE DOWN your goals. Having a specific destination and pre-determined set of goals will give you a clear sense of purpose that will propel you ahead of all of your competitors.

    Think about it at the most basic level. Which of these two people would you expect to find success over the next year . . .

    Person 1: My goal is to make a $1 Million in 2012.

    Person 2: My goal is to buy at least 10 self-storage facilities in 2012.

    I’m betting on Person 2. They have a clear goal and a sense of purpose. In terms of deals, I don’t even know what Person 1 wants or how they want it.

    From here, Person 2 can put together intermediate goals by quarter, month, or week and can check her progress on each of those goals at intervals. They can figure out what the investment climate is for self-storage and what type of debt is available for self-storage acquisitions. They can choose target markets and submarkets, network with self-storage brokers, and target specific properties to purchase. All of that road map came from a single well-written goal.

    I don’t have any idea what Person 1 is looking for.

     

    So, let’s say you believe me on the importance of setting and writing down your goals. Here are a few tips I have learned over the years for writing aggressive and useful goals:

    1. Be as specific as possible

    2. Set goals that are quantifiable

    3. Err on the side of over-aggressive

    4. WRITE them down

    5. Share them with someone

    6. Check on them and update them often

     

    I will dive deeper into each of these topics in the coming days, but for now the takeaway should be:

    If you don’t set good goals, you will never maximize your potential output and income. At least give yourself a direction to charge off toward. Even if that ends up being not quite the right direction 99 times out of 100 you will find yourself closer to your final destination than you would have otherwise.

    More to come so stay tuned.

    – Duke

     

  • Random Thoughts

    Lots of admin work this week on the site and other projects. I will be around, but posting may be light.

    A thousand apologies.

    Mental vomit commence . . .

    1. For me to get comfortable with a property that I’m acquiring or building, I need the following team members: architect, builder, property manager, and lender. If I have the info I need out of those 4, then I feel good about my projections and assumptions.

    2. Haven’t noticed much of a reduction in traffic on 400 (in either direction) since they opened that new interchange at Hammond Dr.

    3. I am beginning to appreciate jazz music.

    4. A big CONGRATS to Mike Elting and his new position!

    5. I am not sure I will ever try to acquire property outside of the city core (aka OTP). I don’t think I am good enough at guessing demographic trends and traffic patterns in the burbs.

    6. What if we could start over from scratch with the layout of Atlanta? What if we left all of the natural resources and landmarks and just built a new city design around that? What would that look like?

    7. The more I work on my own, the less I ever want to work for someone else ever again.

    8. I know that I’m biased because I’m a UGA fan, but do objective observers and casual fans like a school whose official color is a shade of urine and whose mascot is the second most annoying insect on the planet (gnats are #1)? Figure it out Tech.

    9. Does it make me immature that some of my favorite movies of the last decade have been Pixar movies?

    10. I love this weather. I may have said it before, but Fall in Atlanta is pretty special.

    Don’t hate.

    – Duke

  • A Note on Notes

    For the purposes of this article, I am going to assume that if you are in commercial real estate then you will have occasional (or frequent) networking meetings with other CRE professionals.

    Working on that principle, I should warn you of a dreaded part of that process that most of us dislike but force ourselves to complete in order to maintain our relationships . . . “thank-you” notes.

    The general process for me is as follows:

    1. Find a deal, idea, property, or company that I am interested in and contact someone affiliated with it.

    2. Set up and time and place to meet (including what I look like and how to reach me if you are running late or need to cancel).

    3. Met, chat, discuss life, break bread, shake hands, and say goodbye.

    4. Send a follow up thank-you note or email.

     

    I love Parts 1-3. I deal with Part 4.

    I love people. I love chatting. I find other people infinitely interesting and almost always enjoy my time getting to know someone new.

    But I don’t love writing thank-you notes.

    I know it is odd to hear that I don’t enjoy writing when you are reading something I wrote, but understand the distinction. These posts are opinions, reasearch, theory, ideas, and generally just interesting topics that I enjoy discussing. A thank-you note is redundant to me.

    Let me explain why . . .

    I pride myself on being extremely honest with other people. If I tell you something is true, then you better believe that I mean it or sincerely believe it to be true. At the end of the day, when you look back on your career, all you really have is your reputation. And I want my reputation to be that of someone who is honest to a fault.

    So, when I say to you: “Thank you for meeting with me today. I appreciate your time,” I mean it. I ‘m not just saying it because I am supposed to say it. I’m not saying it because people think I should. Like I said above, I genuinely enjoy meeting other people and I do appreciate their time. So I really do mean “Thank you for your time.”

    The fact that I am supposed to write a thank-you note to express how overwhelmingly grateful I am for someone’s time undermines that principle. Writing a thank-you note is like saying: “When I looked you in the eye and thanked you for your time, I didn’t really mean it. Now that I am taking the time to write something out and mail or email it to you should show you how serious I am in thanking you. I didn’t mean it before, but I mean it now.”

    Do you see how that undermines the eye-to-eye handshake and heartfelt thanks I gave at the restaurant or coffee house? If I meant what I said, then I shouldn’t need to write a thank-you note. My highest level of honesty and sincerity is in the word I give you face-to-face.

    So, I say all of that to say, I think thank-you notes are a shade above pointless if you realize that I sincerely mean what I say.

    Having said that, thank-you notes are still a good practice. For people who don’t know you, it can reinforce your sincerity and (much more importantly) can make them feel important. That is People Skills 101. Make people feel important and they will run through brick walls for you.

    Think about the mail you get. Do you get excited to get mass-mailings and generic pamphlets? Or, do you get excited to get that personal note or card from a friend or family member? Probably the latter.

    So, disregarding the issue of sincerity, thank-you notes can be an extremely effective tool for making others feel important and creating lasting business relationships.

     

    Given that thank-you notes are a necessary evil, here are my tips on the best and most effective ways to create your thank-you notes:

    1. Write them the day of the meeting. The info and conversation is still fresh. Don’t put it off or you may forget.

    2. Use a template. Most of my thank you notes say the same thing with a few of the details and personal comments changed per our conversation. Save time by keeping 80% of each letter the same and personalizing the remaining 20%.

    3. Type it. This applies to those of us with poor handwriting. I know its a cute idea to hand-write notes to people, but often times that is just punishing the poor reader by making them read your chicken scratch. Save them the headache and yourself about 20 minutes per note. Type that junk.

    4. Sign it. The only time your pen needs to touch the paper is for your John Hancock. Print off the note and sign your name in pen.

    5. Snail mail it. You and I both know that letters are more meaningful and memorable than emails. Take the time to buy a stamp and enevelope and send it off by mail.

     

    A few final thoughts for you on TY notes:

    Know your audience. Not everyone cares or even wants a TY note. Don’t waste your time sending them to people who don’t want them. Many of us in Gen Y and Gen X could care less about thank-you notes and you can come across as stiff or overly formal if you send one after every casual encounter.

    Having said that . . .

    When in doubt, send a note. It is always better to err on the side of making someone feel important.

    And finally . . .

    If you happen to be meeting me, don’t send me a thank-you note to follow up. I trust that you mean it when you say it was nice to meet me. If you don’t mean it and I find out that you were being insincere, then we won’t do any business together anyway. So you won’t have to worry about maintaining our relationship. Save a tree and save yourself some time. I always prefer a sincere handshake over a note.

    That’s it. Go forth and thank your heart out.

    – Duke

     

  • Random Thoughts

    Random Thoughts for this week:

    1. I bet it takes 20 years from now to “finish” the Beltline project.

    2. I don’t think the credit crisis is a “credit” crisis. I think it is a behavior crisis.

    3. If you kicked me out of the US, I would move to Switzerland in a heart beat.

    4. Did anyone else see the ABC article that said Selig is the #1 office developer in the city? I know it was based on sf developed last year, but it was still surprising to see them at the top of an office list.

    5. If I had unlimited money, I would probably live on Mt Paran Rd, Northside Dr, or the far west part of W Paces Ferry. I love the large lots and hidden homes on those streets. They seem very high end, but also tasteful and secluded. They don’t scream “LOOK HOW RICH I AM” to all the passersby. Maybe I just love large lots and having ample land.

    6. The way the Braves, Falcons, and Bulldogs are playing is enough to send a fella into depression.

    7. I didn’t know how involved and complex it can be to run a full-scale SEO campaign for your website. That junk is complicated and time-consuming.

    8. There is a a direct relationship between free-time and happiness.

    9. Every CRE transaction analysis should include a best-case scenario, worst-case scenario, most-likely scenario, sharpe ratio, and black swan analysis. More on that later.

    10. Check this out:

    That’s it for this Monday!

    Stay Random.

    – Duke

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