A couple days ago, Duke Long posted a great rant about the future of search in the CRE industry.
As he normally does, Duke used his sharp tongue to lambast our industry for being so far behind current technology on search results. He tried to Google a specific building and wanted to see what the search results showed.
The results were unimpressive; especially compared to what you get if you type in your home address (Zillow, Trulia, et al).
Now, Uncle Duke and I don’t always see eye to eye and he certainly has a more confrontational tone than I like. But on this topic, I could not agree with him more.
Doesn’t it seem off that we have built infrastructure to find online a $50,000 homes in Racine, Wisconsin but lack the tech infrastructure to find online a $150,000,000 office building in Manhattan?
How do we fix it?
Well, I suppose CIEs (Commercial Information Exchanges) are the answer, but they have to be open to all searchers and the amount of information infrastructure to do that on a national scale is simply massive. I’m not saying it can’t be done. CoStar has done it (poorly).
It can be done. It needs to be done.
But by whom?
But there is no end-to-end solution for our lack of strong searchability.
So, if anyone is asking my opinion, I would say a true game-changing tech startup in CRE would be the one who can control the entire universe of search inquiries for a building (like Zillow does for your house).
Find that guy, and you will find the man set up to change our industry.
– Duke (the other one)
Have you had a successful career as a broker? Do you spend all day, every day analyzing and evaluating commercial property? Do you have some cash to invest over-and-above stocks and bonds?
Then perhaps it is time to put your money where your brain is. Perhaps you should become a property owner instead of a fee-earner.
Many of the most successful owners I know were once power brokers.
Maybe they grew weary of waking up with zero income every Jan 1. Maybe they got tired of the owners they served taking home the biggest paychecks. For one reason or another, those brokers decided that they wanted to transition from service-providers to service-users.
Many of the most successful owners and acquisition minds in our business started off that way and I am going to project my thoughts on them a little here. I have never lived through that transition, but I have had a few business partners that have and I noticed a common theme.
I noticed that some of these lifetime brokers had trouble adjusting to the owner side of the table because of one key difference between the broker and owner mindset.
Brokers focus on can. Owners focus on should.
I had a partner of mine tell me that his main focus as a broker was on finding motivated sellers. Brokers can’t waste their time on low-probability deals or they will miss opportunities on the more likely transactions. Makes sense to me, but what if you’re a buyer and you run across a highly motivated seller of a building you don’t want to own?
Can you buy her building?
Can vs. Should. A broker spends his entire career figuring out which deals he CAN close and earn a commission on. I can see how it would be difficult to turn off that analysis . . . but you have to. As an owner, your analysis and vision need to start at a higher level.
As an owner, what deals SHOULD you buy right now?
Have your list? Great. Now start finding sellers and their intermediaries that fit into that box.
Find a motivated seller? Great. Do the returns look attractive? No, then look elsewhere. You COULD buy her property, but you SHOULDn’t.
I know this all sounds very obvious, but I find that very few of the brokers I have worked with do the true return analysis of a potential seller. They research market comps and get an idea of market value, but they don’t usually run through what the returns would be for the prospective buyer. Again, they are focusing on WHERE it will transact not WHY it should transact there for the buyer.
So I know this idea is very academic and may sound condescending to brokers, but I don’t mean it to. I just want an aspiring young owner to realize that the transition from broker to owner is a very meaningful one and that you should be prepared to shift your thinking. A deal that you can close isn’t necessarily a good deal and the chasm between COULD and SHOULD is the difference between mediocre and exceptional.
Has anyone else experienced this transition? Did you find it hard to shift your mindset? Let us know in the comments.
I ‘m an old-fashioned guy. In spite of my penchant (cough, obsession, cough) for technology, I usually prefer handshake deals, opening doors for ladies, a tipping my hat to gentlemen. Maybe it’s my southern heritage, but I’m an old soul, as my mother puts it.
So it may or may not come as a surprise that I have an old fashioned take on public relations.
Our era of instant information and nearly unlimited connectivity allows us to constantly share every whim, idea, or quote that pops into our minds. We share everything, tell everything, and constantly communicate. And, like just about everything, that maximum connectivity has both costs and benefits.
Facebook and Twitter have helped topple dictators in Africa.
They also let you know the very instant that Lance Armstrong admitted to doping or Oscar Pistorius was accused of murder.
As I try to build my career and a personal brand, I try to take a Franklinian approach to my reputation. I nurture it, check on it, and try to maintain it as best I can. But I’m not perfect. I unintentionally mislead or misrepresent things from time to time and have to back track. I never do those things on purpose; I’m always just explaining my imperfect understanding of the situation.
For instance, a friend of mine brought a large deal to my attention that would be a strong candidate for my company to acquire. I told him that we pay up to a 1% finder’s fee. Now, that’s true. My company will pay UP TO a 1% finder’s fee on deals, as far as I know. But this deal was huge and a 1% fee would have been much more than $1,000,000. Also, I have never completed an acquisition for my company (I work in another part of the company and I am helping the Acq Team). So, on presenting the deal to our Director of Acquisitions, he made me go back to my friend and make sure he could live with a substantially smaller fee if the transaction were successful. I felt guilty. I had unintentionally misled a friend and lost a bit of credibility.
Was anything I said untrue? No, but since I’d never done an acquisition before with my company, I could have managed my friend’s expectations better.
Therein lies my lesson and the point of this treatise.
There is no way you can anticipate all problems, complications, black swans, shortcomings, recessions, bankruptcies, defaults, or other problems that arise in commercial real estate. No one can. And, unless your last name happens to be Shakespeare, Thoreau, Whitman, Frost, or Dickens, you are not one of the top 5 wordsmiths of all time.
So here is my advice:
Stay out of the paper. Don’t give quotes, predictions, and opinions that are written down or published. Otherwise, you will eventually look like a fool.
Remember the director of the US Patent Office who, around 1800, declared they should close the office because there was nothing left to invent? Remember the guys who kept talking about “creative financing” in the Business Chronicle 2006 and then filed Ch 11 in 2009?
I know it boosts our ego to see our name in the paper with a canned quote on the multifamily market and a fancy rendering of our new development, but once it fails and we give it back to the lender we lose credibility . . . like I did with my friend, except on an infinitely larger scale.
Do you want to look like that? (***Hint . . . No***)
So don’t worry about self-promotion. Don’t beat you chest. Don’t try to get your name in the ABC. Quoting Roosevelt: “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” Let some other fool make all the noise while you quietly make millions for your investors. Truly great men don’t need to tell the world how great they are.
Think about it in terms of opportunity cost – every minute you spend self-promoting you are NOT spending on improving yourself and your abilities. If you focus on being spectacularly talented, capable, and efficient, people will know who you are. The people who matter recognize ability not press clippings. As I alluded to above, I have found that the best athletes don’t need to tell everyone how great they are. People know. And people will know your talent if it’s really there.
Also, the sad truth about us humans is that we aren’t all moral, ethical, and upright. There are certain people who will take advantage of your success. As long as there are ambulances there will be ambulance chasers. And you will find that the more often your successful company’s name is in the paper, the more often you will be served with frivolous and unethical law suits. It’s just the sad truth about us: we are jealous of success and want what others have.
So go ahead and beat your chest and boost your ego in the paper if you like, but be prepared to pay extraordinary amounts of legal bills to settle frivolous lawsuits out of court.
Before I leave you, let me clarify one point.
I’m not saying that PR is worthless or that you should never promote your company or any of its projects. My message is simply an admonition to be extremely careful with what gets put into print (and therefore searchable for all eternity). If you want to have a social media campaign to promote your new apartment project, do it. If you think you need to get your company’s name in the paper, go for it. But please understand that the public eye is an extremely critical one and, unless your name is Jesus of Nazareth, you ain’t perfect. When you screw up, misstep, default, over-leverage, and can’t keep your promises, everyone who can read will know about it. And your reputation will never be what it once was.
Food for thought.
Maybe I’m the only one who gets overwhelmed with my workload from time to time, but, just in case I’m not, here is a nice tool I use to keep track of my tasks.
Workflowy is basically just a list making website where you can keep and track your to-do list. You can add new tasks easily and organize your work into different sections. I like it because I can separate my main to-do list from my side projects, my baseball list, and my personal/home to-do list. I even create time-specific lists that tell me what tasks I should be working on throughout the day.
Another great think about Workflowy is that it’s cloud-based and you can access it anywhere. So, when I am at home at night reading on my iPad and I get an idea or task, I just pop open Safari, log in to Workflowy, and add it to my to-do list. Same applies to your iPhone/Balckberry, home computer, or work desktop. Any time you have an idea or come across a task, enter it and it’s there.
That may seem like a small deal, but I have found it extraordinarily useful to have access to Workflowy while I am at Lowe’s and an idea hits me for Monday morning.
Here is the “How To” video from Workflowy:
So, for what it’s worth, I love using Workflowy to organize all of my tasks and keep me on track. I find that very few things slip through the cracks when I have them written down and in front of me every day.
Oh, by the way, it’s completely free.
Try it for your self and let me know what you think.
One of the most exciting things about a young career in real estate is that you get to know yourself and your quirks as you figure out your place in this business. Learning simple things like how, when, and where you like to work is incredibly useful if you recognize and use that info.
With that in mind, I try to be keenly aware of what conditions make me most effective and what type of environment will allow me to thrive.
So what follows is a guide to any future business partners.
It’s not an ultimatum. Nor is it a rule book. In fact, this is just a snapshot of what makes me most effective in business right now. It may change over time, but I doubt it. Most of these are lifelong preferences/ideas and not passing fancies.
So, here is what you should know about me if we are going to work together . . .
A. Ethics are non-negotiable
If you and I don’t see eye to eye ethically, we shouldn’t be partners. I know that sounds preachy or moralistic, but if we are coming from different ethical perspectives we won’t get along in the long term. There are so many deals to be done and properties to see that no single deal is worth sacrificing your ethics. If there is any ethical “gray area” in a deal, kill the deal. We’ll find a better one anyway. Don’t hurt other people, don’t sabotage, don’t exact revenge, don’t trick people. You can make money being honest and upright with everyone and, to paraphrase Twain, there is less to remember when you tell the truth.
B. I love helping other people make money or solve problems
Maybe this plays to my generation’s obsession with meaning over money, but being able to help people resolve financial problems or come to mutually beneficial arrangements is fun to me. That makes me feel like I spend my day doing more than try to make boat loads of money. That is more fulfilling to me than a six-figure paycheck (some people get paid six figures right?). I’m not curing cancer or solving water shortages in Africa, but seeing my allies and adversaries walk away from the closing table with a smile is satisfying to me.
C. I am honest to a fault
This may come across as arrogant, but trust me when I tell you that my penchant for extreme honesty is not always an asset. It’s great that people know they can come to me for direct, honest answers and information. But I tend to divulge more than I should and would rather have all parties know all available information. That doesn’t mean I go out of my way to tell trade secrets to my competitors, but asymmetry of information bothers me even if it is tipped in my favor. So, if you are going to partner with me, you should know that I will always tell you the truth, but you should also know that I will tell everyone else the truth. Like I said, that is both an asset and liability.
D. I would rather you make more money than me
Let’s say that I own a company and you are the CEO. I will gladly pay you $150k to my $100k. Or $70k to my $50k. If you are my partner, I want you to know how much I value you. You should know that I appreciate you enough to compensate you beyond my level of compensation because I think you are more important to the partnership than I am. If you are ever unsatisfied with your compensation or percentages, talk to me. I want you to feel like I pay you more than you are worth. Is that a way for me to get rich? Probably not. But having happy partners who love working with me will mean more to me than the zeros in my Suntrust account. And happy partners are productive partners. Productive partners are lucrative partners. So keeping you well paid will work out fine for me in the long run anyway. Even if it doesn’t, I doubt I will regret paying a partner a bunch of money. If I recruit you, you deserve it.
E. I give money to charity
Maybe I should change this header to “I run corporate finances like I run personal finances.” We operate on 80% of our income because 10% goes to charity and 10% goes to our emergency fund. We can argue over the other 80% until we are blue in the face, but that 20% is untouchable. We can decide together which charity or charities deserve our cash. When revenue increases, I’ll probably increase our cash holdings. I don’t like debt (especially corporate debt). Having been a lender and now a successor creditor, I can tell you that the borrower truly is slave to the lender and I want to minimize that with my business partners. I am pretty conservative with my money and like my war chest to be heavy. Food for thought for anyone expecting 50% returns on their capital and maximum leverage on their portfolio. You probably aren’t a fit for me.
F. I have a life
I could throw around the cliche about “working to live instead of living to work,” but you probably already know that about me. I coach baseball. I am in two terrific men’s bible studies. I run this website. I have a personal investment portfolio I work on weekly. I work out. I run. I am crazy about my wife and dog (and one day kids, hopefully). All of that is to say that there are several things that demand my time weekly. You, as my partner, deserve my time and should demand it from me. But understand that I will draw the line. I don’t answer the phone on Sundays or during dinner with my family. If you are the kind of person who works until 10 PM every night and expects me to do the same, talk to someone else. I’m not that guy. I work my brains out when I am in the office and I strive to be the most efficient man in the business, but I do not throw hours at a problem and I will not sacrifice my family life for our financial gains. Sorry.
G. I want people to love working with me
Perhaps my first goal in creating partnerships is to structure an environment where you want to come to work every day. I want your head to pop off the pillow every morning and know you have a brother ready to go to battle with you. Sure, there will always be problem tenants, difficult deals, accounting mistakes, government delays, and a thousand other headaches that come with deal-making. But I hope you enjoy fighting those battles with me. If you don’t, talk to me about it. Let’s make an environment that you love and find fulfilling.
H. I trust people
Probably too much. I love working with my friends and I love that our industry is full of so many great men and women. The problem is that I am inherently trusting and will assume that everyone I meet is a good person unless they give me a blatant reason not to. I wouldn’t say I am gullible, but I do tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and allow them to impress or disappoint me. So it would be useful to have a potential partner who has a healthy level of skepticism and pessimism to balance out my sunshine and rainbows.
I. I value creativity and flexibility
Don’t like what you’re doing? Change it. Think the market is shifting? Shift with it. Think one property type is overheated? Let’s pursue others. Wanna buy cell towers in Botswana? Cool. Let’s figure it out together. I think the days of “I’m a single tenant retail broker for 40 years” are behind us. Shift. Adapt. And have fun. I can be as flexible and creative as you like and I hope you challenge both of us with new ideas, strategies, and investment models. Bring it on, hot shot. We’ll figure it out.
J. I’m a wanderer
I may be speaking too soon, but I don’t think I would be satisfied with a career that only involved Atlanta. I love Charlotte. Nashville has impressed me. Phoenix is growing like ATL. San Antonio is under the radar. Chile is undervalued. India is ripe. While it is way to soon to expand anything oversees, it is fun to be strategic about national and international investment platforms depending on your capital. So, while I may never own apartments in Melbourne, I would be surprised if I only work on Atlanta deals for the rest of my career. Atlanta will always be home base, but there are other interesting cities and opportunities all over the world and our business is getting more and more connected globally every day.
K. Answer this question:
“I don’t know anyone who is better than me at______”. Fill in that blank and then do that blank everyday. Every minute you spend not doing that “blank” is a wasted minute. I will do my best to outsource, offshore, delegate, and automate everything else for you. If you really want to shine, you need to do that “blank” as often as possible every day. We will have to scramble and do everything ourselves for a little while, but we will be keeping an eye toward focusing on what we are best at doing.
Now the real question is: Who would want to work with someone like that? I dunno. But just in case someone thought it was intriguing, I figured I would write it down.
Do you have any special quirks or stances that make you productive? Anything unique to your ideal working situation? Let me know in the comments.
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.
Can you see why this book’s title would catch my eye? Interesting idea, right?
While it wasn’t exactly what I expected and I’m not sure I love the author, Resilience does offer compelling examples of resilient systems and organizations and offers a few theories on how to create a similarly resilient entity yourself.
Like most nonfiction/business books Resilience uses anecdotes and examples from both business and the environment to illustrate what true resilience means. Zolli uses Mexican corn riots, South Pacific tribal fishing, and the Wall Street meeting over the rescue of Lehman Brothers. Let’s call this the Gladwell Approach (he wasn’t the first, but he is one of the best).
Anyway, Zolli argues that there is a sweet spot of interconnectivity. Systems that are too connected, i.e. Wall Street circa 2008, are much more vulnerable to catastrophic failure given a single significant downward incident. It isn’t much of a stretch to say that this financial system was too connected if a few of the big boys can falter and every financial institution in the world feels the ripple effects. He also argues that a certain level of connection is crucial. Isolation and resilience do not walk hand-in-hand, Zolli claims.
I particularly enjoyed the book’s fishing examples. Zolli gave historical cases where a certain species had been over-fished and therefore decimated almost to the point of extinction. Then he recounted the ways a system would nourish the species back into abundance. Fascinating.
Is this a life-changing book that will forever alter the way I view business models?
But it is fairly interesting and I like drawing parallels from nature to business models. Zolli does that fairly well.
What is will criticize is tone. Great writers strike a balance between formality (showing expertise and some appropriate jargon) and informality (making it readable for the general population). Zolli is too formal and reads like an academic. I have a theory that people who truly master their opinion can explain it to an 8 year old. No 8 year old on the planet would understand this book. Choosing longer words in lieu of shorter, simpler words just makes me impatient and doesn’t impress me. As a writer myself, I appreciate word choice and I think this book does a below-average job on tone and readability.
Also, as a small side note, I read the audio version and the narrator had trouble with “s”. His “sss” was more like “sch” and it bugged me every time I heard it. Not Zolli’s fault, but you’d think and audiobook company would hire a reader without speech quirks.
All in all, meh.
Read it if you like interesting anecdotes. Skip it if there is something more interesting on your shelf.
Resilience in Two Sentences: Nature and business can provide poignant examples for resiliency and one needs to be carefull of connectivity. One key to resilience is finding the right amount of connectivity to fend of small losses while avoiding system failures.
Pros: Interesting analogies, well-reasoned examples of resilient and non-resilient systmes/businesses
Cons: Overly academic and verbose. Could use more clarity for thesis.
Target Audience: leaders seeking to create a lasting system built to weather all storms.
This book is best for: The businessman who has given no thought to cyclical volatility and down sides.
Overall Rating: ♦♦♦ (out of 5)
Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:
♦ = 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.
One lesson I took away from Microeconomics is that when you are presented with a tremendous amount of information you should take your time, absorb it, and then repackage it and then you will truly retain it. In that vein, I wanted to take a little time to let the flood of information from the Morris Manning event on Thursday October 4th sink in before I shared it with you.
What follows is the series of notes I took in the Morris, Manning & Martin/France Media event on What to Expect in 2013. It was basically 6 panels that related to all things CRE in the southeast. I think it’s a testament to MMM that most of the heavy-hitters in Atlanta CRE were either in attendance or actually on one of the panels.
As a note, my favorite panels were the first (State of the Market) and last (Development) panels. Be sure to pay special attention to Dr. Linneman’s comments in the first section. He was very good. Also, I put some disclaimer language at the bottom to delineate that none of these opinions have anything to do with MMM or France Media.
State of the Market: Where are we in the Cycle?
Dean Adler (CEO/Founder Lubert-Adler Group) – Biggest single risk in the CRE business is interest rate volatility. The thirst for yield has pushed yields down. Investments are being made because rates are cheap. Real estate still has the same amount of risks and obstacles as ever, but adding IR volatility to the equation is increasing risk. Always asking the question of what type of debt to place on property depending on disposition strategy. As loan sale market winds down, buyers now have the opportunity to buy properties that have had no investments dollars or cap ex for 4 years (zombie assets). Real estate is really back to local execution and returns are going to be made through execution. Why would you go to a closing dinner when you buy something? Operate it, sell it, then celebrate it. In retail, there are winners and losers today. Unlike the past, when A, B, and C centers will all survive. C now has huge risk. There are strong submarkets and “gateway” submarkets in every major metro in the country.
Larry Gellerstedt (CEO Cousins Properties) – Doesn’t think the election is having much of an effect on either investors or customers other than the fact that it feels like everyone is tapping the brakes. Very attractive market for sellers. Taking advantages of a good market so they can redeploy capital elsewhere. Our expertise should be picking assets and knowing how to operate those assets. We get caught up in proforma analysis and manipulating yield (“pencil whipping”). New development is going to be a much smaller part of the sector as a percentage and even apartments will cycle back down. Development opportunities are very geographically focused and urban mixed-use is very attractive. Generally sellers of suburban office and generally buyers of urban office. Urban play is more appealing and is driven by demographic trends. “Like fish, we will eat until we blow up.” So when the market comes back, products get hot, and everyone is pitching their deal, we will overbuild. It will happen again. “The economy is better than most people think it is. “
Mark Grinis (Head of RE North America E&Y) – As a service provider, only the new tax law is effecting their business from a governmental perspective. In isolation, our asset classes look like there is a mismatch for allocating capital. Distress has been redefined in this cycle. Europe is that part of the market that is suffering the most. Asia is having annual growth around 5 to 6%. us is still the engine of the global market place and will continue to be as such. You cannot have one particular strategy and say “I am going to do this one thing.”
Tom Roberts (Head RE Investments Cole) – Election will have very little effect on Cole’s business, but they are vulnerable to the Fed raising rates. Very conservative investment strategy and generally 45 to 50% LTV. Investors are looking for monthly dividends. If they can make 20% on appreciation of that, home run. One way to deal with downsizing tenants is cutting the box into a smaller box and renting the remainder. Always want to be aware of concentration risk, to Dean’s comments about stronger or gateway submarkets in every major metro.
Peter Linneman (Linneman Associates) – Real GDP, since 1970, has continued along the same trend line until 2008. GDP has not “bounced back” and is, in fact, falling farther behind. The between “where we should be” and “where we are” is $2.5 Trillion (US GDP is $15 Trillion). We are growing well below our long term historical growth rate.
Since the bottom of the recession, we have added 4.2 Million jobs, but we have lost 9 Million. Atlanta has been one of the slowest MSAa to recover, but has picked up speed over the last 6 months (more than any other major metro in the US).
Retail sales have recovered in spots. Manufacturing has recovered to a degree. US exports have never been higher in American history (in real terms). Corporate profits are at all time highs, but have dipped in the last quarter. Productivity growth is growing at about 20% of its normal growth rate. Commercial construction is at its all time lowest rate, since ’63, with most of it in Texas, NYC, and DC.
Monetary base: In the last 50 years, grew by $600 Billion. At QE1, it grew by $1 Trillion. QE2 it grew another $1 Trillion. QE3 is going to grow it by AT LEAST another $1 Trillion. “The Fed’s policy is destroying the economy is two ways: 1) No one has ever seen this investment landscape. 2) money is being created like never before.”
“When people are in a situation they have never seen before, they do less. When government is in a situation they have never seen before, they do more.”
“If you don’t need money, you can borrow a bunch of it at minuscule rates.”
Loan volume in CRE has slightly ticked up over the last quarter, all due to multifamily. You are going to have to depend on not much debt being available outside of multifamily. Don’t count on debt. Count on equity as your salvation.
Debt: Who is getting money and why?
Michael Hartman (Managing Director Reznick Capital Markets) – Moderator
Paige Hood (MD Prudential Mortgage) – Most mortgage companies are looking at stabilized acquisitions deals. Pru will look at ground up development, but there needs to be a proven demand for demand. Multifamily has proven demand and Pru will look at construction-perm debt on deal by deal basis. Focused on primary markets. Deals are be underwritten on untrended rents and expenses that are justifiable. Looking for 8% debt yield on MF.
Kurt Schwarz (Client Executive JPMorgan Chase) – At the very least, assets are beginning to trade. Top located assets are going to be rewarded on the valuation side with lenders. Credit decisions are being driven be equal part optimism and pessimism. When it come to recourse, guarantors need to show liquidity much more than simple net worth. Bankers do value the cross-sold products and want the treasury management
Matt Donnelly (SVP Cole RE) – Debt structure depends almost completely on investment strategy. Projects with lease up will go to local commercial banks and keep on floating debt to allow for flexibility in refinance. Larger, more leased properties will go to the LifeCos on a longer term. Investors are a fixed income play allocated to CRE. They look for stable investments and that means core, long-term investments.
Dave Gahagan (SVP Walker Dunlop) – All underwriting depends on property type. Agencies will go to 80% LTV governed by 1.25x DSCR. Somewhere around 3.75% for a 10-year rate. CMBS spreads have come in dramatically over the past 45 days and p[ricing is landing in the 4.5% range. LifeCos are a little more selective of properties, but will lend around 3.75% on floor rates. Level of due diligence done on sponsors is significantly higher than 5 years ago. Sponsor quality is high on everyone’s list. How are your other assets performing? Where will our sponsor be when the deal drops?
Joel Stephens (MD Regions) – Rally in CMBS has allowed almost all property types to obtain debt finance. MF is leading the pack and continues to go to agencies and LifeCos. Commercial properties in gateway cities and going more toward LifeCos. CMBS looks close to $50 Billion for this year. 20% of CMBS is hospitality and 33% is retail (down from 50% at peak). Retail continues to be a challenge for debt financing, but trophy and grocery-anchored can get debt placed.
Capital – Where is it being invested? What markets and asset classes?
Chris Marshall (MD JLL) – Moderator.
Neill Faucett (Principal Lubert-Adler) – Invest through local operating partners. If you can maximize current yield, you can take some pressure off the exit strategy. Will consider development, but it has to be very deal specific.
Atlanta lags behind its competitors in terms of jobs regained. Investment thesis shifts to discount to replacement cost.
Will McIntosh (Head of Research USAA RE) – Generally, investors are conservative capital looking for core and core-plus returns. Top markets are gateway markets, but they are looking at secondary markets (especially for industrial). Looking for growth in employment and population where it is available and while it isn’t abundant, there is some. Atlanta is still on the institutional radar, but investors need to find deals that make sense. People are focusing on economies that are focused on tech, energy, or medicine.
Tom Coakley (Director MetLife) – Met has roughly $7 Billion out in debt and almost all of it was in gateway markets. Invests for general account and doesn’t have interest in venturing out on risk spectrum. Atlanta is an opportunistic market.
Loretta Cockrum (CEO Foram Group) – Diversification is an absolute mandate for clients because all are from outside of the U.S. substantial amount of capital is coming from outside of the country and all of the gateway cities are experiencing that same trend. With no natural barriers, there is nothing to stop people from moving out. With 60 year investment horizons, you need to look at where the long term value will hold.
Chip Davidson (CEO Brookdale Group) – Had success in Dallas and in Texas because of the demand driver of the energy industry. Primary investment target is suburban office with identifiable demand drivers. Looking primarily for value-add assets. Investors have become considerably more cautious and more informed. Can’t count on cap rate compression in a couple years because the fed will adjust 10-year rates. Atlanta has become a big city with a great airport. Public schools is a big problem and will not attract corporate relocations. Tech and energy are the main demand drivers in larger markets and Atlanta is behind other markets in those games.
To Fund or Not to Fund? And What to do when you do.
Brad Lenox (Morris, Manning, & Martin) – Moderator
Thomas Boytinck (Founder Allegro Advisors) – 600 funds in the market right now. The big guys are taking maybe 80% of the available capital. When you start a fund, you are becoming an investment manager. You are going to be judged against Fidelity. Track record has become more and more of a focus. Take on a full time staff member whose sole responsibility is raising debt and equity capital.
Mit Shah (Principal Noble Investment Group) – There is nothing more frustrating than finding opportunities and then having to patch together capital. shifting from a deal by deal promote to a fund level promote, hasn’t made investors shy away in the past. Today, finding investors at the fund level has become much more of a challenge. Blackstone has become the index for the private CRE investor industry. There has become a hard hurdle you must hit in order to get to the preferred return.
Amachie Ackah (MP Argosy Capital) – There is capital for individual deals. You might be better off doing deal by deal raising right now because of the scarcity of fund-level capital. Most first time funds lose money.
Pike Aloian (Partner Almanac Realty Advisors) – Fund structure can provide speed. If the marketplace is dynamic, you may need speed to close. Raising capital deal by deal is very time consuming. Deal by deal is the best way to structure the deal currently. Trying to put together programmatic JV with institutional capital is another way to slice it but funding is not guaranteed. Limited partners are concerned with governance, reporting, and stability.
Michael Reiter (SVP American Realty Capital) – Capital is predominantly raised through the independent broker-dealer channels. Investors look at team, theme, and track record.
Real Estate Tax: Facing the Fiscal Cliff
Michael Frankel (Global Head RE Tax E&Y) – Moderator
Chuck Beaudrot (Partner Morris, Manning) – We have 3 types of federal income tax on our income. If we head into a higher tax environment, the ability to defer and transfer tax burden becomes paramount. Basing selling decisions on the tax benefits is a distorted economic activity.
Robert Rozen (Partner E&Y) – Powerpoint = The Fiscal Cliff. This year we have a deficit of $1.2 Trillion. Beware of Buch tax cuts that are going to cease in Jan 2013. Accelerated depreciation, carried interest, and 1031 exchanges will all be affected.
Ricky Novak (President Strategic 1031 XC Advisors) – People are beginning to plan for being forced to become active investors vs passive investors. Many clients are attempting to close this year due to the uncertainty of next year. They will be sitting on that liquidity until the dust settles and they can decide how to deploy it.
Development: What? Where? By Whom?
Mike McDonald (MD Eastdil Secured) – Moderator
Reid Freeman (President Regent Partners) -Underwrote to 9.8% constant on Sovereign. Had to allocate between office and condos. when construction started, LIBOR was at 5%. Currently developing hospitality project in Charleston. 4.5 acres with 200 unit apartment project and 2.3 acres on upper King Street. 304 room hotel with 30k sf retail/office. Leveraged IRR at 60% LTC is 24%. Partnered with Bay North from Boston.
Charlie Tickle (CEO Daniel Corp) – Daniel came to Atlanta about 10 years ago. Decided to partner with Selig and started to assemble large portfolio and decided Midtown was the market of choice. Multifamily was underwritten to 7.5% development constant. Hotel and office were underwritten separately and hotel underwrites better today. Reynolds Plantation is a long term investment. Probably going to add 100 rooms to Ritz Carlton. Potential for seniors housing and multifamily and golf amenity.
Chad Weaver (VP Camden) – Great time to be in the apartment business. Mid 2010, finally saw improving occupancy and rent and therefore began to start developing. Leasing has been around 50 units per month and rents have been 10% better than proforma. People are, perhaps, finally getting more comfortable that they are not going to be losing their jobs. So they are moving back into apartments.
Jay Jacobson (Director Wood Partners) – One of the largest MF developers in the country. Actively developing in 22 markets. Currently building 4,000 – 5,000 units. Best apartment development market in career. Will build to a 5 cap if they think they can sell to a 3 cap. Equity has been flooding to super core product in urban infill markets. Everyone seems to be getting filled up with MF deals. May hit 220k units in starts this year.
Jim Jacoby (CEO Jacoby Development) – Atlantic Station site worked for retail. Leased and sold office at sub-6 cap rate. Always looking for smart growth type projects. Ford Motor Plant and Porsche project are creating hundreds of jobs on the south side. Trying to bring a little gentrification to that area.
The information presented (above/below) is provided by The Atlanta Property Journal and was taken, in whole or in part, from the October 4, 2012 “What to Expect in 2013?” Commercial Real Estate Development and Finance Conference, sponsored by InterFace Conference Group and Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP (“MMM”). The above is general information and not intended to constitute legal advice. Any opinion expressed at the conference by a speaker is solely the opinion of the individual and may not reflect the opinion(s) of MMM, its individual attorneys, personnel or the opinions of MMM clients. It should not be distributed or repurposed without the approval of MMM by contacting email@example.com
A Whole New Mind by Daniel PinkImage Courtesy DanPink.com
As I have mentioned before, I think the age of the American analyst is ending. Daniel Pink agrees with me. Sort of. His book, A Whole New Mind, argues that creativity and innovation are the American exports of the future and right-brain thinking will be the key to our future. He says that we are leaving the Information Age and entering the Conceptual Age.
Pink’s book is an intriguing (and well-written) argument that the proliferation of MBAs and “Quants” in recent American business has run its course. The ability to analyze and quantify are skills that can be replicated more cheaply abroad.
Pink uses the terms Asia, Abundance, and Automation to explain why our left-brained, analytic business model is headed overseas. They are each pretty self-explanatory, but I like the way he argues for abundance.
My favorite example is the toilet brush. He claims that because of the recent astronomical rise in standards of living across the planet, most people can afford the necessities to survive. Most people even have enough income to have a choice in how to allocate their disposable income.
Enter the toilet brush. Pink describes his recent trip to Target where he headed to pick up a few things and noticed the bathroom aisle. He saw no fewer that twenty different toilet brushes. Martha Stewart had one. Allen + Roth had one. Some were sleek and sexy. Yep. Sexy toilet brushes. Think about that . . .
Because the toilet brushes were all less than $10 and all did the EXACT same thing, Pink had to choose the toilet brush that appealed most to him aesthetically. He went with the coolest toilet brush and Allen + Roth got his hard-earned dollars. Or, put another way, the most creative company earned the sale.
And that, I think, is the entire premise of the book. If we have all we will ever need to survive, then we make our decisions based on taste. And taste is a very right-brained, creative activity and has very little to do with our analytical skills.
I wouldn’t do it justice to describe all of the examples and analogies that Pink uses to prove his point, but I will say that he is very thorough and convincing. He goes as far as scanning his brain, exploring labyrinths, learning to see the world differently through painting, attending laughing classes, and about a half dozen other exercises that flex the creative muscle of the mind.
Through Pink’s eyes, you can see how the truly innovative and inspirational companies in the world really put a premium on creativity and R-directed thinking.
One of the most important keys of the book is what I will leave you with. Pink argues that, with the impending end of the Information Age, the vast majority of American jobs in the future will be held by people who create something. There will be no need for data interpretation or management, and no need for the ability to organize or present information. That will be done for pennies in Pakistan.
The American job of the future will be creation.
So, what I recommend you ask yourself is: What am I creating?
If it can be done cheaper by someone else . . . watch out.
Whole New Mind in Two Sentences: Analytical skills, data processing, and data management can all be replicated abroad. The future of our country will depend on our ability to create and innovate rather than our ability to analyze and interpret.
Pros: Interesting analogies, well-reasoned examples of creativity trumping analytics
Cons: Perhaps overly simplistic or generalizing (but not offensively so)
Target Audience: Anyone under the age of 80 and over the age of 10
This book is best for: The reader looking for an interesting introduction into the world of creativity and how the right side of our brains will become our economic engine
Overall Rating: ♦♦♦♦ (out of 5)
Here is the Amazon link to buy this book:
♦ = 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.
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