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Category Archive for: ‘Careers in CRE’

  • Questions on TSPLOST

    Underground transit will cure what ails you!

    Now that we have a quick guide to the projects proposed on TSPLOST, let’s take a couple posts to answer the basic questions on TSPLOST that will help us figure out exactly what we are voting for on July 31st.

    Specifically, let’s try to answer these:

    What is it? – What projects are involved and what money is being allocated where? (This will be a follow up to our Quick Guide)

    How Realistic Is it? – Can the DOT pull this huge project off in the timeline? It doesn’t matter how cool it sounds if the DOT can’t pull it off . . .

    What specific problems will be solved? – I know we all want to Untie Atlanta. How will these projects do that?

    What happens if it doesn’t pass? – Do we sink into a traffic-choked oblivion? Can we try again next year?

    Given our future hope and dreams for the city, is this the best course of action?

     

    Alright. That seems like a decent road map (pun!) that should get us to a “yes” or “no.” Check back over the next week or two as we will try to answer these questions as thoroughly as possible and get some debate moving on whether TSPLOST will truly untie Atlanta traffic.

    – Duke

  • Lies, Damned Lies, and Sustainability

    Look how fragile! Let’s spend a bunch of money and make it better!

    A Word on Sustainability

    If someone tells you they’re a sustainability consultant, or expert, your reaction should be to ask, “in what industry?”

    The reason I say this is because sustainability is not a profession with a defined industry, it’s a specialization.  It’s similar to being a lean manufacturing expert or a talent acquisition consultant.  They’re both specializations within larger industries i.e. manufacturing and human resources.  Sustainability is a skill set within a large realm of thinking, much like creative writing would be to grammar.  However, the realm that sustainability exists in is a strange mix of management consulting, environmental analysis, and politics.  It’s tough to really pin down.

    Sustainability has become a leviathan-like specialization because you can apply its principles to nearly everything, which is good.  But, what makes it dangerous is that you can tie everything you analyze back to some life threatening environmental hazard.  This is the sustainability marketing technique used to grab your attention and then reel you in.  Everyone is worried about their health and well-being, so of course everyone worries about the world becoming uninhabitable.  This is why I say most of what you hear coming from sustainability experts, most often entrepreneurs cashing in, is lies or damned lies.  They’re just looking to get you worked up; ever heard of Al Gore?

    It’s All Lies

    Fossil fuels aren’t running out, the weather is different every year no matter what we do, and that Al Gore fellow is the only thing on this planet full of hot Green House Gas.  That’s what you want to hear right?  Well, all of those are all lies.  Or are they?  In fact, if you’re a sustainable thinker none of that matters.  Are you confused yet?  Good, because that’s exactly what I want.

    Sustainability is just like statistics.  There are lies, damned lies, and sustainability.  Sustainability is an overly complicated opportunity cost methodology backed with statistical and environmental analysis, which is usually quite shoddy, used to confuse average people into feeling guilty so they spend more money.  A common tactic used in sustainability is the butterfly effect.

    If you don’t recycle, this puppy will die. How do you sleep at night? Don’t you feel guilty and want to spend some money on sustainable stuff.

     

     

    “If you take that plastic bag from your grocer, you’re killing an endangered species in Namibia.”

     

     

     

     

    You’ve either said something like this before or heard someone say it.  Perhaps not to this extreme, but I bet it’s closer than you think.  Arguing a point like my Namibia-Plastic-Bag-conundrum can be very effective if you’re dealing with an overly emotional audience, but in reality it’s almost impossible to actually prove.  If you’re a statistician you’re familiar with the term “spurious relationship”.  Just because two things are statistically related doesn’t mean they are causal.  This is something sustainability speakers don’t want you to realize when they’re hammering home their point about how your poor choices are ruining the earth and more importantly our economy.

    But, it’s not Sustainability’s Fault

    There are two cold, hard truths here to consider: 1) We are terrible at global thinking and 2) we want all of our issues in life to be black and white.  Neither are true.

    We, as humans, are ill equipped for global thinking.  Earth’s systems are far to complex for us to handle as individual thinkers.  The reason climate change can’t be irrefutably proven is because climate models can’t predict all the factors affecting localized weather events.  I use that example not to poke fun at climate scientists, but to illustrate that proving a butterfly effect is nearly impossible because Earth’s systems are so very complex.

    All those things that happen outside our realm of understanding are called externalities.  As an example, pollution is an externality in standard business decision making.  We don’t really understand and can’t predict how pollution will affect a company’s ability to operate down the road.  We can’t understand it, so we don’t use it in decision making.

    So, Earth is difficult to understand and here’s the second truth.  We like our answers to be 100% correct or 100% wrong.  Grey areas are not our specialty.  A former real estate mentor of mine had a great saying he used each time he entered a room to discuss a new deal with investors.  This, for those uneducated, is that last place you want to be unsure of an outcome.  He would say, “The numbers we’re going to show you today are incorrect and the financial result of this deal will not look like this.  But, we’ve done our best to analyze the risk and we think we have a good one on our hands.”

    And, he was right.  The actual numbers never reflect our predictions because externalities are roughly impossible to predict (we don’t understand them, remember).  He didn’t know it at the time, but that’s my favorite saying both for finance and also for questions of sustainability.  He had a great understanding that life happens in the grey area.

    Let’s recall my first proposition here.  Sustainability isn’t an industry; it’s a specialization.

    Perhaps a cleaner definition for sustainability is to say,

    “it seeks to define and analyze risk associated with externalities to improve long term decision making.”

    Like the premise that there is no such thing as a free lunch, sustainable thinking seeks to show how costs add up on a grander scale.  There will always be winners and losers no matter how anything is produced and sold.  Sustainability attempts to reduce the number of unforeseen future losses caused by the winners today (there’s no accounting for the damage caused by Charlie Sheen however.)  It’s pretty much impossible, but it’s worth trying.  Not all of sustainable thinking is a lie and in fact I think it represents a new wave of analysis for capital investment.  The hoopla created by greedy greenies seeking to make a quick buck makes proving the validity of that a bit more difficult.

    Keep reading here to learn more about what environmental risks should be considered to improve our understanding of investment and economic development.

    – Hunter

  • What to Do When Your Commercial Lender Fails (Part II)

     

    All is not lost. Relax, have a plan, and let’s make a deal happen!

    So your community bank failed. Bummer.

    And then the FDIC took over your commercial mortgage. Double bummer.

    Now, you get a letter that says some LLC has purchased your mortgage. What next?

    Well, I work for that LLC. My company is the controlling member of that LLC and my job is to work something out with you, Jim Borrower, that everyone can live with.

    Cool?

    Ok, for the purposes of this article, I will assume that your mortgage has been purchased through a structured sale with the FDIC or has been transferred/sold to a loss-share bank. We can get into the difference between the two types of new owners elsewhere, but your position really doesn’t change much either way and I think the steps you should take are the same.

    So here’s what you do:

    Step 1 – Find the Buyer

    The first step you should take is figure out who just bought your mortgage. Assuming your loan matures before 2030, you are going to have to deal with these jokers ( . . . me  . . . ) sooner or later. So you need to know who you are dealing with. The fastest way to do that is to follow the headlines.

    These sales with the FDIC are all public record, so eventually the FDIC will have it on their website, but it will take a while for them to update that. So you need to follow the headlines in a Google Alert like “FDIC Commercial Loan Sale” or “Commercial Mortgage Sale by FDIC.” The point is, you want to see the article that names the equity firm or bank that now owns your loan. Otherwise you will have to wait a couple months for it to enter public record.

    If you don’t see it and get a notice that says that “Jim Bob’s LLC has purchased your commercial mortgage,” you should immediately hunt down that LLC through the secretary of state’s website. We will get into the details of the Sec of State searches later, but for now let’s just assume you know your way around that database and find out ACME Inc bought your mortgage. Great! Moving on . . . .

     

    Step 2 – Weigh Your Options

    As I see it, there are only six options available to you:

    • Refinance
    • Discounted Payoff
    • Full Payoff
    • Foreclosure
    • Guaranty Suit
    • File for Bankruptcy

    I will describe each of these in detail in the next article, but I want you to start thinking about your options from both sides. We are an investor looking to maximize our returns and you are looking to have as little pain as possible in owning and maintaining this property. Where those two desires meet is where we will make a deal. Otherwise, you’re just wasting my time or I’m wasting yours. So this step is important. Know your options and have an idea of what will be suitable for both parties.

     

    Step 3 – Call the New Owner

    Assuming you want to make a deal (instead of being non-cooperative or just continuing to pay your loan into oblivion), now is the time to reach out. You know who we are, you know your options, you have all your paperwork organized, and now you need to reach out to the deal maker.

    This may take some additional research.

    You need to use company websites, LinkedIn, and your professional network to find someone at ACME Inc. Find someone and they can point you to the decision-maker on your loan. In our case, we have thousands of loans and dozens of asset managers. So there isn’t one guy to call for your loan. It could be any one of two dozen people that work loans every day.

    Get to someone and let them guide you to the right person within ACME.

     

    Step 4 – Keep your Head and Strike a Deal

    We get paid to resolve loans and find solutions. We don’t get paid to hurt you. Calm the heck down and let’s make a deal happen. Yelling at me or trying to intimidate me just pisses me off and makes me call my attorney. Trust me when I tell you that you would prefer to deal with me than my attorney. In fact, you are legally liable for any legal fees I incur trying to chase down the money that you owe us.

    Look at the calm tranquility! Don’t you want that?

    So approach this person as an ally helping you wade though a tough situation. In my experience, people have watched too many crime dramas where they think the only way to negotiate with someone is to shine a light in their eye, yell loudly, and imply physical pain. Doesn’t work and it’s a waste of time. Save us both some time and let’s be grown-ups and work out a deal. I have 100 other deals that need my attention and I don’t have the patience to deal with screaming idiots.

    You already have all your ducks in a row and a strategy in hand, so send in your paperwork, propose a resolution (including a timeline), and let the person think it over. If you do that, you’ve done most of the hard work for the gal anyway and she will want to work it out with you. The easier you make her job the better deal you will get.

     

    Step 5 – Follow Up and Close

    You can promise and talk all you want, but if you don’t deliver then you’ll get the wrath of the new mortgage-holder who has the right to pursue you (usually). So, once you’ve worked out a deal with her, check in every couple weeks to update on status and timing and close that bad boy.

    Do everything within your power to close and, if all else fails, communicate more. I totally understand when someone is refinancing one of my loans and their refinancing lender needs another 15 days to close. That’s fine. Earth is probably NOT going to explode in 15 days. Just keep me in the loop and get it done. If you drag it out for 6 months, then I’ll just call my attorney. But I am reasonably patient when borrowers keep me in the loop with legitimate hold-ups. Again, I have 100 other borrowers to attend to and don’t want to spend too much time watching every move you make. I just want to know what’s happening.

     

    Step 5 – Move On

    Closed? Great! Wipe your brow, take a deep breath, and get back into the business of making money and out of the business of spending money. In fact, make some money off of me!

    I just told you that I have 100 deals I am looking to move. Why don’t I move a few in your direction? There is always a deal to be had if you want to hold the property longer than we do or are more willing to invest in improvements or whatever. Your timeline and risk-profile are different than ours, so take a look at a couple deals and let’s see if we can get a few deals done!

     

    That’s it. Be prepared, make my life easy, and keep your cool and we can all be friends. Remember, we are here to make deals and move loans, not hurt people. The only people who get hurt are the ones who scream, lie, and try to trick us. They get what is coming to them. You don’t want to be that guy. Be easy to work with and my first phone call on a great deal I need to move may be to you . . .

    – Duke

  • APJ Quick Guide to TSPLOST Projects

     

    Not sure if I want to vote “yes”

    Today I ran across the UntieAtlanta.com site (link is here) and I think it’s a great resource to educate yourself about the TSPLOST vote coming up on July 31st.

    It’s nice to have a quick and easy resource to show all of the projects and timing associated with this huge bill as I suspect most people are confused as to what exactly they will be voting for. My favorite part (and most educational) is the interactive map that places markers on all the projects and has brief descriptions of their timing and price.

    As I mentioned before, there is no such thing as a perfect bill. There are parts that I agree with and parts that I disagree with. And I think it is important to point out the difference between doing “something” and doing the “right thing”. I know that action makes us all feel better, but action for action’s sake is a great way to go far in the wrong direction.

    So my basic two questions for this bill are: 1) Is there more to like than dislike in this bill? and 2) Is this the right thing to do or just something to do to address our transportation issues?

    I think the answer to #1 will tell me the answer to #2. And my answer to number one is actually very easy to figure out: Would I vote to send 1 cent out of every dollar I spend to go to fixing _______________? By breaking down TSPLOST piece-by-piece I can quantify how many of the projects I support and how many I oppose. If there are more that I support than I oppose, then I’m a “yes” on TSPLOST. If not, I basically have to figure out if the Beltline and other projects I view as crucial are worth all that money I don’t want to spend on the other projects.

    And let me reiterate something I said last time.

    WE NEED TO UPGRADE, IMPROVE, AND FIX ALL OF OUR TRANSPORTATION IF WE WANT TO CONTINUE TO GROW AS AN INTERNATIONAL CITY.

    I don’t think that is open to debate. Atlanta will grow when people want to be here. People want to be here when they enjoy our quality of life. Our quality of life is highly tied to our ability to move in and around the city. Therefore transportation (along with water and eduction) is one of the crucial issues facing Atlanta in my lifetime. So, don’t think I underestimate the value of upgrading our transportation. And don’t think that I wish the suburban roads and transportation systems to fall into disrepair. I just want to make sure that this is the best long-term decision for our city before I throw my “yes” around.

    So, enough explaining. Here are the projects and my vote on them:

     

    Atlanta to Griffin Commuter Rail ($20,000,000) – No

    SR 85 Improvements in Fayetteville ($5,900,000) – No

    South Industrial Path in Fayette County ($1,210,000) – No

    South Industrial Path in Fayette County ($1,150,000) – No

    SR 85 Expansion in Fayetteville ($24,000,000) – No

    MacDuff Pkwy expansion near Peachtree City ($6,400,000) – No

    Bill Gardner Expansion in Henry Co ($27,000,000) – No

    Widening SR 92 in Fayetteville ($15,900,000) – No

    Improving SR 92 in Fayetteville ($20,000,000) – No

    Widening 23/42 in McDonough ($44,000,000) – No

    Widening SR 155 in McDonough ($48,000,000) – No

    Upgrade SR 20/81 in McDonough ($11,000,000) – No

    Widen SR 81 in McDonough ($27,000,000) – No

    Widen East Fayetteville Bypass ($14,000,000) – No

    Parallel Connector off Jonesboro Rd ($17,000,000) – No

    Widen Fayetteville Rd in Jonesboro ($40,180,000) – No

    SR 92 Connector in Fayette Co ($18,300,000) – No

    Improve interchange at SR 74 and I85 ($22,500,000) – No

    Roundabout at Hutcheson Ferry ($1,750,000) – No

    Widen SR 78 in Riverdale ($22,200,000) – No

    Redesign Tara Blvd ($102,170,000) – No

    Improve Old Milton and 400 Interchange ($1,900,000) – No

    Improve SR 92 at South Fulton Pkwy ($16,000,000) – No

    Widening SR 85 in Forest Park ($34,150,000) – Yes

    Widen Conley Rd at I285 ($28,500,000) – Yes

    MARTA at the Airport ($7,160,000) – Yes

    Widen Camp Creek Pkwy at 285 ($60,250,000) – Yes

    Replace bridge over Camp Creek Pkwy ($3,500,000) – No

    New Interchange at 285 and Greenbriar Pkwy ($36,400,000) – Yes

    Improve Campbellton Rd ($1,259,900) – No

    Improve I285 at Cascade Rd ($23,600,000) – Yes

    Regional Traffic control on I20 in Douglasville ($19,000,000) – No

    Multiuse Path in Douglasville ($2,210,000) – No

    Realign SR 92 on west side ($49,000,000) – No

    Widen Lee rd in Lithia springs ($18,900,000) – No

    Widen US 78 in Lithia Springs ($20,000,000) – No

    Improve intersections on Fulton Industrial ($7,500,000) – Yes

    Improve MLK Dr near 285 ($3,000,000) – Yes

    Improve west side 20/285 interchange ($149,000,000) – Yes

    Improve Jonesboro Rd ITP ($7,395,000) – Yes

    Improve I20 at Panola ($21,200,000) – No

    Widen Panola Rd ($30,300,000) – No

    Extend Hayden Quarry Rd in Rockdale ($27,000,000) – No

    Widen Sigman Rd in Rockdale ($30,000,000) – No

    Improve Commerce Crossing in Rockdale ($25,900,000) – No

    Widen Flat shoals Rd in Rockdale ($11,400,000) – No

    Improve Rockbridge Rd in Dekalb ($7,500,000) – No

    Improve Glenwood Rd ITP ($5,000,000) – Yes

    Improve Memorial Dr ITP ($738,750) – Yes

    Peachtree near Spring ($434,875) – Yes

    Improving Piedmont Ave ($3,604,908) – Yes

    Bridge at Courtland St ($22,000,000) – Yes

    Central Ave Bridge ($27,000,000) – Yes

    Pryor St Bridge ($32,100,000) – Yes

    MARTA Tunnel Rehab ($700,000) – Yes

    Improve Edgewood Ave ($527,667) – Yes

    Improve Auburn Ave ($643,750) – Yes

    Improve Courtland St ($750,000) – Yes

    Beltline ($165,952,132) – Yes

    Beltline Midtown to Downtown ($435,940,345) – Yes

    Donald lee Hollowell near 285 ($1,025,000) – Yes

    Improve Joseph E Lowery ITP ($1,188,750) – Yes

    Improve 14th at Howell Mill ($575,000) – Yes

    Improve Boulevard near Ponce ($1,150,000) – Yes

    Improve 10th to Monroe ($462,000) – Yes

    Improve North Ave ($457,500) – Yes

    Improve Ponce near Spring ($618,125) – Yes

    Decatur to Clifton Corridor ($5,000,000) – Yes

    Improve College Ave near Avondale Estates ($5,000,000) – Yes

    Memorial Drive near 285 ($5,000,000) – Yes

    Premium Transit form the NW to Arts Center ($695,000,000) – Yes*

    Improve Spring St near Peachtree ($1,292,125) – Yes

    River View Rd near South Cobb ($16,500,000) – Yes

    Improve Howell Mill near I-75 ($512,500) – Yes

    Improve Monroe Dr ($706,250) – Yes

    Improve N Druid Hills Corridor ($25,000,000) – Yes

    Clifton Corridor Rail Transit ($700,000,000) – Yes

    Improve Northside Dr near W paces ($525,325) – Yes

    Improve Piedmont Rd corridor ($612,000) – Yes

    Improve Peachtree from Peachtree Dunwoody to Collier ($1,713,450) – Yes

    Widen 360 in Paulding County ($30,000,000) – No

    Improve Thornton Rd in Paulding ($43,000,000) – No

    Improve S Cobb near 285 ($9,000,000) – Yes

    Widening Windy Hill ($22,999,900) – Yes

    I75 at Windy Hill ($77,000,000) – Yes

    Cobb Parkway at Windy Hill ($93,000,000) – Yes

    Windy Hill and Terrell Mill Connection ($14,000,000) – No

    Hammond Dr at 400 ($33,500,000) – Yes

    MARTA extension Sandy Springs ($37,000,000) – Yes

    285 and 400 Interchange ($450,000,000) – Yes

    Ashford Dunwoody Corridor Improvements ($5,000,000) – Yes

    Improve Mt Vernon Corridor ($12,000,000) – Yes

    400 from 285 to Spalding ($190,000,000) – Yes

    Buford Hwy & PIB alignment ($25,000,000) – Yes

    Spaghetti Junction Improvements ($53,000,000) – Yes

    Trails on Hwy 29 in Lilburn ($1,850,000) – No

    Widen Five Forks Trickum Rd in Lilburn ($10,400,000) – No

    Intersection of US 78 and Hwy 124 in Snellville ($19,100,000) – No

    Hillcrest Satellite Connector in Norcross ($19,900,000) – No

    West Liddell Connector in Norcross ($39,300,000) – No

    Cobb Pkwy and Barrett Pkwy in Kennesaw ($9,800,000) – No

    McCollum Airport ($690,000) – No

    McCollum Airport ($2,500,000) – No

    Moon Station Rd in Kennesaw ($4,500,000) – No

    Busbee Frey Connector in Kennesaw ($21,500,000) – No

    Roswell Rd Improvements in Roswell ($20,000,000) – No

    Atlanta St in Roswell ($20,400,000) – No

    Holcomb Br interchange at 400 ($48,000,000) – No

    Peachtree Pkwy and PIB in John’s Creek ($46,000,000) – No

    Pleasant Hill Widening in John’s Creek ($11,600,000) – No

    Abbotts Br widening in John’s Creek ($28,000,000) – No

    Buford Hwy Widening in Duluth ($14,000,000) – No

    Duluth Hwy widening in Lawrenceville ($38,400,000) – No

    Walther Blvd and 316 in Lawrenceville ($10,600,000) – No

    316 at Hi Hope Rd in Lawrenceville ($61,900,000) – No

    316 at US 29 in Lawrenceville ($51,000,000) – No

    Sugarloaf Pkwy Alignment in Lawrenceville ($296,000,000) – No

    316 at Harbins Rd in Lawrenceville ($23,000,000) – No

    Dacula Rd in Dacula ($10,000,000) – No

    Widening lake Acworth Dr in Acworth ($29,100,000) – No

    Rucker Rd in Alpharetta ($19,000,000) – No

    Houze Rd in Alpharetta ($18,600,000) – No

    Widening Old Milton Pkwy in Alpharetta ($37,000,000) – No

    Widening Kimball Br in Alpharetta ($21,000,000) – No

    Improve Buford hwy Corridor in Suwanee ($5,500,000) – No

    Gravel Springs and I85 Interchange ($33,300,000) – No

    Bells Ferry and Little River Br in Canton ($7,000,000) – No

    Widening Hickory Flat in Canton ($70,000,000) – No

    Widening another part of Hickory Flat in Canton ($70,000,000) – No

    Widening a third part of Hickory Flat ($50,000,000) – No

    Widening Cumming Hwy in Cumming ($40,000,000) – No

    Widening Buford Dr in Buford ($4,100,000) – No

    Widening another part of Buford Hwy ($28,000,000) – No

    Clayton County Local Bus ($100,000,000) – No

    GRTA Express ($128,000,000) – No

    Gwinnett County Bus Service ($40,000,000) – No

    I-20 East Corridor ($225,000,000) – No

    I-85 North Corridor ($95,000,000) – No

    MARTA Electric Power Rehab ($354,400,000) – Yes

    MARTA Elevators and Escalators ($118,700,000) – Yes

    MARTA Passenger Info System ($30,500,000) – Yes

    MARTA Track Rehab ($5,600,000) – Yes

    MARTA Systems Upgrade ($4,440,000) – Yes

    MARTA UTC Infrastructure ($27,200,000) – Yes

    Perimeter ITS ($1,000,000) – Yes

    Regional Mobility Project for elderly and Disabled ($17,000,000) – Yes

     

     

    Dang. 147 projects. We can get into how I voted and why a little later. For now, digest these projects a little. Go to the site and see which projects you like and don’t like.
    Educate yourself and little and then let’s chat about this.

    As a reminder, the way I determined my vote was by asking: Would I want to spend one cent of every dollar I spend on (insert project)?

    So my answers are totally subjective and some are self-serving, but I will explain all of that later. For now, just look it over and tell me your initial thoughts below.

    – Duke

    p.s. If you want to follow my list on the map, I went from South to North starting in Griffin and Left (West) to Right (East).

    p.p.s. Big thanks to the hard-working team at Untie Atlanta! This is a very cool and interesting map that should help us all make a more-informed decision.

     

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  • Commercial Real Estate Technology – 5 Commandments

     

    Translation: Test your product and pivot.

    I’ve been doing a fair bit of research into the CRE tech world recently as I have been considering developing some of my own software.

    What I’ve discovered is that commercial real estate software is a unique animal that has some unique needs and patterns. Just about everyone in our business knows what CoStar and ARGUS are, but few have heard of good software like Skire, Ten Eight, 42Floors, Catylist, etc. I would argue that those last 4 are much more elegant and intuitive software than the preceding two, but popularity remains with the incumbents.

    So that got me to thinking:

    What are the basic requirements to create great software in the commercial real estate game?

    I came up with 5 and I’m going to call them “commandments” because they seem pretty straight forward and more-or-less universal.

    Here goes:

     

    1 – Thou Shalt Make It Easy

    If your software requires a training class or takes more than a week to figure out (cough. . . ARGUS . . cough), it’s too complicated. Presumably, you are marketing this tech to multiple people across multiple generations with multiple levels of technological savvy. You need to have high functionality that caters to the lowest common denominator. Think iTunes. Just about everyone can figure out how to download and organize music on iTunes. Make your product that easy and your customer service department will thank you.

     

    2 – Thou Shalt Make It Pretty

    This plays into the first point. Part of making it easy to use is making it look good. I have read about numerous experiments in psychology mentioning how font, color, text size, and readability play a HUGE role in the effectiveness of an item or message. If it’s cluttered or non-intuitive, users will stop using it.

    Oooooo . . . pretty colors and stuff.

    Important messages, items, or links should start in the top left and move right and down as they decrease in their importance to the user. (see “book, face”)

     

    3 -Thous Shalt Make It Cost-Effective

    Hopefully this doesn’t need much explanation. Brokers, owners, landlords, and lenders all have some funds set aside for technology and office supplies. The bigger chunk you take out of that budget, the more game-changing your software had better be. Spend time on pricing, split test it, then pivot. This is hugely important and you should take your time to get this right.

     

    4 -Thou Shalt Market The Living Daylights Out of It

    Our industry is famously (our notoriously) slow to adopt new technologies. Your steepest hill to climb is going to be convincing a historically technically-averse industry to buy new technology. No small feat. So make sure you build an appropriate marketing and advertising budget into your business plan. “It will sell it self because it’s so awesome” is ridiculous. Don’t be afraid to copy Google, Apple, Nike, Budweiser, or other major companies to get clever ideas for your marketing strategy. And squeeze every ounce of publicity you can out of social media to cater to the part of our industry that plays in that space.

     

    5 – Thou Shalt Test the Market and Pivot

    Don’t try to tell the market what it wants. Let it tell you. I know that seems outrageously simple, but I have heard too many war stories about companies building tech products and software, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then learning that no one wants their widget. Build a Minimum Viable Product, test it, gather feedback, and then adjust your model to incorporate what you hear. If 85 out of 100 testers say it needs to be bigger, make it flippin bigger. This isn’t rocket surgery. Listen to your customers and be flexible enough to change to meet their needs.

     

    Those are my five and I feel pretty good about them. But I will be the first to admit that I’m new to the software startup game and could be wayyyyy off base.

    If you think I am or have had another experience, let me know in the comments.

    – Duke

  • Quick Thoughts on TSPLOST

    Is TSPLOST the best solution for our traffic issues?

    Everyone seems to have an opinion, so I might as well throw my hat in the ring.

    I think I like T-SPLOST overall, but I think it may be short-sighted. I think it’s apparent that we as a city have some transportation and traffic issues. What I question is whether or not this bill is the BET solution to some of those problems.

    I was reviewing the major projects in TSPLOST in the business chronicle and I was struck by how many of them focused on suburban projects. I have no problem with the suburbs and I grew up there myself, but the opportunity cost of spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the suburbs seems enormous.

    95 out of 100 Gen Y workers (straw poll) are moving into the city limits (ITP). That’s millions of young people moving in-town as the future leaders and innovators in our city. That influx of people who live, drive, and work in-town is putting a huge strain on our aging transport and infrastructure.

    Since Atlanta is a city built around the car, it’s imperative that we pay attention and create solid programs to address people moving into the city. If millions of people move into Rome or London or Paris, no big deal. The sidewalks are a little more crowded and RE prices rise to meet demand. But those cities were built around pedestrian traffic and you won’t see the same kind of gridlock that we deal with daily. In Atlanta, just about every person moving into the city is doing so with a car. So WE HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION TO COMMUTES.

    For decades, Atlanta has been the poster child for urban sprawl and white-flight into the suburbs. Now that this trend is finally reversing and our best and brightest are moving back in town, why are we spending hundreds of millions of tax payers dollars on improving suburban transportation? Or, more to the point, why are we using money that we could use in-town on projects that make suburban living easier?

    Can a fella get some light-rail?

    Again, I have no problem with the suburbs and I’m from Gwinnett County. I understand that we need to maintain our transportation system. If it’s about to collapse, let’s fix it. But I would certainly rather spend $100 Million on improving our pathetic MARTA system (paint job, anyone?) than broadening some suburban freeway to six lanes. Those suburban projects are not bad projects or bad ideas, but there is only so much money to go around and every dime you spend in the suburbs is a dime you could be spending in town.

    Maybe the simplest way I could put it is:
    Why are we spending so much money on our past (sprawl) at the expense of our future (in-town transit)?

    And let me be clear on something. I am certainly not advocating that we abandon all transportation and infrastructure projects in the suburbs. The reason cities and counties have large budgets in maintenance is to keep the roadways safe and infrastructure current. If they can’t, then they need to find a way to reallocate the funds or people just need to move somewhere else. I just get bothered by the idea of Atlanta tax payers paying for Alpharetta roads. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think Alpharetta residents should pay for Alpharetta roads.

    Much like people, bills are neither completely good or completely evil. There are good parts and bad parts. I LOVE the Beltline project and think it’s a great long-term investment for our city, but there are at least a half-dozen projects on this bill that I see as superfluous and costly to in-town residents.

    So, the crux of the matter is that you have to convince me that the benefit of projects like the Beltline outweigh the superfluous spending on suburban projects. Show me why the good outweighs the bad in this particular version of the TSPLOST bill.

    I am open to being convinced . . .

    Try it.

    – Duke

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  • APJ Housekeeping

     

    We need to tidy up a bit

    Alright, so we are creeping up on 150 posts for the site, we have multiple authors, and have integrated social media. Time for some housekeeping.

     

     

    Item 1 – New “Sustainability” Page

    Where is all the grass (tear, sniff)?

    The APJ has found a rising star in the sustainability arena here in Atlanta and we are pleased to announce the creation of a partnership on the APJ Sustainability Page. It will replace the “Listings” page (that is taking longer than expected to program but may return in the future). We will discuss everything from solar power to smart grid technology to waste management to new urbanism and beyond. If you have any suggested topics or areas of interest, mention them in the comments below and we will get on it.

     

     

    Item 2 – Series

    We’ll get organized a keep you out of our archives.

    As we accumulate articles and posts on multiple topics, it makes sense to organize a few series that may interest the new reader. So, we will be creating a “Series” page that will be a constantly-updated page to display the latest posts on Careers in CRE, the Millenial Manifesto, CRE Websites, The Clean Slate project, and all of our other topics. If we miss one that interests you, let us know. Or if you have any suggestions for article topics, don’t be shy!

     

     

    Item 3 – Don’t Know Much About History

    It’s history. Don’t hate our freedoms!

    It’s tough to know where Atlanta is going without knowing where Atlanta has been. We are about to start working on a recurring series on the history of Atlanta. We want to include everything from the Native Americans living around Peachtree Creek to Governor Lumpkin and Marthasville to the Terminus of the Western & Atlantic RR to integration to MLK to the Olympics to today. This town has some cool stories to tell and I think they are meaningful to all of its residents, particularly those who plan to shape its future. The structure and frequency of these articles are still up for debate, but I’m very excited about this and I think it should be fun.

     

     

    Item 4 – Programmer Help

    There is a nerd-sized hole in our family.

    We have been looking for programmers or coders for the last few months to help us develop our Photo Gallery and Lunch Generator applications on the site. While we have found several qualified young men and women, we have yet to find a long-term partner to do either. We are going to keep scouring the interwebs and awkwardly approaching people at WordPress Meetups, but if any of the readers of this post have suggestions we would LOVE to know about it. A qualified lead is worth $50 to Buckhead Life for the first comer that gets us in front of a winner. Think about it . . .

     

     

    Item 5 – Authors

    The book of things I know about hotels.

    We are looking for a rising star n the hotel industry and, really, anyone who enjoys writing about CRE in Atlanta. We pay for our posts and, while you’ll never get rich, you will have a lot of fun and will probably enjoy the bright young men and women who are already contributing to this site. If you are interested, email me at Duke@AtlantaPropertyJournal.com and we can chat about it.

     

     

    Well that’s enough housekeeping for now. Going forward, feel free to reach out to me or anyone at the site and give us feedback on what you like, dislike, and just plain hate. We are here to provide interesting content for free to all the professionals in the commercial property industry in Atlanta. Anything we can do to make your life a little easier or more interesting, drop us a line and we will try to figure it out.

    Stay fly,

    – Duke

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  • Weekly Financial Markets Update – June 22nd

    Equity markets: The S&P 500 fell 0.6% on the week. Initial relief over the status quo New Democracy party winning in Greece and optimism about a fresh round of stimulus from the Federal Reserve lifted stocks early in the week. However, when the Fed meeting on Wednesday led to little more than an extension of “Operation Twist” — the Fed working to keep interest rates low by swapping some short-term treasuries for longer-term treasuries — sentiment became more negative.

    Rumors that Moody’s would lower the credit rating of many large banks along with a weaker than expected Philadelphia Fed manufacturing survey, combined with a bearish trading call from Goldman Sachs, knocked stocks down on Thursday, from which they bounced back somewhat on Friday.

    Bond markets: The 10-year treasury yield rose 0.03% this week, from 1.64% to 1.67%. 10-year German bond yields rose 0.14% this week, from 1.44% to 1.58%. The “fear bid” in US and German government bonds was so intense in May and the early part of June that some of this impact is still being unwound. For the time being the intensity of the European crisis has diminished, though all parties agree that no long-term solution is on the near-term horizon.

    Currency markets: The dollar rose 0.8% on the week. The Federal Reserve’s extension of Operation Twist was less than the market expected, giving the dollar a bid, and Thursday’s pummeling of equities along with fears over US bank ratings led to a flight to the greenback.

    Interbank markets: 12-month LIBOR was unchanged on the week at 1.07%.

    Next week: Summer has begun, which generally means less liquidity and the potential for more volatility if news breaks while investors are away from their desks on the beach. As mentioned last week, the news flow should be quiet, with the highlights of the US economic calendar being new home sales on Monday, consumer confidence on Tuesday, another revision of Q1 GDP on Thursday, and the Chicago purchasing manufacturers index on Friday.

    It’s also the last week of the month and the quarter, so there could be some position squaring going on. The following month will be busy as Q2 earnings season kicks off and concern about how much the slowdowns in Europe, China, and the US have impacted corporate profits, so this should be a great week to get some rest before the real fun begins.

    – Earl

  • 5 Lessons I’ve Learned After 5 Years in Commercial Real Estate

     

    This is me in the office. Quite the grizzled veteran, yes?

    I just got back last week from my 5 year reunion at my alma mater. Apparently that’s a rare event as some of my colleagues who went to UGA, Auburn, Tech, etc couldn’t imagine pulling together 10,000 people for a reunion.

    Luckily for us there were only 400 in my graduating class.

    As nice as it was to catch up with my old teammates and classmates, it got me thinking. I realized how much I had learned in my first 5 years in commercial real estate that I hadn’t anticipated when I charged into the world with my Bachelor of Arts in Economics.

    So, allow me to share 5 lessons I have learned in my 5 years in commercial real estate:

     

    1. He with the best habits wins

    I know I’ve touched on this before, but it really is true. Yes, there are big deals and huge strides made in every career, but I am convinced that the guy who sets out to create great habits for himself will end up “on top” on the long run. Your habits will catch up to you sooner or later. Will they boost you up or drag you down?

     

    2. Financial success and intelligence are only loosely related

    I’m using financial success as my measurement for success for the purposes of this point. It is amazing to me how much money was made between 2002 and 2007 by people I wouldn’t trust to handle $50. I know THAT time in our financial history may turn out to be an aberration, but it is staggering at times the amount of money made by stupid people. And commercial real estate is a self-proclaimed “B-student’s paradise.” Not that B-students are stupid by any means, but an industry that doesn’t claim to have A-students is, by definition, claiming not to have the tip of the academic sword (for better and for worse).

    All of that is to say: intelligence isn’t as highly correlated with success in commercial real estate as I had thought. The richest people aren’t always the smartest people. Intelligence certainly helps to distinguish yourself and there is a certain baseline level of intelligence that everyone in the industry must have. But this ain’t rocket surgery.

     

    3. There are very few truly creative people in ANY industry

    I want to keep this statement broad because I have noticed that this phenomenon isn’t unique to CRE. I find that there are only a handful of truly innovative and creative people in any industry.

    Taking a concept that worked well in Dallas and bringing it to Atlanta isn’t all that creative. It’s highly logical, but I would consider it par for the course. Even taking a concept from Dubai and bringing it here isn’t all that creative. All you’re doing is copying someone else’s great idea. True innovators create new products, reinvent best practices, and can reshape the entire CRE community. People like that are rare.

     

    4. There is almost never black and white – only grey

    I learned this from my time in private equity as we go through foreclosure and bankruptcy proceeding in GA and FL. According to the loan documents, our case is almost always cut-and-dry and in our favor. The borrower almost never has a strong case, legally. But borrowers do sometime win these cases.

    If they get a borrower-friendly judge or jury and argue their sob-story well, they CAN win. In my mind, this is ludicrous because I can plainly read the loan documents that said “I will pay you back or you can take everything I own no mater what.” I don’t see room in there for much interpretation, but apparently I’m wrong.

    This idea also plays into the “gut” or “art” part of our business. Anybody can run good numbers and spot a decently located property. The best of the best have this “gut” instinct to know when to pursue a property that is in that grey area between the black of “no” and the white of “yes.” They buy or sell when others are hesitant and they make a killing doing so. That is the grey area that I need to get comfortable playing in or I will be surpassed by those who are.

     

    5. The best people in the business love what they do and would probably do it for free

    You know these men and women. They love leasing retail space or building hotels or buying shopping centers. If they didn’t get paid to do it, they’d do it anyway. Their career is fun and fulfilling to them.

    I think I covet that feeling more than any other in business. To know that you enjoy your role and look forward to performing every day is a gift that few of us receive. It has been my mission since shortly after leaving college to find that role for myself. As I mentioned in the header, people who find that role are not only the most fulfilled, but also are often the most successful. Work doesn’t seem like work to them. They are just having fun and happen to make money doing so. I hope you can find that role for yourself. Otherwise, you’re just getting up early every morning to collect a paycheck and you will have a perpetual feeling of swimming against the tide.

     

     

    Those are just the 5 that stand out to me. Obviously, I have learned a great deal more about the financial and technical side of our business, but those 5 stand out to me as particularly poignant and meaningful to my career.

    Has your experience been different? Did you learn different lessons than I did? Feel free to share in the comments.

    – Duke

  • Writing for Your CRE Site: Improve Your Writing Skills

    How do you get better at playing the piano? By playing the piano.

    As we have been learning about writing for your commercial real estate site or blog, I thought it might be nice to have a quick note on how to improve your writing skills.

    In my experience, the single best way to become a better writer is quite simple. It may be a closely held secret and I may be banished from the writing community for sharing. But I want to make sure you have all the tools and tips you need to create a killer CRE site or blog.

    So, the secret to becoming a better writer is . . .

    Writing

    Mind-blowing, right? Maybe not, but people tend to overlook the obvious when trying to get to the top.

    How do runners become better runners? By running. How do singers get better at singing? By singing. Pitchers and pitching? They pitch, brother. See the trend here?

    Most of us can’t be great at writing unless we write a bunch.

    So, don’t expect to be a great blog writer or copy-writer on Day 1. Like any other skill, it takes practice and learning. Write a few articles and then look back at them.

    How did your readers react? Which articles got the most clicks? Of similar article types, which got the most eyeballs?

    Or, what types of articles do YOU like to read? What types of formatting, lists, or posts do you enjoy? Copy those.

    It’s not that complicated. Learn from what your readers tell you with their clicks and what draws your clicks on other sites. Then . . . write stuff.

    I know I’m not the only one who follows this formula.

    Brian Clark, one of the godfathers of blogging and founder of CopyBlogger, put it in a handy infographic:

    10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer
    Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

     (Full article is here.)

    So today’s lesson is fairly simple.

    If you want to be a decent writer, write often.

     

    Think I’m full of it or off the mark? Let me know in the comments.

    – Duke

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