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Category Archive for: ‘My Generation’

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    What You Should Know If You Work With Me

    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.

    – Duke

     

     

  • The Impending Demise of the American Analyst

    Sooner or later our deals are headed to Bangalore.

    Once upon a time, there was a young man who dreamed of a successful career in real estate.

    This bright young chap, diploma in hand, stormed the commercial property landscape at the ripe age of 22. He knew that his ivy league education and exceptional internships and extra-curricular experience would put him on the fast track to success.

    But our young hero faced a problem – paying dues. He was told to pay his dues, sit at a desk, and run numbers.

    “Be and ARGUS-jockey,” they said.

    “You have to know the numbers,” they said.

    “You have to know how to model a deal to have any success,” they said.

    Our hero was placed in front of a computer and told to model deals, stack leases, and build proformas. He didn’t leave his desk. He saw Excel more than he saw his family. He knew more about ARGUS than about how to save money. And every day, a little bit of that youthful exuberance, unbridled energy, and zeal for a career in commercial real estate died, crushed under the shear weight of computational monotony.

    He was forced to do this for 8 years, until he was thirty and everyone agreed he had now “paid his dues” and could actually have some responsibility and become the deal-maker. Unfortunately, most of his ambition and zeal had been beaten out of him one model at a time. He had been obtaining and rearranging data for so long that he forgot about creativity, innovation, pushing-the-envelope, and the joy of waking up every day to new and exciting challenges. The very skills he would need to succeed as a creative deal-maker were the ones he had no time to develop while he spent every day reading and stacking leases.

    He had gotten comfortable (and arrogant) in his ability to assess a deal and now passed the model-making to the hot-shot 22 year old new hire from Princeton, perpetuating the “pay your dues” commercial real estate career path. And another brilliant young mind is beaten into submission one lease abstract at a time . . .

     

    I know I’m exaggerating a little in the parable above, but, really, how far off am I? How many people enter our industry as deal-makers or with any real responsibility? If it is more than 1% I will be shocked.

    Now to be fair, I think it is TOTALLY reasonable to assert than anyone in our industry should know how to analyze a deal. If you don’t get the interplay of modelling and financing in commercial real estate, you will have a very difficult time finding success in our business. Every deal is based on numerical and economic assumptions and the most effective way to understand those assumptions is with a well-built model that you can manipulate and tweak as the market dictates. So understanding models is crucial, in my opinion.

    But here is where I break from the classic model and our sad story above. I don’t think you have to build models to understand them. And I don’t think Americans will be building models much longer.

    Here’s why –

    I didn’t build my car. I had absolutely nothing to do with my car’s construction. But . . . I know it pretty well and I know how to use it. I have taken the time to get to know it and what it can and can’t do.

    I know that is a bit of a silly example, but it rings true. Just because I didn’t physically input a rent roll into my model, doesn’t mean I don’t understand the occupancy rate, discounts, bad debt, etc. It is very easy for me to understand the output of a model without having done any of the input.

    If you sent me a completed discounted cash flow model tomorrow, I would check out the property type, address, units/sf, profit & loss, rent roll summary, and any projections. I would look at your rent/expense growth assumptions, occupancy/rollover, discount rate, hold period, cap rate, and projected returns and decide which of those I agree with. Maybe I even take 4 minutes on CoStar to see if I agree with your cap rate (if I don’t know the submarket). The point is, after minimal training, it’s not hard to figure out 1) the assumptions that went into the model and therefore 2) if I agree with the model’s output.

    So again I say that the only really tricky part of financial modeling is interpreting the output. The input is just shuffling numbers.

    And that’s the problem.

    For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that a 22-year-old analyst just out of college will be paid $50,000 per year or $25 per hour. Neat! Way to go, sport! Now sit at a desk and shuffle numbers all day, young fella!

    Or . . .

    Since it’s just number shuffling, I could pay someone in Pakistan $6 per hour to do it.

    Seriously. I’m not kidding.

    Anyone who has paid attention knows that off-shoring is spreading like wildfire in every industry in the country. Friedman’s The World is Flat, Pink’s A Whole New Mind, and Ferris’ 4-Hour Work Week all extensively profile the affects of off-shoring and the benefits it brings.  Off-shoring is real and here to stay. $6 per hour is not only a decent salary in developing countries, it will also get me an MBA-educated 30-something who specializes in analysis.

    Yeah, his English may not be great. Yeah, it may take me a while to work out some of the kinks. But, frankly, every analyst needs training and correction and I expect there to be kinks. If I am saving $19 per hour every hour, then I am totally fine with working out some kinks.

    The inherent beauty of the setup is the time difference. I can send 5 deals to my team of analysts on Bangalore at 7PM EST and having them ready and waiting for me in my inbox by 6AM the next morning. They work while I sleep.

    Let me say that another way:

    I am being productive while I sleep.

    Cool, right?

    So, you tell me. Would you rather pay an American financial analyst $25 per hour to stack leases and project cash flows during the day, or would you prefer to pay an offshore analyst $6 per hour to complete the model for you while you sleep?

    Seems pretty obvious to me.

    So, you heard it here from your buddy at the APJ. The days of the American analyst are numbered. In twenty years, we may have no more analyst positions in our industry based in the US. That doesn’t mean we stop needing to understand and interpret financial models. It just means we stop paying 4x as much for creating them.

    – Duke

  • When I grow up, I want to be Jordyn Wieber

     “It’s not how far you fall but how high you bounce that counts” -Zig Ziglar

    Fine. I’ll admit it. I’m addicted to the Olympics.

    I LOVE watching our country compete in anything and the Olympics create this unique, high-tension environment where everyone is watching and Gold is on the line.

    Say what you want abut NBC, they are dominating my DVR right now. (I recorded the weight-lifting championships yesterday!)

    I even get into Women’s Gymnastics.

    Yep.

    I’m a 27-year-old, testosterone-filled meat-head and I like watching our girls flip around on balance beam, uneven bars, vault, and floor routine. Don’t judge me. Blame it on Kerri Strugg. I was 12 when she stuck that vault in ’96 a few miles away from where I was sitting. I’ve watched ever since.

    So, it should come as no surprise that I was watching this past weekend and I was watching last night when our girls, the so-called Fab Five, were competing. I’m not a sports reporter and I know a little-more-than-nothing about Gymnastics (I’m 6 foot freaking 7), so I will leave the details and superlatives to the experts.

    What I do know is courage and toughness.

    It’s the double-edged sword of sports that we can see the best and worst about us. You can know some of the most extreme highs and intense lows through competition, and sometimes they happen in the same week.

    Enter Jordyn Wieber.

    Wieber, as I am told, is the defending world champion in the individual competition. In my basic understanding of the sport, that means she is the best all-around gymnast on the planet.

    In the Olympics, girls compete on the team level and individual level. Their qualifying scores from this weekend determined who would qualify for the individual finals and which teams would qualify for the team finals. Through a quirk of the Olympic rules, only two girls from any one country can qualify for the individual finals. So, even if the U.S. has 4 of the top 5 gymnasts on the planet (which I am told is true this year) only two of the four can qualify for the individual finals in the Olympics.

    Again, I will leave the drama and sportscasting to the pros, but Wieber ended up placing third or fourth of all girls and two other Americans placed ahead of her.

    The reigning world champion did not qualify for the individual finals.

    NBC made sure to get a ton of close-ups of her sobbing into her hands as soon as she learned she wouldn’t qualify and in one particularly torturous shot they showed the U.S. teammate that beat her in the foreground as she was crying in the background. (Sometimes I think you have no soul, NBC.)

    But Wieber’s Olympics weren’t over. She still needed to compete for the team title for the U.S.

    Long story short, she did so last night and led our girls to their first gold medal since the aforementioned Strugg killed it in ’96. She was terrific. She was the team leader and maybe the best performer in the gym last night in London. Knowing that all personal accolades were gone and any individual medals were hopeless, she still went out and crushed it and led our country to a gold medal.

    Cool story. Queue the epic music. Wave the flag. And so on.

    Yeah, I was proud of her and proud of my country. But more than that, I was motivated. Whatever Wieber has inside of her, I want that.

    You may wonder what Olympics gymnastics has to do with commercial property in Atlanta.

    Well, you may have noticed that the last 5 or so years in our economy haven’t been so great. We aren’t exactly sailing smoothly. Some of the greatest names in our business in the last 20 years have retired, gone bankrupt, or just folded and drifted away.

    We are an industry that literally built the city of Atlanta. Yeah, we have Coke, Home Depot, UPS, and some other cool businesses here. But, at our heart, we are a commercial real estate city. We led all major U.S. cities in growth over the last 10 years (prior to ’08-’09).

    Our industry was home to the leaders and innovators in a great city heading for great things.

    Then 2008 came along. We got hit. We got black eyes. We lost momentum, time, and money.We lost chances at greatness. No doubt about it.

    But if little Jordyn Wieber can find the strength and courage to do what she did last night, why can’t we?

    Ours is a city filled with brilliant and talented people who have all been hurt by this Great Recession. Some of us have wanted to sulk into a corner and cry (and some of us have).

    But, you know what?

    The sun came up this morning. Today is a new day. Tomorrow is full of promise.

    And we still have something worth fighting for.

    This is a great city with a bright future and I’m excited to see where we can go. We have our issues to work out and demons to overcome, but we can be great and we just need another chance to show it.

    Maybe you went bankrupt. Maybe you damaged your reputation. Maybe some great relationships have come to an end. Maybe you lost your life savings. Maybe some dreams died.

    Cry. Get upset. Get angry.

    And then move on.

    We have some great things we still need to do around here, and our teammates need us to step up.

    So, here is a toast to Jordyn Wieber and a toast to all of us. She showed us what we all need to do after a crushing blow. Move on, keep competing, and act like the best.

    Do that . . . and greatness will never be far away.

    Thanks Jordyn.

    – Duke

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  • 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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  • 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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  • Millenial Manifesto: Sustainability

     

    Good spot for a shopping mall, right?

    To continue my rant on my generation of young men and women, I thought I take on a topic near and dear to all of us in CRE: sustainability.

    In my experience, I have found that many of the more shrewd investors in the commercial property market tend to think of sustainability as a marketing ploy or gimmick. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who think that any commercial building with the slightest carbon footprint is obviously the work of the devil or evil corporate greed and wall street is trampling on main street, blah blah blah.

    Forgive me for not occupying something, but my feelings toward the environment aren’t quite so militant. I also don’t buy the stance of the first group who think sustainability is a fad that will die away like the pet rock. I think it matters, but it isn’t life or death.

    Perhaps the simplest way I can put my stance on sustainability is:

    I want to leave Atlanta better than I found it.

    Simple enough, right?

    Not so fast my friend. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the definition of “better.” Is a Silver-rated LEED Atlanta better than I found it? Well, yeah, but it’s not as better as Platinum LEED. So how much better do I want to leave Atlanta?

    Simple again.

    I will try to improve my city using sustainable practices as much as makes financial sense.

    I suppose I could build a shopping center out of hemp. That would be very “green” and “sustainable” and “environmentally conscious” of me. But I would also never be able to lease any of the space, I would lose the property to the lender, my investors would lose all their money, and I would get punched in the neck by a large Italian man. No, thank you.

    That may seem like a silly example, but my jest carries a simple truth: sustainability works to a certain point. Right now, that point is financial feasibility. If I lose money by implementing “green” retrofits or using sustainable materials to build, then there had better be one heck of an additional benefit or externality that I can quantify. Otherwise, I’m just losing money on my project so that fluffy bunnies can prance in this imagined utopia. Not happening.

    So, let me wrap this in a nice little package:

    I want to create and maintain sustainable properties and use sustainable practices to build buildings in Atlanta as long as it doesn’t bankrupt me or my investors.

    So, having made clear my stance, let me weigh in briefly on a few sustainable topics:

    Green Space – Heck yeah we should set aside some space to be green space! I don’t live in NYC, nor do I want to. Let’s keep some spaces for parks, keep plants around our buildings, try some green roofs, etc. I see no downside to this other than the opportunity cost of building an income-generating building on the space, but I never asked for a park on a pin-corner or even with street visibility. That’s where retail centers, office buildings, and apartments go. Put the green stuff everywhere else.

    Rain water – This seems so simple it’s stupid. It’s free water! Let’s keep it! Use it to water plants or grass or cool off hot stuff. I don’t care what it’s used for, just collect your (FREE) rain water and use it. It may take a while to figure out the most efficient way to collect and redistribute it, but it seems silly to waste even a single drop of water when perhaps the largest questions facing our children and their children is: Where will they get fresh water? (glares menacingly at Alabama and Tennessee)

    Motion Sensitive Lighting – Do I really need to justify this one? Why would you keep the lights on when no one is around?

    Low Flow Toilets, Showers, and Sinks – I can’t remember the last time I went into a bathroom and proclaimed “Wow, this would be one great restroom if only the urinals flushed harder.”

    Trees– I like trees. If I have to chop one down to build or renovate something, I will gladly plant another. Why not? They are cheap, look cool, make oxygen, and I can climb them

    I better plant some trees or Al Gore will turn the world purple

    and stuff.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Electric Vehicles – I like the idea, but this won’t make sense for me until I can’t notice a difference in the performance of my Chevy Tahoe and the Chevy Leaf Tahoe. When the electric version can tow, haul, transport, and off-road as well as my gas-guzzler, then I’m a buyer. Until then, I will continue sending my paycheck to Shell every two weeks.

    Trash – We dig a big hole and dump our trash in it? Seriously? That’s the best we can do after 230 years of innovation? Are you kidding?

    Glass – Show me how your fancy double-paned, low-emittance glass will save me on the power bill. Give me a dollar amount. If I can say that I will hold the building for as long as it would take me to recoup the mark-up on that glass over the regular stuff, then I’m a buyer. If not, go fish.

    Solar – Money! I am a buyer when it becomes cost effective. I’m not going to use the sun to power the HVAC system in my office building if it costs me 5 times as much as my electric HVAC system. I’m told that with the advances in carbon research and nanotechnology, solar tech will become much more affordable and efficient over the next 20 years. Cool. Keep me up to date. In fact, I actively keep tabs on Suniva up in Norcross because of some of the cool solar tech they have been rolling out. But until it becomes cost effective, I’m just a fan from afar.

     

    Do you see the trend in these little musings? I use my brain (I have one, I promise). If it makes sense from both an environmental and financial perspective, I’m down. If not, try again later. I will always be open to new ideas and technologies and I hope that sustainable technologies evolve so that commercial properties only improve the local natural and human environment. Until then, I will keep one eye on the advances and one eye on the bottom line.

    – Duke

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  • Writing for Your CRE Site: Tell Secrets

    Write interesting stuff and I will hang around

     

    To continue our discussion of best practices in writing for a CRE site or blog, let’s discuss content.

    I have been asked  about what types of information to reveal and what types of knowledge to share. I don’t think there is one answer to that question and it certainly depends on several factors. For instance, if you work for a law firm, you may need to be very careful about your opinions and the insights you share. King and Spalding may not appreciate you telling about their unreasonable practices with their billable hours (I’m sure their hours are reasonable and fair, by the way).

    But I will say that, in general, more sharing is better. In fact, I would go ahead and advise you to tell your secrets and best practices.

    The reason I say that is pretty simple: Readers like interesting content. Reusing the content of others is fine, but nothing will drive content to your site like original content. And I would argue that the most interesting types of original content are “insider knowledge” and “trade secrets.”

    If you don’t believe me, think about your favorite articles. Are they news posts? (This deal happened at this property.) Are they product reviews? (I like this widget for business.) Maybe.

    My favorite articles are the ones that give me an inside look at something or a little known secret of the industry. I once read a great article from the New Yorker about elevator malfunctions and a history of people being trapped in elevators. The article was like 15 pages long and took me the better part of a half hour. But it was fascinating and I loved it. I read it 3 years ago and I still remember it.

    Those articles draw eyes. And lots of them . . .

    Telling secrets, sharing insider knowledge, pointing out what everyone else has missed, those are the articles that really distinguish your voice as interesting and insightful.

    I can already hear the push back:

    Duke, if I tell all my secrets, I will have no competitive advantage and my readers will take deals from me.

    Two things wrong with that feeble complaint.

    First, I never said tell ALL of your secrets. If you found the greatest way to source equity in the history of the planet and no one has figured it out but you, then by all means protect your intellectual property. If it is that revolutionary, patent or trademark it and make money off it. You can patent it, then write about it, and then charge others to use your idea.

    But the vast majority of secrets and best practices are known and shared by the top tier of professionals in a niche. So you really aren’t sharing anything all that revolutionary. You’re just taking info from the upper echelon and distributing it to everyone else.

    In essence that’s what most journalism entails. Since none of us sit in the White House every day, we watch CNN to hear what their reporters gather from the upper echelon of politicians. These politicians are part of an exclusive circle of information and we depend on reporters to find out what they are talking about and what they are thinking in order to remain informed about the direction of our nation’s politics. Your CRE post is no different. You are sharing privileged information with the masses.

    So don’t think that sharing little-known information is new or controversial. Reporters and journalists do it every day and we eat it up.

    The second problem with your intellectual property conundrum is that you probably overestimate your audience both in size and retention.

    The whole point of a blog is to share interesting information with a group of like-minded people. They don’t want to come to your site for info they can get elsewhere. They want original insights and great information. Chances are you won’t have a billion people reading your post; just a few interested parties. The APJ caters to commercial property professionals in Atlanta, GA. How many people is that? A few hundred? Maybe a few thousand? However many it is, I’m not sure it’s enough to change the planet forever with my tricks on how to get a loan or how to manage multiple brokers.

    I think that’s why TentBlogger has tens of thousands of followers. Not only does he tell you how to create great content for your site, but he also tells you how to monetize it. He even told his readers how much money he makes blogging and how he makes it! That is proprietary knowledge that he is sharing with thousands of potential competitors. Have any of them put him out of business? Nope. Will they? Probably not, because he has established a reputation as a knowledge leader and knowledge dispenser. I just mentioned him on this site and linked to his articles. Because he was so forthcoming with info, I mentioned him, linked to his site several times (boosting his SEO), and recommended you read his work. Sounds to me like telling secrets has helped him a great deal . . .

    ProBlogger does the same thing. It’s a blog that makes money while teaching others to make money . . . blogging.

    In fact, thousands of people use this method. Paula Deen isn’t afraid of being out-cooked by someone who buys her cookbook. Eric Schmidt isn’t afraid Google will be overtaken by rivals with the publishing of In The Plex. I doubt Ted Williams was afraid of being out-slugged by some young hot shot when we co-wrote The Science of Hitting.

    All of these people are achievers who shared insights about themselves, their companies, or their recipes. Did they fear being overtaken by a rival by sharing this secret or privileged information? Probably not. There is a huge difference between “knowing” and “doing.”

    I have read Good to Great by Jim Collins at least 3 times in the last 2 years. In a debate on Corporate Strategy and Business Excellence, he would destroy me and make me look like a child. If there were a moderator in our debate, his response to my comments may be something like this:

     

    All kidding aside, it’s a little silly to think that the consumer of information can match the distributor of information. If you learn a trick, share it with the world, and then are overtaken by those who read your trick, then I would assert that they would have overtaken you eventually anyway.

    Think about the people you know who still cling to best practices from 1985. Are they industry leaders and market drivers? Absolutely not. The best of the best are constantly learning, changing, and adapting. If your secrets, tricks, and insider knowledge are the same as the secrets, tricks, and insider knowledge you possess in 10 years, then you will have already been passed by.

    Sharing a secret/trick/insider tip you have about the best way to conduct a property visit, or the best practices for stream-lining construction loans , or 5 tips on obtaining equity financing, will NOT hurt you in the long run and I would argue that it will only help your reputation with your audience and followers in the short run.

    So, if sharing secrets and insider knowledge doesn’t hurt you in the long run and only helps you in the short run, why are you still protecting that intellectual property? Share it with the rest of us, let us tell you how smart and wonderful you are, and then we will forget it and you can still be the expert. Just teach me something interesting and I promise I will come back hungry to learn more. Teach me something I could learn elsewhere and I will just go wherever is easiest or best looking.

    Secrets and insider knowledge make your posts unique and interesting. If you don’t share them, then (eventually) someone else will and I will just hang around on their site.

    – Duke

     

  • Five Steps to a CRE Blog Post

    How do I post on my WP site? Read on, brave soul.

    As part of our ongoing discussion about commercial real estate sites and blogs, here is a quick and dirty guide on how to post on your WordPress blog.

    There are many different ways to do this and best practices are constantly changing, but this is the best way that we at the APJ have found to do it.

    (*Note* – We included the estimated time required to complete each step so you can plan for your posts accordingly)

    Step 1 = Write (Time – 5 minutes to 2 hours)

    This may be obvious, but the first and most important part of the post is the writing. What you say and how you say it is what will keep readers coming back. You can dress it up with fancy pictures and put some neat links in the article, but if it is confusing, amateurish, belligerent, or just weird, readers will be put off and will get their info elsewhere. Take your time. Write it well. Be concise and be interesting. A good starting point for beginners is here.

     

    Step 2 = Link (5 to 10 Minutes)

    After you have written and edited your text, you need to make the text alive with links. You can link to posts or pages within your own site, but you should also link to exterior articles and pages. Readers want a quick way to digest your information and also want to have access to more information at the click of a mouse. The way to provide that ease-of-use to your readers is to hyperlink sites or articles to words and phrases in your text. It’s very easy. You just highlight the text you want the reader to click for a link, click on the chain-link symbol in the middle of your WordPress Post Box, and then type or paste the URL of the link into the field “URL”. That’s it. Once the reader clicks the word (which will now have changed color), she will be redirected to that page. (We will discuss link architecture later.) You can also take this time to “Tag” your posts and put them into categories, but that is part of your SEO strategy and we will discuss that in a later post.

     

    Step 3 = Insert Images (2 Minutes to 1 Hour – depending on if you need to find the images or if you already have them)

    You have great content and you are linked to other great content. Now you need to catch the reader’s eye. I like to put an image before my text and one inserted into my text. I find the two-image model works well for aesthetics, but doesn’t distract from the text of my posts. Others use more images and it looks great. This is a way you can customize your posts to your personal preferences and if you monitor site analytics you will eventually figure out what your readers prefer. To insert an image, you simply click on the “Upload/Insert” icon(s) above your WordPress post box. WP will then give you a pop-up window that will allow you select an image from your computer or the web, insert it into the post, create a caption, create a link, and format the image to your liking. We can discuss later where to find great images and the ideal setting for your inserted images. For now, start playing around with these inserted images and their placement.

     

     

    Don't hit "Publish" yet. Don't do it.

     

     

    Step 4 – Preview and Edit (5 Minutes)

     

    If you’re like me, you will miss a couple typos and grammatical errors on your first (and second) time through writing. I always like to hit the “Preview” button at the top right of the WP Post Page to see how it looks in my theme and to proofread it one more time. I always end up catching a misspelling or typo and usually end up rewording a few phrases. Remember, your goal with this post is to provide as much value as possible in as few words as possible that are as easy to read as possible. If you find any choppy sentences or phrases when you preview, now is the time to edit them before the final publish. I also take this time to shorten the post and eliminate any superfluous words or phrases. This is your final “polish” before the publish.

     

    Step 5 – Publish it (10 Seconds)

    It sounds good. It looks good. It’s concise. It’s pithy. It’s interesting and it’s packed with great links. Share it with the world! This is as simple as clicking the blue “Publish” button on your post page. Once you do, it will be on your site for the whole world to see and enjoy.

    Of course, the journey of your post isn’t over here. You need to send your baby all over the interwebs via social media . . . but we will cover that later. For now, here they are again:

    The Five Steps to a CRE Blog Post:

    1. Write

    2. Link

    3. Insert Images

    4. Preview and Edit

    5. Publish

     

    There it is. Pretty easy, right? Have you found a better way of doing it? Do you like to put in images before you link? Let me know in the comments.

    – Duke

  • Your CRE Site – WordPress & Themes

     

    Clouds part. Angels sing. WordPress cometh . . .

    I have been asked several times over the last few weeks about the setup of my site and how someone else could do it. So let me take a few minutes to let you know what I did and how you can do it for yourself.

     

    Step 1 – Choose a Name

    The first step for me was choosing the name of my site. Even before I started deciding whether to use WordPress.com, WordPress.org, Blogger, Google Sites, or any one of a half dozen other website platforms, I needed to decide what to call the site. I chose AtlantaPropertyJournal.com because it was easy to remember, broad enough to cover anything that interested CRE pros, and, most importantly, available for purchase. I will take you through the specifics of domain names and hosting elsewhere, but for now I just want you to know that I chose the name of my site before I ever considered a platform.

    A Good Place to Start

     

    Step 2 – Choose a host

    Maybe I should have done more research into blogging platforms before this step, but I wanted to make sure I had a place to buy my domain name and host all of the security and warranty stuff. I happened to choose Bluehost for mine (they have been great), but I could just as easily gone with 1-and-1 or iPage or any of about 1000 other hosts. Almost all of them integrate well with a WordPress blog.

    My Saving Grace

     

    Step 3 – Install WordPress

    The nice thing about Bluehost is that they have a control panel with software called “SimpleScripts” that allows you to customize and install things into your site. I simply ran the WordPress simple script and Bluehost installed it for me. I was then given a login page and asked to create a WordPress account. That took about 30 seconds. Once I confirmed my account through email, I was up and running with my new and secure WordPress Site.

    So easy, a realtor could do it!

     

    Step 4 – Customize

    This is by far the most difficult and time-consuming part of the process. I created the site in about 15 minutes. I have been customizing it for more than a year. WordPress comes with a default “theme” and some goodies, but I wanted to make mine look customized. There have been volumes written about how to customize WordPress sites and I would recommend this one as one of my favorites. But, for the scope of this post, let me just talk about themes.

    WordPress' Default Free Theme Last Year

    A theme is basically just a way to tweak the appearance of your site. You can change the color scheme, site layout, text display, fonts, and pretty much anything else that has to do with the appearance of your site. This is extremely important because, as CRE pros know, layout and aesthetics matter. If the site is too “busy” or sloppy or confusing, no one is going to hang around and discover your brilliance. So you want to find a theme that fits your content, is nice to look at, stays simple, and displays your content well. In fact, that could be a good little checklist for you.

    When looking at a theme for your WordPress CRE site ask yourself:

    1) Does this site fit my content? Pink bunnies don’t jive with retail leasing trends. Make sure it is professional.

    2) Is it nice to look at? Pretty straight forward. People don’t like looking at ugly stuff and if it caught your eye it will catches someone else’s.

    3) Is it simple? If you throw too much on there, people will get distracted and the thrust of your content will be lost. I am guilty of this from time to time, so don’t think I’m preaching.

    4) Does it display your content well? Since the content is the most important part of your site, make sure that it is well-displayed. Don’t let it be dominated by headers, links, or photographers. People will come to your site and stay there based on your content. Make it pop.

     

    You can tear your hair out over how many columns to have, where to display your RSS feeds, and a dozen other minor tweaks. But if you get the theme right, you will have a step on the competition.

    Where do you find themes? Great question.

    As I get into customizing your site, I will explain more. For now, just know that there are literally thousands of themes to choose from. Some are free and some cost $20- $50. A good place to start is WordPress.org’s Free Theme Directory. There are 1500 free themes here for you to compare and answer the questions above.

    My favorite paid themes (or “Premium” themes) are on ThemeForest.com and WooThemes.com. Both have thousands of great themes that make your site look more professional and improve its performance. If I had to recommend one premium theme, I would point you toward the Standard Theme by 8bit.io. I know the head of 8bit. He is a stud and so is his product. Check it out.

    So that’s my quick and dirty WordPress and themes intro for all of you who are looking to build your own CRE site. I will follow up with a series of more in-depth discussions on customizing and optimizing WordPress and its themes. For now, hit me up in the comments!

    – Duke

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