Mike is a Senior Advisor to Accord Group Holdings, a Capital Advisory and Principal Investment firm. Mike Clarke also runs his own consulting company, Mike Clarke Consulting Limited, advising property related businesses and fund managers on their ...
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Interview with Mike Clarke - A friend who has made a difference in the global commercial real estate industry

Mike is a Senior Advisor to Accord Group Holdings, a Capital Advisory and Principal Investment firm.

Mike Clarke also runs his own consulting company, Mike Clarke Consulting Limited, advising property related businesses and fund managers on their business strategy, capital raising options, product architecture and product development. He also acts as a Non-Executive Director and Independent expert in litigation.

From March 2014 to December 2018, Mike was the Head of Investor Services EMEA for CBRE Global Investors where he was responsible for investor relations, equity raising, targeting of new investors and the delivery of creative investment solutions to clients in the EMEA region. Mike was a member of the Global Leadership Team, EMEA Executive Committee and EMEA Operations Committee.

Mike joined the global real estate industry in 1987 and has extensive experience both as an investor in and manager of real estate vehicles. Before joining CBRE Global Investors he was Senior Managing Director and Head of European Real Estate for Mesirow Financial. At Mesirow he was co-portfolio manager of a global fund of funds program with specific responsibility for sourcing, undertaking due diligence, executing and managing value add and opportunistic strategies in Asia and Europe.  Prior to this, he spent 18 years at Schroders where he grew assets under management from £160 million to over £8 billion through the development of a multi-product real estate strategy.

Mike is an active industry participant. He is a member of the INREV Management Board and is a regular speaker and trainer at INREV and other industry events. He is an external examiner at Oxford Brookes University for their Masters in Real Estate Investment Finance.

Q. How did you get your start in the commercial real estate industry?

Growing up in Norwich, approximately 100 miles North East of London in the UK, the only opportunity for work experience whilst at school, other than strawberry picking, was at the insurance company, Norwich Union (Now Aviva). I was lucky to be offered a summer in their estates department when I was 16 and realised what an exciting sector real estate was. I took the opportunity to meet members of the team who had entered the profession from different routes and decided that I would try and secure a place at University to study Estate Management which was a fast track to becoming a chartered surveyor.

I graduated from Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes University) in 1987 with a BSc in Estate Management and secured my first role as a graduate broker with a small firm who had recently opened a London office.  Early on, I realised that we were not a natural fit so quickly moved to Liverpool Victoria Insurance as a Valuation Surveyor. Many of my friends were working in the large broker firms and dealing with Grade A developments. Meanwhile I was getting my hands dirty managing a mix of crappy residential and commercial assets in suburban London. It was a wonderful way to learn the complete food chain of real estate and the art of negotiation!

In 1989 my former valuation lecturer at University called me and persuaded me to join Hillier Parker May & Rowden (now CBRE) to do portfolio valuations. Due to the recession that hit a year later, I was able to concentrate on valuations for insolvency advice which gave me wonderful insight into how investment decisions can go so horribly wrong. These years were perfect training in risk management.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who has been in the industry for a short time or a student looking to get her or his start?

Focus on gaining in depth experience rather than working for purely a big - name employer. Those big-name employers will eventually find you if you have the right experience and attitude. From my experience, the larger firms do not give the best experience as recent graduates are such a small fish in a large pond. The smaller boutiques can give a lot more responsibility and face time with inspirational clients at an earlier stage once you gain the trust of your boss.

Look to the future of the industry rather than the past. I recall one mentee of mine from Oxford Brookes saying that his ambition was to work in Hong Kong like his Uncle had many years before as the lifestyle was awesome. I had to point out that a third of his classmates were now from Asia and they had language skills, culture and networks in Asia on their side. This was not the case when his Uncle had trained as a surveyor 30 years earlier. Going forward, I am convinced that global occupier services will be one of the best training grounds of any firm. Historically, this has been the graveyard slot for graduates. However, data and understanding how occupiers use real estate, is going to be so valuable.

While the current pandemic continues, internships and graduate jobs will be harder to come by. I am encouraging all my mentees to not get disheartened but to focus on how they can use their holidays to obtain relevant skills which will enable them to stand out from the crowd. A big frustration of mine is that real estate graduates often lack the basic skills needed in today’s financial environment. In particular, advanced financial modelling skills.  It is not surprising that many of the global firms recruit people from non-real estate courses to ensure they have the most financially literate personnel. This is so easy to fix given the plethora of training courses available and would show employers that the candidate has ambition and determination to succeed.

Q. As you look back on your career is there anything you wish you had done differently? If so, what?

I have been so lucky in being able to travel globally talking about the industry I love and meeting some wonderful and talented people. I have no regrets as such. However, I would try and do two things differently if I was starting all over again.

First, I would try and learn to speak more languages so I could immerse myself in more of the cultures. I am not convinced that my brain works that way, but I would encourage any readers who do have any language skills to maintain them and cultivate them at every opportunity. I am envious of my sister in law who tries to learn some of the language of every country she visits. Approaching 100 at the last count!

Second, I would have looked to work abroad early in my career. Living and working in a foreign country definitely provides a greater depth of understanding of the local market and how it operates. It also provides the opportunity for a broader network of relationships to be developed than when flying in and out on periodic business trips. Once one has family and commitments it definitely becomes a lot harder to take the step so these type opportunities need to be sought out as early as possible.

Q. Who have been the biggest influences on your career? How? Why?

I have been very honoured to have worked with and met some amazing people during the last 33 years. I have learnt so much from so many, for which I will forever be thankful.

The one mentor that I will never forget is Gideon Hudson, a former partner of Allen & Overy in London. Gideon was the lead partner and legal counsel for the Schroders real estate business which I joined in 1992. I was definitely wet behind the ears at this stage and suddenly found myself negotiating development funding agreements, investment acquisitions and joint venture agreements. Gideon sat by me in all key meetings and had a wonderful way of preventing me from agreeing to anything stupid whilst allowing me to appear in total control of the meeting. His guidance in advance of, and presence during, negotiations with some big players in the UK industry built my confidence and I will forever be thankful. Gideon kindly led the prayers at my wedding in 2002 and we still meet for lunch as he enjoys a well-earned retirement.

Whilst not a person, I would say that INREV has been a huge influence in my career. I have been involved with INREV since inception in 2003 and for the last 5 years have had the privilege of being a member of the management board. INREV has brought together some of the best talent in the unlisted real estate industry to improve working practices and improve the professionalism and transparency of the sector. In recent years INREV has spread its wings creating a global alliance with ANREV, NCREIF and PREA.  Throughout, they have created a great sense of community where all the participants have a collegiate approach and know how to have fun

Q. How will the real estate industry evolve post COVID-19, what is the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge that will come out of it?

The COVID 19 pandemic has allowed the world to press the pause button and assess what we want the future to look like. At the same time, it has had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the economies of all developed and developing countries which we will take a long time to recover from. I am convinced that we will all recover more quickly if all countries work together rather than individually.

I am hopeful that the inevitable higher unemployment will encourage re-training programmes which will allow us to speed up the transition to a net zero carbon environment.  A huge amount of work has been done by many real estate investors, managers and operators over the last 10 years and I believe we now have the opportunity to turbo boost the initiative. If we rise to this challenge, we will hopefully give our younger generations a future to look forward to.

Whilst global capital markets definitely influence real estate returns, local factors such as supply, demand and regulations have a greater impact. Local economies will react differently to COVID 19 depending on their reliance on public transport, concentration on individual employers or industry sector etc. Given this, I believe it is essential that investors ensure their portfolios are well diversified both domestically as well as internationally.  Those Real Estate Investment Managers who have a diversified product range should also be well placed to navigate the storm providing they provide great client service and reasonable relative investment returns.

One thing I am sure about is that people will want to return to holidays and socialising as soon as possible – I sure will!

Interview with a friend who has made a difference in the commercial real estate industry: Adrian Harrington

June 13 2020 - New York City
Can you believe it's the middle of June already?  I don't know about you but it seems that the days pass slowly and the week passes quickly.  I'm not sure what that is all about.

This past week New York started opening up again.  Other than walks in the park I'm not going anywhere near commercial streets.  I've heard too many stories of people gathering outside bars and restaurants which are serving take-out cocktails and hanging around in groups drinking and talking - with no masks on.  I know, it's not easy to drink with your mask on but...It just seems like too many people feel the virus is over and gone with.  And it's not just outside the watering holes...it's in the park as well.  

Some of my friends have been making early morning trips to the groceries but I'm still having mine delivered.  For entertainment, I don't keep track of what I order and then, when it arrives, it's a surprise!  Of course, once in a while I find that I've ordered too many 'snacks' but, what the heck?  

More and more talk about what's going to happen in the commercial real estate industry.  Does anyone really know what time it is?  We've had a great ride for a long time.  Wasn't it like, as the end of each year arrived people said, "Well, the downturn is going to hit us next year."  And then, things still got even better. Well, something hit us but it's not a downturn, it's a disaster. And forget about real estate and any other material things.  This past few months has been about so many people dying.  How horrible. How sad.  

None of us can predict the future - which is actually tomorrow.  We only have today to live and appreciate and be grateful for. The real estate industry will sort itself out in some way, shape or form.  There's a lot of what I call 'expert speculation' out there - can those words be used together? - and it'll be interesting to see who ends up being right.   

Be careful out there...it's still not over yet!

This interview series had its roots in my desire to have professionals, from various aspects of the global commercial real estate industry, share their stories.  In my mind, the beneficiaries were to be those folks early in their career or just starting out.  Over the years, while that has been true, it’s been fascinating, and rewarding, hearing from the readers of this column and relating their own stories about how they met.  I always connect those two people together – some hadn’t been in touch for ages.  A number of university professors have encouraged their students to sign up for this column as they feel the stories and advice related by the folks I interview are a truly valuable resource. 

Interview with a friend who has made a difference in the commercial real estate industry:  Adrian Harrington

Adrian Harrington
·      Charter Hall – Head of Capital and Product Development – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, Australia’s leading integrated real estate investment manager with more than USD$27bn invested across office, convenience retail, logistics and social infrastructure.
·      The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation – Non-Executive Director, a Federal Government entity dedicated to improving housing outcomes especially affordable housing, through innovative financing initiatives.
·      Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute – Chair, a Federal and State Government funded institute that partners with major universities to undertake housing, homelessness, cities and related urban research.

Q. How did you get your start in the commercial real estate industry?
A. I finished university in 1989 with a degree in economic geography. I spent most of 1990 backpacking through Europe and the US and upon my return started to look for a role as a transport economist. The recession was under way and jobs were scarce. A friend from university (who now happens to be the Prime Minister of Australia) was working at BOMA (now called the Property Council of Australia) and called me to say they were looking to hire an research analyst to work on a property index that was to be modelled off the NCREIF Index. I went for the interview and Peter Verwer, the Head of Research at the time, showed me the NCREIF formula and asked if I understood it. Not having studied real estate finance at university, I somehow convinced him I knew all about investment returns and was employed after one interview. I spent the next 7 years working at the Property Council, the last few years as Head of Research. I left to join a boutique real estate fund manager, Paladin Australia, as Head of Strategy and Research at the start of 1998.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who has been in the industry for a short time or a student looking to get her or his start?
A. There are four pieces of advice I always give young people.

Find a Mentor: Mentors can help with exploring careers, setting goals, developing contacts, and providing guidance. As a young person you don’t have all the answers.

Join Industry Committees: I was lucky to work at Property Council for 7 years and was able to meet a wide range of people through the various committees. Being on the other side of the fence, I could see first-hand the power of networking through committees. It is also a great way to give back to the industry.

Take Risks: When young people ask me about career advice, I always quote from the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” In our industry, people have so many opportunities to move around whether it be being relocated to another city or country or moving from one job to another that requires a different skill set i.e. a valuer to fund manager. So many young people, have a preconceived idea of how their career will progress. Most of the successful people in our industry have reached a fork in the road, and have taken a career risk (gone down the road less travelled) rather taken the easy decision (the road most travelled) and they are enriched by the experience and the opportunities that have come from it. I can attest to that. I could have held out to try and find a transport economist role out of university but when given the choice, I joined the property industry and that decision has made all the difference.

Travel Overseas: If you get the chance to travel overseas for a conference or even a job, take it, especially when you are young. I was lucky enough to be encouraged when I was at Property Council to travel to the U.S. once a year. It gave me an opportunity to see how the industry worked in another country and meet insightful people like Blake Eagle, Michael Gilberto, Steve Roulac, Mike Young (who I authored a couple of papers with for American Real Estate Society journals), Charlie Wurtzebach and the late, and wonderful, Susan Hudson-Wilson. In 2007 I was transferred to the UK by Mirvac and spent 18 months working there just as the GFC hit. I’ll never forget the first day walking up Regent Street to our office in London’s West End pinching myself – it was an amazing experience to learn the subtilties’ of doing business in a different country and building a network up from scratch.

Q. As you look back on your career is there anything you wish you had done differently? If so, what?
A. I have no regrets with my career. In fact, I am extremely grateful I didn’t purse a role as a transport economist. I was most fortunate to enter a wonderful industry not really knowing much about it. It is a privilege to be the custodian of people’s money and know that not only is our industry creating the built environment that allows people to live, work and play, but we are also contributing to their wealth accumulation through their investment in real estate via their pension fund accounts. As Greg Paramor, my second boss, and mentor once said to me “just remember you have to think that you are managing money for your Grandma no matter how much money they invest with you.  The person with $10,000 is probably going to appreciate more the return you make for them than the big institution that gives you $10 million to invest.”

Q. Who have been the biggest influences on your career? How? Why?
A. There’s no shortage of real estate people that I worked with and who have had an impact on my career. Our industry is full of bright people, and through observation, asking for advice or reading/listening to their views and thoughts, each has contributed in some way to my career development.

But two people stand out because they have not only had a major influence on my career, but also on me as a person. I am proud to say they are still my friends today.

My first boss, Peter Verwer, took a punt on this young person straight out of university who knew nothing about property. It was an exciting time establishing the property index in Australia, especially when the industry was going through a major downturn and some in the industry didn’t want the bad news published. Peter was a hard boss pushing you at every step to do better. But it paid off! He taught me many great things but most of all, he taught me to back myself to rise to a new challenge. He still reminds me that if it wasn’t for him “I’d still be counting buses.”

Greg Paramor, a doyen of the Australian real estate industry, having successfully established four fund management businesses and ran Mirvac, one of the largest REITs in Australia, employed me from the Property Council. I had been offered a job by a major bank to move into their real estate funds team. I went to Greg, as someone who I admired and respected in the industry, to ask whether I should take the job or stay at the Property Council. Greg said “Neither”. He then just stared at me for what seemed an eternity. I was wondering “gee am I not worthy of either”. Finally, he said “I want you to come and work for me”. That was the start of 20 years journey working with him. Greg retired from full-time work in 2018 when we sold Folkestone to Charter Hall, Australia’s largest real estate investment manager but we still have a connection as he has joined the Charter Hall Board and I now head up wholesale institutional capital there. Greg was a wonderful boss. He is a strategic thinker always looking over the horizon at the next opportunity or the next evolution of the industry. Greg taught me many things – how real estate funds management operates, the importance of putting investors first, how to undertake M&A to grow a real estate platform – but most of all he showed me the importance of giving back, not just to the industry but the broader community. As a friend he has always been there for my family and I through the highs and lows.

It’s not often people get to work for someone they can call a friend. I been lucky on two occasions.

Q. How will the real estate industry evolve post COVID-19, what is the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge that will come out of it.
A. The real estate industry has an amazing ability to adapt to change and I am confident it will rise to the challenge of a post COVID-19 world. I believe the biggest opportunity will be in the logistics space. The transition to on-line retailing was well under way prior to COVID-19 but it has been fast tracked. This in turn will see a continual evolution in supply chains and distribution networks to cater for the growth in on-line retailing. Many investors are underweight industrial/logistics real estate in their portfolios. Capital will pour into the sector with prime industrial being considered a major component of a real estate portfolio. The biggest challenge to come out of it will be that governments will run even larger deficits going forward putting further pressure on their ability to support retirees while interest rates will stay low for even longer reducing the overall return from investments that retirees will rely on to live off. The growing cohort of baby boomers entering retirement and requiring income will see a flood of money coming into real estate in the hunt for yield. The challenge for the real estate industry is how can we successfully deploy this capital to generate sustainable income for investors, especially retirees, without leading to a mispricing risk.

I truly appreciate Adrian taking the time to answer these interview questions.  He and I met via this column many years ago.  When I was in New South Wales, Australia, in 2017, we tried to connect but, alas, he was on the road.  One of these days…


Interview with a friend who has made a difference in the commercial real estate industry: Barry Ziering

Barry Ziering, Ph.D., joined UK based M&G Investments in 2019 and, with over 25 years of commercial real estate experience, leads the firm’s North American real estate branding and capital raising efforts.

Prior to M&G, Barry led those same efforts for Guggenheim Real Estate (2014-2018) and Blackrock (2002-2014).  He was also a voting member on those Firms' Investment Committees and held senior leadership roles.  Prior to joining BlackRock, he worked at Prudential Financial (PGIM) and Prudential Securities in a variety of roles including Real Estate Merchant Banking, Strategy and Research, and as a public REIT Analyst.

Barry has also been a guest speaker at Baruch College, as well as at Columbia and NYU.  He is a former member of the Real Estate Finance Editorial Board, as well as a former Chair of the Research Committee for the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries (NCREIF).  He has published numerous articles in both industry and academic journals including Real Estate Finance, Journal of Real Estate Research, Journal of Real Estate Investment Trusts and Journal of Real Estate Portfolio Management. Barry received his B.A. from Rutgers College and his Ph.D. from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He currently holds FINRA series 7, 24 and 63 licenses.

Q. How did Barry and I meet?
A. As it’s been for me with a lot of folks Barry and I met at an industry event many years back.  The first impression he made on me was that he was a nice guy and he’s always had a great smile.  In our first conversation, it was clearly evident that Barry loved the real estate industry as much as I do. Over the years we’ve become friends and supporters of each other.

Q. How did you get your start in the commercial real estate industry?
 A. Steve, I was very fortunate in the late 80s to have worked at what was then Prudential Insurance. Real estate was still a relatively “new” institutional asset class at that time. I was an Associate in the Economics Department, which provided global macro and micro economic demographic data and econometric forecasts to all areas of the Firm, including the investment areas. From that vantage point, I was able to see the wide range of business arenas within the firm that could be available to me as I expanded my career. One of the areas I worked closely with was the real estate group.  While Prudential managed an extensive real estate portfolio for its balance sheet, its third-party real estate management business was relatively new and growing fast. Given my research background, my internal network, and a little bit of luck, I joined that group in research and strategy.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who has been in the industry for a short time or a student looking to get her or his start?
 A. Here are a few key themes I’ve always emphasized. 

People Skills Matter.  You’ll be joining a team whose members generally form a closely-knit social unit, and you need to “fit in”.  Be likable.  Have humility. Be a team player. Get along with others.  Be someone that other people like to be around. No matter how smart or technically proficient you are, your career journey will invariably be more challenged if you can’t do those things.  And if you manage to get hired but don’t exercise your people skills, you probably won’t last long.  Let’s be honest, we’ve all encountered those co-workers with whom we’d prefer to minimize our interaction. 

“Opportunity Favors the Prepared Mind”.  Think carefully about what that means.  It’s a powerful mindset that has been operationalized by almost all successful people.  It really involves 2 dimensions: good fortune (or luck) and self-preparedness.  While we don’t normally have control over what opportunities may come our way, we do make choices every single day that could potentially impact the rest of our lives material ways. Self-preparedness is a choice that you MUST embrace in order bolster your odds of success.  In my mind, that means you never stop learning and improving.  Always look to add new skills, increase your knowledge and enhance your abilities, irrespective of whether you can put them to immediate use.  By doing so, you will actually increase the probability that opportunities will come your way more often because, well, you guessed it:  Opportunity Favors the Prepared Mind.

Take Career Risks Early.  Don’t let fear of failure drive your career decisions. Aim high.  I’ve seen so many instances where highly capable people who wanted to grow their career were unable to do so because they were afraid of taking a risk. I assured them that every successful person has experienced failure in their career, even the most successful CEO’s in our industry.

Be Resilient.  Successful people don’t ever “give up”.  After a false start or a blow-up, they get up, dust themselves off, and get back on the horse.  Most importantly, they never attribute their failure to personal deficiencies.  Highly successful people tend to attribute failure to “external factors” beyond their control. I was always inclined to take career risks, which ultimately lead to extraordinary job opportunities where I was able to meet and learn from brilliant people across multiple disciplines. 

Establish Your Contact Network.  It’s hard to over emphasize the importance of establishing business relationships across firms and across disciplines. Establishing these relationships takes time and effort, but doing so will be an important ingredient in your ultimate success.  Your contacts are the people you’ll know for many years to come who, over the course of their careers, will be in many jobs across multiple firms. Being able to reach out to a vast network of contacts and friends cultivated over many years provides access to people, information, job opportunities, and even collaborative business opportunities.  Those contacts will prove invaluable over time.    

Q. As you look back on your career is there anything you wish you had done differently? If so, what?
 A.  Hindsight is always 20/20, but looking back I really have no regrets about my career.  I would not re-write the script.  Of course, like other seasoned professionals, I have experienced the best of times and the worst of times in this industry.  And while the worst of times were painful for everyone, those were the times where you would learn the most, and where new business opportunities presented themselves to those individuals/firms in a position to take advantage of them. More broadly, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been an active participant in the fast evolution of an asset class that, in the beginning, was considered by most to be an “just an industry” and not deserving of asset class status.

Q.  Who have been the biggest influences on your career? How? Why?
 A. It’s been people who energize organizations, define its culture, and drive its growth.  That means that managing one’s career cannot be accomplished in a silo.  I’ve had the good fortune to meet and/or work with some of the best and brightest minds, each contributing in some way to my career growth and advancement. But there are 4 individuals who stand out in my mind as being having the biggest influence on my career.  Here they are, in no particular order:

Charlie Wurtzbach: Charlie gave me my start in real estate. I met him in the late ’80s when he was Head of Research and Strategy at PGIM – Real Estate.  Recruited out of academia from UT Austin, his mandate was to establish a world class real estate research program to, among other things, help guide portfolio construction, create an empirical market selection process, and develop property type and regional diversification parameters.  That research group was one of the first of its kind to develop a program that was built with strong academic rigor and an empirical underpinning.  Working with Charlie was transformative for me and has served me well throughout my career.

Mike Miles: I met Mike, formerly head of the real estate program at UNC Chapel Hill, in the early 90’s when he took over for Charlie, who left to join JMB.  After several years at Prudential Financial, followed by a 5-year stint at Fidelity, Mike and his team ultimately joint ventured with Guggenheim Partners to create the Guggenheim Real Estate platform.  Although I worked with Mike for only a few years at Prudential Financial, our business association spanned many years and when I left BlackRock in 2014, he hired me at Guggenheim Partners to lead their Marketing and Sales efforts.    

Rob Falzon; I met Rob, currently Vice Chairman at Prudential Financial, in 1997 when we both worked at Prudential Securities, I as a REIT analyst and he as an investment banker. Rob was subsequently tapped to move to the private side and put together a team to create and run the PGIM’s first opportunity fund. He invited me to join his team and return to the private side at Prudential Financial where I worked with Rob for about 4 years.   

Fred Lieblich: I met Fred in the mid 90’s when he led SSR Realty Advisors and I was in Research at PGIM Real Estate.  We’d see each other at various industry conferences over the years and established a friendship and strong professional relationship.  Fred first invited me to join him in 1997, right before I was to start my new role on the public side at Prudential Securities.  I had to decline his initial offer, but I eventually accepted when he came back to me in 2001 with an offer to lead Blackrock Real Estate’s global distribution and marketing efforts.


Ramblings from New York City early on a Sunday morning

Morning ramblings….
I think it’s Sunday but these days they all seem the same, don’t they? I hear my owl friend hooting in the distance just like every early-morning.  An owl in Manhattan you say? Well I’m fortunate that I live near a park and trees.  Don’t owls hang out in trees? Of course they do.

When I start my day, I have a routine.  It involves using the power of creative visualization.  First for a friend who is being treated for Leukemia.  Her diagnosis occurred about 3 months ago.  We speak every Saturday morning (I have a calendar reminder to make sure I remember that it’s Saturday).  Each week she tells me what she would like me to visualize:  sometimes it’s that the results of her tests are moving in a good direction; sometimes it’s visualizing her doctor or consultant coming into her room and telling her that things are getting better and she may not need the bone marrow transplant.

Then I visualize for another friend who has been through multiple cancer experiences in the past few years and some serious challenges with her business. I visualize the cancer not resurfacing and her business finding its way.

And I visualize attracting something that I want into my life.

Then I write in my journal expressing all the things for which I am grateful.

One day this past week, for the first time in the 90 days (exactly) since I moved back to New York City, I got an early morning visit from a pigeon.  I was sitting at my desk drinking my morning cup of tea and all of a sudden ‘she’ was there. I usually keep that window open about 3-4 inches. I love to have fresh air come in and there she was.  She had her back to me for the entire 45 seconds of the visit.  She didn’t turn around even when I talked to her; friendly but a little rude wouldn’t you agree?  I was so surprised that it didn’t dawn on me, even though it wasn’t that long after dawn, to pick up my phone and snap a photo.  She left and hasn’t visited again. I hope she will and this time I’ll crumble up some crackers and put them out on the sill for her.  A mistake to feed her you say?  Well, I don’t think so and I’d really enjoy her company once in a while.  I’ve named her HOPE.

My building on W. 82nd street was built in 1906.  It’s a beautiful building with 49 apartments on 13 floors. I’m on 10.  The landscape in the neighborhood allows me to have a view.  As I write to you I’m sitting by the window in my living / bed room. It’s cloudy but I have a clear view up to 84th street, as the buildings are either classic brownstones or low-rise apartment buildings – lower than my building, The Selkirk.  Looking to the northeast, between two high-rise apartment buildings, I can see a sliver of the Hudson River and in the distance New Jersey.  I’ve always loved living with a view of water. 

I just heard a flock of geese fly by.  I didn’t see them and it’s the first time I heard their honking which has replaced the car/truck honking that pretty much doesn’t exist at all anymore at this hour of the day.  Actually, there’s very little of it throughout the day as there is so much less vehicular traffic on the streets of New York.  It’s virtually completely silent right now.

Two times in my life, actually 3 now, I’ve lived with water visible.  Once was in an apartment in Long Beach, New York.  I lived on the fourth floor and had a partial view of the Atlantic Ocean.  That was when I was at an in-between point in my life and trying to figure out a new path for myself.  And then, Hurricane Sandy paid a very angry visit.  I took a stroll on the boardwalk on the day it was predicted she would strike and saw the serious agitation in the ocean.  The waves were really big and so aggressive.  I can still hear the resounding sound of them breaking on the beach. As I think of it, that was another Sunday morning and also the day that authorities requested people to evacuate the area.

I went back to my apartment and packed some basic stuff – thinking that I’d be able to go back in a relatively short time.  Hurricanes only last for a little while, right?  I drove to Manhattan – there was very little traffic on the highways.  So I abandoned my ocean view, at least temporarily I thought, and for the next few weeks, while the evacuation rules were still in effect. But the result was serious damage to many buildings located relatively close to the ocean; there was no power and I had no idea how long it would be before I was able to go back.  I slept on peoples’ couches, borrowed apartments or stayed at the DaVinci Hotel on west 56th street which had become my go-to hotel in New York city.  (It’s the hotel connected to Joe Gs where I host my almost annual Pizza / Drink Thing in December.) I learned that the building I was living in Long Beach in was going to be off-bounds for the foreseeable future. 

I managed to find a nice small apartment in Manhattan and went out to Long Beach to pack up my things (I was living in a furnished apartment so I didn’t have much to move).  I went out very early in the morning.  The police were stopping people entering the town – unless they lived there.  While I didn’t have any proof, they believed me.  There was no power.  It was still dark out.  I used a flashlight to enter the building and walk up to the apartment.  I started gathering my stuff to take it down to the car.  Then I saw the lights of a police car pull up outside of the building.  I got scared thinking that in seeing my flashlight, in that blacked out building, they might think I was a looter vs. a tenant and shoot me – I really thought that!  So I turned the flashlight off and just stood still for a while, my heart racing faster and faster.  Then, they drove away and I got my things out of the building as fast as my feet would carry me down the stairs.

The other time I had a view of the water was when I bought a house in Laval, Quebec – a suburb of Montreal.  The house was only a couple of hundred feet from Riviere-des-Prairies.  I had a water view from my home office on the second floor.  I vividly remember the amazing sight of the river – totally frozen – during the dead of winter.  It was beautiful.
I’m frightened these days by the aggressive movement in many areas of the United States to open up businesses again. Photos I see of people assembled in groups, either protesters angrily demonstrating outside state capitals or of people in nearby places congregating in too close proximity to each other – some not wearing masks or any type of face covering. Oh, I just heard another train in the distance.

For a number of weeks, perhaps more than a month, I have gotten my fresh air by going up to the roof deck of my building – most often very early in the morning when the chances of running into a fellow tenant is virtual nil.  I walk the small area, making my way around the tables and chairs, feeling that I’m at least getting some exercise.  (Would you believe that the air in Manhattan is ‘fresh?’ But because there is so little car and truck traffic the air quality has improved dramatically. My guess is that it’s the cleanest it’s been in the lifetime of most/all long-time or lifetime Manhattan residents).

I’m concerned that there is still too little known about the virus that flies through the air and is breathed in by unsuspecting souls. 

Oh, did I mention that I’m both a visual and audio fan?  That’s why the sounds I can hear, through the open windows of my apartment, mean so much to me. The sound of a train whistle has always fascinated me: hearing it approach and then fading into the distance, quite rapidly, as it continues on its journey. I suspect there are very few passengers on trains right now. But there is the sound of too many ambulances every day.

I’m seriously concerned, as are many of us - which is why I’ve chosen to stay off the streets.  I ordered masks about a month ago.  They have yet to arrive.  I’m hoping they’ll come this week.  Once I have a mask I may start going out for walks in Riverside Park again.  Right after I moved here I started going out on early morning walks – just as the sun was beginning to slowly light the sky.  It’s a little like a big lamp with a dimmer switch that slowly turns until the light is at full power.  (Another train in the distance).  That is except on mornings when it’s cloudy or raining. 
How am I getting food you may ask?  I’ve been using grocery delivery services.  They’ve gotten so much in demand that it sometimes has taken more than a week to get a delivery. Funny.  Yesterday I got a delivery and I had forgotten what I had ordered – it was so long between the order and the delivery. And in the bag were 4 containers of fresh blueberries!  I really like blueberries, and I believe they’re fairly healthy.  But I didn’t realize or remember that I had ordered so much.  So, now it’ll be blueberries multiple times a day, in various forms, before they spoil.

On those early morning walks in the park when I first moved back to NYC there were very few people – some dog walkers, a few bicyclists and joggers.  The section of the park I walked in was up a hill from the West Side Highway and absolutely parallel with the Hudson River.  Flowers were just starting to bloom and gradually, as the winter slipped away, there were more and more birds chirping.  It was special.

It’s sad there seem to be so many people today, on the streets, on the beaches and in parks don’t respect the rules – or the safety of their fellow ‘passengers’ on this planet. And does the 6-foot social distancing really making a difference? It seems like a quite random measurement to me. 
I just confirmed that it is Sunday in New York.  I hope you and yours are okay and staying safe.  I hope I’m wrong about the too-early relaxing of the lock-down rules and it will not cause the numbers of people dying and testing positive for the virus to dramatically increase.  But this could happen.

Thank you for sticking with me this morning as I shared my stream of consciousness.

And, thank you for allowing me the privilege of sharing my thoughts – and the experiences of others, via the interviews – in this column since 1999.  I welcome hearing from you.

Take care.
I look forward to seeing you someplace on the road sooner rather than later.

Stay safe.


Interview with a friend who has made a difference in the commercial real estate industry: Norm Miller

Norm Miller

Norm is the Hahn Chair of Real Estate Finance at the University of San Diego (USD) and is affiliated with USD’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate. He has worked with the FDIC, DOJ, NMHC, NAA, CoStar and Collateral Analytics developing real estate analytic products and tools applied to real estate decisions and trends. Prior to joining USD, he was academic director and the founder of the real estate program at the University of Cincinnati. He received his PhD from the Ohio State University.

Norm has published numerous academic articles, books and articles in trade market publications on housing, brokerage, mortgage risk, valuation, and sustainable real estate including being the founder of the Journal of Sustainable Real Estate. The Geltner, Miller, Clayton and Eicholtz book “Commercial Real Estate Analysis and Investment” is the world’s leading graduate-level real estate textbook. Norm has lectured around the world, including France, Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand, India and Russia. He has worked extensively with various trade associations and became one of the first “Distinguished Fellows” of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP). He is currently a Homer Hoyt Land Use Institute Faculty and Board member.

How did Norm and I meet?

Norm has, for many years, been an active member of The Homer Hoyt Institute (HHI). HHI is an independent, non-profit research think tank and educational foundation dedicated to the professional real estate industry, established in 1967.  The Hoyt Fellows is a group of industry leaders honored for their leadership and accomplishments in the field of professional real estate. One of the major goals of the Hoyt Group is to bridge the gap between academia and industry.  Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to be nominated and accepted to become a member of Hoyt Fellows.  It’s at one of the annual meetings that Norm and I first met and have stayed in touch ever since.  The Hoyt Fellows is a great group and I am very proud to be a member!
Q.  How did you get your start in the commercial real estate industry?

A.  As an undergrad I was interested in architecture and engineering and took a number of real estate courses. I became President of the Real Estate Society at Ohio State.

Because of my involvement in the Real Estate Society I met Dick Royer. Dick helped me buy my very first property in the senior year of my undergraduate degree program.  I used my own (borrowed) equity and convinced three friends to come into the deal as partners on a four-unit row house. And that was my start.

On that deal I got to act as the broker, the property manager, the partnership manager and the contractor doing upgrades (and the labor!).  I learned so much from that small-scale investment. That deal, combined with my studies, made it obvious that real estate finance, and investments and economics were strong interests for me.

After we sold that property, I acquired another one on my own and continued, deal-by-deal while in grad school.  The hands-on experience, combined with real estate coursework provided a complimentary perspective. The key thing was having a mentor who helped give me the confidence to buy that first property.   

Q. What advice would you give to someone who has been in the industry for a short time or a student looking to get her or his start?

A.  There are a number of things that are key to me, especially today.  First, don’t wait to get started on networking.  Bring something of value to the ‘table’ – by researching topics that you know will be of interest to those you are going to meet and respect.  Try to think empathetically. If I’m a student and I’m going to meet a speaker at an event, I will do some research on them and through that find something interesting to bring up in a conversation when I meet them. I might ask if they’d like me to send that information to them. That’s actually an opening to ask them for their business card or saying I’ll follow up with a note and sending something to them.  I believe, you should never hand a business card to someone who doesn’t ask for it because they’re just going to forget about it or not know the context. I see networking as an opportunity to provide value when you can.

I use LinkedIn a lot.  I don’t use Facebook except for small, social type family things but I do use LinkedIn as a “Rolodex”

Assume your life is transparent now because of social media, so be careful what you do.  I’ve seen many a students’ job offer disappear when their social media presence was included in the research profile on them. 

Don’t wait to start investing in real estate.  Bring in as many partners as you need, but start young and gain that experience.  I tell all our students, especially our graduate students: don’t depend on your income your whole lives – you’re going to have to start investing and do it as soon as you can – especially when you have nothing to lose.  Stick your neck out a little bit.

Read voraciously - about the economy and real estate trends – everything from design to property tech, to capital market trends. Try to be conversant and knowledgeable and, at the same time, a little skeptical of accepting what you read – considering the bias, or spin, that certain people are going to put on stories. You should maintain enough current knowledge so you can question whatever you read. Know when someone writes something you can’t trust and learn whom the experts are that you can trust. 

The last thing I tell our graduates is that hard work and persistence makes up for smarts. Don’t be intimidated by people you think are smarter than you. They can’t outwork you if you choose. Work with people who are smarter and better than you.  In my career I was lucky to have hired people better than myself and that made me better. 

Q. As you look back on your career is there anything you wish you had done differently? If so, what?

A.  I wish I had invested more in real estate. My lifetime record has been pretty solid.  I wish I had sought out a little more time with mentors that I didn’t realize were mentors at the time. Today, I treasure the relationships with people around the globe whom I respect.  I feel lucky to have the opportunities that I’ve had. There’s nothing significantly different career wise that I would have done except cherished those opportunities and relationships a little earlier than I did in both the private sector and the public sector.

Q. Who have been the biggest influences on your career? How? Why?

A.  That would probably be a list of a few hundred people! My dad taught me about hard work; Dick Royer got me into my first real estate deal; Ron Racster at Ohio State was a mentor as was C.F. Sirmans.  I actually knew and was influenced by James Graaskamp, who started the first graduate program in real estate in the U.S. at the University of Wisconsin.
Then there are colleagues I’ve worked with like Dave Geltner at MIT; Mike Sklarz at Collateral Analytics; Jeff Fisher and all my colleagues at Home Hoyt; Malin Burnham in San Diego - who wrote ‘Community before Self”, Jim Young of Realcomm and folks like Geoff Dohrmann, Mary Ludgin, Jacques Gordon, Bob Zerbst, Dan Kohlhepp, Paul Wendt, Will McIntosh, Dave Pogue and the list goes on and on…sorry to my many friends.

Stay safe my friends. 


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