Real estate is, by its nature, a very integrative field. Not just in terms of the skills you need to succeed in brokerage, development, or asset management, but also in terms of disciplines and industries that the business touches on. Architecture, engineering, interior design, urban planning, economics, and business all fit into the equation in one way or another, and that isn’t even a comprehensive list.
It’s this diversity of experience that brings a lot of people into the field (myself included). But often, the actual daily experience of real estate seems to become just another mono-disciplinary role. Part of this is just structural to the field. If you are a junior member of a brokerage team, odds are you won’t have much bandwidth to explore the dynamics of urban development outside of the context of a networking mixer. And of course, real estate roles all feature a particular core focus, whether that is finance, sales, or something else entirely, that will occupy most of anyone’s time.
But that doesn’t mean that those other fields don’t play an important role in the business of real estate. Increasingly, big developments include substantial elements drawn from other fields. The Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto has just been updated to include outside real estate development efforts to work in concert with Sidewalk Labs itself. Whatever development firm eventually wins this business will need to have a very strong sense of technology and city development. The Union Station project in Chicago undoubtedly has undoubtedly been influenced by the transit hub located onsite. Even on a local scale, simple location decisions require a good knowledge of demographics, traffic patterns, and local development trends.
For some roles in the industry, the impact of other types of businesses is particularly easy to notice. Multifamily brokerage and development might be a bit of an insular world, but other parts of the brokerage world are a lot less so. Leasing in particular requires a great understanding of local industries, with all their peculiarities, specifications, growth drivers, and trends. But sometimes, the realities of the real estate business make it hard to keep track of what is going on in the broader business world.
While the onus is on the professionals to perform their job to the highest degree possible, technology can make it easier to accomplish. That’s part of what motivated seasoned commercial investor Andrew Tavakoli to launch RetailTenant, a platform that catalogs information on businesses and their space needs around the country. “We started the process of putting the company together in 2015,” Andrew said. “This was largely due to the fact that we own a lot of shopping centers throughout the sunbelt and have a lot of experience in the field. Unfortunately, even though we hire the best regional leasing agents, we have encountered setbacks quite a few times when we found out that the leasing agents are unaware of a lot of prospective businesses that are expanding. There are many prospective businesses expanding locally and nationally. Some are moving to a city, from either the region where they have a few locations, or they are expanding a number of locations from one state to another state.”
In a way, it’s disheartening that something like RetailTenant is even necessary. If a leasing agent’s primary responsibility is to lease properties, he or she should be aware of what is happening in the local business landscape. But that isn’t easy. It requires finding
time between phone calls, emails, and refining stacking plans to do something that overzealous bosses might even consider a waste of time: Googling.
It also poses an opportunity for the most talented and dedicated real estate professionals to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Upstart firms and professionals have the chance to dedicate some of their time and effort to going the extra mile, not just in terms of their day-to-day tasks, but by equipping themselves with more awareness. Awareness of local business news, economic principles, and adjacent disciplines like construction or urban planning. Being able to explain that a given streetcorner sees increased traffic because of the ripple effects from highway widening a mile away and gentrification growing throughout the area, for instance, will make those professionals who can speak to these points much more valuable than those who can’t. Real estate might be a subject of its own, with plenty of expertise to develop, but to really stand out, consider breaking the conceptual boundaries of your profession.