10 Tips for Starting Strong in CRE Brokerage

Part 3 of 3

This is the third part of a three part series for CRE brokers who are just getting started.  If you haven’t read Part 1, you may want to start there.  Part 2 can be found here.  

For Part 3, let’s get more “tactical and practical” about ways I’ve seen successful CRE brokers accelerate their careers when they were starting out.

7.) Learn to deliver value.

As service providers, CRE brokers need to create value for their customers to win deals and earn repeat business.  I encourage you to think of being a “value creator” though not necessarily as a transactional concept so much as a skill to be learned.  Brokers who truly create value have developed an innate, lifelong trait for doing so repeatedly in a way that earns favor and develops rapport from their broker partners and customers. 

One of the most successful brokers I know told me a story about how when he was brand new to the business, he overheard phone conversations his senior broker was having with one of his clients because he sat right outside his office.  This senior broker was not an easy person to work with or for and was, at the time, one of the most successful brokers in NYC.  The next day, this young broker walked over to his senior broker’s desk, handed him a list of all relevant comps pertaining to the conversation he overheard and said “I overheard you talking with your client about putting this together so I took care of it for you.”  He took it upon himself to call the various brokers who worked on those comps so that he could provide a summary of each specific comp with high-level details and the senior broker packaged it up (this was before email!) and delivered it to his client.

“I took care of it for you” is a powerful statement to say when you’re trying to prove your worth.

This moment changed this young broker’s life because that lone action was all it took to be added to every single deal that his senior broker worked on.  Together, they would work on an insurmountable volume of business and this young broker became indispensable to the career of his senior broker.

Moments like this, as Seth Godin says, are scarce:

Today’s economy places little value on showing up, filling a cube and answering the phone.  We can get people to do that cheaper than you…white collar workers, MBA’s and executives are judged more harshly, or they’re replaced or outsourced.  The job disappears…So to be indispensable is to do work your boss couldn’t imagine.  It means that you’re human, an independent actor, an artist, someone who connects and makes a difference.  These people have genuine job security, because what they do is scarce.

Here’s another story.  A young broker I knew was brought on by her senior broker to attend an important meeting to pitch the leasing for a new development project.  The building was in excess of one million square feet so the fees that would be generated were enormous.  After the meeting, this young broker, who was silent during the meeting, delivered a detailed summary of the minutes of the meeting and outlined action steps and recommended follow-ups.  Not surprisingly, she has since gone on to lease numerous other large scale development projects with this senior broker, rising through the ranks at one of the largest CRE brokerages.

These are only two examples of what I mean when I say “Learn to deliver value.”  As Henry Flagler (no real estate slouch) said “Do unto others as they would do unto you…and do it first.”  Think creatively about ways to deliver value to partners, managers, clients and prospects.  Develop a keen sense for how to insert value.   If you can go the extra mile and create unexpected value without being asked to do so, you will truly become indispensable.  Don't ask "How can I help?"  Find out how and just do it. The initiative will never be punished. Far too many brokers get distracted with their day to day sales habits of cold calling, cold emailing, etc. that they don’t take the time to stop and think strategically about how they might win.

8.) Take advantage of generative AI (an opportunity that’s never existed until now)

I’ve mentioned that CRE brokerage is both a sales business and a service business. This makes learning the service side of the business hard if you don’t have generous, benevolent senior brokers (and most do not!) and haven’t yet worked on a lot of transactions.  The good news is that the rise of generative AI can accelerate how quickly you learn the technical details involved in being an elite CRE broker.

As an example, I recently asked Bard (Google’s generative AI product similar to ChatGPT) “Tell me about LOI terms that are common in large transactions for new construction buildings.”  After asking a few more specific questions, I was given details about Pre Commencement Expansion Rights.  I then asked what Pre Commencement Expansion Rights are and was given a pretty decent answer.  Having leased large, new construction office developments, I was impressed.  This type of intelligence isn’t something new brokers need to understand, but I reference this because it exhibits how resourceful AI can be for improving your understanding of your craft.  As a junior broker, you should prioritize learning from team members and mentors, but these mentors have never had access to such a powerful technology that is (undoubtedly) only getting better.  

Generative AI can also help with more than just knowledge access.  Try asking Bard to draft sales emails or do research on companies.  I recently asked it to comb through the 10k’s (annual SEC filings) of specific companies I was researching and it gave me exactly what I needed.  Need to figure out an Excel formula?  AI can help with that too. Writing a memorandum to share internally or externally?  Run it by AI. I could write an entire post just about CRE brokerage and AI, but in short, you should leverage its capabilities which are virtually free.

As you work on transactions, overhear brokers speaking about technical details you’re less familiar with or simply want to drill into your strategies and sales and marketing tactics, it’s worth leaning on the impact of AI to fill in your knowledge gaps, even at the early onset of AI.  As stated, without a doubt, I expect it will only get better at leveling the playing field.  Take advantage of it while you can.

9.) Know your market better than anybody

It’s astonishing to me how so few CRE brokers really know their market.  When starting out as a young CRE broker, your goal should be to know every inch of it.  When you’re new, this feels overwhelming, but the work that goes into becoming a market leader pays off over time and your memorization of comps, addresses, deals, etc. becomes easier as your brain adjusts to its dedicated focus.  

Why?  Because deep knowledge of your market is precisely how you develop the ideas and stories that win pitches, solve problems and create opportunities for your customers.  During my time at CBRE, Mary Anne Tighe, one of the most prolific CRE brokers of all time said “We are not in the real estate business.  We are in the ‘ideas’ business.”  Knowing your market better than anybody should be your obsession because CRE brokerage is a competitive knowledge-business.  Anybody can help clients with the easy deals, but few can pull off the hard, complicated ones.  Your goal is to see what others don’t.

If you’re an investment sales broker, you should know who owns every property, the investment profile of those owners, what the capital stack of each property looks like, what types of rents those investments need in order to perform and much more.  Which properties need capital improvements?  What motivates your owners and buyers? What trends are taking place in your market? Is investment activity up or down over the trailing quarter and year? By how much?

If you’re a leasing broker, you should know every block of space in every building, what the rents are, who the tenants are, who the landlords are, what profile of owner owns the building and how that dictates their hold-period, capital plans and more. Are asking rents rising or falling? By how much? Are concessions (free rent, TI, etc.) going up? Down? Why? Who are the in-market owners? Who are the out-of-market owners? Do you know them?  More importantly, do they know you?

There’s no easy way to say it - you should be obsessed with this type of data.  Your ability to sell will only get you so far if you don’t blossom into a serious professional, and while selling is at the core of CRE brokerage, your transaction and market expertise are what keep clients close by throughout the duration of your career, making you more valuable to your partners and brokerage.

10.) Don’t be intimidated

Be honest with yourself. Do you look up to the high-volume, large-transaction deal-makers so much in your market that you feel small at times? Don’t let that get to you. Comparison is at best a waste of time and at worst a career-killer because it prevents you from putting one foot in front of the other.

I know it deep in my bones that patience + focused work + courage = your success.  Do not let “paralysis analysis” (not getting started because you don’t know what to do) sink in.  Do not be intimidated by other brokers or let other brokers make you feel small.  Develop an aggressive business plan rooted in actions that are within your control, review the plan with your mentors or team and execute.  Like so many things in life, focusing on the work as opposed to the competition is how to succeed.  Refine your business plan quarterly to assess what’s working and not working but take action and execute.  You’d be shocked how few actually do this, but I’ve rarely met an elite broker that wasn’t methodical, self-aware and action-oriented, caring little about the opinions of “better” brokers.

Talk to your manager and ask them to develop a business plan with you that gets you where you want to go, but ask yourself first where exactly you even want to go and whether or not you even believe in yourself.  If your manager says your goals are unrealistic, listen to what they say, but trust your gut first-and-foremost because CRE brokerage is a career that rewards courageous professionals who don’t take no for an answer.

Take it from me - I have seen young brokers work their way to the “Vice Chairman” title (the highest and most distinguished title at the largest brokerage companies) more quickly than I even thought possible early in my career.  What these young brokers had in common was a resolve that any career-ceilings that prevented their growth are made of glass.

Give yourself a chance by not being intimidated or scared.  You are beneath nobody and nobody is beneath you.  That should be your mindset everyday.

Final Thoughts

To end this series, I want to congratulate you on getting started down the path of what I hope is a long, amazing career.  As the founder of Enaia (a CRM & Insights Platform for CRE brokers), I have dedicated my life to the CRE brokerage industry and know how special, important and unique the industry is.  The industry is at a unique inflection point.  Seize the moment.

If I can ever be a resource or sounding board for your career, email me at david@enaia.co.  I say this sincerely - I’m always willing to hop on a call to help you think through your business, free of charge.

Remember - stop wondering IF you’ll succeed.  Chart a course for HOW you will succeed. Go get 'em.

David Young
About David Young

David is the Founder and CEO of Enaia.

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