A Lesson In Listening


Last month, I had the privilege of being asked to sit on a panel. It was for a biannual retreat held by a large—and successful—international construction company.

I took my seat alongside the other experts: a prominent real estate broker who specializes in working with tech and millennial clients; a national tenant that this construction firm worked on behalf of previously; a former commercial broker turned start-up entrepreneur; the head of leasing at an established building ownership in the Northeast region; and a representative from a venture capitalist firm that incubates and invests in new, would-be enterprises. We looked out to the audience of approximately 80 construction executives, all eagerly awaiting our thoughts on a topic I talked about in my last Commercial Observer column.

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They wanted to hear about TAMI, the forward-thinking technology, advertising, media and information services companies that have had a starring role in many of the articles I’ve written over the past two years. As someone who does more than just write about the subject—we work with these types of tenants and with landlords looking to design for this new generation of entrepreneurs—I was right at home. As a group, our charge was to educate this group of contractors and get them up to speed and deeply into the mindset of the millennial. It was much more than your typical panel with a rehearsed Q&A. Ideas flowed freely and the discussion changed course, allowing both panelists and participants to get much out of the afternoon.

As is typically my experience, I took away just as much as I gave. Here are a few of the things I brought back to my senior team:

1) You can’t always believe what you hear.

A popular sentiment I’ve heard over the past few weeks is that the boom is done. Prices are starting to come down and the market is going to slow. Well, that’s simply not been my experience, based on the quality of the new projects being presented to us, and, by listening to the members of the audience. I’d say nearly 80 percent agreed that the market is not going backward in the next 12 months.

2) Patience is a virtue.

Not every opportunity adds up to success, but if you are willing to do the work, those that pan out can be more than worthwhile. In hearing the venture capital firm talk, they estimate that they look at nearly 100 firms, before paring down to 10 percent or less, in order to get to three that will ultimately get to the next level. It was an eye-opening stat and a good reminder that, in the commercial real estate business, whether you’re on the leasing or design side, there is value in weeding through what isn’t a fit to get to what is.

3) Become more open.

It’s refreshing to see, from a leasing perspective, that building owners are more open to new, millennial tenants than ever before. There’s now no such thing as a “typical lease,” and with the right credentials and financials in place, ownership—I’m talking about Class A buildings, not B or C ones—is more willing to accommodate special requests and get to yes with credit-worthy TAMI tenants and startups. It’s inspiring to see that happening.

4) Tech is your friend.

Brokers are increasingly looking to technology as a tool to help them lease space or show it to clients in a more engaging way. New tools are allowing brokers to be two to three steps ahead in communicating value—financially, mechanically, design-wise or what have you. Not only is this due diligence happening more quickly, it’s also more accurate and in-depth, giving decision-makers far more tangible information to base decisions and negotiations on. Mobile apps, 3-D walk-through technology, video tours and more are helping end users grasp metrics and comps in an updated, real-world way.

5) Don’t be a dinosaur.

Speaking of staying up-to-date, one of the primary takeaways from the event was that even the largest, most established firms—one which has been around for several decades—need to look toward the future and ask questions. I tip my hat to the construction company for taking the next step and being open to input. They may be around for a long while, but they’re not about to become dinosaurs! I think we can all learn something from that.

Scott E. Spector, AIA, is a principal at Spector Group, one of New York’s premier architecture and interior design firms and a leader in corporate tenant and building owner-based design.