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How Sam Chandan Became the Go-To Economist for CRE’s Elite

The New York University academic — with a recent degree in epidemiology to boot — has also cut a trail for LGBTQ professionals in the field as well as newcomers

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When the pandemic engulfed the world, Sam Chandan volunteered for the fire department. 

Chandan was four years into what would be a six-year tenure as the Larry and Klara Silverstein chair and academic dean of the Schack Institute of Real Estate at New York University’s School of Professional Studies. He had a place in Manhattan and was very much a creature of the city, spending only part of his time at a house in the upstate New York hamlet of Barryville. 

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“For the first year of the pandemic I was principally at my house upstate, and my desire to become much more involved with the community while also having a lot of fun led me to volunteer with the fire department,” Chandan said. “It’s been a really amazing experience, and I’ve met some really amazing people through it from all walks of life.”

It was the sort of proactive move that Chandan is known for in a commercial real estate world where he’s one of the most sought-after analytical minds. 

“He was really a man for all seasons,” said Larry Silverstein, chairman of developer and owner Silverstein Properties. “So, if you had an issue or you had a question or you wanted advice and guidance in terms of which direction to go in, the most intelligent thing for you to do was make a date with Sam Chandan and sit with him because you came out with much more knowledge and understanding that could affect your own life.” 

After six years at the Schack Institute, Chandan became director at the Chen Institute for Global Real Estate Finance at NYU’s Stern School of Business in early 2022. This was at the tail end of the pandemic and just as the Federal Reserve began aggressively hiking interest rates. It was an auspicious time in commercial real estate.

Since Chandan took over, the Chen Institute program — established through a $20 million donation from NYU Stern executive board member Charles C.Y. Chen — has focused heavily on CRE finance along with how new and emerging real estate markets, climate change and proptech are changing real estate on a global scale. 

“We have used and leveraged the incredible disruptions that we’re seeing in the real estate sector post-pandemic as a laboratory for our research and for our educational programs,” Chandan said. 

Chandan has also been busy during the last year promoting the Real Estate Pride Council, which he launched in early 2022 to advocate for more lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender representation in the CRE industry and advance the careers of LGBTQ individuals already in it. The group under Chandan’s leadership is also seeking to create a resource for LGBTQ CRE professionals at smaller firms that do not have established internal affinity groups. 

The organization’s first year included hosting a Real Estate Pride Roundtable in partnership with Deutsche Bank and NYU Stern on April 27 that attracted more than 350 LGTBQ CRE industry professionals. The forum delved into a number of CRE topics, including opportunities for building supportive LGBTQ senior housing, reimagining urban cities, and the near-term outlook for lending opportunities. 

“It was born from conversations with students at NYU and at other schools around the country that articulated the many cases in which they couldn’t name an LGBTQ+ leader in the industry,” Chandan said. “The opportunities and the platforms to identify as LGBTQ or to share your identity were few and far between, so it’s incredibly important that every young person in our industry have an opportunity to see someone who shares their life experience and shares their identity in a position of leadership.” 

Advocating for increased diversity in CRE has long been a passion for Chandan, who in 2017 founded the National Symposium of Women in Real Estate at NYU Schack. It’s since grown into one of the largest annual mentorship forums connecting senior executives and early-career women in real estate. While at NYU Schack, he also created endowed scholarships for the advancement of women and LGBTQ students as well as for graduate students who attended a historically Black college or university for their undergraduate.

“He supports certain groups that have been in some ways left behind in the industry and he’s now brought them front and center,” said MaryAnne Gilmartin, founder and CEO of developer and owner MAG Partners. “Whether it’s the work he’s done for the cause of diversity and introducing new faces to the industry or whether it is the work he has done in the LGBTQ environment or historically Black colleges, he just has the ability to bring it all home.” 

A native of Canada, who lived in both Montreal and Ottawa, Chandan’s finance roots took hold in America at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned undergraduate and PhD degrees in economics. Chandan also earned a master’s in electrical engineering from Penn and, just this year, a master’s in public health in epidemiology from Yale. He has now spent two decades on the New York City real estate scene, starting as a chief economist at Reis and then Real Capital Analytics. He founded Real Estate Econometrics in 2008, which was acquired by Real Capital Analytics in 2010.

While Chandan now spends far less time upstate in Barryville, he still gets a workout —  at his local Equinox and as a faculty adviser with the NYU Stern rugby club. The experience, which involves practicing with the team of graduate and undergraduate students, has enabled Chandan to rekindle his rugby playing days at Penn when pursuing his PhD at the Wharton School of Business.

“I’m not nearly as fast and I don’t recover nearly as quickly from hits as I used to, but it’s a really fun group to be a part of,” Chandan said. “We’ve got students that grew up playing rugby in New Zealand and Australia and South Africa, and I’m just the Canadian kid trying to keep up.” 

The rugby pitch provides a momentary escape from the many serious financing-related issues Chandan tackles on a daily basis. Chandan’s NYU Stern program also focuses heavily on other important policies connected to CRE, including housing, infrastructure and climate change. And he teaches a course on the effects of artificial intelligence on real estate decisions.

“Sam has been instrumental in molding the next generation of leaders in the real estate industry,” said Scott Rechler, chairman and CEO of developer and owner RXR. “He brings unparalleled passion, curiosity and leadership on issues that are vital to the future success of our industry, such as climate change, diversity, infrastructure and more. I think I speak for all of my colleagues when I say that we are grateful to have his talents in New York City, the world’s capital of commercial real estate.” 

There is no typical day for Chandan at NYU Stern, which has a worldwide focus. He has organized trips with MBA students during the past year to compare CRE practices in different markets, including Serbia, the U.K., Mexico and the United Arab Emirates, which he visited late this spring. The Stern program under Chandan also works closely with NYU’s international campuses in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi to gain a global perspective on how real estate differs from New York. 

“As an institute, we are globally focused and we are uniquely positioned amongst universities in that we have the advantage of being anchored by the largest and most systemically important real estate market in the world, but we also have the most expensive global infrastructure of any university in the world,” Chandan said. 

Chandan’s extensive research into the evolution of CRE in New York City, the global center of the real estate capital markets, has spurred partnerships with some of the industry’s biggest leaders and companies. Deutsche Bank has worked closely with Chandan going back to when he used to organize the annual NYU Schack Real Estate Capital Markets Conference, and the bank hosted the 2023 Real Estate Pride Roundtable. 

Dino Paparelli, global head of commercial real estate at Deutsche Bank, said the firm “supports Sam’s continued, invaluable contribution to commercial real estate education and academia.” Paparelli, who gave closing remarks at the Real Estate Pride Roundtable, noted that the annual NYU Schack Real Estate Capital Markets Conference that Chandan previously organized provided a “valuable networking and educational platform for our junior bench.”

Silverstein credited Chandan with developing NYU Schack into the largest and “most advanced school of real estate” in the U.S. The longtime developer said a big part of what made Chandan so effective in scaling the program was how he connected with students looking to enter the industry coupled with the respect Chandan has garnered from top CRE professionals. “He was universal in terms of his willingness to reach out and be helpful,” Silverstein said, “and so the programs he developed really became the source of a tremendous amount of interest by people who were searching for education in the field of real estate and its different aspects.” 

Chandan’s strong relationships with some of New York City’s most powerful real estate leaders has in turn fueled opportunities for his proteges and students. Gilmartin, for example, has served as a mentor to Chandan’s NYU students over the last few years. She said Chandan has brought to the forefront a number of issues that previously weren’t top of mind for developers related to the overall health of global cities, and his sharp communication skills enable a more vibrant CRE industry. 

“He goes places where there’s such connectivity to the built environment, but some of us forget that when we’re just toiling through our everyday business,” Gilmartin said. “What he does is he illuminates this connective tissue to what we do as builders and developers and the greater world around us. In many ways for such a juggernaut of a mind and a man, he also has this tender way he’s open to any discussion with anybody about anything, and therefore I think people are drawn to him and want to show up for him because of the way that he is.”

Andrew Coen can be reached at acoen@commercialobserver.com