How to Thrive at a Boutique Real Estate Shop

Aug 26, 2015 | Asset Management, Career

If you sign up for the ASotREG mailing list, the first email you get from me asks, “If I could write one real estate-related thing to make your day better, what would it be?” I get a ton of great responses, which often serve inspiration for new blog content.

A recent subscriber wrote back saying, “I also work for a smaller/entrepreneurial RE firm and was one of the first several employees brought into the company. Do you have any advice/suggestions on how an associate can make the biggest impact at a smaller firm?”

This is something I deal with every day.

Working for an entrepreneurial real estate company has its perks and challenges; you see all decisions made (good and bad) and the work you do has a major impact on the company, however there’s often limited upward mobility and no structure. Here’s how I view my role as the jack of all trades at Atlas.

Do Your Job
You were hired to a do a job. The company had an identifiable void and you were hired to fill it. 95% of your time/effort should be spent on doing your job really well. However, whether your role is acquisitions, asset management, or investor relations (you’ll often play all these roles at a small investment firm), there’s the opportunity to put processes in place because likely none exist and bring creative ideas to the table because the firm is nimble and can move quickly.

Here are a few examples from my role at Atlas Real Estate Partners:

I’m the lead asset manager for a majority of our portfolio. While my responsibility is generally to oversee the on-the-ground team, there’s many ways to approach this. For all deals, I put together an asset management tracking spreadsheet which includes debt information, insurance details, all 3rd party contacts, lender reimbursement processes, tax information, banking information, entity information, calendar of key dates, and an org chart. It’s a one stop shop for anything you’d like to know about a deal and allows anyone on the team to quickly find all vital information.

I created an internal lender contact database broken up by balance sheet, DUS, LifeCo, bridge, and CMBS lenders. We continually update this spreadsheet and reference it on all new deals.

When running acquisitions I’m constantly looking at ways to improve our underwriting model, access unique sources of data which will give us an advantage in analysis, and connect with local market experts. Acquisitions is more than putting together a functioning model using historical financials and some random growth assumptions. It requires a second level thinker to see the upside or downside that others miss.

When dealing with all other aspects ask yourself, is there a better way to do this? What else should we be thinking about? How can we differentiate ourselves and break the status quo? Don’t ever accept it when somebody says do it because that’s the way it’s always been done.

Find Creative Ways to Add Value Beyond Your Role
While 95% of your time should be spent on doing your job really well, the other 5% should be spent on finding creative ways to add value to the firm beyond your daily responsibilities. There are many ways to do this and it’s this 5% of time/effort which set a good employee apart from a truly irreplaceable employee. Here are just a few examples.

Facilitate introductions with people who can add value to the firm. I’m constantly bringing in new investors, discovering new lending sources, and connecting with real estate tech firms whose services can provide us with a competitive advantage.

Investor relations is a big part of our business and something we spend a lot of time thinking about at Atlas. I’ve spearheaded the ‘Atlas Investor Experience’ which includes exclusive investor events, holiday and birthday gifts, and our approach toward quarterly reporting.

I created a beautifully designed 1-page summary version of our 100+ page PPM which extracts all the key points investors ask about. Non-real estate professionals who invest with us on a trust basis really appreciate this level of transparency. It’s also a great way for potential investors to quickly understand our deal structure.

I was the driver behind our new website, becoming active on social media, and building up an email list. These efforts have gone a long way to building the Atlas Real Estate Partners brand.

Working for an entrepreneurial real estate firm is a great way to see all aspects of the business, have an impact on the firm, and share in the upside, however it’s not for everyone. It requires a go-getter, a creative thinker, and someone who’s in it for the long run.

What do you think?