The Real Deal Los Angeles

Carl Muhlstein on Cushman, Twitter and leasing Downtown

JLL broker shares his tricks of the trade

January 29, 2016 11:30AM
By Hannah Miet

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Carl Muhlstein lobby Herald Examiner

Carl Muhlstein in the lobby of the Herald Examiner Building

You might say Carl Muhlstein, managing director at JLL’s Downtown office, is in the newspaper business. He’s certainly in the business of selling Downtown properties left behind by newspapers. The avid reader and tweeter is leading leasing on both the historic Herald Examiner Building at 1111 South Broadway — which had been vacant since the Examiner shuttered in 1989 — and a 26-acre plot of land in the Arts District where the Los Angeles Times is being printed, for now.

Muhlstein has made his specialty working with tenants, landlords and investors interested in creative office space. After 14 years at Cushman & Wakefield, he joined JLL in 2012, and is a member of its entertainment and new media practice group.

We caught up the broker to talk about how the newspaper projects are going. We also talked about pet peeves, competition and socks.

Where did you grow up?

Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley.

What was your childhood like?

As the first born, I learned the value of hard work from sacrificing immigrant parents. I had to figure out my life’s direction as they were too busy dealing with their own challenges. Growing up in the 60s and 70s influenced the liberal tendencies which are still with me today.

How did you get into real estate?

I took business classes at UCLA Extension to augment my Journalism studies at California State University Northridge. I discovered that commercial real estate was fascinating: a combination of sociology, business, architecture and urban planning. A guest lecturer, Steve Soboroff, helped me land my first job as a driver, note-taker and lease abstractor for a family office with vast holdings. I interviewed with Cushman & Wakefield’s downtown office and sold my first property, the former Crocker Bank Headquarters on Spring Street, to Stanley Black. I later (worked with) Steve when he was the President of Playa Capital some 30 years later.

What was it like working for John Cushman III?

He was great. It was probably my hardest goodbye, leaving there for JLL after 14 years. He was just a dynamic bundle of energy, a pulsating brokerage muscle. It’s not a good thing and not a bad thing, it just is. The results of my practice really mushroomed with his guidance.

What was something that you learned from him?

There is no deal too large or too complicated if you have faith in yourself. John took me out of the mindset of a neighborhood broker and taught me to take more of a regional approach and to recognize the connection and synergy of working with property, capital and leasing markets.

How has the market changed since you started in the business?

The speed with which information flows is staggering. My Rolodex puts me within two or three calls of any answers. Relationships are key, though the younger (brokers) always try to circumvent clients.

They do?

Sometimes young brokers with a few years of experience try to show how smart they are. There’s a little too much testosterone.

What do your mornings look like?

I’m not much of a sleeper. I start around 6 a.m. with fresh coffee, newspapers on my driveway and an hour of reading. Between reading emails, Twitter, preset Google searches, and reading good old-fashioned newspapers, I get grounded for the day ahead. I tweet about topics of interest in land use, architecture, local transactions and trends. I’m only followed by 1, 200 people but I receive regular acknowledgement for insight from Twitter dilettantes. I go to Equinox most mornings.

How has your activity on social media impacted your career?

Twitter helped grow my reputation as a thought leader about real estate trends. The awareness and discipline helps me stay relevant to clients and solicits guest speaker invitations at local and national conferences. I can also attribute a growing number of closed deals to broader marketing to employees of tenants in the market.

Where do you live?

In Studio City since 1980. A nice blend of urban and suburban while so central within L.A.

What is your favorite place to be in L.A. when you’re not working?

Everywhere. I love walking the Venice canals, dining in the Arts District, catching a movie at ArcLight Hollywood, hiking the Santa Monica Mountains. No wonder the film studios all migrated here. The variety of terrain is terrific. It’s become even more accessible with Uber.

What is your favorite place for a lunch meeting in L.A.?

At my desk. I am often criticized for not socializing enough with clients. They see the best side of me at closing dinners.

When you do dine out, where do you like to go?

I’m addicted to ethnic joints. You will catch me at Langer’s, Eastside Market Italian Deli, Chosun Galbee, Las Fuentes, Pokinometry and the Hummus Republic.

Have you started leasing the Herald Examiner Building, or are you waiting until construction is complete?

Georgetown (the developer, in partnership with Hearst Corp.) is in the middle of demolition on the interior. We want to get a little better sense of what the interiors are going to be before we lease. After they stopped publishing the paper, the building had been used as little sets and soundstages so there were (fake) nurses quarters, police stations and bars. It was a rat maze. It was crazy.

When will you start leasing?

It will be ready for touring in March. We’ve already had some inquiries from ecommerce, from architecture firms, from a school. We got a great response for the retail portion, because so many restaurateurs want to break into (Downtown’s) growing market. Right now, we’re just collecting interest. It’s embryonic.

What’s happing at the printing press site?

We’ve had (interest from) retail developers, logistics people, residential developers. It’s been a wide variety and it’s kept me on my toes in terms of knowledge of all aspects of developments. Bids will come in a month or so. Right now, we are in the touring phase.

What are your strategies for dealing with competition?  

I respect the top-tier brokerage community and I take nothing for granted with new and old clients. I never rest on laurels and approach each assignment with a fresh perspective.

What about antagonism: do you choose to ignore or confront it?  

Oh, please. Commanding facts will always help. I dislike brokers who berate or intimidate less experienced people. It shows insecurity.

What are your tricks for making a relationship with a landlord successful?  

Thinking like an owner. How does the quality and quantity of new leasing add value? Curating the right tenant mix can be just as important as the highest rent.

Do you have any vices?

Bright socks and risqué cufflinks. I’m a perennial open house voyeur. I’m also a dreamer of vacations which never materialize while I say, “Just one more call, dear.”