On the heels of representing the largest office deal of 2014, Carol Brooks, co-founder of Continental Real Estate Companies, sat down with The Real Deal to discuss her passion for health and wellness, how she incorporates that into her business and what her company has planned for the year.
How did you start CREC?
At some point in the late 80s, I was in real estate banking, loving real estate but really yearning for something more entrepreneurial and more transactional. At the same time, Warren [Weiser] was working for his father’s company, TCC, which was a hotel management company, and he was developing hotels and office management companies. I decided to make the jump over to TCC to do the marketing and leasing. I saw a deficit in the market in the real estate services sector, and Warren and I talked about that a lot. When we started in 1989, we had a very definitive business plan where we were going to be modeled like a New York law firm and recruit only lawyers and MBAs and CPAs. When the savings and loan crisis hit, it really turned things around and changed the way we do business.
We learned very quickly about the inevitability of real estate cycles and the need to be proactive and fluid. We started transacting very quickly in a different way. One of our main clients back then was Lennar, so they had a very short-term perspective, which was: get in, work it hard and maximize value and get out. So things started to happen very quickly. We diversified our product base. Real estate cycles will have their way.
How did you respond to the last crash?
I’m really self-charged with trying to identify cycles — what’s going to impact our clients and what will impact us. If you really had your eyes open, you could certainly start to see a downturn. We very, very quickly hit the market by going to the banks and re-introducing ourselves as workout specialists and positioned ourselves accordingly. It was a reasonably productive time for us. It really comes down to having a diversified business platform and adhering to our principles — for us, that we are first and foremost a third-party service provider.
As real estate people, we tend to be optimistic in general, but we remain really optimistic. We made some moves during the last cycle. There’s a wall in our office between what I do and what Warren does. There’s an acquisitions department here. Right now, we’re positioning to sell four assets that will be valued up to $50 million more or less.
At least for us, the office sector is growing. We’re working on a lot of tenant reps. We just completed the Stearns deal. Now, I’m working with three other clients, all of whom won’t be named. There’s a financial services company based in Miami Beach. They’re interested in Miami Beach, Midtown and the Design District, and they’re willing to explore nontraditional office spaces, which is trendy and a lot of fun. The challenges in those markets — a lack of supply, of adequate parking — there really is a lot of opportunity in that sector.
We represent a lot of the major retail brands and will continue to do so. ARA has a property in Kendall that we’re repositioning a box store. We just did a Ross deal out there. The downsizing of the box business is creating some opportunities for us. In a well-balanced portfolio, there’s a yin and a yang. If we’re buying a shopping center with a box, we have a pretty good idea of how we’re backfilling that box.
There’s so much capital coming in and so much intelligence behind the capital coming in that we see tremendous opportunity.
Why are big box stores downsizing?
We represent Sports Authority and Target. Both of those tenants are coming into this market, which has very limited supply and a fantastic demographic. Retail is very drawn to this area, but because of the Internet, etc., they’re contemplating new footprints. So they’re going from 40,000 square feet to 15,000 to 20,000 and they’re looking for urban opportunities. It’s challenging because of limited supply.
Why stay independent?
Obviously, the national firms have come in here and absorbed a lot of the smaller firms. We’ve been approached by and spoken to most of them. It’s an interesting conversation. They’re curious about how we see the world of third-party servicing and we’re curious about them. If I had to hone in on their branding statement, it’s that bigger is better. For us, there is and will always be a very significant role for the boutique firm to play. When it comes down to it, the success of real estate, in general, is information, the depth and quality of a team, local knowledge, the ability to collaborate. When you take those assets and you amortize them across the country, it depletes by necessity the quality of the service.
I love Downtown Dadeland; I do. I’ve always loved it. It’s not the first time we’ve been involved with the project. I think the demographics speak for themselves. It’s an opportunity to create an urban environment right smack in the middle of all of that incredibly dense, residential area. We are talking to some really great chef-owned restaurants, which will really lead the way for the rest of the project. We anticipate it’s going to be urban, hip. It’s going to be a neighborhood joint. It’s happening now.
What are your days like?
My new thing is that my phone is off at night because if it’s not, I am a follow-up, what’s happening, get-on-it-now freak. It’s off when my eyes are closing. Every morning I do whatever amount of yoga I can do. I’ve got a pretty serious yoga practice. That’s a six-day-a-week thing. Sometimes it’s an hour and a half, sometimes it’s 15 minutes. I’m a third-degree black belt. I believe in the impact of yoga. I cannot get enough people on board. There’s some yoga meditation and there’s a whole lot of emailing and responding. Once I get into my office, the logistics of the day before have been covered. I’m interacting with the department heads. On the most macro level, I’m looking at economic trends. What do we need to be doing? What are we focusing on? Is the balance appropriate? At any moment of the day, there are literally four people outside of my office and I’m talking to two. And it’s very fast and furious. I move very quickly; I think very quickly. That’s my day.
Where do you live?
On a lake off of Old Cutler with a beach volleyball court, a basketball court, an organic garden, a million kayaks. It’s an awesome lifestyle.
Do you cook? What’s a typical dinner for you?
An argument. No, I’m kidding. I love cooking and I’ve always cooked. In my garden, I typically have three types of tomatoes, broccoli, greens, so many kinds of greens: mustards, kale, spinach. I’m very visual and I do believe in presentation. Dinnertime has an aesthetic component to it.
I’m not a hardcore pusher of organics, but it’s what I serve. When clients come in, we serve coconut water; we serve guacamole. It’s obviously integral to the way I think and the way I live my life. I really do believe in the value of wellness, yoga, meditation. On the client side, we have created a very high-value economic viability where we take vacant spaces and we activate them by having free wellness programs, which are offered to all of the tenants in the buildings. It’s hugely beneficial for the landlords. Tenants welcome it. It’s a big part of the longevity of our employees. We had been doing it here for about two years and then the recession hit. That’s when we imagined activating vacant spaces and extending what we were doing corporately into our office buildings for the benefit of our clients.
Has the industry changed over the years for women?
I grew up in a house that was filled with really ambitious and successful women. For a long time, I think I really had blinders on this issue because I just felt like the sky was the limit. Reflecting back to the beginning of my career, I very rarely spoke to women in the business. I very rarely sat at tables that weren’t largely comprised of men. Certainly, the leaders were all men. It really was a man’s world. On a day-to-day basis, I probably speak to women as much as I do men, but most of them are not in leadership roles and almost none are real estate business owners. I’m hopeful that that’s a pipeline issue and that we’re progressing. I mentor a lot of young women, and what I tell them is to be successful in real estate, you have to have a really strong sense of who you are and strong vision of what you intend to do, what your contribution will be and the mark you want to leave. I think part of it is put on women and part of it is self-imposed. Women have to help women succeed.