Sisters Darla Longo and Barbara Emmons of CBRE on driverless cars and LA’s industrial market

Duo leads CBRE team that sold $2.1 billion in 2015

Feb.February 24, 2016 11:30 AM

CBRE brokers Darla Longo and Barbara Emmons have been partners in crime since forever. Well, actually since Barbara was born — they’re sisters and Darla is the elder of the two, by 10 years. Today, they’re co-vice chairwomen, heads of CBRE’s West Coast National Partners team and a force in the industrial real estate world. In 2015, their team sold $2.1 billion of real estate across 59 transactions.

But working together wasn’t exactly something either set out to do. After their father, Phil Vessadini, died in 1997, the sisters took his long-standing suggestion to join forces. They’ve been professionally inseparable now for 19 years.

We sat down with the sister-brokers to chat about why they like selling industrial warehouses more than luxury condos and where they see the industry going.  

Why did you choose to go into industrial real estate over, say, residential?

Longo: My reason was really simple. I didn’t want to work weekends and nights. Also, I knew that I loved working with businesses. I loved learning how things were done and made. 

Emmons: Industrial real estate is a very pragmatic business. It doesn’t require emotions in the way it does when someone is buying a house. There’s none of the politics involved like dealing with the husband, the wife, the kids. It’s about, does this location functionally work for someone’s needs? 

Working together as sisters for nearly two decades is impressive. How did that come to be?

Longo: I was already working in industrial real estate and had started at CBRE. When Barbara graduated school, I suggested she try it out.

Emmons: I initially wanted to be a schoolteacher, until Darla suggested I look into real estate. Back then, I wanted to work with Darla but she said, “No, you wouldn’t have your own identity.” So, first I worked in the San Fernando Valley while Darla was in the L.A. office. The impetus for us working together came after our father suddenly passed.

How did that impact your decision to join forces?

Longo: He was the inspiration for me getting into the business in the first place. He always wanted us to work together and we put it off. (His death) was sort of divine intervention. I wanted to get into the capital markets investment sales arena. When you do investment sales packages, you have to write packages for clients. I like numbers and she likes to write, so our two skills sets really combined well together.

What is your take on the state of the industry?

Longo: I call the state of the industry one of cautious optimism. Where others may see it as choppy, I see it as we have 12 to 18 months of solid growth in the economy. Any time you have unrest with China and fluctuation with the stock market, the uneasiness of what it all means causes people to be cautious and thoughtful in what they’re doing. That’s a good thing. Nobody wants to get caught like they did in ’06 and ’07 so caution is good. I think it is still a positive time for real estate and we will see soft landings rather than hard ones.

What about the industrial market specifically?

Emmons: The fundamentals of industrial real estate in Los Angeles are pretty strong right now. It’s as strong as we’ve seen in our career. I don’t remember a market when vacancies were this low, land prices at an all-time high with tenant demand high. We have positive net absorption. From my perspective and our careers, there’s a lot of money looking for industrial transactions so there shouldn’t be any hiccups.

How different or difficult is it to be a woman on this side of the real estate business?  

Emmons: Commercial real estate has always been more of a man’s world but some of the most successful women in the industry are with CBRE. I’m a founding member of 15 years of a (CBRE) women’s group to encourage women to get into the business and I mentor and help women grow in the business.

How different would the industry be if it was run by more women?

Longo: We have an all women’s team and we have partners who are lead by men. I think we run a very efficient diligent operation. It shouldn’t be one or the other. It’s the integration that compliments and balances.

If we could do a little speculative forecasting on L.A., what do you envision happening over the next decade?

Longo: Driverless cars will change everything. It will have a huge impact on office and industrial buildings, parking, quality of life, and how people get around. People won’t own cars and parking and congestion will lessen. It will be fun to see where the world goes.

What do you do with your time when not working? 

Longo: We both own a vacation and weekend house next door to each other up in Lake Arrowhead which is probably crazy, but we both love going up there and relaxing. We are close professionally and personally and the good news is our husbands get along! 

How do you make the sisters-as-partners thing work?

Longo: We put our family first and business second, and no amount of money gets in the way of that.

Emmons: We’re constantly talking and communicating. It’s good in any relationship, and especially business.

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