Executives send mixed messages on downturn, discuss ways to land deals

Commercial brokers experiencing the worst real estate environment in a generation got a breakfast pep talk from leading executives at a real estate panel today but heard divergent views on when the market will hit bottom.
Matt VanBuren, senior managing director at full service commercial firm CB Richard Ellis, provided a relatively optimistic viewpoint, holding that the city is near the bottom of the downward cycle.
“Our perspective is that we are at an inflection point, and that the majority of the downward price movement has occurred,” he said, adding that the overall health of financial and legal firms remained critical to a recovery.
But Leon Manoff, executive managing director at FirstService Williams, said he sees no end on sight.  
“From my perspective, I don’t see the bottom yet,” he said.
The event’s moderator, Stephen Siegel, chairman of global brokerage at CB Richard Ellis, responded that some stability had returned to the market.  
“I am seeing rents on direct space solidifying. I am not saying at $85 or $100 a foot, but they are solidifying at $50, or even $60 or $65 a foot,” he said.
The senior brokers were part of a panel about working in the current down market hosted by the Real Estate Board of New York at the association’s Midtown offices, and attended by about 100 real estate professionals. The panelists also included David Arena of Grubb & Ellis; Benjamin Fox, president of Winick Realty Group; and Joseph Harbert, COO at Cushman & Wakefield.
The brokers gave tips on everything from how to ward off depression to advice on setting daily goals.
“How do you stay positive, how do you stay upbeat in this environment and industry? It is not easy,” FirstService Williams’ Manoff said. “Forget the sale. It is not about the sale right now. It is about creating value for the clients… Focus on daily and weekly progress. Make short-term goals.”
Winick’s Fox told the brokers to get out and walk the city and look for business in the less-traveled submarkets.
“Get off your butts and canvass for fun,” he said.  
Siegel from CBRE told the audience about an unconventional method a broker he once worked with used to get meetings with senior executives to talk about their real estate needs.  
The broker, whom Siegel did not identify, but who is still working, would scour the obituaries for company CFOs and CEOs who had died, and then make a call to the executive’s office.   
After being told of the death, the broker would say, “You’re kidding me. I was supposed to confirm a meeting with him for next week. Who is his successor?” Siegel said.
Because the meeting had supposedly been in the works, the secretary would tell the broker, “I am sure that he will see you.”

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