This week I attended the CRE (Counselors of Real Estate) annual convention in Washington, DC. One thing that surprised me as I made my way around the city was the number of tent cities connected to the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. I hadn't been following this story much but I asked a few folks what the purpose was and it sounds to me like a very disjointed effort with different people 'protesting' about different things. Just like in the 60's and early 70's, the reason that change could not be effected then, and now, is that people cannot get behind just one cause at a time. If we could elected officials would be forced to sit up and take notice and take action. But they knew then, and now too, that if they just sit back and do nothing the effort will evaporate due to lack of single purpose.
Anyway, I may have written this before but I want to say it again: The Counselors of Real Estate is a bunch of knowledgeable, talented, successful real estate professionals who also happen to be very nice. Egos are checked at the door and the collaborative, nay, totally friendly environment that exists at their events is a breath of fresh air. The CRE Consulting Corps case studies are fascinating and global. The debates about key issues affecting the commercial real estate industry are stimulating. And the collegial atmosphere is special. They are openly welcoming of new members and guests. I am proud to be a member and appreciate Geof Dohrmann of IREI who nominated me to be considered for membership.
Some takeaways from a presentation from a well-known and respected industry strategist:
- "Those of us who don't live within The Beltway (Washington, DC area) don't really understand what's happening."
- "Today money is basically free."
- "Maybe its' time for radical answers."
- "The other shoe? Forget about commercial real estate, it's state and local governments....and it's dropping."
- "State and local governments had always been an engine of growth...but no more."
The more people, of all ages, that I talk with, the more two things are clear: (1) Things are changing on a daily basis globally; (2) No one really knows what is going on or what to expect. Uncertainty, about most anything in our lives, creates stress. Stress is not healthy. But now, in addition to personal stress, we have an inordinate amount of Earth-stress, challenges to our basic way of life and to the future of our planet. I've always admired the 'big thinkers', those that don't get bogged down in the day to day stuff. I haven't been hearing much from these people lately, in fact, I'm not even sure who will go down in history from this period as a truly big and forward thinker. Right now, I'm focused on the small things but I am not sweating them. However, I recall Steve Winwood's voice when he and Traffic recorded, "Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring?" Let's put our collective mental energy together towards a better tomorrow for our selves and our children's children children (Moody Blues).
New York Times columnist, David Brooks, wrote in one of his columns this week, "If you are over 70, I’d like to ask for a gift. I’d like you to write a brief report on your life so far, an evaluation of what you did well, of what you did not so well and what you learned along the way." He got more than 200 comments submitted pretty darn quickly. I like this kind of life stuff so went through those comments and pulled out some things that I found interesting and I hope you do too:
- The United States, for the past 70 years, has been a place of soaring optimism, where things always got better. So 70 year olds today, for the most part, can recall fondly their past lives (despite any foolish risks they took)--because today they are still much better off than when they were growing up. But it is now possibe to contemplate that the US has peaked, and life in the United States, today, may be the best the younger generation will ever experience.
- Don't try to prove things to other people, especially your parents and friends, try to prove a few things to yourself. Try to balance being responsible with the grand adventure that life can be while also making a positive contribution. Our existence on this tiny planet is a miracle, don't waste it.
- Aim high and see how far you can go. Learn from everything and everyone, all the time. Be self critical only when it can help you grow, not as a force of habit. Realize, too, that everyone before you who accomplished something grand started out with doubts, fears and doubters saying it couldn't be done. Live your dreams because, otherwise, you will have to watch while someone else does it in your stead.
- I have learned that I don't know anything, don't understanding anything, and never will. Far from making me despondent, this has been a big relief. I also realize that no-one else knows anything or understands anything, especially the "experts" - a word I think should always be in quotation marks. Trust your own judgment more than you trust anyone else's. Even the honest and well-intentioned can lead you astray, and most certainly they do not have your well-being at heart as much as you do.
RCA’s 3Q2011 Europe Capital Trends report was recently published. Here are a few of their conclusions:
- Despite the economic and financial market turbulence European investment activity continues to improve. Countries showing an improvement in transaction volume, notably Germany, France, Nordics and Central Europe are increasingly being driven by cross-border capital.
- Prime retail continues to perform strongly, with office volume flat year-over-year. Hotels also posted robust gains, while large transactions boosted the apartment and industrial sectors.
- While London and Paris still boast the largest volume, many other cities now are drawing a larger percentage of cross-border investment.
- The most significant changes in the sources of these global inflows have come from Asia and Canada, with their investment activity in Europe reaching or surpassing peak levels.
- US investors, while comprising half of global capital flows into Europe, acquired just €14.7b over the past 12 months, a fraction of 2007 levels.
To me, Canada is the story to watch as they have become a very aggressive investor in direct real estate in many parts of the world.
Congratulations to my friend Julian Schiller who joined Brookfield Asset Management as senior vice president at the firm’s global private funds group in London.
Cool stuff of the week: ArX Solutions. Terrific animation company. This art/technology has really evolved since I was first exposed to it at the MIPIM conference in about 2004.
Photo: Six of the 17 CRE Band members at rehearsal studio earlier this week preparing for the show last night at the Chairman's Gala Dinner where John Leary handed the Chairman's title to Ken Riggs. It was a really fun night.
On the road....
Nov. 4-11: New York
Nov. 9-10: PERE Forum in New York where I'll be moderating a panel called "LPs: Far from Limited). My panelists: Tom Arnold, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority; Steve Hason, APG Asset Management; David Rose, HewittEnnisKnupp and Bill Bowman, former senior portfolio manager for an institutional investment management company. There is still time to sign up and be there.
Nov. 15: San Francisco to host a discussion sponsored by JP Morgan's Private Equity and Real Estate Services Group on "The New Investment Climate: Fostering Transparency from Front to Back Office."
Nov. 30-Dec. 2: Chicago to attend NCREIF's 'Nuts & Bolts of Institutional Real Estate 2.0.'
Dec. 12-16: New York (Including my "Not quite annual holiday buy your own drink holiday drink thing." Date, time and location TBA. Stay tuned.
Jan. 25: London to moderate a panel at the annual Reuters Real Estate Conference.
These are my views and not that of my employer.