Saturday, April 25, 2020

Interview with a friend who has made a difference in the commercial real estate industry: Norm Miller

Norm Miller

Norm is the Hahn Chair of Real Estate Finance at the University of San Diego (USD) and is affiliated with USD’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate. He has worked with the FDIC, DOJ, NMHC, NAA, CoStar and Collateral Analytics developing real estate analytic products and tools applied to real estate decisions and trends. Prior to joining USD, he was academic director and the founder of the real estate program at the University of Cincinnati. He received his PhD from the Ohio State University.

Norm has published numerous academic articles, books and articles in trade market publications on housing, brokerage, mortgage risk, valuation, and sustainable real estate including being the founder of the Journal of Sustainable Real Estate. The Geltner, Miller, Clayton and Eicholtz book “Commercial Real Estate Analysis and Investment” is the world’s leading graduate-level real estate textbook. Norm has lectured around the world, including France, Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand, India and Russia. He has worked extensively with various trade associations and became one of the first “Distinguished Fellows” of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP). He is currently a Homer Hoyt Land Use Institute Faculty and Board member.

How did Norm and I meet?

Norm has, for many years, been an active member of The Homer Hoyt Institute (HHI). HHI is an independent, non-profit research think tank and educational foundation dedicated to the professional real estate industry, established in 1967.  The Hoyt Fellows is a group of industry leaders honored for their leadership and accomplishments in the field of professional real estate. One of the major goals of the Hoyt Group is to bridge the gap between academia and industry.  Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to be nominated and accepted to become a member of Hoyt Fellows.  It’s at one of the annual meetings that Norm and I first met and have stayed in touch ever since.  The Hoyt Fellows is a great group and I am very proud to be a member!
Q.  How did you get your start in the commercial real estate industry?

A.  As an undergrad I was interested in architecture and engineering and took a number of real estate courses. I became President of the Real Estate Society at Ohio State.

Because of my involvement in the Real Estate Society I met Dick Royer. Dick helped me buy my very first property in the senior year of my undergraduate degree program.  I used my own (borrowed) equity and convinced three friends to come into the deal as partners on a four-unit row house. And that was my start.

On that deal I got to act as the broker, the property manager, the partnership manager and the contractor doing upgrades (and the labor!).  I learned so much from that small-scale investment. That deal, combined with my studies, made it obvious that real estate finance, and investments and economics were strong interests for me.

After we sold that property, I acquired another one on my own and continued, deal-by-deal while in grad school.  The hands-on experience, combined with real estate coursework provided a complimentary perspective. The key thing was having a mentor who helped give me the confidence to buy that first property.   

Q. What advice would you give to someone who has been in the industry for a short time or a student looking to get her or his start?

A.  There are a number of things that are key to me, especially today.  First, don’t wait to get started on networking.  Bring something of value to the ‘table’ – by researching topics that you know will be of interest to those you are going to meet and respect.  Try to think empathetically. If I’m a student and I’m going to meet a speaker at an event, I will do some research on them and through that find something interesting to bring up in a conversation when I meet them. I might ask if they’d like me to send that information to them. That’s actually an opening to ask them for their business card or saying I’ll follow up with a note and sending something to them.  I believe, you should never hand a business card to someone who doesn’t ask for it because they’re just going to forget about it or not know the context. I see networking as an opportunity to provide value when you can.

I use LinkedIn a lot.  I don’t use Facebook except for small, social type family things but I do use LinkedIn as a “Rolodex”

Assume your life is transparent now because of social media, so be careful what you do.  I’ve seen many a students’ job offer disappear when their social media presence was included in the research profile on them. 

Don’t wait to start investing in real estate.  Bring in as many partners as you need, but start young and gain that experience.  I tell all our students, especially our graduate students: don’t depend on your income your whole lives – you’re going to have to start investing and do it as soon as you can – especially when you have nothing to lose.  Stick your neck out a little bit.

Read voraciously - about the economy and real estate trends – everything from design to property tech, to capital market trends. Try to be conversant and knowledgeable and, at the same time, a little skeptical of accepting what you read – considering the bias, or spin, that certain people are going to put on stories. You should maintain enough current knowledge so you can question whatever you read. Know when someone writes something you can’t trust and learn whom the experts are that you can trust. 

The last thing I tell our graduates is that hard work and persistence makes up for smarts. Don’t be intimidated by people you think are smarter than you. They can’t outwork you if you choose. Work with people who are smarter and better than you.  In my career I was lucky to have hired people better than myself and that made me better. 

Q. As you look back on your career is there anything you wish you had done differently? If so, what?

A.  I wish I had invested more in real estate. My lifetime record has been pretty solid.  I wish I had sought out a little more time with mentors that I didn’t realize were mentors at the time. Today, I treasure the relationships with people around the globe whom I respect.  I feel lucky to have the opportunities that I’ve had. There’s nothing significantly different career wise that I would have done except cherished those opportunities and relationships a little earlier than I did in both the private sector and the public sector.

Q. Who have been the biggest influences on your career? How? Why?

A.  That would probably be a list of a few hundred people! My dad taught me about hard work; Dick Royer got me into my first real estate deal; Ron Racster at Ohio State was a mentor as was C.F. Sirmans.  I actually knew and was influenced by James Graaskamp, who started the first graduate program in real estate in the U.S. at the University of Wisconsin.
Then there are colleagues I’ve worked with like Dave Geltner at MIT; Mike Sklarz at Collateral Analytics; Jeff Fisher and all my colleagues at Home Hoyt; Malin Burnham in San Diego - who wrote ‘Community before Self”, Jim Young of Realcomm and folks like Geoff Dohrmann, Mary Ludgin, Jacques Gordon, Bob Zerbst, Dan Kohlhepp, Paul Wendt, Will McIntosh, Dave Pogue and the list goes on and on…sorry to my many friends.

Stay safe my friends. 

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