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South Florida’s Leading Real Estate Developers Provide Students with Up-Close Look at Region’s Top Projects

September 29, 2014
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With students in the School’s real estate programs looking on, there it rose from Biscayne Bay: SkyRise Miami, a $430 million, 1,000-square-foot skyscraper by Berkowitz Development Group.  After Michael Berkowitz, the firm’s vice president, described the vision – part thrill ride, part nightclub, part movie theater a la Soarin’ – he pulled out a flash drive replica as an example of what they’d sell in the gift shop, eliciting excited reaction from the students and even fellow developers.

“That’s fabulous!” developer and School alumnus Howard Shapiro (MBA ’80) said. “When I see something like that, I’m jealous I’m not involved in it.”

Some 50 students – ranging from freshman to second-year MBA’s – spent this September evening rotating through tables, listening to local real estate leaders discuss today’s booming market and dish out advice. They left invigorated and inspired, with much to think about and a pile of business cards to hang onto.

“It’s great hearing from people who do it best,” freshman Connor Cassidy said. “It’s very useful. Now it’s up to me to take it and put it somewhere.”

   
   
 

Shapiro, known for luxury high-rises, emphasized networking above all else. “It’s the most important thing you can do,” he told students. “Whenever you get a business card, write the date and a note about the contact. Build a Rolodex. Make it part of your DNA to meet people. I may end up doing a deal with one of you.”

Another key, said industrial real estate broker and School alumnus Augusto Fonte of AJF Properties, is learning your niche market. “I learned real estate by putting on a pair of shorts and walking. I knocked on doors asking how much people paid in rent.” Now, he takes advantage of the wealth of online information. When asked where he gets money for his deals, Fonte chuckled, “My wallet! It’s an inverse pyramid. The more buildings you have, the more of your money you have to invest.” 

Alumnus Anthony Graziano of Integra Realty Resources (BS ’92), a consulting firm that provides appraisals and expert testimony, told students that his employees benefit by learning every aspect of the business in a fast-paced environment. These days, with everyone rushed to get deals done, the firm turns out reports in two to three weeks.

James Dockerty, the managing director of HFF’s Miami office, along with alumnus Scott Wadler (BBA ’09), spoke about their work on commercial real estate debt and equity transactions.  “We’re the matchmakers,” Wadler explained. “We find a lender to fit a particular borrower.”

And Rachel Pellman, brand and marketing director for CMC Group, cautioned, “Things need to stand the test of time so we’ve taken the approach to not rush.” Her advice? “If you actually do your job, you’ll be successful because most people don’t do their jobs.”

The evening was the brainchild of the Real Estate Club, with support from the School of Business.

“The formation of the Real Estate Club coincides with our emphasis on expanding our educational real estate offerings,” said Andrea Heuson, a finance professor who leads the School’s real estate programs and works with the Real Estate Club and other student initiatives . “Real estate is very location specific so you better get to know the people who are already there and successful in that market. That’s what we were doing.”

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