10 Ways Old School Commercial Real Estate Is Still Kicking Ass.

10 Ways Old School Commercial Real Estate Is Still Kicking Ass.

Old school new school. Pavement pounding cold calling or social media and technology. I spent a little time in the great city of Chicago this week(ironically doing two panels for social media and commercial real estate) and had some in depth and thoughtful discussions with several smart and savvy brokers. Interesting to me was the different opinions about what is or is not the way we in commercial real estate are should maybe or can be doing THE business of getting deals. Now obliviously I have leaned towards the tech side but there is still a pretty serious contingent of non tech people getting it done. This made me think a little bit back to the “old” days and I thought I would post up something I did along time ago. Basically I sat down and had lunch with a good friend of mine who I would certainly call old school. Picture an ex football linebacker type,clean shaved head pinstripe suit and a stare the melts the ladies and puts the boys on their heels.

Old School Real Estate Still Kicking Your Ass.

Think that all of your beeping gadgets and tethered toys are just the coolest things ever?  Do you know what the latest I- pop app or whatever they call them are and think it rules the world?  Well, great for you. I have some news for you son.  I’m kicking your ass and here’s how and why.

1.  I get my butt up and moving- First of all commercial real estate does not happen sitting at the desk. It happens in the field.  A successful pro must be in the field every day, yes every day.

2.  I am mobile- As in get in your car and drive your market, yes every day.

3.  I am really mobile– They have these things call shoes. Walking, knocking on doors, climbing stairs, you would be amazed what you see and hear. On the ground and the street.

4.  I meet people- Tenants, property managers, building owners, (remember them?)they are the ones who actually need my service.

5. I listen and learn- I get info from them about their families, politics, hobbies and their business.  Guess what, they tell me stuff.  Like lease information, when they are moving and what they really need.  In great detail. They like me. I am their “professional” friend and connection to commercial real estate.

6. I feel the market- I keep up with what businesses are expanding and contracting who is creating  jobs and who is bailing out.  I analyze why. It’s my job.

7. I know the ropes– Zoning, planning, permits, water, local, municipal. Yes, I went to school with the wonderful gals behind the desks at the city and county. I don’t abuse the relationship. I nurture it.You can’t get that type of info from any GIS or computer.

8.  I know where to go– I attend the events that matter for commercial real estate. Guess what they call it? Networking. Chamber of Commerce,Golf charity outings,BNI,Toastmasters,Monday morning lead group. Take your pick. I am their go to guy.

9. I’m a pro– The average broker spends 8 or 9 years in this business.  How many do you think are left from this last bloodletting?  Think they will jump back in when it looks like a little easy money can be made?  I’ll be here if they want to come back, but I doubt it.  They made the real pros look bad.  They probably went on to some Social Media “consulting” job.  It looked easy for a while didn’t it.  Good effin riddance.

10. Time- as in you are not willing to:

a. Stay away from the gadgets.  They are just distractions…..for the lazy.

b. Realize commercial real estate is NOT an online business.

c. Take time away from your “real” life.

This one may hurt but, you are not willing to be away from your family, friends and fun. “17 hours a day for 25 years.  That’s my secret.”  Balls in all the way or not?

Take this as friendly or not so friendly advice.  Just telling it like it is and showing you the way it’s still done today.  Play with your toys all you want.  I’ll just keep cashing my checks…for the next 20 years.

Clueless Bullshit?

My boy does not mince many words. Now you may say hey a mix of the old school stuff with some tech is the way that I do it and that most are seeing the next wave of new broker finally breaking the old school ways. Think for a minute. You have to know two, three, four guys in your market doing it old school. My simple question to you is why then are these boys still kicking your ass?

Duke Long


  • I want to know where all of the good, old school property manager’s are? I sit in the sidelines, staying in my “safe” job because the new bred of building owners and asset managers only believe in the bottom line. I am biding my time while these young manager’s are the yes men to all of the new breed of asset managers intent on improving their bottom line at anything or anyone’s expense. No such thing as compromise with a tenant, good customer service or heaven forbid, having the balls to tell an owner that it costs less to renew a tenant than to let them walk and build out for a new tenant. Yes, I bide my time and wait until their building is falling apart from deferred maintenance or subpar janitorial service and wait for them to realize that they need a manager that not only knows how to read a financial statement and plan a budget but also knows how to keep an asset from falling apart – actually knows what VAV and CFM stand for – But KNOWS customer service too. These cycles are inevitable – buy a building at the bottom, spend some bucks on a good staff and improvements to the infrastructure, lease it up, sell it at a good margin, market falls apart, owners start cutting staff, building falls to disrepair….Wow, we need an good, old school property manager that can help us put this place back to Class A status once more. AND the cycle continues and I bide my time.

    • Great comments Csvogel. Yes, the human touch, wisdom, balls, communication, good management. How soon we trash it. And how amazingly rare and unappreciated it can be, just defies logic. Intangible stuff that is hard to quanitify, but not really, it comes down to a reactionary 1-year plan or a progressive five-ten year plan.

    • Right. Social media is and always was about efficiently connecting to people. You still need to get out there and be *authentic*. But it is not an either/or (did someone say it was?). More and more social media is a “place” – like Golf course, Chamber – if you aren’t there, you aren’t there. Didn’t hear that tweet about a local restaurant running out of space? Too bad. Didn’t see the facebook post about a company wanting to move to a nicer office? Whoops.

      So does “old school” work? Of course. Until the second it doesn’t. And then what? Nice way to fall off a cliff.

  • Duke, is there a function or place on your open media to answer questions in an open forum-type way? Relates to your recent article on conversations. (Maybe you could reply, or not, as the case may be, but other people could reply, too.) I personally don’t like answering random questions online, so maybe there is no place, or maybe you could just answer the ones you want to or the ones that actually were worthy and interested you. I think you might get a few that would also lead to good content articles for you.

  • Duke:
    You are absolutely correct.I have been an industrial broker for 26 years in New Orleans. I moved to San Diego a couple of years ago. To get a quick education of the different markets, I did a marathon cold calling effort where I visited warehouse owners and tenants. Not only did I make contact with owners and users, I did a quick survey of the buildings to see if they needed more parking, overhead doors, more office or warehouse or if they needed to downside.

    I am old school, in that I use technology as a follow up and to remain in contact with potential clients. My advice to new agents and agents working new submarkets is to go back to the basics and get their butts out in the field.


  • Two I might add:
    > I return phone calls. Many in our business forgot this for some reason.
    > I am it this for the long haul. Let the amateurs quit when the going is tough….

  • With the proper use of today’s technology to organize, manage and expedite the transaction side of the business, you don’t have to spend 17 hours a day to get results.

  • Duke,
    Loved your article! Especially the part about the importance of personal relationships, which shows that the individual across the negotiation table is more than just a line item for you. Hard work, keeping in touch – on more than one level and working both smart and hard. I do love the gadgets, but they should be utilized only in furtherance of your ultimate goal. Not just making the deal, but creating a business relationship that will last a lifetime!

  • This is a great article, and I love it Old school all the way, my shoes have holes from the walk. I was walking and scouting sites today, becuase I wanted to know what was availble and where and I wanted to see it first hand. I still go out canvassing store, but you have to have product in hand, locations to discuss, etc. And you know what, sometimes you have to turn down a listing if its not right.

  • I’m in the South Louisiana market which is very much meet and greet. A lot of business is conducted on the golf course, in hunting clubs, fishing boats and camps. We have a very strong social network where personal contact is the norm and most effective way to get things done. However, much of our future business will come from the younger gerneration where social media is the norm. You can’t go wrong with personal contact. But like it or not our business is on a bullet train to future and I’ll be on it.

  • Exile,
    I agree with you on all your points!

    The real “Talented Sales Persons” are the ones that are “On The Street”, and not sitting at a desk!

    Howard Applebaum

  • Great post Duke! Tell it like it is. I am not even in the commercial real estate market, rather, commercial insurance, but it’s the same concept. The fat is being trimmed in this this current market with other brokers leaving to find “something better” but I keep pounding the pavement and building relationships, attending networking events with BNI and chamber and alumni networking mixers BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS. Real relationships are not built sitting at your desk. Thanks


    And it has nothing to do about new technology or “old school” vs. “new school”. Here is what I would like to add to your post:

    1. Consultative approach: How do you understand exactly what your client’s goals are?
    2. How do you not be the “old school broker who never learned from her mistakes”?
    3. Are you setting yourself up to be the George Burns of CRE? How do you create teams that complement your skill sets so that you can be productive as long as you want and love your work?

  • Agree with most of your points. I manage 20+ brokers – the successful ones eat and breathe their job. They work their tails off, and exude confidence that clients are attracted to. Those that don’t are just average and always will be.

    Social media is not the best way to connect – networking at events and getting in front of people is 10x better. It’s a decent tool to make an initial intro – but you better get in front of those intros if you want business. And so far, Twitter is worthless in my mind. Love LinkedIn. Facebook is for personal – I don’t want to see your business on there!

  • Loved this post. When I started in commercial real estate brokerage I was given a 5 foot desk, a phone and a phonebook. You had to wear out a ton of shoe leather, knock on a lot of doors and make a lot of mistakes. I would add a few minor items:

    1. Be willing to fail. If you do not ever fail, it is because you are not trying. The biggest sin in business is not failing, it is not trying. Check out Lamar Odom’s stint in Dallas – you don’t want to be that guy.

    2. The personal touch, like handwritten notes. Nothing is more old school – sure it’s time consuming and sometimes a pain – but people know that and that’s why they appreciate it. In this era of impersonal technology, this stands out more than ever before. It’s so old school it’s cool.

    3. Network, network, network. You absolutely have to meet with people in person. I have picked up three potential investment opportunities in the past month because I invited 3 business referrals to lunch. I did not know there was any business to be had – I was simply meeting to get acquainted, but it turns out they all needed someone with my expertise and relationships.

    4. The harder you work the luckier you get. Period. We all go through periods of drought. It’s called life. Get over it and get to work.