Experience Pays Off
Commercial real estate is often a family business, and some CCIMs travel many paths before returning to their roots. “I grew up in a large commercial real estate family and some of my earliest memories are going with my dad to check on sites he was developing,” says Todd P. Garrett, CCIM, vice president of investment and industrial services with Grubb & Ellis WRS in Charleston, S.C. After graduating from the Citadel, earning a master's degree in public policy from Harvard University, serving two tours in Iraq in the Marine Corps, and living in South America for a period of time, “I returned to pursue a career in brokerage just as the market started to crumble,” he says.
The crumbling market was just a small bump in the road for Garrett, who closed 56 transactions in 2011, earning him the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors' 2011 Realtor of Distinction Award. Commercial Investment Real Estate asked Garrett to share insights on how his diverse background has shaped his strategies for success.
CIRE: You closed 56 transactions last year, which was still a tough market for commercial real estate. What's your strategy?
Garrett: The grace of God, focusing on my clients' needs, and being candid. As a property owner, I understand the pain commercial property owners are feeling. I quickly zero in on my clients' goals by asking as many questions as I can to narrow down exactly what the tenant or landlord is looking for. By being very candid about where the market really is - versus where they'd like it to be - clients can lease or sell more quickly or find their target properties.
CIRE: Charleston is gaining ground as an import/export hub. How has this affected the local industrial real estate market?
Garrett: The seaport, combined with a pro-business climate, a right-to-work state, and relatively cheap electricity and land, is driving demand for industrial space in the Charleston market. The shipping industry is transitioning to larger, deeper vessels coming directly from Asia to customers on the East Coast. Charleston's 45-foot deep harbor already handles post-Panamax ships of more than 8,000 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, and it will be able to do so around the clock as we dredge to reach a depth of 50 feet. No other southeastern port will be able to match that.
CIRE: How has your diverse background - you served as a Marine and also earned a master's degree at an Ivy League school - shaped your current career?
Garrett: Whether leading young Marines while getting shot at in Iraq or competing with some of the world's brightest at Harvard, both experiences drilled home the importance of technical competence in your field, caring for those around you, and focusing on the mission at hand. These experiences also gave me confidence that, despite a difficult market, deals can and will get done. That has pushed me to work harder to make sure my clients are a part of those deals.
CIRE: How did you learn about the CCIM education and designation?
Garrett: My brother Hunter Garrett, CCIM, was the first CCIM that I knew. I saw how the education helped him to analyze and sell investment properties due to his ability to demonstrate the costs and benefits of financing. While buyers or sellers may not know exactly what CCIM means, the analysis helps them understand and sort through investment properties and see the potential cash-on-cash returns and returns on equity of their properties.
The CCIM education has been a key asset in being able to run the numbers, analyzing rental rates, construction costs, and land costs to determine when to build or buy existing property or how to value land based on the other factors. As a younger agent, the networking aspects of CCIM helped me gain access to some of the most competent Realtors in the Carolinas.
CIRE: You spent a few years living in South America. How did that experience contribute to your career?
Garrett: In 2005, my wife and I moved to the Amazon to start a microfinance program. I had volunteered there several summers prior, and I saw microfinance as a way to help local businesswomen to grow their businesses. With my savings from combat pay, I trained a local worker in the Grameen banking system, and we began making loans of $50 to groups of businesswomen in Peru. Today, we make an average of 700 loans every two months, and with mandatory savings, our clients have enough saved at the end of a two-month loan to pay for school fees, shoes, antibiotics for their kids. It offers an alternative to the lack of health insurance and allows women to build their savings and provide greater opportunities for their children. The success of the microfinance venture gave me confidence in starting out in the entrepreneurial brokerage field, but it also gave me the underwriting experience of evaluating the potential borrowers, which was also applicable to quickly qualifying clients.
Jennifer Norbut is senior editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate. If you have a story worth sharing in CCIM Q&A, send it to email@example.com.