CCIM Q&A

Runaway Growth in South Florida

SO18-Thomas

Constance “Connie” Thomas, CCIM, has practiced real estate in South Florida for her entire career of more than 30 years. A Miami native, she's now senior director at Tower Commercial Real Estate in West Palm Beach, specializing in office leasing and investment sales.

South Florida's commercial real estate market, Thomas points out, offers lots of opportunities. Florida's population is the third largest in the nation, and its population growth was the second largest in the country in 2017. U.S. News and World Report ranks Florida's economy fifth among the states this year; Forbes named it the seventh best state for business in 2017.

Thomas spoke to CIRE about the South Florida market -- particularly Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade counties -- as well real estate professionals' contributions to an expanding market.

CIRE: How has the South Florida market changed during your career?

Thomas: We are seeing more financial and other professional service businesses interested in office space in multiple locations -- Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. West Palm is the smallest of the three, but it is growing rapidly. There are opportunities for businesses to expand or to start a new company. We have several colleges and universities that provide an educated workforce.

With the recent tax law changes, we have seen more CEOs from the Northeast relocating headquarters or opening a satellite office in South Florida. The concerns regarding higher business taxes along with already higher income taxes in the Northeast have stimulated our office leasing. I leased several small to midsize office spaces in the first quarter of this year in Palm Beach County. In addition, we've seen more business owners from California than we have in past years. Miami is the most cosmopolitan of all three counties; there's more leasing and sales of commercial properties to businesses from Central and South America. The new Brightline commuter train started service from West Palm Beach to Miami this year, and that's bringing the counties together.

CIRE: Do you see the three counties blending together or will they remain distinct markets?

Thomas: All three counties will continue to have their own identity and charm. There are many micro-markets within each that offer unique opportunities. As transportation improves, the three markets will blend more.

CIRE: How has the commercial real estate practice changed during your career?

Thomas: Technology has become more and more important. When I started, I drove around with a handheld tape recorder, taking numbers and names from roadside real estate signs. Black's Guide was our only listing service; it came out quarterly in print form. We had to make lots of phone calls, we had no email, no texting, more verbal communication than we do now. Today, our business revolves around the internet, but it is important to verify property information with a phone call or email. Speaking with brokers and property owners not only confirms property information, but also gives us the opportunity to gather additional information and develop a relationship. And face-to-face meetings further enhance communication that will help a deal close. So relationships married with technology are the keys to keep your business working and successful.

CIRE: How do you see your work as contributing to a successful economy?

Thomas: I find my work satisfying because after a lease or sale is completed, jobs will follow.  Job creation stimulates our economy. Sometimes an office lease will just require new carpet and paint; other leases or sales involve a complete renovation or ground-up construction. But it always involves several businesses; it's not just a broker getting a commission or a landlord increasing the property's value. Job creation is a team effort -- it takes developers, money, lenders, creative individuals, and government.

CIRE: How has your CCIM designation helped your professional development?

Thomas: The education has been phenomenal. It's like a master's degree in commercial real estate. I appreciate the resources CCIM Institute provides and the ability to network with other CCIMs in the U.S. and other countries.

CIRE: What advice would you give to real estate professionals working in a competitive market?

Thomas: Find a good mentor. Continue to educate yourself -- take CCIM classes. Build a network of professionals, including a network of construction service providers that you can trust and that you can share with clients.

Take time to understand and research your work environment before making an employment decision. Find a team with similar business goals, honesty, and integrity. I've been a sole practitioner, and have worked for developers, corporate real estate firms, and local regional firms.

Most important is to enjoy what you are doing and work with a group you like. Collaborate with other real estate professionals, and we will all learn from each other.

Sarah Hoban

Sarah Hoban is a business writer based in Chicago.

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CIRE September/October 2018