Commercial real estate may not seem like suspense novel material, but truth can be stranger than fiction, according to literary great Mark Twain. On a quest to follow in his footsteps, Robin Eschliman, CCIM, senior vice president of business development for Coldwell Banker Commercial Thompson Realty Group in Lincoln, Neb., and author of The Agent novel series, bases much of her material on real-life experiences in commercial real estate. With more than 25 years in the industry, Eschliman, who specializes in office and retail, says commercial real estate provides a wide range of ideas and themes for her work. “Besides, I always wondered why John Grisham and lawyers should get to have all the fun,” she jokes. Commercial Investment Real Estate asked Eschliman to share her writing insights.
CIRE: What inspired your commercial real estate suspense series?
Eschliman: I have discovered over the years that commercial real estate agents, particularly women, can find themselves in potentially dangerous situations - in empty warehouse buildings, with strange clients, and such. I found a way to blend this with my other life experience, serving on my local city council, where I had the opportunity to meet politicians on every level from local to national. Over the years I observed the back-room deals, intimidation, maneuverings, relationships, and unfortunately anti-business and anti-growth attitudes that are far too often a part of politics. I strongly felt that someone needed to shine a light on this because communities that attempt to hamper business and growth cannot thrive.
CIRE: Have real-life clients and transactions influenced your characters and themes?
Eschliman: My first self-published book, The Agent, was inspired by a client I had long ago who had abusive tendencies. Fortunately, there was no violence and we went our separate ways, but I always imagined how things could have gone. The book's main character, who is a single female real estate agent, is working on a water park project for her community. She attends a retail convention in Las Vegas and meets the quintessential flawed politician - the character is a composite of nearly all the politicians I've met in real life - and makes some grave mistakes as they work together to get the project pushed through city hall.
CIRE: Have you ever tapped into your CCIM network for ideas or assistance?
Eschliman: For my second book, The Agent: Over the Pond, the same fictional real estate character travels to London and works in her company's branch office there. My family combined a vacation to London with my personal research, and I used CCIM's MailBridge to seek assistance from CCIMs who could help me obtain connections overseas. Debra Stracke Anderson, CCIM, in Washington, D.C., and Dennis Hoth, CCIM, in Omaha, Neb., put me in touch with two commercial real estate managers in London. I quickly learned that while real estate dealings overseas are different in many ways, space is space and clients' needs are similar around the world. I used a lot of what I learned from my connections in London in the book.
CIRE: Has writing books had a positive impact on your commercial real estate business?
Eschliman: It's still a little early to tell how it will translate into business opportunities, but the books, which were released in May and December 2012, make for great conversation with clients. A new client, who had received the book from a friend, recently contacted me for help. Advertising and marketing for the books in my local market have inspired clients to call with questions about space, to list properties, and to get a deal back on track.
CIRE: Do you have advice for other would-be CCIM authors?
Eschliman: A lot of commercial real estate agents are either highly extroverted and action-oriented or very data- and numbers-oriented. Oftentimes these types of people don't think they are particularly good at writing. I used to think my inclination toward books, media, and publicity and my strength in writing didn't serve well for my professional career. However, I finally decided to use my strengths to help me with my business and my writing hobby. My best advice is to figure out what your strengths are and use them to get clients and business - whether it's through networking or writing or whatever it may be. Developing relationships with customers one by one is still the tried-and-true method for success in our industry.
Jennifer Norbut is senior editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate. If you have a story worth sharing in CCIM Q&A, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Order Robin Eschliman's books at www.TheAgentBooks.com.