CCIM Feature

American Mediator

This CCIM negotiates the contract-dispute obstacle course.

Sand, sun, and golf draw 15 million visitors to The Grand Strand in Myrtle Beach, S.C., each year. Thanks to the vibrant tourist-driven economy, commercial real estate transactions continue to close and contractual conflicts are rare. At the peak of the vacation season, Gerrie F. Watson, CCIM, GRI, of Myrtle Beach Commercial Real Estate in Myrtle Beach, is thriving. But she knows that for many of her fellow CCIMs, this market downturn is no day at the beach.

Watson, who also is 2009 chairman of the CCIM Institute Professional Standards Committee, has seen a steady increase in commercial real estate contract disputes during the last 18 months. Too often, she says, these disagreements lead to arbitration or even litigation: “When money is tight, everyone wants their share. And when tempers flare, people don’t want to sit down and talk.” But communication is crucial to the whole business of commercial real estate, let alone contract negotiations, Watson notes. Indeed, in a profession that heavily relies on networking, the burnt bridges and damaged relationships that result from lawsuits and arbitration hearings can leave both parties worse off in the long run.

For individuals embroiled in these disputes, Watson recommends mediation as an ideal conflict resolution alternative. Mediation is a low-cost process in which mediators and the parties involved evaluate the maximum range of solutions, producing win-win results. “It lets parties take control of their dispute rather than letting a third party decide the outcome. And because it’s collaborative, it can be done relatively quickly,” Watson says. Regulations vary from state to state, and the process is voluntary. But Watson contends that the benefits of mediation are attractive to commercial real estate professionals who are familiar with it. The problem, of course, is that many are not.

Among CCIM members, Watson has become a mediation ambassador of sorts. Last year, she and Daryl A. Crotts, CCIM, CPM, 2009 vice chairman of the Professional Standards Committee, completed a National Association of Realtors mediation training seminar. “Mediators outside the CCIM organization are often uncomfortable when working with designees. I felt the institute needed a pool of trained mediators as another member benefit,” Watson explains. At business meetings and conferences across the country, Watson and Crotts are encouraging fellow CCIMs to explore formal mediation training and join the institute’s reserves. Watson also hopes to see elements of the training integrated into the CCIM curriculum in the future. “We want the mediation process to begin before the word litigation is ever spoken,” she says.

Of course, like Myrtle Beach, cities across the U.S. will bask again in the sunshine of a healthy real estate market. That’s just a matter of time. Contractual conflicts, on the other hand, won’t be dissipating anytime soon, and Watson knows it. “CCIMs need to remember that this service is available,” she says. “I look forward to doing this for years to come.”

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