AJ Patel joined Greenstone Partners in 2019 as Associate, Investment Sales and focuses on the acquisition and disposition of multi-tenant retail assets throughout Chicagoland.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
I grew up on the north side of Chicago in Skokie and went to Niles West High School. I attended UIC for undergrad, where I studied bioengineering. I worked out of college as a biomedical engineer for about two years before deciding to change careers. It didn’t take me long to realize that engineering was not for me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I started exploring by reading books, networking, and I eventually started a business doing social media marketing, which I did for about a year prior to being in real estate.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I started reading about real estate when I decided I wanted to change careers a few years back.
My top reading list from that time:
- Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki
- Apartment Syndication by Vinnie Chopra
- The Millionaire Real Estate Investor by Jay Papasan
- How to Create Lifetime Cashflow Through Multi-Family Investing by Rod Khleif
I began by attending real estate seminars and networking events. At an event in Skokie, I met a mortgage broker who helped me begin my journey as a real estate investor and helped me network with other investors. A good friend of mine from high school was also looking into real estate around the same time, so we decided to partner and buy an investment property. After buying my first multifamily investment property in 2018, I realized I really enjoyed real estate.
Soon after, I started cold calling and emailing real estate companies in Chicago. Fortunately, Danny Spitz at Greenstone Partners answered my email, met with me, and eventually hired me as an analyst. A few months into that role, I decided to launch as a broker specializing in the investment sales of retail properties. My business today is a mix of retail deals ranging from single to multi-tenant retail across multiple markets. It was the best decision, and I haven’t looked back.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
Everyone at Greenstone Partners has been incredibly helpful since day one. Not coming from the traditional finance/real estate background, they all took time to mentor me, give me advice, and help me learn the industry. They’ve invested a lot in me, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. I know I can turn to anyone at Greenstone Partners for support, but I have to give a special shoutout to Danny Spitz, Jason St. John, and Brewster Hague. They’ve given the blueprint to succeed in this business, and I go to all three of them every time I need guidance. I’ve come to learn how cut-throat this industry can be but at Greenstone, I’ve had the most incredible support system, and everyone here collaborates and works as a team, which I believe has helped elevate me to become better.
What does an average day at work look like?
I usually start my day pretty early, have a cup of coffee, and read the latest on the market and any new deals happening in and around Chicago. Once at the office, I’m usually on calls with clients or making calls out to potential new clients. Although most days are spent in the office, there are plenty of days when I’m out meeting clients, visiting properties, or simply just driving the market to see what’s new. A lot of time is also spent researching, creating financial models, and looking at data and trends.
What do you like most about your job?
The people I get to meet. I meet and talk to so many successful real estate professionals and investors. I love talking to people and learning about their backgrounds, experiences, lessons, and successes. It motivates me to work harder and pursue my own success. The freedom and flexibility that come with this job is also nice to have. Since moving into a client-facing role, I’ve learned to become more of an advisor and focus on long-term relationships. I like being that resource to clients and them knowing that I’m looking out for their best interests.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you have not already?
Launching as a broker at the height of COVID-19 was a unique experience. Since no one wanted to meet in person, I was left with cold calling all day. This experience helped me connect and grow my client base, which today has yielded closings and multiple active listings from suburban multi-tenant to Chicago single tenant retail. One of my goals/focuses is to have more repeat clients and to continue growing more long-term relationships with clients.
I have so much more to accomplish and am grateful coming out of COVID-19 for in-person meetings, events, and happy hours to connect with people in real life.
Looking ahead, my goal is to become a top producer at Greenstone Partners and help grow the firm. Long-term, I would like to become a Chicagoland market leader in retail sales.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
I spend a lot of my time at the boxing gym most days. I had my first amateur fight last year, and I hope to compete in a few more. I also enjoy spending time cooking, reading, watching sports, or playing golf.
Otherwise, I’m hanging out with my girlfriend, friends, or family. Most weekends are spent eating at restaurants in the city and going out. When it comes to binge-watching TV shows, I usually just rewatch my favorites which are Entourage, The Office, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and a few others. This summer, I plan to spend time with some new activities such as biking and kayaking. I do enjoy traveling as well, although it’s mostly been domestic thus far. I do plan to take more international trips, starting with Costa Rica this fall.