In a career spanning just more than five years, Friedman Real Estate’s Steven Silverman has closed more than $200 million in commercial real estate transactions, deals that have spanned more than 7.5 million square feet.
Silverman specializes in the acquisition and disposition of investment grade real estate assets for clients across the nation. He’s also an expert in stabilized, value-add and distressed property auction sales.
What’s the secret to Silverman’s success? How has this senior vice president in Friedman’s Farmington Hills, Michigan, office closed so many deals all by the age of 30? We wanted to find out. Here’s a bit of what Silverman had to say about his career, his early success and his passion for commercial real estate.
What led you to a career in commercial real estate?
Steven Silverman: My whole life, I’ve been in sales. I’m 30 now. I knew that this was what I wanted to eventually do, residential or commercial real estate. I was doing consulting work in Chicago right out of college, from 2013 to 2016. I moved back to Detroit from Chicago in 2016 and jumped right into real estate. I started to work on valuations and quickly became a broker. Now I’m overseeing a full-time team.
You’ve achieved some impressive results in a short period of time.
Silverman: It has been a very quick past five years. I think it’s helped that I’ve found a specialty. I’ve specialized in the auction space of selling commercial real estate. My team does between 50 to 100 transactions a year, focused heavily on retail. That’s how my business has grown so fast. We are leveraging the auction platforms out there to transact quickly. We can do a multitude of deals at the same time. In the traditional way of selling commercial real estate, the process takes much longer.
Why did you decide to focus on auctions?
Silverman: Our firm has historically been very involved on the lender and special servicer side of selling real estate. When I started, there really wasn’t anyone who was young on the investment sales side. They told me that they wanted me to learn the auction space. They wanted me to focus on auctions. So I did, from day one. Today, we have our own sweet spot when it comes to relationships with lenders. We parlay that into third-party or private-client business. We specialize in value-add properties that have been on the market for a longer time, properties that traditional brokers are not able to move. That is what we specialize in.
What do you enjoy about this part of the business?
Silverman: It is a very fast sales process. You can be in and out of a transaction in 75 to 100 days. And every deal is different. There are different nuances in every deal. There is an excitement with onboarding and then getting to auction day. The two- or thee-day online auction period is incredibly exciting, too. We are always working extensively with buyers to get to a number everyone is happy with. There is a rush involved in that. Doing an auction never gets old. I do them 50 to 100 times a year, and each one is still exciting.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the auction side of the business?
Silverman: We have not seen a slowdown by any means. In some ways, we’ve seen an uptick of buyers who were sitting on the sidelines for the past five or seven years. They’ve been looking for deals. There is liquidity in the market. A lot of people are still getting lending on value-add properties. The market has been surprisingly active for both buyers and sellers.
Sellers are still trying to figure out where pricing is at. There is a discount in the marketplace today, but it is not 2008 pricing, where you had properties selling for pennies on the dollar. But there is a discount. We are finding that sellers are motivated enough. There is also no shortage of buyers. There are always buyers at the right price. Fortunately, we’ve remained busy throughout the pandemic.
If you were talking to other young brokers, what would you tell them to help them get their careers off to a good start?
Silverman: You need to have some natural level of ambition. Really, you probably need very strong levels of ambition. This is not an easy business to crack into. It takes time. I and a handful of others have had success early on, though. If you are early in this business, realize that you don’t know everything. It’s important to learn as much as you possibly can. If they can join a team and learn that way, the right way to do it, that can help.
A lot of people ask, when is the best time to get into commercial real estate? There is no better time than right now. What I tell young people is that this is a great industry. It’s also a fast-changing industry. There is plenty of opportunity, especially in the tech space going forward. This business is antiquated when it comes to adopting new technology. That will slowly change. There is an opportunity for young, aggressive, hungry brokers to adopt this new technology and use it to grow their business, to take this business into the modern age.
How important is it to have mentors in this business?
Silverman: Mentors are exceptionally important. I can point to a handful of different mentors who have been instrumental in my career. I don’t know if it’s possible to get into this business and succeed at it without having good mentors, people who can tell you if you are doing something right or something wrong early in your career.
What are some of the bigger challenges in building a career in commercial real estate?
Silverman: You never have control over a transaction. You try to gain that control, but you never have complete control over what a buyer or seller might do. You are always acting as a firefighter. You are always putting out fires in a transaction. That can be stressful.
For me, everything always comes down to a two- or three-day period. If your pricing is off, if there isn’t a buyer, if there isn’t interest in a property, you might have wasted 60-plus days of marketing work. That can be exceptionally deflating.
How do you make sure the pricing is right?
Silverman: We work hard on our valuations. We talk a lot to sellers. We are always comping out properties to other assets that are out there. We can then make adjustments if a property has higher vacancy or is a value-add property. It’s all about determining what makes sense as the price-per-square-foot.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
Silverman: When things are normal, I like to travel and spend time in the outdoors. I live in Michigan, so summers on the lake are always enjoyable. I’m married and my first child is on the way. I will be spending a lot of time with family.