Brokers are attracted to commercial real estate because of the freedom: The only factor limiting your success? How hard you work. But for brokers new to the industry, those first few years in commercial brokerage can prove challenging. This isn’t a salaried job. It’s all about commissions. How do you earn those commissions when you’re just getting started?
We spoke to four commercial brokers who are nearing the end of those early years now. We wanted to find out how they survived those tough beginning years, what strategies they hatched to earn clients and what steps they took to steadily grow their business.
What did they have to say? There’s no secret formula to surviving those early years. It’s all about finding mentors, putting in the hours and earning the trust of both clients and other brokers.
Brandon Carnegie is a senior associate with the Advisory & Transaction Services group for CBRE in Detroit. Carnegie worked on a team that in 2017 completed more than 90 transactions for occupiers and landlords. He began his career with CBRE Detroit in 2012 and, while focusing primarily on the office and flex side of the business, has completed more than 1 million square feet of commercial real estate transactions since 2014.
What led you to CRE brokerage? My career started in the research end of the business. That was a great foundation for me. You get to learn the basics of the business. The brokers who are out there doing deals need information to perform their best day in and day out. Working in research also gave me an opportunity to showcase my skillset to other brokers in the office.
How important were mentors to you as you were getting your start? Most people will tell you that you need some sort of mentor in this business. You need someone whom you can lean on, who has been there and done that. I have had that with an individual who is a senior vice president here. He’s been a great help to me.
Anyone who came to me and told me that they were interested in this business, I would tell them that finding a mentor is the number-one step to success. Position yourself for that mentorship. It is not given to you at CBRE. You have to create that relationship. Find someone whom you admire and try to work together with that person. There will be a trial period when you have to see if things mesh. There is a lot of effort on the mentor’s side and on your side to figure things out. But finding that mentor is critical for any new person getting into the business.
What attracted you to CRE? My dad owned a few rental properties while I was growing up. I would drive by buildings and think about who might own those properties. I knew someone was making a lot of money from all those properties.
You played football in college. Has that experience helped you in CRE? There are definitely some transferable skills. You are going to get knocked down. You have to get up every day and go back to work. You have to stick with it. I am starting to see the benefits of that approach now. I’m at the four-year mark. I don’t think you figure things out in this business until the three-year mark or a little past that. That’s when you start seeing all the long hours, the research starting to come together. I’m focusing now on growing my business during the next few years.
What do you find most intriguing about this job? The ability to have an uncapped income. My friends, most of them work your standard 40-hour jobs. They have no incentive to do anything beyond that. With this job, you can’t just put in that 40 hours. There are times when a deal doesn’t happen. But when they come through, you see the real benefit of all those long hours. Money isn’t everything, but I do like knowing that if I work really hard, the compensation will come with it. My salary isn’t capped.
Is every day a bit different? It is. There is never a slow week. There is always something to do. Right now I am trying to drum up new business. If you aren’t putting in at least 50 to 60 hours, you are doing something wrong. If it requires more hours, you do what it takes. Last week I was working with a client and things were at the finish line. I was up at 5 a.m. and working until 11 p.m. You have to do whatever is required to assist that client. If you tell me you have nothing to do, I know something is wrong. There is always something to do. There is always new business, always someone to meet with, always new landlords and clients. This business doesn’t shut off.
Does all that hard work pay off? When people see you working those longer hours, it does build a bridge. It’s about positioning yourself to work with the best people in the office. If you do that, you learn the right way to do things. You have the chance to be more successful. I have seen younger brokers who haven’t taken that route. Some of them have already left the business.
How do you get through those first few years when you are trying to build your business? When I got here, I spoke to a few managing directors. They laid out a path for me. They told me, ‘Here is what successful people have done.’ I tried to follow that path. You also have to be good about saving your money. You hear about people in this business who made a lot but also blew a lot. You need to be smart. You are off your parents’ payroll. You’re paying for everything, your insurance, car, rent. You have to be smart with your money. You’ll just be getting singles and doubles when you first start off, then you’ll suddenly get a big pop of money. You have to be smart with that. You can’t just blow it on a new item or a new suit. Managing my money has paid dividends for me.
Brian Pomorski joined the Rosemont, Illinois, office of Avison Young in April of 2018 as an associate in the company’s Industrial Practice Group. He’s been in the business for about four years now. And to hear him tell it? There’s no industry in which he’d rather work than commercial real estate.
What led you to commercial real estate? I come from a family that is in the industry. My dad had an appraisal shop on the South Side of Chicago. My brother is a commercial appraiser. I have aunts and uncles who are in the business. It’s in my blood since I’ve been young. I couldn’t see myself doing anything but commercial real estate.
What do you enjoy most about this field? It’s not the same thing every day. You don’t have the same desk job. You are always connecting with different people and meeting different personalities. I like helping clients move their businesses from Point A to Point B. I like being involved from the start of a process to the finish of it. There’s just something I really enjoy about helping people aim their business to success.
What are some of the biggest challenges with getting started in CRE? In the beginning, there are a lot of challenges. You have to manage the freedom that comes with this job. There is no boss telling you to come in at this time, do this, push that paper. You have to push yourself. I have the mindset that I can’t expect any free handouts. If you are in this business and you expect to have everything given to you, you will get passed up. For me, it’s about planning my schedule in advance. That is the most important thing, to give structure to my day, to keep myself on track. That structure helps me be the most productive broker I can be.
I’m sure the first few years are especially challenging. How do you manage those? This is not a salary job. It’s different from other businesses. It is commission-based. You make as much as you can produce.
I worked in commercial appraisal before I switched to the broker side of the business. That experience has helped. It gave me a background that most in this business don’t have. It helps you understand the bones of a building, the financials. Most peopel in this business come from sales. But having the real estate background, I was able to answer questions for my clients on taxes, on what was happening with their buildings. I was able to work with them on the real estate side and the financials. That is the biggest advantage I had with coming over from the appraisal side.
How do you get clients when you are new to this business? The biggest thing is having mentors that guide you along the way. I have found that at Avison Young with my two partners. They help me ask the right questions. You don’t want to make a mistake with your clients. For me, then, it was important to latch onto a well-established and -respected team. I work with a team that is respected in the marketplace, and that is important. That should be one of the biggest goals a young broker should have. It has helped me greatly.
How hard do you have to work as a broker new to the world of CRE? In the first few years, you will be working weekends. You will be working nights. Everything is tailored around your business. I’ll always work more than 40 hours a week. This is not a job where you clock in and clock out at a normal 9-to-5 pace. You go home and you plan your schedule for the next day. The work that you put in for the first few years is a make-or-break for your career.
What key traits do younger brokers need to demonstrate? Determination and persistence. You need to make more calls than other brokers. You need to knock on more doors. You can’t give up on a deal. You have to be that broker who calls all the time or who is up at night and working weekends for clients.
Why did you move from the commercial appraisal side of the business to the brokerage end? My personality was cut out for the brokerage side of it, not the numbers side. I like meeting the people. I like having that different experience each day. I like to chase the business. Once one deal passes, you are on to the next one. You are always incentivized to push forward and work hard every day.
J.L. Cannady is a senior associate specializing in office and retail in the Lexington, Kentucky, office of NAI Isaac. After graduating from Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina, Cannady returned to Lexington to work for a property management firm. In the summer of 2013, he decided to pursue a career in commercial real estate, joining NAI Isaac.
What led you to a career in commercial real estate, and what do you enjoy most about working in this industry? While working in retail during college, I was afforded the opportunity to interact with the property manager who oversaw operations of the space we occupied. I learned more about his management portfolio and skillset, which I found fascinating. From there, I was able to shadow a broker for a day.
Our activities included a property showing, a city council hearing and a conversation with a construction team regarding an ongoing fit-up project. The idea of dealing with so many different people on a day-to-day basis really appealed to me and ultimately led to my decision to enter into the world of commercial real estate. I like dealing with different situations and the fact that no two working days are the same. It keeps the work interesting and engaging.
I also really enjoy having a front-row seat to so many different businesses within the community. Brokerage has allowed me to form relationships with business owners while learning a great deal about the business community in our market.
What are the biggest challenges in building a career in commercial real estate? It is a daunting prospect to know that your daily successes or failures directly impact an eventual paycheck. There is a required basic skillset and knowledge base that have to be internalized quickly to ensure success. That being said, the commercial real estate field is a learn-on-your-feet industry. You learn pretty quickly that the brokers you want to emulate possess a large skillset that takes significant time to acquire.
It’s difficult to take a long-term look at your progress as it’s so easy to become entrenched in daily challenges. But your long-term success goals are integral and it’s absolutely necessary to keep them in mind as you move forward.
What steps did you take when first starting out to make sure that your career got off to as good a start as possible? Through shadowing and mentoring with established brokers, I was exposed to and eventually determined what industry tools and techniques worked for me as I formulated my own style and work strategy. After several years in the business, I’ve learned to focus the majority of my time during the workday on the things I’m good at. I work on improvement strategies during my personal time. Time is your biggest asset and I’ve learned to be strategic to maximize the time I have to ensure success.
Did industry mentors play a role in helping you get your career started? Absolutely. I knew that if I was going to be successful, I needed to work with and around folks that would help me sharpen my skillset. I’ve told several young brokers that it’s impossible to “Google” commercial real estate brokerage – I’ve tried.
I’m fortunate to work in a well-established office that has succeeded within our market for more than 30 years and has countless relationships in the community. The relationships and collaborations I’ve experienced with my fellow brokers have been instrumental in my success.
What advice would you give to other commercial brokers just getting started in this business? Be a sponge. I think the best young brokers are the ones who utilize the “two ears, one mouth” strategy. Try to put yourself in as many positions as possible to learn from those that you’d call successful, whether that be brokers, bankers, developers or appraisers.
Jasper Hanifi is an associate working with the Transaction & Advisory Services group for the Southfield, Michigan, office of CBRE. He works with a busy team that specializes in tenant representation for professional corporations. Hanifi began his career with CBRE in 2017 after spending two years with another Detroit-area commercial real estate firm.
How long have you been involved in commercial real estate? Prior to coming to CBRE, I worked with a local real estate firm for about a year-and-a-half after graduating from college. I wasn’t purely a broker there. I worked more on the research and administrative end of things with that firm. I did assist on transactions here and there. That experience provided a great foundation to hit the ground running at CBRE. Having a little bit of a foundation before you jump in is extraordinarily helpful. It makes a big difference.
What inspired you to work in commercial real estate? My mother was a commercial real estate appraiser, so I had a good sense of what commercial real estate was. Of course, being a typical kid, I didn’t care that much about what my mother did when I was growing up. But she got remarried to someone who owned student housing in Ann Arbor. The two of them had a lot of broker friends. They would come over to dinner at our house and talk about what they were doing, about their deals. Hearing their stories attracted my attention. It sounded like a super attractive career to me when I was in my teens.
From then on, I just had a sense that real estate would be something I’d be interested in doing. I went to the University of Michigan and got an internship at Colliers. It was just an internship, but that was good experience, too. It wasn’t really until I got out of school, though, that I really thought commercial real estate would be a good career for me. I liked the flexibility. Of course, the money and the cool deals didn’t come immediately. I had an appropriate awakening.
What do you like about this business? I like the flexibility, the ability to set your own schedule. I also like that if you work hard, you will be compensated accordingly. That is what I find so attractive. If you talk to most brokers, they are not doing this for world peace. There is something attractive about not having a cap on what you can make.
How hard do you have to work to succeed as a young broker? Every week is different. But typically, I work from 50 to 60 hours a week. One of the things that has been key to my success so far has been showing up before 8 and staying past 6. You look down and its 5:15. Those extra 45 minutes at the end of the day can make a big difference. The other people seeing you in the office makes a huge difference, too. During the first couple of years, being there and being present is huge.
There was a Friday right before Labor Day when I was working with a client in California. The client needed three RFPs sent out at 5 p.m. California time. They had to go out that day. So I was there Friday night shooting off emails. That is just what you have to do.
What personality traits do you need to succeed as a new broker? You have to be resilient. That is so true in the first couple of years. You aren’t making so much money during those first few years. You work on a deal and you do the calculation on the back of a napkin. You get stars in your eyes thinking of the money. You work on it for nine months. Then it falls apart. At that point, maybe you’ve only done one or two deals total. To have a deal fall apart, that hurts. But you have to show up the next day and not quit. Doing that is more than half the battle.
Picking yourself up is so important. If that is not part of your personality to begin with, you wouldn’t have been attracted to commercial brokerage in the first place. You need that mentality going into this field. As you take a couple of hits, you get better at dealing with it. The first time I worked on a thousand-square-foot deal and it blew up, it felt like the end of the world. After five or 10 blow up, it gets more palatable. You don’t feel like the world is ending. A big part of succeeding in this business comes with rolling with the punches and persevering.