Joseph DiSalvo, first vice president of investments with the Indianapolis office of Marcus & Millichap, never envisioned a career in commercial real estate until the summer between his junior and senior year at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.
That’s when DiSalvo interned for a full-service commercial real estate brokerage. During this summer, he fell in love with commercial real estate. And he knew that a career in this field was for him.
Today, DiSalvo is one of the top CRE brokers working the Midwest. He is senior director of the national office and industrial properties group and the national healthcare group with Marcus & Millichap. And he’s built a thriving career bolstered by repeat clients and a steady stream of referrals.
Midwest Real Estate News recently spoke with DiSalvo about his CRE career, what he enjoys so much about the business and what steps he’s taken to succeed in it.
Here is what he had to say.
Making the move to CRE: I knew over that summer when I interned that I loved just about everything about commercial real estate. I knew nothing about the business before taking that internship, but by the end of the summer, I knew I wanted to be in commercial real estate.
During my fall semester of my senior year, I arranged my schedule so that I had classes just three days a week. That way, I could commute to Indianapolis and keep that internship during the fall. After I graduated in 2006, I took a position in a different sales role in Chicago. I met my now-wife in Indianapolis before I took the job in Chicago. I moved there, proposed to my wife in September and then came back to Indianapolis.
I’ve been working in Indianapolis ever since.
Learning the business: When I was interning, I called anyone and everyone I knew who was in commercial real estate. I wanted to learn all the different directions you could go in while working in this business. One of the people I connected with was Nathan Whalen, who is still at Marcus & Millichap. We had lunch and I picked his brain about the business. Fast forward a year and I’m in Chicago and engaged to my wife. Nathan said that someone at Marcus & Millichap was looking for a trainee to work in the office and industrial markets in Indianapolis. I accepted that offer and moved back.
Rough timing: I started in January of 2007 as a trainee. I decided to launch as a full-commission broker in March of 2008. I wanted to control my own destiny. It was exciting to make that leap. Of course, that was one of the worst times to start a commercial real estate business. I ended up having an OK 2008. My wife got pregnant at the end of that calendar year. That’s when the business started to get really tough as the economy struggled. I ended up taking on another full-time job in addition to brokerage. I worked at least one other full-time job until the tail end of 2012.
But then I closed three deals in 2012. That was important. I needed to close those deals to justify making the move to full-time in commercial real estate.
Controlling his destiny: I wish I had a better answer for what it is I love so much about this business. I do love the ability to control my own destiny. Money can’t really be the big motivator. I do like the ability and freedom that we have to do what we want. If we want to travel, we can. But I don’t need a really big house or a nice car. That’s never been the driver for me. For me, it’s about pride of ownership. You own your career. If you look at anyone who has been successful in this business, you see that same level of self-confidence and pride in what they have done. I saw that and it was infectious. I knew that I had to figure out how to get that same feeling. There is a freedom that you can get if you can be in control of your own destiny. That was extremely attractive to me.
All the people I’ve had experience with here are really good people. They have found a way to balance being a good husband, father and professional. We work a lot. We work hard. But we also have the ability to be flexible if we need to be. That is a good balance if you can get it.
Steps to success: I spent the first five years of my career, because of the way the economy was going, delivering bad news to people. The value of their real estate was way less than they had thought. If you go into that conversation not feeling entitled to a paycheck and genuinely figuring out how to navigate through it with the client, that over time proves beneficial. I know I should be better about prospecting for new business. But a lot of my business comes from people I met back then, people I tried to help when the economy was struggling. I am still working with those people in numerous capacities today.
If you work for your clients, and not for the paychecks, that tends to play out better over the long term. If you are only trying to get a paycheck, that is apparent to your clients, no matter how hard you try to hide it. For me, it’s about what value you bring. That has proven to be a successful approach for me so far.
Those three deals I had to close in 2012 to justify working in this business were all deals I had started working on in 2008 and 2009. It took three-plus years for those deals to close. It took that long before they were willing to sell and the market had buyers available. I spent years updating models, having long calls and doing my research. I didn’t get paid for that until we sold. If you are willing to invest that amount of time with a client and never ask for compensation for it, that helps you earn the trust you need to build relationships and business.
Meeting the challenges: There are lot of challenges, in every phase of the business. First there’s the survival mode, when you’re just getting started. If you’re just doing it for the money, it probably won’t work. If you are committed to the business and building a brand, then it might work. If you are committed to surviving the difficulties that inevitably come, you will be OK. But it’s a mental game when you’re first starting out. How can you grind through it?
Once you get to the point where you have a pipeline of business but it’s not consistent, then you face new challenges. You have to figure out how to systemize everything you’re working on so that you don’t have to replicate your efforts over and over again.
At this stage, there is always competition. There is always going to be competition out there. You also have to keep your focus and stay ahead of all the changes. There are so many tech advances that are happening all the time that can help you systemize your business so you can get in front of opportunities on a frequent basis.
One of the worst things you can do is work on assignments that have a low probability of success. If you have your head down and you’re working on a project and the client is not as motivated as you think or the project isn’t a good fit for the current market, that can really hurt you. There are five or six deals that you missed out on that you could have been working on instead of working on an assignment with such a low possibility of success. I struggle with that, making sure that I am managing my time correctly.
Out-of-office hours: When not working, I want to spend time with my family. I have three girls, 10, 7 and 5. They are getting into sports and extracurriculars. That is a blast. I’m also involved in St. Pious X parish in Indianapolis. I’m on the finance committee and school commission. I always try to be at every one of my children’s sporting events. I love coaching when I can. I love traveling, too. With three kids, that isn’t as easy as it used to be. But we still love to travel.