Merit Partners’ David Liebman: Hockey, industrial brokers and being a ‘deal junkie’

When David Liebman is on the ice, you might never guess that he once was a real estate and corporate lawyer—or that he’s been one of Chicago’s leading industrial brokers for nearly three decades.

A prolific hockey referee in his free time, Liebman spends his days in the Chicago Chapter of SIOR’s leadership, and advising tenants on their industrial real estate needs. But that wasn’t always the case.

Like many brokers, Liebman initially had a career in another industry before being drawn to industrial real estate brokerage.  In the 1980s, Liebman could be found practicing real estate and corporate law; however, he realized that all the real estate developers, owners and brokers he worked with were having a lot more fun with their lucrative careers.

Since he loved doing deals, he moved into brokerage and chose to focus on industrial properties because of the positive experiences he had with that community.

“Industrial brokers are some of the most cooperative, intelligent and thoughtful professionals in this business,” Liebman said. “I thought so in the beginning, and I still think so today.”

He currently serves as managing broker for Merit Partners, representing industrial tenants, buyers and investors in lease restructuring, renegotiations, renewals, property purchases, investment purchases and select exclusive property listings.

Liebman finds the independent lifestyle compelling, and enjoys the ongoing challenges and competitiveness of the business as well as the great personal and professional friendships he has maintained.

He recalled that one of his most memorable experiences happened in 1993, as the industry was coming out of the deep recession of the early 1990s. He was given a referral from an out-of-state broker and as a result, his team represented a third-party logistics firm (he didn’t even know what logistics meant at the time) on a 250,000- square-foot warehouse lease requirement.

“We ended up leasing a 253,000-square-foot Bolingbrook building from Prudential Investors, and received a celebratory dinner invitation and the award for the largest industrial lease in Prudential’s Chicago industrial portfolio for that year,” he explained.

Now with more than 26 years in the business, he uses his past experiences to inform his decision-making and encourage others in this industry.

To those just entering this sector, believes in the importance of having a great mentor, staying disciplined and focused early and throughout their career, and being a deal junkie.

One of his recent projects included representing a long-time client to consolidate two leased facilities, which he had previously leased on their behalf. They moved both operations into a single 77,000-square-foot, modern warehouse property in a transaction that provided a client-centric location—and for a surprisingly reasonable lease rate, terms and improvements.

Despite a slow start-up in the business, four crippling recessions and the day-to-day challenges of brokerage, Liebman motivates those around him to be detailed and have patience in their work.

When not brokering deals, he is an avid hockey player and officiates youth and adult games at many levels. He also enjoys traveling and spending time with his wife, Mimi, of 31 years, and raising two incredibly bright, talented and thoughtful young men.