For our latest expert interview, we discussed the Texas commercial real estate market with Christine Mastandrea, adjunct professor in management – real estate at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University. Mrs. Mastandrea also works as Chief Operating Officer at Whitestone Real Estate Investment Trust (NYSE: WSR).
Previously, she was Chief Operating Officer for Midwest Development Corporation, a privately held residential and commercial real estate company. She began her career on the trading floors on Wall Street and then as an investment banker with Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.
Read on to find out more.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and why you chose a career in teaching real estate.
My career evolved to commercial real estate [CRE] from beginning in finance, to learning my ‘ops chops’ in a private real estate company, and eventually combining the experience as a fellow founder of Whitestone REIT (NYSE: WSR) and currently as chief operating officer.
Teaching at Rice University Jones School of Business allows me the opportunity to share firsthand knowledge, in addition to learning from newer generations of students, their views, curiosity and perspectives.
Q: Considering the COVID-19 outbreak, what are your thoughts on the CRE market in the U.S. today in terms of trends and challenges?
Cigna has an excellent study on loneliness and the impact on individuals and society. The impact of COVID contributed to more disconnectedness. Designing for human connection and not just the function of the space is becoming more important than ever.
Q: What differentiates the commercial real estate market in Texas from other major markets in the United States?
We are in the major markets in Texas —Houston, Dallas, Austin, [and] San Antonio — as well as the Phoenix metro. We specifically targeted our investment in business-friendly states and the fastest-growing metro markets in the country. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and know the challenges with starting a business. Focusing on unconstrained demand — rather than constrained supply — is a great benefit to Texas growth and opportunity.
Q: How have you seen the industry evolve in the last 10 years?
The availability of data is super helpful. [For example,] Placer.ai and ESRI. I use both to teach my class. In addition, knowing how to ‘kick the bricks’ and operate real estate — not just invest — is becoming more important as a differentiator.
Q: Where do you see it going in the future?
Bigger is not necessarily better and [also considering] how to build with flexibility for the future. How to address the needs of the environment with the average age of U.S. buildings being almost 50 years old is a challenge that will be interesting to address effectively. New positioning around ESG will continue to impact investment.
Q: Are there any lessons from the past few years that you would impart as an absolute must for those looking to get into the CRE industry?
Begin with the land and the rights to understand how it impacts the value. Know the customer and clients; understand their needs and aspirations and how they will use the space. Observation is important. Too many decisions are designed on the screen versus being on-site.
Q: What is your general assessment for the commercial real estate market in 2022? Have you spotted some interesting market trends?
The move to suburban markets was happening prior to COVID as the Millennials shift to more affordable communities. They are no different than their parents before them. They just landed later due to school loans and household formations occurring at a later age. This group and Gen Z are creating new needs.[Also,] more entrepreneurialism. It’s interesting in the gig economy how many young people have a side hustle that [they] develop into full-time opportunities. It’s the American dream!
Q: How has the evolution of online marketing affected the commercial real estate industry?
It just fixed a problem. Time-crunched consumers needed convenience, although not everyone needs Amazon delivered within the day. It’s nice, but not always necessary.
Omni channel is expected and ease of access and delivery with one click is not profitable for all retailers. More ‘e-tail’ is moving to a physical storefront for presence. How brands are being built between online and inline storefront is interesting to observe. Again, it evolves around creating community for customer stickiness.
Q: Are there any other insights that you’d like to add?
Gray hair and experience matter in CRE — unlike tech, where you can age out quickly. Having gone through a number of cycles built fortitude and foresight and is extremely valuable. Plan for the long-term and you will do well.