Expert Insights: Brian Johnson Talks California Commercial Market Trends

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Brian Johnson, Radius Commercial Real Estate

General Manager and Senior Associate at Radius Commercial Real estate, Brian Johnson is the latest expert to share his insights with us. Brian started his career in commercial real estate in 2002, serving the Central Coast where he has completed a high number of both sales and leases. In 2012, he shifted towards property investment at Radius, where Brian oversees operations and staff. He specializes in assisting investors with targeted buying and selling of properties, as well as assisting his clientele in managing their portfolios.

Prior to Radius, Brian acted as a main driver for multiple network planning and development projects for major players in the communications industry. We picked his brain to find out more about his point of view when it comes to market trends and tips on marketing properties. Read on to find out more.

Q: Could you start by telling us a little bit about your background and why you chose a career in commercial real estate?

I’ve been involved in commercial real estate since 2002 when I moved to Santa Barbara. I had previously directed real estate and land use planning in the wireless telephone industry, building networks across the country. I was able to leverage my background in economics and real estate in landing a position at the largest commercial real estate firm on the South Coast, Radius Commercial Real Estate. Now, in addition to brokering as a Senior Associate, I also serve as General Manager, overseeing our operations across two offices and 23 agents.

Q: How would you describe the market in the U.S. today in terms of trends and challenges?

We’re facing some interesting challenges in our space today that also bring some exciting opportunities. We’ve seen the trend toward co-working space really take root in the office environment, and now more and more in the retail sector as well. While there are concerns that companies like WeWork are looking to become defacto landlords across the country, potentially squeezing out the need for commercial brokers, I don’t see that as a long term challenge. Landlords and tenants alike will always need to have the best data available to make informed decisions for their businesses and that’s where commercial brokers shine. Having both the historical knowledge and knowing what is happening on a day to day basis is critical. Technology might be seen as a threat to some but I see it as a tool for savvy brokers to provide even greater service and benefits to clients. Technology can even help you get out in front of potentially challenging situations, saving you and your clients invaluable time and money.

Q: What changed in the past years in the local California commercial scene?

One big change to the California commercial real estate landscape, literally, is the proliferation of the cannabis industry. It’s no longer the green elephant in the room. Ever since it’s become legal at the adult level we’ve seen new and creative ventures formed to take advantage of what could be a huge opportunity, not just in the agricultural area but in all sectors. Retail, office and industrial all will be touched through the manufacture, testing, distribution and sale of cannabis and cannabis related products.

We’re also seeing a convergence between the residential and commercial real estate industries when it comes to housing. California is struggling with a real crisis when it comes to housing units and it is going to take concerted efforts to solve the issue. We’ve seen the arguments that California is too expensive to live in because of the high cost of housing but we can help mitigate the issue by leading the way in getting creative in how to build more housing units. We’re seeing some buy-in at both state and local levels but we have a long way to go.

Q: What are some of the innovative and modern techniques and tactics for marketing a space that didn’t exist even ten years ago?

The maturation of the internet and, more specifically, mobile devices are far and away the two biggest influencers in marketing property today. The internet has been around for some time but our industry tends to be behind others when it comes to adoption. We’ve got so many ways of reaching targets now through the creative use of online platforms like social media, multimedia marketing, immersive video and augmented reality. Today you can push a new listing out to a targeted segment of clients that will give them much of the information they need to decide whether a property is the right choice before they physically set foot on the premises. The challenge we see is that with all this new bandwidth comes a lot of noise and clutter, making it more important than ever for commercial brokers to differentiate themselves with a balance of personal service and technology.

Q: How has the evolution of online marketing impacted the commercial real estate industry?

It has changed everything. Online marketing allows us to easily broadcast to a national and international level. We’ve got buyers from all over the world that want to invest here and having the ability to reach them directly and expediently is critical. I’ll never discount the strength of a one-on-one relationship but I see online marketing as a tool to get us that introduction on a scale we would never have imagined 10 to 20 years ago.

Q: Do you think there’s anything that you believe everyone in this industry should be working towards?

I believe it’s never been more important for commercial real estate practitioners to be out in the field working hand in hand with clients. Let’s face it, we’re witnessing some revolutionary advancements, changes and evolution in nearly every corner of commerce, from how people work in and use office space, to how retailers are adapting to a new world order of online and on-demand shopping. Commercial real estate professionals need to be active participants in helping our clients navigate this change. With all the benefits of technology it can be easy for some to take a more passive role in brokering space. But commercial brokers with market knowledge, historical perspective and a strong grasp of economics and business practice can help be drivers of success to ensure that our clients create or choose space that works best for the long term.

Q: Any other insights you would like to share?

If you don’t know it already, Santa Barbara and the greater South Central Coast region is a great place to not only visit but to invest in. Climate, quality of life, strong economic fundamentals, central location and ease of access to larger markets like Los Angeles and San Francisco, we’ve got it all!

Interested in being interviewed for our Expert Insights series? Feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] or check out other articles from our series here.

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