For our latest interview in the Expert Insights series, we had the pleasure of chatting with Ken Silberling, Sr. Vice President Brokerage and Tenant Representation at Levy Realty Advisors, Inc. Mr. Silberling is a commercial real estate expert and dealmaker, specializing in tenant/buyer representation in the Tri-County South Florida market.
He started his career in research at Cushman and Wakefield in Miami. His path led to Broward County and then into Palm Beach where he expanded into Office and Industrial Tenant and Landlord Representation, Investment Sales, Acquisitions, Development and Consulting. He is a well-known expert on the South Florida Commercial Real Estate markets, and we are happy to share his industry insights with you.
Could you start by telling us a little bit about your background and why you chose a career in commercial real estate?
I grew up in South Florida, I got a degree in advertising from Florida State University and went on to Georgetown to get my MBA. I have always been great with numbers and always had a talent for taking raw data and putting my own creative spin on the results. My grandfather had owned apartment buildings in Brooklyn so real estate is in my blood. If he only knew what his properties are worth today. I started my career with Cushman and Wakefield in market research. I still think they hired me primarily because I could coach their softball team. But my market reports gained a large following and I eventually moved into leasing and acquisitions for a developer. After spending some time in CRE tech, I recently joined Levy Realty Advisors where I am involved in tenant representation, acquisitions, leasing and marketing. I have been blogging on commercial real estate for the last 10 years and continue to build my personal brand through my unique and hopefully entertaining perspective.
Considering the current COVID-19 pandemic, what are your thoughts on the CRE market in the US today in terms of trends and challenges?
I just read a rant by Duke Long, who is the Godfather of CRE Bloggers and an inspiration to me. He states in slightly more colorful language that we’re all screwed, everybody thinks they’re an expert and nobody knows what’s going to happen. I tend to agree, but our industry has always been cyclical, and we’ll bounce back. I see a lot of opportunity. I tweeted back at Duke that all we can do is work hard and position ourselves for the next unpredictable turn on this roller coaster. Are companies going to need more space to accommodate social distancing or less space due to working from home? It really can go either way. But whichever way it goes, it will create movement and movement is good for brokers. My company represents a number of family offices and controls over 3.5 million square feet of space. Our clients have a lot of money on the sidelines and we believe that opportunities will emerge.
What differentiates the commercial real estate market in Florida from other major markets in the United States?
I’ve always said that the number one industry in Florida is Florida. I grew up here, I’ve witnessed our incredible growth and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. We are still bringing in 1,000 new residents a day because people are tired of cold winters and even more tired of state income tax. While we face environmental challenges, we live in paradise, and people want to be here. The other factor is Miami’s status as the financial capital of Latin America. South Florida will continue to benefit from the growth in Latin America and the Caribbean and we’ve been saying it for a long time, but at some point, something will happen in Cuba.
How have you seen the industry evolve in the past years?
The stock answer here is probably technology, and there are a lot of cool things happening in CRE Tech. But CRE tech is still dominated by one company and if it does change, it will be a slow process. I have seen a lot of consolidation and the top brokerages are commanding more and more market share. Two companies I worked for were acquired by the nationals and any regional niche player is a target. In addition, the team concept has completely taken over in brokerage. I think it works well as everybody brings a little something different to the table and the client benefits. But I think a lot of these teams are getting spread a bit too thin with too many assignments and there is an opportunity for boutique firms who can provide personal service to non-institutional owners.
Where do you see it going in the future?
More consolidation at the top but I think a door is opening for niche players. You need to know where you fit in and you need to communicate that to prospective clients.
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?
Small deals are a lot harder than large ones. Major corporations are concerned about earnings and bottom lines, but the mom-and-pops are negotiating with their mortgage payments and meal money – its personal. You’ll learn a lot more doing small deals to start. I’ve also seen a lot of appraisers and property managers become very successful as brokers and developers. Before you can compete for the major assignments it’s important to know the basics. And you’re going to get knocked down a lot in this business – I certainly have. It’s a process of always getting back up and reinventing yourself as you go.
What is your general assessment for the commercial real estate market in 2020? Have you spotted some interesting market trends, especially considering the current pandemic?
Sometimes in sports, you have a bad game and you burn the game films. That is what we need to do with 2020. We’ve got to do the best we can this year, then burn the game films and try to bounce back in 2021. I can see doing Argus runs in the future and pretending 2020 didn’t happen. I think our county will have to get more self-sufficient, which is good for manufacturing. Adaption of technology and e-commerce has accelerated, and somehow, I think we’ve gotten a glimpse of the future and will be more focused on long term goals rather than the day to day.
How has the evolution of online marketing impacted the commercial real estate industry?
It’s amazing to think that when I started in the business, online didn’t exist. I was one of the first in the market to develop property databases that we could search in-house to find space for clients. As a researcher, people were happy to give me their information because I was Cushman and Wakefield and we were bringing them large deals. Today, internet search is the starting point for most deals, and most of the data is out there for anyone to find. On the brokerage side, outside of the major institutional assets, the single most important marketing task is to get your property up on commercial real estate listing websites. That is where the brokers, the tenants and the buyers are looking. I will do some cold calling, a lot of networking, email blasts and property websites development. I’m also big on content marketing to build my personal brand.
But today it is all about maximizing your footprint online and making sure you are found when people search. The stickier you can make your listings and online presence, the more you build your personal brand. There is still only a handful of people in the industry who are doing it effectively and I am trying to get there myself. I’ve also stepped up my game with 3D virtual tours which are gaining popularity. I think they are essential to stand out in this era of social distancing.
Any other insights that you’d like to share?
Commercial Real Estate is still a relationship business and the tried and true methods still work. But with internet search initiating so many deals, it becomes more and more important to have quality content out there so you will show up in the results. There is no substitute for picking up the phone, but I touch a thousand people per month with my blog and if something goes viral, there is no ceiling. There are cat videos that get more views than the Super Bowl. Over the lockdown, I’ve learned to put my blog on video and podcast, and I am stepping up my social posts. I’m selling my services electronically 24/7/365. That is a whole lot more efficient than knocking on doors in 90-degree South Florida heat. Please check out my blog at kenstrends.com and search kenstrends on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. And I need more followers @kensilberling on Twitter and please connect with me on LinkedIn. My own brand is about creating original content because I think I’m good at it and a lot of people agree. We all have to do what’s best for us to cut through all the noise out there. This article is part of that, and I thank you for the opportunity.