Why would anyone change jobs after they are established in a profession? Is it for prestige? Money? Quality of life? Job fatigue? Meaningfulness? After more than a decade in the commercial real estate brokerage business I found myself pondering this surprisingly existential question. Why was I doing something so transactional in nature, when my interests were in how real estate affected communities over long periods of time? Was my current profession going to make the world better for my children’s generation? Sure, I made a good living and had quite a bit of flexibility. And I felt respected in my industry as someone of integrity with a high standard of professionalism. Sure, I helped some families achieve financial independence and encouraged some owners to sell assets that were impeding progress for neighborhoods. The best deals I did were win-win-wins; where the residents won, the investors won, and the neighborhood won, although those were somewhat rare. The question I kept coming back to was, does any of what I am doing have any significant impact? When I started talking with the team at Westland during the summer of 2020, they raised the most important question that had been nagging at me: are you ready to make a difference?
I have known the Westland Investor group for almost a decade and had completed a number of very successful value-added apartment transactions with them. When I say value added, it means I sold them dilapidated, barely habitable buildings that had been neglected by their sellers for far too long. Upon closing, Jerry, Erik, and Alex did an amazing job of adding style, modernity, vibrancy, and presence to the buildings. They have the vision to transform these properties to create a sense of place and inspired living for residents. And they start with the basics of course… like fixing the leaking roofs, replacing the dilapidated siding that you could poke fingers through, protecting foundations from tree roots, and eliminating trip hazards. As a broker I found them to have immense personal integrity, a trait that is unfortunately lacking from a surprising number of real estate industry participants. As we talked, it became apparent that Westland had developed significant momentum and was ready to grow their business into something with an important mission at its core. Their desire to adapt to the needs and desires of 21st century residents and to build the company around that core principle was the linchpin issue that pushed me over the edge. With great people, excellent culture, strong infrastructure, and a willingness to adapt and grow, there was no other option for me but to leave my brokerage profession behind and join the Westland team, which I officially did this January. I could not be more excited to come into work than I am now.
Housing is one of the fundamental human needs identified in Maslow’s hierarchy. In a post COVID world where we have eliminated numerous external amenities in our cities and workplaces, the environments provided at apartment complexes have become vital to ensure a high quality of life. Having a strong design element and vision to create a positive experience for residents is more important than ever before. There are plenty of investors and investment companies that upgrade the veneer of properties without any real thought as to how to create spaces with sense of community, functionality, or everyday enjoyment. Yes, they can grow value by making superficial changes. However, that approach does not grow community. There is no way that they are going to change a resident’s quality of life by installing quartz countertops over time. Indeed, they are nice, but the hedonic treadmill is real, and residents tend to acclimatize to superficial improvements.
On the flip side, improving communal spaces to cater to reading, exercise, outdoor yoga, or areas to gather for picnics and barbecues does affect people’s daily lives. Those are investments in experiences and in community, which can actually build overtime. Especially in the era of COVID, these improvements have paid outsized dividends to residents, both in the currency of mental and physical health. The most exciting part of this approach is that it revolves around the next level of improving spaces. After talking with the team, we developed a new approach to integrate art into apartment complexes as an underwritten investment. Most apartment complexes are sterile, with bland building materials as far as the eye can see. What if there was a different way? There is a huge opportunity to adapt the techniques used in urban and public spaces to suburban apartment complexes. We have big plans to improve several complexes in our pipeline with functional installation art and murals from local artists. Not only will that improve the functionality of the space, but it will bring vibrancy to an often-neglected living space. We have all walked through a building and seen big vacant swaths of ugly siding. That feels like a huge opportunity to repurpose that space to make it inspiring. It won’t happen overnight, because we want to do it right, but it’s exciting to be on a team that is prioritizing creating a sense of vibrancy and community for our residents of multi-family housing.
As a native Oregonian, scratch that, as a 6th generation Oregonian, maintaining and appreciating the environment as much as possible has always been a part of my core values. I am an avid outdoors man and want to make sure that we protect as much of that land as possible. When evaluating where we could take Westland, the upcycling of properties is another area that has been relegated to the wayside by a lot of market participants. The trope of the 1990s was to Recycle, Reduce, and Re-Use. Of those, the least sexy or emphasized is reuse. Nobody valued a reusable grocery bag then. Now you can’t enter a store without one. I feel the same way about apartments. For so long people have focused on building new complexes with the newest green technologies. Don’t get me wrong, new construction is great, and we have executed on ground-up builds on several projects ourselves. We get that brand new is appealing. The green systems and technology is simple to understand and obvious. It’s easy for investors to check a box and never look deeper at the holistic calculation that includes all the externalities that affect the environment.
The Westland team has tried to take a bigger view of apartment investment. It’s not enough to have a green approach to new projects at the center of cities. We need to consider how to best upgrade neglected multifamily housing located in the suburbs and exurbs as well. These assets often have huge amounts of carbon emissions already built into them, since they were constructed with the less efficient engines and materials of the 20th century. So what do we do now that we have this sunk carbon cost? Do we consider it moot and just scrap the buildings for new green designs? Absolutely not. That would put much more strain on the environment than necessary. Instead, we have chosen to embrace existing buildings and look for efficient and earth friendly ways to revitalize their character. There are so many building materials that are environmentally friendly and durable and there is a huge opportunity to increase their usage in our projects.
While COVID is still looming over the world, this is an exciting time to move to a company where I can have an outsized impact on the world. We can design properties where the amenities are geared towards residents and not just the bottom line. There are many players in the commercial real estate world that have a cutthroat approach to business and life. Frankly, this is outright wrong, not just morally, but also based on the nature of real estate. We look at return on investment in multiple ways – we want the return for our residents to be balanced with the return for our investors. Real estate is a long-term investment by nature. It’s not a get rich quick scheme; it is a wealth generator over time with prudent long-term decisions. Short-term thinking may look good for a year or two, but in the long run, it does nothing but tarnish one’s reputation. The team at Westland is clearly in the long-term camp, which aligns with my philosophy. This is a new venture, but I feel like I’ve been part of this investment family for years. In 2021, only those who are adaptable with a long term approach will succeed. Over here at Westland, we are getting prepared to thrive.
If you have any questions about what we do or the properties that we typically purchase, don’t hesitate to reach out and drop me a line.503-297-2575 or firstname.lastname@example.org.