Why would anyone change jobs after they are established in aprofession? Is it for prestige? Money? Quality of life? Jobfatigue? Meaningfulness? After more than a decade in the commercial real estate brokeragebusiness I found myself pondering this surprisingly existential question. Why was I doing something so transactional in nature, when myinterests were in how real estate affects communities over long periods oftime? Was my current professiongoing to make the world better for my children’s generation? Sure, I made a good living and had quitea bit of flexibility. And I feltrespected in my industry as someone of integrity with a high standard ofprofessionalism. Sure, I helped some families achieve financial independenceand 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, althoughthose were somewhat rare. Thequestion I kept coming back to was, does any of what I am doing have any significantimpact? When I startedtalking with the team at Westland during the summer of 2020, they raised themost important question that had been nagging at me: are you ready to make adifference?
I have known the Westland Investor group for almost a decadeand had completed a number of very successful value-added apartmenttransactions with them. When I sayvalue added, it means I sold them dilapidated, barely habitable buildings thathad been neglected by their sellers for far too long. Upon closing, Jerry, Erik, and Alex didan amazing job of adding style, modernity, vibrancy, and presence to thebuildings. They have the vision totransform these properties to create a sense of place and inspired living for residents. And they start with the basics of course… like fixingthe leaking roofs, replacing the dilapidated siding that you could poke fingersthrough, protecting foundations from tree roots, and eliminating trip hazards. As a broker I found them to have immense personalintegrity, a trait that is unfortunately lacking from a surprising number ofreal estate industry participants. As we talked, it became apparent that Westland had developed significantmomentum and was ready to grow their business into something with an importantmission at its core. Their desireto adapt to the needs and desires of 21st century residents and to build the company around thatcore principal 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 otheroption for me but to leave my brokerage profession behind and join the Westlandteam, 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 inMaslow’s hierarchy. In a postCOVID world where we have eliminated numerous external amenities in our citiesand workplaces, the environments provided at apartment complexes have becomevital to ensure a high quality of life. Having a strong design element and vision to create a positiveexperience for residents is more important than ever before. There are plenty of investors andinvestment companies that upgrade the veneer of properties without any realthought as to how to create spaces with sense of community, functionality, oreveryday enjoyment. Yes, they cangrow value by making superficial changes. However, that approach does not grow community. There is no way that they are going tochange a resident’s quality of life by installing quartz countertops over time. Indeed, they are nice, but the hedonictreadmill is real, and residents tend to acclimatize to superficialimprovements.
On the flipside, improving communal spaces to cater toreading, exercise, outdoor yoga, or areas to gather for picnics and barbeques doesaffect people’s daily lives. Thoseare investments in experiences and in community, which can actually build overtime. Especially in the era ofCOVID, these improvements have paid outsized dividends to residents, both inthe currency of mental and physical health. The most exciting part of this approach is that it revolvesaround the next level of improving spaces. After talking with the team, wedeveloped a new approach to integrate art into apartment complexes as anunderwritten investment. Mostapartment complexes are sterile, with bland building materials as far as theeye can see. What if there was adifferent way? There is ahuge opportunity to adapt the techniques used in urban and public spaces tosuburban apartment complexes. Wehave big plans to improve several complexes in our pipeline with functionalinstallation 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 buildingand seen big vacant swaths of ugly siding. That feels like a huge opportunity to repurpose that spaceto make it inspiring. It won’t happen overnight, because we want to do itright, but it’s exciting to be on a team that is prioritizing creating a senseof vibrancy and community for our residents of multi-family housing.
As a native Oregonian, scratch that, as a 6th generationOregonian, maintaining and appreciating the environment as much as possible hasalways been a part of my core values. I am an avid outdoorsman and want to makesure that we protect as much of that land as possible. When evaluating where we couldtake Westland, the upcycling of properties is another area that has been relegatedto the wayside by a lot of market participants. The trope of the 1990’s was toRecycle, Reduce, and Re-Use. Ofthose, the least sexy or emphasized is reuse. Nobody valued a reusable grocerybag then. Now you can’t enter astore without one. I feel the sameway about apartments. For so longpeople have focused on building new complexes with the newest greentechnologies. Don’t get me wrong,new construction is great and we have executed on ground-up builds on severalprojects ourselves. We get that brandnew is appealing. The greensystems and technology is simple to understand and obvious. It’s easy for investors to check a boxand never look deeper at the holistic calculation that includes all of itsexternalities that affect the environment.
The Westland team has tried to take a bigger view of apartmentinvestment. It’s not enough tohave a green approach to new projects at the center of cities. We need to consider how to best upgradeneglected multifamily housing located in the suburbs and exurbs as well. Theseassets often have huge amounts of carbon emissions already built into them,since they were constructed with the less efficient engines and materials ofthe 20th century. Sowhat do we do now that we have this sunk carbon cost? Do we consider it moot and just scrap the buildings for newgreen designs? Absolutely not.That would put much more strain on the environment than necessary. Instead, we have chosen to embraceexisting buildings and look for efficient and earth friendly ways to revitalizetheir character. There are so manybuilding materials that are environmentally friendly and durable and there is ahuge opportunity to increase their usage in our projects.
While COVID is still looming over the world, this is anexciting time to move to a company where I can have an outsized impact on theworld. We can design propertieswhere the amenities are geared towards residents and not just the bottomline. There are many players inthe commercial real estate world that have a cutthroat approach to business andlife. Frankly, this is outrightwrong, not just morally, but also based on the nature of real estate. We look at return on investment inmultiple ways – we want the return for our residents to be balanced with thereturn for our investors. Real estate is a long-term investment by nature. It’s not a get rich quick scheme; it isa wealth generator over time with prudent long-term decisions. Short-term thinking may look good for ayear 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 myphilosophy. 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 adaptablewith 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 propertiesthat we typically purchase, don’t hesitate to reach out and drop me a line.503-297-2575 or firstname.lastname@example.org.