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CRE Brokers Change Course To Lead Clients Through Uncharted Territory


The coronavirus’s ability to exploit crowded, enclosed spaces to spread has forced everyone from Fortune 500 companies and small businesses to individuals working from home to rethink the layout and purpose of spaces.

Between the economic repercussions of shutdowns, skyrocketing unemployment and the social unrest that has charged communities across the nation, everyone in the built industry has had to change, and fast. Commercial real estate brokers are no exception, and they have spent the last few months reimagining how to best serve their clients and communities in an environment unlike any we’ve experienced. 

Alan Joel, CCIM, principal of Joel & Granot Commercial Real Estate/CORFAC International in Atlanta, began his tenure as president of CORFAC International in January, and three months later, the organization’s in-person meetings and networking events had to be reimagined. In an industry known for deals sealed with a handshake and walk-throughs, suddenly everything had to be virtual. 

“This is an opportunity for real estate professionals to change what we can quickly, but with longevity in mind,” Joel said. “Our firm just completed an overhaul of how we market our listings and to whom with video and 360-degree photo technology. This was a response to the demands of today, but will also carry us into the future.”

Brokerages have had to adapt and re-evaluate their own operations by adopting remote work or staggered schedules, increasing their use of videoconferencing and investing in digital tools and marketing to reach a geographically, socially and racially diverse set of clients. Most importantly, brokers have had to change their strategies in representing their clients, which are facing a new set of challenges. With U.S. companies at different stages of reopening, brokers have had to grasp their clients’ unique needs to help guide them through decisions.

Clients must consider if their current space is amenable to social distancing, and how implementing it will affect their culture and collaboration. Or if they need to move, they must balance how a choice made now can be adapted post-pandemic.

“Our tenant rep clients want to know which buildings offer minimal interaction with the public as a qualifier for looking at new space,” said Richie Blue, SIOR, president of Blue & Obrecht Realty/CORFAC International in Baltimore. “End-user clients are asking what the landlord is doing to make their office facilities safe.” 

As the nation enters a recession and recovery looks more uncertain, clients are also looking to cut facilities costs.

“The most common question I hear is: Can we get a better deal because of COVID?” said Leroy Breinholt, president of Commercial Properties, Inc./CORFAC International in Phoenix. “We tell them that eventually things may loosen up a bit, but for now it’s still too early and the industrial market is still strong and moving forward. We must have empathy for clients in harder-hit industries, but also focus on those that are flourishing, such as manufacturing.” 

Blue added that CRE advisers can offer insight to both tenants and landlords. He said he encouraged landlords to work with tenants and focus on giving them an added level of comfort and security right now, especially those who are facing income difficulties.

With a public health emergency, an economic crisis and civil unrest throughout the country all colliding, real estate brokers are being called to expand their roles and responses in their communities. Recovery goes beyond simply getting people back into buildings. 

“We have to step outside our boxes and be empathetic, listen, and act responsively to what drives our clients socially as well as economically,” Joel said. “Real estate professionals should be in the lead of new innovative marketing ideas, banishing racism and bigotry within our society, and be in the forefront of the country’s recovery from the pandemic and our other societal ills.”

This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and CORFAC International. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.