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CRE's Next Generation: C&W’s Avery Silverstein On Billion-Dollar Deals, Choosing CRE Over Medicine

This series asks rising stars in commercial real estate about their thoughts on some of the biggest issues facing the industry, including inequality, climate change and technology.

If it weren’t for a fortuitous internship in the summer between her junior and senior years, Avery Silverstein may well have become a doctor instead of being on one of the premier teams in the cutthroat world of New York City investment sales.

In 2012, she was a student at Brown University, taking pre-medical and business economics classes, and weighing which path to ultimately take. Though she knew nothing about commercial real estate at the time, her older brother was already working as an office leasing broker in New York City and suggested she road-test the industry.

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Avery Silverstein

She landed at Eastdil Secured, working for one of the most prolific investment sales teams in the country, led by Doug Harmon and Adam Spies. By the end of the summer, she was hooked. The chance to earn and learn in New York City — and avoid years of medical school debt — had sold her on a career in commercial real estate.

“Both my parents were doctors, so for me following that path would’ve been an easier route, but it wasn’t something I was really passionate about,” Silverstein, now a senior director at Cushman & Wakefield, said in an interview. “Talking to people in real estate, it’s that they love their job and they were excited about a young person coming into the industry … I loved the team and loved the pace of the business.”

The Harmon and Spies team shook up the investment sales market when it jumped ship from Eastdil to Cushman & Wakefield in 2016. Their names are all over some of the biggest sales deals in the city.

“[Silverstein is] a mix of sizzle and steak, she’s flat-out solid,” said Harmon, who is a chairman of capital markets at C&W. "For our business, [she's] got the right mix between EQ and IQ."

The Harmon and Spies team brokered the $5.4B sale of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village back in 2015 and represented Jamestown in its sale of the Chelsea Market to Google for $2.4B a little over two years ago, just to name a few. Though Harmon and Spies have the name recognition on the deals, their team is made up of 15 people.

Silverstein was the only junior member of the team to decamp from Eastdil to C&W in 2016, joining the investment sales team as its sixth member and the first woman.

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Avery with her brother, Ethan Silverstein, a C&W vice chairman

“In the industry, there are young capital markets professionals who work hard and do a very good job and have attention to detail, but they can plateau. Avery can knock down every barrier," Harmon said. "Her math skills, speed and ability and to see the big picture is as strong as her judgment, she’s got the makings of someone who will be a superstar in our business.”

In her eight-year career, she has worked on multiple blockbuster deals. Her first big deal was being part of the $1.75B sale of the Crown Building on Fifth Avenue in 2014 to Jeff Sutton and mall owner GGP.

Four years later, she worked on the sale of Starrett City, the largest federally subsidized apartment complex in the country, which traded for more than $900M from a partnership that included former President Donald Trump as a minority owner.

"Learning from and working with this group of hard-working, successful teammates is the reason I love what I do," she said in an email, describing the 15-person unit as "like family." "The opportunity to work on large, interesting deals is just an added bonus."

Her résumé also includes working on the deal that saw SL Green sell a 43% interest in 1515 Broadway to Allianz Real Estate, as well as being part of the team that sold Blackstone a stake in One Liberty Plaza for $660 per SF.

Unlike most investment sales teams, the group is on a salary-bonus structure rather than working solely for commissions, which Silverstein said leads to a more effective team and allows young people to focus on learning the business without worrying about their next paycheck.

Many in the industry have suggested the brokerage industry’s reliance on commissions is a major cause of the ongoing gender pay gap in the industry, as Bisnow reported last year. 

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Avery Silverstein at a fundraiser indoor cycling event hosted by the junior board of Breaking Ground.

Women in commercial real estate take home 56% less on average in commissions and bonuses than their male counterparts, according to the Commercial Real Estate Women Network’s most recent benchmark study, released in September. Much of that is because brokerage — particularly investment sales — has been dominated by men for decades, meaning they are more likely to be on the priciest deals.

But Silverstein is sensing a shift, and following the #MeToo Movement and the outpouring of grief and protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, she believes it is becoming widely accepted that diverse teams are the only ones that will succeed.

She believes having five women on her 15-person team is far better than their peers in the investment sales market, though there is still room to improve. There are no people of color on the team, which is in keeping with much of the brokerage industry — out of 17 brokerage firms Bisnow analyzed last year, none had more than three people of color at the executive level, and almost a third had none at all.

“That’s where I think we really need to step up. I, as a woman, was really supported by this group of five successful men, not only did they hire me, but they mentored and empowered me. People who have the power and ability to do that should continue to pass the torch,” she said.

“Now it’s my turn to pass the torch and add more color to our team, and add people of different backgrounds. The women in the industry are a great place to start: We know what it’s like to be a minority in the industry.”

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Avery Silverstein was promoted to senior director this year.

A major issue, she said, is that few young people are told that commercial real estate can be a rewarding, lucrative career. Fresh talent from diverse backgrounds aren’t considering it as a job as much as they should, an issue Silverstein thinks the industry needs to collectively work to change. Her experience being on a salary, rather than going straight onto commissions, was helpful in getting her foot in the door, and she is constantly working to lead by showing other young women just how fulfilling the work can be.

“I think my path and story is a great example ... I’ve had younger women ask me, ‘What’s it like being the only woman, is it scary, is it strange being the only woman at a table of 20 people?’” she said. “I say it’s an opportunity to be that unique person, and the support you get from that smaller [female] community is so strong … paving the path and showing this is definitely a wonderful position for women and people of color and that will just continue to expand this diversity.”

Still, brokerage is a tough game to be in right now, particularly in New York City. Last year, $8.5B worth of Manhattan commercial property traded, a 51% drop from 2019, according to Avison Young. Brokers have warned many will be driven from the industry as the economic conditions toughen through the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

It is something Silverstein is acutely aware of, but she plans to hunker down through the tough times to come out the other side.

“As a young person, the best thing you can do is maintain relationships with our clients and be as helpful as we can in these times than we can in great times," she said. "One of the lessons Adam and Doug have always taught me is, if you want to be in this business long-term, you have to treat your relationships like they are long-term. If you’re clearly just in it for that one quick fee or this one quick deal, that’s really obvious to people."

While she said her peers are still too young to be decision-makers right now, building relationships with them will pay dividends down the road, as her contemporaries rise up the ranks of commercial real estate.

“She’s a role model for any person looking at getting into the business,” Harmon said. “She’s a role model to us, too, even the seniors.”