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Fred Underwood, Bernstein Management Corporation

Washington DC

Like many commercial real estate professionals, Bernstein Management's Fred Underwood wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do. But not many in any profession end up with the kind of educational background Fred has. The Baltimore native moved to the DC area when he was 10 and matriculated to Brown for undergrad, playing lacrosse for the Bears. He tried the law school route (going to American U) but found himself searching for jobs unrelated to law.

Realizing he was more interested in deals and business as a whole versus a young lawyer's work reviewing documents and drafting memos, Fred got his real estate career started at Buchanan Partners in Gaithersburg before moving on to Columbia University's graduate real estate program. "I love the tactile and creative nature of the business, as well as the human element; it's not just trading commercial paper or securities over a desk."

After spending a year in NYC at Columbia, Fred returned to DC as the market began to tumble in 2008 and found a position on the acquisitions side with Bernstein Management, which had just raised a fund to capitalize on the ongoing downturn. He got experience with big deals quickly, as the first deal he worked on with Bernstein was a JV with Forest City on a 1,300-unit residential portfolio in the DC region.

That deal also sharpened Fred's skills for complicated deals, as it involved a partnership, a massive number of units, and other wrinkles like the assumption of bond financing. "It was trial by fire," he says, but it gave him some serious deal chops he'd need again soon, as Bernstein went about acquiring the West End Residences next to the Park Hyatt hotel, a complicated deal involving DC's lengthy TOPA process.

These days, Fred's helping Bernstein look for existing properties and development sites in walkable areas. Focusing on multifamily and office opportunities, the firm doesn't require Metro to buy in; rather, it seeks spots with lots of walkable amenities. "We feel like we're getting a decent discount to a similar property in a Metro-oriented, core location" Fred adds.

Last year, the firm formed a $250M partnership with Baltimore's Chesapeake Realty Partners to build over 1,200 units in the Mid-Atlantic. Locally, the firms are already under construction on projects on Wisconsin Ave in DC, Silver Spring, and one near Fort Belvoir; projects in Baltimore, Columbia, and Towson are also in the works.

Though Bernstein has a huge portfolio, it's actually a relatively small company at the corporate level, which is why you can often find Fred working in several different areas. "My day changes all the time," he says, noting he's had a hand in acquisitions, asset management, and development, among other duties.

Outside the office, Fred and his wife (who's a pediatric resident at Georgetown University Hospital) are busy raising their two children: a 5-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl. The fam was able to sneak away for 10 days in Maine this summer, though Fred says most of his free time revolves around the kids, a role he's happy to assume.

Fred is part of Bisnow's Ascent community of up-and-coming leaders in commercial real estate. For more info on Ascent, click here.