Meet The 26-Year-Old Broker Bursting Onto D.C.'s Investment Sales Scene
A year ago, Marcus & Millichap investment sales broker Cameron Webb was living in his parents' basement, three years after graduating from the University of Virginia with a psychology degree. Now, he is nearing $100M in deals and close to being named a vice president at the national firm.
Sitting in his 11th floor office overlooking downtown Bethesda, with awards lining the windowsill and the regional manager's office next door, Webb seems more like a seasoned veteran than a young upstart.
The 26-year-old Montgomery County native runs a seven-member team, the Webb Group, which focuses on brokering the sale of apartment buildings and multifamily development sites. Webb's team closed 24 deals for a total of roughly $40M in 2016, its inaugural year, beating out Marcus & Millichap's three more senior multifamily sales teams in the D.C. region.
“We did really well," Webb said. "We’re still on top in 2017 and doing the same thing. I had a target on my back the whole time this year because people were like ‘is this kid a fluke? Is he real or not?' And I’m doing it again.”
In his brief career, Webb has closed a total of 43 deals for a total of $96M. He was recognized as one of Marcus & Millichap's top national brokers, and the firm flew him to Hawaii to receive its National Achievement Award.
Webb has not always known he wanted to broker commercial real estate deals, but he has always been a salesman at heart.
As far back as middle school, Webb remembers buying trendy winter hats for $1 at a flea market and selling them around his school.
The summer after graduating from St. John's College High School in D.C., Webb began selling knives for Vector Marketing. He said he made $10K in his first 30 days and ended up managing the Prince George's County branch, training 60 sales people, at 18 years old.
In college, he came up with an idea for a laptop application that uses pictures taken from the webcam to tailor custom-fitted clothes. After pitching the idea, he said he got a $6M offer from a venture capital firm, contingent on bringing in a functional prototype, but he could never get the software to work quite right. The deal fell through, but Webb said it was a valuable experience in building his confidence.
"I got the feeling of, 'Hey, I can make it with whatever I’m doing,'" he said.
Webb always wanted to go into business and had entered UVA with the intention of transferring into the business school, but his grades were not high enough, so he got his degree in psychology instead. He said the subject helped him understand people and how they interact, a valuable skill for a broker.
As he was preparing to graduate, Webb was interning for a financial adviser at UBS and asked his superior for career advice. The adviser said if he could go back in time, he would have gone into commercial real estate brokerage. Webb liked the idea and took the initiative to cold-call sales managers at all of D.C.'s commercial real estate firms and ask to meet for coffee. One of the first takers was Marcus & Millichap, who liked his initiative and skipped the coffee to bring him right in for an interview. The firm extended him an offer to take part in its mentorship program for young brokers. He began in July 2013.
"I had no idea about the industry," Webb said. "None of my family or friends were in commercial real estate. It just happened."
Starting out in the industry can be tough for young brokers. Webb said the mentorship program he entered paid a $2K monthly stipend, before tax. (D.C's median one-bedroom rent this month is $2,210.) That was still more than many entry-level brokers earn, including some at his own firm, who are paid entirely on commission.
"It definitely takes a lot to get up and running at a lot of these companies, even here," Webb said. "You either do it or you don't. It's a really sink-or-swim type of job."
Webb lived with his parents in Montgomery County to save money. He said it "sucked" not having the money to socialize with his friends, but it allowed him to focus on his work. He said he worked more than 70 hours a week and did not take a day off during his first year at the company.
Walking into meetings filled with gray-haired veterans as a 23-year-old broker was intimidating, Webb said, but he has learned how to maintain confidence.
"I still feel intimidated sometimes in meetings," Webb said. "It’s just being able to be in that meeting and know you’re there for a reason. Hey, I can hang. I’m supposed to be sitting at this table. I understand the business."
The challenges he faced were not just related to his youth. As an African-American broker in an overwhelmingly white industry, Webb said he has faced discrimination from prospective clients.
"Even today, I have some meetings with certain people that aren’t as open to having a black guy represent them," Webb said. "I’ve had those meetings, but that’s OK. It is what it is and you can work with whoever you want to work with. I can't do anything about that."
Webb began working on the team of Stacey Milam, a senior vice president at the firm. He said Milam was a valuable mentor, but he soon decided to spin off and start his own group. After he reached the sales benchmark to become a senior associate last year, his team was officially named the Webb Group.
The first deal Webb closed was for a four-unit property at 243 Florida Ave. NW. He said the deal set a price-per-unit record for the Shaw neighborhood at the time.
"They didn’t think I was going to be able to hit the number that I did,” Webb said. “It was an easy deal looking back at it. There weren’t many problems that came up.”
As Webb's team has executed more and more property sales, he said the real measure of his success comes from looking at the comparative prices. By using CoStar to compare a deal with others in the neighborhood's past, Marcus & Millichap determined a significant number of Webb's deals set neighborhood records for price-per-square foot or price-per-unit.
"I feel like I’ve made my name in this business by selling the highest comps," Webb said. "It’s all over the city ... a third of the deals that we’re selling are all record-breaking transactions."
The largest deal Webb has closed came this February. He negotiated the $9.3M sale of the 103-unit Hilltop apartments in Northeast D.C.'s Deanwood neighborhood. Webb said he is currently working on a deal that could more than double that price, and he hopes to close it before the end of 2017.
Webb expects to reach his company's threshold to reach vice president this month and have the official announcement made by early fall. At 26, he would likely be the youngest vice president in D.C. brokerage. Webb said his key to success has been his ability to connect with people and earn his clients' trust.
"I might tell them sometimes, 'No, I don’t think it’s right that you sell,' or something that contradicts me making money," Webb said. "It definitely builds trust and I think they see me in a different light than your random broker you deal with. A lot of my clients' kids call me 'Uncle Cam'; it’s taking that relationship to another level."
Marcus & Millichap D.C. regional manager Bryn Merrey said Webb still meets with him weekly to seek advice and discuss deals, and he will often see the young broker in the office past 8 p.m. and on the weekends.
“One of the ways that he stands out is he is a learner, so he goes out of his way to learn and to speak with other very successful agents,” Merrey said. “In addition to his learning he works extremely hard … The clients he has worked with have been very happy with him so they’ve become loyal clients, and that’s led to quite a bit of repeat business.”
Even with the success he has had, Webb said he still feels the pressure of working in an industry where income is made on commission and the deals can stop coming at any time.
"I’m performing at these high levels now, no year is guaranteed though," Webb said. "Next year, everything could fall apart and it could be super dry. I don’t think like that, but it’s a reality."
Webb said goodbye to his parents' basement for good last year when he moved into an apartment on 14th Street. He had lived in a Columbia Heights group house the prior year but had to move back home after his roommates moved away and he could not cover the rent. He is now looking to buy a home, potentially on the developing Rhode Island Avenue corridor.
He said his primary goal in saving money has been to help his parents retire. He plans to soon begin making personal real estate investments on the side to create passive income that he can share with his parents. He said he could see himself fully transitioning to the investment side at some point, but he expects to be in brokerage for another decade at least.
"I love what I do, I’m probably going to be doing it for a little while, but I’m not going to be doing it forever," Webb said. "At a certain point, I might want to start buying deals. I show clients how to make money in this business, why not make it myself?"