An International Women’s Day Reflection

A cultural shift is in the air, and women are on the front line. From the first female presidential candidate to the #metoo movement and more, women are advancing new agendas, causes and campaigns, and doing it in the glare of primetime. The result is a rapid re-balancing of the gender equality scales.

Meanwhile, it’s no secret: Commercial Real Estate (CRE)–on both the investor and sponsorship sides–is still a male-dominated world. The personal experience and unique perspective of three women interviewed by CrowdStreet help to illustrate how each of them is breaking the mold to succeed in CRE, and how technology has enabled them to play in the boy’s club and win. Read on to learn their secrets for success and vision for the next wave of women in the industry.

Ziva Elazar – CRE Investor

“Educate yourself. Find a mentor. Go slowly… but start. The rewards for that first step can be huge.”

“If you’d have told me five years ago I’d be investing in commercial real estate, I’d have said, ‘No way,’ said Elazar.

Yet, today, CRE investment seems like a natural path for this certified life coach who specializes in personal finance. “It’s important to me to help women take more control and achieve financial independence. It’s such a big part of our lives.”

A former technology executive, her first foray into real estate investment was on the residential side, an opportunity she came into “accidentally” via a friend. As Elazar stated, “I took a chance, and it worked out. And I got to see the inner workings of the deal. It made me ask, ‘What else can I do in real estate?’. That prompted me to go online to find other options.”

From there, she entered the emerging world of crowdsourced commercial real estate investing, which opened windows of opportunity not available previously.

In the past, to dip a toe into CRE, Elazar commented, “You had to have lots of money and put it into one deal. The opportunities were local, and it was also complex to manage the process. Now, all the sudden here comes online investing. You can invest all over the country, and it’s equal opportunity for everyone.”

To-date, Elazar has invested in commercial real estate via various online platforms, including five deals with CrowdStreet.

“Kudos to Ian (Formigle, VP, Investments at CrowdStreet). He took the time to speak with me and answer my questions. That knowledge gave me the confidence to go for the first deal. The resources provided by CrowdStreet, like the e-book, the blog articles, and the information on the Inventor Marketplace gave me the education I needed to move forward.”

Elazar’s Formula for Success:

“First, it’s a simple matter of knowledge. How do you make that judgment call? To do that, you need to do the homework.”

She also notes that mentorship is key. “Mentorship is so successful in most any area. Women may be interested in the CRE path, but may not go there without someone to guide them through the process.”

She adds, however, that barrier to entry into CRE investment is not unique to women.

“Men are hesitant, too,” she said. “A male friend of mine making his first online CRE investment shared that he was so scared to push the ‘submit’ button. It’s the same experience for all of us entering the market.”

“Crowdfunding is a relatively young area of investment. So, it’s not so much, ‘Can women do it?’ as it is an awareness that the opportunity even exists.”

In other words, she says, there’s still work to do.

“Where are all the women? If they’re not investing, they are missing out.”

Seema Jain – CRE Investor

“Women making CRE investments is like men doing yoga. Certain roles can be perceived as traditionally male or female. But it’s not that women lack the skills or talent to become engaged. It’s a wide-open door.”
Jain, a hospitality industry professional, came into her current career path–and her engagement in real estate investment–by way of the family trade. Her parents owned a handful of hotel properties when she was younger, and as they aged, she saw first-hand the value of real estate as an intrinsic part of a diverse investment portfolio.

Yet, it wasn’t until later in life when, evaluating her current portfolio in the context of a volatile stock market and other factors, she decided it was time to make the leap. And from there, happenstance took over.

“I have a few friends, all of them male and retired at 50. And now, all they’re doing is real estate. So, I thought ‘Why not me?’ and started learning.”

Gaining knowledge about real estate investing, on both the residential and commercial side, became a personal passion. “I spent every evening and weekends online just researching the industry,” she says.

But it was on the recommendation of one of her investor friends that she explored CrowdStreet.

“I was super impressed,” said Jain. “It was such a user-friendly site, and so easy to navigate the offers. It’s kind of like a Target store; you quickly understand how everything is laid out.”

When she sent CrowdStreet CEO Tore Steen a note congratulating him on the company’s efforts and mentioning she’d be visiting CrowdStreet’s hometown of Portland, OR, he invited her to come into the office and meet the team.

“CrowdStreet, as a company, makes everyone feel welcome. They make it easy for people new to this industry–especially women–to ask questions, get connected and feel engaged. And the technology itself completely levels the playing field.”

Jains’s Formula for Success:

An undergraduate degree in Finance and a graduate degree in Marketing helped Jain grasp the complex nature of CRE. “In my first job, I was buried in pro formas,” she quipped.

Yet, she points to her relationships with fellow investors as the factor that made all the difference.

“What is an equity multiplier? I didn’t know when I first became interested in investing, but fortunately, my friends were willing to teach me. I’m not shy. I ask as many questions as I can to keep learning. That way, if a friend is doing a deal that piques my interest, I might do it, too… but not because I was told to. I decide once I’ve evaluated and understood the opportunity myself.”

Today, Jain herself is turning people onto CrowdStreet – and her new passion is to help women come together around CRE.

“Women need to see more of themselves in this industry. Female investors need to find ways to come together to support each other and share knowledge. It’s a movement that’s already taking shape, and I’m confident it will continue to gain momentum.”

Karlin Conklin – CRE Sponsor

“Life is one big competition. And the fact is, as a woman in CRE, you can compete. Technology and the access to knowledge create that parity.”

Anyone would be hard-put to match the industry credentials possessed by Karlin Conklin of Investors Management Group. As Executive Vice President, Private Equity, as well as Principal, Managing Director for IMG Northwest, Conklin has more than 18 years of experience in multi-family real estate and has been a driving force behind transactional volume exceeding $1.2 billion.

She entered the world of real estate after a 90-day period of reflection to evaluate her next career move following years in Operations. As a result, Conklin entered CRE as a Broker.

When asked if she felt being a woman in the CRE field was a hindrance at that time, she stated the opposite.

“There could have been ten men calling on the same opportunity as I was,” said Conklin. “Being a woman totally set me apart.”

In general, she feels the needs of women in entering CRE world are not different than that of men.

“First, if you look at the residential side of the industry, women are dominate. From brokerage to escrow, etc., it’s predominantly women. So, CRE is a logical next step.”

She also sees women breaking down their perceived barriers to entering the highest levels of business and finance, overall.

“More women are getting their MBAs. They’re moving forward without picturing a glass ceiling over their heads.”

Related to CRE, she stated, “Commercial real estate is where the big money is. Therefore, it’s not easy. It’s analytical; it’s competitive and even ruthless at times. It’s also fun and exceedingly beneficial.”

Conklin’s Formula for Success:

“Real estate is the widget to create wealth… in fact, it’s the best way to create wealth. It’s an equal opportunity for women, and a platform like CrowdStreet is phenomenal in helping them take their first steps. It provides the investor a massive amount of information; it’s very transparent. You can evaluate a market, a property, trends, all online, over a weekend. It’s opened up the entire market for everyone.”

In addition to the technology, Conklin stresses that to enter CRE, especially on the sponsorship side, it’s all about gaining knowledge and credibility.

“My daughter was considering a graduate degree in Communications, and I said, ‘Get your MBA. Invest in the credentials that will ensure you’re taken seriously.’”

She added, “Also, given the nature of the industry, you need the self-confidence to take some licks, then pick yourself up. You are competing hard every day to acquire properties and investment dollars. You have to be strong, do great work, and always move forward.”

In closing, Conklin shared this inspiration: Women have an incredible ability to be flexible and creative and to reinvent ourselves over time. No one has a clue how much more power women will assume in the next 3 – 5 years. And this industry will play a big role.”

The Time is Now

As these three dynamic industry success stories illuminate, the road forward for women in CRE is clear:

  • Get smart. Get online. Attend events and seminars. And find existing industry veterans who are happy to share their wisdom, then draft off their experience.
  • Leverage technology. Online investment platforms provide all the means imaginable not only to inform yourself about potential deals but to participate in initial offerings at an accessible price point to determine if CRE investing is for you.
  • Charge boldly forward. Don’t let fear or uncertainty keep you from exploring one of the most empowering, life-changing avenues to wealth building, as well as personal and/or career satisfaction.

The revolution is in motion. And CrowdStreet is dedicated to being on the front line. We will continue to roll out new initiatives to bring women, and other groups traditionally underrepresented in CRE, to the table.

Meanwhile, we strive to provide the industry’s leading resources and knowledge to anyone with interest in exploring the world of CRE. We invite you to reach out today.