VLK Recognized for Business Achievements and Corporate Culture in 2021

(Fort Worth, Texas) – VLK Architects continues to earn numerous acknowledgments for its success in the A/E/C industry and the greater business community. VLK’s honors achieved new heights of recognition for its performance, growth, and company culture during an incredibly challenging 2021.

Among the accolades for growth and performance, VLK was once again recognized for the strength of its company culture and as a great place to work. This year the firm was among the 2021 AIA Houston Emerging Professionals Friendly Firm Award, the Zweig Group’s Best Firms to Work For, and Fort Worth Inc.’s Best Companies to Work For. These awards would not have been possible without the support of our exceptional clients.

While the 2021 rebound brought a considerably more optimistic business climate and an economy in fast recovery, the lingering effects of the global pandemic continue to profoundly impact the A/E/C industry.

“The lessons we learned from the pandemic have made us an even stronger firm,” said Sloan Harris, CEO | Partner of VLK Architects. “Our clients usually don’t have the luxury of flexibility regarding the completion of their buildings. It’s our mission to develop feasible solutions to keep these projects on schedule and within budget despite the industry-wide challenges.”

The whiplash of supply and demand over the last 18 months has resulted in major disruptions in the supply chain for construction materials, resulting in shortages and severe price spikes of critical materials like steel and wood. The construction industry further suffered from a shortage of skilled workers and high unemployment rates, contributing to the struggle to meet scheduling requirements during construction. Finally, extreme weather events like the frigid arctic blast in February and Hurricane Ida in September caused even more interruptions to construction progress.

“Tapping an extensive network of engineering, materials, and construction partners, VLK established systems of new protocols to identify materials alternatives and time-saving approaches,” Managing Partner Todd Lien explained. “These issues became opportunities to demonstrate our agility and resilience as a solutions resource for our clients. It also underscored the value of bringing experts together to collaborate for the ultimate good of our industry.”

River City Bank Expands CRE Lending to Texas and Several Western States with Hire of Curtis Brunton

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Sep. 15, 2021 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — River City Bank announces the addition of Curtis Brunton as Senior Vice President, Business Development Officer. Brunton, who is based in Austin, TX, will be responsible for developing new business, with a focus on originating commercial real estate (CRE) loans throughout Texas and specific states in the western U.S. He brings more than 22 years of experience in loan origination and new business development, having most recently opened the San Francisco office for Morgan Stanley’s commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) group in 2017.

“Our team at River City Bank has experienced tremendous success in recent years,” said Dan Franklin, Director of Commercial Real Estate for River City Bank. “Now that we have begun to expand into new markets in Texas and other western states, we are excited to welcome a proven performer like Curtis to our team. We look forward to his business development efforts in growing markets such as Austin, which will serve as his home base.”

TWEET THIS: People on the Move: @RiverCityBank expands CRE lending in #Texas with the announcement of Curtis Brunton as SVP, Business Development Officer based in Austin. He will oversee new business development and CRE lending in Texas and other western U.S. states. #commercialbanking Click to read more at www.wfmz.com.

Walker & Dunlop, Ivanhoe Cambridge Form Equity Partnership

The joint venture has made its first two investments in Texas and Tennessee.

Walker & Dunlop Investment Partners and Ivanhoé Cambridge, which formed a joint venture to make preferred equity investments in multifamily, student housing and manufactured housing properties, have made their first two investments totaling nearly $10 million in Texas and Tennessee.

Executives at both firms said they would be focusing primarily on properties in the top 25 MSAs, particularly in the Southeast, South and Southwest. The first transaction was an approximately $4 million preferred equity investment into a joint venture with Pegasus Real Estate to acquire Collection at Overlook, now rebranded as Cornerstone at Overlook, in San Antonio, Texas.

The 240-unit multifamily property was constructed in the 1980s and is located near a medical center in the city’s northwest section. The second transaction was a $5.6 million preferred equity investment into a joint venture with Valor Residential to acquire Overlook at Farragut, a recently delivered 267-unit multifamily property in the Farragut submarket of Knoxville, Tenn. Click to read more at www.multihousingnews.com.

How Texas CRE Brokers Use Tech to Act Fast and Up Their Game

Barry Moore uses technology, including real estate information services, so seamlessly in his role as a commercial broker that usually he isn’t even conscious of it. It’s just part of how he operates.

He lives on his phone and laptop. When he’s driving around he can pull over and pull up LoopNet, for example, to look up a property and see what else nearby may be available for sale or lease, and at what cost.

The difference technology makes is equally apparent when he’s at his desk. “Now I can put a survey together for a client or prospect in 15 minutes and show them what’s available,” says Moore, a CCIM and SIOR member who is a founding partner of Stafford Barrett, a commercial real estate brokerage firm in College Station. “Technology has become so embedded in how we work we take it for granted.”

Stafford and his colleagues use Apto real estate database software to store and maintain information on contacts, properties, owners, investors and tenants. All told, his firm’s database includes over 20,000 contacts and information on 70% of the properties in their core market in central Texas.

Producers log their interactions with contacts and share the information firm-wide so no one’s in the dark, no information is lost, and to reduce duplication of effort among team members. The property information maintained in their central database is particularly important because the firm operates in a market area that’s not covered granularly by national real estate data services.

Stafford Barrett uses technology to market properties more aggressively, too. They list availabilities on national marketplaces including Crexi and LoopNet, and on social media including Facebook and Twitter to boost local buzz and reinforce company branding. Crexi has been a big help sourcing buyers, Moore says, explaining that the marketplace provides detailed information on people who view and express interest in specific properties, so his team can reach right out to them to follow up.

Sarah LanCarte, founder of LanCarte Commercial based in Fort Worth, also relies on technology to boost property marketing. She cites Crexi and LoopNet, as well as CCIM’s Site To Do Business, as helpful tools. “The broader exposure for listings clearly expands the audience for our clients’ available properties. It would be impossible to knock on that many doors,” she says. “With property marketing, the results of technology are tangible, measurable and often immediate.”

LanCarte Commercial provides investment sales, tenant representation and property management services in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. LanCarte is a CCIM and SIOR member.

Of technology, she adds, “We’re only scratching the surface of what technology can do for us. Ideally, technology would match up every seller with a perfect buyer, and every available space with a perfect tenant.”

Data “Worth its Weight in Gold”

Robert McGee in Houston is trying to use technology to do exactly that: Capture every shred of available data on owners, investors and tenants so that he can mine the data more quickly and easily to identify likely buyers and tenants for his client properties.

“Data and information are big keys to broker and brokerage house success,” he says. “How you hold and track that data is a huge part of it.”

McGee, an SIOR member, is principal of Lee & Associates in Houston, where he specializes in industrial, land and investment sales. His firm uses real estate-specific customer relationship management software to track contacts, prospective clients and properties. “Unpack the data you are storing in a meaningful way … it’s worth its weight in gold,” McGee says. The alternative, he adds, is spending hours or days to chase vital information, or using six or eight different spreadsheets to track things, which is time-consuming and creates a lot of repetitive work.

Within two years, he expects his firm’s regional database will include hundreds of thousands of contacts, with visibility into every property record and prospect. So he’ll be able to see on a map, for example, how many Prologis buildings in the market have vacancy, or all the 50,000+ square foot lease expirations coming up in the next six months.

Turning deal records into comps

Commercial real estate pros aren’t just using specialized technology to maintain and crunch data. They’re also using it to manage deals.

Melissa Clark, head of marketing operations for Davis Commercial, a boutique commercial real estate brokerage firm in Houston, says her firm uses Apto real estate software to track and manage sale and lease deals, and then convert deal records into comps after they’ve closed.

“Tracking deals is the number-one reason we got the software,” she says. “We typically have 60 to 70 deals at one time, so tracking is challenging but incredibly important. We use Apto daily to manage deals from the minute we get a listing … through feasibility and due diligence … tracking dates and other milestones, until they’re done.”

“Then the deal records get turned into comps that we own, which is especially important in a nondisclosure state like Texas, where information can be hard to get and at a premium. We can search our comps database, which gets more robust every day. As team members see the value of the aggregated information, they want to use the system more. It’s amazing.”

Indeed, using technology is a virtuous cycle, because the benefits become more apparent the more it’s used, brokers say. Technology is not an end in and of itself, however. The payoff for clients is that they can identify opportunities sooner, get their deals done faster, and make pricing decisions that are more informed.

“Technology makes us brokers more valuable to clients,” Moore says. “We help them get better and faster results, and make sense of all the market intelligence now available at our fingertips.”

Steve Humphreys is a former research analyst for JLL and investment sales analyst for CBRE. Today he is a Hawaii-based writer and analyst studying how the commercial real estate industry is recovering from the impacts of COVID-19 and the effects it will have on the future of the workplace in America.

Vaccines, Return to In-Person Learning Providing Big Boost to Student Housing Market

Last year was a strange one for colleges, with many universities going fully remote as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country. This year isn’t exactly normal, either. But most universities have returned to in-person classes as vaccines continue to be rolled out across the country. This means that students are again on the hunt for housing on and around campus.

It’s little surprise, then, that the demand for new student housing is on the rise and that this commercial sector is again attracting attention from investors. And the new student housing that is being built today? It tends to be higher-end, packed with amenities and located in walkable neighborhoods.

Chris Epp, managing director with Walker & Dunlop in Austin, Texas, specializes in student housing. He predicts that the last half of 2021 and the beginning of next year will be busy ones in this commercial sector, with developers boosting the supply of student housing around campuses across the country.

Midwest Real Estate News recently spoke to Epp about the state of student housing during the pandemic. Here is some of what he had to say.

Now that students are returning to campus, what type of housing are they looking for?
Chris Epp: Many college students are opting to live off-campus in higher-end private student housing. They are looking for all the amenities and space that might provide peace-of-mind for their parents who are footing the bill. And this trend is likely to continue. Vaccines were a game-changer for colleges and universities. With a widespread return to in-person classes, student housing experts are seeing investors and developers flocking to Class-A student-housing properties.

The trend toward higher-end student housing had started before the pandemic, right?
Epp: I segment student housing in two groups: pre-2010 and after 2010. Pre-2010 was like the Animal House days. It was John Belushi in front of a frat house with the gang. That was student housing as people used to know it. No one wanted to invest in it. Kids tore the places apart. They featured nine-month leases. It wasn’t attractive to investors.

But we started to see the modernization of student housing after 2010. First, you saw professional management come in. Then you saw the development of more modern buildings. The managers knew what the kids were looking for. They wanted to be close to campus. But they also wanted their own bathrooms. They didn’t want to share sinks and toilets with other students in the building. The owners started enacting joint leases. If everyone is on the lease and one student parties too hard and fails out of college, the rest of the roommates don’t have to pick up that students’ rent. The parents of the student who flunked out do. That changed everything. It allowed kids to say, ‘Yes. I am paying a lot to live here. But if one of my roommates flakes out, I’m still good.’

From 2010 to today, it’s been a rocketship screeching toward the moon in terms of sophistication of product and management. Today, the product is a better fit in Las Vegas on the strip than what you used to see in Tempe next to Arizona State University.

Is there a lot competition then for renters in the student housing space?
Epp: Kids during the past 10 to 12 years have gotten used to the fact that there are new properties delivered every year. The amenities race has ratcheted up in an extreme way. And with some oversupply in some of these markets, rents have not skyrocketed as much as you’d think. Kids are good at shopping the newest and nicest properties. And they can afford them.

What amenities are important to college students today?
Epp: It used to be things like golf simulators, lazy rivers and tanning beds. Those amenities always had that ‘wow’ factor. Students would come in and say, ‘This place has a golf simulator! I’ll use that every day.’ The reality, though, was that you’d use it when you were about to sign the lease and never go back. Folks in the development world realize that those amenities have gone out of fashion. But what will never go out of fashion is location. I’d prioritize the amenity of having the right location over the amenity of having an awesome pool. Location is number one today. That’s the main driver. I’ll also say, that by their junior years, many students no longer want to live with four people in a room. So rooms with smaller bed counts are an amenity, too.

What makes for that ideal location?
Epp: If you can find a way to be between the bars and classes, you have found the bullseye. There are a lot of developers who have done this. Their buildings are close to entertainment and night life, the cultural district. Then, if they are also close to where students have their classes, that makes it an ideal location. If you can be in a pedestrian-friendly area at the same time, that’s perfect.

How important is the qualify of student housing options for colleges that are trying to recruit students?
Epp: In big, state-supported school systems, their mandate and mission is to educate kids. Outside of that, housing, feeding, clothing, those aren’t automatic mandates. They let housing fall to outside, third-party folks such as developers. The university is there to educate, not to worry about housing.

The other segment is the private world, the SMUs and the Baylors, the Notre Dames. The mandates there are to educate, house, feed and clothe students. These schools are very entrepreneurial. They are very business minded. They see a revenue stream in providing high-quality housing, so they attack that goal of providing housing.

One of the big trends in this second segment of colleges is the P3 model, public-private partnerships. You might be a university that needs to show parents that you are offering kids quality housing. But you might not have any desire to run and operate that housing. So you work with a private developer that builds it and maybe manages it. Universities can then avoid the risks associated with housing. The people building the properties have the benefit of guaranteed renters. That takes the scariness of supply-and-demand metrics off the table.

What challenges has the student housing end of the business faced during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Epp: We have been subject to the same supply-and-demand issues for lumber, steel and workers as everyone else. We were also acutely subject to the challenge of underwriting to perfection. In student housing, the Achilles heel has always been an over supply in big markets. You’d always have two or three products being developed in places like Austin or at Florida State. And really, those markets didn’t need that much new product. Some of these markets had real occupancy issues. During the pandemic, with kids questioning whether to go to school and with international enrollments dropping, a lot of equity and debt folks said that they needed to see the perfect scenario or they wouldn’t provide funding for student housing. For 18 months there, if you were within that perfect bullseye, you were good to go. But if there was just one papercut on the deal, it was pencils down. Lenders wouldn’t do it.

That stinks for some developers. But for the overall health of the student housing space, it’s been a good thing. It slowed development. Development in this space is on a more realistic pace now. In large part, college enrollments are back to more normal levels now. Now student housing faces the normal headwinds that other sectors face.

Are there any new trends that you are seeing in student housing today?
Epp: To me, it’s more about private developers venturing into newer markets. For instance, I’m seeing a lot of developers breaking into the schools in the Mountain West area. There are a lot of big schools in the Mountain West that need new housing. That is exciting. There’s been a lot of over-development in some of the markets in the SEC. Developers are looking to expand into new regions.

Houston Office | Monthly Market Snapshot | Sept 2021

CONSTRUCTION
Year-over-year, as of August 2021, 4.4 million sq. ft. of office space was under construction in the Houston metro. The majority of the projects delivering this year were started pre-Covid-19, in a much different office environment where remote work wasn’t uncommon, but not to the level of saturation it is today because of the pandemic.

VACANCY
The vacancy rate at 25.1% is expected to rise as supply continues to deliver in an atmosphere where leasing activity hasn’t come back to pre-pandemic levels. Overall office net absorption has remained negative, expanding further into the red at 3.4 million sq. ft. so far this year.

LEASING
Even with tenant commitments in place from preleasing efforts, a lot of space will hit the market in the next 12 to 24 months. Recent market activity and deal announcements have been encouraging; however, the spread of the Covid-19 Delta variant has led many companies to reconsider their office re-openings, and the continued future uncertainty could severely hamper any recent gains. We are literally living in a “wait-and-see” environment, making it extremely difficult to predict near-term or long-term trends. Click to read more at www.naipartners.com.