NYU REIT Panelists Discuss Tech, Trends and Hard Truths

Industry leaders shared insights into strategy and investment prospects at the Schack Institute’s annual event.

Center stage at the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate’s 27th annual REIT Symposium. Image by Gabriel Frank

The overall sentiment at NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate’s 27th annual REIT Symposium was a mix of cautious optimism and realism about the future, particularly given the current investment landscape and broader economic considerations.

Encompassing these sentiments was the institution’s announcement of the formation of a student-run REIT Investment Fund, which will allow members to actively participate in investment management practices and skills across the industry. Funding for the program is originating from the symposium’s sponsors, which include Blackstone, Medical Properties Trust and Morgan Stanley Real Estate Investments.

Within the program, students will be given the opportunity to utilize their skills in industry and sector-specific security data analysis and portfolio management, as well as general accounting and presentation. Roles within the Fund, from president, to traders, to sector strategists and portfolio managers will be given to students.

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“If you’re a student, it’s easy to talk about interest rates and property classes, and to show that on a spreadsheet, but this gives students the opportunity to do something that they will not (otherwise) do for a decade or so,” according to Scott Robinson, a Clinical Associate Professor of Finance and the Fund’s faculty advisor. In attesting to the real-world experience that students will get within the program, Robinson also spoke of the degree of realism and pragmatic decision-making skills that it will provide, something echoed by the overall sentiments of the Symposium itself. “At a conference, you can listen to the C-suite saying everything is going great, but I can look at all the data I want, and it’s just talk. The value is in the act of making the decisions,” Robinson told Multi-Housing News.

Silver linings

Robin Panovka and Nadeem Meghji. Image by Gabriel Frank

Many of the panel discussions at the Symposium were centered around playing to the strengths that a given investor may have within the market. Speaking on the heels of the firm’s close of its $30 billion Real Estate Opportunities X Fund, Nadeem Meghji, a senior managing director at Blackstone and head of the firm’s Real Estate Americas division, attested to the company’s “thematic” approach to investing, one that recognizes the inherently different fundamentals and predictions for each asset class. “It’s not about where we invest, but how we invest,” Meghji said.

Despite the lending volatility, Meghji spoke to the firm’s expanding multifamily sales and investment volumes amid demographic change. “We are selling apartments in places like the Sun Belt with sub 5 percent (cap rates) with over 200 bidders.” Ultimately, the value comes from where one decides to look.

A discussion between Marc Norman and Sam Zell. Image by Gabriel Frank

Speaking to the value of knowing where to look was Sam Zell, founder & chairman of Equity Group Investments. In a luncheon discussing his business strategies that was hosted by Marc Norman, an associate dean and chair in real estate development & investment, Zell identified the current time and near future, on the brink of another anticipated interest rate hike, as one of opportunity and productive competition for nearly every non-bank entity. “In all situations, the cost of capital is relative, but it does not preclude the ability to succeed,” he said.

Robinson agreed with Zell’s assessment, and sees additional value in the very uncertainty itself. “We might have overestimated the cyclical nature of the market. Optimism is somewhat warranted,” he said.

Technological edges

Like the investment landscape, many panelists noted the increasingly technologically-oriented nature of the industry as one evolving by the day.

“There is a growing awareness that the line between what a tech company is and what a real estate company is getting blurred,” quipped Brendan Wallace, co-founder & managing partner at proptech venture capital firm Fifth Wall. From AI chatbots to EV charging stations, the demand has not stemmed from investors in proptech, but by demand on part of the operators and tenants themselves. “We don’t create the demand anymore; board rooms, regulators and the tenants themselves do,” he said.

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