Illinois REALTOR® Magazine  | October 2013
By Theresa Grimaldi Olsen
Carving a niche in commercial real estate requires experience and education, says Lori Cox, a certified real estate trainer in Illinois.
“Commercial brokerage is a niche within the real estate marketplace and requires specialized knowledge, education and training,” Cox says. “You really need a managing broker or mentor who will take you under their wing.”
Residential and commercial brokers obtain the same real estate license in Illinois. However, the real estate protocol of doing commercial business is very different, Cox says.
Brian Dolan of Dolan & Murphy Real Estate in Aurora, says, “Extensive education” is required. Dolan is on the board of directors of the Northern Illinois Commercial Association of REALTORS®. He is a Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM).
Dolan’s father began teaching him the business at the age of 21. He has worked in the family’s boutique firm for 36 years.
Dolan’s brothers, nephew and two children also work in the firm. They all started by researching land – what is available and what has sold, he says: “Everything ties to land. You learn the territory and then all the other stuff starts to develop.”
Dolan remembers the first time he was able to buy a site and pick a contractor to build on it. It was his first double transaction – sell and build to suit. “That one was pretty exciting,” Dolan says. “You really need to understand what you are best at and then learn that part of the business.”
As Aurora began to explode with development, Dolan found many more of those exciting transactions. Dolan’s firm, with 10 brokers who work in a 10- to 15-mile radius of Aurora, has been an integral part of the growth. “When I started, there were 60,000 to 70,000 people in Aurora,” Dolan says. “Now there are a couple of hundred thousand.”
The four interchanges off I-88 in Aurora changed the dynamics of the area, he says: “The commercial investments around the interchanges created a lot of opportunity.”
Dolan & Murphy was involved in developing 500 acres at the Farnsworth Interchange that included a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District and 2 million square feet of industrial space including an outlet mall.
Those were the boom years. Since the downturn in the economy, there have been far fewer developments, but plenty of demand for property management, Dolan says.
“It is starting to thaw out a little bit,” he says. Like Dolan, Angela Aeschliman, Chief Operating Officer of daily property operations and tenant relationships for Watermark Property Management in Chicago, says the evolution of your interests and experience will naturally lead to a niche.
“The problem is many people don’t see the value of capitalizing on it,” Aeschliman says. “It can mean real returns financially and in long-term business growth.”
Aeschliman, who became licensed in 1993, discovered her niche when she became responsible for a 400-unit residential property – hiring and training the staff – and all the financial aspects: budgeting, forecasting and financial planning.
“I began thinking outside the box on how I could generate traffic to the site and help leasing close more prospects, but most interesting to me was how I could improve the property, create value, and receive a return for that increased value in operational dollars.”
Extensive research was required, she says. While working in a local real estate office on Sundays, she read every book the managing broker had.
The next step was more education. She investigated the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) and the Certified Property Manager (CPM) designation. “While taking those courses, the opportunity and possibilities of commercial property management were presented to me,” she says.
That’s when she made the switch from residential to commercial and defined her niche. Aeschliman’s niche and mission is clear now, she says:
“Helping owners, investors, partners and peers realize the full potential of an asset or company property while minimizing risk.”
Theresa Grimaldi Olsen is a free-lance writer based in Springfield. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.