Advice on Making the Jump from Residential to Commercial

Residential and commercial real estate are two completely different beasts, but it’s not impossible to transition so long as you know what rules apply in the commercial space.
Real estate agent showing a businessman a commercial office space

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A popular adage in the residential real estate industry is “the more you learn, the more you earn.” After speaking with three real estate practitioners from the CENTURY 21 system, it’s easy to see the same holds true for commercial sales as well. This should be good news for residential real estate professionals interested in making the leap to commercial sales.

Three key factors—the right designations, tenacity and mentorship—come together to foster a successful transition into the commercial space.

Start With the Right Certification

Designations in the residential space help set agents apart and show off their specialties. The reality in the residential space is that one can list a home without much in the way of specific designations. In the commercial space, however, designations are necessary and hold weight. Investors seek out agents with certain certifications.

“Despite it being a long and arduous process, my words of wisdom are to start working toward your CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member) designation,” said Heather Konopka, CCIM, vice president of CENTURY 21 Commercial Mike Bowman, Inc., in Grapevine, Texas. “The deals, the portfolio and getting into the trenches from day one is critical. The designation sets you apart, the experience and the education are instrumental, and clients will see that.”

Anecdotally, among commercial real estate agents and various corporations who will only do business with a CCIM practitioner, the designation is recognized as the most prestigious in the real estate industry. But even if you hold the CCIM, there are certain characteristics one must have to have a successful career serving commercial real estate clients.

Understand How the Commercial Space Works

“In a word, you have to be aggressive,” added Ken Kujawa, CCIM, Broker/Owner, CENTURY 21 Commercial Signature Team, Saginaw, Mich., “You have to be willing to go out and be seen in the community, look for opportunities, find potential clients and never stop building relationships. Even though they take a lot of time to build, it is worth the investment.”

Kujawa also noted that unlike the residential industry where data, research and listings are willingly shared, commercial practitioners conduct business much closer to the vest. “There’s still a ‘good old boys club,’ not from a gender perspective, per se, but in the way we operate,” he noted. “Most do not share details and they shy away from co-brokering deals. You have to be aggressive.”

Jigar “JR” Shah of CENTURY 21 Discovery in Fullerton, Calif., agrees with both Konopka and Kujawa, especially when working with corporate clientele. “At the end of the day, your knowledge and the persistence willingness to work with others is all that matters. For example, I sold one building to Amazon directly about a year ago, and by staying in touch with the upper management there, I was able to work with them again on a hybrid warehouse space deal.”

“I agree with Ken about the ‘good old boys’ network but things are improving provided you do what it takes to be successful,” Konopka said, noting the larger number of women in attendance at Innovating Commerce Serving Communities (ICSC)—formerly known as The International Council of Shopping Centers. “This could be a lifelong, beautiful career for a lot of people. We are knowledgeable, and we can be good mentors.”

Seek Out and Capitalize on Mentorship

Knowing how important mentorship is on the residential side of the business, Kujawa is working with the CENTURY 21 Residential Signature Team to ensure mentorship becomes more commonplace in commercial.

“With the shelf life of a commercial transaction a lot longer and a lot different than residential, agents must be able to hang on and sustain themselves until their business grows,” explained Kujawa. Mentorship is the best way to learn if you have that aggressiveness and desire to thrive as a practitioner.”

Kujawa added: “With residential, it’s important to always have to have a certain amount of money set aside, but on the commercial side that rainy-day fund needs to be a lot larger.”

Konopka, Kujawa and Shah agree that making the transition to commercial is likely to push many residential real estate agents outside of their comfort zones, but the reward could be very promising. And like residential, it’s important to get consistent business.

“History shows that nothing great happens in our comfort zone. We must expand how we learn and grow as individuals and as a society,” explained Konopka. “By doing something out of your norm, being bold and taking chances, you’ll develop the confidence needed to be successful in commercial real estate.”

As Konopka, Kujawa and Shah— three of the Century 21 System’s top producers—have shown if you’re thinking about a career in commercial real estate or looking to diversify your business, then start with education, stay under mentorship and master the necessary amount of aggressiveness.