When residential real estate practitioners ask Tim Blair, CCIM, CPM, how they can get involved in the commercial side of the business, he typically responds with a query of his own: “Do you know the difference between residential and commercial real estate?” he asks. Because many do not, he suggests that newcomers co-broker a few deals with a local commercial practitioner to see what’s entailed. “I have to tell people what we do is not all about buying, selling, or leasing bricks and mortar; it’s about valuing income and expense streams,” says Blair.
For those who remain intrigued, Blair, a partner with Shannon Waltchack, a commercial brokerage in Birmingham, Ala., recommends registering for classes in commercial basics run by the National Association of REALTORS® or the CCIM affiliate. “Besides the times when we purchase an empty building, commercial and residential brokerage have little in common,” he says. Referral opportunities are another way to get connected to commercial without going all-in.
As guest editor, Blair spent a day in our offices schooling the REALTOR® Magazine team, which is admittedly more versed in residential sales, about the satisfaction he’s found on the commercial side. A 17-year commercial veteran, Blair joined his company as one of four partners in 2010, having spent time as a landlord rep and an individual investor. The firm’s focus is about 60 percent retail and 40 percent office deals in central Alabama, and it currently owns or manages about 80 properties.
His team, which also includes seven brokers, is as passionate about making personal investments as brokering deals. “Our tag line is ‘We love real estate,’ and we mean it. We believe strongly in wealth creation through ownership in real estate,” he says, echoing a top priority that NAR President William E. Brown has articulated for all REALTORS®.
Little wonder that the two pieces in this issue that sparked Blair’s keenest interest have a commercial bent. One is about emerging technology platforms that help tenant reps find space for small-business clients. The other is about a burgeoning market niche involving the sale or leasing of houses that can serve as residential care facilities. “I’d be interested to see how this sector could be developed into a portfolio,” he says.
Blair is quick to concede that he knows little about the nuances of selling homes, but he recognizes how important a healthy housing market is to his side of the business. “If people don’t live around retail, those businesses will not thrive,” he says. “Residential sales drive commercial. Retail follows rooftops.”
Blair, a former president of the Birmingham Commercial REALTORS® Council, urges commercial pros to get more involved with their local association. At the Birmingham Association of REALTORS®, commercial members make up about 10 percent of the 3,000 member board. “No matter what our role is,” he says, “we’re all in the same trade association and we should embrace that.”