In this week's Four on Friday, we spoke with Tony Bartlett, senior vice president at Lincoln Property Company Southeast, a commercial real estate firm offering a comprehensive suite of value-added services. Bartlett shared his background, where he sees the market headed next year, and what he might be doing if he wasn't in real estate. Many thanks to Bartlett for his time.
Give us an overview of Lincoln Property Company Southeast: when was the company formed, what is the range of its commercial real estate activities and in which geographical areas does it operate?
Bartlett: Lincoln Property Company is a privately held, national commercial real estate firm specializing in office, industrial, retail and multifamily properties. Founded by real estate icons Mack Pogue and Trammel Crow, the company has evolved from its roots as an owner and developer of high quality real estate into a full-service firm with offices in 38 cities nationally and internationally. Lincoln ranks as one of the largest and most diversified real estate firms in the U.S. and this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Our primary lines of business include property management, project leasing, construction management, facilities management, acquisitions, dispositions, brokerage and development.
How did you get your start in real estate?
Bartlett: I began a career in commercial real estate in 1985 in a most unintentional fashion, as I responded to a newspaper ad entitled “Marketing Manager – Real Estate.” Fresh off a two-year stint selling office copiers door-to-door, I had left that job to pursue something in the area of marketing, largely because I enjoyed a senior level class at Georgia Tech focused on brand marketing. After a brief but whirlwind interview, I was hired on the spot to begin work that afternoon, not in marketing but in a role I would now call a “developer flunky.” My role was to shadow a senior development officer who was juggling multiple office development projects in the Southeast.
In addition to aiding in the creation of market studies, financing packages and proforma models, I also picked up laundry, made coffee, ran errands and, at times, became a personal chauffeur. It turned out to be a fantastic entry point for me as I was able to experience and see commercial real estate from a 360-degree perspective at an early age. Getting to understand how an investment is put together and then seeing it through its life cycle of construction, leasing, management and disposition was invaluable to me. I tell young people today who are seeking to get in the business to completely disregard the aspect of money for the first several years and focus exclusively on the opportunity and the individuals with whom they might work with. No money can replace the value of having a mentor who is willing to share his or her experience.
What are your predications for the commercial real estate market in Atlanta next year?
Bartlett: During this most recent run-up in our current real estate cycle, I have heard several of my colleagues discuss “the new real estate paradigm.” I cringe sometimes when I hear that because I have experienced several cycles and the mistakes of the past are always repeated – what is old becomes new again. The paradigm I refer to is the historic rise in rental rates and asset pricing. Data shows that on the whole, our market has fully recovered from the downturn that began in 2007. We are eight years into recovery and history tells us that eight years is the typical timeframe for a crash and recovery to occur within before the next cycle begins.
It stands to reason that our industry should be looking for signs of a downturn. The current volatility in the financial markets may be a precursor to that, however, the property level fundamentals continue to improve daily and a prolonged period of meaningful job growth leading to space absorption and higher rental rates appears quite viable. For the first period in my career there has been a limited amount of new product added to the commercial sectors which has allowed vacancies to be absorbed and rental rates to rise rapidly.
Given the time it takes to develop new product, we can look two to three years out and predict that supply will stay low and with even an average rate of absorption, Atlanta will see historic highs in rental rates and sales prices. More investors will continue to come into our market chasing yields and more owners will seek to harvest the investments they have been nursing since the Great Recession.
If you didn't work in commercial real estate, what occupation would you most likely have?
Bartlett: Initially I thought a career with a company like Proctor & Gamble working as a brand marketing manager was something I would have enjoyed. As I’ve advanced in my real estate career, I really appreciate good design and have, at times, been called a “frustrated architect.” I can’t really say where I might have ended up, but as I look out towards the back end of my career to a time where the financial demands of feeding, housing and educating a family of four children is less of an issue, I believe I might enjoy teaching real estate in some capacity.
The idea of sharing some of what I’ve picked up over 30 years and hopefully providing some positive insights and influence to a younger generation has been something I’ve started to ponder. But that is a ways off as I’m currently enjoying leading what is a very talented group of motivated professionals that I couldn’t be more proud and energized to work with.